Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shepherd's Pie Variation

bake at 375 until top is golden

This recipe is fantastic. I didn't lie to you about the bread, and I wouldn't steer you wrong here, either. First let me say that my preferred method of cooking this is to do it in a giant cast-iron skillet, which allows you to do the stovetop portion and the oven portion all in the same dish. But I can't FIND my giant cast-iron skillet. Haven't seen it since we moved. My beautiful enormous cast-iron skillet that has been perfectly seasoned over the last decade. *sigh* This is what happens when your life is organizationally challenged, kids. Get it together before it's too late, and you lose your skillet. Anyway, just bear in mind that while I cooked this in a baking pan, I'd much rather have done it in a large cast-iron skillet or shallow Dutch oven.

What makes this recipe so gosh-darned amazing is the meat mixture that serves as the base. I've been using this recipe, called "Dad's New Zealand Mince Stew," for the last three or four years. It is absolutely to die for. A couple of notable exceptions to the recipe, though: First, do not use anywhere NEAR the amount of black pepper called for. That's insane. I use ONE tablespoon of coarse-ground black pepper, and that seems just about perfect to me. That in combination with the curry powder give this stew just enough spicy zing to counteract a cold, rainy, gray day, but not enough to be overpowering. Also, I have never simmered the stew for the two hours (!!) called for in the recipe. I don't know if I've ever even taken a whole hour. It cooks down quicker than that. I use the first 20-minute simmering period to make my mashed potatoes.

The stew recipe is fairly large. You could reserve half of it and freeze it for another meal, making a smaller shepherd's pie or some other dish from it.

To make the prep quicker and a whole lot easier, I use pre-chopped, frozen onion or "seasoning blend," which is onions, peppers, and celery. I also use pre-chopped, jarred garlic, and canned beef broth works in place of stock. And even though it's more expensive, using 93% lean beef eliminates the extra work of separately browning ground beef and then draining off the fat, and also allows you to prep in one skillet/Dutch oven.

First, make the New Zealand Mince Stew recipe. It should finish into a very thick mixture, which you then spread in a baking pan or casserole dish, or just use the skillet or Dutch oven the meat was cooked in, if it's big enough.
New Zealand Mince Stew recipe, spread in baking pan

Then spread whatever vegetables you like, in as thick a layer as you like, over the top of the stew. You can chop fresh veggies, or you can do like me and use pre-chopped frozen veggies, right out of the freezer. I know that English peas are the traditional shepherd's pie veggie, but I hate them. Plus, I think this recipe lends itself perfectly to root vegetables. This time around, I used carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and yellow squash. The carrots taste the best with it.
layer frozen vegetables over meat stew

While your stew is simmering, you can whip up your mashed potatoes. Whether you make them from scratch or use instant flakes (this is so good, it doesn't really matter a lot), make them quite thick. Doctor them up however you like. I used a bit of light butter, skim milk, light sour cream, garlic powder, kosher salt, and coarse ground pepper. This time, I went ahead and incorporated some shredded sharp cheddar cheese right into the mashed potatoes, as well. Spread the potatoes in an even layer over the meat stew and vegetables.
layer tricked out mashed potatoes over meat and veggies

Bake at 375 for a half-hour or so (keep an eye on it), until the top of the potatoes is a light golden-brown, and the mixture is bubbly.
bake at 375 until top is golden

At this point, you can be finished--it does not have to have cheese. But if you like, sprinkle shredded sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the pie, and put it back into the oven for an additional 5 minutes or so, just to melt the cheese. Serve, and stand back for the rush for seconds.
sprinkle shredded cheese on top, bake 5 more minutes

You might notice that the stew recipe does not call for salt. Trust me--you won't miss it. Besides, you're salting the potatoes a little.

A really good variation on this for fall is to use mashed sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. (You'd probably want to omit the carrots in this case.) Just mash up boiled or baked sweet potatoes, then add a bit of light butter, some pumpkin pie spice (NO SUGAR), salt and pepper. Leave off the cheese. I almost made it that way tonight, but I know I'm going to be serving roasted sweet potatoes on Saturday, so I went with the standard version.

39 comments:

Cynikell said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE shepherd's pie - can't wait to try this.

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I'm loving your blog recipes. I tried the Shepherd's Pie with a few different variations on Thursday and it is DELICIOUS! We had the leftovers last night and they were even better!!

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