For Now, Shepherd’s Pie


Apologies for being MIA. As you might have gathered from the last post I wrote, it was a rough week in the DALS house, and to be honest, a week and a few cabinet appointments later, I know we’re not alone in fearing that things might only get rougher. If I had to acknowledge a few bright spots, though, I’d say I’m heartened by all the displays of turning anger into action; by the way people are checking in with friends and family (this Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks for Thanksgiving); and by watching my two f**ing badass daughters medal in their respective sporting events this past weekend. Also not insignificant: Our dinner table has never felt more vital — as a ritual that grounds us, and as one that reminds us who we are as a family, what we believe in, and how we plan to engage in an active, compassionate way going forward. (Being MIA does not figure into the strategy, by the way.) I hope you feel the same way and I’m eager to hear from everyone on that point.

I have a lot of Thanksgiving and holiday posts in the line-up for you guys, and that will begin tomorrow, but for now I wanted to share a recipe with you. A few days after the election, I was reading a (magical, escapist) short story by Jeanette Winterson (more on that very soon) that mentioned Shepherd’s Pie. The pie was in no means integral to the plot — or even the scene — but I underlined it and circled it, and thought to myself, this, yes this is what I’m craving on some acutely visceral level. My best friend Jeni’s mom, Rosa (book owners: yes, Rosa of Mud Cake fame), used to make it for special occasions, and I can still remember standing in front of their refrigerator, sharing a fork with Jeni, eating the leftovers. As you can see above, I still have a copy of the stained-and-battered recipe written on Rosa’s personal stationery (how 80s is that font?) which brings me a ridiculous amount of happiness. I’ve adjusted the ingredients a bit over the years, but I will say this: As far as comfort food goes, it doesn’t get any better.

Rosa’s Shepherd Pie
The original recipe, as you can see in the photo, was titled “Christmas Pie,” but we never called it that. Also: Step one in this recipe should read Invite your friends over.
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound lean pork
1/2 pound ground veal (you will be forgiven if you substitute ground turkey for this; I do)
1 whole boneless chicken breast, diced into small cubes
1/2 cup chicken broth
3/4 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 freshly ground pepper
pinch allspice
pinch nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt butter in heavy skillet and saute onion and carrots until golden. Add garlic, pork, veal and cook until brown. Stir in chicken pieces. Add tomato paste, smushing it into the meat so it’s distributed.

Whisk the broth-water into the cornstarch to give it a smooth texture and stir into the meat mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring until mixture thickens. Add salt, pepper, allspice, and nutmeg.

Add meat to 9-inch pie plate. Cover with Mashed Potatoes (below) and bake until golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk (any fat content)
salt
Bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes; drain. Mash the potatoes with the butter, milk, and salt.

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45 Comments

Awads

I’ve been hiding out in my little safe enclave on Capitol Hill, serving meatballs to friends, and pork in milk to my family, perhaps drinking a wee bit more bourbon than usual. We are in for a very rough ride, that’s for sure. Looking forward to more comfort recipes like this one. Thanks!

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Jenny

Thanks Adina. Bourbon is a great idea. Wish I could say I hadn’t already thought of it. Keep me posted on your conversations.

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Kristin

“a week and a few cabinet appointments later”

^^^This. Shock subsides. But then the realization that the roller coaster of emotions is not limited to a Wednesday or a weekend or even just this fall.

Fueling up for the work is essential. I’m with you on that. We have much work to do. We have much work to REdo. We have much work to do over and over again, until it sticks. It has to stick.

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Julie D.

I appreciate that you’ve shared your thoughts even though this isn’t a political site. I’ve been grieving too, and it helps to know we are not alone.

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Jenny

Thank you for this, Julie. I realize not everyone feels the way you do — and I respect that — but it feels irresponsible to ignore what the world is talking about, and (as mentioned last week) not acknowledge what we are now talking about nonstop at the dinner table with our daughters. I don’t think of that as politics as much as I think of it as parenting.

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Angela

Thank you for this post. During this terrible week, my first anxious thoughts have been some version of “what are we supposed to do now???” I keep thinking about your past post about mashed potatoes- about making sure that our homes are a safe haven for our children. I know there is much work to do outside the home as well, but for me as a mom of two small boys, this seems like a good place to start.

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Mollie | Jennings Brae Bank Farm

We’ve been indulging in a lot of comfort food this week. I often feel like a tiny blue dot in a sea of red in West Virginia. Thank you Jenny for creating this virtual space for those of us who have a tough time finding it in our communities.

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Stephanie

Well said. I had to dig deep to explain to my two elementary-aged girls that sometimes democracy is hard, but we will support the process and do what we can to ensure that our country moves forward in a productive and kind way. In our own lives, we will support our friends and do what is right, and we’ll look for the ways in which we can make a difference. Certainly last week that meant the comfort of mashed potatoes and family togetherness!

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Julie

Glad you’re back Jenny, I’m really looking forward to all your upcoming posts and recipes!

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Robin Parke

I just might be whipping this up tonight since I have most of the ingredients including leftover mashed potatoes in my fridge right now. This will be our 17th consecutive year hosting Thanksgiving and though I could probably prepare it by autopilot by now, I have never felt the need to be more present and mindful while cooking and eating with loved ones. Therefore, I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts. You are a beacon of light on the internet. And yes, that font is TOTALLY thirtysomething..

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Erica

Kudos to you and your family for making it known where you stand and what you value in a respectful and honest manner. After this odd (euphemism) election, I’ve been shocked by how many websites and people have ignored the dialogue that we all need to begin about the direction of our nation and our world no matter for whom you voted. But then again, I’d expect nothing less from someone who has freaking awesome Samantha Bee weigh in on her cookbook! You and the whole DALS family ROCKS!

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Jenny

Erica, Mollie, Stephanie, Julie, Robin, Katia – Thanks for the comments. I will keep you posted on how we move forward and I hope you’ll all do the same. xo

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Emma

Well said Jenny, and even from the other side of the world your words on the importance of nourishment and family dinners, now more than ever, hit home. I wanted to ask you how young your daughters were when you began to eat as a family. My kids are still little (2.5 and 10 months) so eat early and are in bed by the time my husband and I sit down to eat… when did this shift for you? Thanks again for your thoughtful words.

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Jenny

Emma – My whole first book, Dinner: A Love Story, is about this, but the short answer is: I waited until my youngest was about three before sitting at the table as a family. We still sat with them while they ate during the toddler years, but dinner had a whole second act (complete with wine) after they went to bed. We needed that ritual. Check out my book at the library (or your book store) for more details. Like 300 pages of details. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

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Emma

Ha! Your book is in my cart at Amazon… I’m just waiting for a shopping mood to buy it! Thanks so much – definitely another incentive to hit purchase 🙂 And yes the 2nd act with wine is definitely essential in our household too.

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DHS

Thanks for this – will make it soon. I’m still in shock and need much comfort – finding it hard to reassure a teen daughter that not everyone who voted for him thinks insulting and assaulting women is okay – what have you said? Since our daughter is an only child, we 3 have eaten dinner together since she could sit in a high chair.

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Libby

“Our dining room table has never felt more vital.” I’ve never had more invitations to break bread together than I have in this past week. The day after the election, a group of about 30 of us gathered in a tiny apartment and shared bowls of soup (there weren’t enough bowls to go around) and sat in our grief. A few days later, an impromptu Friendsgiving. Last night, coffee with my girl friends. We are coming together and I’m so grateful for that much.

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Kim

I’m sad that almost every blog I diligently read is so saddened by the election. I acknowledge everyone’s feelings, hope for a world that loves and doesn’t separate, but still find good honest value in the electoral college and the voice of the nation. Even the rural parts of the nation. No, they are not uneducated, no they are not deplorable. They are people that maybe saw something that others didn’t see. That maybe were willing to roll the dice to see if real change in our systems could ever really happen. No I’m not talking about the social issues (those are important, but not the only issues). Let’s see what happens. Let’s not let one guy in one office dictate our country or state of mind. Let’s take responsibility for our communities and invite more people to our dinner table. Let’s count on the laws that are in effect to stop the crazy, but most importantly, let’s let this election bring us together and not further push us apart. We are all more alike than we are different. I’m sure of that. PS I love shepherd’s pie

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Ingrid

I live in the rural part of America, and around here education is not valued, nor are those who are educated. Make America Great Again means go back to when white men were totally in charge. They are not deplorable people, but some of their ideas are deplorable. Maybe your experience is different, but that is my reality. That’s why this election makes me lose hope. Are we really that way as a nation?

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Edith Kiessling

I’m a long-time reader of your blog and column and have purchased both of your cookbooks. I visit your blog for the lovely recipes and tips on feeding a family. However, I was very disappointed you decided to bring politics into the blog space and feel it is not a place to vent distaste for or against candidates. A cooking blog is a place for quiet calm amidst the chaos of the world and I’m saddened it has now become your political opinion platform. I will no longer be visiting your blog on a daily basis.

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Sally

Thank you for your comments. I am just devastated over the election – I keep thinking I’ll feel better, but each day I wake up, and it’s more of the same, and not a nightmare.

It’s even more painful given that the nation, as a whole, voted for someone else. I just can’t…

Anyway, the only things that have made me feel better are chocolate and soup. And playing bright-lite with my daughter. Thanks again –

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Uncle Doug

Thanks for the post. I was trying to come up with comfort food for this weekend in the country: Shepards’ Pie it will be (although I’ll revert to my traditional recipe). Two weeks ago we went to our local gastropub and I got to have it with lamb, as it should be (uh..it is SHEPARDS’ pie), but I’m not allowed to do that at home because someone won’t eat lamb.

I’m just getting around to be able to watch news again. I suppose some Scotch would help…but it’s not on my diet.

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SSA

It has been a rough week indeed — I cooked most of yesterday to try to heal. and broke out all of my Thanksgiving files and notes to get in the mood. Each day brings a new realization of potential awfulness to contemplate, but also acts of kindness to keep one’s optimism.

Thanks for your post. I love the font – reminds me of my Bat Mitzvah invitations!

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Maureen @Raising The Capable Student

On Saturday morning, my family had cinnamon rolls and conversation at our kitchen table. My husband reminded us that the president runs the government – not the country, and the president certainly does not dictate how we as individuals choose to treat people. Washington DC has never been the source for our moral compass and that remains true who ever is in the White House.

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Oakland Mom

Thank you for this post, and for this blog, which I have read as much for parenting commiseration as for the recipes (not that we don’t love the recipes – we have all three of your books and your recipes now comprise at least 1/2 of our dinner menus – lamb kibbeh tonight, btw). I figured you were quiet because of the election. Thank you for giving me something to look at other than puppy pictures, which is what I had resorted to since Tuesday night.

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angela

Thank you for this post. Post election, I kept checking your site – looking for your perspective, and realized that your radio silent mode was indicative of your shell shocked reaction too!
I think your blog is so much more than recipes. Thank you for sharing the parenthood journey with us – and helping your readers understand how you are going to navigate the rough seas ahead.
As I tell my daughter, the haters are going to hate, Taylor Swift did get it right, and please dont let any negative comments posted upset your mission, or ruin your day.
I am committed to the mantra “be the change you want to see in the world” by Ghandi – and I have said it countless times to my children over the last week – we all have to be the best version of ourselves. Stronger Together!

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Jenny

Thank you for this, Angela. I’m sorry, again, that I wasn’t here last week. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t mobilize. As for the haters, other than a few comments and “unfollows” on instagram (which I obviously expected) there has been no hate in the Dinner: A Love Story space…not on the blog, not on Facebook. Just respectful disagreement and disappointment. Since I’m trying my very hardest to see silver linings, that, to me, is encouraging. Thanks for writing.

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Sherri

We step the mashed potato crust up a notch! After fully baking Shephard’s Pie we dot the top with butter and put it under the broiler for a few minutes until the potatoes become lightly browned and a light crust forms. This adds a whole new dimension!

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Carolyn

I love that Sherri gets us back to butter on the mashed potatoes!
Here in Australia we have a popular pumpkin variety called ‘Jap’ (the breeder ran out of imagination and named it Just Another Pumpkin.) But I wouldn’t be following your blog site if you were Just Another Cooking site. It’s the reader/writer/parent/partner/political thinker/journalist/philosopher/cook that I follow. I enjoy the filter you provide – the way you process the domestic and the wider world and serve it up to us. To have lived through the searing divisions, hope and dismay of American life over the last week and to have shut that out of your writing would have been inauthentic – and dishonest. Thanks for being, as always, fully authentic and 3D.

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Jessica

Thank you, Jenny. I have tried to think of what else I might say, but as with much of the past week, I have come up relatively empty. So just, thank you. Your words and your philosophy speak to me, and the values my family and I hold. I admit I have found myself checking in over the past week, as I knew whatever you would have to say would be meaningful. I’m grateful to have found this space. And you are right, the dinner table has never been more important.

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Jennifer

Thanks, Jenny, for everything here. I wrote a long response and then deleted it all as it became sadder and more challenging than this space warrants. Just know that your thoughts and ideas are a regular part of my reading/thinking space and that as I raise a fourth grade daughter who plays soccer, loves to read and draw, and believes in girl power, I emulate from afar your approach to parenting!

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Jenny

Carolyn/Jessica/Jennifer – You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you for the words of encouragement that everyone needs right now, and please keep checking in for action plans as well as meal plans. XXXXX

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Penelope

Your pie sounds fantastic – but surely by definition a shepherd’s pie is made of lamb? Regardless, I hope it brings you comfort in this horrible week. I’ve been watching the election from the other side of the world, feeling brokenhearted for a country that means so much to me (my partner and child are both US citizens). Australia, with its conservative government and sickening treatment of refugees, is surely not all that much better.

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kayce

I took a work from home day and made a lasagna, last Tuesday. By the time dinner time rolled around (we’re 5 hours behind the East Coast) I knew I wasn’t going to have an appetite. The little dude ate it up and over the next week we picked at it, neither my husband nor I feeling like eating much. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at lasagna the same again, sadly. But this week, THIS WEEK, we are making simple comfort foods, putting our heads down and getting to work. Not moving on; not sure how one moves on from that, but forward. We have friends coming over for Thanksgiving next week. We are remembering to hold our family close and hunker down for the long haul. It’s the only way to get through these 4 years. Thank you for these last two posts and for helping a stranger feel not so alone.

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Annie G

This was interesting. As a Brit, we count Shepherds Pie as a national dish – and nothing like this! Mind you, sounds delicious. Because I like to spread good food around, here’s a traditional, English Shepherds Pie. Actually, because it is made with minced beef, it should be called Cottage Pie. Minced lamb should go into Shepherds Pie. I hope you give it a go because it is a wonderful and comforting dish for difficult times.
This makes a good, big one. I never measure…
About 1lb of minced beef
One large onion, chopped
Stock cube
Salt and pepper
Potatoes – to make a good wodge of mash
Grated cheese
Chop onions and fry in oil. Add minced beef and brown. Season nicely, add the stock cube and a cup of water – maybe more. You want it to have the consistency of bolognese. Cook it merrily for about 20 minutes, don’t let it dry out.
Prep the spuds and make a lovely pan of creamy, buttery mash, the way you like it. Put the meat mix into the sort of dish you would use with lasagne, top with the spuds and liberally sprinkle with grated cheese. Into hot over to make it all bubble. Serve with green veg or baked beans for ultimate comfort.
Because I have been making this for over 30 years and because the best SP you will ever eat is that made by your own mother, this is a dish to which I add a bit of this and that. A splash of Worcester Sauce or tomato ketchup or teaspoon of mustard to the meat as it cooks. But nothing flashy.
Next time you feel like screaming because Trump is in charge – make this. You know it makes sense.

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Carolyn

Than god someone has raised that Shepherd’s Pie Is Made With Lamb – it’s one of those US vs UK/Australia things, I guess. (Like Ugg boots, they’re slippers.) But somehow it seems like it’s not about the actual pie, but what the pie means – and that seems to be the same for each of us.

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Taylor

Could not agree more that the dinner table (proverbial or more) is more important than ever! Food is great to organize around. The Friday after the election I had some friends over for an impromptu brunch. Barely planned anything, let alone cleaned, but my friend brought over her waffle maker and we all had mimosas and planned what we are going to do now. It was fun and comforting and energizing. Thank you for your posts and for not ignoring what is going on in the world.

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Jehanara Haider

Jenny,

Thank you for putting your thoughts which mirror the thoughts of a lot of us out there. As a Muslim immigrant raising an American Born Muslim son here I have never felt more let down, heart broken and fearful. I fear for his future and his present even though he is not even 3 yet. We have so much healing to do, so much to understand. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the past, a horrific past i.e. The need of the hour is to be kind, be respectful, READ UP, take action and not let all our progress be snatched away from us.

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Amy M

This smelled so good while cooking and was a big, comfort hit. I made two and froze one since it is hard to find 1/2 lb. of meat.

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