Time to get busy on the pie front

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Celebrate British Pie week by getting making your own at home

This is one of our favourite weeks, British Pie Week. The British Pie awards were judged yesterday just up the road from us in Melton Mowbray, and there’ll be a chicken and mushroom pie featuring soon on the menu here.

Are you all set for pie making? These would be my essentials.

Silicone mat for pastry rolling out

Professional silicone pastry mat

Ok, until I had one of these I never thought this was an essential. Now I have one, I wouldn’t give it up. It makes it easy in terms of not sticking, but also for rolling out to the right size. It doesn’t take up much space, can also be used for things like chocolate and tuiles, so I think it makes a good addition to any kitchen.

An adjustable rolling pin

 

Adjustable rolling pin from Joseph Joseph

So, once you’ve made getting the right size of pastry sorted, then there’s also the thickness. I’ve often still worked with a pound coin at the side to check, but this clever rolling pin definitely takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. I love that Joseph Joseph continue to think about how to make things just that little bit easier.

A conversation-stopper of a pie funnel

 

Rooster pie funnel for pie perfection

 

There’s nothing like the sight of a fabulous, steaming pie heading to the table, and especially when there’s an interesting pie funnel in the middle of it. I’d like a set of these animal ones for different kinds of pie, so rooster for our immediate plans, but there are cows and lambs as well, not to mention apples and other fruit.

A great set of tins

 

Simple Simon Pie Moulds

Who says that it has to be all about one big pie? Although that is never a bad thing, I really love this set of tins from Simple Simon for making a set of small raised pies. It’s a clever adaptable bit of kit in terms of size, and definitely useful for if everyone likes a different filling, or for making pies for a fabulous buffet spread.

A beautiful pie dish

 

Fluted stoneware deep pie dish

 

I’ve always been in two minds about ceramic dishes. You certainly need to work a bit harder to avoid a soggy bottom, but when you’ve got that cracked then there are so many beautiful dishes around. I really like this fluted stoneware one from Nom Living. A beautiful dish for a wonderful pie.

Five things to make at home pie making a little easier, or a little more stylish. Although if I don’t get round to making a pie, then maybe it’s time for another order from Bray’s Cottage. Still our favourite pork pie maker bar none.

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The hard work of being a small food producer

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Derelict Farm Buildings

 

I’ve been doing some updating of posts recently, and have found it quite depressing at the number of businesses no longer trading, especially those that were really good.

So I don’t suppose this week’s report from Moore Stephens was any real surprise, as it said that the rate of food producers going bust has tripled in five years. Which is a very sad state of affairs, and of course the usual culprits shoulder much of the blame.

Pricing and payment terms were the things most to blame, and it always seems wrong when big companies expect small ones to shoulder costs for such long periods of time. I don’t think this is exclusive to the food industry (I heard a similar tale from building contractors recently) but I think it’s probably exagerrated by the dominance of the supermarkets.

Of course not every business I’ve written about was in this scenario, as many of them weren’t even supplying the supermarkets. It just goes to show that even the best idea is no guarantee of success, and there are many factors, internal and external, that can affect your business. It also means even more so to me that it’s important to go out and support small businesses.

And to doff our caps in admiration to those small businesses still doing it day after day. When I look back at some of the businesses I wrote about way back at the start in 2009, it’s good to see there are some still going from strength to strength: Gower Cottage Brownies, Brays Cottage Pork Pies, The Handmade Scotch Egg Company…but not for lack of effort on any of the owners behalfs.

Sometimes it’s graft, sometimes it’s a touch of luck and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it being the wrong time for you as a business owner. To all embarking on the journey, I really do wish you well. And to the rest of us, let’s get out there and support the good ones.

 

Photo by Jan Bommes on Flickr.

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Gifts for the make it yourself kind of food lover

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Now, these can be a tricky kind of food lover to buy for, as they love to get into the nitty gritty of preparing food. They certainly aren’t going to love a pepper grinder. Here’s five ideas for gifts that might do the trick.

 

Helping out at Brays Cottage, producer of the best pork pie

 

Learn how to make pork pies from the best!

We love Bray’s Cottage pork pies in this house, and now Sarah is revealing the secrets to great pies and sausage rolls at the Macarons & More Cookery School. Great course, great people, fabulous location, so you could make a weekend of it. Classes fill up really quickly so check the site regularly for new dates.

 

Pro Q Ranger Elite Hot & Cold Smoker Starter Kit

 

Smoke it Yourself

Smoking your own food has been a bit of a thing recently, and it would certainly give them plenty of options on different things to produce. The Pro Q Hot & Cold Smoke Kit means they can do things like hot or cold smoked salmon, smoked cheese, possibly even smoked vodka. It’ll certainly keep them busy through till New Year.

 

Sixty year old sourdough starter from Hobbs House Bakery

 

Guarantee them great sourdough every time

Sourdough starter can be a tricky thing, but is essential for making your own sourdough bread. If they’re keen, then give them some vintage starter with the 60 year old starter from Hobbs House Bakery. Complete with instructions, this should guarantee you some fabulous bread over Christmas and beyond.

 

Chocolate making and tasting events at Paul A Young

 

Eat chocolate, make chocolate

I love Paul A Young’s approach to chocolate in all its forms. If you think they’d love some time trying some of his creations and then learning some of the secrets behind them then this could be for them. From a vertical chocolate tasting of bean through to bar, and then learning about tempering and ganache making, they’ll come away with not only a taste for the good stuff but new skills too.

 

Food DIY by Tim Hayward for the make it yourself food lover

 

The DIY manual for food techniques

This is the perfect book for MIY food lover, it covers how to make everything yourself from sausages to smoked salmon, bacon to buns, sloe gin to sourdough. So if you know they love to make, or the idea of it, but just aren’t sure where their interest lies, then this might well be a perfect gift as they decide what to tackle next.

Choose right, and you may not see much of them through the rest of the festive period as they get seriously into making mode.

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We’d eat all the pies!

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Pie school

 

It’s British Pie Week, and they are certainly popular in our house, with chicken pie always having ranked as one of MGG’s favourite dinners. If we had to choose, then these would definitely be our favourite pies:

Bray’s Cottage – given our proximity to Melton Mowbray, then it’s always felt slightly wrong to love a non Melton Mowbray pork pie more than a local one, but we do. Let’s face it, we love them so much, MGG even did a 40 minute work experience on the stall with Sarah on our last visit to Norfolk. I bemoan the fact that there are no local stockists, and more that I am not organised enough to order them by post. In spite of many imitators, the onion marmalade one is still my favourite.

Hartland Pies – our second favourite pork pies, and definitely more local and easier to get hold of. The pork and stilton sums up two great local flavours, and also fond of the slightly more exotic for Melton pulled pork version too. Available in London and further afield from here too.

Pieminister – having long standing connections to Bristol, then we adopted these pies fairly early on, and am happy to find them all over the place now. To combine the two localities, then it would have to be a Moo and Blue pie for us, which is steak and Long Clawson Stilton. Although we’d prefer Colston Basset Stilton in this house.

Great North Pie Co. – I’m from the north, and pie does seem a very northern thing. And I love the Great North Pie Co for really taking the pies to the next level. Big winners at the British Pie Awards last year, and I’ve no doubt will be this year too if they continue to turn out things like Ox Cheek, Stout, Pearl Barley and Redcurrant. If you’re in the North West, find one of the markets they’re at and stock up!

I’m with MGG in that this is great comfort food, perfect for cold days, and therefore this week feels like the perfect time to indulge. Although we’re off to Australia soon, and apparently they like a pie or two, so we may have to test the southern hemisphere versions too.

Photo by Donna Sutton on Flickr. Sounds like my kind of school!

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Why I like Norfolk more than Devon

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You may have gathered from the radio silence that I’ve been away, with the family decamping to Norfolk for a week by the sea. We used to go to Devon, but I’ve got to like Norfolk better and these are some of my reasons:

 

Does it get better than fish and chips on the beach in the sunshine?

 

1. By the time we would have got to Devon, I was already having fish and chips on the beach. With a chilled glass of wine. Perfect!

 

MGG helping people get their hands on the very best pork pies ever: Brays Cottage every time for us

 

2. I’m no longer that bothered about a pasty, Cornish or otherwise. But I am very fond of a Bray’s Cottage pork pie. So does MGG, and helping out for a short time on Sarah’s stand at the Honey Fair was one of her holiday highlights.

 

Cookies: for incredibly fresh seafood, and great views to eat it by

 

3. I like the slight eccentricity of Norfolk, and I love that places like Cookies exist. Grab a decent bottle of wine on your way across, then hope to grab a table for some of the freshest seafood around. Might be inside, might be in a shed, in a gazebo, or outside. Luck of the draw! Reminds me Alf Rescos, which got a little too busy. And I kept getting stalked by Kevin McCloud.

 

The Beach Cafe at Wells Next the Sea

 

4. Even though the Norfolk coast road is hardly fast, it seemed better than the coast road out to Slapton or Blackpool Sands. And finding the Beach Cafe at the beach in Wells happily replaced the Rocket Cafe. Not to mention that the kite flying was pretty good after a bacon sandwich.

5. Whilst Dartmouth has a huge number of restaurants, Sheringham is a much smaller place, and yet we could have chosen from Nepalese, Thai or Austrian. Full marks for variety!

6. Even with the influx of Boden wearing Londoners to the county, it still seems substantially cheaper than Devon.

7. One final thing it most definitely has in it’s favour: my ex-father-in-law lives in Devon. And Norfolk is even further away than here. Which definitely gives it top marks in my book.

 

So much left to explore, so much great food. So hoping to get back there soon.

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What would you buy a pork pie lover for Valentine’s Day?

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What gift would you buy a pork pie lover on Valentine's Day?

 

You might have noticed, I do write about pork pies a reasonable amount, but living this close to Melton Mowbray it shouldn’t really be that surprising. And most of the household is quite partial to a pork pie or two, but I can’t say it would necessarily be something I’d have thought of buying for a Valentine’s Day gift. But as a few people have been looking, then here’s some thoughts for you:

* Whilst heresy round here, my favourite pork pie is not a Melton Mowbray one. Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies have won Gold at the Great Taste Awards, and me over to eating pork pies, so some achievement! For a serious pork pie lover then a three pound pie might do the trick or a lot of smaller ones, take your pick! The addition of onion marmalade makes these a bit different, and the chilli version peps up any lunch box. You can even order a tiered version for your wedding, or a very big party!

* If they really, really love pork pies, then how about sending them on a course to learn how to make one? It’s one of the dishes you’d learn at the Nick Nairn Cook School on the More Meaty Dishes course, and you get to take it home. And the local scenery would be pretty spectacular too! For pies almost as an art form, then you need to explore our food past with the Pie Making and Pastry course from Historic Food. These are raised pies and a half!

* For something a bit fancy, and a bit different, then try the Poachers Pie from Fortnum & Mason. The pork is topped with a lid of delicious Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, and then little sweet onions. This is a bit like a Ploughmans in pie format. Go large for a very impressive pie!

* The second highest rated pie in this house is Mrs King’s Melton Mowbray. They’ve won so many awards it’s almost boring to mention them, but the taste makes it worthwhile. If you want to extend beyond the Melton Mowbray, then there’s the Pork & Blue Stilton, a Game Pie and even a Pork, Chicken, Apricot and Herb Stuffing one. Plenty to go at!

* Want to go personal? Then try Michael Kirk who offer personalised pork pies. You give them the message, they’ll do the rest. Beats a message on a chocolate heart if they’re a savoury person not sweet.

Definitely be a gift with a difference, something they probably won’t be expecting to unwrap on Valentine’s Day!

Great shot of Mrs King’s Pork Pies at Borough Market by Salim Virji on Flickr.

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Fabulous food? Normal for Norfolk

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Fabulous food, close to your bed!

 

As MGG has been at Brownie camp, I took the opportunity to escape for a night away, and have had a fantastic night at The Crown Inn at East Rudham. It appears I did very little from the time I arrived except eat and drink, unless you count a long walk on Brancaster beach. Which I do, as a way to feel less guilty about the amount of great stuff I’ve tried.

The Crown Inn belongs to the The Flying Kiwi Inns group, and I would gladly stay at any of their places. Comfy, friendly, attention to the important details and very laidback. And a great focus on local food, really well cooked. It felt busy but efficient for service last night, and the menu gave some great choices to make. There was the smoked haddock and gruyere tart with a perfectly poached egg, and then the chicken won tons, mainly to see if all the menu was homemade. And if these weren’t, they were from a very good supplier, incredibly tasty with fresh herby seasoning, and a sweet chilli sauce with a bit of a kick.

 

Woo hoo for the won tons

 

First night was about the steak, because I’d been talking about the Lads That Lunch evening with owner Chris Coubrough on the Science of Steak. I took it to mean that they would understand what made a great steak, and how to cook it properly. And given that medium rare really meant medium rare then I think it’s safe to say they do! And I still don’t know how I made my way through the pile of very hand cut chips, but they were delicious.

Night two I went for sea bass with chickpeas, chorizo, roasted pepper and a cod beignet. Not mad on beignets, bit cheffy for me, but it added a great bit of crunch to the dish’s varied, but complementary, flavours. Tasty dish and not so heavy that I couldn’t make my way back to the dessert menu.

I tried a chocolate option, and a gooseberry fool. Beautifully served in a kilner jar, this was probably twice the size it needed to be, but was a great combination of sharpness and sweetness, bit more texture from some amaretti biscuits crunched on the top and a buttery piece of shortbread to top things off. Divine.

 

No fool for ordering this dessert

 

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A 5 minute walk round the green to convince myself I’d walked off dinner, and then up the stairs to bed. Room 6 is small and perfectly formed, with interesting angles. Whoever has the uphill side of the bed shouldn’t roll over too quick as it could be disastrous for the one on the lower side! Divinely comfy bed though, so I don’t expect you to toss and turn much all night. If you’re country bumpkins like me you may find the road noisy, but I imagine most people will hardly notice it.

Breakfast was a proper English, with decent bacon, proper sausage and even a very respectable black pudding. Very relaxed feeling, as there are only the 6 rooms so breakfast is never going to be a mass stampede. I was asking where they would recommend I went to buy a crab. Firstly, A M Frary in Wells Next The Sea, was their recommendation and where all of theirs comes from. But as the kitchen had a couple going spare I bought one all ready to go, packed in ice for the trip home.

So I had the crab, we just needed bread. And the Village Deli at Thornham provided not only great bread, but a decent latte and two Bray’s Cottage pork pies, which are as amazing as everyone has said. Considering my afternoon tea companions are all Mrs King’s fans, these disappeared very quickly, with no complaints about a non Melton Mowbray pork pie being served up.

It was a very quick breeze through, but certainly wetted my appetite for all the many attractions, flavours and tastes that Norfolk has to offer, so I am sure I will be going back sometime soon. I would very happily stay at The Crown Inn again, or The Crown Hotel or the latest from this group, The Ship at Brancaster. Anywhere that puts me that close to great food and a comfy bed is my idea of heaven!

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