Steak and Ale Pie

It’s not often I get to make something properly meaty. Being married to a vegetarian and having several vegans in the family means that my diet is 90% vegetarian as well, so when my dad comes to visit it’s always a good excuse to make something seriously meaty, and seriously delicious. Eating steak once a year, as I do, also means that I appreciate it when I do have it.

A quick internet search for steak and ale pie brings up 14 million results so, as you can imagine, selecting just one recipe can be a lottery so why would you choose to make this one? Personally, I always look at a recipe as a starting point, modifying it, enhancing it (or trying to) and making it as good as I possibly can. I made this yesterday and everybody gushed so my advice would be, make it my way, then modify it and make it your way, and you will also end up with a pie that your family will love.

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RECIPE serves 8

For the filling:

10g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1kg chuck steak (it may be sold as braising or stewing steak)

2 large onions, roughly chopped

4 large carrots, chopped into 5mm thick slices

2 tsp golden caster sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

300ml dark ale (I use Guinness)

400ml beef stock, or two beef stock cubes in boiling water

a small bunch thyme, bay leaf and parsley, tied together as a bouquet garni

200g smoked bacon lardons

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved

For the pastry:

650g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

125g fridge cold butter

125g fridge cold lard or vegetable shortening

1 egg, beaten, to glaze


METHOD

Cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and soak for 20 mins, then squeeze them out but keep the soaking water. Chop the chuck steak into large chunks.

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large casserole dish then brown the meat really well, in batches, then set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the pan, adding a drizzle more oil, then cook on a low heat for 5 mins until coloured and just starting to soften. Chop the soaked mushrooms small, then add and cook for a minute more, then scatter over the sugar and flour, stirring until the flour turns brown. Tip the meat and the released juices back into the pan and give it all a good stir. Pour over the ale and stock, and strain the mushroom soaking liquid through muslin or a J cloth into the broth, this will catch any grit released from the dried mushrooms. Season lightly, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for about 2 hrs, until the meat is really tender.

Chuck steak contains a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking, thickening the broth as it does so. It will be tough and chewy for a long time but eventually, when the connective tissue has all broken down, it will be melt-in-the-mouth tender.

While the stew is cooking, heat 1 tbsp more oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon lardons for 3 minutes until starting to brown, then turn the heat to high, add the mushrooms and cook for another 4 minutes until golden. Remove from the heat and, when the stew is cooked, stir them through it.

Remove the bouquet garni and leave everything to cool completely. You can make this up to 2 days before you eat it and keep it in the fridge for the flavours to mingle and improve.

Cube the butter and lard and add to a food processor with the flour and mustard powder, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Pulse until completely combined, then gradually add up to 200ml of ice-cold water, pulsing it to make a soft dough. Tip it out onto a lightly-floured surface and bring the dough together with your hands, being careful not to over-knead it, then wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hr. The pastry can also be made up to 2 days ahead.

When you make the pie, heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and place a flat baking tray in the oven.

Heavily grease a large pie dish and dust it well with flour. Cut a third off the pastry and set aside. Roll out the remainder of the pastry to a size that will easily line the pie dish with a little overhang, then line the dish. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork then put the lined pie dish in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is dry and biscuity. This will give you a lovely crunchy base to the pie.

Turn the oven up to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 .  Add the cold stew to the dish using a slotted spoon. leaving the vast majority of the gravy behind, you don’t want too much gravy in the pie. The filling should be slightly higher than the rim of the dish. Add sufficient gravy to cover the bottom of the dish, and keep everything moist while the pie cooks. Put the rest of the gravy aside for now.

Roll out the remaining pastry so it is just big enough to cover the dish. Brush the edges of the pastry in the dish with beaten egg, then cover with the pastry lid. Trim the edges, crimp the pastry, then re-roll your trimmings to make a decoration if you wish.

Brush the top with egg and make a few little slits in the centre of the pie, place back on to the hot baking tray and bake for 40 mins until golden. After twenty minutes re-brush the top of the pie with whatever beaten egg is left, this will make the top deeply golden.

Leave the pie to rest for 10 mins.  Meanwhile, heat up the remaining gravy and serve in a jug alongside piles of buttery mashed potato and vegetables of your choice.

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Apple Pie

I hadn’t made a standard apple pie in years, until this afternoon. I guess I’ve been so busy jazzing it up with blackberries, swapping apples for pears, and generally messing around with it that I forgot just how delicious a simply-made, straightforward apple pie can be.

This one ticks all the boxes: a simple, sweet pastry; a luscious, jammy interior and just the right mix of firm and melting apples. It’s easy to make, is great for introducing children to the delights of baking, and it tastes really, really lovely.

This is delicious served with cream or custard… mmm, custard, there’s something else I haven’t made in a long time.

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RECIPE serves 6 

For the filling:

3 Bramley cooking apples

4 eating apples (I like to use Braeburn)

3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar

the zest and juice of a lemon

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

a handful of raisins or sultanas

a splash of water

For the pastry:

225g plain flour

140g fridge-cold butter, cubed

85g caster sugar

the finely-grated zest of a lemon

a pinch of salt

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp cold water

Plus:

1 egg, beaten, for egg-washing the pastry


METHOD

First, make the filling. Do this first because it needs time to cool completely before putting under pastry.

Peel and core the apples, then cut the Bramleys into large chunks, and the eating apples into eighths. Toss the apples in a large pan with all the other filling ingredients and cook gently under a lid for ten minutes until the eating apples are just softening – the cooking apples may already be mushy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

While the filling is cooling, make the pastry. Put the flour, butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolks and water and pulse again to bring the mixture together. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and mould into a ball. Try not to handle the pastry too much or it will become tough as the gluten in the flour becomes activated. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Butter an 8 inch metal pie dish, take 2/3 of the pastry and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is 5mm thick. Line the inside of the pie dish with the pastry.

Tip the cooled filling into the pie dish, then egg-wash the edges of the pastry. Roll out the remaining pastry until it is just big enough to form a lid, drape over the top and pinch the pastry together. Trim off any excess and use it to patch any tears in the pastry – it doesn’t matter if the pastry doesn’t look perfect, apple pies are at their best when they are rustic.

Egg wash the top of the pie, cut a couple of slits in the top and bake in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes. Remove when the filling is perfectly soft and the pastry is golden brown.

If you wish, you can dust the hot pastry with a little caster sugar.

Chicken and Sweet Leek Pie

There are times when only a pie will do…

Family gatherings are when this crowd-pleaser normally comes out, the filling can be made the day before so you can spend your time with your family, rather than closeted away in the kitchen.

This delight comes courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the not-so-secret ingredient being the balls of sausage meat. The burst of savoury flavour as you hit one of those little delights is just one of the things that makes this a real treat to eat.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

a good lug of olive oil

50g unsalted butter

1kg boneless chicken thighs, chopped into medium chunks

2 medium leeks, sliced into 1cm rounds

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

3 sticks of celery, finely sliced

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp plain flour

125ml dry vermouth

250ml whole milk

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g pork sausages

500g all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

In a large casserole dish over a medium high heat, add the olive oil and butter and, when melted, add the chopped chicken. Brown for a few minutes, then add the leeks, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, uncovered, on the hob at a gentle heat for fifteen minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, then add the plain flour and stir into the liquid that has been released. Keep on stirring for a few minutes until it is all cooked in, then add the vermouth and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Now add the milk and a wineglass (125ml) of water, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook uncovered for ten minutes more. The sauce should be thick and creamy.

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins and roll into small balls. Brown the balls in a separate frying pan with a little oil, then add to the chicken mixture. Now transfer all of the mixture into an appropriately-sized pie dish, check the seasoning and allow to cool completely. If the mixture is still warm when you apply the pastry, the heat will melt the butter in the pastry and it will be ruined.

When you are ready to cook the pie, heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Roll the pastry out to approximately 5mm thickness, to a size and shape that will comfortably drape over the edge of the pie dish with minimal wastage.

Brush the edges of the pie dish with the beaten egg, then drape the pastry over it, sealing the edges firmly with your fingers. Trim off any excess pastry. There is no need to cut any holes in the pastry for steam to escape – remember, the filling is cold at this point.

Wash the top of the pie with beaten egg, and decorate the pie with the pastry trimmings, any way you like.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and risen, and the pie is piping hot.

I like to serve this with piles of buttery mash, and peas.

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, you will be familiar with the walk of shame. My wife put me through it yesterday, ringing a bell and crying Shame! at me, all around the kitchen. My crime? I bought a punnet of blackberries, rather than taking off to the woods to pick my own. I know, I know, but it was a busy day…

She changed her tune when this came out of the oven though; who can resist the meltingly soft, sweet and sharp tang of apples and blackberries, set against the rich, buttery crunch of a crumble topping? Not me, and it’s why I love every time of the year – there is always something coming into season that is a joy to eat.

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RECIPE 

For the filling:

3 medium eating apples, peeled, cored and quartered

3 Bramley cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered

2 tsp cinnamon

100g Demerara sugar

300g blackberries

a small pinch of fine sea salt

For the topping:

175g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

140g soft brown sugar

35g porridge oats

180g cold unsalted butter, cubed


METHOD

Heat the oven to 170C/ gas 3.

Prepare the apples, keep them quartered even if the pieces seem a bit large.

In a separate bowl, mix the cinnamon with the Demerara sugar.

In a baking dish, place half the apples (a mixture of both types) in a single layer on the bottom. Sprinkle with one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix. Now add all of the blackberries on top, again in a single layer, and sprinkle another one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix on top. Now place the remainder of the apples on top of the blackberries and finish with the final one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix.

Take a small pinch of fine sea salt and scatter evenly over the fruit. You only require a small pinch, but it gives the final flavour an immense lift.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry topping ingredients. Add the cold, cubed butter and using your fingers gently rub the dry ingredients into the butter until you end up with a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be evenly sized, and if you have a variety of sizes of lumps of butter that will just make your crumble better. If you struggle with rubbing-in, you can put everything into a food processor and pulse it carefully, just be careful not to over-process it.

Scatter the crumble topping over the top of the fruit, ensuring that everything is covered.

Bake, uncovered, in the middle of the oven for 45-60 minutes. Keep an eye on it, the last thing you want is a burnt topping. When it is ready, the topping should be golden and crunchy, and the fruit should be soft with the moisture from the apples and blackberries bubbling through.

Seeded Crispbreads for Cheese

These crispy flatbreads tick all the boxes: they’re easy to make, they’re great fun for making with children, they keep really well (in an airtight container), they’re endlessly variable (experiment with different kinds of seeds: poppy, hemp, mustard, fennel, coriander… anything!) and, most importantly, they’re deliciously moreish. They are suitable for everyone as well, being vegan and gluten-free.

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RECIPE – Makes about 30

200g fine polenta

40g milled flaxseed or linseed

40g whole flaxseed or linseed

40g sesame seeds

75g sunflower seeds

75g pumpkin seeds

flaked sea salt

80ml olive oil

450ml just-boiled water


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/ gas 2. You will need 2 large baking sheets and some baking parchment.

Mix the polenta and all the seeds together in a large bowl. Add a generous pinch of sea salt and the olive oil, mix well, then add the just-boiled water and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together as a sticky dough.

Divide the mixture in two, on two large sheets of baking parchment (large enough to cover your baking sheets). Place another sheet of baking parchment on top of each half of the mixture, press and roll the dough out between the parchment sheets until it is nice and thin. Remove the top sheet of parchment and place the bottom parchment, with the rolled out dough on it, onto a baking sheet. Score lines into the rolled-out mixture to enable you to easily snap it into even, individual flatbreads once it is cooked. Season lightly with a little more sea salt.

Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes until it is golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before breaking it up into individual pieces.

Simple Roti

These simple, unleavened flat breads have no business being as delicious as they are. They are extraordinarily filling as well.

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RECIPE – Makes 10

300g plain flour

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp fine sea salt

150ml water


METHOD

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. You may need to add a little more water, or a little more flour; the dough should be pillowy and slightly (but not excessively) sticky.

Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into ten equal balls, and on a lightly-floured surface press the balls into rounds as thin as you can make them.

Cook them, one at a time, on an extremely hot skillet very lightly brushed with oil, for 1 minute each side.

Keep warm, wrapped in a tea towel, in a very low oven until they are all cooked and you are ready to serve.

Parmesan, Leek and Thyme Tart

There are some foods I go back to again and again: a rich, creamy lasagne for comfort; a creamy Thai curry for its unctuousness; bangers ‘n’ mash for its echoes of childhood and, in spring, a soft, rich tart with a crumbly, almost biscuity pastry because, well, there are few things more enjoyable than lunch in the garden on a sunny spring day.

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RECIPE – Serves 6, generously, for lunch 

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

75g unsalted butter

6 small leeks, finely sliced

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

the picked leaves of 5 thyme sprigs

50ml vermouth

300ml double cream

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, and a little more to grate over the top


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While the pastry is baking, prepare the filling: melt the butter in a very large pan then add the leeks, salt and thyme leaves. Stir thoroughly, turn the heat right down, cover the pan and sweat the leeks for 20 minutes until very soft. By the end of this time, your pastry should be out of the oven.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Add the vermouth to the leek mixture, turn the heat up and bubble the liquid for 5 minutes or so, uncovered, until the liquid has nearly all evaporated.

Lightly whisk the egg, egg yolks and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, add the grated Parmesan then whisk again. Add to the leek mixture, stir thoroughly then pour the mixture into the tart case and shake gently to level it off.

Finely grate some Parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for twenty minutes then carefully remove from the tin and cut into slices. This is delicious warm, or at room temperature.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Beer and Cheese Bread

I’m always wary of flavoured breads; whether store-bought or home-made, quite often the loaf ends up too dry, too dense, too bland, too intense or just too weird to be a success. I keep on trying them out though, I used to make an incredible sun-dried tomato loaf, I must dig that recipe out…

I wouldn’t be sharing this recipe if it wasn’t impressive; I have only made it once and half of it is still in the freezer, but my wife made me promise that we would never, ever be without some of this on hand. She doesn’t praise easily, so I take that as a big thumbs-up.

Perfect alongside soup, or as an accompaniment to cheese, the flavours are interesting enough to enhance whatever you serve it with, while not being so dominant that they will be overpowering. It’s got great texture too; the secret is in a long, slow prove followed by a blisteringly hot oven so you get lovely aeration throughout the loaf.

Your choice of ale will have the biggest effect on the flavour. Stout will bring with it a rich, treacly darkness, while a pale ale or lager will be softer and more subtle. I tend to use whatever I have to hand – in this case a rather good home-brewed stout – but feel free to experiment.

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RECIPE 

250ml ale

4 tsp caster sugar

1 tbsp dry yeast

600g white bread flour

320g wholemeal flour

200g cheddar, grated

75g Parmesan, grated

50g milk powder

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

2 large eggs, beaten

2 tsp fennel seeds

egg white, to glaze (optional)


METHOD

Gently warm the ale to blood temperature – any hotter and you run the risk of killing your yeast – add the sugar and the yeast, stir and set aside to activate while you prepare everything else.

Combine all the other ingredients in a very large bowl, using your hands mix it well and start to bring it together – it will be heavy and stiff at first because of the cheese. Now start to add the yeasted ale, a little at a time, bringing it together and kneading as you go. You may well need to add more than 250ml ale, so if the dough is still too dry once you have used what you measured out, just keep on adding more from the bottle until the dough is stiff and holds together.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly oiled work surface and knead for around 20 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Work it into a ball.

This dough only requires one prove, so make it worth while.

Either use a round banetton, well-dusted with flour and covered by a large plastic bag that is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises. The loaf pictured was proved in a banetton. Leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.

Alternatively, place the dough on a piece of baking parchment and glaze the unproven dough with the white of an egg. Put a bag over it, ensuring that it is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises and leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.

Heat the oven to 250C, or as hot as your oven will go, with a baking sheet and a baking tray in the bottom of the oven to heat up. Turn the dough in the banetton onto the hot baking sheet (very carefully! Don’t burn yourself, or deflate the dough by being too rough), slash the loaf a few times with a razor blade or very sharp knife. Throw a cup of water into the hot baking tray in the bottom of the oven to make steam, and quickly put the dough on the baking sheet into the middle of the oven. Close the oven door and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 200C and bake 30-40 minutes in the falling oven until the temperature in the middle is 90C (I use an instant-read thermometer) or a skewer inserted comes out clean.

If you have proved your dough on a piece of parchment and glazed it, then carefully slide the parchment and dough onto the hot baking sheet. Slash the dough, make steam in the oven and bake as above.

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.

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RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Vanilla Extract

First, a word of warning: never, Never, NEVER buy vanilla essence. It’s a nasty chemical substitute for the real thing.

Second: make your own vanilla extract. It is ridiculously simple and involves nothing more than two ingredients. Even the most pure and expensive commercially-produced vanilla extract contains a number of additional elements, including sugar. You don’t need them in your life. What you DO need are two kinds of vanilla extract: made with vodka for a clean vanilla taste, and made with dark rum for a darker, more complex caramel flavour. Experiment with both kinds in your baking and you will soon be turning out cakes so good you would swear they had been made by Mary Berry.

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RECIPE – makes 100ml

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

100ml of vodka or dark rum


METHOD 

It doesn’t get any easier than this: put both halves of the split vanilla pod into a 100ml bottle (the exact size is largely immaterial, anything between 50ml and 120ml will produce perfect vanilla extract). Top up with the vodka or rum, then put the lid on and set it aside for at least a month. It will last for as long as you need it to, but if my experience is anything to go by you will use it up pretty quickly once you discover just how good it is.