We are still recovering from COVID here, and are staggering around the house like the un-dead – not quite human, but yearning for warmth and comfort. Never mind that outside it has barely felt like winter. Inside I am still heaping on the blankets and the duvets and trying to burrow my way to better health.
The steaming, hot therapeutic chicken soup of last week has given way to heartier stuff, ideal for the recovering patients. We are now pulling out the big guns of childhood myth and legend: Mom’s Meatloaf and Picture Perfect Shepherd’s Pie, which are practically interchangeable; Shepherd’s Pie being a magical melange of seasoned meat, mashed potatoes and peas all in one pan. Take your pick.
No one can make meatloaf exactly like the meatloaf of your childhood. It will never taste right. Nostalgia is a powerful flavor. Even if you use the correct ratio of crumbled Saltines to ground beef (my mother’s version) or the exact proportion of dry Italian breadcrumbs to ground beef and pork and veal (Mr. Sanders’s mother’s recipe), it will not taste the same. It will be childhood adjacent. Which might just do in this post-COVID pinch. The magical powers of healing might actually lie in the peas and mashed potatoes, which you can safely recreate. It is a meal which even a sad sack like you can cook, while hunched in shivering misery, wondering when your COVID headache will finally vanish.
Ina Garten has a fancy pants version of meatloaf: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/meat-loaf-recipe-1921718
Our friends at Food52 are very fancy – with the addition of mushrooms, a bell pepper and cream! This is what happens in New York City: https://food52.com/recipes/14924-meatloaf-plain-and-simple
We are boring to the point of total snoozery for most people – we always have mashed potatoes and peas with whose-ever-mother’s meatloaf we make for dinner. You might be more adventurous. In any case, enjoy simplicity and succor of the nursery food.
I can’t handle washing too many pots and pans these days, so I am opting for some Shepherd’s Pie tonight. And I am going to stick with beef, instead of the traditional ground lamb. (I have been following a shepherdess on Instagram, and cannot bear the idea of eating any of her charges. Let me wear their sweaters instead. https://www.instagram.com/theoriginalshepherdess1/)
I am all for recipes that sneak vegetables into the mixture – for me. My children were never fooled. It is too bad we haven’t figured out a way to monetize pea consumption. https://www.thewholesomedish.com/the-best-classic-shepherds-pie/
I also like including Guinness whenever possible: https://culinaryginger.com/traditional-shepherds-pie/ I don’t think this is a violation of my Dry January challenge.
There is red wine in this version – more readily available than Guinness. I will never pipe the mashed potatoes, no matter how much the recipe implies that any idiot can do it. I know I can’t. I do not have piping skills for butter, sugar and cream, let alone mashed potatoes. This is supposed to be comfort food, soothing and calming; bland and easily digested, not showcasing décorateur pastry skills. Be my guest if you’d like to show off: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/traditional-irish-shepherds-pie-52780791
We should all enjoy the respite from winter weather, which is probably just the pause we need as we recover from COVID. Quietly revel in the mild weather, and think about the bulbs that have eluded the rapacious squirrel thieves so far. The sun is rising earlier, and setting later. There is a nice warm dinner in the oven, that will yield deelish leftovers. These are modest, homey comforts.
Mrs. Lovett : “It’s fop, / Finest in the shop. / Or we have shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top. And I’ve just begun. Here’s the politician, so oily it’s served on a doily, have one.”