Tag Archives: half and half

Venison Shepherd’s Pie

Technically not shepherd’s pie, unless I sacrifice one of my lambs for the filling—if I were a shepherd. I’m a hunter, so am using a pound of ground venison from the fall muzzleloader season deer in the freezer. Maybe I should have called it Hunter’s Pie.

We had a scare that we might lose all the venison, pheasants, and grouse in the freezer because of a big power outage just after Christmas. After driving 8 hours home on the Monday after Christmas, we unpacked and settled in for a needed rest. At about midnight, while we were sleeping, a neighbor’s tree fell on the electrical wires and pulled over the attached pole, knocking out power to the whole street. By morning, the refrigerators had already begun to warm up a little, so we got bags of ice to pack in the freezers, but it was obvious that it wouldn’t really be cold enough to keep it all frozen. Would it stay cold enough to be re-frozen when the power came back on? When would it come back on? After it was clear the power would be off for a few days, we had to come up with another plan. My husband is a biology professor with access to a bunch of laboratory freezers, so we loaded it all in coolers and took it up to school. What a relief that was, because all that game represented not only a lot of work by our dog flushing out birds—do the math for 56 pheasants at 2 a day—but it represented all the lives we took during the seasons. So, it seemed right to have this first post after my holiday hiatus be a game dish.

Shepherd’s Pie is all about the savory filling, which is traditionally made with lamb, but can be made with any red meat. I used 1 pound of ground venison (that dark red pile in the photo) and 1 pound of sage country sausage. The sausage did a lot of the flavoring in the dish, so that I didn’t have to create an herb combination; then the onion, garlic, carrots, tomato paste, and beef broth did the rest. I took the approach of a long slow cooking of the filling, as I would with the classic ragù meat sauce, which results in a very tender meat and a deeply rich sauce. Cooks often forget that ground meat benefits from a long simmer, just like other cuts. I simmered this filling for an hour before thickening it, and then simmered it for another half hour.

The rest is just a matter of making mashed potatoes and covering the filling up to the dish edges. My dish could have been a little bigger (or I could have left out a little of the filling), because it bubbled up at two corners, but I luckily had put the casserole on a half-sheet pan, so there was no oven mess. What a terrifically rich and comforting dish in this winter that has finally arrived.

Venison Shepherd's Pie

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground venison
  • 1 lb country sausage, sage or other flavor sausage
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon oil for browning meats
  • 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef stock or broth, canned or made from beef base
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter (for thickening filling)
  • 4 tablespoons flour (for thickening filling)
  • 2 lbs potatoes, boiled, then mashed
  • 4 tablespoons butter (for potatoes)
  • 1/2-1 cup half and half (for potatoes)

Preparation

  1. Brown meats in large skillet over medium heat. We process our venison without any fat, and the sausage I used has very little, so I needed the oil for browning.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, and carrots, continuing to cook and stir until the onions are translucent, maybe 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the sausage is seasoned and your beef stock may be, too.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, then the beef stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Make a beurre manié of the butter and flour. I just combine them at room temperature with the back of a large spoon until all the flour is incorporated.
  5. Stir the roux into the simmering filling until combined and beginning to thicken. Cover and simmer for another half hour, stirring often to prevent sticking.
  6. Pour or spoon the filling into a 3 quart casserole dish (mine was a little smaller, probably too small) and set aside while preparing the potatoes. If you have too much gravy in the filling, the potatoes will try to sink in a little, making it difficult to spread them out. You can strain out some of the liquid before putting the filling in the dish and reserve it for the table, if necessary.
  7. Boil the potatoes just before the filling is ready. Mash with the butter and half and half. try for a spreadable consistency.
  8. Carefully spoon the potatoes around the edge of the filling, then into the center. Seal the edges with the potatoes and cover all the filling, using the back of a spoon or a spatula or fork tines for a decorative top.
  9. Place the casserole on a sheet pan, because it will probably bubble over if filled to the top. Bake at 400° for about 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to brown.

*I should have noted that I can’t stand the idea of peas in the pie, so we had them on the side.

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Chicken Pot Pie with Buttermilk Crust

This pot pie uses the chicken thigh meat I cooked in my recent chicken fest. I thought about just making a chicken and biscuits casserole, but I haven’t made a pot pie in a long time and settled on that instead. My pot pies must have a double crust, not like those pseudo pies with just a top crust. I can see why you’d use just a top crust if using a deep casserole dish, but it’s just not a pie to me without a bottom crust. It’s more of a chicken cobbler, if there is such a thing.

The star of this pie is the buttermilk crust, which is pretty much a butter crust that uses buttermilk for the water that brings the dough together. I’ve seen some buttermilk crust recipes that don’t use butter, and some that riff on vinegar pie crusts, but I’m just doing a regular butter crust with the addition of whole buttermilk. It will be a little sticky and shaggy, like my favorite biscuit dough, but in the end, I find the moist doughs handle well. This one was easy to roll, came out crisp and flaky, and the egg wash made it gorgeous to look at.

Buttermilk Pie Crust

  • Servings: makes one double crust
  • Difficulty: easy if you're used to making pie crust
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2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Optional: 1-2 tablespoons sugar (better in a dessert pie)

1 cup cold butter (2 sticks) cut in small cubes

1/2-3/4 cup whole buttermilk, depending on your humidity

1 egg, beaten for egg wash

  1. Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar if using.
  2. Cut in cold butter. I like to use my fingers to do this, which leaves little shards of flattened butter cubes and flour, but you can use a pastry cutter or food processor.
  3. Stir in buttermilk until the dough holds together but is not overly sticky. I had to use a little more than the 1/2 cup, but not quite as much as 3/4 cup.
  4. Knead the dough lightly into a fairly smooth ball, cut in half, and shape each half into an 8 inch disc. Wrap each disc in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.
  5. This dough handles well after refrigeration, not turning into a hard block that you can’t roll out easily. I have no trouble with cracks or tears in this dough, and it rolls out easily to a large circle.
  6. Roll each disc to a circle about 2 inches bigger than your pie dish. My dish was one of the old Pyrex® 9.5 inch dishes.
  7. Fit one crust into your dish, leaving the overhang. I prefer to trim the overhang of the bottom and top crusts together.
  8. Fill the crust, then add the top crust. You can see in one image that I folded the top crust in quarters and then unfolded it on top of the pie. The dough really handled well for folding.
  9. Trim the overhang evenly and to your liking, and crimp as you desire. For a savory pie, I don’t really want the fancy crimped edge, but prefer to roll under the overhang into high, fat edge.
    1. Forgot to say to brush the crust with egg wash!
  10. I baked my pie at 400° for about 45 minutes until the crust was browned and the interior was hot and bubbly. If your crusts are still very cold, and/or your filling is cold, yours might take longer, in which case you might lower the temperature to 375° after the first 15 minutes.

Chicken Pot Pie Filling

  • Servings: for one pie
  • Difficulty: easy
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Let’s just assume that you have precooked some chicken to use in such a pie. Poached chicken breasts would work as well as the thigh meat I used.

*Note that I made 3 cups of gravy, but I only used 2 cups in the pie. The remaining gravy can be served at the table.

3-4 cups cooked chicken, roughly cut in bite-sized pieces

2 cups carrots, cut in small dice, simmered for 5 minutes in the chicken stock

1 medium onion, cut in small dice

1 cup frozen peas

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup whole milk or half and half

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

  1. Combine the cooked chicken, carrots (note instruction to cook carrots above), and frozen peas in a large bowl.
  2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and saute until translucent.
  3. Stir flour and seasonings into butter/onion mixture, stirring until all lumps are removed. Continue stirring for 1-2 minutes to cook out raw flour taste.
  4. Slowly pour in chicken stock and milk, stirring continuously. Stir over medium heat until thickened.
  5. Add gravy to filling mixture, one cup at a time, until you feel the filling is at the right consistency, without being soupy. As noted, I used 2 cups of the gravy.
    1. If your chicken mixture was made ahead and has been refrigerated, you might need to warm it in the gravy a little before adding the frozen peas. You don’t want to add a super hot filling to the crust, nor a very cold one.
  6. Follow the crust directions above to fill and bake the pie.

Gilding Your Store-Bought Food with Cream Gravy

I over-purchased food for my little granddaughter’s visit and never got around to the frozen things we thought she might want, the breaded chicken tenders and the frozen waffles, so I decided to put them together and have a chicken and waffles dinner. Of course, it would have been better to be making both from scratch, but I figured I could add some homemade cream gravy to pump it up a little. I mean, really, gravy makes just about anything better. The best I could do with the frozen waffles was to use real butter and real maple syrup—or the chicken and gravy could have gone over the waffles in more of an Amish chicken and waffles.

chickenwaffles

Cream Gravy

  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Cream gravy is so, so easy, but you do have to stand there and stir it until thickened to prevent lumps, so choose a time to make it when your hands are not needed elsewhere.

4 tablespoons bacon fat (or butter or vegetable oil)

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk (I used 1 1/2 cups half and half and 1/2 cup milk)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper—you have to see the black flecks of pepper in this sauce

  1. Heat the bacon fat until melted in a saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the flour, stirring until all the lumps are gone. Keep stirring for a few minutes to cook out the rawness of the flour. If you are using butter or oil, you want the roux to turn a light golden color without burning. My bacon fat had been strained before storing, so there were no bits of bacon left in it, but that would have been okay.
  2. Slowly stir in the milk, stirring continuously. I do not scald my milk first unless I’m using butter, but some people like to do that. Continue slowly stirring for a few more minutes with a large spoon or whisk until the mixture bubbles and thickens.
  3. Remove from heat and pour over just about any dinner food, from meat to vegetables to rice or potatoes. Or I guess you could eat it with that large spoon.

Confirmed: I Don’t Like Beer Cheese

So, I pronounced that we can’t have burgers on the grill every day this summer, then made a (Beer) Cheeseburger Casserole instead. Go figure. I even fired up the grill for cooking the peppers and onions, because I’ve become a little addicted to that grilled flavor they get, in addition to the ease of peeling the charred pepper skins off. I guess I might as well have cooked the hamburger there, too, but that’s water under the bridge. To make it more than a crumbled burger, I made some home fries to mix with the other ingredients, and then decided it might be a good time to try some beer cheese. No, I am not a beer drinker, but I’ve had good luck using it in other recipes, so I thought this would make the casserole special. Unfortunately, I found the combination of beer and cheese to be odd, a little sour, a little bitter in a bad way, while my husband (the beer drinker) said it was good.

Oh, well. You can make some sort of casserole or dip or sauce for your fries with this simple recipe:

Beer Cheese Sauce

  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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I was trying to use up some heavy cream and half and half, but you could substitute other combinations of milk products in the sauce.

2 tablespoons butter

1/2-1 clove minced garlic

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup half and half

1/2 cup beer

Optional: 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

12 oz shredded cheddar cheese (I used Kerrygold™ Dubliner cheese instead of a traditional cheddar)

  1. Make the roux for the sauce by melting the butter over medium-low heat, then stirring in the garlic, and cooking for 1 minute. Stir in the flour, slat, and pepper until all is combined and smooth.
  2. Pour in the liquids and stir until smooth and thickened.
  3. Stir in shredded cheese until melted.

I poured this sauce over my casserole ingredients and baked it for about 20 minutes, but it could be the sauce for any number of uses.

Next time, burgers. On the grill.