Finally after a long, long winter, fresh local vegetables are starting to be plentiful around these parts. Mostly what we’re seeing is Greens, Greens, and more Greens, though spring roots like radishes and salad turnips are being harvested too. I tried to align what’s available with the recipes I picked from Kitchen Lioness Andrea’s lineup for Cottage Cooking Club this month. The recipes we cook from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, River Cottage Veg celebrate vegetables, sometimes in familiar ways, and often with an unfamiliar twist, which has been fun.
I chose two recipes this month. The first was New Potato Salad “Tartare”. I love potato salad, especially ones made in the French style with a vinaigrette. My signature salad is a Dijon potato salad (which I’m shocked to find I’ve never blogged about), but I’m always up for trying a new version. The flavorings in the salad were inspired by tartar sauce, without the mayo. What a refreshing twist! Chopped cornichons, capers, and fresh herbs (dill, chives, and parsley) are added to potatoes along with a simple vinaigrette. Quartered “soft” hard-boiled eggs add the final touch. I was even able to use chives and parsley from my back door herb garden!
The only thing I’d change about this is the cooking method for the potatoes. Whenever I boil potatoes for potato salad, I’m unhappy. The potatoes always seem water-logged. I have much better luck with steaming them. I followed the recipe and tried boiling them as directed, but I should learn by now to stick to my preferred method.
Other than this hiccup, I loved the end result. The contrast of the salty tangy pickles to the fresh verdant flavor of the herbs make a winning combination. I’ll definitely be making the River Cottage version of potato salad again this summer!
The second recipe was the Greens and Ricotta Tart. I couldn’t find beets with greens the day I went to the farmers market (just a tad too early in the season), but I found beautiful Swiss chard from Kimball’s Farm. I also couldn’t find ricotta salata where I looked, so I substituted another sheep’s milk cheese: Spanish Manchego. Savory tarts are another favorite of mine. In the summer, I make one almost every week. Again, I’m always happy to try a new combination and learn something new.
I love when a recipe that uses both the stems and the leaves of greens. It always feels wasteful to discard the stems which they are perfectly edible, though not always in the recipe at hand, and try to do “nose-to-tail” cooking of vegetables when possible. For this tart, thinly sliced stems are sautéed with the onion and garlic before adding the leaves to wilt. The custard for this tart is made richer with egg yolks and cream.
The pastry crust was interesting in its use of cold milk instead of water. I found the dough to be easy to work with and the final pastry had a flaky texture. The crust didn’t brown as I would have expected, but I’ll admit I’ve been having some issues with my oven temperature and it was probably that, not the recipe.
My intuition told me to use a larger tart pan than called for, so I chose an 11-inch instead of a 9-inch. This was the right call. The crust fit into the larger pan with no trouble, and I had custard leftover. I ended up making a mini-crustless tart with some already cooked broccoli rabe and the extra custard.
I was very lucky in my choices this month: two winners that I will definitely make again this season.
One of my favorite parts of this group is seeing the other participants’ results with the recipes I didn’t choose to make. It helps me narrow down the other winners in the book that I must try. If you’d like to see their posts, you can see them here.
Back in October 2010, I joined an on-line cooking group, French Fridays with Dorie, whose goal was to cook its way through a single cookbook, Around My French Table, one recipe each week. The group worked off of the same schedule with everyone cooking the same recipe, posting about that week’s selected recipe each Friday.
This marks my final post about this project. The group cooked the final recipe four weeks ago. I finished making up the handful that I’d missing, completing the final four earlier this week. For the past three weeks, we’ve been sharing our favorite recipes, techniques, and reflections about the cooking confidence we’ve gained along the way, courtesy of Around My French Table and its author Dorie Greenspan. For the final post, rather than more about the book, I want to share my reflections about the French Fridays group instead.
I started blogging in October of 2009, a year before French Fridays started. Like so many others, I used my blog as a place to share what I was cooking with my family and friends. I’m addicted to cookbooks but I’ve barely made a dent in trying more than a few recipes for any one of them.
When I heard about French Fridays with Dorie gearing up to start, I was intrigued by the idea of cooking every single recipe in one book. The selected recipe cut down on a few decisions I’d have to make each week: one thing to cook and one thing to write about. So I joined and started when the group cooked the inaugural recipe: Gougeres.
Each week, I enjoyed reading the other group members'(Doristas’) posts and comparing their process and outcome with mine. Some were novice cooks, some were advanced, some managed food allergies in their family, or eating preferences, or dietary restrictions. The variety of experiences and the creativity to make each recipe work in their own kitchen inspired me.
It took me a while to catch on that commenting on these strangers’ blogs was a welcome, not creepy, exchange. And so, slowly, conversations started. Through typed conversations each week, many friendships developed. I called the Doristas my “imaginary friends”. Each week I got a glimpse into their lives, and they into mine, and we started to know each other.
French Fridays has been filled with a diverse group of home cooks, mostly from North America, but sprinkled with others from all over the world. The Doristas shared my passion for food. They were all enthusiastic cooks, just like me.
As the weeks and months went by, Friday posts went beyond the recipe of the week. We shared more of our lives: travel adventures, books read, new cookbooks discovered, family joys and sadnesses. It was more like sharing stories around the water cooler in the office, getting to know your co-workers. Being a Dorista became less of a solitary pursuit and more of a group activity.
September 2013 sealed the deal. The International Food Blogger Conference was scheduled in Seattle. Dorie Greenspan, our unofficial leader, as author of this book we were cooking through, was the keynote speaker. Many of the Doristas planned to attend. I was one of them. At the conference, a magical bonding took place, transforming the group dynamics, turning imaginary friends into real ones. In fact, since the conference broke the ice, if an opportunity to meet up with another Dorista arises, it has become de rigeur.
And now the project we set out to do has been completed. I’m proud that I stuck with this and did the whole book. I’m equally proud of the community we’ve built together. More than the cooking, what I marvel at are the friends I made along the way. The project might be over, but I’ll be keeping in touch with my new friends.
From a blogging perspective, it’s now time to step back and figure out what to focus on next. I have no idea what it will be, but do know that my blogging has been enriched and will continue to be inspired by the bloggers I met and follow through the French Fridays community.
I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a huge thank you to Dorie herself for writing this book that was the catalyst for the creation of French Fridays. Dorie, it was delightful to find that you are as gracious, elegant, and kind in person as you seem from your voice encouraging from the page every week. It’s been a treat to meet you, and I hope to see you again in the future.
And so, my Dorista friends, as I wrap up this last look at what we’ve done together, thank you for being my companions along this incredible and unexpected journey. I will miss our weekly catch ups, but I look forward to keeping up with whatever your future adventures turn out to be, continuing the conversations, the recipe exchanges, and the book recommendations. Who knows, maybe we’ll even take on another project together. More than anything, I’m so happy that our paths have crossed and I have gotten to know you.
To read the grand finales of the other Doristas, check out their links here.
A bientôt! Xox