Monday, September 7, 2009

Easy Cottage Fare: Shepherd's Pie

My kitchen collection as yet contains no ramekins, custard cups, tart pans, or individually-sized mini casserole dishes. But I do have white ovenproof cereal dishes. I use them when I want indivual-sized entrees like homemade mac and cheese, hot pasta dishes, individual portions of beef stew topped with biscuits, and if I ever get the hang of it (must master pie crusts someday) homemade pot pies. The possibilities are endless. Tonight's use was for shepherd's's what we had on hand and was fast and easy.

And I have a half a pound of ground beef...actually several, in the freezer. I divvy up the larger quantities after shopping and freeze half pound quantities (raw) at a time since it's the amount I use a lot. I used a lot more meat at a time in the past, but have found ways to stretch that, unless we're having good ol' burgers straight up, or a roast. Even the leftovers from those, if there are any, get stretched for soups and more.

One way I stretch our protein out a bit is to pair it with veggies, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to use leftover bits of meat and veg and assemble a shepherd's pie. I've never used a recipe for it, per se, but essentially it's a casserole without all the ingredients being mixed together. A savory meat is on bottom, veg in the middle or combined with the meat, and mashed potatoes are atop. Some recipes call for the mashed potatoes to be on the bottom and the top, as a sort of crust all ''round. Seasonings vary, as do the sorts of meat and the type of vegetable. I usually top ours with some cheese and bake till it bubbles and is tender through. Since the meat is pre-cooked, and usually the veggies are, too, it only takes the time needed to heat through.

Last night's mashed potatoes preceded tonight's's an easy way to use them up. Tonight I wanted some fresh cabbage in our shepherd pie. A lot of recipes call for corn, carrots, green peas. Use whatever works. This is a rustic dish, not a prim and proper holds up to a lot of experimentation or using what you have right on hand. I've been craving sauteed cabbage lately, so that's what spoke to me as far as the vegetable. I'm not into limp leftover cabbage, so I sauteed some in a pan, only till bright green and still slightly crisp here and there.

It doesn't take much meat. I sauteed beef chuck and onions, drained off the fat, and seasoned with a pinch of sea salt and garlic. Nothing fancy. Moist but not greasy.
It certainly can be whatever meat matches the veggies, though. Just make sure it tastes good. If it's too bland heat it in a skillet before assembling and add a bouillon cube or splash of meat broth for flavor. Or a splash of Worchestershire sauce...etc. Just don't oversalt it like I did mine (oops!)

Leftover roast, cubed/minced very small and paired with a splash of red wine and sauteed mushrooms would be wonderful. Leftover grilled meats and grilled veggies would be delicious, especially if the meat's cubed fine and moistened with something complementary so it won't be too dry.
Leftover meatloaf with a splash of tomato sauce and green peas is good...whatever combination your family would find enjoyable (or what's on hand that tastes good hidden beneath melted cheese, ha!)

Here I layered the meat with a spoonful of tomato sauce, seasonings, shredded cheese, the sauteed cabbage, leftover mashed potatoes, more shredded cheese on top of that, and some fancy schmancy panko breadcrumbs that I picked up once at the store, thinking they were plain, but ended up instead being somewhat Italian seasoned. Anyway, you can use what you want, but the idea behind most shepherd pie seems to be beef plus veg plus tatties.

The mashed potatoes are good enough to eat alone, which is why I NEEDED to spread them out (ha!)...don't hand me homemade mashed potatoes and give me a spoon. At least paired with the cabbage it has the illusion of something a bit more nutritionally virtuous ;-) Tonight I used less make more servings. A generous amount of fresh ground pepper topped it off. Usually I put a thick layer of the mashed potato, especially if I'm making this in a casserole dish instead of individual ones.

The cheese (as with most of the other ingredients) is optional. Unless your household is like mine in which cheese makes a certain husband want to grab the cook and kiss her soundly. Which is why I use it frequently :)

I topped the cheese with the panko crumbs, which is also unnecessary, but potatoes, cheese, and bread crumbs...a culinary trinity, mmmm...
I'm thinking I'll keep honing this dish till we have an ultimate favorite. After all, it's a casserole. Leftovers. But with potatoes? Shepherd's pie even sounds better. Especially to folks like me who've eaten enough hamburger-helper-ish concoctions, casseroles, and leftovers throughout the years for those terms to ever have much appeal any more.

I'm thinking up my ultimate shepherd's pie. I'll keep experimenting. But if it features primarily beef rather than lamb, I think I'll utilize some Guinness in making the meat mixture for the distinctive robust flavor it lends red meat (I love making roasts with it), and when I get to the potato layer, make it more fluffy than creamy and top it with a smoked white cheese. Like I ever buy smoked cheese (smiling) but hey you never know when the opportunity will strike :)

Anyway, whether plain or fancy, popped into the oven, especially since this is in individual bowls, this only needs about 20-30 minutes at 350 F, till everything's happily hot throughout.
And then you eat it.
Between kisses ;-)


small farm girl said...

Oh great, it's late at night, and now I want to make shepard's pie. :( Thanks.

Wendy said...

Shepherd's pie is, apparently, a staple food up here in the northest (you know those "frugal" Yanks *grin*), but everyone I've met always makes it with ground beef, corn and potatoes, and the few times I've had it, it's been rather bland.

I love your recipe, though. Cheese is one of my favorite foods, and just about everything is better topped with a bit of cheese ;).

Thanks for sharing! I, now, have a better appreciation for this dish that's always sounded much more tantalizing than it ever tasted :).

Irma said...

My ex-husband used to love my "Admiral Casserole" . See, the brand name of our fridge was Admiral, so the casserole basically comprised whatever I found inside of it, on any given day. But always, ALWAYS, it involved mashed potatoes somehow.

Barb J. said...

The Shepherd's Pie looks great. I've never had it, but I must say that it looks a lot more appetizing than the last food picture you posted, lol.

Brussel sprouts... ewwww!