unbaked sweet potato pie

Sweet Potato Pie

unbaked sweet potato pie

Autumn is when all the good stuff happens: my birthday, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Bonfire Night and the joys of of planning your Christmas menu.

I’m knee deep in recipes for the festive season this week for the Brixton Blog and Bugle so my own cooking has been simple recently with nothing blog-worthy (unless you want to read about cheese on crackers of course?) So I’m pretending to be prepared for the US Thanksgiving by giving you the recipe I made for Canadian Thanksgiving for people in Brixton…who knew sweet potato pie could be so multicultural, eh?

This is a very easy recipe with a terrible photo and a set of kitchen tales I’ll probably never forget. I made a pastry inspired by Nigella’s latest book using buttermilk instead of egg and it made the lightest, shortest pastry possible. All of which meant when I dropped the unfilled pie shell the night before I was meant to serve the pie, there was no room for manoeuvre with its fragility.

Ho hum, I thought, these things happen. I simply made another batch of the pastry and lined my pie tin again. I froze it overnight and blind baked it in the morning. Back on track. Until I took the baking beans out and accidentally turned the oven temperature up not down.

Meh, it’s a bit browner than I intended. No need to panic. So the entire box of eggs are off. You have spares. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, dropping the filled pie against the oven the door 15 minutes into baking it is pretty close. Three hours before I had ten people round for dinner and my glossy spiced sweet potato custard looks like I’d reversed a car over it.

In real life I shoved some pastry stars on the top, egg washed them to oblivion and tweeted about it to turn it into an amusing anecdote we could all laugh about. Even I finding it funny until I lifted out the tub of creme fraiche I planned to serve with it about 15 minutes before everyone arrived, discovered it was mouldy, rolled my eyes at my life and chucked it in the bin.

Whereupon it hit the bottom of the bin and exploded violently upwards into my face, mould and all. I now know why they perfume cheap dry shampoo so heavily. The only thanks I was giving was that if anyone noticed an odd dairy related odour from me as I served the pie they were too polite to comment.

It might have driven me to the brink, but the pie went down so well there wasn’t a scrap to show by the end of the evening, so I recommend you make it if you want to make people very happy and then smugly show me on Instagram how well you did. I won’t notice of course. I’ll still be washing my hair.

Originally pubished on the Brixton Blog: Read more

Marshmallow coffee pie

Baileys Coffee Marshmallow Pie

Marshmallow coffee pie

I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a few weeks due to being generally busy on some other projects (a fancy way to say I cleared out all my cupboards and tidied the flat) and because Mister North was doing some tech stuff to the blog to give it a new lease of life. He may not have time to write here anymore because his design skills still work wonders. So thanks heavens National Pie Week came along to give me my mojo back.

As well as realising I’d been neglecting the blog, I also finally noticed this week that I’d never ever drunk Baileys and decided I should immediately rectify that before I was banned from ever entering Ireland again for lack of patriotism. Thanks to the kindness of Bord Bia and Ocado, I visited the Irish shop on the Ocado site and bought a bottle forthwith.

I had an idea about a Baileys pie of some kind but thought it might just have to be eating a pie while drinking Baileys until I saw someone make an Irish Coffee in a cafe this week. I wanted that combination of alcohol, creaminess and sugar and decided to see if I could play around with a pie that had a coffee filling and a whipped marshmallow centre. I could always hit the bottle if it didn’t work…but I doubted there was such a thing as bad pie. Read more

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

At this time of year, although Hallowe’en is to me a very Irish celebration, I do like a spot of Americana in my stomach as the autumn nights draw in. Glorious orange pumpkins, soups and stews spiked with smoky frankfurters or the same sausages battered and served up as corndogs, glistening sticky pecan pies and handfuls of crispy popcorn. They seem to have the right flavours for the season and sheer greed and a slightly abstract conversation made me wonder if I could perhaps multi task and turn the latter two into one dish for ultimate eating?

I wanted something slightly more grown up that the crunchy toffee coated popcorn I so desired as a child on cinema trips which now seems sickly sweet and artificial. Reading recipes for caramel corn made me think mine needed the adult twist of sea salt for sure,  but I wanted something else to lift it and my memory went back to this lovely post for Rosemary Sea Salt Millionaires’ Shortbread that I’ve been meaning to make for yonks. Seeing that my rosemary bush was the only thing in the garden to survive the summer of slugmageddon decided it for me and that woody floral flavour would be my secret weapon.

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie: makes one 9″ pie (or 4 small ‘uns with tonnes leftover like me)

  • 250 g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 3 tablespoons popping corn
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g maple syrup (use all golden if you don’t have maple)
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • large pinch of sea salt (enough to just taste the salt)
  • tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

First start with your pastry. You can just use bought stuff for this, but if you’re making your own, may I recommend the sweet shortcrust by Dan Lepard in Short and Sweet? I’ve always had issues with my pastry shrinking no matter how well I chill it and this recipe is foolproof. I’m not going to write it all out because Dan explains it well elsewhere if you search, but really because if you’re buying a cookbook, it should be this one. Call it an early Christmas present…

Line your tart tin and chill the pastry again before blind baking for 15 minutes at 180℃ or until just colouring the palest golden shade. Leave to cool while you make your filling.

Place three tablespoons of raw popping corn kernels in a paper bag (I use leftover flour bags) and the smidge of coconut oil and fold the bag over loosely and microwave for about just under 2 minutes (I usually whip it out at 1.45 or it starts to burn) and voila! You have the quickest easiest popcorn possible. If doing something as delicious as this just carry as normal, but you’ve skipped the whole washing up stage.

Now melt the butter, sugar and syrups together in a pan. I’ve used unsalted butter because it’s too easy to overdo the salt with regular butter and then adding more salt, so have gone for a blank canvas, but obviously, you can improvise if you only have salted butter. Take the mixture off the heat and add in the chopped rosemary and the salt. Allow the mix to cool for about 10 minutes. Don’t skip this stage or your mix will be so liquid to pour in the case, you’ll stick everything in the kitchen to itself, you and the tart case as I did the first time.

Once the mix is cooled slightly, beat the eggs in it. They won’t curdle now you’ve reduced the temperature of the mix. Then stir the popcorn into the mix. You’ll need to do this fairly carefully and repeatedly as popcorn floats quite well and resists dunking unless really coaxed. I originally used this caramel corn which made it easier, but a) really isn’t very nice or worth the washing up and b) made the pie so sweet, the Scottish person I tried it on couldn’t eat it. Once your popcorn is entirely coated, pour the filling into the tin making sure you don’t overfill or the whole thing will stick. Bake the large case at 180℃ for about 40 minutes whereupon it should be golden brown but still slightly soft in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set slightly. Both this pie and the pecan pie it’s based on are best served slightly warm but not hot unless you want to remove several layers of skin from your mouth with molten sugar. This pie calls out to be served with clotted cream or really good vanilla ice cream. Just don’t expect as much crunch as pecan pie and you’ll love it. The popcorn is both soft and sugar coated crisp and the filling is like proper butter toffee with bite. The salt should be just enough to enhance the sweetness and the rosemary adds just enough interest to leave you guessing what the extra flavour is. Once I’d toned the sugar down, this was great.

If you like popcorn, you’ll love encasing in butter, sugar and syrup and then crisping it right up. If you don’t love popcorn, you’ll think this is just another American oddity, but to be honest, that’s why I rather liked it!


Venison Christmas dinner, and the best leftovers ever…

Uncooked venison pieThe centrepiece of our Christmas dinner this year was a roasted leg of venison. Pretty good as it stands (ahem), but curiously, this tale ends up being all about the leftovers: the venison pie afterwards stole the show!

Cooked venison pie

My girlfriend’s family had served the roast venison a couple of Christmasses before, but it had overcooked disappointingly. I was given the challenge/opportunity to see if I could do it better. The roast recipe (see photo below) is from the Tatton Park estate, and I was handed a photocopy, complete with annotations. Now I like a good bit of venison, but hadn’t cooked a joint this size before, and was aware it’d need a bloody good basting to keep it tender. Hardly the hassle-free roast which is recommended for a peaceful Christmas Day, especially the first cooking for the in-laws!

Roasted joint of venison

I ordered the meat from Paul in the market (asking him to leave me the bone), and started work on Christmas Eve by making a stock … roasting the bones for 30mins before boiling up with a mirepoix and some herbs for a hour or so, until the stock tasted rich, robust and savoury. Venison’s very lean, but this yielded a creamy covering of fat, which I reserved and reformed for later use. While the stock was bubbling I also made up a batch of spiced Eastern European-style red cabbage. It’s normally better then day after making it, and has a good tang with caraway seeds, wild honey and bramley apple.

Spiced Red cabbage

After their experiences with the venison joint I was a little wary of following the recipe to the letter, so on Christmas Day we got cracking by late morning. This gave us time for a slow, low cooking; although potentially less than the recipe called for. After making the Stilton, bacon and panko stuffing, this got rolled up inside the joint which was then retied. I also stuck spears of that venison fat into the flesh, to help lard it. I wrapped the joint tightly in foil for all but the last 40 mins or so, when the foil covered the whole roasting tin, so the juices could really get going. All in all it was probably cooking for a shade over three hours, basted regularly. The meat rested for a half hour while I whipped up gallons of gravy, deglazing the pan with port and using the stock to build up the flavour.

Christmas dinner 2011

After our Spiced Beef starters, our Christmas plate was finished off with hasselback potatoes, roasted parsnips, sprouts with bacon and chestnut, and sweet potato mash. A great spread, with plenty of flavour, variety and colour for the main meal. The venison was very tender and moist (phew!) and the taste was good and richly gamey, but not exceptional (admittedly this was up against the Spiced Beef, which was a real winner by any standards). We had a leftover meal on Boxing Day, with as many of the trimmings and accompaniments as our plates would hold, but we didn’t fancy eating rich slices of venison every day until New Year.

Pie ingredients

One of my Christmas presents was the OCD Chef’s Chopping Board (my friends know me too well) and I’d joked about keeping my scalpel in the kitchen with it. My inner designer feels totally at home with a scalpel blade, and I fancied building on a couple of previous attempts to decorate a game pie. With around half a kilo of cooked venison, and a gale blowing outside, pie seemed like the perfect prospect. A post-Christmas pie, made with Christmas presents, leftovers, and a nod to the frozen north…

We came home after a shorter-than-planned afternoon walk in the heavy winds – any hot port in a storm –  and we threw ourselves into making the leftover ‘pie to end all pies’. Venison, stilton and gravy were all to hand. This was to be rich, rumbustious and made to revel in the excesses of the Christmas period: game, port and piggy bits, but I had a sweet potato leftover to use up. I reckoned that, much like the butternut squash in my venison pasties, this token vegetable’d work well.

I rendered down the bacon fat, and melted some butter, along with a sprig of rosemary. Then in went a few shallots, the diced bacon, and some cubes of wild boar salami, followed after a bit by cubed sweet potato and a hare stock cube. The plan was to soften everything through, cooking gently and once that was done, it all came off the heat. We discarded the stuffing from the venison, and cut the meat into properly decent-sized chunks. Venison has a tendency to firm up if overcooked, so I reckon bigger was better, and should guard against dryness. The hunky chunks of deer got mixed up well with the other cooled, cooked ingredients, then I crumbled in generous handfuls of Stilton to the mix. It looked great.

There was probably about 330ml of gravy left over from Christmas Day (a handy size… can you imagine if they sold tins of real gravy next to the Coke and Irn-Bru?) so that got warmed up in a pan, along with  teaspoon of Gentleman’s Relish (the secret ingredient),

Cutting board and reindeer

some extra hare stock cubes, a tablespoon-sized blob of redcurrant jelly, and significant quantities of ‘cooking’ port. After thickening to a wonderfully rich, thick consistency this was gently and methodically poured over the pie filling in the dish.

I’d already rolled out the pastry (Jus-Ro’s finest… I didn’t fancy making puff (or rough puff) this time) and traced around the pie dish, gathering up the offcuts to make decorations with my trusty blade. Once the pie dish was filled we had fun with the decorations! I’m really pleased by how it came out… there was no over-arching theme but I did reference my other half’s Christmassy knitwear for the reindeer inspiration. After that we got busy making trees and stars, then fitted everything together in a 3D manner. I think I went a bit too heavy with the egg wash in places, but I love the seasonal tableaux we came up with. It’s certainly raised the bar for the next pastry creation!

The finished dish got cooked for about 40mins in a medium oven: I didn’t want to overcook the filling and this was just enough to puff the pastry topping up perfectly and the contents heated to a slight bubble. By the time it came out we were almost climbing the walls with anticipation… just enough time to get the celeriac mash and a healthy portion of the spiced cabbage on the side. Oh, the smell…

Venison pie and mash

And we’re talking about a full-on, revelatory moment on the first bite. Boom… a gloriously grown-up pie fest… with the tang of the stilton, the richness of the game, the sweetness of the port-laden gravy and sweet potato meltingly intimate together on a fork. Proper posh pie heaven. Big chunks of succulent meat and light pastry were so good together… I didn’t want to stop eating it. Next day the pie made a glorious re-appearance alongside some home-fried chips and peas on the side. Which, if anything, was better than the first portion, as the gravy and filling had mellowed and mixed even more. No point in dressing up the accompaniments… pie and mash, pie and chips. Dead simple, job done. Fan-bloody-tastic!

Venison pie and chips

PS. Drinks during the cooking were provided by the superlative Buxton Brewery (their cracking Wild Boar making its debut next to the aptly game in the kitchen): then we washed the pie down with a suitably Nordic brew, Einstök‘s Icelandic Pale Ale. I like my ales at anytime, but a pie and a pint is a marriage made in heaven. Happy Christmas, deer!



A tail of pork pie…

After our all too brief dalliance with summer, autumn is upon us once more. Some might moan, but it’s my favourite time of the year. Crisp sunny days, scuffly crunchy leaves, purple tinged sunsets, the smell of bonfires and an excuse to indulge in a few more carbs. Have I converted you yet?

I decided to take advantage of this first really cold snap this week with a pie for dinner. What could be better than lots of seasonal ingredients topped with flaky puff pastry? What about accessorising the whole thing with a boar’s tail and beating Fergus Henderson at his own game? Not so much cow pie as pig tail pie…

I got the tail at the stall* in Brixton Farmers’ Market for the bargain price of a pound and couldn’t resist its curly charms, especially since there’s a fair bit of meat on one. You can also get them smoked at the Colombian butcher in Brixton Village.

To fill my pie, I used diced pork leg as I couldn’t stretch to wild boar this time. For a seasonal sensation, I added shallot, leek and some seasonal mushrooms, all sweated off in butter and coated in flour and bathed in Henney’s Herefordshire cider before simmering it all for 40 minutes on a low heat. When it thickened up, I added fresh tarragon, a pinch of mace and a good grind of black pepper. Like all the best pie fillings, it can be prepped in advance and then given a lovely lid when needed.

My lovely lid came courtesy of Jus-Rol. I wanted to do puff pastry and with butter the price it is, I did not feel inclined to experiment. Instead I failed to read the instructions for use properly and ended up having to defrost one sheet in the microwave. This was a bad idea. It ended up brittle and with greasy patches. I had to use the other sheet instead and allow it to come to room temperature naturally. Feeling deflated that I could mess up bought pastry, I turned attention to the tail.

I wanted it to partly inside the pie to cook the meat and allow the bone to infuse the gravy. This is surprisingly difficult. Pig’s tails are incredibly flexible and not especially easy to position. I put the pastry lid on the pie and slit it open to wedge the tail inside. This took longer than I thought and led to an interesting moment where I stopped while holding a floppy tail in one hand and wondered how exactly my life turned out this way…

Eventually with some ingenious overlaid pastry stars holding the tail in place, the pie went in the oven at 220C for about 40 minutes. I peered in after 30 or so and marvelled at how much it really had puffed up. It also smelled tremendous. I boiled some spuds and did some peas to go on the side and rushed to get at it.

The tail had crisped up at the very very end and the meat inside was nicely cooked. It might be better to skin it first as there was quite a lot of slightly flabby skin to wade through, but it was surprisingly tasty to gnaw on and it had added a meaty kick to the pie filling. Pork leg wouldn’t be my first choice of cut usually, but it softened up nicely and was delicious. The cider and tarragon worked well and the pastry was great. I had two helpings straightaway (and forgot the peas both times!)

If you can get hold of a tail or two, try not to be put off by the cute factor. It’s a tasty thing perfect for a bit of stock or to make people’s eyes open wide when you serve this pie. I just wish I’d gone the whole hog and bought a snout in the market too…

*I’m really sorry, but I cannot remember the name of the boar people at all, but they are there every week and super helpful and very friendly.