Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie

I’ve realized I’ve been cooking for over 4 decades now in some capacity. I began cooking with my mother making biscuits and cookies when I was a young kid and bumbled my way along through my mid-twenties when I began to try and learn how to cook properly and what cooking and food were all about. That is the age that I probably started taking dating more seriously and saw that cooking was a skill that helped in that pursuit as well.

Plus I had a job so I could afford ingredients beyond mac and cheese and frozen pizza. I already had a formidable library of recipes and cookbooks from my grandmothers and mother that was expansive. I still have a massive cookbook library but use the internet and apps and technology more than relying on them anymore. Just as I put my trials and recipes and thoughts and attempts her on my website than refer and make notes in my cookbooks anymore.

I’ve learned how to cook. Meaning what methods work best and why for different foods and what foods are comprised of, in starch and sugar content and fibrous vegetables and the differences between apples and potatoes and a vast compendium of knowledge amassed from cooking from so long. I wish I could say the same for my guitar playing, but that doesn’t keep me and my dependents through the years alive and healthy like cooking does. There’s also a very big economic benefit in learning to cook for yourself. Whether you’re cooking for four or one and 1/2, you become adept at managing scale as well. And learning measurements and all sorts of scientific skills.

When I had a larger family to cook for, the best investment I had was a deep freezer. I could buy and cook at scale. Now that I’m cooking just for myself and my young daughter, a vacuum-bag sealer is a great thing to have. I can save portions and don’t waste food. A lot of quality Tupperware containers are helpful as well.

I always have to be mindful of what everyone’s tastes are as well. Who doesn’t like mushrooms or onions or spicy foods or whatever. When cooking for me and my daughter I have to be careful of not over spicing foods or making things too hearty or savory or visually unappealing. I need to know what she likes and what she’ll try and eat. I’m lucky in that she’ll try everything and trusts me to not trick her into giving her something she may not like. I love having a deep level of trust with her like that. She knows I won’t try to gove her something I don’t think she’ll like, and I can cook all sorts of things that are comprised of ingredients that I know she likes. Eggs are very versatile so I can make omelets, quiches, and she likes spinach and cheese so those are great ingredients that I can use in a lot of ways. Wraps, and salads.

Something I try to make the best use of is one-dish meals, where I can use the slow cooker and cook a lot of vegetables into something that’s pretty easy, cheap and will last a long time and fill us up and we both like.

We don’t eat a lot of meat, and when we do, it’s lean like fish, shrimp, chicken or lean beef. I feed us roast beef instead of ham or turkey because it’s a low-fat high protein, low sodium and I feel healthier than most hams and turkey products that are sold out there. I use low-sodium white albacore tuna instead of chunk tuna fish which reminds me of cat food. It’s just better. I don’t use American cheese, I use whole traditional cheeses that are mild like provolone of buffalo whole milk mozzarella. I use sharp or extra sharp cheddar when a kick is needed.

I use the freshest seafood I can find and if fresh isn’t available I use flash-frozen whole cod, dolphin, grouper or actual fish, not tilapia or scrod. Same with vegetables. If I can’t find fresh I use flash-frozen. Living where I live now it’s different than when I lived in the South and along the coast where everything was farmed or caught fresh. Things have to be flown or trucked into Lousiville so I have to adapt. Or pay premiums, which lately hasn’t been possible.

So all this is a long prelude to what I’m cooking tonight. Cecelia loves mashed potatoes and carrots and peas and green beans, and It’s late January and 34 degrees out. So a nice hearty stewy type of dish would be nice.

Beef stew and Pot roast are too manly and meaty for a four-year-old girl.  But something along that track. Shepherd’s Pie is great but is made from lamb, and I see no need to kill a lamb to feed my little family. But Shepherd’s Pie with beef is called Cottage Pie, and I can make something along those lines.

So I put on my mad scientist’s hat and here’s what I came up with, which I think should turn out nicely. The results for any project rest in the preparation, which is where most people make short cuts. That’s where the integrity of the meal lies and is the same in life, It’s what’s done when no one is looking. And it makes most of the difference in the output.

So here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 2-2 1/2 lb chuck roast. I bought it whole and cubed it myself. You could use low-fat ground beef but I wanted to take advantage of the low and slow method of cooking.
  • 1 Whole yellow onion, diced
  • 1 package of baby carrots, 16 oz. Using peeled chopped is fine too.
  • 1pkg ranch dressing, powdered
  • 1 pkg Italian dressing, powdered
  • 1 pkg savory pot roast seasoning mix, powdered
  • 1 can cut green beans, no sodium. A package of frozen green is fine.
  • 1 pkg frozen sweet peas 16 oz. A big package of frozen mixed vegetables would work here too, including corn and lima beans. Even better. Use what you have or what’s on sale.
  • a mixture of AP flour, garlic powder, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper to coat cubed meat in
  • 4-5 minced cloves of garlic
  • around 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • canola oil
  • 8.2 oz package Idahoan Roasted Garlic & Parmesan Baby Reds Mashed Potatoes

I cubed the beef, coated it in the flour/garlic powder/s&p mixture and browned it in a little canola oil in a pot. I set it aside and drained the fat.

I made a bed of baby carrots and onions in the slow cooker and layered the meat on top of that. I mixed and sprinkled the 3 packages of seasonings on top of the meat evenly. This type of seasoning is something I shy away from usually, but I know from experience, heavy seasoning is needed in this type of dish and I was curious what mixing the 3 types of most used store-bought seasoning mixes would yield. I poured the low sodium beef broth over that and gave it a gentle stir. See below for the results.

I go easy on the sodium for a number of reasons. Health being #1. Salt being over-used in place of flavor is another. Seasonings should bring out the flavor of the food, not replace it. Salt is inserted where there’s a lack of quality, like in salted butter and a lot of fast foods. It’s not healthy, and most people use table, or iodized salt, which is unnecessary. We’re not in jeopardy of getting scurvy anymore, and Kosher or sea salt is preferable. It has a cleaner taste and it doesn’t bounce off the food as table salt does. It’s flaky and should be sprinkled on at the right time. There’s a quick lesson on salt.

I put that on low for 8 hours.

With about 4 hours left I put in the green beans and frozen peas and stirred. Normally I would be tempted to put sliced mushrooms and chopped celery in but I had no celery and my daughter doesn’t like mushrooms, yet.

It turned out pretty good, but I’d probably leave out the ranch dressing mixture and rely more on aromatics like onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and gentle seasoning. I don’t like packaged seasonings, but for some reason, I went all-in on this one. I regret it and would rely on my own sense of taste and use fresh seasonings instead. Always better. I know it, and this was proof.

For my daughter and what I think would be better overall, next time I’ll cube the beef into smaller bite-size pieces. It was good this way for me, a fully grown adult male, but I can imagine it being too much for a young girl. It would also make it more tender, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.