"Meat pies in England date back to the Middle Ages. The pies consisted of meat, either lamb or beef, but also game was used. Cooked for hours over a slow fire, the pies were seasoned with spices and served in pastry. The Elizabethans favored pies made of mince meat, spices, raisins and prunes, hence "mincemeat".
Shepherd's pie made with cold lamb or mutton and topped with mashed potatoes didn't appear in England until the acceptance of potatoes in that country. Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the early 1500's by the Spanish, but didn't appeal to the English palate until the 18th century. A frugal dish designed to use up leftover meat, Shepherd's Pie originated in the north of England and Scotland where there were large numbers of sheep.
Cottage Pie and Shepherd's Pie are synonymously used to describe a dish made with minced meat and mashed potato topping, but to clarify the difference, Cottage Pie, the much older term for the pie, is made with minced beef and Shepherd's Pie with minced lamb. Today, it doesn't matter whether you call the pie Shepherd's or Cottage. The most important thing is the pie tastes wonderful and is a hearty and satisfying dish for winter meals. A veritable blank canvas, what goes into the meat mixture for Cottage or Shepherd's is up to the imagination and fancy of the cook."
3 tablespoons olive
2 pounds ground beef
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic,minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
Mashed potato topping
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced large
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Freshly grated nutmeg, optional
Brown ground beef in batches, drain off fat and set aside. Heat the oil in the pan and add the vegetables. Cook on medium-low heat until softened, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, flour and tomato paste, increase the heat and cook for a few minutes. Return the browned beef to the pan. Pour in the red wine, boil slightly to reduce the wine, then add the stock, Worcestershire sauce, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer; cook uncovered for 45 minutes. Discard bay leaves and thyme sticks.
To make the mashed potato topping. In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes in salted cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Drain well, mash with the butter, milk and three fourths of the cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. If using the nutmeg, add a light sprinkle.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Place the beef mixture in a large oven proof casserole or 8 small casserole dishes. Spoon the mashed potato topping over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and mashed potatoes are lightly browned.
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