Shepard’s Pie

I was attempting to make a quick run through the grocery store today after work.  I had my list, I knew where everything was I wanted,  and I was just about done when I went to get the butter. I have improved my shopping skills and do not trust titles like “All Natural” , sure you are buddy, or “as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal”, I’ll eat the oatmeal instead, thank you.  There are some things that are just not in my mind to be suspicious about yet, like butter.  Butter. Margarine sure, but what could be in butter?

Like everyone else,  I do not want to spend all my money on eating healthy so I try and buy organic where I need to and save money on other things where I can.  I’ll admit I’ve been buying the cheap store brand butter because I didn’t think anything of it.  On my quick run through the grocery store today I was caught off guard when I couldn’t locate my normal unsalted butter due to a package change.  My normal white box with blue lettering is now a blue box with yellow lettering and this change gave me the extra 30 seconds to look at it and notice the ingredients: Cream Pasteurized,  Natural Flavors.  Natural flavors raised a red flag and I let out a groan in the middle of the dairy section along with a very audible “it’s butter!” to which I got a weird look from the stock boy. Natural flavors are labeled as a controversial ingredient but it is essentially a nice word to cover up chemical additives in your food.  So, needless to say I now have a healthy skepticism for every food and ended up paying the extra dollar for butter without natural flavors added.

Now on to the Shepard’s pie:

Shepard’s Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1-2 cups vegetables – chopped carrots,  peas
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs organic potatoes (3 big ones)
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • Celtic Sea Salt, or regular sea salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of sour cream (optional)
  • 1/4 cup half and half (optional)
  • Cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400ºF

Quarter the potatoes and boil them in salt water until fork tender, around 20 minutes.  I used 3 medium white potatoes and 1 large sweet potato since it was on hand.  You can peel them if you wish, I didn’t for convenience and I like the skins.

While the potatoes are boiling chop the onion and carrots.  In a large frying pan melt the butter and on medium high heat saute the veggies.   After 10 mins or when the they are tender add in any other veggies, i.e. peas or corn.

Add the ground beef to the veggies and cook until longer pink.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Add Herbes de Provence or you could just do rosemary if you have that on hand.  I am just a fan of savory and rosemary together.  Add beef broth, simmer on medium low heat for about 10 mins.  Add more beef broth if needed to keep moist.

Drain the potatoes when tender.  Mash potatoes in a bowl with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer.  Add the sour cream and half and half, you can use any type of milk I had extra half and half  (You can substitute 4 tbsp of butter instead).  Mix until smooth.

Using a 9 x 13 baking dish, pour the beef and veggies on the bottom.  Top with the mashed potatoes and bake at 400ºF for 30 mins.  Around the 20 minute mark top with grated cheddar if desired.

I love Shepard’s Pie because it is versatile   You can add different types of vegetables if you want or use sweet potatoes which gives it a great fall color.  I have added parsnips into the mashed potatoes before!  It is easy to cut back on the fat if you want a lighter dish but we were looking for something hearty on a cold fall day!

Enjoy 🙂

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Grain free for a week? Challenge accepted.

We changed our eating habits over six months ago and while we have more energy we haven’t seen much change in our appearance so we decided to try something different for a week. Our regular diet includes a lot of whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, rice, and quinoa.  I don’t remember eating so much pasta when I was younger but when you come home at 7 am after working all night hungry all you want is something quick and easy so you can get to sleep! Enter pasta.  Easy, quick, and filling.  Or if I’m not in the mood to cook then there are always Triskets and cheese.

That is why we decided to try the grain free.  Wheat free would have been much easier but we still rely heavy on a lot of grain during the week.  It has been a long week with meetings and weird shifts for the both of us so I’m going to do my best to remember what we had since we didn’t stick to my meal plan. 

  • Friday:  Spaghetti squash used as noodles topped with a meat sauce.  Grain free pumpkin bread. 
  • Saturday:   Quinoa stir fry with zucchini and yellow squash. Quinoa is technically a seed even though in some people it is digested like a grain, I soaked it overnight to help digestion.
  • Sunday: Buckwheat pancakes! We were craving something like carbs.  Even though it has wheat in the name it is a seed, too!
  • Monday: Cottage pie. (Veggies topped with mashed cauliflower and cheese)
  • Tuesday:  Tortilla soup with sour cream, avocado, and cheddar cheese
  • Wednesday: Beef taco bowl
  • Thursday: Quinoa pasta topped with lemony tuna and asparagus

 

 Breakfast usually was an omelette or yogurt.  Lunch was the hardest part for me since I’m used PB&J or leftovers.  There weren’t many leftovers this week and no bread! I literally had a carrot and celery stalk one day.

We  tried baked Quinoa crackers which were to be honest kind of weird.  They didn’t have the crunchy cracker taste to it even after baking them longer so I might try to fry them a little in coconut oil next time.  I also made grain free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.  There were good but had a strong sucanat after taste to them, but I was out of vanilla so that may have been why. 

I do feel more alert throughout the night which is great because I’ve been feeling exhausted lately.  J is really excited about it and wants to do a second week.  We are going to have REAL pizza (mmmm doughy deliciousness) tomorrow, then off to a wedding Saturday, and then on Sunday start week 2!

Homemade Ranch Dressing

     Finding dressing in the store that isn’t loaded with chemical preservatives is difficult nowadays.  Most of them have EDTA added to them to preserve freshness.   It is a widely used preservative that can even be found in baby foods. You know what also has EDTA in it?  If you have ever had your blood drawn the vacutainer tubes that they collect your blood in are loaded with anticoagulants, including EDTA!   I’m still looking into the difference in its functionality between ingested and vacutainers but still, the fact it is in something that we use to prevent blood from clotting and we are ingesting it has always freaked me out. Additional information on EDTA .

     Even the organic dressings are not always the best option as some are full of evaporated cane juice, aka sugar.  My taste buds must be changing because the store-bought brands seem very bitter to me now.  My husband is a big lover of Ranch dressing so I have experimented with different homemade ranch dressings and this is what I came up with. 

Homemade Ranch Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1 cup buttermilk, depending on desired thickness (or plain milk with 1 tbsp of lemon juice added to it)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried dill
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley (try half cilantro for an added kick)
  • 1 tbsp chives, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to your preference

If you have fresh herbs on hand they will taste even better you just may have to use slightly more to get the same taste (i.e. 3-4 tbsp fresh parsley).  This is easily adapted to taste so add more or less of what you like!  I am not a fan of mayo so I use yogurt but you could swap that. 

Clean 15 or is it?

We’ve been trying to stick to the clean 15 for our non-organic items.  Partly because of the price of organic produce and because we live in an area without a lot of access to organic items.  Yes, we have a Walmart and Tops but if you look through Walmart the only organics I’ve found are the occasional green pepper for $2 per pepper.  You can find some other organic things in Walmart if you hunt them down, Annie’s Mac and Cheese, Muir Glenn, chicken, etc.  Tops is easier to shop in with the organic aisles put together in one section for cereals, pastas, soups, etc.  But the produce is just a little corner of celery, carrots, and a few other items that are hit and miss.

When we first started this I didn’t know how we were going to be able to do it in the area we live in.  I already make our own white-whole wheat bread since I have yet to find any around here.  Local bakeries use bleached all-purpose flour for the most part and when I do find some with whole wheat there are usually a list of preservatives involved.  The dirty dozen and clean 15 were a relief when I found them.  Now I came across the fact that the onions (and garlic) are sprayed with anti-sprouting agents AFTER harvest. TOXIC anti-sprouting agents.  Are these included in making them #1 on the clean 15?  I doubt it 🙂

I’ve tried to do some research on these but I can’t find much other than it’s toxic.  I’m sure that is what makes the outer skin on the onions crisp.  Interestingly enough I was just thinking the other day “why do the onions I buy from the farmers market have a different type skin?”.  I know they use them on potatoes to prevent spuds (stopping mitosis) which is why I opt for sweet potatoes when possible.

Thinking about it makes you wonder how clean are the clean 15? Sure they are better alternatives than the dirty dozen but still, not great for you.  How much does the anti-sprouting agent penetrate into the onion?  I doubt it is only the outside layer.  Do we really want to put something in our bodies that stops mitosis? No.

I use at least 4 onions a week in the food I make for our family.  With the health benefits of onions I was excited to know they were on the clean list. Now I am back to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated trying to eat healthy in today’s world.

Coffee love and peppers

I am currently working on my second batch of cold brew coffee.  Before J and I got married I attempted it and boy what a mess! I was given a not to happy expression when I mentioned making another batch for the hot summer weather.  There were coffee grounds all over the counter (plus the floor) and it took HOURS to drain all the coffee.  I received some feedback from a friend that a French Press coffee maker works well to separate the grounds quickly.  However, even though I am a big fan of coffee and own four different coffee makers, my collection does not include a French Press.   I was all prepared to suck it up and do it all over again when I looked at my drip coffee maker and thought “it drains hot coffee fast enough!”.  I’m excited to say it is going much quicker and minus the mess, woohoo!

When J and I first started dating every time I cooked for him he would tell me how much he loved it.  What I came to realize is he actually did!  I was skeptical at first and would throw some interesting ingredients in there but I was pleasantly surprised he was willing to try anything at least once, or twice if made a different way.  Excellent!  I love to cook and experiment so he is the perfect test subject.  His skills in the kitchen are somewhat lacking but he is great at cutting onions I can’t see through the tears and helping in anyway he can.

When I got him to agree to watch Food Inc with me I was worried that I would be disgusted by the things I saw and that he wouldn’t be affected and would want to keep eating the way we were.  I had known about Food Inc. for several years before and was toting the “Ignorance is bliss” mind set.  Surprisingly, J was the one to push to eat better in the beginning.  I have certainly picked up the slack in the last month or so and ruined several of his favorite places to eat (Subway, anyone? Ew.) but he defiantly got the ball rolling.  I love him for that.

We have added a few new foods to our diet.  We tried Quinoa for the first time in a stuffed pepper.  It was the first time I had actually enjoyed a stuffed pepper.  Before that I thought they were too saucy and had a  “weird” texture for me.  Honestly, I think that may be from the fact that I only really remember eating microwavable ones.  Being an avid label reader now and a new Step-Mom I am trying to cut back on the junk the kids eat while they are with us.   This would be difficult with kids that live with you full time it is even more so when they have full access to the food they are used to when they are not with us.  I am slowly introducing new foods with them and the peppers were one they loved, success!

Give credit where credit is due: http://www.rachelcooks.com/2011/07/08/southwestern-quinoa-stuffed-peppers-and-southwestern-quinoa-casserole/