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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

Blackened corn chowder with deep fried bacon

Blackened corn chowder & deep fried bacon

I adore sweetcorn in soup. I love those corn soups thickened with egg in Chinese restaurants and every year when the cobs are in season I make the divine chicken and sweetcorn soup from the first Leon cookbook, all sweet with corn and sticky with marinaded chicken. But this year I had branched out a bit and been using the first ears for salsa. I’d roasted them on the barbecue til smoky and tossed them with scallion and avocado and lots of lime and watched my dinner guests not scrap over the last spoonful.

Making the most of my glowing coals last weekend, I did some sweet potatoes on the embers and charred as much corn as I had in the house, setting it all aside for a less sunny day when I wanted the flavour of summer. It didn’t take long and by Wednesday I needed to be reminded it was August and turned my attention to the leftovers and immediately thought of a summer soup…

Bacon and corn are natural bedfellows, but I wanted this soup to be easily meat free if you baulk at battered bacon or don’t want to use chicken stock, so the bacon tops it and the stock can be vegetable based. I’d top it with avocado in this case and add some hot sauce to the soup.

Blackened corn chowder with battered bacon (serves two)

  • 2 ears sweetcorn
  • 2 orange fleshed sweet potatoes
  • 2 scallions
  • 200ml stock
  • 100 ml milk
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 50g rice flour (or all self raising if you don’t have rice flour)
  • 150ml ice cold sparkling water
  • pinch cayenne
  • milk to cover
  • oil for frying

First blacken your corn. The best way to do this is roast them over the barbecue, but you could parboil the ears and then pass through a gas flame or under a smoking hot grill until charred in places. Leave to cool until you can handle the corn and then strip the kernels off with a sharp knife.

If you are using vegetable stock, chop the ears in half and simmer in with your veg to make a super corn-infused stock for the soup.

While that’s doing, cut your bacon rashers in half across the way so you have twice the number of pieces and then cover them with a bit of milk. This will help the batter stick to the bacon and not just slide off in the hot oil.

Chop your scallion and sweat in a bit of oil. If the sweet potato is raw, chop it small and sweat too. Then add in the corn and just cover the veg with stock (you may need less than the amount stated) and simmer until everything is tender. Then take a third of the soup out and blend the remaining, adding the milk as you do. Add the chunky third back in and warm the soup gently.

Put your oil on to heat and make your batter by combining the two flours and the water and cayenne to make a thick, but not solid batter. The rice flour and sparkling water will make the batter very light and puffy, making sure the rashers cook quickly and without becoming shatteringly crisp. Lift the rashers out of the milk and into the batter and then into the oil. The batter puffs and spits slightly but a minute each side should do it. Drain on kitchen roll.

Serve bowls of warm soup with two rashers of bacon on top. The soup is sweet with the veg and the salty slightly spicy bacon cuts through it beautifully. Everything tastes so summery and the bacon is amazing. Cooked til tender enough to split the rasher with a spoon’s edge and crunchy with batter, you’ll want your bacon deep fried every time, not just when the sweetcorn is in season!

 

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!

 

Game Pie

Game on…

_MG_6848

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.

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