07 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Cottage Pie

If you're wondering what the heck Cottage Pie is, you're probably not alone. Quick answer: Cottage Pie is the lamb hater's Shepherd's Pie.

Apparently (and I only recently discovered this foodie fact; until this year I'd been walking around calling this dish Shepherd's Pie like a fool) the "Shepherd" in Shepherd's Pie refers to lamb. If there's no sheep in your dinner, no shepherds need apply. Which makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. You never see a be-smocked, be-sandaled dude with a crooked stick hanging around a field of cattle. Cows can pretty much police themselves in the fields, and probably don't look as appetizing to wolves. If sheep are a wolf's cuppa-soup, you have to think a cow is a nine course meal. Who has time for that? Not wolves. So shepherds are in pretty short supply around your average cattle farm.

Anyway, I digress. My point is: if you're not using lamb, you're not having yourself a real Shepherd's Pie. You're having Cottage Pie instead (even though cottages and cows don't go together with any more sense than shepherds and cows. It's all a weird mystery.) And since I positively hate lamb and religiously practice the art of No-Cooking-Of-Lamb-In-This-House-At All-Ever, we live and die by this all-beef recipe.

However, if you are a lamb lover and don't feel good about ostracizing the shepherd from a dish he arguably invented, just split the meat requirements 50/50 between the two (beef and lamb.) I'm sure it'll be just as delicious, if you're into that kind that thing.

When you scroll down you're going to see about a hundred instructions (it's really only 17, but at first glance that will seem like a LOT). It is a bit of a time commitment, I won't lie to you. This is a dish that requires patience, and preparation. I like to line up all my ingredients on the counter first so I have them at hand, and do all my chopping and dicing, etc. so all my veg is ready and standing by. I don't like to play catch up since once you start the cooking process, time flies pretty quickly.

It's also not the best looking dish you'll ever make. The juices bubble up and over, and it will look sort of sloppy. That's OK. It's damn delicious, and quite frankly won't stick around on anybodies plate long enough to worry about a beauty prize. This is just down-home, hearty cooking at its very best.

Preparation: 20 minutes | Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes + 1.5-2 hours | Serves: 8

Mashed Potatoes

  • 8-10 medium red potatoes
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 glug-glugs of milk
  • sea salt & pepper

Meat Mixture
  • 3 lbs extra lean ground beef
  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 ears fresh sweet corn (substitute: 2 cups frozen corn)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 heaping tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 can (5.5 fl.oz.) tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine (we use Jackson Triggs Rich & Robust, or Meritage)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt & pepper
  • cooking spray

Cooking Directions:
  1. Rinse and lightly scrub the potatoes. Cut into equal sized pieces, and place in a large pot 2/3 full with cold water. Season with salt, and place on high heat to boil.
  2. Dice onion and carrots; set aside. Slice corn from the cobs.
    If you've never removed corn kernels from a cob, it's super easy: Break off any remaining stem on the cob, then stand it stem-side down on a cutting board. Using a short, sharp knife, begin a half inch below the tip and slice downward toward the cutting board. If you meet with hard resistance, you've dug into the cob itself; back your knife up and adjust your angle. Cut down the remaining three sides, and discard the core. Just be aware: kernels do tend to scatter! Cobs can be sheared in a wide bowl, also, to prevent any kernels from getting away from you. OR, frozen corn works marvelously and is a smidgeon of work.
  3. In a large, deep pan or heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
  4. To the pan add onion; sauté one to two minutes. Add carrots; sauté until carrots begin to soften and onion begins to turn transparent.
  5. To the onions and carrots, add garlic and ground beef (crumble this into the pan by hand.) Season generously with sea salt and pepper, then stir to mix thoroughly.
  6. Brown the meat while stirring regularly and breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon (your goal is a fine mince). When meat is completely browned, add corn, thyme, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce.
  7. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
  8. To the contents of the pan, add tomato paste, red wine and bouillon cubes. Mix to combine thoroughly, and to dissolve the bouillon. Cook down, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, the potatoes should be about done (when the skins begin to peel away from the potato quarters, and a fork can be inserted easily into the larger pieces, they're done.) Remove from heat and drain.
  10. Return potatoes to pot, and to the potatoes add Parmesan cheese, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper. Mash coarsely*. Set aside and keep warm.
    *I like my potatoes more than a little lumpy... who knows why. You can mash to whatever consistency you like best.
  11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  12. Returning your attention to the meat mixture, take a taste-test at the end of 5-7 minutes cooking. Add more salt and/or pepper, as required.
  13. Remove from heat. Add peas; stir to combine.
  14. In a small bowl, combine corn starch and water. Stir to dissolve, then add to the meat mixture. Mix thoroughly.
  15. Spray a 3-quart lidded casserole dish with cooking spray. Fill with meat mixture, then spread the mashed potatoes on top in an even layer.
  16. Cover and bake on middle-low oven rack for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on your oven.
    There is every possibility that the pie juices will bubble up and spill over during cooking. To prevent setting fire to your kitchen, wrap a large baking sheet in tinfoil and place it on the rack directly beneath your casserole dish. This will capture all the drippings and keep your oven clean (and your house from burning down.) When done cooking, just strip off the tinfoil and tuck away the baking sheet -- it will still be clean as a whistle!
  17. Serve with a crunchy side salad, crusty bread and a big ol' glass of milk for a hearty, balanced and (mostly) healthy family weeknight meal!

This dish is a rarity for me in that it's not great when frozen. You can do it, for sure (may I suggest in individual servings, since it would take forever for the entire pie to thaw?) but I don't love the texture of the potatoes after they've been thawed. We prefer to keep it in the fridge and snack on leftovers for the next day or two rather than freeze it.

If you have your heart set on freezing it, however, you should know the meat mixture does freeze beautifully. You could easily prepare it in advance to freeze, then add the potatoes and bake it whenever you want. What I'm trying to say is: You've got options.

Finally, if you prefer a teetotaller approach or have a young(ish) family who doesn't care for the flavour of wine, this recipe can be easily modified to accommodate. Just replace the wine with chicken or beef broth and add 2 or 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar for acidity, and you're good to go.


Other Foodie Tuesday down-home favourites you might enjoy: