The Old Cookbook Experiment: Part 3

The Old Cookbook Experiment: Part 3

Since I played it safe with sweet recipes in the first two parts of this series, I thought I should be a bit more adventurous this time around and go for a savoury dish. I’m still not willing to mess about with calves’ feet or sheep’s heads, but I did find an intriguing recipe for a ‘potato pudding with meat’ in my go-to period cookbook, Margaret Dods’ The Cook and Housewife’s Manual.

This reads rather like a traditional English cottage pie or shepherd’s pie, which is generally a mixture of meat and vegetables in a savoury sauce, with mashed potato over the top. Note: a cottage pie is made with beef and a shepherd’s pie with lamb or mutton. Any time I read someone making a shepherd’s pie with beef, I know the author isn’t a Brit because nobody from the UK would ever mix up the two – and no, neither of them ever has a pastry base!

Now, as with most other recipes from this book, there’s very little information about quantities involved so I’m doing a lot of guesswork! I elected to go with something similar to what I use when making a cottage pie, however, which for 4 hearty eaters in my family is 6 medium potatoes and 500g beef (around 1.1 lb). I could have used beef mince, but I actually had some stir-fry beef in the freezer I wanted to use up, so I diced that very small while the potatoes were boiling. I also decided to add in the vegetables, just as I do with cottage pie, to save having to make a side dish of them, and mixed 1 cup of frozen vegetable dice (peas, corns and carrots) in with the beef.

Once the potatoes were soft enough to mash, I drained them and added about 1 cup of milk. With hindsight and considering the recipe again, I could possibly have used a little more – that ‘pour the batter’ part ended up being more ‘spoon over the batter’ because mine wasn’t really pourable. I used my ironstone casserole dish, figuring it was probably the most similar to what a cook in the early 1800s might have had access to, and ended up making 2 layers each of the meat and potatoes. This brought me around halfway up the sides of the dish, so yes, I could definitely have increased the quantities and gone for more layers, which I might well do if I wanted to feed 6 or 8 people.

I decided to put the lid of the dish on rather than covering with paper for the first half hour and take a look after that, possibly leaving it off if I thought the dish looked too ‘wet’. I set the over to 180 Celsius (355 F), popped it in and hoped for the best!

This was how things looked after half an hour; still a little pale in places, but the potato had puffed up nicely and was turning golden. I put the lid back on for 10 more minutes, then gave it 10 minutes lid-off – at which point the ravenous masses in the house were getting impatient and I decided it had to be cooked enough to eat!

VERDICT: Well, everyone ate it. My husband tasted it, added about a third of a bottle of tomato ketchup and then ate it. And he was right to do so because I regret to have to tell you that it just tasted unutterably boring. I added a couple teaspoons of allspice, but this could have done with some taco spice mix, Tabasco or even some Worcestershire sauce to give it a dash of interest. I’d make it again, but I’ll add some garlic, more onion, and definitely spices of one sort or another, probably some grated cheese on the top too. We’re not even a family who eats a ton of spicy food, but I think today’s diners have developed palates which are accustomed to more spices in their food than those of 200 years ago, when curry was considered a rare and exotic ingredient to be used very sparingly!

Nevertheless, this is a dish I’ll be adding to my repertoire, with some adjustments to suit our tastes. It’s pretty adaptable to use up whatever you have on hand in the way of meat in the freezer/frozen vegetables, which is always useful when you have a busy life and hungry kids to feed!

Although ‘potato pudding with meat’ turned out to taste tragically boring, I hope this blog post hasn’t been entirely so – and don’t forget, I have a new release this month with a Regency story in the Weird & Wonderful Holiday Romance Anthology, out now and getting some GREAT reviews! It’s only 99¢ for a limited time, so jump in and grab your copy to get 18 reads for a super cheap price. If you enjoy the read, I do hope you’ll consider leaving us a review, too – reviews are LIFE for authors!

4 Responses to The Old Cookbook Experiment: Part 3

  1. As I was reading the recipe, I kept thinking of ‘Cottage Pie.’ Thank you for the distinction between the two. Wow! I had no idea. I appreciate not offending anyone by miss-speaking. I agree about adding additional spices, onions, and garlic. Yeah, it sounds boring. But, hey, you tried it. Now… I have to say… in your photos every dish, pan, counter and stove are spotless. How do you do that? Gosh, my baking dishes look nasty compared to yours. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think this potato pudding recipe has promise & I may try it, while agreeing with you about making a number of additions – herbs, bouillon, and more veggies. Possibly gravy.
    My mother was definitely a Brit, as was my father, and she called the dish made from leftover roast beef & mashed potato “Shepherd’s Pie”. Yes, traditionally lamb was the meat called for, but I don’t remember her ever making it with lamb. The main thing is that Shepherd’s pie always contained red meat. “Cottage pie” was never a term used in our household.

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