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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals - # 6: Stuffed Jacket Potatoes with Shepherd's Pie Filling

"Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
but don't forget the potatoes.”

--John Tyler Pettee, 'Prayer and Potatoes'

Who could forget potatoes? With over 7,500 known varieties, the potato is a mainstay in the diet of almost every country around the globe. They come in a myriad of sizes, colors and shapes, and can be prepared in a multitude of different ways. They are the ultimate comfort food. That is why I have chosen Stuffed Jacket Potatoes as this week's "Go To" meal.

Last summer, one of the musical groups that I perform with had the good fortune to participate in a two week concert tour of Ireland and Scotland. From Galway to Glasgow, we shared our music wherever there was someone to listen. We sang in thatched-roof village churches, castles, gardens and cathedrals. We even sang Loch Lomond on the banks of the actual Loch Lomond. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'll treasure those memories forever.

One of the definite perks of the journey was the opportunity to sample the many wonderful foods available in that part of the world. While I wouldn't be sad if I never ate haggis again, I really enjoyed a lot of the other dishes I had. One, in particular, is stuffed jacket potatoes. Jacket potatoes are what we here in the States call stuffed baked potatoes. I saw them on almost every menu of every cafe and pub I visited. There were even some places that had jacket potato bars, like a sundae bar but with baked potatoes and various fillings.

You can fill a jacket potato with anything your heart desires. The sky is the limit. I've had them filled with seafood newburg, chili, cheesy vegetables, creamed mushrooms, chicken curry and my favorite, shepherd's pie. Any kind of saucy, creamy concoction will work with this dish. The best part is that these spudly little parcels are a complete meal in themselves.

The recipe I am going to give you today is for jacket potatoes with a shepherd's pie filling. I put the potatoes in the oven and prepare the rest of the dish while they bake. You can use whatever kind of ground meat that you prefer. I have made this dish with beef, lamb and turkey. I have also used a combination of beef and lamb, with excellent results. It takes a lot less time than making a traditional shepherd's pie, is easier to serve and it is every bit as delicious!

If you are really feeling lazy (as I do on many occasions), the UK brand, Colman's (think mustard), makes a shepherd's pie seasoning mix. I have tried it and it is really very good. All you need to do is cook the meat and vegetables, add the mix with some water or broth, simmer a few minutes and you're done. I am able to find this product in the ethnic foods section of my local supermarket.

Jacket Potatoes with Shepherd's Pie Filling

4 large russet potatoes
coarse salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 1/2 cups finely diced or julienned carrots
2 tbsp. flour, whisked to remove any lumps
1 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup beef broth
1 can yellow corn
4 tbsp. butter
shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Turn the oven to 375 degrees. Rub potatoes with olive oil and roll in salt. Bake for 1 hour or until soft inside.

In a large skillet, saute onions, beef and carrots over medium-high heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are softening.

Add flour and stir well. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and beef broth and stir to combine. Add corn.

Bring to a boil, then lower and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 5 minutes or so, until sauce begins to thicken.

Split potatoes down the middle and put 1 tbsp. of the butter in each. Ladle meat mixture on top.

Serve with shredded cheese if using.


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