This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week five (pie week) of series three: a hand-raised pie.
The Great British Pie of picnic fame is not a soupy affair topped with buttery pastry that breaks into flakes and shards: the quintessentially British pastry is of course hot water crust. Hot water crust turns everything you know about pastry on its head: hot fat and water are sloshed into water to make a paste, which is kneaded – kneaded! – until smooth, then used almost immediately lest it dry out and crack. No resting, no turning, no coddling in the fridge. It can be – as Gavroche would say – tough on the teeth, but what the hell. It’s a strong, durable carapace and I find it can hold slightly wetter fillings on account of this without collapsing in the oven.
I was a bit hesitant about making this pie, namely because I don’t love chicken and am actually quite repulsed by meat jellies. However, with equal parts bacon to chicken, the taste of the chicken is not particularly pronounced (even though I only used thigh instead of the mix of breast and thigh as instructed in the recipe). The bacon also makes the pie very salty and for this reason I have omitted the instruction to season the filling with salt: I love salty flavours but, hand on heart, do not feel that this needs more than what is already present in the bacon. It might be different of course if you are buying traditionally cured bacon, which is usually less salty, but mine was just from the supermarket.
As to the jelly, in experienced hands it might trickle down snugly among the meat and provide an impervious, savoury seal around the meat, but in my case it just trickled down straight through the pastry, seeking out any structural flaws in the pastry (and, as it turned out, there were plenty). There were a few little shivery nuggets of jellified stock here and there, but I could scrape them aside without difficulty.
My reservations about this pie are purely personal: my British boyfriend thought it was utterly delicious and happily took the remainder with him for his lunch. If you are a lover of savoury pies, something sturdy like this – or the pork and quail egg pies which have had a previous outing – would make for excellent picnic food. I do think that British culture really inculcates that love of savoury pies into its people, and it’s hard to bridge that cultural gap if, like me, you missed out on it in childhood.
The episode of the Great British Bake-Off in which the pie was hand-raised shows the bakers struggling to shape the pastry around the pie dolly and, guess what, it is hard to do. The video which accompanies the recipe on the BBC site instructs you to set aside the just-made pastry for ten minutes before starting to mould it around the jam jars (you can buy pie dollies, but even for me, queen of kitchen paraphernalia, this was a step too far), though the written recipe gives no such suggestion. I tried several techniques in my attempt to get the damn pastry round the jars – at one point holding the jars upside down and patting the pastry down rather than up, for example. No method was perfect and removing the jars from the pastry was not as easy as the recipe made it sound. Finally, although I used the size of jar directed in the recipe and packed the filling in tightly, there was a scrap too much; maybe reducing the measure of meat to 280g each would do it. It was a ridiculously tiny amount to have left over.
A few weeks ago, the internet presented me with an interview Tom Hiddleston gave for GQ. For a few hours, I could not avoid it, so I read it. I read it even though I have seen exactly one film in which Tom Hiddleston has acted (Midnight in Paris, a tiny part) (why no, I have not seen The Night Manager); even though I thought ‘Hiddleston’ had a second ‘e’ (at the end); even though according to me the whole ‘I heart TS’ thing will probably never not be funny (I get that he did the interview to move on from this but COME ON). I read it because I kept seeing people mention that the beating heart of the interview was…bolognese.
Bolognese? BOLOGNESE. There was a moment, a moment where every food media outlet was suddenly tumbling over itself to talk about Tom Hiddleston’s Bolognese, which he served to his interviewer, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, apparently with a huge helpful of evangelical enthusiasm (“Tom! Hiddleston! Loves! This! Bolognese!”) but not, as it turns out, pasta. To be honest, I find this a little antisocial. Possibly a carb-avoiding thing?
I came away from the interview feeling somewhat bemused. Like…was it a parody? Apparently it was not…but it read like one? Or am I doing that British thing (I am not British, but have adopted many of their ways to blend in to their society better) of misreading American sincerity? But I also came away thinking the following:
It is so cold and I want food to warm me and this will warm me
Baking this in the oven sounds like a very good idea
The thing that distinguished the Tom Hiddleston Bolognese was the Three Bs: the inclusion of butter and bacon, and the baking as the application of heat. Because I live in the UK, I did not face the confusion US magazine Bon Appetit faced when considering what the “tin of tomatoes” from Brodesser-Akner’s notes could mean. BA writer Alyse Whitney speculated: whole? crushed? diced? sauce? To which I can clarify: in the UK there are literally two tomato products that come in tins: chopped tomatoes, or whole peeled plum tomatoes. Passata and tomato sauce comes in glass jars or occasionally in tetra-packs. Tomato paste comes in metal tubes or very occasionally in small cans and no one would refer to paste as ‘a tin of tomatoes’.
For all that my interpretation of this bolognese is inspired by the world of celebrity, this recipe is in fact a celebration of slowness, of patient application, and of time. It has depth and provenance.
I started it almost as soon as I rolled out of bed in the morning, mincing onions and carrots and celery while sipping a cup of tea; as the milk and then the wine bubbled into the mixture of meat, I washed up the dishes and watched the late February snowfall; tiny white flecks that moved dizzily. Then I kneaded pasta dough and covered it, and then I put the big, heavy pot of sauce in the oven on a low, low heat, and put on my gym gear and went, for the first time in a while, to the gym.
And then I went for a walk around the neighbourhood and the snow started coming down in thick heavy flakes which landed on my nose and didn’t melt for a disconcertingly long time. And then I went home and showered and took down the pasta machine I bought years ago in a charity shop and started rolling the pasta dough and kneading it and rolling, thinner and thinner, and cutting it into fat wide ribbons. And then it was finally time to eat, and we sat down and the meat was silkily tender from the milk proteins and time – even the bacon lardons were soft all the way through. The fresh, just made, just cut, just cooked pappardelle noodles were soft and delicate as voile and yet somehow had that springy, toothy resilience which makes eating them such a pleasure and so worth the work, which is not inconsiderable. And the house was warm from the oven and it was all snowy and blustery outside and my nose which had been so very cold had warmed up and regained its feeling, and yes, eating delicious food that has involved time and care, sharing this food that you have made and nourished, on a cold day when fat icy flakes are coming down, is apt to make one feel grateful, and I felt enormously grateful and happy.
This recipe owes, so very much, and so obviously, to Marcella Hazan’s classic bolognese sauce, to her method, down to the addition of milk, the scrape of nutmeg. Yet for all that it’s not her recipe, but mine: the addition of bacon, the veal mince, the measurements and proportions, the longer, slower cooking in an oven, where the dry even heat means the meat cooks until exquisitely tender and moist without sticking.
You may wonder if there is enough tomato in the recipe below, even considering that traditionally bolognese sauce does not use a lot of tomatoes; and yes, it is. The flavour really does concentrate over the six-plus hours of cooking.
I served this with homemade egg papardelle but if you cannot be bothered with this, just use a good quality dried papardelle. I must say, the bolognese sauce, while time-consuming, is very simple to make; the pasta is much harder work.
Not Tom Hiddleston’s Bolognese, or, Slow-Cooked Six-Hour Bolognese Would serve 4-6. The leftovers are delightful
NOTE: I cooked this for about six hours: three at 100C (covered), two and a half (uncovered) at 120C and about half an hour (uncovered) at 180C, and it hung around in the oven while I was rolling and cutting the pasta.
1 TBS olive oil
200g smoked lardons or pancetta cubes
1 small onion, about 100-150g, finely chopped
2 carrots or 3 small carrots – between 150-180g, finely chopped
2-3 celery sticks – between 120-150g, finely chopped
800g beef mince (mine was 10% fat)
800g veal mince
500ml whole milk
500ml white wine (NOTE: TH apparently used red wine)
1 tin of plum tomatoes
Melt together the butter and olive oil on a medium-low heat. Add the lardons or pancetta and cook for around 5 minutes, until they have cooked through and slightly browned at the edges and the fat has rendered.
Increase heat to medium. Add the onion and stir around in the fat; cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook together for two minutes.
Add the beef and veal mince and add a large pinch of salt and grind in black pepper to taste. Crumble the meat about the pan with a wooden spoon and let colour, stirring occasionally, until it has browned a little (actually it goes a slightly greyish-beige colour beofre browning properly, which is what you should aim for, but this sounds horrible) and no longer looks red and raw. Return pan to medium-low or low heat.
Add the milk to the pan, stir together with the meat and let it simmer gently until the majority of the liquid has bubbled away. This will take 25-30 minutes. If it’s bubbling fiercely, turn down the heat.
Grate in a tiny smidgen – a grating or three, no more than an eighth of a teaspoon – of nutmeg
Add the wine and let it simmer gently until most of it has evaporated away – this will take 25-30 minutes. If it’s bubbling fiercely, turn the heat down
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to a low setting. If you want to eat within 3-4 hours you could preheat to 120C, but if you want to leave it for a good long while, around 100C is good.
Once the wine has bubbled away, for the most part, add the tinned tomatoes, crushing them in your fists as you add them. Right now you probably have a pale and unappetising mess, milky and insipid-looking and studded with red chunks of tomato. Take a deep breath, cover the pot, and put in the oven.
Now leave it. You want to cook it covered at this low heat for at least two hours, and three is better. Longer won’t hurt, either, as long as your temperature is around 100C. If you are hanging around at home and can give it the occasional stir, do so.
After several hours have passed, remove the lid from the pot. You will see a somewhat reduced, darker and more delicious looking sauce that has not yet achieved the heights of flavour, depth and concentration it has the potential to reach. Quite possibly the sauce has started to separate slightly, with the meat at the bottom and a red layer of fat at the top. Stir it all together. If your temperature is very low, increase to 120C and put the uncovered pan back in the oven. Leave for at least two hours.
Around an hour before, or at least halfan hour before, you want to eat, increase the heat to 180C. The purpose of this final blast of heat is to concentrate all the juices of the meat and tomatoes together and to ensure that it arrives at the table completely hot and delicious and bubbling. The fat will once again have separated from the meat in an oily layer on top. Personally, for serving, I don’t pour this off the pan, but I do pick up the meat with a slotted spoon so the fat returns to baste the remaining sauce rather than ending up as a greasy layer on the plate. If you prefer a thicker, more mouth-coating texture, pick up some of the fat with your serving spoon.
While the bolognese is cooking, you have time to make your own pasta dough. You don’t have to, but you can. I think homemade pasta is for special occasions but a six-hour sauce definitely deserves it, or at least the very best pasta you can get your hands on.
2 large eggs
200g Italian ’00’ flour (which is very fine) or plain flour
Place the flour in a bowl (or directly onto your kitchen surface if you want to look like an Italian grandmother in a travel programme!) and make a well in the centre. Pour the eggs into this well and beat them until smooth.
Combine the eggs and flour, mixing with the tips of your fingers, until everything comes together in a big, shaggy mess that doesn’t in any way resemble pasta.
Knead the dough onto your work surface until it has become a smooth, shiny ball that holds together and has a bit of stretch and give to it – this is a sign you have developed the gluten and will ensure you have pliable pasta with a little bit of bite rather than someything crumbly. Incidentally, this is very tough work.
Once kneaded, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.
When you are ready to start rolling the pasta, clamp your pasta machine to a clean work surface (I often find the clamping to be the biggest challenge!) and divide the dough into halves or thirds, keeping the pieces you are not rolling well wrapped.
Dust the lump of dough you are using with a little flour, then set the pasta machine to its widest setting. Roll the dough through this setting, then fold it in half and roll again, doing this five or six times to work the dough and make it silky.
Dust the dough with a little more flour and roll it through the pasta machine at the widest setting, then fold it in half and set the machine to the next lowest setting. Run it through the machine again and repeat the process until you have run the pasta through to the narrowest setting. This can get quite difficult to juggle so do cut the pasta in half if you need to. (Note: if your dough is cracking and breaking horribly it’s probably become too dry over the course of rolling. Just roll it as thinly as you can).
Once the pasta has been rolled out to the thinnest setting, dust the sheet thoroughly with flour on both sides and roll it up like a Swiss roll or roulade on the short end. Take a knife and cut across the length of the pasta roll in 2-2.5cm intervals (depending on how wide you want the pappardelle). When you unravel the pasta to dry it out, you will have long strips of pappardelle. Hang them over a clean chair or similar to dry out while rolling the next batch of dough.
When ready to cook, bring an enormous pan of water to the boil and salt it generously. Add the pappardelle in batches and cook for 1-3 minutes, tops. Fish it out with a pasta/spaghetti spoon and mix it in to the sauce (or at least, the portion of sauce you will serve). Some of my pappardelle noodles stuck together a bit but they still tasted wonderful.
About once a month, a select (ha) group of culinarily adventurous friends and I meet up to cook and eat together. We rotate between each other’s homes and each evening has a theme. It is, in short, a supper club, or dinner party club, except that not every gathering is actually in the evening.
Our very first themed dinner was ‘Harvest Festival’ and, as you might expect, it was held in early autumn. Themes which have been particular favourites of mine have included ‘Middle Eastern Afternoon Tea’, particularly memorable because I served up muhammara according to Diana Henry‘s addictively good recipe from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, and I read up a lot about Anglo-Indian food and heritage for our ‘Indian Summer’ themed lunch – anything which combines food and history is going to be all right by me. (In case the name seems odd, it was an homage to the Channel Four show ‘Indian Summers’, which dramatised the final years of British colonial rule in India.) In January this year I hosted a Burns Night themed evening in which anti-haggis prejudices were overcome by suspicious southerners, and even the vegetarian haggis was well-received. (I love haggis – if you love a big, spicy, crumbly meatball I urge you to try it when the weather cools down). A friend’s boyfriend gamely read Robert Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’ in a broad Scots dialect, a feat which was all the more impressive considering a) a Scottish amount of alcohol had been consumed and b) it was the first time he’d met us, and standing up in a room full of strangers to read a poem in Scots dialect sounds like the worst kind of trial. (Indeed, as a little girl I ran sobbing out of a room full of people at the Belgian and Luxembourg Association of Singapore‘s annual St Nicholas’ Day party when asked to read a poem in Dutch – i.e. my first language).
More recently we had a Japanese-themed lunch, although it was called ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’, and was a celebration of both the warmer weather as well as the elegant, simple yet satisfying flavours of Japanese cooking. My friend Tina served us miso soup and stickily sweet chicken yakitori in her tiny Covent Garden flat; the windows were thrown open wide to embrace the sun and warmth coming in. I brought a salmon and edamame rice salad which was inspired by one of my absolute favourite bought lunches from Itsu, a chain which specialises in light, healthy Asian takeaway meals: teriyaki salmon on a bed. In addition to salmon (obviously) and rice, this dish includes edamame beans, which you can buy in the frozen section of most supermarkets, usually labelled ‘soya beans’. I much prefer them to the more British broad bean because they do not require a second podding after cooking. The components of fish, rice and bright green beans are easy to bring together. Such is the popularity of Japanese food that the ingredients can be bought at any standard supermarket.
It’s my friend Juliet, however, who shines in preparing food which is delicate (never quite as twee as ‘dainty’) and beautifully presented. She loves Asian food and predictably stole the show with some beautiful matcha cream puffs. The matcha creme diplomat used to fill them was rich, but the addition of whipped cream made it one of those dangerous foodstuffs whose saturated fat content is belied by the absolute lightness on the tongue. The floral taste of the creme diplomat was a perfect match(a) for the delicate texture of the puffs. Juliet also had some extra matcha creme diplomat with her and I can attest that, in addition to cream puffs, it is utterly divine piped or spooned into raspberries cavities or squiggled onto frozen yoghurt.
In addition to the crisp little choux buns, there’s extra textural interest provided by a layer of craquelin, which gives the tops of the buns a pleasing giraffe-like pattern. Craquelin is effectively a pressed Francophone crumble topping – a disc of flour, butter, and brown sugar – which somehow makes the whole thing sound a lot less like you need a Cordon Bleu qualification and more like something that can be achieved at home.
I make myself a packed lunch to take to work almost every day of the week. On most days, I have soup: minestrone, spicy tomato, browned butter and spinach (that one is amazing). I work in a tall, cold, imposing building whose silhouette dominates the landscape (no, it’s not the Gherkin). I have worked there for almost five years, having moved fairly seamlessly from my last exam at university to its Portland Stone embrace. Time, and a little bit of seniority that I have accumulated, have made me feel comfortable enough to microwave my soup in its lockable plastic mug and sip contentedly at my desk, building up warmth from within. At their desks, my colleagues in turn munch on salad (one colleague has a convenient stash of salt, pepper and basil-infused olive oil behind her desk, which she douses over goat’s cheese and leaves) and porridge.
My boyfriend, however, has in this time moved between several jobs. The kitchens he has described have varied: one had a microwave so crusted with layers of unwashed food that he refused to warm up a lunch in this biohazard. In other workplaces, he has had limited space for lunch, sitting chock-a-block with colleagues. In short: he has never felt entirely comfortable with bringing in something as sloppy, slurpy, and potentially messy as soup. However, I often draw the line at making something else on a Sunday night, and he doesn’t expect me to.
A few nights ago, however, there was a confluence of enough stuff in the fridge that I offered to make him a tuna pasta salad for his lunch. He likes tinned tuna and I don’t; if he eats a commercially prepared tuna sandwich I am guaranteed to rear back in horror. So obviously this was an act of great and noble sacrifice on my part.
The handfuls that I used to make up his packed lunch were as follows. Most of a pack of tiny pasta stars, a handful of which, and no more, had been tossed into a minestrone soup. The green tops of a bunch of spring onions, which for some reason I had had only used the white bulbs of. One and a half Little Gem lettuces. Half a tiny red onion. The better part of a jar of Veganaise I had bought in an experimental spirit (so yes, I used vegan mayonnaise to make a fish-based dish. Ho hum). A stalk or two of celery, because celery always has to be purchased in bunches, even though recipes will call for a mere stick, and as a consequence it wilts languidly at the bottom of the vegetable crisper. To this, just add the contents of a tin of tuna and one of sweetcorn (drained).
The point of this post is not so much the tuna pasta salad (although I have included the recipe for my version below – it was very well-received and can serve as the blueprint for your own fridge foraging). You can find hundreds of recipes on the internet, and most of them will be based on a classic combination of tuna, sweetcorn, mayonnaise and spring onions. The point is that the substance of meals can be found outside the pages of food magazines, fancy cookbooks and even the perfect world of cookery on the World Wide Web (there are some blogs which make me sick with envy, so perfect are the photos, so inviting the perfectly curated tablescapes of frothy white tablecloth, rustic branches and goblets of watery green glass). I love cooking from the shelves of cookbooks in my home, but it is equally important to be able to pull dinner and lunch together from disparate ingredients if you want to avoid filling the compost bin. You can call such dihes inspiration, or pragmatism…or just a great way to save the £3.00 a day you would otherwise spend on a Meal Deal.
A number of weeks ago two things coincided. One, I developed a sudden desire for beetroot. This is a very odd craving indeed. Beetroot is strongly, almost overpoweringly earthy, and difficult to cook – I find it takes much longer than most recipes give to actually go tender, especially when the recipe requires you to wrap it in foil and bake. In the UK it’s often sold cooked and vacuum-packed, pickled in strong, malty vinegar: an acquired taste by any means. However, I decided to go with the flow and bought a packet on the way home from work.
The day after I bought the beetroot was, coincidentally, a working from home day (I’m lucky enough to have one a week), so, come lunchtime, I could contentedly potter around my kitchen and pull something together based on all the delicious things in my cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl. The result was this colourful, punchy salad, which combines lots of great things. Firstly, the base is quinoa, a slightly grassy seed (a renowned superfood, it is often mistakenly referred to as a grain) which offers a high protein content (in fact it is a complete protein, rare in plant-based foods), as well as a relatively high micronutrient content, packing in particularly high levels of folic acid. I also like the taste, which is ever-so-faintly bitter. I combined this with the beetroot I’d bought – they were small, tender, and only gently pickled, lending some heft and a slightly acidic tang to the mixture. The flavour was punched up with some spring onions and rocket which were knocking around the fridge, and a slosh of lemon juice: sharp, peppery, bright. The whole was brought together with the cool, creamy blandness of avocado – such a calm flavour – and the lactic savour of feta cheese. Well, I used light feta (the taste was indistinguishable from regular, if you ask me), but you should feel free to use the regular kind. Halloumi or soft goat’s cheese would also pair beautifully with the grains and beetroot.
I find that quinoa is satisfying but doesn’t always leave me full for very long. Combining it with the high-fat avocado (I feel compelled to use the magic words ‘good fat’ here! Avocado fat is cholesterol free) keeps me fuller for longer, and obviously the rocket and beetroot help bulk the salad out. I like crumbling the feta cheese very small so that it is well-distributed across the salad and to stretch it out, so that each mouthful has some cheese, rather than the first few.
This recipe is for a dish I threw together at the weekend. We’d had half a bag of red kidney beans sitting in the cupboard for about a hundred years, and I decided the time was right to use them up – for whatever reason I’m itching to clear out cupboards and declutter. I soaked them a few days before (I store the soaked beans in the fridge until ready to cook) and, using various bits in the cupboard and fridge, I threw together a richly spiced, juicy, tomato-tinged red bean stew. It wasn’t going to make it into the blog – since it really was just a spontaneous, on-the-fly meal – until my boyfriend suggested it.
“This is amazing!” he said (it is really good – hearty and flavourful). When I told him it was my own recipe, he insisted I blog it: “The baking challenge is fine, but you can find those recipes somewhere else. You can’t find this one anywhere, since it’s yours!” He added that he thought it might be useful for other people putting together a meal based on storecupboard staples. So, I hope it is.
This recipe draws on Tex-Mex flavours: the earthiness of cumin, and heat, sweetness and smokiness from two types of paprika and the fresh red pepper. One you have this template in your head to draw on, you could vary it in all kinds of ways: using different beans – black beans would be great if going down the Tex-Mex route – or adding more, or different, vegetables, are the most obvious. You could make it fiery with chilli and add ground meat. But you could also gently shift the recipe’s geographical focus with some other adjustments:
dial down the paprika, add grated fresh ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric and sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander at the end, and it would become an Indian-inspired, not-quite dhal, for example (if going down the Indian route you could substitute various lentils for the beans, as well. I’ve made a version of this using urad dhal).Serve with naan bread or steamed rice.
To make something more Italian-inspired, use cannellini or butter beans, add two chopped carrots and two chopped celery sticks to the onions, and omit the dried herbs. Chop through some fresh parsley or basil and stir through some lemon juice at the end and serve with parmesan.
If you feel inspired by the flavours of Morocco, use chickpeas and add one or two chopped carrots to the onions. If you have any preserved lemons, chop one up and add it to the pot, and stir through some lemon juice at the end. Serve with couscous.
The above suggestions might not be strictly authentic (hence my careful use of the word ‘inspired’), but using these flavour profiles will enable you to put together a dinner based on almost any dried or tinned pulses you may have.
I use a lot of spices in this recipe, because I definitely prefer strong flavours, and I think the starchy, substantial red beans can take a lot of flavour. If you’re baulking at the idea of throwing in spices by the tablespoon, by all means reduce the amounts.
Dinner on a Friday evening – the end of the working week – is, I think, the most difficult meal to put together. By the end of the week you’re tired, thinking longingly about the weekend and dismally about the mountain of work still on your desk to clear. The meal plans I put together on the Sunday have probably unravelled by Friday and I’m left with either leftovers from three weekday meals (about three mouthfuls each) in unlabelled food storage containers at the back of the fridge, or maybe a couple of carrots, a sad looking bag of spinach and half a butternut squash. Probably half a cake, whose temptations now seem all the greater. By the time I’m home my imagination usually fails me entirely and I struggle with deciding what to cook – despite an hour of empty travelling time on the Tube to figure it out.
So on Fridays there tends to be either a bit of a rummage through a fridge of slightly wilted produce, or a capitulation in the form of a run to the local fish and chip shop. As good as the fish and chips and lovely as the couple who run the place are, this is not an option for me given the ‘dietary recalibration’ I am currently putting myself through. Instead, there are experiments with salad.
Salad! I have never hitherto really considered a bowl of lettuce a proper meal…and I still don’t. A bit of soft butter lettuce, a handful of cherry tomatoes, maybe a scattering of chives or parsley…this is the stuff of a side plate. To be a real, proper meal – satisfying, filling and nutritious – you need different textures, and it needs to be loaded up with more than twelve varieties of rocket. If you’re having salad for a meal, lettuce and its varients aren’t constituted of a whole lot beyond water, and finding nutritional balance is even more important for me as I’m restricting my calorie intake temporarily, giving me fewer instances in which to find the nutrients my body requires. At the very least there should be a protein component to keep you going for a bit.
So, a salad perfect for the Friday evening rummage (though no less suitable for lunch). This one is quick and offers enough interest to suit both a dieter and a non-dieting partner or friend, if those are your circumstances. The most important thing is that, in terms of taste, this salad is utterly rewarding to eat: delicate, slightly bouncy prawns; crunchy, salty lardons; sweet asparagus; creamy avocado. It all comes together beautifully. In many ways the lettuce is just token.
This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week five (pastry week) of series two: make six miniature pork pies with a perfectly cooked (of course!) quail egg in the centre.
Pork pies – who doesn’t love them? They are an essential part of British food culture, an indigenous tradition – and, much like the mince pie, not one I have taken to. Dense pastry and pork do not set this non-Brit’s heart alight, and the combination of eggs and meat is one I have serious difficulties with. I grew up in Singapore and scarcely ate any Chinese or Malay food when I lived there, and I’ve realised that the ubiquitous addition of eggs to meat stews and laksas had much to do with eat.
But to my British boyfriend and a dear friend these pies were truly delightful, with their fresh, meaty filling, the touch of bacon giving it depth of flavour, and the parsley a hint of freshness. For my boyfriend, the egg in the middle which was my personal nemesis was his favourite part – he described it as a ‘lovely surprise’ when he ate the first pie (as he wasn’t aware they were in there) and as something to look forward to. So there we go. It takes all sorts, really.
I actually ended up repeating this recipe (both batches eaten gratefully by the boyfriend and friend), and so below can go into some extra tips I picked up along the way.
This recipe is made not with shortcrust pastry, but the more traditional hot water crust pastry, which starts off life sticky but becomes dry and brittle relatively quickly. Work fast. I covered it in a damp tea towel in between rolling and stamping out the pie cases and tops to ensure it didn’t dry out. Don’t rest it as you would a shortcrust pastry. Lard – used in the pastry – smells disgusting, especially when melted, so be prepared. A food processor makes it easier to chop up all the pie filling, though be gentle – you don’t want to end up with a smooth, homogenous paste. Finally, I found using jumbo muffin tins about a thousand times easier to make the pies in than a standard-sized muffin tin.
Finally, reader – I did not make the gelatine. This was principally because the promised hollow or gap within the pie never materialised. My pies were crammed full of meat and egg and the filling didn’t shrink. It did bubble juicily out of the pastry, however, where it baked on sticky and black and actually looked quite appetising, I thought.
At risk of rambling I feel that I must add that although these are called ‘small pork pies’ they are by no means ‘mini’ – they’re small only relative to one of those huge full-size pork pies.
I don’t have very much time to write blog posts, and when I do, I tend to write about my Great British Bake-Off challenge. I love to bake; the challenge is, on the whole, fun; it’s what I do. But there is another reality, and that is, simply, that I am on a diet.
It is not a particularly fun thing to admit to (though it is much more unpleasant to do!). The reasons are primarily aesthetic – I want to feel happy about myself rather than out of control and ashamed, I want to fit into my nice clothes – but I have also been concerned about the way my body carries fat as I enter my late twenties: it’s undeniable that more of my excess weight is being carried around the waist and stomach, and belly fat is the clearest indicator of type 2 diabetes risk. I know people with diabetes and seeing their difficulties managing this very serious disease has made me want to mitigate my risks.
I have been dieting in the most old-fashioned way, simply calorie counting (using Myfitnesspal to keep track). I find it tedious and was very hungry and unhappy in the first week. But as with many things, it’s about adjustment. I can eat more low-sugar muesli than I could eat a muffin for a lower calorie count, so I eat the former. I can eat almost as many leafy vegetables as I want, until I’m full, for a low calorie count. The adjustments are both in the types of food eaten – endive salad instead of potatoes, fruit and veg instead of heavy carbs – and also, simply, in eating less. I’ve cut down my portions, reduced the sweeteners in my tea, and stopped nibbling on biscuits and cake. While it’s still a process, I am gradually learning to balance my calorie load throughout the day. Last week I attended a friend’s birthday party and ate a huge, delicious slice of the Hummgbird Bakery’s divinely moist red velvet cake, slathered in rich, voluptuous cream cheese frosting – and managed to stay within my calorie limit. Best of all, my slice of cake wasn’t associated with the feelings of guilt and greed that consuming sweets previously had for me – I shouldn’t, but I want it, I’ll get fatter, who cares I’m fat anyway, I might as well eat two slices. I felt in control of the process of eating and enjoyment.