Monthly Archives: November 2015

Cottage Cooking Club: November 2015

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I’ve really fallen down on the job as a blogger. I cook daily, delicious things, but so often I neglect to take photos and then it’s all gone, or I take photos, but don’t sit down to write about my latest favorite dish. I’m promising myself to get back to a more regular schedule of posts in the new year, or before. In the meantime, my participation in the Cottage Cooking Club provides an occasion for sharing my thoughts on a few new recipes I tried this month.

If you don’t already know, the Cottage Cooking Club is an on-line group of bloggers who, under the leadership of the lovely Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, has been cooking recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. Each month, Andrea selects one recipe from each chapter, each participant chooses the ones she wants to try, and at the end of the month, we share our experiences. I usually pick the ones are the most appealing to my palette. It’s great fun to read everyone else’s posts, and based on their reviews, add additional recipes to the never-ending list of ones to try.

Here are my thoughts on the recipes I chose, in the order I prepared them.

Potatoes with Green Mojo Sauce

First up, I made the Roasted Potatoes with Two Mojo Sauces. I actually roasted potatoes on two separate occasions and each time served the potatoes with a different mojo sauce. Roasting potatoes is a straightforward thing, but these instructions resulted in a crispier exterior than I usually get, so I was delighted to have a new trick up my sleeve. I made a half batch of each sauce because I could tell each made a large quantity. We enjoyed both the red and the green sauce which had a (American) Southwest flavor profile – a bit surprising from a British cookbook. The sauces went well with the potatoes and also on top of simply roasted chicken. (Can I say that when this book is supposed to be about the vegetables?) This was my favorite of this month’s recipes.

Next, I made the Kale Speltotto, though it would be more accurate to say I made Kale Farrotto. This recipe is similar to risotto, using spelt (or in my case, farro) instead of Arborio rice. Hot broth is gradually added to the grain, letting it absorb completely between batches. I made a squash stock from seeds I’d scooped from a winter squash earlier in the week.

As for the grain, I had whole-grain spelt in the pantry, but was worried that, because it wasn’t pearled, it wouldn’t cook in time for dinner. I couldn’t find any pearled spelt at the store. After reading the package of the brand of farro I had at home, it seemed like its cooking time would work. Of course, when I got home, I found that I didn’t have nearly enough farro OR pearl barley on-hand. I did have plenty of parboiled farro, which typically cooks up in 10 minutes. I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but it was a success. It took longer than 10 minutes to cook, but was done when pearled spelt would have been. I used kale I had picked myself after a volunteer shift at the farm.

Kale Farrotto

The combination of kale and leek was delicious. I was also out of goat cheese (normally a staple), so I topped this with grated Parmesan.

Lesson learned: Take a better inventory of what you have before deciding what to make for dinner, though if you misjudge, it almost always works out with whatever you have.

The final recipe I prepared from this month’s choices was the Beet and Walnut Hummus. I love beets. Beet-Walnut Salad is one of my favorite ways to eat roasted beets. This dip had similar ingredients, but the final result wasn’t a favorite. The beets overpowered all the other flavors except the cumin. And it was extremely sweet – too sweet for our taste buds. The sesame flavor of the tahini didn’t stand out at all. We prefer either the creamy texture of hummus made with chickpeas or the chunkier texture of my usual beet salad.

BeetHummus

In addition, I finally made the Twice-Baked Potatoes the group made last November. They were fabulous. My mother used to make a simpler version of this, simply scooping out the potatoes, mashing the innards, refilling the potato shells, and generously sprinkling the top with paprika before rebaking. Hugh’s version is much more decadent. The filling is like a loaded baked potato, mixed with sour cream and cheddar cheese and studded with scallions. This is a vegetarian cookbook, but crumbled bacon would be at home in the filling. These are a new favorite, and they were perfect to serve to company!

Our Thanksgiving table wouldn’t be complete without roasted Brussels sprouts. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is Hugh’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shallots. Since the group first made this last October, I frequently revisit this recipe, and I baked a batch to bring to the Thanksgiving feast we attended with friends.

I hope all of my American Cottage Cooking Club friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, sharing good food and company with family and friends. I look forward to catching up with all of you again in December.

To find out what the other Cottage Cooking Club bloggers thought of their selections this month, follow their links here.

Cheers! (P.S. WordPress tells me this is my 500th post! Hard to believe…)

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Inspirations in Ink: Food Gift Love

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In the midst of my personal chaos of this fall, a gem of a book arrived in my mailbox. I was so excited to open up and start reading through Food Gift Love, a new debut cookbook written by the talented Maggie Battista, creator of Eat Boutique, a blog and on-line curated food gift shop.

Food Gift Love is filled with ideas for delicious food gifts to create in your own kitchen. I found myself bookmarking the recipes on almost every page. However, what makes this book stand out from others like it are the elegant, yet simple, packaging ideas that accompany each recipe. I didn’t realize that my drawer of extra bits of ribbon and my box of extra scraps of pretty paper can be elevated from “junk” to embellishments to decorate my food gifts.

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Food Gift Love is organized into chapters that group the food gifts into similar preparations or shelf lives.

  • The introductory chapter lays out the basics about food gifts, packaging and gift wrap basics, and shipping tips. The basics also include a guide to creating an ingenious Traveling Cheese Tray and other potluck recipe suggestions.
  • Fresh Gifts offers food gifts that won’t last long. These recipes are meant to be prepared and shared immediately such as pesto, salad, soup, and homemade dairy products.
  • Pantry Gifts can be made in advance and stored for use in your own kitchen or for gifting – such as dried herbs and all manner of infused things: sea salts, sugars, oils, vinegars, and homemade extracts.
  • Candied Gifts include all sorts of special sweets including homemade candy, chocolate dipped things, and caramel popcorn.
  • Have you ever actually met someone who doesn’t enjoy Baked Gifts? This chapter offers a handful of new cookie, pie, crisp, quick bread, and other baked recipes to add to your repertoire. I can’t wait to try out the instructions for making your own custom gift box for conveying tarts or other pastries. I have way too much wrapping paper, so this looks like a creative use to reduce my stash.
  • Preserved Gifts snapshot the flavor of the season for enjoyment later with recipes for canned things such as jams and marmalades. I’ll revisit this chapter next year as we go through summer’s fleeting bounty.
  • Finally, Spirited Gifts provide glitter for the home bar (yours or a friend’s) with recipes for flavored syrups, cordials, and other cocktail mixes.

I am a veteran food gifter during the end-of-year holidays – during the year of hostess gifts as well. I always limited my vision of food gifts as something the recipient puts in to the pantry to be enjoyed later. I loved Maggie’s inclusive definition of food gifts which bring food brought to potlucks and other shared meals into the fold. She is so right that these are food gifts even if I previously thought of them in an altogether different category. I feel like this expanded way of thinking gives me license to dress up the presentation next time I bring a dish to share.

To celebrate my enthusiasm for this beautiful new book, I hosted a “Food Gift Love” party. Several of my friends came over for dessert and conversation. I prepared several of the treats from recipes in the book along with some tarts that weren’t. The spread included Sweet and Salty Pantry Cookies (page 152), a mini-ice cream sundae bar: vanilla ice cream topped with Maple Walnut Syrup (page 202) and Salty Dark Caramel Sauce (page 139), fresh fruit, a French apple tart, and a fig-frangipane galette. I made a few “pantry” items, also from the book, as favors to share the love when my guests went home.

"Food Gift Love" Party Guests

“Food Gift Love” Party Guests

All of the recipes I tried from the book are winners. The instructions are clear, and every one I tried worked without a hitch.

  • I love the crispy texture of the Sweet & Salty Pantry Cookies as well as the contrast between the sweet cookie dough and the salty pretzels mixed in. I used the called for shredded wheat, but I will vary the mix-ins in the future, making these cookies a great way to use up odds and ends of cereal in a delicious way.
  • Maple Walnut Syrup with its touch of bourbon is a grown-up version of the Smuckers jar of wet nuts my mom used to buy for the special sundae nights of my childhood. Toasted walnuts drowning in a thickened maple syrup are perfect on vanilla ice cream.
  • Salty Dark Caramel Sauce is another delicious topping for ice cream, or drizzled on top of a slice of apple tart. I’ve always been wary of working with molten sugar. The reassuring tone of the recipe walked me through and, next time, I’ll be confident and approach this recipe without fear.
  • I don’t think it matters whether you actually use Citrus Sugars or not. My house was filled with the heady fragrance of lime and lemon for days after I made this. Coming in the door was a joy. Of course, this sugar infused with dried lemon and lime zest can be sprinkled as a finishing touch on baked goods such as cookies, scones, or muffins, or could coat the rim of a refreshing drink.
  • On the savory end of the flavor spectrum, Orange-Fennel Salt is a twist on the infused sugar idea based on sea salt instead.
  • Homemade Granola, Your Way is my new go-to recipe for granola. I’ve made it twice, with different nut, seed, and spice combinations. Due to preferences at my house, I omitted the chocolate and dried fruit, but as the recipe name indicates, you can make this your own with your favorite combination of ingredients. I’ve tried pecans with cardamom and almond with ginger. For seeds, I like a combination of pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Usually, my one complaint about making granola has always been the constant stirring or turning as it bakes. The genius of this recipe is that the liquid ingredients are combined and heated, then poured over the dried ingredients which have been warmed up on the cookie sheet. At this point, one good mixing is enough and the granola bakes and then cools on the sheet. I love, love, love this recipe.

sugarsaltgranola

As we settled into the living room to enjoy our sweets, I did a “show and tell”, telling everyone how much I’m enjoying this book, pointing out which things we were eating came from recipes in the book. I also passed around samples of the favors.

We talked about how we envisioned using the Orange-Fennel Salt: “on everything” was the prevailing opinion, including roasted vegetables, chicken, and fish. The fragrance of the Citrus Sugar made everyone swoon. The Granola generated some excitement too as we brainstormed ideas on how to best package it to send to the college students whose mothers were among the group.

Stoked up on sugar and good company, guests departed with their favors in hand, and a few Pantry Cookies to share with their families at home.

If you’re a podcast listener and you’d like to learn more about the author Maggie Battista, I suggest you download her recent interview featured on Heritage Radio Network’s The Food Seen.

I’d also like to share the recipe for the Citrus Sugars for you to enjoy at home.

CITRUS SUGARS

Makes: 2 cups

Preparation Time: 25 minutes

You may juice citrus regularly but perhaps don’t realize what you’re missing: all the flavor from the peel.

Citrus zest brightens so many recipes but if you have citrus sugar in your pantry, you’ve got a wonderfully fragrant gift. Keep it tucked away for sprinkling on cookies, rimming the glass of a tart cocktail, such as my Margarita Mix, or gifting to your favorite baker or mixologist who will delight in the flavors of preserved sunshine.

This recipe is for a lemon-lime version but follow the fruit on your counter. I’ve used many combinations of orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit to great results. (It’s also easy enough to vary with other flavorings: I keep both lavender sugar and rose sugar on hand.) As a general rule of thumb, mix 2 tablespoons of dried zest or culinary grade flowers to 1 cup of granulated sugar, but this is a very forgiving recipe so, have fun with it. The flavorings are so pretty as is, but if using the floral sugars for baking, crush them in a grinder so the flavor blends into your batter well without big textural bits. If you don’t choose organic fruit, just make sure to scrub the peel well before zesting.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons (about 2 large lemons) lemon zest

2 tablespoons (about 3 medium limes) lime zest

2 cups granulated sugar

Special Equipment:

Microplane zester

Preheat the oven to 150° F (or the lowest possible temperature; some ovens only go down to 170° F).

Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Over the lined cookie sheet and with a zester, remove the top layer of the skin of each citrus fruit, taking care to avoid any white pith. Measure the zest into tablespoon-size portions as you work. Once you’ve collected 4 tablespoons of zest, lightly move your fingers (or a fork) across the top of the zest to spread it evenly across the pan. Place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, until the zest is fragrant and dry but not browned. (Don’t expect the aroma alone to signify your zest is ready; it should be crispy and dry to the touch.) Remove zest from oven and permit to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the zest with a fork for 2 to 3 minutes or until well-combined and the sugar, and the air around it, is sweetly perfumed. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

GIFT WRAP

Supplies:

Vintage ribbon

Cut a piece of ribbon and wrap around the lid of the sealed jar a few times. Tie in a knot and trim the ends.

Text excerpted from FOOD GIFT LOVE, (c) 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

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

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for being on the Food Gift Love Launch Committee. The opinions expressed about this book are 100% my own.