Saturday, October 26, 2013

Emily's Shepherd's Pie

Another good dish to feed a crowd!

Tonight's dinner developed in an interesting way. Originally, I thought I was just making dinner for my family and a friend, and then my brother took me up on my semi-serious offer to invite one of his friends over, so she and her mom came while my original guest unfortunately had to cancel. I'm always nervous when I make something new for people I've never fed before or haven't seen in a while - I figure my immediate family and the usual suspects of the extended crowd will be more forgiving if it turns out to be a disaster.

Fortunately, things went more or less smoothly, partially because I had a very helpful sous chef and a guest photographer for a couple of the shots. There was still a bit of a slip up, but nothing that made the dish irredeemably bad. In fact, I'm looking forward to having some of the left overs for lunch tomorrow, and passing the rest along to my grandparents!

Shepherd's pie has a history in Britain going back to the Middle Ages in one form or another, and was better known as cottage pie until the 1870's, and was a very common dish amongst the poorer, common folk, which is how it got both its names. Cottage refers to the simple dwellings the people who enjoyed the dish would have lived in, and shepherd implies a more rustic, rural origin.

While the recipe I used was not an authentic World War II era recipe, it wouldn't be difficult to adapt this recipe to work in that setting. Most of the ingredients are things that could have been grown in a garden, and adding more of the greens and less meat would help recreate what a shepherd's pie on war rations would have been like.

The other easy way to make this a more authentically 1940's English dish is to use chicken stock to make the mashed potatoes, but since I had never done that before and I was making this for company I'd never cooked for (or met) before, I decided it might be better to play it safe and made my mashed potatoes with butter and milk. I got started on those first to make sure the potatoes would get cooked in time to get spread on top of the meat and vegetables.

Mashed potatoes were also useful during war time because the left overs could be used in many different ways! Potato water can be used to make soups and gravies, and left over mashed potatoes could be used to make pastry, pancakes, scones, potato salad or to thickening soups. This was definitely a selling point to people in a time where wasting food just wasn't economically or nutritionally smart, especially because potatoes can be grown in your own back yard.

While I wouldn't say this dish was particularly difficult to make, I was glad I had someone helping me out in the kitchen with it, because cooking the vegetables and making the mashed potatoes at the same time helped cut down on cooking time by quite a lot, and let me really watch the vegetables instead of just leaving them unattended while I tried to make the mashed potatoes at the same time.

Exciting news: I was given a suggestion on how to avoid being crippled by onion fumes by the friend who had to cancel on me and I tried it out while I was prepping the vegetables! He suggested chewing gum while I was doing it, and it actually really worked! My eyes still stung a little, but it felt more like what I understand to be normal onion irritation versus my typical "oh god, I've been hit by mustard gas" reaction. Thanks for the tip!

While I monitored the vegetables, my mom mashed the potatoes for me, and my dad snapped a couple pictures of the process.

We made way more mashed potatoes than we needed, which was totally fine by me. Mashed potatoes are one of my many Achilles' heels when it comes to food, and I never say no to having some left overs to enjoy.

My dad helped out by taking a couple pictures for me while I added the tomato paste, ground beef, beef broth and Worcestershire sauce, which means you get to see my completely unflattering wrinkled sweater!

Although the recipe I was working with said it would only make six servings, I really... do not believe that. There were six of us here, and we each had a decent portion - my dad and I even had seconds! - but we still had leftovers, and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to fit everything in the pan in the baking dish. My mom managed to cram it all in, and I frosted it with the mashed potatoes before we stuck it in the oven.

Wait for twenty minutes, andddddd...

There you have it! The one road bump was my mother and I realized as we were eating dinner that the pie was also supposed to have peas in it, but we forgot to put them in. I thought they might not have been mentioned in the recipe, but it turns out they were, just in a stage where I wasn't really thinking about vegetables, and thus they got forgotten. To be honest, it's probably a good thing I did forget them, considering how much stuff was in the pan without them!

I think it was a successful dish, all things considered. It didn't take too long to make, especially with a couple extra sets of hands, and it tasted pretty yummy, even though I did sort of wish there were some more vegetables in it. It's also really easy to customize for different dietary wants and needs - you can add your own salt to taste, substitute beef for turkey, and throw in more vegetables if you're looking to pad it while making it more healthy! It is a little tricky to plate this way while trying to make it look pretty, but considering everything's getting all mixed together anyway, it's not too bad to have it get a little sloppy.

That's all for this little adventure! Stay tuned tomorrow for a (semi) surprise feature!

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