Shepherd’s Pie

Tonight I made Shepherd’s Pie for dinner. I did not have a recipe, but I have eaten it enough times to have a good idea how to make it. This is yet another instance of having limited ingredients on hand yet finding a creative way to use them.

I browned some of my grass-fed ground beef, then added diced onion, carrots and thyme. This sauteed on the stove top until the vegetables were tender, at which point I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and some leftover red wine (about 5oz). Next, I threw in some chopped garlic and mushrooms. This simmered along happily until the mixture thickened, at which point I turned off the heat and poured it into a baking dish. I let this sit while I readied the mashed potatoes (I started them just before I browned the meat).

Mashed Potatoes: I had some Yukon Golds in the pantry, so I peeled and cooked them until tender. Once cooked I drained them and added salt, pepper, butter and horseradish. I mashed all of this together then added in sour cream. The mashed potatoes were spread on top of the meat mixture, dollops of butter were added along with a grating of Parmesano-Reggano cheese. I covered the dish and put it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. I am guessing since all was cooked before going into the dish that I did not need to cook it in the oven; however, my son was not home yet so I decided that would be the best way to keep it warm. At the very end I removed the cover and placed the dish under the broiler until the top of the potatoes browned slightly.

I served this with a green salad and a loaf of daily French bread from Whole Foods…The end result? Delicious!!


Last night was my turn to host Bunco – a group of women in my neighborhood who meet once a month to play this wonderfully mindless dice game and connect with one another. (Shhh, don’t tell our husbands…we don’t really play anymore; we mainly socialize!)

I really feel the need to pat myself on the back for this one. “Why?” you might ask…well, bunco was Tuesday night, and I had forgotten all about it until late on Monday. I spent Monday night/Tuesday morning cleaning and Tuesday afternoon figuring out what to serve, grocery shopping and assembling food. In the end it all came together quite nicely, and even on time!!

I put together several plates of appetizers. On one I skewered cherry tomatoes, mini mozzerella balls, olives and basil, added a light vinegrette and sprinkled some capers on top. My basil came directly from the garden, so I was able to take a large sprig of it to use as a garnish. Next, I put together a plate of sliced mellon with proscuitto. I rolled the proscuitto into roses and set them next to the mellon, which enabled everyone to decide for themselves if they wanted to combine the two (as I like to do) or eat only one or the other.

A cheese platter with sliced fruit is always a fast choice, and always seems to be welcomed. I placed a few different types of cheese on a platter and set apple slices, grapes and crackers around them. On yet another platter I made a ‘deconstructed’ appetizer consisting of a calamata olive tapenade, softened goat cheese, baguette slices and strips of roasted red bell peppers. To put it together involves spreading softened goat cheese on a baguette slice, adding a layer of the tapenade, and finishing with a strip of the pepper. I left this as an ‘assemble your own’ appetizer, mainly due to time constraints.

One final savory plate held endive leaves topped with a smoked trout spread…again, simple yet delicious. And let’s not forget everyone’s sweet tooth! My dessert plate was made up of a few selections I picked up from Whole Foods: mini brownies bites, coconut macaroons and pizzelle cookies. To round out the menu I made sure there was plenty of wine! But in the end I have to confess that the crowning touch to the evening had nothing to do with the food or drink, but rather the nice evening a fabulous group of women had as they caught up on each other’s lives.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

I had a beautiful day filled with lots of attention from my boys…and lots of food. My day began with breakfast in bed. I am the first to admit I am not a fan of eating in bed; however, many of my favorite Mother’s Day memories revolve around breakfast in bed. The one that stands out most is how when my boys were really little they always brought me breakfast, and then they proceeded to hop in bed with me and eat most of it. It was so darned cute (and admittedly, given my ‘slight’ OCD tendencies, actually appreciated)!!! So while any other day of the year I will decline breakfast in bed, Mother’s Day is the one day I will not. Today’s breakfast followed the same trend as many others since my boys achieved teenage status: I woke up and waited….and waited….and waited….not allowed to come out of the room until breakfast was served. Fortunately I have a TV in the room, so I alternated between watching cooking shows and working on my crossword puzzles…not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. Eventually my boys approached with a breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee (and gifts!!). It was a great morning…I am a lucky mama!!

From there we moved on to a late lunch at Stephen Pyles. Lunch consisted of a three-course meal. I began with a salad of avocado mousse and balsamic mascerated strawberries. I thought the flavor combinations were slightly questionable; however, it was just odd enough – and this was Stephen Pyles after all – that I had to give it a try…and it was absolutely delicious! The avocado mousse was flavored with horseradish and served on a slice of mozzerella cheese. This was served next to the mascerated strawberries and a small mound of dressed ‘freckled’ lettuce. I was in heaven, and this was only the first course! My husband opted for the bread basket, which had a selection of several muffins, scones, etc. My boys both opted for the scallop appetizer…also wonderful.

The second course was equally delicious. I chose the chicken-fried beef short ribs, which was served with a mashed sweet potato hash and green beans. It was a tough decision between that and the beef tenderloin enchilladas, but my husband and older son ordered that dish, so I was able to experience the best of both.

Dessert was the only semi disappointment. We had a late reservation, and by the time we got to dessert only two choices remained: the renouned ‘Heaven and Hell’ cake, which has followed Chef Pyles through several restaurants, and a chocolate dessert that was described as more fudge-like. Three of us opted for the Heaven and Hell cake (devil’s food and angel food cakes layered with peanut butter mousse and covered in a chocolate ganache); the fourth ordered a fruit bowl, so none of us sampled the other chocolate option.

Finally, we had a late dinner at Roy’s. Did I mention my boys took great care of me?? I really was not hungry at this point; however, I managed to eat their Beet Salad (delicious!), choke down a Hawaiian Martini and roll myself out to the car. 🙂

All in all, a very successful day and, as stated earlier, I am one lucky mom! To all of you mothers out there: Happy Mother’s Day!

To Be or Not to Be (Healthy)???

Lately, I find myself struggling with a few food and health questions. At the end of March I had a physical and decided to send my bloodwork to Berkeley Labs in CA to have a more thorough analysis of both my cholesterol and overall risk of heart disease. The results came back pretty much as I suspected: my LDL was high, but my HDL levels were also high, leading to a good overall ratio. Everything else was fairly uneventful – good triglycerides level, particle sizes were the way they needed to be, etc. However, my doctor would like to put me on medicine to bring down my LDL level, and I am admittedly confused and uncertain as to what I should do. One, I am fairly young (42) and am left wondering why my doctor did not suggest other non-medicinal methods to try first…I am assuming my genetic factor is the main reason for this. Two, this is my primary care doctor, not a cardiologist. I would like to consult a heart specialist before making a decision to embark on such a long-term commitment with medicine (and I have already been informed this would be long-term). I also worry what reaction my body will have to the medicine. I typically do not tolerate drugs all that well. Even something as simple as Motrin caused havoc in my intestines a couple of years back – ultimately resulting in 2 weeks of severe stomach pain, an endoscopy and an ultrasound – all to find nothing wrong (no ulcer, no gallbladder problems, no odd intestinal cancers) – and ultimately blamed on the Motrin. So I feel fairly justified in my concern as to what side-effects these pills would inflict in my body.

This raises another issue for me…namely, what price am I willing to pay for a longer life? Do I want to take a pill which may prolong my life in the long run, yet may necessitate changing my eating habits and perhaps lower the quality of my life? I already feel I do a great job of eating and living my life with moderation. I don’t deny myself good foods, but I do make sure I don’t overindulge. I’d rather have a small scoop of real, fat laden ice-cream than a bowlful of a reduced calorie, ice-cream-like substitute. I like cream in my coffee – my at most one cup of coffee a day – that I drink. I barely use refined sugars (again, in that same cup of coffee as the cream). We generally eat whole grains and fresh produce. Our meats are from sustainable, 100% grass-fed farms. I don’t use trans-fats or HFCS when I cook. I know that those times we go out it is generally unavoidable, but we don’t even eat out all that much anymore. I don’t want to give up the way I eat because I truly believe it is healthy.

What I have decided for now is to not take the meds. Instead, I will continue my research and also plan to meet with a true heart specialist to assess my risk factors and options, both medicinal and otherwise. In the meantime I have finally gotten back into exercise. I have not regularly exercised for the past 2 years. This is, I am sure, a large part of why my LDL levels shot up. So I have been power walking several times a week, taking Pilates classes, and trying out other classes such as yoga, Nia, Zumba, and even belly-dancing. I found a fabulous studio not far from where we live that offers a wonderful variety to keep up my level of interest. My life has generally been balanced with the exception of exercise, and I am hopeful this new phase of my life will add that missing level of balance, thus bringing my health concerns into balance as well.