Drum roll, please! Another new columnist at SPC: Welcome Paul Silva, aka Chef Dad. He's worked in some of Canada's top kitchens, such as Canoe, Jump and Fairmont Royal York. He teaches at The Elliot House Restaurant and Chef School. He's also dad to Yusef, almost three. We're so lucky to have him at Sweet Potato Chronicles and I swear we didn't ask him to include our namesake vegetable in his debut post. He's got lots of great recipes lined up for us so watch this spot. Thanks Paul and over to you! — C.M.When my two– (soon to be three-) year old son, Yusef, was transitioning from baby mush to solid food, I struggled to figure out what combined a bit of both. Shepherd’s Pie was something I’d made for years, but never thought of cramming meat and vegetables into a wee one used to organic peas picked by pixies and pureed in a solid gold food processor washed in virginal spring soy waterfalls (ok, so I was a bit over-wrought in the beginning about what I prepared for him).
The small twist in this Shepherd’s Pie is the topping – with the abundance of fall vegetables at our disposal right now, it’s a great way to inject new flavour and elevate it into something that is usually relegated to “slap-dash leftover fest” (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say). Baking the sweet potatoes gives it that silky texture, and the egg helps to set and brown the crust.
Yusef loves the combination of sweet and savoury, and while he can’t help with the cooking right now (I have him earmarked for 50 lbs of potato peeling when he hits double digits in age), cracking eggs and wrapping things up in shiny aluminum foil is something that he can do, so there is hope for the day when he has to make me baby mush.
Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Crust
(Makes two 9×13×2 pans)
For the topping:
2 kg sweet potatoes (about 3–4 large)
1 kg Yukon gold potatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
For the filling:
2 kg ground beef (or lamb or pork or combination)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced small
3 stalks celery, diced small
200 grams white button mushrooms, diced small
2 white onions, peeled and diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 green bell pepper, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
200 ml tomato puree or sauce
2 ½ tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoon paprika
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
100 ml water or low sodium chicken or beef broth
6 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Wrap sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and prick with a fork several times. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake for approx. 1 hour– 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Let cool before handling.
Here they are in their spacesuit blankies.
In the meantime, peel and cut the potatoes into 1 ½” cubes and place in cold, slightly salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Drain in colander and break up gently with wooden spoon to allow steam to escape (this will keep the potatoes from getting gluey when mashing).
Peel the sweet potatoes (watch — they still might be hot) and place in a bowl. Add the potatoes. Mash with hand masher (get those frustrations out!) and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Add the egg and quickly incorporate to avoid scrambling the egg. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use (do not let cool too much, or it will be difficult to handle later).
Combine the meat with 1 ½ tbsp cumin, 1 ½ tsp paprika and ½ tsp of the cinnamon.
Let sit for 10–30 minutes.
In a large sauté pan or pot, heat 1–2 tbsp of the vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering. Add a quarter of the meat mixture and break up while browning the meat. When it is cooked (about 2 — 3 minutes), drain in a colander. This will eliminate any excess fat and water from the meat. Wipe out the pot and repeat, until all the meat has been cooked and drained.
In a clean pot large enough to hold all the vegetables and meat, heat 3 tbsp of the vegetable oil over high heat. Add the carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions, peppers and garlic. Stir with wooden spoon until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Do not brown them.
Just look at all those wonderful vegetables, full of life-giving vitamins and minerals that deft little fingers will find a way to pick out.
Add the tomato puree, water/stock, remaining cumin, cinnamon and paprika powders and Worcestershire sauce. Add meat and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated (you want to leave the mixture a little moist). Season with salt and pepper.
Remove from heat and divide meat mixture into two 9×13×2 pans.
Using a piping bag, pipe the topping mixture on top of the meat mix. Note: if you don’t have a piping bag, feel free to use a spatula to spread out the potato mix. It will be a bit trickier, as it will want to stick to the meat, so it won’t necessarily be a tidy, but hey, it’s Shepherd’s Pie! No Picassos need apply).
Place in oven (still at 375F) and bake for 25–30 minutes. The mixture should be bubbling a bit, and the topping starting to lightly brown.
Remove from heat and slap any hands that try to take a big spoonful out of it before mealtime (unless it’s the chef – she/he are simply “tasting”)
Chef Dad tip 'o the day: Buy a package of cleaned garlic cloves (inexpensive) and puree them with a little bit of vegetable oil until smooth. Then put 1 to 2 tablespoons of the puree in small snack bags and freeze. When a recipe calls for garlic, just defrost for a several minutes and use!