Michele Fitzpatrick of Long Beach with her Vegetarian Irish Shepherd's...

Michele Fitzpatrick of Long Beach with her Vegetarian Irish Shepherd's Pie. Credit: Barry Sloan

Michele Fitzpatrick, a homemaker, lives in Long Beach with her husband and four children.

Where did you get your love of cooking?

My grandmother was a great baker, and my mother was a wonderful cook. From the age of 12 or 13 we were taught to make dinner for all 6 or 7 of us at home — shepherd’s pie, lots of soups and stews. My mom introduced us to so many new things. I grew up in County Clare. You’d talk to people who’d never heard of pasta Bolognese in Ireland at the time. She introduced us to that, to Indian rice, to lots of different ethnic foods.

What kind of baking did you do?

Making your own brown bread was a huge thing. They’re not what people call soda breads here, but we have what we call brown cakes, griddle breads or farls. They’re homemade breads you’d cook on top of the stove. We also made lots of potato cakes — all very hearty food.

What was the attitude toward food in your parents’ home?

We never had snacks, like the way people snack here. We ate three, maybe four meals a day, and it was very traditional, with family. We always had enough for an extra person. Sometimes at lunch my mother would invite people passing who needed to eat. It was very wholesome and inclusive.

Did you expose your kids early to Irish cooking?

We started with baking. We run the gamut: bread and scones, lots of different types of biscuits (what you call cookies). You can accomplish so much with recipes and working with children in the kitchen. If we don’t have eggs, we’ll use applesauce. Willow, my 15-year-old, makes elaborate merengues and macaroons. Abaigeal is 13 and she’s a workhorse of “Let’s make more cookies and plenty of bread.” Devin is 10 and was born with Down syndrome. It’s amazing to see him work with them. He’ll read the numbers for them, and for him to have something come out of the oven an hour later, it’s very empowering.

Any tips for making shepherd’s pie?

You can actually put in whatever you want. It’s quite a basic, flexible recipe. Some people put in sweet potatoes or mix sweet and white potatoes, or add turnips and other vegetables. I have some friends who are Italian and put in their family sauce instead of tomatoes.

VEGETARIAN IRISH SHEPHERD’S PIE

Fitzpatrick uses Kerrygold Irish butter and Kerrygold Cheddar cheese for her recipe, but says you can use any brand.

8 medium white potatoes

1 tablespoon salted butter

1 1⁄4 cups vegetable stock, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 sprigs fresh thyme

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

3 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 (14 ounce) can cooked brown lentils

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, whole or chopped

6 ounces peas, fresh or frozen

3 carrots finely chopped

1⁄2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. When done they will be soft when pricked with a fork. Drain the potatoes and mash in butter and 1⁄4 cup of vegetable stock. Set aside.

3. While the potatoes are boiling, put oil in a large pan and saute the thyme on medium for 1 minute. Add the garlic, onion and celery and cook gently for 3-4 minutes stirring, until softened. Add the lentils and continue cooking on medium for 3 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetable stock and can of tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add the sun-dried tomatoes, peas and carrots. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Fill the bottom of an 8-by-10 casserole dish with the lentil mixture. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top and spread to seal the filling.

5. Bake for 45 minutes, removing when the top is brown and crispy. Cover with grated cheese and let stand for 10 minutes. Makes 6-8 servings.

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