Drew's Mini Shepherd's Pie-Muffins
3 pounds of Yukon Gold or similar yellow potatoes
1 cup lamb stock or beef broth
1 stick unsalted butter
About half a cup of parsley
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
A few cloves of garlic
1 medium-sized white onion
1 stick of celery
(Substitutions can be made to the vegetables, see below)
2 pounds ground lamb or beef
A bit of all-purpose flour - about a quarter cup as needed
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cans of Pillsbury Grands biscuits (the kind that are eight to a can, so you have 24 biscuits total)
Some olive oil
Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg, and Paprika as needed
This recipe began as a Shepherd's Pie recipe I've been making for years at home, as a good, filling, yet reasonably inexpensive way to make dinners and lunches for several days fairly inexpensively. Recently I was invited to a potluck event, where the requested theme was for Irish food. Shepherd's Pie was a reasonable fit, but I wanted to make something that could be hand-held and eaten without needing a bowl or utensils. My wife suggested making individual hand-held pie-muffins, and so this recipe was born.
This recipe takes about 3 hours to do and makes 24 pies.
Step 1: Mashed Potato topping
Wash the potatoes. Peel them and chop them into chunks. I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes for this, but any large yellow potato will work. Make sure you peel the potatoes completely, any remaining peel in the topping will have an unpleasant texture. I once experimented with multicolor fingerling potatoes, which gave the pie an interesting blend of colors but were very difficult to peel properly.
Put the chopped potatoes in a sufficiently large pot. Pour in the beef or lamb broth. I used to use Scotch Broth soup for this, as it contained lamb broth plus various chopped vegetables all in one, but the brand of soup I used has since been discontinued. For this batch I'm using the last of a batch of lamb stock that my wife prepared some months ago from some lamb shanks, but canned broth will work just as well. The one difference is that canned broth has a lot of salt added for some reason, so keep in mind that home-made stock may require salt added to match the same taste.
After adding the broth, add enough water to cover the potatoes. Add salt if needed, and add pepper to taste.
Cover the pot. Simmer over medium heat 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
Remove from heat. Drain the liquid through a strainer. Save about half a cup of the liquid for later.
Melt one stick of butter. Wash and chop the parsley. Add the butter, the parsley, one egg, a pinch of nutmeg, and half a cup of the shredded cheddar cheese to the potatoes.
Now mash the potatoes and other ingredients well until you have a smooth mixture.
This will make up the topping layer on the mini-muffins. Set this aside for the assembly step later.
Step 2: Meat and Vegetable Filling
We start with the vegetables. In addition to the potato topping, a shepherd's pie should contain a mixture of various cheap vegetables - onions, garlic, celery, carrots, parsnips, or whatever else you have spare. As this is a recipe meant for using up leftovers and scraps, the exact mixture of vegetables can very depending on what you have on hand.
Unfortunately, the only appropriate vegetables I had on hand when making this recipe was some garlic. My wife and I don't normally eat much of this kind of vegetable - we're more into dark green leafy vegetables these days. I could have bought them all separately, but it seemed a bit silly to me to buy an entire pack of carrots for just one, or an entire bundle of celery for only one or two stalks. So I cheated.
There we go. Carrots, Celery, Onion, Parsnips, Turnips, Leeks, Parsley and Dill. All the required vegetables in a single package, in just about the right quantities. Feel free to call me a heathen and prepare your pies from fresh vegetables instead.
I just needed to chop them further and add the garlic. You don't really want large chunks of vegetable in the filling for this recipe.
You should have about 2 cups of chopped vegetables when done.
Add some olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook until soft.
Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
Add a bit more olive oil to the pan, then add the ground meat. Traditionally, a Shepherd's pie should be made with ground lamb. I couldn't find any ground lamb locally when I made this recipe. As the idea of this kind of recipe is to stretch cheap meat with potatoes and other vegetables, I decided it was perfectly in the spirit of the recipe to use cheap fatty ground beef instead. Technically that makes this a Cottage Pie instead.
To the beef add the Worcestershire sauce and about half a cup of the liquid from cooking the potatoes. Traditional recipes usually call for sage or rosemary at this point, but my wife is deathly allergic to those spices so I don't use them. Feel free to add them if you like. Brown the meat, mixing it to ensure even cooking.
Add flour as you cook to thicken the mixture. You want to end up with a semi-solid paste-like texture, as these pies need to hold together once cooked. When the meat is just about cooked return the cooked vegetables to the pan and mix well.
This will make up the filling of the mini-pies. Remove from heat and set aside.
Step 3: Pie Crusts
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Spray your mini muffin trays with cooking spray. I use four disposable aluminum trays that hold six muffins each when I make this, but there's no reason you can't use non-disposable muffin trays instead. Open a container of biscuit dough. Remove the biscuits one at a time, and with your finger spread each one out into a disc of about twice their original diameter. Press the dough disks into the muffin tins to make dough-cups.
Once all the biscuits are in the tins, place them all in the oven. Cook them for 6-8 minutes, then remove from the oven. You do NOT want them to be fully cooked at this point, they should be just starting to turn brown on the outsides but still raw in the middle. Keep the oven hot, you'll be needing it again soon.
While cooking, the centers of the pies will have swelled up. With a spoon (or your fingers, once the pies have cooled enough) press the centers back down to make them into cups.
Step 4: Assembly and final baking
Fill each pie-crust just full to the edge of the crust with the meat and vegetable filling. You should have just enough filling to fill all 24 pies.
Next, scoop enough potato topping mixture onto each pie to cover the meat. Again, you should have just enough to evenly cover all 24 pies.
Onto the pies sprinkle a bit of paprika, and then the rest of the shredded cheese.
Now return the pies to the oven, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the dough is browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the baking trays.
Makes 24 muffins.
These can be eaten immediately while hot, reheated at a party, or stuck in the fridge for a week and eaten cold for lunch. So far this recipe has been a huge hit at every potluck I've brought it to, but it also works well as a way of making a week's worth of dinners and lunches in one evening.