Marches Supper Society

Chaps, it’s been a while. Apologies, etc. Work feels like it’s been a rollercoaster that has been left to run while the attendant has nipped off for a 20 month coffee. Thankfully, he’s remembered his duties and returned to let me off, now a bit wobbly and sick.

What I mean to say is that, a few weeks ago, I handed in my notice at the Green Cafe. And frankly, I can’t wait to be one of those on the other side of the pass, ordering what I know to be some of the best food in Ludlow.

Other exciting stuff I’ve failed to publicise over the last 20 months have included (and blimey, this is going back a long way) wedding catering, Terra Madre 2010, house warmings, Ludlow Food Festival (two of), food demonstrations and, my latest joint-project and bundle of joy, the Marches Supper Society.

This, our little nod to the pop-up restaurant phenomenon, takes place about once a month and is – from my kitchenside perspective anyway – a culinary hoot. Watch this space for the recipes, tests and musings that may or may not have made the MSS cut.

Springtime Snow

Rhubarb Snow

The ramsons are rife, the primroses have exploded halfway across the garden, and even the nettles are beginning to put in an appearance around the edges of our woods; ergo, it must be spring.

And with spring comes? Apparently, in this part of Shropshire, snow.

How appropriate then, that I have just finished penning my next month’s Shropshire Magazine recipe column, devoted to said precipitation and its culinary roots.

For those of you residing over the border who are unable to get hold of a copy of Shropshire’s finest glossy, here’s an unashamed reproduction of the recipe*:

500g rhubarb (trimmed weight)

Finely grated zest of ½ an orange and a spritz of the juice

2 egg whites (or around 55g)

160g caster sugar

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5. Wash the rhubarb stalks and cut into short lengths. Toss with 50g of the sugar and the orange juice, tip into a baking tray and roast for 25 mins, or until completely tender.  Stir in the orange zest and allow to cool.

Once cool, mash the rhubarb with a fork until almost smooth (or purée in a food processor).  Place the egg whites in a spotless bowl and whisk until they begin to froth, then gradually add the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff.  Fold in the rhubarb purée and spoon into glasses.  Serves 6.

*Recipe provided solely for non-Shropshire residents. Those of you fortunate enough to live within our fair county must look away, um, a little while ago.

The Way to a Man’s Heart?

Pigs’ head.

Trust me.

Madam, if you’re looking for advice on what to cook your lover to snare his, um, heart, then you’ve come to the right place.

Now, I understand that for many people, the prospect of V.Day is one of utter terror. Not for me. I see The Big V. as an opportunity to guilt-trip the current suitor into dinner à deux (made entirely by me, naturellement). And the very fact that said suitor has entered into the contractual V.Day dinner, means that, by relationship law, he must eat whatever I choose to cook.

But this year, the chap in question was something of a newbie and as such, I thought it best not to hit him with my finest offally delights and suet-laced puddings on what was to be only our second sit-down meal together.

So, how did a glistening, bejewelled dome of the finest pigs’ lesser-used bits come to be sitting on his plate? Surprisingly (and no-one was more surprised than me to hear this), he asked for it. That’s right, the man that, several weeks ago, looked at me as if I was quite clearly deranged when I excitedly asked whether he’d like to see what I had recently stashed in my chest freezer, actually asked if I’d be making him brawn.

Brownie points scored: about a million.

But it gets even better than that. Our V.Day dinner (which was actually lunch) consisted of the following:

- Coppa di testa (brawn made in the Italian style*)

- Pickled sprouts (which I had been doing my best to ignore for weeks)

- Sweet pickled pears

- Apple and toasted hazelnut salad

- A wonderful goat’s cheese from Cothi Valley Goats

- Chilli and herb goat’s yoghurt-cheese, which I made using unpasteurised milk, again from Cothi Valley Goats

- A large sourdough loaf

The one thing that my lunch date asked if he could take home? Correctamundo.

Another million Brownie points to that man.

*Adapted from a recipe by Anna Del Conte in Risotto with Nettles.

Scone o’Clock

These weren’t the first scone cravings I’d ever had, dear me, no.

In fact, as friends and family will confirm, when I returned from cookery school in Ireland last year, Scone o’Clock, was a daily event for me (virtually a pastime, on some days).

I’m able to report, however, that the cravings are becoming far less frequent now and I can virtually make it through an entire fortnight without twitching when I see the jam jar.

My latest lapse can be blamed entirely on my favourite local eaterie, The Green Café, in Ludlow. It’s closed, you see, until the beginning of February, a fact that I had neglected to remember when I attempted (what must have looked like, to all intents and purposes) a break-in, for afternoon tea last Friday.

As a result of their seasonal closure, I was owed (NB: this is how greed works) a lemon buttermilk scone and some darn fine jam. I had the jam (blackcurrant), I just needed to fabricate the rest of the goods.

So fabricate I did.

Now, as you can see, these aren’t your double-in-height-and-split-in-half jobbies. Nope. These are all about breaking into pieces for the fluffy texture inside, which you will then dollop with said excellent jam, and wolf down before starting on another. (Oh yes, you will.)

And before I give you the means to hold your very own, lemon scented, Scone o’Clock, a note of worth: if you can bear to make these just a little smaller (and the aforementioned greed often means that I simply cannot) to make 8 instead of 6, then they will require less time in the oven, thus ensuring that the crunchy topping remains more lemony.

So, here you are:

Lemon Buttermilk Scones – Makes 6 to 8

Plain flour – 225g

Bicarbonate of soda – 1 scant tsp

Cream of tartar – 1 scant tsp

Salt – 1/4 tsp

Butter – 45g

Golden caster sugar – 1tbsp

Buttermilk – 175ml

Lemons – zest of 1

Topping:

Eggs – 1, for egg-wash

Golden granulated sugar – 1 tbsp

Lemons – zest of 1/2

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (gas mark 6).

First, make the topping. (I say ‘make’…) Mix the lemon zest with the granulated sugar and set aside. Beat the egg ready for the egg wash. (You see?)

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the butter, cut into cubes. Using the tips of your fingers, rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the lemon zest.

Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix briefly with a fork until they all come together. Tip out gently onto a lightly floured surface and pat gently into a round about 4cm thick. (This dough benefits from very little handling, so don’t, don’t knead it.) Cut into 8 triangles (or 6, if you must) and place, well spaced, on a floured baking tray. Paint each scone with egg wash and sprinkle the sugary zest evenly over the tops.

Place into the preheated oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes (but start checking after 12), until lightly golden. Allow to cool for a matter of minutes, before breaking into pieces, adorning with your chosen accompaniment (I’ve given you my recommendation, but The Green Café serves butter and very good damson jam) and wolfing.

And then wolfing a second.