Family comfort food

I have been eating this particular meal for as long as I can remember. My grandmother made it, my mother made it, even my husband makes it sometimes. It is warm and comforting, as well as filling.

Sheppard's Pie. Or Pate Chinoix.

I'm always surprised when I see this on restaurant menus, and I scoff at the premade frozen versions you see in the grocery store. First of all, it is fairly easy to make. Second of all, it uses wierd vegetables in it!

I don't know if this is authentic, or just because my grandfather is a corn freak, but I've always had it with creamed corn as the vegetable layer only. (Oh and the grandfather part? It is true - as a child in school, he used to trade away his desserts for other kids bowls of cream corn. If you make it when he is at dinner, make one portion entirely for him and an equal amount for everyone else!)

So for those who don't know how to make it, it really is simple:

Start by putting some potatoes on. You are making mashed potatoes. So if you like yours with the skins, leav'em on! If you don't like the skins, peel'em off! I like lots of potatoes in mine, the non-skinned, really creamy kind.

While the potatoes are cooking, brown up some ground beef. Anywhere between 1 1/3 pound and two, depending on how hungry you are, how many people will be eating it. Got a huge crowd? Brown up enough for two pans.

When the beef is almost done, add in some chopped onion, chopped garlic, a few dashes of Tabasco sauce and a few dashes of Worchestershire sauce. I don't know if my mother or grandmother do that, but we've found we like the added flavor it provides.

Drain the fat out and add the beef to the bottom of an oven proof casseroll dish. I like Corningware.

Top the meat with canned creamed corn, how much depending on the size of your dish and how much beef you have. I like a good layer, solid, covering the beef completly, but not so thick that you are eating creamed corn with a bit of beef. Drop a few spots of butter on that corn, and if you want, add a bit of salt and pepper to the layer.

By now your potatoes should be ready and mashed. So scoop them up and drop them on top of the corn. You want a solid layer, completely covering the corn, but, and this is important, do not push the potatoes down to compact them! Tonight I used one of my cookie scoops to put the potatoes on, then used a fork to smooth them out so there weren't any gaps.

Add a bit more butter to the top of the potatoes, spreading around the little bits so that when they melt they cover as much of the top as possible. Then I like to sprinkle it with paprika, which makes it look pretty and adds a very subtle touch to the flavor.

Bake the entire thing in a 350F oven until the tops looks golden, and you can see bubbles of corn juice trying to break through the sides of the potatoes.

Last really important step. Really important.

Let it sit for about 10 minutes!

Not only does this let it cool down a bit so you don't scorch your mouth, but it also lets the corn juices meld back in so you don't end up with a soggy sheppards pie! (I admit, sometimes my family can't wait and we eat it right away anyways with no complaints.)

This keeps very well as left overs, if there are any, and also freezes fairly well for longer storage.

Happy comfort eating!

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