Wow! I’ve definitely fallen out of the blogosphere. I haven’t posted since last month’s Cottage Cooking Club. I need to get with the program. There’s plenty of cooking happening in my kitchen, but clearly not a lot of writing at the computer. I am sorely out of practice. I will try to get back into the game this fall.
Fall? It’s the end of August, so that means that summer is almost over. I feel it in the air with slightly chilly mornings and gradually shortening days. Fortunately, the harvest is still going strong, and we’ve been enjoying wonderful local produce from the local farms and farmers markets, and a few things from our backyard garden. Tomatoes and corn are always at the table right now and will be until the season is over.
For this month’s Cottage Cooking Club, the on-line group cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, our inspiring leader Andrea from The Kitchen Lioness chose a menu of recipes that were hard to choose from. Here’s the rundown on what I picked, in the order I made them.
With the earliest of tomatoes, I threw together Tomatoes with Thai Dressing. This, like so many of the recipes in this book, showcases top-notch vegetables with just the simplest of accompaniments, here, a light Asian-flavored dressing. I wouldn’t say the dressing tasted very Thai to me, or all that Asian. It was refreshing, and I did like the fresh mint sprinkled on top. This quick salad was nice enough, though not interesting enough for me to make again.
Next up was the Leek and Cheese Toasties. This open-faced sandwich has the most amazing topping: sautéed leeks combined with thyme, cream, and Cheddar cheese. A lightly-toasted slice of bread is slathered with the cheesy leek spread, sprinkled with more cheese, and broiled until bubbling and browned. This was my favorite recipe this month. I made a double batch and ate it for lunch every day for a week. The topping is probably a bit too heavy for the hot dog days of summer, but I’ll remember this for the cooler weather and make this one again and again. Plus it reminded of my mother’s special sandwich, a “Bunni special”, the lunch we often requested or she made without us asking because it was so good and easy to put together. My mom’s sandwich was different, sliced cheese and tomato sprinkled with dried Italian herbs and broiled, but they were similar enough to make me smile.
Finally, I made Summer Garden Lentils Niçoise. If I haven’t mentioned it before, lentils are my favorite of all beans and legumes. I’ve seldom met a lentil dish I didn’t like. This lentil salad, which can be served warm or cold, includes my favorite flavors of summer: cherry tomatoes, olives, green beans, and red onion, pulled together with a mustardy vinaigrette. The cherry tomatoes were from my garden and the green beans from a local farm. Eggs transforms the salad to a meal. The first night, I chose to serve it warm with poached eggs on top. Yum! And, then the next day, eggless, this was the perfect side to the zucchini tart I had for lunch. I also liked adding herb stems to the lentils as they cooked. I threw in some basil because I picked too much from the garden. I will definitely make this combination again.
My favorite part of this group is checking out everyone else’s posts to both compare notes on the recipes I made and to figure which other recipes to add to my “must make” list. You can check out everyone’s links here.
Lentils are my favorite bean. I love lentil soup, lentil salad, and even lentils as a side. This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie is “a basic recipe” for French lentils, which I made as a side.
Dorie suggests using French Le Puy lentils instead of the brown lentils you usually see at the grocery store. I know that some Doristas had trouble sourcing these, but fortunately, my local Whole Foods always has these in the bulk section where I buy them by the pounds. I love them, particularly in lentil salad, because they hold their shape instead of getting mushy. I agree that they are worth seeking out.
This recipe’s preparation is similar to my usual method, but also a little bit different. I’m always up for trying new ways of doing things before deciding whether to adopt some or all of the experiment for a new and enhanced “usual” method.
For this version, first the lentils are boiled for two minutes, then drained before continuing. This is to give the lentils a cleaner flavor. I’m not sure I could tell the difference, but I might try it again.
The lentils are simmered with an onion studded with a clove, a carrot, a celery stalk, a smashed garlic clove, and a bay leaf. Once they are tender, some brandy is stirred in for just a minute, before draining the lentils again. My question about this step is: what’s the point of the brandy? I didn’t notice any residual taste. Even though I didn’t use fancy brandy, just Christian Brothers, it still seemed like a waste of brandy.
At this point, cook’s choice: discard the vegetables or chop them up. I chopped them up, mixed them into the lentils, and adjusted the seasoning.
The lentils made the perfect accompaniment to duck confit, beet salad, and braised kale. This dish, or maybe it was the whole meal, felt like a baby step towards welcoming the crispness in the air as summer comes to an end and autumn is upon us.
As far as adjustments to my favorite method, I would try the initial quick boil and drain step again before making a final judgment on that step. I usually simmer my lentils with chopped onion and carrots (and a bay leaf). I found the chopping of the warm (well, hot, I was impatient) vegetables fussy, though I did enjoy the flavors, so I might start adding chopped celery and garlic to the mix. but not whole vegetables. Also, no brandy unless I just stirred it into the warm lentils. So, mixed results on takeaways for me.
I was at Squam Lake in New Hampshire overnight with a couple of my morning boot camp buddies. This morning, we hiked to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, and this is the view back over the lake. Gorgeous, no?