It’s time for another month with the Cottage Cooking Club, a project led by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness. Andrea’s merry band of bloggers are collectively cooking all the recipes in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, River Cottage Veg, an inspiring vegetarian cookbook with a wide variety of recipes to suit many different tastes.
I was a bit of light-weight for the Cottage Cooking Club this month. It was by design, so I’m not apologizing. I’m just setting expectations properly. May has been a busy month of travel and surprise birthday parties and visiting with family and friends. It was all good, even great. May hasn’t been a month of much in the way of home cooking. Mostly meals eaten out or at someone else’s house. I’m not complaining. Sometimes that’s a welcome change.
The one recipe I set my sights on from River Cottage Veg was the Herby, peanutty, noodly salad from the “Hearty Salads” chapter. This simple noodle dish made with super-thin rice noodles and tossed with a multitude of green ingredients is served at room temperature. When I made it, the hot weather hadn’t descended but now that we’ve had a string of days in the high 80s, this would be a perfect dish to revisit.
Rice vermicelli is a no-cook noodle. Directions on the package indicated a soak in boiling hot water that’s poured over the dry noodles. Amazingly, you have soft pliable noodles ten minutes later.
The noodles are tossed with a bright and zesty dressing with an Asian flair. Lime zest, finely chopped hot pepper, and some garlic gave it some zing.
The noodles are topped with roasted peanuts, sliced cucumber, scallions, snow peas and green herbs. I used cilantro along with fresh mint from my herb garden. I didn’t have fresh basil so left it out. There was so much flavor in the toppings, it wasn’t missed.
The mix of chewy noodles, crunchy vegetables and verdant flavorful herbs really hit the spot. I will remember this one for sultry hot summer evenings for a light dinner requiring a minimum of actual cooking.
My only complaint with the recipe is that the dressing didn’t make nearly enough for my taste. The noodles, while tasty, were a little bit dry. We had some leftovers, so I made a second batch of dressing and added that which did the trick. When I make this the next time, I will triple, or maybe even quadruple, the dressing and add more.
I invite you to check out the other recipes that the Cottage Cooking Club sampled this month. You can check out their reviews here.
How did we get here? In October 2010, I joined a new cooking group, French Fridays with Dorie, a group taking up the challenge of cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. Each week, each member of the group cooked the same recipe and wrote about it on their blog on Friday. Week by week by week, here we are over four and a half years later cooking and sharing our last recipe from the book. We saved the cover recipe, Chicken in a Pot (the Lemon and Garlic version) to mark the milestone.
Looking at the cover photo week after week, year after year, the whole chicken with its burnished skin lying on a bed of vegetables, I always assumed chicken in the pot was a variation on roast chicken. Appearances can be deceiving. On reading the recipe, it turns out this is actually more of a braise. Either way it was delicious.
And easy! First, you brown the vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, and FOUR HEADS OF UNPEELED GARLIC broken into cloves! I thought I had baby onions in the freezer, leftover from the Marengo, but I couldn’t find them. I did find two leeks in the refrigerator, so I halved them lengthwise and cut them into 1-inch pieces to stand in for the onions. The vegetables are transferred to a Dutch oven along with sprigs of herbs and some diced preserved lemon. (Did you know that Trader Joe’s now sells sliced preserved lemon in a jar?)
Then, you brown the chicken. I had thawed a whole chicken from the freezer in anticipation of making this version of a “roast” chicken, but when I realized my error, I ended up cutting it into pieces before browning. Much easier to manage on the stove and then the plate. (And there’s the added bonus of sautéed giblets for the dog.) The chicken pieces are nestled on top of the bed of vegetables.
A bit of liquid is poured over the top. I was out of chicken stock, so just used water instead, plus some white wine and olive oil.
Now comes the fun part! You make a simple flour and water dough, sort of like a soft Play-Doh, just like when we were in preschool, and roll it into a long sausage shape. The dough is pressed along the edge of the Dutch oven, and then the lid goes on top. The dough closes the gap between the pot and its lid, sealing in all the moisture as the chicken in the pot cooks in the oven for almost an hour.
I never tried this dough technique before, but it was definitely fun. The best part was popping it open with a screwdriver when dinner was ready!
I really enjoyed this recipe. The chicken remained moist. I had perched the chicken on top of the veggies, so the skin, while not crisp, wasn’t as soggy as it can get in a braise. The very best part was the sauce. While baking, the liquid in the pot created the most delicious gravy. I had to resist eating it all with a spoon. The chicken was good the first night and then afterwards as leftovers. It’s even company worthy. How perfect to finish up with a winner!
We aren’t quite done with this book. There are a few recap posts coming up over the next few weeks. I’ll wait until the “AMFT Grand Finale” to share my reflections as I look back on this unexpected journey. I might even try to fit in a few makeups for the handful of recipes I didn’t get around to.
For now, I will say that I joined the group for the personal challenge of actually trying every recipe in a book I owned. I was surprised to become part a community that I suspect will outlive the project we’ve just completed. The FFWD community has touched my life in ways I never could have anticipated with a wealth of learning experiences in the kitchen and out plus the added bonus of real-life friendships with people around the world who I would never otherwise have met. I am so proud of what we collectively created.
As a side note, on a solo road trip from Boston to Philadelphia and back this weekend, I was thrilled to share dinner with Tricia and Nana and lunch with Diane. I’m just sorry that, in the excitement, we forgot to take any pictures of us together.