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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shepherd's Pie, Lightened Up

As you might have detected from several of my past blog posts, I like themes. I highly enjoy seasonal cooking and baking, to the point where I will cling to any excuse to incorporate a theme into my kitchen experiments. This post is no exception, although with far more legitimate origins. It is, after all, still St. Patty's season, which means, for me, that all things even slightly Irish in origin are a-go. So I decided to give Shepherd's Pie a try.

Shepherd's Pie, aka Cottage pie, is a meat pie topped with a mashed potato crust. Termed "cottage" as a reference to the poor people who could not afford to indulge in extravagant meals, this pie was originally conceived in the 18th century as a way to use up leftover meat scraps. It was paired with the potato due to the latter's affordability (potatoes were relatively cheap at the time). Originally, cottage/shepherd's pies were made with beef mince, and although both terms are still used interchangeably, many current shepherd's pie recipes contain mutton instead of beef (due to the connection between shepherds and lambs, presumably).

Hey, I'm a meat and potato kinda girl. But I'm also a "trying to get back in shape" girl, so I decided to give this recipe a try with some heavy modifications because: A) I don't like lamb; and B) I'm on a diet, so I need to try and keep things light. Mashed potatoes and "light" are not exactly synonymous, but I think this recipe does a good job. Don't get me wrong, because of my modifications, you won't entirely mistake it for a full-fat version, but it is flavorful and pretty healthy, while still tasting like comfort food. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that many of the ingredients in this recipe can be swapped out in favor of their full-fat counterparts if you wish.

Like all Shepherds Pies, this one begins with mashed potatoes. So grab and peel some potatoes (I used russet, but you can use whatever you like), cut them into quarters, and then bring them to a boil uncovered with some whole, peeled garlic cloves. You want to boil them until they are fork-tender, probably at least 15 minutes, closer to 20 for larger chunks.

Drain the potato chunks and garlic and put them in whatever container you are going to use to mash them in. For myself, I mash them right in the pot I boiled them in. Add the sour cream, 1/4C beef broth, butter substitute (or real butter if you want to splurge), and the cheese, and mash them up. I do this by hand, I am not a fan of potatoes that have been whipped by a mixer. Plus, it is easy to overmix them using a mixer, and then the consistency is all wrong. My advice is to stick to a hand masher, especially since this volume of potatoes isn't large.  As you mash, check the consistency of the mashies. If you think they need a little more liquid, add some from the reserved 1/4C beef stock, but do so slowly, it is easy to add liquid but next to impossible to take it away. When you're done with the potatoes, cover them and put them aside temporarily while you focus on the meat.

First up is the bacon. I used turkey bacon, which I cooked in the microwave to save time (the directions will be on the box). If you plan on using regular bacon, fry it first, and then cook everything else in the bacon fat.

Chop up some onion and carrots, and prep some peas (I usually make a meat and potato only pie, but I decided to test out this recipe with the veggies in it, and was pleasantly surprised).

Saute your onions in olive oil spray on medium high until they begin to sweat and turn translucent, and then add and brown your beef.

Add in the peas and carrots and minced garlic, and cook for another few minutes. Add in some tomato paste and flour, and mix well to combine.

Then, in goes the beer. Dump in a full bottle of beer and bring everything up to a boil for 3 minutes. I used Guinness, and it smelled absolutely fabulous while it was cooking. As you mix it, try to scrape the bottom of the pan for all of those lovely browned bits accumulating at the bottom.

Add the crumbled bacon, the beef broth, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste, and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes or so.

Now it is time to assemble. I made mine in a 9.5" glass pie plate. Put all of the meat into the dish, and spread it into an even layer. Then, spread the potatoes on top. Spritz some butter substitute spray (like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter) on top of the potatoes.

This goes into the oven for about 30 minutes. Pull it out, sprinkle about a cup of cheese on, and pop it back into the oven for another 10 minutes, so that the cheese can melt.

This needs to rest for about 10 minutes before you slice into it. And there you have it. Comfort food without the guilt. This pie really is tasty, despite being considerably lightened up. I am convinced it is the Guinness, it adds such a distinctive taste to the meat.

As an aside, my mashed potatoes didn't look like much in the pot, or when I was spreading them on top of the meat, but when I cut into the pie, I was shocked to find out that my potato layer was about 3 times as thick as my meat layer. Next time, I will probably split the potatoes in half. I'll put half on the pie, and save half in the freezer for another day, either as a quick side dish or to make another pie.

Shepherd's Pie, Lightened Up
(Printable Recipe)


Potato Cheese Topping:

  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, fat-free
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup beef broth (low sodium, fat-free)
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter substitute (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or your favorite), softened
  • 1/2 C shredded fat-free cheddar cheese (from 1 3/4 C bag)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Nonstick cooking spray

 Meat and Veggie Filling

  • 6 slices turkey bacon, crumbled
  • 2 medium onions or one large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 pound ground beef (extra lean, 93%)
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, chopped, (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste (3oz)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer (I used Guinness but a lighter beer is also fine)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (low sodium, fat-free)
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Remainder of fat-free Cheddar 


Prepare potato topping:

  1.  In a large saucepan add the potatoes and garlic and cover with cold water. 
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. 
  3. Transfer the potatoes and garlic back to the pot.
  4.  Add the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the broth, butter, salt and pepper, and mash with a masher until most of the lumps are gone, and garlic is also smashed. If using a mixer, be very careful not to over-mix.
  5.  If the mixture is too dry, add the remaining 1/4 cup broth. 
  6. Cover and set aside.

Meat and Pie Assembly

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Spray a, 8-10-inch round baking dish with nonstick spray.
  3. Cook bacon (in skillet or in microwave).
  4. Saute onions in cooking spray until translucent
  5. Stir in the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the beef browns, about 7 minutes. 
  6. Add the carrots, peas, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  7.  Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, until well blended, about 2 minutes. 
  8. Add the beer, bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. 
  9. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes 
  10. Add the cooked bacon, the broth, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
  11. Spoon the meat mixture into the prepared baking dish. 
  12. Spread the potato topping evenly over the beef mixture. 
  13. Bake until the filling is hot, the topping is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly, about 30 minutes. 
  14. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. 
  15. Let rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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