Steak Pie: A Tale of Two Countries

I first tried steak and ale pie at the Jubilee market in Covent Garden, London. It was early December, and there were many outdoor food stands to choose from. (I'll be honest here and say I have no idea if this was for Christmas, or just a regular occurrence.) I was visiting American friends who were studying in London for the semester, and while they were in class I decided it was in my best interest to take the tube, get off somewhere random, and wander around, hopefully finding something interesting. My tube stop happened to be Covent Garden, probably because I am a theatre dork and recognized it as where Eliza Doolittle sold flowers in My Fair Lady
I bought myself an individual steak and ale pie, and it came in a little box that said "warning, tasty!" I took a bite and was suddenly warm and happy. Savory beef stew surrounded in pastry? Genius. Why is this not popular in the USA??? We have chicken pot pies, which are awesome, but steak. Steak pie. I ended up buying myself a cup of mulled wine to celebrate, which made the afternoon even more successful.
England both bid me farewell and then re-welcomed me to cold weather. A few days after my jaunt in Covent Gardens, I got on a plane to Israel. Once I got down to my kibbutz in the desert, winter was a faint memory.  I spent a very hot summer in western Europe, and then landed in northern England in August. I was shocked. The air was crisp, woodsy, autumnal. I needed a sweater. I couldn't believe it! Just that morning, I'd been sweating in Barcelona. I was also shocked to be hearing English spoken all around me for the first time in eight months. It was a thrill to understand every word. I eavesdropped with sheer pleasure. The Campbells are picking you up from the airport? Great!  Furious that the Ryanair people wouldn't just let the extra kilo on your checked luggage slide? I've been there! And yes, I agree that 35 euros for a Hannah Montana doll is ridiculous, no matter how much your five year old seems to disagree. ("It isn't 35, it's 34.99!")

Anyway, at this particular time, England was just a layover for me. I met up with Anna, and the next morning, we flew to Dublin, Ireland and immediately after landing, got a bus to a tiny village called Durrow.
We spent two incredible weeks staying in Durrow. Not only was it beautiful, so green and fresh, but the people we met were amazing. We stayed with a lovely family, originally from Dublin, who own a bakery and cafe called the Gallic Kitchen in Abbyleix.  Anna and I were so lucky, because we were able to help out in every step of a farm-to-table process. We harvested fruits and vegetables (lots of spinach and blackberries, but also zucchini, rocket, and the sweetest green peas I have ever tasted). We also got to help bake, cook, and run the shop. And did I mention how welcoming and fun the family was? 

The evening we arrived, exhausted from a long day of traveling and still unused to the cold, we were thrilled to see a fire roaring in the hearth, glasses of red wine being poured for us, and a steaming lasagne being put on the table. For a backpacker, this is a dream come true. A warm and smiling couple welcoming us into their home, two adorable children excitedly showing us their brand new school uniforms, and a year old golden retriever at my feet. I could have stayed in Durrow forever.
The Gallic Kitchen serves so much delicious food. Really out of this world desserts (the raspberry nectarine crumble, pictured below, still tantalizes my thoughts), wonderful lunch items and snacks, good quality coffee...

Seriously, if you ever find yourself passing through Abbyleix, check out The Gallic Kitchen. You will be greeted with a smiling face, good food, and a nice little glimpse into the Irish countryside.
I was very excited to be reunited with my beloved steak pie in Ireland. The steak and Guinness pie was wonderful and I definitely enjoyed it a few times while in Durrow! 
So anyway, last night I decided, in the spirit of keeping warm (we are now having weekly enormous blizzards in Massachusetts), to make a steak and Guinness pie. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe  (more on how much I l admire and respect Jamie Oliver in another, future post) that I found online, and made a few small alterations (and for all I know, the recipe I found online also altered it, so perhaps it's a  far cry from Mr. Oliver's original recipe). It was spectacular. I was so happy with how it turned out. 
Steak and Guinness Pie 
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
1 1/2 lbs stewing beef (I used chuck), chopped into cubes
2 tbsp flour
Butter or oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
Fresh rosemary, bay and thyme  
28 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 1/2 cups Guinness
Puff pastry 
1 egg, beaten
 Season the beef with salt and pepper. Be generous! Coat in the flour so it's no longer sticky. In a large pot (I would suggest a braising dish or a large casserole, such as Le Creuset), heat your fat of choice. (I tend to go for butter in a dish like this, and add a little bit of an innocous oil such as sunflower or grapeseed to make sure it doesn't burn) Toss the meat in and brown it.
Add a liiiiiittle more fat if the beef hasn't rendered anything, just so the vegetables won't stick.  Add the onions first, and cook for about a minute. Then add the other veggies. Throw the herbs in there too. (Obviously if you don't have fresh, use dried, but I am literally obsessed with the smell and flavor departed by fresh bay leaves, and I recommend that if  you see that in the store, that  buy you it.)
Let everything soften up for a few minutes, and then add the liquids. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let simmer. Meanwhile, take your puff pastry out of the freezer so it can defrost. 
The recipe I read said to let the beef simmer for two hours, but after a little over an hour it was really reduced and I took it off the stove. Perhaps my heat was a little too high? Anyway, taste it and if it's thick and savory, you're good to go. Remove the bay leaf, and season once again if you please, although I found that it had loads of flavor on it's own. (But I still added a little salt and pepper for the principle of the thing) 
Heat your oven to 375 (190 celcius). Transfer your beef stew to a large, ovenproof dish of your choice, or into mini pie tins.
Sprinkle some flour over your counter and put your pastry dough down. Sprinkle with a little flour and roll out so it will fit over your dish. Press the dough over the top (or tops, for mini pies) and squeeze the edges. Brush with the beaten egg. Gently score the middle of the dough, and pop in the oven. Cook for roughly 45 minutes.

Lucky you! 

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