Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

All right, I guess I'm just going to break a bunch of the "rules" of blogging and just sally forth in any way I can. I won't be predictable. I won't always include a nice photo of the dish (as will be the case with this shepherd's pie because we simply ate it too fast). And I won't do any of these things out of some sort of rebellion against the establishment or whatever, but simply because I'm at times unmotivated, tired, too busy, and just plain lazy.

That said, I've improvised several meals lately that I'm so happy with I simply must write down the recipes so that I remember how. This sweet potato shepherd's pie is one of those. In fact, I just ate the tiny bit of leftover pie for lunch, and I wish I had some more, but it will simply have to wait (because right now I am braising some pork with apples and we will see how that turns out). 

One of the nice things about this and another recent delightful meal (that I hope to post about soon) is that it's all made in my beloved cast-iron skillet. I make the meat filling in the skillet first, then spread the mashed sweet potatoes over the top, and pop it all in the oven. You could make it in a separate baking dish, but why? Why would you do that when it comes out of the oven all nice and rustic and in a heavy pan and great? 


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced (see photos for how to dice onions)
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped finely 
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen organic)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp beef bullion
  • thyme
  • Generous splash of red wine (optional, but delicious)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 4-5 medium sweet potatoes, cut into pieces (whatever will get you to about 4 heaping cups of sweet potato cubes) 
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup half and half (or cream)
  • salt and pepper
  • Panko bread crumbs (optional)
  • Grated Parmegiano Reggiano (optional)
Tora's real food
 Tora's real food
 Tora's real food
 Tora's real food
 Tora's real food


  1. Start by peeling the sweet potatoes and cutting them into roughly 2-in. cubes (the size isn't all that important; it will just speed cooking). Add them to salted water and bring to a boil. When they are soft (depending on the size of your pieces, between 15-20 minutes), take them off the heat and set them aside for the time being. 
  2. In the meantime, turn the oven on 425 degrees (F). In your skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add your chopped onions and carrots. Let them cook at low heat for about 5-10 minutes. 
  3. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or some such utensil. Cook it until it is no longer pink anywhere.
  4. Add the tomatoes, a cup of water, big splash of red wine, bullion, brown sugar, and thyme to the pan. Stir everything together and turn up the heat. Keep cooking and stirring the meat mixture at high heat until about half the liquid evaporates. Taste the mixture, add a small amount of salt and some pepper, and then let it keep cooking (careful not to add a lot of salt at this point because more of the liquid will evaporate). Let the liquid in the pan continue to evaporate. The meat mixture is done when it is loose but not watery. Taste the mixture and add as much salt and pepper as you want/need. (And of course, feel free to add herbs or hot sauce if you like that kind of thing.)
  5. Flatten the meat mixture in the pan with the back of your spoon or a spatula or some such. Set it aside. 
  6. For the mashed sweet potatoes, drain the cooking water, and either put them through a ricer (recommended) or mash them with the back of a spoon. Add butter, half and half, a generous pinch of salt, and a little pepper. Taste the sweet potatoes and adjust the seasonings as you like. 
  7. Next, spoon mashed sweet potatoes over top of the meat, spreading them around somewhat evenly. When you've got all the mashed potatoes on there, use the back of a spoon (the back of a spoon is such a useful kitchen tool, don't you think?) to cover the meat completely. Then, if you like, add some handfuls of panko bread crumbs and grate some cheese over the top and slide it all into a hot oven for about 20-30 minutes until the top is slightly browned and the edges bubble. Then eat it. You'll enjoy it. And the sweet potatoes are supposed to be good for you. Maybe add a green salad if you are feeling ambitious.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

Chicken with mustard cream

Tora's real food

Best laid plans and whatnot.

I had every intention to post much more than I have so far this year. But I haven't. Sometime in March (I think, my memory of the past several months has hazed over), I suddenly came down with a massive amount of work. Which is generally good for a freelance editor/writer, but it did become a bit overwhelming when I genuinely lost track of the last time I had had a weekend off or didn't work until 11 at night (or all night in a couple of cases). I missed most of spring, although I tried very hard to pay attention to it while driving to pick up my guys from school and work. But generally I was stressed and overwhelmed. After the biggest projects had been completed, I naturally got sick.

But things have settled down a bit, and I've had some time to reflect on the last few months and recognize that I must change my life (to paraphrase Rilke). Writing, creating, reading, learning--these are the things that mean the most to me (other than family and friends, of course, but they come automatically first; perhaps too much so, I don't consciously recognize their importance as often as I ought to). That includes this blog, this thing that I started (and stopped and tripped over and left lying in a corner and then moved into the spare room and forgot about). So here's a little dish that I have cooked many times over the last few months because it's good (note the plate that has been licked clean below), it's quick, and when you're frustrated, it can be good therapy because of the pounding (see step 2).



  • 1 lb (ish) chicken breast halves
  • salt, lemon pepper blend
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard (to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp maple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • parsley (fresh if you've got it, but dried will be fine)


  1. Place a large frying pan on the stove and turn it to medium-high heat to let it heat up. 
  2. Blot the chicken breast halves with paper towels. Then place them between two sheets of wax paper. Pound them thin with the implement of your choosing. (My rolling pin is perfect for this job; you can also use a frying pan, or an actual meat tenderizing device that looks a lot like a hammer. This activity always draws lots of attention from the family, who wonder why I am making so much noise, am I angry, what did the chicken ever do to me, etc. In any case, it can be somewhat cathartic.)
  3. Remove the top sheet of wax paper and sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts liberally with salt and lemon pepper. I've been using Sunny Spain Seasoning from Penzey's Spices, which is pretty fantastic.
  4. While you are hammering away, you've allowed your pan to heat up (right?), now add about 2 Tbsp olive oil to the pan and let it heat up until it shimmers. It should only take a minute or two. 
  5. Place your chicken breast halves in the pan and allow them to cook for about 4 minutes per side.
  6. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pan and allow it to rest on a plate that is tented with aluminum foil. (Tented: Means kind of covered with the foil, but bunched up so that the foil doesn't touch the chicken.)
  7. Add stock, mustard, and maple syrup to the pan. Using a whisk, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, whisk, and allow the liquid in the pan to reduce to about half. Then add the half and half and season with more lemon pepper, salt (if needed), and parsley. Don't forget to taste it! 
  8. Serve the chicken with the mustard cream and ideally with a blend of roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes that have slightly caramelized, but it's good with just about anything that will soak up the sauce (see figure of plate licked clean).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Procrastination pie: A lesson in avoiding the really hard work

Little Bird. My most recently completed painting, from September 2014.
I got angry at my son yesterday.

He was supposed to be practicing piano, but he was crying and upset because the piece was difficult. This was not the first time he has experienced this level of frustration with working through something hard. We've tried to coach him through the difficulty, explaining that when something is hard, you just have to work harder. Hardness is not a reflection on intelligence or value; it simply means that something is difficult and requires more work.

I tried going that route first. I told him to take a deep breath and try to slowly work through the lines note by note. Calmly, persistently. He responded with more frustration and tears. I tried again. And then I'm ashamed to say I totally lost it. I yelled. I told him he needed to pull himself together and get over being so emotional about struggling. It went on from there. It wasn't pretty, and I didn't feel good about it afterward.

Thinking about the incident while doing dishes later, I recognized my hypocrisy. I had spent much of an unexpected snow day avoiding my own hard things. Instead of painting or writing or even working on a project for a client, I cooked and cleaned and ran 4 miles and folded laundry, frittering away precious time on easy things. Not easy in terms of the amount of work required, I was exhausted when the day was over, but easy in terms of emotional, mental, and creative effort. Like my son, I constantly struggle with and get anxious about doing certain kinds of work; the difference is that I am a lot better at hiding it from myself and others by doing prodigious amounts of other stuff.

I try to tell myself that being creative is not supposed to be that hard, that I shouldn't get frustrated, that I should take a breath and slowly and persistently push through the difficulty, and perhaps that I should even relax and enjoy it, but the truth is every time I start putting paint to canvas or trying to write a story is a moment of stress, anxiety, and fear. And even when it goes well (which is actually pretty frequent), the terror returns and remains because the next addition of color, the next creative choice could screw it all to hell. I tell myself I shouldn't care. It should be about the process, not the product, but at heart I don't believe that. I tell myself that if I really loved to paint as much as I think I do, it should be easy to get up and do it. But it's not. Just because you love something doesn't make it easy. So painting starts sit for months and sometimes years before I finish them because mustering the courage to push them through the next step is so hard and requires so much emotional energy. (For example, I started Little Bird, the painting at the beginning of this post, five or six years ago and only finally got around to finishing it last September.)

Starting this year, I plan to do better. (I also plan to be more understanding toward my boy.) I've figured out ways to trick myself into running even when it's cold or hot as hell, I'm sore and tired, and I really don't feel like it. Surely I can trick myself into painting and writing more?

In the meantime, while I was avoiding the hard work, I made this shepherd's pie, which turned out to be a huge hit. Inspired by my friend Jeff, who made a shepherd's pie using cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes a few weeks ago, I decided to try replacing some of the mashed potatoes with cauliflower. The cauliflower adds a nice, light sweetness to the mash, but is a bit more watery than potatoes are. I may try replacing the potatoes with cauliflower altogether sometime soon, but if/when I do, I will probably need at least two heads of cauliflower and less half and half. I also used a combination of ground beef and loose pork sausage, but you can use any combination you like. And even though I made this meal in part to avoid work, don't be fooled: It's a somewhat time- and labor-intensive recipe, so don't plan to make it on a weeknight. (Unless you have a snow day.)

Shepherd's pie, ingredients

  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 6 medium yellow potatoes (use any potatoes you like; I just like yellows better)
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb loose pork sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes, fire roasted is nice but not necessary
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper to taste
  • bread crumbs (optional)


  1. Peel the potatoes and boil them in salted water until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Steam the cauliflower until tender, about 15-20 minutes depending on your steamer (test the cauliflower with a fork).
  3. Using a ricer (which will make your life easier, I promise), rice the cauliflower and the potatoes into a bowl. Add the half and half and butter and some salt and pepper and stir together until you have a nice even(ish) mash. Taste the mash to make sure you've added enough salt and pepper. Set the mashed potato-cauliflower mixture aside.
  4. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. Toss in a sliver of onion to test the heat. When it sizzles, add the rest of the onion and cook it for about two minutes. Then add the sausage and the ground beef. 
  5. Cook the meat and onions until the meat is no longer pink. If the meat has some brown bits, bonus! Drain most of the fat from the pan. 
  6. Add the garlic to the pan and let it cook for about a minute (do NOT let it burn). 
  7. Add the tomatoes, water, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, and perhaps a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper and smoked paprika to the meat in the pan. Stir everything together. Over medium-high heat, let the mixture cook down to a loose mass (the pan should contain some liquid, but the mixture should not be watery). Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper until you like it.
  8. Next, assemble the pie. Pour the meat mixture into a large, oven-safe baking dish (mine is about 13 in. by 9 in.). Shake the dish gently to make sure the meat is somewhat evenly distributed. Then place big spoonfuls of the potato-cauliflower mash over the meat mixture and using the back of a spoon spread it out somewhat evenly. (It's a "rustic" dish; it doesn't have to look perfect.) If you want, spread some bread crumbs or Panko over top of the mashed potatoes. (At this point, you can set aside the pie for a few days and bake it another day.)
  9. Bake the pie for 50-55 minutes in a 450-degree (F) oven. Eat. Enjoy. Try to do the hard things.      

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Winter's journey and braised beef shanks

Tora's real food

Virginia in winter is subtly beautiful. Delicate, blackened bone trees. Raw, sweeping curves of hills. A colorbox of strange halftones: olive green, bleached orange, gray-brown, salt white. Sometimes hard to perceive, the beauty is always there if you look for it: the eerie, lonely noise of geese ringing through cold, bell-clear air; the hazy bluish-purple of a certain kind of shrub; a splendid sunset.


Virginia's winter beauty wasn't really on my mind yesterday when I set off on a little trip to The Whole Ox, a wonderful artisanal butcher shop in an old railway station in the Plains. I just needed a respite from being stuck at home for a week, first because of school closings due to snow and bitter cold and then due to sickness. I also wanted to find an excuse to have the oven running all day to dispel some of the chill. But as I sailed along the roads, rising and falling with the curves, that beauty took hold of me again and reminded me why I love Virginia.

Coming back, stocked with a meaty pair of beef shanks and some other odds and ends (The Whole Ox is a lot like a treasure cave; I can never leave with just what's on the list), I passed a pair of foxes in a field. Their red bodies echoed the reddish-orange grasses that stuck up through the snow. Robin's egg sky and tumbledown wooden fence framed the scene. The foxes ignored me as I slowed to watch them--a pair of teenagers getting into trouble: one the instigator and the other slightly hesitant, hanging back. I longed to take a picture of them, but the stretch of road was too dangerous to stop for long. And so I've turned the image over and over in mind like a smooth stone, polishing and holding on to it. Maybe it was just as well I didn't get the picture. It wouldn't have been as good as the one in my mind. 

Once home with my goodies, I quickly started the braise. After three hours of slow cooking in the oven, we had a gorgeous meal of braised beef shanks (so tender the meat fell off the bones), mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts slaw. A wonderful meal that made a cold and ordinary Saturday into a special occasion.

Tora's real food


  • 3 lbs (or thereabouts) beef shanks (preferably big meaty ones with big bones)
  • 1-1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2-1 cup soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsps vegetable oil (for searing)
  • 3-4 Tbsps flour (for dredging)
  • salt, pepper
  • smoked paprika (optional but oh so nice)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 whole head of garlic, individual cloves peeled
  • 5-6 whole medium carrots, peeled and ends trimmed


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Pat the beef shanks dry with paper towels and very liberally sprinkle salt, pepper, and smoked paprika all over them. Rub the seasonings into the meat.  Then dredge the meat with flour.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil to medium-high heat in a frying pan. Sear the meat on all sides, for about 1-2 minutes per side. (You should have a nice golden brown crust on the meat.)
  4. Transfer the meat to a Dutch oven. Arrange the garlic cloves and carrots around the meat. 
  5. Add the orange juice, soy sauce, cumin, and coriander to the hot frying pan. Scrape at the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture cook for a minute or two, just enough to bring all the ingredients together. Taste the braising liquid. It should be quite strong. Make any tweaks you like at this point (such as add a touch of honey, a splash of vinegar, more spice) and then pour the braising liquid over the meat and vegetables. Then slide it into the oven for about 3 hours. 
  6. Take the meat out of the oven about 20-30 minutes before serving to let it cool down a little before eating. Use the braising liquid as a sauce over mashed potatoes or something that will soak up the juices. And do not forget to suck the marrow out of the bones, for that is truly one of life's pleasures (if you're an omnivore, at least). 
Now, I also promised my friend Clythie at Run Cook Eat Repeat to share the recipe for the Brussels sprouts slaw, so here it is:

Brussels Sprouts Slaw

  • Rinse and grate 1 to 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts that are brilliant green without brown blemishes on a coarse grater. Use the hard whitish ends to hold onto the sprout and then discard that part. I highly recommend getting a protective glove for doing this job. Alternatively, you could shred the sprouts in a food processor. If you do it this way, trim the hard white stem ends first. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts to a medium salad bowl.
  • Coarsely grate about 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix with the shredded sprouts.
  • In another bowl, whisk together
    • 6 Tbsps good quality oil (I used avocado oil, but a good quality extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil would be wonderful too)
    • 4 Tbsps red wine vinegar
    • 1 tsp honey (ish, more or less to taste)
    • 1/4 tsp (or so) salt
    • pinch of pepper
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Taste the vinaigrette for seasoning and adjust according to your taste.  
  • Pour the vinaigrette over the sprouts and cheese and mix it all together. Eat! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow day chili with beans and a hint of cocoa

Yesterday it snowed--the first significant snow in a few years here in Northern Virginia. On the tail of the snowstorm came the polar vortex--a mass of cold, hard air as inexorable and weighty as a glacier. Warmth flees before it. And the cold wind blows snow devils into the air, glittering in the sun. It's beautiful, stark, and harsh.

Cold days are good days to make chili. Filling chili, with a touch of warming spice (or a lot, depending on your taste) that satisfies hunger and banishes the cold. Serve it on rice with sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese, and some chopped onion (or any combination that you like).

What's a little different about this chili is the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder. Not to worry, it doesn't make the chili taste like chocolate, but it adds depth to the flavor and a beautiful dark color. And yes, this chili has beans, which I know  is sacrilege in some food circles, but I will gladly offend in this case, ha ha. Beans are incredibly nutritious, full of protein and fiber that will make you feel full for a long time. In this recipe I've used canned beans (organic, of course) for convenience (I know, I'm slipping), but if you are in the mood to cook your own beans, use this no-soak method, which works well for me.

Another nice thing about this chili is that you can switch up the protein: Use ground pork, ground beef, ground turkey, or ground lamb, whatever you have handy. The same is true of the beans. I like a two-to-one combination of white and pinto beans, but you can use any combination of beans.


  • 1 lb ground beef or pork or turkey or lamb (or a combination?)
  • 3 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 15-oz cans of white beans (such as cannelini or Great Northern), rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28-oz can of ground tomatoes
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-3 Tbsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)


  1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat (or other large-ish, heavy pot with a thick bottom). Add the onions and cook them until they are soft and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat as needed so that the onions don't burn.  
  2. Add the ground beef/pork/turkey/lamb and cook through.
  3. Add crushed garlic and stir until you can smell it, about a minute. 
  4. Add tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar, and about half of the salt. Stir everything together and let it simmer for at least 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Longer is fine if you want to start it early in the day and just let it stew. If so, keep the heat on the lowest setting, keep the lid on, and stir from time to time.
  5. Before it's time to serve, have a taste and add salt as needed. Then sever it over rice and with any additions that you like. I prefer sour cream and sometimes some chopped onion. Also, if you like it hot, you could always add some sliced jalapenos.   
 Now enjoy the cold weather and keep warm.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lemon sweetie pies, or an exercise in turning a kitchen disaster into pop art

lemon thumbprint cookies

I know, I know. I am totally off schedule. Right now I should be posting healthy, fresh recipes for getting back into shape for the new year. Instead I am writing about this delicious, lemony cookie. But I made a promise to my friend Clythie (who recently started her own blog about running and cooking called Run Cook Eat Repeat), and dammit I will keep my promises, even though it may take a while.

I made a batch of these cookies for a cookie exchange a few weeks ago. When I had finished the lemon curd to fill in the center of the cookies, I was so enamored of the glorious yellow and the sweet, tart, and fresh scent of lemon, I decided I had to get a picture of the stuff to spiff up a blog post and to brag on. Of course, this happened:

Argh! Catastrophe!

But then I had to admire the rather pleasing effect of the splatter pattern. And that lemon, placed just so! (It really landed just like that.) When I posted the photo on Facebook, a friend commented that the white sock disturbed the composition, and I agreed. For better effect next time, I need to coordinate my clothes to amp up the contrast (perhaps a blue sock?). Anyway, I had to laugh because the vanity of trying to get a good picture of this glorious lemon curd ended up in a big mess.

About 24 hours later, I had more lemons, made another batch of curd, and baked the cookies. And I finally got a good picture of the curd, which is like sunshine in a bowl, perfect to light up deepest, darkest winter. And the cookie tastes that way: the sweet, sour, fresh bite of curd paired with sweet, crispy cookie.

The recipe for these cookies comes from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. I gave the book to my husband for Christmas in 2001 (I wrote an inscription on the inside cover). I've made a lot of the cookies in this book, but this one may be my favorite.


For the curd:
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • finely grated zest of 2 large lemons
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
For the cookie dough:
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsps fresh lemon juice


For the curd: In a heavy, nonreactive (non-aluminum, typically) pot, combine the curd ingredients. Whisk continuously while bringing the curd to a boil. Let it boil for a minute (keep whisking). Then remove the pot from the heat and keep whisking for another 30 seconds. Strain the curd (you may need to help it along through the strainer with the back of a wooden spoon) and let it cool completely. The curd can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.

For the cookies:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare baking sheets (grease or cover with parchment paper or silpats).
  • Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make sure everything is evenly mixed together. 
  • In a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until it's very light and fluffy.  
  • Add the egg, 1 tablespoon water, vanilla, and lemon juice to the sugar-butter mixture. Keep beating until these are thoroughly mixed in. 
  • Reduce the speed to slow and mix in about half the flour mixture. Then slowly add the rest of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. 
  • Shape the dough into a little ball (about 1 1/4 in) by rolling a piece of it in the palms of your hands. (Using a small scoop would be useful here to keep the balls evenly sized and the right size; I always make these too big!)
  • Place the ball of cookie dough on the cookie sheet. With your thumb, press into the center of the ball until a well is formed and the dough sort of flattens out into a cookie-like shape. Don't push all the way through the dough.
  • Place about 3/4 tsp of the lemon curd in the well.
  • Repeat until you have used all the dough. (You may have some curd left over. Like I said, I always make these too big, so I end up with a lot of leftover curd. But you could put that on toast, or cake, or something. Or eat it with a spoon. Whatever makes you happy.)
  • Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 10-13 minutes. Turn the baking sheet about halfway through the baking time so that the cookies bake evenly. Let them cool on wire racks. 
  • Nancy Baggett warns that these cookies should be eaten fairly quickly because they grow softer after a few days. So far that hasn't been too much of a problem.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two-potato hash with ham: Fall comfort food

I try to plan meals. I really do. But I end up improvising dinner far more often than I'd like to admit. And some nights, I have a plan to try something new and perhaps a little healthier, but find myself craving something comforting. Especially on a cold night like tonight.

Hash is the perfect food for cold nights. It's the food equivalent of your oldest, most comfortable sweats; a soft blanket; and a good book. And I've almost always got something I can use to improvise a decent hash.

The key to a good hash is balance. It should have a bit of this and a bit of that. A little bitter or mild to play against something sweet. Some salt from bacon or ham. The vegetables should be cut pretty small, but not so small that they lose their individual characteristics altogether. And of course, a good hash is incomplete without a fried egg or two with runny yolks to break and bring all those nicely roasted vegetables together into the perfect bite. I've just had a bowl and am still craving more, but I have to leave some for my sweetheart (oh the agony!).

This particular version of hash includes sweet and regular potatoes and ham. However, hash can have lots of different things, and it's a great way to clean out any root vegetables that are slightly past their prime (at the end of the post, I have some suggestions for variations).

I like to start the hash off on the stove top while I dice the vegetables and then finish it in the oven, and my beloved cast iron skillet lets me do that. Make sure that whatever pan you use is safe to use in the oven.


  • 2 Tbsps vegetable oil (whatever your preference, lately I've taken to using avocado oil)
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2-3 medium potatoes (my preference is yellow, but any potato on hand will work fine), cut into 1/2 inch dice (peeled or not, your call)
  • 1-2 small, medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice (peeled, generally, sweet potato skins are very thick)
  • 1/2 lb ham steak, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • smoked paprika
  • thyme
  • salt and pepper 


The nice thing about making hash is that you can cut vegetables as you go, and that's usually what I do. (In other words, you don't need to dice everything before you get started.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (F).
  2. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium low heat. 
  3. Chop the onions and add them to the pan. Stir a few times and let them cook slowly until they are slightly shiny, about 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, cube the ham and add it to the skillet. 
  5. Next, cube the potatoes and sweet potatoes and add them to the skillet. Start with the potatoes because they need just a little longer to cook. 
  6. Let everything get a little brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Then season with smoked paprika (about 1/2 tsp or to taste), a generous sprinkling of thyme, and some pepper.
  7. Slide the pan in the oven and let the vegetables roast for 30-40 minutes. Stir at least once about halfway through the cook time. 
  8. When the vegetables are cooked through and a little brown and crispy around the edges, the hash is ready. Season with salt and more pepper and serve with a sunny-side up egg (or two).


I almost always include a few potatoes, but feel free to switch up the rest of the vegetables (or add more). The quantities are whatever fits somewhat comfortably in the pan. I like having a distinctly sweet vegetable matched with a more bitter one, here are some examples:

  • sweet potatoes
  • golden beets (red ones will work, but they will make a red mess of your hash)
  • brussels sprouts
  • kale, chopped (add at the last minute before sliding into the oven)
  • turnips
  • carrots
  • parsnips.
You can also mix up the protein. I love bacon in hash and let the fat melt into the onions before I add any vegetables. Other options are to add some leftover turkey (Thanksgiving is coming up soon) or chicken.

The quantities don't matter, and the hash isn't always perfect, but it's almost always deeply satisfying. I love the improvisational character of it, the add a bit of this, and some of that, and see how it turns out.