Shepherd's Pie: A Tale of Yesteryear
A long, long time ago when you could smoke inside public buildings, Biggie Smalls ruled the airways and there was a thing called “Grunge,” I waited tables and occasionally bartended at a restaurant called Sullivan’s Steak and Beverage Company in Laurel, Maryland. The restaurant is still open for business and the last I heard Terry the day time bartender bought it.
I have to give a shout out to Terry because she was a rock star day time bartender. This steak house was located in a strip mall between an Old Country Buffett and a Thrift Store. This women could pack in the customers on a Monday through Friday. She would be busy from noon until it was time to change over for the night shift. The costumers may have come in for the food but always stayed for her. Rock star!
I would come home from school to work the occasional weekends, Summer and Winter break. St. Patrick’s Day was my favorite day to work. I would work the open to close shift. Sullivan’s used to serve corned beef and cabbage as a special and the place would be full all day. I would make a TON of money.
My sister worked with me and every year we would hit up the party store and buy all the ridiculous St. Patrick’s Day clothing decorations we could find. We would do an Irish jig at the occasional table and get rowdy with a costumer or two. I wish I had a picture but this was a time way before social media, phones with cameras and "selfie" wasn't a word. Heck, I didn't even have a cell phone. I had to use a pay phone.
If the ridiculous costumes weren't considered obnoxious enough, there was this old guy who would come into Sullivan’s and serenade me. Without provocation and several times during my shift, he would belt out “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” He had an Opera style voice and it either made customers clap or scoff at the performance. As awkward as it may have been, I thought it was adorable. I know you’re thinking this couldn’t have happened because it’s not on the Internet but it did. Girl scouts honor!
Click here for a snippet of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" by Phil Regan
St. Patrick’s Day is coming. Traditionally, corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread are on the menu. However, this year, I am making something different. I am going to make a Shepherd’s pie with a healthy twist. Instead of ground beef and brown gravy, I will use ground chicken and a chicken gravy. Doctor says I need to cut back on fatty foods because of high cholesterol. Doctors ruin all the fun.
MASHED POTATO TOPPING:
6 small Yukon potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup of Velveeta cheese (Yes, Velveeta! This is what I grew up on and I think my mother’s mashed potatoes are the best.)
1/4 or more of whole milk (The amount of milk you use will depend on how creamy you like your potatoes.)
1 clove of garlic smashed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
4 ounces of cremini mushrooms or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup of sweet peas
1 lb of ground chicken
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
1 teaspoon french thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of flour
2 cups of chicken broth
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CONSTRUCTION:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
POTATOES: Boil potatoes with the garlic until the potatoes are fork tender.
Strain potatoes. Transfer potatoes to a bowl or stand mixer. Add the butter and the Velveeta to the bowl. Give the potatoes a minute before you plow in with the mixer, you want the butter and cheese to get a little melty.
Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the potato. Add the milk a little at a time. The consistency of the potatoes depends on you. I like mine creamy but not runny. Salt and pepper your potatoes to your liking.
CHICKEN FILLING: Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the pan and sautee all veggies except the peas, about 5 minutes.
Add the ground chicken and continue to cook until chicken is cooked through. Stir in rosemary, thyme, and sage and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the butter and flour to the pan. Stir to coat and cook an additional minute. Slowly pour in the chicken broth while scraping the bottom of the pan of all the tasty bits.
Simmer until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Dump in the peas and cook for an additional minute.
Give the filling a taste, if you think it needs more flavor, try adding a teaspoon of chicken bouillon.
Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish, top with mashed potatoes and bake until golden brown, 20-30 minutes. You can also make individual portions of the pie. Take oven proof soup bowls, fill with the chicken mixture and top with the mashed potatoes. Bake until golden brown and bubbly.
To get the decorative potato topping, equip a piping bag with a large star tip and fill with mashed potatoes. Then "frost" your filling with the mashed potatoes as you would a cupcake.
Serves 4-12 ounce servings. This recipe can easily serve 6 if you bake the pie in a casserole dish and serve with a salad or crusty bread.