This house finds us using the refrigerator and pantry contents as a recipe as often as we use a printed, tested list of ingredients.
Today we again played with Shepherd's Pie -- something I've made a dozen times, but only once with a recipe. Even then we altered it unimaginably.
Two reasons I have little interest in an actual recipe are that this dish usually requires lamb (no freaking way) and lots of extra steps with separately-cooked vegetables added later (fun on occasion, but silly for something like this which SHOULD be an easy weeknight meal).
So, in our various attempts we've separately tried ground beef and ground turkey for the meat. The beef, even the extra-lean, is greasy but adds a lot of flavor. The turkey is not at all greasy and much healthier, but tastes, oddly, like turkey.
The best route is an even mix of super-lean ground beef and ground turkey, skillet browned with diced garlic.
Traditional Shepherd's Pie also has carrots and peas and an herb-filled gravy or juice with the meat. After trying a lot of options for vegetables we decided that the best route is the one mentioned earlier.
Check your fridge. Check your pantry. Do you have mushrooms? Good. Peas? Cool. Lima beans? OK! Carrots? Throw 'em in there. Onions, fennel, corn niblets, green beans, celery? Whatever, people.
Fresh vegetables will need to simmer longer, frozen vegetables hold up nicely and require less simmering and canned veg's work, too.
Eyeball your browned meat and garlic mixture, then add 50-percent more in vegetables. So, if you've got about two cups of meat, add one cup veggies (choose a mix of two or three).
Simmer your browned meat and vegetables with red wine and beef consomme or beef bouillon and water.
Brighten this with ground cayenne pepper, oregano, celery salt, ground pepper and sea salt. As this mixture simmers watch the liquid levels -- you don't want it to dry out, but it shouldn't be soup either. If it dries out add a bit more wine and broth. If it's too thin, try a little Wondra.
Finally, you need lots of whipped potatoes. Lots. Tonight's recipe at our house (for eight servings), took one pound each of ground turkey and beef and six medium russet potatoes, boiled, creamed and whipped.
Once your meat mixture and potatoes are ready, pour the meat mixture into a baking dish and top with the potatoes.
This final dish is baked for awhile to meld the flavors and broiled if you like a crispy top, but this doesn't have to be done immediately.
If you have a much larger freezer than ours you can cover the filled baking dish and freeze it, stick it in the fridge or go ahead and throw it in the oven.
A frozen Shepherd's Pie needs to be thawed in the fridge for a few hours before baking. A thawed, but still cold Pie should go into a 350 F oven for about an hour (but check occasionally as this will vary depending on how large/thick you prefer YOUR Pie).
Don't forget to impress the nieces, nephews and grand kids: Instead of using one large baking dish, separate the filling and potato topping into cruets so the little ones can see his or her very own Shepherd's Pie come out of the oven.