In a breakfast state of mind…

We are already into March and here I am writing my first post for this year. It has been a busy few months… along with the usual suspects of work, six year old starting school after the Christmas break etc. etc. I have just taken up an exciting new project, and the icing on this cake is that it has something (if not everything) to do with food! More on that later.

Let’s talk breakfast first.

It would be an understatement to say that it’s my favourite meal of the day, although it’s a rare, twice-in-a-week indulgence. On weekdays it’s just eggs on toast, a Sri Lankan hopper (a rice pancake) or the extra bits and bobs from my son’s packed school lunch, and not being the punctual type I’m always running out of time (I’m a bit of a night owl, though it may contradict my obsession with breakfast), so these are just wolfed down along with my morning coffee.

Picture2A few weekends ago, my husband and I and our six year old popped by the Creekside café by the Dubai creek for breakfast. The café does not talk much about their food – their focus is more on creating a cultural hub of sorts for tourists and residents alike, basically anyone who would like to get a taste of the arts, culture, music and such likes, in a very contemporary yet traditional setting.  I usually don’t write about restaurants I eat at (I might also add that we paid for our meal) but the food there was so good that I just had to gush about it somewhere (and I don’t seem to be the only one in love with Creekside café, check out this wonderful review by IshitaUnblogged  which appeared in her Hidden Gems of Dubai series).

Perched right along the bank flanking the busy creek, the café blends in so well with the surrounding buildings of old Dubai with stone washed walls and a massive wooden brass studded door which is kept open with the help of what looked like an old gas-cylinder-turned-door-stopper. Huge umbrellas and rickety metal chairs and tables are set up outside, the setting reminiscent of a street side café in Paris, and a couple of waiters in black aprons and big smiles wait at the doorsteps to take in the orders.

IMG_6600You need to park your car and walk a few kilometres through the labyrinth of the Dubai souk to get to the café – a walk I would not complain about – the quaint little shops selling rainbow pashminas, spices and Turkish lamps lining the sides of the narrow lanes are a real feast for the senses. Having been living in Dubai for over nine years, it’s a pity I rarely visit this part of town….to think what I’ve been missing!

DSC_2875IMG_6628IMG_6686IMG_6661The glorious weather and the equally glorious (if not better) view prompted us to sit outside. There was a cold wind blowing but the English breakfast tea we ordered came to the rescue, and pretty fast too. It was just wonderful to sit there holding warm cups of tea in our hands and watch the almost chaotic but beautiful scene of colourful abras chock-full of people floating by and screaming gulls swooping into the water to catch an unsuspecting fish.

DSC_2863
The food took rather long to come but it did not disappoint. The highlight of the meal for me was the shakshouka which they call ‘Posh Beith Temath’; two poached eggs in a delicately flavoured tomato sauce with swirls of creamy yoghurt, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a golden lump of butter melting right in the middle and a plate of little triangles of crisp homemade pita bread to mop up all that deliciousness. The egg yolk was a bit overcooked and didn’t ooze out when I prodded it apart with the fork, as you would expect from a poached egg. So sadly there was no dunking the little pitas in egg yolk, but the dish in its entirety was ridiculously delicious!

Hubs had the Creekside breakfast sandwich (another lovely creation of corn-beef hash patties and scrambled eggs on a fresh muffin with a lovely little sauce drizzled over it) while six year old had a bowl of fries and the crème brûlée which came with a crunchy pistachio biscotti on the side; a weird combo for breakfast but being the weekend I let him indulge a bit, and I took bites of everything, of course!

Gallery5
Gallery4 A couple of weekends later, I woke up craving shakshouka or shakshuka – however you spell it, it’s got me trapped in its tomatoey, eggy concoction of sunshine and happiness. The chilly morning breeze (which sadly won’t last long) was whispering in my ear ‘Shakshouka, shakshoukaaa, shakshooooooukaaaaa……!’– I just had to try and recreate the dish at home, challenge myself and make everything from scratch, including the pita bread!

And it all turned out…perfect.

DSC_2894
DSC_2915
IMG_7337

Pita Bread

adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour

This was my first attempt at making pita bread but this recipe was so easy to follow and the results were absolutely amazing!
DSC_2919
Makes 8 pitas

3 cups strong white bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tspsugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)

Combine all of the ingredients, mixing to form a dough dough. Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and allow it to rest for 1 hour- it will become puffy (but won’t double in size).

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide it into 8 pieces.

Roll two to four of the pieces into 6″ circles (the number of pieces depends on how many rolled-out pieces at a time can fit on your baking sheet).

Place the circles on a lightly greased baking sheet and allow them to rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 500°F. Keep the unrolled pieces of dough covered – this is very important as I left mine uncovered and they didn’t puff as much as the first batch I baked. Roll out the next batch while the first batch bakes.

Place the baking sheet on the lowest rack in your oven, and bake the pitas for 5 minutes; they should puff up. (If they haven’t puffed up, wait a minute or so longer. If they still haven’t puffed, your oven isn’t hot enough; raise the heat for the next batch.)

Transfer the baking sheet to your oven’s middle-to-top rack and bake for an additional 2 minutes, or until the pitas have browned.

Remove the pitas from the oven, wrap them in a clean dishtowel (this keeps them soft), and repeat with the remaining dough.

Store cooled pitas in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Shakshouka
adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, inspired by Creekside’s version of the dish

I have shamelessly copied Creekside’s shakshouka, right down to the lashings of yoghurt and butter it was served with, and that’s just because theirs was so damn good!

IMG_7320Serves – 4

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
12  medium white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red and orange bell peppers, chopped
4 tsp muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked, chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy bottomed large pan dry-roast the cumin seeds on a high heat for 2 minutes. Heat the oil and add the onions. Fry gently till onions begin to soften. Add garlic and fry for a minute longer.  Next add the peppers and herbs and continue cooking on a high heat for 5-10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chilli powder, cumin, sugar, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt and pepper and simmer over a medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add a little water to loosen the mixture so you get a sauce like consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Make four holes in the mixture and carefully crack an egg into each, sprinkle with a little salt. Cook over a gentle heat for about 10-12 minutes till the eggs are set and the sauce is slightly reduced (if you want the yolks to firm up cover the pan with a lid and cook for a further few minutes).

Serve hot with a drizzle of whipped yoghurt (I used whipped labneh), a scattering of chopped parsley or coriander and a generous pat of butter over the top, along with some pita bread to mop up everything!

IMG_6670

 

Advertisements

The celebratory bird

Chicken rev bSunday lunch used to be quite an elaborate affair in our home when I was growing up, and the star of the meal was my mother’s roast chicken.

It was almost a ritual – Sunday lunch was incomplete without a big juicy bird with crisp golden skin gracing the table. After lunch, my mother would sit under this big shady mango tree in our garden and read the Sunday paper while I pottered around close by, sulking at the thought of school the next day. Memories…I can almost smell the savoury scent of that chicken roasting in the oven and feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun on my skin.

2014 is drawing to a close and it’s been a year since I started blogging (hurray!). Instead of baking a cake to celebrate, or a loaf of bread (my second choice), I thought it would be nice to make my mom’s chicken with the best possible ingredients I can find in the market. And that meant a free-range chicken, organic veg and the best butter and seasoning which the dish calls for.

First up the chicken – a lot is being said about ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ and I would sometimes wonder if it’s just a fad or a passing phase like most food trends, which come and go. That’s until I read about industrial poultry farming and what these poor birds are subjected to by the big commercial poultry producers just so they can meet the rising demand for cheap chicken and eggs. The sad truth is, with increasing food prices and with more and more people struggling to feed themselves (not forgetting the fact that organic produce costs three to four times more than ‘non-organic’ produce) will there ever be a solution to this? What we can do however, is make a conscious effort to eat fresh, healthy and ethically produced food – if not organic, you can always buy locally produced meat and eggs, and fruit and veg which are in season.

DSCN8144DSCN8124DSCN8139

I digress… so…there I was on a Friday morning at the Organic Foods & Café in Dubai looking for the perfect bird. It’s a wonderful store, carrying a huge range of organic produce, family run, with several branches across the UAE. The chicken did look a bit different from the frozen ones you find in the supermarket – it was plump and pink with cushions of pale yellow fat in all the right places.

Chicken rev

A few organic tomatoes, some onions, a bag of new potatoes to accompany the roast, a box of sea-salt and shopping was done. While heading out of the store armed with these beautiful ingredients I made a mental note to fill the pepper-mill with fresh peppercorns (the chicken has to be seasoned well). I may add that these peppercorns aren’t ordinary shop-bought ones; they have been freshly picked from organically grown vines in Sri Lanka and dried to perfection in the hot tropical sun. When you grind these beauties they release such a wonderful peppery perfume!

gallery 4Picture1gallery 5

I have made this dish many times but this one is probably the best by far – a happy husband and a six year old son, who happens to be a picky eater, were in complete agreement. The fat in the skin had penetrated the flesh underneath making the chicken extremely succulent and it had this lovely delicate taste which was subtle yet savoury. Mom, your roast chicken never disappoints!

IMG_5618

Well then, Happy Birthday Stove & I, you are and always will be my second baby (six year old being my first!), and a massive thank you to all my readers, without you blogging would make no sense at all.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas & a fabulous New Year! Till next year! xxPicture1


My mother’s Sunday roast.

This is such an easy dish to make with a few simple ingredients which you will always find in your pantry. The chicken has a delicate flavour since there are no heavy spices or seasonings used (which can overpower it) so make sure to buy a good quality chicken – it does make a difference.

If you are feeling too lazy to roast a huge turkey for Christmas, give this chicken a try, it looks and tastes beautiful and you won’t have to bother with any leftovers (meaning no turkey sandwiches for seven days in a row following Christmas!)

DSC_2831


Ingredients

Free-range, organic chicken (I also prefer fresh over frozen), weighing around 1 Kg
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 medium or one large red onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic (I like to use lots of garlic, you can use less if preferred)
1” piece of ginger, julienned
3-4 tbsp unsalted butter and another tbsp for browning the chicken
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp of sugar
3-4 tbsp water
salt and freshly ground pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180° C.

Wash and trim the chicken, do not remove the skin for this adds flavour and keeps the meat moist and succulent. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Mix the butter, salt and pepper together and rub this mixture all over the chicken (under the skin and inside the cavity as well). Leave to rest for at least one and a half hours.

Heat a big pan (big enough to fit the chicken) and melt the remaining butter. Once the butter is nice and hot add the chicken. Brown the bird all over, till the flesh is no longer pink.  Remove the bird and keep aside.

Next, add the garlic and ginger (add a little more butter if the pan has become dry). Gently fry for about a minute, till you get that gorgeous garlicky aroma. Next add the chopped onion and tomato. Gently fry for around a minute and then add the ketchup, sugar and just enough water to create a thick sauce (it should not be watery). Cook the sauce for a further 2 minutes till the tomatoes are cooked through and are soft and mushy.

Transfer the bird to a roasting pan and pour the sauce over, spoon some of it inside the cavity. Cover with foil (make a few tiny holes in the foil) and place in the oven.The chicken needs to roast for an hour and a half. After one hour, remove the foil and place it back in the oven for the remaining 30 minutes so the skin browns and crisps up nicely.

Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute through the chicken, making it tender and moist.

You do not need to make a sauce to serve this with as the onions and tomatoes turn into a lovely caramelised gravy.  Spoon some of it over the carved chicken and serve with roast potatoes (I made mine using Ina Garten’s recipe) and a salad or a selection of steamed seasonal veg.

IMG_5629

A Potter-esque Tea

(nooo, it’s not the wizard I’m talking about!)

IMG_3954

‘Your father had an accident there. He was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

Sounds really sinister, doesn’t it? Well that’s Beatrix Potter for you – the creator of perhaps the most celebrated rabbit on earth, Peter Rabbit.  I recently read an article by a columnist for the Guardian who criticised Potter’s writing, calling her “a creator of a dark, sadistic, bloodthirsty world”. Yes, there’s nothing subtle about her writing and you obviously cannot tell the fragile, sensitive child of the 21st century that a cute furry rabbit was put in a pie by a gardener’s wife. I myself skipped this part when I read the story to my five year old but these stories were written over a century ago when PETA did not exist and even children were made aware that rabbits were a good source of protein (having said that, I’m pretty much against animal cruelty and do not eat rabbit either but I felt the need to defend Potter’s story-telling skills!).

gallery 1

My first encounter with Beatrix Potter was when I was around eight. I had to recite a paragraph from Peter Rabbit for third grade diction. My teacher loved the s-s-c-c--rrrritch…s-s-c-c-rrratch sounds I made of the hoe which scored me extra marks (for those of you who may not know the story, it’s about a naughty rabbit who runs away from home to explore the world and gets into a whole lot of trouble in Mr. McGregor’s garden – he’s not rabbit-friendly as you can see from the above excerpt). Fast forward twenty seven years and I bump into this bunny once more in the movie Miss Potter with Renée Zellwegger doing a brilliant portrayal of the author.

As with most authors, Beatrix Potter’s road to success was a rather bumpy one. In her twenties she sold illustrated greeting cards in order to make pocket money and around a decade later she put together her first ever story book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was a compilation of letters she sent to her governesses’ ailing son. Unfortunately she fails to find anyone willing to publish her work. Not to be deterred, she self-publishes the book, which proves to be an instant hit among family and friends. A year later, with a little help from a family friend she secures a contract with Frederick Warne & Co (who has been publishing her books ever since) and the rest, as they say, is history.

IMG_3983Attempting a Potter illustration: Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle – another one of her woodland creatures.

Potter went on to write over 30 children’s books and even developed a range of branded merchandise which started off with a Peter Rabbit doll she made herself – and mind you, she did all this in the early 1900’s (businesswomen would have been a rarity back then when men were, well, being men!)

More than her stories, it was Potter’s illustrations that had me running to book-stores looking for her books – how gorgeous are those whimsical and atmospheric watercolour drawings of the English countryside and blossom-filled gardens dotted with rabbits in blue coats and ducks in bonnets!

gallery 2

gallery 3

You know that clichéd question people ask in certain interviews: ‘Which celebrity or famous person would you invite to tea?’… at the risk of sounding terribly old-fashioned (heck, I’m Gen-X!) I might just say ‘Beatirx Potter, of course!’ To do so I’ll have to wait till the time machine is invented, so I did the next best thing – had a Potter inspired tea made up of a rather cracked but delicious jelly roll, freshly brewed tea and a histoire of BP’s publishing adventures.

‘Come along, Peter, it’s time for tea!’

CSC_2733

CSC_2737
CSC_2741
Swiss Roll
recipe from Delia Online

110g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
50g spreadable butter
2 large eggs
110g golden caster sugar, plus a little extra
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling and topping:
3-4 tablespoons jam (I used strawberry)
Caster sugar to finish

(Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6)

First sift the flour and baking powder into a roomy mixing bowl, lifting the sieve quite high to give the flour a good airing as it goes down. Then add the butter, eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract, and using an electric whisk mix to a smooth creamy consistency for about one minute.

Next, spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin with the back of a tablespoon. Bake it near the centre of the oven for 14–15 minutes or until it feels springy in the centre.

While it’s cooking prepare everything for the rolling operation. Spread out a damp tea towel on a flat surface (have a second one ready for later), then on top of the tea towel place a sheet of baking parchment that’s about 2.5cm larger than the tin.

Then sprinkle caster sugar all over the paper.

As soon as the Swiss roll is cooked, lift it out holding the sides of the liner and turn it onto the paper immediately.

Now carefully and gently strip off the liner, take a sharp knife and trim 3mm from all round the cake. This will make it much neater and help to prevent it from cracking.

Cover with a clean damp tea towel and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove the damp cloth and spread the cake with jam. Then with one of the shorter edges of the cake nearest to you, make a small incision about 2.5cm from the edge, cutting right across the cake, not too deeply; this will help you when you start to roll.

Now start to roll this 2.5cm piece over and away from you and continue to roll, holding the sugared paper behind the cake as you roll the whole thing up. When it’s completely rolled up, hold the paper around the cake for a few moments to help it ‘set’ in position, then transfer the cake to a wire cooling tray.

Dust with a little more caster sugar before serving.

CSC_2675

When the going gets tough…

DSC_1457
The past three months have been pretty exhausting. Our nanny went on holiday and called in to say she’s not coming back. We were devastated. Tackling a full time job and housework plus a six year old Energizer bunny home on summer vacation and a sudden business trip to London thrown in the midst of all this proved no easy task and my stress levels hit the highest notch on the stress-o-meter.

To help bring some method to the madness, Hubs and I created a routine to which we reverently stuck to. There were moments when we felt things were falling behind and slipping between our fingers but we gritted our teeth and trudged along, singing (or rather angrily shouting) the theme song from Lego Movie,  ‘Everything is AWESOMMME!’. Our little boy would complete the chorus, ‘Everything is cool when you are part of a team!’.  It worked for the little Lego people and it definitely worked for us, though our neighbours started giving us the occasional odd look.

These three months helped us realise the value of time and how precious it is. It has become a luxury not many of us can afford. Well the good news is nanny did come back (after three months!) and everything is exactly as it was before, except that we make each hour, each minute and each little tick of the clock, count.

DSC_0703

Apart from the union song of Lego people, I discovered a few other things that helped me keep my sanity intact amidst all the chaos, little things which under normal circumstances would have seemed, well, quite normal.

And here’s the list, in no particular order…

 

Flowers

Pretty flowers on the kitchen windowsill can brighten up even the dullest of days. When I step into the kitchen looking menacingly at the pots and pans I would glance up at the window and take a nice long look at these beauties and Poof! my grudge against the pressure cooker would vanish, into thin air…

DSC_2500

 Scented candles

There’s nothing more calming than the warm mellow glow of a candle and the fragrance of bergamot and lavender filling up a freshly cleaned room, utter bliss!

My favourite tunes

I don’t know what I would have done without Melony Gardot, Carole King and Celso Fonseka. You guys are brilliant, just brilliant!

Butter!

An instant pick-me-up:  grab a cracker, take out the tub of butter from the fridge, scoop out a golden glob of the soul comforting stuff and pop the whole thing in your mouth. I must have eaten tubs of it. From crackers to toast to rice –  doesn’t everything tastes better with butter?

Bedtime read

I have to read at least a page, or a paragraph (actually even a sentence would do) before sleeping. It’s an addiction.

gallery 1 gallery 2

 Morning coffee

Made with freshly ground beans, brewed by Hubs. Nothing beats it!

Bath foam

I couldn’t spare any time in my strict routine for a long, indulgent soak in a tub full of soapy bubbles but a warm shower with my favourite bath gel was just as good to feel fresh and invigorated.

A glass of grape

There was no time for swirling and sniffing (waste of good wine, I know…) but a few quick sips of the amber liquid was all that was needed to put me back on my feet, ready to take on the world.

DSC_2458
DSC_2452

My five year olds’ quips

Laughter is the best medicine – and there’s plenty of it to go around when you have a cheeky five year old living under your roof. Here’s one that had me in stitches:
(scene: five year old, my sister, her eleven year old daughter and myself sitting around the dinner table)
5 year old looking at 11 year old: “I want to marry you”.
11 year old (turning red with anger or embarrassment or both): “I don’t want to marry YOU”!
5 year old (pretending to be disappointed): “If you don’t marry me I will go to the North Pole”!
11 year old (face red as a beet): “Go wherever you want! I don’t care”!
(A split second silence)
5 year old (grinning from ear to ear & pointing at all of us in turn): “I will marry you, you and you”!
Out of the mouths of babes they say…

Hubs

You always save the best for last. Hubs…he’s my rock. What more can I say?

photo

So there, I got by with a little help from these friends. How do you de-stress and get through little rough patches in your life?

A jolly good pie!

IMG_0857The sun has disappeared behind huge gray clouds and a bone-chilling wind lashes against our faces as we step out of the mini tour bus. Our guide Chris however grins from ear to ear and tells us we have an hour to lunch after which he will take us on a tour around the city (it’s optional of course!).

My eyes take in a panoramic view of the surroundings – rows of stately Georgian buildings in weathered shades of ochre, narrow cobblestone streets lined with charming little shops, an ornate steeple rising above blackened chimney tops, and in the distance, resembling a faded watercolour suspending from the sky, the breathtakingly beautiful Pulteney Bridge with the River Avon flowing gently beneath it. We are in Bath – a perfectly preserved time capsule of a bygone era… DSCN0752 ?????????? DSC01616?????????? gallery 12gallery 6??????????Around AD 60 the Romans built a temple and the baths which gave the city its fame and during the 18th century, or what is known as the Georgian period, it became a popular spa destination for the upper echelons of British society (an allusion often found in Austen’s novels). Bath was declared a World Heritage site in 1987 (possibly why those blackened chimney tops never got a fresh coat of paint- and hopefully never will!), making it one of just two cities in the world to be given this status. Picture2 We start exploring, cameras clicking non-stop, a trio of snap-happy tourists, marvelling at the old world charm of the city centre. However, having being born and raised in Dubai with all its glittering modernity and 365 days of warm weather, there is so much history and cold wind my two sisters-in-law can take, and restoratives are in order. You see, we were on one of our ‘mommy’s time out’ jaunts – a four day trip to London with a day tour to Stonehenge and Bath thrown in, and one of the must do items on our To Do list was to have an authentic pub experience.
So, following Chris’ recommendation we head towards the The Lamb & Lion which is close to the Roman Baths. But a few twists and turns along the way we stumble upon The West Gate (there seem to be a pub around every corner!). We find it hard to resist the warm glow which shines through its front windows and a few seconds later, we find ourselves sitting inside downing pints of Lilley’s Bee Sting pear cider and tucking into some amazing pub grub (that cider is to die for! Crisp, light and golden with delicious notes of sweet juicy pear, and pretty potent too!). DSCN0775 gallery 7 DSCN0787 We have such a roar of a time that Chris’s instructions to meet in an hour becomes a distant echo in our woozy minds. In contrast to the cold, dreary streets outside, it is warm and cosy inside the pub with its overstuffed chairs, oak panelled walls and huge floral lamps effusing a deliciously mellow light, and of course that tall sparkling pint of pear cider…

So there we stay, drinking and eating and drinking some more…

Well in the end we missed the city tour (which was such a pity), had a quarrel with our guide, saw the magnificent Bath Abbey with its walls lined with the most romantic epitaphs dating all the way back to the 1700’s, popped in to see the Roman Baths and even managed to gulp down a glass of its healing (and vile-tasting) water which a restaurant overlooking the baths was generously giving out to all visitors, my sisters-in-law got lost (I was obliviously clicking my way back to the mini bus and lost them along the way, they took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up walking around in circles), made a quick stop at the awe-inspiring Royal Crescent and The Circus and caught a fleeting glimpse of the white front door of Jane Austen’s house, where she lived between 1801 and 1806, while heading back to London in the fading light of the evening.rev 7 DSCN0854 gallery 8 gallery 13?????????? ????????????????????DSC01694??????????????????????????????? ?????????? Glorious Bath! With its wonderful history and magnificent architecture! But what stands out most in my mind when I think back of our trip is the few hours we spent in that lovely little pub, feeling warm as toast and getting happy-high on pear cider. There is something very endearing about British pubs – the relaxing atmosphere, the history (each place has got its unique story), the unpretentiousness  – staying true to its name; a public house, the food, the ale and the cider (it really is to die for) – a 1000 year old tradition which has changed very little over the years. Rightly described as ‘the heart of England’ by Samuel Pepys in his diary, pubs are a fundamental part of the British culture and it’s sad to see this tradition slowly dying out with more and more pubs closing down each year in Britain.
gallery 10 Oh, and there is one more reason which makes our first ever pub experience that little bit extra special. I was doing some Google research on The West Gate for the purpose of this post when I found out that the pub dates back to 1611 when it was one of the original coaching inns in the city, and about Alice – its resident ghost. There is not much written about her but the fact we spent a few hours in a haunted pub gives me goose bumps, especially when I think of the time I visited the pub’s bathroom. It was down a narrow flight of steps and seemed like a re-purposed cellar with cold stone walls and pull chain toilets – I was the only living soul down there and while washing my hands I had this eerie feeling that someone was watching me…could it have been Alice?

rev 22

Paying homage to the wonderful pubs of Britain and Alice (may her soul rest in peace) I made the ultimate British pub classic – steak and ale pie (apparently The West Gate does a good one too). I was also waiting for an opportunity to use these lovely little enamel pie dishes which were sitting in the cupboard, brand spanking new and begging to be used.
My pie-tin lining and crust decorating skills may require some honing but it sure was a jolly good pie!

IMG_0863 IMG_0868 IMG_0940DSC_2283DSC_2301

Comforting Beef Pie
(adapted from a recipe in BBC GoodFood magazine)
Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small celery stick, trimmed & chopped
1 carrot, sliced
A handful of brown mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp plain flour
700 g beef shin, featherblade or stewing steak cut into large chunks
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 beef stock cubes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
540 ml dark ale or beer
1 egg beaten, to glaze
1 pack of ready-made, all butter shortcrust pastry (I’m all for short cuts but you can make your own)

Heat oven to 160 C. Using a flame proof casserole dish with a lid, heat some of the olive oil and add the beef. Fry the beef cubes for a few minutes till they turn brown and set aside.

Lower the heat and add the remaining olive oil and butter. Add the onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes – try not to colour them too much. Turn up the heat and add the carrots and celery and scatter in the mushrooms. Stir in the flour until it has disappeared. Mix everything together before stirring in the beef and Worcestershire sauce. Crumble in stock cubes, add thyme and season well. Fry fast for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour in the ale, stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Remove lid and cook for another 30 mins – this should thicken the sauce nicely (we are looking for a rich, dark, robust stew).

Increase oven to 200 C. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 20-22 cm pie dish (you can also use small, individual pie dishes). Spoon in the meat and pour over the sauce until the meat is just coated. Roll out the remaining pastry and use it to cover the pie. Using a small, sharp knife trim the edges and crimp with a fork to seal. Brush top of the pie with beaten egg. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

If there is remaining sauce, reheat and serve with the pie along with mashed potatoes and peas.
IMG_0827