Shepherd’s Pie

This dish was a standby when I was growing up; in fact, I think this was the first dinner I ever learned to cook completely by myself.   It’s mild– OK, bland– and comforting, and easy to make.  Pittsburgh meat-and-potatoes comfort food at its finest– and, added bonus, gluten free.  (And no, this version does not involve actual shepherds.)

Shepherd’s Pie, Cheswick style

2-3 cups mashed potatoes

1 lb ground beef

cheddar cheese


I’m listing ingredients as a formality– this is a free-form dish, to be customized according to your tastes.

First, make mashed potatoes.  (If you don’t know how, there are abbreviated instructions here.)  It’s best, if you have time, to let them sit for an hour or two so they’re a little more solid.  As a kid I used to use the kind from a box.  It still works if you’re low on time.

Next, brown some ground beef in a skillet.  You can season this however you like.  Once it’s cooked, drain off the fat and layer the meat in the bottom of a pie plate (ceramic is best). 

Then comes your middle layer.  I prefer to slice cheddar cheese and layer it on top of the meat.  Cover this with a layer of mashed potatoes, making sure not to leave any holes.  Put a few pats of butter on top and bake in a 350-degree oven until the peaks of the potatoes start to brown. 

Here are a few potential customizations:

  • Cook the meat with chopped onions, a bit of cinnamon and pine nuts.  Omit the middle layer, but sprinkle the top of the potatoes with feta cheese.
  • Replace the cheddar cheese with stewed vegetables– green beans and carrots are popular with this.
  • Add bacon.  Sure, it’s a heart attack on a plate, but what doesn’t taste better with bacon in it?
  • Replace the meat with slightly seared chunks of cod, a bit of heavy cream, and some black pepper, and omit the cheese.  This one’s really good.

But you all are creative, I’m sure you’ll come up with some good variations.  By the way, the leftovers are great heated up for lunch the next day.

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Breakfast Casserole

A friend asked me about this dish yesterday, and it’s such a simple, easy recipe that I thought I’d share it.  It’s basically a savory bread pudding made with breakfast ingredients.  The idea for this dish came from my mom’s coworker, a very talented woman who’s always putting together some thoughtful, creative gift.  She brought a prepped version, minus the eggs, over on Christmas Eve, the idea being that on Christmas morning all we’d have to do would be to add eggs and throw it in the oven.  Brilliant.

This is also a great way to use leftovers, and you can customize it however you please.

The basic ingredients are:

Several torn-up slices of bread (day-old or gluten-free)

1 cup or so of shredded cheddar cheese

Several eggs, beaten with a fork (enough to cover the bottom of the dish evenly)

Arrange the bread in the bottom of a casserole dish (glass or ceramic, 9×13 or thereabouts).  Gluten-free bread actually works really well in this dish, because it tends to be a bit dry naturally, and can soak up the liquids in the dish as it cooks without getting too mushy.  Scatter cheese over it.

Now you can add whatever you like: bacon or sausage pieces (please cook these first!), diced tomatoes, onions, zucchini and/or peppers, mushrooms, leftover bits of beef or chicken… you get the idea.  Basically, take whatever’s in your fridge that might be kind of breakfast-y, chop it up, and scatter it evenly around the casserole dish.  When you’ve loaded it with deliciousness, you can (a) keep going, or (b) cover tightly with foil and put it in the fridge for tomorrow.  Or bring it to a friend’s house on Christmas Eve.  I wouldn’t try to keep it longer than overnight, though.

Either way, when you’re ready: pour the eggs evenly over the ingredients.  You don’t have to cover everything, but it should be even and at least cover the bottom of the pan.  If you like your eggs fluffy (and fatty), stir in some sour cream or yogurt before adding the eggs.  If you’re going the healthy route, use egg whites.  Scatter a bit more cheese on top.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until eggs are cooked and dish is golden brown and bubbly on top.  Serves 6-8 people. 

This dish not only uses leftovers, it creates delicious and long-lasting leftovers– you can make this for breakfast and then keep eating it all week if you like.

Happy birthday, Dad!

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Zucchini Parmesan

We’re big on Italian-American comfort food at our house. Joe grew up in a traditional Italian-American family in New Jersey, and I’m from Pittsburgh, so this is familiar territory for us. (My standard is the version they make at Minutello’s in Shadyside.) We picked up some fresh, in-season zucchini at the Fair Food Farmstand and decided to forgo the traditional Fourth of July grill-fest.

Zucchini parm is a relatively simple dish, but there are a few stages involved in its making, so it can be a little time-consuming.

First: get yourself some good, fresh zucchini. Ideally, it’ll be from your backyard, but if you’re like us and don’t have a backyard, the local farmer’s market will do. Three or four small ones will be plenty.

Next: Slice it lengthwise, as thin as you can get it. We used a mandoline to do the slicing, which makes things much easier. Make an egg wash in a bowl: two eggs, a splash of water, and some salt and pepper. Then spread some bread crumbs out on a plate– you can use boxed, but we just threw some leftover bread into the food processor for a minute. Dip the zucchini slices in egg and bread them, then fry them in about 1/4 inch of oil until they are nice and brown.

It’s helpful to have two people for this stage– one breading and one frying. If you’re slicing as thin as you can, you’ll have a lot of slices to fry!

As you finish frying the slices, let them cool for a few minutes, then put a layer of zukes at the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover the layer with marinara sauce. (Yes, we used a jar– the organic stuff from Trader Joe’s is perfectly fine if you don’t have the time to Martha Stewart some from scratch.) You can add a bit of cheese at this point– parmesan is good; we used Idiazabal. Add another layer of zucchini, top with another layer of sauce. Repeat until you’re out of zucchini. Top with sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Put the casserole in a 350-degree oven. It won’t need long– 20 minutes at most, but keep an eye on it. You just want to heat it through and brown the cheese.

Slice and serve hot with a glass of red wine. Good stuff– tasty, soul-satisfying, and great for vegetarians.

Comments imported from Blogger: 2

Melanie said…
Dude! Eggplant parmesan has been a favorite of mine; I never thought of using zucchini. I will have to experiment with this. 🙂
Also: congratulations on the return to breadcrumbs! Did they ever figure out what the allergy was?
July 5, 2007 1:48 PM  
Sarah said…
Thanks!!It’s not entirely clear– they are resorting to a maybe-IBS diagnosis, which I’ve learned is medical-ese for ‘we have no idea’. It’s clear that somebody messed up, but I’m still left without any real answers…. argh.But yay! Breadcrumbs!!

July 5, 2007 1:50 PM