Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie or "Shepherd's Pie"
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

Let me begin by saying that I’ve never eaten “Shepherd’s Pie,” but I always thought I did. I have eaten what I thought was Shepherd’s Pie many, many times. But I just recently found out that I was wrong.

I always thought Shepherd’s Pie was a baked dish made of ground beef, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and cheese shaped like a “pot pie” and cooked in the oven. But I made a mistake, technically. In Ireland and in Britain where the dish originated, the technical term for what I made above is “Cottage Pie.” Shepherd’s Pie is similar, but it uses lamb meat instead of beef.

So, what I will be discussing in this little article is really Cottage Pie, although most people in the USA have never heard of that term but have probably heard of Shepherd’s Pie and, like me, thought they knew what it was.

Cottage Pie, with cheese, right out of the oven
Photo by Adrian McGrath

Much to my surprise this popular Irish dish first got its name around the year 1791 when the potato was becoming a popular food for the peasants and working class in Ireland and in Britain. The term used was Cottage Pie indicating it was food for people who lived in simple cottages. The beef versus lamb distinction was not clear then.

Later in 1854 the term Shepherd’s Pie began to appear in print and was interchangeable with Cottage Pie. As time went on, however, a distinction was made between Cottage Pie meaning beef and Shepherd’s pie meaning lamb. Everything else in the two dishes was essentially the same. And today in Ireland and Britain, Shepherd’s is lamb and Cottage is beef.

I made my own version of Cottage Pie and included a few photographs. There are many ways to make the dish, and you can change it as you wish. In fact in America you can still call it Shepherd’s Pie (even if made with beef) because if you call it Cottage Pie, most people will have no idea what you mean.

Basic ingredients for Cottage Pie,
ground beef, mashed potatoes (instant),
mixed vegetables, Cheddar cheese
Photo by Adrian McGrath

The dish mainly has four ingredients -- ground beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and cheese. Many Irish and British versions do not add cheese on top, but it is a popular option. If cooking without cheese, the idea is to brown the top of the mashed potatoes a bit for flavor and effect.

One popular Irish food website, BiaMaith, has a detailed version here. The Irish national television service, RTE, has its recipe here and uses lamb and beef interchangeably. There is even one Irish website -- -- devoted just to the potato which has a variant of a Cottage or Shepherd’s Pie recipe.

I try to keep mine simple; and, as usual, I do not give a tedious, detailed recipe because I think people can best make the dish the way they want it by providing just the basic ingredients, a few photos, and a general explanation of how to prepare it. You can add or subtract things and cook differently depending on your own likes and dislikes. Nothing is written in stone.

Unlike most recipes I used a store bought pie crust as the base for the pie. Most recipes just place the prepared ingredients in a baking dish without a crust. In addition to the pie crust, I used lean ground beef, instant mashed potatoes, frozen mixed vegetables, and cheddar cheese sliced. Then you need spices of your choice and a little sauce to go with the ground beef. This could be your favorite steak sauce or a brown sauce. Or just go without that sauce. Just use a little of the sauce and avoid making the dish watery.

Cook the pie crust a bit first in the oven (not totally, just a bit); brown, cook, and season the meat, and add the beef to the crust. Heat up the frozen vegetables and put them on top of the meat. Then add the cooked instant mashed potatoes (or use freshly made mashed potatoes if you have them). Then slice some of the cheddar cheese (or the Irish cheese of your choice) and place that on top of the mashed potatoes. Bake the pie in the oven until the crust is done and the cheese melted and a bit browned.

And that is it. Serve it like sliced pie.

Now you have another great dish for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sources and Further Reading: Wikipedia article on Shepherd's Pie; RTE article on Shepherd’s Pie; BiaMaith article on Shepherd’s Pie; article on Shepherd’s Pie

Monday, February 19, 2018

Irish Potato Cakes

Irish Potato Cakes
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

After I wrote my recent article on Champ (Irish mashed potatoes with green onions), a friend of mine who is a citizen of the United States but is originally from County Clare in Ireland, told me about another potato dish that was very popular in Ireland when he was young. It is Irish Potato Cakes. (I later learned a variant of this is called "Farl" which is typically from the north of Ireland which is made by flattening the cake, cutting into squares, and serving with butter.)

So, I decided to try my own version of the Irish potato cakes. Mine are round and a bit thick. But you can get the general idea from the pictures I included and design your own, as you choose.

I used only a few ingredients -- large Irish baking potatoes, canned milk, flour, a bit of baking powder, and cooking oil. You will also need butter and the spices of your choice for flavoring. I used a Creole spice, since I'm from New Orleans, and parsley.

As per usual I do not give a precise recipe since I think people can best concoct their own version at home, using a little imagination from the list of ingredients and pictures.

Basin ingredients for Irish Potato Cakes:
baking potatoes, milk, flour, spices -- Creole spice
and parsley. Photo by Adrian McGrath

To fix the cakes, cut up the potatoes with the skin on and boil in water until soft.  Drain, mash, and mix the potatoes with enough milk to moisten the potatoes. Add flour to the potato mix, in proportion of five potato to one flour, and maybe a little baking powder, if desired. Form the potato cakes into balls and smash down into cakes.

Fry the cakes in a little butter or oil for about five minutes on each side. When done, serve with butter and season to taste.

And that is it. It is a very simple and flavorful dish.

The Irish Food Board called Bia Bord has a recipe and description of the cake here . They use a different type of potato and different spices from those on my cakes, but nothing is written in stone. Use whatever variant you like.

By the way, if you cannot find a New Orleans Creole spice near where you live, you can make your own. There are many ways to do this. But an easy way is to just mix in a bowl ground black pepper, white pepper, and a very small amount of red cayenne pepper. Cayenne is very powerful. Add salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Irish Potato Cakes can be a great addition to any meal -- breakfast lunch, or dinner.

Why not give them a try.

Sources and further reading:
Crispy Potato Cakes at Bia Bord; Wikipedia article on Irish Potato Cakes ; Wikipedia article on Farl .

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Champ (Poundies): Irish Mashed Potatoes with Green Onions and Butter

Champ: A great and simple Irish dish
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

The Irish and potatoes go together. There are many dishes where the potato is prominent, but this one is really a wonderful and easy one to make. It tastes great, is inexpensive, and is probably pretty nutritious. It is called Champ. (The Irish also refer to this dish as Poundies.) It is really a side dish, but it can become a main dish depending on what you add to it.

Most likely it would make a great side dish along with sausages (or "Bangers") or maybe a steak or a chop. (See my earlier article on Bangers and Mash.) It makes excellent Pub Food across the USA.

To make it you just need Irish potatoes or baking potatoes or any type of potato you prefer. Then milk, butter, and salt and pepper. And most importantly you need lots of green onions (or scallions). You can also add the cheese of your choice.

I made some by using the following items: baking potatoes, canned milk, cheese (Monterrey Jack and some Blue Cheese crumbles), salt and pepper, butter, and lots of green onions.

Basic ingredients for Champ
Photo by Adrian McGrath

As per usual, I do not give a precise recipe because I feel people can best make their own version just by giving the basic ingredients and basic plan.

I simply cut up and boil my potatoes, with the skins on. I do not peel them. Drain and then mash the potatoes. Add milk, cheese, butter, and chopped green onions. Save some of the green onions to add to the top of the dish as a garnish. Mix everything up and serve hot.

That is it. Simple and great.

If you grill a sausage, a pork chop, or a hamburger steak and add a salad or a favorite vegetable, you will have a great meal.

Some recipes might call for "scallions" instead of "green onions." These are similar items, but they might not be exactly the same. Some sources say green onions and scallions are the same thing by a different name. Other sources say "scallion" means a broader category of "onion" to which green onion is just one part. So, there is some debate on this fine point. But either one will do for our purposes.

I am using lots of green onions because they are easy to find at my local grocery and are inexpensive. Plus, I like the taste of green onions and their bright green appearance.

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board from the Irish government, has a recipe for Bacon, cabbage, and Champ. "Bacon" for the Irish is similar to what we call in America, Canadian Bacon. But you could probably use ham too.

So, why not give Champ a try the next time you want a nice and easy Irish potato dish.

Sources and further reading:
Wikipedia article on Champ; Irish Food Board, Bord Bia for bacon, cabbage, and Champ.