Beef bourguignon pie, with homemade puff pastry

Eating out, Food & drink
Beef bourguignon pie, with homemade puff pastry

A few months ago, we spent a weekend in Berlin, an edgy, intoxicating, graffiti-covered city tortured by its own past, the streets forming the canvas on which the horrors of the last century were played out.

It was cold.

Very cold. A type of unrelenting cold that attacked at the very core, damp, miserable, wretched, weather to match the Soviet-era concrete and gloom.

We’d tramped around Kreuzberg for a morning, and got to that point where we needed something to eat, pretty much immediately. I was at the ‘OK, I’m eating whatever the next place that sells food has, whatever it is’ stage, and that next place was a little café selling pies with either mashed potato or salad, but nobody was buying the salad, unsurprisingly. I skipped the vaguely jerk chicken option (10% off if you sung the chorus from No Woman, No Cry … I’d have happily paid double, triple even, not to have to do that) and we ate steak and Guinness pies that tasted like manna from Heaven … pure fuel, delicious beef encased in a pastry that was just soggy enough underneath, just crisp enough on top.

It was the best pie I’ve had for a long time, not least because of its magical abilities to restore some warmth to our frozen bones, but because it was simple and elegant, carefully flavoured, carefully made and unpretentious. It was a pie. A glorious pie.

As we ate, I noticed a familiar book on the shelf behind the counter – Dean Brettschneider’s Pie, of which I’ve sung the praises several times before.

Of course, on returning home, I dug that book out again straight away and set to work.

The basis of any pie – all pies – is good pastry. It’s what makes a pie a pie. Without pastry, a pie is a stew.

Good pastry need not be a problem. It’s very easy to make, and even easier to buy. There is no shame whatsoever in buying a block of commercial puff pastry. It’s generally an excellent product, and a very useful thing to have tucked away in a freezer in case of dire pie-related emergencies.

All that said, there’s something fulfilling and basic about making a decent pastry from scratch, and even a puff pastry of exceptional quality is well within the reach of most people.

So, here’s how to do it… More…

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Lobster ravioli, and 15% off some lobster

Food & drink
How to make lobster ravioli

A lot of mystery surrounds the humble lobster.

Firstly, it isn’t particularly humble – these creatures cost a lot of money. Whichever way you look at it, they’re expensive.

Secondly, they’re a faff to prepare, a task which normally involves shipping a live lobster back from some market somewhere, agonising about the best way to despatch it, and then actually doing the deed.

It’s all fairly straightforward, but it’s understandable why people are squeamish about it. Death in the kitchen is never a pleasant experience, even if it’s just a crustacean.

There’s an easier way, though – just buy a pre-prepped pack of meat, more on which later.

Once all that’s done, there’s the issue of what to actually do with the thing. You could slather it in butter and garlic and just eat it, which is a very fine thing to do, but you might want to go a step further …

These ravioli are a good example, a canvas to highlight the richness and luxury of lobster meat. There’s some work involved, and a few technical elements that need mastering, but it’s all do-able and within grasp.

Ravioli requires pasta. Fresh pasta. Pasta you’ve made yourself. There’s no way around that, so crack on. More…

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French Regional Food, by Joël Robuchon and Loïc Bienassis

Books
French Regional Food, by Joël Robuchon and Loïc Bienassis

I’m going to go out on a limb here – a very, very short limb, I accept – and state that French food is the best in the world. It’s the mothership of cuisines, the place that anybody with any interest whatsoever in food or eating eventually comes back to.

There’s good reason for this, of course, good reason etched in the centuries of culinary tradition and supremacy that’s central to French culture. The French know food, and are fiercely proud of that fact, as well they should.

All that said, a French cookbook can often be a little formulaic. There are many, many great books in that genre, but you may find them a little … samey. The canon of French food demands respect, and that can lead to a certain repetition of recipes, because, for example, all of those books have to have a recipe for onion soup, or tarte tatin, or bouillabaisse … a certain sense that if you’ve seen one French cookbook, you’ve really seen them all is very clear, although each book will assert its’ own supremacy. Naturally …

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German vollkorn bread

Food & drink
German vollkorn bread

‘Vollkorn’ is German for ‘whole grain’.

This bread is not a whole grain bread. It’s an approximation of such that’s lighter and not quite as dense as a full whole grain loaf. It’s not really ‘vollkorn’, but it’s very good indeed.

Germany would not be happy, but might eventually get over it.

All that said, this loaf comes from the same stable as all those dense, heavy Northern European ryes and whole wheat loaves, thick and substantial loaves baked long and slow to a dark crust. This vollkorn substitutes the rye for white bread flour, and packs in a bewildering variety of seeds and grains that bring body and a certain heartiness.

This backbone of seeds and grains is the main point of the loaf – start with a large bowl and add 25g of wheat grains, 25g of rye grains, 25g of whole barley grains, 20g of chia grains, 20g of jumbo rolled oats, 50g of sunflower seeds, 20g of linseeds, 15g of coarse polenta, and 15g of sesame seeds, along with 150ml of hot water.

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Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

Food & drink
Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

There’s something satisfying about chucking a few ingredients into a big pan, heating it all up slowly for a few hours, and emerging with a sublime casserole or stew with the absolute minimum of effort, and this particular tagine is a fine example of that form of (dare I say) lazy, one-pot, slow-cooking.

The key thing that stands out about this method is the literal simplicity of it.

When I wrote a few lines ago about ‘chucking a few ingredients into a big pan’, that’s exactly what happens. The whole lot goes in right at the start, to be gently fried for a while, covered with water and allowed to slow cook for a couple of hours.

It really could not be any simpler.

The result is excellent – a mild tagine of lamb that disintegrates at the slightest touch, wrapped in a rich, brightly coloured sauce and set-off by the crunch of almonds.

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