So casseroles kinda freak me out.

Well, they don't freak me out when I'm eating one fresh out of the oven.
It's actually the leftovers that freak me out.
The mixture of meat, vegetable and cream smells, cold and congealed food bits...ugh.

But I do like casseroles a good bit. Yep, I'm a fan. It's so nice to throw everything into a pan and into the oven. The casserole comes out piping hot, and everything compliments one another so well. And casseroles have been around for awhile. Well, cooking food in earthenware dishes has been around for awhile. So I feel like I am continuing and contributing to a well-kept tradition.

From what I understand, the term "casserole" is French for "saucepan"...and we know now it has come to mean both the dish being cooked for consumption and the dish in which it is cooked and served. Casseroles tend to have a meat (chicken, beef, or tuna are common), lots of chopped vegetables (at least ours do :), a kind of starch (flour, pasta, potatoes, etc.), and a liquid or two (like chicken stock or wine). There are far too many variations to list, and many a dish can qualify as a casserole.

But poor casseroles...they can be notoriously disgusting. For instance, take any kind of tuna casserole. It goes in the same category as meatloaf, which can be the best at times and the worst at others. Even though I like tuna casseroles, I still quiver and shiver at the sight of them. Especially the leftovers. Yuck. :) Certain occasions still call for such dishes, however: potlucks and pitch-in's, church gatherings and family reunions, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I LOVE green bean casserole now, and I used to hate it. (I think part of my former dislike has to do with my continual aversion to mushrooms.) I do wonder what other recipes call for French-fried onions because I adore those and will eat them out of the can as I prepare my casserole. Goodness, I love onion.

This week I learned a new term for the casserole: hotdish. It is an upper-Midwestern term for the one-dish meal I have been discussing, although it can run a bit more Scandinavian or Germanic. On the other hand, a favorite seems to be the tater tot hotdish. Tater tot hotdish: now that is an American food dish! I like the sound of "hotdish" perhaps better than "casserole" because it doesn't hold any negative connotations for me as the French term does. Besides, we all know casseroles are at their best when "hot." ;)

SHEPHERD'S PIE isn't a casserole with which we may be familiar, unless you've ever ordered it at Dixie Cafe. *lol* (Of course they just take their meatloaf and top it with their smashed potatoes...which is a-okay with me because I still like it.) It's another traditional British dish--I'm sorry, but I'm nuts about all things British and Irish right now!--and my version isn't technically SHEPHERD'S PIE, but Cottage Pie. SHEPHERD'S PIE is made with lamb while Cottage Pie is made with beef. However, nowadays people tend to call both SHEPHERD'S PIE. Besides, Cottage Pie reminds one of cottage cheese, and there are plenty of bad vibes regarding that dairy product. (Now, I do like cottage cheese, especially with canned peaches, but I can see why it is creepy and gross to others. It's in the same category as tapioca and rice pudding) I hadn't meant to go on and on about casseroles when I chose this dish for this week, but I was reminded of casseroles when I went to reheat the leftovers. (Actually quite a few things appear rather disgusting as leftovers, but once you nuke 'em, it's all better. And let me tell you...our microwave nukes things. You just have to see how B I G it is.)

1/2 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 med. onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. flour
1 c. chicken stock
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 c. mashed potatoes

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
-In a skillet, brown the meat until it is completely browned and crumbly. Drain the fat off the meat and transfer to a dish. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel if needed.
-Add the oil and heat. Add the onions and garlic; saute over medium heat until the onions turn golden brown. Return the meat to the skillet and stir to combine.
-Sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture and stir it in. Slowly pour in the chicken stock while stirring. Add the tomato paste, carrots, salt, and pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until the filling is think and bubbling and the carrots have softened (about 15 minutes).
-Pour the meat mixture into a 11 x 9-in. baking dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. (You can make peaks and swirls with the back of a spoon or a crosshatch pattern with a fork. You can even pipe out the potatoes using a pastry bag and a star tip, though this might take awhile. *lol*) Bake the pie until it is bubbling around the edges and the potato crust turns a deeper yellow (about 45 minutes).
-I recommend you serve this with some peas!

[Serves 8]

And because no blog is complete without some kind of picture:

The Lake District in 2009: view from atop Helm Crag
I think this is Derwent Water.

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