Tag Archives: M&S

Mum goes in pursuit of the perfect pork pie

My mum is a wonderful pastry cook. Her work colleagues request tins of cheese straws for office birthdays. For five years, on and off, she’d bring me sausage rolls wrapped in foil when she came to visit me at uni, and I would seduce my friends with them. She has no need of Delia, or scales. It’s all by eye, and her light pastry fingers.

Mum's sausage rolls

My mum also has a penchant for pork pies.

Now. A whole menagerie of beasts go by the name of ‘pork pie’. And a whole menagerie of people are closet – or not so closet – lovers of this most British of fat-laden snacks. My friend Rosie has organic veg boxes delivered and tends to cook light Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern food, all vegetables and spices and cous cous. But she loves pork pies, especially M&S mini ones.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is more from the drink-mopping school of pork pie connoisseurs. He marches into Lidl in a hungover blur and demolishes the luminous pink 39p ones in about two bites. I can’t help but be tempted by the new breed of posh ones with stilton or onion chutney added, usually sold for about five times more than they’re worth.

Pork pie a la maman #1

Naturally, my mum has a different approach. She’s dallied with Dickinson & Morris – third in yesterday’s FT taste test – and had a long-distance unrequited affair with mail order Brays Cottage (they send them to you frozen, and all you have to do is bake them and add jelly). Recently, she’s turned to the warm embrace of pies from The Woodbridge Fine Food Company. And they’re good – very good. But even these, made from uncured meat, warm with pepper and rich with jelly, are never quite good enough.

So making a pork pie – a proper pork pie, peppery and coarse, with homemade jelly – has been her holy grail for years.

Three weeks ago, she finally did it. And yesterday, she made another one, the recipe tweaked a little. Both times, it was marvellous (unlike my photography):

Mum's pork pie #2

She used this tin from Lakeland, and followed the recipe inside, ditching the pork belly and bacon as too fatty and sticking just to pork shoulder. It’s a serious commitment, the making of a pork pie. You have to fiddle with hot water pastry and make sure there are no leaks, then cook the pie on a low setting for two hours. Then there’s the anxious wait until it’s cool enough – but not too cool – to add the jelly.

None of that fazed mum. Bias aside, her pie really was seriously good. The pastry was perfect, naturally, with that strange alchemy of crunch and clag you need in a pork pie. The meat was coarse but tender, peppery and soft, and the jelly – oh, the jelly. It’s always been my favourite bit, and I think a pork pie which is tight on the jelly is a thing of misery. But there was plenty in this, tasty and wholesome from homemade stock.

Mum's pork pie, angle #3

And what do you know, a few month’s ago my mum’s hero, Nigel Slater, made this one. Spot the difference? I can’t.

Next time she’s going to try chicken and ham. Maybe with a bit of stuffing. I can’t wait until Christmas.

The food ghost and the best chips of my life

After three weeks of work experience I seem to have become a kind of food ghost, existing on a diet of Pret and M&S and Tesco Metro, with a helping of eating out which I really can’t afford. Not that I’m complaining.

Country bumpkin that I am, I still get a little bit excited about Pret (particularly their more-like-rice-pudding-than-breakfast porridge and their new rare roast beef baguette), and the  M&S food hall is, as I’ve said before, like getting a hug from my mum, even if I still haven’t quite adjusted to the incongruous sight of Cadburys and Cornflakes alongside the minibites and ultimate mash.

But none of this food really seems – real. It’s all so anodyne and plasticked and removed from anything vaguely arduous. Staying in other people’s houses and now at a B&B, I’ve no choice but to select the easiest thing, but it’s so dull dull dull. Especially Tesco. I hate the fact that, certainly in London and now increasingly in Cardiff , there’s one on every corner.

Each is equally tiny, with the same small and miserable selection of meals for one, drearily picked up by dreary food ghosts, sometimes with one of those miserably miniature bottles of wine for one, followed by a dessert. For one. All in several layers of plastic and at several removes from the field it should have started in.

I know I’m perilously close to food-snobbism, or worse still, poor-me-ism, but it’s just all so – sterile.

However. I was saved, at approximately 7.30pm on Thursday, April 15, by the best chips of my life.

I had just spent 5 hours outside the Oakington Detention Centre near Cambridge, helping to cover a rumoured “disturbance” there for the Cambridge News. It was a great experience but, also, as the April sun faded and the gates stayed quiet and closed, very, very cold.

By the time I got back to my B&B, I was frozen to the bone, absolutely starving and far too tired to make any kind of food decision. I did my dutiful ghost wandering around the Co-op, but somehow the prospect of a day-old chicken sandwich with a red reduced sticker slapped over the top didn’t fill me with joy.

My stomach was asking for only one thing. Chips. It wasn’t a want or a craving or even a fancy. It was, I swear, a genuine need.

So, having garnered a strange look from the man behind the counter in the Co-op for buying a solitary can of Grolsch (I’d just spent ten zombie-eyed minutes staring at the beer section trying to decide), I headed to the Viking fish and chip shop, next door to my B&B.

It smelt good. It looked good. It didn’t also sell Chinese and/or kebabs (a Crwys Road special). And, best of all, one of the options was ‘chips with homemade chilli’. I waited the five minutes extra, handed over my £3.10 (less than a Pret baguette, for a start…) and had to stop myself running back to my B&B.

I smuggled them in illicitly and there, on the floor of my bedroom, wantonly spread out the golden chips in their paper. God they were good. Covered in salt and vinegar, they were crispy on the outside and just the right balance of creamy and fluffy in the middle. Hot and satisfying and beautiful. And the chilli was gorgeous – chunky tomato and onion, good quality beef and spicy enough to need the calming stodginess of chips as a balm.

With nothing more than yesterday’s Cambridge News, a chip fork and the spoon from the morning’s coffee cup for accompaniment, it was perfect. At that moment, had someone offered me a Michelin-starred meal, you wouldn’t have moved me from my chips and my B&B floor.

This was food with a bit of soul and not a hint of plastic. Circumstance is all. So, tired and hungry and cold ghosts – abandon Tesco, and head to the chippy. It might just give you a smile like the woman above…

p.s. When I nipped outside to throw out my illicit chip paper, I went back to the fish and chip shop and raved about them to the owner. You can’t do that at Tesco. Although she did look a bit confused…

Custard and Cupid

Custard, from Ambrosia or not, is truly the food of the gods.

Admittedly, given that this week I reached the dizzy heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint) of muesli with custard for breakfast on Sunday morning, apple crumble and custard for dessert in the evening, custard on Hob Nobs on Monday and thoroughly polishing off the tub tonight, I may be a little biassed.

But honestly – on a cold and dark December evening, nothing quite compares to the unctuous rib-sticking creaminess of custard, glowing yellow in the gloom. It takes you straight back to being about five, when all you had to worry about was sleeping, eating, sleeping, eating. It’s a mouthful of hug, appealing straight to the most basic desire for something sweet and soothing.

It’s gorgeous warm with crumble, slipping seductively over the oaty crunch of topping and the slight sourness of apples, but it’s just as good poured over bananas cold. And when it turns into creme anglaise and starts being put into pastry – try M&S choux buns , or James Martin’s caramelised orange recipe – then it metamorphoses into something utterly different but entirely glorious, with a wobble and sheen all of its own.

Although frankly, I’m quite happy stationing myself by the fridge with a spoon. The illicitness is half the joy.

So, amidst rain and deadlines and end of term malaise, here’s a simple recipe to cheer you up.

1.) Trek to nearest supermarket, any chain will do. Don’t forget your umbrella.*

2.) Locate baking aisle.

3.) Pick up tub of custard, ideally Ambrosia. More moneyed readers may like to head to M&S’s sunnier climes and buy a tub of their fresh luxury custard, dotted with statement vanilla. If you’re really dedicated, do a Delia and skip to 5.

4.) Race home in rain, bearing said custard (ideally pay for it first).

5.) Obtain spoon. Open tub. Take enormous spoonful of custard. Devour.

6.) Try not to eat entire tub in one go.

7.) If you manage to exercise that kind of self restraint, smother a spoonful over a Hob Nob. Beautiful.

All I have now in the fridge now is yoghurt. Honey it as I might, I feel bereft. Back to step one…

Try it, and tell me this chap and I are wrong.

*Umbrellas may not be needed outside Cardiff. But it’s been raining here for so long, we can’t quite be sure.

Rain-soaked Cherries

Today has been a day of unwavering procrastination and rain. The sun decided not to show up at all and now it’s half 7 and it’s bona fide dark and STILL raining. But. There is hope on the horizon. These:

Little spheres of fluorescent ‘fruit’, imbued with sugar and then coated with wanton abandon in more sugar. Very 1970s and beyond kitsch, glace cherries are glorious in their brazen defiance of anything approaching health or fashion. They’re all fake tan and peroxide hair and teetering heels, but goodness they are proud of it.

I don’t let myself buy them because I know they would disappear in the hour. They have only appeared in my cupboard today because they’re the star performer in my soon-to-be-created tiffin for tomorrow’s bake sale. Already they are winking at me, little tempting fairy lights.

Yes, I’m sure dried apricots would make a healthy substitute, or dried cranberries for that matter. But glace cherries were not made to be substituted. Nothing beats their gloopy sugar hit, the way they crack and crunch into moistness when you find one nestled in amongst nondescript raisins and peel in fruit cake.

I love cherries full stop, but hymns to M&S kirsch cherry liqueurs (dark chocolate cracks and oozes fiery kirsch and an alcohol-soaked cherry), uberly-naff maraschino cherries (not just for Del Boy), my mum’s incredible chocolate-and-cherry buns and cherries bleeding into a paper bag, staining your hands as you eat far too many when the season begins, will have to wait until I’ve finished what I was supposed to be doing today.

Ah yes. Tiffinmaking. Oh dear.

But for more procrastinating – try cherry picking here, making your own here, or keeping out the rain and the cold with one of these.