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Ultimate Shepherd’s Pie

October 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Shepherds Pie 2

Autumn has truly arrived, and, although I’ve said before that bright sunshine and soaring temperatures won’t always stop me from cooking something warming, hearty and wintery, the time is definitely right for cooking food like this. I’ve called it my ‘ultimate’ shepherd’s pie, because, for me, I don’t think this recipe can be improved upon, so much so we’ve had this for dinner four times in two weeks!

Some might argue that what I’m making is actually a cottage pie, in that I use minced beef rather than minced lamb, as per the traditional shepherd’s pie, but, frankly, the distinction is irrelevant. What matters more is eating what tastes good, so if you prefer lamb, use it. I’ve made this with vegetarian ‘mince’ too, admittedly to cater for vegetarian friends rather than out of choice, but it worked just fine. I swapped the stock for vegetable, (and in actual fact I’ve more often than not been using chicken rather than perhaps more orthodox beef stock anyway, so I don’t think it’s too important) but, my friends not being too fussy vegetarians, allowed me to keep my Worcestershire sauce. If you needed to make this truly vegetarian, I suspect you could use some good soy sauce instead to impart some of the colour and saltiness of the Worcestershire, if not the exact same depth of flavour.

Shepherds Pie 3

While we’re talking about flavour, you’ll see I’ve added celery salt too. It struck me that, with a base of carrots and onions, celery would work here too, that trio of classic ingredients which is the base of many a delicious stock, so do add a finely diced stick or two if you’d like. The first time I made this, I didn’t have any in the house, so added some celery salt instead, adding a hint of the flavour and aroma of celery, and was so pleased with the result I’m reluctant to change now. Which brings me to the baked beans. Perhaps not traditional, although certainly the bringing together of two quite British traditions, but definitely worth a try. If you truly cannot abide the thought, perhaps substitute with the same quantity of good quality tinned chopped tomatoes.

The recipe I’ve given below is for two, although, as ever with my cooking, this could potentially serve more, less greedy people, especially with more vegetables on the side. The quantities here fill a 15 x 25 x 4cm approx dish, with the mashed potato topping mounded way above the top of the vessel. My point is, 900g of potatoes may seem a lot for two people, (and again, it could well be for two other people), but this means the pie is dinner for two by itself, no need for extras, although what I think is childhood nostalgia encourages me to generally serve this with an equally oversized portion of peas. The recipe is easily doubled, should you need, and I have previously successfully frozen a completed pie, mash and all, but without it’s final time in the oven, defrosting well (24 hours in the fridge should do it) and then cooking for maybe 40 minutes in a 200°C oven until piping hot all the way through, so why not make two?

Shepherds Pie 1

Ultimate Shepherd’s Pie (serves 2, and see above)

  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 250g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Half a 400g tin baked beans
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Half a teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 900g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm chunks
  • A good dollop of butter

Put the potatoes into a large pan of boiling, well salted water, cover, and boil until tender, more than tender in fact, until you’re sure there’ll be no little pieces of uncooked, hard potato hiding in the centre of your chunks. 25 minutes, maybe more.

Meanwhile, heat the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large pan, and add the onions, carrots and garlic. Stir them around in the oil, put a lid on the pan, and sweat over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Add the minced beef to the vegetables, and fry until just browned. A wooden (or suitable plastic) fork is, I think, the best way to fry mince, as it breaks up any clumps as it moves the mince around. Add the tomato puree, and continue stirring, until it’s well distributed, and in any case for at least a minute. Add the baked beans, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt, and give everything a good stir. Add the flour, and give everything a final stir to ensure the flour is well mixed in. Pour over the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. I’m aiming for a quite thick, barely-there sauce, with all the flavours concentrated and absorbed by the meat and vegetables.

Meanwhile, when the potatoes are done, mash them (I like using my potato ricer to get a really smooth mash, for much larger quantities I would beat the potatoes to mash with an electric hand whisk, but do as you wish, trying your best to ensure no lumps), and stir in the butter, adding a little salt if needed, to taste.

Pour the cooked minced beef into a suitable oven proof dish, and top with the mashed potato. Spread the potato over the mince with a silicone spatula, sealing in the filling. Mark deep grooves into the top of the mash, using the tines of a fork and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the ridges you’ve made in the mash are slightly crunchy.

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Categories: Mains, Recipe Tags: , , ,

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

October 2, 2009 1 comment

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcake

I’m not sure if this says more about my shopping than my cooking habits, but I seem to be forever coming up with ways to use up leftover mascarpone. Of course, depending on how you look at it, this isn’t a bad thing since these new inventions are usually sweet treats.

Overwhelmed with new cupcake recipes and techniques this month, from my recent book purchase, and a feature in this month’s Sainsbury’s Magazine, I drew inspiration from these and elsewhere, but ended up going my own way. In this case, these are plain vanilla cupcakes with a light and creamy strawberry-cheesecake-esque topping. Sometimes, I do think that vanilla cupcakes are the way to go, if you’re adding a good frosting, since, if nice and moist, they offer a comfortingly bland yet satisfying backdrop to a delicious topping. Although, having said that, on any given day I’m equally likely to make flavoured cupcakes that complement their frosting – one of the best things about these pretty little treats is they’re so adaptable, to what you have in the house, to a special event, and not least to your current mood.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

This is a fairly standard cupcake mixture, which made enough for 9 muffin cases, my preference for cupcakes, but would equally, with the cooking time adjusted, make 12 smaller but perfectly formed cakes in standard cases. The frosting is, of course, adaptable – cupcakes seem to be the thing right now, and I reckon more recipes I see seem to call for a cream cheese frosting, so mascarpone wasn’t much of a stretch, since I had it anyway, and although I think this adds more of a cheesecake-yness, if you will, you could use Philadelphia-type soft cream cheese, full fat please, if you so wish.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcake 2

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes (makes 9)

  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 100g self raising flour

For the Strawberry Cheesecake Frosting

  • 125g mascarpone (at room temperature)
  • 50g butter (at room temperature)
  • 225g icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons strawberry jam
  • a little pink food colouring (optional)
  • 2 digestive biscuits (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line 9 holes of a muffin tray with muffin cases (or 12 holes with smaller fairy cake cases).

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl, and cream together until pale and fluffy, with an electric handwhisk or mixer.

Continuing to beat, add an egg, until incorporated, then a spoonful of the flour, incorporate, then the final egg, and incorporate that too. (Adding the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour between, reduces the chance of the batter curdling.) Finally, add the vanilla and milk and beat some more.

Add the flour, and mix in well, but briefly, either with your mixer on a low speed or by hand, since overworking the batter once the flour is added may affect the rising of your cakes.

Divide the mixture between the waiting cases, ensuring they are not more than two thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, checking at 20, until the sponge is lightly golden, springs back if you gently touch it, and/or an inserted skewer or similar emerges clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, or even while they’re baking, make your frosting. Put the mascarpone, butter and icing sugar into a bowl, and beat together, slowly at first, and even if completing the job power-assisted, I would start of with a spoon to avoid the dust-cloud of icing sugar you may otherwise get. Once combined, turn up the mixer and continue beating until quite light and fluffy.

Force the jam through a sieve with the back of a spoon, and then scrape the now bit-free jam from the reverse of the sieve. Add this to the frosting, beat it through, and then taste, and add a little more jam if you think you need it. If you wish to add a little pink food colouring, do so now, and again beat, until you have an even colour. If your frosting seems too runny, add a little extra icing sugar, and then chill in the fridge until your cupcakes are completely cold and ready to be iced – this will also help the frosting firm up a little after all of the beating.

When you’re ready, top the cupcakes with the frosting. Bash, whizz or otherwise pulverise the digestive biscuits into crumbs, and scatter over to decorate. These will keep in a sealed container, in the fridge if its warm, for a couple of days, although do please bring them back to room temperature to eat.