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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