Back when I was a kid, certain foods terrified me. Pot pies, shepherd’s pies, chicken stuffed with anything; those are just a few of the food items I ran from screaming. My parents loved shepherd’s pie. Everytime they’d order it, I’d cringe & order my requisite burger, fries and mozzarella sticks. Since I’ve grown up, I have a different take on them. Especially since now I can make them myself, and customize what goes into them. I’d say things have changed.
I love potatoes and onions and veggies, and of course, I’ve always loved cheese. I’m not a huge red meat fan nowadays, but when combined with the aforementioned things, I can dig it. And shepherd’s pie is exactly the kind of thing that combines all of those lovely foods and also sticks to your ribs on a night when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground. It’s the perfect time to get fat and eat warm, hearty food. Shepherd’s pie is a traditional meat & potato casserole that is technically shepherd’s pie only when made with lamb, otherwise it’s cottage pie, although nowadays they seem to be synonymous.
The English tradition of meat pies dates back to the Middle ages. Game pie, pot pie and mutton pie were popular and served in pastry “coffyns.” These pies were cooked for hours in a slow oven, and topped with rich aspic jelly and other sweet spices. The eating of “hote [meat] pies” is mentioned in Piers Plowman, and English poem written in the 14th Century. (Cooking of the British Isles, Adrian Bailey, pages 156-7) The Elizabethans favored minced pies. “A typical Elizabethan recipe ran: Shred your meat (mutton or beef) and suet together fine. Season it with cloves, mace, pepper and some saffron, great raisins and prunes…”
The key to dating Shepherd’s pie is the introduction (and acceptance) of potatoes in England. Potatoes are a new world food. They were first introduced to Europe in 1520 by the Spanish. Potatoes did not appeal to the British palate until the 18th Century. (Foods America Gave the World, A. Hyatt Verrill, page 28). Shepherd’s Pie, a dish of minced meat (usually lamb, when made with beef it is called “Cottage Pie”) topped with mashed potatoes was probably invented sometime in the 18th Century by frugal peasant housewives looking for creative ways to serve leftover meat to their families. It is generally agreed that it originated in the north of England and Scotland where there are large numbers of sheep–hence the name. The actual phrase “Shepherd’s Pie” dates back to the 1870s, when mincing machines made the shredding of meat easy and popular.”
– Courtesy foodtimeline.org
This isn’t the first shepherd’s pie I’ve made, I made one last year with Guinness that was so delicious I couldn’t imagine anything topping it. However I was stuck indoors with no desire to leave to buy stout or gravy mix, so I opted to make a simpler and quicker version. I omitted the Guinness, the tomato paste and the gravy mix; however I kept the cheese idea. This time I use sharp cheddar and I mixed the cheese in with the mashed potatoes before topping the beef. Also, I didn’t peel the potatoes. I like the rustic look of the skin mixed in, besides the fact potato skins are good for you!
Potato skins store many nutrients and also contain a lot of fiber, which is essential for a healthy diet. Leaving the potato skins on also helps preserve the nutrients in the flesh of the potato, which have a tendency to escape during cooking. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, a large baked potato, including the skin, has 278 calories. Only 3 of these calories are from fat. A baked potato contains only 1% of the fat allowance considered as part of a healthy diet, with 0% of this being saturated fat.
The potato, as well as the skin, is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. Potatoes and potato skins contain 18% of the recommended daily allowance of iron and 7.5 grams of protein, which is rarely found in vegetables in such high concentrations. Potato skins also contain a variety of phytonutrients, which are a natural source of antioxidants that help to prevent cellular deterioration of the body. The phytonutrients found in potatoes include carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid.
Potatoes are classified as a tuber, meaning bulb or root, and contain a protein called patatin specific to these types of vegetables. Patatin also works as an effective antioxidant and helps to lower blood pressure. Potato skins may even help to provide protection against heart disease and cancer.
The result? An excellent dish. You would think mashing the potatoes is difficult, but it’s not. Nor is it time consuming. It comes together very easily and quickly. Even if you think you don’t have time, you should try it. You’d be surprised at how easy it is. Like instant pudding, instant mashed potatoes are one of those things that make me scratch my head. Is it really that bad to boil & mash a few potatoes? No. Not at all.
SUPER EASY SHEPHERD’S PIE
- 1 ½ lbs ground round beef
- 1 onion chopped
- 1-2 cups vegetables – chopped carrots, corn, peas, green beans (I used a half bag of frozen mixed veggies plus some extra sliced carrots)
- 1 ½ – 2 lbs potatoes (3 big ones)
- 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
- 1-3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (depending on taste, I like more)
- Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- Wash and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).
- While the potatoes are cooking, melt 4 tablespoons butter (½ a stick) in large frying pan.
- Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat (10 mins). If you are adding vegetables, add them according to cooking time. Put any carrots in with the onions. Add corn or peas either at the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat has initially cooked.
- Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper. Add worcestershire sauce. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes.
- Take out potatoes and mash them in bowl with remainder of butter, plus ¼ cup heavy cream. Add cheddar and combine thoroughly. Season to taste.
- Place beef, veggies and onions in greased baking dish. Distribute mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely. You can use the fork to make some designs in the potatoes as well.
- Cook in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minutes if necessary to brown.
So while it won’t replace the Guinness shepherd’s pie, it’s an excellent alternative for the nights when there’s no Guinness to be had. A mouth-watering alternative. One that I had three helpings of.
You can use any kind of potatoes you like; Yukon gold, Jersey Royal, Rooster, Red Pontiac, etc. I used Russet. And if you’re really philosophically opposed to mashing your own, use Ore-Ida’s Steam n’ Mash. They’re the closest thing to real mashed potatoes you can get. And yes, you can use ground turkey. I’m not a fan of it, so I stick to good quality organic ground beef. But to each his own! I don’t ever eat red meat, so when I do it’s not a big deal to me. If you eat it often or have high cholesterol, etc, use fat free cheese and ground turkey, and sauté the onions in olive oil instead of butter. Although I wouldn’t skimp on using real butter for the mashed potatoes. Smart Balance or margarine just doesn’t work as well, although maybe a butter substitute made with olive oil would work better. If you like your shepherd’s pie more liquid-y, you can add ½ cup beef broth (or chicken broth) to the cooking meat to add more “sauce.” I like mine moist, but dry enough that it holds its shape somewhat well, so I didn’t use it, and I found it was plenty moist.
The best thing to happen to me so far “this year” is seeing American Idiot on Broadway with Jay back on January 1st. It was fucking awesome, Billie Joe Armstrong is in it for a limited engagement playing St. Jimmy. I also saw Tom Hulce (a producer of the show & the actor who played Mozart in Amadeus) at the performance, although I didn’t know it was him (I was behind him) & basically told him to get out of the aisle & sit down. Haha. Oops. My big mouth hasn’t gotten any better in the new year. Add that to a delicious dinner at Robert Emmett’s (who, by the way, serve what looks like a dynamite shepherd’s pie)… perfect. So I know it’s only a been a week, but how is everyone doing so far with their resolutions for 2011? I didn’t make any, I never do. But I have changed a lot since 2010. See? (Not really.)
The worst part? The stomach virus I’ve been battling since 2010 (okay, only since December 30, 2010… but still). It finally seems to have gone away, leaving me weighing less. Which might be good for some, but not for me. Looks like I’ll be eating double to get back up to my normal weight so my favorite jeans fit right again. More shepherd’s pie, anyone?