Gluten free steak pie – by request

The pieThis is by special request.

750g chuck steak.  I use steak from Yare Valley Oils Belted Galloways  or Beautiful Beef in Tharston Red Polls.  All herds are free-range, ethically raised and slaughtered locally.  I say that because some of my friends are very sensitive to animal welfare and not that excited about me eating meat.  I live with a vegetarian and so meat doesn’t figure that high on our menus.  However I am happy with my conscience knowing that I have incisors (therefore I am a meat eater) and I won’t buy cheap mass-produced meat, preferring to know its provenance.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, chuck steak.

750g chuck steak. Two medium sized onions. One large knobbly carrot. One stalk of celery. Two cloves of garlic.  A teaspoon of cumin seed. The remainder of a bottle of red wine (about 100ml), Gremolata   Beef stock (in my world, that’s Oxo), half a tin of chopped tomatoes, a little cornflour (this is made from maize, not wheat!), black pepper.

Cut your steak into medium sized pieces and put in a bowl.  Add a good tablespoon of gremolata and a good few churns of the pepper grinder, add the cumin. Drop in a couple of bay leaves. Add two tablespoons of cornflour and mix around to coat the meat.

Chop your celery into fine dice and your onions into slices and your large knobbly carrot into moderate sized pieces.  Put a big glug of oil into a pan (I use the le Crueset I’m going to use for the meat) and bring it to a moderate heat.  Add the vegetables and sweat them slowly and gently with the lid on until soft. Remove vegetables from the pan and scrape around the bottom of the pan a bit.  Add a little more oil. Get it hot then drop in about 30% of the pieces of meat and sear it till it gets brown.  Don’t overfill the pan otherwise it will just steam and it will go grey instead.  Remove meat from the pan and add to the vegetables.  Repeat until all the meat is browned. turn up the heat and add the red wine so that it bubbles and boils, boiling away the alcohol. Keep scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan as it boils. Then take off the heat and add the meat and vegetables, turning them round in the winey sludge at the bottom.  Put back on the heat and add the tomatoes and sufficient stock to cover the meat. Bring gently to the boil with the lid on, then turn the heat down and simmer for a good 2 hours. Or you can put it in the oven.  Then allow to cool.  Check the seasoning to see if you need more salt.   After it has cooled down, if you are making it ahead of the game, put in the fridge and take out the next day and allow to come to room temperature before you put into the pie.

For the pastry.  Use 250g gluten-free flour (plain white, or plain wholemeal) and 120g Flora or similar. Half a teaspoon of salt.  Rub the fat into the flour then add sufficient water to bring the dough together. Then leave the dough for half an hour.  Put your meat and its gravy into a dish and if you have one, add one of those pretty little pottery birds in the middle – the ones that let the steam out!

pie bird

Wet the edges of the dish. Roll out your pastry making it a good 2cm wider and longer than the dish.  Cut long strips off the pastry and lay along the dampened edges of the dish.  Then roll the pastry onto your pin and roll it over your dish, making a little hole for the birdie’s beak to poke through.  press the edges down, then glaze either with egg wash or with soya milk mixed with a little custard powder or turmeric.  Believe me, it works!

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190C for about an hour, turning down to 160 and maybe protecting the top with a bit of tin foil, after 40 minutes. Depends on your oven.

What can best a good pie, with mash and gravy?

Intolerant? Moi??

IMG_2468OK. So I am clearly entering Erikkson’s eighth psychosocial stage.  That of wisdom and despair.  I’m happy with the wisdom bit. And I’m not a despairing sort of person as those who know me will attest.  However I have found over the past 3 years that parts of me – including my digestive system – is more sensitive. Along with my first ever bout of gout, combining alcohol with my drug regime (!) and a dodgy hip.  And so a few adjustments have been made.  The good outcome is dropping two dress sizes.  Less good is being unable to drink beer, eat too much liver, mackerel, smoked salmon, sardines, spinach and cavolo nero, having to moderate the wine intake and be careful about eating too many grains.  Has it driven me to despair though?  No it hasn’t.  It’s another opportunity to adapt and find new things and new ways.  Does it mean I never eat any of those things? No!

So here’s my first ‘sensitive’ recipe.  Gluten-free vegan mince-pies.

Soak 100g raisins and a tablespoon of chia seeds n some hot tea for half an hour.  Drain then add 2tbsp maple syrup, 1tbsp of molasses and the grated rind of a small orange.  Grate two eating apples into the raisins and then 2 tbs pine-nuts and two of pumpkin seeds.  Add about 25g marzipan paste (egg free) chopped into tiny pieces. Add about 1 tbsp of any spirit such as brandy, whisky or port.  Combine all the ingredients.   Best do this a few hours before you are making the pastry – or put in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for no more than a week.

I used 240g of Dove’s Farm gluten-free flour for the pastry, half a teaspoon of salt, a sprinkle of baking powder, a little grating of lemon rind and 120g Flora.  Just make it like normal pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour, pull it together with some cold water and leave to rest for half an hour.  You will find that gluten-free flour makes a very ‘soft’ dough and – inevitably – it’s not very stretchy.  But it is perfectly workable with a little care.

Prepare  your tins by greasing liberally first, then  throw in some coarse semolina and swirl around the base and the sides.  This makes the finished article lovely and crisp on the bottom and prevents stickage!  Roll out the dough, use a cutter that’s big enough (don’t know about you, but incy-pincy mince-pies look so mean, so I use a muffin tin – call me greedy if you like).  Fill the bases with your fruit mixture, then add the pastry tops, using a little liquid to seal the edges.

#Three Top Tips.

  • Grease the tins and then throw a little coarse semolina into each depression and swirl it around to coat the bottom and the sides
  • Use a round-bladed knife just to ease the edges away from the pan after you’ve added the tops, then they won’t seal as if stuck by super-glue when you try to take them out!
  • Mix a tablespoon or so of soya milk with a tiny amount of custard powder if you don’t like egg-wash.  Use egg-wash or the yellow milk to glaze the tops.

Bake toward the top of  a pre-heated oven at 200C for 15-20 minutes.  Check just before 15 minutes.  I swear you will burn the roof of your mouth because you won’t be able to wait for them to get cool!


Tortas de Aciete

These thin- flaky-lemony-aniseedy-crispy-wrapped-in- paper-and-tempting-me-on-the-plate biscuit sensations are stunning.  Best eaten on a hot Spanish night, gazing at the stars with a chilled Anis del Mono to hand. You know the sort of thing……. the sun has been hot, the evening long, the cicadas are  churring and the sheep bells still tinkling away in the darkness.  The sky is a deep velvet blue and the stars hang so low you could pluck them down with one stretch of the arm, if you could be bothered to move.  Inside somewhere, music is playing but you are outside and wondering why the hell you don’t just move here. Then someone brings you the liquer and a Tortas de Aciete, invisibly presenting it over your shoulder and you reach out wordlessly, place the glass on the table and unwrap the Torta from its waxed paper wrapping.  It’s thin, it’s crisp, it’s crumbly. It tastes of lemon and anise and it has a dusting of sugar on top.  It’s a bit like a Cadbury’s Flake moment. But far far better.

These proportions make 6-8 tortas. Heat 115ml cup virgin or extra-virgin olive oil with strips of lemon peel from one lemon and one star anise for 5 minutes then leave to cool.

Meanwhile whisk 200g plain flour with 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast, 1 teaspoon of caster sugar and 80ml tepid water.  Strain the olive oil into the water (discard anise and lemon peel) and mix into the dough and knead in the bowl for five minutes, dusting with a bit of flour as you go.  Then cover the bowl and leave for a couple of hours till it has doubled in size.

Heat oven to 150C (fan oven) 160C (conventional)  You will do better to err on the cooler side of this temperature if your oven runs hot.  Well of course, all ovens run hot, but I know that my fan oven is about 10C too hot on every measure of the dial. You will know the foibles of your own oven.

Turn out the dough, knead again and form into 6-8 equal sized pieces, then leave for five more minutes (it will be worth it, promise) then roll out on a lightly floured board till very thin.

Cut out a piece of baking parchment to fit one or two baking trays and put the baking sheets in the oven and bring up to temperature again.  Then take out quickly, slide the parchment onto the trays and then place your Tortas on the tray, leaving plenty of space between them.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes till gently brown, take out of the oven and drift with caster sugar into which you have grated lemon rind, or added caraway seed.  Another good wheeze is to add about 15ml Anise liquer into the olive oil.

I swear you will never taste anything more gorgeous.  Yet again this post is without a picture, for the most obvious reason – they don’t stay long on the plate –  but I’m making some more tomorrow so will add the picture then.

Sweet little cigars – baclava

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These are easy peasy and so impressive. Ask John and Het, they loved them!

Mix 100g ground almonds with 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar and two teaspoons of cinnamon.  Unwrap one pack of filo pastry.  Dampen a clean tea towel, fold it in half and sandwich the filo pastry between to stop it drying out.  Melt 100g sugar in a pan with 150ml water and the juice of a lemon.  Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes then let it cool. Add 2 teaspoons of rosewater.  Prepare a baking sheet by laying a sheet of baking parchment on it (simples!).

Work with 2 sheets of filo at a time but keep the rest covered with the damp cloth. Take 2 sheets of filo but dont separate them. Cut in half then each half into four or eight depending on the size you want.

Dampen all the edges with a little water. Put a dessert spoon full of the almond and pistachio onto the pastry then fold one long side inwards (to stop the filling falling out), then roll up from the bottom. Pinch the other end together or fold over, whichever you prefer. Keep doing this till you run out!  Brush with melted butter or oil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes tops.  Allow to cool a little, then transfer to a shallow bowl and pour the syrup over them.  Now, the trick is to resist eating ‘just a little one to test it’s ok!’

This is the sequence….

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Samosas with mango salsa

A long run of visitors and little time for the blog.  Apologies.

Tonight we had a re-run of last night’s farewell curry festival when Mark spent the last night with us before returning to Norway. I was sad to see him go – we had rekindled so easily, the friendship of our childhood and shared many happy family memories.  But I made far too  much curry  – lamb rogan josh, eight hour chick peas, hot and sour vegetable curry, cauliflower and potato curry,  mango salsa, potato and pea samosa – which meant that tonight there was only a small amount of cooking to do (ie replenish the samosa stock).coriander and coconut chutney

So here’s the samosa recipe.

You’ll need your food processor for ease, but you can also mix the pastry by hand.  Mix together 300g gram (chick pea) flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 25ml vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon black mustard seed and 1 teaspoon cumin seed.  Then add cold water bit by bit until you have a soft dough.  Put the dough in a plastic bag and leave for about an hour.

Dice four medium sized potatoes into small dice (don’t bother peeling them).  In a shallow pan heat about 1 tbsp oil then add 2 tablespoons of the garam masala spice mix (on this blog). Cook it gently for a minute, then add half a finely chopped red chilli.  Then add the potatoes and mix in with the spices.  Fry these for about 5 minutes then add 75ml water and put the lid on, cooking the potato gently until all the water has disappeard and the potato is just cooked.  Then add a mug full of frozen peas, stir into the spice and potato mix and then add some salt.  Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

The key to a good samosa is remembering two things.  1) the filling should be hotter (chilli heat) and slightly saltier than you think it should, and 2) the oil for the final frying should be smoking hot (that way the samosa gets crispy but doesn’t absorb the oil).

Take the dough out of the bag and knead it.  It should be fairly soft but not sticky.  Then scatter the work surface with coarse semolina (I use this instead of flour), pull walnut sized pieces off the dough and roll out quickly  and cut into circles.  Then cut each circle in half.

P1020863Pick up a semi-circle of pastry and dampen the straight edges, then fold it and press together the straight edges.

P1020864P1020865Now open it out so the open edge is at the top and fill with the spiced potato and peas, then dampen the open edges and pinch together carefully.

P1020866P1020867P1020868Repeat this many times, getting into a gentle, contemplative rhythm, until you have tons of samosas looking like this.

P1020869Now, simply fry them in very hot oil, a few at a time so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop, probably about one minute each side, then remove onto kitchen towel.

Serve piping hot with mango salsa  finely chop one green mango, and mix with half a chopped red chilli, a one inch cube of finely chopped fresh ginger, mint or coriander leaves, a little salt, about a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of one lime.  Then fry a tablespoon of black  mustard seed in a tablespoon of oil with some more chopped chilli for about 30 seconds, then pour over the salsa.

Hope you enjoy them!.

Enterprise in the sticks

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Joao Villanova-Smith makes authentic Pasteis de Nata. She should know, she’s Portuguese. Her kitchen is full of genuine pasteis tins all the way from Lisbon. I am toying with the idea that I might never need to make them because why would you with Joao living just up the road?  They require  (apparently) the fusion of maddening combinations of temperature characteristics – cool enough to set the wonderfuly lemony custard but hot enough to cook the pastry without burning and (this is the really maddening part) really hot so that they acquire their characteristic burnt sugar spots on top.  That’s it – I need never make them with Joao in close by. Just eat them.

Al Watts

All set for expansion, there are plans for new ovens, more Lisboa tins and a machine to make the pastry.  Go girl!

Pasteis de Belem


Waiting for a train on a windswept and miserable Diss station in January my old friend Joao appeared like a vision. We hadn’t seen one another for nearly 20 years, other than across a crowded field at the Burston Strike School rally, and then only fleetingly. In the space of 1 hour 35 minutes we traversed the work, career, family stories, catching up, leaning over the table, laughing, touching hands and cupping faces affectionately. It was a joy.  More joyful still was to find that in her REd Riding Hood bag, were gorgeously warm and vanilla fragrant Pasteis de Nada – those emblems of Portugal and the Lusophere countries.  Joao was on her way to Portugal to see her mother, but via London to deposit three dozen Pasteis de Nada at her son’s birthday gathering.

The year before, Lynne and I had spent an adventure-and-a-half week in Lisbon staying with her brother and sister in law. Our best day (marred only by the stolen bag on the tram) was a slow and scorching wander along the waterside at Belem and then across to the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem to watch them make the little beauties, and then for us to eat them! It was my first introduction to the heaven which is a little pastry, warm and soft, filled with lemony, vanilla scented, cinammon dusted cream, cooked in the oven till slightly caramelised at the edges.

So Joao and I indulged in memories but also in pastries, and poor Adriano was a little short on his birthday order.  Earlier this year we spent a delectable long summer afternoon familia with Joao and Peter at their house drinking wine, eating Portuguese tapas and celebrating Alistair’s graduation.  For pudding, again were those Pasteis. Divine on a late summer afternoon, sprawling on the grass, grossed out on Bacalao, olives, salads and bread, and squinting at the sky through the trees.  Now Joao’s Pasteis can be found in outlets across the Waveney Valley, including  Diss station, where they tempt me every morning as I dive in the cafe for a quick coffee before catching the 07.02. Rarely have I been known to desist.

And so, to the arcane.  Today I transported 2 year old grandson to Dereham where he and I had a brief meeting with the accountant before emerging, blinking, into daylight.  And then to find, that along with a fine market on a Friday, there is also a Portuguese delicatessen. Oh glory. More Pasteis de Nada.     6 swiftly purchased and deposited at Lynne’s later in the day for Andy’s birthday on Monday.  These pastries are haunting me.