Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's Pie

It’s been misty in the mornings this week.  C has started pre-school.  The leaves are turning and the the nights are drawing in.  Summer is officially over.  Ho hum.  Best make some yummy kid-friendly food to cheer everyone up.  I’m a stickler for (some) rules and this pie is definitely shepherd’s because I use lamb mince – if you use beef it is cottage pie, so there.  I like to fancy mine up a bit and sneak in vegetables all over the place.  This is a recipe that I’ve been making for years but it has evolved over time.  I’d like to say that following the birth of my daughter I decided we needed more vegetables and I’m sneaking them in for her.  Unfortunately this is not true and the only adaption I’ve made for her is to reduce the amount of salt I add (I use reduced salt stock powder and season more lightly these days).  The sneaky vegetables are me being completely lazy and not wanting to make a side dish as well as the main event.  A one pan meal (eventually).  And that’s a hang over from when I worked in one of those office type jobs, where you leave the house early and get home late and then still have to knock up a proper dinner.  Fact is that shepherd’s pie from scratch is a bit of a faff, so I would rarely make it midweek, but even though I really like eating (clearly) I’d usually rather spend precious weekend time making cakes and desserts.  So, through design it probably doesn’t need a side vegetable but if you did want something else I can recommend a little steamed broccoli.  To attempt this mid-week I’d absolutely be using leftover roast lamb and leftover mash, which you should do if you have this to hand.  The instructions here though, are assuming you’re starting from scratch so you need to give yourself an hour to get this done.

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Mediterranean potato bake with prosciutto wrapped cod

Mediterranean bake with parma ham wrapped fish

This is one of those ‘bung in what you’ve got’ recipes that was good enough to keep and write down.  It is probably out there on the interweb in some form, but in my head it came from a desire to use up some of a packet of prosciutto, a couple of fish fillets and some new potatoes.  I imagined the ham wrapped fish nestling on a spicy potato stew, somewhat like patatas bravas.  Hence I’m going with the word ‘Mediterranean’ in the title.  Poor thing doesn’t know where it’s really from…  You can, of course, use any firm white fish that comes thick enough to wrap with the prosciutto.  Whatever is fresh, ethically sourced and a good price on the day you buy.  This is also another good way to use up leftover boiled new potatoes.  I rarely boil half a bag, as I figure if I cook them all in one go I’m saving energy and getting C and myself that much closer to a finished meal.  Another thing I’d say is that although black olives look prettier in the finished dish (you can’t see the green ones in the photo above now, can you?) you should put in either what you have or what you prefer.  I’m ALL about fat, green olives.  So that is often what is knocking around in my fridge.  The choice is yours though.  This is super quick to knock up and makes a nice change from the grilled fish, new potato, steamed veg combo I seem to make 90% of the time!

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Quinoa moussaka

Quinoa moussaka

Adapted from Quinoa moussaka with garlic cashew bechamel by Spabettie and Vegetarian quinoa moussaka by An Edible Mosaic

This was very nearly vegan.  And then I sprinkled some parmesan on it and then it wasn’t even vegetarian.  This bothers me a fair bit but sometimes that’s just how it goes.  Now, if you are a veggie then go get yourself some of that Italian hard cheese made without animal rennet.  If you’re vegan then get yourself some Redwood Parmy or similar (not that I’ve ever tried it but I’ve heard it’s THE vegan parmesan substitute).  You could just leave it off and I’m sure you’d like this well enough.  But, although the moussaka was lovely without cheese it was OUTSTANDING with it.  When I first tasted it from the oven I thought, “this is nice but it could do with something” and that something was parmesan. Also, if you’re vegetarian, why would you make a dairy-free bechamel?  You don’t have to after all.  Well, you know I’m avoiding lactose, so the dairy-free bechamel was almost a given for me (I could have used lactofree milk but I planned for this to be vegan, and then I went parmesan crazy – sighs).  There’s miniscule amounts of lactose in parmesan, due to the method used to make it, so I can just bung it on.  It is a mixed up, crazy world when I cook.  Whatever you decide to use you should make a version of this.  I received some lovely graffiti aubergines in the veg box, and I wanted something that when cooked would show off the pretty stripes.  That didn’t work out so well, but it still looked good I think.  I’m also going to share my top tip for reducing the fat in a dish like this.  Steam your aubergine slices.  It is true you won’t get the pretty charred bands you get with griddling but you do get lovely soft aubergine for layering that hasn’t soaked up a pint of oil.  Also, as this recipe calls for making a cashew cream it is probably worth mentioning that I’ve managed to achieve a very smooth cream using a combination of a food processor followed by a stick blender.  Until I win the lottery and get that Vitamix, it’ll do me.

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Potato and egg bake, with sausage (soysage) and avocado

Baked breakfast hash with avocado

One of the things I love most about leftovers is how it opens up a world of cuisine fusion possibilities.  Nothing too radical, but the putting together of things in a less than traditional way that is tasty and has some links back to a classic.  So here are the things I needed to use up today (it was also a Monday and I do try to be meatless first thing in a week, so if I don’t manage it again I know I started it in the right vein!): cold roasted potatoes, soysages, eggs, cavolo nero, avocado.  The things that popped into my head were – breakfast hash (potato, eggs, soysages) and huevos rancheros (eggs, cavolo nero, avocado).  Why not a combination of the two?  A sort of spicy and tomatoey potato bake, with the cavolo nero in there and a egg baked in, topped with crispy soysage crumb, and slices of avocado.  It sounded pretty good in my head, and I have to say it was delicious.  I’d say no need for tortilla because of the potato (although if you’ve got some, dipping in the egg is lush), unless you’ve only got a little cooked potato and you want to bulk out the carbs.  You could easily have this for breakfast if you wanted.  We had it for dinner because it is substantial enough, and who doesn’t like having breakfast at dinnertime?

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Chicken, mango, avocado and quinoa salad

Chicken, mango and avocado quinoa salad

Adapted from Climbing Grier Mountain’s foodie fridays: grilled chicken, mango, and avocado quinoa salad

Time for some therapy.  Me, not you (unless you’re up for that sort of thing).  I’m settled on the couch, so I hope you’re sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair.  I’ve been pondering why it is that I’m frequently eating meals with at least one ingredient on the cusp of perishing.  On the one hand I could argue that by getting a veg box I am always running the risk of not being able to eat up all the contents in time.  Were I to live next door to a farm shop I could pop in daily for fresh ingredients, and I wouldn’t be hoping to make a pile of veggies last a whole week without any of them disintegrating into mush.  But this is not entirely true.  If I’m honest the problem is me and my shopping habits.  When I go to a store I go with a list and I don’t go very often.  I buy what’s on it.  But I often put things on that list for a planned future meal that never materializes because other things got in the way.  I often find I’m changing my meal plan because we’re not hungry enough for the dinner I had planned or we’ve got back too late for me to make the thing I had in mind.  Friends joke that if the zombie apocalypse comes mine is the house we should barricade ourselves in, as we won’t need to venture out for food any time soon.  I know that it has irked me in the past to not be able to make something exactly because I don’t have the right ingredients, but I’m not like that so much now.  Unless I’m actually craving something a specific way I’m now more willing to fiddle around with a recipe and not freak out.  I think I need to be more strict with myself on shopping trips, to not pop things in the trolley just because they might be useful in something.  I’m probably about evens on feeling chuffed I found the thing I suddenly need in the fridge because I bought it on a whim, and eating something odd because I’ve suddenly got a sausage, a pineapple and a open carton of passata to use up!  Which leads me to this recipe.  Mangos were on sale, so I had one of those and the thing was borderline self-juicing when I finally used it.  And I had half an avocado.  That’s another part of the problem.  I am but one, and C is still tiny, so I’m often using half of this and half of that because I would be the size of a house if I cooked for even two adults and then ate most of it myself.  Combined with leftover chicken from a weekend roast this recipe was using up three things that needed to go, and luckily it was gorgeous!  As the original recipe said – summer in a bowl.  You wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some of that, would you!  I didn’t have the parsley called for in the original, and I’m not a big fan anyway, so I subbed in a bit less mint, which worked wonderfully.  You should use whatever you prefer.

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Black bean and quinoa burgers

Black bean and quinoa burger

Adapted from Bake Your Day’s Black Bean Burgers

I am a sucker for a veggie burger and would generally choose such a thing over a meat burger every time.  It’s not that I don’t eat meat, obviously, but there is something about a veggie burger done right that ticks so many happy boxes for me I struggle to describe it adequately.  If you too find great joy in such things YOU MUST MAKE THESE BURGERS.  I cannot implore you enough to have these in your life so you will feel better about, well, everything.  I’ve tweaked them a bit, had them spicy and not so much.  Go to the original recipe and, if you can have all the ingredients listed there, then just do it.  I’ve never made them with panko, what with it being all wheaty and that, but if you can then you probably should.  I’m sure the original way is the best.  That said, even with my tweaks these burgers almost want to make me cry they are that good.  Now, I only had shop-bought white gluten-free burger buns this time, and to be fair they are as dry and flavourless as eating a small block of polystyrene.  BUT I did not care because they served their purpose of keeping the yummy burger, guacamole, saucy, salady goodness stuck together enough to get into my mouth without disintegrating into a pile of mush.  If, however, you have the time and the inclination to make your own buns then it would be totally worth it. (I like these buns from Allergy Free Alaska).  My other tweak (in addition to using gluten-free breadcrumbs) was to remove some of the spiciness.  I put in just one teaspoon of sriracha and omitted the cayenne from the original.  I’m sure if the recipients of your culinary efforts were adults or older children you’d be good to go with the original amounts.  But C isn’t terribly keen on properly hot food so I tone it down a bit in the burger, and then make up for it by adding more sriracha to normal Heinz Tomato Sauce for mine and slathering that over the bun.  A bit of slightly garlicky chunky guacamole, a slice of tomato and some lettuce and we are good to go.  I bet a spicy mayo, or hummus would work just as well in these.  So go on, make them.  You know you want to!

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Chunky guacamole

Chunky guacamole

I was tempted to call this store-cupboard guacamole or cheat’s guacamole because it is the one I make most often and it bears only a passing resemblance to the real McCoy.  It also takes about five seconds to make.  Yeah I sometimes get the proper ingredients, and faff about de-seeding and peeling big tomatoes.  If I’ve planned to make it as part of a larger meal then I might well, but I often find myself with a very ripe avocado and I need to use it up fast.  Perhaps I should have just called this chunky avocado and tomato spread!  I can usually shoehorn guacamole, or whatever it really is, into what we’re having for dinner.  This recipe is for you if you’re the sort of cook I used to be, before having C. I remember once having a meltdown because I didn’t have feta cheese and I needed it for the salad I was making.  Not a shouty, cursing, having a cry meltdown.  Just a panicked, I don’t know what to do instead, everything is ruined meltdown.  Chuckle.  I can’t imagine losing it over a salad any more, but then life has changed somewhat since I would consider that a big deal.  Now you’d get any cheese I’ve got in your salad and I’d brazen out any suggestion it wasn’t supposed to be like that, and believe you should be grateful to be seeing any sort of cheese at all!  It may not be authentic but you can make a delicious guacamole type dip with just a handful of ingredients and only five minutes.  Embrace what you’ve got to hand and make it anyway, however improper it might be!  You may recall I’m not keen on raw onion, so this has none but feel free to add some if you love it.  I also believe guacamole should be creamy and not spicy.  Salsa spicy, guacamole creamy.  Again, if you want some pep, chop a chilli nice and fine and whack it in there.  Now I love garlic, and I would usually go with the premise that you can never have too much.  Of course raw garlic can be a bit potent and in my many years of cooking, and when I was less wise, I ruined otherwise perfectly serviceable guacamoles by being heavy-handed.  A small clove people, is all you need.  Trust me.

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