December 11

Shepherd's Pie

Days Until. . .

Christmas--14
New Year's Eve--20

Today's Flavor

It's Shepherd's Pie Day. A casserole with layers of ground beef, mashed potatoes, and cheese, it has roots in Greece and the Balkans. There, dishes like moussaka show family connections. In Britain, where the dish is most popular, it's called cottage pie. There, it's often made with lamb or mutton (as you would imagine it would be, given the name). In America shepherd's pie is best known as a dish in the regular rotation in the school cafeteria. Some love it, some hate it. I was in the first category, and have managed to infect the rest of my finicky family with this taste. We start with a layer of corn or squash or something else crunchy on the bottom, then the ground beef (cooked with onions and celery), then mashed potatoes, then a crust of Cheddar cheese. We make it when we have too much ground beef or mashed potatoes in the house. My recipe is here.

Edible Dictionary

moussaka, [moo-SAH-kah (the stress differs depending on the nationality of the speaker)]Greek and Balkan, n.--A layered casserole, with ground or shredded lamb or (more common) beef topped with a dry stew of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The top layer is bechamel, made with butter, flour, and milk, sometimes with cheese. In imitation of shepherd's pie (which moussaka resembles, although it may be the older dish), a layer of cheese is often baked atop the bechamel. Dishes under this name are found in all the lands formerly part of the Ottoman Empire--the Balkans, across the Middle East, and into Northern Africa. It varies from place to place. The Greek version is the most familiar in this country. Turkish and Middle Eastern versions use the same ingredients, but not always layered. The name itself is Turkish or Arabic originally, and has several alternate spellings.

Deft Dining Rule #772:

You should never be able to finish an entree of shepherd's pie, moussaka, or lasagna without being made uncomfortably full.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Dishes baked in layers
Draw many naysayers
But aroma persuades them
And savor parades them.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Mushroom Creek picks up the runoff from 7765-foot Mushroom Rock. Both are in the Kaiser Wilderness of the High Sierra mountains, sixty-eight miles northeast of Fresno, California. This is a majestic area, just a few miles from King's Canyon National Park. Mushroom Creek tumbles sharply downslope for two miles before flowing into Black Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin River. It's about nine miles as the eagle flies to the nearest restaurant, the Buckhorn Saloon in North Fork. If you're not an eagle, the drive is a corkscrewing fifty-one miles. Pack a lunch.

Dining In The House Of Windsor

Today in 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne so he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. She meant more to him than being a king. Not to gainsay that, but we are intrigued by the gourmet possibilities of being a monarch. The expression "eat like a king" is no myth. Even if a serious king had no budget for fine dining, he would still eat as well as he wanted to. What restaurant would present a check to a king? Or fail to show him the utmost hospitality? People with elevated places in society are commensurately well treated. A physician friend says he finds it ironic, given his substantial success, that he should constantly receive free dinners, bottles of wine, trips, and other offers from companies wooing his attention, patients and friends of patients. The higher up one goes, the easier it is to go even higher, and to enjoy life even more. That thought has never failed to get me going in the morning.

Annals Of Cheese

James Lewis Kraft was born today in 1874. He founded the Kraft Cheese Company, which renamed itself Kraft Foods in the 1940s. His flagship product was an inexpensive processed cheese with a long shelf life. He named it "American cheese." At first, the public rejected it, but after Kraft sold six million pounds of the stuff to the Army, a taste for it grew. The Depression increased its popularity even more, because of its low price and nutritional value. And it remains everywhere.

Food Namesakes

Our list is dominated by music people today. David Gates, the lead singer of a soft-rock 1970s band called Bread, came out of the oven today in 1940. Tony Basil hit Number One on the pop charts with her song Mickey. . . Today in 1946, the Kay Kyser Orchestra had a top hit with Ole Buttermilk Sky, sung by Mike Douglas, who'd be a talk show host later. . . The creamy-throated vocalist Sam Cooke was shot to death today in 1965. . . Apple, the Beatles' recording company, signed its first outside act today in 1967. The group was called Grapefruit. . . Sir David Brewster, the inventor of the kaleidoscope, was born in Scotland today in 1791. . . Justin Currie, a singer and songwriter from Scotland, was born today in 1964.

Words To Eat By

"Many are the ways and many the recipes for dressing hares; but this is the best of all, to place before a hungry set of guests a slice of roasted meat fresh from the spit, hot, seasoned only with plain, simple salt. . . All other ways are quite superfluous, such as when cooks pour a lot of sticky, clammy sauce upon it."--Archestratus, ancient Greek writer on food and drink.

Words To Drink By

"I hate things that are diluted—I mean, you don't mix Jack Daniel's with Coke. That's a sin!"--Nikki Sixx, bass player for Motley Crue, born today in 1958.