Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shepherd's Pie and Garlic Smashed Potatoes

Ask my mother what my favorite food is. Go ahead, ask her.

I'll wait.

Mashed potatoes, right? Does she know me, or what? I could eat mashed potatoes almost daily. In fact, I could definitely eat potatoes daily (and I'm sure my husband feels that we do, some weeks), whether they be au gratin, fried, roasted, baked . . . but always and especially mashed. Creamy, hearty, filling, soul-satisfying, and loaded with carbs, mashed potatoes have everything I look for in a food.

So when I met this dish called Shepherd's Pie (in St. Croix, USVI, of all places), whose base is ground beef, gravy, and corn and whose top is--wonder of wonders!--a sheet of fluffy mashed potatoes, I was immediately enamored of it and needed it in my life as a permanent fixture. I guess you could say I enjoyed it.

I then did what any beef/corn/mashed potato-obsessed person would do: I went straight home and re-created the recipe. Now, a disclaimer: this is not authentic Shepherd's Pie. So if you're British and your Mum made this dish for you growing up, you'd better get the recipe from her, because this is definitely an American knock-off, and it probably won't cut it for you. Real Shepherd's Pie has lamb; this does not, because I only eat lamb at the occasional passover or when I'm on a missions trip in the Faroe Islands. And most Shepherd's Pie recipes call for a tomato product in the base, but I don't enjoy the tomato/potato combination, so I leave that one alone. So forgive me for straying so far from the original, but whatever you call it, this casserole is scrumptious, low-brow, and most importantly, easy to prepare.

Below, I've posted three recipes: one for the Original Shepherd's Pie (a la St. Croix), one for Skillet Shepherd's Pie, and one for good old Garlic Smashed Potatoes. Enjoy!

Original Shepherd's Pie

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lg. sweet onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced finely (optional)
1 1/2 c. frozen corn (or peas, or a mixture of both)
1 envelope brown gravy mix (two if you like it really saucy; in that case, double the water, and bump the thyme up to 3/4 tsp.!)
1 c. cold water
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
ground black pepper to taste
4 cups prepared mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 375.

Brown ground beef. Add onion and garlic and saute over medium-low heat until onion is soft; drain.

Push the beef off to one side of the pan. To the pan, add the brown gravy mix, water, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two, until the gravy thickens.

Spread the beef and gravy evenly in the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle the corn uniformly over top of that, and gently spread the mashed potatoes over top of the corn. Dot the top with small bits of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is as golden brown as you like it. Then stick your head in it like Mama's Little Piggy and enter a coma of bliss!

Serves 4-6.

Shepherd's Pie Skillet

(see above ingredients)

Prepare ground beef, onion, garlic, and gravy as in the original, but add the frozen vegetables directly to the skillet with the beef and gravy and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Skip the oven altogether and serve over a big pile of mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6.

Garlic Smashed Potatoes

6-7 lg. russet potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. butter, sliced
1/2 c. warm milk (microwave at medium power for 40 seconds or so)
1/4 c. sour cream
Black pepper

Scrub potatoes thoroughly and chop into roughly 1-in. cubes. Do not peel unless you are motivated to do so--I am most certainly not. Place in a large sauce pan with your chopped garlic and just cover with water. Place over medium high heat. When the potato pot comes to a boil, add a tablespoon or two of salt to the water. Cook potatoes until easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain well; add potatoes and garlic back to the hot pan and wait 30 seconds or so for some of the moisture to evaporate. Add butter to potatoes, and mash away with your potato masher until they are as lump-free as you like them. (We like them fairly lumpy at our house.) Gradually stir in milk until the potato/garlic mixture is almost moistened enough. (Leave them a little bit stiff and dry, because you're going to add the sour cream next, and you don't want them to end up soupy. You can always add more milk later if the sour cream doesn't get your potatoes to your desired level of creaminess, okay?) Add the sour cream, and stir to distribute it well. Season with pepper to taste.

Serves 6 as a side dish.
(Try these potatoes topped with French's French Fried Onions--delicious!)

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