~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~
Sunday. When I was growing up, as a family we got up, went to church, and, when we got home the house smelled ethereal. Mom's eye-of-round roast beef had cooked itself in our absence. We changed out of our "Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes", then mom boiled a few potatoes (and peas -- there were always peas -- my dad loves peas) and made a quick pan gravy. While she did that, my brother and I set the table (mostly I set the table while he goofed off), we four sat down and we ate. By 1:00PM we were all "doing our own thing", or, back in the car to visit grandparents or various uncles, aunts and cousins -- or vice versa. Sundays were nice.
Monday. My mom reheated the leftovers -- repeat meal. They were great and there is nothing wrong with that. Something mom never did with all those yummy leftovers was make cottage pie or shepherd's pie. I'm not sure why, but if I had to take a guess, it was because my dad didn't and doesn't like casseroles of any kind -- seriously -- not even lasagna. Period. The first time I had cottage pie I was in my mid-twenties, in "a London pub"*. Tender beef swimming around in a thick "brown-gravy-stew" containing peas, carrots and mushrooms. The entire crock was topped with a layer of mashed potatoes and baked until the potatoes took on a browned crust. From the first slurpy spoonful to the last, I was, on that cold, damp day, 100% thrilled with it.
* While I don't recall the name of the pub, it was in the neighborhood of the British Museum, which was on the top of my short-list of places to visit. I've always been fascinated by ancient Egypt and their Egyptian Galleries house the largest collection of Egyptian objects outside of Egypt -- including the Rosetta Stone and a large collection of mummies. It was fascinating.
The last I heard, shepherd's herd flocks of sheep not cattle.
A bit about cottage and and shepherd's pie: They are basically the same thing: an easy way to use up the omnipresent "Sunday roast", along with any leftover gravy, vegetables and potatoes that got served with it. Nowadays, some folks use the two words interchangeably but, in my food world, cottage pie means I'm making the dish with roasted beef. When I'm making shepherd's pie it means, I'm using roasted lamb. It makes sense: shepherds herd flocks of sheep not cattle.
Many present-day foodies start by sauteing raw ground beef or lamb. While I have no ax to grind with that, I do not. I like these meat pies made with finely-diced freshly-roasted meat -- just like I ate it in London. It's got a chewy texture that you just can't duplicate with ground meat.
Roasted beef or lamb, vegetables and gravy. Yes indeed. That said, I rarely use leftover mashed potatoes or leftover roast (but feel free to do so) to make this casserole for two reasons:
1) I typically don't have enough leftover potatoes to put a generous top on a full-sized casserole, and, since this is a dish that is perfect to serve for a tailgate or take to a pot luck, you'll usually find me sticking a roast in the oven and boiling a pot of potatoes in order to make a crowd-pleasing amount. 2) I like the taste and texture of slightly-chunky cheesy-cheddary smashed potatoes better than smooth and creamy potatoes. There's more, I add eggs (in place of milk) to the potatoes, which, when baked, makes the topping cook up firm, yet light and airy.
1 tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water
4 ounces butter, at room temp
4 jumbo eggs, at room temp
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 pound store-bought, pre-grated white sharp cheddar cheese
~ Step 1. Prep and place potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente, meaning: cooked through but with a bit of texture left in their centers, about 8-10 minutes.
Note: This timing is going to vary depending upon the size you have chunked your potatoes.
~ Step 2. Drain potatoes into a colander. Immediately return the hot potatoes to the still hot stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop. Add the butter and cheese. Give the mixture a stir and cover the pot, until the butter has melted, about 5 minutes.
Note: These aren't your typical light and smooth mashed potatoes. They are going to seem thick and heavy, but, the eggs are going to make them cook up light and airy!
Cover pot and set potatoes aside. Prepare the meat, vegetable and gravy mixture as follows:
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
2 bay leaves (for cottage pie) or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (for shepherd's pie)
2 cups chopped yellow or sweet onion
2 4 1/2-ounce jars sliced mushrooms, undrained
16 ounces frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup fat-free drippings from beef or lamb roast + enough beef stock to total 1 cup of total liquid
3 firmly-packed tablespoons cornstarch dissolved into 6 tablespoons cold water (Note from Mel: If you must thicken these meat pies further, because you want a pretty picture or something that sticks together, think twice. Served with a piece or two of crusty bread, or a buttermilk biscuit to sop up the juices, this is a sloppy treat you do not want to miss out on.)
all mashed potatoes from above recipe
~Step 1. In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat and stir in salt, pepper and bay or thyme leaves. Add the onions and increase heat to saute until onions are soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Stir in mushrooms followed by frozen vegetables. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until vegetables are just cooked through, another 5-6 minutes.
~ Step 2. In a 1-cup measuring container, stir the drippings with enough stock to total 1 cup. Add them to pan and return to a steady simmer. In the same measuring container, combine the cornstarch with the water then add that too.
~ Step 3. Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until a nice thickened sauce-like gravy has formed. Stir in all of the diced meat and cook, stirring constantly, until meat is warmed through, about 1-2 minutes.
Transfer the savory meat mixture to a large 4-quart casserole...
Special Equipment List: cutting board, chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; 1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held vegetable masher; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon; 4-quart casserole
Cook's Note: Roasting beef and lamb is better than store-bought ground meat in cottage or shepherd's pie. Click into Categories 2 or 3 to get my recipes for ~ Eye-of-Round = Back-to-School Sandwiches ~ and ~ Succulent Boneless Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)