Sunday, 8 January 2012

Country Food for the Body and Soul

Christmas holiday is coming to an end and I will be heading back to Aberdeen tomorrow and will have to start studying. It has been relaxing and a perfect opporunity to unwind and spend time with my family and cook a little too.

Luckily I had the opportunity to visit my Aunt's lovely countryside get away in the beautiful village of Matildedahl. Strange enough in Finland we are not big with villages and small towns and communities within. Although lately the trend of downshifting has created new communities in the old villages. We were lucky to get some snow and a lovely winter day.

Hurricane Bawbag's cousin found its way to Finland after Boxing Day and from the pictures you can see the amount of fallen trees in the woods. Quite an adventure for us climbing around and under and top of the tree trunks. Otherwise the area of Lake Matilda was gorgeous. You could really sense the serenity and deep quietness. A bit like being in the middle of Lapland with the plus side of being only two hours away from Helsinki.

Inspired from the idea of country living I decided to make a rustic classic - Cottage Pie. This recipe has some real sentimental value. It is from Mums Know Best: The Hairy Bikers' Family Cookbook which was a gift from my boyfriend's late aunt. It has always been one of my favourite traditional foods and a real crowd pleaser. This hearty dish is filled with yummy flavours and even my wee cousin finished his plate.


1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500 g lean beef mince
150 ml red wine
2 tbsp plain flour
500 ml beef stock
300 ml cold water
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp mixed dried herbs (such as Herbs de Provence)
1 dried bay leaf
a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
salt and black pepper

For the topping:
800 g floury potatoes (I used Rosamunda)
40 g butter
4 tbsp milk

Heat the sunflower oil in a large deep lidded pan over a medium heat and gently fry the onion, celery and carrots for 7-8 minutes, or until the onions are softened and lightly coloured. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add the beef mince to the pan and cook with the vegetables for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the meat is browned all over. Pour the wine into the pan, bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated, then sprinkle over the flour and stir well for a few minutes to prevent any lumps from forming. Gradually add the beef stock to the pan, then add the cold water, tomato purée and dried herbs. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then cover with the lid and cook over a low heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mince is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat, spoon into an ovenproof dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200C. Half-fill a large pan with cold water. Add the potatoes and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft. Drain the potatoes, then return to the pan set over a medium heat. Cook for a few seconds to drive off any excess moisture, then remove the potatoes from the heat. Add the butter, milk and cheese and mash until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon the mash over the mince mixture in the ovenproof dish, working towards the middle from the outside. Smooth with a palette knife. When all the mince is covered with mash, create patterns on the surface using a fork. Place the dish on a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for around 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden-brown and the filling is bubbling up around the edges. Serve with pickled beetroot and gherkins.

There probably is a possibility to make a veggie version from the traditional Cottage Pie by replacing the beef mince with red lentils. At least I have seen a few recipies like this going around...