Growing up I had little interest in learning to cook. I did have a lot of interest in eating delicious food, though. While I was surrounded by wonderful cooks and was introduced to unusual and exotic foods, I just didn’t give a darn about learning to cook for myself. Every now and then I’d try to make something that seemed simple and fail miserably, so I quit trying. I didn’t care enough to push through the terrible dishes (usually things from a box with very clear instructions), so I didn’t do it at all.
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Then sometime around when I moved into my first apartment Junior year of college it occurred to me — I could actually start to cook things that taste good to me INSTEAD of eating ramen for two meals a day. Interesting. I understood what flavors worked well together, but I didn’t really know how to execute…well, anything. I think at that time one of my most common dishes was an incredibly cheap cut of meat sauteed in a pan with some minced garlic from a jar. The thought of it now makes me nauseous, but at the time I remember thinking that it was delicious.
After college, I found myself with a lot of extra time to watch television — all that weekday bar hopping time was suddenly freed up. It was around that time that Rachel Ray debuted on the Food Network. I spent almost every day after work watching her show. That woman drove me up a wall with her cutesy little terms and abbreviations and giggling. But I couldn’t stop watching. Her cooking style was something that seemed attainable to me. She didn’t make fancy two-bite dishes on gleaming white plates. She made things that I felt like I could reasonably make myself. I watched and listened — learned how to hold a knife, how to rock it back and forth while curling the fingers on my other hand to hold the food steady but avoiding cutting them off. I learned how thicken sauces with a roux, how to tell if chicken was done by poking it with my tongs, and how, with a quick flick of the wrist, I could flip everything in a pan without it ending up on the floor. It was like free culinary school… with the most annoying teacher on the planet, but boy could she teach.
As I learned more and more, I moved on to other Food Network chefs for lessons. Rachel Ray was the 101 level. Then I turned to Bobby Flay and Tyler Florence for the 200-400 level classes. But there were a few Rachel Ray dishes that I hung onto. One of them was turkey sweet potato shepherd’s pie.
This has been one of my go-to dishes for a while now. I love it. My husband loves it. In fact, he requested it for his birthday once. He had all the dishes in the world (that I could figure out how to make) available to him and he picked this one. It is healthy, it is simple to make ahead of time, AND it makes at least two full meals. Oh, and it is delicious. Duh.
Turkey Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
I’m going to give you Rachel Ray’s recipe and then I’ll tell you how I switch it up.
- 2-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds ground turkey
- 1 large onion, chopped (I usually skip this, but if I add it I use frozen)
- 2 large carrots, grated (I skip this)
- 4 ribs celery from the heart, chopped (I skip this)
- (I add frozen corn)
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 4 tablespoons butter (half is for the roux, half is for the potatoes)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups turkey or chicken broth
- A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
- One 10-ounce box frozen peas
- 1/3 ripe banana, sliced (Ew, skip this! What is this for?!)
- A few dashes hot pepper sauce
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces) (I skip because it just doesn’t seem necessary)
Wow, I haven’t seen the actual recipe in a long time… I don’t bother with a lot of that stuff. And I cut the recipe in half for two people. It is still enough for about two meals for both of us.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Cube and peel the sweet potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook until they’re tender. About 15 minutes. Or, for those of you who don’t have that kind of time, Ore Ida makes these Steam n’ Mash sweet potatoes that come in a bag. You put the whole thing in your microwave and then mash them up. We have done that a few times. It works great although it is slightly less potato, so it makes a thinner layer on top of the shepherd’s pie.
While the potatoes are potato-ing, heat some oil in a pan and brown the turkey. I add a few shakes of the poultry seasoning to the turkey while it cooks. Once it is about done (no more pink), I add my frozen veggies (I don’t mess with fresh for this dish) — I use corn and peas, sometimes onions if I have them. Just let them defrost a bit with the turkey. When that’s done, strain the mixture if necessary and add to a baking dish.
In a saucepan, melt 2 tbsp of butter and then whisk in the flour. When it is all combined into a roux, add the chicken stock, some salt and pepper, and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. This is going to be your gravy. Simmer for a few minutes to thicken. If you’ve ever watched Emeril, you should know that a roux doesn’t reach its full thickening power until it comes to a boil. He says that every time he uses a roux which is most of the time. Once it has thickened, pour over the turkey mixture.
By now your potatoes should be cooked. Strain them and return to the pot. Mash them with a little butter and milk just so it is creamy enough to spread. Rachel Ray adds some hot sauce. I don’t really get the point there, but you do what you want. She also adds a banana which she says adds to the creaminess. I think it sounds really really gross.
Spread the potatoes over the turkey. Rachel Ray adds cheese on top; I skip that. Put the dish in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. I like the potatoes to get just a little… I don’t know the word… not a crust… but like bakey. You know. Or you don’t. Whatever.
Scoop into bowls and serve. It is such a delicious, warm meal. A healthy take on comfort food that is still thoroughly comforting.
Rachel Ray, if you’re reading this (which you are not), I thank you for my lessons. I owe you for teaching me how to cook. I wish you wouldn’t so freaking annoying, but oh well.
PS — It was brought to my attention that I might have inadvertently made my husband sound like a big meany in yesterday’s post. I believe I said something about him expecting an edible meal after I made a completely inedible one. I didn’t mean to imply that he is a 1950s husband who expects dinner to be on the table every night. I did mean that he expects (as he should) that when I do make meals, that they are edible ones. Frankly, I expect that as well. He teases me… I tease him… it is how things work. He is very nice and not demanding and not mean. And he does all of the dishes which is awesome. Please forgive me.