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.
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.
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!
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!
Back in August, I took on the challenge of another cooking group. The Cottage Cooking Club is cooking through British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, River Cottage Veg. This group is more relaxed than French Fridays. Each month, the group’s leader, Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, selects a group of seasonal recipes to choose from. The plan is not for each person to cook every recipe in the book. We each pick from the month’s choices and across the group, the recipes all get made. At the end of the month, everyone posts about what they made.
Some of our group members are ambitious and make most of the selected recipes. I’ve been more cautious and have committed to making just one or two each month. So far, all the recipes have been worth trying and this month’s were no exception.
First, I made Leek and Chestnut Risotto. This is a pretty basic recipe with only leeks added to the rice. The sautéed chestnuts aren’t sprinkled on top until the end. This recipe follows the traditional method for making risotto, requiring lots of time stirring the pot. I used squash stock I had made from the seeds and pulp from a butternut squash I cooked earlier in the week. We found the risotto to be on the bland side, but I think my stock was light on salt, and I didn’t season the final dish heavily enough. Truffle salt sprinkled on leftovers made a big improvement.
My other choice was a winner: Corner Shop Spanakopita. I love spinach pie when I’m in a Greek or any other Middle Eastern restaurant that offers it, however, it’s not something I’d typically make at home. Fussing with the phyllo dough tries my patience. This recipe takes a different approach, topping the spinach filling with puff pastry. Brilliant!
This spanakopita starts with frozen spinach. The recipe specifies whole leaf spinach. I’m not sure why it doesn’t call for the chopped variety because after defrosting, you coarsely chop the spinach anyway. Having made this once, I would buy chopped spinach next time. The spinach is combined with onions, cumin seed, and thyme that have been sautéed together, plus some egg for binding. Two layers of spinach separated by a layer of crumbled goat cheese and toasted pine nuts are topped with puff pastry and popped into the oven. I always have problems rolling out store-bought puff pastry after it gets unfolded, so, as crazy as it seems, I make my own “rough puff” and use that instead. It’s actually easier for me.
I served the piping hot spanakopita with a simple salad: baby arugula dressed with mustard vinaigrette. It was the perfect dinner on a winter’s night. This recipe earns a spot in my repertoire and will be repeated.
As we approach the end of 2014, I want to wish all the cooks in the Cottage Cooking Club happiness and good health in the year ahead! I’ve enjoyed cooking with you over the past few months and look forward to finishing this project with you in 2015. Happy New Year!!!