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An Irish-Inspired Family Meal for Saint Patrick's Day

In this ongoing blog series, Christine, a budget-minded first-time mom and Team Member, explores ways to create healthy, organic foods that appeal to both toddler and husband. Read the other posts in her series.

With green pastures, magnificent cliffs and majestic castles, Ireland is a country known for its outer beauty.

Just last month, I was lucky enough to enjoy Ireland’s inner beauty from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Waterford. I discovered a vibrant food culture in Ireland and a plethora of organic vegetables that are grown year-round. After a morning walk on the beach and trip to the local market, my son settled down for a nap.

This provided the perfect opportunity for me to work side-by-side with my mother-in-law to create a well-known Irish Dish: Shepherd’s Pie. As we compared the recipe to the local produce and ingredients I had purchased, my husband and mother-in-law began to laugh at me.

It turns out that Shepherd’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb or mutton and I mistakenly purchased beef. Using minced beef turns this dish into a cottage pie (which is more of a British dish). So my attempts to cook a true Irish meal in an Irish kitchen were foiled! But alas, I carried on with my “almost Irish” meat pie meal.

*The recipe is adapted from the Irish Farmer’s Market Cookbook by Clodagh Mckenna, a trained chef at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, who is instrumental in the slow food movement.

Shepherd's Pie Ingredients:

3 pounds potatoes (about 8 potatoes)

3 large organic carrots, diced

1 large organic white onion, diced

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 pound minced meat (lamb of mutton for a traditional Shepherd’s pie; beef as an alternative)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup hot chicken stock

A few sprigs of fresh parsley

2 tablespoons butter, melted

½ cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

For this recipe, the key is doing the prep work first.

I washed and peeled the potatoes and chopped each potato into eight pieces. WOW! This seems like a lot of potatoes, but after all, potatoes are at the heart of many Irish dishes. Next, I chopped the carrots and onions into small pieces. I added more carrots (than the original recipe included) to make this dish healthier.

Plus, the carrots provide a special flavor to the dish that I quite like. I set aside my vegetables and preheated the oven. In the US, the oven setting is 350°F, which translates to 180°C using the oven in Ireland.

One pot was not enough to cook all of the potatoes, so I filled two pots with water and turned up the heat to bring the water to a boil. In another pan, I heated up the oil and sautéed the beef until it was browned (about 6-8 minutes). I drained the beef, removed to a plate and set it aside.

To the same pan that I cooked the beef, I added the onions and carrots and sautéed for about 5-7 minutes, until they began to soften. When both pots of water were at a full boil, I dropped my potatoes in and set the timer for 16 minutes.

I then added the tomato paste and hot stock (heated in the microwave) to the vegetables and turned the heat down to a simmer. I also put the beef back into the mixture, as well as the parsley, salt and pepper. I slowly simmered this mixture while the potatoes cooked.

The aroma coming from the kitchen was incredible!

The timer went off and my mother-in-law jumped in to help! She is a master of mashed potatoes and admits that she doesn’t like to use a beater (which is fine by me, because it’s less work and less clean-up). She drained the potatoes and placed all of them back into the hot pot (that’s her trick). She added the butter, milk, salt and pepper and began mashing them with a potato masher.

She then worked her magic on the potatoes with a wooden spoon until they were perfectly smooth. I placed the meat and vegetables into a baking dish and carefully topped it with the potatoes. I used a spatula in order to evenly spread the potato mixture on top of the meat. I placed the dish in the oven for 45 minutes, until it was lightly browned on top.

You can add extra butter to the top if you like, but I kept in off in an effort to keep it a bit healthier.

Although this dish is fabulous and filling on its own, my mother-in-law served steamed broccoli on the side. The more veggies the merrier! When we sat down to eat, my husband gave my son a doughy bun covered with flour, called a blaa.

This bread is particular to Waterford City and my son devoured the soft bun. While Shepherd’s Pie is more complicated than many of my other dishes, it’s worth it for a Sunday meal or special occasion, like Saint Patrick’s Day. There was enough food for four adults and one child.

And I must say, it was delicious! For a bit o’ Saint Patrick’s Day fun, try this green smoothie for your family too. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

I am interested in learning about what plans you have in your own kitchen.

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L. Ford says …

Great recipe! I am going to try it with venison for my husband. How's that for bucking 'tradition'? LOVE your blog. Keep em coming!

chuck says …

We are saving this recipe for Saint Patricks Day..."great" idea Christine we love it !! Keep the blog's coming and great picture of your son...."to cute" !!!

Peggy says …

Very interesting that you and your Irish mother-in-law made this recipe together in Waterford, Ireland. Sounds delicious. I want to try it. That was an interesting way to mash the potatoes.

Barb says …

Can't wait to try the recipe for St. Patrick's Day! It's evident in your son's photo that you take the time to feed him healthy & keep him happy. Our daughter in NC does the same, & we see the evidence in our grandchildren, too. Keep up the great work for Whole Foods & also at being a great mom & wife!! By the way, you're really lucky to have such a great mom & mother-in-law!!

Paula says …

Yum! This sounds delicious, Christine. Your son looks like he was having a great time. What a cutie! I have a couple of questions. What cuts of lamb or beef do you suggest? I'm displaying my ignorance here, but can you please tell me how to "mince" the meat? Many thanks.

coconnor13 says …

Using venison...now that's interesting. I am interested to hear how the dish turns out. Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all!

farflung says …

Shepard's pie is in our winter dinner rotation. I always use ground turkey or chicken and usually add peas and carrots to it as well. Tastes great, not that hard to make and we (2 adults & 2 teens) usually get two dinners plus a lunch or two out of it.

says …

@Kelly I've tried a veggie version of Shepherd's Pie that had roughly chopped Brussels Sprouts instead of meat. It was pretty tasty!

Kelly says …

This looks delicious! Can this dish be made without meat? I would like to make a Shepherd's Pie for St. Patrick's day, but I don't eat meat and would like to avoid processed meat alternatives if possible. Any suggestions for making a vegetarian style Shepherd's Pie?

coconnor13 says …

Hi Leslie. I am delighted to hear that you plan to cook Shepard's Pie for Saint Patrick's Day. At this time, the best way to print the recipe is to pull up the recipe and copy and paste the text into Microsoft Word. I will reach out to our web team to see if a "printer-friendly" version of the page can be made available in the future. Thanks for the tip!

coconnor13 says …

Hi Paula! That's a great question. "Minced" meat is the word that was used in the Irish cookbook. It is the same thing as "ground" meat. I asked the butcher at the market to grind the meat for me.

Kerry says …

Paula, minced meat is ground meat. You can buy ground lamb or beef for this. In Ireland it's called minced meat.

Leslie says …

Had planned to make Shepherd's Pie for St. Patrick's Day and now I've found the recipe I want to use! Thanks! would love to see your blog have a link to a printable version of your recipes.

Susan says …

What size baking dish did you use? This sounds delicious. Thanks

says …

@Susan An 8.5 x 11 should make a deep dish but the 9 x 13 will for sure fit all the ingredients.

Ken says …

Kelly, veggie crumbles (simulated ground beef) from one of the vegetarian brands would work but you will want to account for the lack of fat.

Cary says …

Make the mashed potatoes healthier by using the water the potatoes were cooked in. The cooking water is loaded with potato flavor and nutrients.

Ella Speakes says …

Christine, I visited Ireland last year and fell in love with the people, country and food. Shepards pie is so good and tasty there. We stayed in Limmerick and really enjoyed eating in pubs and restaurants with the locals. One of my favorites is Irish Soda Bread and fish and chips. Food for thought: I don't use the microwave, because there are quite a few studies on its disadvantages. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

Anne says …

For St.P's Day I made a version of this, only with cod instead of red meat. Haddock is also a good choice. The only difference is I don't use the tomato. I agree with you comment about lots of carrots; they add color as well as taste. The fish version also has a great aroma while baking.