Key Three

One of my favorite radio programs is APM’s The Splendid Table, hosted by Lynn Rosetto Casper. It’s a fabulous food show that talks about trends in food, recipes, and answers listeners’ questions about cooking. One series Lynn started not too long ago was her Key Three Series. In it, she asks professional chefs about three recipes they think every cook should know. This could be favorite recipes the chef makes time and time again, or basic recipes that use techniques that can be applied in other preparations.

My key three recipes are a combination of favorites and basics that I use most frequently in my kitchen: Chocolate Syrup, French Toast, and Shepherd’s Pie.

1) Chocolate Syrup

Photo from Small Notebook

I found this recipe about three years ago and have kept a bottle at hand ever since. Not only does it taste better than store bought, it’s also cheaper per ounce and way more satisfying knowing you whipped it up yourself!

I use this for everything from chocolate milk, to ice cream sundaes, to chocolate dipped strawberries. If I’m feeling saucy, I’ll add it to my coffee for a quick mocha, or make hot chocolate with plenty of syrup, then stir it with a cinnamon stick (my absolute favorite winter drink!). It’s easy to make and keeps for about two months in the fridge.


½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Original Directions on Small Notebook

2) French Toast


This is my family’s secret recipe. It’s tradition that on our birthday, we get a birthday breakfast of french toast and open all of our gifts first thing in the morning. We will get up at 6 am on a school day to eat birthday breakfast and I even made it for myself the first couple of years in college.

Something I’ve never understood in other recipes for french toast that I’ve found is the inclusion of sugar. Most french toast is eaten with sugar, or syrup, or both, so I’ve never thought it necessary to add even more to the cooking process. To each his own, I suppose. The greatest challenge in writing down this recipe is that there is no actual recipe with measured ingredients. Ingredient amounts were always based on the number of people eating, and the color of the “batter”. My inner scientist doesn’t approve of directions that can’t be reproduced, so I did eventually work out the measurements.

Serves 2

2 large eggs

1/3 cup of milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp ground cinnamon

8 slices of bread (We use cinnamon raisin bread for birthday breakfast!)

Butter for the pan

Maple syrup and powdered sugar to serve.

Pre-heat a large, flat pan, to med-high. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk until well combined. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and gently swirl until all of the cinnamon has been incorporated. Butter the pan, then dredge the bread through the egg batter to coat it on both sides. Cook until just golden, flip and repeat. Butter the pan each time before adding the french toast. If making a large batch, keep the oven on it’s lowest temperature setting and as french toast comes off the stove, stack it on a plate in the oven to keep warm until it’s served.

DSCN2240 DSCN2243 DSCN2259

3) Shepherd’s Pie


The beauty of shepherd’s pie is its versatility. It’s meant to be a leftovers dish, so other than meat and potatoes, whatever you have on hand is all that you need (I have a vegetarian version that I’ve made a couple of times, but it’s a work in progress I’ll save for another day).


The day I photographed this dish, I happened to have beets, garlic scapes, summer squash, green onions, and collard greens, but the basic recipe is this:

1-2 lbs meat (ground or small cubes)

1 1/2 pounds potatoes

3 tbsp butter or olive oil

1/3-1/2 cup milk (if non-dairy, use unsweetened)

1-2 lbs vegetables

Salt to taste

The meat to veggie ratio really only depends on personal preference. Overall, you’ll want about 3 lbs of filling, so you can adjust the contents accordingly.

Before you begin, pre-heat the oven to 375.

To prepare the mashed potatoes, scrub them and dice them into 1 inch cubes and place them in a large pot. Cover with water, bring to  boil with a couple of teaspoons of salt, and simmer until the potatoes are soft (poke them with a fork to test). Drain the potatoes, then return to the pot and mash with the butter and milk. Add salt to taste and set aside.

To prepare the filling, saute the meat over medium-high heat until just browned. Because this will go back in the oven, it’s good to leave a little pink in the meat so it doesn’t over cook and dry out. Depending on the vegetables, you can saute them in a pan with olive oil, or roast them in the oven. For the vegetables I used, I diced them and sauteed until al dente, softened, but still slightly firm. Combine the veggies with the meat in a casserole dish.

DSCN1581When using leafy greens like collards or kale, I like to steam those and layer it on top of the main filling.

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Once you’ve filled the casserole dish, add the potatoes, and use a wooden spoon to spread in an even layer. Roast in the oven until the potatoes are golden, 20-25 minutes.

DSCN1609This “recipe” feeds 6-8 people, or two for the whole week!

Some of my other favorite combinations include lamb with sweet potato topping and the more traditional, ground beef with carrots, peas, and russet potatoes (skins still on!). What will your favorite combo be?

See you all next week!


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