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Shepherd’s Pie

Last updated on January 12, 2014

Mom used to make this dish for all of us, as I recall, during the Autumn and Winter months back home in Ohio. It was always one of those everyone focused on their plates kind of comfort food meals.

Some of the things I remember about those long ago nights were how the shadows would get longer as the days grew shorter. Coming home to be greeted by a waft of Murphy’s Oil Soap and the warm savory smells coming from the oven. We were a patched together family, finding our own ways, sharing another meal and one another’s company.

2 lbs 96% lean ground beef
½ tsp baking soda
salt & pepper
2 ½ lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
4 tbs melted unsalted butter
½ cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions, green parts only sliced thin
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
4 oz white mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves minced
2 tbsp Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec (essence of fruit & pepper)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups low sodium beef broth
2 carrots peeled and chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp cornstarch


Toss the beef with 2 tbsp of water, 1 tsp of Kosher salt, baking soda and ¼ tsp of ground pepper.
Chop vegetables.

Potato topping
Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and fill with water until just the tops are exposed adding 1 tsp of Kosher salt.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are soft and fork inserted into potato meets no resistance (8 to 10 minutes).
Drain potatoes and return to saucepan over heat shaking occasionally to remove surface moisture (1 minute).
Remove from heat and mash potatoes.
Stir in melted butter.
Whisk milk and egg yolk together in a small bowl then pour into potatoes.
Stir in scallions, salt and pepper and cover setting aside for later.

Heat oil in 10 inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering.
Add onions, mushrooms, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper. Cook while stirring occasionally until vegetables are just starting to soften and surface of the pan shows some signs of brown bits or light texture (4 to 6 minutes).
Stir in tomato paste and garlic until bottom of pan is dark brown (2 minutes).
Add wine and cook while scraping up brown bits as the wine evaporates (1 to 2 minutes).
Stir in flour and cook (1 minute).
Add broth, carrots, Worcestershire sauce, thyme sprigs and bay leaf then bring to a boil while scraping up brown bits.
Reduce heat to medium low and add beef in 2 inch chunks on top of the broth and bring to a simmer.
Cover and cook the beef through (12 to 13 minutes).
Break up the beef by a factor of two halfway through the previous step. This gives you nice chunks but not huge portions.
Stir in cornstarch premixed with 2 tsp of water and simmer for another minute or so.
Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf.

Move oven rack to the 5 inch spot below the broiler coils… on my oven that is the second rack mark from the top.
Place the filling into an oven safe dish… I used a large soufflé pan instead of a cast iron skillet as some people do.
Place mashed potatoes into a plastic freezer bag. Cutting one corner out pipe the potatoes in a circular pattern as if it were icing onto the prepared soufflé dish containing the filling.
Smooth the potatoes with a pastry knife or the back of a spoon.
Use the tine of a fork to produce concentric circles of ridges on the entire surface of the dish.
Broil the dish for 10 to 15 minutes over a pan to catch any drippings. Top will be golden brown when finished.
Let cool thoroughly before refrigerating any left overs.

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