Cottage Cooking Club: July 2015

Cucumber Salad

I can’t believe another month for Cottage Cooking Club has come and gone… This is the time of the month to share reviews of recipes I tried from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg in July. As in earlier months, I selected from the choices presented by our group’s leader, Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, which always reflect ways to enjoy the most seasonal ingredients. The other members of the group (there are about a dozen of us) also choose from Andrea’s lineup and at the end of the month, we compare notes.

I didn’t expect how hot July would turn out to be. In New England, we usually have about two weeks of unbearably hot and humid weather, typically one in July and another in August. Hazy hot and humid summers are the weather pattern that caused me to move away from my hometown in Maryland and never look back, at least not during the summer. It seems that with climate change, my childhood weather is catching up with me. Unlike in Maryland, here outside Boston, in our 150+ year old house, we are not equipped with central air. We suffer through with constantly whirring ceiling fans and floor fans, cold drinks, cubes of watermelon, ice cream, frequent showers, and visits to air-conditioned malls and restaurants. I’ll admit to spending my share of afternoons hanging out the public library too.

Summer Stir Fry

Fortunately, I cooked my chosen recipe before July’s heat wave hit. The brilliantly-green Summer Stir-Fry with Fried Rice was beautiful to look at! I picked this recipe because I don’t typically stir fry, and I’m not sure why that is. Our backyard sugar snap peas petered out at the end of June, so I headed to the Wayland Farmers’ Market to stock up on ingredients. At the stand for Two Field Farm in Wayland, MA, my friend Charlie introduced me to golden snow peas. I bought a pint to add to sugar snaps, shelled English peas, arugula and scallions (I omitted the zucchini to accommodate Howard). Stir-fried rice with an egg scrambled into it forms the base for the verdant stir-fried vegetables.

Golden Snow Peas

Golden Snow Peas

As lovely as this dish was on the plate, we found it “just OK”. Perhaps it needed more spice or we didn’t season it exactly to our taste. In any case, it was a fast weeknight meal, but not necessarily something I will make again.

I’m growing a small backyard vegetable this summer. Usually we grow peas for early summer and then cherry tomatoes and basil, but not much else. With my volunteer work at the local community farm and a new seed library launched this spring, I’ve been more inspired this year. In addition to our usual (albeit minimal) crops, I’ve added scallions, zucchini, and pickling cucumbers. (I also grew some Romaine lettuce, arugula, collards, and radishes, but they have grown, been eaten, and are gone.)

IMG_2440

When the first of my cucumbers ripened, I decided to also make the Marinated Cucumber with Mint. No cooking required! Because my cukes were fresh off the vine, I did not peel or seed them. Other than that, I followed the instructions. The result was a light, bright cucumber salad. The fresh mint was a fresh touch. Like the stir-fry, this one was good, but not great.

To date, my experience with Hugh’s recipes had been delightful, so I’ll admit that I was a tad disappointed this month to be underwhelmed by my choices. I will be interested in seeing what other Cottage Cooking Club members thought of their recipe choices (which you can see here). And, I’ll look forward to trying out another round of recipes from the August selections.

Happy Summer! Stay Cool!

Inspirations In Ink: Teatime in Paris!

TeatimeInParisI love tea and I love Paris. It wasn’t until I started reading through the new book “Teatime in Paris!” that I received from its author Jill Colonna that I was introduced to the teatime custom in France. I knew about British teatime, but I have always thought of France as a coffee drinking nation, never realizing their culture included a time and place for tea. In France, this late afternoon treat is known as le goûter.

You know how you seldom see a fat French woman? Jill explains that this because the France is not a nation big on snacking. Eating is done at mealtime, but teatime is a secret “little meal” time: a break before dinner, when you can enjoy a cup of tea with a small pastry, guilt-free.

On the one hand, “Teatime in Paris” is a cookbook that offers recipes for an assortment of Parisian teatime pastries: éclairs, macarons, tartlets, cookies and more. In each recipe, Jill explains each step in a clear voice with helpful photographs, erasing the intimidation that some of the seemingly more complicated recipes induce.   Tea pairing suggestions accompany each recipe. I love it!

In addition, this book is an armchair tour book. As you explore the recipes in the book, you also go on a virtual tour of patisseries in Paris, arrondissement by arrondissement with Jill leading the way. She tells you about the pastry shops that inspire the recipes shared in the book, allowing you to dream of your own Parisian teatime.

The book start off with the simplest teatime treats: madeleines, financiers, cookies, and other assorted treats including other little cakes, ice cream, and crepes. The Mini Tigrés, tiny chocolate-speckled cakes topped with a dab of ganache, are adorable. And who can resist anything with speculoos, so why not Speculoos Ice Cream?

Next, you’re introduced to pastries made from choux dough. Choux pastry is the base for éclairs and other sorts of cream puffs. Each one, offering a different combination of pastry shapes, filling, and topping, range from the classic to the imaginative. For one thing, you can make waffles with leftover choux dough. And with lemon verbena growing in my herb garden, I plan to try the Lemon and Verbena Mini Éclairs.

This brings you to a chapter of tartlets (my favorite kind of French treat). Again, different flavors of pastry crust are combined with different fillings for a mouthwatering selection of tarts, both individually and full sized. There are several recipes to make use of the best of summer’s fruit, but I look forward to ripe figs in the fall for Fast Fig, Almond, and Lavender Tart where puff pastry is topped with frangipane, sliced figs, and dried lavender blossoms.

Have you always wanted to try to make millefeuille, those impressive towers of flaky pastry sandwiched between pastry cream, at home? Jill lets us in on a secret. It’s easy to make millefeuille at home if you start with frozen puff pastry! Different flavors of pastry cream and maybe some fruit and you can easily enjoy homemade millefeuille.

Jill has a blog (and an earlier book) called “Mad about Macarons”. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the chapter on macarons is the most extensive. It also inspires confidence. Again, Jill’s instructions are accompanied by step by step photos to guide you through making your own macarons in your kitchen that rival those on offer at a Parisian pastry shop. There are also ideas to vary the shape to make “Maclairs” (in the shape of éclairs) or even to imitate a Paris-Brest with its traditional tire shape.

Ingredients in this book are measured by weight, which is the French way. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon yet, go buy yourself a digital scale. Measurements are so much more predictable when the ingredients are weighed, and there are fewer dirty dishes.

Diamond Biscuits

Diamond Biscuits

I baked a batch of Diamond Biscuits (Diamants), a “slice-and-bake” version of shortbread. The cookie dough log is rolled in granulated sugar which adds the sparkle that gives these their name. Two or three of cookies with a cup of tea make a perfect pick-me-up in the late afternoon at my own Parisian teatime, at home. You can try them too.  One tip: if you chill them longer than 25 minutes, you might need to let them sit at room temperature for a little while before rolling the log in sugar so that the dough is soft enough for the sugar to stick.  In this case, additional baking time might also be required.  Go by the color, not the time.

Diamond Biscuits (Diamants)
Recipe from “Teatime in Paris!” by Jill Colonna

125 g butter, softened
45 g granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
150 g all-purpose flour

Mix the butter and sugar until light and creamy, either using a balloon whisk or in a stand mixer with the flat (paddle) beater. Add the vanilla extract and gradually add the flour. Keep mixing until the batter forms into a ball. (At this stage you could add a different flavor such as cinnamon.)

Roll the dough out onto a floured surface, ensuring you roll it as round as possible into a sausage, to about 3 cm (1¼”) in diameter. Roll in cling film and chill in the fridge for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/360F.

Once chilled, roll in granulated sugar, then cut into 1 cm-thick (approx 3/8″) discs. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat and bake for 8 minutes or until golden.

Serve with Lady Grey tea or Darjeeling (the champagne of teas)

Shaping Tip: To keep your sausage shape round in the fridge, without a flat side, roll in cling film and place it on top of a plate covered in rice.

 

Each time I page through this book, I savor my little visit to Paris, and I’m filled with inspiration.

A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 4 plates (out of 5)

I received this book from Jill Colonna for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 479 other followers