bill shock

two stage shepherds pie 

A couple of weeks ago something happened in our house that I kinda wish I could forget. We woke up one clear Autumn morning to discover that our internet connection had been cut off. Not good for two internet junkies. But casting my mind back I realized it was a while since I’d seen an internet charge on my credit card so something was up.

I called our internet service provider that morning to resolve the problem and we figured out what had happened. My old card had expired and I’d been issued with a new one but had forgotten to pass on the new expiry date to my ISP. It had been a while since we’d actually paid a bill. For some reason we hadn’t received any overdue notices either in paper or electronic format. Thus the disconnection.

Quickly doing some rough calculations in my head, I figured that we must have owed them a few hundred dollars. So I asked if I could fix it up there and then. You can imagine my astonishment when the voice at the end of the line said that the total owing was a number with four figures. WHAT? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a severe case of ‘bill shock’.

The story was that last month we had upgraded to a larger plan. Previously we were slowed or ‘choked’ when we exceeded our limit but with the new plan we were to be charged 15cents for every megabyte over used. I thought we’d never use anywhere near our new limit, but turns out we had – an extra 4 gigabyte, worth a tidy $600. Ouch.

But a blogging gal needs her high speed connection, so I paid up and started mentally preparing for fugal times ahead. Which fortunately prompted an idea. Why not start a project to use up the food in the freezer? All the random leftovers and bits and pieces, surely we could eat for months. Brilliant.

I won’t bore you with a list of the things we’ve eaten recently that have used something from the freezer. Instead, I’ll share with you the best discovery by far – a shepherds pie made from some leftover lamb neck stew. There wasn’t enough to serve our guests one evening so I padded things out with some fresh minced lamb and an extra tin of tomatoes. A real winter comforting dish, that is definitely enhanced with the textural variety from the two different cuts of lamb. Not to mention the crowd pleasing topping of cheesy mash. Maybe this bill shock thing isn’t quite so bad after all.

two stage shepherd’s pie
serves 8 – 10

I’ve never understood why a pie made with ground beef is called a ‘cottage pie’. Why not ‘cowboy pie’? So much more evocative. If you’d prefer your pie to be more cowboy and less sheep herder, feel free to exchange the lamb necks for four medium pieces of osso buco (beef shin) and the lamb mince for minced beef.

If the whole process seems a little too lengthy, you could always replace the meat on the bone and increase your minced meat by about 500g (1lb). I’d also ditch the chicken stock to save on reducing time down the track.

When it comes to the mash, have a look at my mash experiment or my recent post on bangers and mash for details of the best type of potato to use. The thing to note is that you want your pie topping to be a bit stiffer than normal mash.

Last year I made a similar pie and thought I’d be a bit fancy and serve in individual ramekins. While the results certainly looked lovely, it took forever for them to cool down enough to be edible. We ended up dishing each of our ramekins onto a separate plate which really defeated the purpose. So if you do get inspired to make cute little pies, allow enough time after they are baked to cool down a bit.

Anchovies might seem a little weird in a lamb dish but even if you aren’t normally a fan, I really recommend you try them. They melt away into the sauce giving the meaty flavours a wonderful boost without betraying any furry fishiness. Trust me.

2T olive oil
2 brown onions, peeled & chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely sliced
1T ground coriander
1C red wine, or water
1/2C chicken stock
3 x 400g (14 oz) tins tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 lamb necks, cut crosswise thickly
1kg lamb mince (ground lamb)
1.4kg (3lb) potatoes, I used dutch creams, scrubbed
2 egg yolks
1/2 C whole milk
3 handfuls grated parmesan cheese
steamed green beans or green salad, to serve

Preheat your oven to 160C. In a large flame proof casserole dish, heat oil over a medium low heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and cover. Cook stirring every now and then until the veg are soft but not brown. Add garlic and ground coriander and cook for another few minutes.

Add wine or water, stock and tomatoes bring to a simmer. Pop in anchovies and bay leaves and lamb necks and bring back to a simmer. Transfer to the oven, uncovered and cook, turning the lamb every now and then for 3-4 hours or until the lamb is very tender and melting off the bones. Allow to cool, season, remove lamb bones and roughly shred meat, discarding any sinewy bits.

You could serve the lamb necks as a stew on a bed or mash or with some crusty bread or soft polenta or you could freeze for a rainy day when you’re feeling a bit broke. Or you could use them straight away.

Heat a frying pan over a medium high heat and brown ground lamb in batches, adding each batch to the lamb stew as it is cooked. When all the lamb is brown, bring the stew to a simmer and cook until the stew is no longer watery, about 30 minutes. Season.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200C (400F). Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and cook until tender, 30 – 45 minutes. Drain and pass through a potato ricer and return the mashed spuds back to the pan. Stir through butter and 2 handfuls of the cheese and then gradually add the milk until the consistency is smooth but still stiff. Season.

To bring it all together, spread lamb over the base of a large ovenproof lasagna dish approx 35cm x 22cm (14in x 9in). Top with the potato to cover the whole dish. Sprinkle over the remaining handful cheese and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling at the sides.

Serve hot or a little cooler with steamed green beans or a salad passed separately.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

shez May 5, 2009 at 11:07 am

oh! i can only imagine the shock at hearing the amount due…

what a lovely take on shepherds pie – the addition of lamb necks sounds wonderful (and even more so as the weather around here continues to deteriorate into bleak, damp cold).


jules May 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

thanks shez
this definitely is the pie for bleak weather


grocer May 5, 2009 at 8:42 pm

That’s one helluva handsome shepherd’s pie!
We seemed to have persistent internet issues with our ISP. We’ve now moved outside the “two majors” and whilst it hasn’t been entirely smooth, it’s a much improved situation!


rebekka May 6, 2009 at 9:41 am

That is absolutely brilliant…first of all, that you have all those wonderful things in your freezer, and second that you are creative enough to put them together. Bravo!


Emily May 7, 2009 at 2:28 am

Yikes, $600 for 4GB, that’s highway robbery. I pay $49 a month for 10G + 20G (peak + Offpeak) on iinet adsl2. (that sounds terribly like an ad but I was just blown away by the $600). I can’t believe they let it get so high without emailing you.


Christie @ Fig & Cherry May 7, 2009 at 10:47 am


Love the idea of combining minced and shredded meat. Thanks for the inspiration! :)


DAK May 8, 2009 at 1:00 am

I love a bit of shepherds pie me!
pity about the $600 excess usage charge – perhaps you need to curtail the downloading activities of the people who use your ISP service!


jules May 8, 2009 at 10:39 pm

thanks katie
I’m on a contract but will be looking to move as soon as it’s up

thanks rebekka
Sometimes I find I get the best inspiration from trying to use what’s on hand

yikes is right emily
thanks for the tips

hey christie
I was really impressed how it turned out with the two textures. glad you’ve been inspired

glad you love you’re pie. And you might just be onto something with that


Kathy May 10, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Hi Jules

I have been away for a week or so and have just read your comment re emailing you for some self publishing advice. I can’t seem to find your email address anywhere on your blog?

Can you respond to my address or let me know where I can find yours please?




derf May 14, 2009 at 1:59 am

great ideas
for another idea, try making delicious and inexpensive foul moudammas with fava beans
recipe is @


Paul May 14, 2009 at 9:03 pm

oh no, sounds like a Hell$tra experience. excess charges are a rort!!! I recommend iinet… or any provider which shapes rather than than charges excess usage.

alright, I’m actually here to check out your sausage tips… picked up some beauties from AC Butchery in Leichardt the other day…



jules May 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I’m jules[at]thestonesoup[dot]com. Please feel free to email me with more detailed questions

hi derf
thanks for the suggestion. I discovered foul mesdames when I was travelling in egypt. had forgotten about it. mut give them another go

hell$tra – I love it and you’re right.
hope your bangers work out well. I love AC butchery


daz May 23, 2009 at 2:47 am

they don’t have cowboys in england thus cottage pie


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