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3 posts from January 2010

17 January 2010

What should Howard Schultz do in London?

The news that Howard Schultz, Starbucks' Chairman is due to present the firm's financial results in London this week is interesting.  As the Telegraph points out it is because Starbucks is keen to demonstrate that the firm is a global brand.  London has been chosen for the honour because the UK is the second biggest market after the US.

I'm guessing that in the results presentation he'll be keen to push his message that they are not the evil empire - it's the week for it - and they serve really good coffee to coffee lovers.

I feel that as a Londoner and coffee lover I might be able to suggest to Howie some things he should do whilst he's in town, to take his mind off the drudgery of meeting investors:

  1. Meet Gwilym Davies and James Hoffman - these two men, often in concert, are at the forefront of London's exciting coffee scene.  Not only are they making black gold sexy, they are also putting the science into coffee because they're passionate about it.  They're evangelical.  They want every cup of coffee to be the best, because they want everyone to enjoy coffee as much as they do. 

    I assume they share this with Howard.  If Starbucks is a global brand, Schultz must be seeking a level of homogeneity in the coffee he serves.  The same tasting coffee is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it tastes like pissenwasser.  If I knew that in every city I could get a latte as good as the one I had on Friday from The Milk Bar, I'd be very happy.
  2. Meet me - I'd explain that I can't stand Starbucks because I can't stand the coffee.  Simple as that.  It all comes down to the product and I think it's bland and nasty.  I've sent an email to his PR and IR people to see if they've got a slot free.
  3. Meet Silverbrowess - she'd explain that she loves Starbucks.  Really loves it.  She loves the coffee, the more syrups the better.  For her, it's all about the product.  It's perfect and her mood distinctly improves when she see the chaste mermaid.
  4. Drink some tea - he should meet Henrietta Lovell and remember what it is to love the product you're selling and how to do the best by the people producing your raw product.

Why do I care what Starbucks does?  Because I can't help but be excited about the prospect of so much good coffee doing the rounds.  I'm a mug-half-full kind of guy, but I am also a realist and don't hold out much hope that Starbucks does actually care about the flavour and quality of the coffee it sells, despite Howard's protestations.

I do wonder whether it is possible to have a large food or drink company, that retains the elements of what made it great and is attractive to investors.  And don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against being driven by an economic imperative. There is not a single company that doesn't exist to make money.  But can an entrepreneur with a passion for food and drink can ever scale their business so that they keep others with a similar passion as happy as they keep investors?  You might as well have a go.

Howard, whilst you're here take advantage of your time.  Understand why you're loved and loathed, and then do something about it.

04 January 2010


Other than the religious requirement that the seventh day should be a day of rest, it makes quite of lot of pragmatic sense.  After a knackering week it's quite nice knowing that you can't do anything and should have a day of rest.  A cynical glutton might note that after a plate of cholent you're not good for much. 

Cholent, the Ashkenazi take on the mother of all stews is a bowel-thoughtful combination of beans, potatoes and meat cooked from Friday afternoon until it is eaten at Saturday lunch.

There's not a bad run-down of its history and derivations on Wikipedia, but my favorite history is Claudia Roden's in her seminal Book on Jewish Food.  Suffice to say it is a peasant dish that is open to some, but not vast interpretation.  The long cooking to abide by the laws of the Sabbath mean that robust ingredients that can stand-up to a prolonged simmer are ubiquitous.

I would like to be able to regale you with tales of my family's recipe and how it dates back to Heime Silverbrow, who like his descendants after him was a slave to his stomach, so despite fleeing the latest pogrom the Pale was throwing at him, he refined his cholent to a sublime dish.  How it had been passed down from bubbe to spoiled brat until it landed in my lap, and thence on to my table.  But it would be nothing more than a myth.

I did not grow up on a diet of cholent, I think it's fair to say its lack of refinement and the fact we didn't observe Sabbath meant it wasn't a regular on our familial table.

But things have changed and now it does get an outing, but the recipe is my own, based on others I have tasted and recipes I have read.  I had a bit of a disaster when I last made it, it was the first time in a new oven.  I've now got the recipe to a level I'm happy with.  It's a great dish, but does require a day of rest once eaten.

Serves 8

A crucial part of the recipe is what you cook it in.  I have only ever used one dish, a Le Creuset Casserole.  I know they're not cheap, but you want something with some heft if you're subjecting it to 18 hours of cooking.  In particular you need something with a lid that seals well if it is not to dry out.  The old-skool way of ensuring it didn't was sealing the lid with dough that would be baked into a seal as the dish cooked.  I've never tried it and don't intend to start.  Especially as I like to take a peek through the cooking process to check whether a top-up of water is required.

A word on the ingredients.  There is flexibility in what you include but beans of some sort and pearl barley should definitely be included, as obviously should meat and potatoes.  I'm not too militant on the beans I use, usually they're a mix of kidney, pinto, borlotti and the like.  The addition of wine is a modern affectation I quite like for flavour.  I used hot spicy paprika because it was all I had to hand.  I wonder if those of Hungarian stock might be more inclined to use a sweeter one, but the spicy kick from the hot paprika is quite invigorating I find.

UPDATE: As further proof of the flexibility of the ingredients for this wunder dish, it's worth noting that both Simon in the comments below uses beef shin as does Esther Walker's fiance and he knows a thing or two about food.  You couldn't get much further from the beef cheek I use. 

  • 250g beans - soak the beans the night before you use them, don't use tinned, they'll turn to mush
  • 50g of pearl barley
  • 750g stewing beef cubed
  • 500g beef cheek cubed
  • 5 large potatoes peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into large dice
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves (use 1 if bay is dried)
  • 1 tsp of smoked hot paprika
  • 200ml red wine - I used a Barbaresco most recently
  • 1.5l water - or enough to cover the contents of the pot

The cooking time is exceptionally long - that is afterall the point. I reckon that for the fully authentic Shabbat experience, you need to start cooking approximately 18 hours before you plan to eat - this excludes bean soaking time, which should be the night before you start cooking.

Lightly fry the onions, carrots and garlic in vegetable oil in the pot you're cooking the dish in.

Add salt and pepper liberally.

Drain the beans and add them and the barley on top of the vegetables.

Add the meat and the rest of the ingredients next. Add more salt and pepper, I favour being heavy handed with both.

Cover the lot with a cartouche.  If you've no idea what I'm talking about, go and watch this super-dry Aussie to learn.

I then put in the oven at 100°F and leave it.

I do check on it at various points, in particular just before I go to bed and then in the morning. If it needs a bit of a top-up of water, then add it. Bear in mind that the consistency of the dish should change significantly over the course of cooking. It will start as quite a watery stew but should end up as thick, deep rust coloured (or is that Titian red?) and gelatinous. Not gluey, there should be some moisture in it, but the end product will look very different to what you started with.

I'm quite partial to drinking it with a decent single malt.  The smokiness, even of something quite smooth, not too peaty, works well.  I've even been known to cut to the chase and empty a shot over my portion.

03 January 2010

Chicken soup

With all this freezing weather, we've been making a lot of chicken soup lately.  Since I first wrote about it in February 2006 my recipe has evolved somewhat.  I have amended my original recipe accordingly.  So what is here, is how I now cook it.

The changes are adding the chicken carcass, increasing the number of onions and cloves of garlic and tweaking the quantity of water.  I also tend not to include a leek any more.

  • 1 roaster chicken with giblets & feet
  • 1 chicken carcass - try cracking some of the bones, it helps release the gelatine
  • 5 onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 stick of celery, destringed and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (if using dried, just use 1)
  • 3-3.5l water

The method for cooking is exactly the same as in the original recipe i.e. putting the lot in the pot and letting it heat up, skim the scum and enjoy at its best the day or two after being made.