There’s more than a chill in the air and finally it’s time to bring on the pies and stews. I love my winter food. As you’ll see from my last year’s Comfort Cottage Pie recipe normally I love nothing more than a super-meaty cottage pie with no more veggie additions than a little carrot and celery. However, my son Jacques (who’s now two and a half) is back on his Mission of Veggie Refusal and I’m back on my Mission of Veggie Disguise (a blog I wrote a few months ago getting kids to eat more veg). And this revised and super-seasonally vegged-up recipe has an umpteem of hidden veggies that will please even the most ardent of carnivores.
Interestingly the wee fella loves his fruit, particularly if he’s picked it himself which he often does, gorging himself on figs (his favourite), blackberries (second fave), plums, greengages and the odd pear from the garden. And he’ll happily eat a banana. And yet virtually all veggies are a complete no go these days, even his once beloved peas and sometimes low and behold even sweetcorn! He’ll happily watch and join in as I pick green beans and tommies, lift the carrots and parnsips, cut the brocolli or sweetcorn from the garden..but when it come to eating them, you’re having a laugh! It’s always a whiny ‘dont like’ coupled with a pushing away off the plate or even worse a full blown, increasingly more frequent, tantrum. I’m still lucky Francesca will eat pretty much all veggies put her way, admittedly not with great gusto (but then she doesn’t particularly like most foods!) and always under a certain amount of duress. But she does love her carrots, because horseys do.
This cottage pie is an out and out winner with them both and with us too, and provides us with a couple of very healthy and pleasing family dinners. Whenever I’m making these slow-to-cook meaty dinners I tend to double (or treble) up on quantities making at least enough for two family dinners, freezing half or keeping it in the fridge for later in the week. Halve the below ingredients list if you want to make enough for just one dinner.
Feel free to vary the veggies, use whatever’s seasonal or you have in. My weights are only what I so happened to have picked and are included for a guideline only, so please vary accordingly. I used swiss chard, carrots, french beans, celery and butternut squash in the meat sauce and parsnips and potatoes in the topping. The first parsnips of the year actually, and the first parsnips I’ve ever grown. Pretty impressive size I thought, Jacques and I were a bit surprised when we lifted them together! You could also use pumpkin, spinach, mushrooms, runner beans, swede, sweetcorn, peas, broccoli, cabbage, kale or peppers and probably loads of other veggies I can’t think of right now!
I also have a tendency to leave the skins on my carrots, parsnips and potatoes (and give them a jolly good scrub obviously!), but then mine are all organically home grown. It’s up to you.
As an added meal enhancer try baking your kids their dinner in individual bowls, mine love eating theirs straight out of my gorgeous Oogaa bowls, which being silicone can handily be oven baked and microwaved.
This is also a recipe that can easily be adapted for weaning babies. Omit the Worcester Sauce and use baby stock cubes which are available at most big chemists, then whiz up the cooked beef and veggie sauce in a processor before piling on the topping.
Super-Seasonally Vegged-Up Cottage Pie
Toddlers, Bigger Kids, Family Suppers, Just the Grown Ups too!
Enough for a family of four TWICE!:
For the Meat & Veggie Sauce:
a large onion
2 sticks of celery
300g of butternut or pumpkin
2 tablespoons of sunflower or olive oil
600g of good quality beef mince
1 tablespoon of plain flour
800ml of beef stock
1 heaped tablespoon of tomato puree
2 teaspoons of Worcester Sauce
3 large sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
100g of french or runner beans, finely diced
200g of chard or spinach, separating any thick stems from the leafy parts and shredding separately
For the Topping:
850g of potatoes peeled or un-peeled, chopped into large chunks
500g of parsnips, peeled or un-peeled, chopped into large chunks
50g of butter
50ml of milk
2 teaspoons of creamed horseradish, optional
salt & pepper
Finely dice the onion, celery, carrots and butternut or pumpkin. I usually pulse these veggies in a food processor both for speed and to get them reasonably fine (and well hidden!).
Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and throw in the onion, celery, carrots and butternut or pumpkin. Cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes until soft, stirring regularly.
Turn up the heat and add the beef. Cook for about 5 minutes until browned.
Stir in the flour, quickly followed by the stock, tomato puree, worcester sauce, thyme, bay and a generous pinch of black pepper.
Now prepare the rest of your veggies, dicing them to an appropriate size for your kids i.e. the finer the dice the less likelihood of rejection!. Add them to the sauce. If you’re using swiss chard, include the diced stems at this stage but add the green leaves later (the same for spinach). Cover and leave to simmer for at least 30 minutes. If the sauce looks like it’s drying out, add a little water.
Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, and make your potato & parsnip topping.
In a large pan of boiling water boil the potatoes and parsnips until soft. Drain and allow them to steam and dry out for a few minutes. Mash with the butter, milk and horseradish. Season to taste (go easy on the salt or none at all for littlies).
Once the sauce is cooked, stir in the spinach or chard leaves if using and have a final taste check, adding a little more pepper and some salt if necessary (no salt for littlies and you shouldn’t need to add any anyway as there’s plenty in the stock).
Pour it into a large openproof dish (remembering to remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, which I usually don’t!) or smaller individual dishes. Spoon on the mash. Shape your mash with the back of a fork as desired, I like a nice swirl!.
Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden on the top (and if it’s not you can alway pop it under the grill). Individual dishes will need substantially less time.