Saturday, December 4, 2010

Healthier Shephard's Pie

I’ve been lucky enough to have many amazing people in my life. One of those people was my Aunty Pat. My brother and I grew up with her and my Uncle Kenny only a short fence-hop away from our yard. They entered our lives somewhat by chance, as my parents needed someone to babysit their kids and they were nearby and available. Over the years, we grew closer and closer to them, with them coming to family functions, holiday parties and visiting them on a near daily basis.

My Aunty Pat and Uncle Kenny would always let my brother and I have a sip of their coffee, which we loved probably because it looked more like chocolate milk than coffee. At our house, my Aunty Pat would always laugh at my mom’s tiny little sugar spoon, put the spoon aside, and simply grab the sugar bowl to pour the sugar into her mug, because it would have taken her three weeks otherwise.

I remember fondly feeding Charles the Squirrel outside their screened porch door, my first experiences fishing off of a small boat in the local reservoir, painting ceramics she had fired in the kiln in her basement, and having sleepovers a little before Christmas to ‘help’ them set up and decorate their Christmas tree.

One of my more vivid food memories when I was younger involves my Aunty Pat telling me to grab a stick of butter, reach deep into the turkey sitting on the counter, and rub ever last surface with my hands. (And for the record, butter does make everything taste better, as much as I hate to admit it!)

She was always the person that brought some sort of decadent dessert when invited for dinner (something along the lines of a chocolate and peanut butter Reese Cup cheesecake). She was also the first one over with comfort food when our family suffered a loss. You could always count on her food to be three things: rich, delicious, and comforting.

Sadly, our family lost Uncle Kenny in October of 2001 and Aunty Pat in February of 2009. While I miss both of them every single day, cooking certain foods helps me remember some of my favorite moments with them. My Auntie Pat had made us Shepherd’s Pie in the past to help us cope with a recent family loss, and it was comfort food at its best. You could really taste the love that went into making that meal.

Though this recipe is not quite as heavy and stick-to-your-ribs as I know my Aunty Pat’s original version was, I always feel like they’re both a little bit closer to me when the smell of the Shepherd’s Pie starts wafting through the kitchen. I’m taken back to their front porch, the sweeter-than-sin coffee, and being elbow deep in the southern end of a northbound turkey.

This is one of those occasions where instead of halving the recipe for the two of us, I make this full-sized recipe for the filling, and halve the amount of mashed potatoes. The filling freezes well, so for the effort of one meal, we get instant gratification of dinner that night, and then in the future, when we’re feeling especially lazy, we’ll pull the other half of the filling out of the freezer for an encore of this delicious meal.

Cheddar Topped Shepherd’s Pie
Adapted from Everyday Food's October 2008 Issue.
Yield: 4 Servings.

1 lb Baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp Canola Oil
5 Medium Carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 Celery stalks, thinly sliced
1/2 c Chopped Onion
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
4 oz button mushrooms
3/4 c frozen Corn
2 Tbsp AP Flour
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 lb Ground Turkey
1/2 c Beef Broth or water
1/2 c Milk
3 oz Shredded sharp or white cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large saucepan, add potatoes and enough water to cover - season generously with salt. Bring to a boil - reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 12 to 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-low heat. Stir in onion and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Increase heat to medium/medium-high. Stir in carrots, celery, corn and thyme - cook until the vegetables are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in flour, Worcestershire and tomato paste - cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add turkey - cook, stirring to crumble, until the beef has cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add broth (or water) - bring mixture to a boil and let simmer for 1 minute. Remove pot from the heat and set aside.

When the potatoes are done, drain well and place back into the hot pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until any excess liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add milk and 2 ounces (1/2 cup) cheese. Mash to desired consistency - season with salt and fresh ground black pepper

Scoop the beef mixture into a 8" by 8" baking dish coated with cooking spray (or into individual ramekins) - spread to an even layer. Drop dollops of the mashed potatoes all over the top and spread smooth with an off-set spatula. Scatter the top with the remaining cheese (~1/4 c) - place into the oven and bake until the potatoes have browned and the filling is hot, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

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