Shepherds Pie-Cook Smarts Week 4

I’m wildly excited to be using Cook Smarts still. 4 weeks of fantastic experiences in the kitchen. Spoilers: Neither of us loved this dish in the “please repeat” category, but both of us were delighted to eat it. One of the most intimidating parts of the meal planning process for me is hoping we both enjoy the meal. I put a lot of emotional investment into my choices that ultimately I set myself up for disappointments. Cook Smarts has taken this emotional component out of the equation. We both agreed that as often as possible I will cook from their menu. If there’s a dish that both of us are really, genuinely uninterested in, I might skip, but unless this happens I will be cooking from the menu.

We discovered that while the flavors of this dish were really well done, and everything was cooked properly, neither of us are interested in eating it again. However, I thought this would make a fantastic meal-to-share with anyone who enjoys “meat and potato” type meals or particularly loves shepherd’s pie. Also, this dish would freeze really well. If you make meals for families and want a gluten-free, non-dairy dish that’s hearty and comforting, this might be your meal. (To make it dairy free I subbed non-dairy sour cream and just skipped the butter).

Shepherd’s Pie seasoning mix: so yum!

Freshly chopped onions, yummy tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.  

The before photo!

That’s a lot of food in that side profile! 

Apparently I misread the directions because I was supposed to have chopped green onion pieces left to sprinkle over the top, oh well!

Coq au Vin 

After years of cooking together we are much braver when it comes to seemingly intimidating dishes. Coq au Vin sounds like a very impressive and intimidating so we tackled it this weekend. After we went shopping on Saturday we realized that the dish would need to marinate in the fridge overnight so we decided we would prep it together on Sunday afternoon and I would cook it for dinner Monday night.

This dish is involved. I think that’s why it seems intimidating. There’s an aromatics portion, the chicken is coated in flour and then pan fried, and preparatory steps for ingredients needed the following day.

The recipe calls for two full bottles of Pinot Noir in the sauce, but I’m pretty convinced that some in a glass goes quite well with the meal rather than cooking all the wine. And on that note, a better quality Pinot Noir for the non-cooking portion is recommended.  
Honestly, in our humble opinion, after making this dish only once, we were not a fan of the floured chicken. We would prefer a non breaded version if we make this dish again.  

It certainly looked yummy before we soaked it in wine!

Alton Brown’s Coq au Vin video   Oh, these aromatics! Yum!

You cook the mushrooms, pearl onions (we substituted sweet yellow onions because our grocery store was fresh out of pearls), and lardon (what? we used bacon) and then refrigerate them to use in the sauce the next day. (In the background of the image below).

Original Recipe
  After I pulled it out of the oven, it did not look pretty but it smelled fantastic.

At this point in the recipe you strain out everything you see below, retain the chicken, cook down the fluids, add in the mushroom/onion/bacon mix to the reduced liquid and you are ready for a plate!img_3859

I didn’t take a picture of the plating because it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. He recommends you serve it over egg noodles, I used bread and that was pretty yummy.

Her remake of last night’s recipe

I realize that a good portion of my posts about Cook Smarts might sound like a sales pitch, (and let’s be honest, I’d totally appreciate a remuneration package for my advertising), but that’s not the case. This subscription service has revolutionized our week nights and my hope in sharing this is that someone else will benefit as well.

Most of the meals are 30-45 minutes from start to plating and every single meal uses fresh ingredients (and sometimes frozen, boxed or canned, as well. I haven’t gone off the deep end!). I’ve made my own seasoning mixes, my own salad dressings, salad mixes and the list goes on. My confidence in the kitchen is skyrocketing. This isn’t to say that every dish has turned out perfectly or that we’ve loved every single meal, but we’ve enjoyed a majority.

Take tonight’s meal for example. I had chicken thighs thawing in the fridge and since tonight wasn’t an “authentic Cook Smarts” night I was going to do something really simple. However, newly inspired with last night’s dish I decided to do a variation on the meal and repeat it! The only thing I changed was using peas instead of the avocado and orange salad for the side. To be fair, a post from Cook Smarts today inspired my creativity. They shared a “cooking mad libs” post about the “secret” formula for many of their dishes and encouraged making your own substitutions. You can find this post on facebook or in their articles.

I felt so empowered to make a creative meal to enjoy in my home! Full disclosure, I love pinterest, I have a fantastic “on the menu” board. I have every intention of cooking through my list, but I’ve been burned too many times with untested or just-plain-bad recipes. I had every intention of making out my own menus and creatively cooking meals, but I had a lot of emotional investment in A) the meal turning out perfect, B) hoping my husband would love it, C) that I would love it, that I crippled myself before beginning. Now I have the perfect excuse to try new foods, recipes etc that have been tested so as long as I can follow directions the meals will turn out.

We’re learning a lot through this process. We’re trying dishes we may never have experienced and learning we do like green eggs and ham sometimes! (Okay, that was just my Dr. Seuss humor sneaking out.)

Thanks for following along on my cooking adventures. If you decide to sign up, let me know, I’m excited to have more people enjoying their kitchens and dining experiences!

Southwestern Roasted Chicken with orange avocado salsa / wild rice

I’ve been in a conference all day today and I was in the same conference all day yesterday, so I made this meal in stages which means I forgot to do my ingredients picture. I’m so sad! I really like taking a picture of the ingredients because most of the time it is all fresh or simple ingredients and I really like emphasizing that.

I only made one modification/substitution in this recipe, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. (big substitution, right?) 

Let’s talk about this fresh salad! Avocado, orange (okay, I lied earlier, I used a clementine instead of an orange, substitution number 2), lime and cilantro. Yum! So fresh and light but satisfying! I wish I had finely chopped the cilantro instead of coarsely chopping it. That would have improved it exponentially. But hey, I’m learning, so it’s all good!

A perfectly ripe, non bruised avocado? This needed photo documentation!

I mixed up the spice seasoning mix this morning before I left the house! I really like it when the directions say, “you can do this up to ## days ahead of time”! It encourages me to read through my recipes a few times before I make the dish. It also encourages me to do an appropriate amount of prep work when I have a few moments here or there!

The shallots and raw pumpkin seeds are ready to be mixed with the rice!

Oh my goodness! The flavors and aromas!!

So sometimes I’m a ninny and forget that when you remove a pan from the oven, the handle you can normally grab shouldn’t be touched without a pot holder. Ouch, I’ll be doing burn wound care this evening. (I’m okay, my palm just looks like I spent some time in the sun.)

I have no idea why or how these flavors complement so well, but this was a very tasty meal!


Southwestern Roasted Chicken:

  • Coriander, dried – 1 tsp
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp
  • Paprika – 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin – 1/2 tsp
  • Chili powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Black pepper – 1/4 tsp
  • Shallots – 1 clove, chopped
  • Pepitas / pumpkin seeds – 1/4 cup
  • Chicken thighs, boneless (with or without skin) – 1 1/2 lbs
  • Oil, cooking – 2 Tbsp
  • Cooked wild rice (leftover from Monday) – ~2 cups

Orange Avocado Salsa:

  • Oranges – 2, segments, roughly chopped
  • Avocados – 2, chopped
  • Cilantro – 1 Tbsp, leaves torn
  • Limes – 1/2, juice of

*This meal is part of Cook Smarts subscription meals!

Turkey Kofta with broiled zucchini / mint yogurt sauce

After making my 10th meal, a full meal, plating a dinner (!), I cannot sing the praises of Cook Smarts any louder (!)! My confidence with serving a dinner has grown exponentially! We haven’t loved every single complete meal, that’s for certain, but we have greatly enjoyed having a complete meal at dinner. Formerly we would save our extravagant cooking for the weekends. Our week night meals were very simple. (Imagine: chicken thighs and peas, a lot, not saying that’s what happened, but you could imagine. Sometimes we’d add garlic powder or Italian seasoning to this hypothetical chicken.)

Now, we’ve enjoyed a different vegetable every night! In addition to that we’re incorporating a variety of proteins as well!

If I read the directions properly ahead of time I would have realized I could have made the turkey kofta’s a day in advance (!) this would have saved me some time at dinner prep Wednesday evening, oh well!

I’d like to share with you my favorite method to chop: mint, basil, parsley, spinach, etc. I learned this technique from Gordon Ramsey.

You stack all of your leaves together flat in a pile,


Then you roll them up as tightly as possible.

And carefully slice with a knife. Easy peasy and you have similar sized pieces as your final product!

This yogurt sauce was really delicious. I made a few substitutions: coconut milk yogurt (minimal to no flavor difference) and fresh dill instead of dried. Also you might be interested to note that I actually made the yogurt sauce a day early. I have a conference on Wednesday so I knew my time/energy might be reduced and this component lent itself to making ahead.



Turkey Kofta:

  • Green onions – 1/2 stalk, green and white parts chopped and combined (I used a whole stalk)
  • Turkey, ground and lean (sub any ground meat) – 5/8 lb (I eyeballed this and probably landed closer to 6/8 lb)
  • Panko breadcrumbs – 1/8 cup
  • Italian seasonings – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp
  • Black pepper – 1/8 tsp
  • Pine nuts (sub chopped walnuts) – 1/8 cup (eye balled)
  • Oil, cooking – 1/2 Tbsp
  • Stock, any type – 1/4 cup (I used chicken broth)

Mint Yogurt Sauce:

  • Mint, fresh – 5 leaves, finely chopped
  • Lemons – 1/4, zest of
  • Yogurt, Greek or plain – 1/2 cup (I used non-dairy coconut milk yogurt, yum)
  • Honey – 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin, ground – 1/16 tsp
  • Dill, dried – 1/8 tsp (I used fresh and eye balled it)

Crispy Zucchini Spears:

  • Zucchini (buy the smallest you can find) – 1/2 lb, quartered lengthwise into spears (I cut it in half and then sliced it as close to evenly as possible, but I ended up with more than quarters)
  • Oil, olive – 1/2 Tbsp
  • Honey – 1 tsp
  • Panko breadcrumbs – 1/8 cup

*Recipe from Cook Smarts subscription service