Archive for October, 2008

Shepherds’ Pie

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by helenphillips

Some people get confused about the difference between Shepherds’ Pie and Cottage Pie. Even the Wikipedia entry states that the name is interchangeable.  But, it’s quite simple – Shepherds’ Pie is made from lamb (Shepherds look after Sheep), and Cottage Pie is made from Beef. Both are very British in origin, and a good example that despite global opinion, British food is indeed delicious.

I spent many years thinking that I didn’t like Shepherds’ Pie. Then I was served it at a friend’s house. Not being type of person who is rude enough not to give things a try, I found I actually enjoyed it.  I’ve since concluded that this dish was just another victim of the school dinner treatment.

So, today is Sunday, and instead of the usual roast, we are having Shepherds’ Pie.  Despite repeated requests from my husband, it will not be served with Baked Beans (a favourite student meal of his, back in the day). It’s a very straight forward dish, and today I decided to add my own twist by the way of cumin. Cumin and Lamb tend to complement each other really well, being a staple of Moroccan cuisine.  Leek is a great addition, though not used on this occasion.

This is also a great opportunity to use one of my kitchen gadgets – the potato ricer. Sales of this product went through the roof after Gordon Ramsay used it during the first series of the ‘F Word‘!

The quantities for the meat sauce makes enough for around 6, or 4 really generous portions. However, on this occasion I was cooking for 2, so the left over meat sauce was divided and frozen for future use. The potato quantity below is enough for 2, but I wouldn’t necessarily increase by the same proportion as the sauce. Weigh the potatoes out, and rely on your eyes to assess an appropriate amount. The size of the dish will have some bearing, particularly the surface area. In this case I used a small dish which measures in cms – 22.5 x 15.5 x 4.5 deep.

For the meat sauce (for 4-6)

  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 red onion (large) – sliced or diced, it doesn’t really mater
  • 1 aubergine (small) – diced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin – crushed with mortar & pestle
  • 400g tin tomatoes
  • Generous splash of Worcestershire Sauce

First of all, I brown the mince in a pan. Lamb tends to be very fatty, so I like to remove it from the pan and drain as much fat off as possible (please don’t do this under the sink, it will block the u-bend!).  Putting the mince to one side temporarily, add the onion to the pan, and stir for a minute or so. Then add the aubergine, mix well, and saute over a lowish heat for a few minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the cumin, the Worcestershire Sauce, mix well, then add the tinned tomatoes. Refill the can with cold water. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes, before adding the water and the mince. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for at least 45 minutes to make the most of the flavours. Stir occasionally just to make sure the mixture isn’t sticking.

For the potato topping:

  • 500g potatoes
  • Tablespoon butter / marg
  • 100 ml milk
  • 1 egg

Boil the potatoes until soft (usually around 20 minutes). Drain into a colander, and use the pan to melt the butter. Stir in the egg and milk. Add the potato – either use a potato ricer like mine, or mash directly in the pan.

Putting the dish together:

Preheat the oven to 200° C / 400º F / Gas Mark 6.

Spoon the meat mixture into the dish, and top with the potato. Use a fork to smooth the layer, and create a pattern (the artistry in this case was carried out by my husband).

Place in the oven until the potato is golden brown. This will take 20-30 minutes, depending on whether your oven is fan assisted.

Serve with vegetables of your choice, and enjoy!


Lazy Dinners

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by helenphillips

I’m sure even the most dedicated cook has nights when they’d rather not be slaving over a hot stove. In my case, this is quite often(!), but I prefer to avoid convenience foods where possible.

This week I’ve been struggling this week, but have managed to put some meals together that are quick & dirty but delicious.

Sunday night I couldn’t face eating my Sunday roast, so plated up my share, and put it away in the fridge. Monday evening I faced the challenge of warming it up, without the aid of a microwave. I heated a little olive oil in a frying pan, and threw in the vegetables to gently warm them up. The meat was lamb steak, so I sliced it, then also added it to the pan along with gravy. Topped with some mint sauce, and followed by some plastic bread to mop up the gravy, it was delicious.

Tonight’s dish also involved using left over boiled potatoes from the weekend. These were warmed in some butter, so they were slightly browned. The meat element was chicken thighs, roasted in the oven. On the side I had a delicious salad – Tesco’s Finest Tomato & Mozzarella, which comes with rocket and a basil infused dressing.  Very minimal effort required, but fantastic tasting.

C is for Chocolate

Posted in Baking, Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by helenphillips

Next week is ‘Chocolate Week‘. Very few of us need encouragement to eat chocolate, but the website details offers and events to look forward to. The Kitchen Goddess website is also getting into the spirit of things, with lots of chocolate recipes. Last week’s Recipe of the Week of ‘White Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Raspberries‘ particularly caught my eye.

This ties in nicely with a blog entry I have been working on for some time, as I seem to have been doing a fair bit of chocolate ‘cooking’ recently.

It started whilst I was reading ‘The Lollipop Shoes‘ by Joanne Harris, the follow up to her popular novel ‘Chocolat’. Throughout the book, characters indulge in rich home-made hot chocolate. The descriptions of the spices used made me think about trying it myself, an adventurous change to powder from a jar.

So, I decided to do a bit of research, and see what recipes I could try. My first port of call was ‘Green & Blacks Chocolate Recipes‘ which has a wonderful array of chocolate recipes from ‘Italian Venison’, to the wonderful ‘Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake‘, and chocolate souffle with Caramel Sauce.  Although the book details the origins (and how to make Kukuh), it didn’t have quite what I was looking for. So, I turned to the internet.  I was fascinated by the mention that the Mayans drank their chocolate with chilli, as do some of the characters in ‘The Lollipop Shoes’. The recipes I found seemed quite heavy on the chilli, so being the wimp I am, I reduced it a little, and experimented with what ingredients I had.

Hot Chocolate

  • 230 ml milk
  • 22 g chocolate – chopped finely, or grated
  • 3 g chilli
  • 1/2 vanilla pod – split down the middle
  • 1/2 stick Cinnamon
  • teaspoon nutmeg

I added the chilli, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg to the milk, and heated it gently (take care not to let the milk boil).  Once the milk was simmering, I stirred in the chocolate. I used skimmed milk, which makes this drink quite healthy(!) but still tasty (and quite spicy enough for me).  I imagine that made with full-fat milk and some cream it would make a very decadent treat.

Chocolate Truffles

A few days later, I found myself in possession of some good quality chocolate (Divine 70%), and decided that now was as good a time as any to start practicing making truffles for Christmas time. These can be made in advance and frozen, or alternatively scoffed in 3 days.  I’ve used Delia’s recipe before, and did again this time. The first batch was made with Brandy – and you can’t miss it in the taste. For the second batch I used Orange Essence, which I personally preferred.  Which ever recipe you follow, prepared to get messy!

Chocolate Muffins

Last weekend my husband asked me to make some muffins to take to his MBA tutorial. Again I turned to the G&B chocolate recipe book. They have a recipe for ‘Banana, Cherry and White Chocolate Muffins’, but I wanted something more chocolately. I used their recipe as a guideline for quantities, and added in some cocoa powder and milk chocolate drops. The recipe told me that it would make 10 large muffins. It lied. I suspected as much when it also said to fill the case 2/3 full, and there wasn’t enough. So, instead I got 10 small muffins. (and then looked at another recipe that used double the amount for 12 muffins!). They were delicious anyway. So, if you decide to try this, either share it between 6 large muffin cases, or double it to go for 12!

  • 150g (5 oz) plain flour
  • 0.5 level tablespoon baking powder
  • 0.25 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 40g (1.5 oz ) caster sugar
  • 125ml (4 fl oz) milk
  • 50g (2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 100g milk chocolate drops

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.

Melt the butter (it really needs to be entirely melted to mix well, says the voice of experience). Whisk it together with the egg, sugar and milk. Then add the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Make sure the texture isn’t too smooth, so you get that lumpy look muffins are known for. Add the chocolate drops, and mix in.  Finally, share the mixture between the muffin cases, or muffin tray if you have one. Remember, you are aiming for 2/3rds full! Bake for approx 20 minutes. The tops should spring back when you touch them.


I found this article to be interesting reading on the Origins of Chocolate, and today I came across ‘Chocolate Source‘ – a whole site dedicated to chocolate, fantastic. So I’ll leave you with that, and with ‘10 things you didn’t know about chocolate‘ from the Ethical Superstore website – an excellent source for Divine Fairtrade Chocolate. Oh, and as a final note, at a Beer tasting session at Taste of Bath last year, we were advised that Leffe Brune is the perfect accompaniment for chocolate.