Yesterday was the epitome of cooking without a recipe – something of which Chef Michael Smith would be extremely proud. After I learned of his tweet about the Republic of Bacon the other day, I was immediately inspired. He has always been one of my favourite celebrity chefs [Editor's Note: I thought I was your Favourite chef!], with a focus on simplicity and creativity – letting the quality of the ingredients shine. That’s definitely something strongly advocate.

I went down to my local market on the hunt for some beautiful ground lamb for a potential Shepherd’s Pie. Unfortunately, everyone was fresh out…BUT I was able to grab some lovely, locally grown venison sausage from Ontario Harvest. It was already seasoned with some sage and cranberry – so I was well on my way to making this Shepherd’s Pie shine. I passed through a couple other local grocers to see what I could add to enhance this gorgeous venison – I picked up a bit more sage, thyme, some organic parsnip and lovely fresh chicken stock, along with the obligatory bacon and potatoes. I ran home with anticipation, and this is what happened…

Ingredients

4 Strips Maple Leaf Bacon

2 lbs Ground Venison or Venison Sausage or Ground Lamb or…

5 Russet Potatoes

1 Parsnip

1 Medium Onion

2 tbsp Fresh Thyme

2 tbsp Chopped Fresh Sage

1 Bay Leaf

1 tbsp Tomato Paste

1/2 cup Red wine

3/4 cup Chicken Stock

2 Egg Yolks

2 tbsp Butter

¼ cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese

Directions

1. Let’s get our potatoes out of the way first. Give ‘em a peel, chop them up into even cubes, and throw them in a pot of salted cold water and onto the stove. Simple stuff.

2. In the meantime, peel your parsnip and onion, and slice up your bacon as small as you can. We want the bacon to blend into the minced venison and not stick out like a sore thumb.

3. While your bacon is slowly frying in a nice large pan, peel off the casings of your sausage (if you’re using sausage). If you’re just using a plain ground meat, then pour yourself a glass of wine and relax.

4. After about 5 minutes (before the bacon gets crispy), add in your ground venison or lamb and make sure you mash it all up. Now, I should have used a much larger pan – I totally underestimated how much venison I had.

5. Season your mixture with salt and pepper then add in your parsnip and onion by grating it (no that’s not cheese, that’s parsnip!). I chose parsnip over carrot due to its slightly sweeter flavour to play off the cranberries and its earthiness to match the gamey venison.

6. Mix everything together along with your sage, thyme and bay leaf.

7. Make a little well in the centre of your mince and add about a tablespoon of tomato paste here. Let it sautee in some of the renedered fat before you mix it into the rest of the meat. This will take off some of the edge.

8. At this point I would say to add your wine. I did not add any because I could tell that my sausage was already soaked pretty heavily in the good stuff. But please add it in – it wouldn’t be the same without that flavour.

9. Let your wine fully reduce, then add in your chicken stock. Again, let this fully reduce. We want our final mince to be dry but moist – not sitting in any liquid but beautifully rich.

10. At this point, your potatoes should be nice and fork tender. Mash them up with a couple tablespoons of butter, a couple egg yolks and about half of your parmigiano reggiano. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.

11. Add your mince into a nice casserole dish. I had to strain some fat from my mince. Like I said, we don’t want this sitting in liquid! If you’re using sausage, you’ll probably have to do the same. Venison is usually a very lean meat, but fat is usually added to sausages to make it more delicious.

12. Spread your lovely mashed potatoes on top.

13. Then sprinkle on some more parmigiano and make some peaks and valleys with a fork. This will add texture after we…

14. Whack it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350F, then under the broiler for about 3-4 minute until the top is golden brown and crispy

15. A meal to make anyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside! Hey, Chef Smith! What would you put in YOUR Shepherd’s Pie?