Dragon Pie

Tonight was one of those nights when I indulged in my passion for experimental cookery.

As seems to happen more often than not, I came up with something that was not only edible but actually quite enjoyable to eat. This one felt like something that’s worth trying again and there’s definitely room for improvement in the basic recipe so I decided to record it here (mainly for my own future reference, though the recipe idea isn’t copyrighted, so you’re welcome to try it — if you come up with some good variations, feel free to let me know).

The starting point was a whole load of leeks, potatoes and onions that I bought on special offer (a bag of each for a total of £1) in my local supermarket last week, and which are getting to the point of needing to be used up before they get too far past their best. Initially I had planned to do a leek and potato soup but I wasn’t feeling particularly in the mood for soup this evening and, after a bit of thought, I came up with an alternative plan.

Essentially, my idea was to make a kind of vegetarian shepherd’s pie (a leek-herd’s pie, I suppose, if leeks needed herding in the same way as sheep), with a base of leek and onion topped with mashed potato. I had one or two ideas to make the dish a bit more interesting…

I started by chopping up a leek and couple of onions (fairly finely) and sautéeing them gently in olive oil for a few minutes, adding a roughly minced clove of garlic shortly before transferring them to a lightly oiled casserole dish and mixing in a bit of chopped parsley and thyme from my windowsill herb garden. I would probably have added sage and rosemary too, in honour of Scarborough Fair, but my sage (which I’m growing from seed) isn’t yet quite big enough for harvesting and I couldn’t be bothered to go out and harvest the rosemary that, unlike my other herbs, is growing in my back garden. I also added around 100ml of red wine and then stuck it in the oven (around gas mark 5) for 15 minutes while I steamed some potatoes (prepared, with a little bit of mint, also from my herb garden, while I was sautéeing the leek and onion) ready for mashing.

Once the potatoes were steamed, I mashed them with a little milk and black pepper (not from my herb garden, and alas I don’t have space, time or money to keep a cow), then removed the casserole from the oven and put a layer of mashed potato on top of the leek/onion mixture. After grating a bit of cheese (gran padano, as that’s what I had in the fridge) on top, I returned it to the oven on a higher heat (up to gas 8, I think) while I fried an egg to go along with it.

The resulting pie was rather tasty, though the filling was perhaps slightly on the al dente side (not too much of a problem as I like a bit of crunch, and the vegetables certainly weren’t raw) and the topping could have done with being browned a bit more. I’m not sure if the best thing would be just to cook it for somewhat longer once assembled or to sautée the leeks and onions for a bit longer and then stick the assembled pie under the grill for a few minutes.

It occurred to me that the ingredients were mostly red, white and green, the colours of the Welsh flag. Since leeks, in particular, are an emblem of Wales, and potatoes (not to mention cheese-on-toast, which bears a certain resemblance to cheese-on-pie) are also a pretty staple part of our national cuisine, I decided to name my new dish “dragon pie”, although the wine seemed to turn from red to purple in the process of cooking so the chromatic effect was slightly lost in the final product.

Apart from the aforementioned tweaks to cooking times/methods, I’d be inclined to use a Welsh cheese (perhaps a local cheddar) next time round, although the gran padano worked fine. The wine was a fairly non-descript, though pleasant enough, cheapish Spanish merlot/cabernet sauvignon from one of my local supermarkets (not, as it happens, the one from which I got the veg) and, since there’s not a huge range of Welsh wines on the market (in fact, I can’t recall seeing any and if there are some I suspect they are quite expensive), I don’t think I’d be too worried about locally sourcing that ingredient; in fact, I think pretty much any reasonable red plonk would do the job ok.

I’ve got about half the pie left over, so it will be interesting to see how it tastes when cold. That, I suppose, I will find out tomorrow.

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Happy Pie Day

In case you’re wondering if I’ve got the date wrong and forgotten how to spell, today is not Pi Day (an international celebration of the mathematical constant π).  I discovered earlier today that it is National Pie Day in the United States of America.

This annual festival, which I’ve never previously heard of, is organised by the American Pie Council (I kid you not!), an organisation which, according to Wikipedia, is committed to “preserving America’s pie heritage and promotes America’s love affair with the food”.

I suppose it’s no stranger really to have a day celebrating a food than it is to have one celebrating a number.  As far as I can tell, though, the date of this celebration is entirely arbitrary whereas Pi Day is celebrated on a date of special significance to the thing being celebrated (14th March, or 3.14 according to one way of writing the date).

Although it is not officially an international celebration, I see no reason not to celebrate Pie Day outside the United States.  After all, pies have been in existence since long before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to their brave new world (the first ones, apparently, were found in stone-age Egypt) and so, while I don’t deny that the US has a rich pie heritage, they certainly can’t claim that pie is a uniquely or originally American invention.  (OK, I suppose they could claim it, but they’d be wrong!)

If I’d had more time to plan things, I might have gone for a full banquet of pies of the world.  As it was, I had to settle for a few miniature pork pies and apple pies and a slightly larger Bakewell tart with which to mark this auspicious day.  Perhaps next year, I’ll push the boat out a bit further.

Incidentally, this is the second time this week I’ve come across an American national celebration which seems worth importing.  It was National Hug Day (aka National Hugging Day) on Tuesday.  This, like National Pie Day (as far as I can tell) is an entirely unofficial celebration and not a public holiday but it does have its own website and seems to be taking off in other countries.  Interestingly, at least a couple of languages there seem to describe it as International Hugging Day (Международен ден на прегръдката, which is apparently in Bulgarian –  I thought it was in Russian until I looked up the last word, which I didn’t recognise) or World Hug Day (Weltknuddeltag, which is in German).

I think pies and hugs are both things worth celebrating – though both should be enjoyed a lot more than once a year!

Pi Day comes round again

As I said this time last year, and will probably continue to say every year I’m still blogging: “Happy Pi Day”.

This is nothing to do with pies of the edible variety or with the Raspberry Pi, although both will probably be featuring in my celebrations.  Rather, it is a celebration of the mathematical constant, π (or “pi”, for those of you who don’t read Greek or maths), which is the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference.  This is  a universal constant for all circles (at least in this universe!) and its value, despite attempts (apparently) by at least one US state to legislate a change to 4, is approximately 3.14159.  That’s as many digits as I can generally remember without having to look it up, and is sufficiently accurate for most purposes (actually, 3.14 is good enough quite often).   Since π is irrational, its exact value cannot be written as a ratio of integers (aka. a fraction) or a finite decimal.

In case you’re wondering why π is celebrated today, it helps to look at the date in either ISO or US standard format.   In the UK, we’d usually write today’s date in figures as “14/3/2013” – that’s the 14th day of the 3rd month in the year 2013AD (or CE if you prefer).   The US version would be “3/14/2013” and the ISO version “2013-03-14”.  Leaving aside the question of which order is most logical (FWIW, IMHO it’s ISO, closely followed by UK, with US a long way behind), if you drop the year then both the US and ISO versions leave you with “3.14” (using a cunningly chosen neutral separator for the two remaining parts of the date), which should make it obvious why Pi Day is today.  If you’re wondering why we bother to celebrate Pi Day at all, you’re probably not a mathematician. 🙂

As alluded to earlier, I make full use of the homophony between “pi” and “pie” as an excuse to celebrate Pi Day with the eating of pies.  I haven’t yet been to the shops today, so I don’t know what sort of pie I’ll be eating, but it will probably be a pork pie for dinner followed by a rhubarb pie or treacle tart, or something like that, for pudding.  Sadly, I won’t have time to bake my own pies this year, so I’ll have to rely on commercial offerings.  I’m not sure how non-English speakers celebrate Pi Day without conveniently homophonic comestibles in their languages.

As well as eating pie, I usually celebrate pi day by listening to songs about pi (of which I only know one — Pi by Kate Bush) and songs about pie (of which there are many).  I have set up a Spotify playlist of about 40 songs mentioning pie in the title, which I’ve listened to on Pi Day for the last several years.  This year, by way of change, I decided to just listen to songs from my own music collection with pie (or pi) in the title.  There are rather fewer of these (just 8 currently on my computer), including Don McLean’s American Pie, Bob Dylan’s Country Pie, 3 versions of Charles Mingus’ jazz classic Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (one by Mingus himself, one by Swedish sax/flute player Magnus Lindgren and a rather tasty guitar version by John Renbourn), and a cover by my own band, the Rice Hooligan Orchestra, of June Christy’s Shoo Fly Pie, as well as the aforementioned Kate Bush song, which mostly seems to be a recitation of the first few hundred digits of π set to music.

Since last year, of course, I have acquired a Raspberry Pi, so if I get time later today I’ll probably do a bit of tinkering with that as part of my celebrations.  My Pi has been slightly neglected of late, as I’ve been concentrating on other things.  Since my last post on the subject, I’ve picked up a LedBorg, a fairly simple expansion board for the Pi which essentially adds a multicoloured LED operated via the GPIO interface.  I have got this up and running and written a couple of simple scripts for it but my next plan is to rewrite my tea timer script to use the LedBorg instead of a lashup of LEDs and resistors on a breadboard).

Incidentally, I gather that an authentic Greek pronunciation of π would be “pee” rather than “pie” but for the sake of celebrating in homophonic style I’m more than happy to go with the anglicised mispronunciation. 🙂

Happy Pi Day

Today is Pi Day (see this Wikipedia article if you want to know why).

I usually try to celebrate it by eating (and occasionally even baking) some kind of a pie but this evening I’m supposed to be going out for a Chinese meal with some friends (a belated Christmas celebration in fact), so I don’t know if I’ll get round to it.  I’ve also got a spotify playlist of songs about pie (or at least mentioning it in the title), which I may well listen to (as far as I can remember, it does include the song Pi by Kate Bush).

As far as I can recall, I came up with the idea of celebrating Pi Day about 8 or 9 years ago and then discovered shortly afterwards that it had already been thought of some years previously.  Actually, it’s probably more likely that I had already come across some reference to Pi Day and filed it away subconsciously.

If I remember, I’ll also be celebrating both Pi Approximation Day (most likely by eating something fairly pie-like) and Tau Day (by eating two pies) later in the year!