Friday, November 20, 2009

No Longer Sheepish About Shepherd's Pie

Homemade Ground Beef and Lamb Cottage Shepherd's Pie
(quite a mouthful!)

Not too long ago, I had one of the best Shepherd's Pies ever. In truth, I think I've only eaten about 5 in my whole life, (including one that was made with Yves Veggie Ground Round), and everyone of them was damn fine. This latest one was had at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe, one of my favourite eating spots downtown. The service, being cafeteria style, is efficient, it's in a great location, you can dine alfresco on a clear day, they have delectable desserts, and they serve drinks! Considering the food is pre-made and heated after you order it, it is all very good. And so was the Shepherd's Pie. What I liked most about their pie was that it was made with ground lamb. I'd only ever had it made with beef (or soy protein) before that. It was also served in a ramekin so when all the pie was gone, there was still the tasty jus resting at the bottom, ready to be souped up. I was inspired (again!) and decided to try making Shepherd's Pie at home. After all, the 5 or so I'd eaten had been good; I hoped mine could be too.

After researching some recipes, I found a few good ones, and fused them to create my own. Along the way, I also learned that traditionally Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb, and owns its moniker because shepherds' wives made it with, well sheep. The version with beef is actually called Cottage Pie! I decided to fuse my newly acquired meat pie name knowledge into my own dish to make Cottage Shepherd's Pie. Here's the recipe:

Rosemary and Italian Parsley are the key herbs
  • 1 large onion, diced up
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp worchestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 tsp fresh or dry rosemary, chopped up
  • 2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped up
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 big carrot, cut into small pieces
  • 2 lbs yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut up
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large sauté pan, heat a little oil over medium-high heat and add the onion, garlic, carrot, and meat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until brown. Drain the fat and add the broth, tomato paste, w. sauce, herbs and seasonings. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the juices thicken, then add the peas and corn. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish and set it aside.

Bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cook for about 20 minutes or until tender, and drain. Mash the potatoes with the butter, milk, and salt. Add a clove or 2 of garlic if you wish. Spread over the meat mixture.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden.

Considering how tasty Shepherd's Pie is, I always thought it'd be much harder to make, but not so at all! And I'm so glad I tried. Now, it's 6 (Cottage) Shepherd's Pies I've had, and counting...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Meals are Mighty at Aphrodite

Brie, Blueberry and Buffalo Sausage Frittata on the top, and Turkey Pot Pie on the bottom.

The first time I heard of Aphrodite Cafe and Pie Shop was from the owner, Allan Christian, who was promoting his pies at at an organic market on the Drive. I tried a sample and was won over not only by the delectable taste of the pie, but by his use of natural ingredients and his commitment to using local and organic products. He was such a kind and interesting man to talk to as well, and so obviously passionate about his work. I vowed that I would make a trip to his cafe asap. Since my first visit there, I have been back several times and I've always left a happy and satisfied customer. Unfortunately for me, being located on 4th Avenue near Dunbar means it's a trip to get to, otherwise it'd most certainly be one of my regular haunts.

The country kitchen feel of the cafe makes for a comfy and cozy dining experience. Lunch and brunch is pretty casual. At dinnertime, the offerings are slightly more upscale, and noticeable in the plating and pricing. Lunch is not cheap either, but considering the quality of the food and the care put into each creation, the dishes are priced right. Much of the produce also travels from farm to plate the same day, and all seafood dishes carry the Ocean Wise symbol. Conscientious and tasty? These things make good in my books.

On a weekend afternoon visit (a few months ago now), it took a little while to get a seat, but it was worth the wait. (It's popular and lineups are common.) I was in the mood for something hearty and warming, so chose the Turkey Pot Pie made of local organic turkey and veggies. The filling, practically bursting out of its shell had a perfectly stewy consistency, and the crust was as a crust should be: flaky, tasty and light. It was no surprise it came from a pie shop and it hit the spot. (I did have to add salt, but I like salt.) My brunchtime pal, who had a Frittata with plump blueberries, brie and Oyama's organic buffalo sausage, was plenty pleased with his creamy rich, savoury, sweet, and mildly spiced dish. They also both came with a sizable and super fine salad that was no mere side, and you could tell how fresh it was from the colour and the flavour. It was also topped with the best dressing ever, Little Creek. (I call it Crack Dressing and always have a bottle in the fridge. It's totally tasty, great with any salad, and made in B.C.!) That they use this local, all-natural product is another indication that Aphrodite's knows good quality, good taste, and considers the good of this ol' planet of ours. Oh if it were only a little closer to home...

Brunch for two including homemade chai, coffee, tip and tax came to about $45.00.

For more information about Aphrodite's, go to: