Tag Archives: nigel slater

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.

Independents in Ipswich – The Museum Street Café

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that vegetarian cafés are far more exciting then their carnivorous rivals. Partly because making vegetables sing requires a little more effort than offering a rack of condiments (French mustard, sir? French mustard? Does anyone actually have that – I don’t mean dijon – unless they’re having served-with-chips-and-onion-rings steak?), and partly, I think, because they have to convert suspicious meat-lovers.

The Rainbow Café in Cambridge has done this beautifully, attracting glowing reviews and loyal customers for their mixture of vegetarian staples, like their spinach and ricotta lasagne, or far-flung dishes like their Ethiopian Mesir Wat (lentil bowl). And, stereotypical as it may sound, vegetarian cafes usually do a mean carrot cake – the Rainbow Café proudly say theirs is the best Nigel Slater has ever tasted.

But where the Rainbow Café falls down is on price – as a lowly student, I always thought £9.95+ was a bit steep for lunch (especially when I wasn’t getting a dose of much-needed iron to sort out my pallid library-induced complexion). Not so at the Museum Street Café in Ipswich, where their imaginative, tasty and homecooked vegetarian food costs as little as £4.50.

Two things to notice first about the Museum Street Café. One, jugs of water and glasses come as standard on each table. Two, you queue up for your food, so service is quick, you can see what today’s specials are – and can work out for yourself just what a beetroot and goat’s cheese pattie will look like (this…)

Beetroot and goat's cheese patties

If that hasn’t endeared it to you already, then the fact it’s always bustling, food runs out (rather than being resurrected from some over-frosted freezer), and the owner is usually on hand to recommend his favourites should do the job. Just like the Rainbow Café, it tries out exciting new ideas to tempt people in – and they really work.

Indecisive as ever, my friend Soph and I picked two dishes and shared them – huge platefuls which meant we weren’t competing for the last mouthful. We chose the sweet pepper and onion tart and the beetroot and goat’s cheese patties, served with beetroot tzatziki and rice.

Both were gorgeous. The tart was lovely, just warm, really cheesy, creamy and downright savoury, with good crispy pastry. The beetroot patties – not quite the disturbing shade of pink my camera converted them to – were good too, fresh and sweet,  with a creaminess and depth from the goat’s cheese. The beetroot tzatziki verged on overkill, but it was tangy and colourful and helped to cut through the goat’s cheese. Both came with a green salad, which was freshly dressed as we waited, and for an extra charge you can get a variety of brightly-coloured side salads.

Sweet pepper and onion tart

Other options included a spicy dahl, and a gorgeous-looking lasagne. Everything’s vegetarian, and they have a great selection of cakes too, including their version of the commonplace carrot cake – a courgette cake, which I’m still working up the courage to try.

Warm and bustling, the Museum Street Café makes you feel like you’ve just wandered into your friend’s kitchen. The food is substantial, a proper meal rather than just a sandwich, the prices are little more than you’d pay for a boring chain cafe panini, and the quick service means you can nip in on your lunch break.

Try it – and bring along your most carnivorous friend. They’ll be surprised.

Soup for Snowy Souls

January is a miserable month. Grey, invariably; long, always. Full of broken promises and failed good intentions, food-induced lethargy and unused gym memberships. Even the coldest, darkest day of December is cheered by the twinkle of fairy lights and the anticipation of Christmas. In January, it’s a long hard slog to pancake day before any festival brightens the gloom.

The grey has been lifted by a dusting of snow, but it’s still a month in which my body’s natural reaction is to hibernate in a mismatched selection of jumpers, fluffy socks and scarves. New Year’s resolutions bewilder and bemuse me – how can I hope to motivate myself when I’m wrapped in several layers of wool and post-Christmas chocolate? As Robert Crampton wrote in a – sadly now unfindable –  column,  September is the real new year, when tanned (perhaps),  relaxed (a little) and armed with glossy new stationery we can take on the world.

Enough moaning. In the absence of an inspiring resolution, I have a culinary cure for the woes of January – soup.

I cannot hope to better Nigel Slater‘s description in The Kitchen Diaries:

“I have always loved the first day of the year. A day ringing with promise.  I have a tradition of making soup on New Year’s Day, too: green lentil, potato and Parmesan, noodle broth and this year red lentil and pumpkin. It is a warm ochre soup, soothing yet capable of releasing a slow build up of heat from its base notes of garlic, chilli and ginger, a bowl of soup that both whips and kisses.”

But this being Horseradish on Toast in lazy slumbering January, my soup of choice is straight out of the tin: humble, maligned, old-fashioned Heinz Cream of Tomato.

This year it will have been around for a century. It has survived (and played a part in) two world wars, the ebb and flow of foodie fashion and, most recently, the growth of the New Covent Garden Food Co. and its ilk (even Marco Pierre White has jumped on the fresh soup bandwagon).

Tomato and basil pretenders should give up gracefully. Yes, they bear a much closer resemblance to the original tomato, but that’s not the point. Heinz tomato soup owes its popularity to its creaminess and rich, indefinable edge, and most of all to the sense of nostalgia it conjures. Soup to eat when you’re ill, soup to eat and splash onto every possible white surface when you’re little, soup to nourish and calm when the very thought of cooking is too much.

Doused in Tabasco and black pepper, it has singlehandedly tugged me through the revision and colds and hangovers and tight budgets of studenthood. It simultaneously manages to fortify and cleanse, simple and bright after too much stodge and turkey.

It’s food for weary chilled souls. Come in from the snow, wrap yourself in a slanket (if you must) and curl up with a bowl of soup. Only two months to hibernate until spring.