Shepherd’s pie. Because February.

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I’m always amazed by how short February is, when winter-wise it tends to feel eternal. Eleven days in and we’ve already had a blizzard; several gray, zero-ish days; and a little icy rain.

To cope, I’ve eaten a lot of stewed meaty things, pizza, eggs, cheese fries (twice in a span of three days last week) and pasta, and drunk at least a couple bottles of wine. In other words, I’m not handling this last stretch of winter very well.

So on Monday, I decided to branch out and add a little mashed potatoes and lamb to the mix with shepherd’s pie. Truthfully, I’ve always been a little averse to this dish because of the various pots and pans I pictured it requiring. But all you need is a pot for potatoes, one for the meat and vegetables, and then a baking dish to layer it all together in. Not so terrible, especially if you’ve roped in some poor sucker to help with the dishes. (Full disclosure: the partially Irish Mister was so excited at the prospect of shepherd’s pie on a Monday, he happily would have done a whole pile of dishes.)

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It turns out that shepherd’s pie isn’t the most photogenic stuff on earth (as you can see, Sean and I tried pretty much every angle). But who needs pretty when something is this delicious?

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Shepherd’s pie with lamb
serves 3-4

Ingredients

    Olive oil, as needed
    1 pound ground lamb
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 medium carrot, chopped
    1 celery stalk, chopped
    2 large cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
    2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
    1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
    1 teaspoon soy sauce
    1/2 cup diced tomatoes
    1/2 cup chicken or lamb stock
    3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
    2 sprigs rosemary
    2/3 cup whole milk
    3 tablespoons butter
    Fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Method: Heat a medium Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. Add a teaspoon of oil and the lamb, and brown until cooked through. Season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper; then remove and set aside.

Wipe out the pan, and set it back over medium high. Add another tablespoon of olive oil along with the onion, carrot, celery, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables soften and just start to brown. Stir in the garlic, rosemary and thyme, and cook for about a minute until fragrant. Add the meat back to the pot, and pour in the worcestershire, soy, tomatoes and stock.

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Cover the pot, crank the heat up to high and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes until most of the liquid is gone. Check the seasoning, and adjust as needed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F.

Place the potatoes and rosemary sprigs in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water. Sprinkle generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

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Cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes, discarding the rosemary sprigs, and return them to the pot. Add the milk, butter, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mash until fairly smooth and creamy, adding more milk as needed if they seem too dry. When you’re done, the potatoes should be pliable but not runny. Check the seasoning and add salt, pepper or more butter if desired.

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Tip the lamb mixture into an 8-in. by 8-in. baking dish, spreading it out evenly.

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Pile the potatoes on top, smoothing them out with a spatula.

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With a fork, make a little cross-hatch pattern all over the top. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes, until the meat mixture starts bubbling up around the sides of the pan. If you like the top a bit browner, stick the pan under the broiler for about 2 more minutes. Remove, and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting to minimize roof-of-mouth burning.

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Cut the pie into large squares. Tear a few parsley leaves over the top, and serve.

Apricot coconut granola

Ever since Sean and I left for the Epic Chicago-to-Boca-and-back Road Trip last week, I’ve been waking up ungodly early for no apparent reason. Below are some of the sunrises I’ve seen, in order by city, over the past week.

Crown Point, IN

Crown Point, IN

Forsyth, GA

Forsyth, GA

Louisville, KY

Louisville, KY

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

I actually like getting up really early. Pre-dawn hours are great for strong coffee and solitary writing (some of my best ideas strike first thing in the morning).

They’re also good for making granola, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious at 5 a.m. and are able to pull out a baking sheet, measuring cups and a prep bowl with minimal clamor.

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Still, I have found that there are two major setbacks to early rising:

(1.) If you live with someone else, the second you hear that person stirring, chances are you will overwhelm them with rapid, coffee-fueled conversation before they’ve even made it to the bathroom. (“But don’t you think that’s a genius idea for a book? Sean? SEAN, are you even listening to me?”)

(2.) 7 pm will feel more like 10 pm, especially once you come to the terrifying realization that you’ve been awake for 14 hours.

But about that granola. This was my first time making granola from scratch, which is kind of surprising because I tend to find store-bought granola overpriced and disappointing. I think I’m going to make my own from now on.

This simple version combines rolled oats, sliced almonds, pine nuts, dried apricots, coconut, honey and a little maple syrup. But if you don’t like any of the above additions, feel free to swap them out with an equal amount of something you do like. Note: This granola can also be made during normal human hours of operation.

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Apricot coconut granola
Ingredients

    3 cups rolled oats
    1 cup sliced almonds
    1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
    1/4 cup pine nuts
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup honey
    2 tablespoons good-quality maple syrup
    2 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil
    1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Method: Preheat the oven to 275F (or 300 if you like darker granola). In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, coconut and salt until combined. Add the honey, syrup and oil and fold together with a spatula until everything is evenly coated.

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Spread the oat mixture in a single layer onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Bake for 40 minutes until golden, stirring two or three times during baking to ensure even browning.

Remove; set the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally as it hardens to prevent big clumps from forming. Sprinkle the dried apricot pieces over the top, and toss with your fingers to combine. Store the granola in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.

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