Monday, 26 May 2014

Steak and Doombar Ale Pie with Creamy Mash

Steak and Doombar Ale Pie with Creamy Mash

The best steak and ale pie I can remember is the one I had in a pub on the banks of the Trent somewhere in  Nottinghamshire. My friends and I had just finished our finals and my then girlfriend had driven up to my uni to see me. Spotting her car (something none of us had) someone had the bright idea that we should all go water skiing in a nearby reservoir. When it was put to her, she said that she didn't feel up to water skiing as she was not feeling well. So I did the decent thing and borrowed her car and took my mates to the reservoir, leaving her on her own in the flat to recover (can't go around letting people down can I). Anyway, we found this pub on the way back and their steak and ale pie was fantastic. You could actually taste what sort of ale it was made out of. And the meat just melted in your mouth. As ever this is my take on it (using a Cornish rather than a Nottinghamshire Ale):


800g of cubed braising steak
A knuckle of oxtail on the bone
Handful of thyme
plain four
1/2 pint of good nutty ale (Sharp's Doombar is my first choice)
2 beef stock cubes diluted in 300ml of boiling water
100g peas
2 large carrots, finely sliced
1 large onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
100g of mushrooms, diced
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
Puff pastry for your lid (I do know a recipe but the stuff you buy in supermarkets is one cheat that does not compromise on taste)
and egg for the wash.
Optional addition: 200g of mature, blue stilton cheese

For the Creamy Mash:

1kg of floury potatoes (maris piper, desiree or Roosters)
25g of butter
4 tablespoons of creme fraiche
250ml full fat milk
Salt and pepper


In a bowl, pour in some flour and infuse it with chopped thyme, salt and pepper. Roll your diced steak in it, to coat the meat. Then, in a pot melt a knob of butter in a tablespoon full of vegetable oil and gently fry the onions, carrots and garlic. When golden, add your beef (including the oxtail on the bone) and stir over a low heat until browned on all sides. Now gradually add all the stock and about 3/4 of the beer, just a bit at a time, and stir in as you do so. Turn the heat up so the mixture starts to bubble. Keep stirring so it does not stick. You should end up with a fairly thick gravy. You do not need it to cover all the mixture as once you start cooking, the fat from the meat will render and make more liquid. Add your peas and mushrooms. Now turn the heat down low, put a lid over the pie filling and leave it to slow cook for about 2 hours. Keep stirring it every 20 minutes or so, so it does not stick.
Now in an ideal world. Once this mixture has had 2 hours slow simmering, you leave it to cool on the hob. Once cool enough, put the whole lot in the fridge over night, then come back to the next stage of this recipe, the next day. If you dont have that luxury of time, you can of course progress straight to the next stage.
For the final stage, roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Enough to cover what ever container you are going to use to cook your pie in (traditionally a pie dish). Pour your filling into the dish, then pour in the ale you have left from your 1/2 pint (important it goes in at the end to bring out the beery taste that otherwise gets cooked away).  Season with salt and what seems like, too much black pepper. Pull the meat off the bone of the oxtail and disguard the bone. Give the whole lot a good stir.Then lay the puff pastry cover over the top, crimping around the edges with your fingers to make a crust. Cut holes or a cross in the top to let steam escape while it is baking, and brush the top with a beaten egg to create a nice, golden glaze when the pie is cooked. Then put your pie into an over pre-heated to 180 degrees centigrade for 40 minutes (or until the pie is golden).

While you pie is baking, time to get onto the mash. Peel and slice your potatoes. cook for 25 minutes or until you can easily push a fork through your potatoes. Drain, mash, stir in your butter, cream and milk. Then whisk until pureed. Serve up your pie and creamy mash with seasonal veg. And drink the rest of the Doombar while you enjoy it.

If you want to add an extra element of "Wallop" to it, while the pie filling is still warming on the stove (ie before you put pastry over it) crumble up 200g of mature, blue stilton cheese and stir it into the filling until it is smooth and dissolved.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Andalusian Salad (a Spanish take on a Nicoise)

Andalusian Salad

When ever you have people over for a barbecue, no doubt you always feel duty bound to provide a salad. But wouldn't it be nice if it actually got eaten rather than got thrown out at the end of the evening? A salad that tastes great? Really? Well try this one. I came across it last summer. My partner and I drove across Spain and ended up at my parents place in the South-East. We opted to go out to the "local" for dinner. It caters exclusively for farm hands and villagers and does not usually do food in the evening at all. When we went down there to ask if they could russel something up for us, there was a small handful of locals shouting at a football match on the tele, who at no time even notice that we had arrived. When we asked if we could eat, we were ferried into a side room (they turned the lights on as we walked in) and no sooner than we had started to chat over a bottle of wine, than this salad (below) was summoned out of thin air and put on our table (without any body needing to ask for it) while we chose what we wanted off the menu. I have to confess, it was the highlight. Yet another example of how some of the simplest things (a salad for heaven's sake!!) can  taste fantastic if they are done well.


Do your self a favour - buy your fresh ingredients the same day you make your salad.

A Crispy, cone shaped lettuce (gem or similar), thinly sliced and washed
1 Chicory (also known as endives) thinly sliced and washed
1 celery stalk thinly sliced and washed
1 red pepper washed and cut into small cubes
1/2 a sweet white onion (or 3 spring onions) peeled and cut into thin slices
4 salad tomatoes washed and sliced
A jar of white artichokes cut into 1/4s
100g of green olives
a tin of tuna chunks
2 eggs
A handful of peanuts
4 sun dried tomatoes
1/2 a cucumber, skin cut off and thinly sliced

For your dressing: 
3 table spoons of vegetable or sunflower oil (not olive oil as it has too strong a flavour)
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/2 a teaspoon of mustard powder
A pinch of Salt and pepper


Start by hard boiling your eggs. Put your pot of boiling water on the hob. Once the water is bubbling, pop your eggs in using a slotted spoon. Boil for exactly 10 minutes, then lift them out and put them in a bowl of iced water to cool them down.

The rest is so simple it hurts. Wash everything thoroughly and drain surplus water off. Put you shredded lettuce, chicory, cucumber, tomatoes, celery plus the olives and the white artichokes into your salad bowl, flake your tuna up and add in, and mix the whole lot up thoroughly. Sprinkle your peanuts over the top (some grated cheese as well if you fancy it). Shell and slice your hard boiled eggs and lay the slices, along with your sun dried tomatoes over the top. Season with salt and papper. Either serve straight away, or refrigerate for up to an hour before hand. But don't leave it hanging around. The freshness is part of what makes it good.

Now make the dressing - put the oil, the vinegar, the mustard powder, the salt and the pepper into a small bowl. Grab a whisk and batter the hell out of it. Until it turns into a viscous, cloudy liquid. Genuinely that simple - it makes you wonder why you ever pay for bottles of the stuff from super market really?

Taxing isn't it? - but don't under estimate how good something so simple can be. And I bet it all gets eaten!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cornish Fish Pie

Cornish Fish Pie

All these pies, casseroles and stews and other specialities in this blog came about as they were made of what ever ingredients were most abundant and cheap in that particular place. And frequently they were nothing more than a way of using up left overs. This fish pie is based on a modern example of just such an inception. As a youngster, I went to stay with a friend who had a holiday job on a campsite in Cornwall. Turned out; he was not allowed to have guests in his caravan so I ended up sleeping in the back of his car. Woken by sun streaming in through the windows every morning. One day, at the end of his shift, the chef who worked in the fish and chip shop on site knocked up a fish pie from bits that needed using in the kitchen. It was better than anything on the menu, by miles. Here is how I recommend you recreate a proper one.

Preparation and cooking time: 

Feeds 4-5. Takes 30 minutes to prepare and 45 minutes to cook


One or two salmon fillets (approx 300g) - skin off
A whole smoked haddock fillet ( again about 300g) - skin off
100g - 125g of king prawns (shelled - heads and tails removed)
100g of small garden peas
Handful of finely chopped parsley
1/2 a garlic clove
1 chopped shallot
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
1 kg of potatoes (floury, mashable ones such as maris piper, desiree or rooster)
150g grated, full flavour, mature cheddar
50g unsalted butter (split into quarters)  )
Freshly ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Chopped chives
1/2 pint of milk for poaching
1/2 pint of milk for your sauce
1/4 pint of milk for your mash
1/4 pint of double cream
Corn flour or plain flour


Start by preheating your over to 190o C.
Get the ball rolling by peeling and cutting your potatoes into slices and boiling them in slightly salted water for 20 minutes, or until they are soft enough for you to easily penetrate with a fork. Once boiled, drain off the water and leave in the pan with the lid on. 

You also need to hard boil your 2 eggs. Get the water in your pan bubbling hot first, then lower the eggs in one at a time with a slotted spoon and boil for exactly 10 minutes. On the 10th minute, lift them out of the boiling water and place them in a bowl of iced water to cool them down.

To recreate that desired "left overs" taste (which I appreciate sounds weird), you need to cook your fish in different ways so they come together in the pie as blended, rather than merged flavours. So, make a parcel out of aluminium foil, pop your salmon fillets into it with half of one of your butter portions and a small sprinkling of chopped chives, Bake in your oven for 18 minutes. While it is baking, put your haddock fillet into a pan (cut it in half if you need to) pour in half a pint of milk, which should be enough milk to just cover it (if it isn't, just top it up). Add your chopped shallot and the other half of your first butter portion and heat gently for approximately 8 minutes. Do not allow to boil. When done, lift the poached haddock and put into an oven proof dish. Keep 1 table spoon of the liquor it has cooked in. Discard the rest.You should still have time to lightly fry the prawns in the chopped garlic clove, a small sprig of chopped parsley and the second butter portion, before the salmon is ready. They only need a minute or two on each side until they are properly pink.

Add the salmon to the dish with the haddock (scrape off any chives that have stuck to it), break the fish up into 2 inch chunks, add the cooked prawns and the peas (which can go in raw or still frozen if you like). Take your cooled, hard, boiled eggs, cut into slices and add to the dish, sprinkle over half a teaspoon of paprika and half a tea spoon of cayenne pepper, and cover with plenty of ground black pepper and ground sea salt and give it all a good mix.

Now in a pan (re-use the one you poached the haddock in) melt your penultimate butter portion, over a low heat and add a table spoon of corn flour and mix together quite vigorously with a wooden spoon to make a yellowy paste (a "roux" if you want to be technical about it). Now. put you wooden spoon down and pick up a whisk and start to add half a pint of milk, one splash at a time, whisking furiously as you do so. At first, you will get quite a thick paste, but the more you whisk and the more milk you add the more it should thin out. By the time you add the last drop of milk it should be fairly runny. Add the liquor recovered form the pan you poached the haddock in and then, right at the end, add your egg yolk and whisk smooth. This should thicken your sauce to a "custardy" consistency. If it's any thicker than that, add some more milk and whisk away until it is smooth enough to pour. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour your sauce over your fish and peas. You want enough so every surface of everything is covered with sauce. What you don't want, is a big pool of sauce with fish and peas floating in it. So hold back any surplus sauce. You don't have to use it all. Then sprinkle the whole pie filling with finely chopped parsley.

Mash up your potatoes until they are smooth and lump free add your last portion of butter, all of your cream and stir it together with a fork. Then slowly add your quarter pint of milk while whisking your mash so it's nice and smooth. You may not need to add all the milk as you want quite a thick mash rather than a puree. Then spoon the mash onto your pie filling and spread it across the top so you end up with the whole thing covered. Run a fork over the top to rough up the surface, and pierce a few time to let any steam that builds up while its cooking to escape.

Finally, take your grated cheddar and sprinkle it all over the top of the mash so it makes a beautiful crust once its been cooked. Now pop the whole pie into your pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes (or until the cheese is golden and crusty).

Serve up as it is or with fresh, sweet green veg. Spinach particularly good.
Great dish to plonk down in the middle of a table and let everyone help themselves.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Gratin Dauphinoise

Recipe for Gratin Dauphinoise

Now this is a totally self indulgent accompaniment to any dish. It is one inspired for me by the small village restaurants where my parents and I used to eat when I was little, and we would spend weeks and even months at a time with my Mum's family in Burgundy. I remember one place in particular on a cross roads of two roads that went to nowhere in particular. From the outside, it looked more like someone's house than a restaurant. And when you went in, it still looked like someone's house. Except there was small bar that was being propped up by a farmer with blue over-alls, a ruddy complexion, clutching a glass of red wine. He mumbled something at us through his bushy moustache, drained his glass and then stumbled out to his tractor which he had left with it's engine running outside.

My other over riding memory of this particular place was that there was a TV mounted on the wall in the kitchen (which was in clear view from the restaurant) which was showing an episode of "Starsky & Hutch" dubbed into French. And I will never forget the shock of hearing the bloke who was voicing the dub for Huggy Bear. He had a really deep, sophisticated French accent and from the moment he started speaking I could not focus on anything else as it just seemed so wrong.

Preparation and cooking time:

Allow 20 minutes prep and and hour for cooking.


500g potatoes (preferably Roosters, Desirees or Rudolphs) peeled
100 ml of double cream
1/4 pint of full fat milk
25g unsalted butter cut into tiny 2mm cubes
A small garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
100g of mild cheddar or Gruyeres cheese grated


Pre-heat your oven to 150o C. Take a deep dish (the one I use is 20cm X 13.5cms square and 13.5cms deep) and rub the two halves of your garlic clove, cut-side-down, all over the base and sides as this will secrete the juice of the garlic, and will infuse the dish as it cooks. Then grease the dish with butter.

Next you will need to cut your peeled potatoes into wafer thin slices. If you've got the knife skills to do that then good for you. If not, a kitchen mandolin is a great tool that achieves what you want quickly and easily. And if you don't have one of those, you've probably got a cheese grater with different cutting edges on different sides. In which case the side with the wide slice cutters does the job just as well. Lay your wafer thin potato slices in over lapping rows along the base of the dish until the whole of the bottom is covered. Then sprinkle your tiny butter cubes, dotting across the rows, sprinkle a bit of your grated cheese sparsely over the rows, drizzle with a bit of cream and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Then repeat and start on the next layer of potato wafers. Once you've finished that layer, before sprinkling your butter, cheese, cream, salt and pepper, just push the whole surface of your new layer flat with your fists. Add your bits, then continue until you either reach the top of your dish, or you run out of potatoes. When you reach your top layer, as well as the butter, cream, salt and pepper, also chop up your what's left of your 2 halves of garlic clove into tiny bits and sprinkle that over the top. Then pour your milk over the layers until it comes to just below the level of the top layer. Then sprinkle all the cheese you have left over the top. If you don't have enough left to make a proper crust, grate a bit more to make sure you do. Put your dish on a baking tray and place it in the middle of your oven and leave it in there for an hour.

And that's pretty much it. Serve with a rare steak and salad.

Dauphinoise can be prepared the day before you are going to actually serve it. Just make sure you let it cools thoroughly before covering it in cling film and popping it in the fridge. You can then just heat it up at 180o for 20 minutes. If anything, it actually tastes better the next day.

Now my family have always described this potato accompaniment as "Gratin Dauphinoise". Something I have continued unquestioningly. But I have heard those arguments from others who say that this is not a "true" gratin. So to those people, let me just say "bollocks! It bloody is! Right!" and let that be an end to the matter.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Spiced Welsh shoulder of lamb and coriander casserole with Moroccan aubergine salad

Spiced Welsh shoulder of lamb and coriander casserole with Moroccan aubergine salad

Total prep and cooking time: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

This is a great little recipe if you want to knock up something really tasty for a group of 6 people (or 5 very hungry ones) who like their food with a strong flavour, without being hot or spicy. I've sort of made it up, to try and recreate something I once had in a seedy little north African cafe, up one of the side streets off the old harbour in Marseille. There's a big north African influence in Marseille as the port has always been a gateway to Africa. Then there is Frances' historical colonies in Morocco and Algeria, so in France you see Moroccan restaurants as regularly as you see Indian ones in the UK. This one was a bit different, as all the clientele were clearly of Moroccan/Algerian origin. Most of them crews off visiting boats. The food was absolutely great spiced up with the sensation that you could never be absolutely sure that you were not going to get your throat cut before the night was out.

Despite containing a long list of ingredients this is very simple and very quick to make dish (only about 30 mins preparation - the rest of the time it's in the oven to free up valuable aperitif time!!)


Moroccan aubergine salad

1 Aubergine
1 cucumber (skin peeled off)
A small handful of fresh coriander leaves finely chopped
Fresh mint leaves finely chopped (about half as much as coriander)

Fresh juice of half a lemon
A 200g pot of Greek Yogurt

The Casserole

Get your butcher to cut a Welsh Lamb shoulder off the bone, remove any surplus fat and cut into 1 1/2 " (4cms) cubes - giving you approximately 1 to 1.3 kilos

You might be tempted to buy a pack of "diced lamb" from the supermarket. Please don't. If you really want to taste how good a dish this simple can taste, don't skimp on proper ingredients

120g streaky bacon cut into thin chunks (and if it's dried out a bit because you didn't wrap it back up properly last time you used it - all the better for it)
2 sweet onions (or 4 long shallots) finely chopped
5 or 6 garlic cloves, crushed with the back of your knife, then finely chopped
30g anchovy fillets
1/2 tspn of ground ginger
1 tspn of ground cumin
1 tspn of ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 sage leaves
Small handful of thyme (strip the leaves off the stems and only use the leaves)
A large glass of red wine
1/4 tspn of red wine vinegar
1 pint (500 ml) lamb or chicken stock
A table spoon of washed capers
The zest of 1 lemon
50g petit pois or small garden peas
small handful of fresh coriander leaves for garnishing
Salt, pepper and olive oil

Serve with couscous or rice.


A few bits of pre-work; take your shoulder of lamb dices, wash them, then salt them and set to one side. Similarly, take your aubergine, half it length ways, then half it again. Liberally salt it and also leave to one side. Leave both for about 20 minutes. After that, wash both so any surplus salt and the fluid which the salt has extracted is removed.

You will also need to pre-heat an over to 160 degrees C.

In a heavy pot of pan (with a lid), pour in a splash of olive oil and fry your streaky bacon for about 8 minutes or until crispy.Add your chopped onion and garlic and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.
Add your lamb and cook until browned all over. Pour in the wine and wine vinegar and turn up the heat. Let the liquid in the pot reduce down to about 50% of what it was when you added the wine. Now add your stock and all the spices, leaves and herbs and grate in the zest of your lemon (keeping the rest of the lemon as you will need it add juice to your salad). Give the whole lot a stir, put the lid on your pot and let it come to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove from the hob. If your heavy pot is oven proof then happy days - just leave the lid on and pop it into the oven. If not, transfer your food to a casserole dish, cover, and then put into your pre-heated oven. Bake for about 2 hours. Keep checking every 20 minutes or so, to make sure that it is not drying out. If it does look dry, add more wine. You will not need to add your peas until 20 minutes before it is due to come out (1 hour 40 minutes into the cook).

Once the casserole is in the oven, get to work on the salad. First, cut your aubergine quarters into 1cm thick slices and fry in olive oil, turning until they are browned on both sides. Then set them to one side to cool. As you did with the aubergine, slice the cucumber length ways into quarters, then slice into 1cm thick chunks and place into a salad bowl. Once the aubergine slices are cold add them as well, with the chopped, fresh coriander leaves and mint leaves and a squirt of juice from the lemon. Spoon in the tub of Greek yogurt and give the whole lot a good stir so all the chunks and leaves are covered. Then cover your bowl and put it into the fridge until you are ready to serve up.

Once the casserole has been cooked for the 2 hours the sauce will be almost black from the slow cooking. Once you have pulled it out of the oven, finely chop up some fresh coriander leaves, chuck them in and give the whole thing a stir.

Finally, serve up the casserole from the oven to the table and the salad from the fridge with a big bowl of rice. Give everyone a bowl and a spoon and let them help them selves.

Lush! But be warned, it is very rich and very filling. You don't need much.