The November issue of Cook's Illustrated describes a traditional shepherd's pie that took the author 5 hours to make. I can't imagine where people who herd sheep for a living found that kind of free time, not to mention the pastry bag and star tips needed to pipe the layer of whipped potatoes over the top of the filling. (The article includes an updated, simpler recipe as well.)
As you may have gathered, I am the type of person who will spend 5 hours making peasant food, but not the day after making Thanksgiving dinner. Especially not when the fridge contains all the ingredients necessary to make a perfectly good pseudo-shepherd's pie: mashed potatoes, some sort of meat, gravy, and miscellaneous tasty stuff. (I'm fairly certain that is the actual wording of the traditional recipe.)
1. pastry crust
5. balsamic-glazed onions
6. mashed potatoes and mashed kabocha squash
Now, I can and will eat Thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No need to dress them up as turkey tetrazzini or spring rolls; just pop a bunch of meat and sides and stuffing on a plate and microwave it for a minute, and I'm a happy camper.
My husband, on the other hand, reached the "anything but leftovers" point by friday afternoon. There weren't a lot of other options in the house, so the plan was to go out for dinner. By evening, though, he was comfy on the couch with a good book, and decided he was more opposed to leaving the couch than he was to having more turkey.
I'd been toying with the idea of shepherd's pie since the "how to roast a kabocha squash" post, so I put this shepherd's (turkey-hurders?) pie together. It took all of 5 minutes to assemble from assorted leftovers, about 25 minutes to bake, and it made everyone happy.
I happened to have an extra pastry crust, which I made before someone questioned the wisdom of making two pies for only 3 people. (Raise your hand if this sounds like the ideal ratio.) My original plan was to put the potatoes on the bottom, where they could soak up the gravy, and the crust on top, where it would remain crispy, but I was soundly overruled. So the potatoes and some leftover mashed kabocha squash went on top and got crispy, and the pie crust went on the bottom and got soggy. Goddamn waste of crust, if you ask me, but everyone else was pleased.
No piecrust? Just layer leftovers in a casserole or baking dish with plenty of gravy, top with mashed potatoes, and bake until the potatoes are starting to get golden crispy bits on top.
No gravy? Check the fridge: whoever made the gravy on Thursday probably used some supplemental store-bought turkey stock, and the rest of the can or box should still be in the fridge. Use it as-is, or ask that person if she'll show you how to make her wonderful gravy. Once she has demonstrated, stir her gravy into your shepherd's pie filling. (She will fall for this year after year.)
The wonderful thing about good comfort food is that no matter how bastardized the recipe, the dish retains its ability to make you feel at home. As I once explained in my broken French to Parisian friends unfamiliar with the term, comfort food is food that makes you feel the same way a hug does. They understood at once.
Whether you make five-hour, braised lamb shepherd's pie or the pile-of-leftovers variety, Martha Stewart's mac & cheese (so good it's known as "crack & cheese") or the kind in the cardboard box, good comfort food can make you feel, just for a moment, like everything's okay. Because, just for a moment, it is.