Friday, September 14, 2012

Back to School: Shepherd's Pie

by Sheila Connolly
The only hard and fast school tradition when I was growing up was the cookie tin (which I still have) filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies (the Nestle package recipe, of course).  I'd come in the door, grab a couple of cookies and a Coke, and do my homework.  Did I mention I like sugar?

For my elementary school years, I attended a variety of schools that had a cafeteria, so I didn't have to take lunch (much to my mother's joy, no doubt, since she was so not a morning person!).  The only item that stands out from my time at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania was the cream-cheese-and-apple-butter sandwiches, but I think you can figure out how to make that one for yourselves.

Which leaves my fourth-grade school, Springside, in Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia.  Again, I have few memories of meals there, but what I do remember was that it was the first time I encountered Shepherd's Pie.  And I liked it.

That seems odd to me now, since at home we did eat lamb stew and lamb chops and leg of lamb, but maybe ground lamb was too exotic or hard to come by.  Now, however, it's a family staple, and it's most often my husband who makes it.

One point that mystifies me:  you find a lot of recipes that call for ground beef in Shepherd's Pie.  Uh, excuse me, but doesn't that make it Cowherd's Pie?  I know there are people who dislike the taste of lamb, but in that case, find another name.  Still, this recipe will still taste good with ground beef, ground chicken or turkey, buffalo (we find it in our market), and for all I know, crumbled tofu (haven't tried that).




1 pound ground lamb (or substitute a meat of your choice, ground)

1 Tblsp cooking oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 Tblsp tomato paste

1 Tblsp flour

1 cup beef broth

2 cups cooked mixed vegetables (Note: you can buy a variety of combinations, frozen, at the market, and most include chopped carrots and peas; you can add corn to the mix, since its slightly sweet flavor matches well with the lamb.)

Salt and pepper to taste


5 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed (the potatoes must be loose enough to spread over the dish. Feel free to add milk and butter, and definitely some salt and pepper.)  If you happen to have leftover mashed potatoes, they'll do fine.

1 Tblsp butter to top


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brown the ground lamb in oil, and drain off any excess.  Stir in the onions and cook for about five minutes, until the onions are soft.  Stir in the tomato paste, flour and broth.  And the cooked vegetables, and salt and pepper.

Transfer the mixture into a large, deep casserole.  Top with the mashed potatoes (if you want to get fancy, you can pipe the potatoes on top with a pastry bag), and dot with butter.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

This recipe should serve 4 to 6 people.  It tastes even better left over!


One funny story about the doughty kitchen ladies of Springside School.  I lived in the burbs, and one day I found in my backyard a small (maybe a foot long?) baby black snake, which I proudly took to school to show off—probably because my mother wouldn't let me keep it in the house.  Somehow it escaped from its terrarium in my classroom, on the second floor, and made its way to the kitchen, in the basement, where the lunch ladies found it.  Did they panic?  Nope—they traced it to me, and politely requested that I remove it, which I did, setting it free at the edge of the playground.  Kudos to them for not smashing it with the nearest cooking utensil.
Our class production of Alice in Wonderland--that's me on the
right, as Alice.  BTW, I designed the scenery.  I have no
idea why I put a fountain in it.


  1. Because fountains are cool? Love the stories...and fountains. I'm not big on veggies, especially cooked ones (I know, I'm bad). I wonder what I could do to replace it...or just leave them out.

  2. Fabulous post, Sheila. The recipe sounds delish, but the pictures of you are even better! (You look exactly the same, except for the very short bangs. Which I also had at that age.) A fountain in Alice and Wonderland? Why not? Everything else was so odd...

  3. You forgot venison! I imagine that would make good shepherd's pie (or would it then be hunter's pie?) I have a recipe for a lower calorie version in Allergic to Death. I use ground turkey, low fat gravy, a bit of ketchup and worcestershire. Of course the original shepherd's pie was a way of using up the leftover roast or joint and mashed potatoes from Sunday dinner.

  4. I'm on the same wavelength as Edith! Why not a fountain in such an odd place? You were clearly imaginative! And what cute pictures. I love the idea of you as Alice!

    I never had Shepherd's Pie until I was an adult, and you know, I believe I've only had Cowherd's Pie! I'll have to try it sometime with lamb. Mashed potatoes are kind of like bacon to me, everything's better with mashed potatoes!

    ~ Krista

  5. Are you sure you aren't Irish, Krista? I'll eat potatoes in almost any form, especially if there's butter involved.

    In case anybody wonders, potatoes and milk actually make a balanced diet--that's what kept a lot of Irish peasants alive, before the Potato Famine. Of course, you had to eat about five pounds of them a day.

    I hadn't even thought of venison! I've had it only a few times, and never tried cooking it (most recipes seem to start with "marinate for three days"), but I know there are hunters around here. I have friends who make their own venison sausage--maybe I can ask for some for a Hunter's Pie.

  6. Sheila, I love the snake story. Love the "Cowherd's pie" comment LOL! And have to say this looks like a great recipe. Fun. I also adore the Alice in Wonderland picture. How sweet. When I was in 7th grade, I did the wrote the play, directed and acted in a production of The Night Before Christmas. It was all puns. So much fun. [No, I didn't play Santa! I played a mouse stirring...] Don't have a picture. Isn't that a shame?

    Daryl aka Avery

  7. I have read that when you use ground beef it is called "Cottage Pie". I read this in a cook book a few years ago. I love looking at everyone's school pictures.

  8. Sheila - you were so stinkin' cute! Love you as Alice.

    And, yes, you can used tofu to make a "Shepherd's pie." I'll post the recipe for my version for Thanksgiving, as it's the recipe the hubs and I go to every year in lieu of turkey. :)