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Signature Dish: Rebecca Heiser of Tampa's Shepherd's Pie

Rebecca Heiser holds a Shepherd’s Pie in her kitchen in Tampa. She first made the casserole at her boyfriend’s request.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Rebecca Heiser holds a Shepherd’s Pie in her kitchen in Tampa. She first made the casserole at her boyfriend’s request.

WHO: Rebecca Heiser, 28, of Tampa, a registered nurse

WHAT: Shepherd's Pie

ABOUT THE RECIPE: Six years ago, Heiser decided to make her new boyfriend, Tommy Stanley, a special dinner. It was the first time she'd ever cooked for him, and she wanted it to be impressive. "I'm going to cook dinner — what do you want?" she asked.

He didn't even think twice. "Shepherd's Pie."

A little nervous, Heiser bought the ingredients and tweaked a recipe she found online. "I had never heard of it before," she says. "I wasn't even sure what it was supposed to taste like. It's not like somebody asking you to make French toast and . . . you know what French toast is supposed to taste like."

That night, she fed Stanley and his roommate the traditional British meal.

The results?

She makes it almost every month now — and they're getting married in February.

"I caught him with my Shepherd's Pie," she teases.

She's still not sure why he requested that dish. "I've been meaning to ask him where the heck he got that idea from, or if he just pulled it out of his left pocket," she says, laughing.

Now it's one of her favorite meals, mostly because of the ingredients — the mashed potatoes, vegetables and meat. "It's just everything you'd like to have like in a meal, but altogether in a casserole."

THE PROPOSAL: Stanley surprised her by proposing during a trip to New York this February, in front of the stone Gapstow Bridge in Central Park. Heiser was busy photographing ducks in front of the bridge when she heard him say her name. "I turned around, and he was on one knee," she says.

TIPS FOR THE PIE: "If you're in a hurry and you don't have time to buy potatoes and boil and peel them, the boxed mashed potatoes work just as well," she says. She substitutes canned vegetables for the frozen kind. Since she and Stanley love cheese, they sprinkle extra over the top.

CAN'T COOK WITHOUT: Garlic. "Everything (my mom) makes has garlic in it, and that's become my favorite thing to cook with." A little garlic spices up eggs, mashed potatoes and even the browned meat for her Shepherd's Pie.

WHY COOKING? "It's relaxing," Heiser says. Cooking has always been a part of her family culture. As children, Heiser and her sister grew up helping their mom in the kitchen, listening to the radio so they could sing while they cooked. She says her grandfather can make an unforgettable meal out of anything, even leftovers, and his concoctions are never the same twice. He and her grandma taught her the joy of experimenting with ingredients. Every Fourth of July, when the family treks up to Lake Erie for their reunion, Heiser makes sure she spends a day baking with her grandma. They listen to the distant waves against the shore, baking cookies, cupcakes and especially pies — strawberry rhubarb, peach and elderberry. "She can figure out how to make anything into a pie," Heiser says.

Emily Young, Times correspondent

Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please email the information to features@tampabay.com with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can also be mailed to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

>>Moderate

Becca's Bistro Shepherd's Pie

1 ½ pounds ground beef

2 packages of fresh sliced mushrooms or 2 large

cans

1 can (about 15 ounces) sweet peas

1 can (about 15 ounces) corn

1 can (about 15 ounces) diced carrots

1 ½ to 2 pounds potatoes (or flakes to serve approximately 5)

½ cup beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 to 4 cups (to taste) Italian-pizza blend shredded cheese

Salt, pepper and garlic (powder/salt/minced), all to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 3-quart baking dish. Drain cans of veggies.

Wash and drain mushrooms, and wash and peel potatoes or make instant ones.

Grease one side of aluminum foil sheet sized to cover baking dish.

Brown ground beef seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare mashed potatoes to your liking.

Drain fat from meat and leave cooked meat in pan.

Add mushrooms, beef broth and Worcestershire sauce, heat to simmering. Add additional broth as needed to keep meat moist.

Add veggies and continue to cook and keep moist for 5 to 10 minutes until heated through.

Pour meat mixture into baking dish. Layer half the cheese on top of the meat and veggie mixture. Spread mashed potatoes over cheese and fluff with fork. Sprinkle remaining cheese over potatoes.

Cover dish with greased side down and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes until cheese and potatoes start to lightly brown. Let sit another 5 to 10 minutes after removing from oven to allow juices to absorb.

Serves 5 to 6.

Source: Rebecca Heiser of Tampa

Signature Dish: Rebecca Heiser of Tampa's Shepherd's Pie 09/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 5:30am]

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