Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheesy Shepard's Pie

There is nothing better that meat and potatoes, so let's combine two favorites into one easy dish. It also contains peas and carrots so you can feel good about making it-- since you made your kids eat their veggies. I love putting fresh/dried thyme and a splash of dry sherry into the mix (you know me, I love my liquor and thyme), and I highly recommend that you don't leave those ingredients out--they add a nice depth of flavor. Otherwise, it's just ground beef with no seasoning except salt and pepper, and frankly, it tastes a bit bland.

If you're in a real hurry, you can substitute some instant mashed potatoes with cheese for the topping. I've never done that before, so I can't tell you exactly how much you would need to make, but I'm guessing you'd need at least 4 cups of prepared mashed potatoes.

You can go really traditional with this dish and use ground lamb instead of ground beef. My local grocery store doesn't carry ground lamb, so I used one pound of ground chuck, and one pound of ground sirloin. I am not a huge fan of lamb, maybe because I've only eaten it once or twice in my lifetime. Either way, you're going to be making this again and again!

Cheesy Shepard's Pie

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 pound ground beef (use ground sirloin for less fat)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup beef broth/stock
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 cups frozen peas and carrots, thawed
2-3 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/3 cup milk
2 cups sharp shredded Cheddar cheese

We're going to start with the potatoes. You can use regular brown potatoes, yukon gold, baby reds, whatever you like. I bought a bag of these red ones because they were on sale.

I'd use between 2-3 pounds of potatoes. I used just over 3; next time I'm going to cut it back to probably 2 1/2 because we like a thinner layer of mashed potatoes. It's up to you--if your family is mashed potato crazy (Rebecca and I are the only ones in our house), you can go up to 4 pounds of potatoes, which I'm betting would taste really great. I have a handy dandy little kitchen scale to weigh my potatoes...and I love it. You can always use the scale in the bathroom if necessary...:-).

Anyway, peel and quarter your potatoes; cut the quarters in half if the potatoes are on the large side. This ensures all the potatoes will be done at the same time.

Place the cut potatoes in a large pot, and add enough water to just cover them. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and let them go for about 20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork.

Drain the potatoes in a colander, and let them sit for a few minutes while we work on the meat.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, saute for about 5 minutes or until tender.

Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Now add the tomato paste and give it a good stir.

Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking up the meat with a large spoon. Throw in the dried thyme and allow to cook until the beef is no longer pink. If you're wondering why I didn't use fresh thyme, it was 30 degrees outside that day, and I decided I didn't want to dash outside to the garden :-).

Sprinkle one tablespoon of flour over the mixture, and stir well. This won't make a real gravy, but it will tighten up all the liquid just a little.

Pour in the Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, and dry sherry. Let that all simmer on very low heat for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes back into the pot (or another skillet which was handy at the moment), add the milk, butter, salt and pepper (to taste), and mash away. I turned the heat on low while I was doing this bit; the potatoes mash more easily if they are hot.

If you like a creamier/softer consistency, feel free to add a little more milk. (I like to use white pepper for mashed potatoes because you can't see it, and you won't hear anyone complain at the table). Add the cheese, and stir until the cheese is well incorporated and melted...and by the way, are you getting hungry yet?

Back to our meat mixture-- dump in the peas and carrots, and give it one last stir. Turn off the heat at this point, because you don't want the peas to turn mushy and lose their nice bright green color.

Pour all this into a lightly greased 9x13 casserole pan. Spread evenly, and then top with the mashed potatoes, covering all the meat. You can rake the top with a fork or make some swirls with a spoon to create peaks which will get nice and brown in the oven.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are a nice light brown on top, and the meat mixture is bubbly.

Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. This is perfect for a cold winter day...a real meal guaranteed to stick to your ribs!

God bless your table tonight!

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