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Shepherds Pie was a pretty common dish in the little town I grew up in (settled by Irish immigrants) and it was a childhood favorite. What’s not to like? Beef, carrots, peas, and even if one didn’t care much for peas (ugghh) all was redeemed by the mashed potato topping, golden and crusty on the top, still creamy in the center. It was a childhood favorite.

No one ever used a recipe for such things…perhaps the knowledge was passed down in some ancestral sequence of DNA. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that some draw a distinction between “Cottage Pie” made with beef, and “Shepherd’s Pie” made with lamb. To us, in our little Irish town, the name Shepherd’s Pie referred to the dish, and it didn’t really matter what it was made with.

There are two ways to make Shepherd’s Pie: The first is to make use of the left overs from a Sunday dinner roast which was always served with either mashed potatoes or potatoes roasted alongside and carrots and peas. The roast and carrots would be cut into a small dice and mixed with the gravy and the peas, the top coated with the left over mashed potatoes and all heated through in the oven. This was, by far, my favorite type of Shepherd’s Pie with its lovely gravy.

Those who didn’t have left over roast learned to make do: the dish would be put together ground beef, carrots and peas added, and the topping of mashed potatoes was added. Smart cooks learned to put this dish together when mashed potatoes were left over, or to make more mashed when the were cooking, and therefore have mashed potatoes ready for this. They also learned to raid the fridge for what ever left over vegetables were on hand.

The Shepherd’s Pie of my childhood was never a dish that one shopped ingredients for and made just because someone wanted Shepherd’s Pie, but rather a humble jumble of ingredients on hand: the ultimate remake of left overs. But then something happened – lifestyles changed and the Sunday roast went out of fashion. People started making Shepherd’s pie with frozen Veg-All and instant mashed potatoes, and the long decline began.

Creative cooks, though, learned to elevate the dish – simple changes like a bit of cheese in or on top of the potatoes were appreciated by many. Tomato paste thickens some, sometimes a little wine fancies it up. Worcester Sauce and herbs came into play. Pearl onions became available and were often added and good cooks started taking a bit of care with the ingredients.

My Shepherd’s Pie isn’t terribly fancy; as a nod to the Shepherd’s Pie of my youth, I’ve taken only a few liberties with the ingredients…but ones that matter. So, no, this isn’t the Shepherd’s Pie of my youth, but I’m not that child anymore, either! So just like me, here’s a slightly more sophisticated version that still retains its down-home roots.

Shepherd’s Pie, 4 – 6 Servings

  • 1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced – may be omitted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 2 pinches Fines Herbs
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, if desired (my addition from childhood memory)
  • 1/2 cup peas, blanched, or frozen
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 pinch nutmeg, go light on this
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons butter
  • milk, as needed
  • 4 ounces swiss cheese, grated

Cook potatoes in boiling water until done, about 15 – 20 minutes. Drain and mash, add butter and enough milk to smooth them out. Salt to taste.

In a pan, brown ground beef, drain. Add onion and carrots and cook until onion becomes translucent. Add herbs, salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Cook an additional two to three minutes. Mix in peas.

Spread meat mixture into the bottom of a casserole, top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese during the last 10 minutes of baking. If you’d like the top browned, turn on the broiler for a few minutes.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied

Cook the potatoes while you’re working on the hamburger portion, or use leftover potatoes.  Portion out serving sized for the freezer – then bake frozen.

  • Hamburger:  Buy it in larger packages and break it down.  Because I’m draining this well, I’m not as concerned about the actual percentage of fat in the hamburger, and that lets me get by with the less expensive grade.  I will sometimes brown up hamburger for more than one dish at a time and refrigerate or even freeze (for a very short time) the rest for another dish.  I paid $1.95 for the pound.
  • Onion:  On sale in the fall, 33 cents a pound, the onion for this was about 5 cents.
  • Garlic:  You could certainly substitute 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder.  I used fresh, cost about 8 cents.
  • Parsley:  I bring in some from my garden, and with luck don’t kill it too fast!  I rarely use dried parsley for anything – I don’t think it brings too much to the playing field.  Cost free.
  • Worcestershire:  Watch for sales coinciding with coupons – I have often gotten for free.  I prefer Lea & Perrins, but there is competition between the brands, and whenever that happens, you’ll find coupons now and then.  I last paid $.79 cents, so the cost for this recipe is about 4 cents.
  • Potatoes:  On sale last week for 78 cents a pound, I used four (about 5 ounces each), so the cost was 20 cents.  I make this dish sometimes when I have leftover mashed potatoes.
  • Butter:  Has been on sale for $2.49 a pound, I used 3 tablespoons for 23 cents.  Watch for specials now and through the winter holidays – stock up and freeze.
  • Cheese:  On sale last week, 88 cents for 8 ounces – I used four here, so 44 cents is the cost.

Nutrition:

Per Serving (counting 6 servings): 401 Calories; 27g Fat (60.2% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 90mg Cholesterol; 374mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Put your own spin on it:

  • Cheese may be omitted or another type of cheese may be substituted.
  •  This simple dish could also be spun out different ways – Italian, Mexican, etc, by differing the vegetables and the herbs.
  • A touch of red wine in the hamburger would also go a long way to dressing this up – just add a splash while you’re cooking out your onions.

My Payoff – A simple, homey dish for a bargain price.  Shepherd’s pie makes a pound of hamburger feel like a meal.

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