Homey, rustic food is just the thing to take off the chill at this time of year. Cottage pie has all the ingredients of a quintessential wintertime dish: meat, potatoes and gravy kept toasty warm in a casserole dish. It's basically the same thing as shepherd's pie, though "cottage pie" usually indicates the use of minced beef rather than lamb.
Why bother cooking the filling and topping separately, and then cooking them again in the oven? Baking lets the flavours blend together so the pie is more... cohesive tasting, if that makes any sense. The potatoes absorb some of the gravy below which enhances their flavour. It's also the easiest way (short of a blowtorch!) to get a nicely bronzed potato topping.
Tip: Adding an egg yolk to the mashed potatoes helps them brown. It's the same method used to make Duchess Potatoes.
Recipe after the jump!