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Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.

Are "Convenience Foods" always that Convenient?

Posted: August 16, 2008
by: Robert Jackson

As you may be aware, I am a great believer in making life easy in the kitchen. Indeed, my website Gourmet Food Revolution is in fact dedicated to proving that cooking really excellent food at home can be done without causing too much exhaustion or stress and without the necessity for culinary training! So I am always on the lookout for new ideas and tips and was intrigued, even excited a little when Delia Smith, the doyenne of Britain's celebrity cooks launched her latest book "How to Cheat at Cooking".

Now for those of you who may not be familiar with Delia (yes, the whole nation is on first name terms with her!), she was in truth one of our very earliest "celebrity chefs". Since the early 1970's through her books and TV shows, she has in fact caused quite a revolution in the domestic kitchen. Her recipes have always been stripped back to perfect simplicity, yet producing nothing short of spectacular results. In my mind, she is nothing less than a saint!  However, it has to be said that her latest book caused something of a storm amongst both her fellow celebrity chefs and editors alike. So rather than rush out and buy her book, I decided to research it first. I was intrigued to find a review in the Sunday Times by journalist Lydia Slater who like many of us, was intrigued.

So Lydia, a busy working mom and longtime Delia fan chose her "good old shepherd's pie". This dish is in fact a concoction of tinned minced lamb, frozen mashed potato, ready grated cheese and frozen diced onion. Doesn't sound terribly appetizing to me, but who am I to argue with "Saint Delia"! Delia goes as far as to recommend specific convenience products from particular supermarkets. For Lydia, that required a good hour's worth of energetic shopping going from store to store. Assembling and cooking the ingredients required a further hour.

As for the results, our intrepid journalist only described it as "okay" expressing her preference for her own, familiar recipe. She also points out that cooking her own recipe takes less shopping time and no longer to cook. Plus, the cost of producing what Delia describes as "nothing short of sensational" was close to £7 ($14) whereas buying a ready made pie, let alone making her own would cost only half that! The moral of the story.........? Keep it simple yes. Take some well researched short cuts yes, and don't be afraid to buy it in....such as in the wonderful range of dishes available from Gourmet Station. But don't be slave to every latest fad, and do be prepared to trust your favorite tried and tested recipes. Talking of which, this is an absolute favorite of mine, a really good old-fashioned, Shepherd's Pie.....and hardly a convenience food in sight!

My Favorite Shepherd's Pie Recipe


Serves 4

2 tablespoon olive oil

salt & freshly milled black pepper

1lb/500g lean minced (ground) lamb

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon tomato purée

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles chopped

9fl oz/ 250ml red wine

10fl oz/200ml lamb stock

2oz/60g washed and sliced button mushrooms

2oz/60g frozen peas

instant gravy granules or powder


2lb/1kg Desirée potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

2oz/60g butter

2 egg yolks

Parmesan, grated

salt & freshly milled black pepper

You will need a baking dish, about 7½ inch (19cm) square and 2 inches (5cm) deep.


1. Heat the oil in a large pan until hot. Add the chopped onion, garlic and carrot and fry over a medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes until soft.

2. Add the minced lamb to the pan and fry over a high heat for 3 to 4 minutes turning frequently. Season with salt and freshly milled black pepper Remove from the heat, cover the pan with a lid and carefully tip the pan to allow all of the fatty juices to run away.

3. Return the pan to the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato purée and fresh herbs. Continue to cook for 1 - 2 minutes before adding the red wine and stock. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Finally add the sliced mushrooms and peas, bring back to the boil and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes before thickening with gravy granules or powder to the desired consistency (personally, I don't like the gravy too watery, nor too thick). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool while you prepare the topping.

5. Cover the potatoes with cold water, season with salt and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a steady simmer and cover with a lid. Cook for about 20 minutes until completely tender.

6. Using a colander, drain the potatoes and then add back to the hot pan, cover with a lid and leave to dry out completely for about a minute over a low heat.

7. Now mash the potatoes using a masher (I don't like them over mashed and prefer to leave a little texture in them). Add the butter and season generously with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Beat in the egg yolks and about 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan.

8. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC/gas mark 6.

9. Spoon the mince into the baking dish and then carefully start to pile the mash (in small amounts) over the top. Once the mince is largely covered, spread the mash evenly and then rough it up with a fork. Finally grate some extra Parmesan over the top.

NOTE: if you're not planning to cook the pie straight away, allow to cool completely before covering loosely with cling wrap and refrigerating.

10. Place the dish onto a baking tray and bake in the oven near the top for about 25 minutes until the potato topping is crusty and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

This is just one of the many deliciously easy recipes available from
Gourmet Food Revolution

Robert Jackson


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