Update. And Cottage Pie.

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Blog, it’s been a while. Since my last post (was it really November 2013!?) Jan and I welcomed a new member to our family, our son, Axel, now age 14 months. Parenthood has kept us busy and added a whole new dimension to our food and travel adventures (more on that to come hopefully here on the blog). We also recently moved to a new home, so we’ve had a lot going on!

The food I’m writing about today is one we’ve just recently discovered, and also something that everyone in the family enjoys (the little one is really into meat and mashed potatoes, and I don’t blame him)!

It all started when I saw shepherd’s pie on a menu somewhere and suggested we try making it ourselves sometime.

The first time Jan made it, we both asked ourselves, where has this food been our whole lives, and why haven’t we been eating it all the time? We’ve tried it with a few variations, and throughout this experimentation process, realized we’d actually been calling it the wrong name. Shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, and cottage pie is made with beef. Definitely prefer the beef version.

We cook ground beef with onions, garlic, shredded carrots, tomatoes and red wine. We also add some rosemary, thyme and parsley.

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We make our standard mashed potatoes with just russet potatoes, butter, milk, salt and pepper (I’m always in charge of this job because Jan does not add enough butter). I set a little bit of the mashed potatoes aside just for Axel to eat later, and to the rest, add one egg yolk (this will help it set up on top of the beef when baked).

In a baking dish, we add the layer of mashed potatoes on top of the beef layer, then sprinkle with paprika and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and bake!

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Summer of Solo Barbecuing

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Well, I’ve managed to do it.

I’m not going to call myself grill master (or anything even close), but I’ve accomplished the goal I set for myself in June: “Overcome my fear of the barbecue.”

Backing up just a bit: Jan got a new barbecue and was pretty excited about it. He even posted a picture of it on Facebook with the caption “my new bbq!” (cute).

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It seemed silly to me that he’d leave for fire season and this big, beautiful barbecue would just be sitting out on the back porch, alone and unused. Besides, what was with my fear of barbecuing in general?

Once I put it out there that I wanted to learn,  Jan was not letting me slip back into our comfortable pattern of him doing the grilling. So he gave me my first lesson, which meant he told me what to do, I followed his instruction and I took these notes:

CHICKEN
Turn on gas.
Light.
Turn all three burners to a little past medium. Leave for 10 minutes until heated up.
Place marinated chicken between burners.
Turn over in 10 minutes.
Check temperature after another 10 minutes. Try to turn only once or twice per side.
Allow to rest. Then slice.

A few days later, tri tip was the lesson plan (picture of my thinly sliced first tri tip at the top of this post.):

TRI TIP
Turn on gas.
Light all three burners, turn to medium. Wait 10 minutes.
During this time, sprinkle Pappy’s seasoning on both sides of the tri tip.
Turn off the middle burner.
Put the meat on the grill (in the middle where the burner is turned off), fat side up.
Wait 10 to 15 minutes, flip (make sure it doesn’t catch on fire during this time!)
Wait 10 to 15 minutes, check temperature.
If not 135 degrees, flip again.
Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. 

I had a few moments of fear, but Jan was encouraging. Yes, lifting the top of the barbecue was an arm workout in itself, and add to that the hot air rushing out the moment I lift the top intensifying my feeling that suddenly, everything might catch on fire… but I survived and the results were edible (and actually quite good)!

The true test came when Jan left for a fire, leaving behind a refrigerator stocked full of food and me not wanting good ingredients to go to waste. Since chicken was my first lesson, I pulled out my notes, pulled the cover off the barbecue, and took out the two pounds of chicken breasts with the impending best-by date. My lesson with Jan didn’t include marinating the chicken, so after a quick internet search I settled on an easy marinate I could do in a ziplock bag.

The results? Surprisingly good! The first time I checked the temperature, it wasn’t high enough so I gave it a few more minutes (and probably too many because the chicken was a bit drier than I’d hoped. Also, the “recommended internal temperatures” printed on the side of my probe thermometer are probably on the safer, well-cooked side ). But overall a success!

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First unsupervised barbecued chicken!

There was room for improvement, of course, but I’d done the hardest part — grilled on my own! (I realize I have much left to learn, and I’m not even going to think about learning how to grill with charcoal yet.)

I remembered the final part of the lesson: turn off the gas, and brought out my knife and fork.

Good Thing we had Tacos

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It’s been too long since Jan and I spent a night in the kitchen, experimenting and having fun making something we’ve never made before. We are out of practice.

Since Jan’s been back from a long summer firefighting in Utah, Montana, Idaho and Washington, he’s wanted lobster tails and caviar (too many bad fire camp meals, he says). In my mind, he wants this over-the-top fancy meal every week. In his mind, it’s been ONCE. We’ll agree it’s a number somewhere in between.

In any case, how crazy is it that we live in a place where food is so accessible that Jan can ask, “Lobster tonight?” and my response be “Ugh! I’m sick of lobster!”

This time when he asked, I said I just wanted Mexican. Simple.

But Jan was in the mood for something special (and complicated), so he decided, in an effort to satisfy both of our requests: chile rellenos! Continue reading

Raclette: Thank You Switzerland!

I have Switzerland to thank for some amazing memories, beautiful scenery, and our latest kitchen gadget. (“Kitchen gadget” said with my fist raised, a silent “arrgh,” and scowly look to Jan.  My ongoing battles with kitchen gadgets are cataloged here (dehydrator), here (pasta machine), here (ice cream maker), and here (sous vide water bath)). 

It’s a Raclette machine.

Much as I wanted to hate it (and did, when it arrived from Amazon.com), I think it’s pretty cool.

To Americans, Raclette is the lesser-known cousin to Fondue, though both are dishes based on combining an assortment ingredients with melty Swiss cheeses.  To make fondue, cheese like Swiss cheese and Gruyere cheese are melted together with garlic, white wine, cherry brandy, and spices in a large, heated pot.  Chunks of bread and cooked vegetables are dipped in the cheese with skewers or forks once the cheese is melted and smooth. Continue reading

Spring Rolls by way of Banh Mi

With a love of all things sandwich, I have been curious to try the Vietnamese-style sandwiches called Banh Mi that I’ve been hearing more and more about, thanks to all the food-related television we watch.  On our trip to Idaho last December, I finally got to sample my first Banh Mi in Boise, and of course it was delicious. How could it not be with marinated meat served with pickled, vinegary vegetables, and cilantro on a fresh French baguette? Continue reading

It’s My New Favorite Pizza

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It was thanks to our friends Amy and Russell that we first experienced how amazing homemade pizza could be (link: Pizza Perfected). So of course it was only fitting that they once again led us to a pizza revelation. One night, when we all went out together for pizza and beers, we decided to order a couple of pizzas. The special that night was on any combination of four toppings, and Jan ordered a combination of meat and veggies (very standard supreme). For her order, Amy told the waiter: pesto sauce (doesn’t count as a topping), tomatoes, spinach, grilled chicken, feta cheese, and artichoke hearts (added that as an extra topping).

Never being a fan of “new age” pizzas (sorry, CPK and any fans of barbecue chicken, mushroom alfredo, and/or brussell sprouts and lemon pizza), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as always, kept an open mind. Continue reading

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And no, I’m not talking about the song or saying this because it’s the holidays. I realize it might make me a bit grinchy, but I don’t like Christmas music. The one and only time I will permit Christmas music to be played in the house is during the decorating of the Christmas tree. I got my three hours of Christmas music in two weeks ago. And the Christmas tree looks beautiful. And yes, it’s real, so I won’t have any more people calling me bah-humbug.

For me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year because it’s roast season. It’s cold outside and cozy inside when you’ve got beef slowly cooking in the oven. I once told Jan that my favorite meal growing up was the beef stew my mom made with carrots and potatoes. That the beef fell apart with a fork and it was amazing. And I didn’t have to describe any more before he got to planning his own roast beef dishes. Continue reading

Lessons in Indian

Since my friend Anjali visited last year and Jan and I got our first lesson on cooking Indian food (see Indian Feast Masala), we were not very good students. Jan made one other dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (Stir-Fried Green Cabbage with Fennel Seeds, or bhuni bahdh gobi) for me to bring to my book club when the food theme for that night was Indian (we were discussing The White Tiger), and then, we made nothing else for a while.

And then, in typical fashion for us, suddenly it was all about Indian food. Though I’ve never been a fan of curry, dinners out and about (at North India Bar and Grill and Malabar Restaurant in Santa Cruz) convinced me that there was so much more than curry to get me excited about Indian. I learned early on that I love naan, and also all the different pickles and chutneys that go along with them. Continue reading

Swedish Meatballs

It hasn’t been dinner as usual at the Our Life in Meals household recently. During the past few weeks, Jan sent me updates (and photos) of various barbecue eaten across the Southwestern United States as he fought forest fires in Texas and Arkansas (driving there and back and seeming to stop at every barbecue joint along the way). Needless to say, I’ve gone through a few rotisserie chickens and boxes of cereal (not for the same meal, of course) while he was gone.

And because I’d let several weeks go by without posting to Our Life in Meals, the harder it became to begin again. Even once Jan returned home, I felt that we had to prepare some amazing meal for me to break the ice.

But it turned out that a seemingly standard dinner might do the trick when Jan and I combined our heritage to prepare one of the best meals we’ve had in months. Continue reading

Lomo Saltado: A Taste of Peru

The commercials for Match.com state that today, one in five relationships begin online, and I believe it. These days, it seems like everyone knows somebody who’s found their significant other through a dating site, and as someone who never experienced online dating (and is thankful for it after some of the stories I’ve heard!), I’m amazed.  Across counties, cities, and countries, people are able to meet online and eventually meet in person and get to know each other.

This is how one our good friend Ken met his fiancé, who will soon be on her way from Peru to begin her life here in Fresno, California.  Though we haven’t met her yet, Jan and I are excited to welcome her here when she arrives.  So when we found ourselves passing by a Peruvian restaurant during a trip to Anaheim earlier this year, it was the perfect opportunity to both taste something new, and be able to report that we had, in fact, tasted Peruvian food. Continue reading