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!

 

 

 

 

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 new book – conception and planned birth

016

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show

A short while ago I had a great morning talking about my favourite subjects – food, cooking, cafes and restaurants – to the lovely Catherine Moran. She used to make the world’s most delicious chocolate pots at the Ludlow Food Centre, and has now created a great resource for all things entrepreneurial and artisanal – The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show.

Catherine has created a great podcast from our conversation and here’s part 1. I hope you enjoy it.

And here’s Part 2:

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
salt

  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.