My oldest friend from University was here for dinner last week. Over a few glasses of hard cider the conversation turned to the summer, the weather, and how much he loved the heat this year. He’s a bit of a sun worshiper and found the winters when we lived in the limestone city to challenge his mental health just a little, simply because it was so dark and depressing there during the snowy season. I couldn’t feel more opposite, and found this past summer to be an especially trying one. Simply put, I just don’t enjoy the excessively warm temperatures or the scorching sun, and I spend two solid months feeling my insides wilt not unlike the droopy basil plants in our backyard garden.
I’m convinced I might actually suffer from seasonally affected disorder in the reverse, and after chatting with Jeff last week I did a quick Google search on the subject, and lo and behold about one percent of the population feels the same way I do. Summer scrooges unite! I literally count down the seconds until sweater weather arrives, and as soon as it does I instantly notice an improvement in my mood, manner, and general well-being. I also feel inspired, capable of accomplishment and am excited to cook again, because goodness knows I do lose a little love for standing in front of the stove when the mercury is on the rise.
Last weekend, I spent almost all of my free hours in the kitchen, baking cakes, roasting chicken, and testing recipes for casserole-like creations. It was heavenly. Ben requested shepherd’s pie for Sunday supper and I was only too happy to oblige, especially since he’s away from home this week at a leadership camp with his school. I wanted him to leave with a full tummy of something, well, yummy, and you can bet my Southwest-inspired version of one of our favourite fall dinners hit the spot.
The best thing about this dish is that includes far more veggies than the traditional recipe, replaces half the beef with beans and practically demands that you use sweet potatoes in the mashed topping. In essence, it’s such a healthy, colourful, and flavourful take on a casserole we’re all familiar with, but it’s also one you’ll feel really good about feeding your family. Especially this fall when the weather turns glorious once again and the days are cool enough to warrant turning on the stove.
Southwest-Style Shepherd’s Pie
Makes one 9x9-inch casserole
I like to use 1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes and 1 lb. russet or Yukon gold potatoes in this dish, but you can use any variety of potato that pleases your family the most. While I do peel my spuds for this Shepherd’s pie there’s no harm in leaving them on for a rustic spin on the dish.
- 2 ½ lbs. potatoes, peeled and quartered
- Kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 – 19 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese
1. Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in a medium pot. Cover with an inch or two of cold water and add a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are fork-tender, 10-15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Drizzle in the olive oil and swirl to combine with the butter. Add the onions and carrots and cook until tender, 7 to 9 minutes. Toss in the zucchini and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
3. Add ground beef to the pan with the vegetables and cook until no longer pink, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Add kidney beans, chili powder, ground cumin and tomato paste and stir well to combine, cooking for 1-2 minutes to infuse the beef and vegetables with the spices.
4. Sprinkle the flour over the beef mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour in the beef broth and corn kernels, stir well and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Check seasonings and add salt and fresh ground pepper, if desired.
5. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain well and return to the pot. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon kosher salt. Mash with a fork or potato masher and set aside.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the beef and vegetable mixtures in an even layer over the bottom of a 9x9-inch baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top and sprinkle with the grated cheddar cheese. Cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 - 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.