Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood. The challenges of it, the responsibilities that come with it, and the rewards that make me forget all about Harry’s insane toddler behavior (please tell me this will happen someday!). I start teaching my cooking class, called Parents Need to Eat, Too, next week—I’ll report back, not to worry—so I’ve been working on dishes that can be cooked in stages while baby naps and things that freeze well, all while offering tons of flavor and excellent nutrition. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be writing about these kinds of dishes. While I may add some specific instruction for folks with younguns at home, I promise that everything I cook will still be of interest—heck, will still be I-want-to-eat-that-NOW—for the rest of you, dear readers.
Because the thing is, while new parents have an especially hard time of it, older parents have their challenges, too. Stephen’s mom is dealing with some major upheavals: About a month ago, her right leg was amputated below the knee, lost to cancer. She’s healing wonderfully, and the doctors tell us this has saved her life, but she’s now faced with learning a whole new way to move through the world. Things that used to be so easy for her, like making dinner, are now remarkably difficult—for the time being, at least, until she’s fitted for and learns to use her prosthesis. So last weekend Stephen, Harry, and I went down to visit. Harry and Stephen did their best to keep Pauline’s spirits from flagging, while I cooked and cooked and cooked, double batches that could be frozen and reheated easily later. Chicken Pot Pie. Roasted Vegetable Lasagna. Three Bean Turkey Chili. Beef Stew.
The biggest hit? Cottage Pie. Also known in this country as Shepherd’s Pie, it’s a cozy, comforting casserole with a base of ground beef and vegetables in a savory gravy, topped with mashed potatoes and baked until it bubbles. In addition to its deliciousness, it’s got a few more things going for it: As my mother-in-law can attest, Cottage Pie freezes beautifully, so the time-pressed among us can make a double recipe and enjoy the fruits of their labor twice over. It’s easily prepared in stages, so new moms and dads can make the recipe one step at a time, whenever junior’s in a low-maintenance valley. Oh, and since it’s thickened with just tomato paste and potato-starchy broth, it’s kosher for Passover! So I made it again this evening, for my own family.
Not that my adorable son appreciated it. In tonight’s example of Harry’s insane toddler behavior, when I told him we were having Cottage Pie—a dish he’d never even heard of before that moment—he said, “I don’t like Cottage Pie.” Sure enough, he refused to touch it. Junior ate yogurt and an apple for dinner tonight, and will likely do the same thing when I serve the oh-so-yummy leftovers.
Inspired by Simply Recipes
Serves 4-6, depending on appetite
6-8 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
4-6 ounces milk (I use 1%)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb extra-lean ground beef (I use 85% lean—less fat & cholesterol than ground turkey!)
1 package mixed frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, corn, green beans) OR 2 cups fresh vegetables, diced
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 t. pomegranate molasses (entirely optional)
2 T. tomato paste
salt & pepper
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, add chicken and beef broths, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and reserve most of the broth; mash the potatoes in the pot and add as much reserved broth as you think it needs to hold together. Add milk to make it creamy, plenty of salt, and pepper, and set aside. (If you’ve got an infant, do this part during morning nap and put it in the fridge for later.)
Preheat oven to 400. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion (and fresh carrot, if you’re using fresh vegs) and sauté until barely tender. Add ground beef and cook, breaking the meat up with the back of a spoon, until it’s no longer pink. Add the vegetables. Add Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, pomegranate molasses (if using), and tomato paste. Stir the reserved potato-cooking broth to reintegrate the starch that’s settled to the bottom, and add enough to keep things moist. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture looks like it’s completely integrated. (Parents of infants: Do this part during nap #2 and put it in the fridge for later. Skip the preheating part until fifteen minutes before you do the next step.)
Coat a large rectangular baking pan with non-stick spray. Put the beef & vegetable mixture into the pan, and top with the mashed potatoes. Spread the potatoes out with the back of a spoon to make a fairly smooth surface, and use the tines of a fork to make a pattern—that’ll give lots of ridges to make it crustier. Put it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or 45 minutes if everything’s been in the fridge. (Parents of infants: Don’t forget to set a loud kitchen timer! Trust me, it’s much too easy to forget that you’ve got something in the oven, and burned Cottage Pie is enough to make anyone cry, never mind a hormonal, sleep-deprived new mom.)
This recipe doubles well, if you’ve got a spare baking dish. Bake them together, and when it’s cooled off a bit wrap the second one well and freeze it. Reheat at 350 for about an hour, straight from the freezer.