Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sand,Water and Shepherd's Pie

We’re back to the basics today. After the birthday with all its consumer society detritus – plastic toys with lots of small pieces, play make-up that has left youngest with red eyebrows that no amount of cream or water will shift, a beeping electronic game, the first we have so far been plagued with, that has been taken up by my son - I’m really happy that the children still spent a good two hours this morning playing with their friends outside in the sand with water and no toys beyond a couple of spades. They all got thoroughly soaked and muddy despite the fact that it is winter with a chilly wind blowing and I now have a mound of filthy clay-stained clothes to deal with ( luckily I got them changed into their oldest clothes before they’d got too far into the enterprise) but at least they were outside getting fresh air and playing harmoniously together.

The morning started off a little stickily, two friends coming to spend the day with us, but my newly six-year-old still feeling in princess mode – too grand to play and protective of all her new presents as well. I had to read a couple of stories to break the ice, then they disappeared off outside and I was only alerted to the need for old clothes by youngest coming in plastered in clay. The princess dress along with the princess hauteur had been shed and they were all getting along happily again. An enormous system of canals, islands, castles and moats had been dug, the hose filling the canal network and liberally splashing everyone. Eventually they had had enough and climbed out of muddy clothes outside the front door and all dived into a warm shower together. After that came the girl-bonding ceremony of borrowing and lending dry clothes.

The rest of the day has been spent making nests for the tortoises, though my knowledgeable son informed the girls that tortoises don’t lay eggs in nests, and collecting snails, followed by an attempted return to the water kingdom, as I was writing this. My pleasure in their natural, creative play didn’t extend to a further load of clothes to wash and more showers with more depredations on the stock of clean clothes, so I hope I’ve deflected them onto another game ...but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Nursery food basics have also made a come back recently. I hadn’t bothered making shepherd’s pie for ages, as the children just used to eat the potato from the top and leave the mince. Mince in general has been rejected too. If I use the same minced beef to make meatballs or burgers they devour it, but they hate picking out all the little bits of vegetables that I hopefully put into it. Anyway my son actually requested shepherd’s pie the other day, so yesterday I made it and they gobbled it up, vegetables and all, several servings each, so I’ve gained one more dish for the regular list.

Recipe for Shepherd’s Pie
500g/1lb good quality minced beef or lamb
1 onion
2 carrots
1 stick of celery
1 clove garlic
2 large fresh tomatoes or half a tin of tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
a dash of wine
a few drops Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
water or stock
knob of butter

Finely chop the onion and saute over a low heat in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the carrot, celery and garlic also finely chopped. Saute all together for five minutes. Turn up the heat and add the meat,breaking up the lumps and cooking until it has just lost the raw redness. Don’t overdo it at this point. Add the splosh of wine, (white or red, whatever you have open. If you don’t have any it’s not essential) and stir till it has evaporated the alcohol. Add the tomatoes skinned and chopped. Now put in the rest of the seasonings and pour in enough water or stock to only just cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, put on a lid and leave to cook at a simmer for 1-2 hours.

The quantity of potatoes depends on how many you have to feed, you can have a thin layer of potato topping or if you need to stretch the meat to feed lots of people a really thick layer of potato, which is what the children prefer anyway. Peel the potatoes and boil them till soft. Then drain and mash them with a knob of butter, milk and salt and pepper until they are soft, but not too runny, mashed potatoes. In a roasting dish or any ovenproof but not too shallow dish, put the cooked meat in a thick layer, then top with the mashed potatoes. Smooth them out with a fork, so there are lines and swirls and peaks of potato that will brown nicely and put the dish into a preheated oven 200C/400F for twenty minutes or until the top has browned to golden. If the meat and potatoes are just cooked and still hot you can just brown the top under the grill. This can all be assembled and kept in the fridge until needed too, then it would need at least thirty minutes to cook through again.

Traditionally shepherd’s pie was made with minced lamb and cottage pie with minced beef but my family has always called both shepherd’s pie. It also used to be a dish to use up leftover cooked meat from a roast rather than starting fresh with raw mince, but we like it like this - comfort food for winter.


  1. I love the picture. It's perfect.

    I don't make Shepherd's Pie often, but it's always a big hit when I do.

    I'm not sure why, but whenever I comment on your blog, a copy of my comment gets automatically emailed to me. Does that happen with everyone?

  2. I'm not sure about the emailed comments - I'll check, they're supposed to be emailed to me!

  3. This is precious Kit! So much energy and concentration on getting their little world just right! Master builders! Thanks so much for the Shepherd Pie recipe! I have made a variation of this according to my mother's ancient 1950's era BH&G recipe. We are big fans of Worcestershire Sauce and this will "jazz" up the flavor! I am wondering if your minced meat would be the same as our hamburger...I may have to see if I can find an inexpensive meat grinder. The texture would be different with minced meat...and not as much fat. I LOVE these hearty recipes!

  4. Another querie...what is a knob of butter? :)

  5. Yes beef mince is exactly what you'd use to make hamburgers with. A knob of butter is just a small lump of butter - an inexact term but you decide how much you like - lush butteriness or health conscious restraint! I use anything from 1-2oz in enough mashed potato for four people. It's interesting how many differences of terminology there are between US and UK English - especially when it comes to cooking.

  6. Those kids are having fun!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!