Mince beef soup

This winter warmer soup is especially perfect for those cold, cosy days. This is a very Finnish style soup of basic runny liquid base, with all the ingredients as bitesize chunks, rather than those thick, puréed soups. I personally quite like these kind of soups, because you can see and taste the ingredients separately. This soup contains a lot of healthy root vegetables, and doesn’t actually require a lot of cooking itself, most of the work goes to chopping the vegetables. This recipe makes a big soup, which is perfect. I think homemade soups are a little bit like curry, in a way that they seem to taste even better the next day. Also, the great thing about this kind of food is that you are not restricted to follow the ingredients too strictly, but can add other ingredients too. My recipe will be ever so slightly peppery-hot, if you don’t like any heat in your food you might want to leave out the white pepper, or reduce the amount.

1 onion, finely chopped
250g mince beef
1.2kg potatoes
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
1.5 litres beef stock click here for homemade recipe
1 large parsnip (200g)
2 small turnips (200g)
300g swede
1/2 large leek, finely chopped
3 bay leaves
2-3 dl frozen peas
(1 tsp salt if necessary, to taste at the end. I tend to use sea salt for this)

1. Fry the onions in vegetable oil in a pan, until starting to get translucent. Add the mince beef and mix with the onions. Add the spices, and fry until cooked. During the cooking process, keep braking into small pieces.

2. Take about a quarter of the potatoes, and peel and chop into small pieces. Boil in the stock, covered, until cooked, then mash them.

3. While the potatoes are boiling, peel and chop all the other root vegetables into small, bite size cubes. Add to the stock and mashed potatoes, together with the bay leaves.

4. Peel and cut the remaining potatoes into small pieces, and add to the soup. Lastly, add the finely chopped leek, peas and the mince beef.

5. Cook until all vegetables are cooked. After all the ingredients have been added this should only take about 10 more minutes, depending on the size you’ve cut your potatoes.

6. Check the taste, and add the salt if required.

Cottage pie / Shepherd’s pie

This is a heart and belly warming classic British dish, however I’m sure other nations have their own variation of the same thing. Even in my native Finland we have something similar. I have added ingredients to the basic version, so it actually probably doesn’t even have any particular national background. For a long time, I always had to check with my British husband what the difference with cottage pie and shepherd’s pie is. The difference is very simple: cottage pie is shepherd’s pie, but with a cheese crust on top. This kind of food is proper, honest home cooking. I tend to make a large batch, which will give you couple of dinners, or dinner for the first night and lunch to take to work with you for few days. I like mine with slight heat from the pepper, if you would like yours mild I would suggest reducing the black pepper and white pepper to half (or just use full amount of black pepper and leave white pepper out).

1.5 kg potatoes
2 tsp salt
50g butter
3dl milk
pinch of salt
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1 medium onion
2 small or 1 large carrots, peeled
1 courgette / zucchini
4 chestnut mushrooms
500g mince beef (if you don’t eat red meat, you can easily swap this to mince turkey)
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp ground allspice
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3 dl cheese

1. Peel and rinse the potatoes. Cut in half or quarters, depending on size. Place in a pan and cover with cold water. Add the salt, and bring to boil. Depending on the size of the pieces, boil gently for about 20 minutes, or until soft.

2. While the potatoes are boiling, finely chop the onion, carrots, courgette and mushrooms. I normally use standard brown/yellow onions for cooking, but I have a lot of very strong red onions in my cupboard, so I used that instead.

3. Fry the onions in the oil for few minutes, until starting to turn translucent.

4. Add the meat. Keep beating it with a wooden spatula as it’s cooking, to break it into small crumbly texture. During the cooking, add all the spices. This’s whole step will take you around 10 minutes.

5. Once the meat is cooked, add the carrots, courgette and mushrooms, and fry for 5 minutes, stirring.

6. Once the potatoes are soft, discard the cooking water. Mash the potatoes, and add the butter, milk and salt. I prefer my mash to be firmer when using it in a dish like this, otherwise it won’t hold the mince mixture in a separate layer.

7. Layer half of the mash at the bottom of an oven casserole dish. Then add a layer of the meat mixture. I usually pat it into a firm, dense, even layer. They add the remaining mash. To make sure you have an equal amount to cover the whole dish, I usually start by adding a dollop in the corners, then in the middle, and then plead it across evenly.

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8. Finally, add the cheese. I normally tend to use a mixture of extra mature cheddar and red leicester, however this time I replaced the latter with gruyere. Cook in preheated oven 180°C / 355°F for 40-45 minutes until the cheese top has become slightly crunchy.

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Mince beef and potato bake

This is simple home cooking. Easy and quick (in preparation), and will be enough to take as lunch to work too. Now, I spent a great while trying to think what to call this dish. I couldn’t really come to any good definitive conclusion of what would be best, most describing name. I’m happy for anyone to give me suggestions on this. My mum used to make this when I was a child. She would always make two version: one with blue cheese for adults, and one without for the children (I’m the second oldest of five). These days, I always make mine with the blue cheese, but this can easily be left out if you’re not a fan.

2 onions
500g mince beef
6 medium to large potatoes
50g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
5 dl milk
3 eggs
salt and  black pepper
ground allspice, white pepper, paprika (optional)

1. Finely chop the onions, and fry in vegetable oil in a pan until they start to get translucent. Add the beef and mix with the onions. add spices of your liking. I tend to always use salt, black pepper, white pepper, allspice and paprika on my basic mince beef for various different foods. Cook until the beef is ready, breaking it into small bits as it’s cooking.

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2. Peel and slice the potatoes. Layer about a third of them at the bottom of an oven dish. Then put half of the mince beef as the next layer. If using blue cheese, add half of it on next. Then a layer of half of the remaining potatoes, remaining mince beef and remaining potatoes on top.

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3. Mix the eggs and milk with a fork, then pour over the potatoes / mince beef. If using blue cheese, add the remaining half on top.

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4. Cook in preheated oven 180°C / 355° F for about an hour, until the potatoes are soft.

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Beef broth (stock)

The key to a good broth is slow cooking and bones (although you always also need some meat too). It can be very easy by throwing everything in together from the beginning and simmering for 2-3 hours, or with a little bit more effort you will end up with a wonderful, clearer stock.

1.1 kg beef short ribs (the more bones the better)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp sea salt
1 medium to large onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
4 garlic cloves
3 litres of cold water

1. Place the ribs in a large pan. The more bones you have the better it is. You could, for example,  have one rib with meat on and rest of it bones. Cover with the water, and add salt. Slowly bring to simmer, but don’t boil. Muck will start surfacing. Skim this off. The process should take about 20-30 minutes.

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ALTERNATIVELY, place all ingredients in the pan. Cover with the water, and bring to simmer. The muck will stay in the broth, making it cloudy.

2. Once no more muck is rising to the surface, add all the other ingredients. Cover with a lid and simmer for 2-3 hours.

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3. When ready, strain through a sieve. I also use a piece of muslin to make the stock even clearer. Keep the meat aside, to be used in other foods.

4. Cool the stock, then chill in the fridge. This will make the excess fat harden on top. Remove the hardened fat and discard.

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Braised ox cheek (or braising beef)

My recipe is originally for ox cheek, which are big pieces,  but as this isn’t something generally sold in supermarkets (and therefore requiring a trip to the butchers, which I unfortunately don’t often have time for), I think it also works with the beef braising steak, which I happened to have in my fridge this time. I do however have to honestly say that I prefer the cheek.   Both are parts of the animal that are tough and require slow cooking to make them melt-in-the-mouth soft. The cheeks in particular used to be more of a wasted part of the beef, but in the recent years upmarket restaurants have made it more fashionable. I would love to make this dish more often, as I love the braised ox cheek, but my husband doesn’t count braised meat as one of his favourites.

Ideal situation would be to marinade the meat for 24 hours, however if this isn’t possible I would go for minimum of two hours.

2 ox cheeks (or 750g beef braising steak)
300ml red wine
100ml port wine
1 small onion / 4 small shallots, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
6 stalks of fresh thyme
1 tbsp of black pepper (I tend to freshly crush whole peppercorns with pestle and mortar)
1 bay leaf

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1. Place all ingredients in a bowl, and marinade for 24 hour if possible for best result, or minimum of 2 hours.

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2. Fry the meat pieces for few minutes, stirring, then add the other ingredients.

3. Simmer for 2.5 hours.

4. Once the meat is tender, remove from the liquid (mostly for ox cheek, difficult otherwise).

5. Strain liquid through fine sieve. You can also use a piece of muslin in the sieve for finer result. Boil the strained liquid in a clean pan until reduced to half.

6. Quickly fry the meat pieces and serve with the red wine glaze (if ox cheeks).

Wiener Schnitzel

This dish, one of Austria’s national offerings, is one of my favourites. It’s a thin piece of breaded, pan fried steak, traditionally veal (however I use sirloin steak when cooking at home). The key is you will use a mallet to hammer the beef thin, which will keep the steak tender. The dish should be served with a slice of lemon, however I ran out of fresh lemons so I just drizzled some lemon juice on top.

sirloin steak
1 dl plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 egg
2 dl breadcrumbs
butter
slices of lemon

1. Hammer the meat with a mallet until thin, 5-10mm. I tend to place the steak inside a freezer bag for this, to reduce mess. After this, it’s easy to cut the fat off.

2. Mix flour and the spices on a plate. Beat the egg, and place on another plate/ bowl. On a third plate, pour half of the breadcrumbs.

3. First, coat the steak with the flour / spice mix. Second, coat with the egg. When lifting the steak off, let excess egg drain back onto the plate. Third, place on the breadcrumbs, and pour the rest of the breadcrumbs on top. At each stage, make sure the steak is fully coated.

4. Let rest for 5 minutes on your chopping board.

5. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and fry the steak, 2 minutes each side.