Okay, it’s time to share the not-quite-so-romantic part of our life together. The part where our house is tiny, the only furniture we own are two bookcases, a cabinet, a chest freezer and a bed (the rest is borrowed), we have to strive to find time to actually sit down for dinner, and we eat as cheaply as possible. Our mantra, which we repeat to each other often, is “We can only go up from here, babe.”
I spend a lot of time Googling things like “The quickest dinner recipe in the world” and “Cheap, easy recipes” and the like. Which is why, last night, I suddenly got the idea to take photos of our dinner-making process to share on here, for anyone else who might Google the same things I do. So, here you have it, “How to make a nutritious, yummy dinner with no money and even less space”
To be honest, I started off the evening not quite knowing if dinner would work out okay. I’d Googled “What’s for dinner?” when I was hungry before lunch, and had seen several photos of Shepherd’s Pie (or Cottage Pie). At first I wanted to make a hard out pie, but I didn’t really have the energy and I knew we had left over mashed potato, so Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie it was. I didn’t really follow a recipe, I just read a few and then made it up as I went along. Essentially, it’s just savoury mince and mashed potatoes, both of which are extremely easy to make. So I’m really sorry if you’re reading this and you’re a stickler for exact measurements, because the recipe I share might drive you a little crazy. I’m also sorry about the bad quality of the photos, they were taken on my phone because I couldn’t find our camera.
First, let me introduce you to our kitchen.
Our house used to be an office, and so everything was kind of just thrown together. The lounge is in the front of the house, we don’t really have a dining room, and then down the hall is our bedroom and the toilet, and then right at the end is the spare bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom/laundry/place for our chest freezer all squeezed in together. In the photo of me, that is our entire kitchen, minus the fridge (which my husband is standing beside). The middle photo is our entire cupboard space for food. We bought a second hand cabinet for $65 that sits in our lounge and holds all the beautiful wedding presents we got, because our kitchen can only hold the bare essentials. The photo on the right is the cooking space I work with. It’s not the worst kitchen I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t the beautiful, spacious one we’ll have in 10 years time.
Now, before I share the recipe, one very important suggestion: If it is Winter for you, and it has been raining so hard that your shoes and socks are soaked right through just from coming home, get changed out of your work clothes and put on your pajamas and a pair of warm, fluffy, DRY socks before starting dinner. Just do not take your wet socks off and put your bare feet straight on the heater. I did that once a few years ago and got chilblains, and dancing en pointe killed.
Okay, finally to the recipe.
Yummy as, Easy as Cottage Pie
Serves 2, with 2-3 portions left over to be frozen for later. So, serves about 6, really.
- 1 large onion
- your average amount of minced beef (we eat homekill, my husband just told me I would have used about a kilo)
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes in juice
- 2 and a half tablespoons of gravy mix
- half a tablespoon of beef stock
- however many mixed veges you want
- water as needed
- 3 large potatoes
- 2 cups of cheese
- 1 scoop of butter
- a dash of milk
This recipe is perfect if you already have left over mashed potatoes and/or savoury mince. If you have both, just skip all the steps, put them together and chuck it in the oven. If not:
1) Preheat the oven to about 150 degrees celcius. Dice the onion. Fry them in a frying pan, until they’re just about the texture you like. If you’re like me, and don’t like onion so always feel the need to chop it up really small so that you don’t notice it, but hate the crying thing, chop it up rather big. Add a bit of butter while you’re cooking it, and stir it until it’s brown. Most of it will dissolve with the mince, and the rest actually tastes okay.
2) While the onions are cooking, peel and wash the potatoes. Cut them into small-ish pieces and boil them in a pan with water (and salt, if you want).
3) Once the onions are cooked and the potatoes are boiling, add the mince and brown it. I’d advise waiting until it’s all browned before adding anything else, because it’s hard to tell if it’s browned once you’ve added the sauces.
4) Once the mince is brown, add the can of tomatoes. (For those in NZ) I really like Pams Italian spiced tomatoes, and they’re rather cheap too. Stir until the mince has a little bit of a red tinge.
5) Add about a cup of water. In theory, you can add this after the gravy mix and stock, but I like to add it before hand, because then I know that none of the gravy mix is going to burn on the bottom of the pan. Stir.
6) Add the gravy mix and stock, and stir really well to mix it up. Gravy mix in particular can taste really bad if not mixed in properly.
7) Add the mixed veges and stir. Frozen veges are fantastic because they’re cheap and can be used in almost everything. We have several varieties of frozen veges in our freezer, including peas, beans (my favourite), and Rainbow Mix (his favourite). For this recipe, I just used Wattie’s Mixed Veges, which is diced carrots, beans, corn and peas. You could use fresh veges for this (infact I hear it’s really nice with grated carrot), but I didn’t have the time.
8 ) Depending on how soupy you want the mince, you may want to add some more water here. Then leave it a bit to boil in to think, mince-y goodness. How long for depends on how you want it. I probably waited 5 – 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
9) At this stage, your potatoes should be boiled (oh, and you should check them periodically while cooking your mince). Take them off the boil (and turn the stove off), and add a scoop of butter, some milk and a cup of cheese. Mash those babies up.
10) Layer an oven proof dish first with the mince, then the potatoes. Top with the remaining cheese.
11) Put it in the oven until the top gets all golden and crispy and yummy. It took about 15 minutes. Make sure you check it regularly though, so it doesn’t burn.
Serve it by itself, or with a salad, corn on the cob (in summer), or more frozen veges (haha). My husband and I both like it with Watties Tomato Sauce.
So, there you have it. An insanely simple recipe that still actually tastes quite good. I know it’s nothing flash, but to be honest, when I’m searching the internet looking for something for dinner, I’m not looking for recipes that include ingredients that I’ve never tried and am never going to buy. I’m looking for recipes made out of stuff I actually have in my kitchen, and that aren’t so complicated that I need it there in front of me to make it.
The best part about this recipe is that it freezes well, which is perfect for when you’re going out and don’t want to get take aways but don’t have time to cook.
Oh, and to complete the evening:
Have your husband do the dishes
While you curl up and read about the early history of Jerusalem (okay, confession time: I actually got my husband to take this photo while I was waiting for the Cottage Pie to heat up in the oven)