Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Potato Challenge: Cottage Pie (That's Shepherds Pie without the lamb.)

The theme for Monday night's dinner on 4/11/16 was "British Food".  I had suggested the theme, because one of our friends would be in Great Britain at the time (therefore eating lots of British food there) and because I had come across a recipe for Shepherds pie as I was looking for potato recipes that I had not made before.

I was sure that "British Food" would be turned down as a theme by the group.  After all, who thinks of British Food as something you'd seek out to eat?  Apart from their breakfast - and those little pigs in a blanket sausages, what is there that anyone would want to eat?

I remember being in Britain for about 2 weeks as an exchange student when I was around 13 year old, and between the porridge, the cucumber sandwiches, the beans in tomato sauce and the potato chips with vinegar, I almost starved to death.... I did however find an Asterix book in English in a shop by Windsor castle, so that was a bonus....but I digress.

Turns out the group embraced the idea of British foods, especially since several people grew up with British food. Who knew... turns out every food is someone's comfort food.

Since the British theme did not get turned down, I got busy looking up recipes for shepherd's pie.

I never intended on using lamb as the protein for the dish.  I figured that shepherds pie was made from ground beef, veggies and mashed potatoes. Apparently, I was wrong...

The original shepherd's pie apparently does call for lamb.  When you think about it, that actually makes sense. I learned about this, of all places in the comments section of Martha Stewart's shepherd's pie recipe.

The comments section on websites, is really a world of its own. No matter how nicely the comments start out, and they didn't start out very well for this recipe, there is always someone who just has to be rude.  A (slightly snarky comment of ) "Surely a sheperd's pie is made with lamb, the name should tell you this" by a commenter named Calvin was quickly followed by a "Calvin.....GET A LIFE!" from someone else.  Seriously people, you all need to get a life, if you are getting *this* excited about the comments on a Martha Stewart recipe.  By the way, Wikipedia, which is the authority on everything, does explain that the term Shepherd's pie can be used for this type of pie independent of the use of beef or mutton.

Either way,  I was not going to use lamb. I actually avoid pork for most Monday night dinners, because one of our friends really likes pigs and avoids pork. I figured that a cute little lamb would elicit a similar reaction.  Of course, if I think too hard about a cow's soul-full eyes, I may just have to become a vegetarian... Not yet, though.  I like my red meat. Also, to avoid any heated discussion, I will just call my dish Cottage Pie. (Of course, for a heated discussion to develop, someone would actually have to read this posts, so it's not likely to be an issue..)

Back to the task at hand, though - making cottage pie.

I immediately ruled out the Martha Stewart recipe for the simple reason that it contained ketchup.  I don't do ketchup.  If I want tomatoes in a recipe, I am going to add tomato - and not some sugary red concoction masquerading as vegetable (or a fruit).

I often like Alton Browns recipes, so I looked at his version next.  He did use lamb, so some adjustments were necessary for the trial run: I made mashed potatoes like I always do, then made the meat filling as described, substituting ground beef for the lamb and leaving out the rosemary. It tasted OK, but I didn't really like the sweetness that the tomato paste added to the dish.  I prefer the acidity of tomato sauce over the taste of tomato paste, so I decided to use tomato sauce for the meat filling. If my final meat filling would turn out too liquid, I would just drain some of the sauce before adding the meat mixture into the casserole dish.

One more revelation was important for the final dish I made: This one also came from the comments to the Martha Stewart recipe: Someone named irishusgirl asserted that "like so many casserole recipes from Ireland or the UK these dishes origins came from leftovers."  Turns out that  the UK's Shepherds pie is related to the Italian pizza, German Eintopf, American stew and any soup my mother makes with her Thermomix.  It starts with someone opening the fridge, asking themselves - "what leftovers have to be used up tonight?"

"What's for dinner?" "ThisNeedsToBeEatenRightAway with rice." 
It was interesting that the knowledge that Cottage pie was basically a food made from leftovers made me feel a lot better about winging this recipe.  Now I was sure that it was only about taste here.  Nobody would tell me that you *never* put [name your vegetable of choice] into Cottage pie.  This one was going to be all mine - and I encourage you to make your cottage pie all yours!

My Cottage Pie Recipe:

The filling:
3 tbsp olive oil
3 lb ground beef
2 onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 beef bouillon cube
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
few thyme sprigs
1-2 packages of mixed frozen vegetables (carrots, peas and corn)
Other vegetable choices could be green beans or celery sticks

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until fragrant.  Set aside
Brown the ground beef and drain.
Add sauteed onions and garlic to the beef.  Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and bouillon cube, thyme and worcestershire sauce.  Add frozen vegetables of your choice.
Simmer to allow the flavors to meld.  Taste your creation occasionally.  Does it need more vegetables, salt, pepper?  This is yours.  Play with it.

The potatoes:
1.5 lb pounds russet potatoes
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp salted butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg

I cooked my potatoes in my trusted steamer.  Then mashed them with a potato masher and added half-and-half, salted butter, salt and pepper and an egg.  Some people add cheese or garlic to the potatoes.  I didn't, but that does not mean that you can't.

Putting it all together:
I made the meat filling the night before due to the time limitations for Monday night dinner.  I did have too much sauce in the end, so I ended up removing some of that tomato sauce before adding it to the casserole dish.  I could have added flour to thicken the sauce, but chose not to in order to remain gluten free.

After adding the meat mixture to the casserole dish, I added the mashed potatoes on top. I fancied the potatoes using a Wilton "Large star" tip I had purchased for a different reason.  I like the way the turned out - and it tasted pretty good, too.

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