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


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

  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.

Chocolate chip cookies and an English Greek Salad

An English Greek salad

An English Greek salad

Yesterday was our tournament finals day at Eardisley tennis club. Tragically, Mary and I failed to retain our mixed doubles title. But it was a perfect sunny autumn day and a lot of good food was brought including some seriously good Chelsea buns from Norma – so I’m not complaining. A day of tennis and food on a beautiful day comes high on my list of good things.

I brought along a sort of English Greek salad and some very American chocolate chip cookies. A kind of yin and yang on the perceived healthiness continuum.

An English Greek salad

At home we’ve been eating something similar to this perfect simple salad regularly since the start of two delightfully overlapping seasonal deliciousities: Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and runner beans. You can also add cucumbers and olives and substitute fresh oregano for basil.

500g runner beans, topped, tailed and finely sliced. The fineness of the slicing is important to get a good final texture without overcooking
350g Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes, halved (other well flavoured tomatoes can be substituted but this isn’t a salad worth making with poor quality tomatoes)
60ml olive oil
200g crumbled feta cheese
20-30 basil leaves, finely chopped

Add the beans to a large pan of boiling water. Once the water has come back to the boil continue boiling for no more than 2 minutes until the beans are just tender. Drain at once. If you’re going to eat the salad straight away then don’t bother to refresh them (it’s quite nice having slightly warm beans in the salad). But if you’re making it to eat later then plunge the beans into cold water for a couple of minutes and drain thoroughly.

Mix the cooked and drained runner beans with everything else. No need to season as the feta provides plenty of salt.

Chocolate chip cookies

Up close to a cookie

Up close to a cookie

At my Hereford and Cambridge cafes we always want to offer more cakes, tarts, buns and biscuits than there is room for on the menu. But one day we will start selling chocolate chip cookies and when we do it will be to this recipe. There is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in my first cookbook but my taste has evolved over time. This recipe, based on one from convicted insider-dealer Martha Stewart, is just as buttery and chocolatey as my earlier recipe but a touch less sweet and all the better for that. I’m always suspicious when recipes are described as ‘quick and easy’ but this is genuinely quick, easy and exceptionally delicious.

makes 30 cookies

250g softened butter
300g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten together
1 tsp vanilla essence
325g plain white flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (less if you’re using salted butter)
350g good quality dark chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C (using a fan oven)
  2. Butter and line with baking parchment two very large (or several smaller) baking sheets
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor until pale brown and fluffy.
  4. Add half the egg and the vanilla essence. Whizz until incorporated and then repeat with the other half of the egg.
  5. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix for as a short a period as necessary to mix it all properly together.
  6. Add the chocolate chips and pulse briefly to distribute them through the mixture.
  7. Using two desertspoons put blobs of the mixture on to the baking sheets. Each blob should weigh about 40g to make an even batch that Paul Hollywood might approve of but no harm will be done by creating a variety of sizes. You need to leave big gaps around each blob as the cookies will expand as they bake.
  8. Bake at 180C for 10-14 minutes until brown at the edges.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes and then transfer to cook fully on a wire rack. When completely cool, store them in an airtight jar. But they’re best eaten within a day or two of baking.

h.Food: The birth of the Hereford Fringe Food festival


h.Food @ All Saints 23rd to 25th August

If you live anywhere near Hereford you’ll probably already know about the official Flavours of Herefordshire food festival. This year it’s on Hereford’s Castle Green. The star attraction is Mary Berry and there’s lots of food stalls, street food and stuff for kids.

A few months ago a group of us got together to chat about whether there was something a bit less conventional that we could run alongside the Flavours festival. Martin Orbach (Shepherds ice cream & the founder of the very successful Abergavenny food festival), Pete Norton and Kate Gathercote (the team behind New Leaf’s successful h.Energy festival) and Mo Burns (catalyst for almost everything good that happens in Hereford city) and myself thought we could put on something low key but fun right in the middle of the city.

So, come along to All Saints over the Bank Holiday weekend and see what we’ve come up with. And as well as the evening events at All Saints, h.Food will be putting on a food trail, films and music during each day. Visit www.herefordshirenewleaf.org.uk/h.Food for up to date details and to book tickets for any of the All Saints events.

Potentially the most chaotic (but I think highly entertaining) event will be the community pop-up picnic party on the Sunday night at All Saints. The idea is that everyone brings some Herefordshire-based food and shares it at long communal tables. You can bring your own drink – but the All Saints bar will also be open if you’d rather do that. We’ve then got an award-winning comedian (with a name like Esme de Flange she’s got to be good) , live music and most of all: everyone else’s food to eat. Will everyone bring the same thing? And if so, how many strawberry cheesecakes can 120 people eat? Who will bring the tastiest focaccia or the most succulent smoked ham? Herefordshire produces so much delicious stuff, it should be a great evening to celebrate all that.

To book your place (it’s free but you’ll still need a ticket) go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hfood-festival-fringe-pop-up-picnic-tickets-11745207231

Our three All Saints events are:

Saturday 23rd August at 6.30pm
How local is local?
A food quiz followed by ‘Any Questions’ to a panel of local food and farming experts.
£10 including a pork or goat’s cheese bun

Sunday 24th August from 6.30pm
Community pop-up party picnic
A local food feast with laid back music and an award winning comedian. You bring Herefordshire food to share and we’ll supply live music, an award winning comedian – and all for free..

Monday 25th August at 6.30pm
How to feed the world?
Debate and Q & A featuring renowned food and farming writer and broadcaster Colin Tudge.
£10 including a pork or goat’s cheese bun

We hope that you’ll come and enjoy Mary Berry’s buns during the day on Castle Green and then wander over to All Saints for our events there which will be at 6.30 each evening. I’ll look forward to seeing lots of you there!

Spring is sprung

rhubarb 003

The rhubarb is thrusting vigorously upwards and our chard which was looking very moth-eaten after the winter has started bursting with new growth. So last weekend we had 2 springly, kingly snacks.

Firstly I made some utterly simple rhubarb fool. I cut the first few stems of rhubarb, mixed them with some sugar and put them on a baking tray covered in foil in a medium oven for about 20 minutes until they had just begun to soften and issue some juice. I let them cool and then mixed with some rich Rachel’s greek yoghurt with stem ginger.

Next I made some incredibly delicious individual spinakopita: chard and feta wrapped in filo pastry. If you’re going to do this make sure that your filo pastry is completely defrosted but still chilled before you start. Otherwise you end up trying to speed-de-frost it in the microwave (as I did on this occasion) and you create a lot of mess and much less elegant parcels.

To make about 20 bite-sized parcels pick enough chard (spinach would do fine as well) to nearly fill a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. Wash it well and then finely chop it. Sweat it in a big pan on a medium heat with some olive oil with a good clove of crushed garlic, salt, pepper and some scrapings of nutmeg (freshly grated is massively more flavoursome than ready-ground). When it’s tender (max 5 mins) take off the heat and mix with about 150g of crumbled feta. That’s the filling ready.

Melt about 50g of butter. Lay out the first sheet of filo pastry with the long side towards you. Brush it with melted butter. Cut into strips about 6cm wide. Put a good desertspoon of filling on the near end of the first strip. Take the bottom left corner and pull the pastry over the blob of filling and press down on the opposite side of the strip about 6cm up. You should have the beginnings of a triangular parcel. Roll the parcel over and over maybe 3 or 4 times until you’ve reached the end of the strip. Brush the outside of the parcel with melted butter. Repeat for subsequent parcels until you’ve used up all the filling. Bake at 220C for about 10 to 15 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before passing round and greedily eating accompanied by a glass of white wine.

Perfect green and pink spring tastes.

chard 001

Slow roast pork for a long summer evening


When the cousins come to stay we feast fatly. And when cousins of the cousins come to supper as well then there’s going to be some serious eating.

We started with Kir Royales made with Herefordshire cassis and moved on to a small but rich mushroom mousse (mushrooms gathered in the field next door where they’ve been growing in extraordinary profusion this last week) with some courgettes fried briefly with a little finely diced chorizo (the chorizo brought back by the cousins from their Spanish holiday).  Then on to slow roast pork with rosemary flatbread and rocket. And finally Sarah’s honey and almond cake with gooseberry/strawberry/nectarine compote and cream. I’m feeling a mixture of hungry and very full just writing it all down.

If I’ve ever given the impression in this blog that I’m a capable gardener then I must disabuse you now. The vegetable gardeners in our household are Sarah’s father Jim (executive head gardener) and my son Jonathan (skivvy slave gardener who needs the cash). However, I’m proud to say that I planted the rocket seeds so I’m going to claim the credit for the rocket which has been astonishingly successful. Serving it as a vegetable with roast meat is not only tasty and a great contrast with the cidery juices of the roast pork but also one of the few ways that we can eat enough at a time to keep up with the rocket’s vigorous growth.

Slow-roast pork has become a modern classic. There are competing but similar versions probably kicked off by the River Café  and then tweeked byNigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This version is simpler than all of them and stunningly delicious. Most of them specify 16 to 24 hours at 110C. I cooked the pork for about 10 hours (which avoids the necessity for overnight cooking) at about 130C – turning it up when it looked like nothing was happening and turning it down again when there were serious signs of the liquid evaporating. It’s not really even a recipe more of an approach to a fine bit of pig.

Fresh soft bread is the ideal accompaniment for mopping up the juices. I made a batch of slackish white dough starting with a 1.5kg bag of strong white flour & a slug of olive oil, rolled it out into 2 very flat rectangles – as though for pizzas – and then put chopped fresh rosemary, crunchy salt and more olive oil on top before baking. I then made a standard white loaf with the final third of the dough which was perfect for roast pork sandwiches to sustain us on a walk up the Cat’s Back the next day.

Get a good sized shoulder of pork on the bone (mine was just over 4kg) which the butcher has scored. This served 12 for dinner and another 6 with roast pork sandwiches.

Then make a rough paste by finely chopping together:

6 good cloves garlic (peeled)
4 tbs fennel seeds
2 dsp salt

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
  2. Put the pork in a roasting tin and rub half the paste into the skin side of the pork, working it into the slits in the skin where possible. Put the pork into the hot oven for half an hour for an initial sizzle, skin side up.
  3. Then turn the oven down to 130C (without the fan on if you have the option – probably 120c if your oven forces you to use the fan). Take the meat out of the oven and turn it over and, preferably without burning yourself, work the rest of the paste into the underside of the joint. Add a 500ml bottle of good quality cider and another 300 ml of water and put it back in the oven for about 4 hours.
  4. Then turn the joint the other way up again – so the skin is once more on top – and continue cooking for another 4 hours or so. All these timings are highly flexible. An hour more on one or both 4 hour stretches will do this marvellous joint no harm at all. Just check the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish from time to time and add a bit more hot water if necessary
  5. When you are about half an hour from when you want to eat, take the pork out of the oven, turn the oven back up to 220C and slice the skin off the pork discarding any excess fat which clings to it. Put this back in the now hot oven to create lovely crunchy crackling.
  6. Meanwhile slice/pull (depending on how well done it is) the meat into thick chunks returning them to the cidery juices as you cut.
  7. As soon as the crackling is done you’re ready to eat and create much happiness for many people. Make sure everyone gets their fair share of meat/cider juices as well as the meat itself.



Bridget’s sauce with sea trout, new potatoes and samphire

Sarah’s Mum Bridget was a great cook. Her prime cooking years were the dinner party years of the 1960s and 70s. A couple of times a week she and Jim would either entertain or go to friends’ houses to eat. These were the days when a dinner party involved four courses and a choice of puddings so a massive amount of cooking was done – and that was in addition to cooking proper food every night for the family.

This recipe – fish baked in foil with wine – was, I think, one of the most popular ways to cook fish in those years. Bridget cooked it often and it was always delicious. Since Bridget’s (much too young) death Jim has become a great cook and, now that he lives next door to us, we often benefit and he’s made this dish for us a few times. So, a couple of weeks ago I plucked up courage to give it a go myself and I’ve now done it twice: once cooking a whole seat trout and once using the same method for individual seat trout steaks. The bit I have trouble with (because I’m cack-handed and am unable to wrap presents) is wrapping the fish in foil without tearing the foil. However it’s not a disaster if you do tear the foil as long as you’ve got the package sitting in something that will contain the juices. You can either cook the foil package in the oven with the foil package sitting in a baking dish or, in a fish kettle on the hob.

It’s a dish that cries out for new potatoes and either asparagus (in May/June) or samphire (June to September). If you’ve not used samphire before you’ve got a treat in store. Sometimes called ‘sea asparagus’ it’s a delightfully weird-looking vegetable that grows wild in coastal areas particularly Norfolk and Brittany and is now also cultivated in Israel year round. It’s more often sold in fishmongers than greengrocers. Don’t bother with pickled samphire which (to me) looks and tastes horrible. You need to pick through the samphire and pinch off any hard brown bits at the bottom of the stems and then boil it very  briefly – no more than a minute – in a large pan of boiling water and then toss in olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.

Seat trout with Bridget’s sauce
(salmon also works well)
serves 6

1 whole sea trout (approx 2kg), gutted or 6 good sea trout steaks
200 ml white wine
2 bay leaves, torn in half

50g butter
50g plain flour
400ml whole milk

1. Put the fish in a foil with the bay leaves and wine. To do this lay the foil (the wide foil designed for turkeys is easiest to use) on whatever you’re going to cook in i.e. either roasting tin (for the oven) or fish kettle (for the hob). Be sure to leave lots of spare foil to wrap with. Lay the fish carefully in and add the wine, bay leaves and two halves of lemon and then pull the edges together to form a parcel. If you’re using the fish kettle add half a cup of water to the bottom of the kettle underneath the parcel so create some steam.

2. If baking, then bake at about 180C for about 20 minutes (longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. If cooking on the hob, steam for about 10 minutes (again, longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. For those like me who are not highly experienced fish cooks there is no substitute for putting a knife gently in to the thickest part of the fish and looking to see if the flesh has gone opaque – which means it’s cooked.

3. When the fish is just cooked, carefully pick up the foil parcel and, forming a spout with one end of it, pour off the cooking juices. Dont’ waste a drop – it’s these juices that will make your sauce unutterably delicious. If you’ve cooked the fish on the hob then make sure you also collect the water from the bottom of the fish kettle.Meanwhile leave the fish keeping warm while you make the sauce.

4. In a smallish saucepan, make a roux with the butter and flour. Warm the milk (in a jug in a microwave is the easiest way). Slowly add the cooking juices to the roux whisking all the while to keep it smooth. Add the milk whilst still whisking. When all the liquids have been added continue to simmer for a couple of minutes to make sure that the flour is properly cooked. Adjust the seasoning and consistency, adding more milk if necessary. Serve at once with the fish and with your new potatoes and samphire.

I’m not generally a great believer in serving at the table (I find it much easier to put food on plates straight from the pans you’ve been cooking on) but a whole fish looks so lovely that it’s worth serving it at the table so that your eaters get a chance to enjoy the sight.