Shepherd’s Pie – Vinny Style

Part Package, Park Pluck Makes a Great Shepherd’s Pie

Funny Motivational Speaker and Celebrity Chef Vinny Verelli Making a Shepherd’s Pie

One doesn’t think of New York or the mountains of Georgia when it comes to shepherd’s pie. The original recipe comes from the British Isles and you’ll find recipes for English, Irish and Scottish shepherd’s pie. But somewhere in New York there is a chef preparing a dish with tender center cut grass-feed lamb, minced with seasonal vegetables and spices in a Pinot Noir reduction topped with smashed fingerling potatoes, baked in a tandoori oven and then finished off with a pastry torch.

And somewhere in Georgia there’s a mom who took some hamburger helper, mixed in some frozen peas and carrots and spread yesterday’s mashed potatoes on top and served it up with plenty of hot sauce on the side. I don’t care what you call it you can make this dish as complicated or simple as you like and it can be delicious.

The thought of making shepherds pie hadn’t crossed my mind until I saw a seasoning package for shepherd’s pie. Also had some garden potatoes that weren’t getting any fresher.

The shepherd’s pie recipe mix I used was made by Schwartz. Those of you who know me see the irony in this. If using a package mix follow the directions on the individual package and add any of the things you like about from the recipe below. It’s probably just as easy to make it from scratch and you’re less likely to get a paper cut. Plus Schwartz isn’t local for me. Those of you reading this in England may know Schwartz but it’s not a normal brand in the States. Check out their facebook page:

Funny Speaker Vinny Verelli gets help from Schwartz

Part package, park pluck makes a great tasking Shepherd’s Pie

You can put in as many or as little vegetables as you like, season it with anything you like and make it any texture (grated, minced, diced) you like, but as long as you spread mashed potatoes on top and bake it, you got shepherd’s pie.

2 pounds peeled, cleaned and cooked any kind of potato you want.
Half stick of butter
Half cup cream or half and half (okay 2% if you have to)
1   cup fresh Parmesan Reggiano cheese or anything from a green box
Salt and pepper to your taste
1  egg yolk optional (add richness to the potatoes nice even browning after baking.
Note: Richness = Cholesterol

Peel the potatoes and cut into ½ cubes. Place in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to simmer and cook until tender about 10 to 15 minutes.  If a knife stuck into the middle of a potato comes out easily the potatoes are done. If the potato is stuck on the knife, keep cooking.

If you can multitask you can start on the meat mixture while the potatoes are cooking.

Drain the potatoes and let cool for a couple of minutes. Careful handling  hot potatoes. Mash the potatoes the way you like to mash. I like to use a ricer because all the potatoes are rendered the same consistency.  This makes it a lot easier to mash when you start adding the liquid and fat. There’e no need for a hand mixer or blender.

Funny Speaker Vinny Verelli uses a ricer

Add softened butter and mix. Add cream and mix. Add ½ cup of parmesan cheese and mix. If the potatoes look dry add a little more cream. Salt and pepper to taste.  If you’re using egg yolk stir that in until incorporated. Set aside as you prepare the filling.


1 – 1 ½  pounds ground lamb or lean ground beef (I used a pound of organic beef)
2 Tbls Olive oil
1 large onion diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup red wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas

meat mixture_postIf you’re going to use a season mix, follow the instructions on the package and borrow from this recipe to come up with a flavor you like. Here’s what I would do without the Schwartz with me

Brown meat in a little olive oil unless there’s a lot of fat visible in your meat.  Remove the meat while there’s still some pink. Pour off all but 2 TBL of fat. Add the onion and cook stirring to degrease the pan about 2 minutes.  Add carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. Add garlic cook another 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and continue to cook, chopping up the meat some more in the pan.

In a separate sauce pan make the gravy by melting 2 tablespoons of butter and mixi in the flour. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, wine, Worcestershire, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. The longer you cook it the thicker it should get.  Add the gravy to the meat mixture along with the peas. Mix well.

Funny Speaker and Celebrity Chef - Shepherd's Pie

With pramesan cheese in and sprinkled on cheese cooks up brown and crisp

Spread the meat mixture evenly into an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, smoothing them out with a rubber spatula. Bring the potatoes all the way to the edge to make a seal. This way the sauce won’t bubble up over the potatoes. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top and place in a 350 degree over for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes have a nice browned color. Remove from the oven an let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Want to get fancy? You can add a little extra cream and then put the potatoes in a pastry bag. Swirl any type of design over the meat. Cook in the oven as before but finish off under the broiler to char the peaks.

What to go simple? This dish can be made with practically any leftovers you have in the fridge. Heat them up in a pot with a sauce you thicken. Spread with leftover potatoes smashed and spread on top for the “mixture.” Bake it and name it. It’s yours.

If Your Not Having Fun, You’re Doing It wrong.


Haven’t Decided What to Make for Christmas?

Whip up this Beef Wellington.

Last year I make a festive Beef Wellington for Christmas Dinner.  By the time I posted the video it was middle of January. If you’re one of those last minute types of gourmets and haven’t decided what to make this year, try this Beef Wellington served with a Demi-glace reduction with muscadine jelly and single barrel Jack Daniels.

 Original post and complete recipe can be found here

If You’re Not Having Fun, You’re Doing It Wrong. 

Papa John’s Six Cheese Pizza

I love cheese. Let me restate that. I love good cheese, fresh cheese. So I don’t need a lot of cheese or a lot of different cheeses on my pizza.

Recently I saw an ad for Papa Johns’ six cheese pizza. Six cheeses because five cheeses just isn’t enough. Six Cheeses? I don’t think I can name six cheeses.  One less cheese per pie, a little less cheese on all the pies, you’ve just paid for employees health insurance. Your workers get benefits and your patrons don’t get diabetes. It’s one of them win wins.

I was so shocked to hear 6 cheeses that I almost missed hearing the pie had double bacon. Is he trying to kill us?  I admit I haven’t tasted the pizza, I couldn’t get a note from my cardiologist. The point is, if you have to put six cheeses on a pizza in order to sell it, maybe you shouldn’t be making pizza.

Funny motivational speaker speaks on pizza

This is a photo of what is to me, the perfect slice.
This is a slice from my pie at Antico, Atlanta Georgia. First of all the dough is first rate and could stand alone baked with some olive oil. Which they put on the pizza. I like sauce and this slice has a healthy amount of San Marzano tomato sauce. The cheese is minimal but very flavorful, a fresh Bufala, a mozzarella cheese made from the milk of domesticated water buffalo. Who knew?Then the pie is topped with fresh garlic and basil that gets seared by the nearly 1,000 degree oven.  The pie is out of the oven in 90 seconds.

Only problem with this slice was it was the only one like it on the pie. Some slices had almost no cheese and others no basil.  I still have to give Antico a nod for the best if not most consistent wood-fired pizza in Atlanta. Some people call me a perfectionist, I just like things done the right way, and by the right way I mean my way.

Funny speaker Vinny Verelli



Two of my favorite things together at last. Please note that
the bread must be soggy before frying. Two many people just dip the the bread in the batter. That’s fine if you’re making a Monte Cristo sandwich but not for French Toast. I like to use, when I can find it brioche loaf or Challah. We try to avoid white sugar at home so I substitute a good quality maple syrup and a pinch splash of Grand Marnier.

Potato Latkes

Last night was my friends Ilene and Judi’s annual Potato Latke party. I was unable to attend this year but here is the post from last year with the video embedded.
Potato Latkes, December 2011

Funny Speaker Vinny Verelli on PL

Judi and Ilene cranking out potato latkes during their annual party.


Primal Pizza Perfume Produced

I am thrilled and at the same time horrified.

Love the smell of pizza but really, a pizza perfume?  When I heard about Eau de Pizza Hut, I thought the story was something reported by the “Onion.”  But there it was on Pizza Hut’s facbook page.   The post had over 500 comments and 8,575 likes. The comments, mostly single word replies, ranged from elation to sarcasm to insults.  Me?  I really don’t think I’m in a position to make comments without actually smelling the perfume and experiencing it first hand.

Funny Speaker on Pizza Hut Perfume.

Funny Motivational Speaker & Celebrity Chef weighs in on the new pizza fragrance.

Pizza Hut isn’t the first food fragrance. Burger King introduced “FLAME” in 2009. Not sure if it’s still around and don’t really care. Although I like the smell of beef over an open flame I’m not sure I’d spray or rub it on my body. This is how the fragrance was described by Burger King. “The WHOPPER® sandwich is America’s Favorite burger. FLAME™ by BK® captures the essence of that love and gives it to you. Behold the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame broiled meat.”

The release of promotional perfumes are merely cute PR ploys to grab some media attention. But food smells are big business. There are companies that specialize in scenting systems. From the koolfog website, “Fragrances can be matched to almost anything including your favorite food. When people smell food they get hungry and subtle ‘suggestions’ through fragrance can help spur sales of almost anything.” koolfog produces scents like Apple Pie and Cinnamon Bun, Sage & Onion and Danish Blue Cheese.

I know that when I smell food or even hear someone talk about food I get hungry. When  Amy Wenham posted, “I WANT IT!!! Oh my god! It’s my dream to smell like pizza! I want to BE the pizza!” I had to stop reading.

Funny Speaker comments on FLAME

The FIRE MEETS DESIRE website is no longer up.

The Pizza Chronicles Introductions

Cooking With Vinny has started a new page;
Vinny Verelli’s Pizza Chronicles. 

Funny Speaker Speaking on Pizza

I love pizza. It’s my favorite food it is the perfect food. And since you can put anything on a round baked crust and call it a pizza you can have a pie with all food groups and convince yourself you’re on a diet.

Pizza is an ancient story, a love story. Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs depict man baking round pies with toppings. I may have just made that up, but I think I saw that somewhere. But it IS a love story.  In 1899 Queen Marghereta of Spain visited Naples and she fell in love. She fell in love with a pizza. One made especially for the royal visit. It was made with red sauce, white cheese and green basil to represent the Italian flag. And when a queen is in love with you, the whole world is in love with you. And thus pizza is adored to this very day.