Vegetarian Cottage Pie – Set It & Forget It

I really love cottage and shepherd’s pie. I can practically eat an entire casserole dish of it on my own, and all in one sitting. If you’re wondering what the difference is between cottage and shepherd’s pie, you’re not alone. Before someone recently brought it to my attention, I thought I had been making shepherd’s pie all these years. However, shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with lamb and cottage pie includes other meats, typically beef.

The way I made this a couple days ago is seriously the new way to cook one of these pies. In this case, I used a vegetarian ground beef. Because of this, I was able to eliminate pre-cooking the meat and I cooked everything in one step in my InstaPot pressure cooker. However, given the many talents of the pressure cooker, I imagine you could get away without pre-cooking real ground meat, too. (I just haven’t tried it. If you do try it, make sure the pressure cooker is set to cook long enough to fully cook the ground meat.)

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Here are the ingredients I used for the “meat” mixture:

  • 1 carrot (medium diced)
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • A couple of sliced mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • Corn kernels from one ear of corn
  • 12 oz package of vegetarian ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp cup water
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Here are the ingredients I used for the mashed potatoes. Increase the amounts if you like or want more mashed potatoes on top than a thin layer.

  • 5 small potatoes (cubed)
  • 1 pat butter
  • 2 Tbsp almond milk (any kind of milk you prefer for mashed potatoes is fine)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder, freeze dried chives (to taste)

I stirred all the “meat” mixture ingredients (except the water) together in the InstaPot. I decided to add a tiny bit of salt and pepper. The vegetarian beef I got seemed to already be seasoned, so I didn’t want to be too heavy handed. I sprinkled the water over the top. The water was to add some moisture to the pressure cooker while everything cooked. I patted the mixture down at the bottom to compact it a bit. I left it relatively flat on top, but made a little divot in the center. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Next, I got a piece of tin foil and made it into a semi-bowl. I placed this in that divot. This was so the sides of the bowl would stay somewhat in tact during cooking and not allow any of the liquid for the mashed potatoes drip out the sides. In the tin foil bowl, I added all the mashed potato ingredients. I didn’t even bother mixing it up.

I put the lid on the pressure cooker and set it to “Bean/Chili” at normal pressure for 25 minutes. If you’re using a veggie beef like me, you could probably get away with 15-20 minutes. If anything, the potatoes would take the longest to cook and that should still be plenty of time.

Once the cooking was done, I did a quick release of the pressure and opened the lid. At this point, the potatoes should be fully cooked through. I dumped the potatoes from the tin foil directly on top of the “meat” mixture. I smashed it right on top and flattened/spread it across. I opted sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on top.

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I also found that the amounts of liquid I originally used made it a little more watery than I’d like, so I set the InstaPot to saute and let some of the extra liquid boil away. This made some of the juice boil up to the top, which I didn’t mind. It gave it a nice rustic/hearty look and brings some of that flavor to the top. Plus, it only took a few minutes and it was literally zero effort.

Finally, the cottage pie was served. We had extra avocado we needed to use, so we added that and a dollop of sour cream.

This is the first time I’ve made this dish in this way, so there is surely some room for improvement. At the very least, I hope this gives you some ideas on how to make your dinner prep and cooking more efficient and still delicious!

Sincerely,
Fu’d

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Leftover Lo Mein Pseudo-Arancini

Yep, you read that right. This was a total experiment. Jake and I had leftover shrimp lo mein from our favorite local Chinese food joint. We had about three quarters of the large container left and I didn’t want it to go to waste.

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Leftover lo mein

The problem was that I didn’t feel right eating lo mein on a Monday night. To me, it seems like a pig out junk food. And since my diets always start on a Monday ;), I felt like I needed to mask it somehow. I decided to pulse it in the food processor, which essentially riced it, and then make it into an air-fried ball. I call it pseudo-arancini because arancini is traditionally made with rice. I’ve actually never made arancini before, but I figured this might be unique and potentially yummy.

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After pulsing the lo mein in a food processor

I mixed in two eggs and and about 1/3 cup panko breadcrums. I chose panko because I didn’t want to add in too many other flavors to the already-flavored lo mein. I initially started with one egg and approx. 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. I then added the second egg and additional breadcrumbs because the consistency wasn’t sticky enough for a ball to hold together.

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Mixing the riced lo mein with egg and panko
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Egg and panko incorporated to make a sticky mixture

I was trying to decide what should go in the middle of the lo mein ball. From what I’ve read, traditional arancini usually has some sort of cheese, meat, and/or peas. I didnt think that cheese fit in this case and I wasnt feeling the meat or peas. I decided to go with mini frozen chicken and vegetable dumplings I had in the freezer. They are only about 1.5 inches wide, so the size worked out well. I microwaved them first so they weren’t frozen and used one in the center of each ball.

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Mini dumplings from BJ’s Wholesale Club, used as the filling for the balls

I then simply formed a ball of lo mein around the dumpling. (Be prepared to get messy hands.) I started first by taking a bit, compacting it and flattening it. I then placed the dumpling in the middle and started to cup my hand so the lo mein would begin to wrap around the edges. I took another scoop of lo mein with my other hand, put it on top of the dumpling and just began shaping it. I kept compressing it and rolling it with both cupped hands until a ball shape was formed.

When satisifed with the shape, I rolled the ball in some more panko bread crumbs. Finally, I refrigerated the balls for about 30-45 minutes so they would firm up a bit.

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Rolling the shaped balls in panko

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I think deep frying them would’ve been delicious, but I wasn’t ready to put that much effort into it. So, I went with the healthier and easier option – my air fryer. I set it to 400 degrees Farenheit and turned them every so often until they were a golden brown all around. This took a total of about 20 minutes.

The end result was a fun, new dish. I was surprised that the very flavorful lo mein didn’t seem to present itself much when cooked in the ball. Maybe the breadcrumbs and egg dulled a bit of the flavor. If I make this again, I would incorporate some extra seasoning – perhaps some sriracha, a splash of soy sauce, scallion, or something that might make the flavors pop a little more. I made a mayo/ketchup/sriracha dipping sauce and served it with a side of air fried broccoli.

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Out of the air fryer and onto the broccoli
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Ball cut in half, showing the mini dumpling

Jake thought the dish was very heavy, so if you’re looking for something light, this probably isn’t it. On the other hand, if you are looking for something to do with your leftovers and don’t mind a little experimentation, I’d say give it a try! I would love to see you try this and comment with your experience!

Hope this inspires you to try something new!

Sincerely,
Fu’d

Oui Oui, French Bread & Shrimp Scampi

Jake’s dad makes a lot of really scrumptious seafood dishes. One of those dishes is his famous shrimp scampi that I have only heard whispers about, but had not actually witnessed or tried myself. Last night put an end to all those rumors! Jake’s parents came over and not only made that famous shrimp scampi for us, but also taught us how to make it. Warning: I’m not at liberty to divulge all the details, but I will talk about some of its ingredients and leave you drooling with some photos. In honor of the shrimp scampi, I also put my new stand mixer to use again and made a fresh loaf of french bread.

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The surprising and not-so-surprising thing about the shrimp scampi recipe is that it is very simple – not a lot of ingredients. It is primarily comprised of clam juice, butter, clams, and garlic. Seasonings and other flavorings seem like they could be up to you. You could even add a little at a time, taste test, adjust, and repeat until you’re happy with the flavors. In my opinion, any of the following could add some nice flavors: salt, pepper, scallions, shallots, basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, a squirt of lemon, or splash of white wine or white cooking wine. You’ll obviously need shrimp to make it shrimp scampi, but you can feel free to add whatever other seafood you like. In this case, we had shrimp, scallops, and lobster – the trifecta. A flaky white fish or muscles would also complement this dish well.

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Lobster is prepped and ready to add into the sauce
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Sauce being cooked on the stove

We enjoyed the sauce with some linguini. I almost offered to make fresh pasta with my new stand mixer pasta attachments. But since I’m still a novice at that, I didn’t want to mess up the dish or the cooking lesson. Next time, it will definitely be worth a try.

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Whenever you have a pasta dish in front of you, it is a requirement that you have some bread to sop up that extra sauce. So, here comes the french bread. As usual, I used handy dandy Pinterest to find an easy recipe. (Here’s the link to the recipe.) The actual work to make the bread isn’t difficult, but I had no idea how time consuming the entire process is. If I ever make bread again, I would not make a single loaf. If I’m going to spend an entire day waiting for the dough to rise, I would probably make a few loaves.

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In this recipe (and I think most bread recipes like this), you need to let the dough rise for an hour, then punch it down, let it rise for another 30 min, then shape the loaf, and let it rise for another 30-60 minutes. I chose to brush the loaf with an egg white wash before baking. However, it seemed a bit dry, so I decided to additionally brush it with butter and some dried rosemary near the end of the baking time and after it was done and out of the oven. Wow, the aroma from the butter and rosemary was SO good. Also, about halfway through the baking, the bottom of the bread was browning a lot faster than the rest. Since the bread was firm enough at that time, I put it on a baking rack, which sat on top of the baking sheet.

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The bread had a nice flavor, but it was a bit dense. I had to do a little research afterward to see what it would take to get a fluffier inside. I suspect I didn’t knead the dough for long enough. Also, I might experiment with the different flours that I use. Also, the “jelly roll” method that was used to make the loaf left noticeable spirals inside when slicing the bread. I wonder if I just need to either roll it tighter or maybe next time I’ll just shape the loaf without flattening first and rolling.

To finish it off, Jake’s mom had brought cupcakes for us to enjoy for dessert. We were already so full from the pasta that having an individual-sized dessert hit the spot.

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All in all, it was a great dish to mark the end of summer. Even Whiskey and Brody (our pups) wanted to try some. I can’t wait to try the recipe and hopefully perfect it!

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Sincerely
Fu’d

My Birthday! A Hearty Homemade Dinner

Yesterday was my birthday! Ah, how time flies. Everything leading up until that night’s dinner really didn’t feel any different. It fell in the middle of the week – I worked a full day, didn’t mention it to anyone at work, and we hadn’t really made any plans. On my way home, I called Jake like I normally do. Come to find out, he had left work early and was in the middle of cooking me a birthday dinner! Not only that, but he had taken some photos for me along the way, knowing that I would want to blog about it. Am I that predictable?! Look below at what a great job he did!

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Wine is a staple in my diet, so the night before my birthday, Jake stopped by the local wine shop and purchased four bottles of wine. Yay! He chose one of the red wines to enjoy with the birthday dinner last night.

On my birthday, Jake had timed his cooking so that when I got home I had just enough time to shower and get into my sweats (the perfect birthday outfit) before he finished the appetizer. He made breaded air-fried shrimp with a dipping sauce.

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To make the shrimp appetizer, he tossed raw shrimp in a “secret” seasoning blend, coated the shrimp in egg whites, and tossed them with Italian Style breadcrumbs. He then air-fried the shrimp until the breadcrumbs were a golden brown. For the sauce, he mixed together Greek yogurt, sweet Thai chili sauce, and sriracha. Then, he garnished the dip with green onions. The dip had a really unique flavor and it paired perfectly with the shrimp.

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For the protein in the main meal, he made steak. The steaks were simply seasoned with a Hawaiian Alaea (pink) salt, pepper, and paprika. If you want to do that yourself and don’t have the Alaea salt, don’t worry about it – just use any salt you have in your spice cabinet. He grilled the steaks and then let them rest so the juices would “‘re-absorb” into the steaks.

On the side, Jake made oven-roasted sweet potatoes and sauteed brussel sprouts. The sweet potatoes were cubed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon to help bring out some of the sweetness. He roasted them in the oven at 360 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

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The brussel sprouts were divine. First, he cooked up maple bacon in a pot on the stove top. Once crisp, he removed the bacon, and added some sliced sweet onion. He cooked those down a bit to soften them. He then added the whole brussel sprouts and added salt, pepper, and sugar. He let that cook on the stove, covered, for about 15 minutes. This gave enough time for the greens to cook and to caramelize the onions. They got that deep brown color and mouth-watering sweet/savory flavor. I’m drooling right now thinking about it! As the last step, Jake crumbled the cooked bacon over the brussel sprouts and tossed to mix.

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I ate a lot of food last night and I refuse to feel guilty about it! Not only was it my birthday, but there’s no way I was leaving any part of my dish untouched. It was just too good.

To top it off, we had dessert. Jake opted to buy the dessert this time instead of baking since he was already going to have his hands full cooking. He knows I’m not a big sweets lover, so he got me two mini fruit tarts. (He got himself a chocolate cupcake with a mint chocolate chip frosting.) Perfect. 🙂 It was the perfect kind of birthday; it was a food-i-licious, no frills, yoga pants, wine drinking, and binge TV watching night with my thoughtful husband.

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Just wait until his birthday in June and you’ll learn about why I’m obligated to make him lobster mac and cheese. 😉

Sincerely,
Fu’d

Air-Fried Plantains: An Alternative Dinner Starch

We try to have a balanced meal most nights, which means we have a protein, vegetables, and a starch. When we’re looking for something a little different than the usual rice or potatoes, we lean towards items like yucca or plantains. Last night, I made tostones, which is basically fried plantain. Although, my twist is that I used my beloved air fryer. (If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you’d know I absolutely adore my air fryer.) If you don’t have an air fryer, don’t fret. You can do all the prep and pop them in the oven, too!

I’m definitely not an expert on plantains, but here’s what I know – Although plantains are technically a fruit, green plantains have less sugar and more starch. Yellow plantains are more ripe, which means they have higher sugar content and can be used in sweet plantain dishes. I had bought my plantains several days ago, so they were a bit more yellow when I got around to using them.

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To prepare the yucca, you’ll need to soften them. I’ve seen some people cut, peel, and boil it. In this case, the microwave is much easier.

  1. Cut off the ends and makes a few slices through the outer skin. The slices will allow the yucca to breath and release some of that steam. If you’ve ever made a “baked” potato in the microwave, it’s the same concept – you need to poke holes in the potato first.
  2. Microwave for at least five minutes. The skin will turn dark. Be careful when handling them because they will be HOT!20180906_19280720180906_193424
  3. Peel the skin off the plantains.
  4. Slice into one-inch chunks.
  5. Use a flat surface (I used a drinking glass) to flatten each chunk. Hint: If the plantain gets stuck to the bottom of the glass, carefully run a knife between the plantain and the glass.20180906_194055
  6. Place a single layer of flattened plantains into the air fryer.
  7. Spray the tops of the plantain and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and chili powder.
  8. Set it to 400 degrees and cook for approximately 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Repeat steps 6-8 until all your plantains are cooked.

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Jake loves dipping the tostones in this mayo/ketchup dip. Just mix relatively equal parts of mayo and ketchup to your taste. I like to add a squirt of sriracha and sprinkle pepper on top.

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The main meal we had last night was steak tips. The tostones were the perfect side, along with some air-fried Parmesan green beans.

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Cheers!

Sincerely,
Fu’d