How did being born in Coaley, a village in the English county of Gloucestershire, affect your food sensibilities? I am English with Polish heritage. My mum, Danette Bray, is Polish and made amazing food, but when she went to work, it was my babcia (grandmother) who would do the cooking a lot of the time. Growing up, the foods prepared at home were exactly like this shepherd’s pie: filling and substantial, yet so very delicious.
I learned from a very early age how to make simple meals, so my style for cooking is just that — simple — and I cook what people love to eat. I prefer to make homemade rather than go to restaurants.
After having lived in the Midwest for 33 years, do you think we share similar food roots with those in English villages? I’ve found people in the Midwest to be honest, loving and hardworking people, and that is a commonality we share. However, I have more friends here in the States than I do in England, because I have found Americans to be more open. That being said, Tony and I get back to visit my twin sister, Kay, my mum and dad, and the rest of the family in England at least once a year.
I like to use the barbecue grill for chicken, pork chops and salmon, and I use my Crock-Pots a lot, making stews, casseroles, and bean and ham soup. I cook at the weekends for the entire week, to make sure we have something healthy and substantial for lunch that can easily be warmed up.
Tony loves scones, and I recently found a recipe that he likes, so I make a batch and freeze them, so we can enjoy a warmed scone with a cup of tea.
In lunchrooms across America, shepherd’s pie seems to have developed a bad rap. Yes, I think many Americans have a different relationship to shepherd’s pie than we English do. But when I make my version of shepherd’s pie for others, they often want the recipe.
Shepherd’s pie has been the staple of the English dinner table for hundreds of years, and I grew up eating it with lamb. Richer than most meats, when combined with vegetables and other spices, it provided a wonderful hearty and filling meal for any family.
Nowadays, shepherd’s pie is made with any meat, and I particular like to use ground turkey in mine. It’s lean and quick to cook up.
Cooking seems to bring out the creativity in you. To some, cooking and eating are just a way of providing nourishment to your body, but I see it as relaxation and fun. You don’t know how it’s going to come out unless you experiment, so I add another spice or another vegetable and see how it changes the whole presentation.
Cooking can be a test of one’s imagination — even a change of basic ingredients can turn a meal into something wonderful and flavorful. Do I follow a recipe? Hmmm … maybe the first time, but then I like to reinvent it and see what happens. That’s the fun of cooking; you can open up the pantry and there’s a whole new world to play in.
But even more important is for me to create happy food memories for my grandson, the same way my mum and babcia did for me.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Occupation: Administrative assistant
Special cooking interest: Cooking comfort foods.
Makes 12 servings
4 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/4 cup butter
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
3 (1-ounce) packets brown gravy mix
2 1/2 cups water
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Place potatoes in a large pot and fill with water 2 inches above potatoes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring water to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to medium-high, cover pot tightly with lid and continue to boil at least 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain potatoes over sink in a large colander. Return potatoes to pot and immediately add milk, sour cream, butter, 11/2 cups of the grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Using a potato masher, mix ingredients together, breaking up potatoes until mixture reaches a creamy consistency. Place lid back on pot and set aside.
In a large sauté pan, briefly heat vegetable oil over medium heat on stove top. Add onion to pan and sauté until soft and translucent. Add turkey to pan and brown until no longer pink. Drain pan of excess fat.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk 3 packets of brown gravy mix (Woodward prefers Williams Brown Gravy Mix) with water. Stir gravy mixture, mixed vegetables, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt and garlic powder into sauté pan. Bring to a boil, then turn to low and simmer for 45 minutes until vegetables are tender.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour meat/vegetable mixture into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Allow it to set for 5 minutes, or until mixture starts to thicken. Spread prepared mashed potatoes over meat mixture and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese over all. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until potatoes turn golden brown.
Per serving: 400 calories (39 percent from fat), 17 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 77 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 960 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.