Saturday, March 22, 2014

Shepherd's Pie

Since this is still the week of St. Patrick's Day, I wanted to use the opportunity to make a traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie for dinner a few days ago.  I combined a few recipes I found online to make dinner and was happy with the results.  We also invited my mom for dinner that evening and it seems like everyone liked this pie.  I made it with ground beef, mashed potatoes, carrots, onions and peas.

I have been planning on making this type of a pie for a while now.  The first time Ivan and I tried something similar was when we were in London.  I ordered a lamb pie and Ivan ordered a beef pie and they were both very good.  So this is my recipe for the Shepherd's Pie:

  • about 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons of sour cream or softened cream cheese
  • 1 large egg yolk (reserve egg white for later)
  • 1/2 cup of cream, or for a lighter version substitute vegetable or chicken broth
  • salt and freshly ground black papper (to taste)
  • about 1 tablespoon of olive oil or to taste
  • 1 3/4 pounds of ground beef or ground lamb (I used ground beef this time)
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of butter (I substituted some olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons of all-purplose flour
  • 1 cup of chicken or beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce or to taste
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • couple of pinches of dry thyme (optional)
  • some tomato paste to taste (optional)
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions: (Servings: 4)
  • Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F
  • Boil potatoes in salted water until tender, about 12 minutes.
  • Drain potatoes and transfer them into a bowl. 
  • Combine sour cream, egg yolk and cream (or broth) and add the mixture to the potatoes and mash until potatoes are almost smooth
  • In the meantime, preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat
  • Saute carrots in the olive oil until starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add onions  and saute for about a minute or two 
  • Add meat and season with salt, black pepper and thyme
  • Cook until browned, then drain fat
  • Add the butter (or olive oil) and peas
  • Sprinkle with flour and stir through
  • Add wine, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste (if using)
  • Let this reduce slightly, then add the stock and allow to reduce down until you have a thick meaty gravy
  • Season to your taste
  • Remove from heat
  • Grease an oven-proof dish (I used a pie dish like seen in the photos) with butter (or olive oil) and add the cooked meat
  • Spoon the mashed potatoes over the meat evenly
  • Brush with the left over egg white evenly and sprinkle with paprika and some parmesan cheese (if using)
  • Bake for about 20 minutes or until the potato is nice and browned on top
  • Sprinke with some parsley if you would like and serve with some dark beer or Irish whiskey. ; )
This pie is so tasty and pretty easy to make!  I think that from now on we'll make this once in a while, since this pie can be eaten throughout the year, and not only for St. Patrick's Day!  Cheers! : )

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slow Cooker Corned Beef with Vegetables

For this year's St. Patrick's Day we've decided to make corned beef in our new slow cooker. Online there are many discussions about the origin of this dish (is it even Irish?) and many different variations on the basic recipe. The recipe below is a combination of several different recipes we found online. It is simple to make, although it does require a lot of time to cook in a slow cooker, so it's best to start it a day before you want to serve it (especially since it's best served cold). The recipe doesn't go crazy on spices or other flavorings. Instead it lets beef and basic spices provide most of the flavor profile which is slowly released during the long cooking process.

  • 1 corned beef brisket with spice packet
  • 1-2 quartered onions
  • 3-4 chopped celery stalks
  • 1 head of cabbage sliced into eighths
  • 4-5 coarsely chopped carrots
  • 5-8 quartered red potatoes
  • 2-4 sliced turnips
  • 1 coarsely chopped parsnip
  • bay leaf
  • black peppercorns
  • 0.5-1 cup of light beer (Here I am using my homemade beer. Do not use Guinness or other dark beers.)
  • mustard
  • horseradish


Place potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, along with a generous helping of black peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves on the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour 4 cups of water over the vegetables. Don't worry if water does not cover all of it - vegetables and meat will let out a surprising amount of water during the cooking process. 

Place the brisket on top with the fatty side facing down. Slowly pour beer over the brisket. Evenly spread spices from the spice packet over the brisket. 

Set the cooker on Low and cook for 8 hours.

After 8 hours stir in cabbage and celery. Depending on the size of the slow cooker and the cabbage, it may require a little effort to squeeze everything into the pot while still being able to tightly close the lid. Slicing cabbage into smaller pieces helps with this. Leave the cooker set to Low and cook for another 4 hours.

After 4 hours everything should be cooked and smelling wonderfully. Turn off the heat and let it cool.

Serve cold with rye or soda bread, and mustard and/or horseradish on the side. Wash it down with a glass of dark beer, such as Guinness.

Enjoy and happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chicken Mole Enchiladas (Enmoladas)

I have to admit that I am no expert in cooking Mexican food, and whenever I try to make it at home, it never tastes as good as real authentic Mexican food that you can find at places such as Nuevo Leon (that has some of the best Mexican food in Chicago and I would recommend going there if you have not tried it) or homemade Mexican food that we tried at our friends' house.  But since we both love Mexican cuisine, we try to make it at home often and I feel that we are gradually getting better. : )  Mexican food is not easily made and often requires ingredients that we can not easily get.

The Mole sauce is made with chocolate and chili peppers and of course it tastes better when it is home made, but I already had this store-bought Mole paste that I used for this recipe.  If you do not like Mole sauce, you can substitute it by just using regular Enchilada sauce.

This time we had a store-bought guacamole, but we usually like to make it at home and serve with corn chips.

So here is my version of the Chicken Mole Enchiladas or Enmoladas that I made for dinner today.

Ingredients: (Serving Size: 2)
- 2 chicken breasts (cooked and shredded)
- 1/2 cup of Mole paste
- 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth or water
- 6 corn tortillas
- oil for cooking (in this case I used canola oil)
- shredded cheese (I used Chihuahua cheese)

- Cook chicken breasts and shred (This time I baked the chicken with onions and some olive oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper, paprika and you can add some herbs or cayenne pepper to make it more spicy.  You can also boil the chicken with some chopped onion, jalapeno peppers, hot sauce, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and shred it with forks after it cools)

- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Mix Mole paste and chicken broth/water in a pan and heat up on low heat, stirring constantly.

- When Mole sauce is heated, pour about 2 tablespoons of it onto the shredded chicken and mix to add some moisture - add salt and pepper and cayenne pepper to chicken if needed
- Pour the Mole sauce into a dish from which it will be easy to dip tortillas and place close to the stove.
- Place a baking dish close to the stove as well
- Heat oil in a frying pan and fry tortillas for about 15 seconds each on both sides.

- Stack tortillas on a plate and let cool a little so they are easy to handle and not too hot to touch

- Dip the first tortilla in Mole sauce on both sides and place in the baking dish

- Place about 3 tablespoons of chicken on the tortilla and form into a log
- Sprinkle some cheese (and you can add some chopped up cilantro) over the chicken and roll it, turning the finish end to the bottom of the baking pan

- Do the same with the rest of the tortillas and place next to each other in the baking pan

- Pour the remaining Mole sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese

- You can reserve some Mole sauce for the end and top the already baked enchiladas with it
- Bake enchiladas for about 15-20 minutes
- When serving, you can top enchiladas with sour cream (crema) and serve with refried beans, rice and guacamole

For refried beans, I sauteed some garlic and dried chili pepper for a minute, then added canned pinto beans (drained the liquid from the beans and saved it for later), added beans to the garlic and chili pepper and sauteed for about 15 minutes, mashing the beans gradually with the spatula.  If the beans get too try, I added some of the preserved liquid to make them more moist.  When done, transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle shredded cheese on top.

This is my version of the Chicken Mole Enchiladas (Enmoladas).  The enchiladas did end up breaking a little when I served them, but not as bad as they did in the past when I tried making them, so I am gradually getting better.  I would love to learn how to make them even better, so if you have any suggestions on how to make them more authentic, please send me a message and I will try it next time.  If this is your first time making them, please let me know if you have any questions and how they turned out!  

Buen provecho! : )

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ham, Cheese & Tomato Croissants

In this post I am going to talk about the Ham, Cheese and Tomato Croissants that we tried for the first time in London at a place called Pret A Manger.  I came across them one day while Ivan was at work in London and I was just walking through the city and looking for a good place to have coffee and something to eat for breakfast.  I was pleasantly surprised at how good this croissant was!  Soon after, Ivan tried it and loved it too. 

When we got back to Chicago, I decided to find the recipe for these croissants, but was not able to find it.  So I ended up creating my own version of it that I am going to share here.  Unfortunately, it has been a while since I made these croissants, so I do not have any good photos of my own to share.  I found the above photo online, but I promise to take some photos of my own croissants and post them here soon!  You can make these croissants without ham if you would like to leave the meat out.

They recently opened a Pret A Manger in Evanston, IL (you can find more info here) and it is close to where we live now.  Another one is located in downtown Chicago.  I don't get to visit it that often, but whenever I did go, they did not have these croissants.  I am not sure if this is because I was not able to make it in the morning, or because they don't make them at this location.  Nonetheless, they serve organic food, great wraps, salads and fruit snacks and if you have never been here, I would recommend visiting it when you get a chance.  It is a bit on the pricier side, but I think that it is worth it because the food tastes great!

* Update (7/6/2014): I finally made some of these croissants with cheese and tomato today and took some photos for the blog.  Take a look below. *

Ingredients: (Serving Size: 4 croissants)
- 1 sheet of puff pastry (defrosted)
- olive oil
- 1/2 of a tomato, squeeze some of the juice out and chop into small squares
- 4 slices of mozzarella cheese (or any other cheese that you prefer)
- 4 slices of ham
- oregano

- Take out a sheet of puff pastry and leave it to defrost.
- In the meantime, cut up the tomato, squeeze some juice out of it and put to the side
- After the sheet of puff pastry has defrosted, cut into four squares, like shown in the photo below.

- Put a drop or two of olive oil on each puff pastry square and spread it around to cover most of the surface
- Put some tomato slices going from one corner of the square to the opposite corner and repeat with all four squares

- Top with a slice of ham (if using) and then a slice of cheese on top.  Sprinkle everything with some oregano

- Take the opposite two corners (not the ones used when spreading tomato slices) and bring to the middle so they meet and slightly touch (You can place a slice of tomato in the middle to hold the middle in place, like seen in the first photo)
- Repeat with all four squares

- Preheat the oven to about 400 F
- Place croissants in a baking pan and put to bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden.

- Cool for about 5-10 minutes and serve.  These croissants would be great appetizers or finger food whenever you have guests over.

Bon apetit! : )