This post will end with a recipe for an updated, healthier version of one of my favorite comfort foods – Shepherd’s Pie. I was inspired by Civilized Caveman’s Caveman Casserole recipe but he uses peas and ground turkey – two things I hate! Traditional shepherd’s pie also requires the use of a lot of pots, pans, bowls, and prep utensils. In the interest of saving myself from a long prep time and lots of dishes, I threw together this
knockoff revamped Shepherd’s Caveman Pie.
It took under an hour and satisfied the cravings I’ve been having for a savory, spicy, filling dish. The recipe is down below, but first – the background story!
The past year has been full of changes, from leaving my career in the dust to moving halfway across the country to be reunited with my husband to learning how to live with a debilitating disease. We bought a house. We got a dog. We stopped using chemicals and eating pre-packaged foods. Though we have had our share of slip-ups and fall-backs, I think for the most part, we were able to make many positive changes in our life and I look forward to the pursuit of positive improvements in the coming year.
One of the biggest, and yet smallest, changes we made was in our eating habits. My husband was on his own for 8 months of the year, but while I was living on the central coast in California I made a conscious effort to stop shopping for “groceries” and instead frequent the farmers markets that happened several times a week in my area. I was not only able to experiment with a wide range of produce that would never be offered in a grocery store (like water spinach) but also scored some awesome food for extra cheap (20lbs of oranges was just $12!). I bought bulk baking ingredients at Whole Foods and made my own bread and pasta. I used extra vegetables up in our juice machine and drank juice and smoothies several times a week.
After moving to the midwest and finding a much sparser selection of produce and a much shorter market season, we had a fallback moment where we became super dependent on packaged, processed wheat products – pasta, tortillas, breads, etc. Out of a desire to vary our diet and reduce our intake of my favorite starchy, wheaty, grainy foods, I turned to the internet for inspiration. I found tons of awesome real food blogs during my months of downtime in California, and now that I’m a housewife/student I actually have the luxury of free time for cooking, as well as my wonderful
guinea pig husband to taste things that I’m not sure I’ll like. The Civilized Caveman has been a great source of “paleo” (i.e. grain free, whole, fresh food) recipes and inspiration for my own experimentation. Moreover, he’s a Marine who is a proponent of healthy diet and exercise, rather than the extreme bulking and unhealthy eating habits that are prevalent all over the military. If you’re interested in healthy alternatives to some of your favorite comfort foods, his Paleo French Toast and Raw Zucchini Pasta are pretty revolutionary places to start.
Moving on! In case you missed the link up top, this recipe is inspired by Caveman Casserole from the Civilized Caveman. Instead of losing nutrients in the sweet potato by boiling them, I cubed and roasted them and used the same dish to layer the pie. Our meat gravy was made with ground grass-fed bison, but you could easily substitute fresh venison, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, sausage, or whatever your favorite ground meat is. Also, my mama always made shepherd’s pie with green beans so I will never eat it any other way. You can feel free to add whatever veggies you like, but there is nothing like the texture and flavor of fresh green beans with meat and potatoes! They are firm and crisp, not mushy and weird like corn or peas would be. Read on and try this recipe, or feel free to use it as a launching point for your own experimentation.
Time: 50 minutes
Cooking Temperature: 450°F
- 1lb ground grass fed bison
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 cups fresh french green beans
- 3 tbsp grass fed butter or coconut oil
- 1/4 cup of your favorite milk
- 2 tsp tapioca starch
- sea salt
- freshly ground black or tricolor pepper
- cayenne pepper
- smoked paprika
Step 1: Sweet potatoes
Preheat the oven to 450°. Peel and cube your sweet potatoes. Slice your 3 tbsp of butter into smallish pieces and toss it together with the cubed sweet potatoes into a 2qt casserole dish. Lightly season with salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika, then roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
Step 2: Bison
Brown your bison in a skillet on the stove top. While it’s cooking, season it with a little salt, pepper, and paprika. When it’s done, sprinkle the meat with 2 tsp tapioca starch. Mix together until the tapioca starch disappears, then set the meat aside.
As the bison finishes browning, your sweet potatoes should finish roasting. Scoop them out of the casserole dish into a mixing bowl, dump the browned ground bison into the casserole dish, put your trimmed and cut green beans (below) into the skillet, and carefully pour the excess butter from the bottom of the casserole dish over the green beans. This way, you won’t have to deal with the Prep Bowl that Broke the Camel’s Back… Once you’ve got the bison into the casserole dish, press it down flat with the back of your cooking spatula.
Step 3: Green Beans
Wash and trim your green beans, and cut them into roughly 1″ pieces. Toss them with a tiny bit of your favorite vinegar (I used my homemade tarragon infused white vinegar), then put them with the excess butter and seasonings from roasting the sweet potatoes for 3-5 minutes until tender but not mushy. They should still have a decent firmness. Press these in an even layer over the bison layer.
Step 4: Sweet Potato Mashing
After your sweet potatoes come out of the oven, put them in your favorite bowl to cool for a few seconds while you swap the bison into the casserole dish and the green beans into the skillet. While your green beans are cooking, add your milk to the sweet potatoes and mash them in your favorite way – I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with the flat paddle, but you may want to use a hand mixer, manual potato masher, or even a fork if you like ‘em chunky. I like my mashed potatoes to have forgotten they ever had a past as a solid and enter my stomach as buttery, milky potato pudding.
When your potatoes are mashed to your liking, and the bison and green beans are layered in the casserole dish, spread the mashed sweet potatoes over the top. Sprinkle them with smoked paprika and cinnamon, then return the dish to the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until everything has firmed up and the top of the potato layer looks slightly dry.
Serve this the way it is, or top it with a spoonful of fresh yogurt cheese or home made ketchup. If you are a vegetable person (I’m not, really) you could add some shredded carrots and diced onions to your meat layer. You could use a different type of potatoes. This recipe is a simple, easy starting point for a wealth of exploration in the delicious world of shepherd’s pie – the cayenne, paprika, and cinnamon bring a spicy heat to tone down the sweetness of the potatoes, and the sweet taste of the tarragon vinegar helped the three layers blend perfectly. My recipe is perfect for me, but don’t let it stop you from experimenting to see what works for you!