Sunday, October 14, 2012

Let Comfort Food Season begin...

Last week, we had a bit of a cold spell... I'm talking hat and gloves, down coats and scarves cold spell.  Looking ahead to the winter, it definitely wasn't as cold as the low temperatures we'll see far too soon - but still, we weren't quite ready yet for the chill.

Cold weather is, of course, an opportunity to make some yummy comfort food.  One of my favorites is Shepherd's Pie, although since I don't like lamb I never make it according to the "traditional" recipe.  I did a little research to see what the origin of Shepherd's Pie is and found out a few interesting things... the dish was first referred to as "cottage pie" as a modest meal in Great Britain, back in the late 18th century.  It was made with leftover meat, and featured a mashed potato crust both lining the pan and serving as a top crust.  Potatoes didn't make it to Europe until the 1500s, when the Spanish brought them back from the New World.  Now, "cottage pie" is used when referring to the recipe when made with beef, and shepherd's pie refers to the recipe when made with lamb.

In reviewing the recipes that are out there, there is a wide variety of ingredients to accompany the meat.  Some of the more basic ones layer meat, corn, and then the potatoes, but that strikes me as a bit... bland.  Others add a little too much gravy for my taste.  Nearly all of the recipes call for butter and milk to be added to the potatoes, and some even call for an egg (or an egg plus egg yolk) to the potatoes to help bind the potatoes and keep them together, and some recipes call for Parmesan cheese to be added to the potato mixture or sprinkled on top.  I prefer a recipe that has some of the classic flavorings - carrots, onions, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes - and I never add butter to my potatoes.

For this version of the recipe, I decided to amp up the potato layer by adding some parsnips to the potatoes; I have been using lowfat buttermilk (Kate's brand) in lieu of butter and milk in mashed potatoes for some time, and that works well in this recipe - I did add an egg, though, to help the topping stay together as a crust - it's a nice touch.  I also used the classic flavor of thyme along with some Worcestershire sauce to add depth to the "gravy".

This recipe is pretty forgiving, and is a good opportunity to use up veggies that would otherwise go to waste, like ends of celery, turnip, corn, or butternut squash.  You could also certainly substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and then complement by adding a bit of cinnamon to the meat mixture.

So here's the recipe - it makes about 6 servings if accompanied by a veggie or salad, and 4 if on its own.  Leftovers are great for a take-to-work lunch.


  • 3-4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and diced (you can also use Yukon Gold or Red Russet - when I use these varieties, I leave them unpeeled and mash them with the peels)
  • 2-3 medium sized parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (you can use turkey breast, but ground turkey - including the darker cuts - has a slightly better flavor and the fat lends a nice "mouth feel"; a lean ground beef would also work well)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 package sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 T. dried thyme 
  • 1 t. poultry seasoning (I used Penzeys, but Bell's works also
  • 1-1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • splash of dry red wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 - 1 c. lowfat buttermilk
  • 1 egg

1.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place potatoes and parsnips in a medium saucepan, and just cover with water.  Place over medium-high heat, and cook until both parsnips and potatoes are tender, or a fork can pierce them easily.
2.  While the potatoes and parsnips cook, heat a large skillet; spray with cooking spray.  Add the onion and carrots, and saute until the onions start to get translucent.  Add the mushrooms and combine, adding some salt and pepper and stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  If  the mixture starts to stick, add a bit of chicken broth or additional cooking spray. 

3.  Check the potatoes and parsnips - if they are done, drain them and then start to mash with a potato masher.  Add the buttermilk, about 1/4 cup at a time, and mash to incorporate; continue to add buttermilk until the potatoes are mashed smooth; add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

4.  Once the vegetables are soft (the mushrooms will shrink considerably), add the ground turkey to the skillet, and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula so that it cooks into crumbles; stir frequently so that the meat continues to break up and cook through.

5.  Once the meat has finished cooking, pour in about a cup of the chicken broth, and stir in the tomato paste, herbs, splash of wine, and Worcestershire sauce until the tomato paste is fully incorporated.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until it thickens a bit.  Add frozen peas and stir t combine.
6. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray; pour the turkey mixture into the dish.  Add the egg to the potato mixture and stir well to combine.

 7.  Spread the potato mixture over the turkey mixture, and make some swishy shapes in the potatoes...or not.  If you wanted to get really fancy, you could pipe the potato mixture over the top with a pastry bag...but that's just another thing to clean, so save it for when you're in a cleaning mood (or when someone else is doing the dishes).  Put the dish into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes on the center oven rack, or until the sauce bubbles around the *might* want to put a baking sheet or sheet of foil on the rack underneath the dish in case the sauce really bubbles and wants to travel outside of the casserole dish...When it comes out of the oven, it will look a little something like this:

And when you put some on your plate it will look a little something like THIS!

This version of Shepherd's pie is well paired with a dry red wine; I have a French Malbec that I love, but some of the Italian reds would also work well.

Careful not to burn your tongue as you enjoy this - bon appetit!

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