Archive for April 2009

British Classics Cookery School #1: Shepherd’s Pie

April 20, 2009

> Serves 8

> 60ml Olive Oil
> Salt and Pepper
> 1kg lean minced Lamb or Beef (although technically if you use beef, it becomes Cottage Pie)
> 2 large onions, grated finely
> 2 large carrots, grated finely
> 4 cloves garlic, grated finely
> 50ml Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins is the one, I think it’s available quite widely in the US now)
> 30g Tomato Puree
> 1 tsp Thyme leaves (dried is fine)
> 1 tsp chopped Rosemary (ditto)
> 500ml Red Wine (Beer is a fine substitute, but wine is the best by far)
> 600ml Chicken Stock (powdered is fine)
> 2kg Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
> 100g Salted Butter
> 4 egg yolks
> Cheddar cheese or similar, to grate over at the end
> 1. Pre-heat the oven to 180deg.C/gas mark 4/350 deg.F
> 2. Heat the oil in the largest saucepan you have until hot, then season the mince and fry for 2-3 mins. Stir the onions, garlic and carrot into it. Add the Worcester sauce, tomato puree and herbs and cook for 1-2 mins, stirring constantly. Pour in the red wine and reduce (boil down) until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add the chicken stock, bring back to the boil then simmer until the sauce has thickened.
> 3. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until completely tender. Drain, then return to the pan and dry them out briefly over a low heat. Either mash or (for the best, smoothest mash) pass through a potato ricer, then beat in the egg yolks followed by the butter. Check the seasoning.
> 4. Spoon the mince into a large rectangular ovenproof dish(or divide it into a few dishes). Using a large spoon, layer the mash generously on top of the mince, starting round the outside then gradually working towards the middle, until covered in a smooth level layer of potato. Wipe round the edges of the dish to give a clean finish, then drag a fork in straight lines across the surface of the pie, either horizontal or vertical, to give a ridged surface. Brush on a little melted butter, then put into the oven for approx 20 mins, until golden and bubbling. If you like, add some grated cheese to the top of the pie for the last 5 mins of baking. Cut into neat squares, and lift out pie portions onto heated plates. Serve with a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup or a bottle of Worcester Sauce. Buttered carrots are a delicious vegetable to serve alongside it. God Save The Queen!!!


British Classic #7: Toast, Our True National Dish

April 6, 2009

We have a long tradition on this ancient island of being content to admit that our best efforts foodwise are trumped by other offerings of the same kind from other parts of the world. It’s a debatable claim that Britain produces the greatest beef (I happen to agree, but the cattle farmers of Argentina, the monks of Kobe or many other producers would beg to differ), and the Sunday roast, as grand and heavenly as it can be, cannot assuredly sit atop a list of the finest meals humanity can provide. But, amidst all of this ambiguity and debate, there is one area where we Brits, unarguably, lead the planet. I am talking, dear friends, of the simple task of toasting a piece of bread and putting something on it. Our neighbours  near and far have their quick and inexpensive solutions to satisfy a growling hunger – a crackling hot samosa from India, a Vietnamese rice pancake roll, the elegance of a Parisien butter croissant or the thick, fluffly churros of Spain are all wonderful but I would choose a round of thick, crispy buttered toast every time. Of course, and I hear you say it already, other countries do toast. Yes they do. But somehow, either through a worry of calorie consumption or simply an oversight of this little snack’s importance, they just don’t get it right. I’ve eaten toast in America, but it is always served with something else, almost apologetically. And I’m always supposed to put grape bloody jelly on it, too. A friend went to Japan and had the misfortune to come across the flabby, pallid offering there. No, the crucial aspect of toast that seems lost to the rest of the planet is, quite simply…….


Sorry about the capitals, but there you have it, the central mantra of the cult of toast. And it is a cult, I promise you. Toast is beguiling because (and why do I always mention this factor in every episode?) it is cheap. It is also a dish that anyone with basic motor functions can cook. And it’s good at any point of the day or night. In times of extreme poverty or inactivity, one can live on toast quite happily – visit most university halls of residence and you will find my claim proved. However down on your luck, however misfortunate your situation, chances are you can still scrape together a round of buttered toast, or an approximation. 

So what makes it a world beater? Good bread, for one. There are wonderfully delicious breads in every nation, but a good white bloomer or similar is the only thing that works for toast. Ciabatta? One word – holes. You’d be cleaning up butter for ten minutes. Even a perfect San Franciscan sourdough loaf just doesn’t seem right. No, it needs to be a simple white loaf, sliced thickly (an inch should do it), carefully toasted to your personal degree of done-ness. It must be crisp, and if you are lucky enough to own the hulking iron sumo wrestler of an oven known as an AGA, then you have access to the finest toast possible. The AGA toast utensil, essentially two mesh panels that clamp your bread in place, with a protruding handle that allows you to turn the toast, rotisserie-style. The wonderful crispness and charred edges that this imparts belong only to the effects of this one cooker. But if we could afford an AGA, we wouldn’t be living on toast, would we? So, you’ve toasted your bread to perfection. Now for the butter. There is no great wisdom to impart here. Essentially, you need to get as much as possible onto your slice whilst it is hot, so that you will have the wonderful combination of warm, crisp crunchy dough, and the chin-dribbling richness of melted butter with each bite. Add a mug of tea to the situation, and you have a portrait of Britain to rival anything Constable could have committed to canvas. But we don’t stop there. Why not put something on the odd slice? A new cavalcade of options present themselves, and this is where toast becomes a deeply personal affair. There is the grown-up bitterness of breakfast marmalade (although my younger brothers liked to temper this by combining it with peanut butter), or one of the many jams on offer (But no grape jelly. At least call it jam, then we’ll talk.). Why not go fully native and enjoy the delights of Marmite, a glossy black yeast spread, so salty that it is only enjoyable as a thin scraping across your slice? (Marmite will be an episode on its own, FYI). Toast’s zen-like simplicity and eagerness to go with other things make it a best friend of many a reluctant cook, and a beloved comfort to those far from home. British children partially exist on toast, and I believe that this creates the comfort association in adults. My dearest toast related memory (never typed THAT before) has to be the Sunday night ritual of bath, followed by toast and hot chocolate in front of the TV, whilst you have your hair dried. Nothing teaches hand eye coordination and concentration quite like trying to bite a piece of toast whilst simultaneously watching Catchphrase and having your head shaken like a cocktail by towelled hands. This memory is a bittersweet one for a few reasons. I owe my love of American Football to this weekly occurrence, as Channel 4 were the station that brought the sport to the UK in the Eighties, and their round-up on Sunday night with former Falcon Mick Luckhurst captivated me and my Dad equally. It also meant that once a year I could stay up and watch the Superbowl with him, an outrageous treat that I looked forward to as soon as the Playoffs began. I’d obediently go to bed mid-afternoon in order to prepare myself for the greatest show on Earth later. Dad would wake me up, and I’d sit with him watching the unashamed carnival that is Superbowl Sunday. That is, until I fell asleep sometime in the second quarter. Every bloody year.

Now, I used the word bittersweet in relation to this weekly routine, and the bitter part came at the end, when the last of the toast had gone, the powdery final slurp of hot chocolate disappeared, and Mick said goodnight. Then, on the way to bed the creeping depression of the prospect of Monday morning at school would gather, forcing out the earlier exhuberance. In class the next day, your mind would occasionally wander back to that now otherwordly place of warm toast, sweet cocoa, a roaring coal fire and the LA Raiders cheating to a win as your hair danced in front of your eyes.

Thanks for visiting the site, and I hope you enjoy these little voyages as much as I do. Any feedback is greatly appreciated, and I am planning on doing two collaborative episodes sometime soon, namely Biscuits, and Sweets. Anyone who would like to contribute by writing a small ode to their favourite biscuit or sweet shop item, feel free to e-mail me at, or by any number of other ways should you be a friend of mine (Twitter, Facebook, the majestic Simply and its community) and I’ll make you part of an episode!

Thanks again, and I’ll try and make the next post arrive sooner, ‘kay? ‘Kay.