So, what have I been cooking in the meantime? Lots of things that went wrong, as it turns out! I tried making rugelach for the first time and managed to weld them firmly to the baking sheet. A cranberry orange sorbet turned out a brilliant deep red colour but only tasted of oranges (nice but not the point...). Then a salmon dish I was convinced would be a total stunner ended up just being, meh, ok. Soon I'll be burning toast.
When it all goes wrong in the kitchen, there are certain fall-back recipes that I return to repeatedly because they never ever, ever let me down. Like this shepherdless pie - it's certainly a great big wodge of stodge with all that mashed potato on top but it's also crammed with veggies in the lentil layer, so you feel like it's doing you some good, even as you roll away from the table to collapse on the sofa in a starch haze. Perfect cold weather food.
Shepherdless pie - adapted from a Good Food magazine recipe somewhere back in the mists of time
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 celery sticks, diced into small pieces
3 carrots, diced into small pieces
2 peppers, diced
400g can of chopped tomatoes
¾ pint / 425ml veggie stock
2 tbsp tomato pureé
100g red lentils, rinsed
3 tbsp green pesto
For the mash:
1.5kg floury potatoes, such as Roosters (told you there was a substantial starch element)
Cheddar cheese, grated
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1. Heat the oil in a large pan with a heavy base. Add the onions and fry for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the celery, carrots and peppers, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, stock, tomato pureé and lentils. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
3. Take off the heat, season well, stir in the pesto and then spread the mixture in a 1.7 litre capacity ovenproof dish.
4. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6 and get on with whipping up the mash - you don't have to use the version above if you have a particular or favourite way of making it. But you'll need about 1 to 1.5kg of potatoes, depending on how much you love spuds. Me, I love them, so I err on the side of greed and chuck in a couple of extra.
5. Spoon the mash over the filling, sprinkle some more cheese over the top and then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is crispy and golden brown.
My friend uses red pesto for this recipe and we sometimes argue (nicely) about which is better - green or red. I still think green wins out - adds a real zip to the recipe.
This is a great one for the freezer - divvied up into individual portions and stashed away, it can be a bit of a lifesaver in the dark, miserable days of winter when the inspiration/motivation/energy to cook goes right out the window.