Tag Archives: leftovers

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.

Pie Cookies from Perfect Pie Crust

Among the things those ancestors who haunt my kitchen keep telling me–“Don’t throw away perfectly good food!” Following the waste-not-want-not philosophy of all those lovely ladies in my family, who never allowed a leftover to go to waste, we don’t toss the scraps of pie dough after rolling out the pie, instead we get creative with pie cookies.

Look at all those scalloped edges that are going to be trimmed. Where will that excess dough go?

Pie crust pastryrolled out

Of course when you are making several pie crusts at once, you can shove the bits and pieces to the side and hope you have enough to make another crust, but re-rolling the crust too many times is going to degrade the flakiness quotient.

Mini pie plates

Mother’s mini pie plates

Mother had a couple of small pie tins that she used to make mini-pies for the mini-people at our holiday feasts–you know, the ones who sat at the kitchen table, before they graduated to the grown up table with linens and silverware. (I put a measuring cup beside the mini pie pans to give you perspective.) And if you have mini tins, you might make a mini pie.

But following in the footsteps of the frugal forebears, I gather up all the little pieces, roll them gently out one more time, and make pie cookies.  Lots of people do this, but everybody seems to have a different name. What do you call the little treats you make with leftover dough?

This is definitely time to get creative.   You can use regular cookie cutters, or just use whatever is on hand. Make them thin, because they’e going to puff up, and they’ll be tenderer if they’re thin.


Cutting Pie Cookies

Cutting Pie Cookies With Whatever You Have

No need to grease the cookie sheet. There’s plenty of shortening in the dough.  You might want to use parchment, however, if you are using sticky fillings that might ooze out.

Many shapes of Pie Cookies

Get creative with shapes and toppings or fillings of Pie Cookies

In this picture you can see some of the additions I used this time.  The small dish with a brush has some milk to brush on the tops so the pastry won’t look–well–pasty.

I keep a sprinkler jar of cinnamon sugar around for when I have an urge for cinnamon toast, and this is my favorite topping for pie cookies. (I add some powdered cocoa to my cinnamon and sugar.)

I always have leftover colored sugar and sprinkles left from cookie decorating marathons with my grandchildren. This time I used some blue sugar, for a strange little cookie that reminds me of a lava lamp.  

I usually use some fruit jam for a tiny tart. But dear, dear, I was out of jam–so I tried Nutella®.  This is one of those foods that it is okay to eat even though your grandmother never heard of it.  Chocolate hazlenut spread. Beyond delicious. (These are for Kristen Jafek Gough, since she likes to use this spread over at My Kids Eat Squid . She even made a pie with Nutella.)

As you see, I tried lots of different shapes. I neglected to make a small square, which is folded over into a triangle with jam in the middle. But despite all the possibilities of carefully sculpted shapes, my favorite thing is to just chop off an irregular piece that is left from the edge of the pie and leave the shape as is.  Then you can play “what does this look like?” as you nibble.


Pie Cookies make an atoll of islands

Pie Cookies make an atoll of islands

Bake the pie cookies in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on how well your oven heats and what kind of pan you are using.  Watch carefully after ten minutes because they can go from perfectly browned to burnt in seconds. This is one time when that light bulb inside the oven can really come in handy, so you don’t have to keep opening the door.

Here are a few of the cookies. (We ate the rest as soon as they came out of the oven smelling all floury and buttery and sugary). The Nutella is a real winner, by the way.

Finished  pie cookies

Finished idiosyncratic pie cookies

Pie cookies will always be delicious if you have a delicious pie crust recipe to start with, and of course now that you know about the Perfect Pie Crust, you definitely will make champion pie cookies. In the spirit of fairness, I have to mention the pie challenge throw down that came from Kris Bordessa in Hawaii, with her similar but not identical heritage recipe for pie crust at Attainable Sustainable. Feel free to compare our pie crusts for your pie cookies.

And do share your own creative uses for leftover pie dough. But never, never throw it away!

Are Leftovers Old Fashioned?

When I served up creamed chicken chunks over toast, Ken remarked “This is old style–you used the leftover chicken from last night.”

As I sprinkled the fresh parsley over the top, I thought about the dried parsley in a can that Grandma Vera and my mother would have used. I still fall back on canned when my parsley plants aren’t enough, but fresh tastes so much better.

Parsley Plant

Parsley Plant

But Ken was right. I had baked the chicken with Italian seasonings yesterday. Today I chopped up the chicken, made a white sauce (call it Bechamel if you want to sound fancy French–it’s the same thing) and mixed in some frozen peas to cook in the sauce.

I sprinkled parsley snipped from a pot I keep growing year round for a bit of color on top. I thought as I did so that Grandma and mother would have used the slightly bitter-tasting dried parsley from a can. Since the chicken was already seasoned with Italian flavoring, it didn’t need anything else.

But “old style”?  Is it out of fashion to use leftovers as the base for a meal?  Of course I don’t see it that way, since it is the way I think about meal planning.  First question–what is in the fridge that I can use tonight?

Reading articles like this one from Sarah Henry at Lettuce Eat Kale, alerted me to the serious problem in this country with wasted food.  Given that we also have a problem of too many people with not enough food, this dilemma deserves some thought.

garbageAccording to a story on NPR, 40% of the food grown or produced in the United States gets thrown away. That is $165 billion worth of food each year uneaten. BILLION. And the amount of wasted food increases every year. So what can we do to get turn back the clock? Read the story at Lettuce Eat Kale for practical tips, and here are a couple more.

  • Don’t over buy to start out with. If you are super-organized, you’ll make a menu plan for the week, but few of us are that OCD about meal planning. So stop and think about whether you’re actually going to eat that perishable before it perishes.
  • Label things on your food shelves and in the fridge with the date you stored them.
  • Remember that a “best by” date does not mean you’ll die if you eat it. I’m not saying endanger your health, just be reasonable. (Maybe that is a downside of best by–Grandma just used her nose and good sense).
  • Teach your kids not to take more than they can eat. Waste in school cafeterias is enormous. But “eyes bigger than stomachs” can result in a heap of food on a plate that goes in the garbage instead of the stomach.

What would Grandma have done with leftover food? Besides making cooked foods into a pot pie or casserole, she’d have fed the wilted lettuce to the chickens or chopped it up  to work into soil in the garden. Cold rice became rice pudding with raisins. Bruised apples would make her delicious cooked apple slices.

I admit, I do not use leftovers because I am thinking about global issues. I use them because I’m cheap. But I also hate waste.  People who survived the Great Depression  of the 30s, followed by a World War that demanded real sacrifice (that would be my parents and grandparents), automatically saved, reused, stretched everything.Their children (that would be me) tended  to inherit frugality.

Another day we will talk about the Great Depression and depression food and another ‘nother day we will talk about World War II and its affect on food choices. But for now–how do YOU use leftovers?

You can find a recipe for basic white sauce and a way to turn it into cheese sauce at Epicurious.com.  In my opinion, white sauce is one of the first things that everyone who pokes their head in a kitchen should learn to make. And it surely helps when you have leftovers.