Side Dish - Comfort food & friends.

This past month I’ve eaten two fantastic Thanksgiving feasts, neither of which I was required to cook, been invited to a casserole dinner, and shared new fall menu pizzas with new friends at Prima Strada.

As we move into fall comfort foods, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas we scoff at eggnog in the grocery store and buy the last of the local tomatoes instead, in silent protest. So when it feels like summer has slipped away, think of the warmth and comfort of sharing the table with friends.

A comfort food staple at our house is beef cottage pie (a Shepherd’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb). Use leftover (I make them in big batches to have leftovers) or make fresh mashed potatoes. Dice an onion into small pieces, sauté in butter and olive oil over medium heat until it’s clear, add a few cloves of minced garlic, season with salt and pepper. Add one or two pounds of lean ground beef depending on how large of pie you want, and cook through. Add more salt and pepper and your favourite seasonings for beef, I use a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and some chili oil. Simmer a few minutes, then deglaze the pan using about half a cup of beer, red wine, or broth. Simmer until it reduces by half, sprinkle in a few tablespoons of arrowroot powder or flour. Stir until it forms a thick gravy that binds the meat together.

I’ve used two ways to assemble it. Either butter, then spread a thin layer of breadcrumbs into the bottom of a pie dish, pat the potatoes in to form a bottom crust, fill the dish with the beef mixture, and add a layer of potatoes on top; or, skip the bottom crust and layer the beef under a potato top. Leave it rustic with rough peaks, cover with breadcrumbs and grated cheese (I use Parmesan), or not, and bake at 350º for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the top browns. I serve it topped with peas and gravy. (Save and freeze gravy for this next time you make some).

When you need rest from comfort food missions in your own kitchen, try Padella Kitchen + Wine for house-made pasta, Pagliacci’s for live music with dinner Sunday to Wednesday 8 to 10pm, The Hot And Cold Cafe for vegan yellow coconut curry and other great bowls and sandwiches, or J&J Wonton Noodle House for Chinese food made with local ingredients.

Try it, you’ll like it:

• Cold Comfort Ice Cream - storefront in Fernwood, pints at select retailers around town. Pumpkin and other seasonal flavours, this is Victoria’s best ice cream.
• Phillips Brewing - Snowcase craft beer advent calendar is back, and a new Dare Devil Orange Cream Soda from Phillips Soda Works.
• Hide and Seek Coffee - a new cafe opening soon in Oak Bay.
• La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop, my favourite Vancouver taco shop, opening a location soon on Fort Street downtown.

Originally written for and published in Monday Magazine, November 2015.