Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shepherd's Pie, "Great Recession" Style

When I was cooking for the deli at Just Food Co-op in Northfield Minnesota, I had to adapt to “Minnesota taste buds” as the staff deemed our local customers. One of the things that people were always clamoring for was Shepherd’s pie. This was not something that I grew up on, and while I had heard the name and knew that it involved a meat and vegetable pie topped with mashed potatoes, I had never eaten it nor made it. I finally did make it – where I lived, it was sautéed ground beef with some tomato paste (or ketchup, which ever was handy) and some frozen mixed vegetables, topped off with mashed potatoes and grated cheese. Baked to make it all blend together, it was pretty tasty.

Over the past Christmas holiday I had an Englishman scold me when I mentioned the Minnesota version of shepherd’s pie. He was quite vehement in stating that the pie was never made with anything but lamb, and that the ground beef versions had some nerve claiming even an affinity with the lamb version. With all that history on my mind, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make my own version of shepherd’s pie, using leftovers and veggies about to wilt beyond use.

As my sister Emily pointed out to me, I love to experiment in cooking, but not all of them turn out well. This one was fantastic, which was why I felt it merited a blog entry!

Of course in some ways the following recipe is cheating since I’m not providing the recipe for the lamb’s stew, but I think either a beef or lamb stew would work well, or even leftover taco meat (chicken, beef, pork) would do. Just don’t let the English know!

Mashed Potatoes
6-8 small to medium boiling potatoes (red, Yukon)
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 tablespoons milk or ½ and ½
1 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes in pot with water to cover bring to boil and cook until tender. Drain, mash, add butter, milk and salt and set aside.

Vegetable Base
1 onion sliced lengthwise
1 bunch greens (I used beet tops) chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

As potatoes are boiling, heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook slowly to carmelize, about 20-25 minutes. When onions are almost uniformly browned and carmelized, add chopped greens and cook enough to wilt. Set aside.

Meat Layer
1 cup meat stew (or browned beef, lamb, pork)

Cheese to top (I used some parmesan, but cheddar would work as well).

In a single pie pan (or little tartlet pans) spread vegetable mixture on bottom and then spoon meat layer over vegetables evenly. Add mashed potatoes and spread evenly. Top with grated cheese and bake for 30-40 minutes until topping is lightly browned and a knife inserted in the middle feels warm on your tongue. Remove from oven and allow to cool 3-5 minutes.

Love and hugs!

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