Pogasca (Hungarian Cheese Scones)

It's become a bit of a tradition that every year my friend Simon hosts a Eurovision party, which has become something of a reunion for our university friends now we're all scattered to different places. There is also a buffet at said party where everyone brings food from a particular country competing, and this year I decided to attempt to recreate the cheese scone bites we had when we went wine tasting in Budapest last year (more on that here). They're known as pogasca - the Hungarian word for 'biscuit' - and tasted amazing, so here's hoping I managed to replicate them well enough...

I slightly mixed together two recipes for this one as some of them didn't necessarily translate that well, but have included a few tweaks so you can adapt it for your own tastes. It mainly depends on what kind of cheese you like, how much rise you want and how many scones you want to make. They are a little time-consuming - mainly due to kneading and resting your dough - but they're really easy to make and taste pretty good too, so it's definitely worth giving these a go if you need a party snack.

This will make about 40 small scones.

Ingredients
  • 600g flour (I used plain but you could make it with any flour you have available)
  • 250g butter, diced, room temperature
  • 100-200ml milk (you'll need more or less depending what flour you use)
  • 2 sachets of dried yeast (you can skip this and just use baking powder but won't get so much rise)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 200-250g medium hard cheese (like Cheddar or Emmenthal), grated
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (you can leave this out)

Method

Heat your milk up to a lukewarm temperature. Pour it into a jug, add the sugar and yeast and set aside for 15-20 minutes so the yeast can ferment.


Mix the flour and salt, then crumble in the butter for a breadcrumb consistency. Add two of the eggs, baking powder, milk mixture and half the cheese.


Knead the mixture together for around 10-15 minutes until it comes away from the side of the bowl and has a springy elasticated texture (if you press your thumb into the dough it should spring back up). I also do something called the windowpane test, where you take a little bit of dough, hold it up to a window and pull it apart; if you can see light through the dough before it breaks, then it's done. Pro tip: Knead with one hand as this means you can hold onto the bowl. It also helps if the phone rings or you're suddenly called away as you'll have one non-doughy hand! 

Shape the dough into a ball and sprinkle a little flour on top. Cover and leave it in a warm place (such as next to a radiator or in an airing cupboard; I put mine in the grill section of our oven - turned off, obviously!) for around 20-30 minutes until it has doubled in size.


While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Roll the dough out to around 2mm thick, then fold the bottom third into the centre, the top third over that, then half in from one side and half from the other (see the photos below to show you how). Cover and leave to rest for around 10 minutes.





Roll the dough out again and score with a criss-cross pattern. Cut out the scones using a small cookie cutter then brush with the remaining beaten egg. Place the scones on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 


Bake for around 25 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven or until golden. Whilst your scones are baking, refold any remaining mixture and rest in the same way as before.
Leave to cool and enjoy!


Let me know if you try these - I'd love to see your version :) Apparently they are really good with bacon or pancetta in them too, which I'm going to attempt for next year's Eurovision...

What have you been baking lately?

Album Review: Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 1

In a year of country comebacks, there probably hasn't been a more highly anticipated album than Chris Stapleton's sophomore set. Traveller was a huge hit for him - helped by his 2015 CMA Awards performance of 'Tennessee Whiskey' - so people were undoubtedly keen to see what he'd do next. The answer is: release two albums recorded in RCA Studio A in Nashville, with Dave Cobb (who also produced Traveller) at the controls. The first of these, From A Room: Volume 1, came out this week and so I sat down to listen to it with high hopes, but also with a few nerves. Could it live up to the brilliance of Stapleton's debut? We're about to find out...

Image source
1: 'Broken Halos'
We're launched straight into the record - one chord and then you're hit by the emotion in Stapleton's voice, which contrasts well with the simple-stripped back guitar and steady rhythmic drums that reminded me of 'Traveller'. The lack of flashy production means the message of the lyrics comes through really strongly without being overshadowed. Morganne's background vocals throughout also sound great and add a nice extra layer.

2: 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'
This is a cover of a Willie Nelson song but I honestly wouldn't have known as Chris really puts his own stamp on it. I love the storytelling in the lyrics as it builds up from spilt coffee and rubbish not being picked up to the big event of Stapleton's lover leaving and then heaps insult on injury. The air of resignation and restraint in his voice also works as a nice contrast to the typical treatment of this theme in country music and I like the sparse guitar and harmonica too.

3: 'Second One To Know'
'Parachute' is one of my favourite songs on Traveller and this rocky uptempo number with thumping drums took me right back to it. Sticking with the theme of vanquished love, Chris shows off the raw power in his voice whilst keeping control over it, and the simple production allows his vocal to lead the song. Throw in that seriously impressive guitar outro and I can see this going down a storm when it's played live.

4: 'Up To No Good Livin''
One of the things I like most about the album is the blend of different styles; this song switches back again to a laid-back vibe, with an almost surf music feel in the intro. With a story about a man who changes his wild ways yet is disbelieved by his wife, Stapleton really shows off his songwriting skills - I particularly love the line 'they called me the Picasso of painting the town'. His voice retains that gravelly tone but with a sense he could let go any time, the resigned air gives the song much more of an impact.

5: 'Either Way'
This is the first single from the record and was originally released by Lee Ann Womack, but after hearing this I can't imagine anyone else singing this - it's another 'Whiskey And You' moment. There's a lot of twang in the guitar and the vocal is very subdued, almost inaudible in parts. That creates a really strong sense of longing, with the almost-howl at the end of each line of the chorus really expressing his inner pain. I also felt that the lyrics and their theme of a relationship falling apart reminded me of Kelleigh Bannen's song 'Church Clothes', which I really like. It's simple, heartbreaking, utterly gorgeous and the best song on the album.

6: 'I Was Wrong'
We return to the chilled-out vibe from before, but with a slightly more ominous feeling to it. As Stapleton mourns a lost love and reflects on his wrongs, the emotional vocal is delivered brilliantly - building to a wailing roar at the end of the chorus and then dropping back down. That knowing when to let go and when to pull back is a consistent element of the album and is evidence of two masters at work. I really liked the slightly Eagles-esque guitar riff after the first chorus too.

7: 'Without Your Love'
Continuing the darker feeling of the second half of the album, this is a song for driving down a lonesome highway. The personal lyrics create a sense of building towards something, yet Stapleton's vocal is a lot more pulled back, which I like a lot - again, this sense of contrast between the controlled public persona and the emotional, wounded private pain is very strong throughout the whole album.

8: 'Them Stems'
Switching it up yet again, this song has a much more uptempo rollicking feel that put me in mind of Brothers Osborne's 'Greener Pastures'. Stapleton's vocal has a lot more drawl in it, adding to the traditional feel; there's almost a sense that this could be a lost Willie Nelson song. I like the mix of the bleak lyrics with the more carefree melody too. This is another one I can see getting a great response live (perhaps at C2C 2018?). It's not my favourite song on the album but I like having something a bit different.

9: 'Death Row'
The heavy, foreboding intro creates a sense that this is going to be a haunting song, and it definitely sticks with you even after the record ends. Stapleton's drawn-out vocals, which start off powerful and then become more subdued, contrast the other songs on the album and work very well with the theme of being ground down and oppressed by the monotony of imprisonment, along with the sparse instrumentation. It's a great finish to the set and a fine showcase for his myriad talents.

Overall: Any fears I had about Chris Stapleton's second record failing to live up to his first are completely unfounded. Like Traveller, From A Room: Volume 1 doesn't go for the bells-and-whistles approach; instead, most of the songs act as great showcases for Stapleton's guitar playing and astounding voice. I was also really impressed by the restraint exercised throughout - you can still feel the emotion and pain in his voice but only letting rip at key points gives it far more impact. It's all the things I loved about his first record but made even better. Volume 2 can't come soon enough now - bring on November!

The good:
Stapleton's voice is allowed to shine; great storytelling in the lyrics; good mix of styles
The bad: Nothing
Rating: 5/5
Top tracks: 'Second One To Know'; 'Broken Halos'; 'Either Way'; 'I Was Wrong'; 'Without Your Love'; 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'

Ramblin' Roots Revue, Bucks New University Students' Union, High Wycombe

NB: I won tickets to this event through the lovely folks at W21 Music. All views and opinions in this post are my own.

A version of this review previously appeared on Entertainment Focus on Sunday 9th April 2017.


As country music becomes increasingly mainstream in the UK, there are more events popping up all over the country showcasing the best of British talent. This weekend it was the turn of Ramblin' Roots Revue, a new event with a particular focus on Americana-influenced and more traditional country acts. I was lucky enough to win tickets to the event through W21 Music so trundled up to High Wycombe on a gorgeous sunny Saturday hoping to hear some fantastic music.


The event took place over two stages at Bucks New University Students' Union, which I have to say was incredibly impressive - a huge events space with a stage on one side and a more traditional bar-style setup on the other. It's certainly a far cry from my old students' union!


After grabbing a pint of local brewery Rebellion's IPA made specially for the festival, I caught the end of Paul McClure and the Local Heroes' set and have to say they were highly impressive. The room was absolutely packed – indicating a strong local following, which many of the acts at the festival seemed to have – and the band did a great job of keeping the crowd entertained, laughing and joking with them as well as encouraging a singalong on 'My Little Ray of Sunshine' (which has been stuck in my head ever since).

Next up were Legends of Country, who I'd been keen to see at C2C this year. Their set was packed full of twang and cheeky lyrics, putting a uniquely British spin on country traditions in tracks like 'Gone Leaving' and 'That's What We Talk About When We Talk About Country'. The standout songs for me though were the ballads 'Saturday Dads', looking at the relationship between a divorced father and his son, and 'Long Way Back From A Dream', the tale of a Welsh darts player on the road to Frimley Green.

I'd heard lots of good things about The Rosellys ahead of their set and they didn't disappoint. Their traditional style married beautifully with the gorgeous harmonies of boyfriend and girlfriend Rebecca and Simon on songs such as 'A Thousand Miles' and 'On The Porch'. Rebecca's lovely sweet voice also stood out on 'Don't Let The Whiskey Win', 'No More Dark Days' and a fantastic high note on 'Don't Pull Away'. They had fantastic chemistry together which shone through in their banter with each other and the crowd, as well as in the lovely 'Something Special' which Rebecca wrote for Simon's birthday. I really loved their mix of humorous lyrics and darker subject matter too.


After a quick break for an excellent chicken burger from Bandit Street Food and ice cream from The Works, I headed back inside for the evening session. Loud Mountains have been one of my favourite UK country acts since I saw them at the Holiday Hoedown in December, and they've come on leaps and bounds since. Despite an ill-advised choice of shirts on the hottest day of the year, brothers Kevin and Shawn showcased their fantastic harmonies and the sheer range of styles they can cover, with everything from rockier numbers like 'Gasoline' to more stripped-back slower songs such as 'Eloise', via the nostalgia of 'Too Far Gone'. They got an incredibly enthusiastic response from the crowd and I can't wait to see what they do next.



Then it was time for Case Hardin, who've become something of a staple at these types of events lately. Their lead singer has a great bluesy tone to his voice with just a touch of growl where needed, and I really liked the elements of showmanship they brought to their set with touches of different styles such as 50s rock and roll. The driving rhythms and rocky guitar on 'Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning Do I Still Have To Feel This Way' and 'The Streets Are Where The Bars Are (The Bars Are Where The Girls Will Be)' reminded me of The Eagles and it sounded like the kind of music you'd blast from your convertible driving down a desert road. Personally I felt their choice of songs lacked a little variety but it was clear from the audience reaction that that definitely isn't holding them back.




I've been a fan of The Magic Numbers for years so was keen to see what their bassist Michele Stodart could do as a solo act. What really struck me was how she conveyed the emotion in her songs; you could really feel every word on 'Tell Her', 'When Is It Over' and 'Wait Fore Me'. Her guitar playing was great too and I loved watching her rocking out with her band on the more uptempo numbers. Plus she built a great rapport with the crowd, bringing us in closer to her and improvising a riff with her band when she was interrupted by an alarm going off! She was definitely my highlight of the day.


 
Last but not least, I popped over to see Yola Carter, another act whom I'd heard a lot about but had never seen live before. She has a voice I could listen to all day – beautiful and soaring on songs like 'Home', yet powerful too on the more emotional numbers like 'Orphan Country'. I really liked the balance of songs in her set too; she showed that she could do just as well on uptempo numbers 'Mitch Thompson' and 'Gaslight', whose folky melodies belied their darker lyrics. Sadly due to trains I couldn't stay for her whole set but I'm determined to make it to a full-length show soon.



Overall I really enjoyed my day out at Ramblin' Roots Revue. The event showed the sheer variety of acts the UK country scene has to offer and that there is a thriving and enthusiastic community out there who are willing to embrace it in all its forms. Here's hoping it makes a return next year! 

Sam Outlaw at Oslo, London

One of the great things about the increasing popularity of country music in the UK is the sheer variety of acts on offer - everything from pop-country to more rock-influenced acts and all the way to traditional/Americana. The latter took centre stage last night with Sam Outlaw's tour hitting London to promote his second album Tenderheart, and I was invited along by my friend Pip (who is also the editor of the excellent website Entertainment Focus and very kindly lets me write for them sometimes) to see him perform at Oslo in Hackney.

Support came from the UK duo Worry Dolls, who I saw at Country to Country earlier this month and loved (you can read my thoughts on them here). Initially they seemed a little more subdued than their C2C performance, possibly because they weren't quite as chatty to start with, although they did get more relaxed as their set went on. That said, I still really enjoyed their performance, which had a nice mix between sparser, stripped-back songs such as 'I Miss You Already' and 'Endless Road' and the driving, stompy beats and snarky lyrics of 'Train's Leaving', 'Bless Your Heart' and 'Same Damn Song'. And their sweet harmonies and simple melodies shone through as always.



Then it was time for Sam, who came out in a shirt that could rival Charlie Worsham's wardrobe (and I mean that as a compliment to both of them!). He started off with the Spanish-influenced 'Who Do You Think You Are', the lead song from his debut album Angeleno, which showcased the old-school drawl in his voice perfectly and got a great reception from the crowd. Next up was a track from the soon-to-be-released Tenderheart, the slower bittersweet 'Diamond Ring'. This mix of songs from the two records was continued throughout the set and I liked the balance this brought by showcasing the new material as well as the audience favourites.



Sam did a great job of showing off all the different sides to his music, from the uptempo songs like 'Trouble', 'Keep It Interesting' and the driving drums of 'Ghost Town' (arguably his biggest hit to date) to the humour of songs like 'Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)' and 'She's Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)'. However, I felt he particularly shone in the acoustic section he performed with his band member Molly Jensen. Their voices blended together beautifully on the likes of the subdued 'Look At You Now' and 'Country Love Song' and I didn't want it to end!



The set was rounded off with Sam's take on Dwight Yoakam's 'Guitars, Cadillacs', one of my favourite songs. It suited his voice perfectly and gave each member of the band a chance to shine. He followed that with a version of 'One More Last Chance' by Vince Gill, which finished the entire set on a high note and left the entire audience wanting more.

Overall Sam's show was absolutely fantastic (if over far too quickly!). His soulful, emotional vocals worked brilliantly on so many different styles of songs and the relationship he has with his band members - all of whom are enormously talented in their own right - made the performance even more special. It was a great sneak peek into what's coming up on the new album and definitely showed he's one to watch in the country music scene. He's coming back over to the UK in July so make sure you snap up tickets for that when they go on sale!

Canaan Smith at Bush Hall, London

Canaan Smith was one of the acts I was most excited to see at C2C this year, and his Saturday afternoon appearance on the Radio 2 Country stage didn't disappoint. I was keen to see what he could do with a longer set, so when my friend Pip very kindly offered me his spare ticket to Canaan's Back For More tour date in London this week I jumped at the chance!


Support came from Catherine McGrath, who I mentioned in my recent C2C pop-up stages highlights post. Her poppy, uptempo songs and sweet vocals have led to her being dubbed 'the Irish Taylor Swift' and I can definitely see where the comparison came from, especially on tracks like 'Cinderella', 'Just In Case' and 'Hell Would Have To Freeze Over'. I also liked the playfulness in her lyrics, such as the 'Fix You' reference in the Coldplay concert-themed 'Lights'. Overall, although her set was a little samey I thought she had a lot of potential and sounded great, and I'm interested to see what she does next.

After a short break it was time for the man himself. Canaan took to the stage around 9 PM and I have to say I was a little taken aback - I'd expected him to walk out with a full band as he had at C2C, but instead it was just him with a guitar and one other guitarist. That said, he got a great reception from the crowd and instantly launched us into party mode with his new track 'Sweet Spot'. The almost-rapping in the song's intro had proved divisive when I saw him at C2C, but it definitely helped to get the crowd warmed up, especially as he followed it up with 'Hole In A Bottle' and the laid-back 'Chaos' with its almost reggae feel.



That party tone was short-lived however, as the set took a more introspective turn from there on (although there were still songs like 'Summer And A Six Pack', 'Speed Of My Life' and the rockier 'Mercy' to add a little variety as well). I felt Canaan really shone on these slower numbers, with the  gravelly tone to his voice enhanced by the stripped-back approach. Tracks such as 'Love You Longer' and 'Stuck' really showcased how well he can sing and held the audience completely spellbound.

One particular standout moment for me was hearing Canaan talk about his elder brother, who sadly passed away in a car accident as a teenager. The title track of his debut album Bronco is dedicated to his brother and you could really hear the raw emotion in his voice when he sang it - it showed that he's far more than just a typical 'bro-country' style performer.



Overall I have to say that Canaan's show was really surprising - in a good way. Yes there were still party songs in there, but it was much more introspective than his C2C performance and all the better for it in my view. He also did a really great job of engaging the audience, peppering the set with London references and encouraging singalongs on 'Come Back To Virginia' and his final song, the runaway hit 'Love You Like That'. I always like to see a different side to artists and I think with this show and his appearances at C2C, Canaan Smith is destined for big things.