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.

Out of Action

I can be somewhat careless when it comes to the use of expensive objects. Or equipment. Especially the practical, semi-essential kind. Take for instance, the food processor.

Or my Sony DSLR.

This is the reason that I haven’t written for a wee while. I dropped it you see, and then went on to lose the battery charger in the last few crazy-as-hell weeks that have been my life. So despite the fact that it would still capture a shot (which you wouldn’t be unable to see until you’d hooked the beast up to your laptop and downloaded the images (a bit retro, I realise)), the darned thing is out of juice and therefore, out of action for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, this means I’ve been unable to visually catalogue all the stuff I’ve been creating lately. And there have been some things that I’ve been so proud of. Real tear-jerkers for me, when I come to reminisce about them.

Take for instance, the near-perfect hazelnut macaroons I made for Muddy Boots’ Autumn Fair a few weeks back. Or the dissected view of my beautiful stollen that I’ve been making for the last week or so. Not to mention the savoury triumphs of late, such as the potted hough & pickled carrot sourdough canapés I made for my brother’s bonfire wedding bash, or the prune & (real) mincemeat scotch ‘eggs’ I made for a friend’s shop launch yesterday.

Nope. These will have to be catalogued by memory only. However, thankfully there are a few tasty morsels that have been snapped by others. Namely, for an article on some of my festive canapés, which is due to feature in the December edition of Shropshire Magazine (out in the shops tomorrow, I believe).

For those of you unable to get your hands of a copy of said magazine, it will be featuring the following (plus a few others too):

Damson Double Cheese

Pigeon Devils on Horseback

And Potted Pheasant with Pickled Parsnip & Toasted Cobnut

With any luck, the article should feature recipes to accompany all of my festive food pictures, but just in case it doesn’t – it’s quite likely that I made them a teensy bit too detailed and lengthy for publication – here’s how to go about making one of my favourites: Pigeon Devils on Horseback.

For the Marinated Pigeon

6 pigeon breasts

Approximately 2 tbsp olive oil

4 sprigs of marjoram or thyme

Black pepper

For the Canapés

12 rashers of smoked streaky bacon

12 stoned prunes

Approximately 12 tsp fruit chutney (pumpkin for preference, otherwise quince or apple)

24 cocktail sticks

Olive oil, for frying

The day before you want to make the canapés, slice each pigeon breast into 4 and combine with the remaining marinade ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to assemble the canapés, remove the rind from the bacon and, using a rolling pin, stretch and flatten each rasher with a rolling pin. Slice each rasher in half horizontally, so you are left with two long pieces. Slice each prune in half.

Take each rasher half and place a slice of pigeon breast one end. Place approximately ½ tsp of chutney on top of the pigeon and press half a prune on top of this. Season with black pepper. Roll each rasher around the pigeon and prune so that each slice is completely covered and secure the bundle with a cocktail stick.

Heat some oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat. When hot, add the pigeon devil-on-horseback to the pan (but not so many that they crowd the pan) and fry for 2 or 3 minutes each side, until the bacon is brown and crisp.

Last of the Summer, er, Tartlets

Lemon & Rose Meringue Tartlet

Autumn really is in full, blowy swing here in the Shropshire countryside. Plant life that was, until just a few weeks ago, greener than green, has been ripening to red and increasingly turning to toasted nut brown by degrees each day.

In tune with outdoor growing matter, as is our style, the Bred by Fred marketstall yesterday was awash with autumnal colours and flavours. We had (in varying sizes) chocolate & squash tarts, slices of pain d’épices (French-style gingerbread to you and me), apple & elderberry crumbles, red onion & sage tartlets, damson frangipane tartlets (since our tree is still clinging on to the last of those now plummy-tasting fruits), blackberry jam mini tartlets, red grape & rosemary sweet ladies’ tongues, as well as soda bread and Fred’s oh- so-chewily-good sourdough.

We did still have one item reminiscent of longer, possibly sunnier days, though. Our lemon and rose meringue tartlets.

Despite the onset of chilly breezes and the inset golden hues to the landscape, our garden is still pocketed with flashes of colour from our rose bushes. In between the odd downpour a few days back, I broke free of the kitchen long enough to poke my nose into a few of our roses and to steal the blooms from the more fragrant ones. These were carefully picked over for insects, separated into petals and upended, with the other necessaries, into a pan and turned into lemon & rose curd.

Lemon & Rose Curd

Unfortunately, the curd didn’t stay harlequinesque, since I always strain mine for consistency purposes, but it did look (and smell) beautiful while it was being made. Once it was finished, I left it to cool before tasting.

The rose flavour was subtle, but there.

Sadly, the amount I made was just enough to fill my 6, heart-shaped tart cases, so I had none left to play around with. Next time I make this though, it will perhaps be to sandwich some dainty little pistachio cakes, or to dollop onto some warm, orange butter scones.

Can someone please remind me I said that next summer? Tell me that I’ll find the recipe here. Thanks.

Lemon & Rose Curd

Unsalted butter – 75g

Caster sugar – 165g

Finely grated zest and juice of 3 large, unwaxed lemons

Eggs – 3

Egg yolks – 2

Rose petals (the most fragrant you can find) – a medium sized bowlful

In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks together very well. Melt the butter over a low heat. Add the sugar, rose petals, lemon juice and zest and stir  until the sugar has dissolved, then add the beaten eggs.

Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Be aware that this can take a long, long time. We’re talking in excess of half an hour.)

Make sure that the pan is not allowed to get too hot during this time. You should always be able to place your hand against the side of the pan without burning yourself.

Once the curd has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and strain through a sieve into a bowl. Allow to cool (and it will thicken further as it does so), before covering with clingfilm and putting into the fridge, where it should keep for a week or two.