Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Toast the Movie and Steak and Ale Pie

"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect."

                                                                                                  - Nigel Slater

Sundays in the fall always seem to bum me out a bit. I’m not a football watcher like my square eyed husband, so if I don’t feel like raking leaves or cleaning out closets I usually try to find a movie to spend my afternoon with. I have always loved going to movies alone so these fall movie Sundays are really a treat. 

In case you haven’t noticed there isn’t anything playing at the theater right now. I’ve already seen 50/50 (really good), The Way (a bit long with unlikeable characters) and Dream House (ok, but with a convoluted ending) so there wasn't much that appealed to me. Usually when I can’t find anything at the mainstream theaters, I hit the artsy movie houses because there is always something there I haven’t seen.

On this particular Sunday I chose a movie called “Toast”. Toast is the true story of Nigel Slater, who is a well-respected English food writer.  Self-described as a “cook who writes” Nigel has authored some seven cookery books without so much as a culinary degree or restaurant affiliation. He is a self-made man who triumphed over the early death of his beloved mother (whose meager culinary specialty was toast, hence the name), a distant and cold father, and a jealous and competitive stepmother.

We walk with Nigel through his sad childhood and as the movie crawls to its climax during his teenage years, we find Nigel and his stepmother, who is a great cook by the way, competing for his father’s attention and approval by constantly feeding him their competing culinary creations.  It is this constant cooking and eating that eventually leads to his father's untimely death, or so the movie insinuates. In the end, Nigel comes to the realization that even though he loathes the woman, this competition helped him to discover his love of cooking and his life's vocation.

Even though the movie was slow at times, I did love seeing all of the English food references. Fish and chips, savory meat pies and smoked haddock to name just a few brought back memories of the English soul food that we learned to love while we lived there but has gradually faded from our suppertime repertoire. English food often gets a bum rap, but I’m here to tell you that prepared properly these simple honest dishes cannot be beaten.

Even though the movie features a lemon meringue pie bake off, it made me really hungry for my favorite savory pie, steak and ale. Nothing is better than tender steak, mushrooms and onions in dark ale gravy wrapped in tender and flaky puff pastry. Because this can be prepared well in advance and baked at the last minute, this is a wonderful dinner party dish. Pair this with some mashed, steamed or roasted root vegetables and some Brussel sprouts and you have an elegant easy seasonal meal that everyone will love.

Steak and Ale Pie

Many recipes call for a top crust only but I like my pies to have a bottom and top crust.  If you want to go with just the single top crust, brush the rim of your baking dish with beaten egg and press the edges of the pastry down on the dish to seal before baking.

2 pounds beef steak, cut into bite size cubes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium size onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound button mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf
1 – 15 ounce bottle brown ale or dark beer
1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
2 large carrots, cleaned and cut into 1” long segments
1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten

Toss beef and flour together in a large bowl; set aside.

Heat oil in a large stockpot set over medium high heat.  Add onion and sauté until it is soft, add garlic and stir for one minute longer before adding the mushrooms; stir well.

Add the beef bouillon and cook, stirring frequently until the meat is brown and just cooked through.  To the meat add the thyme, bay leaf and ale.  Stir well and bring to a simmer, allowing the foam from the ale to settle.   Add the bouillon granules; stir well and bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low, covering and simmering for 1 – 2 hours or until meat is tender (depending on the cut you purchase).  About 30 minutes before the beef is done, add the carrots to the pot to cook.  At this stage the sauce should be thick and glossy.  If needed, simmer uncovered until desired consistency is reached.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Dust a clean dry surface with flour.  Lay one sheet of the thawed puff pastry down on the floured surface and roll out until it is big enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9”deep dish pie pan (with 1” hanging over the sides) that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. 

Pour the meat mixture into the prepared pie pan.  Roll out the remaining puff pastry sheet to fit over the top of the pie.  Trim to 1” excess hanging over the edge.  Tuck the excess over and under the bottom pastry to make it even with the edge of the pie pan.  Crimp the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork to seal.
Place into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Be sure to check the pie after 30 minutes.  If it looks like it is getting too dark cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the baking time.
Remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.  Serve hot.

Serves 6

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