Once upon a time I had a life-changing revelation while making cottage pie. It made me look at a long list of dishes from a different perspective, and led to the development of:
Roving Lemon’s Leftover Rule of Thumb: If the recipe calls for any major ingredient to be cooked two different ways in a short space of time, it was probably originally devised to use up leftovers.
The correlative effect to this discovery was that I stopped wanting to make anything from scratch that I could use leftovers to make more easily, whether it was fried rice or omelet fillings. It just seemed like too much work. I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t even make a tuna melt unless I’ve already got a batch of tuna salad sitting in the fridge.
So when I made my first-ever pot roast about a week ago, I already knew that another cottage pie was in my near future. But this time it was going to be cottage pie made the traditional way: with leftovers. Leftover meat, leftover vegetables, and leftover gravy mixed together and topped with the leftover mashed potatoes I made to go with the pot roast. Assembling it took all of 15 minutes; the hardest part was chopping up the meat, for which I would have definitely used a food processor, if I had one. If you don’t, a knife, a chopping board, and a little elbow grease will do. And after you do that, you can go lie down anyway, because your dinner prep is done.
Traditional cottage pie
Making a pot roast or a beef stew is worth it just for its own sake—but even more worth it if you make enough extra to have one of these a few days later. Measurements are very approximate for obvious reasons, but you don’t really need them; if you’ve got enough meat to cover the bottom of a casserole dish, and enough potatoes to cover them, you’ve got a pie big enough to feed at least three or four people.
2-4 cups cooked beef
1 cup cooked vegetables*
½ cup frozen peas**
1-2 cups gravy or sauce
2-4 cups mashed potatoes
¼ cup grated cheese**
Lightly grease a casserole dish. Chop beef very finely, using either a food processor or a knife. Chop vegetables very finely. Add peas and mix all ingredients until combined thoroughly, using gravy as necessary to moisten the mixture. Scrape mixture into casserole dish, then top with scoops of mashed potato. Smooth out until beef mixture is completely covered. (Dish can be prepared ahead up to this point and refrigerated.)
When ready to cook, bake at 350F/180C for 30-40 minutes, or until beef filling is bubbling. During the last 10 minutes of cooking time, sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the mashed potato and return to oven to brown.
* I had onions and carrots.
** These were the only things I added to the list of ingredients from the original meal.