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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Cooking with Chef Jo: Cooking While Recovering

 I recently got some bad news or maybe good news depending on how you look at it. My right carotid artery was clogged so it had to have the similar procedure on my right paralyze/spastic side as I did with my left last year. I thought I was done with this but I'm not. It means cutting my throat cut again. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Canned soup and sandwiches will only get you so far. But rolling out doughs will be a no-no with surgery. What does rolling out doughs (think breads, pastries, dumplings, noodles, pizza crusts, cookies... to name a few) have to do with neck surgeries? Well, you lean forward and stretch with you shoulders that in turns pulls your neck muscles. The same thing goes for a lot of movements you do while cooking. I'll have a weight lifting restriction of ten pounds for the first two weeks, and then twenty for the next six weeks. Anything that involve bending forward and backwards, shaking seasoning on meats or in a bag (anything that jars the neck and may put tension on the internal stitches) is prohibited. I must admit it was harder to do when my left carotid was done. I mean, I wouldn't want to bust a major artery open in my neck or leg and bleed to death in minutes. I don't push these doctor's orders.

So what's on the menu when you take canned beef stew, canned chili, and soups off the menu for easy to fix dinners? That usually makes up about half of our wintertime cuisine. I could throw lightly seasoned meat into the air fryer instead of man handling the cast iron skillets. The skillets hang behind the stove (stretching-not allowed) lifting the weight of the skillet (5-7 lbs) above my head (weight lifting and stretching- not allowed). But, I've got four pans of lasagna in the freezer from batch cooking it. The same goes for spaghetti, and a few other dishes I make in bulk, but that will only carry me so far before my palate fatigue sets in. I decided on a simple meat and two vegetables for dinners. It suits Mel just fine because that's how she always used to eat. But the chef in me wants to do better than that, but in a pinch it will nourish the body without any fuss. 

It's not forever, I keep telling myself. It's only until I heal. The idea of buying bread and all the rest just rubs me raw. Once a scratch cook, always a scratch cook. Nothing else satisfies you or as good as you can make it. I do know going back into commercially prepared products will make my allergies worse again. Sigh! But at least the quail and vegies are mine, and most of the meats are farm raised.

One dish comes to mind,.. Shepherd's Pie.  Of course mine is not the Shepherd's pie you usually get. I don't use wine, I use dark Guiness and I don't top mine with white mashed potato either, I use sweet potato for a nutritional punch. These ain't yo' momma's mashed sweet potatoes neither. I'll make these up in 3x5 foil tins (2 servings) and put them in the freezer as well. Don't y'all love cooking once and eating many times. Did you know shepherd's pie is made with ground lamb or mutton? When it's made with ground beef it's called "Cottage Pie."

Jo's Shepherd Pie
Serves 4

What you'll need
1 lb ground lamb or mutton
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
1 small onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs of celery, diced small
1 lb mushrooms, chopped crimini or portabellas work best
1/2 cup peas
1/4 tsp cayenne powder, more to taste
1 tsp fresh rosemary, if using dried decrease amount to 1/2 tsp
1 tsp fresh thyme, if using dried decrease amount to 1/2 tsp
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
                                                  1 bay leaf
                                                  3 oz tomato paste
                                                  1 TBS Worcestershire sauce                                                                                                                  12 oz bottle of Guiness Draught
                                                 3 TBS flour or corn starch

                                                2 large sweet potatoes
                                                1 TBS butter
                                                1/4 tsp cayenne powder
                                                1/4 tsp salt
                                                1 TBS heavy cream

Putting it all together
  • Bake sweet potatoes in 350℉ oven until until soft and fork tender. 
  • In a skillet, add meat, onion, celery, carrots, rosemary, cayenne, thyme, bay leaf and garlic, and cook over medium heat.
  • When onions are translucent and the meat is no longer pink, add tomato paste, salt and pepper, and flour/corn starch. Stir well to coat everything.
  • Add Guiness. Stir well and reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally.
  • It will thicken into a thick gravy and coat the lamb/mutton.
  • Making the topping- the sweet potatoes should be cool enough to touch. Peel them and chop them up in a bowl.
  • Add butter, cream and salt.
  • Mash sweet potatoes until smooth.
  • Spread the meat mixture evenly into a buttered casserole dish, soufflé cups or ramekins for serving size you desire.* 
  • Top with dollops of mashed sweet potato.
  • Spread sweet potato mash so the meat mixture is covered.
  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper and sea salt on top of the mash.*
  • Bake 375℉ for 10 minutes.
*For just us, I divide it in half at this point.
* For the pan going to the freezer, I'll cover it and mark what it is, and baking instructions before I put this into the freezer.

Now, when I make this I'll double the recipe so I end up with three meals going into the freezer and have one for dinner. It's a yummy break from the ordinary. Next time I want this dish, it's just a thaw and bake meal ready super quick. Enjoy!

Y'all have a blessed day!
Chef Jo 


  1. Oh, I am sorry to hear about your health. I am sending healing energies and blessings.

  2. So sorry to hear about your health. Praying for healing. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. Well, not so good news that will have a good final outcome. You've had so many health issues to deal with. You take it like a trooper but I know it's got to wear on you.

    The shepherds pie sounds really good! My mom used to make the plain common version but I always like it. I wonder why it hasn't made it to my round of menus? That's something that needs to change!

    1. Leigh, It's probably fell by the wayside like many recipes do.

  4. Blah on your artery situation but so glad it was caught and can be fixed. Saying a prayer for you today.
    But on another note. I LOVE shepherds pie and have done it with both mashed tators and sweet tators and I love them both ways. I've also made it with mashed cauliflower and it was equally delicious. :-)
    Have a lovely day!!

    1. Thank you Kim. Ooh, cauliflower. I forgot about that option. :o)

  5. Hi Jo :) When is your surgery? I hope everything goes well and you heal quickly. Cottage Pie sounds good to me! And I agree, once a scratch cook, always a scratch cook! When we moved, I didn't have time to do a lot of baking and cooking, and we bought some bread and other supplies at the grocery store and were TERRIBLY disappointed...they either tasted like canola oil, cardboard or just plain flour with air inside!!!

    1. Rain, my surgery was last Friday... so now I'm cooking while recovering. The bad thing is chefs are rarely scratch cooks. Unless, it's their restaurant. I agree with you about store bought items. Canola oil was invented by y'all, eh?

    2. LOL...guilty as charged!!! ;) Recover soon! xx


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