Monday, January 25, 2021

Quarantine Kitchen: Cottage Pie


That old Mamas and the Papas tune It Never Rains In Southern California wasn't true today.  We are in for about a week of rain and weather here, and this morning, I woke up to this spectacular double rainbow.  Unfortunately, the pot of gold has remained elusive.  
Last night after two days of prep, I served a cottage pie for dinner.  Cottage pie is a beef stew,  made with ground meat, but I prefer chunks of beef.  The entire dish is covered with mashed potatoes---it's hearty and savory, and delicious.  Now, this isn't a difficult meal to make, it's just that I think it's better when you let the flavors in the stew sit overnight before you serve it, that gives you time to make everything ahead of time, then you just pop this delicious creation into the oven and wait for the accolades.  This dish is the one our future daughter-in-law requested for her birthday dinner.  Shepherd's pie is made with lamb, which is also delicious, so you can decide which one you prefer.  I've also made chicken pot pie and covered that with mashed potatoes---it's just as delicious as you can imagine! 
A few things before I get started, I use Better than Bouillon beef base for this dish, and I don't follow their directions for reconstituting it, giving the stew a richer flavor.  I use Yukon Gold potatoes, but you can use any low starch potato, like a white creamer, or red bliss, I find that Russett baking potatoes give you a softer mashed potato that can sink into the stew.  I don't put green vegetables into the stew, after a long simmer, they become a very unattractive khaki green, rather have them brilliant and green on the side.  I also like to make the stew in the slow cooker since I don't have to tend it all day long, but it's easy enough to make in a Dutch oven.  

Cottage Pie 
Serves 6 to 8

For the Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
heavy cream or milk or sour cream

Put the potatoes into water to cover, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender.  
Drain thoroughly, and mash with 4 tablespoons of butter, season with salt and pepper.  You want a really stiff mash here, if your potatoes are really stiff add a few tablespoons of heavy cream, milk or sour cream to the mash.  

Spread the mash about 1/2-inch thick onto a Silpat on a baking sheet.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate to firm up the potatoes.  

For the Stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds beef stew meat, fat trimmed
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 medium carrots, scraped and cut into large dice
3 ribs celery, cut into large dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup Better Than Bouillon Beef base
3 cups water
3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, either cut from the cob or frozen and defrosted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter mixed with 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small bits

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil, liberally season the beef with salt and pepper, and brown the meat on all sides.  
Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and sage, and saute until the onion is softened 
Add the tomato paste, and beef base, and simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the water, Worcestershire and bay leaf, and stir to blend. 
Cover and simmer for 3 hours, or until the beef is tender.  Add the corn, and bring the sauce to a simmer, 
Whisk in the butter and flour mixture, bringing the sauce to a boil, until thickened.  

Season the sauce with salt and pepper if needed.  At this point, the stew can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with silicone or aluminum foil.  
Pour the stew into an ovenproof 13-by-9-inch baking dish.  

Using the Silpat, transfer the potatoes to the top of the stew.  Dot the top of the potatoes with the remaining butter, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown.  

Allow the cottage pie to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  As I said in the intro, I serve peas or green beans on the side.  This is also delicious with a nice vinegary salad.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy: To make the stew in the slow cooker, saute all the ingredients before adding the tomato paste.  Transfer to the slow cooker, and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.  To thicken, add the butter/flour mixture, and cook another hour on high.  
Variations:  If you would like to make this with lamb, it's delicious with ground lamb, as well as lamb shoulder.  I sometimes add grated sharp cheddar cheese to the potatoes, but the potatoes I made for our dinner were so good when I mashed them, I decided against it.  There have been times when I haven't had any tomato paste, and just gone ahead and made the dish without it.  It does add another depth of flavor, though, and I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for times when I just need a bit.  On a separate note, one of my friends in the UK suggested adding a can of Heinz baked beans to the stew---this must be a secret ingredient that I haven't found in any recipes for cottage pie, but it would certainly be a surprise!

Today the wind off the ocean has gusted at up to 75mph, and it is downright cold for San Diego at 51 degrees.  As I write this I am thinking about what I can make to ward off the cold, and so far no great ideas, but hopefully, by dinnertime, I'll have it sorted.  We've been enduring this pandemic for so long, I pray each and every one of you is safe, well, and warm.  Dr. C. and I have both gotten our vaccinations; he's had his second shot, I'm due for mine in February.  Grateful for all the healthcare professionals who are helping to stem the tide of this pandemic.  Ciao for now.