Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pie July. As regular readers of this blog will know, I feel it's very important to follow through on stupid throwaway lines. I am also consterned by the alcohol abstinence charity event Dry July.

I find Dry July's politics of public virtue quite arbitrary and puzzling. It isn't raising funds for alcohol-related health or social causes, so why promote alcohol abstinence? Why not ask participants to spend a month without dairy products, or using their cars, or watching TV? Indeed, why can't individual participants nominate something they usually love and vow to give it up for a month, Lent-style?

My reaction, spurred by a throwaway Facebook status update, is just as arbitrary: Pie July. I have vowed to eat a pie, or other food resting on, topped with or encased in pastry, every day in July, to raise awareness of the awesomeness of pies. It's been tough so far, but I feel happy because my sacrifice is all for a good cause (pies).

I actually didn't begin Pie July until three days into the month, last Saturday. My first pie was this Portuguese tart from the Innocent Bystander bakery in Healesville. The custard was nice, but I found the pastry too thick and flaky – I would have preferred a thinner shell. The accompanying coffee was also very disappointing.

Second pie off the rank, last Sunday lunch, was the spanakopita from my favourite café, North Cafeteria. I like the way they make it with very thin and buttery pastry, as opposed to a lot of spanakopitas which have a lot of dry filo layers to chew through before you get to the filling. I also like the salad that comes with it, although there is just no dignified way to eat rocket.

And that night, I made my own pie! It was chicken, bacon and leek, and because I only decided to shop for the ingredients at about 7:30pm, plus I am a Shit Cook™, it took me so long that by the time I was done it was 11pm and too late to eat it. So I ate it gradually all through last week, and was heartily sick of it by the end.

Here's the recipe I used, and here's roughly how I made it.


3 chicken thigh fillets, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size chunks
2 rashers short-cut bacon, diced
3 sheets frozen pastry (I used shortcrust because it was in the freezer, but you could also use puff)
the good bit of 1 leek, finely chopped
1 generous teaspoon lazy-man garlic
1 generous tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup of liquid: roughly thirds of vegetable stock, cooking sherry and pouring cream (I use light evaporated milk as a cream substitute, in order to feel better about my fat intake)
1/3 cup grated tasty cheese
dried tarragon
powdered nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Put your pastry sheets to defrost on the bench. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Saute chicken pieces in batches and set aside in the pie dish. Add bacon, leek and garlic to pan (the bacon fat should grease it back up again) and cook until softened. Add to the pie dish with the chicken and mix together.

Melt butter in the pan. Add the flour and mix into a paste as if you're making a white sauce, which in effect you are. Cook until frothy, but don't let it brown. Add your liquid mixture, stirring all the time, and bring to boil then back down to a simmer.

While it's simmering, stir in your tarragon and nutmeg (I used a generous shake of each shaky container), and pepper. I was dubious about the nutmeg but it makes it smell amazing. Ultimately the bacon, cheese and stock will make the pie filling pretty salty so you probably shouldn't add more salt.

Add the contents of your pie dish to the pan, along with the cheese, and stir well to melt the cheese and coat everything in the sauce. Turn the heat off and leave pan to cool. Preheat your oven to 200°C or 180°C for a fan-forced oven.

Grease your pie dish – it might already be greasy from its previous contents – and do not forget the top edges. I used a round glass dish that I fortuitously found in the cupboard, but I forgot to grease the edges, which meant I had a helluva time cutting up the cooked pie as the pastry had stuck to the edges.

Line the dish with pastry. Put the filling on top, then top with the remaining pastry. I had to cut off the freezer-burnt edges of my pastry, so I needed three sheets for it to work, but you might be able to get away with two depending on the size of your dish. Mine didn't look very pretty in the end, as I couldn't smooth the top seams without puncturing the lid.

Trim off the excess pastry and seal the two pie layers with a fork. This also creates that pleasingly authentic crimped crust. Cut a steam hole in the centre. Put your pie in the oven until it looks cooked.

This is what it looked like the next day after sitting in the fridge all night and then being microwaved. I have no idea if the filling would have been saucier if I'd eaten it fresh.

I have bought the ingredients to make three more Pie July pies: egg and bacon, silverbeet spanakopita, and apple and raspberry. Tonight I was planning to make the spanakopita but I just can't be bothered.

Oh you so totally rock. I hate those gimmick events where you have to give things up. I think giving things up is usually pretty silly anyway - it's much nicer, more pleasurable, proactive and smarter to embrace things (like pies, or alcohol). Long live Pie July!

That being said I did a stint at boarding school (two years, 11-12) where we got cheap pies or sausage rolls for lunch pretty much every day, and I don't think I'd ever want to face that prospect again.
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