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Cottage Cooking Club: February 2016

Cottage Cooking Club is in the final stretch of cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, a vegetarian cookbook filled with new ideas for eating your vegetables.

I had more hits than misses this month. I tried out three of the choices offered by the group’s leader Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness.  Here are my reviews.

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The Apple and Blue Cheese Toasties caught my eye as something to enjoy for a quick lunch alongside a bowl of soup.  I always fall for grilled cheese, in any form.  Toasties, which are melted under the broiler, are a great alternative to breaking out the frying pan.

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I went all the way and baked my own no-knead whole wheat bread to use for the rustic country bread base.  The topping was a mixture of grated apple, crumbled blue cheese and a touch of mayonnaise to bind it together.  I love apple and cheese together, but to be honest, I found the blue cheese a bit too sharp.  I made these a second time with grated cheddar cheese instead of blue which was a more appealing combination for my taste buds.  I usually have all the ingredients on hand for the cheddar version, so I’ll definitely make these toasties again.

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The Squash and Fennel Lasagna was also a hit.  I typically make tomato-sauce-based lasagna, but have enjoyed white-sauce-based versions in the past.  I love when a recipe offers a takeaway tip or technique that I can add to my arsenal to use in other dishes.  Here I learned to steep the aromatics (onion, celery, bay leaf, and peppercorns) in the milk and then strain them out before making the béchamel.  The flavors infused the milk and hence the sauce for an extra depth that surprised me.  This lasagna has one layer of roasted butternut squash cubes and one layer of a mixture of sliced fennel and crumbled goat cheese.  I ended up using a little less sauce over each layer and adding a final layer of lasagna noodles on top of the fennel-goat cheese layer, then crowning it with the remaining sauce and the Parmesan cheese.  I served the lasagna with a green salad to round out the meal.  I always feel like white lasagna is a “dressier” version of the dish, so one that company would enjoy.  This will appear on my table again too.

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The final recipe I tried this month were the DIY Pot Noodles.  These were fun to put together and beautiful to look at.  A canning jar is filled with quick-cooking noodles and a colorful assortment of vegetables (grated carrots, shredded lettuce, sliced scallions, a handful of frozen peas) and aromatics (veggie bouillon cube, grated garlic and ginger, a pinch of brown sugar).  To pull it all together, fill the canning jar with boiling water and wait for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  This is long enough to soften the noodles and vegetables.  The final touch is a splash of soy sauce and fresh lime juice .  Now, enjoy a delicious “bowl” of “instant” soup.  This recipe offers a formula to play around.  The combinations are endless.

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I need to solve one challenge. When I put this together right before adding the water, it was a magical bowl of hot soup.  I would love to be able to assemble these jars the night before for a quick meal, at work or at home.  When I tried making them ahead and keeping them ready in the fridge overnight, pouring the boiling water into the jar didn’t have the quite same effect.  The contents didn’t soften completely, and the soup was lukewarm.  Any suggestions for perfect this for the lunchbox?

So, another month of delicious recipes down, and a couple more left to come.  As always, I’m looking forward to the recipe reviews of the other Cottage Cooking Club bloggers, which you can read here.

Due to copyright considerations, I don’t share the recipes here, but you can find them in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook River Cottage Veg.

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seafood pot-au-feu {ffwd}

Seafood Pot au Feu

(Sniff, sniff! This is the second-to-last recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie group will cook together. I’ll save my reflections for another week, but it seems impossible to be at this point.)

This week’s recipe was the perfect meal for springtime: Seafood Pot-au-Feu. This light, yet filling, seafood and vegetable stew really hit the spot this week.

I was fortunate that someone offered me their weekly fish share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch for this week. A fish share is like a CSA you might have at a farm, but it’s from a collective of fishermen. Quite a novel idea! You don’t know which fish you’ll be getting ahead of time, but I knew I would use whatever I got in my pot-au-feu.

The selection this week was dab. I wasn’t familiar with this fish, but it’s a flat white fish similar to flounder or sole. It was filleted and super fresh. I received 2 pounds, which was A LOT, so I used some in the stew and froze the rest for some meuniere or amandine (or both) in the next week or so.

Two pounds of Dab

Two pounds of Dab

The stew starts out by giving the longest cooking vegetables, potatoes, a head start in simmering broth with some aromatics. Then sliced carrots, leeks and scallions are added the pot. I really loved how you can prep the vegetables as you go along. No need for mise-en-place. Finally, sliced mushrooms join the mix. My potatoes needed some extra time, so I just let it cook until the potatoes were nearly tender.

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Once the vegetables are cooked, they are scooped from the broth and the mussels are steamed. Then, the mussels are removed and the vegetables go back into the pot. Seems a little fussy, but I think it was worth it because there was no interference when removing the mussels from their shells. I suppose you could leave the mussels in the shell for the diner to deal with. We’ve done that in other recipes. I’m not always in the mood to eat with my fingers, and I found that I liked being able to just enjoy spoonfuls with no fiddling.

Finally, the fish is poached for a few minutes before adding back the mussels, some scallops, and some sugar snap peas to warm everything up. (I partially cooked the snap peas because I had to buy them frozen — not in season yet).

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I took a few liberties with the recipe to adjust to what was at hand, but it was no less delicious. As I mentioned, I used dab for the salmon. I substituted homemade fish stock from the freezer for the chicken broth (seemed like a natural fit). I also used double the mussels because they were only sold in two-pound bags. I opted for half a pound of bay scallops instead of sea scallops because they were half the price. The adaptations reinforce that this delicious meal can easily be made with whatever looks best at the fish counter.

We both really enjoyed this. The weather warmed up with a vengeance, jumping immediately to summer temperatures with not much intervening spring (though I suspect that spring will come back). Honestly, I don’t always enjoy hot soup when it’s hot outside, but this worked. It was more like a fish and seafood dinner, eaten with a spoon.

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. To see other interpretations of this recipe by my Dorista friends, check their links here.