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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Home-Made Veg & Bacon Bake

Yes, for the first time in far too long, I've made something from scratch, by randomly throwing stuff together and hoping for the best... The very essence of snacks & the single man, and yet I've spent months just writing up ready-made foodstuffs I've picked up from the supermarket.

Not so, today.

I'd been considering my options on this for quite some time. I wanted to make something like a shepherd's pie or cottage pie, predominantly vegetable-based, but with the addition of bacon. I definitely wanted onion in the mix, and looked at different shepherd's/cottage pie recipes for the other components. To begin with, I wasn't sure whether I'd need to add any liquid, since frying bacon will free some of its fats, and onion tend to release some of their fluids in the pan as well, but eventually I decided that addition a stock would be a good precaution. Other than that, I was essentially winging it - working out the timings by eye, and keeping my fingers crossed all the while. Daring, huh?

Now, I cannot stress this enough, but all the veg really needs to be fresh rather than frozen. Sure, you could use frozen, but you'd have to ensure it was fully thawed (and not overly saturated with water) before starting. The other advantage to using fresh is that you can be sure every component is in much the same state when you begin, which should make judging the stir-fry easier.

Serves 3-4! Wow!

Ingredients:
  • Grated Cheese (either buy a pack ready-grated, or grate some from a block)
  • Bacon Pieces (the chunks, often called 'lardons', though rashers can be cut down and the cooking time adjusted. I used a 150g pack of chunks from M&S)
  • Instant Mash of choice (I'm still running with Sainsbury's)
  • Knorr Vegetable Stockpot
  • Baby Corn (4-5 cobs)
  • Broccoli Tips (4-5 sprigs)
  • Carrots (two of a decent size)
  • Garden Peas (I used about half a 200g pack of M&S 'Fresh and Prepared')
  • Onion (one of a decent size should be sufficient)
  • Sugarsnap Peas/Beans (I used about 1/4 to 1/3 of a 200g pack from M&S)
  • Garlic optional
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Preparation Time: About 30-45 minutes for the stir-fry, then 30 minutes baking

Tools Required:
  • Sharp Knife
  • Chopping Board
  • Frying Pan
  • Spatula
  • Saucepan
  • Pyrex Baking Dish
  • Cheese Grater (if grating your own)
The Process:
Start by chopping the onion, baby corn and carrot. They don't need to be chopped particularly finely, so it's very much according to your own preference - large chunks or small - but smaller chunks will probably mean the first phase of the stir-fry will be quicker. Put the bacon chunks into a frying pan on a medium heat, and add both the carrots and the onion. Keep it all mobile, as this will better distribute the bacon's fat around the pan.

As it begins to cook, prepare the stock by mixing the Knorr Stockpot in with 400-500ml of boiling water. When the bacon is becoming crispy and the onions are golden (about 10-15 minutes), add the stock into the frying pan, then add the baby corn pieces and broccoli tips (and garlic, if you so desire - a couple of cloves chopped or crushed should be sufficient). Turn the heat down low, and allow to simmer gently, stirring occasionally for another 15-20 minutes.

Finally, add the beans and peas (along with salt and/or pepper if desired) and simmer for a further 10 minutes. During this time, ready the mashed potato according to the instructions provided.

Preheat the oven to 200C. When everything is ready, pour the stir-fry mixture into the baking dish, then scoop on the potato and spread it evenly over the top, raking with a fork to break up the surface. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top, and place the baking dish into the oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool briefly before serving, as it's going to be very hot.

The Results:
As usual, I managed to forget a few things I'd intended to do - the garlic was left out, and I didn't put any pepper into the stir-fry, so I was expecting something rather bland at the end. Thankfully, it was anything but. The bacon maintained much of its flavour, but it also mingled with the stock, enriching it somewhat. The veg that was added later on in the stir-fry remained fairly crisp, though the onion was almost undetectable... Next time I try this, I shall probably add it after the stock. I chopped all my vegetables quite chunkily, which almost certainly helped it survive the cooking time, and enabled the pieces to keep their individual flavours. The cheese topping may have been a touch overdone after 30 minutes, but it did add some extra bite to the potato. The biggest downside was that the stock/sauce ended up soaking into the mash during the baking phase (and moreso, when the leftovers went into the fridge overnight), so I wondered if perhaps I should have thickened it up with a little cornflour... Something else to try next time.

The vegetable component can be altered pretty much as you please - peppers of all colours would work, for example - and even leaving the bacon out altogether isn't out of the question, should you wish to prepare a more vegetarian-friendly bake. Also, the topping doesn't have to be mash... I can't remember what it's called offhand, but there's a 'potato slices in creamy sauce' product that would also be suitable for this recipe. If sticking with mash, though, you can sprinkle with breadcrumbs rather than cheese for a more crunchy topping, leave it as unembellished mash, or use a seasoned mash.

A final note - having stored it overnight in my fridge, I reheated the leftovers in the microwave for lunch the next day (3 minutes on high in a 700watt machine). The mash and the stock/sauce had blended further, but the flavour was still good.

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