Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Recipe Evolves: Cottage Pie

This recipe is an example of cooking evolution.

You can follow a cookbook recipe--and I know people who do so blindly. But I think that people who really cook tend to use recipes as a starting point, and then let the recipe develop from there via experimentation, via trial and error, until you get it where you want it.  And so it is with this dish.

This is called Shepherd's Pie when it's made with lamb. I have fond memories of my mother's, the meat from a leftover leg of lamb ground by hand with the sort of old fashioned grinder you clamp to a table, covered in homemade mashed potatoes. But lately lamb has gotten so expensive that we don't even have lamb chops any more.  Beef is more affordable , hence this version, known as cottage pie.

I seldom use "instant foods"  and I had never ever used instant mashed potatoes except in bread doughs. Then we got a free sample of garlic mashed potatoes and I liked them in this. But they're salty, and I use so little salt in cooking that we all found it noticeable and not in a good way. So I tried mixing one packet of the garlic kind into potatoes made with the standard flakes--which are nothing more than dehydrated potatoes. I can control the milk and butter content and the garlic potatoes add just enough salt.

The girls have complained that this was too wet and messy, so I've started putting a thin layer of mashed potatoes on the bottom. And I now briefly heat the meat in broth, then remove the meat to the baking pan and thicken the broth with cornstarch, making a gravy I  pour over the meat. Potatoes on top, dabs of butter (or spray marge) and it goes in to heat.

I bake a lot of things in Pyrex glass, but this goes in a deep dish pie pan or a lasagna pan, depending on how much meat I have. That way I can give it a final few minutes under the broiler to crisp the top.

This recipe is not exact because this is one of those things where the recipe can be altered in infinite ways. And that includes using lamb and turning it back into shepherd's pie!

Cottage Pie

4 cups leftover roast beef or steak, chopped into bite sized pieces.
2-3 cups beef bouillon/stock  (I use Minor's beef base)
1-2 Tbs cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of water
chopped fresh onions or frozen chopped onions or dehydrated chopped onion

1 envelope garlic mashed potatoes
instant potato flakes (dehydrated  potatoes)
 butter or margarine

Chop up the meat and put it into a pot. Pour enough stock over it to cover it.
Add onions--I just throw in a large handful of whatever kind I'm using--and let this simmer on the stove for 5-10 minutes until heated through.

While the meat is heating, prepare the potatoes according to package directions.
I do them in the microwave. For a 9x12 sized pan I made 1 envelope of the garlic kind and mixed in 2 cups of the dehydrated plain flakes along with water, milk and butter as directed on the package.

Spray a 9x12 metal pan with cooking spray and cover the bottom with a thin layer of the potatoes.
Remove the meat from the stock and place it on top of the mashed potatoes.

Bring the stock to a boil and add some of the cornstarch/water mixture. Cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens. Add additional cornstarch/water as needed.

Pour the gravy over the meat. Cover with the rest of the mashed potatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
Remove the pan and use a fork to make ridges/tracks across the pan. Dot with butter or margarine.
Place under the broiler for a few more minutes until the potatoes begin to brown on top.

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