[Menu Thoughts] Picnic

On Tuesday we cycled to Rookery Park for a picnic treat on one of Nom's days off. It took us around 10 minutes to get there, as we're only round the corner. It's a great little park that's usually quiet in my experience and contains an old, disused stately home.

The line-up for the picnic was as follows:

Mini steak and ale pies in shortcrust pastry
Red pesto hummus with carrot dippers
Boiled eggs
Pasta salad with oil, cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil 
A bottle of Crabbie's boozy ginger beer

This was mainly a very quick meal to make, most of which I threw together using ingredients we had available during the hour before we left home. The pies took longest; I cooked them whilst preparing the other bits, though I'd made all the components a couple of days in advance so they'd be a surprise for Nom.

The pie recipe:


The filling:
(NB: I 'eyed' this one and I can't remember how much steak was in the pack, so you'll have to do the same if you're attempting to make it)

Braising steak
Ale (I used some leftover home brew - a first attempt batch which was so bitter people struggled to drink it neat - so it doesn't need to be expensive or even 'good')
Veg stock (I made mine with an OXO cube)
One not-too-finely chopped onion
One chopped carrot
Gravy powder/granules (around 3 tbsp)

The shortcrust pastry:
I found this webpage very useful. In fact, I used their '9" pastry case' recipe. It worked and I'd recommend it.

Plain flour (8oz)
Butter or substitute spread (2oz)
Lard (2oz)
Cold water (3/4 tsp)
Pinch of salt

The method:

1. Assuming the steak isn't frozen, cut it into small cubes (small enough to fit comfortably into a mouthful of mini pie) and seal them in an open pressure cooker over a medium heat.
2. Throw in everything else but the gravy powder. As a guide to how much liquid to use, try to cover all the solid ingredients.
3. Pop the lid on, get the cooker up to full pressure and cook for 25 minutes, or as long as your manufacturer recommends.
4. Release the pressure and take the lid off. Once the steam has subsided sufficiently for you to get near the mixture, add the gravy powder and whisk it in to avoid lumps.

1. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. It's probably a good idea to sieve the flour.
2. Use a knife to cut the butter and lard into smaller and smaller cubes, creating more and more surface area for the flour to stick to.
3. Once you've done all the cutting you can reasonably do, cream the mixture together with a wooden spoon. Add the water at this point to make the mixture less stiff. Do this a teaspoon at a time, as you don't want it to become too moist and runny.

Your pies can be made there and then. After rolling out the pastry I moulded some of it into pie bases in a cupcake tray, added a small quantity of filling to each, then made flat, circular lids from the leftover pastry and pressed them onto the bases. The pies take around 30 minutes to cook at 200 degrees centigrade. As I didn't want my pies straight away I froze the filling and refrigerated the pasty in a big ball for a couple of days. Shortcrust pastry is supposed to last for three days in a fridge. 

The rest of the picnic:

As I said earlier, this was simply made of what we have in our kitchen. The carrot dippers were two carrots chopped into longs strips, the red pesto hummus was a ramekin-full of shop-bought hummus with two teaspoons of shop-bought red pesto mixed in, the pasta salad was very much as it sounds - I cut the cheddar and tomatoes up quite small and used thai basil as well as ordinary basil - and the boiled eggs were erm... eggs, boiled for four and a half minutes (medium boiling time for a medium sized egg).