In the English Kitchen: Steak and Ale Pie

steak and ale collage

We lived in North Yorkshire for 4 years, and, despite what people like to say about British food, some of it is VERY good.  Granted, top of that list is the Indian food you get there.  But if you haven’t tried a really good sticky toffee pudding or a gourmet steak and ale pie, you’re missing out.  And even “tired old” mincemeat pies and Sunday roast can be a revelation with the right ingredients and in the right person’s artful hands!

Marks & Spencer Mince Pies
Marks & Spencer Mince Pies

I’m about to bring you a recipe that is divine–but first, a rudimentary primer on  food in England.

The Markets:   Here I speak for my old home town of Ripon, N. Yorkshire, especially.  I love the vibrant market squares and market days in British cities, towns, and villages.   I love walking home with baskets of fresh produce, hearing the fishmonger call out his wares, seeing what the pottery merchant has found to carry in on any given week (and hoping he’s stocking my favorite Blue Willow), and scanning the candy stall for my children’s favorite bits and bobs.

Nigella:    If you’ve never been a fan, open up one of her cookbooks and go for a leisurely read.  I’d start with Nigella Christmas–because it’s almost the season, it’s a good read, and it’s where I started.  If you’re not smitten with her prose, then whip up her Guinness Gingerbread.  If you’re still not besotted. . .I just can’t help you.

betty's teaTea:   If someone invites you over for tea, don’t imagine (as most Americans do) that you’ll be drinking Twinings at a table with Paddington Bear.   The invitation is likely for dinner, not a tea party.  “Cream Tea” often indicates tea and scones or sweet pastries in the afternoon, but “Tea” is dinner.

Pudding:  When we first moved to England (in 2005), we were amused at how often we were offered “pudding” in restaurants.  I mean, we like pudding, but couldn’t figure out what the national obsession with it was all about.  Turns out, “pudding” means dessert.  We quickly learned to say “Yes, please,” to any offer of pudding!

Meat Pies:  Today, I’m focused on a fabulous, piping hot Steak and Ale pie (recipe below).  But Brits also love cold meat pies.  A cold steak pie from a deli counter is doable for a quick lunch, but not great.  And pork pies?  Don’t get me started.  Okay, I don’t do pork, so this may be a little unfair, but cold, gelatinous meat in a cold, blah pastry case– I don’t get it.  Except in a Dickensian way–I mean, I suppose it has a certain bit of atmosphere:  a cold, tired chimney sweep might ‘ha a ‘litl bit o’ da pie fur lunch.   (Yes, I overindulged in  Mary Poppins as a kid.)  But, truth is, I have plenty of friends, and one husband, who seem to like a bit o’ the cold pie, so to each his own.

Let’s launch into the reason you are here: the world’s greatest Steak and Ale Pie recipe.  It comes from Williams-Sonoma.  (I know it should come from a British source, but this really is the best I’ve found. . .even if it is from California.)   And one more disclaimer–please listen, because this is important–this will take you most of the day.  Only start this on a rainy weekend day when you want to hang out at home for hours.  And, yes, you will begin cursing halfway through this and saying, “Never again!”  But then the pie will smell soooo delicious as it cooks that you’ll start to drool as it comes out of the oven.   You’ll dig into the flaky pastry and lift a fork to your mouth.

Angels will sing, devils will dance, and you’ll be in love.

Oh, you’ll make it again.  And again.    (Hint:  if you cook a very large recipe, you can freeze half of the filling and turn it into a pie at a later date with minimum effort.)

Here’s the recipe, also available at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/beef-and-stout-pie.html

WILLIAMS-SONOMA BEEF AND STOUT PIE
This hearty beef stew is slowly simmered on the stovetop, then topped with Stilton pastry and finished in a hot oven.
*My note: I usually skip the Stilton pastry and use a puff pastry.  The Stilton is good, but very rich, and this is already a rich pie.
Ingredients:
  • 7 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups Irish stout
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • One 16-inch round Stilton pastry (see recipe link below)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water

Directions:

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. In the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add one-third of the beef and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a separate bowl.
Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour the liquid into a separate bowl. Repeat the process 2 more times, using 2 Tbs. oil to brown each batch of beef and deglazing the pot with 1/2 cup water after each batch.
Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the beef, stout, broth and reserved liquid, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 3 hours.
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Brush the rim of the pot with water. Lay the pastry round on top, allowing it to droop onto the filling. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and crimp to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture, then cut 4 slits in the top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Let the potpie rest for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.Stilton Pastry recipe can be accessed at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/stilton-pastry.html?cm_src=SEARCH_FEATURELIST||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule&cm_re=OnsiteSearch-_-SCHBillboard-_-SEARCH_FEATURELIST
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Not just any old pub food!
Not just any old pub food!
Advertisements

Lightfooted in Lederhosen

High Fashion Lederhosen from Peter Hahn
High Fashion Lederhosen from Peter Hahn

Go ahead. . .I know you want to laugh, to sneer, or to feel yourself superior to that poor sod who’s had a lapse of judgment (or an outrageous amount of beer) and decided to put on lederhosen.   The ill-conceived costume of Oktoberfest.

Well, idiot that I am, I LOVE lederhosen!   So far, I’ve resisted the urge to buy any dirndl or lederhosen for myself or my husband…actually, I’ve resisted with the gentle coaching (scolding?) of family and friends.  “What are you thinking?”  “You’d really wear THAT?”  The ever popular, “BAAAAAD idea.”  (But the  inner voice that says, “You know, your cleavage would look awesome!” keeps my heart in the game.)

And, now that Oktoberfest is upon us, it’s open season for leaderhosen in Germany.

So what are  lederhosen and dirndl and when/why/how did they become traditional?  You’ve always wondered, haven’t you?  Just been waiting and hoping that someone would bring you the story.   Well, wait no more–I’m your girl.

Some outlet Lederhosen
Some outlet Lederhosen from Lidl

Here’s my five cent version of the history of lederhosen:

Lederhosen (for men) and Dirndl (for women) are both called Tracht.  “Tracht” derives from the word “tragen” which means “to wear.”  Very practical origin, right?  Well, that gives you a hint about the clothing’s past.

A photo of Bavarian Trachten from Pintrest
A photo of Bavarian Trachten from Pintrest

Tracht originated in the southern area of Germany and Austria.  This sort of clothing (especially the leather pants)  was associated with the working class/peasant community, and it seems to have grown out of 18th century traditional clothing.  It was, above all else, very sturdy and practical garb–both for working and hunting.   It’s possible that this clothing, most often associated with Bavaria, was also influenced by French fashion.  Whether or not that’s true, it did take a “high brow” turn when it’s popularity rose and it became not just working clothing but fine, festival clothing, sometimes richly decorated and embroidered.  (But, not to worry, it can be had on any budget.  Mass produced Trachten can be found at discount stores, but some specialty stores sell very expensive, and very beautiful, outfits.)

Of course, the female version of Tracht, the Dirndl, isn’t characterized by leather pants.  It comes from the 18th century peasant’s or maid’s dress: it has a blouse, a bodice, a skirt, and an apron.  Winter dirndl would, obviously, have been heavier, and wouldn’t have featured the same (summer weight) tailored bodice and plunging neckline that has made St. Pauli Girl beer so famous in the USA!

I’ve read that some villages produce a regional Tracht that locals like to wear on festival days. It sounds like Tracht is to Germans what Tartan is to the Scots: a sign of cultural and regional (or clan) pride, as well as a festival costume.  And that makes me like it even more!  And no wonder that it may look silly to outsiders–anything that goes deep into your own personal, cultural psyche will ellude the grasp of the universal imagination. Roots that go deep don’t spread wide.

Despite my love of cultural costume, my husband is unlikely to wear a kilt or leather knee-britches anytime soon.  It’s just too hard of a sell.  I’m holding out some hope–based only on the fact that he’s recently taken to drinking good Scotch Whiskey. . . so some sort of cultural roots are beginning to grow.  Maybe a small sartorial concession will come. . . A Tweed jacket in his future?  A Bavarian wool jacket or a German gingham shirt?  ( A spirited Scot or a barmy Bavarian?  I’m not sure he’ll like these options–he’s more of a fanatical francophile.)

Well, regardless of who wins the wardrobe wars at my house,  I love lederhosen!   And, anyway, if it must be left to the Germans to carry that cultural torch themselves. . . I suppose that seems fitting.

Kilt from MacGregor and MacDuff Catalog
Kilt from MacGregor and MacDuff Catalog

 

Lederhosen from Fendt catalog
Lederhosen from Fendt catalog

 

Making the Best of the Wurst

wurst

Recently, another blogger I follow took note of the Germans’ penchant for pork.  Took issue with it, really.  And, while I think taking aim at another cultures’ tastebuds is a thorny undertaking at best, I do feel a little sympathy for other people who are swine-averse in Germany.  There’s no easy way to steer clear of  the pig when in the Palatinate.

And I should know.  I am not a sausage eater.  I don’t mind the aroma, the spice, the bite of garlic or pepper–those are all fabulous…seductive, even.

Not sure I like the idea of sausage, but sausage is not really one of those things anyone should think too closely about, so that’s not the problem.

I’m just allergic to pork.  So I avoid it.  No biggie.  Up to this point in my life, there have always been lots of options.  In the South, I go to BBQ joints and order shredded chicken or beef.  I take a pass on bologna, and I feel no great loss.   However,  in the land of beer and brats, you find yourself adrift on a sea of sausage… absolutely schwimming in schwine.

The boys in my family think this is fabulous, and I won’t contradict them.  But it does make for some awkward moments for me.  I feel funny always asking what’s in a dish that I don’t recognize–it feels a little high maintenance.  And, since my German is very rudimentary, I often don’t understand the answers I get back.  So there’s a lot of just steering clear–taking the widest path around anything that might possibly contain pork.

en.wikipedia.org, weisswurst
en.wikipedia.org, weisswurst

Which knocks out a lot of things in Germany.  (I thought my Ritter chocolate bar smelled slightly bacony the other day…but I ate it anyway, and I’m still standing.)

So here’s the plan:   Germany may be a swine-fest 24/7, but it’s also a chocolate and pastry and spatzle fest, so I will not suffer (although my waistline might).   My household will savor all that Germany has to offer by the age old “Jack Spratt technique.”  What I won’t eat (pork), my husband will relish; what he will only nibble around the edges (pastries), I will greedily gobble.  You’ll recognize us if you sit nearby at a restaurant:  we’ll be the people who’ve licked our platter clean.

Guten appetit!

 

A little sampler of facts about German Wurst:

*A wurst is a German or Austrian sausage–it is not necessarily made of pork, although pork is the most frequent ingredient.

*Wurst is sold both raw and cooked; it can be sold as a sausage or as cold cuts.

*If you happen to be near New Braunfels, Texas, you can go to the Wurstfest in November.  It bills itself as “the best 10 days in sausage history”–the best of the wurst.  Or the wurst at its best.  And then, later, you can confuse people by saying, “I was once in Texas and had the best wurst.”   ?!    The Pocanos also advertise a Wurst fest, complete with Polka Bands, Bavarian dancing, Lederhosen, and hotdog races.   The wurst at its worst best wurst …whatever.   Chicago also has a three day Wurst fest.  (This begs for a windy city joke, but I’m trying to be mature.)

*Bad Durkheimer, Germany (in the Pfalz, which is part of the Rhineland-Palatinate and close to where I live) has a Wurstmarkt wine and wurst festival in September.  Part of the national Oktoberfest fervor, but with wine. (And, I’m told, the wine is served in half-liter sized glasses, like beer.  Ouch.)  The Durkheimer Wurstfest is famous for being the biggest winefest in Germany.    It bills itself as a nearly 600 year old festival.  (The flyer should read “the best 570 years in sausage history”–that would show Texas!)  

Bad Durkheimer
Bad Durkheimer

 

*Apparently, there are over 1,500 types of wurst available in Germany. It can be found on a German table at any time of day or night.  It is the subject of festival and poetry.  (Well, if Robert Burns can write a poem about Haggis, then sausage is certainly fair game!)    

* Holzhausen, Germany boasts the Deutsches Bratwurstmuseum–yes, a wurst museum– which houses documents that can date the beginning of wurst  from the year 1404.   So there you go; plan your pilgrimage now. 

 

**If this is the wurst post ever, I apologize.  Consider the subject.

I’ve Discovered Hell

And it’s pretty tasty.

We went to the Getranke Markt Saturday and bought some beers we’d never seen before.  We were amused by a few “Hell” labels, so we snapped some bottles up.  (Sometimes amusement is as good a motivation as any.)

Popped open a cold “Hacker-Pschorr Munchner Hell” last night.  YUM!  It was fabulous!

Helles beers are a Pilsner-like class, so if you like the lightness of a Pilsner, you should give Hell a try!

Guten Appetit, Bottoms Up, and see you at confession in a few days!

Hacker-Pschorr-Munchner-Hell1
Give ’em hell!