Updated Shepherd’s Pie

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We got our first snow of the year this week!  Just a dusting, but enough to make for a white morning.  It’s cold, but dry enough, so it doesn’t feel like that bitter, seeping chill.  Our winter has, otherwise, been fairly warm, so I’ll take it!  All through the fall, winter, and early spring, Shepherd’s Pie is in my rotation at least a few times each month.  It is one of a few select dishes that M and I will eat the leftovers with as much gusto as the fresh serving.  (Given that my lunches are alway leftovers, I relish when a dish is just as good the day after.)  Also, this recipe usually gives us between 6-8 servings, so it packs a real punch in my weekly meal plans.  Better yet, it’s not too hard to double the recipe and it freezes well. (Just thaw for 24 hours/overnight before reheating!)  Plus, I have successfully replaced half of the ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms and/or cooked lentils to great success.  Tasty? Check.  Reliable? Check! Cheap? Check!

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I’ve been making Shepherd’s Pie from memory for several years now, though I shared my recipe, here, a long time ago.  When M and I were planning for our trip to the beach house this year, we decided to make Shepherd’s Pie on our dinner shift.  I was totally surprised to find that I had organically adjusted from my original recipe without even noticing.  So here is how I make Shepherd’s pie now, in 2017.  As my friend pointed out, the big difference that makes this dish so good is that equal effort is put into seasoning and flavoring the potato topping as well as the meat, keeping the whole thing in balance and making every bite delicious!  (And in case you were wondering, it is pretty simple to multiply this recipe by 6, in order to feed 25 hungry people at once–just make sure you have big pans!)

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Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 min. | Cook time: 30-40 min

For the Topping:

  •  1-1.5 lb potatoes (russets are ideal)
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
  • fresh chives, optional
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • -1 lb ground beef or ground lamb
  • -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
  • -1 large/2 medium carrot(s), finely chopped
  • -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced
  • -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -2 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
  • -3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
  • -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
  • -1/4 c chicken or beef broth/stock
  • -3/4 c. frozen green peas
  • salt & pepper

Start the potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes.  Place in a pot and cover with water an inch above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are easily pierced by a fork.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the filling:

While the potatoes are cooking, add the oil to a hot pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions.  Sauté over medium-high for about five minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften, then add in the ground meat*.  Cook, stirring often to break up the minced meat.  Drain the fat if necessary.  Add the minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 1-2 minutes more until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, stirring well to coat the entire mixture.  Then add the wine, broth, and peas.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer while mashing the potatoes.

Make the potato topping:

Drain the potatoes and add in the remaining ingredients.  Mash together into one smooth mixture.  Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed.

Finish Up:

By now, the liquid in your meat mixture should have reduced some.  In a well-oiled dish, layer first the meat mixture, then the potato topping.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden.

*If replacing half the meat: With mushrooms–add to the carrots and onions for the beginning, allowing the mushrooms to cook down before adding the meat.  With cooked lentils: add after all the meat has browned.

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Shepherd’s Pie

I read somewhere that every unemployed person should have a blog.  I don’t know if intent behind it was to use up the extra time inherent to those of us not in the workplace, or, because, without time taken up in the office, the unemployed are expected to have thrilling adventures instead.

I wish it was the latter, but at the best of times, this blog does serve as distraction.  That really, is what I’m lacking.  Four years in a theater department; working directly on four shows in nine months, and supporting the rest; working on the leadership boards of two organizations; staying on top of classes, homework, and a part-time job…I have, quite literally, forgotten how to not be busy.  Faced with free time that spans more than a few tv shows (in my case, days or weeks of no real goal or occupational responsibilities), I’m at a loss.  I’ve found myself swinging from lethargy to frustration, floating in bouts of enthusiasm and shattering self-doubt.  My sleep schedule is entirely haywire, my muscles are stiff and protesting from sitting (ironically) in front of a computer or the television.    I’m munching needlessly through out the day, and overcaffienating at the strangest hours.  All is entirely lost when my mother (and sole roommate) works for several days in a row, and we, literally, sleep whenever the other is awake.

I need human contact (cuddling does wonders), I need face-to-face interaction, and I need to be busy.  The most detrimental times are when, quite literally, I’m left alone with just my thoughts.  I can’t be in my head for so long.  Being busy (and loving what I was doing) was my strongest tactic to move forward.  Those little voices of self-doubt and self-hate and panic that torture me through the end of high school have finally been mostly quieted after four years of happy, productive college life.  But too long without proper distractions and they start to wake up again.  Those are the worst days.

I just have to remind myself: keep busy.  Do little chores, stretch, draw, cook.  So often, it comes back to cooking.  A wonderful distraction, with a (usually) delicious result.  And the added calories, and added cost of ingredients…  I’m still working out that balance.  But over the weekend, I found a dish that is perfectly on point.

Its finally cooling off here, though maybe I’m still biased after Vegas.  I was freezing the first day back.  But finally, between the earthquakes and hurricanes, the humidity is dropping along with the temperature.  Fall is in the air, and I couldn’t be more excited.  Fall is full of my favorite things: apples, sweaters, crisp air, the first fires lit in the fireplaces, boots, squash, just to name a few.  So maybe I jumped the gun a little, making a shepherd’s pie before the first frost…  But really, can you blame me?  I’d just like to point out, if it is this delicious now, how wonderful will this dish be on a snowy night?

Shepherd’s Pie with gluten-free French Bread

 Shepherd’s Pie  (adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Recipe

For the Topping:

  • – 1-1.5 lb potatoes
  • -2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • -3 Tbsp butter
  • -3 Tbsp cream cheese
  • -2 egg yolks
  • -1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • -1-1.5 lb ground beef or ground lamb
  • -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
  • -1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced (or even minced, if you have the patience)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -4 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
  • -2-3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
  • -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
  • -1/2 c chicken or beef broth/stock

Peel and roughly chop your potatoes.  Toss into a pot, cover with water, add salt.  Cook for 15 minutes more after the water begins to boil, or until a fork slides easily into a piece of potato.  Drain the potatoes and mash with the heavy cream, butter, cream cheese, egg yolks, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Mash and stir until the mixture is smooth.  Cover and keep warm until the filling is complete.

While the potatoes are boiling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet  over medium heat, and add your meat.  Stir constantly for several minutes, to break up the meat as it browns.  Drain the meat, if necessary, and add your chopped carrots and onions.  Cook for five to ten minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften.  Add in minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and stir for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn.  Add Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, mix thoroughly.  Stir in red wine.  Allow the wine to cook down for about 5 minutes, until the liquid has noticeably lessened.  Add in stock or broth and cook for 3 minutes more, until the liquid just begins to decrease.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Meanwhile, spoon the meat mixture into a deep, well-greased casserole dish.  Make sure all the liquid in the pan is poured over the meat as well.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture, until all of the meat layer is covered.  Sprinkle more parmesan cheese over the top of the potatoes.  Bake the shepherd’s pie for 18-20 minutes, until the top of the potato is browned and the cheese is melted and browning.  Remove from the oven and allow the pie to rest for a few minutes before spooning into individual portions.  Serve with toasted bread (gluten-free or otherwise) to soak up any extra gravy from the bowl.