Shepherd’s Pie.

It’s been a year and a half since I last went to Europe, and it is definitely time to go back—and for this trip, it’s Scotland that’s calling my name. The first time I visited Edinburgh and the Highlands, I spent just a short weekend there, while I was at college in Ireland. This time, I’ll have a good 8 days of listening to those dreamy Scots accents—and I don’t think I can survive the month I still have to wait! Ever since we booked out tickets, my travel buddy and I have been getting together to plan and just get excited about our trip, and this weekend, our afternoon took a culinary turn, in the form of this shepherd’s pie. That, plus two bottles of homemade mulled wine with brandy, a couple of Yorkshire puddings, and Braveheart. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 lb stew beef, cubed
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced into coins
1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine (we used a cabernet sauvignon)
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/4 tsp curry powder
3 medium potatoes, washed and cut into large cubes
whole milk
2 pats of butter
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

DIRECTIONS

Season the flour with salt and pepper and place in a bowl. Toss beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan and cook beef until just browned on all sides. I cooked the beef in two batches so as not to crowd the pan. Set the beef aside.

Add more oil to the pan and add the carrot and onion, with a sprinkle of salt. Cook until softened, then add the mushrooms and cook an additional 5-7 minutes. Add the beef back to the pan with the tomato paste, bay leaves, wine, stock, and curry powder. Stir well, bring to a boil, and then cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook until the beef is fall-apart tender, at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a pot full of cold salted water. Bring to a low boil and cook until fork tender. Drain potatoes, then mash with milk and butter, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in most of the shredded cheese and the parsley and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a casserole dish or pie pan. When the beef is cooked to your liking, remove the bay leaves and pour into the dish. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Place the dish on a tray, in case it bubbles over in the oven.

Bake until the cheese is melted and the potatoes start to brown a bit on top, about 25 minutes. Highly recommend serving as we did: with yorkshire pudding, mulled wine, and Braveheart. Aye, it’s quite a feast!

Borsch.

Borsch is so misunderstood. It’s a classic in Russian/Ukrainian cuisine, but despite my Russophile tendencies, I avoided borsch for years because I thought it sounded so…awful. But college is a time for experimentation, right? So during my senior year, I finally gave borsch a try, and it totally won me over! It’s a super hearty vegetable and beef stew that gets its characteristic garnet color from its most notorious ingredient: the beet. If you’re not a beet lover, you’ll probably still like borsch (it’s really good, I swear!),  just make sure to puree the cooked beet and tomato mixture before adding it to the broth pot. Old-world peasant cooking at its finest!

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
3 bay leaves
small onion, chopped
3 small red beets, scrubbed clean and cut into bars
14 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp vinegar
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bars
2 celery stalks, chopped
large onion, chopped
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1/2 medium head cabbage, shredded
butter
olive oil
salt
pepper
2 cloves garlic, diced

DIRECTIONS

Fill a large pot or Dutch oven 3/4 of the way full with water and add beef and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.

When boiling, turn down to medium low heat and simmer. Skim off the fatty, foamy impurities that rise to the top.

When you’ve gotten most of the fatty bits out of the broth pot, add the small onion. Cover and simmer for an hour. Then remove the bay leaves.

Meanwhile, add butter or olive oil to a pan and heat over medium. When hot, add beets, crushed tomato, and vinegar. Stir well and simmer for an hour.

Fifteen minutes before the beets are done cooking, start the other veggies. Heat butter or olive oil in another pan over medium flame and add large onion, carrot, and celery. Cook for 15 minutes.

After you start the onion-carrot-celery mixture, turn up the heat on the broth and bring it back to a boil. Add potatoes and cabbage to the broth pot.

When the beets and tomatoes have finished cooking, add them to the broth, along with the sauteed veggies. Add salt, pepper, and garlic, stir well, and simmer for at least half an hour.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and garnish with fresh chives or dill. Priyatnogo appetita!

Czech Goulash (Old recipe).

For the updated Czech Goulash recipe, click here.

This is my original recipe for goulash. I’ve since updated it, and I really like the new version much better – it’s more potently paprika-ed and also more authentic, in that it’s less like a chunky vegetable stew and more like the slow-cooked, warming, fortifying dish I ate in Prague. I recommend checking out the updated recipe instead, but in case this one tickles your fancy a little more, I didn’t want to delete it!

INGREDIENTS

3 tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2 lb stew beef, cubed
3 cloves garlic
4-6 celery stalks, chopped
4-6 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp caraway seed
3-5 tbsp flour, depending on desired thickness (I use all-purpose, but potato flour works just as well, for those with gluten allergies)
8 oz canned crushed tomato
3-5 cups cold water or stock
salt, pepper to taste
marjoram or parsley, sour cream for garnish
2 medium potatoes, boiled and cubed (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil over medium in Dutch oven or other large soup pot. Add onions and cook until transparent. Then add the beef and cook until browned.

Add garlic, paprika, caraway seed, salt, pepper, and flour, if you’re using it. Stir and cook about 2 minutes, careful not to let the seasonings burn. Then toss in the carrots and celery and cook another two or three minutes, until the seasonings coat the veggies and they start to soften.

Add tomatoes and some of the cold water or stock, adding more as needed throughout the process (goulash can be stew-ier or soup-ier, however you like it).

Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally. I go for 3 hours whenever I can, and it’s worth it!

Serve with sour cream and parsley or marjoram for garnish. If you’re using potatoes (which we keep separate to avoid making the soup too starchy) add them to your bowl just before serving.