I love spending hours cooking on Saturday afternoons, when I have all the time in the world to experiment, taste, stir, grate, throw out and start again. Some meals just beg a little attention and care, and attention and care takes time. When you've got a couple of hours spare to indulge in some cooking after a long day cycling in the freezing cold (or doing anything in the freezing cold, for that matter), Shepherd's Pie is a really good way to use that time. It's warming, homely, full of protein, and goes really well with a pile of steamed veggies - everything one might require in these cold months!
While out hiking or cycling, Daniel and I often discuss what we might cook when we get home, when we're warm, clean and exhausted and fully satisfied that we've had a day well-spent. For us, that apres-adventure meal is all part of the adventure; alongside the hot bath and the big cup of tea, the food we choose to nourish ourselves with at the end of the day is just as important as the breakfast, the water, the flapjacks and the bananas!
On Saturday, this Shepherd's Pie was discussed in detail. From the vegetables to the drink that would accompany it, the prospect of this meal is what powered us up the hills. I've spent years trying to perfect a veggie version of this classic, and I think, just at the crucial moment, I may have succeeded!
My Special Sheep-less Shepherd's Pie
Serves 4 (or, dare I admit it, two - in times of serious appetite)
For the filling
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 people's worth of dried TVP mince
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
1 cup (or thereabouts) of peas
About 1 litre of stock
Salt and pepper
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp Marmite
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried sage
2 tbsp cornflour
And for the topping
3 large baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 tsp butter
Glug of milk
Pinch of salt
Cheddar cheese, grated
1. Bring the potatoes to the boil in a large saucepan with a good pinch of salt. Leave to simmer for 30-40 minutes.
2. Fry the onions in olive oil until crisp. Add the garlic, peas, sweet potato and cinnamon and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the TVP mince and the stock (the stock should cover the mince, so it looks sort of watery and gross - that's ok!). Season with salt and pepper, sage and rosemary, then add the mustard and the Marmite. Give it a good stir and get it bubbling. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Wait 30 minutes - a useful space of time in which to make an amazing sticky date pudding, wash up or read a chapter of your book. Also remember to heat the oven to 200C in this time.
4. Add the cornflour to the mince and stir well. After about 5 minutes this should magically thinken to a perfect consistency. Pour the mince into a large heatproof dish. It needs to cool a little if the potato is to sit happily on top, so now is a good time to mash your taties!
5. Drain the potatoes, add butter and milk and smash them into fluffy buttery joy!
6. Sit blobs of potato on top of the mince, then press down gently with a fork. It doesn't matter if some mince peeps through, imperfections make these things more homely anyway (or so I tell myself!)
7. Grate cheddar on top, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes until there are crunchy peaks on the potato and the mince is bubbling all over the oven floor...