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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.