The perfect place to start this journey is with the United Kingdom. Right in the dead of winter, nothing makes you feel better than a hearty meal that will warm you to your bones. When you think about food from the UK, you think pub food and hearty stews and good ol’ fashioned meat n’ potatoes. Everything from steak and kidney pie to scotch eggs just make you think of sitting in a cozy room with a roaring fire and a mug of beer. I finally decided to make shepherd’s pie, which was a dish that I grew up eating and it was always what I wanted to eat on a cold January night, and for dessert I made shortbread and sticky toffee pudding.
Shepherd’s pie is traditionally a dish made with ground beef or lamb and vegetables all topped with mashed potatoes. Though there are many recipes and variations, I went pretty basic with mine. I started with garlic, onions and ground beef in a saute pan and cooked until beef is browned.
While it is cooking I add horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and a touch of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally. After a little bit, I added some beer and turned the heat down to let the beef simmer.
For the mashed potatoes, there are two key things that make cooking mashed potatoes easier. First off, if you cut the potatoes into small even pieces they will cook faster. Also, I peeled and cut the potatoes first before anything else and let them sit in a pot of water to soak them. This way they cook faster once the water is boiling. Once the meat starts simmering, put the potatoes on the stove and bring to a boil, cook until potatoes are tender and can easily be pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and add butter, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then you can mash the potatoes very easily and it will mix everything together at the same time.
Moving back to the cooking beef, I add peas and carrots, but you can add any vegetables you would like.
To assemble the shepherd’s pie, spoon the meat/vegetable mix into a casserole dish or any kind of oven proof dish and then spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Take a fork and make small trenches in the potatoes and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. An optional step after this is brushing the potatoes with an egg wash so that they brown nicely.
Bake at 375ºF for about 20 minutes and ta-da!
And for the most important part of the meal: Dessert!
I have always wanted to make homemade shortbread so I decided to use this as my opportunity. I learned two very important things about making shortbread:
- A lot of butter is needed to make shortbread. In fact, it is just basically butter with a touch of sugar and flour.
- You shouldn’t cook the shortbread in a dish that is too deep because you don’t want it to burn or even brown too much, but you want to make sure it cooks all the way through.
In terms of actually making the shortbread, it is actually much easier than I thought it would be. First, just mix 4 sticks of butter with 1 cup of brown sugar. Add about 3 cups of flour and blend until the dough can be formed into a ball. Because I don’t have a mixer, I just use my hands to mix the dough, which is always a good sign in my book. Add more flour as you mix the dough, as needed.
Once the dough has a nice smooth texture roll it out and fit it into a baking dish. You can also cut the dough into small rectangles to make little shortbread pieces. I decided to make it in a pie dish. Make sure to grease the dish and also spread the dough so that it completely fills the dish. Use a fork to poke holes in the top of the shortbread and bake at 325ºF for about 25 minutes. If the edges start to brown, make sure to cover the edges with aluminum foil so that they don’t burn. As I said above, make sure the shortbread cooks all the way through. I probably could have cooked mine a little longer but as long as the center isn’t “doughy” you should be fine.
The second dessert I made was a recipe my sister sent me. She is currently living in Scotland, and so I made sure to ask her what she thinks of when she thinks UK cuisine. She sent me a recipe for sticky toffee pudding and it was not only delicious, but incredibly fun to say. I used every opportunity to say sticky toffee pudding and every time it made me smile.
You take 2 cups of water and combine with 1 8oz bag of dates and 1 tsp of baking soda in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix together 1 stick of butter and 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Slowly add 1 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp of vanilla.
Drain the dates and add them to a food processor with 2 tbsp of milk and process until finely chopped. Then combine the batter to the date mixture along with 1 1/2 tbsp of baking powder and stir until well combined. Pour the batter into a greased cake pan and bake for 35 minutes at 350ºF.
To make the sauce, combine 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of vanilla, and 1 can of coconut milk in a saucepan over high heat. Bring sauce to a boil and stir to combine. Once it is combined thoroughly, lower heat and let sit for about 10 minutes.
When the cake is finished, poke holes throughout and pour some sauce over it to allow it to soak into the cake. Then flip the cake onto a serving plate and serve with the sauce spooned over each piece. You can also serve with a scoop of ice cream.
To complete the UK feel of the evening we made Pimm’s cups and sat down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey. Though my UK feast probably wouldn’t pass muster in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, I was very pleased with the result and my friends were all happy to share in the fruits of my labors.
Cheers from the UK! Join me next week, when I celebrate my birthday with as much French food as I can handle.