We have to stop eating like this.

Really? Malta Short Ribs

Like many Americans, we don’t watch TV anymore; we watch laptop. We have a Roku box hooked up to the TV, to which we stream our Netflix account and Amazon On Demand purchases, but since I spend most of my day in the living room, I like to move into the office for a change of scenery in the evening. Ultimately, Billy the Kid has a wall-mounted flat-screen HDTV, and his parents watch the majority of their programs huddled around a 17″ computer screen. Of the handful of shows we follow, the most painfully awaited each week is, without a doubt, Top Chef.

We are obsessed with Top Chef, and by we, I mean Mr. P. I deem the Bravo reality show solid (and hunger-inducing) entertainment, but in the absence of cable television, my husband has redirected the zest he would have invested in football toward competitive cooking. I usually draw or decoupage for the beginning of the show, focusing in mainly when a final dish is plated or a winner/loser announced; my husband not only ranks his favorite seasons and players/chefs within each season, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each, but also validates his appraisals through sites like this. Wait for it…there’s even more.

I had never heard of short ribs before I started watching the show, but it quickly became clear that the rib/plate/chuck combo cut could either open new doors for contestants, or windows out of which to throw them. While watching a back episode from Season 4, in which the particularly brazen Richard Blais wins Round I of the finale (held in Puerto Rico) with his Pork Ribs with Malta and Soy Glaze, I searched online for a similar recipe, and found one that looked fairly reasonable on this visual trainwreck of a site. I’ve typed out the recipe below, since the contributing chef seems too distracted to actually get all his ingredients into the dish. To his credit, his ribs are absolutely delicious, and so succulent you can leave the knives off from the place-settings. But really, can there be true redemption from such abhorrent self-editing?

3 lbs short ribs (by definition, beef)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 packet Goya Sazon
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 cachucha peppers, minced (or any small, mild peppers)
1 12-oz bottle Goya Malta
1 1/2 C beef stock
1 small can Goya Spanish-style tomato sauce
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Set your oven to 350. Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high, and dry the meat off on a paper towel. Rub the ribs with salt and pepper, then brown them on each side for 4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, add the onions, and cook for about 4 minutes, until they start to soften. Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes more.

Return the ribs to the pan, add the Sazon, cayenne pepper, Malta, and beef stock, and stir it up until combined. Add salt if you didn’t adequately cake your ribs prior to browning, and cook the whole thing for another 3 minutes, then cover the pot and stick it in the oven for 3 hours.

These were superb with Puerto Rican-style white rice, and I have a feeling they’d also pair well with boiled Russett potatoes. Unfortunately, I’ll never know, since I now have a tilde in my last name.

A Beefy Return

Ladies’ Beef Stew

My favorite place is my local Hannaford market. While the main Lowell store is larger with a bigger selection, Billy the Kid and I prefer the closer and smaller Dracut location, with clerks that know us by name and two buggy-carts, one of which is almost always available at 9:20 in the morning. Last week, while BK unpacked the cart into a precarious tower on the belt, I noticed the in-house publication, “Fresh,” for the first time, free with a purchase of $25. It’s done shockingly well considering its primary value as marketing collateral, with little self-aggrandizement and absolutely no paid advertising. The January/February issue features a bunch of soups and stews, as well as various comfort foods and chocolate desserts.

The first recipe I chose to execute was for Cinnamon-Spiced Beef Stew, an odd title for the corresponding anise-explosion. Fennel seeds are usually used in moderation, but creator Nina Simonds is not taking any chances that you might miss the parfum. I followed the recipe below exactly, but next time I’ll halve the fennel, as I don’t need to address my dinner as “madam.”

2 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 lb Angus round stewing beef
2 tbsp flour
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 onion, each cut into 6 wedges
1 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, cut in quarters
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp fennel seeds
3/4 C full-bodied red wine (Shiraz or Cabernet)
1 lb peeled baby carrots
3/4 C reduced-sodium beef broth
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt (a charming but ridiculous suggestion – use 1 tsp)

Put the flour and beef in a large mixing bowl and toss with a wooden spoon until the meat is completely coated. Heat up 2 tsp of the oil a large pot over medium-high. Add half of the beef and sauté until golden-brown on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the seared meat to a bowl, add another 2 tsp of oil to the pot, and throw in the remaining beef. Repeat the sauté, then transfer to the cooked-meat bowl.

Add the last 2 tsp of oil to the pot, give it a minute to heat up, then add the garlic, onions, mushrooms, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds. Sauté over medium heat for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add 3 tbsp of the red wine, and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Cover it up and cook until the onions are limp, about 3 minutes.

Return the seared beef and any juices to the pot, and add the carrots, remaining wine and broth. Stir everything up well, bring the liquid to a boil, cover it back up and turn the heat down to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender. I must intercede here; the author estimates cooking time to be 1 hour 15 minutes after the final covering, but your meat will not be tender for at least another 45. Plan accordingly.

Stir in salt and pepper before serving (unless you’ve been adding them all along the way), and serve with potatoes or crusty bread.

I love the twentieth century.

Exactly Nine Spectacular Meatballs

The first time I made meatballs, I took the name at face value, balled up and fried some ground beef, and wound up with leaden orbs more suitable for sport than supper. Over the years, I’ve tried countless recipes and made dozens of balls, the majority of which have been inedible; I can’t get the soak-bread-in-milk-and-then-squeeze technique to result in anything other than frown-inducing weirdness. The successful exceptions have problematically yielded enough meat to feed a hockey team of third-trimester expectant mothers.

Perhaps I’m the last to discover the miracle of “meatball blend,” a mix of ground beef, pork and veal, combined and packaged in convenient one-pound units. No longer must a family of three ball in bulk. Last night, for the first time ever, I executed a leftover-less spaghetti and meatball dinner. May I present exactly nine spectacular meatballs.

1 lb meatball blend ground meat
1/3 C plain breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano (use fresh if you want, and have fun with that moist bag of wilted herb in your crisper)
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Skin-to-raw-meat-contact alert! Mix everything up in a big bowl, combining first with a fork, then going in with your hands. Knead until you can’t detect any egg slime, then knead a little more. Roll up 9 3″ balls, and pack them tightly or you’ll end up with more of a meat-scone.

Heat 1/4 C vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high (a cast iron seasoning opportunity, perhaps?) and add the balls once it’s hot but not smoking. Let them fry for 1 minute, then gently give each a quarter turn, and fry for 1 minute more. Keep quarter-turning in the same direction every 1 minute until the balls are brown around the middles. Then give each ball’s two remaining pink areas 1 minute, and your meatballs should be nicely sealed. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook and turn for about 5 more minutes (once brown, the meatballs will be much easier to move around without compromising their shape).

Now it’s time to sacrifice a ball. Remove one from the pan and cut it in half. It might be done, but it probably needs a few more minutes. After you determine the time left, throw the two halves back in the pan, cut side down, so they brown before going into your sauce.

Once you’ve transferred the meatballs to the sauce, pour most of the fat out of the pan, but leave 4 tbsp behind and use a metal spatula to scrape off anything stuck to the bottom. You say sludge, I say ambrosia. Either way, it will transform a jar of supermarket pasta sauce into something of which you’ll be eating much more than you had  planned.

A Beefy New Year

T-Bone Peña

My resolution for the new year has been to expand my sauce repertoire, from béchamels and gravies to reductions and compotes. I’m also striving to take more risks with bottled staples and spices, so hold onto your hat, Mr. P! Speaking of whom, my doting and cultured spouse was the fortunate recipient this Christmas of four perfect T-bones from my father, Mr. S. We had the final steak last night (our cheeks have never been rosier), and I was delighted that the following tastes as good as I had imagined.

1 1-1/2″ thick T-bone steak
1 12-oz pkg white button mushrooms, sliced with stems
3 tbsp salted butter
1/2 C sherry
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Position the top oven rack so that the meat will be 2″ from the flame and turn your broiler on to high. Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and place it on a rack over a roasting pan, then stick it in the oven directly under the fire. 10 minutes per side should do it, as it will sit for a few minutes out of the oven while you finish the mushroom sauce.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and toss to coat. After a few minutes, put the remaining 1 tbsp chunk of butter in the middle of the pan and swirl it around the bottom, through the mushrooms, as it melts. At this point, your mushrooms should be sufficiently buttered. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until they release quite a bit of water. When most of it’s evaporated, sprinkle in the nutmeg and stir briefly before pouring in 1/4 C of the sherry. Boil down the liquid until the mushrooms are dark brown and just moist, then transfer them to a bowl and set it on the stove top to stay warm.

Ding! Did you manage to complete the above paragraph in 20 minutes and remember to turn the steak half-way through? If so, you should be pleased with yourself. Park the steak elsewhere and pour the fat out of the pan, then place it on a burner set to medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, pour in the other 1/4 C sherry, and swirl it around in the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen anything sticky. When it boils, incorporate the Worcestershire, throw in the mushrooms, stir, and continue cooking until they’re hot through and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Serve atop your T-bone, and don’t worry about a starch, though a salad actually works well here, bite my tongue.

Introducing the Unparalleled Mr. H

Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes

It’s not surprising that the lovely and talented Mrs. Hamilton is married to an equally engaging and capable gentleman. Mr. Peña and I agree that Mr. Hamilton holds the top slot on our survive-a-zombie-attack-or-other-apocalyptic-scenario team roster. He’s also the easiest man I know to shop for. At the end of each January, he checks in with me to schedule his annual birthday dinner, and I pick up his gift at the meat counter several weeks later with the groceries. Both spouses were averse to mushrooms until the first time I made this for them, but now they’re believers.

I should warn you that you will open a door with this recipe that doesn’t close. For example, I acquired Mr. Peña with this meal, setting the bar a little higher than I would have had I not been in the heat of the culinary moment. Originally titled Teeny Tiny, my mother would make a petite version if one of us had an emotionally trying day and was feeling particularly teeny and/or tiny. I’ve renamed it as an homage to the man who may one day save my family’s brains.

To serve 4:
4 filet mignons, size dependent on budget and preference (I use modest 1″-thick cuts)
4 Russet potatoes
2 12-oz pkgs white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced with stems, 1/8″-thick
1 16-oz package baby carrots
1 C whole milk
1 C/2 sticks butter, to be safe
3/4 C grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 C cooking sherry
1 tbsp herbs de Provence (blend of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender; you can just mix up whichever of those you already have)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 350, grease up the potatoes with olive oil, and stab them repeatedly with a sharp fork. Bake them until it they hardly resist a poking. You’re looking at about an hour and a half.

Start the mushrooms when you’ve got about 15 minutes left on the potato clock. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium-high. Once the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté. After a few minutes of turning and cooking, add another 1 tbsp of butter and melt it in. The mushrooms will soften and release about 1/3 C of liquid. Keep the heat at medium-high until the liquid cooks off, turning the mushrooms frequently to prevent burning. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the sherry and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the alcohol boils off. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl, cover, and set on the stove-top to keep warm.

Ding! Either your potatoes are done, or you need to up your hustle. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Set a ricer over a large mixing bowl. Holding a potato using a dishcloth or folded paper towel, cut two slits in the top to form a lemon shape. Peel the cut skin off, and carefully spoon the piping hot potato into the ricer bin, getting out as much as you can without tearing the husk. Rice the potato, then repeat with the other three. Set the empty skins on a cookie sheet. Cut half a stick of butter into tbsp chunks and bury them in the potatoes to melt. Stir vigorously while you slowly pour in the milk, beating in as much air as possible. Then add the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and combine (don’t worry if the cheese doesn’t melt completely).

Spoon the potato whip back into the shells, and pile any extra filling on the tops. Sprinkle with paprika to get a little Lawrence Welk-ish nostalgia going, and wedge a pat of butter into each. Put them back in the oven and bake until they’re hot all the way through, about a half hour. Give yourself a 15-minute break (just enough time for a cigarette and a fresh Diet Coke!).

Throw the carrots into a medium saucepan with 1″ of water, 1 tbsp of butter and a pinch of herbs de Provence, and set the heat to low. Put 2 tbsp of butter in your largest (flat) pan and set it over medium-high heat. Let the butter melt and froth, then add the steaks. You need an equal ratio of free space to meat in your pan to do this correctly, so cook them simultaneously in 2 pans if necessary. Fry the steaks over medium-high for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the mushrooms to the pan, and give each steak another 4 minutes on each side, turning the mushrooms frequently. You’ll need to adjust the time slightly since it’s difficult to convey flame strength, but you want to end up with rare, not raw.

The carrots are done when they’re al dente, and that should be right about now, along with the potatoes, steak and mushrooms. By your thirtieth time making this meal, you’ll have perfected the timing, so don’t worry about being a basket case for the first one. Drain the carrots and plate everything up, generously topping the steaks with mushrooms.

The dishes are going to be a bitch for this one, but the acclaim and self-satisfaction more than compensate.

You don’t even know what economic means.

Impoverished Single Person’s “Chili”

Mr. Smith is Rhode Island’s most efficient driver. He can forecast door-to-door travel time between any two points within the Ocean State to within a minute, averages about two left turns per month, and has logged zero accidents in the thirty-two years I’ve known him. D’s knack for balancing quality with minimum energy and resource expenditure becomes wizardry in the kitchen, and this week he shares a recipe from his undergraduate days at Brown, during which he drove cab, impressed the hell out of girlfriends’ parents, and elevated bachelor cooking to an art. My father anticipates that “purists from Texas and other regions will argue with the name,” but since I don’t touch chili, ever, I wouldn’t know.

A suggestion from Mr. Smith: “this recipe will produce about two quarts of chili, or a dozen servings at maybe $0.80 apiece to go with rice or macaroni (or commando). The single impoverished person will eat two servings within an hour, keep two to four more servings in the fridge for the coming days, and freeze the rest in single-serving Ziploc bags.”

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large green pepper, diced
1 medium/large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb hamburger
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 or 2 15-oz cans plain tomato sauce
2 15-oz cans spiced pinto beans (drained unless seasoned)
some canned, sliced jalapeño peppers
1 tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper

1 medium yellow pepper, diced in addition to green pepper ($$)
cayenne pepper
1 C sauteed sliced mushrooms ($)

Put the oil in a cast-iron pan over medium-high and heat it until it’s hot. Sauté the pepper for 3 minutes before adding the onion and, once that becomes translucent, add the garlic and continue to cook until it just starts to brown (or, as my father instructs, sweat the garlic). Empty the vegetables into a large bowl and set them aside.

In the same pan, cook the meat over medium-high heat until you’ve eliminated all pink. Pour in the vegetables (and optional mushrooms) and combine with the hamburger. Add the crushed tomatoes, 1 can of tomato sauce, the pinto beans (and the water if it’s been seasoned, otherwise toss it), and 1 tbsp chili powder. Cook and stir until it boils, then reduce the heat to medium. If the chili seems too thick, add the second can of tomato sauce.

Proceed to add fiyah. Use a garlic press to mince 8 or so jalapeño slices and stir them into the chili. Taste and repeat until you’re happy. Mr. Smith confides that he occasionally adds a little cayenne pepper “to complicate the hotness.” Finish it off with salt and pepper, but “never garnish with cheese; that’s weird.” I, on the other hand, will just have the cheese (though after typing up this post, I might actually give it a shot without the beans).

Who’s got my hanger steak?

Come On, Martha, London Broil

Once a month, I browse the menus section of marthastewart.com for the latest trends in American WASP fare, which frequently involve anglicizing up a European, Asian, or South American dish based on an uncommon cut of meat. So I should have braced myself for disappointment before heading out with Billy the Kid to pick up the ingredients for her French Hanger Steak with Shallots. Now, BK loves a trip to Hannaford. He inspects the apples and pumpkins if in season, checks the swing-back on the frozen foods doors, and enjoys trapping an unsuspecting bagger into a game of “hiya.” However, after two Hannafords and a Market Basket in search of the elusive steer diaphragm, we were both cranky and in need of a doughnut. Alas, these are not Butcher Boy times. So, I used a London broil instead, and since I have no idea what hanger steak tastes like, nor its formerly conjoined twin, the skirt steak, I didn’t miss the aromatic “trace of kidney” reported by admiring butchers. Both Mr. P and I agreed that this is even better than Spot-on London Broil, but then again, we’ve had that a lot lately; it’s a cheap cut and I’m strictly pro bono at present.

1 London broil
1/4 C olive oil
2 tbsp butter (come on, Martha, you want me to sauté shallots in oil?)
1/4 C cooking sherry
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
5 shallots, quartered
salt and pepper

Whisk together the oil, sherry, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Marinate the meat for 2 hours, sealed at room temperature.

Set the highest rack to allow for two inches between the meat and the flame, and turn the broiler onto high. Transfer the steak to a wire rack over a roasting pan or a broiler pan. Broil for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness), turn with tongs, broil another 7 to 10, and the internal temperature should be just under 140. Take it out of the oven (is that condescending?) and let it stand on the rack for 5 minutes before slicing it into thin strips parallel to that infernal diagonal fat ribbon.

While the oven does its job, heat the butter in a skillet over medium and when it stops foaming, add the shallots. Separate the layers as they soften, and cook them until they caramelize, then turn the heat down to warm until the steak is done. We had no problem polishing off all the shallots with a modest steak, so don’t hold back while piling them on.

If you made bread out of meat, you wouldn’t need sandwiches.

Fortified Meat Loaf

About once a month, my body sounds the scurvy warning, necessitating consumption of green vegetable. “But what about the children?” you might worry. No need, as vegetable is the one food group that Billy the Kid seldom sends back to the kitchen, and he gets some with two meals every day. He distrusts sandwiches, automatically vetoes red sauce, and becomes livid upon discovery of other than potato inside a battered and fried stick, but he’ll put away a bowl of canned peas like nobody’s business. So put the phone down, we don’t need to involve the state. Ground chuck is the Borg of the food universe, incorporating unsuspecting ingredients into its mass, extracting any useful flavors, and overwhelming the rest with its relentlessly rich beefiness. Please note that I am not a huge Star Trek fan, I just admire the stoic hustle with which the Borg implements its business plan.

2 C finely chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 finely chopped celery stalk
1 finely chopped carrot
1 finely chopped broccoli stalk, no florets
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2/3 C ketchup (to be used in 1/3 C quantities)
1 1/2 lb ground chuck
3/4 lb ground pork
2 egss, beaten
1/3 C minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp butter

Set your oven to 350. Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, broccoli and scallion for 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Stir 1/3 C ketchup and the salt and pepper into the pan, and cook for one minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, draining any remaining oil back into the pan. Mix the Worcestershire sauce and eggs into the mixture and combine thoroughly.

If you’re a hypochondriac, now’s the time to grab a fresh pair of polyethylenes. Put the chuck and pork in the bowl and use your hands to mix it up. I use Mr. P’s noise-canceling headphones for this step, as the sound of a baby alien clawing it’s way out of someone’s midsection makes me gag. Once it’s ready, pack it into a standard glass or metal loaf pan, brush the remaining 1/3 C ketchup onto the top, and sprinkle with parsley. Bake it for an hour, and use a meat thermometer to check that the center has reached 160. You’ve got pork and eggs in there, let’s not play with fire.

I’ll admit to making gravy from a McCormick packet for this one. You’re not left with any drippings in the cooking process, so you really don’t have much of a choice. But instead of adding water directly to the powder, heat 2 tbsp of butter in a pan over medium heat and once the foaming subsides, stir in the powder to form a roux. Then add the water slowly, stirring constantly to maintain an even, lumpless consistency. Let the finished gravy simmer over low for ten minutes to thicken completely.

You have enough to worry about. There’s nothing wrong with beef.

Spot-On London Broil

Let’s be honest, we’re cooking at home because we’d rather save our entertainment dollars for something special, like heat and electric. Fortunately, money and time are almost always interchangeable in the kitchen, and a cheap cut of fresh meat has unlimited potential. Chances are, if there are enough of you to merit an entire London Broil, somebody’s unemployed and has the extra clock to marinate a piece of meat.

1 London Broil
2/3 C olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. The resulting marinade will be an off-putting speckled tan. Pour 1/3 of the marinade into a glass pie plate or metal cake pan, and shake the pan to coat the bottom. Place the meat in the dish, and cover with the remaining marinade. Marinating uncovered for 2 hours at room temperature yields the best results, but this may only be possible in the colder and insect-free months. Otherwise, cover it up and stick it in the fridge.

Heat up your broiler as hot as it will get. Place the top rack at the highest possible level that will allow two inches of space between the steak and the flame. Broil for about 10 minutes, until the top is a respectable brown, then turn the steak over with tongs and broil for another 10 minutes. I don’t have a knack for judging the temperature of meat, so when I think it’s done, I remove it from the oven and cut halfway into the middle along that useless seam of fat. This allows you to determine if further broiling is necessary but does not detract from the final presentation, since the steak will be sliced.

Once the steak is cooked through, remove it from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Any less and you’ll have tough meat and bloody plates. Using a super sharp knife, slice the steak into strips, cutting parallel to the fat seam mentioned earlier. Cut the slices as thin as possible, but keep in mind that the meat will cool quickly, so have any sides already plated and serve immediately. This goes really well with homemade mac & cheese and an early night.

It’s snowing in October, so I’m harvesting the shepherd early.

Lambykin’s Shepherd Pie

When I die, bake me into this.

1 lb ground angus and 1 lb ground lamb, or 2 lbs ground shepherd
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large package white button mushrooms, sliced
2 packets McCormick Brown Gravy mix
2 C water
salt and pepper
olive oil

4 large Russet potatoes
1/2 C grated cheddar
1/2 stick butter, cut into small chunks
1 C milk
1/4 C finely chopped parsley

Set the oven to 350. Stab the potatoes all over with a fork and rub them with olive oil before putting them on the middle rack.

Heat the oil in your pan (2 or 3 generous tbsp) over high. I’d specify that you use an enamel-lined cast iron, and that your olive oil be Berio, and that you heat the oil until it quivers but doesn’t quite smoke, but I’m not an arrogant asshole. Cook the onions until they begin to soften, then add the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the ensuing water released from the mushrooms evaporates. This will take a little while, as opposed to a while, defined later. Once the “vegetables” are soft and browned, transfer them to a bowl and set the bowl somewhere on the stove to keep it warm.

Add more oil to the pan and brown the meat, all the way. “The oven will finish it off” have been someone’s last words. Once the meat is completely cooked, toss the onions and mushrooms back in and combine gently. Get the 2 C water ready and have them in arm’s reach. Sprinkle the gravy mix over the meat mixture with one hand and stir with the other to distribute evenly. Immediately drop the empty packets, grab the water, and start stirring in, pouring slowly enough to maintain the pan’s heat. Once the gravy is bubbling nicely, turn the heat down to medium, add salt and pepper (however much you think is a good idea) and cook until it looks as thick as it’s going to get, about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into any shaped casserole dish, size dependent on how thick you want to go (I prefer a deep glass pie plate).

The potatoes are going to be a while. Fortunately, you read the recipe in its entirety before beginning and either started the potatoes about 45 minutes earlier, or planned a good use of the next hour.

Once the potatoes yield little resistance when poked with a fork, take them out but leave the oven set to 350. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, holding a half in a folded cloth or paper towel, scoop out the potato and run it through a ricer into a large mixing bowl. When all eight haves have been riced, add the butter, and bury the chunks in the hot potatoes to quicken melting. After about 30 seconds, add the cheese and stir to combine. With either a hand-held or preferably a stand mixer, beat the potatoes on medium speed and slowly add the hot milk. Increase the speed to high and whip until fluffy.

Drop the potatoes in dollops evenly over the now set meat mixture. Brush the dollops together to form a blanket over the casserole, spreading all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika for an Ice Storm affect, and bake until the potatoes are piping (the meat will heat up faster), about half an hour.

A few notes: if you use butter instead of oil to cook the meat and vegetables, elastic pants merit consideration; if you can’t bring yourself to use lamb or shepherd, a 50/50 combination of beef and pork works almost as well. I only have one of these left in me before I reach my guilt threshold.

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