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Food Bytes PG Cookbook The Food Chain
Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
French Hamburger, Mary Alice's Sesame Noodles, Shepherd's Pie & Whipped Potatoes

By Suzanne Martinson, Food Editor

It seems unbelievable, but when I galloped through my recipes for the year, not one thing chocolate reached out and grabbed me by the throat, or tastebuds, or heart. I take that back. These three selected recipes are all from the heart.

My favorite recipes are often ones that I can put a friendly face to, though they also have to be delicious, of course. The first recipe -- for Shepherd's pie -- carries me through three steps of production before it ever enters my kitchen. Keith and Mary Martin of Elysian Fields Lamb in Greene County raised the succulent meat, John McGinnis of McGinnis and Co. in xx cut it up for me, and chef Keith Coughenour provided the recipe in his cookbook, "The Duquesne Club Cookbook: Four Seasons of Fine Dining." As we enjoyed the feast -- well worth the effort -- those happy faces flashed through my mind.

Another cheery countenance is that of Mary Alice Gorman of Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, where an annual potluck of the culinary mystery group is a must-go event. Mary Alice says her Sesame Noodles are the only entree she can cook and still talk to premier culinary mystery writer Diane Mott Davidson at the same time. Two more faces to recall while enjoying a healthful, yet delicious, dish.

I have no face to go with the French Hamburger, but I do have the name of its proponent, Alan Perugini of Brookline. It is so delightfully simple it's enough to make you cry. Alan, whom I'd like to meet face to face one day, says the recipe came from the 1958 classic "The Art of French Cooking," by Fernande Garvin and it inspired him to get interested in cooking. Like all our Countdown to Dinner recipes it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. (Although French Hamburger lists seven ingredients, Alan discovered that the bread crumbs can be left out with no real loss or change in flavor.) My repotted husband loved it, too.

But has this chocoholic lost her way?

French Hamburger

2 pounds ground beef (any percent fat)
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (optional)
1/8 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter (doesn't have to be unsalted)
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons canned consomme (found in soup section of supermarket)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Soak crumbs in milk. Squeeze to remove excess milk. In bowl, combine moistened crumbs (we used them), ground beef, salt and pepper. Mix well. Form into 7 flat patties, about 1/2 inch thick. Dredge with flour.

In large skillet, heat butter. Add patties and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Remove meat to heated serving dish and keep warm.

Pour fat off skillet. Add sour cream and consomme and cook for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning. Bring to boil, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of skillet until brown crust is dissolved. (This is called deglazing.) Pour over meat. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Tester's note: No need to discard the leftover consomme. Just measure it into ice-cube tray. Once frozen, store individual blocks in airtight plastic bag and use as recipes require.

Mary Alice's Sesame Noodles

This makes a nice first course for a meal when served cold. You can serve it warm -- but not hot -- for dinner with a salad of fresh fruit tossed with the honey on a bed of greens.

1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente
1/3 cup sesame oil (substitute 1 tablespoon of chili oil for the same amount of sesame oil, if desired)
1 tablespoon olive oil
15 scallions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cups unsalted peanuts, dry-roasted, chopped
1 cucumber, julienned

Cook pasta according to package directions. (She favors whole wheat capellini broken in half for best results.)

Mix together the sesame and olive oils. Toss pasta with half of the oil. Slowly saute the scallions, garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger in the remaining oil. Blend together vinegar, honey and soy sauce. (For honey, she likes to use the Thistle Dew Farms variety that is flavored with chili peppers;800-85HONEY.)

Mix pasta into saute mix and toss with liquids.

Toss with herbs and peanuts.

Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro, 1/2 cup peanuts and cool cucumbers.

Note: The dish that results from this recipe is lighter than many noodles that are made in a peanut butter mix, and the flavors are brighter and more memorable. This can be made more healthful by reducing oil, using salt-free soy sauce and reducing the amount of peanuts. Serves 8.

Mary Alice Gorman

Shepherd's Pie

3 pounds lamb meat for stewing, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (we used Elysian Fields leg of lamb)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil

For the braising liquid:
1 cup diced yellow Spanish onions
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced celery
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 spice sachet (see below)
1 1/2 quarts brown stock
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

For the spice sachet:
12 cracked black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 small bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, crushed

For the garniture:
2 cups quartered button mushrooms, blanched
1 medium tomato, blanched, peeled, seeded and diced
3 cups whipped potatoes (recipe follows)

To brown the lamb: Heat a heavy roasting pan over high heat. Start with 2 tablespoons oil in the pan and replenish as needed. Sear the lamb in small batches to a deep mahogany color. Transfer the meat to another container. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

To braise the lamb: Reduce heat under the pan, add onions, carrots and celery, and sweat these ingredients until the onions are golden brown. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour, stirring to coat well, and continue to stir while cooking out the raw flour for about 6 minutes. Add tomato puree, increase heat to medium, and allow the puree to brown lightly. Stir constantly to avoid scorching. Return lamb to the pan with vegetables, add wine, and deglaze the pan. Reduce until almost dry. Make a spice sachet by combining the peppercorns, rosemary, bay leaf, thyme and garlic in a square of double cheesecloth, and secure with twine. Add the brown stock and the sachet to the pot, and heat to a simmer. Cover, place the stew in the oven, and braise for 2 hours. Remove the lid and cook for an additional 1/2 hour. The lamb should be fork tender.

To make the sauce: Using a slotted spoon, remove all pieces of lamb to another container. Strain the sauce into a medium saucepan and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Discard spice sachet. Transfer cooked carrots, celery and onions to a food processor or food mill. Puree, then return the puree to the sauce and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To complete the dish: Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Combine the lamb, sauce, mushrooms and diced tomato. Portion the stew into six 10-ounce, oven-proof, deep-dish casseroles, filing each casserole to 3/4 capacity. Fit a pastry bag with large fluted tip, place the whipped potatoes in the bag, and pipe them in a decorative pattern over the surface of the lamb stew. The potatoes should completely encrust the stew. Place the casseroles on a half sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes or until the potatoes begin to turn golden brown. Remove and serve immediately.

Shopping note: Elysian Fields lamb can be purchased at Brilliant Market, Aspinwall; North Star Market, Richland; Ruggeri's Food Shoppe, Squirrel Hill; Select Food Market, Sewickley; and John McGinnis & Co., Castle Shannon.

Whipped Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed (we used Idaho)
1 gallon cold water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup warm milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
Salt and ground white pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place cubed potatoes in a stock pot, cover with water and add kosher salt. Bring to a boil, and cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain well, spread out evenly on a half sheet pan and set in the oven to dry for 30 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to the 5-quart bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk. With mixer running at the lowest setting, begin to whip the potatoes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer the milk and butter (we used microwave), then slowly add to the potatoes. Add the cream cheese, mix to incorporate, season to taste with salt and pepper, then whip on high speed until light and fluffy. Use as directed. Makes 6 cups. (We used all 6 cups, because we love potatoes.)

"The Duquesne Club Cookbook: Four Seasons of Fine Dining" by Keith Coughenour

Thursday, January 04, 2001

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