Throughout my life, my family has taken me to a lot of places, but there are two experiences that have always stuck with me in part because of their meaning, the setting, and how they affected people around me. My mother, sister, and I took a train to DC to meet my uncle. It was my first time in the capitol, so we saw the sights. At one point, my sister and I were bickering as we do, annoying each other for fun after a day devoted museums and monuments. Mist was coming down and the sky was grey, when my mom told us to hush and have some respect, now wasn’t the time for childish playing. We were at The Vietnam Memorial. Thousands and thousands and thousands of names of brothers, sons, and husbands were engraved in a massive slab of rock. It was terrifying to see so many peoples’ lives reduced to that, emotional even though I had no personal connection, haunting because I can still see it now. For a few minutes, my sister and I walked alongside one another, but completely oblivious of our surroundings. The precipitation coming down now made sense, because the Memorial seemed to demand a somber atmosphere, weather included.
On a road trip after I graduated from IU, I was in Philadelphia to see the same uncle and my Irish aunt. We probably did something like get a slice of the best cheese pizza I’ve ever had, a cheese steak from Jim’s surrounded by celebrities’ autographs, and wander around South Street, “the hippest street in Philadelphia,” but on the way back we made a stop at The Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing. Again, the heavens decided I should not see another memorial without drizzle, which seemed to give tears to the scenes. One, in which children, women, and men starved by the hundreds of thousands, in the darkest of days, teetering on the edge of life and death that led to the Great Migration. Millions of Irish immigrated to America, as the memorial melted into a ship full of families, tears of joy overcame the people seeing Ellis Island and America for the first time, with hope flowing for themselves and their future kin for a better life. I saw my aunt walk around the statue and I heard her voice waver, telling the story of the memorial. Her face displayed the scenes of sorrow and strength, proud as her family had overcome the tragedy and made a life here, working for every penny, earning respect, and staying true to their roots.
So on a less serious note, Irish food isn’t exactly renowned for great flavor, historical significance, or an even decent variety. Meat, potatoes, corned beef, cabbage, fish, and…that’s about it. Sure there are a few dishes that are staples at every Irish bar, the Reuben, fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, and Shepherd’s Pie, good food, especially when drinking heavily (why else go to an Irish bar), but tends to be a little blah and you can get a pretty similar dish at any Irish bar from NYC to Chicago to Seattle. That being said, I love meat and potatoes and spruced up this classic dish with fresh herbs, garlic mashers, and a nice medley of veggies. If I ever open a restaurant, this will most certainly one of the specialties of the house.
The result: Garlic Shepherd’s Pie
- 1.5 lb potatoes, Yukon gold, diced evenly
- 1/4 cup half and half, or milk
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 lbs lamb, either ground or diced evenly
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1.5 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
Preheat oven to 400. Put diced potatoes in pot and fill with cold water, sprinkle liberally with salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat slightly to maintain small boil and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Heat butter in a microwave or on the stove top with 3 cloves minced garlic to infuse the garlic taste in the butter. Stir in the butter and milk to potatoes with the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and egg yolk. Season more to taste.
While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and carrots and saute for about 3-5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minutes, add the lamb, salt, and pepper and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flour and cook for another minute. Add tom paste, chicken broth, rosemary, thyme, and Worcestershire and stir to mix. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until sauce has reached desired level of thickness, about 10-15 minutes. Add corn and peas and combine for 1 minute. Put mixture into a deep baking dish and top with garlic mashers, cook for about 25 minutes or until potatoes are browned. I added a little fresh ground Parmesan to the mashers, but it’s not necessary. Let sit for about 10 minutes and then serve and enjoy. I really love the fresh herbs and lamb in this dish and the garlic mashers gives it a nice kick. The mixture is incredible, though I do recommend tasting it while making it to season to taste.