Monday 14 January 2013


We have been extremely lucky to have mild weather since the start of the winter. 11° C on Christmas is nothing short of a miracle. Alas, as we all now know, good things don't last. The cold snap has descended and I'm feeling the cold right to my bones.

When it comes to winter warmers, I turn to good old English favourite recipes. They know their stuff when it comes to these things, owing to experience. One of my favourite English recipe is cottage pie. Cottage pie is practically the same as shepherd's pie except the meat used is minced beef instead of minced lamb. A change of the meat used switches this recipe from one to the other. The leftovers of the Sunday roast used to be made into this dish.

All of the aspects of this dish spells comfort. The tasty sautéed minced beef filling in a rich gravy topped with creamy mashed potato makes it an easy dish to like. There is something about the simplicity and texture of the dish that almost makes it a nursery food. It is a meal in itself, the perfect meal to eat, fork-to-mouth style on one's lap preferrably next to a crackling fire or not having that, just a toasty radiator. It is pure bliss after coming in from the cold. It will, as they say, warm the cockles of your heart.


2 tbsps. olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
100 gms. cubed pancetta or bacon lardons
500 gms. of minced beef
2 medium carrots, diced
1 tsp. paprika
100 gms. chestnut mushrooms, diced
2 tbsps. worcestershire sauce
1 c. beef stock or 1 c. water plus 1 beef stock cube
2 tbsps. sherry (optional)
1 stick celery
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsps. corn flour dispersed in 1/4 c. water
1/2 c. of grated cheddar cheese
chopped chives

Heat up a sauté pan and add in the olive oil and garlic. Sauté on low heat for about 2 minutes, then add the onions. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions start to colour.

Next add in the pancetta or bacon, beef, carrots and paprika. Cook this mixture on high heat until it exudes oil and the beef is browned but not dry. 

Add in the rest of the mushrooms, stock (or water and stock cube), sherry, celery, sugar and ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat until the minced beef is tender, about 50 minutes. 

Prepare the mashed potato topping while the filling is cooking.

If the sauce has dried up, you can add a bit of water to make a gravy. Add in the corn flour slurry while stirring. Simmer for 2 minutes until the sauce is thick. 

Transfer to an oven proof dish or divide between 4 individual dishes. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting to fill the sides of the dish and scraping against the sides to make it stick to the edges. Level the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is browned.

Garnish with chopped chives before serving.

Ingredients for the mashed potato topping:

1 kg. of floury potatoes such as Maris Piper, King Edward or Desirée 
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1/2 tsp salt

Peel the potatoes and and cut into rough chunks. Put them in a pot or pan and cover with water. Add the 1 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked. 

Drain and mash the potatoes (or pass through a ricer). Mix in the butter, milk and 1/2 tsp. salt. 

Use to top the minced beef filling.

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