Wednesday 23 February 2011

Pie Crisps? It’s crunch time...

You can imagine my intrigue when, scanning the crisp aisle at lunch, I came across what can only be described as a novel idea. Pie flavoured crisps! And of course, the chosen flavour had to be steak and ale pie – a classic by all means (but cleverly branded as “Steak and Al” to tie in with comedian Al Murray’s backing of the Walkers crisp promotion for Red Nose Day).

So let’s get to the crunch issue...what did the crisps taste like? Well, I have to be frank with you (that’s Frank Skinner Roast Dinner, by the way – another Red Nose Day Walkers option) and say that the pie flavoured crisps were a letdown. While not tasting horrible by any means, they certainly did not have me going “wow that really is pie in a crisp!” There was definitely an over-powering taste of the ale extract flavouring, which was rather ale-arming. It certainly wasn’t the crisp finish I was expecting when delving into a pack of Walkers (and it cost me a packet compared to cheaper non-brand alternatives too).

All in all, what really hit home is that if you want a pie-flavoured product for a pie! And in any case, surely you can find and eat pies morning, noon and night, so why go for any pie tasting imitations? It just doesn’t make sense!
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Monday 21 February 2011

Original pie idea comes from the sea. Weed all about it!

Heston from Waitrose Steak, Ale & Kombu Pie Review

You think you've sea-n it all when it comes to pies but this really ups the steaks, good old Heston Blumenthal (who in-sea-dentally attended a certain John Hampden Grammar School, known for developing pie experts) has gone for a new Kombu-nation with his Steak, Ale & Kombu Pie. For those like me who aren't experts on marine biology Kombu is a type of seaweed.

Sea-riously though, it is important for me to be imparti-ale when it comes to weeding out the good pies. I have to give everything a go so I get ready to dive in. The trouble I first encounter is that I have put the pie in the freezer and the box explicitly says not to cook from frozen. Every pie lover has encountered the problem where the cooking instructions ask for additional patience but once your mind is set on pie you can't settle for anything else. At this point I normally just throw the box away.

Putting the pie in for a little longer due its less than ambient temperature it came out of the oven looking tremendous. However it promptly decided to teach me a lesson by half melting and half exploding when I took it out of the wrapper. The condition meant it was hard to tell if the content had filled the capacity but the consistency, whether intended or not, meant it was not at all chewy. The colour wasn't what I was expecting, I'm not sure if I thought the seaweed would have turned it green or something but it was actually pretty similar to your standard pie colour.

This certainly was a gourmet pie. The ingredients were all premium, no bits of grissle or filling it up with gravy. But what made this pie a real winner was the careful balance of flavours. Make no mistake, the steak is king in this pie. The ale and seaweed have been used very carefully so as to not become overpowering. There was also the perfect amount of gravy and the pastry was melt-in-the-mouth perfect.

I am please to say I was a big fan of this pie. It could have sunk like Titanic for trying to dredge up new pie flavours but instead the tide brings it in on a wave of success. I hope this is not a drop in the ocean for Heston, this pie shows he is certainly not washed up yet. We here at pie rate look forward to some more original pie ideas.

Steak, Ale & Kombu (Heston from Waitrose)

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Sunday 20 February 2011

Christmas Mince Pies

We've received many comments from our avid readership that Christmas has come and gone without even a mention of mince pies. This is a correct observation, but obviously this was not an oversight and was actually a deliberate omission - we were saving the mince pie review for February 20th, that famous international mince pie day.

The pack offers the standard 6 pies, with a wonderful festive picture on the front. But don't worry, mince pies can be eaten all year round and are not just for Christmas.

The photos on the front give the impression that the pastry is going to crispy and flaky. I was little disappointed at the pastry actually - it seemed like the same pastry used in standard apple pies.

Mince pies are one of those things that I'm not sure whether I actually like them or not. I like the idea of mince pies, especially when they've been in the oven. But I think I may experience a bit of relief when I finish a mince pie - although I have had some homemade mince pies in the past which I have genuinely liked very much. Perhaps that's what's missing with these pies. I think shop bought mince pies are always going to be a little bit disappointing. There's something so special about a homemade mince pie - about how the pastry crumbles away into the miscellaneous tasty contents - and a mince pie that's just like your standard shop bought apple pie doesn't really do it for me. Still, can't complain, I think I enjoyed this pie.

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Saturday 12 February 2011

Just because it says “pie” on the box, does that mean it's pie in the box?

Check out these “Rhubarb and Custard Pies” from Morrisons. This big name supermarkets is all over the Pierate blog, so you'd have thought they'd know their pies from their lies. This is going to be another post about what makes a pie a pie, but I really believe this is worth posting as I think this is possibly the closest item I've found to the blurry line between a pie and a non-pie/slice. It really does push the pastry of what is actually a pie.

Let's have a closer look. Firstly, at a bargain basement price of 49p, these items are an absolute steal regardless of whether they are a pie or not. Secondly, I quite like rhubarb and custard so I hope that if these do indeed turn out not to be pies then the disappointment won't be too much to recover from.

A cross-sectional view clearly shows the sweet contents. If the icing on top wasn't enough of a give-away that these are sweet (not savoury) pies, the sugary character of the contents is absolute proof.

So why are these pies? Well, they have contents which are fully encased by pastry. The lid even sports a lattice structure, which is a conformation that's already fully accepted by the pie community. It even says pie on the box, so they're clearly intended to be pies.
So why aren't these pies? They are flat, and do not have the original architecture of a pie since there is no deep base encased in a foil wrapping. Had it not said pie on the box, it would not cross one's mind that these would be pies. In fact, some might dare to say these are closer to slices than pies.
On balance, I would say that these are pies given the lattice structure and pastry casing. They are very tasty too, albeit probably quite sugary. Great with a mug of tea and a pie blog to read!
Score: 4.1/7 (loses points for being similar to slice)
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Wednesday 9 February 2011

McPie shocker! Lovin the Dutch “glocalisation”

Ok, so not everyone’s got a degree in Geography, but I’m sure you’ve heard of this kind of scenario before:

McDonalds become a global brand, bringing the BigMac and fries to various countries worldwide... but they also target the local consumer in each specific country with food that suits local tastes. Take the Chicken Maharaja-Mac, available to suit the taste buds of their Indian consumers. That’s called “glocalisation” – the global combines with the local.

Ok, lecture over!

Well imagine my surprise when, hitting the McDonalds Liedsestraat, Amsterdam, those clever people in Holland had decided to reach out to the pie loving community by selling a proper Apple Pie in McDonalds! Not one of those Apple slices that they fob off to unaware British consumers! For the Dutch McDonalds Apple Pie is indeed an Apple Pie! Not an Apple Slice, but an Apple Pie!

So after the shock of seeing a real apple pie being sold in McDonalds...what’s it like?!
Well, firstly, you’ve gotta love the plastic casing you get your pie in. Sure, it’s only a piece of pie, but presentation is key. Secondly, while the pastry is quite soft and crumbly, it really does fill the hole. It’s full of flavour and you know you’re getting real fruit inside you. While it would be well complemented with some sort of custard or milk/cream/ice cream, the pie did taste good. You just have to eat it quick, before it crumbles completely! And at just 2 Euros when bought in combo with hot chocolate, it’s reasonably priced too. While it may not be the best pie in the world, it certainly is worth buying – especially when you’re out and about in Holland. You just have to wonder why they don’t sell proper pies in McDonalds UK (the pie capital of the world!)

So maybe at we were a little hasty in our review of McDonalds pies... for what McDonalds UK lacks, the Dutch certainly make up for in Apple Pies. In fact, I’d say “Ik ben lovin het!” (...or something like that!)

Score: 4/7

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Thursday 3 February 2011

Take me to the Hospietal

The health-giving benefits of pies have long since been known, not least by the National Health Service. It is particularly pleasing to note this Beef and Onion pie, spotted in the patient canteen at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, London. Who needs an orthopaedic surgeon when you can indulge in some orthopiedics right here right now?
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Cos that’s what friends are for!*

They say a good friend knows what you’re thinking before you even ask. You’re on the same wavelength. Singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were. And that certainly proved true upon my recent visit (I would say invitation, but that hints at some sort of proactive request by my friends, rather than me just deciding to pay them a visit!) to Adam and Faye’s house. For there set before me, without even having to delve into my pie-obsessed web blog and how I eat pies for England, Scotland and Wales (and Northern Ireland, for that matter), was a delightful homemade Chicken, carrot and leak Pie, served with mash potatoes, a few cheeky roast potatoes, sweetcorn and a random Yorkshire pudding (“we have it with everything” – Faye). Bonus!

So with a great big smile on my face and a few hungry children on either side of me to help them eat theirs (yes, I did just about resist the temptation to eat their pies as well as my own!), I set about eating the lovely homemade pie produced for me. I have to let you know at this point that I was warned by 6-year old Isaac that eating the leaks could be dangerous and “turn me into a leak monster” – however I was willing to risk it just this once, as who can turn a good pie down!

I have to say it was a delicious homemade pie and one that I would thoroughly recommend to any who know the family. The pastry was crisp and light, complementing the nice meaty chunks of chicken and soft carrots and leak (N.B. I haven’t turned into a leak monster – yet) – making the content superb. The meat was perfectly cooked to avoid any chewiness and by visiting a friend’s house they very kindly gave me a meal for free (thank you – I’ll pay you back with babysitting Is, Lo and Evie!) The content was very good, spilling out of the crust as can be seen in the photo. And I even ended up having to help the kids finish theirs too (it’s called taking it for the team!).

All in all, a visit to Faye’s homemade pie producing factory – otherwise known as her kitchen – is recommended for one and all! And good to see the kids getting at least 2 of their 5 fruit & veg a day – and one of their Yorkshire puddings a day too!

Score: 5.5/7

*Of course there are other reasons for making friends other than making homemade pies for you... however as I don’t have any other friends then that just happens to be the trend for me... :P
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