Story of a leg (of lamb)

Roast aubergine ratatouille to go with the lamb

I’m very keen on leftovers – as you’ll know if you’ve read my new(ish) cookbook, Bill’s Kitchen. And especially when cooking a prime joint like a leg of lamb, I’m keen that none of it should go to waste. So here is the story of our most recent leg of lamb.

Last year we had a joint venture with our neighbours, Jo and Graham, to have four sheep on our paddock. The deal was that they looked after the lambs/sheep, we (being un-skilled and lazy townies) provided the land and we split the costs both of buying the young lambs and of slaughter and butchery. So our paddock was kept naturally mowed through the summer and late last autumn the butchered lamb was delivered and we filled our freezer with the delicious bounty.

In celebration of Easter and having a full family at home I decided it was a good moment to roast a leg. Since we had friends coming to join us one of whom was a vegetarian I served the lamb with roast aubergine ratatouille and then offered fried halloumi with the ratatouille as an alternative to the lamb. Inevitably the meat-eaters wanted the halloumi as well as the lamb but we made sure that the veggie got priority.

So here how’s every morsel of the leg was eaten

Day 1:
The main event: eight people had roast lamb with red wine jus, ratatouille, sliced rosemary potatoes, fried halloumi

Day 2:
At least one person simply had some re-heated leftovers

Day 3:
I made lamb, tamarind and lentil soup for at least 8 people which was consumed over the next couple of days

Day 4:
With the last of the best bits of lamb I made a noodle stir fry for four of us

All in all that’s 20 people served from one leg of lamb which I think is pretty good going. I’ll leave the recipe for the stir-fry to your imagination and the recipe for the ratatouille is on page 109 of Bill’s Kitchen. But here’s a summary of what I did for the roast, the potatoes and the soup – and they were  all very delicious.

Anchovy and garlic roast lamb with red wine jus

1 large leg of lamb

2 big sprigs rosemary, stripped and finely chopped
10 anchovies in oil, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs olive oil

500ml red wine

  1. Make a paste of the anchovies, garlic, rosemary and oil. Then with the sharp end of a knife I made about 15 holes in the lamb about 2cm across and 4cm deep and stuffed the paste into them.
  2. Roast the lamb at 220C (I used the top right oven of our Aga) for 20 minutes. Add the wine to the bottom of the roasting tin and return to the hot oven. After 5 minutes turn the oven down to 170C (I used the bottom right oven of our Aga) and continue roasting for 45 minutes.
  3. Turn the oven right down to 110C (I used the top left oven of our Aga) and let it continue to cook very slowly for a further hour. This resulted in lamb that was just a little pink in the middle and extremely juicy. Pour the red wine jus onto the sliced lamb and rosemary potatoes.

 

Sliced rosemary potatoes

2.5kg maris piper potatoes, sliced finely
75ml olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tbs finely-chopped fresh rosemary leaves – about one very big sprig, with the woody bits removed

Toss everything together and then spread out on the largest baking tray that will fit into your oven. Cook at 170C for about 90 minutes turning them every so often so the edge bits don’t burn. Turn the oven temperature up to 220C for the final 10 minutes to brown the top.

Lamb, tamarind and lentil soup

1 large onion, roughly chopped
700g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
left over chicken fat and juices (from a previous meal) – or use sunflower oil1 tsp chilli paste
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

150g red lentils
250g potatoes, diced small
700ml water

200ml leftover red wine jus
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs tamarind paste

350g  less perfect bits of leftover roast lamb, diced very small

  1. In a large lidded pan sweat the onion and carrot in the fat, chilli paste, turmeric and salt for about 30-40 minutes until they are very soft.
  2. Add the lentils, potatoes and water and bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid on for about 30 minutes until the lentils and potatoes are very soft. Add the jus, tomato paste and tamarind and whizz thoroughly with a hand-held blender.
  3. Add the diced lamb and season the soup to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Re-heat so the leftover lamb is piping hot and serve.

Hot cross buns

Freshly baked buns

An unexpected pleasure this year has been participating in the panel that’s judging the Guild of Food Writers “Cookery Writer of the Year” award. This particular award is not for cookbooks (my own book is entered for the cookbook award so I couldn’t really be on that panel!) but for articles published in newspapers and magazines during 2017. The five of us judges have each been given 5 recipe articles from 20 different writers, with a view to creating initially a shortlist and then a winner. It was a marathon of reading and thinking about 100 articles (perhaps 400 recipes in total) and their introductions. The breadth of people’s food imagination is remarkable, and I’m excited to have discovered several writers that I wasn’t familiar with – although probably should have been.

Since I’ve only just submitted my shortlist, and the awards ceremony is not until June, I can’t say anything about individual entrants. But the whole process has set off a wave of new recipe cooking at home – including delving again into some books that have been resting on our shelves. On Monday Sarah made a delicious Nigel Slater combination from his Kitchen Diaries vol 3– duck legs slow cooked with port and prunes, plus red cabbage with bacon. I was doubtful about the red cabbage and bacon but wrongly so. The salty cabbaginess made a memorably delicious plateful when eaten alongside the duck and prunes.

Meanwhile, with Easter (and therefore Good Friday) fast approaching, my eye had been caught by a hot cross bun recipe in one of the articles submitted for the GFW awards. I made a first version last week and have tinkered with it in a minor way this week to create the buns pictured here. I think they’re lovely – the diced apple and the spiced glaze giving the deliciously soft dough an extra lift. Taking these buns out of the oven I had to suppress once again my dream of having a little bakery. ’Remember the ridiculously early mornings, Bill, as well as the tricky economics’ I tell myself for the umpteenth time.

‘Mixed spice’ is classic British pudding spice mix which will vary from brand to brand but which generally features cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg. I find the combination strangely alluring.

makes 16 buns

This dough is more easily kneaded in a mixer than by hand as it’s rather slack and sticky. As it’s an enriched dough it takes a lot longer to rise than normal bread dough.

340ml milk
50g butter

500g strong white flour
75g caster sugar
7g pckt yeast
5g salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

75g sultanas/raisins
50g mixed peel
1 eating apple, diced 0.5cm
1 tsp mixed spice

For the cross:

75g plain flour and enough water to make a paste like toothpaste

For the glaze

50g sugar
50g water
½ tsp mixed spice

  1. Heat milk to steaming. Add butter and allow to melt. Allow mixture to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl (ideally of a Kenwood Chef type mixer) add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix together roughly, then mix in the egg and knead for a couple of minutes (or 5 minutes if kneading by hand).
  3. Mix in the raisins, peel, apple and mixed spice and knead again until everything is evenly distributed. Cover with clingfilm and leave for 1½ to 3 hours (depending on the room and dough temperatures) until at least doubled in size.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets each measuring about 26cm x 32cm (or 1 larger one if you’ve got a big oven) with baking parchment. Divide the dough into 16 and arrange evenly on the baking sheets. Don’t attempt to shape the buns as they’re too sticky for this and, in any event, they settle to a nice shape as they rise.
  5. Allow to rise in a warm place until really puffy (1-3 hours depending on room temperature). Pipe on the crosses with the flour paste using a piping bag. If you make a mess (as I usually do) that goes to show that these are home-made buns and none of that shop-bought nonsense.
  6. Bake at 180C (fan) for 20-25 minutes until slightly browned and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Remove from the oven.
  7. Put the glaze ingredients in a small pan and heat to boiling point, stirring sufficiently to mix the sugar in to the water. Brush the glaze generously on to the buns whilst they’re still warm.

Scribbles and spillages

Sourdough notes on Bill’s wholemeal loaf

If I’m honest one of the reasons I wrote Bill’s Kitchen is to have all my favourite recipes in one place for my own personal use. I would be bonkers if that were my only reason for writing it but it was definitely a regularly hovering thought. Even though I’ve written all the recipes and cooked most of them many, many times I still often like to refer to quantities and directions when I’m cooking. I’m just not good at retaining numbers and timings in my head. But that’s not to say that I treat my recipes (or anyone else’s recipes come to that) as commandments set in stone. Almost as soon as I’d laid my hands on my very own copy of Bill’s Kitchen I was tinkering and trying more variations, alternatives and shortcuts for busy days.

Scribbles and dribbles on brownie recipe from my first book

In my own copies of my two original cookbooks (Food From The Place Below and Feasts From The Place Below) there is layer upon layer of notes, scribbles and spillages. The pages on bread, marmalade and brownies are especially thickly encrusted.

And I’ve already made a few notes in the new book. This doesn’t mean that there are mistakes in the book – amazingly I have yet to discover any bog-ups although there are surely one or two lurking there somewhere. But food journeys never end and I’m already finding tweaks and alternatives that I don’t want to forget. So here’s a few extra snippets that I’ve added or am planning to scribble on to my copy of Bill’s Kitchen:

Bill’s wholemeal loaf (p.23)

Over the last year or so I’ve become more and more addicted to sourdough bread. In Bill’s Kitchen I’ve given a mixture of sourdough and conventional recipes. But the wholemeal bread that I’m currently cooking most often at home is an entirely sourdough version of the Bill’s bread recipe on page…..The photo at the top is of my alternative sourdough quantities/instructions

Spianata (p.31)

This Italian flatbread (page………in the book) continues to be another baked addiction for me and my family. And in February I’m taking Spianata to the Bloxham Festival where I’m providing lunch for 60 all cooked from the book before giving a talk. I now nearly always make this with 100% sourdough starter and I also plan to experiment with a thinner version than that given in the book so you get a higher proportion of crust to insides. That’s the great thing about making stuff yourself – sometimes you may want it thinner and sometimes thicker. My guess is that they’ll both be delicious and appropriate for different situations. Cooking times will clearly need adjusting.

Lownz’s lamb tagine (p.167)

We had four sheep on our paddock this year (looked after by our neighbours Graham and Jo) and two of them are now in our freezer. We had substantial leftovers from the first very delicious leg that I cooked and the next day I decided to make a speedy version of Lownz’s lamb tagine. I’d been sent a couple of tubs of Ajika – a spice paste from Abkazhia which some friends of friends are producing (see https://ajika.co.uk/ for more information) – and I thought that could save me some spice-finding and garlic crushing. So I substituted a teaspoon of the hot version of Ajika for the first few spice ingredients and then added some ready-mixed ras-el-hanout. It was delicious – spicier than the original version in the book and certainly different, but very good indeed. And the pre-cooked diced leg also worked surprisingly well in place of slow-cooked diced shoulder.

Sarah’s pasta with smoked salmon (p.143)

I’ve also tried adding a teaspoon of Ajika (see above) to this recipe at the same time as the salmon/cream etc. I love warm spices with oily fish and they work well here.

Salted caramel brownies (p.203)

I frequently want to cook a double quantity of brownies at home and I tend to do this in one big commercial baking tray rather than 2 domestic-sized tins. I’ve been reminded by doing this that cooking in a much bigger tray means decreasing the temperature by 10C and increasing the baking time by 10 minutes – otherwise you get brownies which are cooked on the edge but still not quite set in the middle.

That’s just a few examples of how Bill’s Kitchen, like any good cookbook, is a stage in a journey not a straightforward encyclopedia of recipes.

So for a new year’s resolution let’s all keep cooking and experimenting and making life always a little bit tastier. It’s been an absolute delight to have so many of you telling me how much you’re enjoying reading and cooking from the book – thank you for getting in touch. And don’t forget to tell your friends to buy their own copy, either from one of the cafes or at www.billscafes.co.uk/shop

Happy Cooking and Happy 2018 to all of you!

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