Friday, January 30, 2015

Shepherd’s Pie

Mmm. Excessive cheese.

So there are some foods I think you do a disservice by having a recipe. Something like shepherd’s pie should not be tied down by convention. It should not be shackled with unnecessary rules. Damn the man, save the Empire! Then I got married. Now you bet your ass I have an EXACT recipe. 

I tell you this not to make fun of my wife (ok maybe a little of that too), but to encourage you to play with this one. It is a very forgiving recipe, so if you are new to cooking or a seasoned veteran: experiment. I will discuss further in the commentary. BTW when you get the commentary section get comfy. I have opinions: lots and lots of opinions. Some of which are even about cooking!

Waxing philosophical aside, this is a recipe made for leftovers that keep well. This gets dinner and three to four lunches (total) for my wifey and me. That is a big selling point for me.

2-2 1/2 lbs potatoes
1 lb ground beef
1/2-1 sweet onion, dice
1 can corn, drained
8 oz frozen peas
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon thyme
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 tablespoon flour
1 lb shredded provolone (or mozzarella ) cheese, divided
milk or butter (or better yet both)
salt and pepper

Skin and boil the potatoes until tender. Mash with 6 oz of cheese, milk, butter and salt to taste. Allow to cool slightly.

Cook the ground beef with the onion over medium heat until completely cooked. Drain some (not all) of the fat.

In a large bowl, mix the beef mixture, corn, peas, Worcestershire, thyme, cream of chicken soup, flour, and salt & pepper to taste. Transfer to an large deep baking dish (~8"x12"). Cover with a thick layer of potatoes. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes or until it is heated throughout and the cheese is melty. Broil briefly (~5 minutes) until cheese is lightly browned. Do not burn it (duh).

Broil phase is not really NECESSARY, but it gives it some color in the cheese and I like it.

Is she looking? No. Ok. We are safe to talk. The wifey has a crazy ground beef issue. I like to pick the right ground beef for the job. Burgers: 80/20. Hamburger helper: 90/10. And so on. If I let her have her way it would be 93/7 all the time. We compromise on 90/10 most of the time with the occasional 85/15. For whatever reason, she really hates 80/20. Anyway the point is in this recipe it does not matter much. The only difference for me is if I was using 80/20 I would drain the beef more thoroughly than the 90/10. I leave a fair bit of the liquefied fat in (not that there is much) with 90/10.

Let us talk about what is important and what is not important. Ground beef, mash potatoes, and some veggies are what make a shepherd’s pie. Beyond that it is personal taste. So let us talk a “little” about how I arrived at the above recipe.

Vegetables: I find a total of 2-3 cups to 1 lb of ground beef is a nice ratio. But you can use anything for the vegetables. Lots of onions and corn is what I like. Too many peas turn me off though. What can I say I do not like a lot of pea-ness (file that under jokes that do not translate to the written word). If you have frozen vegetable medley lying around use that. Like some crunch? Add diced carrots. The only catch is there is minimal oven cooking here, so anything (like raw carrots) that needs more cook time that has to be done before the oven.

Check out my meat / veggie balance. See it. Touch it. Taste it.

Potatoes: the mashed potatoes to “other” ratio is SUPER-DUPER important. This recipe comes with a little bit more potatoes than other, but pretty close. I have seen versions where you have 2-3X the potatoes. I have seen versions where the potatoes barely cover the dish. Like anything else, it is a taste thing.

Cheese: completely optional, but why would you ever OPT OUT of cheese? Honestly half the time I probably use more than a pound if I have it handy.

Seasoning: you do not want to overwhelm the potatoes and vegetables, but little/no seasoning comes across as bland. I like Worcestershire and a little bit of one of the Italian basics (thyme in this case). I have used oregano before too. I have found my happy palce, you should do the same. I just advise against going hog wild. Lightly seasoned is the goal here.

Cream of chicken: finally we come to the liquid. You can use broth if you want to go a little healthier.  Yes, cream of chicken is calorically heavy. I usually get about six servings out of this recipe, so I do not feel like they put this over the top into the unhealthy category. Point is you want to have something there. Otherwise this will be way too dry.  And I like something on the thicker side. Cream of chicken and flour accomplishes that. 

If you are still reading my long winded commentary section I award you an imaginary internet point. Congrats!

It hits all four traditional food groups in one meal. It is easy to make. It is flexible (which helps when you forget the <BLANK> at the grocery). The ingredients are cheap. There is a reason this is a stable of my household.

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