Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shepherds Pie

Summer and I have a love-hate relationship.  I don't like the heat, so I went and chopped my hair off.  But now I can't do as many cute things with my hair.  *Sigh.*  I'm a redhead, so I burn easily.  I've already gone through 2 bottles of 50 spf sunscreen since May.

Then there's the good stuff.  And by that, I mean my parents' vegetable garden.  I can't garden worth a poop.  Plants shrivel when I breathe on them.  Luckily, my parents make outdoor plants thrive.  In the fridge, I have half a pint-sized jar full of fresh pesto.  Zucchini bread sits tucked nice and tight in the freezer.  I love to cook with fresh vegetables.  And then I get back to the heat issue.  A hot kitchen unfortunately makes the whole house hot.  So, I've been trying out new crockpot recipes.  A few weeks ago I tried to replicate Cafe Rio's barbacoa pulled pork salads.  The meat didn't turn out as dark, but it was still oh so good!  Today, I am making shepherds pie.

What is shepherds pie?  It's traditionally an Irish dish.  In the 1800s, Ireland was under what was known as a "middleman" system, in which the Irish were tenants under landlords, who were more often than not English.  The Irish payed rent, and rarely owned land.  Most of what they farmed or raised went to the landlord to trade.  Then, in the late 1840s, there was a potato blight, known as the Potato Famine.  Produce rotted, rents couldn't be paid, the Irish lost their homes as a result, and many people starved.  If they didn't die of starvation, they might have lost toes or more to frostbite.  Many people emigrated to the England to find work in factories or as servants, or emigrated to the States to start over.
Since the Irish were poor and had little to eat for themselves, they would take scraps of food to make meals.  One was called cottage pie, or as it is now known, shepherds pie.  The meal was usually made up of leftover mutton, whatever vegetables could be gathered, and potatoes, usually mashed on top, and baked.

Most recipes I found for shepherds pie called for whiskey, commonly used in Irish cooking.  Other recipes I found were a bit on the, well, boring side.  I mixed together a few ideas that I liked, and it turned out pretty well.

Shepherds Pie

1 pound ground meat (lamb, beef, turkey, etc.)
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 c beef stock
2 large carrots, diced
1/2 c peas
1/2 c corn
1 cup green beans, cut about 1-inch long
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Worcester Sauce
1 t rosemary leaves
1 t thyme

In a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil.  Add the carrots; cook until a fork easily slides into the carrot.  (If using fresh vegetables and not canned or frozen, do the same with the other vegetables.) Brown the meat, and lay in a crockpot.  Using the same frying pan, brown the onion and garlic until golden brown.  Add to the meat.  Add the vegetables.  In a bowl, whisk together the soup and stock.  (Some of my family members don't like mushrooms, so you can use a strainer as you pour the soup and stock into the crockpot, and throw out the mushrooms).  Stir well.

If it is still runny, you can add a cornstarch slurry.  What is a slurry?  Basically you whisk together cold water and cornstarch together, then add to the mixture.  It has to be cold water, or the cornstarch will stay lumpy.  You want to make the slurry thick.  Think oobleck thick.  Don't know what oobleck is?  It's cornstarch and water, thick enough that when you push your finger into it fast, it resists your finger.  Oobleck looks watery, but it can be moldable if it is constantly moved around with your hands.  That is the consistency you want for a slurry.  Stir that a little at a time into your crockpot, and stir it in.  It should thicken.  If you have leftover slurry, let any children nearby play with it over the kitchen or bathroom sink - fun galore!

Set your crockpot to high, or a 4-hour setting.  Cook about 3 hours, depending on your altitude.  If you're at a high altitude, add about a half hour.  An hour before it's done, you need to add the mashed potatoes.

4 russet baking potatoes, cubed
1/2 c sour cream or cream cheese
1/4 c butter
3/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper

Boil your potatoes until a fork can easily spear a cube.  Drain, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Using a masher, mash the potatoes to your desired consistency.  Add the butter, sour cream or cream cheese, salt, and pepper.  Using beaters, mix until it looks creamy and fluffy.  Using a rubber spatula, gently smooth the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture, until it looks about 2-3 inches thick.  Cook in the crockpot another hour.

Everybody in my family loved this recipe! I knew it would go fast, so I actually made 2 crock pot batches for leftovers. I tried to get a good picture of it served, but that didn't work out too well. So, I found a picture online similar to what mine looked like.


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