So the fall semester started which is the main reason I haven’t blogged in a few weeks. September in particular is always challenging because every new semester means a significant adjustment in our lives. Additionally, sometimes summer Tawnya makes promises that fall Tawnya has trouble keeping 🙂 That being said, cooking and blogging is a hobby I don’t want to give up on even if it means sacrificing some style. Normally the prospect of finding or making a snazzy recipe, making it (and sometimes multiple versions of it), photographing it, and writing about it prevents me from actually doing the work because it’s so involved. So I figure I might just shift gears entirely. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of food bloggers took up the topic of how they were feeding themselves and their families. So much homemade bread. But I’ve been wondering what it looks like now, after all this time and fatigue for living in relative isolation. My first question is “what foodstuff or kitchen equipment did you panic-buy for lockdown that you still haven’t actually used?” For us, it is a gigantic can of crushed tomatoes (like 56 oz). When I heard that we might have to be in lockdown for an extended period, I stocked up on what I think of as foundation groceries – stuff to build stuff with: flour, chicken stock, onions, etc. I think it gave me comfort even if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. We did end up using all of it and then some…with the exception of that huge can of crushed tomatoes.
Now, half a year later, I think we’ve found an odd new rhythm. Weekends are often spent in our parents’ backyards grilling. Weeknights depend on how many zoom calls I have with my friends. Some nights I make a fancy risotto with oven-baked mushroom; other nights, Mr. Foodie orders take-out and fixes me a margarita–a welcome respite from having to think about cooking even for me. I personally miss having parties – big and small. The fact that Halloween is on a Saturday and I’m not spending my mornings pinning fun ideas to a pinterest board for an epic party saddens me. It’s a small thing in the big scheme, but in some ways it is more manageable than feeling all the big feelings about everything right now.
So I find pleasure in small things (another trend in publishing since Covid that I’ve really enjoyed following). Morning cuddles with my cat, neighborhood walks, letters with my niece. Today it was using up the rest of our potatoes to make a small shepherd’s pie (or rather a Cottage Pie as Mr. Foodie insists on telling me every time I make it—apparently beef = cottage and lamb = shepherds).
Even using real potatoes (as opposed to instant), this recipe is so simple and yet so comforting. The pitfall of most shepherd’s pies is that it ends up tasting bland. This can be because the meat and/or mashed potatoes aren’t salted enough or your pie filling is too dry. Both are easily remedied.
First thing is to peel the potatoes and get them boiling. If they are large, I cut them in half so they cook faster. While they’re boiling, brown the ground meat with salt and pepper in a pan with olive oil. Put the cooked meat in a baking pan and sprinkle in some frozen corn and frozen peas (and/or carrots if you have them). You could make some “sauce” for your filling, but if you are keeping it low key, I recommend simply dotting the meat/veg filling with butter and sprinkling it with flour. You could add a dash of worcestershire if you want to kick it up a notch.
Once you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork, drain and let them steam off in the drained pot, off the heat, for 5 minutes (water is the enemy of starch, so less water = delicious mashed potatoes). Mash the potatoes fairly well. Add in some diced butter and a splash of milk (amounts depend on how many potatoes you have, but you can’t really put too much fat in mashed potatoes). Stir until combined. Salt and pepper your potatoes. Taste! You will be able to tell right away if there is too little salt. Spread the potatoes over your filling with a spatula, pressing down over the filling. Sprinkle with cheese (we had an italian blend on hand, but you could use any cheese or dot with butter if you like). Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly brown and the filling is bubbling.
Shepherd’s pie is easy, comforting, cools and freezes well, and is great as leftovers. And it’s customizable. If you want to punch up the flavor, you can. Add some spices or peppers to the filling. Put blue cheese crumbles into the mashed potato layer. Have fun with it.
Not a bad way to use up potatoes 🙂
If you’ve enjoyed our blog in the past, I thank you. I can’t promise these posts will be full of new recipes or methods to try, but I hope they are at least half as much fun to read as they are to write. So stay tuned for more posts about how we are cooking, eating, and living through the time of Covid.