Cast Iron Comfort

Fall is my favorite time of the year, it is crispy brown leaves (not burning ones, ever since I am a city kid now), Indian corn, jackety weather, pumpkins, crocheting hats and blankets while sipping hot tea. I have always had a fondness for this season, I miss playing in the leaves and planning my Halloween costume. I miss trips to Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Michigan. We would go on a hay-ride and then come inside to drink hot cider and eat doughnuts. When it got close to Halloween, we would go to Paulsen’s Pumpkin Patch and pick out monster pumpkins. I just have such warm memories of this time that there are few foods things that I can think of that are more fall inspired than a nice root vegetable Shepherd’s pie. My Great Grandma used to make them with old pot roast. I honestly think that she thought that it was a quick solution to the problem of too many leftovers. For me, it was amazing. I grew up in a home where experimentation was not unheard of. Whereas, most kids I grew up with lived off of pot roast and the meat and potatoes diet, to me, such things were a treat, even if it was leftovers.

I decided to elevate it to the center of my meal in her honor, in honor of fall and in honor of love. Root vegetables were to be the stars of the show with a little bit of beef and a few mushrooms to savory it up a bit.

First, I got my cast iron dutch oven combination pot (a GREAT gift from a GREAT friend) roaring hot and ready to go. Meanwhile, I cubed up some beef for stewing and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Then I tossed it into the hot pan and seared the meat off. I noticed that the pan was not as oiled as I liked it, so I added a little bacon grease that I had in my fridge. I thought that Grandma Hoekie would have liked that.

In the meantime, I sliced some crimini mushrooms for searing after the meat.

Tada! Once I got a good amount of color on the meat, I pulled it out of the pan and quickly added the mushrooms to sear off. I let them get some color too.

It is important to remember that cast iron holds heat really intensely, and it is easy to let it get too hot. Just be pretty careful, knowing that there is some lag time when you turn the heat down or up.

I then added some flour (I cranked the heat down here), maybe 1/2 cup or so to make a roux using the fat from the bacon and the meat. The roux will help thicken the stew as it cooks. I decided to deglaze the pot with some beer, because why wouldn’t I? I knew I had a pretty classy can of beer just hanging out in my fridge, so I decided to honor it with a place in this pot pie.

I also added a thickly julienned yellow onion to the pot. I want to say that I truly value good knife skills. I think that they are really important for most things, but in this case, throw most of them out the window, relax. This is comfort food, and not high end crazy food that is all about plating.

Next I peeled a rutabaga.

I cubed it in nice big cubes.

Then I peeled some carrots and cut them into similar sizes.

I did the same with a couple parsnips. I cut around the woody centers of them, because they are kind of tough.

Last but not least, I cut up a sweet potato.

I added everything back into the pot and tossed it all together. I added some mushroom stock to the mix to almost cover the vegetables. I also seasoned everything to my liking, and added some cracked pepper, allspice, and sage to the mix.

After that I put the whole pot in the oven covered at 345 degrees for about 90 minutes. I stirred everything up a bit more, then I took the cover off the pot so that everything could reduce and cook a bit more. I gave it about a half an hour. Once the half hour passes, I started getting my potatoes ready.

I cubed about 7 peeled yukon gold and/or red potatoes and tossed them into my steamer basket with about 3 cloves of garlic.

Once they were fork tender, I threw them into my kitchenaid bowl with the paddle attachment with about 3 tablespoons of butter, some salt and pepper, some milk, and an egg.

I whipped them up so that they were nice and fluffy, but not overmixed. Potatoes will totally get disgusting and gluey if you overmix them, so treat them like cookie dough, just until incorporated.

I took my stew out of the oven, and the sauce was nice and thick, the vegetables were nice and tender and the meat was too.

I dolloped the mashed potatoes all over the stew, dropping it in blobs all over the surface, then smearing them together to meet in the middle. I was careful to sort of seal the stew in, without leaving gaps.

Then I put it all back in the oven for about 20 minutes, before I switched the oven over to broil and browned up the top. I was sure to keep a sheet pan under the pot, because inevitably the potato top had weaknesses and some of the sauce bubbled up and out. When things were done, it was a beautiful thing. It was amazing.

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About iliketocookthings

I was born and raised in West Michigan in a small suburban/farming community called Lowell. I grew up cooking. My family has always been centered around the kitchen. Growing up I tended to cook a lot of Italian-American food, seeing as how I am a whopping 25% Sicilian. When I got into high school I got really into Asian cuisine. I went to college at Central Michigan University, and quickly became homesick and insecure about my areas of study (Spanish and Art). I decided to return to the motherland and begin Culinary School after 2.5 years of moderate success in traditional college. Culinary school was a fun experience, and I learned a lot, but I didn't really fit the profile of my fellow classmates. When finished, I moved to Chicago to explore carreer options. My first place of employment outside of Michigan was Green Zebra, where I learned a lot, but quickly learned that I wasn't cut out for the cooks lifestyle. I stuck it out though, and continued working at both of Shawn McClain's restaurants, for about a year and a half. I now work for Whole Foods, and while it is a corporate environment, three of the biggest perks are access to ingredients, the employee discount, and the 8 hour days that allow me time to do what I really want. I am most happy when cooking in my own kitchen for people that I love. I now live in Saint Paul, Minnesota with my husband Eric and my cat child Fergus. View all posts by iliketocookthings

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