Minced Beef and Onion Pie

Mince and Onion Pie

Pie!

Last week was British Pie Week and it would be rude not to take part even though we don’t really need an excuse for pie in our house.  I had already made an apple pie earlier in the week but this beauty was our dinner on Saturday evening.

There’s nothing new about pie, they have been around for a long time with evidence of ancient Greeks and Egyptians making a paste of ground grains and filling it with honey for flavour and energy.

The word “pie”  covers a vast range of different foods:  A classic pie is completely enclosed in pastry – top and bottom, like this one.  A pie might just have a filled pastry base, although this is more commonly called a flan or tart.  It may even have a potato top like shepherd’s pie or fish pie.  However, I refuse to accept that “pot pie” is a pie.  There is nothing more disappointing than settling down in a cosy pub, ordering a classic steak and kidney pie and being served a bowl of stew with a puff pastry disk plonked on top.  That just doesn’t do it for me!

There are two main decisions to be made when making a pie; what filling to make and what kind of pastry to encase it in.  Rich meat pies with gravy work well with shortcrust pastry or a thicker, more robust suet crust.  Fruit pies can be made with puff or shortcrust but I much prefer a sweet pâte sucrée. A classic pork pie needs a hot water crust.  A drier filling, such as cheese and onion or vegetable works best with a crisp shortcrust too.

When I decided to make a minced beef and onion pie I was certain that I wanted to use shortcrust pastry.  A suet crust might have been a better but I was deep in the realms of nostalgia and I knew what I wanted:

Martin and I both grew up in Northwich in Cheshire.  As a child I was never allowed to eat in the street, it just wasn’t the done thing.  As a teenager I discovered the illicit joy of buying and eating hot food straight from the shop and once I met Martin one of the things we loved to eat most was a pie from Birtwistles Butcher’s.  The meat and potato was wonderful but the steak and kidney was a thing of beauty.  Good quality minced meat in a delicious gravy encased in a crisp pastry case.  Eating it straight from the bag was nigh on impossible but that never stopped us from trying.  Once the pastry dam was broken meat and gravy the temperature of molten lava would fow out and you would find yourself with pastry shards in a bag full of hot mince.  Somehow, the impossibility of it was part of the pleasure.

Martin and I were up in Northwich visiting family earlier this year and, finding ourselves in the town centre at lunch time, we opted for a steak pie each.  They were exactly as we remembered them, just as delicious and just as unmanageable.  Heaven.

This pie does not attempt in any way to replicate the Birtwistle pie (I wouldn’t know how) but I did want to aim for a rich flavoursome gravy and a thin crust.  I used Guinness West Indies Porter in my gravy beacuse I like the rich deep flavour it gives.  You can choose any ale you like or leave the beer out althogether and use extra beef stock, it is entirely up to you.  I used a fresh beef stock too but you may choose not to.

This recipe makes quite a lot of gravy – too much gravy can lead to a soggy bottom on the pie but you really don’t want a dry filling.  There is always a little bit of tension between the two.  There are two ways to combat this: try heating a baking tray in the oven and place your pie on that to bake – it helps to crisp up the pastry on the base of your pie.  You can also try draining some (not all) of the gravy off the mince before you fill your pie.  Keep the gravy and serve it with the cooked pie.  It all depends on how upset you get about a soggy bottom!

This pie is best served on a plate with vegetables but you could always put it in a paper bag if you prefer!

Minced Beef and Onion Pie

Ingredients

(Serves 4-6)

For the Filling

2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

500g / 1lb 2oz Minced Beef

1 Onion (chopped)

1 Medium Carrot (peeled and cut into small dice)

1 Stick Celery (thinly sliced)

2 Bay Leaves

1.5 Tbsp Plain Flour

250ml / 9fl oz Beer (see above)

250ml / 9 fl oz Beef Stock

A Splash of Worcestershire Sauce

For the Pastry

350g / 12 oz Plain Flour

175g / 6 oz Fat (Butter or half butter/half lard)

3 – 4 tbsp Cold Water

1 Egg Yolk (to glaze)

Method

Make the filling

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and add the onion, celery, carrots and bay leaves.  Sweat gently until the carrot is cooked and the onions are soft and translucent.  Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

Tip the minced beef into the pan and break up with a spatula.  Keep cooking until it is all well browned.  Return the vegetables to the pan with the meat.  Tip in the flour and stir well (don’t let it stick).

Pour in the beer, stir well and bring to the boil, simmer for five minutes stirring occasionally then add the beef stock.  Bring back to the boil, stir well and simmer once again for a minute or two.  Add the Worcestershire sauce and taste.  Season if needed.  Set aside to cool.

Make the Pastry

Put the flour and diced butter (or butter and lard) into a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Alternatively, put the flour into a large bowl and rub the ingredients in with your fingertips.  Add the water a little at a time (you may not need it all) and mix until the pastry comes together into a dough.  Knead briefly (handle pastry as little as possible.  Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Grease an 8” metal pie dish.

Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a floured work surface until it is slightly larger than the pie dish. Gently drape the pastry over the dish, pressing firmly into the corners.

Pour the cooled pie filling into the pastry case.  Roll out the remaining pastry and use it to cover the top of the pie.

Trim off the excess pastry and crimp the edges.  Cut a hole (steam vent) in the middle of the pastry top.  Use the pastry trimmings to cut out decorative shaped and place them on the top of the pie.  Mix the egg yolk with 1 tsp cold water and use to glaze the top of the pie.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.  Serve with Carrots and green veg.

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Apple Pie

 

Apple Pie

It is British Pie Week and it seems like the whole country is celebrating the joy of cooking (and of course eating) pie.  I have been following a few other bloggers and everyone seems to be doing very clever pies but I just couldn’t make my mind up.

I asked my lovely Facebook followers for their ideas and actually, most people suggested the classics; cheese and onion, steak and ale, pork or apple.  I went to bed thinking steak and ale but woke up this morning wanting apple.  As always my belly won.

Apple pie always reminds me of visits to my maternal grandmother’s; my nana’s.  My nana always had pie in the house.  Open the pantry door and you could guarantee to find a choice of fruit pie or treacle tart and probably a cake or two.  You will probably be surprised to discover that there was only my nana and grandad and one uncle living in the house by this stage but she was permanently ready for visitors which may well have included a number of her seventeen grandchildren.  We all loved nana’s pantry.

As an adult I know that her apple pie was way too sweet with thick pastry and not enough fruit but as a child I really didn’t care.

I like my pie to be made with a sweet pastry rather than shortcrust and with lots of fruit.  I tend to use Bramley apples because they add a sharp element but if you use eating apples add less sugar.  I also start cooking the apples before I put them in the pie.  I find that if you put them in raw they can still have too much bite when the pie is baked.  Don’t cook them too much though or you will have apple mush in the pie and it really is better to keep some texture.

I also like to add additional flavours to my pie.  This recipe has cinnamon and raisins but sometimes I add chunks of fudge (use less sugar) which melt in the pie and give it a toffee apple flavour and I also make a delicious blue cheese and apple pie.

Yes, you heard me right – blue cheese.  Many years ago I worked for a large food retailer and we had promoters in store cooking with Torta Dolcelatta.  This was a fabulous cheese made from layers of dolcelatta (a soft Italian blue cheese) and mascarpone and the promoter made an apple pie with chunks of the cheese in it and it was heavenly.  I can’t find anyone who sells this cheese anymore (please let me know if you find it) but I still make the pie by mixing the cheeses myself.  You may just have to trust me on this one…

The recipe below is for a 9″ pie but you will notice that, in the photo, I have made individual pies.  That’s because I don’t have 17 grandchildren and I was just cooking for two.  If I made a 9″ pie we would eat a 9″ pie!  If you want to make a smaller pie/pies just halve the ingredients.

Ingredients

For the Pastry

425g / 15oz Plain Flour

100g / 4oz Caster Sugar

250g / 9oz Butter

1 Egg plus 2 Egg Yolks

For the Pie Filling

6 or 7 Large Bramley Apples

Juice of 1 Lemon

15g Butter (plus extra for greasing the flan tin)

100g Demerara Sugar

100g Raisins

2 tsp Cinnamon

To Glaze

1 Egg (beaten)

Method

To make the pastry

Whizz the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the egg and then each of the yolks, one at a time with the food processor running.  Stop as soon as it is all combined.  Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and bring the pastry together with your hands.  Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 and grease a 9” / 23cm deep flan tin.

Prepare the filling.

Put the butter, lemon juice and demerara sugar in a large sauté pan over a low heat.  Peel, core and slice the apples and add to the pan once the butter has melted.  Add the cinnamon and raisins.  Toss the apple slices in the mix and cook for two or three minutes.  Don’t let the apple slices break down, you just want to give them a head start.  Turn the heat up high to dry off any excess liquid.  Set aside to cool.

Roll out 2/3 of the pastry into a rough circle about 13/14” in diameter (re-wrap the rest and put it back in the fridge while you work).  Lift the rolled out pastry using the rolling pin and use it to line the flan tin.  Press the pastry gently but firmly into the corners and leave a little extra hanging over the rim.  Roll out the remaining pastry into a circle about 10” in diameter.

Pile the cooled apple filling into the pastry case and level.  Top with the pastry circle, trim off any excess and crimp the edges.  Re-roll the trimmings and cut out decorative shapes.  Place the decorations on the pie top and brush the whole thing with the beaten egg,

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crisped.

Eat it hot, warm or cold, served with double cream, ice-cream, clotted cream or custard – whatever takes your fancy.

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Spanakopita

Spanakopita

Spanakopita is a Greek pie made from spinach and feta cheese wrapped in crisp filo pastry.

I would like to tell you tales of Greek sunshine and ouzo but, actually, the first time I ate it was in the Lake District.  We were on our way home at the end of a week’s holiday and we had just called in at a deli in Ambleside to buy picnic food for the journey home.  We made the classic mistake of going into a really good deli when we were hungry and we bought a little bit of everything off the counter; olives, marinated artichokes, roasted peppers, crusty bread and…spanakopita.  I had no idea what it was but it looked really tasty.  I was right; we ate it in the car before we even left the car park and it was really delicious.  We seriously considered going back for more.

I have since eaten spanakopita in Greece and I can tell you that it is wonderfully enhanced by sunshine.  We had been learning to sail and, after a fun but exhausting day on the water, we needed a little something to sustain us until dinner.  A street vendor was selling hot, crisp spanakopita from a little stall at the end of the jetty.  These did not look anything like the photo above but were, instead, compact triangles which looked more like samosas than the more classic pie but they tasted every bit as good.

I hadn’t eaten spanakopita for years but was reminded of how much I loved it when we had lunch at The Taphouse last week.  The “Tappy” is a bar in the village where I live and it’s only a five minute walk from the office so it’s a favourite lunch time haunt.  They were serving a spinach and cheese filo pie – they didn’t call it spanakopita and it might not have been feta but it was still really good.  So good in fact that I had some for lunch and then I went home and I made some for everyone else.

As with all “authentic” recipes there are about a million variations:  Some use dill whilst some use mint, some use butter to brush on the filo whilst others use olive oil, lots of recipes include ricotta but many don’t….  You begin to get the picture.

For the record, ricotta adds creaminess but it can be a little bland so I used Greek yoghurt – this gave it the same creaminess but also added a welcome sharpness to match the tang of the feta – plus, I had some in the fridge.

At the Taphouse they serve it with sweet potato fries (yum) but I also love it with a crispy, crunchy salad and some really ripe, flavoursome tomatoes.

Ingredients

500g / 1 lb young Spinach

3 Spring Onions (trimmed and finely chopped)

1 handful Parsley (chopped)

1 handful of Dill (chopped)

200g / 7 oz Feta

100 ml Greek Yoghurt

Nutmeg

Salt and Pepper

3 Eggs (lightly beaten)

100g / 4 oz Butter (or 100 ml Olive Oil)

12 sheets Filo Pastry

Method

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Place the spinach in a colander in the sink. Boil a kettle and pour the boiling water over the spinach until it is just wilted. Leave the spinach to drain and cool, then squeeze out as much moisture as you can.  Break up any clumps or, if the leaves are very big, chop the spinach up a little.

Put the spinach into a bowl with the spring onions and chopped herbs and crumble over the feta. Stir in the beaten eggs and yoghurt. Season well with salt and pepper and add a generous grating of nutmeg.

Melt the butter over a low heat. Brush a Brush a 20×20 cm pie dish or cake tin with melted butter (or olive oil) and lay in a sheet of filo (while you work, cover the remaining sheets with a damp tea towel to stop them from drying out). Brush the pastry with more butter / oil and add another sheet. Keep layering pastry and butter / oil until you have used 6 sheets – alternating the way you lay them to get even coverage. Make sure you have lots of “overhang” so you can fold the pastry over the filling.

Pour the filling into the tin and level the top. Cover the filling with more filo / butter layers and fold over the overhanging pastry from the base until the filling is well encased in buttery pastry. Brush the last two filo sheets with butter and tear into squares (six per sheet) and scrunch up onto the top of the pie.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. Serve warm, cut into generous wedges.

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Pork, Chestnut and Sage Pies

Pork Chestnut and Sage Pies

Just before Christmas I was given the arduous and immensely enjoyable task of judging a Festive Baking competition at The Driftwood Spars Hotel in St Agnes along with my friend Lisa. We tasted our way through mince pies, Christmas cakes, cheesecakes and biscuits galore and risked offending friends and neighbours with our decisions.

However, we were absolutely in agreement over our love of these tasty little pies and they won the Best Use of Festive Flavours category in the bake off. I enjoyed the flavour so much I bought one to take home! They were made by Ben Wheeler who adapted an original recipe from the Pieminster – A Pie for all Seasons cook book. Ben calls them Christmas buns but I have used a more prosaic “does what it says on the tin” title for them.

I haven’t had a chance to make them myself yet but I fully intend to in the very near future.

I had intended to get this recipe up before Christmas but there’s no reason at all that they couldn’t be made anytime – especially if you still have a cupboard full of chutneys and preserves to accompany them.

Ingredients

Hot water crust pastry

450g /1 lb Plain Flour

2 tsp Caster Sugar

1 Egg plus 1 more for glazing.

200ml Water

60g / 2 ½ oz Butter

100g / 4oz Lard

 Filling

900g / 2 lb good Pork Sausage Meat (choose your favourite sausages and skin them)

2 medium Red Onions, sliced

1 tbsp Cider Vinegar

1 tbsp Sherry Vinegar

1 tbsp Dried Sage

About 15 whole Chestnuts (fresh or tinned)

Nutmeg

 Method

For the Filling

Caramelise the onions in a bit of olive oil with the cider vinegar over a low heat – about 45 mins or so until cooked right down and sticky. Ben suggests starting with the lid on then taking it off half way through. Add the sherry vinegar a few minutes before the end and cook it down so no liquid remains.

If you are using fresh chestnuts roast them in the oven – cut a cross in the top of each one with a sharp knife, place on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to 200C for about 25 mins. Ben warns that some may still explode in the oven! Once cool enough to handle, peel and chop roughly. Alternatively chop the pre-cooked, tinned chestnuts – this is more convenient but will give less flavour.

Place the sausage meat in a bowl and add the caramelised onions, chestnuts and sage, along with a decent grind of black pepper and grate about half a nutmeg in. Mix with a fork to distribute everything evenly.

With wet hands shape the sausage mixture into 6 equally sized balls. Set aside while you make the pastry.

For the Pastry:

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Lightly beat the egg and mix into the flour.

Put the water, lard and butter in a saucepan, heat gently until the fat has melted and the water just boils.

Slowly add the hot water/fat mixture to the flour and beat in with a table knife then knead lightly to make a smooth dough.

 To Assemble:

Use the pastry while hot (as hot as you can handle). It’s extremely pliable while warm and very tolerant, you can just mould it around like play dough.

Remove a little bit of the pastry for decoration, then divide the remaining pastry into 6 evenly sized pieces.

Take a piece of the pastry, roll into a ball, then flatten out with your hands on a work surface into a circle a few mm thick

Place a sausage ball on the pastry circle and bring the sides up and around. Pinch together to seal and mould it around with your hands to make smooth.

Flip it over so the seal is underneath then tidy it all up into a domed bun shape, turning between your hands. Repeat for the other 5 and place all on a lightly greased baking tray.

Cut decorations out from the reserved bit of pastry (this is easiest once pastry has cooled a bit and gets a bit firmer).  Glaze the buns with a little beaten egg, stick the decorations on top and glaze all over with more egg.  Cut a hole in the top of each bun to let the steam out.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180° C / 350° F / Gas Mark 4 for about 45 mins. When cooked a skewer stuck into the middle through the hole in the top should come out hot. Some sticky juice will seep out of the hole and maybe through cracks in the pastry, According to Ben this just makes it taste good!

Can be eaten cold, but best when still a bit warm.

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