Thursday, October 11, 2007

Anatomy of a Recipe

I first met my friend Greg Atkinson many (maybe 25?) years ago when we both were working at a Mexican restaurant in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district called “Dos Padres”. He was a line cook and I was the house musician on Sunday nights. Most of the time, I would zone out and sing the same songs week after week – and spend my time watching the cooks (as they cooked the same thing, week after week) through the service window. Sometimes they would sing along with me – but most times it was simply the strange percussion of the kitchen that would echo along with my songs – and if they weren’t too busy, they would fix me something special (ie, not on the menu) for dinner.

Greg & I became fast friends – although we haven’t seen much of each other in the last 15 years, he has moved on to much bigger and better things – and successively more responsible jobs – one of his last full time “chef” jobs was as the executive chef at the Canlis Restaurant (a classic & celebrated restaurant since 1950) in Seattle. He now teaches cooking classes, and regularly appears on the local Public Television station as a regular Guest Host on their specials – “KCTS Chefs” AND has his own Culinary Consulting business. He writes a weekly article called “Taste” for the Seattle Times/PI Weekend Magazine, AND he also has written some great cookbooks.

I love reading his articles – I can almost hear his “voice” reading aloud to me. I also love reading his cookbooks – I admire how he can “craft” a recipe that, in the end, tastes divine.

Well, I consider myself to be a better than average cook. I have made dinners for as many as 90 people at our church auctions (with rave reviews, I might add) and I sold Pampered Chef Kitchen Tools for 3 or 4 years – so, I generally have the right tool for the task at hand.

I also love cookbooks – or rather I LOVE cookbooks – but strangely enough, the one I generally reach for first is my Grandma’s Betty Crocker cookbook – circa 1960’s. I make most meals from scratch – why buy Hamburger Helper Stroganoff mix, loaded with salt and monosodium glutamate and countless other things you can’t pronounce, when all you have to do is chop up an onion and ½# of mushrooms to brown with your ground beef. Add a little flour, a can of beef broth and a pint of sour cream – there you have it – easier than a Rachel Ray “30 Minute Meal”

Frequently I will “throw” some ingredients together and it will be a hit with The Shepherd. “Is this from a recipe?” he’ll ask… “Well, kind of…” I’ll respond. Often, he’ll say “this is a keeper, jot down your notes” – that is what happened with the following recipe – Turkey Shepherd’s Pie – Ground turkey is so much better for you than ground beef (but you can substitute ground beef if you want. – change your soup to Cream of Mushroom and use brown gravy mix) It’s not as polished as some of Greg’s recipes, it’s kind of like one of those recipes that your mom used to make – the one that only she knew the ingredients for. I bake it up in my Pampered Chef 9x13” baking dish – it is deep like a lasagna pan, so there is lots of room for LOTS of mashed potatoes.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 6
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 ¼ pound ground turkey (Jennie-O "Turkey Store" ground turkey is what I’ve used – it comes in a 20 oz package)
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (to keep the turkey from burning)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped fine
¼ pound mushrooms, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 can Campbells Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup
plus 1 can of water
1 packet of Turkey Gravy mix
1# package of frozen Mixed Vegetables
Salt, pepper, herbs & spices of your choice – I like to use ½ tsp of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning

2-3 # of potatoes peeled or scrubbed.
(I use Yukon gold) (By the way - make sure there is no green skin on your potatoes – Did you know---Potatoes exposed to bright light develop green patches. This green skin contains the toxin 'solanine' which can cause cramps, headache, diarrhea, and fever. The solution is simple. Don't eat the green skin - simply remove it - the solanine is only present in the green skin and any discoloration underneath it - the rest of the potato is completely safe to eat.)

½ to 1 cup of milk
2-4 tablespoons butter
½ cup sour cream
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel your potatoes & cut them in 1” (or so) cubes – cook in boiling water or steam – however you like – until they are tender. Mash them with enough milk to make them creamy, but you don’t want them too thin because they will be the topping on your turkey & vegetables. Stir in the butter, sour cream, shredded cheese & salt & pepper to taste.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop the onion, mushrooms, & celery. In a 10-12 inch frying pan brown your ground turkey, over medium heat and add the chopped veggies. Cook for a few minutes until they are limp. Add the frozen mixed vegetables and cook for a few minutes until they are thawed. Add the can of soup, a can of water and the gravy mix. Cook until the soup and gravy have combined and thickened and the whole thing is bubbling. Remove from heat and pour into a 9”x13” baking dish. Spoon your mashed potatoes (I like to use my 4 oz scoop – that way it is uniform) on top of your ground turkey & vegetable mixture. Spread the mashed potatoes out over the whole dish, making sure to seal them up to the edge of your baking dish. Make some “vents” in the middle so the gravy will have someplace to escape to (and not over the edge and down onto the floor of your oven).

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the gravy starts to bubble up in those vents. It’s pure comfort food. Hope you enjoy it – we do.


Sharon said...

Oddly, your recipe reminds me of the "Skillet Supper" that I learned to make in 4H. Obviously it took place in one step, so you potatoes were my macaroni, and there's no "hamburger helper" that can take the place of the handful of basic ingredients - I so agree with you. My mother was a professional cook, something she had no passion for. I'm afraid the apple doesn't fall far from tree for me. Just the same, I do love a scratch meal...

Benjamin Fuzz said...

yum! with a few tiny adjustments (to gf soup), this would be great at my house. i love ground turkey! when i make tacos, i use turkey instead of beef. guests seldom know the difference.

your upcoming vacation sounds like it'll be good. i hope you have a blast!

thanks for the pumpkin recipe. i'm getting in the mood to cook! (once i'm over the stomach crud)


Kathy L. said...

Ooo...sounds good. (Those Atkinsons are nice folks - that's my DD married name)

Now, I'm wondering if I should've set the Standard, ya know! ;-)