As our boys got older, my husband and I have more time to do the things we like to do and more time to try new things. One thing we share is a love of food, cooking, eating and sharing with others. These past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. Two weeks ago, I spent a week working on diminishing the effects of sciatica and the following week we had to pair down our business and set ourselves up to work from home because we are following the COVID-19 protocol that has been put in place by the government and health care professionals. Not wanting to go out unnecessarily, we are trying to utilize the ingredients we have at home to make our meals. I wasn’t in the mood to do a big dinner, so I looked in the fridge to see what I could use to throw together something tasty, filling and easy. (I am also using this lock down to get a head start on teaching 17 year old Logan to cook) After all, while we practice social distancing to overcome this virus, making a quick tasty meal means a fast return to streaming the shows I’ve been meaning to watch for months.
So, in case you want to try something quick, easy and tasty, here’s how I made “Left Overs” Shepherd’s pie for dinner in the time of COVID-19….
I found a mish-mash of potatoes – an open bag of mini red potatoes and 2 large Russets which I washed, cut up and boiled until tender.
In the fridge there were some peas, carrots and corn left over from another meal I was preparing earlier in the week and an extra pound of ground beef that my husband thawed when he took meat out to make burgers on his new griddle.
We love flavorful food so seasoning is really important when we cook and being Trinidadian, I really don’t know any other way to cook. For the meat, I add a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and in a small bowl I combined a pinch* of sea salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin and four healthy cranks of the pepper mill. I threw in some thyme (the leaves of three stalks) parsley flakes and a little basil.
(every time I say pinch I mean a healthy pinch, like a pinch that would make someone say “OW”!)
Next I chopped up half of a small onion I found in the crisper and 2 cloves of garlic. I put about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a mid sized pan to heat.
I like to use the Rock cookware as I am not a fan of Teflon and I have found it the best way to teach my boys to cook without worrying about the food sticking and burning or worrying about utensils scratching the surface.
I sweat the onions and garlic in the oil to draw out the moisture and the flavor as their starches converted to sugar. Not only did it smell great, but sweating the onions and garlic reduces their bitterness as well. Once the onions appeared soft and translucent, I added the beef to brown as my Trini mom says. Keeping flavor in mind, I went back in to fridge to see what was there. I found some spicy pepperoni and bacon and decided to chop that up and cook with the beef. It also was an opportunity to use out ingredients that could have been forgotten in fridge and eventually thrown out. Considering I want to limit our ventures into public spaces, using the food we have and making lists of what we need is vital to keeping us and others safe and healthy.
With all the meat cooked, I folded in the rest of a bottle of barbecue sauce I found in the cupboard (Just under 1/2 a bottle of Heinz Texas Bold) and added the vegetables.
With the filling cooked, it was time to attend to the potatoes. Warm to the touch, they were perfect to mash and season with a little butter, salt and pepper, I like the potatoes chunky but my hubby and son prefer it a bit smoother and I’m not fussy and could live with that request.
Once the I got the texture they prefer, I put the first layer of potato in the baking dish.
This is one of my smaller baking dishes because son number one does not like Shepherd’s pie and wanted to stop by and pick up home made meat balls instead (made with another 1/2 pound of ground beef that yielded 12 meatballs). I wanted to make enough for dinner for 3 with enough left for Logan to have a second helping or for his usual late night snack. When you live with three men, two of whom are competitive athletes,cooking big is much easier than cooking smaller portions and it was no surprise that I ended up saving 1/2 of the filling in the freezer for another Shepherd’s pie while we wait for COVID-19 to subside in our country.
Next, I put on the filling and topped with 1/4 bag of shredded Tex-Mex cheese that I was happy to finish off.
My family loves things to have a lid. They like layered dishes like lasagna and therefore it is no surprise that they like the filling sandwiched between the potato. So ,I layered on the last of the potato
and topped with a bit of shredded 2 year old smoked cheddar bought at the factory just minutes away from our home. We are big fans of our local Mapledale cheese and again, for us it’s all about flavor.
A firm believer in buying local Canadian goods, I buy my meat from a local butcher who provides grass-fed, antibiotic free meat. I believe when it comes to food, you need to know what’s in it, how it was made and where it came from. My hope is that soon more people will demand better quality food at more reasonable prices. It is utterly unfair and ridiculous that sub-par and sugary food is cheaper than the food our bodies deserve but that’s another argument for another time.
This pie is hearty so if you are looking to cut calories you can have a small portion with a side salad or you can increase your physical activity so that you can enjoy it without feeling guilty. I’ll be honest with you, I do love my sports and my dance but after age 40, I added the desire to maintain my weight and stay healthy to my reasoning behind staying active. If I had my 20 year old metabolism, I wouldn’t care as much as I do about exercise.
With the pie layered, I baked it in a convection oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. For my bigger dishes I usually use my stove’s oven but this time with a smaller pie, I used our Breville Smart Oven. We bought one after falling in love with the one we bought for our son, Adam, for his apartment. Adam has special needs and needed an easy to operate oven that could work with a timer and shut itself off. The Breville Smart Oven gives us peace of mind that Adam can cook his meals safely now that he is living on his own.
You can see that the cheese is nice and crusty, not sludgy and greasy (the benefits of using good ingredients) and it smelled so delicious!
This is just my idea on cooking smartly during a time when we are all required to stay inside. Give it a try and see what you think. Also, with all of us doing our part by isolating ourselves as much as possible to kick the spread of this virus, take a look at what you have in your pantry or fridge and use your imagination to create something comforting and delicious. Share recipe ideas with friends on line, teach your children to cook and use the time to get rid of food in your pantry so long forgotten they have squatters rights. Get rid of junk that you really don’t need to eat. Go through your closet and see what you can wash and set aside for donation once this pandemic passes or grab those old t-shirts you no longer use and cut them into cleaning rags that you can use to wipe down surfaces. They can be either washed and reused or thrown out. There is a lot to do to keep us busy while we wait for this virus to no longer be a threat. It is hard to not go to work and earn. It is hard for young people to not be around their friends and significant others but staying apart from each other is a necessity. Hang in there everybody. It won’t be like this forever.
Stay safe and stay healthy and Bon Appetit!