Beetroot and thyme baguettes

Food & drink
Beetroot and thyme French baguettes

In common with a lot of people, I buy big bunches of beetroot because I feel good about buying something that’s quite evidently been yanked straight out of the ground and that comes complete with leaves and dirt. I rarely have a clear idea about what I’m going to do with it, but still I buy it.

The leaves tend to wilt, and get lopped off and chucked in the compost bin, which in itself is something of a travesty as they make very good eating, and the purple roots sit in the fridge for a little too long, until they’ve got a hint of softness about them, at which point, they get sliced up, roasted and then thrown away because nobody actually likes them done that way, apart from me.

The biggest problem I have with beetroot is the mess – prepping a beetroot is a kitchen bloodbath that leaves everything covered in a bright reddish-purple slick. Don’t wear anything white when slicing beetroot.

I’m maligning this quite wonderful vegetable, though. Treated well, and eaten fresh or cooked properly, it’s a wonderful, if divisive, thing.

This recipe puts it to good use in a baguette, marrying the deep earthy flavour with the equally heavyweight flavour of time … this is like autumn distilled and condensed down into a piece of bread.

Baguettes are a little tricky, and after one too many disasters involving lovingly tended pieces of dough welding themselves onto baking paper intended to make the whole operation of moving ‘ready to bake’ dough around easier, I’ve decided to invest in two things: some proper silicon baking mats, like these, which have handy targets and rulers for optimum baked product placing, or these ones, which are far more sensible, and a proper baking tin that’s actually made for baking baguettes, like this one, which strikes me as about a tenner well spent.


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Roast figs with honey and Marsala

Food & drink
Roast figs with honey and Marsala

Here’s a ridiculously simple dessert for two:

Make two cuts in the shape of a cross in each of eight figs, plump them up a little so that they open up slightly, and fit them snuggly into a small ovenproof roasting tin or dish with a lid.

Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of honey over the top of the figs, letting plenty drip inside the cuts, and splash over a good glug of Marsala wine.

Put the lid on the dish or tray and roast in the oven for about twenty minutes at 200c.

Serve straight away, with vanilla ice cream, and some of the boozy sauce spooned over the top.

How easy is that?


Sharing tables in coffee shops?

Food politics
Cafe etiquette

A few weeks ago, we went to Edinburgh. It was the Edinburgh Festival, and the whole city was heaving with people, half of whom were apparently students in a show of some kind … my favourite pitch was for a show that was apparently a cross between American Psycho and American Pie. We didn’t go to see it. Chainsaws and dessert don’t mix.

Walking around Edinburgh, trying to do the normal touristy things at the same time that the Festival is in full swing is a tad tiring, and it’s easy to get slightly frazzled after being jostled all the way up the Royal Mile and back down again, so we took to camping out in many of the city’s excellent independent coffee shops (flat white, latte, hot chocolate, mocha and two slices of that chocolate cake please? Finished? Feel human again? Right, back into the throng).

So, one afternoon, we stumbled into a typically stripped bare and basic coffee shop, of the type that looks like they decided to have a refit, then gave up after the initial demolition phase, deciding instead to leave it at just bare brick, ragged concrete and dangling light bulbs, with a load of mis-matched furniture rescued from a skip outside some sort of institution that closed in the Sixties. These places are fine by me, because usually, all the money that would’ve been spent fitting the space out has been diverted into some beautiful, hissing espresso machine sat proudly on the counter, the sort that you can feel the quality and the power from ten feet away. The coffee is normally world-class.

There was some space in the back, so the kids went to sit down. What happened next was just astonishing.



Bombay Lunchbox , by Carolyn Caldicott

Bombay Lunchbox

In real life, I work for a big financial services organisation (we’re not a bank, just let me make that clear before anybody clicks away in disgust. We try to look after people).

In common with lots of other organisations, we use Indian resource to help us do cool stuff in IT quickly, and that means that we’ve got quite a number of Indian techs and programmers over here helping to get things done.

They’re lovely people, highly skilled and knowledgeable, friendly and open, and they’ve brought their traditions with them from the distant sub-continent to the middle of Leeds. Diwali is a huge event these days.

One thing that’s quite noticeable is the way our Indian contingent approaches lunch.

Where most other people wolf down hastily bought sandwiches, hunched over a PC, feeling guilty for reading the news for ten minutes rather than working, our Indian friends make lunch an event. Out come little pots of curries and pickles, dhals, pakora, rice, all heated up in batches in the microwave and placed in the middle of a round table, around which six, seven, eight people will gather, tearing off pieces of chapatti and paratha, eating their communal meal thali style.

It’s just something that happens, the way that people in India have lunch, and I often think that we should learn from them, rather than just buying limp sandwiches from the Sainsbury’s round the corner.

The most admirable thing is the care that’s taken over food. These are not thrown-together-from-leftover affairs, because, as Carolyn Caldicott notes in her excellent book Bombay Lunchbox, “in India food cooked at home with care and love is considered to deliver not only healthy (and relatively cheap) food but also divine contentment”, and who couldn’t do with a little divine contentment to set them up for a hard afternoon at work?



Press Coffeehouse

Food & drink
Press Coffeehouse, Harrogate

There are a lot of subscription coffee services around at the moment.

It’s quite the thing, and a definite sign that more people are waking up to the complexities and intricacies that separate a mediocre cup of coffee from a good cup of coffee from a truly superb one.

The idea is simple – hook into a subscription, pay a few quid a month, coffee arrives at your door.

It’s a very effective model, and a good way for the people to easily access some interesting and unusual beans.

This is what Press Coffeehouse from Harrogate do, but with a few little twists.

The first thing is packaging.

Coffee packaging is nice. It’s a hip little creative industry, and design is important. Seems a shame to waste it by re-bagging beans from some uber-fashionable far-flung coffee roaster into boring bags that just happen to be shaped so that they fit through a letterbox. It’s surely better to present the beans in the way that the roaster intended, because you would be safe in betting your house that that little hip artisan roaster in some back street in Barcelona agonised for days over the design of the bag their lovingly roasted beans ended up in.

Press reckon you should enjoy that bag, and so do I, but there’s also the matter of the coffee itself, so a set of cupping notes are included, along with a couple of complementary recipes. There’s also a little extra sweetener each month, something food, art or design centred. This month brought a box of sea salt and orange almond caramel from the sublime Noisette Bakehouse.

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