OMG I’ve got a vegan coming for Christmas….

Well actually I don’t, but I’ve heard words to this effect coming from several anxious mouths over the last few weeks. Don’t panic. There is a most fantastic recipe for a three mushroom tartlet with cep sauce in my Bill’s Kitchen cookbook.

When I was doing the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the book one of the ‘rewards’ I offered for backers of the book was a dinner for 20 featuring recipes from the book. My pal Paddy bought one of these dinners and offered his friends a choice of the slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine or the three mushroom tartlet. The split was roughly 50/50 which surprised and delighted me because this was basically a group of omnivores: people choosing a vegan dish because is sounded delicious not because of dietary rules! And they weren’t disappointed.

Three mushroom tartlet with a roast garlic and pine nut base, with a cep sauce,

There’s a few stages to making this recipe but each stage is pretty straightforward.

You can use various wild mushrooms – pieds de mouton are especially good if you can get hold of them. I have specified these three varieties both because they taste really good, and because they are all cultivated and therefore relatively easy to get hold of.

If you want to get ahead of yourself, the tartlet cases and the pine nut puree for the tartlets can be made the day before but the tartlets should not be put together until shortly before they are going to be heated or they will go a bit soggy. In this photo I’ve served the tartlet with the cep sauce, savoy cabbage and roast parsnips. If you’re really hungry you could add some mash, with or without celeriac.

Serves 4

250g wholemeal pastry (see page 67 of Bill’s Kitchen cookbook)

4 cloves garlic
40g pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 branch fresh thyme, stripped
1 tbs lemon juice
35 ml water
¼ tsp salt

2 tbs sunflower oil
175 g field mushrooms, cut into large chunks
175 g oyster mushrooms
175 g shitake mushrooms
Good pinch of salt for each batch of mushrooms

Pre-heat the oven to 160C  (fan).  Roll out the pastry very thinly and line the tartlet tins being careful not to stretch it or it will shrink when cooked. Use either baking beans or an identical tarlet tin to weight the pastry so that it doesn’t puff up during baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is just cooked and barely beginning to brown.

Break the bulb of garlic into cloves but do not peel them. Spread out on to a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 20 minutes until they smell nutty and are a little soft when prodded. Allow them to cool and then peel them.

Put the peeled, baked garlic in a blender with the toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, water, fresh thyme and salt. Whizz until smooth and then taste. You are looking for something quite assertive as it goes on in quite a thin layer. Adjust the seasoning with extra lemon juice or salt as necessary.

Next fry the mushrooms. They need to be fried in small batches on a high heat and you should season each batch as you go. If you try to fry too many at once or over too low a heat they will sweat and go slimy, whereas you want them slightly browned and tender. The pan should remain fairly dry as you fry.

When all the mushrooms are fried you are ready to assemble the tarts. Divide the pine nut mixture between the blind-baked tartlet cases and spread it evenly over the base. Arrange the fried mushrooms on top, starting with the field mushrooms, then the oyster mushrooms and lastly the shitake mushrooms arranged bottom up.

Before serving, pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan) and place the tartlets on a baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes until piping hot.

Cep sauce

This sauce can happily be made a day or two in advance. Arrowroot is a useful alternative sauce thickener to be aware of as it’s gluten free.

25 g dried ceps
200 ml hot water, for soaking the ceps

1 dsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ small chilli, finely chopped, without the seeds
¼ tsp salt
100 g field mushrooms, finely diced
125 ml red wine
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sugar

1 tsp arrowroot
Cold water to mix

Soak the ceps in the hot water for about 30 minutes.

In a saucepan, sweat the onion, garlic and chilli and in the sunflower oil until soft. Add the diced field mushrooms and keep cooking until the mushrooms are soft and have given off their juice. Add the wine and soy sauce. With a slotted spoon, take the ceps from their liquid and add them. Strain the liquid from the ceps through a fine sieve and add that also. Bring everything to the boil and simmer for about five minutes with the lid off, allowing the sauce to reduce a little.

Mix the arrowroot with a few drops of cold water and add half of it to the sauce. Bring back to the boil, stirring well. If you would like the sauce to be thicker, repeat the process with the rest of the arrowroot mixture, otherwise leave it as it is. Check the seasoning.

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.

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

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 ) 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.





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.

Tapas for bake-off


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!

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.

Pulled brisket for All Saints Saturday street food

A street food brisket bun ready to eat

A street food brisket bun ready to eat

Last Saturday we opened our Saturday Street Food stall at All Saints for the first time. Thank goodness the rain held off and we not only gave away 50 street food dishes in short order (sorry – it won’t happen again!) but sold another 50 after that before we started running out of food. Next Saturday we’ll be better prepared. We’re aiming to be there every Saturday over the summer offering Brindisa chorizo, grilled halloumi, Tudge’s famous sausages – and, of course, the pulled brisket that is the subject of this blog. In the (home-made) bun with the pulled brisket we offer garlic mayo, our roast pepper/chilli ketchup and coleslaw. It’s the business.

The more I slow cook meat, the more I love it. I love the shredded texture which so much slow-cooked meat gets and I love the deep flavours; the way the rendered fat mixes with juices and the meat itself to give a delicious but not oppressive richness. And once you’ve got the pulled meat it’s the ultimate convenience food – to be used in any number of different ways.

The recipe that follows is particularly aimed at eating in a bun for people at a party or (in our case) people wandering around Hereford city centre on a Sunny Saturday. But when I’ve made it at home I’ve always made a pretty big quantity and used the leftovers to make stunning ragouts to go with pasta as well as a wonderful beef and onion pie that’s pictured below.

a young pastry chef at work

a young pastry chef at work

the beef and onion pie with cream cheese pastry

the beef and onion pie with cream cheese pastry

At the cafes we cook overnight in our superb Rational ovens. At home I generally use our Aga (since it’s on anyway) but that requires a bit more judgement as none of its ovens is at quite the right temperature. The temperatures I’ve given here are aimed at standard domestic ovens. (In our Rational we do all our overnight slow-cooking of meat at 105C & 100% humidity but you can’t get that degree of precision in most domestic ovens)











Feeds about 20 (but see above re. leftovers)

Spice rub:

2 tsp fennel seeds
2tsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, crushed
30g salt
2 tsp smoked paprika (I prefer the spicey version but that’s a matter of taste)

  1. Toast fennel seeds.
  2. Add all of the rest of the ingredients and whizz or bash with pestle and mortar

For cooking the meat

3kg brisket, boned but not rolled
200cl dry cider
200cl water
50g molasses

brisket in the roasting tray having just been pulled and mixed with the cooking juices

brisket in the roasting tray having just been pulled and mixed with the cooking juices

  1. Rub spice mix over all the meat’s surfaces and try to get it into any nooks and crannies. Put into a deep baking tray fat side up. At home I use the biggest size of roasting tray that fits into our aga – 42cm x 30cm.
  2. Mix the other ingredients together (cider, water & molasses) and pour into the baking tray. Cover very tightly with strong foil – unless you have a lid which is even better.
  3. Cook at 120C overnight or for about 8-12 hours until the meat is soft and easy to pull apart.
  4. When it’s done take out the meat and pour off but retain all the liquid (including any melted fat); put the liquid in a gravy separator and discard any fat you regard as excess. You want to retain at least 100ml of liquid fat to give the meat the necessary richness. Discard any remaining solid fat and any grissly bits and pull the beef using two forks pulling in opposing directions. Put the pulled meat and the cooking juices together and mix well. Stick the pulled meat straight in a fresh bun or keep warm if you’re going to eat it fairly soon.
  5. If you’re going to use it later then as the meat cools you need to mix it a couple of times so that all the meat remains well coated in tasty liquid. Refrigerate until you need it. To re-heat just put the desired amount in a pan and heat until piping hot, stirring regularly.

A winter pork belly supper


Pork and crackling ready for eating

Pork and crackling ready for eating

On Friday we had another great evening at All Saints – 60 in for baba ganoush, coq au vin, daube of beef, prune and cider fool etc). In case you hadn’t gathered we’re now open in Hereford every Friday evening for great value home-cooked dinners.

And then back at home we had a lovely bunch of people round for dinner on Saturday. Good chat & great grub. We started with sloe gin and prosecco which is my newly found best friend. A generous slug of home-made sloe gin – which we made in the autumn following the Sipsmith instructions – and topped up with prosecco in a good-sized flute. A great simple cocktail.

Then a salad of roast leeks in lemon and parsley dressing (chopped curly parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, a little garlic) with roast squash and some Rosary goat’s cheese on top. We ate this at room temperature but I think doing it again I’d serve it slightly warm. The leeks, squash and parsley all came from our veg patch which I continue to feel inordinately proud of given the lack of time and attention that we give to it.

I’d tried to get hold of some beef cheeks to cook in beer but it seems that even in Herefordshire (world centre of cattle body parts) you have to order beef cheeks in advance. So I fell back on my current obsession which is belly pork with cider sauce; accompanied by mash, roast beetroot with ginger yoghurt, beet tops with butter and mustard, sweetheart cabbage. There are many wonderful things to do with pork but I think that my current desert-island pork dish would be this one.

I was going to make rhubarb bread and butter pudding but that felt a bit massive after pork belly so in the end I made meringues with apple puree (cinnamon, butter, lemon juice, apples that had been sitting in wheelbarrow with rainwater for the last 2 months), salted caramel flaked almonds and cream.

Ingredients ready for cooking for supper

Ingredients ready for cooking for supper

So here’s the recipe for the pork belly. Once you know what you’re aiming for with the flesh of the belly this is a reliably fantastic dish to serve that’s great for doing at home when you don’t want lots of last minute faff. I do this with a whole belly of pork (about 3kg including the bones) as it takes a bit of time to cook and any that you don’t use on the day heats up incredibly well either for serving as it is a second time round or for chopping up and having in soups/stir-frys/noodles etc.

At the cafes we cook the belly overnight at 105C/100% humidity but since I don’t (sadly) have a commercial combi oven at home I do the following.

Slow roast belly pork with cider and crackling

serves 8-12 depending on appetite and accompaniments

1 pork belly, rind scored, bones separated (ask your butcher to do both these things)
1 litre cider – cheap stuff is fine for this

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the rib bones in a large roasting tray and put the belly on top rind side uppermost. Roast for about 30 minutes until the top is beginning to brown.
  2. Add the cider, cover the tray with foil and return to the oven for about 15 minutes then turn the temperature down to 140C and leave for a further 3 to 5 hours. Check every hour or so that there is still some liquid in the roasting dish – add boiling water if the liquid is disappearing. The amount of evaporation seems to vary hugely from oven to oven. Liquids will evaporate much more quickly in a fan oven even when the roasting tray appears to be carefully covered in foil. After about 4 hours the pork belly flesh should be collapsing – you should be able to pull strands of flesh off with your fingers. If it’s still firm then leave it for longer.
  3. When the meat is ready take it out of the oven. Carefully remove the meat and bones and put on one side. Pour the liquid into a bowl and allow it to cool completely. Once the fat has solidified it’s easy to remove and discard it. If you don’t have time to let the liquid cool completely in a fridge then use a gravy separator to get rid of the fat. Once you’ve got the cidery juices without the fat put them in a pan and reduce until you’ve got a bit less than half a litre of very tasty thin sauce. Season if necessary – it probably won’t be. Leave on one side until you need it.
  4. Meanwhile, using a large knife, carefully remove the crackling (which at this point will almost certainly be soggy and un-promising) and, using some kitchen scissors, snip it into long thin strips. Put the thin pieces of crackling on a fresh roasting dish and put back in a very hot oven (200-220C). After about 10 minutes take it out, pour off any excess fat which has come off the crackling and return to the oven. Keep checking at least every five minutes (it can go from not quite done to burnt very quickly) until the crackling is very nearly as crisp as you will want it – you’re going to return to the oven for 5 minutes just before serving the pork.
  5. Portion the pork (between 8 and 12 rectangular chunks for a whole 3kg belly) and cut up the ribs and then refrigerate it all until about 20 minutes before you want to eat.
  6. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat (or longer if the you’ve stored the portioned meat in the fridge) but the belly and bones back in the oven at 180c. When the meat has nearly heated through put the crackling on top. Meanwhile put the cider juices back on the heat. In about five more minutes the whole lot will be ready to serve. Give each person a couple of ribs, a pit of belly, a few bits of crackling and some sauce and watch happiness grow around the table.

Ps. If this seems like too much bother we’ve currently got roast belly pork on the lunchtime menu at All Saints.

Crumbly, buttery shortbread – to lemon or not to lemon?

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I’ve always been doubtful about shortbread but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become a true believer. Shortbread is such a simple thing that, a bit like a tomato salad, it can either be a thing of exciting beauty or something dull and pointless. This recipe, if made carefully, is buttery, delicate and crumbly – and extremely more-ish. (The version is adapted very slightly from Felicity Cloake’s excellent Guardian column that compares lots of versions of things and then comes up with a recommendation)

The only question that remained is whether at the cafes we should serve classic buttery shortbread or a zesty lemon version. For a week we served both lemon and classic shortbread and the plain (classic) version was the clear winner – we sold nearly twice as many of them. But the great thing is that at home you don’t have to be guided by the majority verdict – the choice is yours.

To ensure that your shortbread is always perfect:

  1. Use plain flour not a strong white bread flour – I didn’t think this really mattered until I tried both and compared them
  2. make sure the butter is really soft before beating it with the sugar
  3. don’t be tempted to omit the ground rice. It adds a delicious nubbly texture which is perfect for shortbread.
  4. don’t overwork the dough
  5. chill the biscuits before baking

Christmas and shortbread 012To make about 22 biscuits

250g salted butter, very soft but not melted
(if using unsalted butter then add 1/4 tsp of salt to the flour)
125g caster sugar
285g plain flour
90g ground rice
extra caster sugar for sprinkling at the end

To make the lemon shortbread just add the very finely grated zest of 2 lemons to the flour mixture before mixing with the sugar/butter mix.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 130C (fan oven – 150C for a non-fan oven)
  1. Put the very soft butter and the caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, and beat with handheld electric mixer until very soft and fluffy.
  1. Add the flour and ground rice and mix swiftly with a large spoon so it is beginning to come together. Then use your hands to pull it together into one blob.
  1. Roll the dough out to just under 1cm thick and cut out rounds 7cm diameter cookie cutter. Do not use extra flour when rolling out the dough. Re-use leftover dough until it’s all used. Put cookies on to baking sheets on baking parchment, leaving a little space between in each one.
  1. Refrigerate for 30 mins before baking.
  1. Bake for 50 minutes until cooked but not brown. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle with caster sugar. I find that sifting the caster sugar through a tea strainer makes it easier to do an even coating. Store in tins with baking parchment between layers.

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