Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

It's very cold here with snow and ice, so I thought the family needed a hearty and warming meal that didn't require much effort. Enter Shepherd's Pie. Yet again, I've added a vegetarian label to this meal even though what I made had meat. In fact, we only had just shy of 1 lb. of ground beef in the freezer, so I also used a package of Yves' Ground Round fake beef. It would be quite simple to make an entirely vegetarian version (though it sure was tasty with grass-fed, farmers' market beef). It was nice, because even in December most of the ingredients for this meal were locally sourced: carrots, beef, potatoes, onions, garlic, and chicken stock (homemade from farmers' market chicken parts).

I looked in both Fanny Farmer and The Joy of Cooking for Shepherd's Pie recipes and then proceeded to ignore both of them! I took the addition of freshly-ground nutmeg from the Joy and the ingredient proportions of butter, stock and flour from Fanny and then did my own thing. I didn't have any leftover cooked meat (lamb and beef are both traditional), so I had to make up something anyway. I added tomato paste based on a British friend's vegetarian Shepherd's Pie recipe; I like the sweetness and warm color it adds. The butter, flour and stock work together to make a lovely gravy without any of the mad stirring of a traditional roux.

Other vegetables that might be tasty in this dish are (you guessed it) greens or peas. If you're making a vegetarian version and want to avoid fake meat, I'm sure you could also make a respectable dish using beans.

Both the meat and veggie recipes would be tasty with button or crimini mushrooms, reconstituted porcinis, shittakes, or a combination of the fresh and dried. We didn't have any in the house, or I would have added some. I would add the mushrooms in with the onion to get some of the liquid out--otherwise you might have a watery end result. You could use the (strained) soaking liquor from the reconstituted dried mushrooms in place of chicken/beef stock, as well.

INGREDIENTS
2 lb (or thereabouts) baking potatoes (though you could probably use red potatoes in a pinch)
2 TBSP butter
Salt, pepper, and freshly-ground nutmeg to taste
Milk to thin potatoes as needed

2 lb ground beef/Yves' Ground Round/Quorn Grounds or a combination (or 4 c. cooked beans)
4 TBSP butter
1 large onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 c. carrots, diced or in small coins (if using small carrots)
1 tsp dried thyme or to taste
1-2 TBSP tomato paste
2 TBSP flour
3/4 c. chicken/beef/mushroom stock (or water)
1 bunch greens, washed and finely chopped or processed (optional)
Freshly-ground nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar to taste (or even red wine)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 or 375 (depending on how long you want the baking to take)
  2. Scrub the potatoes and cut into evenly-sized chunks (I don't peel them if they're organic)
  3. Place in a large pot and cover generously with water
  4. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are very tender
  5. Mash potatoes with the 2 TBSP butter and beat with a wooden spoon (so says the Joy) until very fluffy. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Use some milk to thin the potatoes if needed--I think you're supposed to use warmed milk to help the potatoes avoid gluey-ness
  6. Set aside
  7. In a large skillet, melt the 4 TBSP butter and add the onion and garlic
  8. Saute over medium heat until softened
  9. Add the ground beef and carrots and saute until beef is cooked through
  10. Stir in the tomato paste and fake meat, if using
  11. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg
  12. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir in
  13. Add the stock and stir
  14. Let the mixture bubble for a minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasonings--you may want to add more tomato paste or some red wine vinegar. Keep in mind that the filling will be toned down somewhat by the potato topping so you may want to overseason slightly
  15. Pour the mix into a large baking dish (I used our oval ceramic 2 qt dish)
  16. Attempt to spread the mashed potatoes over the filling. Because I had made my mashed potatoes earlier in the day, they were a little too dry and cold for easy spreading, even after I had added some milk warmed in the skillet I used to cook the filling. Plan B involved taking little clumps of mashed potato and putting them on the top of the filling until the whole dish was covered. This worked just fine--there were plenty of potatoes to cover and the appearance didn't give away the clump method. As long as the potatoes cover the filling, you'll have a good finished product
  17. Bake at 325 for one hour, covering the dish with foil. (We went to meet a delightful newborn baby while our dinner was cooking, so I didn't want it to finish too quickly). If you'd rather get dinner on the table in 35-40 minutes, bake at 375 and don't cover with foil
  18. Serve. This dish is a meal on its own, but would also be nice with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower

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