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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: , , ,

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

Categories: Mains, Recipe Tags: , ,

The Great Lazy Potato Wedges Experiment

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

So, last night I wanted a potato-based side to go with the tarts I was cooking. Something quick and easy, and basically a way of using up the bag of baby new potatoes I had brought to go with something else I ended up not cooking. Hastily put together in my head, I decided crispy shelled, fluffy potato wedges were in order, and although what I ended up with was more of a slightly less-crisp-than-envisaged mess of potatoes, it was delicious and I know what I’d do differently (or less hastily and lazily) next time. This dish also served as a way of using up some leftover chorizo slices, although I have the feeling this would work better with thicker coins snipped from a chorizo hoop rather than thin slices from the larger salami-type sausage.

So, how it was:

  • 1kg baby new potatoes
  • About 12 slices of chorizo (and see above), each slice snipped into 6 pieces, Trivial-Pursuit style
  • 2 tablespoons semolina
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Wash the potatoes, slice each in half lengthwise, and then slice each half in half again, so each potato becomes four long wedges. Add to boiling, generously salted water and cook until tender, around 20 minutes or so. 

Drain the potatoes, return to the pan, and add the semolina and paprika. Clamp the lid to the pan and give the whole thing a good shake to coat the potatoes in the spiced semolina, adding more semolina and paprika if needed.

Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the coated potato wedges. Turn a few times to crispen up all sides. After the last turning, add the chorizo and, as it releases it’s delicious fat, turn the potatoes in it.

That’s it! Serve immediately.

 So, as I said, nice enough, but not as crispy as I wanted. So, for next time, I would try just parboiling the potatoes, coating in the semolina, turning in a roasting pan of very hot vegetable oil and cooking in a very hot oven, roast-potato style. Yum.

Categories: Recipe, Sides Tags: ,