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Carla Hall’s Spiced Lamb and Potato Pie

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Who can forget Carla Hall? Twice a contestant on Top Chef, she was voted “Fan Favorite” her second time around, which is equivalent to being named “Miss Congeniality” in the old Miss America days.  She was lots of fun to watch and never an unkind word came out of her mouth, a trait sadly missing from Top Chefs most of the time.  She made it all the way to the finals, her recipe for Chicken Pot Pie landing her an appearance on Jimmy Fallon.   Sadly she suffered major equipment failures in the finals and was bounced off the show.  But talk about bouncing back.  She is now a fixture on ABC’s “The Chew” where she enlivens the proceedings with her philosophy of ‘Cooking with Love’ which became the name of her first Book subtitled ‘Comfort Food that hugs you’ (Simon and Schuster 2012).   Since “The Chew” is taped within walking distance of our New York apartment, I was not surprised to see Chef Hall in our local supermarket where she greeted one all with her fabulous smile.  My next encounter with Carla was in Food and Wine’s “Chef’s Easy Weeknight Dinners” (Time Affluent Media Group 2014).  Her contribution to the book is a Mediterranean influenced riff on Shepherd’s Pie.  And it’s well worth the 45 minutes it takes to make the whole thing.

We recently covered Shepherd’s Pie’s cousin, the Cottage Pie.
(https://chewingthefat.us.com/2014/12/cottage-pie-with-hand-from-tamasin-day.html).  These two comfort foods belong to a category that the English call “Nursery food”.  Simple dishes that harken back to a time when children, myself included, were fed early suppers by our nannies andshuffled off to bed during the Cocktail Hour.  Carla Hall’s version of Spiced Lamb and Potato Pie raises the bar considerably.  And it’s very easy to make. The potato topping is made with as thinly sliced potatoes as you can get. I used a mandolin and set at about 1/8th of an inch.  These go into oil in a non-stick pan.  If you are very clever, you may be able to cook the disk that forms when the potatoes are added to the non-stick pan as one solid piece.  Mine got lovely and crisp but in sections.  Next, you take a pound of ground lamb and break it down in a cast iron skillet then add the other ingredients including the all-important fresh mint.  Do not be tempted to leave this out—if anything you might want to up the quantity recommended in the recipe.  It is what gives the Lamb its wonderful flavor.  I think “Spiced” here is almost a misnomer because the mint is the ‘spice’ that you taste.  I also went with heavy hand when I added the peas.  I remember years ago, my friend Richard Grausman who headed the Cordon Bleu in America, told me that frozen peas are usually better than fresh and certainly more reliable in the dead of December.  I love them so my ‘pie had easily two cups instead of the recommended one. The potato topping goes on top of the lamb mixture and then, sprinkled with Feta Cheese, the whole thing goes in the oven for 15 minutes and you’re done!. Here is the recipe:

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