Monday, 4 December 2017

The Cookery Calendar Challenge

Thank you so much for your wonderful comments and suggestions on my last post, in particular how to address Christmas traditions like stocking fillers and advent calendars as children grow older. I loved all your ideas and was very heartened that so many of your older children still enjoy these elements of Christmas. Personally, I always had a stocking until I left home for good, so right through university, and always looked forward to seeing what little treats were inside. And I remember the first time John came to stay with us for Christmas and how excited my mum was to produce a stocking for a boy, after raising three girls. So I think I will continue with my embarrassing traditions for as long as possible, right up until my two leave home. Who doesn't like chocolate anyway, at any age?

I am almost through my Cookery Calendar Challenge, led by Penny at The Homemade Heart, in which we trawl through our less thumbed cookery books looking for inspiration and deliciousness. For November I chose Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons by Jon Simon and Tristan Hogg. Neither John or I can remember where we got this book, but we know that we didn't buy it. I think it was a free copy given to John some years ago when he worked in a bookshop. Many of our cookery books came free (either damaged or a gift from a publisher) or heavily discounted from our time working in bookshops. I chose it for November as this cold, dark month seemed like a month for pie. Also, before we go any further, can I just apologise for the horrible electric light in all these photos. I don't spend much time in my house in daylight lately, what with being at work all week, so electric light it is. 

The book is divided into the four seasons with pies, both savoury and sweet, that match what is available and at it's best in those months, so I chose one from the autumn and one from the winter section. While the recipes in this book are very solid and well written, I was irritated by the tone, which seemed firmly aimed at men. Or, rather, "blokes". It made me realise how many of the cookery books I enjoy reading and cooking from are aimed at women like me, and perhaps male readers find this equally irritating. I don't know, I didn't really think about it before. Dishes have names like "Posh Paddy's Pie", "The Chairman" and "The Screaming Desperado" and there is a section on "booze matching". The book is full of lifestyle photos of the authors in fields wearing check shirts and gilets, chatting to farmers, camping, or lighting fires or barbecues on the beach. It's all a bit Boden catalogue.

First, "Cheesy Tom's beef hash with homemade baked beans", named after their friend Tom who is a "great bloke", apparently. But once I'd stopped rolling my eyes and started cooking, I was quite taken with Tom and his beef hash. 

You slow cook a beef brisket in stock for three hours, then when it's cooled a little shred it with two forks. Meanwhile, you peel and boil some potatoes. Then you fry four onions in 250g of butter. Yes, that's right, a whole pack of butter. I just couldn't do it. It just seemed wrong. Too much butter, and I do like butter, so I halved the amount.

The onions just melt down to the sweetest, most buttery goo. I kept eating then out of the pan they were so good. The hash is simply a case of mixing the onions, potatoes and beef with some chopped parsley before transferring to an oven dish and smothering in cheddar, before baking for half an hour. 

It did dry out just a very little bit - I probably should've used all the butter, or at least added a little stock to the dish - but it was everything it promised to be, cheesy and savoury and comforting.

The best bit about this dish though was the homemade baked beans. After frying some finely chopped onion, celery and garlic, you add the haricot beans to a jar or passata and a whole lot of spices, and just let it simmer away. The recipe said ten minutes but I gave mine more like forty and it was better for it. But homemade baked beans, wow. And the leftovers are great on toast with an egg on top.

Next were "pulled pork, cider and sage pies". Again, you start by slow cooking a pork shoulder for four hours before removing the fat and shredding it when it's cooked and cooled a little. Then, to make the rest of the pie filling, you fry onions, fennel and sage with cannellini beans, adding the cooking stock from the pork to make a sauce. 

Then add the shredded meat and transfer to a pie dish before covering with shortcrust pastry and baking. This recipe called for eight individual pie dishes, but we chose to bake it in one dish, partly because I don't have eight mini pie dishes, but mostly because why would you wash up eight things when you can wash up one?

It was excellent. It thought that amount of sage would be too overpowering, but it was good and balanced out the pork. The kids, who will pretty much eat any pie, liked it although there was some moaning from Angus about the "white kidney beans". 

So now I have lots of leftover pie in the freezer for rushed weeknight dinners, plus a huge amount of pulled pork which I think might end up in a chilli.

I hope you're all ok. I am looking forward to another Making the Seasons post at the end of the week and have some crafty ideas that I want to share with you. Simple ways to feel festive without spending too much time or money. I'm not actually feeling especially festive yet - we haven't bought a tree, I haven't yet written any cards or made any mince pies - so I think I need to find my sparkle somewhere and crafting, as always, is the answer. 


  1. I'm not feeling that festive yet myself. We did put up our tree yesterday, which is helping, but it was so warm until recently and we've had so much going on, that it doesn't feel like Christmastime to me yet. I'm sure it will come. I love the idea of pie like this, but I wouldn't even know where to begin. I think these recipes sound really good, though. I would enjoy eating them, even if I couldn't figure out how to make them. :)

  2. No cards written here yet, either; this is the first time in years that I am so busy with work I can hardly get round to do anything else. Oh, and visiting the Christmas Market, of course :-) I love so close to town centre that I often simply go there for my evening meal after work.

    As for the recipes - things that take 3 or 4 hours to simmer (and that's even before you've actually started on the dish itself!) are completely out of question for me. The only times I am home long enough are at night, and then I would have to go to bed before the meat is half way through :-D
    But your pies look and sound delicious; never mind the electric light.

  3. No tree or cards written here either, although I have to confess that a few mince pies have been consumed! A book all about pies sounds so comforting - are there any vegan ones? Homemade baked beans sound worth a try - I think I made them many years ago (Boston Baked Beans?) but can't remember the spice combination. I might just have to Google the recipe. Happy crafting. xx

  4. They all sound good & I remember my Mum making baked beans a couple of times when I was little. Look forward to seeing your crafty makes later this week. I can't seem to get festive yet & also need to do my cards. Take care.

  5. Such a super post! Pies look scrumptious, and it's so reassuring to know others are not 'all sorted' �� ang

  6. All looks tasty Gillian, I think everyone likes pie so always a winner. I often make a quick pie using leftover roast chicken, some mushrooms and perhaps sliced spring onions and a cup of soup. No seasoning is needed as it's all in the cup of soup. Simply top it with shortcrust or puff pastry, bought or homemade and after 30-40 mins cooking, dinner is ready. If I add some cut up potatoes and carrots, it's more of a pasty pie and no need for anything more.
    Not prepared for Christmas here either, the card holder is up with the advent calendar but that's it. I must get organised, especially with the cards and a few more presents. Cathy x

  7. I like the idea of your homemade baked beans. I had a look in the freezer earlier as I want to have a bit of a clear out of it before the festive season, and I found two big bags of borlotti beans so I might give them a go. Not so much as a mince pie here either yet, although I have threatened to bin the advent calendar and advent candle if people don't stop arguing over whose turn it is to open, light and blow out. And we even have a rota written down on a sheet of A4. Still, every teatime there is at least 10 minutes of heated discussion, sometimes more. Sorry, have gone off on a tangent. As you were. CJ xx

  8. The pies look very good! But American as I am, I thought you were doing sweet pies like, apple or pumpkin or pecan with whipped cream or ice cream! LOL

  9. I love a good pie! I am so hungry now that I might have to go and find a snack :-) Richard makes baked beans sometimes, so much better than the tinned variety, which I hate (but everyone else in the house loves). We still have one birthday to celebrate before I allow myself to feel festive. I am looking forward to some festive baking next week though. And maybe a mince pie or two. x

  10. I've linked your blog in with mine for this Cookery Calendar Challenge as I'm not sure who else is taking part. Hope that's ok. Cathy x

  11. The Christmas sparkle has arrived for me following a trip to watch The Nutcracker this week... magical. The tree is to be purchased and decorated this weekend, and today is the day for cards...


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