Bless her heart.
I grew up eating my mom’s version. She uses canned beans, canned tomato soup, and instant mashed potatoes. She calls it shepherd’s pie. But lamb is the base of shepherd’s pie. And lamb ain’t something that’s ever gonna happen at her house. She hates it. The closest thing to lambs at my folks’ place would be a wool sweater.
She makes hers with ground chuck, and when you make it with beef, it’s called cottage pie.
I’ve been in many different kitchens; both professional settings and private homes.
I’ve picked the brains of every cook I could get to stand still long enough to answer any one of a thousand questions. I now have many of these generous culinary coaches on speed dial and email 911. Because of their generous, patient, support, I have been able to develop my own personal cooking philosophy.
“Treat every ingredient with respect and elevate it as much as is possible, be it a humble egg, or the most expensive cut of meat.”
So when I decided to make cottage pie, I wanted to use from-scratch ingredients. I would also work to get the best flavor and most desirable texture to which each ingredient was able to rise.
Honeymoon Cottage Pie
1 lb. 80/20 ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter (if needed)
1/3 cup dark beer
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium beef stock
1½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped finely
2 bay leaves
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
10 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 tablespoons butter
1/3-3/4 cup fat-free buttermilk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper
Place potatoes into large pot with plenty of salted water. Cook over medium heat until spuds are tender. Drain. Place back into pot and drop in butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and using a hand masher, mash until smooth/chunky. Stir in buttermilk until just a little loose. Taste for seasoning, cover and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350.
Heat a large heavy skillet to medium-high. Brown seasoned hamburger. When cooked, set aside, and leave fat in skillet (add butter if there’s not at least 3 tablespoons). Put in onions, mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Season veg. Cook until onion turns golden. Stir in tomato paste. When paste darkens and starts to stick to the bottom, deglaze with beer. When the liquid’s cooked out, mix in flour and cook for 1 minute. Pour in beef broth and stir until smooth. Bring to a simmer and take off heat (it should be nice and thick). Add back meat and peas and carrots. Check for seasoning.
Pour into a greased casserole dish, or 6 individual ramekins. If you use individual dishes, you can freeze some for another night.
Top with mashed potatoes. Smooth over the top, leaving no gaps. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove foil and top with cheese. Return to oven and cook under low broiler until browned and bubbly. Serves 6.
This is even better with crusty bread and a crisp, green salad. If you’re a beer drinker, serve it with a glass of the same type you cooked with. You literally can’t get a better pairing.
Both Petey and I grew up in the 1960’s-70’s. In this era most of the moms had been raised during the Great Depression and/or World War II. They were sick of economizing, making do, and Victory gardens
This ennui resulted in a heady enthusiasm for cooking with cans of this, and jars of that. The only fresh produce many kids from our generation ever saw was potatoes, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce.
So while many of those dinners we ate hold nostalgic appeal, processed foods do not. Rehabbing this food using better techniques and fresher ingredients gives us the best of both worlds.
And since we baby boomers are looking at 50 in the rearview mirror, healthier is much smarter. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be around to embarrass my great-grandkids.
Thanks for your time.