Our first winter together, Jamie and I spent our first Christmas apart, since he was in North Dakota visiting his family. After we had our own pre-Christmas dinner and present opening beside the tree next to the fireplace at his condo, (at which time he gave me my beloved, apple-green Kitchen Aid mixer, not knowing, I'm sure, the baking adventure he began for me with such a perfect gift) we drove to the airport the next day and hugged each other tightly at the security gate.
Although I knew he would be back in a few days, I couldn't help the tears that escaped at the thought of not spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together. I drove home from the airport that night, a snowstorm covering the highway in snow and ice, and arrived home, still lonely and missing him, but thankful for a warm apartment and a kitty who was very happy to see me.
A few days later, after all the presents had been opened, too many slices of pie with whipped cream eaten and many late night conversations catching up with family, he came home to me, and we cozied up at my place for the weekend. It was still freezing out, the snow from the storm days earlier still lingering on the ground and crunching under our boots.
For dinner that night, we made shepherd's pie. It was nothing fancy, just your basic layers of beef, onions, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. But I didn't want fancy and complicated that night, just warm and simple comfort food to fill our stomachs before snuggling on the couch under a blanket, a warm fuzzball purring at my feet and Jamie's hands holding mine.
Last week, I thought I would recreate that recipe, but step it up a little from beef and carrots. Instead of beef, I simmered ground lamb, onions and garlic in a rich, savory red wine sauce. Roasted butternut squash, seasoned with sprigs of fresh thyme, replaced the carrots. Rustic mashed potatoes, perfectly imperfect with lumps and red potato skins, creamy with buttermilk and Parmesan cheese, topped off the savory layers beneath.
Before the shepherd's pie, we dipped the leaves of a steamed artichoke into garlicky aioli, one of our favorite pre-dinner snacks, and sampled goat cheese tartlets, a creamy and rich mixture of goat cheese, sour cream, lemon and green onions, that I piped into pre-made tartlet shells and topped off with a pomegranate aril.
With those memories of our first Christmas and cozy dinner after a few days apart, shepherd's pie will always make me feel warm and fuzzy inside - it's such a perfectly warming dinner on any night when you need a little bit of comfort.
Goat Cheese Tartlets
- 4 ounces creamy goat cheese (not crumbled)
- 3 heaping tablespoons light sour cream
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, green and white parts (1-2 stalks)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- 16 pre-baked shortbread tartlet shells
- optional garnishes - pomegranate arils, smoked salmon, fresh basil, herbs...
In a bowl, combine the goat cheese, sour cream, green onions and lemon juice until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large open star tip and pipe into the tartlet shells. Top each with a pomegranate aril, if desired, or even a little smoked salmon, fresh basil or other herbs.
Cook's Note: Another option, instead of filling tartlet shells, is to use this as a dip for crackers and veggies. For a dip, prepare as directed above and add eight ounces reduced fat cream cheese, additional herbs, and a little more lemon; mix with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
Yields 16 tartlets
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen
Shepherd's Pie with Lamb and Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Butternut Squash:
- 1 butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 3-4 sprigs of thyme
- 4-5 medium-sized red potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup frozen peas
Roast the Squash:
Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the butternut squash, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender enough to be pierced with a fork.
Prepare the Potatoes:
Meanwhile, cut the potatoes (peeled, if you like) into 1-inch pieces. Place in a stock pot, cover with water, adding a little salt, and bring to a boil. Boil over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then mash with the butter, buttermilk and Parmesan, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Prepare the Lamb Filling:
While the potatoes are boiling, you can prepare the meat filling. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the lamb, and cook until browned, 4-5 more minutes. Use a spoon to drain off the fat. Sprinkle the lamb with the flour, and stir to coat. Stir in the tomato paste, water or chicken broth, wine, garlic, spices, Worcestershire sauce and molasses; bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer over medium/medium-low for 15-20 minutes, until sauce is thick and flavorful; taste and add more seasoning if needed. Stir in the peas during the last couple of minutes.
The oven should still be preheated to 400 from roasting the squash. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Spread the lamb filling in the dish. Top with the roasted butternut squash. Spread the mashed potatoes over the squash, sealing it around all the edges.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are browned and the filling is bubbling. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
Yields about 6-8 servings.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen