Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shepherd's Pie

It's all about the money, money, not really. It's all about the comfort food this Polar Vortex season. I can't get enough hot chocolate, grilled cheese and big ass chocolate chunk cookies. Luckily, I've lost weight, more like muscle mass, during my foot recovery with very little appetite, so the richness of these meals must be keeping me alive. I still have no desire to drink which I'm thrilled about and the foot recovery is going better than expected. I have a goal to walk a mile by the end of March.  

I've never made shepherd's pie. When I lived in Ireland, the family I was staying with made shepherd's pie at least once a month. Noleen had a little dry spice packet, like taco mix, that made the perfect flavor gravy. I have no idea what was in it but I could smell the seasoning in my mind.

I pulled out a few cook books to glean ideas, but basically came up short. I didn't want a red wine, beef cube Shepherd's Pie like Martha's Favorite Comfort Food cookbook suggests. The Bouquet garni gave me some spice profiles however that I leaned on. Rosemary, Thyme and Bay Leaves. You can basically season this any way you like. Just trust your sense memory. I can't believe I was able to do this from memory but I kid you not it was perfect.

Start with 4-5 Yukon Gold potatoes. I used 7 because we had them in the house and what am I going to do with two smallish potatoes that already had eyes beginning to form? I can hear my mom saying, "You could bake them."

Cut them evenly and cover with cold water making sure there is a least an inch of water over the potatoes in the pot. Boil for 25 minutes. If you do this first, the meal is done in truly 35 minutes.

Martha's Shepherd's Pie

One recipe said cook the onions in butter. Yes ma'am.

In retrospect I should have chopped the onions finer and cooked them, in butter, longer to brown. The sauce would have darkened even more. Use half an onion and three cloves of garlic. Brown first, then add about a pound of fresh ground beef. This was the best part of living in Ireland. We went to an actual butcher to get the meat. Not a grocery store. E went to Whole Foods and got this meat fresh from the butcher. He's awesome.

Strain as much fat as you can when the meat is thoroughly browned.

Add about a teaspoon of flour to thicken, scraping off the brown bits on the bottom of your Dutch Oven. Add about a 1/2 cup of beef stock in waves to make an actual gravy. You need fat, flour and stock for any gravy basically. It magically thickens and I never measure. You just eyeball it. If you are Gluten Free use corn starch instead of flour and boom you have yourself a GF Shepherd's Pie. If you don't use corn, then I would try upping the amount of dry spices to thicken. could add more beef stock and cook it down for a long time to thicken. So many options.

The seasoning is really a matter of preference. Here is how my flavor profile broke down:

5-7 good grinds of black pepper while the meat was browning. 
1 tsp of Kosher salt. I could have used more. Taste is as you cook. 
Dried Rosemary was key. Used 2 Tbs. 
1 tsp Turmeric, this is a great anti-inflammatory and I'm trying to use it as I would salt on my savory meals. 
3 Bay leaves
1/2 tsp of dried mustard (no idea why other than my mother uses it in her cheese grits and I feel like dried mustard makes everything better.)
1 tsp chili powder
4 dashes of hot sauce
I could have used Worcestershire Sauce or even Bragg's Liquid Aminos add 1 tsp if you choose.
I added 2 small carrots at the end. You could add peas, green pepper, even stewed tomatoes if you like and want more vegetables. Celery could even be nice.

I used our deepest pie dish and buttered it. Probably not necessary with all of the fat in the beef and the potatoes.

Once your potatoes are boiled get your food mill ready. If you do not have a food mill, do yourself a favor and get ye to Amazon and pick this one up! It's the best gadget and makes perfect mashed potatoes, sauces, soups, baby food and oh so much more.

Put a little butter in the sauce pan below. The OXO food mill is money because it has these little thwimpigy legs that rest on the pot. Thwimpidge is code in my family for any thing or thing-a-ma-bob that doesn't have a name. Daddy made it up, or some professor used it in college. It is the best word ever. That and kattywhompous. Kattywhompous is actually a word and is what my foot was before the surgery. Just all sorts of messed up, off center or askew. 

Heat up a half cup of milk and grind the food mill until the potatoes look like this.

Keep the heat on very low and add 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste and pour the milk in intervals and mix gently.

Remove the Bay leaves and add the meat mixture to the pie dish. 

Pretty obvious but spoon on the potatoes and spread to cover evenly.

You absolutely have to put a cookie sheet under this pie dish as a catch. The meat mixture will bubble up and spill into your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake in the middle rack for 45 minutes to an hour. Your house will smell amazing!

I'm thankful for so many things tonight. Our warm house. My memory. A husband who does the shopping. Improved healing. Being gentle with myself. My uncle's continued good health. A friend's father's tumor shrinking as well through the power of prayer. Memories of Ireland, eating Shepherd's pie with my friend Noleen. Handwritten letters telling me that this blog keeps us connected. Thankful for all of you!


Kristen Sayan said...

Not sure if it is the same spice packet, but you can find a Shepherds Pie spice packet in the UK section at Wegmans. I use it often and it's good. Thanks for the recipe. Looks delicious.

Nelle Somerville said...

Thanks Kristen! I'm going to have to go check it out at Wegmans.

Ella said...

Have done Shepard's Pie, but it was a long time ago. I think I have to try it again. The food mill looks "cool", have never seen anything like it.