Everybody needs more midweek staples. I’m talking about the sorts of things you can pull hazily from the freezer, stash away in the oven and then sit down to a warm bowl of comfort thirty minutes later.
If you need another one to add to the rotation, that is thrifty, hearty and a whole food twist on the traditional mashed spud-topped Cottage Pie, skip straight to the bottom.
This recipe has been a good friend to me in the past week. Firstly, because we’re celebrating sweet potatoes. Our stowaway is now as long as one and she’s starting to stretch and unfurl in all sorts of ungainly postures – some of them less comfortable than others. There is no hiding her presence any more. I’m too big for my weekly non-pregnant pilates class. I have given up the ghost of my old jeans. My stomach is now public domain.
I’m also plagued by the sort of hunger which means it’s not safe to be working adjacent to the kitchen. Is there a meal between morning tea and elevensies? If there hasn’t been one, I just found it. I’ve been doing all the right sorts of things- eating slow release carbs for breakfast, including plenty of protein, blah blah – I’ve even been making friends with sardines in an effort to increase the good Omegas in our systems (turns out if you mash them with plenty of coriander, lemon zest, dried chilli and ricotta, then they’re not too bad as a topping for spelt toast).
Yet there’s also been a brand new bakery open up just down the road. And their sourdough croissants are off the chain. This is dangerous territory. I remember this hunger from these weeks of growing Will. Hence, there’s a need to have plenty of strapping things on hand to help get us through the day.
Beyond that there is also a current calling for thrift. We ran away a couple of weeks ago to Far North Queensland for a quick jaunt in the sunshine. It was a break from bleak winter’s mornings, work schedules, care and concern. We marveled at wondrous rainforests, drank great coffee, splashed by a swimming pool -and I even managed to read a book (‘My Brilliant Friend‘- which I heartily enjoyed, yet found much darker than I initially expected. ). We also took a bit of a break from financial reality.
We’ve since come home to obstetrician bills and new fences, insurance payments and the ghosts of good-times-past on the credit card. Hence, it’s time to pull our belts in for a while.
One of my long standing life-hacks is when I slow cook things, to do it in bulk. I’m talking about making double mixes of bolognaise, with 1.5 kg of mince in dueling Le Creusets and the same sorts of proportions of my butternut squash and black bean chilli from ‘Poppyseed to Pumpkin 1’. Buying things in bulk is often lighter on the wallet and pays off in the end. These then get parceled up in labelled ziplock bags which lie flat in the freezer, with approx 300 g in each. Which means a simple supper for one, two or eight isn’t that far away (freezing things in smaller sizes and flat also makes them much swifter to defrost). The bolognaise sometimes goes with chickpea flour pappardelle. Sometimes it’s for lasagne, moussaka, with ribbons of courgette, or as a meat-plumped versions of shakshuka, with some extra tomatoes and just-cooked eggs. And sometimes it finds its way into a Cottage Pie.
Cottage pie differs from shepherd’s pie in that it’s made from beef mince, not lamb, but really, that’s just semantics. Most combinations of minced meat would work here. You could even go the vegetarian route and substitute in cooked or tinned brown lentils. I usually use a 1/3, 1/3/ 1/3 ration of pork mince, veal mince and beef mince for my bolognaise, but so long as you have a good, thick bolognaise that you’re happy with, you’re set. (Here is the base of the one I defer to most weeks. The only changes I’ve made over time are to replace the sugar with a food processed ripe pear and to include 2 sticks of diced celery to round out the soffrito further.).
I throw some shredded kale in with it too, so there’s little need for a green salad on the side if I’m feeling particularly lazy. And for the topping, these days I prefer a combination of steamed and mashed sweet potato and cannellini beans. You could use all sweet potato. You could use a combination of sweet potato and parsnip, or sweet potato and white potato. Or you could go with all white beans. But the combination of the sweet potato and white beans gives just enough heft and a smooth texture that ripples nicely on a fork, under a crunchy cap of grated parmesan.
This is the sort of supper that should be eaten on a Tuesday night, then reheated for lunch on Wednesday. If you have a child that will eat bolognaise- hurrah for you. (Please send them my way to convince mine it’s not the work of the devil). This may prove a way of getting even more veg into them. And if not, know it pairs nicely with some quiet time on the couch, while you count your pennies, weeks left of gestation, hours until it’s acceptable to eat another meal and multitude of blessings.
In the spirit of sharing good things; the recipe is below.
Beyond that, here are some other things that are floating my boat this week.
I’ve always loved Bon Appetempt for her smart and wry thoughts on food, motherhood and life and her visual take on the athleticism of motherhood is kind of genius.
I have a long standing, not-so-secret hate-watching addiction to most iterations of The Bachelor/The Bachelorette. Hence, I’m finding UnReal just too delicious to stand. Bring on Season 3. Now please.
My sister put my onto The Mortified podcast over the weekend (after she was inspired to pull out the diary of her 15 year old self for some friends for a dramatic reading after dinner one night). It’s laugh until you need to work on your pelvic floor funny.
The teff and almond loaf (as well as the croissants) from Berkelo Bakery in Brookvale. It’s worth a drive north over the harbour bridge just for these. Pick up some bread and pastries and some take away coffee and drive another 4 minutes to either South Curl Curl Beach or Freshwater for a picnic. You won’t regret it.
Up on my soap box
Men honing in on their girlfriend’s moment of glory by sandwiching in a marriage proposal straight after she was awarded an Olympic medal. Save it. Take her out to dinner somewhere nice next week and then for a romantic walk in a park. Let her have HER moment as HER moment.
Sweet Potato Cottage Pie
Serves 3- 4.
Nb, this will also freeze well and makes an excellent ‘instant dinner’ that’s an alternative to lasagne for those in your flock who need a little helping hand. Just reheat for 50 minutes at 180C/350 F from frozen and ensure the centre is piping hot before serving.
650 g of bolognaise sauce (my default recipe is here, but feel free to use your family’s favourite).1 x double handful of Tuscan kale, shredded finely
1 x 400 g tin of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained – can also replace with 250 g of steamed white potato, cauliflower, more sweet potato, pumpkin or parsnip
1 medium sweet potato (approx 500 g), peeled and cut into cubes the size of playing dice.
40 g of parmesan, grated (optional)
Here’s how we roll
1)Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
2) Steam your sweet potato pieces for 8-10 minutes, either in a microwave with a little water at the bottom of a pyrex bowl, or over the hob. Steam until soft.
Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin
Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)