Monthly Archives: December 2015

Cottage Cooking Club: December 2015

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I’ve been cooking with the Cottage Cooking Club since last summer as the group collectively makes their way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegetarian cookbook River Cottage Veg. This month, our “chief chef” Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, offered us half the number of selections to be sure we could fit some Cottage Cooking into the busy month of December.  I was up for the challenge and incorporated a few choices into the menu.

Every month (week, day, etc.), so many new recipes catch my eye.  The source is varied, perhaps one of the many cooking magazines that arrive in my mailbox each month, a cookbook on my shelf, a recipe card at the grocery store, an email newsletter in my inbox, a stack of torn out or printed out recipes in one of my numerous piles (my sisters better not laugh) or just browsing the internet.  I never lack inspiration, but I have a hard time keeping track of what I want to make.  This month, I’m trying a new tactic to help myself.  You might already do this, but it’s new for me.  I’m keeping a running list on the refrigerator.  At a glance, I can be reminded of appealing recipes and plan to make one.  The satisfaction of checking off what I’ve made helps me resist making the list pages and pages long!  Adding the Cottage Cooking recipes to the list ensured that I made them well before the end of the month deadline.  If you have a technique for keeping track of recipes you want to make, please share!  I’d love to improve on my organization.

This month, I chose two recipes from Andrea’s selection. The first one I made was Chachouka, a North African tomato and pepper stew served with eggs cooked right in the stew.  I had a nearly-full jar of roasted peppers in the refrigerator, so I used them instead of fresh ones – the tomatoes were canned – so this became a pantry meal as well.

Chachouka

I love eggs for any meal, and though this was suggested for an easy supper, I served it as a lazy weekend morning breakfast (two mornings in a row).  I made the stew the night before, then reheated it before adding the eggs and popping it in the oven.  I found that it took about 15 minutes for the egg whites to set.  My mother-in-law has made us the Israeli version (shashouka) before.  Once she adds the eggs, she just covers the pan and continues to cook it on the stovetop.  Honestly, that seems simpler.  As far as I remember, both recipes are equally delicious, the main difference being the toasted cumin seeds in Hugh’s.  I would make this again, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, though I would definitely double the stew base next time.

Pepper Sauce

My other choice this month was the Mushroom “Stoup” – stoup being something between a stew and a soup.  As much as we liked the chachouka, this was even better.  This “stoup” was a simple and hearty vegetable soup with the emphasis on mushrooms.  There are two kinds of mushrooms, fresh button mushrooms and dried porcinis.  The recipe called for 2 ounces of porcini.  At $6.50 per ounce, I opted to use just one ounce, and it was fine.  I used vegetable stock made from Hugh’s recipe, intending to add mushrooms to turn it into his mushroom stock variation, but I forgot to add them in.  I was surprised at the depth of flavor of the soup as the other ingredients (onion, garlic, carrot, celery) were the typical workhorse accompaniers, but nothing special.

Mushroom Stoup

Turning this into a meal were the herby dumplings that cooked in the soup.  I never made dumplings before.  They are similar to matzo balls, which I make often, though a tad more delicate.  I don’t know if that’s because I substituted vegetable oil for the shortening or for another reason.  Regardless, they tasted delicious, and I’ll continue to experiment with dumplings to get it right.

Dumplings

I hope all of my Cottage Cooking Club friends had a wonderful holiday season and Christmas.  To find out what they thought of their selections this month, follow their links here.

Happy New Year to all!  I hope 2016 will be filled with delicious food shared with those you love.

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Inspirations in Ink: A Bone to Pick


ABoneToPickMark Bittman published a book back in May called A Bone to Pick.  Since then, he’s published another book and left the New York Times to work with a new venture, a vegan food delivery service called Purple Carrot.  If you didn’t catch his book when it first came out, it’s definitely worth another look.

If you read the New York Times regularly, or at least before his departure in September, you’ll know that over the past 5 years, Mark Bittman has become a spokesperson for a more thoughtful way of eating.  Over the past century, the large industrial complex of agribusiness has created a food system in this country that in many ways is broken and unhealthy for our population, our food supply, and our environment.  Bittman is a proponent for ways that individuals can work to change this system and set it on a healthier course.   Though all the pieces in this book have been previously published in the New York Times over the past 5 years, the essays are still timely and relevant.

I’ll give you the heads up that this book is not objective reporting.  Though research is often cited, Mark Bittman’s essays appeared on the Op-Ed pages of the paper and reflect his strong opinions.  I happen to agree with his point-of-view. As a not-so-regular reader of the New York Times who does follow the news about the American and global food system, I appreciated this collection, learned some new things, and found it refreshing to hear the arguments from his voice and perspective.

This book covers a wide range of topics related to both the good and bad aspects of our food system.  Here are some of the key takeaways that stuck with me after reading this book:

  • A century ago, most American farms were small family farms growing a variety of crops sustainably and organically. “Big Ag”, including both large-scale agriculture growing monocultures with heavy reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and factory farms that are frankly inhumane to animals, is relatively new to our world. It’s not too late to (re)introduce more sustainable practices to the largest players in this industry.
  • Given access to fresh real food, each of us can make small changes towards a better food system simply by cooking for ourselves, giving us control over what we eat.
  • In addition to cooking, two more easy steps to improve our own health and the health of our food system are: (1) to eliminate hyper-processed foods, which contain an overabundance of sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, from our diets. Regardless of what the marketing tells us, hyper-processed foods are seldom healthy.  Eating real food, ingredients that are what they are or can be cooked into what you eat, is much better for you; and (2) to eat more plants.  Eating more plants also typically means reducing the animal products, including both meat and dairy, that we eat.
  • Government involvement in publishing objective dietary guidelines that are not influenced by the special interests of Big Ag would go a long way towards improving the health of our population. Frequently changing dietary recommendations have resulted in misconceptions and confusion as well as growing rates in the occurrence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes.  Home cooking and eating fresh ingredients can counter these epidemics.
  • Our food system may be broken, but it’s not hopeless. Thought leaders and other organizations are working for change.

Those who found reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to be a life-changing experience might find this book is preaching to a choir they are already part of.  Whether you consider yourself in this camp or not, we are all eaters, and I urge you to become a more thoughtful eater.  If you’ll pardon the pun, Mark Bittman’s A Bone to Pick provides real Food for Thought to get you started.

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

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.