Got too many carrots? Make a pie!

About a month ago, I moved out of home to live with my boyfriend of 5 years. Finally, most people said. Most people, except my mum.

I heard a radio DJ talk recently about the two types of mums: those who can’t wait for their children to leave the nest and those who are happy to keep looking after their kids and don’t ever want them to leave. My mum is irrefutably the latter and even though I have left, she still finds ways to make sure she’s still looking after me.

One of the ways she does this is by giving me groceries – bags of carrots, stalks of celery, onions, potatoes, bread, broccoli. The more I say “no”, the more forcefully I get these things shoved into my arms. There is no rejecting an Asian mum when she makes an offer like this (Good tip for if/when you ever have dinner at a Chinese friend’s house: when the mum offers food, just accept it graciously. You’ll be wasting your breath otherwise.)

Because of this, our pantry is full of onions, probably more than I would ever use in a year, and I’ve had to chop off parts of the celery because it’s withering away faster than we can eat it.

To help deplete these resources a bit before taking on more the following week, I decided to make my very first cottage pie, using chopped onion, carrots and celery. The following recipe is adapted from www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/775643/cottage-pie

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Serves 4. Or 2 really hungry adults.

For the pie:

  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium to large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 brown onion, chopped
  • 500g beef mince
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • Large glass of red wine
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 300ml beef stock
  • 1 tsp sage
  • A couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper

For the topping:

  • About 1 kg of potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 75g butter, softened
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 190C (non-fan bake).
  2. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan or large frying pan over medium heat and add the garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Fry off gently until soft (doesn’t have to mushy but do give it some time in the pan). I prefer to do this over a medium-low heat to stop the garlic from burning.
  3. Push everything to the outside of the pan and brown the mince in the middle.
  4. Stir in puree and add the wine. Then add stock, herbs, sauce. Taste and then season accordingly with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until stock is reduced. If it’s a bit watery and you want it like a gravy, try adding plain flour, starting with about 1 tbsp.
  6. Boil potatoes until soft, then drain. Let cool for a bit before mashing it together with the butter, milk and mustard
  7. Once the mince is ready, transfer to an oven-proof dish and cover evenly with mashed potato. Bake until golden.

My potato didn’t colour as nicely as I wanted it to, with some parts of it starting to get a little burnt, so I may try lowering the oven temperature next time I make this.

While the pie was baking I made some crispy green beans as well – cook in boiling salted water for about 2 mins, drain and immerse immediately into a ice bath or if you’re like me and you don’t have ice cubes or even a freezer, do some forward-thinking and get a bowl of cold water into the fridge before you start the pie. Chucking them into the icy water will stop them from cooking and going soft.

Then I popped them onto the frying pan with some heated olive oil and tossed them around with a minced garlic clove and some salt. Delicious 🙂

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

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Very dry mini meat mince pie

As a regular school tuck shop and bakery staple, the meat mince pie has filled my belly countless times. Sometimes the pastry is too hard, sometimes there’s a lot of gravy and not very much else, sometimes I feel as if I’ve just eaten a giant ball of fat.

Crispy golden pastry that gives way to a flowing, molten gravy of well-seasoned mince – that’s what a mince pie should be like. Once eaten, it should sit comfortably in the stomach, leaving only crumbs of pastry and a warm, satisfied smile on your face.

That’s what I was aiming for when I made my mini mince pies but unfortunately I missed the mark slightly.

I found a recipe on Taste.com.au and made some adjustments to it:

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 brown onion, halved, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g lean beef mince
  • 1 carrot, peeled, coarsely grated
  • 25g (1/4 cup) powdered gravy (Gravox Traditional brand) – I used equal amounts of beef stock instead of powdered gravy and water
  • 250ml (1 cup) boiling water
  • 2 sheets (25 x 25cm) ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, just thawed
  • 2 sheets (25 x 25cm) ready-rolled puff pastry, just thawed
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • Tomato ketchup, to serve

Method

  1. Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until onion softens. Add the mince and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up any lumps, for 5 minutes or until mince changes colour. Add the carrot and stir until well combined.
  2. Meanwhile, place gravy powder in a heatproof jug. Add boiling water and whisk with a fork until combined. Add to mince mixture and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes to cool.
  3. Preheat oven to 180°C. Cut the shortcrust pastry sheets into 24 even squares. Line twenty-four 40ml (2-tablespoons) capacity mini muffin pans with the shortcrust pastry squares. Spoon mince mixture among pastry cases.
  4. Cut puff pastry sheets into 24 even squares. Top each pie with a pastry square. Use a small sharp knife to trim excess pastry. Brush tops with egg.
  5. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside in the pans for 5 minutes to cool. Serve pies with tomato ketchup.

The filling of my little pies turned out a bit under-seasoned and very dry (no flowing molten gravy of mince here), which was probably caused by my adjustment of the recipe. It also lacked the wonderful depth of flavour I found when I made a Guinness and steak pie last Christmas.

I love pie so I’m going to keep working on this recipe, especially with winter settling in. Nothing better than a hearty meat pie to fill an empty belly on a cold day 😉

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And so the festive season of eating too much begins…

Roast turkey, meat pie, oven-baked salmon, bread rolls, salad, chocolate cake, tiramisu. That was my lunch this weekend gone by and the start of some serious (over)eating.

My friends and I decided to do a shared lunch and Secret Santa. I was tasked with a main and dessert, both of which turned out pretty well. For the main, I made Guinness steak and mushroom pie and for dessert, tiramisu.

I’ve come to realise that pie takes a heck of a long time to make – much longer than it would take you to drive down to the local pub and order one there, and it would taste about the same too. However, I’m glad I made the effort this time because it turned out delicious. It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for a boozy Guinness steak and cheese pie but I did my own thing with it by adding shiitake mushrooms.

Guinness steak and mushroom pie
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
About 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water overnight and cut into thin strips. Keep the water that the mushrooms have been in to top up the stew.
600g stewing beef
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
300ml Guinness
200ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
Puff pastry (I used store bought because I am terrible at making pastry)
One egg, beaten

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 190ºC. Heat olive oil over low heat in saucepan and gently fry the onions for about 10 minutes. Don’t let them color too much.
  2. Turn the heat up and add carrots and garlic. Mix it together before adding mushrooms. Stir together and add beef, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Fry for 3-4 minutes and then add Guinness and stock. Stir in the flour and then top with the water saved from soaking the mushrooms.
  4. Bring to a simmer and then pour into an ovenproof dish. Cover with tin foil and place in oven for about 90 minutes.
  5. After 90 mins or so, remove from oven and stir. At this point I added more salt and pepper to taste because it tasted quite bland – it may pay to do the same but always check first!
  6. Place back in the oven for another hour or so the beef is tender and stew is thick.

For the pastry lid I took out a sheet of pastry, laid it over the top of the stew, folded the sides down to make a bit of a crust, sliced the top with a sharp knife, brushed it with the egg and popped it back in the oven for about half an hour.

When I was looking for a tiramisu recipe, I quickly came to the realisation that most recipes for the fluffy Italian dessert use raw egg. Considering I didn’t want to unwittingly give my friends food poisoning, I looked semi-hard for a recipe that doesn’t use raw egg. I trawled through some Google results and found one using cooked egg yolks. You can find the recipe here: http://www.askchefdennis.com/2011/04/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/ and trust me, you will love it. I had heaps leftover after lunch and I found the tiramisu actually tastes even better once it’s been in the fridge for a day. Not sure whether that’s because I wasn’t so stuffed when I ate it a day later or if it’s actually legitimately better.

I’ve been tasked with making Christmas lunch on the actual day again this year. So far, I have a crayfish. More ideas?

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

 

Baking blind: First attempt at pumpkin pie

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Last week my parents bought a pumpkin and said, “Tao, make something out of this.” I said, “Soup?” They said, “No…” I said, “Pie?” And they said, “Yes!” From my last experience making pie, I knew it was going to take forever, or at least the whole day, so I chose to attempt it at the beginning of my two-week break before uni starts again.

Unlike most of the other things I’ve made so far, I’ve never had pumpkin pie before. I don’t actually think I’ve ever had much pumpkin full stop. For this reason, I really felt like I was “baking blind” – all I could do was follow the recipe as best I could and trust that the result turns out as it’s meant to be. I suppose it’s a bit redundant worrying about how it should turn out because I don’t have anything to compare it with but there’s a greater sense of security, for me, that comes with knowing the taste and texture of whatever it is you’re cooking.

Funny, and not in a ‘ha ha’ kind of sense, that I had trouble finding a recipe that I was happy with. I ended up mostly following this one found at BBC Good Food and followed the instructions here to making pumpkin puree from scratch. In hindsight I don’t really know why I needed instructions to puree pumpkin, it’s commonsense, really! Also, because I don’t have a large pie or tart dish handy I just used my small tart dishes and I ended up making eight really full tarts.

When I was mashing the pumpkin I thought, “Why not make this harder for myself and push all of this through a sieve!” Half an hour later, I had stiff hands but very smooth pureed pumpkin. I guess it was worth the effort but I’m not sure I would have lost much sleep over it if it wasn’t completely smooth.

I also made my own pastry, although I’m not quite sure I achieved short crust pastry. No matter, it tasted good and made my kitchen smell mouth-wateringly delicious when I blind baked them. I would, however, like to be able to perfect my pastry-making skills eventually, even though that’s probably highly dangerous for my waistline.

The instructions I followed for the pastry can be found here.

Pastry shells after some blind baking. Photo: Tao Lin

Pastry shells after some blind baking. Photo: Tao Lin

Everything went pretty smoothly and the pies tasted pretty good. I’m not sure if I would go through the trouble of making it all again but I’m definitely glad I gave it a go.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Chicken pies: Only ugly on the outside

A couple of weeks ago I was gifted a fantastic cook book (Step-by-Step Cook’s Encyclopedia) by my now ex work mates as a leaving present and there was a recipe in it for individual chicken pies that immediately caught my eye, mostly because I thoroughly – albeit a little guiltily – enjoy a good hearty meat pie.

Before I get into the recipe, I have to admit that this was probably one of the least attractive things I have cooked so far due to my haphazard hacking away of the extra pastry. It’s definitely something I’ll be looking more into for the future, not to mention how to make a better puff pastry (more on that shortly!).

I ended up making 4 double crust pies in mini pie moulds and two single crust (pastry on top) pies in 12cm ramekins with:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery sticks, sliced
  • 800ml cold chicken stock
  • 65g butter
  • 55g plain flour
  • 700g skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes of about 1.5-2cm
  • 2 cups frozen soy beans (original recipe called for frozen peas, which I didn’t have but felt could be adequately substituted with soy beans)
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

And of course, rough puff pastry. I followed a recipe in the 40th edition of a Be-Ro Flour Home Recipes cookbook, which simply used:

  • 225g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150g lard & margarine mix (I just used unsalted butter)
  • Cold water to mix

You can find pastry recipes everywhere on the internet in much more detail than here so I won’t go into it this time but my pastry dough was very sticky, which I wasn’t quite sure about…

The original recipe in the book also used button mushrooms, which I didn’t feel any desire to consume so I left it out.

The process of making these pies actually took me almost the entire day because I’m essentially as slow as a sloth when it comes to cooking something I have never made before; slow and steady wins the race?

Anyway, here’s how I made the filling:

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  1. Heat oil in large saucepan, add onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft and golden
  2. Add carrots, celery and half the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low until the vegetables are almost soft – there should still be a bit of crunch
  3. In another saucepan melt the butter on a medium heat and whisk in the flour, stirring for a little bit.
    NB: In the book, the picture of this step showed a very dry mixture, resembling that of crumble but when I did it, it looked more like gravy. Not sure if I got the proportions wrong or not but it turned out fine in the end.
  4. Pour in the remaining stock to the flour mix and whisk until thick on a medium-low heat. This should result in a smooth, thick mixture
  5. Add this to the vegetables and stir in the chicken, thyme and beans
  6. Simmer and stir while seasoning with salt and pepper.

After that I lined the pie tins and divided the mixture between them (or put the mixture straight in for the ramekins), covered with second piece of pastry, cut a X in the middle of each, brushed with egg and baked in a preheated oven (about 200°C/400°F) until the tops were golden in colour and the mixture was bubbling underneath. I think this took around 40 minutes, although I pay more attention to how the actual food is cooking through observing its texture, smelling and when possible tasting, rather than the time…

The pie mixture came out really nice, with everything tender and seasoned well, but the pastry was just a bit dry and boring. I think it’s so important to have a good pastry since that’s the thing you see and eat first. I thought my attempt failed on this aspect but I’m looking forward to educating myself more about pastry techniques.