Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dark Days Challenge #1

Shepherd's Pie

In addition to our 100 Mile Challenge, which begins in January, we've signed up for the Dark Days challenge, organized by Urban Hennery. The challenge begins December 1, 2010 to April 15, 2011 and once a week, you cook up a local meal focused on SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) ingredients.

While we've committed to the 100 Mile Challenge at 75%, the Dark Days challenge is a creative way to prepare a meal solely using the food around you.

For our first challenge, we're playing it a little safe until we get our footing and have prepared a comforting Shepherd's Pie. Here's the rundown of the ingredients and how we prepared this tasty pie:

2 lb frozen garden tomatoes
dried sage and fresh thyme
2 lbs grass-fed local ground beef
1 local onion, diced
2 cloves local garlic, chopped
2 cups local mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
4 slices local bacon
1/2 cup local red wine
1.5 lbs local potatoes
summer savoury sprinkled on top

First I made a sauce from the tomatoes and wine and reduced it so it wasn't so watery and I seasoned it with fresh thyme and dried sage. I put it through the food processor to get it smooth. While making the sauce, I browned the beef. In a separate frying pan, I fried chopped bacon and removed the bacon once crispy. In the remaining fat (oh yah, baby), I fried the mushrooms until golden and the onions and garlic until the onions had lightly browned.

While the sauce, beef and bacon are doing their thing, I boiled the potatoes and  mashed them with some milk and butter.

When all finished, the beef went in the bottom, sauce over top, sauteed mushrooms/garlic/onion/bacon mixture and finished off the the mashed potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

I served it with a glass of local red and steamed carrots tossed with local honey. It was delicious and the bacon and wine added that nice depth. Still, I missed a bit of salt to the dish, but it was definitely not a bad way to start the Dark Days Challenge!


  1. Oh my gosh, frozen tomatoes? How does that work?

  2. I plunked them in a pot with a touch of water, cover and simmer until mostly broken down (about 40 minutes). I could have put them in a food mill, but I was less concerned about texture, so I used the food processor. I put the sage and thyme in first, pulsed then added tomatoes. Returned mixture to pot and added wine. I was going for a marinara type sauce. Needed more umph, but with only my own spices, it was alright.

  3. That sounds so good! Yeah, I think I would miss the salt too. Do you think you get used to it!?

  4. Frankly, no. I like salt. Not too much, but enough to season the food.

    I plan on allowing salt under my 25% for the 100 Mile Challenge, so it's just the Dark Days challenge that is going to be strictly local and salt free. I could easily make it, since I'm minutes away from the Fundy shore, but the thought of boiling water for hours and the energy output isn't thrilling me. So, I'm sneaking it under my 25% allowance.

  5. Quick question about the tomatoes -- did you cook them until broken down, as described, BEFORE freezing them? If not, how did you freeze them?

    I've always done lots of canned tomatoes in the fall, but if I can freeze them (at least some of them) that would be so much easier...

  6. Hi Heather - thanks for the question. I can diced tomatoes, but ran out of time and energy this fall and froze a whole bunch of them whole. For this dish, I just threw the whole tomatoes in a pot and let it reduce. The skins came off easily enough for me to pull out, but you could always put it through a food mill if that suits you better.

    It's definitely easier to open up a mason jar of canned tomatoes, but it also doesn't hurt to throw in some frozen whole tomatoes if you've got the extra time to let the mixture reduce as it will be watery.


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