Healing Via Shepherd's Pie

Local foodies share stories about their favorite recipes

Okay, let me get this straight right up front: I am not a Jewish mother. Nevertheless, I have a deep, abiding belief that people faced with stress, grief, illness, or trauma should EAT, EAT, EAT! And when the good stuff happens? Marriages, births, job promotions and such? EAT, EAT, and EAT, some more.

So strong is my belief that I run straight to the kitchen whenever I hear news, happy or sad. (Hallmark store? Bah!) And then I start cooking. I pray as I go, wishing for healing with every slice and dice; I sprinkle on spices and herbs, pretending they are fairy dust that can heal any situation. In other words, I cook with love and the full expectation that the food I'm making will fulfill its ultimate purpose: provide comfort.

I have many recipes that I know will get the job done, but my favorite of late is a simple Shepherd's Pie. It's something I just know, intuitively, how to finesse into absolute deliciousness, playing with the balance of meats, veggies, red wine, sour cream, cheese, potatoes, and fresh rosemary. And it's something I know that everyone will like, so I go big with it—generally making two pies at once, one for my family, and one for another in need.

I use organic everything, when I can, and assemble the dish with love. And when I deliver it, I really do say a simple little prayer: Let negative conditions be shepherded out now, let love and light be shepherded in. But if the Shepherd's Pie does only the job of filling fraught tummies with good food, I accept that that's magic enough.

Hillari's Shepherd's Pie

(makes two)

Ingredients for Pie Filling

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 pound ground chuck

½ pound ground lamb

1 head garlic, peeled and diced

5 stalks fresh rosemary

1 pint sliced mushroom

1 bag frozen mixed veggies: carrots, peas, and green beans

1 cup red wine (or more as desired)

1 cup beef broth

1 6 oz can tomato paste

1 to 2 Tbs. smoked paprika

1 tsp. salt (or more as desired)

Ingredients for Potato Topping

4 pounds russet potatoes, washed and roughly peeled

½ stick butter, chopped

¾ cup sour cream

½ cup milk (or more as desired)

1 cup cheddar cheese, plus more for topping

Preparing Filling

• Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven on high heat. Then add onions, beef, and lamb. Work with a spoon to crumble the meats as you brown them.

• Add garlic, rosemary, and mushrooms as meats begin to brown. Cook until the mushrooms are reduced.

• Add frozen vegetables, wine, beef broth, and tomato paste. Cover the pot and allow the veggies to cook down for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

• When the veggie-meat mixture is done, remove rosemary stalks, and add salt and smoked paprika to taste. Set aside.

Preparing Topping

• Bring potatoes to a boil and cook until they are tender, about 15 minutes or until a fork can penetrate the potatoes easily.

• Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot.

•Add butter, and mash potatoes roughly. Then add sour cream and cheese. Add milk if you like to get your preferred consistency.

Combining for Shepherd's Pie

• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

• Transfer meat and vegetable mixture to the bottom of two casserole dishes. Fill only to 2/3 full. Smooth the mixture in the casserole

• Next, spread potato topping across the top of the meats. Sprinkle with cheese if you like.

• Bake for 45 minutes.

Hillari Dowdle is the former managing editor of Cooking Light magazine. Plus, she's married to the editor.