The Virgin Gets Lucky With Shepherd's Pie

While St. Patrick's Day originated as a religious holiday celebrating the famous fifth century missionary's success in driving the "snakes" out of Ireland, in modern America it's become a way to celebrate all things Irish. You know, like green beer.


On St. Patrick's Day, the Virgin prefers to indulge in a few more traditional Irish culinary staples; namely shepherd's pie, soda bread and Guinness. In honor of St. Patrick's difficult task, I elected to tackle one of my favorite dishes without aid of a recipe.

Read on to find out if The Virgin had the luck o' the Irish when making shepherd's pie on the fly... 

Ingredients: (serves six Irishmen, or four hungry Americans)

1 package lean ground beef
1 handful diced baby carrots
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas, give or take
1 packet brown gravy mix
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 bottle, more or less, of Guinness (more is better!)
2 tbsp tomato paste 

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 half-stick o' butter
1/4-ish cup milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lots of cheddar cheese
Dash paprika

Technically, the dish is called cottage pie, as real shepherd's pie is made with lamb. The inclusion of Guinness is an extra bonus; plus you can drink the leftovers while waiting for your dish to burn, er, cook.

The Virgin's DeStructions:

1. Peel potatoes and cut into manageable slices. Place into a large pot of well-salted water and bring to a boil.

2. Prepare beef gravy in a small bowl according to directions, substituting Guinness for one-third of the water. Drink some of the leftover beer, but save more for later. You'll need it.

3. Place ground beef, onion and 1/4 cup Guinness in a non-stick skillet and cook over medium heat for two or three minutes until meat begins to brown and liquid is absorbed. [Cook's Tip: If onions are rough on your stomach, cook the meat with large pieces of onion and remove them later. That way, you'll still get the flavor.] 

4. When liquid is absorbed, add gravy mixture, carrots, and tomato paste to the pot and simmer until thickened. By this time, the mixture should smell pretty damn good. Resist the urge to consume it as-is.

5. Realize you didn't put enough hot water into the gravy mix and splash in some more until it looks like gravy. Add flour to thicken, should you go too far.

6. Mix in frozen peas, simmer briefly and dump the whole gross-looking gruel mixture into the baking dish. Shudder a few times, then smell it and feel a little better. Consume rest of beer.

7. Realize your potatoes have been neglected and are forming a gritty paste in the pot. Make more, if they are beyond hope. If not, drain and continue to step 8.

8. Combine potatoes with butter and milk in pot or large mixing bowl. Mash by hand until you develop carpal tunnel. Or, if you're The Virgin, cheat and use a hand mixer on low speed. If your hand is used to this kind of rapid back-and-forth movement *wink, wink*, continue mashing by hand until lumps are gone.

8 1/2. See that the gravy/meat mix is still too thick, add MORE water, turn to your cameraman and mouth WTF?, and stop when meat looks moist. (Note: This step is only for The Virgin. Do not try it at home.)  

9. Top beef mixture with potatoes, place dish in oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until potato mixture is golden brown. Watch closely, or you'll wind up with scorched taters.


10. When potatoes start to brown, top with a thin layer of cheddar and a dash of paprika and cook for another minute or two until cheese is melted.

The Results:


Wow. St. Patrick would be proud -- and full. Guinness Extra Stout can be a little bitter when used in cooking, but the acid of the tomato paste helped to mitigate that effect, leaving the meat flavorful and rich. The whipped potatoes were light and fluffy, the melted cheese a perfect salty highlight to the dish. The only negatives were the extra-crisp carrots, which needed a little additional cooking time.

Still, overall it was a lucky break. Both The Virgin and her hubby downed two servings without needing another beer to cover the taste.


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