“Make It Snappy” is presented by Goldfish Swim School of Chapel Hill. With recipes that only take 45 minutes or less to prepare, Christy helps you stay afloat at dinner time! 

Spring has sprung for the Graves Family which means one thing: baseball! Afternoons on campus watching the Tar Heels in addition to Little League for all three of my sons. Three teams with three schedules means that someone is practicing or playing nearly every night of the week. To top it off, my husband is coaching two of the three teams so, in this season of life, dinner planning and prep will be mostly in my hands. There will be nights when dinner is take-out on the way home or PB&J picnics at the ball field, but sitting down for dinner together is a cherished part of our routine so I hope to be able to serve a (simple and fast) homemade dinner at least three times a week. As ever, meals need to be quick and hearty to fill my very active and growing family!

I have a couple of time saving tricks in this month’s “Make It Snappy” take on a Rustic Cottage Pie. One is frozen peas and carrots. This is simply one more vegetable you don’t have to worry about peeling and chopping.

The next one is your broiler. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb) and Cottage Pie (made with beef) recipes call for the dish to bake in the oven, which can take anywhere from 30 min to an hour. But in an effort to cut down on cooking time, we’re going to (very carefully) rely on the broiler which will deliver a similar result in a few minutes.

Two tips for broiler success:

  1. Be sure that your pan, skillet or shallow Dutch oven is truly oven safe and to what temperature. Many stainless steel and cast iron pans are safe up to 500 degrees but it’s worth a quick internet search to confirm. Many non-stick pans are NOT oven safe, but double check the manufacturer’s website to find out for sure.
  2. Watch, watch, watch! Turn the light on in your oven and keep your eye on the peaks of the potato layer. The highest points will brown first, which you want, but be sure to pull the skillet out once they’re a deep golden color because if you leave them any longer, they’ll be black before you know it. All broilers are different and this can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes, but you be the judge and remove the pan once you think its ready.

Letting the potatoes form their own textured topper gives a rustic, homemade look, but if you’re feeling more creative, you can use a fork to gently scrape a pattern into the top creating an artistic look with the browned peaks.


By: Christy Bray Graves



For the Potatoes

  • 4 russet potatoes
  • 6 TBSP salted butter
  • 1 cup reserved cooking water from potatoes
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Filling

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 – 1 ½ lbs. ground beef
  • 1 TBSP Herbs de Provence
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste (from a tube, not a can)
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas & carrots
  • Fresh parsley for garnish


For the Potatoes

  1. Peel the potatoes removing most of the skin, not worrying if there is some left behind. That gives the potatoes the “rustic” feel. Roughly chop into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Place the potato chunks into a large pot and fill the pot with water to cover the potatoes by about 1 inch.
  3. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and allow the potatoes to cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain the potatoes in a large colander and put the hot potatoes back into the large pot.
  5. To the hot potatoes, add 6 tablespoons of butter. Using a potato masher, slowly pour in the 1 cup of cooking water and continue mashing to incorporate.
  6. Stir in ½ tsp of onion powder and ½ tsp of salt.

For the Filling

  1. As the potatoes cook, heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in an oven safe skillet over medium heat.* The pan will remain over high heat until the filling is finished.
  2. To the pan, add the diced onion and red pepper, stirring frequently for 3 minutes until the veggies are becoming soft and fragrant.
  3. To the veggie mixture, add the ground beef, breaking into smaller chunks.
  4. Add the 1 TBSP of Herbs de Provence, 1/8 tsp of nutmeg, ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of black pepper. Stir to allow the herb flavor to cook into the beef as it browns. Continue breaking up the beef.
  5. Stir in 1 TBSP of tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
  6. Stir in 1 TBSP of all purpose flour and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Stir in 1 TBSP of Worcestershire sauce and 1 cup of beef, stirring the whole time, scraping browned bits up from the bottom of the skillet. Let the stock bubble until it has cooked down and thickened into a sauce that will coat the back of a spoon. The meat mixture should have a saucy consistency but not be runny at all.
  8. Stir in ½ cup of frozen peas and carrots until combined and warmed through. Remove the skillet from heat.

To Assemble the Cottage Pie

  1. Preheat your broiler to 500 degrees.
  2. To the skillet with the meat mixture, gently spread the mashed potatoes on top in an even layer, letting the potatoes form natural peaks and valleys. Note that any peaks in the potatoes will brown under the broiler, so make sure that the peaks are roughly the same height to be sure they brown evenly.**
  3. Place the oven safe skillet under the broiler and watch it closely for 2-5 minutes! Remove the skillet when the tops of the potatoes have become a deep golden brown.
  4. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve warm and enjoy!


*Because the final step of cooking is to put the skillet under the broiler, be sure that the pan, skillet or shallow Dutch oven you’re using is truly oven safe and to what temperature. Many stainless steel and cast iron pans are safe up to 500 degrees but it’s worth a quick internet search to confirm. Many non-stick pans are NOT oven safe, but double check the manufacturer’s website to find out for sure.

**Letting the potatoes form their own textured topper gives a rustic look, but if you’re feeling more artistic, you can use a fork to scrape a pattern into the top. High peaks in the potatoes will brown first.

As a wife and mom of three young boys, I often consider myself a master “chaos coordinator.” Between running our family business, Chapel Hill Toffee, managing our household and balancing busy schedules, I love to create quick and simple recipes that I know my family will enjoy – and my kids will actually eat!

My recipes are more of a guide than a perfect plan. I will always encourage you to use what you have on hand and make substitutions to suit your tastes. I invite you to share your own ideas, questions and final products with us on Facebook  and on Instagram by tagging @christybgraves and @wchlchapelboro.

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