In pursuit of rich and delicious coffee

Our new ‘Bicerin’ with a salted caramel brownie

In my new book (still on a boat – annoyingly, the 3000 copies left Hong Kong a week late) I’m pictured wearing an apron saying ‘grumpy old man’. So in my official grumpy capacity I’ll say this: It really annoys me when people complain about trends in the economy ‘which lead to a world of frothy coffee jobs’. The implication is that making and serving coffee is a menial task of little value requiring little or no skill and leading nowhere.

As in many areas of life the cultural values of Europe are a step ahead of us. In Italy the role of barista is valued and respected. It makes my day to come across somewhere making really good coffee. At my cafés it’s something we never stop working on. Just recently we’ve introduced a new coffee called a ‘Bicerin’ (pronounced ‘bee-chair-een’) which Dean, the manager at All Saints, came across on holiday at a famous café of the same name in Turin. We make it with Green and Black’s chocolate, a double shot of espresso, chocolate sprinkles and a small amount of richly textured milk. As you can see from the picture at the top it looks lovely – and it tastes even better.

But making consistently rich and delicious coffee is not primarily about the recipe.

Firstly it’s about the choice of coffee beans. We use, and have used for many years, Illy espresso. As you’ll know if you’ve ever bought Illy in a supermarket it’s one of the most expensive coffees available. We pay at least 60% more for our beans that the main coffee chains and most of that difference is to do with the quality of the coffee rather than the superior buying power of the chains. The businessman in me is always looking for a fantastic little local company roasting and blending perfect espresso at lower prices. But it seems that you get what you pay for. We’ve done many blind tastings over the years and Illy always comes out top.

Secondly and most simply it’s about the espresso machine. You have to use a good quality machine that is properly maintained and cleaned so that it’s using the correct quantity, temperature and pressure of water for every cup. Equally the steam wand for heating/texturing milk must be constantly (i.e. every time you use it) kept clean and clear.

Thirdly – and most challengingly – it’s about the skill and consistency of the barista (person making Italian-style espresso coffee). So what does a barista have to do to ensure you get a perfect coffee every time? Here’s my (not exhaustive) list of the top ten things your barista needs to do to make sure you get a consistently excellent cappuccino or flat white:

  1. Always use a hot cup and make sure that the portafilter (the bit you put the freshly ground coffee in) is always hot. Espresso is brewed using water a few degrees below boiling (and milk quite a bit cooler than that) so everything possible has to be done to ensure that the drink gets to the customer sufficiently hot without scalding the coffee or over-cooking the milk.
  2. Make sure that the coffee is ground to the correct fine-ness. The grinding mechanism of a coffee grinder is being constantly worn away by the very process of grinding so the machine needs regular adjustment to ensure that a consistent and correct fine-ness of ground coffee is achieved.
  3. Make sure that the coffee is ‘tamped’ (pressed down with a ‘tamper’) sufficiently firmly – but not too firmly. If points 2 and 3 are correctly followed then the espresso will pour from the spout into the cup in a shape that is known as a ‘rat’s tail’. If it comes out too quickly the grind is too coarse or the coffee insufficiently tamped. If it drips out too slowly then the grind is too fine and/or the coffee has been excessively tamped.
  4. Espresso with a nice ‘crema’

    A well made espresso will always have a fine nutty-brown froth on top known as the crema. In our in-house barista training manual we have a saying: ‘No crema, no serva.’ If there’s no crema on the espresso it’s almost always a sign that there’s something wrong with the way it was made. Confusingly the reverse is not the case. You can have very nasty espresso that has a beautiful crema. It’s much easier to get a good crema from cheap and relatively flavourless Robusta beans than from the finer Arabica beans. Needless to say Illy coffee is 100% Arabica.

  5. Use full fat milk. Of course if customers want us to use other milks (skimmed, semi, soya etc) we’re happy to do that. But in my view the finest milky coffees are made with full-fat milk. Something to do the fat in the milk complementing the acidity of the coffee.
  6. Always start texturing the milk using cold fresh milk, as opposed to constantly re-heating old milk.
  7. Heat with the wand at the correct angle and height in the jug thus creating a whirlpool within the jug that will encourage the creation of fine bubbles incorporating the right amount of air. You’re looking for a dense creamy foam at about 65C.
  8. Tap the jug firmly and then ‘polish’ the milk using a vigorous swirling motion. You will see the milk become shiny as you do this.
  9. For cappuccino and macchiato pour rapidly from the top of the jug – imagine that it’s a jug of water with ice in and you’re trying to pour out the ice.
  10. For latte, flat white, cortado and our new Bicerin, pour slowly from the bottom of the jug getting an even denser more ‘liquid’ bit of the milk.There you have it – couldn’t be simpler! And that’s without starting on latte art. I’ve been doing it for twenty years and I still struggle to make perfect coffees every time – and that’s why I’m always delighted to be served a great coffee, especially when it’s in one of my own cafes!

If you’re interested in making espresso at home I was sent a link to a thorough-looking (US-based) review of espresso machines https://www.reviews.com/espresso-machine/  I’ve never used domestic-style espresso machine and I don’t think I’ve ever had a really well-made coffee with textured milk made on a domestic espresso machine but I’d be delighted to be shown the error or my limited experience!

 

 

 

 

Aligot, pulled brisket and our first ever festival pop-up

Spianata with pulled brisket and coleslaw

We’ve just come back from a lovely couple of weeks in France. Our usual summer holiday of filling a big house with friends and family for eating, drinking, volleyball and lounging. There were briefly 18 of us when two of Jonny’s friends who were cycling from the Pyrenees through France decided that a few nights of home comforts would refresh them for the last leg of their journey. The first night the cyclists were with us was the kids (teenagers now) turn to cook and they came up trumps: Aligot (a local speciality: cheesey mash made with a young Tomme cheese which you can buy ready-grated and seasoned in the market) with a fragrant fennel and sausage casserole followed by roast peaches with a kind of sweetened yeasted cake a bit like Pannetone (also bought in the local market) and ice cream. Can’t you just taste it all?

Back home my mind has rapidly turned to our first ever festival pop-up. The splendid guys at A Rule of Tum started the Hereford Indie Food festival last year and it was an instant success. This year it’s back, bigger and better for the three days of the August Bank Holiday weekend. As well as a producers’ market and street food stalls (of which our Bill’s Kitchen is one) the Indie Food crew have teamed up with the Hay Festival to offer a series of food-related talks. Sunday morning sees Stephen Terry (from the excellent Hardwick pub near Abergavenny) at 10am followed by me at 11am talking about some recipes from my new book. Book your tickets for the talks at http://www.herefordindiefood.com/talks/

But the street food stalls are at the heart of what the Indie Food festival is all about. Our stall, ‘Bill’s Kitchen’, will be focusing on sourdough spianata sandwiches. For the fillings customers will choose between grilled halloumi with roast vegetables in a tomato and basil dressing or our stunning slow-cooked pulled Herefordshire brisket.

You’ll be able to find the spianata recipe in my new book, also called Bill’s Kitchen (published on 2nd October but available now to pre-order at http://www.billscafes.co.uk/shop/ ) but here’s the recipe for the utterly mouthwaterig slow-cooked pulled brisket.

Pulled brisket in its cooking pot

I think it makes sense to make quite a big quantity of this and then freeze what you don’t want straight away. If you’re not used to cooking things overnight then have courage and give it a go – it’s bizarre but rather wonderful to wake up to the aroma of slowly cooking spiced beef.

Serves 15-20 depending on your appetite

2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and whizzed in a spice grinder or bashed with a pestle and mortar
2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
20g salt
2 tsp hot smoked paprika

2kg beef brisket boned but not rolled (if you can only get a rolled one then just cut the string and unroll it so that it’s easier to rub the spices into it)

500ml dry cider
75g molasses or black treacle

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan).

Mix together the ground fennel seeds, rosemary, garlic, salt and hot smoked paprika. Rub the spice spice mix over all the meat’s surfaces and try to get it into any nooks and crannies. Put into a heavy casserole dish with a well-fitting lid.

Roast for 30 minutes with the lid off. Mix the cider and molasses together and pour over the meat. Put the lid on and turn the oven down to 120c (fan) and cook overnight (or for 10-12 hours) until a lot of fat has run out and the meat is soft enough to be pulled with a fork.

Pour off all the liquid (including any melted fat); put in a gravy separator and discard the fat. Discard any remaining solid fat and any grissly bits (there shouldn’t be much of this) and pull the beef with a couple of forks. Put the pulled meat and the liquid together and mix well. You can either serve it straight away or keep in the fridge and fry it up in a pan or warm in the oven when you want it. It’s resilient stuff.

 

 

 

 

Book printing and quinoa

Michael (the designer) transferred Bill’s Kitchen (my new book in case you haven’t spotted this) by some internet-means to Hong Kong on Monday. So Ming and her printers are now busy printing. Dominic is busy contacting lots of potential reviewers and I’m reverting to my default life position of thinking about food. As well as preparing for our first ever food festival stall – a three day slot at Hereford’s second Indie Food festival where we’ll be selling sourdough spianata stuffed with either pulled Herefordshire brisket with coleslaw or grilled halloumi with baba ganoush and roast veg – I’ve been thinking about quinoa.

Quinoa and fresh herb salad with added red and yellow peppers

I’m always a bit suspicious of wonder ingredients that become ultra-fashionable so I’m generally a late-adopter. In fact one of our chefs (Pam Shookman, a healthy-living Canadian) first used Quinoa in our salads at The Place Below in the mid-1990s so at that point we were mildly avant-garde. However, we’ve been a long time giving it a regular place on our menu. A few weeks ago at All Saints (and coming soon to Michaelhouse) we started serving this deliciously perky variant on tabbouleh as one of our daily salad bowls and it’s going down a treat with the punters (as we affectionately call you lot). If I were making it at home I’d probably add half a clove of crushed garlic, but lunchtime office workers can be reluctant to breathe garlic fumes over their colleagues so we tend to be cautious in our raw garlic use at the cafes.

The one thing that we’ve learnt over the last few weeks is that it’s very easy to overcook quinoa. And claggy overcooked quinoa is like eating porridge in salad format – not attractive. So set a timer, drain thoroughly and then spread the drained quinoa out on a big tray to get rid of the steam as quickly as possible.

Lowri, our head chef in Hereford, suggested the diced raw courgettes. I was doubtful, but actually they’re great so long as you use really firm fresh courgettes and dice them very small. It’s a pretty flexible recipe especially in relation to which veg and which toasted seeds you use.

Small supermarket bunches of fresh herbs normally weigh about 30g, so you need three bunches of flat parsley of that size for this salad. Don’t skimp on the herbs.

Quinoa and fresh herb salad

serves 6-8 as part of a mixed salad plate

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained
200g quinoa
300g courgettes, diced ½ cm
150g fine beans, cut in 3
90g flat parsley, roughly chopped
30g mint, leaves stripped from the stalks and roughly chopped
1 tbs capers, drained and roughly chopped
75ml olive oil
2 lemons, juice of
1 tsp salt

25g pumpkin seeds
½ tsp salt

  1. Rinse quinoa very thoroughly to remove bitterness. Boil in plenty of water for 15 minutes, then drain thoroughly and spread out so that it cools and doesn’t go too stodgy
  2. Bring another pan of water to the boil and boil the green beans for about 3 minutes until just tender. Drain.
  3. Remove only the woodiest stalks from the herbs. You can use most of the parsley stalks apart from the fattest. The mint stalks tend to be all woody so discard them. Then roughly chop the herbs.
  4. Mix everything except the pumpkin seeds and their salt very well together.
  5. Toast the pumpkin seeds with the salt either in a dry pan on the hob or in a fairly hot oven and sprinkle over the top of the serving bowl.

Crowdfunding and pasta bake

The successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for my new book ‘Bill’s Kitchen’ has been so exciting and it’s really got me thinking. 340 people have been interested and generous enough to make this book happen. And working on the full-sized proofs last week made me realize what a beautiful thing it’s going to be. (If you didn’t back the book on Kickstarter you can still pre-order the book at www.billscafes.co.uk/shop and if you pre-order before 31st August you will get a free e-book as well)

It makes me wonder if crowdfunding might be a good way to create a new café. If enough people in a particular town were interested in being involved with a beautiful new café and bakery, then they could back it through a crowd-funding campaign and become in some way part-owners of their town’s best new place. Either literally owners or maybe backers with the right to – perhaps – eat free for a year! I like the idea of a café project that is a kind of partnership between customers and café creators. What do you think?

Anyway, the purpose of all this crowdfunding, in the end, is food. So here’s some crowd-fooding – another delicious and simple recipe taken from Bill’s Kitchen. (I’m currently attempting to starve 1 day a week and today is one of my starving days so looking at this picture is a hard think to do…..)

Holiday pasta bake for many people with roast vegetables and fennel sausages

Most summers we go on holiday with the cousins – a multi-generational get together of up to 20 of us in a house on a hill in France or Italy. It’s blissful. We’ve been doing it since all the (seven) kids were tiny but now we’ve got to the point where they’ll sometimes cook for us and in recent years this (or something like it) has been their dish of choice. It’s rich, comforting and deeply satisfying. It makes a real difference if you can get hold of some Italian-type fennel sausages – the ones in the picture were described by Sainsbury’s as ‘Sicilian style’ and were pretty good.

You could easily make this dish veggie by taking out the mozzarella and sausages and subsitituting 300g puy lentils (cooked weight) and 500g crumbled feta – both added at the point where the dish is assembled before baking.

You can double the quantities here to feed a larger number of people – all you need is a really big bowl to mix in.

Serve with a simple green salad

serves 10

600g pasta, penne is good

2 tbs olive oil
1 large onion (about 300g), chopped
½ tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
8 fennel sausages or other good sausages (550g), in 2cm chunks
3 x 500g pckts passata

2 medium aubergines (about 550g), diced 2cm
3 tbs olive oil
½ tsp salt

2 red peppers, sliced thickly
2 yellow pepper, sliced thickly
2 tbs olive oil
½ tspsalt

3 x 150g blobs mozzarella, roughly torn
200g good cheddar, grated
100g parmesan, grated

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan). Toss the vegetables, separately, in their olive oil and salt. Roast the aubergines for 30 minutes and the peppers for 25 minutes until both are browning at the edges and quite soft.

In a large wide pan sweat the onions in the olive oil and salt. After a couple of minutes add the crushed garlic, the oregano and continue to cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft. Add the chopped sausages and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the passata and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat very low, put a lid on and simmer for a further 30 minutes.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt generously. Put in the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the packet say (the pasta will cook for a bit longer in the oven). Drain.

In a large bowl, mix the nearly-cooked pasta with the sausage/tomato sauce and the roast peppers and aubergines.

In a very large baking/lasagne dish (say 40 x 30 x 7cm) or two smaller ones, put half the pasta mixture. Then scatter the mozzarella evenly on top. Then put the rest of the pasta mix on top and finish with the mixed grated parmesan and cheddar.

Bake at 160C (fan) for 25-30 minutes until brown on top and hot all the way through. (This assumes you cook it straight away and the constituent parts are still warm. If you allow it to cool completely before final cooking it will take longer to heat through)

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…