It’s A Wonderful Life

Silent snow

Most families have their own holiday or Christmas traditions that surface when they gather together each year.  These traditions have evolved over time as life changes the framework.  Val and I have both lost our parents and our immediate families have either moved out of state or split up.  One tradition that has lasted over time is watching It’s A Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.  We love the story’s premise of how it’s main character George Bailey gets the opportunity to see how different life would be without him in it.  After becoming despondent following the disappearance of $8000 from his savings and loan business, he considers suicide, but instead is visited by his guardian angel: Clarence.  With the help of Clarence, he discovers that no one is born to be a failure.  The richness of life is about the presence of family and friends who bring love and kindness into our lives.  Although filmed in the 1930’s this film helps us remember what happens when we place possessions and money over people.  We certainly could apply it’s lessons to the events of the banking crisis and the high levels of corruption we see in our corporations and government.

Christmas dinner with family and friends.

This Christmas we had the unexpected pleasure of hosting my two nephews Ian and Jake for four days.  During that time we practiced a philosophy of being ‘unplugged’.  No computers or television were turned on during that time.  We cooked, shared, ate and played together.  We taught them how to play dominoes and were up late for two nights, laughing and carrying-on.  It was a special opportunity to bond as family and will always be remembered.

During this cooking frenzy, I sometimes slip in some comfort food.  Sheppard’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb.  Cottage Pie is made with ground beef.  I enjoy making a Farmer’s Pie which takes its cue from both recipes and uses sweet potatoes rather than regular potatoes for the topping.  It can be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd, and looks interesting and colorful.

Saute carrots, onion and celery

Saute carrots, onion and celery

Farmer’s Pie 

For the topping:

  • 4 large sweet potatoes (about 4 lbs total)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the filling:
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tsp fresh oregano, chopped or 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 lbs ground organic pork
  • 1  140z can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins  

Ready for the oven

Prepare the topping

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 425 F.  Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil (shiny side down).  Slice the sweet potatoes in half length-wise and set them cut side down on the baking sheet.  Roast until very tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  2. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a medium mixing bowl.  Add the milk, cheese, butter, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper and beat on low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.

Prepare the filling

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the celery, carrot and onion with some salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft, fragrant and starting to turn golden.  Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the pork and season with 2 tsp of salt.  Cook until no longer pink.  Tilt the pan and spoon off all but about 2 Tbsp of fat.
  3. Add the tomatoes with their juice, braking up the tomatoes with a spoon.  Cook uncovered until it thickens slightly, about 10-12 minutes.
  4. Add olives and raisins and cook 5 minutes more.  Adjust seasoning.
  5. Transfer the filling to a 13×9 inch baking dish.  Spread the sweet potatoes over the top in an even layer.  Bake for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
  6. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Comfort food at its best.

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces–just good food with fresh ingredients.”    —Julia Child

 

 

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