The Three Fishes, Mitton

Last week was Mister North’s birthday and an excellent excuse for both of us to eat and drink in style all weekend. After an excellent, but late Saturday night out enjoying Korean food at Baekdu and sampling just a few of the excellent beers on offer at Port Street Beer House in Manchester, we were just ready for a good pub lunch preferably in a location gorgeous enough to do this fabulous weather justice. We didn’t take long to decide on The Three Fishes.

Tucked away in Mitton the Ribble Valley not far from Clitheroe and Whalley, this pub prides itself on serving good Lancashire food and drink in a beautiful location and sounded just right for an afternoon out. We decided to err on the side of caution and book a table even though it was a Monday lunchtime and were glad we had when we got stuck behind every driver in the valley out going at 30 miles a hour to drink in the sunny scenery. It also made for the most genuine welcome when we arrived at the pub 10 minutes than planned. Our waitress greeted us like service had been waiting for us and showed us to our table with enthusiasm. Combined with the pint of local Thwaites Wainwright we chose, it was a good start.

The menu is extensive and tempting and we both struggled to narrow our choices down, staring at other tables to see what they were ordering. The platters looked sensational and Mister North was very tempted by the seafood platter until we discovered they were out of the oh-so alluring sounding treacle cured salmon. This almost pleased me as it removed my dilemma and allowed me to go for the Morecambe Bay shrimp as a starter without too much dithering. The fact Mister North chose my other temptation with the baked whitebait, smoked pig’s jowl and a soft hen’s egg was fortituous too.

We didn’t have to wait long before our cheery waitress arrived with the starters, but they were good enough that I’d have waited a while for them. I was served what felt like a pint of shrimp, all glossy and glorious after being kissed by a wave of mace scented butter in their dish. I loved that the waitress brought me a spoon so even after devouring the English muffin, I wouldn’t miss a drop of that beautiful shrimpy butter. I barely noticed Mister North’s reactions as I supped my shrimp, but the morsel I sampled made me briefly envious. Soft sparkling fresh whitebait, unencumbered by batter, married beautifully with the smoky salty chewy pig’s jowl and reminded me again that pork and seafood together can barely be bettered and this was a particularly good example of it.

Excited for the mains after the great starters, I was glad there was a little bit of a pause while I recovered from my buttering up, but I was still thrilled to see my Pie Top with caramelised onions, braised ox cheek and kidneys arrive, especially when I realised it was accompanied by the same dripping cooked chips that made Mister North’s fancy scampi and squid in a basket sound so alluring, preventing us from reverting to childhood squabbling in public…

In fact there was silence at the table as we got stuck in. My ox cheek was properly unctuous, melting in the mouth after the merest prod of the fork. The disc of gleaming puff pastry soaked up some serious good gravy and the onions really added a sweet base note that made the dish. The kidneys though, weren’t as good as the ones I cooked recently, and were a tad powdery for my still offal sensitive tendencies. I’m not sure if it was the texture of the kidneys lingering, but I also found the chips a little bit claggy as if the dripping hadn’t quite been hot enough, but considering how light and lovely the batter on Mister North’s squid and scampi was, I think the issue might have been with me.

He dispatched his fritto misto and chips in record time, commenting several times on how fresh the seafood was and how light it seemed considering that it was all deep fried. I found my dish much heavier and struggled to finish the chips, but refused to waste even a drop of that gravy! We both wanted to sample the famed length of Lancashire Cheese, but were simply too full to even remotely do it justice. I’d have been tempted to go for a long walk so I could come back for it afterwards, but instead we decided to finish up rather than linger and be tempted to drink more at lunchtime. If we’d had more time, I’d have enjoyed sampling the rather good gin list, including the Chase Gin I’m keen to try, especially since it was sunny enough to sit out with a G&T.

We settled the bill and despite the fact Mister North was paying for his own birthday treat, he seemed to find it reasonable at under £50 for the two of us with a drink. Service was genuinely friendly and very easy. We neither felt rushed for coming almost as lunch ended or forced to sit on waiting around for things because they were clearing up. The whole dining room was pleasantly busy with a few other birthday lunches, kids and people enjoying themselves over a drink and I liked the atmosphere immensely. In a valley crammed with pubs and places to eat, there’s a reason that the Three Fishes is so popular. They’ve cracked gastropub food while keeping the pub vibe and welcoming everyone. It’s a local gem. I only wish it were more local to me…

Give thanks for pumpkin pie

I am rather envious of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I rather like the idea of a day dedicated to family, friends and food (all things to be thankful for) without the added pressure of sheer naked commercialism like Christmas. Unfortunately I have never had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving and thus have never sampled some of its traditional dishes. I could happily live without ever trying green bean casserole but since I’m a bit of an Americanophile, pumpkin pie has always intrigued me.

Coming across a can of Libby’s tinned pumpkin recently at Whole Foods for a much more reasonable price than Selfridges Food Hall flogs it for sealed the deal. This is one occasion when tinned trumps fresh for me. I roasted some pumpkin last year to puree for cupcakes and it involved an hour’s cooking, draining overnight, about two hours trying to puree it in a blender and the death of my favourite silicon spatula to achieve something that looked exactly like the contents of a can of Libby’s…

The future's orange...

Pumpkin obtained, the next step was to find a good recipe for the pie. I was intrigued to see that most of them are the same recipe but with varying amounts of the products sold by specific companies and different levels of spicing. The only one that seemed to vary was a stunning sounding Nancy Silverton recipe involving real cream and brandy instead evaporated milk and generic pumpkin pie spice. However it sounded like all the ingredients involved would cost so much it would have been cheaper to buy one of the £9.99 pies that Whole Foods also had. I ended up plumping for the ‘perfect pumpkin pie’ recipe from the Guardian recently as it seemed to combine the best bits of the traditional and the more deluxe Nancy Silverton recipes.

Oddly though I struggled to find a small bottle of golden rum anywhere in Brixton. I couldn’t even get a couple of miniatures of the dark stuff. Apparently SW9 only deals in flagons of the stuff, so I left that out since I’m not sure I could manage to use of the rest of a bottle by next November. I also had problems with getting real maple syrup that didn’t cost enough to make my bank manager blink and ended up with a bottle of the maple flavoured syrup instead. Everything else was straighforward.

As was the pastry for the pie shell! A quick sweet shortcrust, it came together and rolled out easily. I did forget to make sure it covered the sides completely all round the dish though and didn’t notice until it was too late that I had a bit of a bald patch in one area. After chilling it, I blind baked it for around 25 minutes in total, ending up with a golden brown crust that had come away from the edges nicely. I had originally intended to go all out American and use graham crackers as the crust, but I was glad I hadn’t bothered.

Blind baked

I actually left it to cool overnight, preparing the filling the next day. This was also incredibly easy and basically involved stirring all the wet ingredients together before pouring into the crust. I wish I’d double checked the amount of evaporated milk needed as a small tin would have sufficed and I wouldn’t be wondering what to do with the leftovers.

Ready to bake

I sprinkled the filling with some freshly grated nutmeg and then the filled shell went in the oven at 180˚C and cooked for around 40 minutes. Once glossy and set with a slight wobble to the filling, it came out and I marvelled at how incredibly stupidly easy making a pumpkin pie is. I’d always imagined it would be a complicated affair, but if I hadn’t set myself more things to bake before people came round, I could have had time to put my feet up and read the papers from cover to cover.

Set, go...

I allowed it to cool well before serving to make sure it was properly set. You can serve it with cream or ice cream and I also happen to think creme fraiche would be delicious. Unlike most American recipes I’ve used, it wasn’t at all overly sweet with just a hint of sugar in the deliciously short and crumbly pastry. The filling was sweetened primarily by the pumpkin itself with a warm note from the syrup. A little bit like a sweet quiche, it had a distinctly vegetable-y tang and was rich with spice. I had added larger amounts of spice than recommended (by about double), including a pinch of mace and I’m glad I did as it could have been quite bland without it.

Even a previous pumpkin pie sceptic enjoyed this and there was barely any left at the end of the afternoon with a even native New Yorker complimenting it. It was super easy to make, and well worth the extra effort of blind baking the shell, looking far more impressive than the work involved suggested it should and very tasty. So while it was much more of a success than my previous dalliance with American classics, I’m still not sure I’ll be adding it to my autumnal repetoire. I think I prefer my pumpkins savoury after all!

Scotch pie, peas and Irn Bru

Peas and goodwill to all pies…

Scotch pie and mushy pies, washed down with Irn Bru

Mister North went to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands recently for a weekend of mountaineering, photography and general craic with mates.

Trips like this are normally characterised by convenient, compact and high energy food, and cannot be considered the pinnacle of foodiness by any means. We actually started the weekend with a home-cooked Massaman curry which I’d taken to feed a few of us after the long drive north. Apart from that it was largely sandwiches (preferably the kind which is resistant to being squashed when stuffed in a rucksac) and dried fruit, chocolate & granola bars – all of which is fine to eat when halfway up a snowy mountain. Once off the hill some solid pub grub and a good celebratory pint or two is the normal order of the day. In this case it was Fraoch heather ale in the local, the glorious Clachaig Inn, somewhere I heartily recommend if a legendary selection of whiskies and real ale is your thing at the end of a long day of outdoors activity.

However the unabashed highlight of my calorific intake was undoubtedly a Scotch Pie from the rather good Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum: we stopped off for a quick bite to eat in this self-confident and well-appointed fish and chip shop on our way home. I was rewarded with a great Scotch Pie (when done properly this is a perfect combination of tender mutton, unctuous jelly and a healthy amount of seasoning, all bundled up in an uncompromisingly tasty pastry casing) and a portion of mushy peas, unceremoniously eaten off my lap in the car, and washed down with a bottle of Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru. There lies a post in it’s own right, but I’ll leave that for another time.

As you can tell, my sister and I like the odd pie: several have already featured here, suggesting an unnatural preponderance of pie passion, but they’re perfect for the winter months and I just found out it’s National Pie Month in the USA. We’re also half-Scots, so I suppose we’re possibly biased towards this very Caledonian snack. All hail the pie!

The Life of Pie

Monday night was a hotbed of excitement and nerves being slightly on edge for me because I made a pie from scratch for the very first time ever! I was inspired by Elly over at The Vintage Cookbook Trials and shamelessly stole her recipe for my chicken and leek number last night.

This recipe was a collection of firsts for me. I have never poached a chicken or made pastry before, so I decided it would be a good idea to invite a friend for dinner so I could have someone to laugh with if it all went horribly wrong (or enthuse if it went well!) Read more

Game Pie

Game on…


This is my second attempt at game pie. I do like a good pie, and living in northern England for the last decade and a half has heightened my appreciation greatly. 2010 will be the year I attempt my first home-made pork pie… so I keep telling myself… but this weekend as the temperature drops I’m looking for something more warming and homely.

My regular butcher’s been selling a good game mix recently (venison, pheasant & mallard), something which is just crying out to be pie-a-fied when the frost is building up outside.

Read more