Friday, March 12, 2010

Man Can Cook: Shepherd's Pie

Used to be, way back when, that home and hearth were the sole domain of the woman of the house; at least that’s how the domestic goddess image was popularly portrayed. Remember Donna Reed? And Jane Wyman on “Father Knows Best”? Men cooked, it’s true, but they were either highfalutin chefs, “Cookie” on the wagon train, or master of the grill. Men weren’t the everyday cooks who kept the family well-fed and happy.

Times have certainly changed. You only have to look at the roster of Food Network or PBS cooks to see the kitchen is the new man’s cave. Look at “Guy’s Big Bite”! This past week, I read that launched a new site called, a website dedicated to the “unique culinary interests of men.” I really didn’t think they were that much different – you like to cook, or you don’t -- but everyone deserves a niche, I guess.

This normalcy of men performing the feat of every day cooking is refreshing. But I didn’t need a website or news article to tell me that. It’s much closer to home. My daughter’s Valentine Day’s date was with a man who cooked for her, in his own well-equipped kitchen, “the best eggplant parmesan” she ever ate. We have a neighbor friend – a man my age – who talks more cookery, recipes and food with me than most women. My husband, while not particularly fond of cooking per se, is great company in the kitchen and loves to kibitz and “advise.” And my sons-in-law are prime examples of the new age male cooking.

Both of them cook -- a lot. And well! And not just at the grill. They have busy schedules with kids, their wives work and their varying schedules are such that it just makes more sense for the man of the house to do his share of the cooking.

Both young men are named Dan. It’s very confusing. We tried calling them Dan 1 and Dan 2, but that didn’t work because:
1. It was too Dr. Seuss-like; and
2. It sparked some friendly discussions about age and/or rank.
So, we have to use their initials to differentiate them. It’s not very personal, but it works.

This is about Dan Z. (Dan K will have his turn in this hopper soon enough, but Dan Z is first; after all, he’s the older one!) Dan is a great experimenter in the kitchen and loves to try new things. This winter, he tried cheese making at home, with fair-to-moderate success. He’s made butter. Makes a mean cheesecake and probably makes his own mayonnaise. He is famous in his neighborhood for his homemade pita chips and ice cream. (Not together.) His favorite TV cook is Gordon Ramsay. He can whip up a great meal with whatever’s available. He makes greens-and-beans, bangers-and-mash, and one of his newer reliables, Shepherd’s Pie.

He’s had such an ongoing success with Shepherd’s Pie, that it was his daughter Emma’s request for her birthday dinner last month. When I asked him to share his recipe, he sent an e-mail, announcing: “Here’s the receipt.” As I expected, it wasn’t a real recipe, in the new world sense. It’s a receipt in the old world sense: a set of instructions, and a list of variable ingredients, describing his technique, his preferences and tips. I did edit his spelling, former English teacher that I am. But (most) everything else is uniquely Dan!

Dan’s Shepherd’s Pie

1 lb or so ground sausage, or turkey
(Turkey is healthier and better tasting than beef; low fat meat works the best.)
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 sweet onion
Several carrots
A stick or 2 of celery
Can of diced tomato
Handful and a half of bread crumbs (We use Italian flavored.)
Potatoes to make mashed potatoes (Enough to add 1-2 inches in a 12" pan) butter (Everything tastes better with butter.)

Start potatoes in boiling water. Make your favorite mashed potatoes. (I add butter, milk and a heaping spoonful of sour cream.) Turn oven on to about 350 degrees. (Our oven temperature doesn't work right, so it is probably hotter than that.)

Sauté peppers, carrots, celery in a pan in a bit of olive oil or butter. (We use a 12" oven-proof sauté pan.) Add meat and onions. (My wife doesn't know this, but I add some sugar with the onions to make them sweet.) I add Emeril’s Original Seasoning Mix before the meat is browned. Finally, add the can of tomatoes and simmer. Add pepper to taste and add any type of seasoning you like. I use thyme, Spanish paprika, and garlic, usually, but might add whatever. When done, flatten out meat mixture in bottom of pan and add bread crumbs, enough to have a thin coating. With rubber spatula, layer mashed potatoes on top of meat mix in pan. Flatten out. With a fork, make peaks all around the mashed potatoes. Fling little tabs of softened butter on top of mashed potatoes. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes or until peaks start to get golden brown. (I never really set a timer.)

I’ve yet to make it Dan-style, but I will. I know it’s a hit around their house. Dan ended his e-mail with a Gordon Ramsay shout out:


But this was my favorite part:

Disclaimer: Following this receipt does not guarantee you will enjoy it, and will not taste the same as when I make it.


  1. Dan Z-
    Made your recipe and it was not bad. Had to make a few modifications for local palates - no peppers.
    Emma no like peas ?

  2. Hey Love the story! It caught my eye because 'men in the kitchen' is a sore subject at the moment! Yep they love to cook and I don't mind so long as the kitchen isn't mine!! Although my other half makes a mean spaghetti (persian style)~ I used to make Sheperds pie and haven't had it for years so maybe I will try Dan's recipe! J :)


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