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With the festive period over and the New Year celebrations becoming a distant memory I would normally turn to writing about how to use up your leftovers, but I have a more pressing matter to address: what on earth has happened to pub food? There was a time when carrier bags were free and pub food was something that you could rely on as being plain, simple and honest, but those days have long since gone it seems.

Now shops charge for a carrier bag even when it’s not an environmentally friendly one and so essentially you end up paying to be a form of mobile advertising as you lug your branded carrier bag about the place, but I can live with this, but I refuse to live with pub grub being transformed into some sort of balsamic glazed, warm salad garnished monstrosity.

20160103_153758Once upon a time the only food in pubs was pork scratchings, the odd bap, pie or indeed a ploughman’s lunch, now I am not about to lament with rose tinted glasses over these dark days,   because pub grub has come a long way, but not all change is progress and when I get presented with an over engineered burger, complete with its own stake to ensure it doesn’t topple over under the strain of the smoked chipotle sauce with essence of whatever the chef dreamed up I begin to pine for a good old fashioned Ploughman’s lunch. I do find myself letting out a weary sigh when a tired-looking wooden board is provided as a substitute for a plate, it’s not really that ground-breaking and it won’t gain the chef a Michelin star so please give me a nice, clean plate. I agree that a wooden board is more robust and better equipped to stand up to bearing the weight of the array of small pots and buckets that surround my burger, but is really necessary to place my chips in a galvanised miniature bucket? Are the pots full of dubious looking sauces really required when the burger is already swimming (sorry marinating) in sauce?

Oh and when did limp warm lettuce become a culinary must? Yes, it has to be said that as pretty as that salad looks on the plate as it glistens in its bath of balsamic glaze, if you push it against the hot main it becomes warm and limp and for the matter the coleslaw is nicer cold.

Yes, I may sound a little critical, but when pubs are now charging prices that are closer to the price you’d expect to pay in a restaurant, then the standards have to improve. It is true to say that gastropubs have come under fire ever since the name (for a pub that put effort into its food) was coined in the 1980’s.   Love them or hate them, the gastro pub is no doubt here to stay, but pubs are gastro some are just plain ghastly. Harsh words I know, but true in some cases!

I would like to see pubs throwing away their drizzles, slate plates and glazes in favour of value for money, use of local, British ingredients, and great food that has a homely and comforting backbone to it – because that is what pub grub should be all about, otherwise I would just visit a restaurant.

Simplicity, done well is what makes proper pub food – not all of us want fancy, we just want good, simple and honest, so my search for perfect pub grub is on, and as I search for my perfect pub I cannot help reflect on George Orwell’s description of his perfect pub when he wrote an Evening Standard essay about the gourmet delights at The Moon Under Water: “You cannot get dinner at the Moon Under Water – but there is always a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels, cheese, pickles and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them.’’   Well that is a long way from warm salad and pickled cauliflower pie (yes, I really did see this on a menu once and tried it). Orwell continued, “Upstairs, six days a week you can get a good solid lunch – for example a cut off the joint, two vegetables and a boiled jam roll.”

Now a boiled jam roll sounds mighty good to me! There are undoubtedly some very good pubs that are specialising in making home cooked delights with good ingredients and they are to be commended, but sadly there are many pubs that need to get back to basics and start serving good British classics.

As I search for the perfect pub to share with you, you might get hungry, so here is a classic recipe that should give you a taste of comfort food.

20160103_171819Seren’s Steak and Cherry Wine Pie

Ingredients

100g button mushrooms,

2 shallots (peeled and chopped)

170g sirloin steak

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 large potato, peeled and cubed

113ml cherry wine

Knob of butter

Sea Salt for seasoning

2 tbsp. double cream

 

For the Pastry

Ingredients:

125g plain flour

Pinch salt

55g cold, cubed butter

2 tbsp cold milk, plus additional to glaze the pastry with

 

20160103_153400Method:

 

Place the steak in an oven proven dish and pour the wine over, place in a oven heated to 120 Oc   and cook for 30 minutes

Over a low heat, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the shallots, sliced carrots and mushrooms until just soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a pan of salted boiling water cook the cubed potatoes until just tender, drain and set aside.

 

Meanwhile… you can start making the pastry

Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and add the cubes of butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour, until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in just enough cold milk to bind the dough together. Cling wrap the dough and chill for at least half an hour.

 

Now back to the pie…. Place the potatoes, carrots, shallots and mushrooms into a pie dish and remove the steak from the oven. Drain the wine that the steak was cooking in into the pan the vegetables cooked in and heat over a moderate heat and bring to the boil, once at boiling point reduce to a simmer, season to taste and add the cream. Simmer until the sauce thickens. Cut the steak into manageable, mouth-sized chunks and add the pie dish (combine with vegetables), pour the sauce over.

Roll out the pastry and cover the pie.

Brush the pastry with milk and bake in the oven for 20-30 mins (or until golden) in a moderate oven.

 

Serve piping hot and enjoy!

 

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About Seren Charrington-Hollins

Food has always been of great importance to Seren and despite her being renowned for her historical recipe recreations, her culinary skills were not honed, in the kitchens of top restaurants, but in the home kitchen from the age of being able to hold a wooden spoon. When Seren was born her mother was taken ill and so she spent her early years being cared for by her grandmother, Minnie. This was to prove instrumental in the development of Seren’s love of cooking, for her grandmother was an accomplished cook, who’s kitchen was always awash with terrine’s, home-made pastry and traditional puddings. Minnie’s love of good food and her zest for life meant Seren’s childhood was filled with days of hedgerow picking, baking, traditional preserving and cooking recipes from the depths of a family copy of, Mrs. Beeton. She learned from an early age how to make Victorian puddings alongside elaborate noble pies and perhaps this explains her love of pastry making and the reason she won an accolade from The Great British Pie Awards this year. Today Seren has great skill in bringing historical food to life and making it accessible and understandable to the modern cook and diner. Her enthusiasm and love of historical food and British cooking is evident in her presentations and she loves to revive forgotten recipes. She recently took part in ITV1’s Country House Sunday and has given live cookery demonstrations across the country at food festivals, historical houses and castles. Trained as a herbalist and nutritionist, she has a deep understanding of improving health through food. Her interest in historic remedies and herbal folklore eventually extended to researching British food history, and reignited her early passion for cooking. Fifteen years on and Seren has amassed extensive knowledge and is now renowned for her historical food recreations and interpretations. Seren’s interest in food history does not just extend to old recipes and cooking techniques, but to ingredients and manufacturers. From the age of fourteen Seren has collected food and drink packaging from early Victorian to the 1960’s. Her collection is now extensive and provides a wonderful snapshot in time that accompanies her vast knowledge of the development of British food and drink companies throughout history. She also has a huge collection of antique kitchenalia and moulds which she uses to replicate historical recipes and portray past eras. Her training in herbalism and nutrition has not been wasted for despite her merits as a food historian and period cook she also delights in creating British Classic dishes for those with food allergies and intolerances (such as gluten and dairy intolerant). Her botanical knowledge has made her a keen wild food educator and forager that lends unusual as well as historical twists to all her cooking. There are also many points at which food and medicine intertwine throughout history and Seren is able to portray these developments and has also undertaken a lot of research into the British spice trade. To Seren historical food is not a job, but a way of life. Visit Seren's blog: Serenity Kitchen