Holiday Shepherd’s Pie
I have posted about it before with this non-traditional version and I have to say that I stick to my original thoughts about this: If it is covered in mashed potatoes, it is a good thing. But today’s recipe wasn’t my brilliant idea and it is still, I have to say, ‘non’ traditional shepherd’s pie. I’ll explain.
Years ago, when all six of us siblings still lived at home, we used to travel to my Aunt Mary’s house on New Years Day to celebrate the holidays with her and my Grandmother. With such a big family, we knew how exhausting it could be to cook for us. My Aunt solved that problem by making a big turkey dinner earlier in the week, then assembling this casserole with the leftovers. Then all she had to do on the day was to heat up this big pan in the oven and it would feed everyone, with almost no effort from her. Genius, right?! She was free to play and visit and catch up with us. Now, mind you, my family is not full of picky eaters and we will generally devour anything you put in front of us.
But the first year she made this version of shepherd’s pie, I began to look forward to those holidays at my Aunt Mary’s house for the food, just as much for the company. What is not to love? It is all the wonderful parts of a holiday meal rolled into one dish. Meat? Good. Veggies? Good. Stuffing? Gooooooood. It is like home and family and comfort and love all wrapped up right there and topped with potatoes. I am sure Aunt Mary has no idea that I remember what she used to serve us all those years ago, but really. Is it all that surprising that food is at the center of my memories? I didn’t think so.
The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it with whatever you have. Beef? That is perfect. No stuffing? Fine. Sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes? Great. It is ALL good. The point is that you are just layering in the different categories of your leftovers, wrapping it up, and tossing it in the oven whenever you have need of it. Heck! Freeze the darn thing and enjoy it later if you like! You have already gone to the trouble of making all these individual dishes, and now you can use them up in one perfect meal. No matter if you have a little or a lot of any one thing, it all works. My favorite part? All those little leftover containers that you end up having to find a place for in your fridge? Gone. One casserole and you are done. And then you can take that one casserole and feed whoever you are getting together with the next weekend and you don’t have to lift a finger. Nice, huh? I told you my Aunt Mary is a genius.
Holiday Shepherd’s Pie
Remember. The key to this is the process, not the specific ingredients. Every version you make will be different based on your leftovers so just embrace the spontaneity. Also, feel free to make each layer as big or little as you like. No stuffing? Just skip it. If you are vegetarian, just omit the first layer of meat. Customize it to whatever you have on hand.
leftover meat-turkey, chicken, beef, or ham chunked or shredded into bit sized pieces
leftover vegetables-steamed, candied, or even green bean casserole
leftover mashed white or sweet ptoatoes
In a large casserole dish (or even just a small one, depending on who you are feeding), spray or butter the dish lightly. Spread the cooked, leftover meat in the bottom of the dish. Layer on vegetables or spoon on leftover gratin or casseroles. Whatever works. Evenly top with stuffing, or dressing, and top with a layer of mashed potatoes. Cover well and chill or wrap well and freeze. When ready to serve it, put the dish, uncovered, into a cold oven and turn it on to 350. Heat the casserole through until it is hot in the middle and potatoes are lightly browned, about 45 minutes if thawed. Serve with a side of gravy to pour over the top if you like. Leftover cranberries and rolls are good too!