Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving dinner

Ligament came over to help me celebrate Thanksgiving. Not wanting to give her just a cottage pie, I also prepped an appetizer of hummus with Costco naan, a side salad made with lettuce, chick peas (left over from making the hummus), cucumbers, tomatoes, raisins, sunflower seeds, and pesto dressing. Along with that, I wanted to prep a simple parfait, which meant that I had to buy some cheap sponge cake from the Paris Baguette in my building, as well as some heavy cream from the downstairs grocery.

The cream, however, turned out to be weird: normally, if you beat the cream for too long inside your blender or food processor, it'll very suddenly seize up and turn into butter (which is kind of awesome, actually: butter really is that easy to make), but this cream, mutant that it was, stayed liquid despite being blitzed for well over a minute. I suspect that's because this was a shitty brand that was pumped full of chemicals. Natural cream simply doesn't behave that way. Upshot: I had no choice but to ditch my plans for a parfait.

I was running behind when Ligament arrived from Ewha University, where she's going for a Master's in Korean/English interpretation and translation. I had prepped most of the cottage pie, but the potatoes still needed to be peeled, chopped, boiled, and mashed. Ligament set to work helping me out with this task, and I offered her the hummus appetizer as a way to distract her. Personally, I thought my hummus had come out extremely well, but Ligament didn't take to it, which saddened me. Ah, well: live and learn. A lot of Koreans have trouble with certain Middle Eastern or Mexican flavor profiles, especially when it comes to cumin (some of which I'd added to my hummus to give it more depth of flavor), and Ligament seems to be no exception.

I have to credit her with my cottage pie idea, though: after we had had our French dips last weekend, she asked me what I planned to do with all the fatty beef—the lips and assholes—that I had strained out of the au jus. I thought about it, and decided to grind that beef up along with raw shabu-shabu beef to make the meaty part of a cottage pie. I had already bought peas and corn, so I got mushrooms and wine (Manischewitz! they actually sell that in my building's grocery!) and potatoes to complete the picture.

Grinding the beef in my small food processor was a strange experience. The shabu ground up nicely into recognizable hamburger, but the au jus beef, already thoroughly denatured after slow-cooking for nearly eighteen hours, quickly turned into something like the pasty substance that's sold as Underwood "Devil's Food" in those little tins—deviled ham, deviled chicken, etc. I didn't care: the fresh beef would provide texture, and the au jus beef would provide no small amount of amazing flavor.

I cooked the beef up with a splash of tomato sauce, plus grated carrot and sliced mushrooms, adding the wine as an accent. I slopped the finished beef into the bottom of a baking dish, added the layers of peas and corn and, when Ligament had finished mashing the potatoes (to which had been added heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and two egg yolks), I spooned the taters over the top of the meat/vegetable layers. After that, it was just a matter of slipping the baking dish into the oven, baking the whole thing for about twenty minutes, plus an extra few minutes of broiling to brown the top.

Below are some pics of a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. First up: the unsuccessful (by Ligament's standards) hummus, right before I threw everything together:

After all the grinding and screaming were finished, my hummus looked like this:

I thought the hummus was great: the cayenne and the cumin, not to mention the sun-dried tomatoes, gave the hummus a smoky flavor. The powdered garlic and onion rounded things out; the lime juice added a bit of brightness, and the pizza-style chili flakes added a kick. Olive oil did its subtle work in providing smoothness.

Below, a shot of the completed cottage pie, pre-ovening:

I belatedly thought to take the following shot only after I had started cutting into the cottage pie. Ligament gamely tried to "repair" my cuts, but the scars are still visible below. That said, I do like the nice, golden-brown color.

Next: a cross-sectional view:

I had made enough components to put together a few more cottage pies, so I decided to assemble two more pies to take to work in the morning:

A closeup of one of the two smaller cottage pies I'd made:

Finally, a shot of the cottage pies as they cool on a rack:

It was fun to have Ligament there. I regretted that we didn't actually start eating the main meal until about 9 o'clock; I lamely joked that we were eating dinner in the French style, given that the French often eat dinner rather late: my French host family routinely ate at around 8:30 or 9PM. While the cottage pies were baking, I showed Ligament one of my favorite segments from Dane Cook's "Vicious Circle" routine—the bit where he's talking about a religious argument that begins with a sneeze.

Anyway, there we have it: an English meal to celebrate an American holiday. I have to remember that Ligament, skinny as she is, tends to eat like a bird. As with many skinny people, when she claims to be hungry, this is not to be trusted: what she calls "hunger" is nothing compared to Kevin-sized hunger. She managed—barely—to get through her piece of pie, but it was a close thing.

When I offered her dessert—not a parfait (I had ditched that plan), but a slice of sponge cake with berry sauce and that weird, unearthly whipped cream—she accepted, but she wasn't able to finish her cake. I envy her her tiny stomach, and I need to remember that, given how little she eats, I really don't need to prep all that much food to make her happy.

In principle, a cottage pie is easy to make. This was my first-ever attempt at putting one together, and overall it went well. Ligament later texted that the pie had been "perfect" and that she "couldn't stop eating." That positive review aside, there are things I'd do a bit differently next time. Whenever next time might be.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Charles said...

The cottage pie looks good! I generally go with less fatty meat--pretty lean mince--but yours looks pretty tasty. You got a nice browning on the top, too.

(I do something that HJ has named "hobbit pie," as it includes copious amounts of mushrooms. Basically, beef sauteed with a ton of mushrooms with the mash (heavy on the cream and butter, of course) on top. Seeing your cottage pie makes me want to make this again!)

No idea how the hummus tasted, but it does look like one would expect hummus to look. I probably would have liked it (and I imagine HJ would have as well--I have indoctrinated her in the Way of Cumin).

Kevin Kim said...

For what it's worth, a lot of the liquid that you see in the cross-section pictures is actually just good old water and not fat: I used an arrabiata sauce instead of the (widely!) recommended tomato paste, which made everything a lot wetter. I had also added a good bit of that Manischewitz wine, which increased the water content. One of the things I'd do differently next time around is to switch to tomato paste. I might also go a bit easier on the wine, although I did like the flavor it imparted.

Elisson said...

Cottage pie with Manischewitz. Now I can say that I've seen it all. ;-)

Charles said...

Ah, I see. Yes, reducing water content in cottage pies is key. Ideally, you want the beef mixture to be relatively dry (i.e., no puddles) before it goes into the oven. I find that when I do my "hobbit pie" version I have to cook the mushrooms separately until they reabsorb all the liquid they release (well, I guess technically it's just the water evaporating and the flavor stuff getting left behind). Then the beef gets cooked. You don't want it too dry, of course, because then it just tastes... dry. It's a fine balance to strike.

I can say that I've never used wine in a cottage pie. It sounds intriguing.

Hmm. I wonder if a cottage pie for the SABB meeting would be in order. Guess it depends on what you're planning on doing. Was that one of your options? Can't remember.

Kevin Kim said...

My solution to the moisture problem was to serve with a flat slotted spoon, but yeah, I'll try to have better control next time.

Maven said...

Ahhhh... chickpeas! Speaking of which, have you tried using them in meringues? Apparently it's a vegan thing called "Aquafaba?" I can't get over the idea of it. Google it if you know nothing of it. It's a "thing." But I bet the liquid is potassium intensive--not necessarily a super healthy thing, vegan or no!