How to Make Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie (made with beef) and Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb) are classic British dishes, made of a rich, meaty filling topped with creamy mashed potato.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid
  • a saucepan with lid

  • an oven-proof dish

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 500g beef, lamb, or Quorn mince (a.k.a. ground meat)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • tinned chopped tomatoes or passata
  • tomato puree
  • mixed herbs
  • salt
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • butter or margarine
  • a splash of milk
  • hard cheese such as cheddar
  • frozen peas or broccoli

My favourite way to make cottage pie is by combining savoury mince (you can find last week’s recipe here), and mashed potato. It’s a lot easier to make sure everything is cooked properly, because you can’t really stir a cottage pie! You can also make this recipe using leftovers, but I’ve written out the full process here.

Start by chopping your potatoes into chunks (tutorial here), and putting them on to boil in your saucepan. If you want really smooth mash it helps to peel your potatoes, but you don’t need to.

Photograph of a saucepan containing chunks of potato, roughly covered by water

While your potatoes cook, make your savoury mince.

Place your larger pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your diced onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs. (Adding a little garlic can help bring out the flavour of the meat, but it’s optional.)

Photograph of a wok containing diced white onion and mixed herbs

Add your mince, and stir it gently while the meat browns.

23.4 mince

Grate your carrots, then add them to the pan. (Remember to leave the top on while grating to save your fingers – you can find more tips in my tutorial here.)

Photograph of a wok showing mostly grated carrot

Add a tin of passata or cooked tomatoes. Remember to rinse out the tin to get all the flavour out of it. Stir everything together and leave it bubbling gently while you make the mash.

Photograph of a wok containing savoury mince

 

Now you can check on your potatoes. If they’re ready for mashing, they should feel nice and soft when you poke them with a fork. Drain off any water, then use a fork, masher or even a food processor to mash them. You can add a splash of milk to make the mash softer, butter or margarine for richness, and a little salt for extra flavour.

Photograph of a saucepan containing mashed potato (and a masher)

Your savoury mince should be ready by now, so taste the sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding some more tomato puree (or ketchup), or a little salt.

Now it’s time to assemble the pie!

Pour the savoury mince into your oven-proof dish, and smooth it roughly level with a spatula. (You may want to preheat the dish; you can pop it in the oven for a few minutes, just remember to wear oven gloves!)

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a smooth layer of savoury mince

Add the mashed potato on top of the mince.  Make sure you add it a little at a time, or you’ll make a big dent in your mince. If you smooth out the mash with a fork, it gives you little ridges that go all crispy in the oven. Plus they look nice! Finally, add a little sprinkle of grated cheese.

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a layer of mashed potato, topped with grated cheese

Finally, crisp up the top of the pie in a hot oven (Gas Mark 6 or higher), or under the grill. Once all the cheese is melted, it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of a generous serving of cottage pie and peas on a white plate
Serve with a generous helping of peas or broccoli!

Like all my recipes, there are a lot of ways to make variations on cottage pie! You could try any of the different variations on savoury mince for the filling, or why not top with sweet potato instead? Or, if you want to impress your dinner companions, why not bake individual cottage pies? Just use a small oven-proof dish for each person (and a baking tray to make them easier to take in and out of the oven!)

Photograph of a small, oval, glass dish topped with sweet potato on a white plate with a serving of peas

If you make cottage pie with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make Savoury Mince

The dish we call savoury mince in our house is super versatile. It’s quite similar to bolognese, but with subtle variations you can turn it into, chilli con carne, lasagna, or cottage pie!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 500g beef, lamb, or Quorn mince (a.k.a. ground meat)
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2-3 carrots
  • tinned chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • frozen peas or spinach
  • mixed herbs
  • salt

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs. (I often also add a little bit of garlic, but you don’t have to.)

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion and mixed herbs

Next, add your mince. Stir everything together, and break up any clumps of mince that are sticking together.

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion and Quorn mince

Dice your pepper (you can find the tutorial here: pepper), then add it to the pan.

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion, Quorn mince, and diced red pepper

Grate your carrots. (Remember to leave the top on to use as a handle while grating – you can find more tips in last week’s tutorial here.)

Add your grated carrot to the pan, followed by a tin of tomatoes. To make sure you’re not wasting any tomato-y goodness, rinse out the tin with a splash of water.

Photograph of a wok showing mostly grated carrot and chopped tomatoes

Mix everything together, and put the lid on. This helps the pan heat up quicker, and keeps the moisture in.

After 5-10 minutes, add a generous dollop of tomato puree. This makes the sauce richer; if you don’t have tomato puree you can use ketchup instead.

Photograph of a wok containing mixed vegetables and mince, with a roughly tablespoon-sized dollop of tomato puree on top

Your dish is nearly done, so make sure to taste your sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding a little salt or some more tomato puree.

Five minutes before serving, add your frozen peas or spinach to the pan.

Photograph of a wok containing savoury mince

Make sure to mix everything together before serving!

Photograph of a bowl of savoury since on top of pasta, with a sprinkle of cheese on top

This version of savoury mince is perfect with pasta. But if you have any leftovers, it also makes great nachos!

Photograph of a plate of tortilla chips covered in savoury mince and melted cheese

Remember, this recipe is only a base, so feel free to play around with it! Try adding chilli or paprika to spice it up a little, or using some different herbs. You could add a tin of beans along with the peas, either to complement or replace the mince. Or you could try using different vegetables – why not add some mini broccoli florets, or even try parsnip instead of carrot?

If you make savoury mince with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Grate Anything (except your fingers)

A grater is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment; so much so that it made it into my top 20 (link)! It’s a great (or should that be ‘grate’) tool for quickly chopping ingredients very finely.

A grater is essentially a metal plate with sharpened holes in it. You can get a variety of shapes and sizes, but my favourite is a box grater because it has multiple sizes of holes in the one tool. Also, your grated ingredients (mostly) collect neatly underneath.

To use a grater, hold it steady in one hand. (Usually your non-dominant hand.) Hold your ingredients in your other hand, and apply gentle pressure as you rub your ingredients up and down the grater. Just keep your fingers out of the way – while graters aren’t as sharp as knives, they can still break your skin.

I think perhaps the most common ingredient to grate is cheese. Grated cheese is perfect for on top of pasta dishes, mashed potato, or in sandwiches. You can buy grated cheese, but it’s often much cheaper to grate your own, and it’s a good ingredient to practice grating. If you have, for example, a large block of cheese, you can grate quite quickly, especially if you’re not using all of it. However, the closer your fingers are to the grater, the more slowly you need to grate.

I also like to add grated vegetables (and even fruits like apple) to enrich sauces for dishes like pasta and curry. (All the flavours meld together in a blend of deliciousness!) The easiest vegetables to grate are those that are quite sturdy, particularly root vegetables like our old friend the carrot.

When grating a carrot you’ll want to chop the bottom (or ‘tail’) end off, and cut out any blemishes as usual. However, if you leave the top end on for now, you can use it as a ‘handle’ as you grate, to help keep your fingers safely out of the way. Other vegetables that come with their own ‘handles’ include parsnips and courgettes. With rounder root vegetables like sweet potatoes, you may find they need chopping into smaller chunks before they’ll fit on the grater.

There are many more ingredients you can grate, including chocolate and even some spices! But the best thing about a grater is that once you know how to grate one thing, you can grate most of the rest of them too! It’s a really useful kitchen skill.

How to Make a Mild, Creamy Curry (with Rice)

There are a huge range of curries, from countries all over the world! Curries can be hot, mild, rich, creamy, or light. This curry is both light and creamy, with variations to satisfy vegetarians and carnivores!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid
  • a saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 1-2 cups rice
  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • ½ a cauliflower
  • frozen peas
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • coconut milk
  • ½ tsp garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • coriander
  • cumin
  • fenugreek
  • turmeric
  • salt

 

To start, wash your rice and put it on to boil. This will then boil while the curry cooks; you can find more details on cooking rice here.

Place your wok or deep saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your diced onion to the pan, along with your ginger, garlic, and dried spices. I tend to cook by eye, so it’s difficult for me to give precise measurements for how much to use. A light sprinkling to roughly cover the onions tends to yield good results. Be generous with the coriander, but sparing with the turmeric and fenugreek as these can be bitter if overused. If you don’t have the individual spices, you can just use a generic curry mix.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion and spices in the bottom

Dice your carrots (instructions here), and add them to the pan. Add enough coconut milk to just barely cover the onions and carrots. Once the pan is boiling, make sure the lid is off so that the sauce will reduce down. (Reduce down is the culinary term for sauces losing water and getting thicker.) There should always be a little liquid left during cooking – if it’s all gone, add a little more milk.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion and carrot, with a little milk showing through in places

Cut your cauliflower into mini florets (tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion, carrot, and cauliflower in the bottom

Drain and rinse your tinned chickpeas.

Five minutes before serving, add your chickpeas and frozen peas to the pan.

Photograph of a pan full of diced onion, carrot, cauliflower, peas, and chickpeas

Just before serving, make sure to taste the sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding a teaspoon of salt. For a creamier sauce, you could add ground cashew nuts; if you want a sweeter curry, try adding dessicated coconut or raisins!

Photograph of a white bowl on a bamboo serving mat, filled with rice and chickpea curry

 

This curry is delicious with just chickpeas, but if you’d rather have meat, chicken also goes well with this recipe. Simply add chunks of chicken (roughly 2cm cubes) along with the onions.

If you make curry with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Carrot – diced carrot

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Oh look, it’s carrots again! This tutorial is for diced carrot, which is perfect when you want all the flavours in the dish to mix together.

Just like before, start by making sure your carrots are clean and chopping out any discolouration or blemishes.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing a close up of a small blemish and cutting guidelines

Next, cut off the top and bottom (or ‘top and tail’) of your carrots.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

The next step is to chop each carrot into chunks that are easier to handle, and are a roughly consistent width along their length. You can then deal with each chunk in turn.

 

Hand drawing of a chunk of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

Start by chopping each chunk into long slices about 1cm (half an inch) wide. Depending on the size of the carrot, this could be thirds, halves or quarters.

 

 

 

Continue to cut the chunks into sticks, about 1cm (½ inch) wide. (A little larger than in last month’s tutorial for carrot sticks (link).) If you can, try and avoid breaking them apart for now.

Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Finally, cut in the other direction, to make little cubes of carrot about 1cm (½ inch) square.

Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you’re really looking to save time, you could even try chopping more than one layer of sticks at once! I’d recommend starting with just one and working your way up though.

 

Diced carrot cooks a little faster than slices or sticks, but still takes about 15 minutes to boil, especially if you’re cooking it in a sauce.

How to Make Stir-Fry (or should that be Steam-Fry?)

We love stir-fry in our house, in fact it’s kind of the default meal option! Now a proper stir-fry is cooked hot and fast, and preserves a lot of the vitamins and minerals in your food. This dish that we call stir-fry is really more of a steam-fry – it starts with a little frying to really get the flavours going, then gently steams the vegetables in their own moisture.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • a little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 bell pepper
  • beansprouts
  • leafy green vegetable such as baby spinach
  • frozen prawns or unsalted cashew nuts

 

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and slice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any spices you want to use. This recipe gets plenty of flavour from all the lovely veggies, but a little ginger or Chinese five spice is also nice.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of sliced onions, lightly sprinkled with powdered ginger

While your onion is gently frying, cut your carrots into sticks, then add them to the pan. (More detailed cutting instructions here)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of carrot sticks on top of sliced onions

Once you’ve added your carrots, put the lid on so the vegetables can steam. The dish will take about 20 minutes from this point.

Cut your bell pepper into strips (chopping tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of red pepper strips on top of carrots & onions

While your other vegetables are cooking, check your beansprouts and leafy greens over for any that don’t look tasty.

Five minutes before serving, add your prawns (if you’re using them) and beansprouts to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of prawns on top of red pepper, carrots & onions

Photograph of a wok with a layer of beansprouts on top of prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Finally, add your leafy greens. (You could use frozen peas instead, but they’re harder to pick up with chopsticks!)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

The stir-fry is cooked when the greens wilt down ever so slightly, and turn a brighter shade of green – this usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Stir everything together before serving. If you’re using cashew nuts instead of prawns, add them now.

Photograph of white bowl filled with stir-fried vegetables and cashew nuts on egg noodles

This dish looks like a rainbow on a plate! I like it with rice or noodles, but it’s also delicious just as is. Serve with soy sauce; you can add some during cooking but I think it’s nice to let everyone season to their own tastes.

If you want a sweeter dish, try adding a tin of pineapple along with the beansprouts. And if you fancy a little chilli kick, some sweet chilli sauce goes beautifully!

If you make stir-fry with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Carrot – into sticks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

We’ve already done a few How to Chop a Carrot tutorials, but carrots really do feature in almost every meal I cook, so bear with me! They’re also a great vegetable to practice on, because they’re inexpensive and can be eaten both raw and cooked. In today’s tutorial we’ll be making carrot sticks.

The first few steps are the same as we’ve learned so far. Wash your carrot with clean water (and a scrubbing brush if you want), but try and leave the skin on to preserve the mineral content.

Check your carrots over for any discolouration or blemishes that you want to cut out. Just like before, cut them out using a small ‘V’ shape.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing a close up of a small blemish and cutting guidelines

Chop off the top and bottom (or top and tail) of your carrots.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Next, cut the carrot into chunks the same length as the sticks you want to end up with. I usually aim for about 4-5cm or so (a little under 2 inches).

Hand drawing of chunks of carrot

 

 

 

 

With each chunk, start by chopping it in half. This gives you a flat surface to rest the carrot on, which makes the rest of the chopping safer. There are a couple of different ways to go from here.

 

 

 

 

The way I always used to make carrot sticks is to just keep halving until you end up with sticks that are about half a centimetre (¼ inch) at the fat end.

Hand drawing of three sticks of carrot, each one half the width of the last

Recently I’ve found, however, that it’s more efficient to cut carrot sticks using a kind of grid pattern. Slice each chunk into four lengthwise, then cut each thick slice into sticks. You can even stack your slices to make chopping faster!Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are sticks great finger food, you can also boil them like slices (link). However, my favourite way to cook carrot sticks is in a stir-fry, which is the recipe we’re working towards this month!