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Another book I got out from the library a few months ago was a copy of The Hairy Bikers Perfect Pies written by Si King and Dave Myers (aka The Hairy Bikers!). Pretty much as soon as I opened it I realised that a library copy wouldn't be enough and that I'd need my own too. So when I was browsing The Book People website to try and get my order over £25 to qualify for free delivery and spied it for the princely sum of only £8.99 it went straight into my basket.
The book itself is typical of the 'celebrity' chef craze of cookbooks nowadays in that it is hardbacked and measures around 8x10 inches, so it looks good lined up on my kitchen shelf alongside my Hugh's and my Rachels. Yes, I know it's shallow and superficial, but I do like a nice neat bookshelf and all the cookbooks I have that are different sizes to the majority are hidden away in a cupboard now!. The RRP for this book is normally £20 but it can usually be found for around the £10 mark on the likes of Play or Amazon so it's worth shopping around, as always.
The cover of the book is very attractive with a picture of The Hairy Bikers holding a delicious looking pie. It's slightly amusing that they're also surrounded by lots of fresh veg, I'm guessing with the aim of hoping to convince you subliminally at least, that this book isn't choc full of calories! I acually really like the back cover too as that is split into sections which each have a photo of one of the other pies from inside the book, so you can see without even opening it the kind of selection you'll have to choose from (deep-filled, crusty pies, fruit flans, roulades, fish pie, jam tarts...a wide variety).
Inside the book is split into to the following sections to make finding what you want simple (you can also refer to the index in the back, obviously!):
- Double crust pies
- Handheld pies
- Top-crust pies
- Open-topped pies and tarts
- Plate pies
- Potato-topped pies
- Party pies
- Raised and freeform pies
- Fancy pies and suet puds
- Sides, salads and sauces
- The basics
- Index and acknowledgment
I have found this to be quite a useful way of laying out the book, provided I know what pie recipe I'm looking for, but if you're just browsing it isn't really that helpful. For instance, unless you know that their meat and potato pie recipe is encased in pastry you wouldn't know to look in the double crust section. And can anybody guess which section apple pie can be found in? Or the peach and raspberry cobbler? I bet you wouldn't think to look for the latter right next to the salmon and leek gratin pie would you?! For me, personally, it would have been particularly useful if there had been a section solely for sweet/fruit pies so that when I'm looking for a dessert idea I don't have to trawl through the whole book. Yes, the index can be used to find specific things, but again for browsing it isn't that much help really.
Having said that, the things I don't like about this book are far far outweighed by how much I love the rest of it! So I think I'll get the other negatives out of the way first and get on to waxing lyrical about the rest! A common pet hate of mine with cookery books, and this is no exception, is the information provided about each recipe. Yes, it's nice to have a little personal anecdote thrown in from the chef/s about where the recipe came from or if it's a firm favourite on their dinner table, but equally important for me is that nutritional information should be provided. Whilst in this case it's probably a good thing that I don't know how many calories are in some of the pies, at the same time I would like to know so that I can adapt other parts of my diet accordingly to make sure I'm not consuming too many!
Another piece of information critical to any cook, I think, is how long a recipe is going to take them to make. I don't need a precise, to the second account, but a rough guideline so that I know when to start cooking would be incredibly useful. After you've made a recipe once it's not as important because you'll know yourself, but with all of these recipes I have to sit down and read through the method to work out how long it's going to take me and whether it still remains a suitable choice for that particular day depending on my workload etc.
But that really is all the negativity that I can find towards this book, other than that I absolutely love it. As I said, I first got it out of the library and quickly started experimenting and have now tried at least a dozen recipes from it, not one of them receiving a thumbs down and each and every one of them being declared "an againer" by my - admittedly not very fussy - hubby.
The first recipe I was keen to try was their meat and potato pie. Yes, you can take the lass out of Yorkshire but you can't take the Yorkshire out of the lass! Growing up, my grandad used to make THE BEST meat and potato pie ever, and it was always a treat when he turned up for Sunday lunch with a pie for us to have on the Monday. Unfortunately I never got the recipe from him so have been unable to replicate it myself and so was keen to see if the bikers version was any good. And let me tell you, it's great! It's different to my grandads version, obviously, but is every bit as delicious. The pastry is soft and just seems to melt in your mouth (yes, since I got my food processor and more time on my hands I've been branching out into making my own pastry!) and the filling is beautiful, well balanced in regards to both flavour and texture and is just the right consistency being neither too thick nor too gravy-y.
Other recipes I've tried include the spinach and feta filo pie (yes, there are some vegetarian options in here too, although, granted, they are vastly outnumbered by non-vegetarian recipes. Luckily for me my mother-in-law doesn't eat meat but eats fish and so in here there are plenty of options between the fish/seafood ideas and the totally meat-free ones for when she comes a-visiting), the chilli beef pies (more like pasties really and great to keep in the freezer for popping into the husbands lunch box), mince and dumplings pie (possibly my favourite - I'm a sucker for dumplings!), salmon and leek gratin pie, fish pie and sausage and bean breakfast pie (perfect for wet weekend mornings). There are several others I've tried too but the ones I've mentioned are the ones I've already made at least twice if not three times and I wanted to demonstrate what a wide variety of pies there are in here.
There are pies suitable for all meals from breakfast to dinner and for all occasions from an every day family mid-week meal to special occasions and dinner parties. Don't be put off by thinking that a pie cookbook must be nothing but pastry as, whilst there are quite a lot of pies that are pastry based, there are are also the likes of the potato topped pie, open topped pies, cobblers, crumbles, tarts and hotpots.
A clever addition at the back of the book is the Sides, Sauces and Salads sections, full of suitable accompaniements for the recipes throughout the rest of the book. These range from home-made chips to colcannon, to green beans with chilli and garlic butter to gravy and chutneys and go on to more sweet based ones such as custard. It is also useful that most of these side dish recipes say what it would go well with, for example the broad beans with pancetta and shallots goes well with a fish pie, and the cucumber and spring onion salad would be nice with a quiche. It would have been more useful though if this idea had been seen through and each of the side dish recipes had this information to make meal-planning even easier.
The recipes themselves are well laid out for ease of reading, with a title, small description or little anecdote thrown in from the bikers, how many people it will feed, an ingredients list and a well laid out method. Most of the recipes have accompanying pictures, just to get your mouth watering even more, but there aren't photos of everything which I would probably prefer as I like to know what my dish should look like when I'm tucking into it! Another plus point is that all the ingredients they use are easy to find and readily available for most people, I've yet to come across something that I've either not heard of or not been able to find in Tesco!
The Hairy Bikers are known for their good old-fashioned, down to earth, home cooking of hearty, comfort food and this book is no different. I've seen a few of their programmes on tv but never actually experimented with any of their books before, but if this one is anything to go by I will definitely be adding to my bikers collection in future. Although I have a couple of small niggles with the book these are mainly down to personal preference of recipe book layout and provision of information and so this is going to be different for everybody. Where it matters with a cookbook - the actual recipes - this is an absolute gem. I have yet to be disappointed with any of the recipes I've tried. Some of them can be time consuming but then there are others which take less than an hour and as long as you're organised and make sure you know how long it will take, there should be something in here to suit everybody's tastes, budgets and time constraints.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough if you like hearty home-cooking like this. If you prefer your nosh posh and fancy it probably isn't going to be up your street. But this is food like I was fed growing up in Yorkshire and I love it! Although my next purchase will probably have to be The Hairy Dieters cookbook now!