Friday, September 27, 2013

Vicky's Sixty: An Adirondack Celebration!

My friend Vicky turned SIXTY today, and to celebrate in grand fashion, she rented out an entire campground (Camp Pok-o-MacCready in Willsboro, NY) and invited all of her friends to celebrate her over the weekend in the glorious Adirondacks! My other friends, June and Lee Ann, and I were the party planning committee, mainly in charge of meals. We are expecting as many as 60 people for dinner tomorrow night, and Vicky wanted comforting but elegant dishes served buffet-style.

We decided to let the appetizers be a true potluck from the attendees, and we will also make salads, procure baguettes from Panera, and assemble an ice cream sundae bar (by request from the birthday girl) for dessert. Moreover, each of us food preppers opted to provide a crock pot of soup and two lasagna pans of a particular entrĂ©e. Lee Ann's mother-in-law will bring a seafood bisque and Lee Ann is making her popular spinach alfredo pasta. June is bringing her famous pumpkin soup with cran-apple relish (a la Rachael Ray) and making jambalaya.

As for me, I decided to make pasta fagiole in the style of Olive Garden and the world's most involved version of cottage pie that turned out FABULOUSLY, if I do say so myself! First, the beefy vegetable soup. I pretty much followed the recipe below, but instead of canned beans, I started with my beloved Rancho Gordo beans that I cooked in the crock pot overnight in beef broth with a couple of bay leaves. Then when I made the soup, I added some chopped zucchini to the other ingredients, and as it turned out very thick, I thinned it to a desired consistency with a spicy Bloody Mary mix that I happened to have in the fridge. Also, I cooked the pasta separately, and I will stir it in right before serving so that it doesn't go mushy. (The picture below doesn't have the ditalini in it yet.)

Olive Garden Pasta Fagiole
(Source: Top Secret Recipes)

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion diced (1 cup)
1 large carrot, julienned (1 cup)
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can red kidney beans (with liquid)
1 15 ounce can great northern beans (with liquid)

1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
1 12 ounce can V8 juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound ditali pasta

Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat, drain off most of the fat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and saute for ten minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for one hour. About 50 minutes into simmer time, cook pasta, drain. Add the pasta to the large pot of soup and simmer for five to ten minutes and serve.

This cottage pie may turn out to be my finest creation. It is an EXTRAORDINARY pain in the ___ to make, but lordy, is it GOOD, and certainly worth the effort for a special occasion. Instead of shepherd's pie (which is made with lamb), or a low-rent ground beef version of cottage pie, I opted for chuck roast, like you'd use to make a Sunday pot roast. Also, instead of peas or green beans or what have you, I decided to use roasted root vegetables as a nod to the harvest season. And lastly, to add some color and extra flavor to the mashed potatoes, I threw in a couple of roasted sweet potatoes with the Yukon Golds. I assembled all this, sprinkled it with paprika, and stashed it in the fridge overnight. I will bake it off tomorrow night before the party. I declare this the ultimate meat-and-potatoes comfort food...taken to the next level!

Cottage Pie

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boneless chuck roast
3 teaspoons steak seasoning, divided
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced--divided
bay leaf
1 stem of tarragon
bunch of thyme, tied with string
2 large sweet potatoes
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and diced
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced (leaves reserved)
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1 stick butter
1 cup half-and-half, more or less as desired
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the roast with steak seasoning, and brown on both sides. Pour off excess oil, add balsamic and red wine over the meat, and toss in the bay leaves, tarragon, and thyme bundle. Cover and cook in a 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until fork-tender. While you are braising the meat, throw the sweet potatoes (unpeeled) in the oven to roast at the same time, for about an hour or until tender.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the Dutch oven. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes until thick, then whisk in the balsamic vinegar and beef broth to make a gravy. Shred the reserved meat by hand, removing excess fat, and add the meat back to the pot.

Place the carrots, parsnips, celery and onions on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of steak seasoning and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Add the roasted vegetables to the meat and gravy, along with the parsley and celery leaves, and gently stir to combine.

In a stock pot, cover the potatoes with cold water and add the chicken soup base. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender all the way through. Drain the potatoes, and add the stick of butter and half-and-half. Peel the roasted sweet potatoes, add those to the pot, and then mash everything to desired consistency. Stir in fresh chives, granulated garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and vegetable mixture and smooth the top. Sprinkle with some paprika, and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven (probably 45 minutes to an hour from cold).

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