A Saturday in Lexington with the New UK Wildcats

As football nears its college playoff conclusion, it tends to get lost that basketball is well underway. Regardless of UK’s bowl destination, the tip-off of basketball season is always welcomed in the Bluegrass.

Coach John Calipari has another crop of freshman thoroughbreds needing to be broke-in before their potential can be realized. But when you are the most successful D-1 program in terms of wins and winning percentage – Big Blue Nation always expects to hang a banner come March.

My brother, Geoff, offered me a seat to the Harvard game last Saturday. I usually go to a game or two each season, which is plenty. I enjoy the historic atmosphere at Rupp Arena, but it is an archaic venue and not the most comfortable, in terms of access or amenities.

Parking is a free for all; seating in upper arena is a dreadful experience, as it only has benches with no backs and is angled on a steep incline; and for some reason the SEC looks upon itself as some moral equivalence to the church, and bans the sale of beer or liquor, which is akin to a crime against nature.

I get Rupp is the epicenter of Big Blue Nation. It seats 23,500, and they cram an extra 1,500 folks into the rafters for big games. It’s a beast of a home court advantage, and UK wins nearly 90 percent of its games there, but it opened in 1976 and feels that way.

Going only once or twice a year it’s worth the experience. Sometimes my brother and I attend meaningful games and other times it’s a Harvard-quality game. No matter, I wanted to check out the new Wildcats and give them the eye test. But really, it’s more about hanging with Geoff and a few other Lexington friends, maybe hitting a hot spot or two along the way to pregame before the kitty kats tip.

Coming out of Frankfort around 11AM, I thought it best to secure some bourbon to take into Rupp, just in case a thirst arises. Metal detectors must be navigated, but staff don’t pat folks down often when entering the arena. I find a half-pint of Evan Williams or Early Times works well. Both are highly drinkable with or without a mixer, and the bottles are plastic with a narrow profile, perfect to hide in a sock or waistband.

This situation was the perfect excuse to stop past Moore’s Point, a long-standing Frankfort institution. They offer a bar and drive-thru service to purvey packaged liquor. People neglect this joint because it’s a tad rough around the edges, but everyone recognizes the iconic “WHISKEY” sign lit up in the sky.

Last Saturday was a beautiful crisp December morning for the 30 minute drive south to Lexington. There are faster ways to go, but none are more beautiful than taking Old Frankfort Pike.

My destination was the Break Room, located on Manchester Street, which Old Frankfort Pike flows right into. This outlying area is undergoing a transition from consisting of dilapidated factories, storage warehouses and vacant lots, to becoming the Lexington Distillery District.

Manchester runs into a parking area for Rupp Arena a few blocks down, so it’s not terribly far from downtown, but retrofitting those blocks into commercially viable properties remains a work in progress. As I cruised past the assemblage, slowly custom specialty shops, music venues, gastropubs, and bars are beginning to dot the landscape and fill in the vacancies to mix with the residential dwellings.

The Break Room resides inside the hub of the Distillery District, in a complex known as the Pepper Campus, called as such because soon it will be home to the James E. Pepper Distillery. Already open for business are Ethereal Brewing, Barrel House Distilling, Elkhorn Tavern, Crank & Boom, Middle Fork Kitchen Bar and Goodfellas Pizzeria.

The Pepper Campus is definitely hipster central, and the Break Room is ground zero. With its stout brick facade, custom industrial rehab interior and garage door that opens the front of the bar to the terrace and parking lot – the Break Room has a distinctive non-Lexington appeal that all this area shares. It’s popular and finding parking is tough.

Quinn tending bar at the Break Room

I met my buddy Eric at the end of the bar inside the Break Room, by the back door leading out to the porch that sits creek-side. Quinn, our super friendly bartender mixed a staggering Absolute and orange juice. Sadly I didn’t have a ton of time, as the first set of college football conference championship games had already kicked, otherwise I would have sat there awhile.

About 1:30 PM it was time to get moving. Eric volunteered to chauffeur, so I left my car at the Pepper Campus. We made a quick sprint over to Blue Stallion Brewing Company on W. 3rd Street, maybe five minutes away, to see a friend who also was going to the UK game with his little brother, and then Eric dropped me at Rupp.

I planned to meet Geoff at a sports bar on W. Main behind Rupp we usually hit before games, but turns out that entire block has been gutted. There was nothing left but an empty storefront and architect drawings on an inside table. Instead I wandered a couple blocks over to Shakespeare and Co. on W. Short Street.

Festive Christmas Elves at Shakespeare and Co.

This is a curiously Victorian-themed joint, comfortable, and most importantly, capable of serving liquor. The place was packed. It wouldn’t have done to need seating, but we were staying liquid kids. The bar was open for walk-up orders. I told ’em to keep those Absolute screwdrivers coming!

I met my brother and several other characters in all manner of festive costumes prepping to take in the UK game. I find you meet the most intriguing folks mingling at a bar. We had time for a couple cocktails and walked toward Rupp.

Fortune had not stopped smiling upon us yet. We had tickets in hand to sit somewhere in upper arena – not exactly an inspiring prospect as I’ve alluded to earlier in this post.

Here’s where we get into there being a dip in attendance at Kentucky games so far this season. Technically all games are sold out, but on average 3,400 fans are not showing up per game compared to last season through the first six home games. I wrote in some detail about this topic Tuesday, see: Attendance Dips at Start of UK Basketball Season.

Liquid enthusiasm at its best inside Shakespeare and Co.

Geoff and I were basically content continuing our conversation in upper arena when we cruised past a guy shouting, “I got lower arena for $20.”

We both took a couple steps past him and simultaneously stopped, turning around to look at each other. Lower arena for $20, priceless!

I get Harvard is playing the No. 7 ranked team in the country. It’s mismatch central, but even so, there aren’t lower arena UK seats floating around for $20 ever. Sure enough, he put us midway down in the section behind one of the basketball goals. That should be an expensive UK ticket no matter the opponent.

Yes indeed we had a game to go see. I must say from this close proximity the new UK recruits are some big boys, but young. Ultimately the Cats triumphed 79-70, to notch their seventh victory in eight games, but how they got there was of more concern than expected.

It’s funny because Kentucky never trailed, nor was there a moment when it felt like the game was in doubt, but it was closer than it ever should have been considering they were facing an Ivy League school with a 3-6 record.

Flynn, the master of the house at the Break Room, guaranteed a Wildcat victory.

The Cats led by 20 points in the second half and this looked like it would end the way fans had imagined. Then Harvard went on a 16-5 run. The grumbles around the arena were audible. Everyone recognizes each new Kentucky team, with its freshman dominated starters, suffer from inconsistent play. Sure, better it happens against Harvard than Florida, the problem being Vegas favored UK by 17, and they didn’t cover. Those who place friendly wagers on such sporting activities were less than amused.

Kevin Knox is savage, and Hamidou Diallo can score the rock. PJ Washington looks to be a disruptive force and Nick Richards is contributing early. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put in 12 points, and sophomores Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel added to the stat sheet.

This team has a big upside, but lord they are inexperienced. The question is can Quade Green effectively run the point guard position and facilitate this offense like his predecessors. It’s not all Green’s responsibility, but a great deal rests on this freshman’s shoulders.

I enjoyed watching these two teams compete buzzer-to-buzzer, and had a great time catching up with my brother from the perch of these sweet seats. The 2017-2018 Wildcats will romp all over a vast majority of teams this season. They are too tall and explosive for most squads. Stay patient and let Calipari do his thing. It all comes down to a couple key plays during March Madness to go from a good season to magical, and that’s the rub. There is no next year with the one-and-done players, and this team once again likely has several.

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Minnesota Senator Al Franken Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Today Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned over the continued allegations by women of unwanted sexual advances from the politician and former comedian, primarily during his years prior to becoming an elected official.

As reverberations emanating from the Harvey Weinstein scandal concerning sexual abuse in the entertainment world have swept through countless industries, include Capitol Hill among the target rich facilitators.

Democrats and Republicans alike joined to signal enough was enough with the questionable behavior Sen. Franken had shown to exhibit against his accusers. This comes on the heels of iconic Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., issuing resignations over inappropriate behavior. Speculation now swirls around several other members of Congress for similar conduct.

Now it’s time for the Republican Party and the people of Alabama to step up and deliver a rebuke against Donald Trump and the credible claims from at least nine women accusing Judge Roy Moore of inappropriately approaching them as young girls, one being only 14, when he served as a 32-year old assistant district attorney. In some instances it’s alleged Moore touched these girls sexually, in an unwanted and illegal manner.

The fine people of Alabama will litigate this matter on Dec. 12, when the election for its vacant Senate seat takes place.

Listen to the women. #MeToo

Excerpt from Sen. Franken’s resignation delivered today on the floor of the U.S. Senate

“…Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard, and their experiences taken seriously.

I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I hadn’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.

I said at the outset that the Ethics Committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard, and investigated, and evaluated on their merits. That I was prepared to cooperate fully. And that I was confident in the outcome.

You know, an important part of the conversation we’ve been having the last few months has been about how men abuse their power and privilege to hurt women.

I am proud that, during my time in the Senate, I have used my power to be a champion for women – and that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks. But I know who I really am.

Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a Senator – nothing – has brought dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.

Nevertheless, today I am announcing that, in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.

I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assaults sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.

But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota. And it’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the Ethics Committee process and, at the same time, remain an effective Senator for them.”

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A Ribeye Roast Done to Perfection

A Ribeye Roast is normally not in my price zone, but with my 14-year old out of the house for a few nights getting his legislative groove on with the Kentucky Youth Assembly (KYA), that is one horse-sized appetite removed from consideration. There was a gorgeous 5-pound Bone-In Beef Ribeye Roast at Kroger that originally was $32, marked down to $20. That still isn’t exactly cheap, but it sounded like a nice treat to share with the family.

In the interest of full disclosure, I had never cooked such a roast before and sought ideas. After 30 minutes of cruising about on the Internet I hammered together an interesting recipe.

BONE-IN RIBEYE ROAST

Ingredients: 5-pound Bone-In Ribeye Roast; 3 tablespoons olive oil; 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar; 1 tablespoon kosher salt; 1 tablespoon black pepper; 1 teaspoon garlic powder; 1 teaspoon dried thyme; 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon onion powder; 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika; and 1/2 teaspoon zesty garlic herb blend (optional).

Remove Ribeye Roast from refrigerator and allow to warm up toward room temperature, about an hour if possible.

Place a heavy cast iron skillet in the oven. A heavy baking pan is fine as a substitute. Make sure there is room between the upper and lower oven racks to add the roast into the pan once warmed. It’s better not to have to move the pan and adjust the oven rack after it’s heated.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Place balsamic vinegar into a bowl, and using a basting brush, apply a thin coat of balsamic to the outer layer of the roast. The entire bowl does not have to be used and don’t apply so much that it streams down across the face of the roast. You just want enough so that it absorbs into the fatty layer to offer a flavor addition.

Now we’re going to concoct a spice paste.

Place the olive oil into a bowl. Add in kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, dried thyme, dried rosemary, onion powder, Spanish smoked paprika and zesty garlic herb blend. Stir together to create a dense mixture. Rub this paste across the two open faces of the roast. If there is extra paste apply it across the outer layer of fat across the top that insulates the meat. If it’s a boneless roast apply the rub to all sides.

Open the oven door and slide out the lower oven rack. Using a carving fork and tongs (or your hands to keep it simple), gently place the roast into the pan, fat side up, so it sits tall, and the two open faces of the meat are exposed to the heat.

Close the oven and cook at 500 degrees for 25 minutes.

Reduce heat to 325 degrees and continue roasting for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the Ribeye Roast reaches an internal temperature of between 130 to 140 degrees. Essentially the meat needs to be cooked 20-22 minutes per pound to reach medium rare.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes on a rack or rest it on a cutting board.

Carve and serve. Should feed 6 comfortably.

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Attendance Dips at Start of UK Basketball Season

Rupp Arena, with UK’s championship banners proudly hanging from the rafters.

An interesting thing is happening in the heart of Big Blue Nation. As college football is heading to its bowl season conclusion, basketball is just getting started, but unlike a normal season something is missing. Approximately 3,000 people to be exact, as attendance is down at Rupp Arena in Lexington, the cathedral of Big Blue Nation.

Haters, don’t get overzealous in trying to sound the death knell on these Wildcats. Kentucky is the reigning NCAA attendance champion, averaging 23,361 per game last year. That’s about 400,000 paying customers per season, and they been doing that for a while.

But through the first six games this season the Wildcats are averaging 20,092 fans per home game, down from last season when Kentucky drew an average of 23,462 for each contest at Rupp.

There are several plausible excuses. Much of this early season competition is less than compelling, and for Saturday games it’s tough to beat some of the pivotal college football match-ups featured late this season.

A more cynical take on this abnormality would be this is John Calipari’s ninth season at the University of Kentucky, and each year essentially a different squad is assembled, and fans are a tad weary of learning all the new names. No doubt if this is part of the problem, it’s an embarrassment of riches. To Calipari’s credit, each year he brings in a top ranked recruiting class. His results are hard to argue with, as the Cats routinely lead the SEC, advance in the NCAA often to the Final Eight and beyond – but winning titles is tough, and Calipari has only gotten that done once.

The 2017-2018 Wildcats are especially young, perhaps the youngest by average age to ever suit up, especially for a major college program. Only three sophomores of consequence remain on this squad from the previous year. This is what serves as upperclassmen at Kentucky under Calipari.

In the age of one-and-done players that dominates college basketball, it’s a bit of a knock to be a junior or senior that is still kicking around a college program. It sends a message that a player isn’t capable of playing at the next level, at least not as an impact player.

Now I’m no Duke fan, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a senior like Grayson Allen on his roster. Sure Allen has suffered from a propensity to trip opposing players at times, but the kid is a gamer, will have gone to the NCAA tournament four seasons straight, won a title and can shoot the hell out of the deep ball. Allen is an invaluable asset when bringing in a new batch of one-and-doners, especially when conference tournament time and the NCAAs arrive.

That’s where Kentucky is clearly susceptible. When the going gets tough, all these top-flight freshmen year in and year out have no reference point for the intensity level of competition other than high school, where they could dominate. That doesn’t work in March often. Even regular season work fails the replicate the rigors of what will come in second round NCAA games and beyond. Each game becomes a whole new learning endeavor, and since most of these kids will never see a sophomore year, really they are only so invested in the program.

From a fan standpoint it’s like watching the same movie again for the umpteenth viewing. These new kids show up and no none knows who they are. It will take the first third to half the season just for Calipari to get the kids coached up for generic competition, meaning the games are less than fantastic to view.

As tournament time approaches a foreboding sets in that eventually the young kitty kats are going to run into a more experienced team and get schooled. Don’t get me wrong, Calipari’s teams are infinitely competitive. While they may be young, the argument goes, Cal’s kids have unlimited potential. This is true. See the 2012 Cats. But Darius Miller was a key senior contributor and leader on that championship squad.

Winning a championship or advancing to a championship game, the Elite Eight or the Final Four, often comes down to a play or two, and in those clutch moments Cal’s freshman-dominated squads have faltered, like against that Wisconsin team in the 2015 Final Four or North Carolina in last year’s Elite Eight matchup. This year there are several of those kinds of teams, such as Duke, Michigan State and Kansas to name a few.

This begins to contribute to fatigue, as some folks sit out these early season games. Few returning players leave fans no opportunity to invest themselves in favorite players to watch develop. Additionally, it’s not cheap going to see a UK game, parking is a hassle, there are metal detectors to navigate and the quality of watching from home keeps improving.

This is no knock on the current batch of Wildcats. Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and the rest of the new Cats will rack up a slew of gaudy wins this season and who knows where they might end up come March. I wouldn’t worry about the attendance dip. I’m betting Cal’s right, it will hop back to its NCAA-leading average before too long, and Big Blue Nation will be there in force behind the Cats come March.

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Trump Confidant Michael Flynn Indicted and Pleads Guilty

“Lock her up! Lock her up!” That was the chant heard at the Republican National Convention. Ironically it was led onstage by retired Gen. Michael Flynn. How fitting to now see instead of Hillary Clinton guilty of wrongdoing it is in fact Flynn who got locked up.

Friday one of President Trump’s closest confidants and his former National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, was indicted and pled guilty in federal court to making false statements to the FBI.

Ms. Clinton must be chuckling about how karma does have a way of coming back around to bite those whose hubris takes them too far.

With this indictment and guilty plea by Flynn, it moves the collusion and obstruction of justice charges up the food chain and lands Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation inside the Oval Office.

Court records offered a glimpse into what targets the Mueller investigation might be pursuing going forward. The indictment indicated that when Flynn made contact with the Russians it was at the direction of top Trump administration officials who had knowledge of Flynn’s activities. Those top officials have been identified as Jared Kushner, senior advisor to his father-in-law Donald Trump, and K. T. McFarland, deputy National Security Advisor, both of which were on Trump’s transition team.

Kushner has reason to be concerned. He’s now implicated as possibly trying to influence U.S. policy during the transition when only the Obama administration had authority for such activities, and earlier Kushner was in the meeting at Trump Tower with Don Jr., indicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a bunch of Russian operatives.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Mueller’s team interviewed Kushner early last week. It’s quite possible they purposely wanted to get Kushner’s sworn statement of events, knowing Flynn would plead guilty Friday, and roll on Trump to become a witness against the president. If Kushner was less than honest in his answers about the events in question he could be the next lucky contestant earning an indictment.

Flynn’s plea nullifies the president’s claim that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt and further disproves that no one in his administration had contact with the Russians. Fruits of Mueller’s inquiry have resulted in four Trump team members being indicted, with two of those having pled guilty. So much for nothing to see here.

President Trump responded to the indictment with this tweet, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide.”

The president’s outside lawyer, John Dowd, is curiously claiming to have dictated this post on behalf of Trump. But it’s unlikely a lawyer of his caliber would have fallen into the trap of basically admitting the president is guilty of obstruction of justice. This tweet demonstrates Trump knew Flynn had lied and then the president went to FBI Director Comey and asked him to go easy on Flynn, as “he’s a good guy,” and can the FBI let this Russia thing go.

The question is why all the lying if there is nothing to cover up? Trump blindly continues to refuse to accept Russia meddled in the U.S. election process, which is counter to the findings of the entire American intelligence community. Nor will he admonish Russian President Vladimir Putin for spearheading the computer hacking of U.S. interests.

The question looms legitimately at this point, does Russia have leverage over President Trump, and if so how compromised is the president, Don Jr., Kushner and the rest of his goon squad? Some dozen members of Trump’s team have been identified as having contact with the Russians during the presidential campaign or transition period, and lied about it, under oath to Congress and on federal disclosure documents.

Disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn walking into federal court Friday to plead guilty.

The only “fake news” about the Russia investigation has come directly from the Trump White House. Did Michael Flynn reach out to Russians at the behest of senior Trump officials to help sway an election victory in return for negotiating a lessening of U.S. sanctions against Putin’s hostile government?

Some darker secret is being protected by people in Trump’s inner circle. Now Flynn has flipped to become a witness for the prosecution to protect his own skin and that of his son’s, who also was implicated in wrongdoing. With Flynn’s plea deal President Trump is in harm’s way, as Flynn must cooperate with the special prosecutor and tell his secrets or likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

Ultimately, there is an awful lot of smoke surrounding the Trump administration about its Russian contacts, and they have clearly lied about it. With no credibility remaining for Trump or his spokespeople, the picture that is coming together shows an administration that has broken laws and put itself in legal jeopardy by lying to cover up its misdeeds.

Stay tuned kids, the fun is just getting started in TrumpWorld.

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A Birthday Dinner of Shepherd’s Pie

Birthday boy Jacy about to blow out his candles with assist from sister Isabella.

My 12-year old, Jacy, turned 13 over the Thanksgiving break. I was flattered that he requested I cook him my Shepherd’s Pie and we celebrate at home this year. Of course this means he’ll score heftier portion sizes than served in restaurants, second helpings are available and he has unfettered access to his new video game, Shadow of War. Jacy is a huge fan of the Shepherd’s Pie. We’ve tried it out in restaurants with uneven results. The Pub in Lexington, a British-inspired casual dining experience, offers a respectable rendition.

Having hunted down a cookbook that focused on quick, satisfying dinner meals to throw together after work, I cobbled together a recipe to take a stab at this entrée item a month or two back. It is amazingly easy to make and turned out far better than imagined. This recipe offers the option to use certain pre-prepared or frozen ingredients that can make it ridiculously easy and fast to throw together. I wouldn’t call it healthy due to the cheese content, but everyone enjoyed this and it is ridiculously yummy comfort food.

This dish hails from the United Kingdom. Traditionally Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb or mutton. Beef is by far the prevalence in America and less expensive. In England, this dish made with ground beef would be referred to as Cottage Pie, but regardless of what it’s called, essentially Shepherd’s Pie is a casserole with a layer of cooked meat and vegetables, a mid-floor of mashed potatoes, and if preferred, topped with melted cheese.

After the dish is removed from under the broiler, dip a spoon into the Shepherd’s Pie and you are rewarded with a burst of flavor from the meat and vegetables mixing with the potatoes and creamy cheese. Extreme comfort food.

One interesting twist I added into my Shepherd’s Pie was including diced Portobello mushrooms. I had some in my fridge that needed to get used and thought the texture would lend itself well with the other ingredients. It was a big hit. They absorb the other flavors and mix in well with the ground beef, vegetables and taters. Try adding this ingredient if you are a fan of sautéed mushrooms.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

Ingredients: 2 pounds ground sirloin; 8 tablespoons unsalted butter; 1 cup chopped onions; 8-ounce Portobello mushrooms (diced); 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots; 3 garlic cloves (minced); 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper; 1 1/3 cups beef broth; Small bag of frozen mixed vegetables; 1 (24-ounce) package refrigerated mashed potatoes; 8-ounce bag sharp cheddar cheese; 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley.

Preheat broiler.

Crumble uncooked ground beef into skillet and brown over medium heat; Drain away grease; Place meat into bowl off to side.

In the same skillet melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté onion, carrots, mushrooms and garlic for 5-10 minutes; Pour into bowl over the cooked meat; Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and add frozen vegetables (or microwave them according to package instructions).

Add back in meat mixture to mixed vegetables in skillet; Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper; Stir constantly for a minute or two until all is combined.

Pour in broth; Bring to a boil, stirring constantly for a minute or until thickened.

Heat mashed potatoes in microwave according to package directions. When done add in the 4 tablespoons of butter, with a dash of salt and pepper, and stir about to incorporate.

Spoon beef mixture into a 11 x 7 or 9 x 13-inch broiler-safe ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top mixture with mashed potatoes; Sprinkle cheese over the potatoes until covered. Use your best judgement, but if we’re going for comfort food, might as well use all the cheese and make it thick.

Broil 4 minutes or until cheese is browned. Watch dish constantly under broiler. It can go from brown to black quick. If you pull it just before the cheese is singed it creates this delicious outer crust that cracks as your spoon is inserted to remove each serving.

Let the dish stand for 10 minutes after it comes out of the broiler to settle and cool. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top and it’s ready to serve.

This absolutely is a dish that could be prepared the night before and refrigerated, so as to pop it in the oven when one returns home from work. I made two batches this last time and we ate the second Shepherd’s Pie the following night. High praise indeed!

If cooking a chilled Shepherd’s Pie coming out of the refrigerator, I’d preheat the oven to 350 degrees and heat it for 30 minutes to get the internal temperature rolling so all those delicious juices from the mushrooms, onions, garlic and butter get percolating.

Then pull the Shepherd’s Pie out of the oven, kick on the broiler and raise the oven rack as high to the top as it goes. With the dish already warm we just want to hit it with some intense warmth to singe the cheese.

Give this recipe a whirl, especially if you are not familiar with Shepherd’s Pie. It’s super simple and a totally satisfying dish the entire family will rave about – perfect for grazing on over a chilly December day with all the college football conference championship games on from dawn to dusk.

Bon Appétit!

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Rivalry Game Ends in Rout As Louisville Crushes Kentucky

Blue skies and sunshine were in abundance Saturday in Lexington as in-state rival Louisville visited Kroger Field to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Optimism was high for a competitive game as the kickoff sailed downfield in this early noon game, but Louisville jumped all over the ill-equipped Wildcats, scoring early and often to squelch all enthusiasm from the home fans in a 44-17 butt whooping.

The truly sad part is this game was even less competitive than the score indicates. It was 31-10 at the half. We departed after the second drive in the third quarter as Louisville had an insurmountable lead. Kentucky proved inept at moving the ball on offense, particularly in the red zone, and that’s with their running back Benny Snell racking up an impressive 211 yards.

A buddy of mine, Dennis, was kind enough to offer me a ticket to this rivalry showdown, and being both team’s had 7-4 records, both are going to bowl games, and a victory could push the winner into a possible New Year’s Day game – it seemed this likely would be a fun showdown to hang at with friends.

The tailgating aspect was ideal. Dennis’ law firm, Middleton & Reutlinger, brought their party trailer that unfolds to reveal a satellite flat screen television, gas grill, full bar and tent cover to give the 20-to-30 of us in attendance all the shelter and comforts necessary to get our pre-game groove off to a roaring success.

But as I wandered around the stadium-grounds talking to fans, there was zero sense of excitement in the air. There wasn’t trepidation either. It was complete and utter ambivalence.

Outside the stadium, it was a festive atmosphere as a bluegrass band was picking away on-stage, and kids clad in UK blue were playing 4-0n-4 touch football, but it all felt more like attending a picnic than what should surround a rivalry football game. Everyone was just going through the motions to make a decent show of it.

Going in Vegas had Louisville as a 10-point favorite. That’s a relatively big number considering these teams have the same record, both have curious losses and neither have a signature win. The obvious difference between the two was Lamar Jackson. He is a difference maker, and UK doesn’t have any of those caliber players on its roster. This was the junior Louisville quarterback’s regular season finale, and he was going to want to make a statement on the home field of his rival.

Turns out the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner did not disappoint. Jackson was unstoppable, leading Louisville to scores on their first eight possessions of the game. Jackson completed 15-21 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 156 yards, as Louisville totaled 559 yards of offense, rushing for 343.

After Louisville gifted Kentucky a 41-38 win last season, the Cardinals have now won six of the last seven, and knotted up the series record at 15 wins each.

I’m afraid this game, from tailgating to lopsided loss, encapsulates the state of UK football. Coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky football staff should be concerned, because it’s hard to build a successful program around ambivalence.

But this is the rub of trying to sell football at a place like Kentucky. The basketball team achieves at such a high level, while football hasn’t won a meaningful game in forever. The SEC is a beast of a football conference to play in, and is frequently regarded as the best from top to bottom. Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida feast on the Cats the same as UK’s basketball team rolls up gaudy wins on all the football schools.

Adding to the disruption in the Force of Big Blue Nation was the added push to show off the recently updated block lettering for “UK,” and the newish secondary Wildcat insignia Nike redesigned that is adorning fan swag, flags, warm-up shirts for the basketball team and is featured on the hips of the football uniforms.

I took an informal poll from walking around outside the stadium before the game, and asked those seated around me inside, as there was plenty of chatter going on openly about it, and it was a resounding 27-0 in disfavor of both changes.

The re-imagined wildcat head appears amateurish. More on a quality level of something seen in renderings for high school mascots. The first thing the majority of folks mentioned, me included, was it reminded them of Kansas State. A funnier take was someone describing it as the result of Chewbacca mating with a staple remover. OUCH!

Seriously, put a staple remover next to this emblem and tell me there isn’t a resemblance.

Lord knows the millions of dollars spent to means test these redesigns in focus groups and get them finalized – but with an on-field product such as what was displayed Saturday, that money could have been better spent.

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