Tasty “Lentil Shepherd’s Pie”

During our sight-seeing trip last fall to New England, we stopped at a small café on the premises of a sustainable farm along the coast of Maine. Shepherd’s Pie was on the menu. Wow, I haven’t eaten this dish in many years. The restaurant included several “twists” on traditional Shepherd’s Pie recipes. In one variation, the filling included a local brand of porter beer. That pie tasted great! A second variation was a vegetarian one made with lentils. We ordered a second serving of this one! I associate Shepherd’s Pie with Irish cuisine and I believe that is entrée continues to be a popular dish in Irish pubs. With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I decided to try my recollection and make the vegetarian “Lentil Shepherd’s Pie” version. Lentils are packed with nutritional value — an added plus to this tasty entrée.

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Tipsy French Quarter Praline Pecan Cheese Spread

Decadent, audacious and over-the-top sums up Mardi Gras festivities and the carnival season, in my opinion. The parades and Mardi Gras balls have a party-like atmosphere with lots of revelry, good times and costumes –some elegant, others more brazen and some just plain silly. This over-the-top appetizer, “Tipsy French Quarter Praline Pecan Cheese Spread,” fits right in. It is so, so rich. Like Mardi Gras, this appetizer is decadent, delicious and addictive. It is full of sugar and calories — but we’re indulging during these festivities. And Lent is coming soon. The cream cheese base has savory seasonings while the praline topping (brown sugar, butter, nuts and bourbon) is very sweet. Oddly enough, the sweet and savory flavors complement each other.

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Marie’s Party Shrimp Dip

With Mardi Gras quickly approaching, here’s a delicious “Shrimp Dip” to include in Mardi Gras parties. What could be more southern that shrimp? The dip, served along with crackers and vegetables, is perfect for this festive celebration. Actually, the shrimp dip is good any time of the year and it is a favorite appetizer for winter holiday buffets. Our little group of musician friends, which meets weekly, ends each jam session with a table of wine and snacks. How much fun is that? So this week I’m bringing Marie’s appetizer recipe for “Shrimp Dip.” It is easy to mix up, colorful and tastes great. The dip is better if it sets for eight hours to overnight for the flavors to blend so I better get moving.

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Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Burnt Caramel Glaze

“Crème Brûlée” is a very popular and trendy dessert frequently served in restaurants in New Orleans. It is a creamy, smooth baked custard with a crispy burnt sugar glaze. In the past, I’ve posted recipes for a healthy crème brûlée version using yogurt and fruit and for a recipe for a custard-type “Pumpkin Flan.” Now, with Valentine’s day approaching, I’m making the real deal. This recipe is full of eggs, rich cream and scraped vanilla bean. It will stand up to any crème brûlée recipe served in a restaurant.

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Instant Pot Magic: Sirloin Steak, Tomato and Cabbage Soup

Blackeye peas and braised cabbage are two foods which are typically eaten on New Year’s Day here in Louisiana. My dear Cajun next door neighbor — who was just a little suspicious — always made sure we had these foods as they represent good luck and wealth for the new year. Most grocery stores have deep cardboard containers of cabbage for sale in late December. I found a few remaining very large heads of cabbage in January. I love cabbage; who can pass up a nine-pound cabbage for 55 cents? But they need to be cooked soon as the Vitamin C in the cabbage decreases over time. And so I made several dishes with this cabbage. My favorite was a savory soup made in my Instant Pot containing very lean top sirloin steak, beef broth, cabbage and diced tomatoes. I just love this combination of ingredients.

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Let’s Bake a “Mardi Gras King Cake” from a Box

The Mardi Gras season is here, it’s time to partake in King Cakes. And for those folks who live outside of south Louisiana, a King Cake is a rich, sweet yeast bread baked in an oval shape and decorated with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Often the pastry has a filling such as cream cheese, praline or fruit which makes this tasty bread even better. King Cakes are an integral part of Mardi Gras holiday merriment and they fill the bakery section of grocery shelves from early January to Mardi Gras Day (this year it is March 1). It is common practice to take one of these pastries to work to share with co-workers for a morning treat. Yum.

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Let’s Make a Very Small Batch of “Kumquat Marmalade”

Let’s cook “Kumquat Marmalade.” And just what are kumquats? These tiny edible “oranges” pack some punch. My mother-in-law has a backyard kumquat bush which is loaded with fruit this year. You eat the small, whole citrus-type fruit, including the rind, spitting out the numerous seeds found in the pulp. Kumquats are about the size of a cherry tomato and taste like a pungent orange. I find that eating the entire fruit is a little overpowering. Instead, I made a small batch of “Kumquat Marmalade.” It was was delicious, especially when served with cream cheese and crackers. Making marmalade — one jar at a time — is quite easy and not difficult at all.

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Instant Pot Magic: Let’s Cook Dried White Beans & Smoked Cajun Tasso

I love my Instant Pot for many reasons. One is speed. Some foods, such as dried beans, cook much faster when using the pressure setting on an Instant Pot. Now I can cook healthy dried beans in a reasonable amount of time (rather than all day). Although there are differences between types of beans, I have developed a “template” recipe for cooking white beans –Navy, Great Northern, cannellini or lima beans. This is a one-pot recipe; everything is done in the Instant Pot. No need to soak the beans overnight. The Instant Pot does that function. Then add seasonings, smoked Cajun Tasso or other smoked meat, the soaked beans and let the Instant Pot finish the job. No need to keep checking on the beans as the Instant Pot regulates the temperature and keeps track of the cooking time. In addition to being a tasty meal, dried beans are full of healthy fiber and other nutritional benefits. So, let’s start the New Year with some healthy dried beans cooked in an Instant Pot. Here is a bowl of white beans and ham (made with Navy beans).

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Dynamite Shrimp Appetizer

My “Dynamite Shrimp” appetizer is an absolutely delicious way to serve shrimp. It is inspired by the appetizer served at P.F. Chang’s Restaurant where shrimp tails are dipped in tempura batter, fried and then coated with a sriracha aioli. Yum! For the past several years, one of our winter holiday family traditions has been to enjoy a meal at a P.F Chang’s Restaurant. The atmosphere, variety of menu choices and presentation of the oriental foods can’t be beat. This year our favorite dish was “Dynamite Shrimp.” I decided to make a variation of the dish at home. We all agreed that my shrimp appetizer tasted just as good as P.F. Chang’s version and, surprisingly, it isn’t that difficult to make using common household ingredients.

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Instant Pot Magic: Spaghetti with Diced Tomato & Meat Sauce

For me, the joy of an “Instant Pot” is all about the challenge. I am starting out the New Year with another of my “Instant Pot” experiments. Can you cook spaghetti with diced tomato & meat sauce in an Instant Pot? Although cooking pasta on the stove in one pot and meat sauce in another pot really isn’t difficult, an Instant Pot does save several steps and it reduces the number of pots that you have to wash. (And that is so important.) Plus, homemade spaghetti sauce tastes better than any commercial one, in my opinion, and it is easy to make. As an added benefit, the homemade sauce can be made so that it is not high in sodium (salt). Spaghetti with meat sauce has always been one of our favorite “go to” suppers. With a “never give up” approach; I made this simple recipe over and over in an Instant Pot trying to get the process perfected.

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