Friday, November 20, 2009

comfort food

As mentioned in my last post, the weather is starting to turn. Days are shorter, nights are colder, and it leaves me wishing for some real comfort foods, good, hearty meals that fill my belly and warm me right up. One of my favorite comfort foods? Shepherd's pie. I've had it at a few different pubs, but a few weeks ago I finally decided to try my hand at making one. (Though since I made mine with beef, not lamb, it was technically cottage pie, but how many people really know the difference?)

I found a recipe in The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson, though I tweeked it a bit to suit my tastes and thought I'd share it, in case any of you are looking for some good comfort food too!


3 tablespoons canola oil

2 lbs stew beef (you can use ground beef - or lamb - but I prefer the big chunks of meat)

salt and pepper

1 med onion chopped

1 bag frozen veggies (I like the Birdseye ones with carrots, peas, corn and green beans, but use whatever you like...fresh carrots would probably be good too)

parsley (I used dried, fresh would probably be better if you have it)

thyme (again, I used dried but fresh would work)

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups low-sodium beef broth (or homemade beef stock if you have it on hand. I'm not exactly Suzy Homemaker, so I don't.)


2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons grated cheese (original recipe calls for cheddar, I used Kerrygold Dubliner cheese instead and it was delish! Would also be fine without cheese)

1. Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add meat and cook til browned. Season w/ salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl.

2. Add remaining oil to pan. Add onion and cook til soft but not browned. Add veggies, parsley and thyme, stir and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour, cook 1-2 minutes, add broth. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Add meat, reduce heat to low, simmer 20-25 minutes until meat is tender and sauce is thickened. Season again w/ salt and pepper. (I found the salt, pepper, parsley and thyme to be a little time I plan on trying some paprika, garlic powder and maybe a little crushed red pepper, but feel free to use whatever you like.)

3. Preheat oven to 425 F.

4. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain and mash. Add milk and butter and stir until smooth.

5. Transfer stew to large casserole dish. Spread (or pipe if you're feeling artsy and have time) mashed potatoes over the meat mixture and bake 10-12 minutes or until hot. Preheat boiler for a few minutes and sprinkle potatoes w/ the grated cheese. Place pie under broiler - 4 inches from heat source - and broil 1-2 minutes or until potatoes are lightly browned and cheese is bubbling.

There you have it, the perfect comfort food for a cold, rainy/snowy evening! To add to the authentic pub grub feel, why not whip up a brown soda bread to go with it? It's super quick and easy, and the leftovers are great for brown bread apple cobbler!

My brown soda bread recipe comes from The Irish Spirit, also by Margaret M. Johnson. Both great books, definitely worth buying if you're into Irish faire!

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon McCann's quick-cooking (not instant) Irish oatmeal (kind of hard to locate, but worth the effort...I found it in Hannaford's organic section)

2 1/4 cups buttermilk (also hard to find except around the holidays...I did the old milk and lemon juice trick and it worked fine)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a baking sheet.

In large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir in whole-wheat flour and 1 cup of oats. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and egg. With a wooden spoon, stir until the mixture forms a soft dough. With floured hands, form the dough into 2 rounds. Transfer to baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining oats. Bake 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

I served the bread with butter, but it would probably be really yummy with jam or jelly too.

Brown Bread Apple Cobbler (again, from The Irish Spirit.)

1/2 cup water

5 tablespoons Irish whiskey (I used Jameson, whatever you have on hand is probably fine)

1/3 cup golden raisins (I used regular raisins because I couldn't find golden raisins. Next time I might try dried mixed berries or dried cherries for fun)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (recipe calls for Granny Smith, I used Cortland because I like them better and they worked fine)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 cups brown soda bread crumbs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (my family looooves cinnamon, so I added a bit more)

1. In small saucepan over med heat, bring water and whiskey to a boil. Stir in raisins and vanilla. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour or until raisins have soaked up most of the liquid.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-9 inch square baking dish.

3. In large bowl, toss the apples w/ the granulated sugar. Stir in raisins and cooking liquid.

4. In med bowl combine bread crumbs, butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. (I also threw in 1/3 cup of quick-cooking oatmeal but you don't need it.) Transfer half the apple mixture to dish. Top with half the breadcrumb mixture. Repeat layers with remaining apples and bread crumbs. Bake 50-55 minutes or until apples are tender, filling is bubbling, and topping is browned and crisp. (I found 50 minutes to be too much as the topping burned a bit...40-45 minutes is probably good.) Remove from oven and cool on wire rack about 10 minutes.

The recipe says to top with creme anglaise or poitin ice cream. I have no time (or desire) to make poitin ice cream and I tried the creme anglaise once and found it not to be worth the effort. Whipped cream works just find and vanilla ice cream, while not a particular favorite of mine, is ALWAYS good with apples!

I hope you enjoy these recipes and give them a try! I have a few other new recipes that I've tried recently (lambchops braised in Guinness and Parknasilla pork chops w/ crushed potatoes)...I'll be glad to share them if anyone's interested!

What are some of your favorite comfort foods?


  1. That apple cobbler looks delicious! I never knew that to have a true shepherd's pie one must use lamb. I've made it with beef and never knew I wasn't do things right.

  2. Yup, tis true! It's just nitpicking, though...all the pubs I've eaten it at made it with beef and still called it shepherd's pie. Whatever you call it, it's good! Think I might cook up a big dish of it this week.