Real estate agent Mimi Lee, who specialises in finding space for food-and-beverage business owners, is more than qualified for the job.
She was in the food business for more than 10 years and had her fair share of ups and downs.
She ran an Italian restaurant called Olive Bistro and pie business The Pie Shoppe - both at the International Business Park - as well as made pies and cakes in a factory in Jurong.
The avid cook speaks passionately about her experiences.
She has dealt with landlords raising rents exorbitantly and staff messing up her pie recipes.
"You think I would have stopped right? But I didn't," she says emotionally after talking about her second failed venture, her eyes welling up with tears.
The single mother of two daughters says: "I went in with emotion, not weighing the pros and cons and made mistakes.
"Now, I want to help others, since I can put myself in their position. They need to do their numbers. They cannot just like a place and hope to succeed. It doesn't work like that at all. You don't go into something only to give it up after six months."
As the aroma of pies baking wafts through her home, she quickly wipes her tears and snaps back into action. She carefully removes the steak and mushroom pies from the oven and gives each one a gentle brush of egg wash, explaining that doing so after they have been cooked adds more shine to the crisp and golden shortcrust pastry.
When she is in her element, she is every bit the professional baker who has perfected what she calls her "ultimate recipe".
Eight years of living in Germany and London sparked a love for pies, and she started collecting pie recipes from cookbooks to piece together her own version.
Her buttery shortcrust pastry has vinegar in it, to make the dough pliable, yet crisp.
She says: "I don't like puff pastry. When it's cold, it gets oily. Most shortcrust pastry has no eggs and tastes bland. I like it rich with eggs and butter."
She adds that the pastry is a good base for other pie fillings.
Now, she makes her pies in small batches for church friends, many of whom get them frozen to bake at home.
Other special dishes in the talented cook's repertoire include a mean Christmas ham, turkey and pasta as well as curries and Nonya dishes from her Nonya mother, who lives in Kuala Lumpur.
As Ms Lee, who declines to give her age, reminisces about her days in the business of churning out pies, she takes out the old menu from The Pie Shoppe and other folders with images of pies with faces, calling them her "cutie pies".
They look like those by Australian pie brand Pie Face, but she laughs and says: "But I started my pies first. I've tried Pie Face and other brands like Pies and Coffee. Sorry to say, but nothing matches mine."
While she has no plans to get back into the F&B scene, she does not rule out selling her recipe to someone keen to continue the pie trade. She also has plans to conduct her own cooking lessons.
She says: "When my daughters told me not to continue anymore, it was hard for me. But it was the best thing to do. I had a long rest, which I needed. Then, everything started to ache. When I do nothing, I ache. When I was so busy, I was fine."
For the pastry:
- 900g flour
- 15g baking powder
- 15g salt
- 525g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 tsp white or rice vinegar (optional)
- 150ml ice water
For the filling:
- To season the beef
- 1kg beef, cubed
- 1/2tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2Tbs meat tenderiser
- 1 Tbs water
- 3/4 Tbs dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
To fry the filling
- 7 Tbs oil
- 200g onions, peeled and diced
- 200g celery, diced
- 20g Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
- 100g tomato paste
- 1 beef stock cube (Knorr)
- 40g demi-glace brown sauce (Knorr)
- 800ml water
- 400g carrots, diced
- 400g potatoes, diced
- 2 Tbs corn flour, mixed with a small amount of water to get a smooth liquid
- 4 Tbs flour, mixed with a small amount of water to get a smooth liquid
- 100g sliced canned mushrooms
- 1 egg, beaten
1. For the pastry: Put the flour, baking powder, salt and butter into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn it on its slowest setting and mix the butter for one minute before increasing the speed to mix for another three to four minutes, or until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. In a measuring cup, beat the eggs and mix in the vinegar and water. You should get about 315ml of liquid. Add more water if necessary to get 315ml.
3. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the bowl, mixing the contents slowly. The dough should be soft and pliable, but not sticky. Add small amounts of water if necessary.
4. Separate the dough into three batches and wrap each portion in cling wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour or freezer for at least 20 minutes before using.
5. For the filling: Season the cubed beef with the pepper, salt, tenderiser, water, oregano and bay leaves. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes or overnight.
6. In a large pan, heat 3 Tbs of oil and fry the onions for a few minutes until they turn light brown. Set aside.
7. Heat up another 4 Tbs of oil and brown the beef on both sides for three minutes, without stirring the meat. Add the fried onions back into the pan.
8. Add the celery and Worcestershire sauce, followed by the tomato paste. Add the beef stock cube and demi-glace.
9. Slowly stir in the water and bring the gravy to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the meat is tender. Add the carrots and potatoes. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes till the vegetables are almost fully cooked.
10. Mix in the corn flour and flour to thicken the gravy while stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Leave to cool completely before filling the pies.
11. To assemble the pies: Remove pastry from fridge and leave it outside for about five minutes to soften. Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour to prevent it from sticking. With a rolling pin or pasta sheet roller, roll the dough until it is about 0.25cm thick.
12. With a 14cm round cookie cutter, cut out a piece of dough for the pie base. With an 11.5cm round cookie cutter, cut out another piece of dough for the top of the pie. You should get about 20 large dough circles and 20 small circles.
13. Press the larger circles of dough into the base of an 11.5cm aluminium foil pie pan. Place it on an electronic weighing scale and spoon in 140g of filling. Add 15g of sliced mushrooms on top.
14. Cover the pie with the smaller circles of dough and press down around the sides to seal completely. Slice off the excess dough. Crimp the circumference with a fork.
15. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180 deg C for 10 minutes.
16. Brush the tops of the pies with egg wash. Place all the pies on a baking tray. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
17. Remove from the oven and brush the pie tops again with egg wash to give each pie more shine. The residual heat from the pies will cook the egg.
18. Remove the pies from the aluminium foil pie pans and serve with a side salad or mashed potatoes.
Makes 20 pies
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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