Babies, babies, babies!! Years ago when I was in my 20s, I remember when my friends starting getting married. It was viral – one friend started, then everyone was dropping like flies. It was a similar experience a few years later, when the babies started. Even though I was right in there with the whole marriage thing, we waited a while to have kids. I was definitely one of the last of my friends to have a baby, but I was glad I waited. I was so ready when she finally came. It has been many years since the baby boom, and our children are now starting to grow up – in fact, a few will be in high school starting next year. Wow!
About a year ago, something happened. In this day, when women are waiting longer and longer to have children, it is not a surprise that many have trouble getting pregnant. This was not a rare occurrence with my circle of friends, in fact I was one of the few that was lucky enough not to have to deal with that. It had been a while since any of my friends were pregnant, and I really thought we were done with that phase…not so quick. When I got the first call, I was extremely surprised. The doctor told her she would never have more children, and she believed it. All of a sudden, her world was turned upside down – she had a 10-year-old, and a baby on the way. A few months later, I found out about another good friend (and neighbor down the street) – same story, but this time with two kids – 9 and 6. Again, she was told she would never have any more children. The last one was quite a surprise – even though I had suspected - she has 2-year old twins. It was amazing she got pregnant the first time, there was no way she would ever get pregnant again – at least that’s what the doctor told her. Ok, so there has got to be something in the water now right? I have stopped drinking it, this is just crazy.
Well – as it turns out, another good friend (our neighbor from behind) announced she was pregnant in the midst of all this craziness – she was my only pregnant friend with three kids already, but she is young with tons of energy, and always wanted four. Both of the neighbor’s babies came last week, and the street is a very happy place. Their babies are just perfect – I have never been much of a baby person (until I met my own), but these babies are something else. They are just little magical beings.
I wanted to make them both some food – the only way I can really help them right now. I wanted something comforting, and something that their other kids would like as well. I went to the pantry where I store the recipes, and this is what I found – I knew that Cook’s Illustrated wouldn’t steer me wrong. I thought it would be perfect – they could keep it in the refrigerator or freezer until they needed something to eat – as it turns out, this never made it to the freezer for either of them, and from what they tell me, it was the right choice. I doubled the recipe below, and made enough for both their families, with some leftover for the girls and I – and it was the best shepherd’s pie I have ever made.
So – here’s to the new babies – but especially to their mommies…who are not getting a lot of sleep right now. Don’t worry…if you read this blog, you know they grow up quickly!
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef no less than 93% lean
- 2 TB plus 2 teaspoons water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 c milk
- 1 large egg yolk
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- olive oil for sautéing
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/4 c beef broth
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons water
Prep the ground beef by adding the water, salt, pepper and baking soda. Mix well! Let rest 20 minutes.
Place the potatoes into a pot with water to cover. Salt the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until tender. Drain and place pot back on the stove over low heat to evaporate excess water. Off heat, add the melted butter and mash well. Beat the egg yolk and milk together and mix into the potatoes. Season to taste, then cover and set aside.
In a sauté pan, cook olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are soft, and beginning to leave brown bits on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and continue cooking until paste turns brown and covers the bottom of the pan. Add the Marsala, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the flour and cook briefly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth, Worcestershire, thyme and bay leaf. Continue to scrape up bottom of the pan and then add the carrots. Bring to a boil, scraping up any remaining bits on the bottom. Reduce the heat and add beef in 2-inch chunks over the sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. About half-way through, break up the beef chunks with two forks. When meat is cooked through, mix 2 teaspoons water with the cornstarch and stir into the pan to thicken, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat.
Pour the meat into a casserole dish and spread the mashed potatoes over the top, using an off-set spatula. Using a dinner fork, create ridges across the potatoes. At this point you can either wrap with foil and refrigerate for another day or put right into the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pan on a rimmed cooking sheet to catch any spillover and 30-60 minutes until juices are bubbling. If you would like the top to get brown and crusty, broil for a few minutes before serving.
Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
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