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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.

Categories: Mains, Recipe Tags: , , ,

Lemon Meringue Pie

August 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Lemon Meringue Pie - Perfect Meringue

This has to be one of the best desserts of all time – tangy lemon curd topped with billowing sweet meringue, brown and crunchy on top, white, sticky and soft within. Best of all it’s easy – time consuming, a little, perhaps, but this isn’t the same as difficult – to make. Added to it’s appeal is nostalgia – lemon meringue pie is a classic Sunday lunch dessert from my childhood, although, I suspect they were more often than not packet-mixes, so somewhat naturally, maybe snobilly, this is, I think, superior.

So, with various sources of inspiration, this is my own recipe for perfect lemon meringue pie. Now, handily enough, this amount perfectly fills a standard supermarket sweet pastry case, say 20cm/250g or so, which is how I made this the first time. This takes away part of the work but, you could, of course, use ready made pastry and line a pie dish of your own, in which case I would blind-bake the pastry first. And, to describe your pie as truly homemade, you could make the pastry yourself. (To line a loose bottomed pie or flan tin of about 20cm, 75g butter rubbed into 175g plain flour, with 15g caster sugar then added and bound with around 3 tablespoons of water should suffice. Work this to a firm dough, wrap in cling film and give it a little rest, 30 minutes at least, in the fridge, before rolling out on a lightly floured surface until it’s large enough to line the tin. Blind bake, by which I mean line the pastry case with baking paper, fill with baking beans and cook in a 200°C oven for 20 minutes, or until golden, removing the beans and paper for the final five minutes, and remembering to turn the oven down to 150°C after you’ve removed your cooked pie case.)

Lemon Meringue Pie

  • 1 shop-bought sweet pastry case of about 20cm, or one you’ve made yourself as described above
  • 230g caster sugar (50g and 180g, if it helps)
  • 40g butter
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 2 large lemons, zested and juiced
  • 2 egg yolks and 3 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

First, make the lemon curd filling. Put 50g of the caster sugar in a bowl, and add the cornflour. Add 2 tablespoons of cold water, and mix to a paste.

Place the lemon zest into a saucepan and pour over 200ml water from a recently boiled kettle. Place over heat and return to the boil, then stir it in to the cornflour paste. Pour the whole lot back into the pan and bring it to the boil again, stirring constantly. Simmer for 1 minute, while carrying on stirring. Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, lemon juice and butter. When you have a smooth, yellow mixture, pour this into the pastry shell.

Next, in a ridiculously clean bowl, whisk (by powered means if at all possible) the egg whites to stiff peaks, and then, continuing to whisk, add the remaining sugar, 180g of it, a spoon at a time, until all is combined and glossy.

Spoon the meringue over the lemon filling, using a silicone spatula to get it right to the edges and completely sealing in the yellow filling within. If you’re both inclined and able, swirl the meringue into peaks, and then bake for 45 minutes, by which time the meringue should be lightly browned and crips on top, but still gorgeously soft, stick and white within.

Serve warm or cold, with or without adornment, either cream, or better still (especially if warm) good, shop-bought vanilla ice cream.

Categories: Pudding, Recipe Tags: , , , , ,