Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do shepherds really eat pie? (Meal #7)

Let me just start by confessing that shepherd's pie is not a dish I grew up with, and I don't remember eating it before this particular Sunday. Nor is it something that ever much appealed to me, perhaps because it's usually made with green peas, a vegetable I have loathed since childhood. However, since several others in the group remember shepherd's pie as a comfort food and suggested it for A Common Table, I wanted to give it a try—my personal disinclination notwithstanding. :)

Date: Sunday, May 16th (served at BFWC the next evening)
Host: Maria Massolo
shepherd's pie, sweet & sour squash salad, marshmallow treats with M&Ms
Sandy Cate, Bob Fagan, Joel Jordan, Maria Massolo, Jenny Michael, Sara Miller, Lisa Sherman, Rita Shuster
Kevin Koczela, Jenny Michael

Maria told me that her Argentine version of shepherd's pie uses raisins and olives in the filling (much like the pastel de choclo we made a few months back), and Sandy mentioned that a place in her neighborhood spiced the meat with curry. But since I still needed an actual recipe, off I went to the internet to research the possibilities. Epicurious, of course, yielded many options, but I ended up choosing Alton Brown's recipe, posted on the Food Network's site, both because it had received universal raves and because I [heart] Alton Brown, who is just cool in a quirky, whimsical, and delightfully geeky way. And the man can cook!

Almost all the recipes I reviewed called for ground lamb—which, now that I think about it, makes perfect sense for shepherd's pie. (Don't know why that didn't occur to me before!) However, I had some doubts about how palatable lamb would be to the folks at the shelter—especially the kids—so I followed Maria's lead and opted for ground turkey instead. (Did that make it turkherd's pie?) Seasoned with thyme and rosemary, turkey worked well enough, though I do think lamb would make for a more flavorful dish. I also made a concession to my personal palate and traded the specified peas for green beans, which we chopped into pea-sized chunks. Together with corn and chopped carrots, they balanced the meatiness nicely.

Instead of a basic green salad, I chose a tangy and colorful one of sliced green and yellow zucchini, diced red onion, red (and orange) bell pepper, and chopped celery. The vegetables marinate in a hot vinaigrette for a couple of hours, and the salad is drained before serving. It has a nice texture—a bit more tender than a cucumber salad—and keeps very well. The recipe came from a family friend, Gretchen Bell, who brought it for Easter dinner one year and kindly shared the secret.

We rounded out our menu with that favorite of school lunches: marshmallow (Rice Krispy) treats. So easy, so crunchily reminiscent of childhood, and extra-yummy with the addition of M&Ms. How could we go wrong?

As a whole, the meal was such a success that, for a change, we ate up every bit of it! (And, yes, I did like the casserole. :) If I were to do it again, I would add some kind of bread to the menu to round things out—but it was also fine without it.

Reflecting on the process: Although these gatherings officially begin at 2:00, most folks show up sometime after that—which works very well. Whoever is there at the start helps organize. Then we start chopping (always a primary activity) and go from there. This pattern allows for a nice rhythm to develop and makes things a bit less chaotic at the outset (!). 

We all agreed that this particular menu worked well. There was enough to do that we were kept as busy as we wanted to be, while still having time to drink wine and talk about Argentine politics. And I had planned the preparation well enough (yay!) that we got the salad—which needed time to marinate—going first, before working on the shepherd's pie. We had to sauté the meat in batches, since we didn't have a pot large enough to do all of it at once. And when we realized we needed some larger bowls for mixing, Kevin kindly ran home for his set. So it required a bit of strategy to work out all the logistics, but there were no significant problems. And we even had time to wash the pots and bowls and then to relax together while the casserole baked. Oh, and this was also our least expensive meal so far: less than $100 was laid out for non-staple groceries.

More menu suggestions: In June, we're hoping to make pierogies—an Eastern European specialty—under the tutelage of Kevin and Cole, who grew up with these yummy dumplings. Other suggestions were tamale pie (much less work than actual tamales), oven-fried or barbecued chicken, baked penne… Did I forget any of the other ideas?

THANK YOU!! Special thanks to Maria for hosting us this time! I don't think we left her too much mess... but thank goodness for dishwashers. And thanks once again to Bob for being our delivery guy. I really appreciate your help in this area. And as always, many, many thanks to all those of you who contribute your time, energy, money, and generous spirit to these endeavors. This project wouldn't be possible without you, and I'm very grateful that you want to be part of it.

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