Monday, June 10, 2013

Shepherd's Pie (even a Vegetarian version!)

I made smaller versions to freeze.  One row is vegetarian,
the other is hamburger.  Can you tell the difference?
I'd like to start by saying that I grew up in the Midwest and had never even HEARD of Shepherd's Pie until I moved to New England, so I came to this party a bit late - and when I've had it other places, it's typically dry.

I don't like dry food.

I don't do dry food.

Being that I'm from the Midwest and we have gravy with everything, I decided that I wanted my Shepherd's Pie to reflect that - and to NOT be dry.

I also don't care much for bland, boring flavors. I like unusual flavor combinations, even in something as "down home" (just not where I grew up) as Shepherd's Pie. You'll see that I use curry in my Shepherd's Pie. If you/your family don't like curry (and no, curry does NOT have to be hot - I don't care for spicy food, although if you do, you can certainly use the hot curry that's available. I use the "sweet mild curry" from Penzey's Spices), feel free to substitute a seasoning that you DO like.  I can tell you that the curry flavor is unusual enough in shepherd's pie that people typically can't identify exactly what the flavor is, but without exception everyone I've served it to loves it and asks me if I'll make it for them again.

I really cook from the recipe book in my head - so the measurements here are the best I can do. I do a LOT of taste it, season it and repeat until it gets to the flavor I like. I also very rarely measure anything when I'm cooking (baking being the exception) so trying to write something down that I make up in my head as I go along takes some effort. I have to try to remember what I did as I went along and when your memory is as poor as mine, that's a difficult thing to do.

So, let me apologize in advance for any of my measurements that are off, but here goes:


(serves 8 - did I mention I grew up in a large family?)
  • 2 pounds ground beef (for a vegetarian version, use Morningstar Farm's Crumbles instead)
  • 10 medium potatoes (russett, white, or yukon gold depending upon preference)
  • 1 can corn
  • 2 cans creamed corn
    The vegetarian version with the corn added.  This
    time I roasted the corn on the grill first, then cut it
    off to put over the Crumbles.  More work, but the
    taste makes it worth it!
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp Kitchen Bouquet (yes, this is vegetarian)
  • milk
  • garlic powder
  • curry (if you don't like curry, substitute a spice you do like i.e., rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)


  1. This dish can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. IF you are planning on eating right after making it, preheat the oven to 350 now.
  2. Peel, dice and boil the potatoes. When they are fork tender, strain them (keep the water from the potatoes and set aside).
  3. Cut the butter up and add to the potatoes along with salt and pepper. Start mashing them and slowly add milk until they are the consistency you want (you're simply making mashed potatoes after all, and no, I have no idea how much milk, salt or pepper to add. I've been making mashed potatoes since I was about eight and I just add the milk and seasonings until it looks/tastes right). Set aside the mashed potatoes for later.
  4. Dice the onion.
  5. Brown the hamburger (or the Crumbles). Add the diced onion about halfway through. Season with garlic powder, salt, pepper and curry. I taste it until it reaches the flavor I want. I truly don't know how much curry I add, but I believe it's about a tablespoon. If you want a stronger flavor, use more, for a lighter flavor, use less. Let your taste buds be your guide. Learn to trust them!
  6. Strain the hamburger. Keep the grease that comes off of the hamburger (this is what I use as a base for the gravy - if you're using Crumbles, obviously skip this section)
  7. Put the hamburger grease back in the skillet. Heat it up and add two tablespoons of flour (could be more or less depending upon how much grease you have). The grease/flour mixture will get very pasty. 
  8. If I'm making a vegetarian version, I typically will use the "Better than Bouillon" vegetable or mushroom base, a little bit of water and use that as the basis for the gravy.
  9. Start adding the water from the potatoes to the pan, a little at a time (over medium high heat) and KEEP STIRRING (note the caps - very important). At first, the flour mixture in the pan will absorb all of the water, but eventually, you will reach a point where the mixture will thin out. Once that happens, just keep stirring until it thickens again to be the consistency you want for gravy. At this point, I add the Kitchen Bouquet/Gravy Master. You can also add some garlic powder/curry/other spices until you have the flavor you prefer. You may want to strain the gravy also, depending entirely upon whether it's lumpy or not; and if this bothers you.
  10. Add the gravy to the browned hamburger/crumbles. You may not want to add all of it, depending upon how much you have. I like to add enough to make it very moist, but NOT soupy at all.
  11. Pour the hamburger/gravy mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan and spread until it's evenly covered.
  12. Open the cans of corn and combine them. Spread the corn mixture on top of the hamburger/crumbles mixture until it's evenly covered.
  13. Spread the mashed potatoes over the corn until evenly covered.
  14. Cover with foil. At this point, you can store in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it or bake it right away (it will last 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator like this so if you want to make it ahead of time, you can).
  15. Preheat oven to 350.
  16. Bake for one hour, covered. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. I like to sprinkle shredded cheese over the top when I remove the foil (alternately, you could put shredded cheese in the mashed potatoes when you make them and have it melt as it bakes).

Serve with some kind of crusty bread and butter (I usually bake my own or get the garlic ciabatta from our local grocery store) and a salad.

The finished version topped with shredded cheese.

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