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Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Minted Apricot Glaze

Today’s recipe is brought to you by school taxes and my freezer stash. School taxes were due this month. It’s a tax worth paying for the high quality education that my school district offers, which my children will most likely benefit from in the near future. But it’s like a punch in the gut every time that bill arrives.

With Christmas practically knocking at our door, I’ve been trying to reduce the impact of that big extra tax bill by cutting a few other things in this month’s budget…like groceries. This means that we’re mostly feeding off the freezer this month.

My husband’s intense love for lamb burgers means that our freezer is well stocked with ground lamb. Our grocery store irregularly stocks ground lamb, so when they have it, I buy it. And when I opened my freezer in search of cheap dinner, ground lamb it was! But I just wasn’t feeling like lamb burgers or even gyro salad, though my husband would have been eager for either. I was in the mood to experiment.

So, playing off of Moroccan inspired flavors, I came up with these delectable meatballs, which my husband talked about for three days afterward. Ground lamb gets combined with dried apricots, a touch of sweet honey, cinnamon, and cumin. Sliced almonds add an interesting texture to the otherwise tender meatball. Then, they’re tossed in a buttery apricot glaze with a touch of fresh mint. I served mine over couscous. They were good. Really good. We’ll be eating them again soon.

Focus on Technique – Tips for Tender Meatballs

Everyone loves a tender, flavorful meatball. Here are a few tips for crave-worthy meatballs:

  • Use ground meat with a bit of fat. If using beef, look for 80/20 ground chuck. The fat will add flavor and moisture. If using a leaner meat, like ground chicken, add some additional vegetables, such as chopped onion, celery, or peppers to add moisture.
  • Increase your egg to meat ratio. I tend to use two eggs per each pound of meat. Add enough bread crumbs as necessary to bind the mixture. About 1/4 cup of bread crumbs per egg usually does the trick.
  • Be careful not to overwork the mixture. Mix only enough to evenly disperse the ingredients. To reduce the need for over-mixing, combine all of your other ingredients before adding the meat.
  • Season, season, season – salt, pepper, garlic, cheese…give those meatballs some flavor!
  • Try adding a slice of soaked, then crumbled day-old bread to your meatballs. Though I have not personally tried this strategy, it’s a sworn by trick to others…so there’s got to be something to it!

What are your favorite meatball tips?

Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Meatballs in a Minted Apricot Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 10 dried apricots, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground lamb

For the glaze

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 3-4 fresh mint leaves

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wipe a baking sheet with a little oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the chopped onion, apricots, almonds, honey, salt, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, eggs and bread crumbs (everything except the meat) in a large bowl, until evenly blended. Add the meat. Use your hands to combine the mixture, just enough to evenly disperse the ingredients.

Form the mixture into balls, about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through.

For the glaze, combine butter, apricot preserves and mint leaves in a pan over medium heat. Stir until well combined and warmed, about 3 minutes. Toss the meatballs in the glaze before serving.

Makes about 24 small meatballs

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Lamb Gyro Salad with Tzatziki Dressing

Mommy?

What’s up, honey?

I know how God died.

Do you mean Jesus, sweetie?  (assuming he’d recently talked about Jesus’ death in the Catholic school he attends)

Yeah, Jesus.

Ok…how’d he die, hon?

A meteor killed him.

**Long pause**

Oh, a meteor? Are you sure you’re not thinking about the dinosaurs?

No, I’m talking about God. I think the meteor came down to Earth, bounced off the dinosaurs, then headed over to the church, where God was relaxing. It got him and then he went to heaven.

**Longer pause**

Ummm…I don’t think God was killed by a meteor. But yes, he’s up there in heaven.

With the dinosaurs?

Mhmm…with the dinosaurs.

The Catholic school curriculum must have changed since I was a kid. Though I suppose this meteor story is no more inventive than the tiny robotic helper bugs he’s been dreaming up to assist with some of life’s more unpleasant activties. My four year old is going to change the world. Seriously, just you watch.

My husband has been doing this South Beach diet with me, even though he doesn’t have the same weight to lose that I do (darn him with his fast male metabolism and naturally smaller appetite). But having a partner in this makes it so much easier to stay the course. I am thankful for that.

The best thing I can do to show my gratitude is to make sure that our meals stay interesting and delicious. And what better dish to prepare than his favorite meal, Greek-style Lamb Burgers, slightly-modifed to fit our new diet??

This salad has all the flavor of lamb gyro, without the pita. Warm, seasoned lamb provides protein and amazing flavor, while a thinned out tzatziki sauce makes the perfect dressing for this gyro-inspired meal. If you’re not watching your refined carbs intake, go ahead and have some toasted pita wedges on the side.

Lamb Gyro Salad with Tzatziki Dressing

Ingredients

For the lamb gyro meat:

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

For the tzatziki dressing:

  • 1/2 large seedless English cucumber
  • 1 7-ounce container plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the salad:

  • Lettuce (Romaine or Iceberg), chopped
  • 1 ripe tomato, sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
Directions
To prepare the lamb gyro meat: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine lamb with the garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt, and crushed red pepper. Knead the mixture until it is quite smooth, like a paste. Form the mixture into four mini ‘loafs’. Place the loaves on a baking sheet and bake for about 15-17 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing.
To prepare the dressing: Using a box grater set atop of a bowl, grate the cucumber. Using your hands, squeeze the excess liquid out of the cucumber, reserving the liquid. Place the squeezed cucumber in another bowl. Combine the grated cucumber with the remaining ingredients. Gradually add the reserved cucumber liquid to the dressing until it reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Refrigerate until use.
To assemble the salad: Arrange each of the warm, thinly-sliced loaves over the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Drizzle with tzatziki dressing.
Serves 4

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cranberry Horseradish Relish

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My husband and I almost didn’t make it to midnight this year. We were totally ok with missing the official beginning of the new year, in return for sleep; sweet, precious sleep. But, the baby had other plans. The littlest man start fussing somewhere around 11. By midnight, he was in my arms vying for the first kiss of the new year. I told him that his daddy always gets the first kiss. Baby love got the second.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are not nearly as exciting as they were in the past, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. No streamers, no crowded bars with inflated cover charges and subpar food, no need to call a taxi home…just calm, quiet, together. Perfect.

I made us a nice dinner after the kiddies were all tucked into bed; an incredibly simple roast rack of lamb over a cranberry horseradish relish with a big pile of roasted red potatoes. Notice the excess of potatoes and lack of a green veggie. Mmmm…potatoes! Totally overcompensating for the diet we knew we’d be starting the next day.

You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my recipes. It doesn’t take a lengthy list of ingredients or elaborate techniques to get great flavor when you’re working with fresh foods. The shopping list for this elegant meal is short (you’ve probably got most ingredients in your pantry) and it’s a cinch to pull together. Makes a great date night meal too…you might want to mark this one for Valentine’s Day!

Cranberry Horseradish Relish

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Black pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until all cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with black pepper, as desired. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Easy-as-Can-Be Roast Rack of Lamb

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of lamb, trimmed and bones Frenched
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Trim off any excess fat or silverskin from the lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in an oversafe pan over medium/medium-high heat. Place the lamb in the hot pan and sear for about a minute on each side. Then, place the pan in the oven and cook until it reaches your desired doneness. 15-18 minutes should give you a nice, juicy medium-rare/medium. Allow the rack to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing between the ribs.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes. Use a spatula to occasionally turn the potatoes as they cook.

Meal Serves 2-4 People

Timesaving Tips:

  • Preheat the oven and prepare the potatoes first.
  • After the potatoes are in the oven, make the cranberry relish.
  • While the cranberry relish is simmering, trim and season the lamb.
  • Sear the lamb while the cranberry relish is cooling.
  • Place the lamb in the oven 20 minutes before the potatoes are done. The lamb will finish before the potatoes. Allow it to cool while you plate the cranberry relish and potatoes. Slice and plate the lamb last.

Grilled Honey Garlic Baby Lamb Chops

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It’s grilling season. Even my four year old seems to sense it. He awoke on Saturday morning with his mind set on grilling hot dogs. It was undoubtedly a perfect weekend for grilling, but I’m not much of a hot dog eater…unless, of course, it’s a Nathan’s hot dog and I’m sitting at a Yankees game with a beer in my other hand. I suggested that we grill steaks instead. But his heart was set on hot dogs. I know, Mommy, he said, always ready with a solution. Hot dogs are for the ‘mans’ and steaks are for the ladies! I like the way this kid thinks! We agreed to grill that evening.

What we would grill quickly changed once I’d arrived at the grocery store. As I stood staring at the wide selection of succulent steaks, I was seduced by a rack of lamb. It whispered to me, just as I was examining the ribeyes. Before I knew it, I was stepping away from the steaks and placing a rack of lamb into my cart. Buh-bye, ribeyes. Hello, lamb.

Lamb chops gave me the perfect opportunity to try out an idea I’d mentally bookmarked. One of our local pizza joints serves the most delicious char-grilled wings. They offer them in a number of tasty varieties, including Buffalo hot, volcanic, mild, barbecue, teriyaki and rosemary parmesan. But, the honey garlic wings are easily my favorite. There’s something about the way that honey caramelizes on the grill which makes my mouth water. It’s char-grilled magic. I’ve been itching to throw something on the grill, slathered with a honey garlic sauce. Grilled baby lamb chops were my perfect opportunity! This preparation would also be delicious on grilled chicken or pork.

Grilled Honey Garlic Baby Lamb Chops

Ingredients

  • 8 baby lamb chops, bones frenched*
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
*One side of a rack of lamb is made up of 8 lamb ribs. Simply cut between the bones to get 8 lamb chops.

Directions

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Add the soy sauce, honey, parsley, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Trim the lamb of any excess fat or silver skin. Sprinkle each lamb chop with a bit of salt. Divide the sauce into two portions. Set one half aside at room temperature. Use the other half of the sauce to brush one side of each chop. Refrigerate the chops for about an hour.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Rub the grill with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place the lamb chops on the grill, brushed side down. Cook for 2-4 minutes. While cooking, brush the other side with the remaining half of the honey-garlic sauce. Then, flip the lamb chops and cook for another 2-4 minutes, until they’ve reached an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. They will cook quickly, so don’t wander too far from the grill.

Serves 2

Roasted Rack of Lamb

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Tis the season to eat lamb! Falala, lala, la, la, la, laaaaa... Or perhaps it should be, Bababa, baba, ba, ba, ba, baaaa!

Easter is just around the corner. Children everywhere are sporting conspicuous dye-stained fingers and carry the faint aroma of boiled eggs. Their schoolwork is distracted by daydreams of the sweet treats the Easter bunny will soon deliver. Adults are counting the days until they’re released from their Lenten resolutions. And my home smells of Marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs.

Traditionally, lamb and ham are popular selections for Easter dinner. For some people, Easter may be the one time a year they eat lamb. We are not those people. Around our home, lamb finds its way onto our menu on a semi-regular basis. We enjoy Greek-style lamb burgers with tzatziki sauce, shepherd’s pie, and roasted leg of lamb with fresh mint pesto. I even won a contest earlier in the year with a recipe for tender braised lamb shanks with brown-braised onions and mushrooms.

I’m so sorry adorable little lambs, but we really do appreciate your delectable contribution to our dinner table!

With Easter quickly approaching, I thought I’d share another lamb dish with you; a classic roasted rack of lamb, crusted with sweet roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. We’ll set our perfectly roasted lamb chops aside slices of toasted sourdough topped with a white bean and kalamata olive puree and a side of roasted asparagus.

Sounds kinda fancy, right?? I promise you that it’s a cinch to make! The combination of naturally flavorful ingredients does the brunt of the work. You just need to do a little arranging and then sit back and take credit for this elegant spring meal!

White Bean and Kalamata Olive Puree

Ingredients

  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 4-5 cloves roasted garlic*
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 slices sourdough bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

*Click here to see my photo guide on roasting garlic.

Directions

Puree the beans, olives, and garlic using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until ready to use. To serve, spread each slice of sourdough with a generous amount of the bean puree and top with a few pieces of sun-dried tomatoes and a touch of fresh parsley.

Leftover puree makes a delicious dip or spread on veggies or bread!

Roasted Rack of Lamb with a Roasted Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato and Parmesan Crust

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 cloves roasted garlic*
  • 1/8 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound rack of lamb, trimmed and frenched
  • Olive Oil, for browning lamb
  • 1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard

*Click here to see my photo guide on roasting garlic.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until moist. The mixture will still be slightly crumbly. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Set aside.

Trim the lamb of any excess exterior fat or silver skin. Season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over medium heat in an oven safe pan. Place the lamb in the pan. Cook the lamb for a minute or two on each side, until lightly browned. Rub the top side with the dijon mustard, then press the bread crumb mixture into the mustard. Place the pan in the oven. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and cook for another 8-10 minutes for medium-rare/medium doneness. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing into chops.

Serves 2


Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the tough end. (A little trick for determining how much to cut is to hold one asparagus spear by the ends and bend. The point where the asparagus snaps is generally a good place to trim off.) Toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Meal Timing Tips:

  • Prepare the white bean puree and crust mixture for the lamb ahead of time. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Brush the sourdough slices with a bit of olive oil and place directly on an oven rack while the lamb is cooking. Once they’re toasted, you can prepare the bread with the white bean puree and sun-dried tomatoes while the lamb finishes.
  • Place the asparagus into the oven during the last 5 minutes of the lamb’s cooking time. They will finish cooking as the lamb rests.

Leg of Lamb with Mint-Walnut Pesto

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As a child, my favorite brown-bag lunch for school was a peanut butter and green jelly sandwich. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more; the minty flavor of that green jelly or the reactions of my little friends over my bizarre PB&J sandwich. While they ate plain old grape or strawberry jelly, in boring shades of purple and red, I feasted on a shocking shade of gooey green. I especially loved it when the jelly soaked through the bread as it sat in my classroom cubby, waiting to be eaten. The green-soaked exterior made the sandwich all the more of a gruesome shock at the school lunch table.

We almost always had green mint jelly in our house when I was a child. It wasn’t the result of my strange love for green jelly sandwiches. The mint-flavored jelly was usually leftover from one of my dad’s favorite meals; lamb chops. Lamb and mint are a classic flavor combination. There’s something about the fresh taste of mint which pairs perfectly with the slightly gamey flavor of lamb. A match made in culinary heaven. Those green jelly sandwiches were merely my personal bonus!

Recently, I picked up a butterflied leg of lamb with the intent of grinding it for my recent In Like a Lamb Shepherd’s Pie. But, on the day I planned to make the pie, my grocery store happened to have ground lamb available. So, I decided to skip the hassle of grinding the meat myself and use the pre-ground meat for the shepherd’s pie. This left me with a perfectly delicious leg of lamb sitting in the freezer, waiting to be used.

I decided to stick with the classic mint and lamb combination, jazzed up in the form of a fresh mint and walnut pesto. The goat cheese in my fridge begged to join the mix, so I happily complied. This is one of those meals which sounds a lot fancier than it really is. It only takes a few basic ingredients and a few simple steps to make this impressive dinner. It would work well for entertaining guests or a nice dinner any night of the week!

Leg of Lamb with Mint-Walnut Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless leg of lamb, butterflied (approx. 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (approximately)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To prepare the pesto, blend the mint, parsley, walnuts, and garlic together in a food processor. Gradually drizzle in the olive oil until it reaches your desired consistency. (A thick pesto works best for this recipe). Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Trim the lamb of any exterior fat and pound the lamb to about  1/2″ thickness, using a meat mallet or heavy, flat-bottomed pan. Spread a generous amount of the pesto over the lamb. Sprinkle with the goat cheese crumbles. Roll the lamb and secure with butcher’s twine (or a skewer, if you’re all out of twine, like me). Coat the exterior of the lamb with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish and cook for about 35-45 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your lamb and actual oven temperature. An instant-read meat thermometer will give you the best indication of doneness. An internal temperature of about 155-160 degrees should result in a nice, pink medium done. *Adjust cooking time for larger roasts.

Allow the roast to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Garnish with any leftover pesto.

Serving tip: Serve with a side of roasted red potatoes. Simply halve or quarter baby red potatoes. Toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, and other seasonings, if desired. Garlic and rosemary work well. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes  – 1 hour, occasionally flipping to promote even browning. *If you place the potatoes in the oven right before you begin preparing the pesto and the lamb, the lamb and potatoes will finish at about the same time!

In Like a Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

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They say that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. This year, March came in like a lamb…a very chilly lamb, but a lamb all the same. The thermometer may have registered a cool 23 degrees and the ground is still covered in white, but the sun was shining and the air was calm; a rare occurrence ’round here during the winter. I sense that spring is just around the corner. But that might just be wishful thinking!

In honor of our lamb of a first day of March, it seemed appropriate to make a nice shepherd’s pie for dinner; a perfect comfort meal for a sunny, late winter day. Traditionally, shepherd’s pie is made by layering ground lamb, in a seasoned sauce, with vegetables and a layer of mashed potatoes; a well-balanced meal in a baking dish! This Irish-inspired dish makes a perfect one-dish meal any night of the week or would make a fantastic substitute for corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day!

Many variations of shepherd’s pie call for ground beef as a substitute for lamb. Technically, that wouldn’t be a shepherd’s pie at all, but rather a cottage pie. Shepherd’s herd sheep; not cattle. And shepherd’s pie is made with lamb; not beef. If your grocery store does not regularly carry ground lamb, you have a few options. First, try asking at the butcher counter to see if they would grind a lamb shoulder for you. Many accommodating butchers would be happy to do this for you. If you’ve got a KitchenAid mixer with a food grinder attachment, another alternative is to grind your own lamb. Finally, I’ve read that you can grind meat by pulsing it in a standard food processor, though I’ve never actually tried this particular strategy. If all else fails, substitute ground beef and call it cottage pie instead! It will still be delicious!

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup onions, finely diced
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more, if desired)
  • Pepper
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas, warmed
  • 3/4 cup frozen corn, warmed
  • 2 cups creamy mashed potatoes*
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Additional cheddar cheese and parsley, for garnish

*Prepared using your favorite mashed potatoes recipe or boil 4-5 Russet potatoes until fork-tender. Blend with butter and milk until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add carrots and onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the ground lamb. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until fully cooked. Sprinkle the flour over the meat. Stir to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a simmer. Cook for about 2 minutes, until a sauce thickens around the meat. Season with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with the cheddar cheese.

To assemble the pie, spread the meat and sauce into a baking dish. Top with a layer of peas and corn. Spread a layer of mashed potatoes on the top. Garnish with a sprinkle of cheddar and fresh parsley. Bake for about 15 minutes, until it bubbles around the edges and the top is lightly browned.

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