Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blank Slate: Mini Mince and Potato Pies

Sometimes a recipe’s biggest disappointment turns out to be its greatest charm. At least, that was what I found to be the case in these Mini Mince and Potato Pies from Donna Hay magazine # 23. I made them, hoping to be delighted, but both Alex and I looked at each other and said, “These need something.” They were a little bland, to be honest. And that’s the first time I’ve said that about a Donna Hay recipe; usually she knocks it out of the park every time.

On my way to heat some up for lunch at the office, I was walking with a coworker who was headed back to his office. He remarked on my little pies and I mentioned their lack of spunk. He asked what I thought they needed—onion? Garlic? Well, no, I said, the recipe had both of those. So what, he asked, did I mean? That started me thinking. What did I mean? Did the meat need more seasoning? Did the potato topping need more…of what? And suddenly it was like a revelation, the clouds parting and the sun beaming down. I could almost hear the chorus of angels begin to sing. Of course! They needed seasoning, punching up, but the possibilities were almost endless!

For Italian flavored pies I could stir some more tomato paste and some Italian seasoning into the meat, and then add grated Parmesan to the potatoes. For an Indian flavor, I could add curry to the meat and maybe some peas, not unlike a little samosa, and perhaps some ground cumin to the potatoes. I could go a beef stroganoff direction and stir in a little sour cream at the end, and pep up the potatoes with additional sour cream and chopped parsley.

The original recipe was a veritable blank canvas on which to paint with the seasoning palate of my choosing. Any theme I could think of that was suitable for beef and potatoes would make an interesting and unusual little tidbit. Eaten in enough quantity (three or four per person) these can make a nice lunch or light dinner, served with a salad. Of course they’re a perfect hors d’oeuvres for a cocktail party, which was their original intent.

I’m providing the base recipe here, or the recipe as I made it first. The flavor is your choice, but you do need to add something to at least the beef after it’s cooked through. At least some bar-b-que sauce, or some steak sauce (A1 or HP Sauce), or even a little soy sauce would be fine. Cook it down so it’s syrupy and cooked into the meat, then proceed with the recipe as written. These are best served hot, or warm, but can be reheated in a microwave if you’re taking them to the office for lunch. They’re not as ideal as when they’re fresh out of the oven, but they’re a big improvement over fast food.

A note on the potatoes: you can use leftover mashed potatoes. Refrigerate them overnight so that they get a little dried out and tightened up, then add the egg yolks and a splash of light cream or half and half to thin them down a bit. Obviously if you do this, you’ll be stuck with any seasoning in those potatoes, and anything you add may not combine and cohere as nicely as it would have when they were made fresh, but if you’re intending to top the pies with plain mashed potatoes, using leftovers is a fine strategy.

So this is a sort of do-it-yourself post. Your mission is to take this basic, somewhat monochromatic recipe and add zip. Make it shine. The base recipe works perfectly on its own, so all you have to do is add some pizzazz. I’d love to hear what you come up with.

Mini Mince and Potato Pies
from Donna Hay magazine #23
makes 12 pies, which made four servings of three; one to taste and determine that they needed something, and three as lunches during which I pondered what it was they needed.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
¼ cup ½ & ½ (or light cream)
2 egg yolks
Refrigerated pie crust

Preheat oven to 375. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over high heat. Add oil, onion and garlic, and cook 1-2 mins or until soft. Add beef and cook 5 minuntes until brown. Add stock, paste and bay leaves, bring to a boil and cook down at a simmer 10 mins or until thickened. Allow to cool.

Bring potatoes to a boil in cold salted water. Boil 12 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to pan. Add cream and egg yolks, and mash well.

Cut pastry into 2 ½” circles. Press into a greased small (1oz) mini muffin tin. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the beef into muffin cups and top with poatoes. Bake 25-30 minuntes or until pastry is crisp and potato golden.

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