one man's ceiling
Sunday, October 29, 2006
  shepherd's pie & the end of daylight savings time
my girls love the shepherd's pie. i think it comes down to the simple fact that it's a meal smothered in mashed potatoes. honestly, how can you not like that?

the deal with shepherd's pie is this. well, it's two deals actually. the first deal is that the girls love it so much that they see no problem in eating it once a week. for a good year it was the most requested meal until we had to put a moratorium on it, which is part of the first deal. zuska and i thought it over for about two seconds and arbitrarily decided that shepherd's pie was best suited for colder weather and thus relegated to being made in the fall and winter, roughly, between daylight standard and daylight savings time.

the second deal is that shepherd's pie is something of an ordeal. this really shouldn't be, it's supposed to be a clever way to take leftover meat, vegetables and potatoes and whip up a second life out of it. to do this one must consume a traditional euro meat-and-two-veg (with potatoes being one of the two) and to have enough in leftovers to stretch to another day. we just aren't those people. we could be those people without a second thought, but it's that second thought that pushes us to try new foods, new combinations, often with spices or rubs sauces that preclude conversion into shepherd's pie.

which means i have to make it from scratch every time, which is the second deal.

i have made it with leftovers -- most notably following thanksgiving where turkey and stuffing join the potatoes and veggies -- and when i have the difference is remarkable. it's the twice-cooked aspect that brings out the melded flavors from the original. like the way a chili tastes better if it can sit a day before serving; you can eat them both fresh but that zweibacken really makes them zing.

all that makes it sound like i hate shepherd's pie, or that i find making it a chore. hardly! i enjoy the challenge of making it slightly different but the same each time. like tonight, for instance.

a few nights ago zuska and i had a kidless night where we were able to have dinner out at a local pub. i shied away from my normal burger and had a meatloaf with a beer gravy over mashed potatoes. sweet and creamy, i thought, but missing something if they were to be used for a shepherd's pie. my zuska landed a dome of grilled-fried-roasted little red potatoes that i couldn't stop stealing from her plate. and that's when it hit me: why couldn't they both be in a shepherd's pie?


one potato, two potato, shepherd's pie

there's lots of wiggle room in this to make to your taste. follow you gut as you go.
chop a pound and a half of the red potatoes into 3/4 inch cubes. place the potatoes in a plastic bag with the garlic, olive oil, kosher salt, parsley and tarragon, hold the bag closed and give it a good couple of shakes to coat.
place the cubed potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment and into a 375 degree oven to roast. give it 20 to 40 minutes until they're golden and yummy.

while that's going down take the remaining potatoes and boil them up for mashed potatoes. everyone really ought to follow their own family recipe for mashed potatoes, but in this recipe it's simply a case of adding the butter and enough half & half to make them the right consistency. a little salt and pepper, maybe some parsley. nice.

meanwhile, you're cooking the ground meat with the onion. you can spice this up any way you prefer. if you're using ground turkey you might try some sage and butter for flavor. if chicken, why not try a little curry powder? me? i like to use an organic, chemical-free gravy mix, or an onion mix, dumped into the cooked meat with a little water to process. failing that, i just start adding spices until i like it.

construction time. the amounts above make a 9 by 13 inch baking dish, or two square 9 by 9 dishes, which is handy because it can be frozen and brought out a week later when it's dark and gloomy out and you don't want to work at a meal but -- hey! -- i got that extra shepherd pie in the freezer! drop a layer of meat in the bottom of the baking dish, sprinkle on a layer of the frozen veggies, sprinkle the roasted potatoes on top of the veggies, plop some mashed potatoes on the whole thing.

toss it in the oven for about 40 minutes. if the sides are bubbling over but the tops aren't toasted then set the oven to broil for a few minutes until golden and call it a night.

in our house gravy is mandatory. i used to pout it over the veggies before dropping the potatoes on top but everyone complained so i make it separate now. again, this comes down to personal tastes. like that brown gravy in a package? go for it. want to make it from scratch? be my guest.

note on meat:
i've done practically every ground meat, and ground meat combination, in shepherd's pie but beef always seems to get the best response from my carnivore girls. i have made shepherd's pie with chopped up bits of roasts and the aforementioned turkey and i have to admit i prefer them. it wouldn't take much to use a nice cut of beef and chop it up specifically for the purpose, but then it seems too much like a crustless pot pie. by all means, use what you like.

makes enough to feed a small hungry army.
will freeze (if well sealed) for up to a week and still taste like you made it the same day.
kid tested and approved.
90 minutes start to finish -- and you can read your email and coast the web between steps
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