Saturday, April 14, 2012

Where are the sheep?

April 8, 2012
Shepherd's Pie
Sourdough Bread
Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel
Peanut Butter Cookies

I first learned about Shepherd's Pie from the mother of one of my good friends in high school. I got her recipe and though I can't find it now I recall it was pretty simple: a three-layer casserole with browned ground beef and corn topped with mashed potatoes. I haven't made this in many years. Indeed, I've made it only once since getting married because Diane didn't like it.  I have had Shepherd's Pie several times for lunch at Britannia Arms, a British pub here in San Jose, and enjoyed it each time. Their casserole has a lot of flavor, much more than my friend's mom's, and this inspired me to try it again at home.

I had several recipes to choose from including versions using lamb and ground bison. However, I decided against the exotic and chose a recipe using ground beef from Cook's Country which I found published in a blog from Maine. The concept is a two layer casserole, a meat filling topped with mashed potatoes. The key to the dish, as exemplified by the Britannia Arms version, is in the flavor of the filling. The Cook's recipe has nothing too exotic, no spices, but it works well. The most surprising ingredient is beer. I had two choices in the refrigerator: apricot beer and Hefeweizen and it was easy to choose the Hefeweizen. The other flavor ingredients are tomato paste, soy, thyme, onion, carrots, and peas.

The decision that I struggled with the most was in the choice of dish for baking. It needed to be oven and broiler safe plus large enough to hold the ingredients. I finally settled on a 13x9 inch Pyrex baking dish and it worked out well. It took a little over two hours from start to finish to prepare this meal.  Both of us, including Diane, enjoyed this Shepherd's Pie which is good as we have a lot of it. Next time I'll consider using one pound of meat, rather than two as in the recipe.

I tried a new recipe for peanut butter cookies for dessert. This basic recipe (Chef John called them "classic" because they included no secret ingredients, and no new modern techniques) produced cookies that had a thin crispy exterior and soft interior that tasted a lot like peanut butter. However, I found that I prefer the America's Test Kitchen recipe for peanut butter cookies: they have more peanut flavor and a better texture from  crunchy, instead of smooth, peanut butter and chopped peanuts.

I enjoy the mystery involved in cooking. Or more accurately, I enjoy the pleasant surprise and satisfaction that comes from eating good food that I've prepared myself. Whenever I try a new recipe, which is mostly what I do with Sunday dinners, I don't know how it will turn out until it's done and I eat it. Even though I select items that appeal to me there's no guarantee that my ingredients will be good enough or that my execution will result in the desired end product. When the meal is good it's always a very pleasant surprise. I used to feel the same way when I took a good photo back in the day when I used film. I never knew if the photos were going to be good until I got them in the mail from the processing lab and it was such a good feeling when the photo worked.

Shepherd's Pie from Cook's Country via Madeleine's Madeleines
Classic Peanut Butter Cookies from Food Wishes


  1. I like this post. Shepherds pie is easy to make, and my family loves it. Of course, I go the quicker route with old fashioned vegetable soup and other spices.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, she did. This is good because I have two other recipes to try. One uses lamb which Caleb recommends for Shepherd's Pie because of its unique, gamey flavor. The other uses ground bison.