Blog Archives

Cottage Cooking Club: April 2016

Spinach Pastie Baked

Each month for the past two years, the Cottage Cooking Club, founded and led by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, has been cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, a vegetarian cookbook with many delicious and often easy recipes for incorporating seasonal vegetables into your daily menus.  I joined the group a few months after it started in August 2014.

This month, we reach the end of the journey through this book.  Unlike my French Friday adventure, I did not cook every recipe in the book, but as a group, we collectively hit every single one.

This month, I chose two recipes.  Here’s my take on them in the order I prepared them.

The spinach and thyme pasties were fabulous!  I was a little surprised how well the pastry crust recipe worked.  According to Michael Ruhlman, the ratio of many classic recipes, such as pastry crust, are used universally.  This recipe called for nearly twice as much flour as I’m used to, in fact the same weight of flour and butter.  I was concerned the crust would be dry, crumbly, and difficult to roll out.  No cause for worry as it worked perfectly.   The filling was a mixture of steamed spinach (squeezed dry) along with sautéed onion and garlic, lemon zest, farmers cheese, grated Parmesan, and chopped fresh thyme.  After cutting the pastry crust into squares and topping with filling, they are folded over diagonally to make gorgeous pasties (aka turnovers or hand pies).  A coat of egg wash burnished to the perfect shade of gold when the pasties baked.

Prepping Spinach Pasties

The highest compliment came when Howard brought one for lunch a few days and was asked by several of his colleagues where he bought the hand pie.  “My wife made it!”, he said.  They were impressed.

I enjoyed the celery rarebit as well.  Rarebit was standard fare in my single days.  I used the recipe in the original Moosewood cookbook which uses ale instead of milk.  In those days, I would spoon the rarebit (which was much runnier than Hugh’s version) over toasted English muffins and sliced apples.  I was interested that this version was more of a “toastie”.  The rarebit was super thick, definitely spreadable after it cooled down, making it easy to prepare sandwiches on subsequent days.  I opted to make the celery variation where thinly sliced sautéed celery is stirred into the cheesy rarebit.

Rarebit Sauce

The sauce is spread over toast and broiled until bubbly and browned. I like the idea of the toastie offered in this recipe, though I missed the yeasty beer taste that complements the cheddar cheese so well.  I would make this again, but would try substituting ale for some or all of the milk as suggested in the headnote.  Also nostalgic for the apple and cheese flavor combination, one day I topped the toast with thinly sliced apples before spreading the rarebit over it.  Another winning variation!

Rarebit Toastie

As a final note, I managed to make the vegetable biryani after my last Cottage Cooking post.  I’m sad to report that it didn’t work for me at all.  There was way too much liquid that never evaporated or got absorbed.  This seemed to dilute the flavors because it turned out more like a watery rice stew than the interesting rice and curry combination I’ve had at Indian friends’ homes or at restaurants.  I couldn’t even finish the leftovers because it lacked flavor of any kind.  Bummer, but it happens.


As I wrap up my adventure with Hugh’s River Cottage Veg, I’ll share some reflections.

  • Over the course of these many months, in addition to enjoying many satisfying recipes from this book, I was able to cook virtually with some of my old friends from French Fridays and to make new friends that I met through the Cottage Cooking Club.
  • It was equally fun to compare notes on common recipes made and to get reviews on ones that I wasn’t sure about or didn’t have time to make.
  • While I made only a fraction of the recipes, a majority of the ones I did make deserve an A+.  There are a few, including the oven frittata and roasted Brussels sprouts and shallots, that I’ve incorporated into my repertoire and make repeatedly.
  • I’ll admit that there were a fair number of recipes that included ingredients or flavoring that wouldn’t fly at my house (fruit – dried or fresh, curry spices, eggplant) but with the collective goal, I could just skip them, guilt-free.
  • I will definitely go back and try several that received high ratings from other members but I haven’t had a chance to make yet.

Next month, the group will continue with additional cookbooks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: River Cottage Every Day and the soon-to-be-published (October 2016) River Cottage Love Your Leftovers.   I’m going to bow out for now, but will still avidly read others’ recipe reviews each month.

To check out my fellow Cottage Cooking Club member’s blogs to read their reviews of April’s recipe selections here.

Until we meet again, Ciao!



Cottage Cooking Club: March 2016

Zucchini Spouffle

It’s time again for a recipe review for the Cottage Cooking Club.  This group has spent nearly two years collectively cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, a vegetarian cookbook filled with recipes for flavorful and relatively simple ways to enjoy your vegetables.  For March, Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness and leader of the Cottage Cooking Club, selected an assortment of recipes to use up the last of the late-winter while getting ready to welcome the produce of early spring.

I’ll admit that I fell down on the job this month.  I selected three different recipes to make, but was only able to manage two.  I have ingredients for my remaining selection (vegetable biryani), so if I fit it into our menu, I will share the results next month.

The two recipes I made this month got top marks.

First up, I made “Vegiflette” Toastie!  I love the toasties (open-faced sandwiches) in this book.  The topping for this one is inspired by the French dish Tartiflette, a gratin of potatoes, onions, bacon, and Reblochon cheese, though in vegetarian form.

Reblochon is currently banned for import into the United States.  As a result, I discovered a substitute that might become my new favorite cheese.  Reblochon is a washed-rind raw milk cheese made in the French Alps.  After a thoughtful discussion and some tasting with the cheesemonger at Whole Foods, I settled on her recommendation of Oma, a similarly pungent washed-rind raw milk made in Vermont.  The cheese is made by the von Trapp family and aged at The Cellars at Jasper Hill.  We had a little laugh about whether we’d sing better (think The Sound of Music –the same von Trapp family) after eating this cheese.  In my case, it didn’t help.


The toastie topping was simple to throw together for a decadent lunch.  You need a little advanced planning to have cold cooked potatoes on hand.  While slices of rustic bread (I made a loaf of no-knead whole wheat) toast, thickly sliced cooked potatoes are pan-fried in some olive oil.  Once they’re browned, slices of bitter Belgian endive are added until they soften up.

Potatoes and Endive

The vegetables are piled on top of the toast, sprinkled with a generous grind of black pepper, then covered with a few pieces of cheese.  A few minutes under the broiler melts the cheese and you have lunch.

I loved this.  I’m also intrigued to try the original dish, with bacon or without, though with the cold weather on its way out, that kitchen experiment might need to wait until next year.

I also made zucchini penne spoufflé.  I’d been wanting to try this recipe ever since the group made the spinach version last May.


Spoufflé is a cross between mac-and-cheese and a soufflé.  It starts with a roux made from milk infused with onion, bay, and peppercorns.  I loved learning this infused milk trick when making the fennel and squash lasagna last month.  It’s amazing how something so simple adds an unexpected dimension to the finished dish.  The roux is enriched with grated cheddar cheese and a healthy dose of nutmeg.  Then egg yolks are whisked in to further thicken up the sauce.  It wouldn’t be mac-and-cheese without some pasta, plus a chunky puree of sautéed zucchini adds color.  Finally, it wouldn’t be soufflé without folding in some stiff egg whites to lighten it up.

Spouffle Before

The whole concoction is transferred to a buttered dish and baked until it’s puffy and golden.  My soufflé dish was a smaller than I expected, so I made a mini-one with what didn’t fit in the larger vessel.

I ate this hot from the oven, but the leftovers, slightly deflated, are good too.

Spouffle After

The toastie was my favorite this month, but I’d definitely make both of these recipes again.  I would like try the spinach version of the spoufflé too.

Next month will be the final month devoted to this cookbook.  Andrea has plans in the works for the group to continue the adventure, cooking through more of Hugh’s books.

This month, check out my fellow Cottage Cooking Club member’s blogs to read their reviews of March’s recipe selections.