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Spud Sunday: The Why Of Cookbooks

So why, exactly, do we buy cookbooks?

The simplistic answer, of course, is that we buy them for the recipes, but in reality, it’s almost never that simple.

We may buy a cookbook because we’ve seen the corresponding series on TV. We may have come to like or, even better, to trust the chef-author based on past cookbooks, through a blog or by way of an associated food business. We may want to try our hand at a particular cuisine or we may want to learn the basics. We may be dedicated followers of foodie fashion or we may just like the pictures, and there’s no doubt but that good photography and styling helps to sell.

Increasingly, photography in cookbooks is used, not only to show what the food should, in theory, look like but also to convey a representation of the lifestyle associated with eating that food. Whether we are subsequently disappointed when our dishes (or our lifestyle) do not turn out “like in the pictures” is another matter entirely. And while it can be helpful to see what a dish may look like at the end of our endeavours, some of my most trusted and well-used cookbooks (take a bow, Madhur Jaffrey) have little in the way of glossy pictures and are no less loved by me for that.

In the end, while the pictures are nice, it is the words that count. My favourite cookbooks are the ones that are worth reading not just for the recipes. Give me Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery and an armchair and I will curl up happily. Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater I like as much for their writing as for the style of their recipes. It’s important too, though, that the recipes work.


The Pieminister Cookbook

All of which brings me, somewhat circuitously, to the new Pieminister cookbook. Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t especially familiar with Pieminister, it being a UK-based pie-making enterprise without any permanent outlets here in Ireland. Still, when I was asked if I’d like a review copy of their new book, I took a look at the previews online, decided I liked the look of it (I mean, who doesn’t love pies, eh?), and said yes.

It’s a nicely produced book with (yes) plenty of attractive pictures, cute illustrations and seasonally arranged pie recipes, both savoury and sweet, as well as words to the wise on pie crusts, on tipples to match your pies and other pie lore. What made me smile was the wordplay at work in the recipes, from the fish pie named ‘Pietantic’ and the crumble of mulled wine and plum called ‘Plumble’ to the triangular ‘Chilli Pie-angles’. Puns aside, though, would the recipes work? The proof of the pudding, it seems, would be in the pie.

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Potato, Cheese and Mushroom Pie

Potato and cheese pie

Having looked through the Pieminister book, it was almost inevitable that I would choose to make their cheese and potato pie. A simple recipe, with lots of sliced potato, flavoursome cheese, mushrooms and cream all under a puff pastry hood. In other words, there was a lot to like, in both potato and pie terms, so I got to it.

Shockingly for me, though, I found that the amount of potato in the original recipe was too much relative to the rest of the ingredients. The mixture lacked moisture and turned out to be quite a dry pie, so in my adaptation below, I have reduced the quantity of potato by a third and added more liquid. And though the original recipe recommended floury potatoes, really, I would suggest that waxy potatoes, which are not as dry and which retain their shape and bite, are better for this.

I have also reduced the amount of pastry, as I only needed around half of the original quantity specified. I added thyme, rosemary and some extra parsley simply because I felt like it, used onion instead of shallots because that’s what I had to hand and used some dried porcini mushrooms because they were lying about in the cupboard. If you don’t have dried mushrooms, you can simply use some extra fresh mushrooms and substitute vegetable stock or water for the mushroom soaking liquid. For the cheese part, there are lots of great Irish cheeses to choose from and I went with a good vintage cheddar for this. I’ve also modified the steps a little to something that made a bit more sense to me having worked through the recipe – one which, truth be told, needed a bit of work to make it work but worked out in the end.

You’ll need:

  • 250g puff pastry
  • 25g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 500ml water
  • 1kg potatoes, preferably a waxy variety
  • salt
  • 50g butter, divided
  • 400g mixed fresh mushrooms (field, oyster, chestnut), halved or quartered if large
  • 1 medium onion, about 175g, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary needles
  • 100ml cream
  • 200g cheese (fontina, gruyère, taleggio or vintage cheddar), chopped into approx. 1cm cubes
  • 4 tblsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • beaten egg for glazing (optional)

You’ll also need:

  • A large frying pan, a large saucepan and an ovenproof dish (mine was about 28cm x 21cm x 5cm deep)

The Steps:

  • If you’re using frozen puff pastry, remove it from the freezer in advance, so that it has enough time to defrost properly.
  • Soak the porcini mushrooms in about 500ml water and set aside.
  • Preheat your oven to 180C.
  • Scrub the potatoes and, leaving them unpeeled, cut into slices about 0.5cm thick and rinse well under cold water.
  • Bring a pan of about 1.5l water to the boil, add 2 tsp salt and the potato slices. Return to the boil, then simmer gently, covered, for 6-8 minutes or until just fork tender. Drain well and then cover with a tea-towel to absorb excess steam.
  • Meanwhile, place a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add about half of the butter and, when melted, add the fresh mushrooms. Fry, without stirring too much, until they have released their juices and have started to brown, 10-12 minutes.
  • Remove the mushrooms from the pan, add the other half of the butter and, when melted, add the sliced onion. Fry for around 7 or 8 minutes or until well softened.
  • Add the chopped garlic, thyme and rosemary to the onions and stir and fry for another minute or so.
  • Add the porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid to the onions. Allow this to come to the boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for a minute more.
  • Remove from the heat and add the fried mushrooms, cheese and parsley along with black pepper to taste. Check for salt and add more if it needs it (but remember that the cheese will add some saltiness too). Add a squeeze or two of lemon juice to taste.
  • Add the cheese, onion and mushroom mix to the cooked potato slices and stir to combine. Check seasoning again before pouring the contents into your ovenproof dish.
  • Top the dish with a sheet of puff pastry and trim to the edges of the dish. Cut a small opening in the centre of the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush the pastry with beaten egg if you like and place in the oven for around 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is nicely golden. Dish this up along with salads or perhaps as a side-dish to some pork.

The Variations:

  • If you wanted to make this even more substantial, you could, say, add some cooked ham to the pie just before baking

The Results:

  • Serves around 4 people


  1. Kavey

    A lot of adapting necessary there, which tells me that the ideas may be creative and appealing but the recipe testing was not so good…?

  2. Daily Spud

    Haven’t tried any of the other recipes so it’s based on a sample of one but, yep, that’s what I was thinking Kavey.

  3. Catherine

    The puns made me giggle :) I like the idea of adding cooked ham (carnivore that I am). I’m struggling to comprehend a situation where there is too much potato in a recipe :o but I will take your word for it… looks nice!

  4. Daily Spud

    I’m also a sucker for good puns, Catherine (as well as good pies)! I had a bit of difficulty with the concept of too much potato myself – perhaps a better way to put it would be that it just needed more of everything else as well (in which case we would be talking about one ginormous pie :))

  5. Móna Wise

    I think you are right in substituting the floury for the waxed and I had to laugh when you said there was ‘too much potato’ ….. surely you jest?
    I love that photo. It looks really rich and flavourful and it seems like a very versatile recipe. I bet, even the addition of a bit of smoked mackerel would work nicely.

  6. Daily Spud

    I know, Móna – I may live to regret ever uttering the words “too much potato” :D It’s definitely a versatile base recipe, I think some smoked mackerel might work rather nicely.

  7. Stef

    Interesting. What’s the range of pastries like? Do they have ones made with suet or lard, for example?

  8. Monica Healy

    October was probably the worst month to cut back on carbs… especially looking at this mouth watering pieminister recipe. *Droooll* :) Thanks for the tips. I’m going to try to whip this up at the weekend.

  9. Daily Spud

    Hi Monica – thanks for dropping in! Your comment got trapped in my spam filter for some reason, so it took a little while to appear – anyway, hope you enjoy the pie :)

  10. Daily Spud

    They do include a suet pastry in the book, Stef, and a hot water crust pastry that features lard, as well as the regulars you’d expect (shortcrust, puff, rough puff etc.)

  11. Stef

    Good stuff, I only found out last year how good a pastry made out of suet is!

  12. Daily Spud

    Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever made pastry with suet Stef, though I’m familiar with the use of lard for pastry – my Ma would certainly have used that when we were growing up, though I think she avoided suet because it seemed to disagree with my Da, certainly when it was added to Christmas mincemeat

  13. Stef

    I did it for a game pie I made and it was amazing although the traditional one would be for steak and kidney which I’ve also done. Well worth a go. You can render the suet yourself, (FXB’s generally have it) or get the Atora boxed stuff, just stay away from their ‘vegetarian’ version which is just a load of hydrogenated soya oil.

  14. Daily Spud

    Cheers for that, Stef – I had heard that the vegetarian version was best avoided alright.

  15. Aurea@SurvivalGuide

    I love this post! .. I would also buy the book simply due to it’s fabulous cover!
    but i think that if you had food allergies you would rock! (substitution and alteration wise) sometimes i think that changing a recipe is wrong (as in the recipe failed) but in reality it is the best type of recipe – the one which helps you to be more creative in the kitchen and really own the dish.

  16. Daily Spud

    Thanks so much Aurea! I guess I am of the opinion that changing a recipe is never wrong (though some changes, admittedly, may turn out to be a bad idea :D) – it just makes the dish different and makes it yours. Whether it’s better or worse than the original is entirely a matter of opinion – either way, it can be a good learning experience.

  17. Lori

    I am a sucker for a good cookbook. I have to admit I’m as drawn to the photos as much as the recipes. I’ve also begun buying them as souvenirs of travel (she says as she packs home a Rachel Allen book from Ireland. :)) Seeing this recipe today is perfect timing. I’m going to make a version of this for dinner tonight! Love those cute, creative names as well.

  18. Daily Spud

    Of course I should have mentioned cookbooks as souvenirs, Lori – I’ve certainly done that one myself too! Hope you enjoy the pie :)

  19. Sharon Ní Chonchúir

    It does sound like they need better recipe testers (if this example is anything to go by) although I love Pieminister pies. And I love the idea of cookbooks as souvenirs. I’ve done that too (almost without thinking) but now am going to make it a rule of every trip away that I come back with a cookbook. Hooray!

  20. Amee

    This looks nice – Pieminister is usually quite decent, but it is true that most potato pie recipes do call for the waxy sort as the floury drink up all the juice. Anyhow – I have put a lovely big picture of a potato on my blog for your enjoyment as you were so kind about my fig rolls

    Lots of love


  21. Daily Spud

    Sharon: I like that rule too, I think I shall apply it to every travel opportunity in future :)

    Amee: …and a gorgeous spud it is – you are most kind my dear Figgsy!

  22. Tracey@Tangled Noodle

    I don’t buy nearly as many cookbooks as others, but when I do, I prefer the ‘wordy’ ones – those that have stories, histories, facts, etc. that offer a background for the recipes. I’m often inspired to cook a dish because I’d like to recreate an experience.

    I also appreciate your honest opinion regarding this book and the recipe you tried. The drawback to buying cookbooks that catch your eye is that you don’t know if they’ll fail to sate your appetite until *after* you take it home! 8-)

  23. plasterer bristol

    This sounds really delicious and something new to try. Thank you for sharing this.


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