Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. Not Crap, I SWEAR!

I made a batch of vegetarian shepherd's pie for work lunches this week. For the record, I am NOT vegetarian, however I AM on Weight Watchers and making meat dishes with vegetarian substitutions shaves off tons of points. Like practically all the points.

To further reduce the point count I switched out the mashed potato top with a mashed cauliflower top.

Mind you, these are substitutions that I like. I wouldn't switch out one thing for something I didn't really enjoy. Otherwise I won't eat it. And it will turn fuzzy and green in the back of the fridge until the guilt I feel at wasting food goes away and I eventually toss it. Or it sprouts legs of its own and goes away on its own accord.

Obviously this is not a proper shepherd's pie, but more the idea of a shepherd's pie - a "meat" pie of sorts, served hot on a cold dark night, to make a person feel comforted.

The best approach is not to think about the ingredients you don't have, but rather what you do have and can throw in to the mix. All the vegetables I used were things I had on hand that were at the point where it was use or toss on the compost heap.

Here's how I made it:

1 head cauliflower
2 tsp olive oil

1 onion - chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic - minced
1 package mushrooms - chopped fine
4 carrots - chopped fine
4 little red potatoes chopped into chunks
2 cups frozen roasted corn

1 package Lightlife Smart Ground
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper

First trim the cauliflower, cut into florets, throw in a pot and steam with about half a cup of water until very soft. And turn on the oven to 350 degrees.

While that is cooking, in a big pan saute the onions in a little olive oil until translucent (about 7 to 10 minutes) then add in the garlic and cook a little longer over medium heat.

Add in the mushrooms, let cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring now and again to keep the mushrooms turning. Throw in the carrots, stir up, and then add in the potatoes. Let cook for a bit and then stir in the frozen corn.

Let that all cook, stirring just to keep things from sticking to the bottom.

In a non-stick pan (if you have one, otherwise use what you've got) heat up a little oil. When it gets hot, dump in the Smart Ground. Use a spatula to gently break up the Smart Ground into bits, use the bottom of the spatula and press the bits down, then turn them over. What you are trying to do is brown it a bit. At some point, season the Smart Ground to your taste. A little salt, pepper, and cumin worked for me, but you might not like that combo. Just remember, this is supposed to be a savory comfort food, so stay away from things like star anise, or cinnamon, unless you really, really, really have to have it.

As the Smart Ground browns, pour in the can of chopped tomatoes. What worked well for me was to strain in the tomato juice and cook that out a little before dumping in the tomato pieces. It seemed to make it a little thicker than juicy.

Let cook for a few more minutes and then turn off the heat. Now you need to make the mashed cauliflower.

By now the cauliflower should be very soft. With a slotted spoon put the cauliflower chunks into the bowl of a Cuisinart and process for about 20 seconds. Then add in the olive oil and process a until smooth. You might need to use a little of the cooking water if it doesn't want to get smooth, but be easy with it because you do want a slightly drier mash. If you don't have a Cuisinart, mash the cauliflower how you would a potato - with a masher, through a ricer, or force through a sieve.

When that is done, it's time to assemble the pie.

Add the Smart Ground and the cooked veg mix to an oven-proof baking dish. Gently turn it together to combine and pat it down a little. Spoon the mash on top and smooth it all over to the edge of the dish.

Put the dish on a baking tray and slide it into the oven for about an hour, or until the top gets a little brown, or gets little browned bits on top.

Try very hard if you can to wait about 5 or 10 minutes before digging in. It would be a shame to scorch your tongue and then not be able to enjoy it. Like I do about 97% of the time.

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