It is inevitable that I hear my mother’s voice as I go about my daily life: she is a strong woman, and we are bound by a thread of 44 years of love, care, and mishegas. I sing the songs she sang when I was a child; I use her phrases; I struggle with my inheritance of her sharp tongue.
Never has her voice been more omnipresent for me than since I started this project. Some things, I have discarded, such as “You’re not eating? But I made it special for you!” Other things are harder to ignore: ask my friend J, who was chided as though she were a child when she put her fingers into the communal dish. I’m working on letting go of the less attractive aspects of the mom voice, but mostly, I treasure it. I love that the first thing I ask people when they walk in is “Have you eaten?,” just the way my mother does. I love that there is always room at our table, no matter how thinly that means we’ll slice the roast (or, more likely, divide the seitan). And I love that the first and last thing I say to my family when I speak to them is “I love you”. My mother taught me well.
But I digress.
My house smells so wonderful, and by the time I’m done writing this post, I’ll have a dish of cottage pie—I beg your pardon, Hachis Parmentier—in my hot little hands. Now, normally, I’m at least several days ahead on blog posts, but lately, I’ve been last-minute-girl, so it’s almost 9pm on a Thursday, and I don’t care: I’m eating this stuff when it comes out of the oven, even though I already ate apple cake for dinner (because if you’re going to come home from work at 6 and start a recipe that takes 3 hours, you should bake a cake while you wait, right? I thought you’d agree). I’m going to eat it anyway. It just smells SO good!
I can already tell that I will change a few things next time, however, chiefly the number of cooking vessels used. The recipe uses one pot for the soup part, another for the potatoes, and a skillet for the filling, then puts it all into a baking dish; in addition, a strainer for the stock and potatoes, and another container or two to drain things into, along with a big bowl to mash the potatoes in. I went along with it, because after all, it’s Dorie, and even though I could hear my mother nagging all the way from San Diego, it’s worth a few extra dishes to me to do it the way it’s written the first time. Next time, though, here’s how it’ll go:
1) In my Dutch oven, make the meat/stock/soup stuff. Strain the soup into a bowl and leave the meat in the strainer to cool. Chop the meat on the cutting board and leave it there until the next step.
2) In the same Dutch oven, cook the meat mixture and put it in a small bowl in the fridge.
3) In the same Dutch oven, boil and mash the potatoes. Dump the mashed potatoes onto the cutting board (as I do when I make cjalsòns; don’t worry, they stay put).
4) Still in the same Dutch oven, assemble the casserole and bake it.
One pot, one strainer, a cutting board, and a couple bowls. Much more my speed. And my inner mother can hush up about the mountain of dishes in the sink.
[My changes to the recipe as written: I couldn’t find my bay leaves, so I left the bay leaf out. I mashed the potatoes well with a bean masher rather than using a ricer. Otherwise, I stayed exactly to the recipe, using cube steak and declining to include the cooked vegetables or a bouillon cube in the final assembly. I did, however, eat the boiled carrots with some butter, and DAMN. Heaven on a plate!]
You can see hundreds of other treatments of this recipe at the French Fridays with Dorie Leave Your Link post. We just dug into the thing and wow, it’s really very good. I’m not a huge meat-eater, nor a big fan of mashed potatoes, but the whole package is just delightful. It did make me rush to grab some veggies to counteract all the meat. (I kid. I only grabbed one carrot, and to be fair, I was full of apple cake, so I only ate a couple small bites of the hachis parmentier, so I could tell you how delicious it is. Answer: Very.)