Shepherd’s Pie (Fall Comfort Food)

The weather in southeastern PA is starting to cool off and that can only mean one thing… comfort food!  Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh summery pasta dishes and salads, but after a hot, humid August I am ready for Fall and all of the warm, hearty foods that come with it!

On Friday we kicked off our Fall food season with a delicious shepherd’s pie.*  We didn’t feel like grocery shopping after work so Matt searched around on the internet until he found a recipe on Food.com that used ingredients that we already had on hand.  The result was an all around solid dish.  It wasn’t amazingly gourmet and didn’t really have any “wow” factor, but it definitely satisfied my craving for a solid, comforting meal.  After all, how could you go wrong with ground beef covered in creamy, golden mashed potatoes?  🙂

*Shepherd’s pie is technically made with ground lamb, but we had ground beef so that’s what we used.  I think that a Shepherd’s Pie made with beef is called a Cottage Pie…?

Shepherd’s Pie (serves 6) (from Food.com)

You will need…
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
15-20 Baby Carrots, chopped into small discs (or use “real” carrots!)
1 Yellow Onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
3-4 sprigs Fresh Thyme, chopped
1 lb. Ground Beef – we used 93% Lean
1 cup Frozen Peas
2 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
3 tablespoons Butter, divided (or Butter Spread like Earth Balance)
1 glass Red Wine (we used a Pinot Noir)
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup Beef Stock (we only had chicken broth; would be better with beef stock!)
Salt and Pepper to taste
8-12 Small Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1/4 cup Fat Free Half & Half
1/2-3/4 cup Skim Milk
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped carrots and saute for a few minutes until they start to become tender.  Add in the onions and saute for another 1-2 minutes, then add in the black pepper and thyme and stir well.  Add the ground beef and cook until browned, stirring occasionally.  Drain the beef if there is excess fat (there wasn’t with our 93% lean beef).

Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the peas and stir.  Sprinkle with flour, stir, and then add in the wine, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce and stir again.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, allow to reduce for a few minutes, and then add in the stock.  Simmer the mixture for several more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture takes on a thick, meaty consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While you are waiting for the beef mixture to thicken, add the potatoes to a pot of boiling water and allow to boil for 10-12 minutes (or more, depending on the size of your potatoes) until fork-tender.  Drain the potatoes, return to the pot, add in the half & half, milk, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and mash with a potato masher until creamy and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the meat mixture into a 13 x 9 casserole pan and spoon the mashed potatoes over top.  Spread out the potatoes carefully to complete cover the meat.  If desired, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over the top of the potatoes.  Cook the Shepherd’s Pie for 30 minutes in a preheated 400°F oven.  In the last 3-5 minutes of cooking switch the oven to broil and put the Shepherd’s Pie until the broiler to give the potatoes and nice golden crust… yum!

Sausage-Corn Scramble with Home Fries

This past weekend we had some of the best April weather I can remember.  Matt and I took advantage of the sunny, 70 degree temperatures by spending what seemed like the entire weekend outside.  We reseeded our lawn (Bailey’s sliding tennis ball grabs and tight turns take their toll on the grass!) and I planted moonflowers, morning glory, mint, marjoram, chives, marigolds, zinnias and dahlias.  We also enjoyed a 4 ½ mile hike in the Woodlawn Trustees Wildlife Refuge in Northern Delaware (I’ll post more about that later) and still managed to find some time to sit back and enjoy the wonderful fragrance of our blooming viburnum bushes, crab apple trees, and cherry trees.

Of course all of that outside time made us hungry so we also spent a good portion of the weekend cooking delicious meals.  Saturday night we made decadent Bucatini with Homemade Meatballs and Tomato Sauce, Sunday morning we feasted on a Sausage-Corn Scramble and crispy, browned Home Fries, and Sunday evening we had Matt’s parents and his brother over to share our Adobo-Lime Chicken with Corn and Black Bean Salad and Spanish Rice.  Yum!  Throughout the week I will post recipes for all of these meals but for now I’ll start with our Sunday morning scramble with home fries.

For the scramble, we chose to go with a Mexican flavor since we had some leftover “corn con salsa” (sautéed corn with some black bean salsa and cilantro) that we wanted to use up.  We just had normal pork sausage, but this recipe would be GREAT with chorizo instead.  (Maybe next Sunday!)  I also threw in some baby spinach from my garden since my spinach plants are just getting to the point where they need to be thinned.  These spinach shoots gave the scramble a nice bit of color and flavor.

Baby Spinach, freshly thinned from our garden

For our home fries we followed the recipe from our Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe book.  The potatoes were buttery, crisp, and salty… the perfect combination!

Sausage-Corn Scramble with Home Fries

Ingredients:

For the Home Fries
2 Russet Potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
2 ½ tablespoons Peanut Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Paprika
2 tablespoons butter

For the Scramble
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Shallot, thinly sliced
¼ pound Ground Pork Sausage (or Chorizo)
¾ cup Leftover Corn Con Salsa (sautéed corn with salsa and cilantro); or any similar type of black bean or corn salad or salsa that you enjoy)
½ cup Baby Spinach (I used “infant” spinach shoots freshly thinned from the garden)
5 Eggs, whisked together in a large bowl
1/3 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
Salt & Pepper to taste
Garnish of Salsa and Cilantro

Directions:

Place the cubed potatoes in a small pot, cover with ½” of water and add 1 teaspoon salt.  Heat the pot on the stove over high heat just until the water starts to boil, then remove from heat and drain the potatoes in a colander.

Heat the peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the red onion and sauté until browned.  Remove the onion from the pan and place in a small bowl with the salt, pepper, and paprika.

Add the butter to the heavy-bottomed pan that you sautéed the onion in and allow it to melt.  Add the potatoes and shake the pan so that the potatoes lay evenly on the bottom of the pan in one layer.  Allow the potatoes to cook for 4 to 5 minutes without stirring; this will ensure that they get nice and crispy on that side.  After 4 to 5 minutes, stir the potatoes to flip them over and allow them to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes.  Repeat this process a few times until the potatoes are evenly browned on all sides.

Add the onion mixture to your potatoes and mix thoroughly.  Taste a potato (yum!) and add extra salt and pepper if needed.  Leave the potatoes in the pan to keep them nice and hot until you are ready to serve them.

For the scramble, heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the shallots.  Saute the shallots for a few minutes, then add the sausage.  Use a spatula to flatten the sausage in one layer across the bottom of the pan and allow it to cook for 2-3 minutes without stirring.  (As was the case with the potatoes, this will allow the sausage to brown and get a little crispy.)  Flip the sausage over and allow the other side to brown as well.

After sausage is evenly browned and slightly crispy, break up the sausage with your spatula.  Mix in the corn mixture and baby spinach and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Corn 'con salsa' and baby spinach for the scramble

Stir the Monterey Jack cheese, salt and pepper into the egg bowl and then add to your sausage mixture in the frying pan.  Stir and flip the mixture regularly for 4-5 minutes until eggs reach your desired level of doneness.

Garnish the scramble with a dollop of salsa and a sprig of cilantro and serve with your crispy home fries and a cup of coffee.