Friday, August 11, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Cottage Pie and The Great American Solar Eclipse

This past week we’ve enjoyed visiting Folklorama.
The theme nights at the United Kingdom Pavilion were fun, the dancing, singing and music were excellent, and the food was delicious.
The recipes reminded me a bit of some of the food Ma used to make.
Yes, she didn’t always cook Maltese recipes.

For a while in its long history, Malta was a part of the British Empire.
Of course, during war and peace times the British navy made use of our harbours.
British sailors being just regular folks after all, ate regular meals.
Of course, some of their recipes became known, and were enjoyed, by the Maltese.

One such recipe is Cottage Pie, which also has a long history.
In 1791 the potato was being introduced to Europeans as something that the poor - most of whom lived in cottages - could easily afford. The Cottage Pie recipe was a way to use leftover roasted meat. The pie dish was lined with mashed potatoes, as well as having a mashed potato crust on top.

In the United Kingdom, the name Shepherd's Pie appeared in 1854, and it is used when the meat is minced lamb or mutton, while Cottage Pie is used for pies made with minced beef. Both are meat pies with a topping of mashed potato, not pastry.

While not traditional, the mashed potatoes can be topped with grated cheese.
The fillings can also have a few variations:
  • The Shepherdess Pie is made without meat or without dairy.
  • The Cumberland Pie is made with either beef or lamb, and a layer of breadcrumbs and cheese is on top. In medieval times, and modern-day Cumbria, the crust was pastry, and the filling was meat with fruits and spices.
  • A St. Stephen's Day Pie is made using turkey and ham.
  • A Fish Pie is a dish of fish and seafood in sauce, topped with mashed potatoes.


If you don’t want to add the carrot and celery to the filling you can omit them, but add 1 teaspoon sugar instead.

If you’d like to add some peas to the filling - or have a zucchini you’d like to use - you can reduce the meat and add some. Just be sure to finely chop the zucchini.

The liquid in the filling will not evaporate when it bakes. If it appears too ‘soupy’ spoon out some of the liquid or allow it to simmer longer for the liquid to be reduced.

You MUST allow the filling to cool down before adding the mashed potatoes. If you don’t the potatoes will sink into the filling. If you are in a rush let the filling cool in the refrigerator while you make the potato topping.

Be sure to steam dry the potatoes. If there is excess liquid in the potatoes it will make the sauce watery.

To get really creamy mashed potatoes, use a potato ricer or sieve. Be sure the mashed potatoes are hot when you spread them. Cold potatoes is harder to spread. You want a textured surface on the potato topping, so rough it up a bit. It’s like adding the meringue to a lemon meringue pie - the points become nicely browned bits and make it look more appetizing.

You can prepare the pie in a casserole in advance, then refrigerate or freeze.
You can also freeze in individual ovenproof dishes for an easy meal for one. 
Remember to defrost at room temperature before baking as directed in the recipe.

For a crisp golden topping, flash under the broiler for a few minutes before serving.

                        Cottage Pie

Finely chop but don’t combine
2 garlic cloves
1 onion
1 medium carrot
1 rib celery 

Place in a large skillet
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
Heat oil over medium high heat. 
Add the garlic cloves and chopped onion.
Cook for 1 minute.
Add the chopped carrot and celery.
Cook for 5 minutes or until softened.
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
Cook, stirring, until browned.
Stir in
3 Tablespoons flour
Stir in
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef stock 
1/2 Cup red wine (optional)
1 beef bouillon cube, crumbled or 1 teaspoon base powder 
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 - 30 minutes.
You want to have a nice thick filling.
Pour the filling into a 6 cup casserole. 
Cover, then refrigerate to cool for 1 - 2 hours, or overnight. 

Peel and cut into 1" cubes
2 1/2 pounds potatoes
Cook in boiling water for 15 minutes or until soft. Turn off the stove.
Drain, then return the potatoes to the pot and place it on the burner you had used. 
Shake the pot briefly and allow the potatoes to steam dry for about a minute.

If you have a potato ricer or sieve, use it and return the riced potatoes to the pot before adding the remaining ingredients.
If you don’t have one, add to the dried potatoes
2 Tablespoons butter
Mash until melted.
1/2 Cup milk
salt to taste
a dash of nutmeg (optional)
Mash until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350º F

Spread the potatoes onto the filling, and rough up the surface.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with grated parmesan or cheddar cheese (optional).
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden on top and bubbling on the edges. 
Stick a knife into the middle to ensure it is piping hot.
Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

About the sky this week and next, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

August 14 – Look to the east before dawn to spot the last quarter Moon near Aldebaran, the 13th brightest star in the sky and one of the more colourful. It marks the orange eye of Taurus the Bull.

August 18 – Look to the east, one hour before sunrise, to spot the crescent Moon paired up with Venus. The waning crescent Moon will be at perigee, meaning it’s at its closest point to the Earth, which happens each month. 

August 19 – Another chance to spot Venus with the tiny crescent Moon Look to the east, one hour before sunrise.

August 21 –  New Moon at 4:45 p.m. Some are calling this a “Black Moon” because it’s the third new Moon (of 4) in a season. So will the eclipse be a Black Moon Eclipse?

August 21 –  Total Solar Eclipse. This will mark the first time in this century, and the first time since 1979, that a total solar eclipse will cross the contiguous (48) United States (Alaska had its turn in 1990; Hawaii in 1991). 
The shadow track - better known as the “path of totality” - will sweep only over the United States and no other country for the very first time, leading some to refer to this upcoming event as “The Great American Eclipse."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Scones with Clotted Cream, and the Sturgeon Moon with the Perseids Meteor Shower

Summer is just flying by!
It seems like it was March just last week.
Now, here we are, August, with just a month left to enjoy summer before it's back to school.

The start of August is a fun time in Winnipeg.
For two weeks we celebrate Folklorama, where we get a chance to travel the world, yet are able to return to our own beds every night.
No worries if the mattress is too hard or soft.
I mean, what senior could ask for more.

The United Kingdom Pavilion is one of my favourites.
There you can see cultural displays and shows featuring the art and talents from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
They also have fun with theme nights - James Bond and Harry Potter to name a few.
While enjoying the show one can dine on traditional food or sample the treats at a traditional English Tea Room.
Ah...  a proper tea and scones!

A few weeks ago I posted the recipe for Ma’s Cream Scones.
Perfect for when you have a leftover cup or two of heavy cream.
But leftover cream can also be used to make clotted cream.

Clotted cream was mentioned in The Shepheardes Calendar, a poem written by Edmund Spenser in 1579:
Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
For she would call him often heam,
And give him curds and clouted cream.

Clotted cream, also called Devonshire or Cornish cream, is a thick cream made by heating cow's milk and then letting it cool slowly so that the cream rises to the surface and forms "clots”. 
It has a nutty, cooked milk flavour and about the same amount of fat as butter.
Clotted cream can be added to mashed potatoes, risotto or scrambled eggs.
It is also delicious with berries, fruit, a slice of pie, or as a topping on any dessert you’re serving.
Well, just about any dessert... probably not on an iced cake.

Clotted cream is similar to kaymak, a delicacy that is made throughout the Middle East, southeast Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey.
Don't know if the recipe got around or if everyone knew it was just a great way to use up leftover heavy cream.

In a rush? Have mascarpone? You’re in luck.
You can also use mascarpone to make fake Clotted Cream.

Place in a large bowl
4 ounces mascarpone
1 Cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 or 2 Tablespoons sugar
Zest of lemon or lime (optional)

Beat until the mixture looks like softly whipped cream.  
Use right away or cover and refrigerate the cream until serving time.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Not sure if you'll have any use for a tub of mascarpone?
It is a soft unripened cheese that has the texture of sour cream.
Its mild flavour is great with fresh fruit and it is an ingredient in Tiramisu.
You've probably enjoyed it already.

Back to that English Tea...
Want to serve a variety of scones? Try these recipes:


If you don’t have a double boiler place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of water.

After you scrape off the thicker part of the clotted cream, you’ll be left with cream that is thinner than heavy cream.
Don't toss it. It can be added to beverages or dishes, as you would half and half.

The Clotted Cream will keep for about a week in your fridge.

Have butter with salt? Fine, use it for the scones, just don’t add the 1/4 teaspoon salt.

                                                   Clotted Cream

Yield: about 1 cup clotted cream

Place in a double boiler
4 Cups heavy cream

Heat over medium heat to bring the cream to 175º F, stirring occasionally so that the cream will heat evenly. 
Once you reach 175º F, bring up the temperature to 200º and allow the cream to cook about 45 minutes to an hour. The cream should get a cracked skin. 
Remove the top of your double boiler or bowl and place the container of cooked cream in a pan of ice water to cool quickly. 
Cover the cream with plastic wrap and place the container in the refrigerator.
Let it sit overnight. 
Carefully skim the clotted cream off with a shallow spoon and layer it into a bowl.
Serve it as you would serve butter.


Yield: about 12 scones                       
Grease a large cookie pan.             

In a measuring cup beat together
5 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
Set aside

In a custard cup or small bowl beat
1 large egg
Set aside

In a large mixer bowl, mix together
2 Cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cut in 
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
the milk/egg mixture
Mix to form a soft dough.

Preheat oven to 425º F  

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough comes together. 
Roll out the dough to an inch thick.
Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass.
Place the scones on the prepared cookie pan. 
Brush the tops with the beaten egg.
Bake 8 minutes or until golden.

Serve warm with 
the clotted cream
sliced strawberries or jam (optional)

Don’t forget a pot of hot tea for the total experience!

About the sky next week, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

August 7 –  August’s full Sturgeon Moon at 2:11 p.m. Passing overhead at around 10 p.m. local daylight time this week are four small, faint constellations spread out near and within the Summer Triangle.  The Triangle itself is easy enough to find, being composed of three of the brightest stars in the sky (Vega, Altair and Deneb).

August 8 – Because the Moon is now in its waning gibbous phase, it rises in the east later and continues to rise later and later each evening until you can spot the daytime Moon over your western horizon after sunrise in the next few mornings.

August 11-13 – The Perseids Meteor Shower. August is often regarded as “meteor month” with the appearance of one of the best displays of the year. Viewing may be hindered by the bright glow of the waning gibbous Moon but still worth a look. 
Best time to watch: After midnight and before dawn. These showers are named for the constellation Perseus but are bits and pieces of the Comet Swift-Tuttle which visited the inner part of the Solar System in 1992. These meteors, no bigger than grains of sand or pebbles with the consistency of cigar ash, enter the Earth’s atmosphere about 80 miles above its surface.
What you can expect: 50-100 meteors per hour