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Texas-Style Cottage Pie with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and A.1. Compound Butter

Flavors are bolder in Texas.
Considering the extent of my bacon advocacy, most people are surprised to find out that I used to be a vegetarian. That was not a choice based on any kind of moral imperative. Instead, it was the best way that my 14-year-old self think of to annoy my mother. Now you would think that vegetarianism would have gotten old after a couple of weeks, but I was stubborn teenager and persisted in my gastronomic rebellion for twelve long and meatless years.

I didn’t just annoy my mother, I baffled my relatives who had never heard of Tofurkys until they were forced to procure them. My friends would collectively roll their eyeballs heavenward each time that I complained about the lack of vegetarian options on a restaurant menu. I irritated significant others to no end because it frankly sucks to not share food that you are really enjoying.

So it stands to reason that on the night before my undergraduate commencement ceremony, I would have my vegetarian graduation celebration at a barbecue restaurant.

Yes, you read that correctly.

What prompted such a paradoxical decision? You see, one of the last classes that I took at my alma mater was a cultural anthropology course on food — which ended up being a prescient choice since many of the books on that syllabus found their way into the bibliography of my dissertation. I had an amazing professor who had a number of terrific guest speakers come to talk to the class, one of first of which was Chris Schlesinger who was still at the East Coast Grill (he has since sold it to the former head chef, now chef/co-owner Jason Heard).

Until that class, I had never really thought that much about food apart from how much I liked to eat it. It never occurred to me that you could craft an approach to food that could be just as thoughtful, complicated, and elegant as any in literature, or that taste — both sensory and esthetic — could be a marker of identity, a beginning of a journey, or an end to one.

In any case, Schlesinger’s passion, dedication, and approach to big, bold American flavors made quite the impression. I also remember how he wasn’t adverse to vegetables being on a barbecue menu, which is how my friends and my family ended up at his restaurant graduation eve.

I don’t remember exactly what I ate that night (probably macaroni and cheese), but I do remember that the food was good and my dad was happy that he wasn’t forced to eat another avocado burrito in a New Age-y bookstore that smelled like patchouli, incense, and beans.

This recipe is adapted from Schlesinger’s How to Cook Meat, published the same year that I graduated. I bought the book to remember that night despite not cooking nor eating meat at the time. Who would have known how useful it would turn out to be a few years later when I was no longer a vegetarian and really did want to know how to cook meat!

I must admit that the first time that I made this dish, I wasn’t impressed; I found it too sweet and the flavors a little too weird. However, after years of vegetarianism, I probably just had no idea what I was doing. Now things are different (or back to “normal,” depending how you think about it). I find the combination of flavors to be complex, rich, and deeply satisfying on cold nights like the ones that we have been having here on the East Coast.

I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years, making it a little less sweet (tomato paste substituted for ketchup; blackstrap for plain old molasses), and deepening the flavors a little more (roasting instead of boiling the sweet potatoes). The recipe easily doubles as the one given below is the proportions of the original halved.

Like any recipe that you have made your own, its evolution is indicative of where you come from and where you are going. In essence, that is the wonderful thing about recipes in general: they all tell a story and this is one of mine.

Ingredients:

For the compound butter:

1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tablespoon of A.1. Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the cottage pie:

2 large sweet potatoes

1/2-2/3 of a cup of half-and-half

1 tablespoon of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced small

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 a tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 a tablespoon of ground coriander

A scant pinch of ground cinnamon

1 pound of ground beef

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. To make the A.1. compound butter, combine the room temperature butter, the steak sauce, and the chopped parsley in a small bowl. Season the butter with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Spoon the butter onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, roll it into a cylinder, and refrigerate it until firm.

3. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place them directly on the wire racks of your oven and roast them until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes.

4. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and diced bell pepper until the onions begin to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, the minced jalapeño, and the spices. Let them sizzle them for about 1 minute before adding the ground beef. Cook the ground beef until it is browned, crumbly, and no longer pink. Pour off any excess fat in the pan before stirring in the tomato paste and the blackstrap molasses. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove them from the oven and let them rest. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°.

6. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins. Mash them with a tablespoon of butter and 2/3 of a cup of half-and-half. As the mixture should be on the loose side, add more half-and-half if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Spread an even layer of the ground beef mixture over the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Gently top the ground beef mixture with the mashed sweet potatoes. Bake until the filling is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

8. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. To serve, you can either dot the top of the casserole with the compound butter before dividing it into portions, or you can top each individual serving with a slice of the compound butter.

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43 Comments

  1. Some lovely flavor combos in there. The compound butter sounds great but I really like the idea of using sweet potato to top the pie. I think I’ll try that on a regular Shepherd’s Pie with Lamb sometime :)

    • Sweet potatoes are a great substitute for mashed potatoes on top of cottage pie. If you do try it, let me know how it goes! With the weather we’ve been having here, I’ve actually been thinking about Sybaritica for the past few days. Like a little bit of Iqaluit in my own backyard :-)

  2. poodle

    I have that cookbook too. It proved rather helpful when I was a newlywed and terrified of trying to cook any large cut of beef. Roasts are expensive and if you screw it up it can be an expensive mistake. That book saved my beef.
    This recipe does sound perfect for this weather. You’ve reminded me that I might still have a cottage pie in the freezer. I need to try that compound butter. It sounds easy and delicious.

    • I’m sure it was helpful! I know that feeling well: fear of screwing up cooking a large cut of beef. So funny that we both ended up with the same cookbook! Have you been to the East Coast Grill? I haven’t since it changed hands . . .

      Any leftover compound butter is terrific on steak too. Just saying :-)

      • poodle

        I can’t remember the last time I was in Cambridge. I rarely go into Boston either. Absolutely hate the driving and parking hassles, especially since I drive a pickup.

        • Yes, a pick-up would not be fun to maneuver in Boston, particularly in the Back Bay. As for Cambridge, I feel like the restaurant has moved or there used to be another location around Fenway . . .

  3. Hello Dearest Daisy,
    When should I come over to partake of this scrumptuous sounding and looking pie? I love your fork, too!
    P.S. I love your new avatar.

  4. michael

    Dear Daisy,
    First let me tell you how sorry I am for all you had to go through in those twelve years. It’s never easy to talk about such a dark period so I applaud you for speaking out and I am glad that you are back from the dark side, enjoying food, and broadening our minds and bellies with such a great post.
    I think I will have to try that recipe as soon as my non carb period is over (started 2 days ago for Christmas-gluttony reasons). Not sure about the sweetness and my family. The sweet potato mash (no sweetness added) I made for Christmas day were a little too sweet for them. Maybe I have to try another kind of sweet potatoes – I got them from an Asian store labelled “Chinese sweet potatoes”. Or maybe I can go with half sweet potatoes, half regular ones. Will keep you posted.

    • Dear Michael,

      Thank you for your sympathy in regards to those dark years. Like someone suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, I had come to see my meatless misery as a source of pride. Thankfully, an extended trip to Italy in my early twenties set me straight and put me back on the right path! If not for Italian air-dried ham, who knows where I would be today! Probably in some sad health food aisle buying something that tasted of cardboard. Or spelt :-)

      In all seriousness though, speaking of carb-free, a friend of mine has gone Paleo and claims that she has never felt better. I’m not sure if I am ready for that, but I did steal a recipe idea for steak from one of her Paleo books that looks easy and delicious. It’s really more of a technique: thick-cut steak, seared on both sides in a scary hot cast iron pan (like heat the pan for 10 minutes, no oil, over high heat-scary), finish cooking in a low oven (250°F/130°C). Let rest, attack.

      As for the Chinese sweet potatoes, are they yellow on the inside?

      Thank you again for the comment! Always a pleasure to see you here!

  5. Happy New Year, Daisy! As always, your posts are so much fun to read. And the pie looks and sounds delicious, I would love it!

  6. My wife went vegetarian and has been ever since. Except a coupld of years back at christmas when she came in munching some paneer cheese saying how good it tastes until I pointed out it wasn’t paneer cheese, it was chicken.

    • HAHAHA! Your hysterical comment left me choking on my morning coffee! Hilarious! That is very funny indeed. Kudos though for making the union between a vegetarian and a meatatarian work :-)

  7. I was just thinking of you last night (likely because I was standing at the stove browning up some of Steve’s leftover pork belly for some ramen) and picked up my phone and there was this post! And a great post it is. The dish looks great. But please don’t go veg (or Paleo for god’s sake) on us. :)

    • Thank you, Michelle! No worries whatsoever about me becoming a vegetarian again. As for the Paleo thing, I’ll steal cooking tips and ideas but I love bread and pasta too much to ever go that route!

      Mmmm. That ramen must have been yummy. Ramen is the new/old craze now and if you come to NYC for the Chinese New Year’s, we’ll slurp our way across the city :-)

  8. heidiskye333

    Eeeee gads!!! Vegetarianism? Are you ok now? Did you recover? I tried being a vegetarian for two weeks while at cooking school but ended up quitting. I love meat way too much. This is the first time I’ve heard about cottage pie. Is it a regional dish? It’s sort of like Shepard’s Pie but with different seasonings. Yum! I’m always a sucker for A1.

    • Ha ha! Well, my recovery was kind of fast and slow at the same time. I went right back to being an omnivore without any kind of discomfort, but it did take me a while to get comfortable with cooking and eating meat. Cured meats like bacon and sausage were easy to get readjusted to, but even to this day, I can still go for a while before I realize that I’m just eating vegetables. Isn’t that weird? I just don’t notice sometimes.

      As for the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie, I think the only distinction is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb and Cottage Pie is made with ground beef. Other than that, I would say that they are identical!

    • I know! No one who didn’t know me back then would ever guess! Well, thankfully I didn’t persist in that folly for another ten years :-) When I was a kid, I would have loved this too. Sweet potatoes are like candy :-)

  9. I lived in the south many years and never had a cottage pie…yours sounds wonderful. I’m glad that you shared this delicious sounding recipe with us. I think I must also say that I’m happy that you are not a vegetarian anymore or we wouldn’t have such great sounding recipes to try. :)

  10. I can honestly say I’ve never been a roasted sweet potato girl, but I know if I make this for my mom, she would be in love :). She has some in her home so I think this may be a good recipe for me and her to try out :)

    • Thank you so much, Kay! If your mom likes sweet potatoes, there is nothing like mashed sweet potatoes with butter! You can even add a little maple syrup and cayenne pepper too. That sounds so good right now in this freezing weather!

  11. (sorry, I’m late – catching up on my reading)
    Fo some reason I’m glad you’re not vegetarian any longer :) Not that there’s anything wrong with that, “I even have friends who arevegetarian” ;) but I still feel a little pity towards them and I’m glad when I can share food that I like with people whom I like.

    • No worries, Undina! I know what that is like as lately, I have been catching up on months and months of blog reading!

      I am so glad I’m not a vegetarian any longer either. Think of all the bacon I missed out on for all those years!

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