Gluten Free, Dairy Free Cottage Pie – it does work! 4

I hardly ever make Cottage Pie anymore. It is because of the mash. Zac doesn’t like it and won’t eat it. He used to like it, before we worked out his intolerances. So he hasn’t had it for a very long time. I have offered him the odd bit of roast potato mashed up with a fork – just as quick test, but he seems very wary of potato altogether. I don’t blame him. I think they ‘need’ butter. But that is not Zac’s issue with them. He doesn’t remember what butter tastes like. He just will not try anything new and is particularly wary of anything that looks fluffy or lumpy.

So not an easy task. But I love a challenge and am determined to expand his repertoire. He is still not four yet and I know his hunger as a growing boy and natural interest in me and my cooking adventures might eventually tempt him but I am growing impatient. All the books, Annabel Karmel, etc always go on about enticing fussy kids with individual sized mini portions. So I decided to have a go. I had planned to cook a ‘normal’ cottage pie for the rest of us, so it was no big deal to pull aside some freshly boiled potatoes for Zac and see if I could make a palatable dairy free mash.

I know a lot of people add milk to mash. I never have. Milk makes me heave too, so I always used to use a lot of butter and often add some extra virgin olive oil. For Zac’s version, I used some Pure Dairy Free Sunflower spread instead of butter. I know that Pure also make an Olive flavoured spread, so that might be worth a go, as I imagine it has more flavour.

As I only had the sunflower version, I had to go with that. It was fine. I guess I had two small boiled potatoes. I crushed them in the pan first with a fork and gave them an extra season with a sprinkle of salt. I know you aren’t supposed to use too much salt, especially in children’s cooking, but it is essential with something like mash and I almost never use it anywhere else, so my conscience is clear with this addition.

So next I added two generous dollops of the spread and worked it in first with the fork and then my masher. I tasted it and decided it needed some more help and that is when I reached for the extra virgin olive oil – just a small dribble to start with. I am afraid I always go by eye and taste, so it is difficult for me to give an exact measurement here. I would just advise anyone to add a tiny bit at a time and keep tasting until you think it is good enough to eat!

It added quite a fruity flavour, but I thought it was nice. It also has a magic effect because as you mash it, the olive oil seems to make the potato really smooth and it all sticks together and comes away from the sides of the pan in a very ‘clean’ fashion. Very little waste and makes washing up easier.

To make the mash taste even better, at the end you could add some finely chopped leeks. I didn’t do this for Zac’s version, as he is wary of them too but I always add some leeks as a final topping to the potato when I make a ‘normal’ Cottage Pie. They add a nice faint onion, very savoury flavour/aroma to the potato. As the dairy free version could be a bit bland, I would definitely recommend this final flourish.

I put Zac’s pie in in a little glass ramekin dish. I thought that if he could see the layers, and had a ‘special’ portion in his own little dish, that he might be assured that it was ‘safe’ to eat. I even decorated it with a few bits of sweetcorn.  Still didn’t work. He wouldn’t touch it. But I have added a picture anyway – as I was quite proud of it and will make it again.

I know most of you will have your own recipe for the meat part of the Cottage Pie. But here is mine, just in case you are curious!

500g lean steak mince

1 large onion

1 leek, finely chopped

2 carrots – diced

One handful of diced swede

1 Kallo Beef Stock cube

Half a pint of vegetable stock

1 glass of red wine

Half a glass of white wine

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 bouquet garni

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Half teaspoon of dried cinnamon

I always use beef steak mince, which is why it is a Cottage Pie. I can’t stand lamb and couldn’t call it Shepherd’s Pie, according to the ‘cooking police’.

So I start by browning the mince in a large pan with a splash of oil. Once the meat is browned I season it with salt and pepper and then add my glass of red wine. After the alcohol has burned off and reduced a bit, I add the Kallo beef stock cube. ( They melt into the meat really well and give a delicious flavour. These are gluten free and widely available in most supermarkets and usually found with the the ‘normal’ stock cubes. I add the rosemary and thyme to the meat and let it cook on a lowish heat for about fifteen minutes while I cook the vegetables etc.

I do this separately purely for speed and I also think the flavours of the vegetables come out better when they are not being crowded by other ingredients. I use another large and hot pan to cook the onion, leeks, carrots and swede. I start off by frying them gently in olive oil, once they are seasoned with salt and pepper, I add some chopped parsley and once it is all softened, I add the white wine. Once that has reduced, I add about half a pint of vegetable stock made with Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon – it is gluten free, organic and vegan (which also means it is dairy free and totally suitable for Zac).

Once the vegetables are looking nice and soft and the liquid has reduced by about half I add them to the meat. Before I do this, I give the meat a bit of a sprinkle with some cinnamon. Sounds odd, but adds a real warmth and richness to the meat. Let the cinnamon dissolve before adding the vegetable mixture. Once all are well combined, you can put a lid on it and let it cook for another twenty minutes or so. Keep checking and tasting. If it needs more seasoning or herbs, just keep adding them.

The meat and vegetable mixture should be ready to put into your pie dish about forty minutes after starting the whole cooking process. If the mixture looks like there is a lot of liquid, use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and vegetables. The liquid will then stay in your pan and give you the possibility of a nice gravy at the end.

The mixture in the pie dish needs to be quite dry and firm. Pack it down so that there is room for your mash on top. Obviously the mash also takes about twenty minutes to cook and prepare, so you need to keep several pans on the go at once – which is why I am so thankful for my range cooker.

You will need quite a deep pie dish, as it is nice if the pie is quite ‘tall’ – just looks more appetising. Preheat your oven to about 180 degrees. Mine is a fan oven and 180 degrees is perfect. The potato still browns a bit on top and that is when you know it is ready.

I usually serve it with some ‘greens’, I think cabbage and peas go nicely. Partly for colour but also for flavour. So the final gluten free ingredient is some gravy. I am rubbish at making gravy, but you will have some lovely leftover meat and vegetable juices that shouldn’t be wasted. So if you want some easy and safe gravy, you could use these and combine them with a bit of Antony Worrall Thompson instant gluten free gravy 

So that is it. It is possible to make a gluten free, dairy free cottage pie. This is how I do it. You can do it anyway you like, but I do think it is worth a try and with a bit of luck, one day, Zac will agree!!!!



  1. I’m sure he will get over his fussiness! O is GF and DF too and now loves cottage pie especially when the potato is really crusty which is helped by the olive oil. I use knorr stockpots for gravies and stock, has a good flavour and thickened with cornflour makes a good gravy.

  2. Thanks so much. I appreciate the comment and the encouragement. In many ways I should be grateful that he is careful about what he eats, otherwise he could get quite ill if he put anything in his mouth. I guess he has a certain amount of psychological issues about food and is probably just a bit confused about why I tell him some foods are safe and others will make him ill. I will keep going as I am sure that as he grows up he will become more confident and will understand what all this is about. Thanks for the tips also. Best wishes. Nicola

    • O was diagnosed at 2.5, she is now nearly 5 and thriving with a brilliant appetite. It is hard for them to understand why they have to be so careful, O has been to the point where she worried about everything. Mummy is this cauliflower special? It is healthy for them to question their food and now that O has just gone to school I am really pleased she does – I am panicking every day just waiting for her to flare but so far we are ok. I think…

      • Thanks for the comment. IIt is reassuring to know that others have this same problem and that things do improve.
        Zac asks if his food is ‘special’ too. Aren’t they sweet? Poor little babies. He is now very good at protecting himself at pre-school, with his natural wariness, and the staff have often remarked how he behaves so well when it is a birthday and someone dishes out chocolates or cakes. He just asks the ladies if there is anything ‘special’ for him.
        They have asked me to supply a little stash of safe treats for those occasions as they feel so sorry for him. But he is too young to remember it being any other way and doesn’t seem to mind. I guess that is the benefit. Nature is taking care of them by making them so wary. School is a scary prospect, so I can see why you are anxious. Fingers crossed the school will be on top of it. I am the chair of the committee of our pre-school and involved with the school too and only this morning was meeting staff to discuss epi-pen training, so I think schools are taking more care.
        Best wishes and I hope your little one stays well.

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