RECIPES: EASY, CHEESY MASHED POTATO TOPPED SHEPHERD'S PIE

Shepherd's Pie is a great, inexpensive recipe when you need something comforting to feed a big crowd and it is absolutely perfect for St. Patrick's Day celebrations! Ground meat, potatoes, onions.... the ingredients are simple, the prep time is minimal and you can bake it off right before guests arrive. With the ground beef and potatoes, your picky eaters will never notice the carrots or peas hiding in the filling. I normally use ground beef for this recipe but made it once with ground lamb and it was fantastic... just not my favorite.

St Patrick's Day Shepherd's Pie topped with mashed potatoes

TRADITONAL SHEPHERD'S PIE with PARMESAN MASHED POTATO TOPPING

Makes 4-6 small ramekins or 1 medium casserole

INGREDIENTS

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (or ground lamb if you prefer- or a combination of both)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 small yellow onion, diced small (about 1 cup)

2 carrots, diced very small

2 cloves garlic, finely grated

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup frozen English peas

1 teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves, minced fine

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced fine

For the mashed potato topping:

2-3 large potatoes, peeled and diced small

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided n half

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Dice the potatoes. Rinse in cool water. Fill a pot with water. Add the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are just fork tender. Drain well. Mash the potatoes while they are hot and allow to cool slightly. Add the milk, salt, and pepper. Using a hand mixer or any method you prefer, whip the potatoes until they are fluffy. Add the egg yolk and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Mix together. Set aside.

In a large skillet or pan, heat the olive oil. Add the ground beef and brown it. Add the onion and carrots. Brown until they are softened, about 3-4 minutes. Drain off excess fat if there is any. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and cook that for about 1 minute. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits of flavor on the bottom of your pan. Add the thyme and the parsley. Cook until the wine is mostly reduced. Stir in the chicken stock. Cook 3-4 minutes more. The mixture should be quite thick and paste like. If it is not, cook and stir until most of the liquid is cooked off. Check the seasoning- you may need a bit more salt and pepper. At this point. I often put a quick dash of Tabasco or a pinch of cayenne pepper for some faint heat.

Spray your ramekin or casserole dish with non-stick spray or do what I do and brush the ramekin with a little olive oil and then dust it with some of the grated Parmesan cheese. Fill the ramekin 2/3 full with the meat mixture. Top with the potatoes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Use a fork to pierce the top so the juice will bubble up through the potatoes. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly hot.

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EASY ENTERTAINING: HOW TO MAKE A DEVILED EGG BAR

I love to set up interactive stations for easy entertaining. A self-serve DIY bar offers guests lots of options and encourages conversation, too. In my book, that is a win-win. For Easter brunch (or any brunch for that matter) a DIY Deviled Egg Bar is nothing but easy, yummy fun and with a price tag under ten cents per serving, deviled eggs are super affordable.

How to Make a Deviled Egg Bar

THE HOW-TO:

Make your deviled eggs. I'd suggest making a pretty basic recipe since your guests will be adding toppings and piling on lots of flavor. Try my classic deviled egg recipe... and learn all about the best way to hard-boil eggs here.

How to build a deviled egg bar with toppings. Photo: Arden Photography Location: The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

How to build a deviled egg bar with toppings. Photo: Arden Photography Location: The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

Assemble the eggs on a variety of different plates, egg dishes, and platters. Arrange the platters at different heights. Put the toppings in small dishes, jars, or bowls in groups. I like to get a bowl and fill it with ice and arrange bowls filled with toppings that are best kept chilled.  

Offer guests a menu of different combinations: BBQ, Asian, etc, to help them craft their eggs.

Deviled eggs with assorted toppings. Photo: Arden Photography

Deviled eggs with assorted toppings. Photo: Arden Photography

SUGGESTED TOPPINGS: Use as many or as few as you like based on your budget and the amount of room you have.

  • Herbs: Fresh Dill, Thyme, Tarragon, Chives, Italian parsley, or cilantro; finely chopped
  • Scallions, finely chopped
  • Capers
  • Spicy pickle relish
  • Pickled okra slices
  • Roasted red peppers, diced
  • Jalapeno peppers, diced
  • Green olives, sliced
  • Toasted pecans, chopped
  • Bacon crumbles
  • Goat cheese crumbles
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Fresh horseradish
  • Country ham, sliced ultra thin and cut into small pieces
  • BBQ (beef or pork, shredded)
  • Smoked salmon (thin sliced)
  • Fresh lump crabmeat (cooked)
  • Cooked baby shrimp
  • Caviar (if you have the budget)
  • Sour cream, creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
  • Fig preserves
  • Chutney
  • Hot sauce
  • BBQ sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
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RECIPE: ARANCINI (ITALIAN RICE BALLS) WITH HOMEMADE MARINARA SAUCE

I have to tell the story of this recipe. During taping for Food Network Star, my cast mate, Michele Ragussis made her mom's Arancini for us one night and let me help her make it. A few days later when my team had to create a food court restaurant with an Italian theme, I asked Michele if it was okay if I made it for the competition but with my own twist. Yes, she gave me her blessing but choked back a laugh since I'd only watched it made once and had never actually made it myself. It came out pretty well, I guess. We won. And I even got a marriage proposal on set from an Italian guy in the audience who told me these arancini and the marinara I made to accompany it was better than his Italian mother's. That made me pretty proud. Thank you, Michele and Mama Phyllis, for sharing your family tradition with me.

Arancini is the perfect party dish. If  you use ground beef, it is very inexpensive to make for a crowd and you can easily double the recipe. I make them early in the day and just drop them into the fryer right before serving. You can even make them in advance and freeze them- just thaw and fry just before guests arrive. These are cheesy and delicious. Try them and let me know how you do.

ITALIAN RICE BALLS --ARANCINI WITH SPICY MARINARA

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

5cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground veal (optional- you can sub ground beef or pork)

1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese grated

2 cups cooked and cooled Arborio rice

5 eggs

3 cups breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning (I make my own but store brands are good)

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Marinara Sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)

Special equipment: #10 (small-medium) ice cream scoop

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the rice according to package directions but you want the rice to be sticky so I cook a bit longer than I should and don't add butter or olive oil to the water. You don't want it to be mushy. Set aside.  

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up large pieces as it cooks. Strain off excess fat from the pan. Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, oregano, and pepper, and salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Keep in mind that rice and cheese contain salt so be careful not to over salt the meat mixture. Let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the tomato sauce. Combine rice with cheese but be careful not to mash the rice. Add the rice mixture to meat mixture and stir gently to combine. Check the seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use ice cream scoop to shape the balls so they are a consistent size, then hand roll the balls as tightly as you can.

Pour enough canola oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to reach 5”. Heat oil over medium heat to 350-degrees. Use a thermometer to check the oil temperature.

Whisk eggs in a small baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in another baking dish. Roll rice balls lightly in the eggs then immediately roll in breadcrumbs to form a coating. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fry.

To fry:

Carefully drop rice balls into the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to overcrowd and lower the oil temperature. Cook until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per batch. Bring oil back up to 350-degrees before cooking each batch. Drain rice balls on paper towels before serving.

Serve with homemade or store-bought marinara for dipping. Garnish with the basil leaves.


SPICY MARINARA SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 large cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, including liquid

1 cup fresh whole basil leaves, loosely packed

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (about 1/2 tablespoon dried)

1/2  cup fresh whole oregano leaves, loosely packed (about 1 tablespoon dried)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

big pinch granulated sugar (optional)

½ teaspoon black pepper

pinch cayenne pepper

splash Balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Use an immersion blender to puree, taking care to leave the tomatoes slightly chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add everything to a blender or food processor)

Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or longer so that the marinara thickens as some of the liquid cooks out. Check seasoning prior to serving. Add salt or a pinch more sugar as necessary.

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