T.S. Eliot suggested that April is the cruelest month, but let’s face it, January comes a very close second.
As months go, January feels like a wasteland (pun intended): a physical and financial holiday hangover strung out over long nights and cold days. And deep beneath the distracting shouts of January-diet resolutions come the seductive whispers of comfort food – tempting little oases in this barren landscape. This particular whisper spoke to me loud enough to overcome the January Diet with relative ease, as little else could be more comforting than Cottage Pie: rich meat and vegetable sauce covered with buttery, creamy mashed potato and bubbling hot cheese. Are you listening rice cakes and cottage cheese?
Originally, Cottage Pie was a way of eking-out the leftovers and although this frugal approach is good for January finances, I prefer to use fresh ground beef as this gives it a better texture. Alternatively you can use ground lamb to make Shepherd’s Pie.
Ingredients – serves 4
- 2lb potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 2oz butter
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 sticks celery, diced
- A glug of olive oil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 generous tbs tomato paste or ketchup
- 1lb ground beef
- 2 cups good quality beef stock or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp cornflour
- Worcestershire sauce
- 4oz grated Cheddar cheese (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Cut your potatoes into evenly sized chunks, and put in a large pan of cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
- Meanwhile fry the beef with a little of the olive oil until it has browned. Skim off the fat and put the beef to one side. You will be amazed how much fat you will get from frying the beef.
- Then heat a big glug of olive oil in a pan over a moderate heat before adding the onions. Soften them, but do not brown them. After they have been cooking for a few minutes add the celery and carrots. When the vegetables are getting soft finally add the garlic for another minute.
- Now add the thyme, bay leaves and then the beef. Pour in half the stock. Whisk the other half with the cornflour, and then stir it all into the meat mixture. Add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce and allow everything to simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes. Heat the milk in the pan return the potatoes to it and mash with a generous slab of butter, feel free to add more than the meager 2oz I suggested. Season to taste.
- Taste and season the meat, adding more Worcestershire sauce if necessary. If it looks dry, pour in a little water. If you are worried about little ones choking on bay leaves you should remove them now, but if you don’t just be vigilant when eating.
- Put the meat into a large baking dish or individual ramekins and top with the potato. Run a fork over to smooth it out. Dot with small pieces of butter and grated cheese, if you like that. I do!
- Put into the oven for about 40 minutes if you are using one large dish or 20 minutes if you are using smaller ramekins, until the potato is crisp and slightly brown, then serve.
Cottage Pie freezes well. Freeze once you have assembled and then defrost and cook.
Enjoy with a side of veggies or baked beans and then make an appointment at the gym…