Couples often have fond memories of their first acquisition. Their first couch, their first stove, their first pet… Our first acquisition, Speedy’s and mine, was a cookbook. That was before we got married. Looking back, it’s almost uncanny as though that decision would set the tone for the next two decades. It was a hardbound cookbook, it cost over a thousand pesos which in the early 1990s was not loose change. In that cookbook was a recipe for farmer’s pie (no, in that book, it was called neither shepherd’s pie nor cottage pie). Minced meat topped with mashed potatoes then baked until the top of the mashed potato layer was lightly browned and the meat filling was bubbly.
I don’t remember anymore how soon after we bought that cookbook that I cooked my first farmer’s pie. My next memory of the dish was
three two-year-old Sam eating farmer’s pie on New Year’s Eve. Speedy was taking a video of her, asking her what she was eating and, even at three two years old, she knew exactly what it was. The girl who talked before she could walk said, “Farmer’s pie,” very clearly and articulately. We still love watching the video.
Over a month ago, I made farmer’s pie again (we had lots of potatoes and leftover ground beef stew). I automatically started to take photos, as usual. But after downloading the photos to my computer, I wondered why I even bothered taking them. Surely, I didn’t intend to write another step-by-step tutorial on how spread mashed potatoes over minced meat. The photos stayed in my hard drive untouched. Until today. Because I wanted to write about that first cookbook and
three two-year-old Sam eating farmer’s pie on New Year’s Eve. I’m in that mood. And, no, I haven’t had any alcohol. Yet.
Whatever you want to call it, or whatever you grew up calling it, whether farmer’s pie, shepherd’s pie or cottage pie, it means the same thing. Meat underneath; mashed potatoes on top. The meat can be ground, minced or cut into larger chunks. It may be accompanied by other vegetables. It can have a red, white or brown sauce or even none at all. Personally, I find that the best meat filling for farmer’s pie is leftover stew. Aged stew. Stew that have had enough time to mellow and blend the flavors in it. You seal all that by trapping everything inside a generous layer of buttery mashed potatoes and you have one hell of a dish.
Until last moth, I had never used a piping bag to spread the mashed potatoes over the meat. I just spooned in the mashed potatoes and made the thickness of the layer even by smoothening it with the back of a spoon. If wanted texture, I’d rake through the mashed potato layer with a fork. The thing about texture (and you get more texture when you pipe the mashed potatoes over the meat) is that during baking, the uneven browning makes the mashed potato layer prettier. So, I tried it. I took out my piping bag, chose a tip, piped the mashed potatoes over the meat and…
I got the exact effect that I wanted. Not that piping the mashed potatoes makes farmer’s pie more, or less, delicious. But I have to admit that piping makes the mashed potatoes lighter and airier because you don’t press and spread down the mashed potatoes to cover all the meat.
Next time, I’ll use another tip — perhaps, one of the two that Sam used to frost vanilla cupcakes — to create a different texture for the mashed potatoes.