This blog post is way overdue. It was meant to be posted on Pi Day (March 14th, thanks to the screwed up date format the Americans have). Anyhow, my partner and I celebrated Half-Tau Day with a dinner full of pies. We had shepherd’s pie for dinner, and for dessert, we had a strawberry pie/tart. The shepherd’s pie on 3.14159266 Day was pretty run-of-the-mill, but the strawberry pie/tart was a little novel, and so we documented us making it. (You can jump straight to the shepherd’s pie recipe if you’re interested)
Yes, you saw that right: Balsamic vinegar AND coriander were in the pie. I did say it was novel didn’t I? My partner and I don’t normally eat sugar, and we had to buy some for 3-as-defined-by-the-Bible Day.
Ingredients for a Strawberry Pie
- Strawberries (I used 250 grams)
- Sugar (I used 20 grams – mainly because I try to cut down my sugar intake)
- Coriander leaves (I used 1 gram)
- Water (I used 180 ml)
- Balsamic vinegar (I used 15ml)
- Xanthan gum (I used 1.1 gram, which I thought was a bit too much)
- Gelatine (I used 0.7g which I thought was a little too little)
Instructions to Make Strawberry Pie
- Make a short cut pastry (use your favourite recipe). Blind bake your tart/pie crust.
- Mix xanthan gum with half the water. Mix thoroughly.
- Put cut strawberries, sugar and remaining water into a pot and turn on heat.
- When boiling (and strawberries are soft and sugars dissolved), put in chopped coriander leaves and balsamic vinegar
- Remove from heat and use stick blender to puree all the strawberries and coriander to make a coulis
- While blending, slowly add gelatine and xanthan gum mixture to the coulis. The resulting mixture should be thick and jelly-like.
- When satisfied with blending, pour the coulis through a sieve.
- Use stick blender to blend the sieved mixture to get more bubbles in. Alternatively you can use a cream whipper to make it foamy. Do not use egg beaters as they can’t get to high enough a frequency to cause bubbles to form in the strawberry mixture.
- Pour the strawberry mixture into pie/tart shells.
- Chill. The mixture will set and the bubbles will remain intact (thanks to the gelatine). As a result, light tasting strawberry tart.
- Serve with ice cream (vanilla bean)
Verdict on the Strawberry Pie
The partner didn’t like the pie much. She didn’t like the texture of the filling being slightly gooey. I agree with her that I used a little too much xanthan gum. We made a lot of the pies, so I brought extras to the office the next day, and I don’t know if they were being polite about it, but I get the feeling that everyone who tasted it was pleasantly surprised and liked it. One lady in the office told me she thought the coriander was a little too subtle, and another demanded to know where the accompanying ice cream was.
As for me, I loved the pie. It smelled like strawberries but has a sharp tang to the smell; and tasted like strawberries but its flavours are suddenly lifted by the subtle presence of the coriander upon touching the tongue. Coriander in my opinion does go well with strawberries. Would I make it again? Yes, but I’d have more gelatine and less xanthan gum. I personally had expected biting into a cloud of strawberry smelling air bubbles, but due to having only 0.7 grams of gelatine, not all the bubbles held out well.
Commander Shepard’s Pie
That was the original name we wanted to call our shepherd’s pie on Day — and yes it would have the N7 logo painted on the pie. Yes, you could tell that we were planning celebrations for Day for a long time. Of course, then Mass Effect 3 came out and had a pretty damn lame ending. Due to bad time planning, more time was spent preparing the the strawberry pie, and we had very little time to prepare a proper shepherd’s pie. As a result, it was pretty run-of-the-mill.
Dissatisfied, we decided to prepare the awesome version of it yesterday and cooked today.
Instead of using mashed potatoes, we opted to use mashed sweet potatoes instead, in attempt to eat a more paleo diet. So, how do you make a mean awesome shepherd’s pie? It takes about 14 hours in total.
It was highly coincidental that today’s My Kitchen Rules’ surprise ingredient was mince meat. I’ve been critical of the show before, mainly for the malinformed guest judges. But today I think I’ve been abusing the MKR hashtags fairly liberally, ragging on the contenstants.
Instructions to Cook Commander Shepard’s Pie
The first thing we did was to cook the tomato paste that will go into the pie. I boiled 8 extra large tomatoes in sherry (not a lot, just enough to cover the base of the pot). When the tomatoes are soft, a stick blender is used to pulverize the tomatoes into paste. It was quite liquid, and I simply boiled it down. But wait! That’s not all! If you follow me on Twitter, you might have read my tweet last night about 10pm, where I mentioned that my tomato paste smelled like grilled steak but tastes very very strong. So what did I add? I added: fish sauce (3 tablespoons), Worcestershire sauce (3.5 tablespoons), soy sauce (1 tablespoon), seaweed (nori), and most importantly, to give it that smoky smell, a bag of Lapsang Souchong tea. Combined, these flavours smell like meat that has been grilled, but tastes very very strongly of tomato and umami.
The next thing I did was to cook the onions and the carrots. I used 1.5 large onions. I fried the onions in butter with a star anise until they were soft. The matchsticked carrots were blanched and dried and fried in butter. I then set aside the onions and carrots.
The mince meat was next. Normally shepherd’s pies are cooked with lamb mince, but as we only had 1kg of beef mince, we decided to go with it anyway. The beef was quickly browned in a pan with very high heat. If when browning the meat, you see it getting wet, you’re doing it wrong. The idea is that there should be no liquid when browning the mince – the reason will be explained later. The meat is browned with the same star anise that went into cooking the onion.
So, with the mince, onion and carrots cooked, I then combined all three ingredients into a pot with some defrosted and sieved frozen peas (sieved to get rid of the access water when defrosting). While the meat, onion and carrots are still hot (the pot should be off the heat), stir in the peas, and a good knob of butter. Then in comes the tomato paste. If done right, 8 extra large tomatoes should reduce to about 5 ladelfuls of tomato paste – just enough for 1 kg of mince.
This is how it looks like:
Before you shout “Where’s the stock?”, I know it looks rather dry. But remember when I browned my meat without allowing liquids to escape the meat? Guess what’s going to happen when I put the shepherd’s pie into the oven to bake? The fats will rend in the oven, and form a creamy delicious mixture in the pot. You’ll also noticed that I didn’t season the meat very much when browning it. This was to prevent osmotic pressure differentials to force liquids out of the meat (i.e. when you add salt, water comes out from the meat). So, with this pot, the meat will have to be marinated in the sauce it will be cooked in. I put this pot into the fridge for about 8 hours (well, I had to go to work. Ideally I’d only marinate the meat for about 4-6 hours, as extended periods in the fridge would dry out the meat). It was wrapped in many many layers of cling wrap of course, to prevent liquid loss from the fridge.
The mashed sweet potatoes were next on the order of business. It was pretty easy – I heated some water to about 80 celcius, turn off the heat, put in chopped sweet potatoes for about 30 minutes, trying to keep water at about 80 celcius. Then rinse the starch off the sweet potatoes, and refill the water, and bring it to boil. The sweet potatoes should go soft in about 5 minutes after being put into hot boiling water. Remove them, and mash them with a masher until smooth. You may elect to put them through a sieve if you want to make them smoother. I added a dash of milk (about 2 tablespoons) and 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of sour cream to make the mash even smoother. I would add more, but I was already weighing the consequences of not eating a more paleo diet. I also added a large pinch of nutmeg (it was a large sweet potato), and the regular seasonings (salt and pepper) were also added.
And finally, combine them! This was how they looked like when I combined them:
To serve, bake them at 200 Celcius for about 30 minutesand top it off with a grill. I would usually put parmesan cheese on top after roughing up the surface a little, but today I forgot to. The result is this pie:
What you get is a delightfully crusty brown/orange top that tastes smooth upon biting, and the richest meat flavoured explosions you can ever imagine that follow underneath. The meat had a smoky flavour to it, while retaining its superbly rich taste.
All in all, I loved this shepherd’s pie (which I dub Commander Shepard’s Pie in honour of her work in the Citidel). Although I had intended to get “N7” in there somewhere (by strategically placing parmesan cheese on top before baking), I totally forgot, which was too bad. Maybe when I make another of this pie, I’ll put it in.
And if you’re STILL reading after 1700 words, congratulations. Now tell me a) what you think of the recipes; b) which way do you prefer me presenting future recipes (Strawberry Pie or Commander Shepard’s Pie)
-  I actually used 1 tablespoon, marked at 15 ml, but that is assuming balsamic vinegar has the same viscocity and density as water ↩
-  No, sweet potatoes are not entirely paleo either – they were food our paleolithic ancestors ate on an occasional basis ↩
-  For reference, it’s called a cottage pie if it’s made with beef, but hey, let’s keep the Commander Shepard’s Pie theme going eh ↩