Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Bath Thrifty Cookery Book

In my professional life, I’m always banging on about Bath’s seemingly limitless capacity for top notch eateries and celebrity chefs. So - being a bit of hippy'n’all - I try to balance the seemingly luxurious position of writing about my food for a living by doing my bit for folk who often struggle finding food they can eat in order to live. At home, meanwhile (and therefore supposedly off duty entirely), there’s nothing I like more than inviting a few friends around on a Saturday evening and spending the whole day rustling up a feast, preferably experimenting with recipes I’ve never tried before. So when an opportunity came along to combine all three elements into one fascinating, tasty package, I grabbed it with both hands - but if it hadn’t been for my ongoing experiences working for Venue, I’m not sure I’d have been up to the task of editor of (and recipe contributor to) The Bath Thrifty Cookery Book.

The publication of The Bath Thrifty Cookery Book is, on one level, a vehicle to raise awareness of Bath-based charity the DHI (see panel), which celebrates its ten year anniversary this month. The original idea for the book came about because those involved with the charity’s ‘Off The Wall’ magazine tended to end up discussing wallet-friendly recipes in their editorial meetings. But while the concept of a thrifty cookbook is hardly a new one, the book that grew out of those discussions is totally unique to Bath.

Juxtaposing recipes from DHI service users (many of which know far more than most about making their money go further) with contributions from head chefs at Bath’s most popular independent restaurants, The Bath Thrifty Cookery Book represents a fascinating collaboration of ideas, styles and abilities, resulting in a full-on collection of 30 recipes, none of which cost more than a fiver to rustle up. A democratic approach embracing all contributors means that you’ll find service user Jim Timoney’s downhome Spicy Beef Bake a couple of pages on from Michael Caines’ swanky scallops, Rachel’s Estranged Beanzy Pie following Gideon (River Cottage) Hitchin’s ragu and Steve Woods’ Misshapen Bacon Risotto snuggling up next to a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s mentor Gennaro Contaldo. Head chefs at Gascoyne Place, the Beaujolais Bistro, the Marlborough Tavern, No 5 Bistro, the Hudson Bar and Grill, the King William, Bistro La Barrique, Casanis, Velo Lounge, demuths, the Olive Tree and the Firehouse Rotisserie have all freely contributed their time and expertise to the project, and all the recipes were tested and approved using ingredients from the DHI’s own allotment at a series of DHI cook-a-thons, the results of which you’ll find on the photographs that illustrate the book throughout.

I know I’m at risk of being accused of nepotism by banging on about how good the book is. However, I played only a very small role in a team that worked far harder than I did to produce a wonderful cookery book that benefits many people on many levels. So tuck in and enjoy - I know I will.


Since it became established as an independent charitable company in 1999, the DHI has worked with many thousands of individuals from a broad range of socially excluded groups, offering a bespoke programme of practical and emotional support services across Bath and North East Somerset, Wiltshire, Swindon and South Gloucestershire. By recognising that every individual’s circumstances are unique, the DHI challenges social exclusion by offering a flexible, creative approach in supporting their clients to reach their full potential and move towards becoming a valued, integral member of their community. Today, the charity represents a constantly evolving point of contact for the service users, their families and their friends, many of whom would describe their involvement with the DHI as being a life-changing - or even life saving - experience.

Buy The Bath Thrifty Cookery Book directly from the DHI, via The Pig Guide or at selected participating bookshops, restaurants and delis in and around Bath (£4.99).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shout it while you're dancing on the-e-er dance floor...?

September always causes me to spew forth and wax lyrical about the glorious harvest festival that is the autumn menu. But this year more than ever before, I’ve noticed that, in a similar, erm, fashion to the designers who live for the annual fashionista shebang that is London Fashion Week, the food world has an annual wardrobe shake-up too. Let’s take a stroll through the current chart:

1. Pop up/underground restaurants: staying in (at a stranger’s house, and making a donation for the ‘pleasure’) is most definitely the new going out (to somewhere with a Food Standards Agency licence)

2. Things on Toast: from crab to courgettes and sumac-infused cream cheese, trendy toast toppers are the way forward.

3. Middle Eastern flavours, most notably sumac (see above). Not familiar with the lemony tasting spice/garnish proliferating throughout your mezze? You soon will be...

4. Fresh figs: supremely sexy, the ultimate ‘make the most of now’ fruit (and they’re greener than you think - fresh figs are always imported by sea, as they explode at high altitude).

5, Turnips: sweet, pretty and bang on-trend for autumn.

6. Lentils: red, green or puy - ‘tis the season to be windy.

7. Pomegranate, in pulp, seed or juice form: despite dodgy eco-credentials (you ain’t never going to see this deciduous, fruit-bearing shrub down the local allotment), foodies just can’t seem to get enough of those bright little jewels.

8. Tamarind: hot, sour, sweet, earthy, sexy - and, like, totally fashion-forward.

9. Galangal is the new ginger, seviche the new sushi and shin the new shank.

10. Water, water, everywhere: offering tap instead of expensive, imported bottled water is no longer a fad; congratulations to all concerned for turning what should never have been a novelty into the norm.