As a cook, I find my happy place while preparing homestyle, comfort food. Soups from scratch, sauces that simmer all day, and homemade Salisbury Steak with real gravy just about make me swoon. You won’t find much fancy flair in my humble kitchen. You won’t have to question which piece of cutlery you should use while dining in my home. You won’t be left looking at your meal and asking, “What is that, and how do I go about eating it?” I find comfort in the simplicity of food.
Now, don’t get me wrong, comfort food does not have to be boring. It certainly does not have to be ordinary either. It just needs to take you back to that place of remembering. A place where you can momentarily close your eyes and recall a time, a treasured memory, associated with a particular food. As a mom, I am very much aware of the fact that I am laying down those kinds of memories with my children right now. I know that there will come a time in their future when they will sample someone’s homemade applesauce and will be transported back in time to my kitchen. They’ll remember the countless times we spent together peeling, cutting, and mashing cases of apples. They’ll remember the laughs and the talks we shared. They will almost be able to taste our applesauce. That’s real comfort food.
For me, cottage pie is the quintessential comfort food.
Quick. Do you know the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie?
Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb. While most modern versions feature ground lamb, the truly authentic ones feature lamb chunks. There will be an assortment of vegetables such as carrots, peas, and onions in the mix. A rich gravy joins the meat and vegetables together. But the crowning jewel of a Shepherd’s Pie is the mashed potato topping. Creamy on the inside with a lightly toasted crust on the outside, this topping is ultra comfort.
Now if you are anything like me you may be realizing that your version of Shepherd’s Pie is different. For years my Shepherd’s Pies featured ground beef, gravy, and vegetables with the signature mashed potato topping. Come to find out, this is really considered Cottage Pie.
A few months ago I created the following recipe for a contest. It didn’t win, but I was left with a new dish for my dinner repertoire. In this cottage pie the traditional mashed potato topping is replaced with a simple macaroni and cheese. Oh yes, it’s good. I hope that you give it a try. Who knows, maybe one forkful will transport you back in time to a treasured memory of your own. Enjoy.
Mac & Cheese Cottage Pie
2 c diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 lbs. lean ground beef (as lean as you can find)
5 Tablespoons flour
6 Tablespoons beef broth
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
1 cup half & half
1/4 tsp salt
2 – 7oz blocks Ole Croc Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded, divided (or any cheddar cheese variety)
1 lb medium shell pasta, cooked (I used Banza chickpea shells)
Sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil for 5 minutes. Add in the ground beef** and a 1/2 tsp salt. Cook the meat through. Using a spatula break apart the meat into fine crumbles while cooking. Stir in 5 Tablespoons flour. Stir constantly for 3 minutes. Stir in 6 Tablespoons beef broth & black pepper; cook until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in frozen peas. Place beef mixture into a 9×13 baking dish.
**I suggest selecting a very lean ground beef, preferably 90% or 95%, for this dish. A high fat meat will really create a heavy, greasy dish (which we don’t want). If you do opt for a traditional ground meat (85%), I would recommend cooking the ground beef in a separate skillet without salt. Once cooked through drain off the excess grease. Then stir in the salt and follow the steps above to make the gravy.
Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir in 4 tablespoons of flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add in 1 cup of beef broth and 1 cup of half & half. Whisk together. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat or until the sauce thickens. Stir very frequently. Turn off the heat. Stir in a 1/4 teaspoon salt and 7 oz. Old Croc Sharp Cheddar Cheese (shredded). Fold the cheese sauce and cooked pasta together. Spread the pasta over the meat in the baking dish.
Shred a second 7oz block of Old Croc Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Scatter the cheese over the top.
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.
Keep a watchful eye. If you overcook this dish, all of the oils will begin to separate, and you will be left with a greasy mess. You just want to warm the dish through. All of the components are already cooked through.