In classic Julie Jams fashion yesterday, I totally overdid it.
Seeing as it was a holiday yesterday, the whole family piled into the uber-awesome minivan and drove up to the Cascade foothills to do a little hiking. I mean, it's January in Washington State...a perfect time for a family hike. The temperature was hovering near 40 degrees with fog blanketing the valleys. Beyond the fog, however, was a beautiful (if not cold) sun! Let's throw on the shorts, wool socks, polar fleece and go outdoors!
Tiger Mountain trails turned out to be a great kid hiking playground! With such fun trail names like "Swamp Monster Trail", "Big Tree Trail", "Wetlands Trail", and "Bus Trail" (leading past the rusty carcass of an old bus in the woods riddled with bullet holes), the kids were kept entertained...only peering over their shoulder now and again to check if the swamp monster was following us. The trails were fairly easy, most were paths through the woods--the bus trail was even wheelchair accessible! But, 3 miles of forest trail trekking with an infant in the backpack, an almost-4 year old begging for snacks, and a kindergartener who just knew "we should have turned right back there", wore us out!
Naturally, I'd planned something new and complicated for dinner. Something sure to cause grumbling and marital strife, with a side of yelling at the kids to "get out of the kitchen and will you stop making that noise!!".
Shepherd's Pie didn't seem all that complicated from my mental recipe run-through. Ground meat, chopped veg, mashed potato topping...then bake. But I'd chosen a fancy Shepherd's Pie (oxymoron anyone???).
Ground lamb instead of beef. All veg chopped in 1/3 inch dice. Thyme leaves here, sprig there. Saute this, then wipe out that. Potatoes boiled in salted garlic water. Combined with a preheated milk/cream/butter/oil/thyme/bay leaf concoction which was supposed to be poured through a fine strainer into the riced-potatoes. Yeah, I like to follow a recipe the first time through, but there were some amendments going on.
And I kept losing my place in the recipe because it was printed microscopically small and my eyesight is impaired by lack of sleep for the past year and throbbing jaw pain last week's dental fiasco. Not to mention that for some reason I just wasn't digging the smell of the ground lamb. Maybe it was the combination of thyme and lamb. I don't know. I like lamb and when I tasted it I liked this lamb. Just not the smell.
I wish I could say that was all, but no. There's more.
Recently, I was signed up for a baking blog (Bake Your Own Bread--BYOB). The idea is to bake as many of your own bread products as possible. I know, sounds like I enjoy insanity. But it suggested this cool cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
Basically you make a starter dough that can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks--but unlike traditional sourdough starter, you don't have to feed it. Whenever you want fresh bread, you break off a hunk, rest it for a little bit and bake it on a stone. Sounds simple enough.
Except, by the time I had the Shepherd's Pie in the oven my nerves were frazzled and I was sick of reading recipes. The dough is a super wet dough by necessity...so it can be refrigerated for 2 weeks without going bad. But I forgot to flour the top before grabbing a hunk and so it was totally sticking to my fingers. And how the heck am I supposed to shape this wet mass into a baguette shape 2 inches in diameter???
It's just possible that there may have been some expletives rolling around in my head at that point, threatening to rocket themselves off of my tongue. I choked most of them down. However, I still had absolutely no faith that the flat-ish lump of dough on my board would rise into a fluffy moist baguette. I was so sure that it would fail that I think I would have bet something vital on it. Good thing no one asked for my firstborn at that moment.
I'm going to say something next that I don't often say. I was wrong. There you go, I said it. That flat piece of wet dough puffed right up in the oven and even produced a great crackling crust! It was sublime slathered with butter, hot out of the oven.
Everyone ate the Shepherd's Pie (some small people used ketchup) leaving quite a few leftovers for the man of the house. But everyone ate all of the bread. Not a crumb left. So for all the crazy circus, I guess it turned out okay. And my husband said he will, and I quote, "never never never never never make you cook Shepherd's Pie again."
Honestly, I'll probably give it a go again someday with few major tweaks. I'm dying to make it look like Chef Ramsey's pies, with the mashed potatoes piped on like meringue spuds. I'm a sucker for presentation.
Baby trail mix is a chilly prospect!