Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spectacle Spectacular: I'll cut your pie

The Spectacle Spectacular series of dinners that will be unfolding over the next several weeks will be inspired by — and consumed during — Elvis Costello's new show, Spectacle. For the first episode, which had Elton John as a guest, we decided to make a classic English comfort food dish, shepherd's pie. Although I realized this morning that we had totally missed the opportunity to make something cheesy and a treacle tart to follow, since cheesy and treacly are a couple of the first words that come to mind when I think of him. Oh well. He was actually very interesting on the show, so I'm kind of glad we didn't. I might have felt a little bad picking away at an Elton John is a Total One of These cheeseball while he was awesomely praising Leon Russell. And since Liz had an extra pie crust left over from Thanksgiving and some apples to use up and I still had all of those poached quinces, we decided to make an apple-quince pie to go with it.

However. Now we apparently had a pie theme going and no way to tie that to the show. A bit of google-fu later, though, I had the lyrics to "You're So Static," which has a line about women cutting your pie if you spend the summer in New York City. And we said a tenuous link is still a link: evening of pie it was. And, oh, it was...

Shepherd's pie starts out with browning some lamb with onions and carrots, then simmering the mixture with stock and seasonings and some frozen peas. Although, I was actually just having an email exchange with a certain co-blogger who shall not be named about whether shepherd's pie should actually start with a pastry crust. [spoiler: IT SHOULD NOT.] It escalated to the point where I have now vowed to fight abject abomination wherever I should find it, including in the hearts and minds of anyone who believes that shepherd's pie should include a pastry crust. But now I'm curious? What say you all? Are you all equally misguided? Am I doomed to fight alone?
Then you spread mashed potatoes on top, forming the only acceptable crust-like component of a shepherd's pie:
Decorate it if you like:
My original plan was to try to sculpt Elton John's face out of mashed potatoes, but we had only made enough for a layer that just covered the meat and veg, so I did a pair of spectacles out of paprika instead.

Half an hour in the oven later:

Shepherd's Pie
via Epicurious
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 c. beef or chicken broth
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 t chopped fresh or dry rosemary
  • 1 T chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk (any fat content)
  • Kosher salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375°F
2. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the onion, carrot, and meat. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Drain the fat and add the broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer until the juices thicken, about 10 minutes, then add the peas.
4. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish; set aside.
5. Meanwhile, bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes; drain.
6. Mash the potatoes with the butter, milk, and salt.
7. Spread them over the meat mixture, then crosshatch the top with a fork.
8. Bake until golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

We also made an apple/quince pie, but I don't have a real recipe, just photos of the process.
In this case, it is appropriate to start with a crust, like this one:
Break out your handy-dandy apple-slicing device if you have one:
Add some stuff (I remember a lot of cinnamon and meyer lemon juice. And beer, though that was being consumed separately.) and pat into the crust.
I had donated my poached quinces to the cause, which went on top. Using them meant that we didn't need sugar added to the apples, since the quinces still had some syrup clinging to them.
There was also a crumbly topping with brown sugar and butter and oatmeal.It baked for a while at some temperature and then we ate it with hazelnut ice cream.

[originally published on my old food blog 12.5.2008]

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