Mrs McGillicuddy's oldest son is a trained chef. We all benefit from his know-how and fancy vocabulary like 'reduction'. Here's the haute cuisine way to make shepherd's pie. It's good any time of the year, even summer.
Mrs McGillicuddy's Shepherd's Pie
1. Make your mashed potatoes. It is really helpful for these to be cold when you cook the rest because they will keep separate from the rest of the food. Of course, to make the mashed potatoes peel then cut potatoes in uniform chunks (or close). Boil potatoes in salted water until they are soft through, then mash them while they are HOT. Salt to taste and add butter and cream or milk. You want the potatoes to be smooth but not too runny for later. Set them aside for cooling.
2. In a skillet sauté an onion, after a few minutes add several cloves of garlic, wait a minute then add ground beef or ground lamb or chicken – whatever you are using. The meat should be thoroughly browned and mixed with the onions and garlic for flavor when you are done. You'll want to drain some of the fat off if it is fattier hamburger, but you don't want to drain it all or the dish will be dry. A lot of times when you have fresh beef from a local farm, for example, the meat is very lean and you won't need to do this step. Grocery store stuff tends to need more care so you just need to use your judgement on this. Don't forget to salt and pepper the meat!
3. After you have the meat, onions and garlic ready, add a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. (This is one of those inaccurate cooking terms. You could use the word glob or dollop or something.) Add a cup, or more if needed if it seems dry, of beef broth (chicken broth usually is used if you are using ground lamb but it works either way), Worcestershire sauce, a few teaspoons full (again, inexact, just give it a few shakes) and parsley. I grow it fresh so I use that, but dry is fine and I would be very generous with it. Some recipes I've seen use rosemary (I've used that from fresh as well) and that's great with the lamb but not as good a match with the beef. Thyme is another one that is used more with lamb and I really am not as big a fan and am wondering which came first the song or the recipes?
Also add some bouillon cubes that are gluten free. Better Than Bouillon™ is my personal favorite but other cubes or pastes will do. Just use beef. I think this is what gives the dish a lot of flavor.
4. Add a small bag of frozen vegetables. You can just put them in right from the freezer. Don't add chunks of ice, but water will just cook out when it reduces so no issue.
General notes about making the bottom layer:
Don't put in liquid until all the meat is brown. A cup of something is what it says in all the recipes. If it is dry add more. Remember, the way things cook and mix is through reduction. When you add bouillon cubes or paste, add water. You can just mix in the pan but if you feel better mix it first. I'm a great fan of less dishes.
You don't want it to be runny when you are done. Reduce the heat when the meat is brown but it has to be hot enough to mix everything. When you add the vegetables, you need enough liquid left to mix them in. If you mess this up add some water and simmer.
Cool the mix before you put on the potatoes.
5. In a baking dish spoon the cooled bottom layer. Before you add the mashed potatoes mix in a small bag of cheese with them. It's pretty obvious how much since you are adjusting to the amount of mashed potatoes, but I like it to be generous.
6. When you put the mashed potatoes on top of the bottom layer you want it to be about half the size of the bottom layer. If you use a spoon and put large dollops of the potatoes around, you can run the spoon under cold water and use the back of it slightly wet to smooth the potato cheese mixture. Cover the bottom layer completely.
7. Heat the oven to 400 (ish)1. You need it to be hot enough to brown on top. If you want to make sure the top doesn't burn ahead of the dish being done you might want to cover it first. This has enough acidic stuff in it that you shouldn't let aluminum foil touch the food. You can 'tent' it and then uncover after it is heated through. I would say about a half hour and just a few minutes to brown. Don't store it with foil on the top either, even cold.
Since this dish was used for compiling leftovers, I suggest that is what you should do. There is no rule about which vegetables need to be in it and I make it with green beans, peas, corn, carrots, fresh and frozen (if you use anything fresh they need some precooking separately), and leftover potatoes.