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Touring Wisconsin Food

Prayer for the Cook on St. Patrick’s Day, adapted from the old Irish Blessing

prayer-for-cook-1To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I looked up the old Irish Blessing I’d so often read at our local Irish tavern. It goes:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I guess not enough Irish people pray for me because here in Wisconsin the sun shines on my face only half the year, wind blows from every direction, and I’m usually climbing up the road, not down. Thus, this Irish image of perfect days seems contrary to my experience in the kitchen.

True, all kitchens sparkle from time to time, but rarely when work’s being done in them. The working kitchen’s floor is spattered and sticky. Counters are disheveled with spilled ingredients and the clutter of dripping utensils, dirty bowls, pots, pans, and plates. Creation is happening in the working kitchen, and it’s never pretty. But through the stirring, beating, and blasting with heat, foods are transformed. They become something wonderful, nourishing, and savory, – in the same way as does their cook.

The seasoned chef may produce foods that look and taste perfect, but not because they were perfectly prepared. Recovery is the master chef’s silent skill. Through practice, s/he learns how to make do with what’s on hand, extinguish fires, and salvage swill. And the cook’s secret? – It’s not technique, just calm twists of attention. Tilt the head and things look different.

So, here’s my St. Patrick’s Day prayer for all cooks, whether they work in a kitchen or elsewhere:

May you discard the spoiled food in the ‘fridge before it starts to ooze.

When the pot on the stove boils over, may the spilt broth loosen the grime beneath the burner.

May the coat grow shiny on the faithful dog that licks up the egg that dropped on the floor.

May you smile and cheer ‘How invigorating the fresh, cold air!’ when you open windows in winter to clear smoke from the oven.

And when the meal is an irreparable disaster and no sweet flavors in the food can be detected, may you serve it anyway to good friends with honesty and hearty helpings of humor.

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So in keeping with today’s St. Patrick’s Day theme of recovery, below I’m posting this recipe for Shepherd’s Pie that I discovered in the Cancer Survival Cookbook.   

The recipe is easy, comforting-to-eat, and a great way to use leftover mashed potatoes. (Plus, you can make it bland for the kids or spice it up for yourself.) 

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup peeled and finely chopped carrots
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch pie pan. Mix mashed potatoes with beaten egg. Spread half of the potatoes in pie pan. Set aside. In a skillet, brown meat and onions. Drain. Season meat with salt and pepper. Stir flour into the meat and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add beef broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until it boils. Stir in carrots and peas. Pour over potatoes in the pie pan. Cover meat mixture completely with remaining mashed potatoes. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until light brown. Serves 4.

I like to add some extra seasonings like garlic powder, some thyme, basil, etc. So feel free to season as you like. Go wild with chilis! – Although you only live once, you can make this dish again and again, differently every time.

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