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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Venison Cottage Pie

We spend most of the month of October at our vacation home in Florida.  The day after returning No Frills had a great sale on potatoes, beets, carrots and onions at $1.88 for a 10 lb bag each so of course I had to take advantage of that.  The week after returning home, my husband left for hunt camp with the guys.  He doesn't hunt himself so along with another good friend they are chief cook and bottle washer.  The guys have a lot of good old fashion fun and always share the rewards of any catch.  This year they took down a five point buck, so there was each of them brought home a little over 20 lb of venison each.

vegetables ready to steam for rustic potato topping
I've talked about making rustic potatoes in the previous posts.  Rustic potatoes have a lot of flavour and nutrition and because the skins are left on the potatoes, extra fibre.  Now, the carrots add sweetness, colour and texture but cabbage is a must.  A lot of folks turn their nose up at cabbage or only relate cabbage to coleslaw, but cooked cabbage takes on a mellow sweetness.

I like to steam the vegetables when making rustic potatoes.  In fact, I prefer steamed vegetables to those boiled.  Steamed vegetables lack the sogginess that comes with boiling vegetables.  They are higher in nutrition as well plus steaming vegetables are an eco-friendly way to cook vegetables because they use less water and energy.  Oh and if all those benefits weren't enough, they are very, very inexpensive and beyond easy to make, something every frugal cook loves to hear.

preparing the rustic potato topping
Once the vegetable mixture is tender, I pour it into the bowl of the KitchenAid stand mixer.  Then I add cream cheese, sour cream, milk or stock, a little butter, seasonings (garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper).  I don't add salt so while the dish is higher if fat, it is low sodium.  Low fat sour cream and cream cheese can be used if desired because it really is the flavour that counts in these potatoes, not the fat.  I always use 2% milk if using milk or de-fatted chicken stock depending on how the potatoes will be used.  Then I lightly whip the mixture leaving slightly lumpy but not starchy, adjusting the liquid if needed to get the consistency I want.

Rustic potatoes are ideal as a side dish and topping cottage pies or other casseroles.  They can be used as a pierogi or hot pocket filling as well.  I have also used rustic potatoes as a filling for rolled meatloaf.  A rolled meatloaf has a spiral effect.  The rustic potatoes look lovely when used this way while getting more nutrition into the finished dish.  These potatoes freeze nicely so make up a large batch then make a few dishes for the freezer for a bit of homemade convenience.

prepared venison cottage pie ready for oven
I made a venison cottage pie using the rustic potatoes.  A cottage pie is basically the same thing as a Shepard's pie except it is made with with ground meat other than lamb.  Lamb is traditionally used when making a Shepard's pie. Semantics (vs nomenclature) aside, the resulting dish consists of ground meat with some type of gravy topped with a layer of corn or mixed vegetables and a final layer of mashed potatoes then baked until warmed through and bubbly.   I added a thin layer of shredded extra old cheddar because I had a piece I wanted to use up.  Any shredded cheese can be used but is optional.

I used a covered glass casserole dish for the venison cottage pie.   At this point, I could have froze as is then popped out the frozen casserole and vacuum sealed it or instead of using a glass casserole dish, an aluminium baking tray is what I normally use for casseroles destined for the freezer.  If freezing in aluminium trays, I cover the top of the casserole with wax paper then seal tightly with aluminium foil.  Venison cottage pie can also be frozen in individual serving sizes using large muffin tins to freeze then pop out and vacuum seal.

venison cottage pie ready for serving
The venison cottage pie using up some of my Ontario produce purchase was destined for dinner that night.  Venison is an interesting meat to work with.  It is very low fat and what fat it does have has a poor mouth feel if the meat gets luke warm.  The solution to this problem is to add ground pork to ground venison in about a 1:2 ratio (ground pork:ground venison).  The abattoir that processed the venison actually did this when he ground it but most abattoirs don't.  The ground venison can also be browned in bacon fat.  Once the venison is browned, I drain it and use the drippings to make a gravy seasoned with a bit of Worcestershire sauce.  The pan can be de-glazed with red wine if desired then thickened to make a gravy using a roux but can be made gluten free by simply reducing somewhat and stirring into the meat.  If the corn is substituted with a gluten free vegetable, the venison cottage pie can easily be converted to gluten free if desired.

The venison cottage pie just out of the oven looked delicious and smelled divine   The rustic potato topping is a perfect  match for the rich flavour of the venison.  This was a good sized casserole that gave a yield of six to eight generous servings.  The cooked venison cottage pie reheats nicely.

venison cottage pie serving
Shepard's or cottage pie is usually shown plated as a square as the common restaurant presentation much the same way lasagne is plated.  However, when I serve it, the result is anything but a square.  Neither is my lasagne.  The reason being, both are served piping hot so it does not hold a firm shape.  The cream cheese in the rustic potato topping and gravy added to the meat means the cottage pie will not hold a firm shape.  At the same time, the addition of the gravy and cream cheese gives nice moist results eliminating the need for topping with separate gravy.  Homemade bread and a garden salad rounded out the meal.

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