Shepherd’s Pie & Soda Bread Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

Posted on 03/20/2010. Filed under: Baking, Dinner |

Hello, my name is Shannon, and I only have a few drops of Irish blood in me. I am of mostly English & Dutch heritage, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking Guinness and singing along loudly to drinking songs in my favorite Irish bar, Mo & O’Malley’s in Norfolk, VA. Yes, I love McGuire’s in Pensacola, but Mo’s is very dear to me: it was there that I met my best friend in the whole world, Schmoopie; spent massive amounts of money at Mo’s; became so much a regular that my friend and favorite then-waiter Mike knew what I wanted when I walked in; and I have donated a bra to the wall at Mo’s. (And got it back…I’m not leaving a $40 Victoria’s Secret bra behind!)

About a month ago, I got the idea to make an Irish feast for St. Patrick’s Day and blog about it. I invited friends over, and wondered what the entree should be: corned beef & cabbage, Shepherd’s Pie, Lamb Boxty, Colcannon…what to make?! Then my friend Matt settled it the night of the Mushroom & Toasted Pasta dish by saying this, “Dude, you should make Shepherd’s Pie so I can come over and eat it.” Okay.

I’d known what dessert was going to be–soda bread pudding with Irish whiskey sauce. I made the soda bread the day before so all I had to do today for the dessert was just cut up the bread and assemble it. No biggie.

Yes, I intended on having this feast on St. Patrick’s Day, but a dear friend of mine from high school passed away suddenly, and the funeral was on March 17 in Charlottesville. I reunited with good friends I hadn’t seen in at least a decade. After the service, we went to West Main Bar & Grille, where we told stories about our missed friend and spent the afternoon and evening drinking pitchers of Guinness & green Pabst. We miss you, Scott Houchens.

Anyway, on Friday I started the pie early, as guests were arriving at 7 p.m. and I didn’t want to be in the kitchen the whole time cooking, a lesson learned the hard way. I knew I could assemble both pie & pudding and just stick ’em in the oven when needed (both to be baked at 350*–I love it when a plan comes together). I began the process by first peeling & slicing four small russet potatoes and three parsnips, put them in a pot and covered with water and put them on the stove to boil. I let them cook for about 25 minutes, until fork tender. While the root veggies were cooking, I diced my loaf of soda bread and put it in a large bowl and poured four cups of whole milk over the bread to soak. As I said in the previous post, both of these recipes for the pie & pudding came from the same source, the McGuire’s Irish Pub Cookbook.

When the roots were done, I drained them well and mashed them with my potato masher as finely as I could. I added salt, pepper, a Tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of dried parsley flakes and a quarter of a cup of heavy cream, stirred it all together & set it aside to cool. Mmmm, mashed potatoes & parsnips. Verah nice.

I then began working on the filling for the pie. I diced half a large white onion and cooked them in a bit of olive oil until translucent, then added two pounds of ground beef to the pot with the onions to cook, breaking it up with my wooden spoon. When the beef was done, I drained off the fat, and added two cans of drained plain diced tomatoes. The cookbook calls for 2 cups of peeled chopped tomatoes, but I don’t have time and patience for a pot of water to boil just to help slip some tomato skin off. Nuts to that. Drained and rinsed cans of diced tomatoes worked just as well, thank you very much. And I’m sure I’m not the only home cook that would do the same thing. It’s enough I baked bread for this feast rather than cheating and buying it. (ok, off the soapbox now)

Anyway, I returned the meat to the large pot I was working in and added flour to thicken things up, then stirred in salt, pepper, dried thyme & sage, a cup of beef stock, and a tablespoon of fresh parsley. (I used dried in the potatoes because a. I have it; b. it’s going to be cooked again anyway; and c. I also used another tablespoon of fresh as a garnish for when the pie was done.) The mixture seemed a little runny still so I kept adding flour until the gravy thickened up nicely. I can’t give you an exact measurement but I eyeballed it. I knew this thing wouldn’t fit in a 9″ pie pan and I wasn’t about to go out and buy a deep-dish pie pan for this, so I put the meaty filling in a 2 quart round casserole dish. Same diff. McGuire’s also mentions using a pastry bag to pipe the potatoes & parsnips, but again, nuts to that, a gallon plastic bag with a corner cut out worked perfectly fine. I spiraled the potatoes & parsnips on top of the meat and used the back of a spoon to even it out. I covered the dish with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to hang out until ready to bake off.

It’d been an hour or so since the milk was poured over the bread, giving it plenty of time to soak in. I mixed three large, lightly beaten eggs together with a cup and a half of granulated sugar and two tablespoons of pure vanilla extract. If you think the pudding is rich at this point, just wait until I get to the sauce. I took my biggest rectangular casserole dish and greased it up with three tablespoons of melted unsalted butter. In the dish, I put the milky bread in, then added the eggy-sugar mixture, and folded it all together. I then folded in a cup of raisins, dotted a few more on top, covered it all in plastic wrap & stuck it in the fridge to await baking off while we ate Shepherd’s Pie.

A little before friends arrived, I melted three tablespoons of butter (I swear I have used nearly a full pound of unsalted butter for this entire meal, Paula Deen doesn’t have anything on the Irish) and drizzled it on top of the pie. I put the pie in the oven and baked it for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, I noticed the potatoes weren’t very puffy and the top wasn’t brown at all, so I turned the broiler on for a couple minutes. When the pie came out of the oven, I sprinkled the remaining minced fresh parsley on top.

When the pie was on the table to eat, I put the pudding in the already hot 350* oven while we ate. I knew the sauce for the pudding wouldn’t take long at all, so I left it until we were done eating. We dug into the Shepherd’s Pie and it was soooo good. Hearty and delicious. I was reluctant about a “pie” of ground beef, gravy and mashed potatoes but it was so freakin’ good! The herbs complimented the onion, the gravy was nice and thick, the potatoes were well-seasoned….mmmmm just good. Buttery potatoes and hearty, meaty gravy. Almost a shame to be eating it for dinner on a day when the high was 74, but it wasn’t heavy. It’s not a dish to eat (or want to cook) in the middle of August, but it was a good meal on an early spring night.

Now, the sauce for the bread pudding just makes it. The pudding itself is good, but it’s the sauce that truly makes the dish. And here’s why: it’s a whole stick of butter with a cup of sugar and a quarter of a cup of heavy cream. I brought those three lovely gifts from the gods to a boil in a saucepan, reduced the heat and simmered for five minutes. Then the best part–Irish whiskey. I use Jamison, for two reasons: 1. Schmoopie left a huge bottle here the last time he visited and 2. it reminds me of many drunken nights at Mo’s. McGuire’s calls for a quarter cup….I add a heavy third. A third of a cup leaning towards half. That’s just how I roll. I stirred in the whiskey and by the time a little of the alcohol had cooked off, the pudding was ready. I spooned hot bread pudding into bowls and drizzled sauce on top. Adjectives that describe this bread pudding: rich, delicious, filling, buttery, creamy, sweet….yum. Just yummy. Lip-smacking yummy. Slap your mama yummy. I often want to just make the sauce and not bother with the pudding.

So my first Irish Feast was a success and I would totally make the Shepherd’s Pie again. And it seems like I will have to, as my friend Matt that suggested I make it, didn’t make it to the feast. And the bread pudding, well that’s just an annual thing now, especially since I can make the bread myself.

Bon Appetit, y’all!

Bread Pudding, before the oven

The Shepherd's Pie, befire baking. Meaty goodness

The half-devoured pie


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2 Responses to “Shepherd’s Pie & Soda Bread Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce”

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It was wonderful. A very pleasant evening with a lovely dinner

[…] re-creating the Shepherd’s Pie for Matt and our friend Amanda, as they missed out on the first Irish Feast.  However, we’re still celebrating Matt’s birthday (yes, a week and a half later), […]

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