At The Food Channel, I write code in one of the culinary libraries off the kitchen area. As usual, I often become hungry with the flavors wafting in from beyond the bookshelves. I started perusing the stack of new cookbooks and ran across a new one called Yummy Potatoes, 65 Downright Delicious Recipes by Marlena Spieler.
Now, I’m a good Midwestern boy, and potatoes are my comfort food of choice. Baked, fried, totted or hashed, I’m more than willing to pass up dessert for another helping of potatoes. Imagine my surprise to find a complete book devoted to the understated elegance of the lowly tuber.
Yummy Potatoes politely points out, with full-page imagery, what my concoction should aspire to. The book is broken into categories ranging from breakfast potatoes (a personal favorite), tapas, potato soup, and potatoes boiled and fried. I was looking for the hearty main dish recipes. Potatoes deserve to be seated at the big kids’ table, with the meat playing second fiddle for a herd of healthy appetites. Thankfully, I found one called The Mushroom Forager’s Cottage Pie.
The Cottage Pie offered all the fineries one may hope for: main-dish status, as well as the bonus of throwing in fluffy mashed potatoes on top. Not being overly familiar with the contents of my own kitchen meant I spent $35 re-buying ingredients I already had, such as milk and soy sauce. The ingredients were easy to find other than my struggle to choose between potatoes titled “Russet” and “Microwave.”
There are four main parts to cooking this meal. First, the five potatoes were peeled with grandma’s ancient, wildly dangerous peeler, chopped and dropped into boiling water. While starting with the potatoes, I thought it appropriate to play Measuring Cups by Andrew Bird. If you haven’t heard him, he’s a tiny little multi-tasker with big unique sound. I saw him live at the Pageant in St. Louis, where he put on an incredible two-man show, switching among guitar, violin, xylophones, singing and whistling.
Back on Topic: The second task was the mushroom reduction sauce. Starting with beef broth, you rehydrate the porcini and shiitake ‘shrooms, adding garlic and nutmeg while boiling off the excess liquid to intensify the flavors. Set aside for later.
Next in line is frying up the meat and the onions. By this time, the potatoes should be done and anxiously awaiting their participation. Once the onions have become limp (ground beef will be mostly browned), add in the mushroom sauce, a few splashes of soy sauce and, finally, two mashed potatoes into the mix. The goal here is to thicken the brew, boiling the mixture until most of the water is removed.
If you want to impress your Cottage Pie snobs, pour the mixture into round stands on a backing sheet that is set up for sexy, individual ‘Cottage Pie Muffins.’ If, like me, your aim is just to gorge some friends, drop the mixture into a cake pan and mash-up the remaining potatoes, adding milk and butter as necessary to dollop on top. Note: Make sure there are plenty of ridges to turn golden brown, while dropping some butter pads (Plugra, if you can find it) into the mashed potatoes’ layer for good measure.
The final aspect is baking for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. This is where the beer comes in and you press play on whatever movie that is going to strain your home theater system. In my case, it was War, which is not only a plot twister, but a gun-fest and a martial arts frenzy to boot.
Right about the time the star loses his partner and makes it his life mission to track down his killer – the Cottage Pie is ready.
Let me tell you, this is one handsome dish. The mashed potatoes are golden brown and it really would seem like I have some idea what I’m doing. Serving to friends is a pleasure, and this recipe serves up hearty portions.
I did (and still) have an excess mushroom problem. The recipe called for one shiitake cap – which, of course, you can’t buy singly. So, since I bought a whole box, I was ‘forced’ to throw in a few more for good measure. As it turns out, those little buggers are potent, and brought a more ‘woodsy’ flavor to the dish. On subsequent reheating, however, the flavor mellowed out, making for the best leftovers I’ve had in years. In a way, I think the recipe was a little fancified, suggesting expensive dehydrated mushrooms when dropping in a few good ol’ button cap mushrooms would suffice.
One thing is for certain: I will be trying other recipes from Yummy Potatoes, 65 Downright Delicious Recipes by Marlena Spieler..
I think next up is Traditional Ligurian Gnocci, with Fragrant Basil Pesto.