Shepherd’s Pie

Here is a simple and inexpensive way to turn leftover roast mutton, lamb or beef into a delicious dinner.  Recipes for Shepherd’s Pie date from the end of the eighteenth century, but it was called Cottage Pie then and could be made with any leftover roasted meat.  In the eighteenth century, a cottage was a simple shelter where poor people lived in the rural areas of England and Ireland, so a Cottage Pie was something cheap enough for poor people to eat.

Potatoes had become a cheap edible crop by that time, so they went well with the leftover meat.  The earliest recipes tell the cook to line the sides and bottom of the pan with mashed potatoes before spooning in the filling and covering the meat with more mashed potatoes, so some of those pies may have had very little meat.  If there were a few vegetables and some fat and flour to make the gravy, the result could still be a nourishing and tasty hot dish. 

It wasn’t long before people with extra money learned about the dish and were making fancier versions.  Poor people used any meat they could afford or come by in the dark of night.  Wealthier people could afford to eat roast mutton or lamb on Sundays, so they started making Shepherd’s Pie, a name chosen because shepherds looked after sheep.

This recipe is my version of one I found in a cookbook published by the Church of  the Immaculate Conception in New Richmond.  Mary Sullivan’s recipe specifies hamburger and cream of mushroom soup, but I liked her additions of green peas and carrots, the bell pepper and seasoned mashed potatoes, so I think she deserves credit for inspiring me.  My recipe, however, is a little closer to a real shepherd’s pie with good brown gravy and diced lamb left over from our Easter dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

For the gravy:

4 T roast drippings or butter

4 T all-purpose flour

1 1/2 – 2 cups stock or beef broth

Salt, pepper and other seasonings to your taste

For the pie:

2 to 3 cups chopped roasted lamb

1 T vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup diced bell pepper

1 T all-purpose flour

About 2 cups brown gravy

2 cups frozen peas and carrots

2 cups mashed potatoes

4 T butter, divided

1/3 to 1/2 cup half and half

1/4 tsp. white pepper

2 tsp. chopped parsley (fresh or dried)

PROCEDURE:

Trim the bones and excess fat from the meat, and chop it  into a quarter-inch dice.  Clean and chop the onion and pepper into a quarter-inch dice.  Otherwise, cook the frozen vegetables until they are crisp tender.  Peel and boil the potatoes.  Make or warm the gravy.

Making brown gravy from scratch is easy and takes only a few minutes.  Put four tablespoons of lamb or beef roast drippings or four tablespoons of butter into a medium saucepan or skillet over moderate heat.  Blend a quarter cup of all-purpose flour into the oil and stir continuously until the flour has turned to a medium brown.  I like to add some seasoning to the browning flour.  An eighth teaspoon each of salt, black pepper and thyme or rosemary are all good choices.  

Whisk in one and one-half cups of beef broth or stock made from the leftover lamb or beef bones.  Cook for three or four minutes until you have a thick gravy.  Add a little more broth if the gravy seems too thick.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350º and lightly grease a two quart casserole. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet and warm the meat.  Stir in the flour and salt and add the onion and pepper.  Cook over low heat until the onion is translucent.  Blend the gravy, peas and carrots with the meat mixture.

Mash the potatoes and heat a third cup of half and half and three tablespoons of butter.  Blend these liquids with the potatoes and the quarter teaspoon of white pepper.  Spoon the meat mixture into the casserole and top it with the mashed potatoes.  Dribble a tablespoon of melted butter over the potatoes.

Put the casserole on a center shelf in the oven and bake for fifty minutes or until the potatoes begin to brown a little.  Sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes and bake for another four or five minutes.

NOTES:  Many recipes for Shepherd’s Pie today are like Mary’s and substitute hamburger or leftover roast beef for the lamb.  Drain any excess grease from the hamburger before adding the vegetables.

If you are using fresh peas and carrots, shell and rinse the peas and clean and chop the carrots into a half-inch dice.

Susie’s Pumpkin Banana Bread

As a missionary for World Impact, our niece Susie spent many years working with Spanish-speaking immigrants, first in Los Angeles, California, and later in Wichita, Kansas.  She lived in the neighborhood where she ministered, teaching Bible clubs to the kids and various adult classes as well, all designed to guide people to a faith in God and eventually to establish churches.  No longer a missionary, Susie now teaches English as a Second Language in the Wichita school system to students from Asia and Africa as well as many from South and Central America.

She brought two loaves of a golden bread to a family dinner the last time we visited Jerri’s relatives in Kansas.  After two slices I asked her for the recipe and an explanation of how she came to make such a great-tasting treat as Pumpkin Banana Bread.

As she tells the story, when she moved back to Kansas from California, she wanted to plant a new church for underserved Latinos in Wichita.  She recruited a team which spent weeks walking and praying through three lower-income neighborhoods which had a large percentage of Spanish-speaking residents. They wanted to move and were seeking God’s guidance about which neighborhood was ready for a Spanish-speaking church plant.

On one prayer-walk, they discovered the “perfect house” with a large back yard for BBQ’s and rooms large enough for ESL classes, Bible studies and worship services.  However, the house was already under contract—even if World Impact had been able to afford it. They settled on an empty house with a complicated financial situation that the owners let them use for the summer to teach Bible clubs.  When the bank could not release the building for sale by summer’s end, Susie called to find out if the “perfect house” had in fact been sold.

Surprised to hear that the contract had fallen through, Susie convinced the World Impact leaders to tour the house. They could see the home’s potential for ministry and decided to move ahead. With lots of prayer and a generous gift from a WI board member, Susie and her team had a home for the new church. As Susie concludes the story, “We closed on the house in September, moved in in October, sent out a fund-raising letter in November, and paid off the house completely by the end of the year. ONLY GOD could have done that!”

Susie continues, “So. . . where does the bread fit in? We started an ESL class to get to know our neighbors. We had a big table and a big dining room, and we had fun, lively classes! But in the Latino community, there are always refreshments at every get-together. What could I serve? I bought some delicious Mexican pastries one day, but that proved to be too expensive to do regularly.  So, I decided to serve different kinds of homemade bread and coffee or tea. I made the bread and froze it so I wouldn’t have to bake before each class. The ladies loved the bread, and I accumulated quite a collection of recipes. The Pumpkin-Banana Bread was one of the breads that I served to my ESL class. They enjoyed it, and it also became a favorite of our young director!

“By the way, we planted our church–La Iglesia de Cristo Victorioso! They first met in our living room, but now they have their own building and their own pastor. They are currently completely independent from World Impact and are doing well.”

Here is Susie’s recipe for a really delicious banana bread complemented by pumpkin!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

3 1/3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

2/3 cup water

1 15 oz. can mashed pumpkin

1/2 cup mashed, ripe banana

3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

PROCEDURE:

Grease the bottoms and a half-inch up the sides of two 9 x 5″ loaf pans and set them aside.  Preheat the oven to 350º and lightly toast the pecans by stirring them in a small skillet over moderate heat until they begin to change color.  Mash the banana.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed until they are well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat them into the sugar and oil.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger into a separate mixing bowl.  Add the flour alternately with the water to the sugar mixture, beating after each addition just until the flour is combined with the liquids. 

Beat in the pumpkin and banana until you have a smooth batter. Blend in the pecans, and spoon the batter into the pans.

Bake for fifty to sixty minutes.  Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf.  If it comes out clean, the bread is done. If not, bake for another five to six minutes and check again.

Remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for about fifteen minutes on a rack.   Loosen the loaves from the pans and turn them out to finish cooling on the rack. 

NOTES:  Susie says that she often substitutes apple sauce for part of the oil and that you can use more mashed banana.  I mashed a large banana which produced three-fourths of a cup, and the bread turned out fine.  Incidentally, I like to butter my banana bread.

Speaking from experience, I urge you to be very careful when you toast the pecans.  I heat a small cast iron skillet first, pour in the pecans and use a wooden spoon to stir the pecans continuously.  As soon as the nuts begin to change color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the pecans into a small bowl.

As Susie suggests, you can freeze this bread and serve it a couple of weeks later.