WHITBY FISH PIE

Whitby is a charming, seaside village in north Yorkshire.  Although we have visited quite a few times, there’s no real reason for most people to have heard of Whitby … unless you’ve followed the career of Captain Cook or have read Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA.  Actually, quite a few literary geniuses have lived or visited Whitby during their careers.  In addition to Bram Stoker, you may have heard of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Lewis Carroll among many others.  Today, tourism is what keeps this quiet, little fishing village alive … well, that and “fish pie”.

As with most regional recipes, it comes down to whatever is available, and whatever the cook decides to do with it.  In Whitby, it’s the ‘catch of the day’.  For me, it was a quick trip to the grocery store, after which I decided to use cod.  And pulling from my bookshelf of resources, it was Paul Hollywood’s BRITISH BAKING which inspired this beloved regional dish.

I was a bit hesitant … not all of my attempts at Hollywood’s recipes have been successful … but this one certainly was.  We all loved it.  A hearty, satisfying dish, flavorful and delicious.  Perfect for a Sunday supper on a wintry night.  Serve it up with a tossed green salad and bottle of white wine.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

WHITBY FISH PIE
Serves 6 to 8.  Bake at 425º for 30 to 40 mins.

The crust (or purchase a pre-made pastry crust)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup icy cold water

The filling
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 diced white onion
2 stalked celery, diced
2 cups spinach, washed and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs. solid white fish, skinned, cubed
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 egg, beaten

I know after reading this list of ingredients, it seems like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t.  We all know a good pie starts with a good crust.  They are super easy, but if you don’t feel comfortable making one, store bought crusts have come a long way.

When ready to cook, make the filling in one large saucepan, beginning with a roux, adding leftover cooked potatoes if you have them.  Dump it all into a large pie plate or casserole.  Then top it with the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.  Done!
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The details:
To make the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add the chilled butter and cut in until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the beaten egg and, with a fork, mix together quickly adding the cold water as needed …

OR … put all the dry ingredients in your food processor and pulse for 10 seconds.  Add the cubed butter and pulse for another 10 seconds.  Add the beaten egg and as much water as needed to hold it together and pulse for a final 10 seconds.

The flour mixture should stay together.

Whichever method you use, when it comes together, turn out on a floured board and form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The filling:
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  When melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook til all combined.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy.  This will take two to three minutes.  Season with cloves, salt and pepper.

The bechamel should be nicely thickened.

Next, stir in the diced onions and celery.  The heat should be medium to low.  Then add the chopped spinach and parsley.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  You may need to add a bit more salt.

Add the cubed fish and fold in gently.  You don’t want to break the fish up.  If you have leftover boiled potatoes, add them now … or any leftover veggies you may have.  Turn off the heat and dump everything into a large casserole or pie plate.

Take the pastry out of the frig and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out to fit the casserole or pie plate.  Be sure to cut an air hole in the center of the pastry for the steam to escape.

Brush the edges of the casserole with water or the beaten egg and put the pastry crust on top.    Press the pastry onto the rim of the dish to adhere.  Decorate as you’d like, or not.  Brush the beaten egg all over the pastry crust.

Be sure to put the casserole onto a baking tray to catch any spillage … and there will be spillage.  Bake at 425º for 40 to 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


Take it out of the oven and serve right away.  A simple green salad and glass of white wine … maybe some crusty bread, perfect!  This is an old-fashioned supper dish and it doesn’t disappoint.  WHITBY FISH PIE … a steaming pie full of goodness and nutrition.  If you make it, please let me know.
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References:  Wikipedia, Visit Whitby, Paul Hollywood,

GBBO . . . what’s happened to you?

What has happened to the Great British Bake Off?  Now in season 10 (or is it 9, maybe 8?) it has become a showcase of unattainable, unrelatable challenges.  No longer is it a baking show to which home bakers can think about, perhaps some day, challenging themselves to bake that irresistible, classic cake/pie/tart/bread/roll/pastry.  Now the contestants are asked to bake scenic ‘landscape desserts‘, pita bread on an outdoor  fire pit, and what in the world is a ‘Kek Lapis Sarawak‘ cake?  I completely understand that this is a long-running program and there is a need to have new “content” for each of the 10 episodes, but biscuit chandeliers? REALLY?

Has anyone else noticed that the bakers are younger, more stylish, and dare I say, more attractive?  In past seasons, there was a wide range of ages.  But not so much any more.  Where’s the Val, Diana, Brendan, Norman and Nancy today?  Is this home baker now too old for the commercial Channel 4 audience?  Also, these much younger contestants, with their perfect teeth, coifed hair and slim  bodies appear to be in ‘character’ now … much like MasterChef.

Season 1, which (unless you have a streaming service) we in the U.S. have never had the opportunity to see, featured 10 home bakers baking in the imposing tent which then moved around the U.K. to six different locations.  It was all about the classic bakes, ranging from puddings to breads to cakes.

The judges were Paul Hollywood, a seasoned bread baker, and Mary Berry, the Julia Child of Great Britain.  Together with comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as the sympathetic, caring, yet off-beat presenters who were always there to bolster a sagging souffle, the show was an immediate hit.  Let’s not forget the music.  Combining cellos, violins and a xylophone, the tension-building introduction perfectly set the mood of the show.

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc

The logistics of a roving tent must have been too daunting because in Season 2 the tent became permanently setup on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a 17th-century mansion house.  The number of contestants increased from 10 to 12 and a “star” baker was introduced.  It was official.  The Great British Bake Off was a huge hit!

Season 3, which here in the U.S. is referred to as Season 1, is when the rest of us fell in love with this charming baking show.  We were tired of the gimmicky, cut-throat, competitive, backstabbing drama which was so prevalent in our cooking shows.  We all fell in love with this simple format and with contestants who actually cared about each other, helping each other out when a crisis was imminent.

Ian dumping his bake into the bin.

Yes, there was one incident in Season 4 when Diana is accused of leaving Ian’s ice cream out of the freezer, which caused his bake to fail, and thus being eliminated.  Diana left the show because she said the program was edited to make it look as if she left the ice cream out when, in fact, she had put it back into the freezer.  She departed the show because of how she was portrayed.

The BBC series ran for six seasons, but when Channel 4 purchased the show, Mary, Mel and Sue left.  Paul Hollywood remained.  We were then introduced to Prue Leith as judge, replacing Mary Berry.  Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over for Sue and Mel.  Yes, they get the job done, but with gimmicks and slapstickish comedy, none of the clever, witty interplay we so enjoyed from Mel and Sue.

The first six seasons of this beloved show are constantly rerun on PBS, while Netflix has kept us up-to-date on the recent three.  Will I continue to watch?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t miss one episode.  But I do miss the eccentric, aging, snaggle-toothed, rural baker who is completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, but was such fun to watch.

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Addicted to GBBO

Yes, I will admit it.  I am addicted to the “GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF” program on PBS.  It doesn’t matter which season, or which episode, or which challenge, I will stop what I am doing and watch every action-packed moment.

But why?  What makes this cooking program any different from the slew of other cooking programs … on all the many cooking channels … at any time of the day or night?   I’m not really sure.  Could it be that the two judges are actually professional bakers, and not actors or tv personalities whose careers have waned and they have no other place to go?  Could it be the lack of insulting comments from the chef judges to the contestants?   Master Chef, you know who you are!   Or perhaps the lack of having to utilize the obvious ‘placement’ products from their sponsors to create the ‘challenge’ that week?  Sound familiar, Top Chef?  Maybe its the gimmick-free way in which the program is presented … name most of the shows on the Food Network these days!

The format is very basic – three baking challenges over two days – starting with 12 bakers, eliminating one each week and selecting a “star” baker, until the final three bakers face off to select the winner. The winner of the GBBO does not get $250,000.00 in cash, or their own cooking program, or a feature in Food & Wine magazine.  They get “bragging rights”.  Yup!  That’s it!Abouttop-Sue-Mel

Fashion icons they are not, but the show hosts, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, are masterful in their handling of each week’s challenges and contestants.  They have very little camera time but when they do, their quips are quick, slick, and quite funny.

I became familiar with Sue Perkins, the bespectacled brunette, from a BBC program called THE SUPERSIZERS, in which she and her co-host had to live in selected British periods of time and experience the life styles and, more-importantly, the foods from those eras. It was historically accurate and hysterically funny.   Each episode focused on one historical period and for one week they lived in that time period … from clothing and lack of conveniences to tasty repasts sometimes consisting of sow’s udder paté, bovine pudding or duck tongue.

Mel Giedroyc, the perky blonde with the quick wit, has co-hosted with Sue before.  Apparently they worked together on a daytime British program called LIGHT LUNCH or was it LATE LUNCH.  Either way, I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure it was quite entertaining.  Together Mel and Sue have a great comraderie, and always empathize with each contestant’s near disasters.

Abouttop-Paul-MaryThe judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, somehow work beautifully together … a bit like Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  Paul, with his piercing blue eyes, would intimidate even the most seasoned baker.  It just takes one look for you to know you’re doomed, but Mary (30 years Paul’s senior) finds some good in every bake, regardless of how awful it may look or taste.  Both Paul and Mary are hugely successful professional bakers, cookbook authors, and television personalities, each with their own cooking shows; but there are no signs of egos here.   Each week they bring interesting and quite difficult challenges to the contestants, after which they focus on the ‘bake’, nothing more.  How refreshing!

The show is filmed in tents on the grounds of many different British country houses from Welford Park in Newbury, to Harptree Court in Bristol, to Valentines Mansion in Redbridge.   Did I say, in tents?  Yup!  Where else could you showcase Britain in all of its glory but on perfectly manicured lawns of magnificent country houses with a background of lush green gardens and, of course, the completely unpredictable British weather!  The location for each of the season’s filming is kept quite secretive … not wanting stampeding fans showing up, I guess.

Abouttop-Victoria-SandwichThe baking “challenges” are divided into three categories.  First , there is the Signature Bake, to test the contestants’ creativity and baking ability.  Next is the Technical Bake, where the bakers receive a recipe from Mary or Paul with minimal instruction.  Finally, it’s the Showstopper Bake, which is designed to display the bakers’ skill and talent.  Many of these “challenges” are classic British baked items, some are from French patisseries … most of which I have never ever heard of (actually some of the contestants have never heard of them either).  Yes, the contestants are given recipes in the Technical Bake, and, yes, they have advance knowledge of what the next challenge is going to be so that they can practice at home.  What they don’t have to do is try to utilize canned chicken, root beer, squash blossoms and dill pickles to make a frozen dessert.  This is a true baking show, remember.   Gimmick free!

This cooking/baking program may not be for everyone, but it certainly is a hit for many.  Not only can you buy the cookbooks, you can, of course, download any of the episodes, and now you can buy the intriguing background music composed by Tom Howe.

We’re into Season 6 right now … but in Great Britain Season 7 is viewing and competing with the Olympics.  For some reason, PBS didn’t start airing GBBO until Season 3 and are calling this season “Season 3” …!  Confused?  So am I.   Perhaps PBS wanted to see if the show was going to gain in popularity before airing it, as they do with so many other British television programs. Well, it has!  Over 13 million viewers in Great Britain alone.  And what it has done to the baking industry is unbelievable.  Sales of flour, baking powder, baking chocolate have all risen (no pun intended).  Home bakers are being challenged to try their hand at scones, bread and cake.  Yes, it has even inspired me.

So if you haven’t seen an episode of the GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, I challenge you to watch it, and tell me you don’t hunger for one of those “Show Stoppers“!

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References:  Great British Bake Off, GBBO Music, The Guardian

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