Comfort food in a time of Covid-19 – I

I started revising this 2014 post as we entered month two of lockdown in South Africa.  Although we moved from level 5 to level 4 on the first of May, for many, there was no material change to our lives.  Speaking for myself:  the novelty has worn off.  Reserves – of all types – are wearing thin.  We now approach the end of month two and the promise of level 3 in eight days’ time.  There’s a lot about it we don’t know.  Some we do:  social and physical distancing will continue.


Not knowing when we’ll be able to break bread with friends, let alone give up virtual hugs, is beginning to tell.  Not to mention not being able to trot down the road to extend physical birthday wishes with real hugs and kisses.  I’m feeling it.  For the birthday girl whose birthday it is, as I write, and who lives alone.  I cannot imagine.

For her:

A bunch of brightness and that went with a brief over-the-gate conversation

Autumn is glorious.  I always say it’s my favourite season.  It is. This year, it’s passing us by we must ignore it. It’s the colours.

It’s the odd rain shower that washes everything clean and leaves the last of the summer brightness covered in sparkles.

I am sure that in the Northern Hemisphere, there are folk feeling the same way about spring.  The kitchen, unlike in other households, is getting less.  Although I cook every day, as usual, I’ve not been cooking as much or spending quite so much time in the kitchen.  Also, given the funk, there’s been a lot of comfort food.  I’ve already shared one of my favourites.  Cottage pie is another.

Tatties and neeps

I grew up with tatties and mince.  It was not my favourite meal because it was  always accompanied by heaps of grey, watery, mashed neeps.  Occasionally, they included the odd carrot.  And mashed potatoes.  I’m not fond of them either – on their own.  Actually, I’m not that fond of mash.  Period.  In combination with mince (ground beef for my American readers), tatties and neeps made for a meal of slop.  Only good for invalids.  In my then childish, and now, adult, opinion.

Tatties and neeps – is probably one of the few combinations in my Scottish heritage, that I don’t get.  Neeps (turnips, for the uninitiated….)  Turnips are one of the very few vegetables I dislike.  Also, if you’re wondering, I have eaten, and do, like haggis.  I keep on threatening to make it. We shall see.

Turnips, under the influence of my accidental vegan blogpal, Katie (@plantstoplanks), I’m planning to give another try.  In a guise other than mashed or in copious quantities in soup. Watch this space.

I digress.

So, now I’ve had a mini melt-down, let me get back to cottage pie. (No, I”m not going to entertain the discussion about the difference between this and Shepherd’s pie….)

Tatties and neeps – for grown-ups

I prepare my mince with braised onions and herbs – either rosemary or thyme – not both, and the choice depends on the mood.  If neither is available, a half to a teaspoon of McGregor Herbes de Provence does just as well.  Some would say, better.


Don’t forget to add the essential crushed clove of garlic.  I always include grated carrot and courgette if I have a lot of them – a great way to con those with a vegetable aversion…), and let this mixture simmer for quite a long time.  Depending on how quickly the liquid reduces, add a bit of water and towards the end of the cook, a good glug of red wine.  This last gives your meat a lovely rich flavour.

Topping it off

The topping is not just mashed potato:  I often use cauliflower – with mashed with a generous quantity of salty butter and pepper.

Oh, and that cauliflower is from our garden…before the drought. This year’s crop is planted….

Occasionally, I’ll do a combination of cauliflower and butternut.  This depends on the size of the cauliflower.  Rarely is it just potato which I also usually combine with butternut and ooccasionally add a good dollop of yoghurt.

For mashing, depending on your preference and how creamy, rustic or chunky you like your topping, the toppings can be hand mashed, puréed or creamed.  My choices vary and are often dictated by the day’s mood.

Finally, layer the mince in the bottom of an oven proof dish and then pile the mashed vegetables on top. Spread this over the meat to the edges of the dish. Dot with knobs of butter. Bake in a moderate oven until the top is brown.

Dot this with knobs of butter and cook in the oven until it’s golden brown and beginning to crisp on top.

Covid-19 comfort food served with homemade chutney.

Last but not least, if you want a “proper” recipe, you are welcome to download a printable file here.  If you do, consider buying me a coffee?

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.

Veg-ing out

wpid-20140730_200027-1.jpgI have flirted with vegetarianism on and off for about thirty years, particularly when I lived alone – which I have done, not unhappily, on and off, until I finally settled down with Tom.   One of the first, if not the first, recipe book I bought, was the A – Z of Vegetarian Cooking in South Africa.  And two of our favourite quiche fillings (leek & onion, and spinach & feta) are based on recipes from this book.  I do confess that I work very hard at not thinking about the journey that meat must take to reach my kitchen.

Consequently, entertaining friends who are vegetarian is fun! Well, I think so, anyway.  For some, it’s a challenge, so I thought I’d share with you what I did when our neighbours joined us for a long overdue dinner, a few weeks ago.

It was a Friday evening and Fridays are my day in the kitchen, preparing for the market.  This particular Friday, I was really in the mode, so it was in for a penny, in for a pound.  The broccoli was ready to pick and we had ripe gooseberries, so there were two ready ingredients.

That said, it was cold and miserable and had the makings of becoming even more so, and what is more warming than cottage pie, I thought.   So, instead of the beef mince, I used beautiful green lentils, soaked and cooked, that were added to sautéd onions and mushrooms.  This was seasoned with chopped garlic, some tomato paste, a twig of fresh rosemary and a good glug of red wine.  A lesson I learned, and which I had forgotten, was that it’s really easy to let this mixture dry out – watch it and add water and/or vegetable stock so that it stays nice and moist as the flavours develop.  Transferred to an oven proof dish, this was topped with a potato and butternut mash, dotted with knobs of butter and baked in the oven for about 20 minutes to half an hour.  The butter is what gives you the crispy, caremelised crust on the cottage pie which was served with a garden salad.

100_2974 100_3150So, we started our dinner with broccoli soup, made with the first picking, and discovered to my delight, that not only does Ant enjoy soup,  but particularly loves creamy ones.

For dessert, we had a gooseberry tart with jam I had made earlier in the day.

No meal is complete without wine.  We don’t really do the wine-pairing thing.  Although we do take the menu into consideration, we choose what we like, and what we think our guests will like.  As usual, we chose beautiful wines from our valley:  Tanagra‘s Heavenly Chaos (isn’t that a wonderful name for a wine?), a lovely red blend, which is beautifully different every year, and Springfield’s Life from Stone, one of my favourite Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Pat and Ant, it was fun – we’ll do it again! 100_3151