Tag Archives: comfort food

Cottage Pie–or Is it Shepherd’s Pie?

Cottage pie, shepherd’s pie, pasties, pot pie.. the list is endless. Earlier, I shared a recipe for chicken pot pie. Pot pie is a mixture of vegetables and meat baked in a casserole with a pie crust topping.

While many people are looking for royalty among their ancestors, I have had to content myself with peasants and yeomen.  It is from peasants in the British Isles that we get the name Cottage Pie–a dish meant to combine a bunch of leftovers in an easy-to-make comfort food.

Our innovative great- great- great grandmothers found many ways to serve up the meat and veggies baked in a crust of some sort.  One favorite in the British isles particularly is Shepherd’s pie, which has become a catch all for casseroles topped with mashed potatoes.  However if it is not made with lamb, it is not a shepherd’s pie.  Cows don’t have shepherds.  Put beef in with the vegetables and you get COTTAGE PIE. And add bread crumbs on top of the mashed potatoes and you have Cornwall pie.

Cottage Pie or Shepherd’s Pie are great ways to use up leftovers, including leftover mashed potatoes. But if you want some Cottage Pie and don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, this recipes includes instructions for starting with raw potatoes.

As I so often do, I scanned the Internet and then came back to my old, ragged, falling apart Joy of Cooking cookbook.

As far as I can see, the only MUSTS in this recipe are mashed potatoes, some kind of meat, some kinds of vegetables, ad seasonings that include nutmeg. It is one of those recipes that is very open to interpretation.  For instance, I include cheese in the mashed potatoes. Some recipes line the entire dish with mashed potatoes.

Cottage pie without crust

Cottage pie divided in several pans for freezing, before adding the mashed potato crust.

Note: The picture you see of my several pans of cottage pie reflect the fact that I made 1 12 recipe because I wanted to freeze some small containers to give to someone who had recently come out of the hospital.  In the spirit of Cottage Pie, I used what I had on hand, which resulted in a thinner coating of both filling and mashed potatoes than I normally would have.

Also, this emphasizes the point that not only is Cottage Pie a supreme comfort food, it is easily freezable for future days when the cook needs the comfort of having a meal ready to eat with some warming up.

Cottage Pie

Serves 6
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Hot
Region British
From book Joy of Cooking, 1991
The ultimate comfort food is Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie depending on what meat you use.


Potato Topping

  • 1 1/2lb potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Butter (I admit I use much more)
  • 1 cup cheese (grated)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)


  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1-2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 celery stalk (cleaned, peeled and chopped)
  • 1lb ground beef or chopped cooked beef
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

Filling (Optional)

  • 1 onion (medium, chopped)


  • 2 tablespoons butter


1. Put peeled, quartered potatoes in cool water in pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender.
2. Scoop out and set aside 1/2 cup of cooking water before draining potatoes.
3. Mash potatoes with fork or potato masher (preferably not mixer or blender), adding the cooking water, butter, cheese, and salt and pepper.
4. In heavy skillet, brown ground beef if not cooked. Remove from pan and pour off any excess grease.
5. Add vegetable oil and cook the chopped vegetables. Stir back in the meat . Sprinkle flour over, and stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in Stock and seasonings. Reduce to low and cook until thickened.
6. Pour into 9" pie plate or baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top, scoring with fork, or making peaks with the fork. Scatter bits of butter over the top.
7. Bake until the potatoes are browned and dish heated through--30 to 35 minutes.
8. If freezing, let cool slightly. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil, cool in refrigerator, then when cold transfer to freezer.

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

potatoesPotatoes. Such a plentiful and cheap food for my Irish and British ancestors, and the early settlers in America.  But they can get boring (apologies to my sister who never met a potato she didn’t like). So our ancestors in aprons found a variety of ways to cook them.

A dish of Scalloped Potatoes, like Welsh Rarebit ,is a old-fashioned comfort food.

But before I get to today’s recipe for Scalloped Potatoes, I want to tell you about my experience at stoop labor–digging potatoes.

When I was attending Killbuck High School in Ohio, the class always wanted to raise money with various projects. Other than buying something to leave as a gift for the school when we graduated, I don’t know what the money was for.  But I do know of one smart farmer up near Wooster who figured out how to take advantage of the high school slave labor market.

The potato farmer contacted schools and offered to pay some paltry amount to a class if they came and dug potatoes in his fields during potato harvesting time. Our class bit.  It was quite a lark–particularly for the townies. The kids who came from farms may have been thinking we were downright crazy. On the other hand, they probably didn’t go along because they were doing actual work on their own farms.

We piled into a school bus (rules for outings were more lenient in the 50s) and were delivered at the potato field.  The furrows had already been dug up mechanically, so all we had to do was pick up the potatoes and put them in a sack and carry them back to where they were being weighed.  What was a lot of fun with a lot of joking and flirting and competition, got old really fast as dirt caked our arms and legs and muscles screamed from all that hauling.

In retrospect, that day in the potato field might have had something to do with the inordinately high percentage of students from our tiny school who wound up going to college. Anything but potato picking to make a living!

Meanwhile, although that experience might have had something to do with my disdain for eating potatoes, there was one dish my grandma Vera Anderson, and my mother, Harriette Kaser made that I loved for its creamy goodness.

scalloped potatoes prep

scalloped potatoes ready for the oven with flour sprinkled over the slices.

I have tried to find out why scalloped potatoes are called “scalloped”.  Among the various theories, the most likely is that “escalloped” refers to meat sliced very thin.  The secret of success with scalloped potatoes is thin slicing–the term probably moved over to potatoes.  I would have thought that might be a Norman word imported into England, but Google sources say it comes from the Old English word “collops,” referring to shredded meat. Whatever.

Basically, scalloped potatoes require only potatoes, salt and pepper, butter and milk or cream. I learned the hard way that adding flour helps make the sauce into sauce instead of just a bowl of milk.  From the beginnings you can add cheese (for au gratin–or “cheesy scalloped potatoes”) or meat, or different seasonings.

The technique varies, too.  Cook the potatoes first before layering and baking. Cook the sliced potatoes in the sauce before baking. Cook covered. Cook uncovered.  Here’s a heritage recipe that worked well for me (and other than the fact that I don’t recall my mother using flour, seems to parallel the family recipe).

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes

The Rector Cook Book 1928

The Rector Cook Book 1928

From The Rector Cookbook by George Rector (1928)
Wash and peel the required number of potatoes and slice in 1/8 inch thickness.  Butter a baking dish and cover bottom with a layer of sliced potatoes.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and flour and dot with several small pieces of butter.  Continue layers of potatoes and seasonings until required quantity is used up.  Then pour milk over all and bake in a moderate oven 50 minutes.  Serve from baking dish in which they were cooked.

Oh, wait….you want details? Okay, here’s the recipe as I made it. (Except you have to decide for yourself how much salt and pepper to use.) The pyrex dish in the basket with a wooden base (pictured below) was a practical wedding present given to Ken and me and is still in use in my kitchen.

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Serves 8
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Side Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
From book The Rector Cook Book (1928)


  • 6 baking potatoes (sliced thin)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter (Cut in small bits)
  • 1 1/4 cup Half and Half (Can use milk)
  • salt
  • pepper


1. Butter a Pyrex baking dish. 10" round as I used takes longer to bake than a flat dish.
2. Make a layer of sliced potatoes. Scatter flour lightly and salt and pepper to taste. Dot with pieces of butter.
3. Repeat layers until you use all potatoes.
4. Pour Half and Half over potatoes. You need to have the cream/milk come to the top layer of potatoes.
5. Cover with glass lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Test with fork to see if potatoes are beginning to get soft.
6. When potatoes are no longer crisp, but are not yet mushy, uncover and turn up heat to 400 degrees until potatoes begin to brown on top. (At this point I added three strips of cooked bacon, broken into small pieces.)
7. if you w ant Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes, add grated cheese of your choice in the last step.

Welsh Rabbit Is Not Rabbit and Welsh Rarebit Is Not Rare

Tomato Welsh Rarebit is pure comfort food. Perfect for a cold and snowy day. (Since I live in Southern Arizona, you’ll pardon me if I just go ahead and make it without the chilly atmosphere.)

Welsh Rarebit  also has the benefit of being easy to make and economical, which I’m sure was an attraction for my mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser.

For such a simple dish–basically melted cheese on toast or crackers, with tomatoes added, the dish has a complex history.

Tomato Welsh Rarebit

Tomato Rarebit with parsley

The most likely history  traces it to 18th century Great Britain. I believe cooks probably made it earlier in the versions without tomatoes–which didn’t arrive in Europe until the New World had been discovered.  The dish is associated with Great Britain and qualifies as “pub food.”  This is not the kind of meal you would find served on fine China in a white-tablecloth restaurant.

Perhaps the name came about because the British looked down their noses at food from Wales and Ireland and Scotland as “common”. And rarebit is rare only in that the word does not appear alone. It always is modified by Irish or Scotch, or more commonly Welsh Rarebit.

But what is a rarebit? Apparently, it is a corruption of “rabbit”.  And therefore Welsh Rabbit/Rarebit would mean a dish for people so poor they couldn’t scrounge up even so common a meat source  as rabbit.

And then there is Rumtum Tiddy (or Rinktum Tiddy), a name to win your heart, which seems to be the same dish, sometimes with variations, but then there are variations galore in Welsh Rabbit.

People who insist on linguistic distinctions only refer to Welsh Rarebit as melted cheese thinned with beer and poured over toast. When tomatoes are added, the fastidious language police would call the dish Pink Bunny or Blushing Bunny.  However I’m perfectly comfortable with calling my mother’s version Welsh Rarebit, or Tomato Welsh Rarebit. (Or Rink Tum Tiddy, for that matter.)

I wanted to make the simple version that my mother made, which eliminated using eggs or beer. Since mother did not leave a recipe card (why would she for such a simple dish?) I started a search.

1925 Cook Book

1925 Cook Book

Wikipedia refers to Mrs. Glasse’s The Art of Cooking, published in 1747, which has recipes for Scotch rabbit, Welsh Rabbit and two kinds of English rabbit. My copy of The Buffalo Evening News Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book (1925) presents recipes for “Savory Rarebit,”    “Pink Bunny,” “Cheese and Tomato Rarebit with Bacon,” Scotch Rarebit” and “Welsh Rarebit.” Their Welsh Rarebit is served with bread dipped into the cheese, like a fondue, while the Scotch Rarebit is open-faced toasted cheese sandwiches, baked in the oven. Clearly anything goes.


Tomato Welsh Rarebit

Tomato Rarebit with bacon

Of the many recipes available I chose one from the website A Hundred Years Ago.com . That website reproduced a Good Housekeeping  July 1911 recipe for Tomato Rarebit.  I left out the onion in their recipe, but otherwise the recipe–without any of the optional ingredients– seemed to be exactly like the Tomato Welsh Rarebit that my mother used to make for a quick meal in the 1940s through 1970s. I do not recall her topping the Welsh rarebit with anything, but I put bacon on mine and parsley on Ken’s.

You can choose from the options as you choose. Those ideas come from various other sources.

The sauce can do double duty. It is delicious on the steamed broccoli that I served on the side, and poured over soft-cooked eggs and ham for breakfast. You could even spread it cold on bread as a kind of homemade Cheeze Whiz©. In fact, the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook version suggests making Welsh Rarebit with “grated American cheese, or nippy, spreadable cheese.”  Guess they were avoiding brand names.

Tomato Welsh Rarebit

Serves 2-4
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 50 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Website A Hundred Years Ago


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cups milk (whole, skim, or evaporated)
  • 2 cups grated or diced cheese (Sharp Cheddar preferred)
  • 1 cup tomato soup (or finely diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 4-6 medium slices bread
  • 1 dash *worchestershire sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon *cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon *onion (finely diced- optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon *baking soda (optional-mixed in the tomato soup)
  • 2 *eggs (optional)
  • *fresh parsley (optional)
  • 4 medium slices *bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)


1. Make white sauce (Bechamel) by melting butter, stirring in flour. Stir in milk over low heat until sauce starts to thicken.
2. If using soda in tomatoes, add the soda to the tomatoes.
3. Stir cheese into white sauce until it begins to melt.
4. Stir in tomatoes and seasonings, until cheese is melted smooth and the sauce is warm through.
5. Toast bread and cut in triangles. Place four triangles on each plate.
6. Pour sauce over toast.
7. Garnish with parsley or bacon if desired, or sprinkle with paprika.
8. OPTIONAL: If using eggs, after blending the cheese and tomatoes in the sauce, beat eggs, mix a few spoonsful of the hot sauce into the eggs and then mix the eggs into the sauce until well blended.


I am certain that mother would have used condensed tomato soup from Campbell's.  I used an organic, low-salt tomato soup in a carton from Sprouts grocery store.  When I make this recipe with my own twists, I will whirl fresh diced tomatoes or good quality canned diced tomatoes in the blender with a little cream.