In the early weeks after Dashiell was born, my mother-in-law, Angie, came to visit. A transplant from the UK, she has lived in Long Beach, California for the past eleven years where, in her words, it’s always “80 degrees and sunny”! She owns a winter coat, which she calls her “New York coat” because she only wears it when she visits us. But this was the first time she’d visited us this deep into winter, and it was brutally cold for someone used to three-six-five sunshine.
Fortunately for us the sun was shining brightly inside. Andy had returned to work, but Angie and I spent the days happily holed up in our apartment soaking up Dashiell’s rays. While I endlessly nursed, Angie took care of me so that I could take care of him, constantly refilling my water bottle, brewing more coffee, making sure I had enough pillows, going to the store for supplies.
In California, Angie and her husband live on a diet of hearty salads and grilled food, but the kind of weather we were experiencing caused her to summon recipes from her years in England when her boys were children.
Those first few weeks of Dash’s life are a blur, but I remember one day in particular. It was snowing and Angie had ventured out briefly for dinner ingredients. When she returned, she took Dashiell, changed his diaper, and got him to sleep. She then ordered me, a perennial busy-body, to relax on the couch while she prepared dinner: classic cottage pie.
I remember how good and satisfying it tasted, of course, and how much Andy enjoyed it, recalling cottage pie dinners of his childhood. But I remember with gratitude that whole delicious afternoon and evening. Whenever I eat cottage pie I will remember the snowy evening when our little family was so beautifully cared for by my mother-in-law.
After that meal, I wanted more cottage pie, but I’m trying to cut down on calories and lose these last few pounds of baby weight, so Mom and I attempted to lighten it a bit. We created a version that bulks out the ground beef with pinto beans and we topped the dish with pureed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. I was worried about losing the potatoes, but the cauliflower had so much flavor I actually preferred it. Andy, always a purist when it comes to British cuisine, says it’s not classic, but we’re all smitten with this new version.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions , cut into medium dice
- 3 medium carrots , cut into medium dice
- 2 medium celery stalks, cut into medium dice
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 l ground beef
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup red wine
- 3 cups chicken broth , divided
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 2 cans (15 to 16 ounces) pinto beans, drained
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 medium heads cauliflower , trimmed and broken into florets
- ¼ cup milk
- ¾ grated parmesan, divided
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large deep skillet. Add onions, celery, and carrots; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for a minute or so longer. Add ground beef and cook, stirring to break it up, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Stir in flour until completely incorporated, then wine; simmer for a few minutes, then add 2 cups of the broth, Worcestershire, tomato paste, thyme, and beans. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid reduces to thin gravy consistency, about 20 minutes.
- While filling cooks, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower and remaining 1 cup of broth in a large pot. Turn burner on high and steam until cauliflower is very tender and broth has almost evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and process, adding milk and stirring florets between pureeing, until smooth. Stir in half the cheese.
- Turn filling into a 13- by 9-inch casserole or similar size baking dish. Spread cauliflower over the filling and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until filling is bubbly and cheese is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.