Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Not your mother's Shepherd's Pie

It's FALL!!! That means time for warm, hearty, fill you up, stick to your ribs kind of food. For anyone who hasn't tried Shepherd's Pie, it's not really scary. If you had it as a kid, and hate it because of that, maybe it's time to rethink WHY. It's meat, in some sort of yummy sauce or gravy, veggies, mashed potatoes and often cheese - all layered together in a casserole dish & baked till all the flavors have a chance to get to know each other. How can you NOT like it? I'm betting it's because too many of us had it made with canned vegetables, overcooked beef that was dry and a massively thick layer of mashed potatoes on top. Well, this is NOT that kind of Shepherd's Pie.

Traditional Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb. No one I know likes lamb. So, you can use your preferred choice of ground meat - beef, sirloin, chicken, turkey, even sausage. You could even use chunks of meat for a more rustic look/texture. But, if lamb is your preference, go for it!!

What you'll need:
2 lbs ground meat
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp. chopped garlic (or a few fresh diced cloves)
a few shots of Worcestershire sauce - optional
1 can beef consomme (NOT beef broth)
Mashed Potatoes
12 oz of each of 3 different Fresh or Frozen mixed vegetables - I used zucchini, corn & carrots. You can use premixed frozen, or mix your own fresh or frozen.
1 cup Grated cheese - I used Colby Jack

Let me start off by saying, Please... for the love of all that is good in the kitchen do NOT use either of these things in this dish: Canned veggies, particularly that vile demon known as "Veg-All." I know that we can be tempted with canned veggies as a short cut, but please... just don't do it, trust me. Nor should you consider frozen mixed veggies containing Lima Beans. I'm sorry, but Lima Beans have NO place in Shepherd's Pie.... or in my kitchen at all.

Thank you.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, have a 9x13 casserole pan ready. You can also prepare this ahead of time and refrigerate for a couple of days. 

First - decide how much mashed potatoes you want - some people like LOTS, some like just a little. I find that just under a half inch layer is about right, particularly if you'll serve bread with this. I had some left over that I'd frozen - this is a 1 gallon zip lock bag, and when laying flat it was about 3/8 inch thick.

Brown the ground beef - do NOT drain off the fat, but rather use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the pan. Let me be the voice of reason in your head here - buy the high fat ground beef. The fat in ground beef, if you drain it off, is not that bad for you. AND, the flavor is SO much better than that "lean" junk. So, when you see the liquid in the photos below, please don't panic. Think of it as seasoning - like salt or pepper.

While the ground beef is browning, pre cook the carrots and corn.  You'll want these "almost" done as they'll cook a little bit more in the oven.

Add the diced onion to the beef fat, and cook over medium high heat until translucent. They should be slightly browned around the edges as well.

Remove from pan and pour off the grease - again, don't go crazy here, if you can't get it all out of the pan, don't stress over it!!! Add the beef and onions back to the pan, add the garlic and pour in one can of beef consomme.

Mix well and pour all of this into the casserole pan. Add in the cooked carrots and corn. Mix well.

The zucchini I used was fresh and I'd previously cut it into slices and frozen it for later use. If you want to learn how to do what's called "flash freezing" and freeze your own veggies or other things the "right way" let me know!! I'm glad to share what I know.

Place several slices (again about 12 ounces) in the pan that you used to cook the beef & onions. Cook over medium low heat until they just start to turn tender - remove quickly as there's nothing worse than mushy zucchini. Ok, so there are some worse things, but none of them make an appearance in this dish. Gently mix the zucchini into the rest of the ingredients.

If you're making fresh mashed potatoes for this, make them a little more liquidy than you normally would. Otherwise, you can do what I did: defrost the potatoes and cut off the corner of the Zip Lock bag and you can sort of pipe them onto the top of the casserole. Even out with a spoon if needed.

Top with about a cup of fresh cheese. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the juices are bubbling up from under the potatoes. Be REALLY careful as this is VERY hot. Allow it to cool for several minutes before serving or you'll be dealing with Shepherd's napalm instead of Shepherd's pie. Be sure to serve this with salad and plenty of crusty french or sour dough bread to soak up all the juices. MMMMMM!!!

The best part of this dish is that you can make it in so many different ways - it's really great for when you need to clean out your fridge or pantry. It could even be made with sliced potatoes on top instead of mashed!! The possibilities are only as limited as the food you have access to!

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