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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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Sweet & Sour Crunchy Coated Pork (or Chicken, or Turkey)

September 24, 2009 2 comments

Sweet & Sour Turkey

Returning, once more, to Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy, this is the first meal I cooked from the book. Everyone loves sweet & sour, no? So, this is my adaption of this recipe, and I think the crunchy coated meat would work in a number of dishes, so I’ll post separately two ideas for a sweet & sour sauce.

Recipe adapted from Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy

Sweet & Sour Crunchy Coated Pork (or Chicken, or Turkey) (serves 2)

  • 2 pork loin steaks, fat removed, or 2 chicken breasts, or 2 turkey breast steaks
  • 6 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts, or the same amount of whole roasted soya beans and a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of ground white pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons ground nut oil

Place your meat between two sheets of clingfilm on a suitable surface, and then bash with a rolling pin or other appropriate instrument until it’s about half the thickness it was. Cut the meat into large chunks (or leave as whole, large steaks if you wish).

Next, make the crunchy coating for the meat. Tip the peanuts and chilli flakes into a mini-chopper or food processor, and a pinch of ground white pepper, a blitz to a coarsely ground coating.

Pour the coating onto a plate or shallow dish, and then firmly press each side of the meat pieces into the crumbs until well coated.

Heat the ground nut oil in a large frying pan, or wok, and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until thoroughly cooked. Serve with this fresh modern take on sweet & sour sauce, or this more traditional takeaway-style one, and egg fried rice.  

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Smoky Chicken & Bean Stew

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Ok, I admit it, I’m perhaps a little obsessed with chorizo. Honestly, not every meal I cook is based around this spicy little Spanish number, but it is really useful – it’s really tasty, adds great flavour to dishes, and goes well with other ingredients I seem to be using a lot right now, like chicken, red peppers, beans and tomatoes, all of which lend themselves to easy, one-pot stews like this.

I’m quite a new convert to chicken thighs. I was never this biggest fan of the dark meat from chicken, and convinced myself that breast meat was best, but thighs are great. They’re full of flavour, much more so than breast meat, and tend not to try out so much. And, they’re cheaper to boot.

You could maybe spice things up here by adding a finely chopped, de-seeded red chilli. As ever, chicken stock from good quality bouillon concentrate is fine.

Smoky Chicken & Bean Stew (serves 2)

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 red pepper, de-seeded and roughly chopped into chunks
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 3-4 strips
  • 100g chorizo, sliced into coins and then each slice halved
  • 4 tomatoes, de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin borlotti beans, rinsed and drained
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 15g fresh coriander, roughly chopped (about half of a standard supermarket packet)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan or suitable casserole dish, and throw in the onions and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes until softened, but not brown. Add the smoked paprika and red pepper, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the chorizo and chicken to the pan, and fry for 5 minutes, until the chicken is browned and the chorizo is releasing its fat.

Add the tomatoes and beans, and then pour over the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is completely cooked.

Scatter over the coriander. Serve with warmed pitta breads.  

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Chorizo and Vegetable Pasta Bake

September 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Chorizo  Veg Pasta Bake

Some might question the purpose of baking this. After all, you’ve made a sauce, cooked some pasta, sorted some veg, why not just stir it all together and eat? And yet, a quick blitz in a hot oven makes this all the more worthwhile. Everything seems to meld together, the flavours of the sauce, slightly charred vegetables, and salty, warming chorizo, and the textures change too, a little drier (in a good way), a little extra bite. More hearty, even. And if that isn’t enough to sell it, then bake it because how else will you get chunks of mozarella to melt into stringy little pockets of deliciousness throughout? Hmm?

Chorizo and Vegetable Pasta Bake (serves 4. Well. Probably wouldn’t leave 6 starving either.)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g tins good chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into chunks
  • 1 aubergine, sliced lengthways into 1cm thick slices, then each slice cut into chunks
  • 100g chorizo, (or about half of a 225g chorizo sausage, which is the usual weight of the ones I buy), cut into 1cm ish chunks (cut 1cm thick coins from the sausage and halve them)
  • 350g dried Rigatoni, or other pasta of your choice 
  • 125g mozarella ball, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium pan, add the onion and garlic and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes or so, until soft but not browned. Tip in the tinned tomatoes, stir in the basil, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, and season.

While the sauce is cooking, heat the other spoonful of oil (or less if you need it, you’re aiming for the thinnest film of oil you can manage) in a non stick frying pan, and add the aubergine and pepper chunks. Fry for 5 – 10 minutes, until cooked through, but trying to avoid stirring too much, to let them blacken and char a little, in places. Remove to a plate, and then tumble the chorizo pieces into the pan, frying for 3-4 minutes until they begin to release their oil and crispen a little.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions in a large pan of boiling, salted water. Drain well, return to the pan, (or a large bowl, but I’m trying to save you some washing up), and pour in the chorizo straight from its pan, and then the peppers and aubergine. Finally, pour over the tomato sauce and stir everything well, so the sausage and vegetables are distributed through, and everything has a light coating of sauce.

Tip the whole lot into an ovenproof dish, and dot the mozarella chunks over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is nicely melted. Serve with salad, or, and see previous ramblings on carb-overloading, some nice bread.

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Pork and Parmesan Cannelloni

September 10, 2009 Leave a comment

One of my all time favourite meals is my home made lasagne, so it’s perhaps a little surprising I’d never made cannelloni. When I came across this in June’s Sainsbury’s Magazine, I thought it sounded great, and was sufficiently different from my usual lasagne so definitely worth a try. This uses pork, not my usual beef, and the richness is balanced a little by using creme fraiche instead of full-on bechamel, albeit laced with cheese. The ingredients list is quite long, and since this needs making in parts and then assembly, it’s quite time consuming, although not particularly difficult, but stick with it, the results are worth it. And I suspect you could make the meat filling and tomato sauce the day before, keep in the fridge, and do the assembly job the next day if you so wished. I’ve fiddled with the original topping slightly, mostly because I found there wasn’t enough of it, but otherwise this is fairly faithful to the original.

This is quite filling, and the serving suggestion is a green salad (what else?) on the side, but for comforting baked pasta dishes I tend to want more carbs than is sensible at one sitting, with lasagne that means chips, and here I was planning to make potato wedges, but I got some really nice, huge potatoes from the market, so everyone got a massive jacket potato, dripping with butter, instead.

Pork and Parmesan Cannelloni (serves 4)

For the meat filling:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 60g breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 250g pack fresh egg lasagne sheets (from the chiller, not the dried ones) (6 sheets in mine, btw)
  • 1 egg
  • 50g parmesan, grated

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped (I used the mini-chopper for the onion and red pepper, which does finely chop, but also gives you a bit of a mush – this is fine here)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 600ml passata
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the topping

  • 200ml creme fraiche
  • 125g mozarella, sliced
  • 50g parmesan, grated

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

First, make the meat filling. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the mince, onion and garlic for about 10 minutes until the mince is browned and the onion soft. Add the tomato puree, breadcrumbs and oregano, and give everything a good mix. Season well. Leave to cool while you get on with the next bit.

If you need to cook your lasagne sheets, follow the pack instructions. Mine only had oven cooking instructions, but I soaked them in a bowl of boiling water for 5 minutes anyway. This made them much more pliable, especially helpful as I had frozen and re-thawed them, and they appeared to have dried a little. Anyhow, I’d recommend you soak them even if not frozen. Drain well, but handle them carefully, they’ll try and stick to each other, and may split easily.

Next, make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a saucepan, and fry the onion, garlic and red pepper for about 5 minutes, until nice and soft. Pour over the passata, then add the oregano, sugar and vinegar, and stir well. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Next comes the assembly job.  Stir the egg and parmesan into the meat filling, and then divide the mixture into six portions. Place a portion at the short end of a lasagne sheet, by hand or by spoon, roll it up, and place it in a baking dish. The recommended size is about 20 x 30 cm, but basically you want it big enough to place in the six rolls with a gap around each. Repeat this with the other 5 lasagne sheets. Pour the tomato sauce over the whole lot.

Blob the creme fraiche over the top with a spoon, and then spread it out gently with a spatula, trying not to push it into the tomato sauce too much. Arrange the mozarella on top of this, and then sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until golden and delicious looking.

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Salmon and Potato Grill

September 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Salmon & Potato Grill 1

I’d bought a tin of salmon some time ago, to try some salmon fishcakes I’d seen somewhere, but after a few odd, basically fish flavoured fried mashed potato disasters, my little tin, alas, languished at the back of the cupboard. And then I came across this. Originally from ‘Take 5 ingredients’, a little freebie recipe booklet that arrived with September’s BBC Good Food, finally I had found a way to give my little tin of salmon centre stage.

This is seriously good, and seriously easy – after all there are only five ingredients, and it’s filling, although having said that, this ‘serves 4’ dish only fed two of us. But then, portion control has never been a skill I possess, nor one I would seek to.  

Salmon and Potato Grill (serves 4, and see above)

  • 650g new potatoes (and I had only tiny salad potatoes)
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 200g tin salmon
  • 200ml creme fraiche
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated

Wash the new potatoes (don’t bother to peel them), and slice, lengthways, into slices about 3-4mm thick. Tip into some salted, boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, until almost tender, although I gave them a few minutes longer as I have a huge phobia of undercooked potatoes. You want them to still be able to hold their shape though. Add the frozen peas to the boiling water, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the grill to its hottest setting, and drain the salmon, tip into a bowl and flake it into chunks.

When cooked, drain the potatoes and peas and pour into a bowl. You want to be working reasonably quickly now, as you don’t want everything to get too cold. Add the salmon to the potatoes and peas, gently but thoroughly mix everything around, and then tip the whole lot into an ovenproof baking dish.

Blob the creme fraiche over the top of everything, and spread it around, roughly, but trying to cover everything. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the creme fraiche, and then whack the dish under the grill until the cheese is bubbling and the creme fraiche is heated through. Serve immediately, with a green salad if you like.  

Salmon & Potato Grill 3

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Caramelised Onion Hamburgers

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

You may have seen I made some caramelised onions recently, as I had planned to cook a couple of things from Nigella Express (now out in paperback, and it would appear the spaghetti from the hardback is now cooked) which called for such from a jar, which I was unable to get my hands on. I said I would use them in burgers, which I did, and cannot now think why I haven’t shared these sooner, because, as expected, they were amazing! The recipe is adapted from Nigella Express, one of the changes being an increase in the amount of caramelised onions. My serving suggestion would also be different, if still merely a suggestion – in buns, toasted if you like, topped with mature cheddar cheese, and a dollop of the ubiquitous gooey onions, preferably not fridge-cold.

Caramelised Onion Hamburgers (makes 2, and see serving suggestion above)

  • 250g good minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons caramelised onions (from a jar, if you like)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Place the minced beef and onions into a bowl. Crack the egg over and add the sauces. Season with freshly ground black pepper, and mix to combine. The best way, I think, to do this is to get in there with your hands and give everything a good mix, but, if you must, you can use a spoon instead.

Divide the mixture into two portions, and shape them into burgers. Again, the easiest way is by hand, squeezing the portion of meat first into a ball, then pressing, quite firmly, into a patty, finally tidying the edges and shaping into a round. Thinner and wider works better here – fat and squat may mean the outsides begin to blacken before the inside is cooked. Place the burgers on a plate, cover with cling film, and chill in the fridge for half an hour to firm up.

Preheat the grill to high, and grill the burgers for 15 minutes, turning at the half way point, or until cooked through. Serve immediately.

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