Back closer to the brief, I made shepherd’s pie on Saturday morning. Typically, Saturday turned out to be the last blast of the summer with one of the best day’s of the whole year – no wind, unbroken sunshine and a really relaxed day with friends and family.
The shepherd’s pie was a fairly normal version but with a slight twist in the seasoning, developing on a theme that I have been experimenting with over the last few months – cinnamon. I think cinnamon quills work really well in almost anything that Brits would traditionally also season with bay leaves, so stews and casseroles, marinaded red meats and poultry. Here I used a couple of organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills to season the beef mince (also organic and from the new Booths in Ripon).
This version was the way I did it, which is a little bit long-winded, but you could just whack all the mince ingredients together and cook up for a quicker version. For me, however, the key (like in many meat dishes) is to cook it before the meal and then let it sit and allow the flavours to meld, before reheating the stew or mince and serving. This really improves the flavour.
For the mince:
2 medium white onions, chopped finely (processed if young kids around)
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped finely (processed if young kids around)
3 medium carrots, diced into ½ cm cubes
1.8kg organic beef mince (or best you want to buy)
2 organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills
2 bay leaves
1 pinch Steenbergs perfect salt seasoning
1 tsp Steenbergs vegetable bouillon powder
1 pinch lemon pepper mix
Good slug of dark soy sauce
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
200ml lager beer or water
For the topping:
10 large potatoes (Maris Piper are ideal)
1tsp grainy mustard
Boil the carrots until just tender, drain and leave to cool
Fry the onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent; this takes about 10 minutes at a low heat. Take off heat and leave to cool.
In a heavy bottomed frying pan, add a tablespoon of sunflower oil and brown off the mince. When browned remove with a slotted spoon and start the next lot of mince.
Get a large saucepan and put the mince, onions, garlic and carrots into this. Add the rest of the mince ingredients, stir it up, and put onto a medium heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Leave to cool for a few minutes and then layer a couple of ceramic dishes up to half the height. Try and keep some of the mince spare (I’ll tell you why later!).
Peel the potatoes, quarter them and boil in water until tender. Mash them thoroughly with milk and perhaps some butter and then mix the mustard through the potatoes.
Now, cover the mince with the mashed potatoes. Do this by starting from the edge and just scooping a load of mashed potatoes onto the edge and then when you have gone all round the edge, fill the gap in the centre. Now smooth over the top and wipe clean the edges. I now use a fork and do diagonal lines firstly one way and then the other to create a net effect.
You can grate some cheese on the top towards the end of the cooking should you so wish, but I don’t often do this and it can overpower the general flavouring.
Cook at 180oC for 45 minutes until piping hot. Serve with peas or broad beans.
Why keep some mince back? There is always one child who doesn’t really like shepherd’s pie so you can always make a quick pseudo-spaghetti bolognaise by boiling up some spaghetti and now everyone is happy. This is just what happened on Saturday and 2 of the 6 kids wanted pasta, but for once I had second guessed them and was prepared.