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

Learn how team member and first-time mom Christine travels to Ireland and learns how to prepare Shepherd’s Pie in her mother-in-law’s kitchen.

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 opens in a new tab.

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, diced1 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 opens in a new tab 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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