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Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.
Today: Shepherd's pie, a freezer-friendly meal for the whole family, plus some useful freezing tips.
Now that Clara is eating nearly as much as we do at every meal, I've found that my freezer has become indispensable. Before Clara was born last year, my husband and I became the proud owners of a small chest freezer, and in the weeks leading up to her birth I cooked up a storm. I was determined to pack that freezer full of good homemade food so we wouldn't have to resort to pizza and Chinese every night during those first few months.
Since that first round of meals is pretty much gone, I've begun filling the freezer again -- this time with baby-friendly food, which isn't all that different from what I made before. I cook big vats of soups and stews and braises over the weekend and freeze some of them in order to make future weeknight dinners easier.
There's very little you can't freeze -- with two main exceptions being seafood (I know some people swear by freezing fish, but I can't get past the texture problems) and uncooked vegetables (also a texture thing). Most winter fare -- soups, stews, braises, casseroles -- freezes beautifully.
Recently I've been re-exploring shepherd's pie, which we had a lot growing up. My husband has an almost visceral love for it (closely related to his passionate emotional affairs with meatloaf and brisket), and Clara likes it too. I made it one week using sweet potatoes instead of my usual Yukon Golds, beating them with olive oil instead of butter and milk to make a supple, sweet mash. That was a hit with both husband and baby.
• Make sure to tightly wrap anything you freeze in plastic and/or foil (preferably both), or store it in freezer-safe containers or bags. You don't want your food to get frostbite!
• Don't leave a lot of air/space between the food and the top of the container you freeze it in -- this encourages frost build-up.
• Label each item clearly with a name and date -- once food is frozen, it's a lot harder to identify!
• Freeze things like pasta sauce and pesto in ice cube trays so that you can remove and thaw only the amount you need.
• Thaw any frozen items in the refrigerator for a day or two before heating and serving -- this requires a little bit of thinking ahead!
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed well
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb (or beef, which turns this into cottage pie), not too lean
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup beef stock or water
Photos by James Ransom
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