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Cottage Cooking Club: April

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It’s another month in the Cottage Cooking Club, a project led by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, that is a combined effort of several bloggers to cook all the recipes in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, River Cottage Veg. This vegetarian cookbook contains a variety of recipes ranging from the simple to the complicated, all meant to encourage your palate and your kitchen to embrace more vegetables in your daily life. Andrea’s sensibilities follow the season, so when she chooses the recipes each month, she tries match up to what’s growing in the typical Northern clime.

April is a hard month for local produce in my neck of the woods. Happily, winter has departed, but it’s still early in the season. In my home garden, early herbs (chives and tarragon) are thriving. The radish, arugula and pea seeds we planted have germinated, but it will be weeks before anything is ready for harvest. The local farms are in the same boat. I volunteer weekly at the local community farm and the past month I’ve been in the greenhouse, transplanting seedlings from tiny to larger cell packs. The farmer just planted the first seeds and seedlings in the ground the past weekend.

With no hope of local vegetables, I limited my selections for this month to recipes that use vegetables that I typically buy at the supermarket all year round: celery and mushrooms.

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First up was a Celery Gratin. This was a much different presentation of celery than I’ve seen. Usually, celery is just a bit player in the sautéed aromatics for a dish or chopped into a stock. Usually the only time celery plays a starring role is cut up as a crudité for dipping or snacking. For the gratin, the celery is roasted with herbs and butter until tender, then topped with breadcrumbs and cheese. It was a beautiful looking dish, but to be honest, this is my least favorite recipe I’ve tried from the book so far. The celery, while tender, still required a knife to cut through the strings. Also, it was bland. It didn’t even taste all that celery-y. We finished it, but were not fans.

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On the other hand, the Creamy Mushroom Soup is one of the best mushroom soup recipes I’ve ever made. Leeks and a variety of mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, and Portobello) are sautéed and then simmered in homemade Vegetable Stock with a sprig of thyme. This fragrant soup is then pureed in the blender. To round out the flavors, some heavy cream, sherry, and nutmeg are added, giving the soup deeper flavor without making it too heavy. I was excited to garnish the soup with snipped chives from my backyard herb garden (yay, spring is here). The only change I might make next time is to add additional dried thyme when sauteeing the vegetables for a more pronounced herbal tone (and thyme is my favorite herb). The mushroom soup is definitely a winner!

Chives in My Herb Garden!

Chives in My Herb Garden!

If you’d like to check out the recipe reviews for April from the other Cottage Cooking Club participants, check out their links here.

Cottage Cooking Club: January

Big Baked Mushrooms

Another month has gone by, and it’s time to share the recipes I chose to make for the Cottage Cooking Club. If you don’t already know, the Cottage Cooking Club was started by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, with the goal of cooking all the recipes in River Cottage Veg, a cookbook by British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in one year. It’s a little more relaxing than other cooking groups because, in this group, all of the recipes are be cooked across the entire group, not by each individual participant.

I always find it hard to choose from Andrea’s selections for the month, but I try to pick recipes that I know I can work into the month’s cooking. This month, I made three of the ten possibilities, more than I’ve taken on in previous months.

Farro, Squash, Fennel Salad

First up, I made the Spelt Salad with Squash and Fennel. This is a warm salad combining chewy grains with roasted vegetables and toasted walnuts. Trader Joe’s sells a parboiled farro that can be cooked in 10 minutes, so I used that instead of spelt which takes much longer. There’s a lot of confusion about the differences (or similarities) of the available heirloom grains on the market. According to Wikipedia, the Italians call spelt farro grande but technically (and genetically) they are different heirloom grains. I’m not going to sweat the difference because what matters to me is the flavor and texture. The quick-cooking TJ farro works for me.

Roasting Squash and Fennel

While the farro cooked, I roasted chunks of butternut squash and slices of fennel until tender. A handful of walnuts are added to the pan for the last few minutes of cooking. Cooked farro and the roasted ingredients are tossed together with a lemony vinaigrette to create a hearty salad that could either be the centerpiece of a meal (large portion) or a satisfying side dish (smaller portion). We liked this, but felt it would have been even better with more walnuts.

Artichoke White Bean Dip

We had some friends over for a schnitzel and spaetzle dinner. I made the Artichoke and White Bean Dip for our guests to enjoy while I was frying the schnitzel. The dip came together quickly. Chopped marinated artichokes and canned white beans are heated up with sautéed onion and garlic. Then, the mixture is coarsely pureed in the food processor with a touch of yogurt, lemon juice and oil. It’s reminiscent of a hummus in texture, but without the strong tahini taste of hummus plus it’s served warm. I served the dip with pita chips and crudities. It got high marks from Howard and the guests.

Sauteeing Artichokes and Beans

Finally, I made the Big Baked Mushrooms. I do not like raw mushrooms, and I always forget how much I do like cooked ones. Portobello (aka “big”) mushrooms are dotted with butter and garlic and baked until tender. As a finishing touch, grated cheese is melted on top. I used an aged Gouda which added a nice nutty flavor. These mushrooms are so easy to put together that, in many ways, they make a nice side dish to round out a meal.

Dotted Mushrooms

I would make all of these recipes again, but the mushrooms is the one most likely to reappear on my table first.

You can find the recipes in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. To get reviews of other recipes the Cottage Cooking Club made in January, check out other posts here.

For anyone who enjoys “snow pictures”, a little storm named Juno visited us on Tuesday. According to my snow gauge, she dropped about 2 feet of snow. As I always say, “If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be pretty!”

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