By now you know that I’m a big fan of the freezer, mostly because it allows one to preserve bulk items. Unfortunately, there was a small blunder in the CwoC Kitchen last night. It would seem that mashed potatoes don’t freeze very well. Well, not so much that they don’t freeze, as they don’t really thaw very nicely. Moreover, they were left out too long and were warm. When the budget is tight, one simply can’t afford to lose food. Fortunately, this blunder paid off big time, creating one of the better shepherd’s pies I have had in a long time!Here is what happened.
In the morning I recorded the internal temperature of the potatoes to be 54 degrees. Any chef worth his salt needs to know the rules of food safety. This means knowing the safe temperatures for refrigerating foods as well as the safe internal temperature for any cooking various meats. Regardless of your cooking method, internal temperature is invariable measure, telling you if your food is safely cooked. I find that the use of a digital meat thermometer is the easiest and most reliable way to archive this goal. Fifty degrees is the maximum temperature for something to be considered refrigerated. Considering the container was sealed, the dish hadn’t been this warm for long (previously frozen), and had small quantities of perishable ingredients, I decided to replace them to the fridge and think about what I would do next.
To further complicate things, the potatoes had thawed into a very unpalatable texture. When you’re on a budget you have to be MacGyver in the kitchen. To that end, I puréed the mashed potatoes in the blender. (Where’s he going with this?) Next, I needed to reduce the water content in the potato purée, which was done by simmering the mash until it began to thicken.
Meanwhile, I reheated some leftover beef stew, removing the mushy potato chunks. Now I had runny pseudo-beef stew (and I don’t even like beef stew). Most shepherd’s pie recipes call for Worcestershire sauce, which I don’t have. Further improvising, I browned a hamburger-sized beef patty with soy sauce and a dash of hot-chilli sauce. Added to the stew mixture, this thickened the stew sufficiently to give it the proper texture. Ground beef is expected in shepherd’s pie, but existing stew meat ads an unexpected rustic quality to the dish!
From here on, things go as you might think. I used half the potatoes to make a pie crust, which I heated enough to firm up and not be penetrated by the stew juices. Finally I added the stew mix, covered with the remaining potatoes and brushed with garlic butter. After 30 minutes at 400 degrees, I was rewarded with a hearty meal that would make James Joyce happy. In retrospect, the only thing I would have done differently is using the broiler to brown the top a bit more.
This is less a story about Sheppard’s Pie and more a reminder of three key rules you should always remember when cooking without cash:
1. Know food safety, and use the right tools to limit your mistakes.
2. Always, always be willing to improvise. (This dish could work well for you with canned stew, and some stir-fry veggies)
3. Think in terms of texture and tastes, rather than simply ingredients. You can misread a recipe, but your sense of taste will never lead you astray.
Chocolate Chip cookies were a mistake, accidentally discovered by Ruth Wakefield in 1933 when she ran out of baker’s chocolate and opted for a substitution of semi-sweet chunks. These famous cookies are a reminder it is always important to keep an open mind in the kitchen.
As always, I’d love your comments on this, or other recipes. I’m anticipating some more improv recipes for Sunday. Until then, stay hungry my friends.