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.