Time to again turn the calendar page, but this time there’s hope for spring. Seeds for this year’s garden have been recently planted and are being watered and watched in the sunroom. Fruit trees have been pruned, and when the ground dries a bit more, compost can be carted to the garden.
The chickens are excited to again be finding worms, and the cows will give birth soon. There’s the promise of rhubarb and asparagus poking through the soil, and lettuce seedlings are holding their own under a row cover. But, what are folks who grow their own food eating now?
If our little farm is any indication, we’re still eating the remnants of last year’s harvest. The root cellar has pretty slim pickings, with plenty of winter squash and garlic, but the onions and sweet potatoes are gone, and the regular potatoes are beginning to sprout. Some of our favorite canned goods are gone, but tomatoes and apples and peaches remain. The chest freezer holds the remnant beef and a couple skinny-looking chickens, but also cheese and lots of chopped peppers. The mixed frozen vegetables and wonderful green beans disappeared at least a month ago. Outside, chickens are laying more eggs now that the days are longer, but there’ll not be milk until the calves are born. There’s plenty to eat, but meals sure aren’t what they were even in the middle of winter.
What we’re eating can best be described as “creative cooking.” My grandmother would probably not be impressed and would describe our meals as normal for pre-garden fare. One of my favorite meals is “Shepherd’s Pie” because its ingredients can vary with what’s available. I also like it because it can be created from the previous day’s left-overs and yet come to the table looking like a new creation. See if your family won’t enjoy your own variation of this recipe:
About 2 pounds potatoes (preferably baking potatoes, like russets) peeled and cut into approximately 1” chunks
½ to 1 cup milk, a large tablespoon butter and salt to taste
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
One pound beef, chicken or lamb, cut into ½” to 1” cubes
One onion, chopped
About three carrots cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup green beans cut into 1” lengths,
½ cup turnips cute to bite-sized pieces
2 to 3 cloves garlic, to taste
1 cup meat or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon cumin, (freshly ground is best)
Salt and pepper to taste.
--Begin by placing cut potatoes into cold, salted water and cook them for 10 to 15 minutes, partially covered, until a knife can be inserted easily.
--While potatoes are cooking, heat canola oil and cook onions until translucent.
Cover the meat cubes with flour and place in hot canola oil. Cook until brown on all sides.
--Gradually add the vegetables to hot skillet beginning with carrots, then add broth and simmer meat and vegetables for about ten minutes on medium heat. Add seasoning. Use the vegetables listed, or any other vegetables that suit your family’s taste.
--Drain the potatoes and mash with sufficient warmed milk to moisten. Add butter, salt and grated cheese, and beat until smooth, adding warmed milk as needed to have them light and fluffy.
--Next, place the meat and vegetable mix in a large, rectangular baking dish and then cover with the mashed potatoes. Cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Always cook uncovered.
This dish is so much easier as a left-over! If you cook a roast or chicken, be sure to cook it plenty of extra vegetables. The next day, everything will be pre-cooked, and can just be rearranged with the meat’s excellent broth that you can use instead of bouillon. You only need to cut the ingredients in smaller, bite-sized pieces before mashing the potatoes or arranging the vegetables. Want vegetarian? Omit the meat altogether and use vegetable bouillon for moisture. If you’re feeling brave and want to add a whole new flavor and more vitamins, add some canned apples and a bit of nutmeg to the mixture.
Every time you make a Shepherd’s Pie, your family can have a different taste experience!
Photo by Mary Lou Shaw