A Birthday Dinner of Shepherd’s Pie

Birthday boy Jacy about to blow out his candles with assist from sister Isabella.

My 12-year old, Jacy, turned 13 over the Thanksgiving break. I was flattered that he requested I cook him my Shepherd’s Pie and we celebrate at home this year. Of course this means he’ll score heftier portion sizes than served in restaurants, second helpings are available and he has unfettered access to his new video game, Shadow of War. Jacy is a huge fan of the Shepherd’s Pie. We’ve tried it out in restaurants with uneven results. The Pub in Lexington, a British-inspired casual dining experience, offers a respectable rendition.

Having hunted down a cookbook that focused on quick, satisfying dinner meals to throw together after work, I cobbled together a recipe to take a stab at this entrée item a month or two back. It is amazingly easy to make and turned out far better than imagined. This recipe offers the option to use certain pre-prepared or frozen ingredients that can make it ridiculously easy and fast to throw together. I wouldn’t call it healthy due to the cheese content, but everyone enjoyed this and it is ridiculously yummy comfort food.

This dish hails from the United Kingdom. Traditionally Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb or mutton. Beef is by far the prevalence in America and less expensive. In England, this dish made with ground beef would be referred to as Cottage Pie, but regardless of what it’s called, essentially Shepherd’s Pie is a casserole with a layer of cooked meat and vegetables, a mid-floor of mashed potatoes, and if preferred, topped with melted cheese.

After the dish is removed from under the broiler, dip a spoon into the Shepherd’s Pie and you are rewarded with a burst of flavor from the meat and vegetables mixing with the potatoes and creamy cheese. Extreme comfort food.

One interesting twist I added into my Shepherd’s Pie was including diced Portobello mushrooms. I had some in my fridge that needed to get used and thought the texture would lend itself well with the other ingredients. It was a big hit. They absorb the other flavors and mix in well with the ground beef, vegetables and taters. Try adding this ingredient if you are a fan of sautéed mushrooms.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

Ingredients: 2 pounds ground sirloin; 8 tablespoons unsalted butter; 1 cup chopped onions; 8-ounce Portobello mushrooms (diced); 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots; 3 garlic cloves (minced); 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper; 1 1/3 cups beef broth; Small bag of frozen mixed vegetables; 1 (24-ounce) package refrigerated mashed potatoes; 8-ounce bag sharp cheddar cheese; 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley.

Preheat broiler.

Crumble uncooked ground beef into skillet and brown over medium heat; Drain away grease; Place meat into bowl off to side.

In the same skillet melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté onion, carrots, mushrooms and garlic for 5-10 minutes; Pour into bowl over the cooked meat; Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and add frozen vegetables (or microwave them according to package instructions).

Add back in meat mixture to mixed vegetables in skillet; Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper; Stir constantly for a minute or two until all is combined.

Pour in broth; Bring to a boil, stirring constantly for a minute or until thickened.

Heat mashed potatoes in microwave according to package directions. When done add in the 4 tablespoons of butter, with a dash of salt and pepper, and stir about to incorporate.

Spoon beef mixture into a 11 x 7 or 9 x 13-inch broiler-safe ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top mixture with mashed potatoes; Sprinkle cheese over the potatoes until covered. Use your best judgement, but if we’re going for comfort food, might as well use all the cheese and make it thick.

Broil 4 minutes or until cheese is browned. Watch dish constantly under broiler. It can go from brown to black quick. If you pull it just before the cheese is singed it creates this delicious outer crust that cracks as your spoon is inserted to remove each serving.

Let the dish stand for 10 minutes after it comes out of the broiler to settle and cool. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top and it’s ready to serve.

This absolutely is a dish that could be prepared the night before and refrigerated, so as to pop it in the oven when one returns home from work. I made two batches this last time and we ate the second Shepherd’s Pie the following night. High praise indeed!

If cooking a chilled Shepherd’s Pie coming out of the refrigerator, I’d preheat the oven to 350 degrees and heat it for 30 minutes to get the internal temperature rolling so all those delicious juices from the mushrooms, onions, garlic and butter get percolating.

Then pull the Shepherd’s Pie out of the oven, kick on the broiler and raise the oven rack as high to the top as it goes. With the dish already warm we just want to hit it with some intense warmth to singe the cheese.

Give this recipe a whirl, especially if you are not familiar with Shepherd’s Pie. It’s super simple and a totally satisfying dish the entire family will rave about – perfect for grazing on over a chilly December day with all the college football conference championship games on from dawn to dusk.

Bon Appétit!

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