I love soup, especially in autumn, and I’m always so excited to have steamy bowls of slurpy goodness. My kids, not as keen, and certainly not as clean, on soup. My go-to solution since they were tiny is to serve soup over rice, like in my albondigas recipe.
Add a little, add a lot – it depends on the consistency and flavor your kid enjoys most. If the soup is liquidy, a couple of teaspoon of cooked rice soaks it up. If it’s a cheesy or creamy soup, just a small amount will add texture and thicken, allowing young diners to use their own spoon. We love encouraging our little ones to feed themselves, freeing our hands for food of our own.
This little tip comes in handy for all sorts. I’ve been known to make an enormous roast dinner with too many leftovers (haven’t we all?).
Cube up some gammon/chicken/beef (or forget the meat!)
Warm it in a small shallow pan with a splash of water
Take some leftover cauliflower cheese, put it in a deep bowl, add some milk and warm it covered in the microwave for a minute or two
Give it a good smash up and it basically becomes soup.
You can add a bit more milk if you want to loosen it.
Once it’s nice and warm, and considerably smashed, add a little rice, the meat, and any spare veg you have from the roast
It’s a bit like bubble and squeak, but with rice instead of potatoes. Enjoy!
We’re all so temped by take-away food – the ease, convenience and speed, and the taste! Over the years, I’ve lived with people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. East Asians, Pakistani, Greek, Italian and English tastes have now fused with my own and had a major impact on my cooking.
Anyone that’s been following this recipe blog will remember the Tandoori Chicken and Dahl recipe I shared, fine-tuned with tips from a Pakistani friend of mine. The dish I’m sharing in this post was learned from my wonderful Chinese housemate – and like most of mine, it’s one that you can make your own in no time. The recipe I’m sharing here is one variation, and it can easily incorporate more or different veg, Quorn or ground turkey.
This is a super-fast, kid-friendly meal that’s also gluten free. It can be vegetarian if you prefer to stir-fry tofu or Quorn. My hubby always goes for seconds on this one, and there’s just so much less oil, MSG and other restaurant add-ins. Trust me: try this and you won’t even miss the local Chinese.
1lb ground pork
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp Chinese five spice (or your own with clove, anise and black pepper at least)
2 cups topped and tailed green beans (fresh is quicker, but frozen is fine)
1-2 tablespoons Oyster sauce
1-2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (we use gluten free)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp or one cube concentrated chicken stock
1 tsp onion powder
Optional sweet chilli sauce (for grown-ups and adventurous kids)
1-2 cups white rice (gauge your family’s love of rice)
Chicken or veg stock in the rice (optional)
1 tsp of Chinese five spice in the rice (optional)
1 cup frozen peas in the rice (optional)
If you’re lucky enough to own a rice cooker, by all means use it, and well done you. I am a sad sap and have no such luxury, so with this recipe I get the rice started first, in a pot, on the stove. I add a bit of chicken (or veg) stock, a dash of Chinese Five Spice and some frozen peas to the water, bring it to the boil and add the rice. Some rice cookers are cool with spices and stock, but if you’re not sure, maybe just make plain white rice, and the stir fry will still be amazing.
Mix the Oyster and Hoisin sauce with the five spice and onion powder and set aside.
If you’re using frozen green beans (they’re already topped/tailed/halved!), I recommend starting with the beans in the wok with the sesame oil. Toss the beans around to lightly coat with the oil, and then turn the heat to high. If the beans are fresh, add them after the meat has begun to brown.
On a high heat, keep the beans from sitting in one spot for too long while they thaw a bit. Once they’ve started to soften, they should only take 2-3 minutes.
Add the ground pork and break it up in the wok. Be sure the sesame oil is in the wok if you’ve not added the beans yet.
Add your pre-mixed sauces and spices (Oyster, Hoisin, five spice and onion powder). Mix it into the meat as you’re breaking up the mince. The benefit of pre-mixing the sauces and dry spice is these can all be added in one swift motion, allowing you to continue stirring and breaking up the meat.
Once the mince is broken into nice small bits and all coated with the sauce, stop stirring for about a minute or two (phew!) to allow some colour to brown onto the meat. It won’t take long, maybe five minutes, to partially brown the meat.
If you’ve chosen fresh beans, now’s the time to toss those beauties in. Stir them frequently for about 3 minutes.
The liquid that’s created from the beans and meat is now perfect for mixing the chicken stock concentrate into. I use a liquid concentrate, and it mixes right in. If you prefer to use dry stock, I suggest you crush it and add a splash of water to dissolve it first.
Allow the mixture to reduce slightly for about 3-5 minutes, and check that your beans are soft enough for the kids. Total time from turning on the wok shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes.
The rice should be ready now (either method usually takes about 20 minutes) so give it a little fluff.
Serve your pork and green beans over rice and enjoy! I love adding sweet chilli sauce (or just chilli flake if I’m watching my sugar) to this dish to add a bit of fire.
Go on, give your Chinese Five Spice an adventure outside of the cupboard, try cooking with Oyster sauce if you haven’t, and for sure add the Sweet Chilli sauce if you want to liven it up. The Hoisin sauce adds a sweetness kids love, and the addition of peas and five spice to the rice makes the whole meal feel exotic and special.
I’m a sucker for a good chilli, not too beany, full of flavour and options for serving. You can serve this in a bowl with toppings, in a wrap, over corn chips, in a taco salad or just over a bit of white rice. I’ve adapted this recipe as a quick, midweek, family meal that can be used in different ways over a couple of days.
I tend to make my own chilli powder (little dash of this, little dash of that, into the pot), but you can use your favourite pre-mix from a packet.You can save your family from anti-caking agents and colours by using your own spice mix, so I’ve provided my mix below. Please feel free to stick to your own methods though, if you prefer to use a little veg oil when browning and a packet of chilli spice mix – no judgement here!
I use frozen veg (F) and tins, even squeezy tubes of coriander if I don’t have time to chop. There are a couple of ingredients that are optional, mostly because they may not be readily available in the UK. That being said, before I left, places like Tesco and Sainsbury’s were offering decent Mexican food selections, so you may luck out!
As with most of my recipes, I like to be in control of oil, salt, sugar and additives, so I’ll offer tips to avoid packet mixes and too much of the yuck that comes with ready meals. If you can get your hands on a nice, deep, non-stick pot, you won’t need oil for browning the beef.
My kids love this dish in a tortilla wrap with cheese; my husband and I prefer to dash some hot sauce in our bowl of chilli and top it with cheese and crème fraîche, or soured cream, and a handful of corn chips. It’s also awesome on a jacket potato, and who doesn’t love a homemade chilli dog?
1lb minced beef (half a kilo or so). Vegetarians could use Quorn or just extra beans.
1 cup chopped white onion (F)
1 TB chopped/minced garlic (I buy massive jars to keep in the fridge)
1 small tin (7oz/198g) diced green chilies, mild and fire roasted if you can find them (OPTIONAL) (I used to just hand chop long green chilies that I found at my local high street market)
1-2 TB chilli spice mix (I use dry cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, garlic, chipotle chilli – you may find peri peri easier to find – and cinnamon)
1.5 tins of crushed tomato (A tin is usually 400g. In the US, I use 3 8oz tins)
1 cube dry beef stock or 1 TB concentrated beef stock (Knorr have fab little jelly pots of beef stock that work well)
1 cup shredded/grated carrot
1 small tin cannellini beans (That’s about 200g or 8oz. You could use a large 400g tin if you like lots of beans. If you prefer kidney beans, go for it, but I’m not a fan of the skins on them)
2 heaped tsp cane sugar
1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander/cilantro (seems like a lot, but really it’s just two handfuls. Alternatively, use 1 TB of squeezy tube or a large chunk of frozen chopped)
1-2 TB refried beans from a tin
Dash of Worcestershire Sauce (OPTIONAL at the end)
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheese (or more!). I prefer non-greasy cheeses like double Gloucester or Red Leicestershire as a topping.
A few TB crème fraîche or soured cream (OPTIONAL topping, but so delicious, it’s worth a try)
Salted corn tortilla chips (Optional, but yummy)
2-4 flour tortillas (Optional, if your kids like a wrap, like mine. You can use white rice if you prefer, and you can make a pot while the chilli is cooking)
I use a deep, non-stick pot for this dish, and keep the lid handy. It’s like a camel – it will spit!
Spread the chopped onion across the bottom of the pot over a high heat. If using frozen, add the onions before turning on the heat, and then go about gathering your other ingredients so they thaw a bit.
Add the minced beef and garlic, and give it all a good mix to combine. You won’t need oil if you’re using a non-stick base.
If you’ve managed to find some mild green chilies, now is the time to add these beauties – for depth of flavour, not heat.
If you want to make your own spice mix, put them all together is a little dish as follows, in order of quantity (but adjust to your own taste): Almost 1 tsp cumin, then slightly less paprika, oregano, garlic, a tiny dash of chipotle chille (or peri-peri if you like) and an even tinier dash of cinnamon. The cinnamon really goes a long way, so tread lightly.
As everything starts heating up and producing liquid (try to go for low-fat content beef), add the spice mix you’ve just made or your packet mix.
As the onions, beef and minced garlic brown up, and the dry spices dry up the liquid, stir pretty continuously (especially if you haven’t used oil). Have your tins of tomato at the ready to dump in, and reduce the temp before burning.
Add the tomato and reduce the heat to medium. Give the mixture a good stir and cover it. Mind the spitting!
Add the dry, crushed stock cube or concentrated stock (no water added), drained can of cannellini beans and the shredded carrot.
Sprinkle in the sugar (to taste, but man that’s a lot of tomato, so be generous, it’s still less than ready made), a splash of water (only about a ¼ cup), give the mixture a good last stir, reduce the heat to med-low and cover.
If you have fresh coriander, give it a good rinse, remove the lower stalks, but don’t worry about the upper stalks between leaves. I roll up the coriander in a little sausage before finely chopping along the tube for a rough chop in seconds. The upper stalks will add flavour without being stringy, so don’t worry about separating leaves from the stalk.
Add the coriander/cilantro and mix in well before re-covering.
The carrots will soften, the tomato will mellow and the beans will virtually disappear over the next ten minutes. Keep the kettle handy in case you feel like another drop of water will help soften the carrots or prevent bottom sticking, but try not add too much.
After about 15 minutes, the chilli will have reduced a bit, but it’s still likely to be a bit more liquid than we’d like. This is where the refried beans come in. Stir in the refried beans a little at a time to help thicken the mixture, mellow the tomato and spices, and add fibre.
Give it a little taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Again, it’s a lot of tomato, so salt is likely necessary, but remember, it’s also in the beef stock and refried beans. I add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt at this point, and give it good stir. There’s something about the Worcester that brings out the beef!
This chilli can carry on cooking, unattended, on very low heat, until you’re ready to eat, but it’ll be ready in half an hour, no problem.
In a cereal/salad sized bowl, mix the following:
2 scoops (about 1 cup) of the chilli from the pot
A generous handful (about ½ cup) shredded cheese
1 tsp crème fresh or soured cream
This instantly cools the chilli, mellows any spices they may be adverse to, and makes a handy all-in-one burrito filler that avoids the cheese falling out! Spread the mixture onto a tortilla, wrap it up and cut (or don’t) depending on your kid’s fondness for forks. If there’s a little left over, it’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips for mom bites.
My hubby and I have a bowl of chilli with a handful of cheese, dab of crème fraîche and some crunched up tortilla chips on top. Great for next day lunches over a jacket potato or with a salad. We’ve even made nachos with tortilla chips and cheese for a heavenly snack. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Ok, these aren’t recipes, so much as assembly instructions, so I’ve decided to do a whole days worth of meal ideas. My husband travels a lot for work, so I’m a part-time lone parent, and therefore the only chef. Some days I need quick, but healthy meals that require little-to-no brain power. Here’s what a day after my husband has been gone for a week or two looks like in my house.
Breakfast: porridge (Americans call it oatmeal)
1 or 2 packets of plain/original/no flavour instant microwave porridge/oatmeal
1 level tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
6-10 fresh or frozen blueberries
1 to 2 cups milk
Some people are against microwaves; I’m not one of them. Instant oats are awesome and can be made so many ways. I go for original so I can control the sugar. You can also use apple sauce instead of the banana, cinnamon apple sauce if the kids like it, and even jam or raisins. I don’t use the blueberries if I don’t have them on hand, but the banana is omnipresent.
Use a microwave-safe bowl that’s nice and deep, and depending on if you’re using 1 or 2 packets of oatmeal, use half or the whole banana.
Smash the banana with a fork until mostly smooth. Sprinkle or pour in the sugar or syrup and give it a quick stir.
Add in the dry oats and cover with cold milk.
Drop in fresh or frozen blueberries (or raisins), but a few will go far.
Give it all a final stir and cover with kitchen roll/paper towel in the microwave.
Cook on high for 1.5 min and then stir the mixture. If it’s already getting dry, add another splash of milk or water. Stick it back in the microwave for 1-2 minutes more, depending on whether you’ve used fresh or frozen berries.
Give the mixture a stir and try to squish a berry on the side of the bowl. It should explode easily and mix in pretty purple swirls. Let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Check the temperature; if it’s still too hot, feel free to add another slash of cold milk to cool it if the kids can’t wait.
If I use 2 packets, this will feed all three of us, easily. It’s an easy way to add fibre and potassium, vitamins and calcium to a one-bowl breakfast. And it’s something you can experiment with – use fruit you love!
Lunch: quesadilla and grapes
4 or 6 flour tortillas
4 cups Red Leicester or Double Gloucester cheese, grated
Two handfuls of seedless grapes
Some people go for grilled/toasted cheese and soup as a lunchtime comfort meal. I grew up with quesadilla and grapes. The tortillas are lighter than bread, and you don’t need butter to toast it up. I lived in England long enough to know that Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses are the creamier, less oil-producing cheeses perfect for this job. Trust me: ditch the cheddar just this once. And who doesn’t like cheese and grapes? The red seedless are my kids absolute favourite.
First things first, you can buy pre-shredded cheese, or grate your own, but be sure to grate straight from the fridge so it doesn’t smudge all over the grater.
Put a griddle or wide pan on to warm on a medium-low heat. No butter or oil necessary.
Put one tortilla onto the flat surface and pile shredded cheese onto the center.
Lightly spread the cheese towards the edges but don’t worry too much, it’ll spread as it melts.
Top it with a second tortilla and let it be for about a minute. Squish the top onto the bottom by pressing with your hand or a spatula, and then bravely flip the lot. It sounds scary, but using your hands isn’t crazy, because you can pinch the edges together and quickly flip the whole thing before it’s too hot. I pull it up, slide it towards me and then over backwards, reaching to the far side of the pan in a sort of wrist motion.
The cheese will start to melt nicely and the top tortilla can be pushed a bit to spread it, if you like. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes to have crispy outside and gooey inside.
Remove the quesadilla onto a cutting board and start again at the griddle for 1 or 2 more. Once slightly cooled, cut like a pizza into triangles and serve.
Give your grapes a wash and pat dry and serve along with the quesadilla. Serve with pressed juice watered down, and guacamole (if I can be bothered). I’ve also been known to spread a thin layer of refried beans onto the bottom tortilla; it adds protein and fibre, and helps the cheese stick for the first flip. I tend to keep a tin in the cupboard, and literally pop it open, stir a bit with a butter knife, and spread on like peanut butter. It may not look appetising, but it’ll add flavour and a bit of veg. You can use the rest of the tin to make chilli or burritos (watch this space for those recipes)!
Dinner: fish fillets, beans and mash
3-6 frozen fish fillets (fish fingers just don’t have enough fish for my liking – these still have crunch but more of the good stuff)
1 medium sweet potato
Knob of butter
Heaping tsp of soured cream
Tin of baked beans
Salt and pepper
My kids routinely eat every morsel of sweet potato mash, but leave white mash on the plate. This ‘recipe’ is a great introduction to how naturally sweet these beauties can be.
Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the packet of fish (usually around 200c/390f).
Rinse your sweet potato and poke it in a few places, then put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You don’t want to cook it through – just get it started.
Spread your fish fillets onto the baking tray and into the oven once heated to temp.
Place a piece of aluminium foil onto the oven rack and the potato onto that. This will finish the sweet potato in time with the fish, and allows natural sugars to caramelise.
While the fish and potato bake, get your baked beans going on the stove (or microwave with a cover), to warm through. I used to add a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to baked beans in the UK, because I’m used to southern style beans, but use whatever tastes good to you.
Once you’ve removed the fish as per their instructions, check if the sweet potato is leaking juices – good stuff! The foil now comes in handy to save your oven from juices, and to help your oven mitt as you grab it out.
Let the fish cool and slice open the potato. Scoop it out of the skin and into a deep cereal bowl.
Add the butter and stir to smooth big lumps out of the potato.
Add the soured cream and stir well. You can add a splash of milk if you want a creamier mash; it usually depends on the potato itself.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Plate up the baked beans, cut the fish into bite-size pieces, add a scoop of mash, and Bob’s your uncle!
Mash is great ‘glue’ for beginner eaters. And the virtuous sweet potato has more vitamins and fewer carbs than white potato. Something we can all enjoy!
I’m not saying it’s the most creative menu, but it’s full of little cheats that keep me away from fast food. There’s a way to moderate the sugar and salt, get some nutrients into them, and it’s food I know they’ll eat. Sometimes that enough!
Try this instead of a take-away. Great for kids too!
After a decade in England, I feel like Indian cuisine is a staple in my home. Since we don’t have our local delivery any more, I’ve taken to making my own favourite dishes, getting closer and closer to a curry house flavour. Luckily, my kids were very young when they were first introduced to tandoori and dahl (lentils), one of my preferred mild dishes too, so making it at home is very familiar and comforting to us all.
I usually make this when it’s a good day to grill. The chicken can be done in the oven (200C/450F for 20 minutes), but it tastes amazing if it’s been fired up. If you’re super organised, you can put together the chicken and yogurt to marinate all day or overnight, but giving it a good thirty minutes is still fine. I let the chicken tenderise in the yogurt for at least as long as it takes to finish the lentils and rice, so it’s nice and hot of the grill for serving. The lentils will just get better the longer they simmer, and you can top it up with a bit of water all day long.
Now, it’s worth noting that in the UK, you’re more likely to find Tandoori Masala pre-mixed, but it can be achieved in the States, or you could make your own mix. Local Indian groceries are always well stocked with spices, ghee, rice and lentils at fabulous prices. They usually even have the coconut milk priced more competitively, and certainly bulk buying rice and lentils is an economic no-brainer. I found a brilliant little shop right here in my own Seattle suburb, so try a visit to the little guy and you may be pleasantly surprised at their selection and prices. Most pre-mix Tandoori will be mostly E-numbers to achieve that Tandoori orange, so feel free to simply mix dry spices (see below) for the same, additive-free, flavour.
3 large boneless chicken breasts (or on the bone if you have more time to grill)
3-4 TB Greek yogurt
1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or a dry mix of turmeric, coriander, ginger, paprika, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, salt and chili powder (a good shake of each into a small bowl usually does the trick and allows you to add more of the flavours you enjoy most)
1 cup chopped white onion (frozen is fine) / 1 medium onion
5 cups/800g red lentils/masoor dahl
1 cup shredded or julienned carrot (approx. 1 medium carrot)
1 heaped tsp minced/grated garlic (I buy large jars of minced garlic)
1 heaped tsp minced/grated ginger (this really is best freshly grated)
1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or mix as above
2 TB ghee (clarified butter) or 1 TB vegetable oil
1 cube dry chicken stock or 1 tsp concentrated stock
400 ml tin of unsweetened, first-pressed coconut milk (don’t bother with low fat versions, you want the cream)
First things first, you can slice the chicken into large cubes, or buy chicken tenders to save time, but be sure the pieces won’t fall through the grill (if you’re using a bbq).
Mix the yogurt and dry spice together well in a large mixing bowl before adding the raw chicken. Give it a good mix to really coat the chicken, and then cover the bowl with cling film/plastic wrap and find a space in the fridge.
The longer the chicken has a chance to canoodle with the yogurt, the better. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look bright orange, you don’t need that much ‘stuff’ in your dinner.
Once your chicken is set aside, give your lentils a really good rinse. This is not a step to be missed, because the lentils will be ‘dusty’, and they will produce a bubbly foam when boiling if you don’t. (I usually use a small strainer inside a larger bowl to submerge the lentils and shake ‘em up under water 4 or 5 times, until the water I’m draining is clear.)
Next step, start your onions in the ghee or oil over a med-high heat. I suggest using a wide based pot or pan so you get more browning and less stewing. (I wouldn’t suggest trying to use normal butter if you can’t find ghee, it’s just going to burn.)
As the onions just begin to sizzle, add the garlic, ginger and dry spices and stir it pretty continuously to avoid the dry spices burning.
Add the lentils, carrots and dry or concentrated chicken stock and coat everything with the onion/spice mixture before adding about 1.5 cup of water and reducing the heat to med-low.
Open the tin of coconut milk and, if you’re lucky, the cream will be separated from the water. Put a small whole on one side and larger whole on the other to drain just the water, holding your spoon in the way to keep back the cream. If it hasn’t separated, it’s no biggy, just add the whole can. If it has, keep the near solid cream for adding at the end.
The reason I try to keep the cream until the end, it doesn’t need to reduce with the rest of the water, and adds a smoothness to the dahl. Let me stress, though, that this isn’t a necessary step, just a texture enhancer.
Once you’ve added the coconut water, reduce and cover for about ten minutes.
Now is the perfect time to start your rice. I just make a standard pot of rice, but use chicken stock instead of water. This adds flavour, salt and fat in one step, instead of using butter, salt and water. I’ve also been known to add about a cup of frozen peas to rice from the beginning, as well as a pinch of cardamom powder, but these are optional. I try to use veg anywhere I can, and even the smallest bit of flavour cooked into the rice is very kid-friendly.
Stir your dahl occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom, adding a bit of water to keep it from getting too dry if needed. Once the lentils and carrots are nice and soft, taste test to add any salt and a teaspoon or so of the brown sugar. Allow the mixture to bubble a bit longer and then add the coconut cream if you’ve held it back. Mix in thoroughly and then turn the heat to the lowest heat, just to maintain the warmth. The dahl will stay liquid as long as the lid is kept on while you grill the chicken, but the moisture will escape and dry it out if you leave it uncovered for long.
Turn off your rice when it’s tender, but leave it covered until time to serve.
On a high grill flame, place the chicken pieces nicely spread apart onto a greased grill (I usually use a bit of veg oil on a paper towel/kitchen roll and wipe the grill before I turn it on). Keep the lid closed for about 5-7 minutes and then turn the chicken over and repeat. The less you move the pieces, the better you’ll be at getting crispy bits and a bit of yogurt char. Yum.
Depending on the size of the pieces, 10-15 minutes should be plenty, with one roll over in the middle and keeping the lid closed. Be careful not to overcook the chicken in pursuit of char, it’s better to have moist chicken. If in doubt, always cut open your biggest piece first to check it’s cooked through.
My kids can’t get enough of the coconut dahl served over rice, and I cut up a piece of the chicken into tiny pieces mixed in if they’re interested. I don’t worry if they aren’t up for the chicken, though, because lentils have protein and are super healthy. And filling! Our whole family love this meal, and it all makes for great leftovers. I love to nibble the cold chicken bites (if any are left) the next day, and a scoop of rice and dahl in the microwave makes for a two minute lunch/dinner!
It looks like a lot of ingredients but many are optional and you can just throw everything in! You don’t even need to put it in the oven if you’re short on time. I love the funky mash with added sour cream and cheese.
What you need
6 white potatoes (Maris Piper is good if you’re in the UK)
1 sweet potato (optional)
Approx 500g / 1-1.5lb mince (that’s ground beef in the USA)
1 cup onion, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
1 cup carrots, chopped (about 1 medium carrot)
Oregano & Thyme (or mixed Italian Seasoning)
Garlic, fresh, dried or minced (optional)
1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
1/4 cup (85g) butter
1/4 cup (60ml) sour cream
1/2 cup (120ml) milk or cream (half & half is also an option in the USA)
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 375F/180C (however as you’ll see later, using the oven is optional! You could also just use the grill to crisp up the top).
Bring a big pot of water to boil and peel and cube 6 white potatoes for mash. I sometimes add one sweet potato to the mash, but cook it whole in the
microwave for 4 minutes or so rather than boil.
You can save time and peel only spotty bits of skin for a rustic mash too. Or, for a real shortcut, you can use ready mash; some chiller section mash only has milk, butter, cream and potatoes, so isn’t too guilt ridden.
While the potatoes boil, start browning the ground/minced beef. I use higher fat beef to avoid the need to add extra oil.
Add the chopped onion (you can buy frozen pre-chopped onion for convenience). You can also replace some of the chopped onions with a handful of pearl onions, which sweeten up nicely.
Add healthy dashes of pepper, salt, oregano and thyme (or Italian seasoning), Worcestershire sauce and beef stock (I use 1 cube or 1 tsp of the jar of concentrated stock). You should add as much or as little as you like to taste, but I do use a lot of dry spice to flavour the meat while frying it off. You can also add about 1 clove of garlic or 1 tsp of dried/ready minced garlic (to taste) at this point too.
I try not to stir too much so the meat browns nicely, but if the dry spice starts to burn, add a touch more Worcestershire or water.
When the meat is brown and the onions are soft, add about ½ cup water and about 1 cup chopped carrots (I get the julienned carrots and chop them a little smaller, but you could leave them big if you prefer).
Add the frozen peas (you can add extra if they like peas – go for it!) and tomato paste (optional). Stir well and allow peas to thaw completely. Add a bit more water if the mixture is dry, but no more than ¼ cup.
Add 1 or 2 tsp corn starch a little at a time, using a fork to mix it in; try shaking it in off the fork to avoid too much clumping.
Cover and reduce heat to simmer until the gravy thickens a bit. Add a dash of salt or more Worcestershire sauce to taste.
Your potatoes should be done by now (cubed ones take about 15 minutes). Drain potatoes and add ¼ cup butter (or olive oil if you prefer) to the pot and dump the potatoes back in. Add ¼ cup (or more) sour cream and smash it all together. Add milk (or cream/half & half if you’re feeling indulgent) as you mix (up to 1/2 cup), until you’ve reached your desired thickness. Salt and pepper to taste.
For extra flavour, add a bit of shredded cheese to the mash.
Pour the meat mixture into a baking pan. Cover with mash, sprinkle with more shredded cheese for extra texture, and bake for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the top.
It’s advisable to put the pie onto another baking tray to catch any bubbly juices. Yum!
A few other tips…
In the pictures, I’ve made a two “grown up” or four toddler portion pie. I save the meat mixture to have over jacket/baked potatoes with salad in the summer if I don’t want to have the oven on too long. You can also avoid using the oven altogether if you want to simply layer the mash onto the meat in the pan and allow the sauce to simmer beneath it for a few minutes. Fast family favourites aren’t always about presentation! When my kids were younger, I made sure to make the carrots nice and small, and usually skinned the potatoes properly, but now that they’re older, it’s not necessary. There are a lot of ‘to taste’ measures here, so don’t be afraid to just toss a dash of this and that in – it’ll be a dish you make your own in no time.