Friday, August 11, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Cottage Pie and The Great American Solar Eclipse

This past week we’ve enjoyed visiting Folklorama.
The theme nights at the United Kingdom Pavilion were fun, the dancing, singing and music were excellent, and the food was delicious.
The recipes reminded me a bit of some of the food Ma used to make.
Yes, she didn’t always cook Maltese recipes.

For a while in its long history, Malta was a part of the British Empire.
Of course, during war and peace times the British navy made use of our harbours.
British sailors being just regular folks after all, ate regular meals.
Of course, some of their recipes became known, and were enjoyed, by the Maltese.

One such recipe is Cottage Pie, which also has a long history.
In 1791 the potato was being introduced to Europeans as something that the poor - most of whom lived in cottages - could easily afford. The Cottage Pie recipe was a way to use leftover roasted meat. The pie dish was lined with mashed potatoes, as well as having a mashed potato crust on top.

In the United Kingdom, the name Shepherd's Pie appeared in 1854, and it is used when the meat is minced lamb or mutton, while Cottage Pie is used for pies made with minced beef. Both are meat pies with a topping of mashed potato, not pastry.

While not traditional, the mashed potatoes can be topped with grated cheese.
The fillings can also have a few variations:
  • The Shepherdess Pie is made without meat or without dairy.
  • The Cumberland Pie is made with either beef or lamb, and a layer of breadcrumbs and cheese is on top. In medieval times, and modern-day Cumbria, the crust was pastry, and the filling was meat with fruits and spices.
  • A St. Stephen's Day Pie is made using turkey and ham.
  • A Fish Pie is a dish of fish and seafood in sauce, topped with mashed potatoes.

Hints:

If you don’t want to add the carrot and celery to the filling you can omit them, but add 1 teaspoon sugar instead.

If you’d like to add some peas to the filling - or have a zucchini you’d like to use - you can reduce the meat and add some. Just be sure to finely chop the zucchini.

The liquid in the filling will not evaporate when it bakes. If it appears too ‘soupy’ spoon out some of the liquid or allow it to simmer longer for the liquid to be reduced.

You MUST allow the filling to cool down before adding the mashed potatoes. If you don’t the potatoes will sink into the filling. If you are in a rush let the filling cool in the refrigerator while you make the potato topping.

Be sure to steam dry the potatoes. If there is excess liquid in the potatoes it will make the sauce watery.

To get really creamy mashed potatoes, use a potato ricer or sieve. Be sure the mashed potatoes are hot when you spread them. Cold potatoes is harder to spread. You want a textured surface on the potato topping, so rough it up a bit. It’s like adding the meringue to a lemon meringue pie - the points become nicely browned bits and make it look more appetizing.

You can prepare the pie in a casserole in advance, then refrigerate or freeze.
You can also freeze in individual ovenproof dishes for an easy meal for one. 
Remember to defrost at room temperature before baking as directed in the recipe.

For a crisp golden topping, flash under the broiler for a few minutes before serving.


                        Cottage Pie

Finely chop but don’t combine
2 garlic cloves
1 onion
1 medium carrot
1 rib celery 

Place in a large skillet
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
Heat oil over medium high heat. 
Add the garlic cloves and chopped onion.
Cook for 1 minute.
Add the chopped carrot and celery.
Cook for 5 minutes or until softened.
Add
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
Cook, stirring, until browned.
Stir in
3 Tablespoons flour
Stir in
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
Add
2 cups beef stock 
1/2 Cup red wine (optional)
1 beef bouillon cube, crumbled or 1 teaspoon base powder 
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 - 30 minutes.
You want to have a nice thick filling.
Pour the filling into a 6 cup casserole. 
Cover, then refrigerate to cool for 1 - 2 hours, or overnight. 

Peel and cut into 1" cubes
2 1/2 pounds potatoes
Cook in boiling water for 15 minutes or until soft. Turn off the stove.
Drain, then return the potatoes to the pot and place it on the burner you had used. 
Shake the pot briefly and allow the potatoes to steam dry for about a minute.

If you have a potato ricer or sieve, use it and return the riced potatoes to the pot before adding the remaining ingredients.
If you don’t have one, add to the dried potatoes
2 Tablespoons butter
Mash until melted.
Add
1/2 Cup milk
salt to taste
a dash of nutmeg (optional)
Mash until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350º F

Spread the potatoes onto the filling, and rough up the surface.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with grated parmesan or cheddar cheese (optional).
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden on top and bubbling on the edges. 
Stick a knife into the middle to ensure it is piping hot.
Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


About the sky this week and next, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

August 14 – Look to the east before dawn to spot the last quarter Moon near Aldebaran, the 13th brightest star in the sky and one of the more colourful. It marks the orange eye of Taurus the Bull.

August 18 – Look to the east, one hour before sunrise, to spot the crescent Moon paired up with Venus. The waning crescent Moon will be at perigee, meaning it’s at its closest point to the Earth, which happens each month. 

August 19 – Another chance to spot Venus with the tiny crescent Moon Look to the east, one hour before sunrise.

August 21 –  New Moon at 4:45 p.m. Some are calling this a “Black Moon” because it’s the third new Moon (of 4) in a season. So will the eclipse be a Black Moon Eclipse?

August 21 –  Total Solar Eclipse. This will mark the first time in this century, and the first time since 1979, that a total solar eclipse will cross the contiguous (48) United States (Alaska had its turn in 1990; Hawaii in 1991). 
The shadow track - better known as the “path of totality” - will sweep only over the United States and no other country for the very first time, leading some to refer to this upcoming event as “The Great American Eclipse."

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