SO, I didn’t feel like doing much this past week and weekend. I was in a funk. This tends to happen around significant events relating to my mom. This February will mark fifteen years that I have spent without her. It never seems to fail that I start feeling weepy, my fuse becomes shorter, and I get the all-around blues, only to realize that there’s an important date just around the corner. In this case all of these feelings were flooding me and sure enough, when I stopped long enough to say “why the heck am I crying at “Real Housewives of Orange County,”(a little guilty pleasure), I looked at the calendar and her birthday was almost here. I go through these spurts and it sucks. I hate being part of this club that the older I get more and more members seem to join. Loss of any kind can be so difficult and I have often said to friends and family going through their first experience with loss, that it never gets easier to be without the one you love, it just gets more familiar and therefore bearable. My mom was the kindest person I have ever known. She saw the best in others always. She lived a life filled with so many struggles health-wise, yet took it all in stride and NEVER complained. She devoted everyday to me, my dad, and my siblings and I am eternally grateful for the time I had with her even though we lost her way too young. We did not always deserve to have such a devoted mom, and for the times I was a total pain in the ass, I’m sorry. But the great thing about her was that she didn’t care if I was a pain in the ass, she just went about her work, loving us unconditionally and making our home as comfortable as she could, which I know had to be a serious challenge many times!
She was a brilliant cook and everything that she baked was divine. Each delicious dish that came out of her kitchen was made with such enormous love, that you could literally taste the love. Because of this, it made me want to do the same. What is it about certain foods that with one bite seem to heal our souls for a moment? Now, most of us might not want to go out and eat comfort food all of the time, or we’d tip the scales to a place we don’t want to be, but there’s something about my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup, or lasagna, that instantly heals all woes! For me, there’s something about going back to my roots and rolling out pie crust, tossing hand-picked jonathan apples with all of the delicious cinnamon and sugar, and baking the perfect pie that makes me feel like she’s with me. I find comfort in the process, as much as the food. I learned all of these wonderful things from her and I can only hope that she sees what I create for my family and friends and is proud. I LOVE to cook and bake and share with others what she gave me. I think that it is a way to honor her and that makes me smile. Entertaining has always been one of my favorite things to do and I know that it is because of her. To share great food with friends and family is the best thing in the world to me and it’s part of the reason that I started my blog. This weekend I wanted to cook and get several things made that I knew would create leftovers and I also wanted a little comfort food, so I came up with this recipe for shepherd’s pie and I have to say it is pretty darn fabulous. But be warned, it is TRUE comfort food!! It’s all me with one alternative from “the pioneer women” if you choose to go that route, and it’s not a quick meal. This is more of a Sunday supper, but nonetheless, worth the effort.
Deb’s Shepherd’s Pie
For the potatoes:
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 1 clove smashed garlic
- 1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt (start with 1/2 tsp and then add more if needed)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 4 oz cream cheese ( room temp)
- 4 Tbsp butter ( room temp)
- heavy cream
For the meat filling:
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef, or lamb
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp flour ( can easily be made with another thickener or GF flour)
- 1 cup beef or chicken stock ( I used beef, but I’ve used chicken before and it works)
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 8 oz cleaned sliced mushrooms-optional ( I used button but any kind will do)
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas, or baby peas
Peel potatoes and cut into small chunks. Place in a large saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring water to a boil and once boiling reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender and can be easily crushed, approximately 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander, discard garlic clove, then return to the pot, and mash them. Once they are mashed about halfway, add in all remaining ingredients except the cream. Finish mashing the potatoes until they are smooth and all of the ingredients are incorporated. Drizzle in just a little heavy cream at the end and give them one final stir. Set aside.
While the potatoes are cooking prepare the filling. Heat canola oil in a saute pan. Once the oil simmers, add the onions, carrots, garlic, rosemary, and thyme Saute until they begin to soften and take color. Add in mushrooms and saute until they release their moisture. Turn off heat. In a separate large skillet, at least 12 inches, brown ground beef or lamb with salt and pepper until cooked through. Add in the Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle the meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for about another minute, Add the tomato paste, broth, and wine, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Add in the peas, mix well, then add in the reserved carrots, onions, and herbs.
Spread the filling evenly in a deep casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and spread them evenly to edges to form a seal. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until the potatoes are slightly golden. One way to kick it up a notch is to use Ree Drummond, “The Pioneer Woman’s” recipe for roasted garlic mashed potatoes. You just cut the recipe in half to use on the shepherd’s pie. You WON’T be sorry. As always adapt this recipe to fit your taste and if you have any questions, let me know.
In the end, I think maybe if my mom had been born just a little bit later, she may have ended up on the food network like Ina, or Ree. But since she wasn’t, I’m going to keep on keeping on and sharing the wonderful things that she taught me, because after all, it’s WAY more about the journey than the food. She left me with a gift and I will be forever grateful and that’s my dish!!