Backpacking through Europe has long been a dream of mine. When I was 13 I had a hot pink, Parisian themed room, complete with photographs of the Eiffel Tower, paintings of the Arc de Triomphe, and various other Parisian trinkets adorning my walls. Even at a young age I longed to live in Paris. Then, growing up a little, and very much growing out of having a hot pink bedroom, I decided to paint my room red. It was a beautiful deep shade of red, color washed with gold. I loved that version of my room. I replaced the black and white Eiffel Tower photographs with an enormous National Geographic world map. I would stand on my bed nightly studying that map and dreaming of where I would one day go. Then came college; a whole new world of learning to fuel my desires. After several architecture, art history, and anthropology courses, I knew that the desire to travel was just part of who I am.
I deeply wanted to be a foreign exchange student in Paris as a high schooler, but truth be told, I was too afraid. In college I long talked about studying abroad in Rome, but never followed through. Jacob and and I fantasized over backpacking together during college, but it never happened. But now, finally, the talking is over. We purchased our tickets to hop the pond! Come July, we will set off on our first European excursion, backpacking for one month from London to Rome.
Purchasing our plane tickets was a big moment for me. There were even tears. We’ve been planning this trip for months, but it just didn’t feel like it would really happen until we finalized our order. Even adding them to the cart didn’t feel real enough for me. But let me tell you, once that confirmation email came through, the water works started flowing. I’ve anticipated this trip for a long time, and just knowing that it is actually going to happen was a lot for me to take in.
To celebrate, and in honor of our first stop, we cracked open a couple of English Porters, dug into some Shepherd’s Pie, and watched a bit of our favorite travel guide, Rick Steves.
The English tradition of eating Shepherd’s Pie dates back to the 18th century when potatoes were first introduced to England. Made with ground beef or lamb, vegetables, and topped with a crust of potatoes, Shepherd’s Pie has traditionally been made as a way to use up left over meat and vegetables.
While still keeping things traditional, I strayed from the basic roots of this recipe a bit. Using sweet potatoes instead of white gave this dish a bit of sweetness and a healthy dose of vitamins, while using ground turkey helped cut back on the fat a tad.
Hearty and delicious, this meal is perfect for frosty winter nights.
Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Sweet Potatoes
1 lb ground turkey
1 tbsp fat of choice
1 medium onion, sliced
1 lb sliced mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef broth
16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 cup mixed vegetables (I used peas, carrots, corn, and green beans)
6 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes
pat of butter
splash of cream (or milk)
dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
shredded Parmesan (optional)
sliced green onion (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large oven proof skillet cook turkey over medium-high heat, breaking up with back of a wooden spoon until no longer pink. Add Worcestershire sauce, a few pinches of salt and pepper, and about one tablespoon of fresh thyme.
Once your meat has finished cooking, spoon it into a colander with a slotted spoon. Drain off all but one tablespoon of excess fat from your skillet. If you use a lean meat like ground turkey, you may not have any fat to drain. If this is the case, add a pat of butter or drizzle of oil to your skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, onions, and mixed vegetables and cook for 5 minutes more.
Stir in broth and tomatoes and simmer until thickened. Once your liquid has reduced by about a 1/3, add in your meat and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil. Once at a boil, add potatoes and cook until tender. Once cooked, drain potatoes and rinse with cold water. Then, with a hand or stand mixer, whip potatoes with a splash of cream, a pat of butter, a pinch of salt, and a dash of cinnamon until creamy and smooth.
Lather meat and vegetable mixture with your whipped potatoes and sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is golden brown. Alternatively, you could broil your dish for the last 3-5 minutes to blister your cheese.
Once your dish has finished cooking, let settle for 10 minutes or so before serving. Garnish with extra cheese and green onion if desired.
What’s your dream travel destination? Is there one place that you’ve always longed to go? Or maybe you’ve already been? Stay posted for more European-inspired dishes!