Hooray for Kickstarter!…. and some more asparagus

Hooray! I’m delighted to say that the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for my new book has reached its minimum target. It’s been a huge pleasure to see so many friends, family and customers joining the campaign and backing the book – 266 backers and counting. So Bill’s Kitchen will now definitely be published. And if the total goes above £20,000 (currently just over £15,000) then I’ll increase the print run.

As a grand finale to the Kickstarter campaign I’m appearing at the Hay Festival in conversation with Jake Kemp on the evening of the last day of the campaign – talking both about the book and about food, social media, crowd-funding and community.

I’ve just sent off the final couple of re-tested recipes for Bill’s Kitchen to Marianne (the editor) this morning and then I’ll get back first printed proofs in about a week. We’ll then be to-ing and fro-ing until the end of June when the final pdf is due to go the printers. The full print run should be in my hands by the beginning of October.

To get you drooling here’s a taster of one of my favourite platefuls from the book:

Asparagus, ham, new potatoes, lemon hollandaise

This is one of my desert island dishes. Spring on a plate. We first ate it at The Plough Inn at Ford in the Cotswolds, an institution that celebrates the local asparagus season in a delightfully whole-hearted way.

Any good quality ham is fine, but smoked ham from the Tudge family and their pigs (see page….for contact details) takes this dish to another level.

People get scared about making hollandaise and whilst it’s not massively difficult there is knack to it (described below). Once you’ve done it successfully it’s a great treat to have up your sleeve. There are methods using blenders, but for me they don’t produce the lightness combined with richness that you want in hollandaise.

For preparing asparagus I always use what I think of as the Delia method: Snap the stems as near to the base as they will go and discard the bit that snaps off. No further trimming or peeling is required. If they don’t snap but bend instead, then your asparagus is not fresh and freshness is everything with asparagus. Which is why, in my view, eating asparagus out of season and from far away countries is a waste of time and air miles.

Serves 4

600g new potatoes e.g. Charlottes
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

500g asparagus – about 7 medium spears per person
1 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

150 g unsalted butter, melted and fairly hot
2 egg yolks
1 dst cold water
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

250g best quality smoked ham, sliced

Put some plates to warm.

Boil the potatoes for about 25 minutes until just tender, drain them, halve them, toss in olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put somewhere to keep warm.

Have your ingredients all prepared for the hollandaise before cooking the asparagus. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. When it’s boiling add the prepared asparagus and bring back to the boil on a high heat. Depending on the thickness of the asparagus it can take from 30 seconds to about 3 minutes to be just tender. Keep testing by extracting a spear with some tongs and pressing the base between your fingers. When it’s ready there should be a little give but not absolute softness. Drain the asparagus, toss in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and leave to keep warm.

Make the hollandaise. Put the egg yolks in a pan (not aluminium) and add a good dessertspoonful of cold water. Whisk constantly and vigorously, whipping the pan on and off a low heat.  The eggs go through different stages.  First, the mixture begins to lighten and become frothy. Shortly after that, the eggs will begin to lose a bit of air and become creamy and pale. The yolks are ready to receive the butter when they are thick enough to retain the distinct marks of the whisk. When they reach that stage, remove from the heat and put on a stable surface (perhaps with a damp cloth underneath to add extra stability).

Continue whisking the egg yolks and begin to pour in the hot melted butter, slowly at first and then quicker as the sauce gradually becomes thick and oozy looking. I continue to add the milky residue from the bottom of the pan to loosen the sauce a little (purists would leave it out). Then add the lemon juice and zest, half at a time in case the full amount is too much for your taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is best served at once. (You can keep the sauce warm for a bit but any attempt to re-warm it risks the sauce splitting.)

Divide the ham, potatoes and asparagus between the warmed plates and then put a generous ladle of hollandaise over each portion of asparagus. If there’s any sauce left put it on the table for further distribution.

Kickstarted! and some delicious asparagus

Looking again at an inspirational cookbook

Well, what an exciting beginning it’s been for the beginning of my Kickstarter life! In case you  hadn’t spotted I’m financing the publishing of my new cookbook, Bill’s Kitchen, via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.  In the week before the official launch of the campaign (today – 1st May) the book has reached just over 50% of the target for the campaign. What a start!

If you haven’t already joined in the fun then go to http://kck.st/2pwdau1 or just search ‘kickstarter Bill Sewell’ on Google.

The fantastic start has been in large part due to friends, family and customers who have generously backed the project. It’s been great to see so many familiar names on the list of backers and a very big ‘thank you’ to you.

But as the days have gone by the project has been attracting increasing numbers of backers from the USA and elsewhere. People who didn’t know me or the cafes but who like what they see on the Kickstarter page and think that they’d like to get involved. And this has been helped by the team at Kickstarter making Bill’s Kitchen a ‘project we love’, a designation that they give to less than 10% of projects on Kickstarter. So if you search under ‘Kickstarter food projects’ we’re currently no 2 in the world on the Kickstarter list of ‘new and noteworthy’ food projects. That feels pretty good to me!

However, there’s still a fair way to go. So please spread the word – and I’m told that sharing the link to the Kickstarter page on Facebook is a great way to get people to know about it, so any of that that you can do would be much appreciated.

But since in the end this is all about eating delicious food I’ll leave you with a tiny but delicious recipe (one that is not appearing in the book).

Smoked salmon and asparagus with olive oil and lime

We’ve just had a weekend of delicious food and friends and amongst many delicious things we ate this dish is perhaps the one that will stay in the memory. We are now getting local asparagus and our London friends commented on how much sweeter it was than the stuff they buy from the supermarket.

This is perfect with thinly sliced wholemeal sourdough bread.

Serves 4 for a generous starter or a very dainty lunch

8 slices best quality smoked salmon (about 200g total)
750g very fresh asparagus
2 tbs olive oil
1 lime, juice of

Lay the salmon out on 4 plates. Ideally find a slightly warm place for the plates to sit (top of an Aga is perfect) whilst you prepare the asparagus.

Break the tough ends off the asparagus. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and put the asparagus in. Bring back to the boil and boil for about 2 minutes (depending on the thickness of the asparagus) until just tender. Drain, put back in the hot pan and toss with the oil and lime juice. Arrange the asparagus haphazardly on top of the slightly warm salmon and divide any remaining olive oil/lime juice between the plates. Eat straight away so that the asparagus is still warm.

 

 

Why crowdfunding? Why Kickstarter? How does it all work?

Cheese and tomato whirls

Writing Bill’s Kitchen (my new book) is proving a new and creative experience in many different ways. I’ve been creating and running cafes for nearly 30 years but this is the first time I’ve written a fully illustrated cookbook and the first time that I’ve published a book myself. I’m loving the process of learning lots of new stuff.

To start with there’s the actual writing and testing of the recipes together with getting feedback from my excellent team of testers. Then there’s working with my wonderful photographer, Jay Watson (currently struck down by the lurgy but back on the case next week she assures me) whose pictures adorn this blog post. There’s working with the designer, Michael Phillips, to ensure that our vision of how the book will look and function becomes a sparkling reality. Marianne Ryan, the editor has just begun the process of sharpening her pencil over the recipes and ensuring that there are aren’t ingredients which don’t appear in the method and vice versa. Marianne will also be creating a well-organized index and table of contents – both of which can make a huge difference to how easy to use a cookbook is.

Mushroom, stilton and pumpkin pie

Our team has now been joined by Dominic Harbour who is in charge of PR and press communications. So today I’m being interviewed by Cambridge local radio and last week I was doing a phone interview to go on the back page of the Church Times (well I do have cafés in churches) and the glossy magazines in Herefordshire and Cambridgeshire are both carrying long illustrated pieces to coincide with the launch of the Kickstarter campaign.

But perhaps the biggest chunk of newness for me is the crowdfunding.

Why crowdfunding?

My previous 2 cookbooks were published by HarperCollins, a conventional publisher. This time around I had a very clear idea of what kind of book I want to create and so I decided to publish it myself. This way I have complete creative control. I’ve been able to build my own team (as described above) who have a shared commitment to creating a beautiful and practical book. It’s been incredibly productive to have a team I can bounce ideas around with rather than having a simple bi-lateral relationship with a publisher where the publisher makes many of the key decisions.

Ciabatta rolls being shaped

Publishing the book myself also means that I can decide on the specification of the book without reference to the cost-cutters in the finance department of a big publishing company. So the book will be hardback; printed on excellent quality paper with illustrations for every recipe and with coloured cloth bookmarkers to make it easier to use. Each copy will be shrink-wrapped to ensure that it reaches you in perfect condition.

Finished and filled ciabatta rolls

Why Kickstarter?

I looked at different crowd-funding options and decided that Kickstarter was the best match for my book. Kickstarter specializes in all things creative. Have a look at www.kickstarter.com to see the huge range of work it’s involved with. Since it was started in 2009 Kickstarter has hosted more than 100,000 projects which have been successfully funded. So they have a huge amount of experience in managing such things. Because they’ve done it so many times before there’s lots of excellent advice on the site about how to make the crowdfunding campaign work.

Planning to crowdfund through Kickstarter has meant I’ve had to think about telling people about the book and its creation much earlier in the process than I would have done if I were working with a conventional publisher. That in turn has meant that I’ve been getting feedback on the book from a very early stage both from the book team and from friends, family and customers to whom I’ve been talking about it. At a really early stage I’ve had to ask myself: Why should you want to buy this book? Why should you be excited by it?

Rhubarb torte

Bill’s Kitchen will be a beautifully photographed cookbook of ‘greatest hits’ from my long career of cooking both professionally and at home. It will be a cookbook that is both lovely and practical and speaks of the pleasures of both cooking and eating. The refining of that vision of the book came out of this conversation with the book team and potential readers that flowed from planning the crowdfunding. I think this dialogue has helped make the book something really special.

How will the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign work?

The creator (me in this case) decides how much money is needed to launch the project. In this case I’m aiming to raise £15,000 to pay for the initial printing costs, and some of the editing and photography costs. I and the designer (Michael Phillips) will only be paid out of future book sales after the book has been printed.

Once the project goes live on Kickstarter on May 1st  backers (that’s you I hope!) will have the opportunity to commit an amount of money to the project in exchange for a reward. For Bill’s Kitchen we’re offering rewards from as little as £5 (for an e-book version of Bill’s Kitchen), through single or multiple copies of the actual book (from £20), to various café vouchers and experiences (£10 to £200), to the chance to have me cook dinner for 20 of your friends at our house in Herefordshire (for £1,000). When you become a backer Kickstarter takes a commitment for the payment from you but you’re not charged unless the full target is met. In other words we need to raise a minimum of £15,000 on Kickstarter for the project to succeed.

Kickstarter don’t provide a precise web page link until the project goes live, but if you go to http://www.billscafes.co.uk/bills-kitchen-book/ on 1st May you’ll find the link to the kickstarter page.

Put 1st May in your diary!

The Kickstarter campaign will go live on 1st May and it will end on 31st May. So there’s just 31 days from 1st May to ensure that the publication of Bill’s Kitchen will go ahead.

The received wisdom on Kickstarter is that it’s really important to get lots of people committed to the project in the first few days, so that when others look at the site they can see that it’s a project which lots of people think is worth backing – and that in turn creates a virtuous circle of momentum. So if you think you’d like to back this project and pre-order the book, then I’d be hugely grateful if you would put 1st May in your diaries and go online on that very day – and tell your friends to do the same.

And with the wind in our sails from a successful Kickstarter campaign it will be plain sailing to delivering finished copies to you all at the beginning of October!

Lownz’s lamb tagine

A day of cooking for a week of eating

 

Courgette and feta filo pie with patatas bravas

We’re really motoring on the book now. Every Wednesday Jay Watson (the photographer) and I get together, usually at my house but occasionally at one of the cafes, to cook, test and photograph a batch of recipes. Jay has a wonderful imagination and sense of style and is using virtually every piece of crockery and every fabric and every interesting corner to show the food off at its very best.

So the book-writing weekly routine is working out like this. On Monday I do a first draft of the week’s recipes (about 8-10 each week). On Tuesday I shop and start preparing, marinating, chopping and mixing and actually cook anything that’s just as happy to be made the night before – maybe a cassoulet, some salted caramel walnut brownies or a rabbit stew.

Edna’s wonderful cheese biscuits with fennel seeds, paprika or plain

Then on Wednesday I’m up early to try and make sure that a good number of the dishes are ready by the time Jay arrives at about 11. I try to plan it so that things are coming out of the oven in a good order so that they can be photographed as freshly as possible – things that have sat around for too long generally look as though they’ve sat around for too long. I’ll have some suggestions for Jay about how we might present a dish but she has a great visual imagination and sense of colour (and I’m a bit colour-blind) so whilst I’ve done all the cooking, most of the set-up is done by her.

On a good day we’ll have the splendid Helen washing up and then we’ll have time for a lunch break, eating some of the food that’s already been photographed. Then Helen and I will clear up and I’ll do goody-bags for Jay and Helen and the team heads off; leaving me to try to fit the vast mass of leftovers into our fridge.

But then it’s downhill all the way. Most weeks we’ve had enough leftovers from the Wednesday photoshoot to feed the family for the rest of the week. And it’s all really good stuff. So after the last photoshoot at home we (that is me, Sarah, Jonathan and Holly) had the following to feed us for a week:

Charring the aubergine for the baba ganoush

  • Celie’s Lemon and garlic roast chicken with Charlotte potatoes
  • Leek and gruyere quiche
  • Victoria O’Neil’s Vietnamese beef
  • Courgette and feta filo pie
  • Patatas bravas with pipelchuma
  • Both venison and mushroom lasagne and roast vegetable and halloumi lasagne
  • Baba ganoush
  • Hummus
  • Edna’s wonderful cheese biscuits

The finished baba

 

 

 

So that was our menu at home for nearly the whole of the next week – delicious.

Here’s the recipe for patatas bravas pictured at the top
of the page

Patatas bravas

This is the omnipresent item on tapas menus. Potatoes with a spicey tomato sauce. As well as being a snack in their own right they go beautifully with our courgette and feta filo pie or Spinakopita. I like them made with roast small potatoes although I suspect this is not authentically Spanish.

If you don’t have Pipelchuma to hand you can just use chilli flakes. If you like your patatas particularly brave you can increase the amount of pipelchuma/chilli flakes.

750g small potatoes, Charlottes are ideal, halved
4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 large onion, halved and sliced
4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt

1 x 500g passata
2 tsp Pipelchuma

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan). Toss the halved potatoes with the oil and salt and roast for around 35 minutes until browning and quite tender.

Meanwhile fry the onions on a lowish heat in the olive oil with the salt for about 25 minutes until very soft. Add the passata and pipelchuma, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce.

Mix the sauce with the roast potatoes and serve straight away.

The film of the book

The café Christmas madness is over and I’m now back working at my new cookbook – ‘Bill’s Kitchen’. One of the things that’s continuing to surprise me is that there’s so much to do which isn’t directly writing the book – all the more so because I’m going to crowdfund the book and publish it myself. It’s both a delight and a challenge that I and my team have to do or organize everything: the writing, the editing, the index, the pictures, the layout, the printing, the marketing, the distribution, the e-book – the list goes on.

Last week I was re-testing soups and salads for the book and writing up the recipes – and Tom was of course taking more beautiful pictures of them. So we’ve had a few days at home of feasting on Lebanese herb salads, roast aubergine with pine nuts and sweet and sour dressing and rich and aromatic winter broths.

Then this week I’ve spent the last 2 days with the splendid Dave Jones of Windup films who has been making the film which will go at the top of the Kickstarter page – all the pictures on this page are images extracted from the film he is making.

Kickstarter is the crowd-funding platform which I’m going to use to fund the printing of the book. Kickstarter specializes in creative projects and at the top of each page the creator (that’s me in this case) does a short video to explain why his or her project is worth backing and what the backers will get in return.

So this 2 minute film is the key opportunity to explain why I think it’s a great book and to talk about the rewards that backers will get. Dave spent the first day filming in the café to give a picture of the environment that many of the recipes have come from and then the second day I did a piece to camera explaining why I think it’s a great book and why I hope people will want to back it. It was all a new experience for me. Sarah used her barristerial background to hone my script in advance and luckily, with clever film editing techniques, I only had to remember about one sentence at a time. There’s nothing like staring at a camera to make me forget what I was trying to say.

In a few days time I’ll get the finished film and I’ll post a link to it next time I do a blog – and don’t forget to put 1st May in your diaries which is the day the Kickstarter campaign goes live.

And now I need to get back to actually writing this book….

 

 

So here’s the plan…

 

pouring spianata dough

pouring spianata dough

It’s 20 years since I wrote a cookbook and I’d forgotten what a big project it is. And this time it’s both more exciting and more complicated since I’m publishing it myself and I’m planning to crowdfund the publication via Kickstarter.

I’ve so far had three day-long photo sessions with Tom Foxall (and there’s probably another 10 or so to go). Each session involves a day or so of planning and drafting the recipes – despite the fact that the basic arithmetic of the recipes has been tested over many years. Then there’s the day itself: Tom and I work out what backgrounds to shoot each dish against & whether any ‘work in progress’ photos would be helpful (e.g. this one of me pouring the Spianata dough). Then there’s the small matter of making the food, shooting it and clearing up – and of course distributing leftovers. Then I’ll have a day of re-writing the draft recipes and I’ll send them off to one of my team of testers. I’m hoping that most if not all of the recipes will have not only been tested many times at the cafes and in my own domestic kitchen but also by friends, family or café customers so that they are as user-friendly as possible. (If you fancy joining the team of testers then please send me an email) Then I’ll go through the text again alongside the photos from the day which Tom will have sent over to me.

A bit of the scheme for the book

A bit of the scheme for the book

Then eventually the text and photos go to the designers, Michael and Jack, and they begin to put the book together – including designing the cover, by which we will of course all judge it. When I saw Michael a couple of weeks ago he gave me a first draft of the scheme for the book with a square for each page (there’s an extract above). It gave me a real frisson of excitement. This book is going to happen. Once we get to the point (probably late spring 2017) when the text and photos are basically done then they go to Marianne, the editor, who will make sure my words make sense, correct the no doubt frequent grammatical errors and finally put together an index and table of contents. Then it’s all ready to go to the printers.

Spianata sandwich

Spianata sandwich

And then there’s a completely separate timeline (oh yes, I’ve got a spreadsheet for all of this!) for the crowdfunding side of things. Over the next few months I’ll be sending out emails about how Kickstarter works and what the process involves (if you’re not on one of our email lists and you’d like to be then please email me on bill@billscafes.co.uk). Then the plan is for the Kickstarter campaign to run during May 2017, the book to go to the printers in July and for it to be ready and in my hands by the end of September.

So in order to create a stick to beat myself I’m going public with the plan:

  • Now until May 2017 – write the book and photograph all the recipes and get feedback from my team of recipe testers
  • December 2016 to April 2017 – publicize the Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and make sure people know how Kickstarter works and how they can join the project
  • 1st May 2017 Kickstarter campaign starts
  • 31st May 2017 Kickstarter campaign finishes
  • June 2017 The book is edited and the design titivated and finalized
  • July 2017 The book goes to the printers
  • End of September – the book is delivered and ready for sale

It all looks so simple written down like that in a list!

Do send me an email bill@billscafes.co.uk if you’ve got any comments or thoughts or you’d like to get involved in the recipe testing. In the meantime I’d better get back re-checking that Spianata recipe…

Tapas for bake-off

img_6498

We are clearly not the only family in the country for whom the Great British Bake-off is a key date in the weekly diary. Unless I’m very organized we usually end up eating supper in front of the telly on Wednesday evenings and this makes for a pleasurable hour.

For last week’s Bake-off we had a delightful combination of leftovers from my niece Grace’s wedding (who had got married from our house the weekend before) and continued harvest from the garden. That all served as the basis for 3 delicious plates of tapas.

The leftovers were:

  • Alex Gooch’s remarkable sourdough, beginning to go a little stale
  • A large quantity of slow-roast pork from the hog roast at Grace’s wedding
  • A beautiful piece of Cashel Blue from ‘Liz the Cheese’ a guest at Grace’s wedding who runs Scotland’s busiest cheese shop (She had also brought the first of the season’s Vacherin Mont D’Or which we finished off on a subsequent evening baked in ready-made all-butter puff pastry with home-made blackcurrant jam)
  • Montgomery Cheddar – it’s become a very welcome tradition that my cousin Greta brings a massive chunk of this, the king of cheddars, whenever she comes to stay, as she did for the wedding.
  • A bag of superb mixed leaves from Lane Cottage Produce, with extra flowers added especially for the wedding
  • A nearly-empty bottle of white wine

The produce from the garden was fresh figs (they’re doing pretty well this year), runner beans, cucumbers and Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes.

Out of this cornucopia I made:

Baked figs and cashel blue on toast

img_6495I sliced about 5 fresh figs and tossed them with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a good teaspoon of sugar and then baked them in a medium oven for about 20 minutes. I then put the warm figs and their sticky juices on slices of toasted sourdough and crumbled a little Cashel Blue over each one and returned the whole thing to the oven for 5 minutes until the cheese was just beginning to melt. We had a few of Lane Cottage’s delicious leaves with this.

Pork and beans with fennel, garlic and white wine

img_6497For our next nibble I pulled apart a good handful of the leftover pork and fried it in a little of the leftover pork fat on a high heat. After a minute I added a crushed large clove of garlic, some salt and a teaspoon of fennel seeds. After a couple more minutes I added a generous splash of white wine and a couple of handfuls of finely sliced runner beans, stirred well, put on the lid and reduced the heat  and simmered for about 4 more minutes until the beans were just tender before serving.

Tomato confit and Montgomery cheddar on toast

img_6501I roughly chopped a couple of couple of dozen Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and fried them in a generous slug of olive oil with some salt, turning occasionally until they had become a rough and deeply flavoursome pulp. This was then spread on more sourdough toast and topped with plenty of shavings of Montgomery cheddar (Montgomery is so fully flavoured that I want to eat it in shavings rather than chunks – like parmesan). The whole thing was then baked in the oven for about 5 minutes. I then added a few torn basil leaves to each slice before serving. Montgomery doesn’t melt like most cheddar but it wilts in a rather satisfactory way. This is cheese on toast for royalty.

And just in case you’re wondering, we don’t normally run to 3 course tapas meals for supper in front of the telly!

A new book – conception and planned birth

016

Last Friday was an exciting day. I went to Oxford for a first meeting about my new cookbook. It’s been in my head for several years and now it looks like becoming a reality. We met in a rather fancy meeting room in one of those ‘virtual offices’ in the middle of Oxford – me, Michael Phillips (and his son Jack) of Archetype who will design it and the hugely experienced Marianne Ryan who will edit it. We started talking about a title, the design, the layout and how we would work. It’s a delight working with people who have produced countless books between them and have both a love of food and a keen sense of what will make a beautiful book.

The other key member of the team is Tom Foxall, the photographer, who I originally worked with when I wrote a serious of pieces for the excellent late lamented Herefordshire Life magazine. Tom takes beautiful food pictures. We’ve already booked in a series of photo shoots of which the first is at home tomorrow. So this evening I’ll be roasting butternut squash, poaching ham hock in cider, and making a sun-dried tomato dressing in preparation for the main lot of cooking which will start at 6am tomorrow morning. The plan is to make sure that there’s plenty of food ready by the time Tom arrives in the late morning.

As well as the process of writing, photographing and designing the book, the other thing I’m excited about is way I’m going to publish it. First of all it’s going to be self-published. This means that I and the editorial/design team are in complete control of the process. We can decide on length, size and quality of paper, design, number of illustrations etc without a publisher saying ‘that’s not how we do things here’. And one of the advantages of having two busy cafes and a loyal readership of the previous books is that I’ve got really good ways of selling the books even if Waterstones don’t choose to stock it (which of course I hope they will!).

The other exciting thing about the publishing process is that it’s going to be a Kickstarter project. So prospective purchasers of the book (that’s you dear reader!) will have the chance back the project in return for some fantastic rewards. As well as signed copies of the book delivered to you at home there will be other delicious food- and café-related rewards. I’ll be telling you more about he Kickstarter project over the coming months. The current plan is that the Kickstarter project will run for just 30 days in May 2017 with a view to having the book ready printed and delivered from the printers by 1st October 2017. Just in time for Christmas!

I published my last book 17 years ago and since then there’s so much new both in the food we cook at the cafes and the food I cook at home. So the recipes are all there but it’s a massive (and exciting) job in prospect to re-test and photograph them all and then to write the text. I’m very excited!

Happiness is a potato glut

Enthusiastic potato and courgette plants in our garden

Enthusiastic potato and courgette plants in our garden

Our veg garden is currently getting over-excited, especially on the potato front. Some gluts can feel oppressive whilst others just give an extra dose of pleasure. I like broad beans, but faced with a couple of rows that need picking and eating rather immediately I feel a slightly worthy protestant pressure not to let all that beautiful growth go to waste. Last year the broad bean glut was solved by our friend Parker spending  a whole day podding, blanching, peeling (not something I generally bother with – but he’d taken a year out from financial fraud investigation to do the Leith’s cookery course, so he had high broad bean standards) purreeing and freezing in meal-sized batches. This year the broad bean glut was solved by the bean failing to germinate.

Freshly dug Pink Fir Apple potatoes

Freshly dug Pink Fir Apple potatoes

However, just now we have a more delightful glut – potatoes. This year we’ve grown 2 rows of Charlottes and 2 of Pink Fir Apples and they’re both doing remarkably well. We started digging the Charlottes in July when they were the size of the dainty ones you buy in supermarkets. By the time we got back from holiday in the second week of August some of them were almost the size of small baking potatoes but still really delicious. Like Charlottes, Pink Fir Apples (which are just ready now) are known as a salad potato but they’re uses are much more various than just salads. Pink Fir Apples have a distinctive and delightful nutty taste and waxy texture and an engagingly ugly shape. Anyway both varieties are now at the point of peak taste and quantity so pretty much every meal we eat at home (including the occasional breakfast) features potatoes. Often I boil some potatoes, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and make a simple accompaniment to go with them. Recent successful accompaniments include:

  • thickish sliced courgettes fried very thoroughly (about 20 minutes) with olive oil and plenty of garlic then tossed with diced tomatoes, basil and crumbled feta
  • small diced courgettes fried quickly in butter and then bubbled for a couple of minutes with diced tomatoes, mustard and chopped ham (You may detect that we’ve got the beginnings of a courgette glut as well….)

A couple of days ago I tossed some warm  Pink Fir Apples with peppery leaves,  chopped smoked salmon trimmings and a simple vinaigrette. Unbelievably simple, quick and delicious.

Potato cakes with cucumber & tomato salad

Potato cakes with cucumber & tomato salad

I nearly always cook twice as many potatoes as I need to so that I’ve got the basis of a quick second meal. At lunchtime today we had potato cakes made with leftover potatoes, crisp-fried smoked bacon and a beaten egg (one per person), topped with a little grated cheddar. Incredibly quick and easy if you’ve got potatoes already cooked.

A slight elaboration on the bacon/potato/cheese combination in the form of a gratin provided perhaps our tastiest potato meal from this year’s harvest so far. Bacon, potatoes and cheese are possibly three of the tastiest things in the world, so it’s hard to go wrong if you put them all together. Various takes on this very Northern European trinity occur in Alpine cookery and appear on ski resort menus, but this version comes via Michaelhouse Café in Cambridge where our chef Lownz makes something similar but more creamy using Lincolnshire Poacher – now also regularly on the menu at All Saints.

At home, we ate the gratin with courgettes fried in olive oil and garlic and some raw yellow and red tomatoes thrown in with plenty of fresh basil at the end – a delicious and pretty accompaniment.

Potato, bacon and cheddar gratin, ready to serve

Potato, bacon and cheddar gratin, ready to serve

Bacon, potato and cheddar gratin
serves 6 very generously

1kg Charlotte potatoes, boiled until just cooked and cut into thick slices – or just halved if they’re small
300g smoked streaky bacon, diced about 1cm
50g butter
1 dsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 dsp fresh thyme, stripped from the branches
salt and pepper
250g good cheddar, grated
100g parmesan, grated

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C or 180C without a fan. Fry the bacon until it’s crisp and the fat is running. Add the chopped herbs and stir well. Scrape all the bacon and all the fat into big bowl with the potatoes and mix well.
  2. Mix the two cheeses together and put half into the potato mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper, mix and check the seasoning, adjusting as necessary.
  3. Put into a big baking dish and top with the remainder of the cheese. Cook for about 35 minutes until the potato mix is piping hot and the top is nicely browned.
  4. Serve either at once or when you’ve finished your glass of wine.

 

 

 

 

 

A spring supper – May 2016

Asparagus ready to cook

Asparagus ready to cook

This is a great time of year for eating. English asparagus has arrived; outdoor rhubarb is doing its manic thing in the garden, and there is the brief but glorious season when, if you’re lucky, you can get hold of Alphonso mangoes from India. Our neighbour Ray goes to Birmingham wholesale fruit and veg market a couple of times a week so he has been our route this year to mango happiness.

Alphonso mango ready to eat

Alphonso mango ready to eat

We had friends round on Friday and feasted on all of these delicious things.

  • Asparagus with a lime and chive hollandaise with a bit of Spianata toast
  • Confit duck legs cooked on ducky potatoes with rhubarb/duck sauce and peas
  • Meringues with passion fruit cream and alphonso mangoes

I find it very satisfying that you use the egg yolks for the hollandaise and the whites for the meringues. That’s what I call wholefood. For the hollandaise I used both juice and zest of a lime with four egg yolks and 250g butter and then snipped a handful of chives into it at the end. Great flavours and very pretty with the perky green asparagus. Add really fresh asparagus to a large pan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and boil for a further minute or so until the bottom of the stem is just beginning to feel tender when you squeeze it.  Drain at once and toss in a little olive oil salt and pepper.

I’ve been experimenting with various delicious Italian breads at home (more of that in another post) and we had some leftover Spianata (a very wet dough that makes fantastic flatbread) that I toasted and that mopped up the hollandaise beautifully.

Dean had made the confit duck at All Saints and so I got ready-made not only the duck legs themselves but also a large quantity of ducky juices which had formed a delicious jelly at the bottom of the confit container. Some of the juices I mixed with thinly sliced Maris Piper potatoes. These I baked in a deep roasting tray for about an hour at 160C until the potatoes were tender. I then put the confit duck legs on top, skin side uppermost and cooked at 220C for about 25 minutes until the skin was crisp and sizzling.

My starting point for the rhubarb/duck sauce was slow-roasting the rhubarb. I picked about 1kg of fat but young stems and chopped them up small with about 100g sugar and then spread them on a big roasting tray covered by bake-o-glide (parchment would be equally good) and cooked at 180C for about ten minutes and then another 3 hours or so at 140C, stirring very occasionally. This reduces the volume of rhubarb to about 20% of what you started off with. The result is an intense rhubarb pulp with a small amount of toffee-like rhubarb juice. Delicious.  I usually eat this with ginger yoghurt and granola for breakfast, but on this occasion I added a generous dollop to a small pan of duck juices and whizzed it all up. It needs a surprising amount of sugar – you’re looking for a sauce which is on the ‘sweet and sour’ end of the flavour spectrum. But taste as you go and decide how you like it.

And once you’ve got duck, potatoes and gravy of course the only thing to eat with it is frozen peas, possibly the world’s finest convenience food.

For the passion fruit cream try to find ugly bumpy fruits that feel very light – the smooth-skinned ones are generally not ripe. Halve the fruits and scoop out the pulp.  Add 5 fruit to 300ml double cream and about 50g sugar. Whizz briefly with a stick blender until the cream is just beginning to thicken. Spoon the cream over a meringue and then garnish with as much Alphonso mango as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget to suck the mango stones.

100% pure spring pleasure.