Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Pimp my pie

So it’s the Mothers Birthday today and I wanted to make her a cake. Trouble is she doesn’t like cake and I don’t like making cakes (you can see why we get on so well).  I couldn’t ignore the occasion altogether; it seemed unfair for me to be handing out birthday cakes left right and centre when she would be left with nothing. However I didn’t feel like I could really palm her off with a traditional Birthday cake either, wouldn’t that just be selfish on my part?.....To provide her with something she clearly wouldn’t eat or want just to make myself look like a loving daughter. I won’t lie I did consider it for a while, what can I say I’m a sucker for compliments. Then a light bulb moment….she did like pies, and a giant pork pie is a similar shape to a cake, right? The cogs were turning….

When I was at University my housemates and I became rather fond (read obsessed) with a website called In a nutshell it involved people with far too much free time (students) making giant versions of everyday treats like Jaffa Cakes, Mars Bars etc and sending in pictures of the process and results. We even tried a couple ourselves late one night, I blame the location and opening times of the 24-hour Tesco but really it was just a classic study avoidance exercise. We all knew it.  Understandably we, and half of the campus, were eating bakewell slice for a good week after. Anyway, I digress, basically I was going to pimp the humble pork pie.

With the enthusiasm of Michael Scofield in Prison Break I set about the structural design of said pie/cake. Admittedly it didn’t involve any full body tattooing but I did draw a diagram, on a scrap piece of paper, which I was quite impressed with. Unfortunately I can’t share it with you, I as I seem to have mislaid it…I needed to balance the size and thus impressiveness with how much pork pie one could actually consume, especially as we were going out for a Birthday curry. I mean anyone can politely get through a slice of cake or two after a big meal, but I dense slice of pork pie…I wasn’t too sure there was going to be many takers. It would keep for a while though, so I am sure we would get rid of it eventually. In a moment of doubt I wondered was this a bit weird? But it was too late by then.

I decided on a three-tier creation, each one filled with something different, rather like breakfast, lunch and supper…if you weren’t having a curry first. The bottom was bacon, sausage and hard-boiled eggs, middle was roast chicken, leeks, mushrooms cooked with garlic, thyme & shallots and shredded ham hock and lastly a cheeseboard and chutney filled pie. Ok, I hold my hands up I may have got just a tiny bit carried away this time…I just hope the Mother likes it.

Just in case you want to attempt this pie here’s the recipe, although I would strongly advise sticking to just the one layer. Don’t be alarmed when you read the quantities, seriously this pie is huge. Literally huge!!!

For the pastry:
200g lard, chopped into cubes
200g butter, chopped into cubes
1125g plain flour
3 tsp salt
4 eggs
Bottom pie:
16 sausages, skins removed and meat squeezed out
small bunch chives, chopped
few springs thyme, chopped
2 tsp mustard powder
freshly grated nutmeg
8 hard-boiled eggs
24 rashers lean streaky bacon, I used a mix of smoked and unsmoked
Middle pie:
2 leeks, thinly sliced
270g shredded ham hock (I got this from Waitrose, you can use nice ham shredded though, cheaper to cook your own but time was of the essence)
2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced
small bunch parsley, chopped
knob butter
4 Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 cloved crushed garlic
thyme leaves
Top pie:
4 different cheeses, grated, look basically you need a lot of cheese, you’ll know when you have enough because the pie will be full
things to layer like sliced pickles, chutney, sundried tomatoes or whatever you like to eat with cheese

1 Make the pastry in a food processor, I did it in two batches. Melt the butter and lard in 425ml of water. Put the flour salt and egg in the bowl of the food processor. Pour in the water and fat with the motor running and mix until you form a dough. This pastry is very easy to work with; in fact it’s the only pastry I have any real time for.
2 Basically you need to divide it into 4 balls. The one for the bottom biggest, then separate into two. About 2/3’s for to line the tin and 1/3 for the top. The fourth ball is to decorate; you only need a small ball for that. Don’t worry too much about size to use for each, you can always add a bit more too the pastry, it’s very forgiving. And will stick together again like hot play dough. Line all 3 tins, roll out circles on greaseproof paper then line your tins (use springform if you can).
3 Bottom pie, mix the sausage meat, herbs nutmeg and mustard with some black pepper. Press into the base of the biggest tin. Make 8 dips for the eggs. Put these in. Top with bacon. Roll out the reserved 1/3 of pastry then press this on top of the filled pie. Press together to seal to the base and then crimp.
4 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Middle, layer half the leeks, half the ham, half the chicken, and some chopped parsley. Fry the mushrooms in butter with the garlic and thyme until just wilted. Season. Add these then repeat the layers. Top the pie with pastry as above.
5 Top. Layer up the cheese with your chosen fillings. Pace the lid on as above. Roll out the 4th ball of pastry and cut out leaves or whatever you want to decorate with. Stick these on each pie.
6 Cook the two smaller on one oven shelf, bigger on it’s own. For 40 mins, then take out remove the tins, brush with a beaten egg and cook for about 30 mins more. They will be a dark, golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
7 Once cool, stack on top of each other. Do this just before presenting for your own sanity. I spent hours watching it like a crazy pie voyeur scared it was going to explode. It didn’t but I’ll never get those hours back.  Learn from my mistakes. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

It all tastes the same at 34,000 ft.

As I tap away this week I am at 34,000 ft sitting on a rather lovely new Airbus (it’s only 2 weeks old I have just been informed). I ‘m not the best flyer and I am still undecided as to whether or not this is a comfort. I’ll let you know if we arrive in one piece….in fact if you’re reading this we did!

Although I love a trip abroad as much as anyone I can’t help but feel that the magic of the actual journey to said destination has disappeared somewhat as I have become older. A full night’s sleep the eve of the holiday would always be impossible, way too excited. The Mother was (and still is) a bit of a panicker when it comes to getting to the airport on time. I can remember being bundled into a freezing car in what felt like the middle of the night to embark on the holiday adventure. Hours of fun would ensue at London Gatwick airport whereby my brother and I would try to persuade the parents into purchasing some kind of duty free item. Normally batteries. The Discman took about 8 AA’s if I remember correctly and we couldn’t possibly run out. Someone would get lost, at least once. We would all have fallen out with each other and made up at least twice before boarding time. Where we would then inevitably visit the wrong gate first.

The real fun began when we slipped into our seats aboard our 747 or whatever craft it happened to be. As soon as you walked down that corridor you would be able to smell the inflight meal.  Sweating food sitting in its little aluminum tray, ready to be peeled back for inspection. For me, the magic was in discovering what the food would be. All those little sections in your tray each brimming with some equally inedible but brilliant food item. There were always carrots too I’m sure, regardless of the time of day.

Then the swaps would commence. “Are you eating that sausage, I’ll give you my roll for that if you want?” “Gimmie your chocolate as well and you’re on.” We normally had two rows behind each other and so the trading would start until we all felt we’d had a pretty decent meal.

The rise in air travel and the emergence of budget airlines has seen the end of the short haul inflight meal and while I never was a fan of the food I miss the occasion of it all. The anticipation and surprise, the smell, the condensation, the swapping. I tend to make do with a bag of mini cheddars and a warm white wine now, but I always remember the good old days. Love them or hate them inflight meals signaled the start of what would surely be a wonderful holiday. 

And if you ask me everything tastes the same at 34,000 feet anyway….Apart from the egg sandwiches. I’d give them a miss if I were you.
The glory days...

The safest option.

The "egg" sandwich. So generously filled. 


Friday, 10 May 2013

Steak night

I was in the garden enjoying the sunshine and chatting with the Mother this week when she turns to me and says, “You’ll probably meet your next boyfriend in the supermarket, most people meet their partners in the supermarket.” I am not sure which alarmed me the most, the fact that this was clearly based on no actual statistics or scientific research (I would hope) or that my social life was apparently so dire she thought that the supermarket was my only hope. She did have a point though- I usually went to at least one supermarket everyday. Testing recipes usually requires a daily shop and there’s always some strange ingredient you can’t find, or forget to buy. I don’t think she had really thought through the logistics of this plan either. Namely because 95% of the time the Mother came to Morrison’s with me, we never spoke to anyone during our trips, apart from the butcher (he was well over 60 so don’t go getting any ideas) and it was almost always full of women or OAP’s. I was doomed.

Moving on, cooking for just one is one of the many benefits of being single. You can have whatever you want to eat whenever you want it without having to consider anyone else. Feel like a bowl of ice cream for dinner? Go for it, bacon sandwich? Why not, fish fingers and beans? Sure. In my experience men want a proper meal each night, and you can’t just fob them off with a sandwich for tea.

In fact I’d say some of my best recipes have been invented when I am just cooking to please myself, there’s much less risk too. If it doesn’t turn out as expected nobodies dinner is ruined and there is always the backup of toast. That is another great dinner for one. Toast. What a magical invention. I like to cut each slice into fingers and spread each one with a different topping. If you eat them without looking it’s like a toast lottery. Ok maybe the Mother is right, I need to work on the social life.

The ultimate treat when cooking just for one has got to be a nice piece of steak. You can afford to get a really great cut when it’s just you and why not. Eaten with chips, peppercorn sauce and a nice glass of wine it’s the perfect night in! I like my steak hardly cooked at all so I tend to go for a fillet. The best thing about this recipe is the sauce is made while the steak rests, so it’s really quick, and there’s no one there to nick your last chip! Give it a go next time you’re lucky enough to be home alone.

Steak, chips & peppercorn sauce
Serves 1 Takes about 45 minutes

1-2 baking potatoes, (depeding on hunger) skin lefto on & cut into chunky chips
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp vinegar
pinch chilli flakes
salt and lots of fresh black pepper
knob butter and a splash of oil
1 steak of your choice
good splash brandy
175ml beef stock
2 tbsp extra thick double cream
watercress, to serve

1 Turn oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Cover chips in cold, salted water in a small pan and bring up to the boil. Turn off immediately and then drain and steam dry for a few minutes in a colander. Toss in a bowl with the oil, vinegar, chilli flakes and lots of salt and black pepper. Tip onto a baking parchment lined flat baking tray and spread out in a single layer. Cook for 30-40 minutes, turning half way though until really crispy and golden.
2 Meanwhile, take your steak out the fridge about 20 minutes before you cook it to come up to room temperature. Season it with salt and pepper. About 10 minutes before your chips are done heat the butter and oil in a pan, you want it nice and hot and the butter to be foaming. Cook the steak for about 2 minutes each side then brown around the edge too for about a minute for quite rare, adding an extra 30 seconds for medium and as long as you want for well done. Remove and rest in a warm place while you make the sauce.
3 Tip in the brandy and set alight to burn off some of the alcohol then add the stock and reduce by half. Finally stir in the cream and pepper with a little salt and stir until smooth. Plate up with a bit of watercress, should you wish, and eat.