When I was in my 20s, I secured my first teaching position in Labrador, Newfoundland. The winter evenings were long and dark and I turned to cooking as a means of entertainment. That Christmas, my Vice-Principal gave me a book entitled “Mrs. Beeton’s Simple Cookery in Colour.” It was packed with straightforward recipes, and I still use it as a reference to this day. Cottage pie (made with minced beef), or shepherd’s pie (made with minced lamb), is a layered dish consisting of ground lamb or beef, carrots, celery, peas, salt, pepper, beef stock and Worcestershire sauce – all topped with mashed potato. The dish was a means of using leftover roasted meat of any kind, and we all know that our Celtic ancestors did not waste a morsel! The name “cottage” was applied to this kind of meat pie around the time potatoes were being introduced in Ireland. Potatoes were a staple for the peasants, who lived in cottages – a “modest dwelling” for the rural workers, our ancestors. In recent years, I added a few ingredients of my own to Mrs. Beeton’s original formula.

1 lb of ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp of all purpose flour
2 tbsp of tomato paste
½ cup or red wine
1 cup of beef stock
½ cup of frozen defrosted peas
1 tsp of fresh rosemary, finely minced

For the mashed potato topping
2 lbs of potatoes
½ cup of skim milk
½ cup of half and half or cream
3 tbsp of unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper, to taste


In a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and let it get nice and hot, add the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon, cook for about 4 to 5 minutes or until it’s pretty much fully cooked through. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same pan, add the chopped onions carrots, celery and season lightly with salt and pepper. Allow the veggies to cook for about 7 to 9 minutes or until they have developed some color and started to cook down a bit. Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add the ground beef back into the skillet and toss everything together, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds, add the tomato paste and stir it in well allowing it to cool for just a few seconds. Add the wine and cook it for about a minute or until it has cooked down a bit and reduced slightly. Add the beef stock, worcesteshire sauce and rosemary and let it come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes add in your frozen peas and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

For the mashed potato topping
Cook the potatoes in some boiling water until cooked through and tender, drain and place in a large bowl. Mash the potatoes either with a potato masher or a potato ricer, set aside for a few minutes. In a small saucepan, heat together the milk, cream and butter so it’s nice and hot. Add the warm milk and stock mixture to the mashed potatoes along with the sour cream and egg yolk, mix everything well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly brush about 1 tsp of olive oil in the bottom and sides of a large casserole dish, add the meat mixture and then top it with the mashed potatoes. Spread it evenly and place it in the oven and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown. For a variation, sprinkle with shredded cheese and bake until brown.

Serves 6. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 45 minutes

Ith do shàth!
P.S: I would like to invite all our readers to send me their favourite recipe – and their favourite memories that go with it – to cabrini@celticlife.ca