Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Served in a cast-iron skillet.
It doesn't get more "down-home" than that.
As the weather gets colder, heartier meals seem to crop up on the menu more and more. Shepherd's pie is a dish that I'd probably never think to make when it's sunny and hot outside, but when the air gets cooler, it jumps to the forefront of my mind.

Traditional shepherd's pie would be made with mashed potatoes. Potatoes, of course, aren't on the paleo menu. Luckily, the fall and early winter months are a great time to find winter squashes. Butternut squash is great for making an alternative to mashed potatoes, and any of the other winter squashes (except spaghetti squash) would do a good job too. You could even use that pumpkin that's been sitting around decorating your house.

Nutritionally, this will be a little higher in carbohydrates than your average paleo meal. It's probably a good idea to eat this when you've had an active day if you're trying to lose weight. It's very filling, so I think you'd have a hard time eating too much of it, even though it's good enough that you may want to try.

I'm using a couple of lazy-man's ingredients in this one.

1 large butternut squash (or 2 smaller ones)
1 lb ground beef
10 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 cups beef stock
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder


Cookie Sheet
Large, Oven-Safe Pan (Cast-Iron Skillet recommended)
Large Bowl (or Pot)
Potato Masher

Heat your oven to 375. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut-side-up on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. They will take about an hour to cook, so plan accordingly.

These things are a pain to peal, but they can be scooped out easily once they're baked for a while.

The rest of this will take about 15-20 minutes, so you should probably start once the squash have been baking for about forty minutes.

Place an oven-safe pan over high heat. Add the hamburger to the pan, and cook it until it has browned.

Be sure to break up the hamburger as it cooks.

Once the hamburger has browned, remove it from the pan, but leave any liquid in the pan. A slotted spoon is a good tool for doing this. Add the sliced mushroom to the pan. Allow them to cook for about two minutes, stirring them occasionally.

I think these are cremini mushrooms (AKA "baby portabellas").
White mushrooms or chunks of full sized portabellas would also work.

Add one cup of the beef stock to the pan. Stir everything a few times to get anything that is stuck to the pan to dissolve in the stock.

Mushrooms are like sponges. In this case, we want them to soak up beefy goodness.

Continue cooking the mushrooms until the stock has almost disappeared.

This is what it should look like. Any stock left in the pan will be very thick.

Move the mushrooms to the sides of the pan. Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the middle of the pan. Allow them to cook for about a minute before stirring them into the mushrooms.

I bought my vegetables pre-chopped. I'm sure I paid a premium for it, but it was worth it.

Allow the vegetables and mushrooms to cook together for another 1-2 minutes, then add the tomato paste to the pan.

That's about half a can of tomato paste, which is kind of a weird amount,
but putting the whole can would make this into some sort of pasta sauce.

Add the beef back into the pan, along with another 1 1/2 cups of the stock. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and stir everything to combine the ingredients evenly.

You should also take this opportunity to flatten everything a little, so that the squash can sit on top.

Take the pan off of the heat while you prepare the squash.

To prepare the squash, take the halves out of the oven, and use a large spoon to scoop chunks of the meat out of the shells into a pot or large bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock to the squash and use a potato masher to mash everything until it is smooth.

I like to use a pot because the straight sides make it easier to mash the squash.

Spread the mashed squash on top of the meat and vegetables in the pan. Try to completely and evenly cover the top.

A little of the sauce will bubble up around the edges.
You might want to put a cookie sheet under the pan to catch any escaping liquid.

Place the pan into the oven at 375 for about twenty minutes. The edges of the squash mixture will brown very slightly. Most of it will remain orange even when it's done.

  • I bought my carrot, onion, and celery pre-chopped because it was convenient. If you're chopping the vegetables yourself, you'll probably need about 2 large carrots, one medium onion, and two large ribs of celery.
  • If you want to use minced fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, I'd suggest using about 3 cloves.
  • I recommend lining your cookie sheet with parchment paper when cooking the butternut squash. It will make cleanup easier.
  • If you don't want to bake the squash, you can also cut it in half and cook it in the microwave. I can't say exactly how long it would take, but 10-15 minutes is probably about right. just cook it until it's soft.