Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - April 2015

After the opportunity to catch up on missed recipes last month, the Cottage Cooking Club members are back to exploring new ones from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg. With our rather severe winter finally behind us, one that brought a mid-April snowfall(!) and a delay in the availability of local spring vegetables, I was grateful that this month's selections were more transitional in nature.

Chiles Stuffed with Beans (page 36)
This was a little more labour intensive than most of the recipes in this book, but like most stuffed vegetables, a great make-ahead dish.
Poblano chiles were rather sad looking the day I went shopping so I substituted with sweet bell peppers, and rather than (tasteless) fresh, I used 200g canned, diced tomatoes. The ingredients were quite simple but the roasted peppers stuffed with black beans, tomatoes, aromatics and warm spices were very flavourful. Rather than the Garlicky Yogurt as an accompaniment to temper the sweetness of the peppers and add a cooling element to the heat (I may have added a generous amount of chipotle chile powder to the filling!), I served them with zingy Lemony Guacamole (page 296). With assembly done the night before, this became a quick and delicious weeknight meal that everyone enjoyed. I have my eyes peeled for good poblanos so I can make this again soon.

Red Cabbage, Parsnip, Orange and Dates (page 110)
Isn't it pretty? It also had a wonderful texture and a lot of good flavours but made as per the recipe, studded with candy-like dates and dressed only with the juice from the oranges, this was just a little too sweet for me. Some white wine vinegar helped balance it a bit more but I think next time - and there will be a next time since the combination of cabbage, parsnips and orange is too good not to repeat - I'll use Yotam Ottolenghi's method of marinating the dates in vinegar first as he does in his Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds from the book Jerusalem, to add a little more of that savoury flavour I was looking for.
Creamy Mushroom Soup (page 152)
I was pleasantly surprised by this soup: even with just a regular vegetable stock base, cremini mushrooms and a relatively short cook time, it had great mushroom flavour enhanced by sautéed leeks, garlic and fresh thyme. I puréed the entire batch and the resulting soup was smooth and velvety and definitely lived up to its "creamy" descriptor. Also very rich, it was best enjoyed slowly, in small quantities, to better savour every sip.

Pasta with New Potatoes, Green Beans, and Pesto (page 256)
What a wonderful recipe! I always appreciate when an author helps the cook economize in the kitchen, in this case, using only one pot to cook the pasta, potatoes and green beans. You did have to rely on your own judgement a little regarding cooking times; 8 minutes for the pasta and potatoes with an additional 2 once the green beans were added worked perfectly. Dressed with a vibrant - in both colour and flavour - basil-parsley pesto, this was one delicious dish. I didn't include the optional olives but there was already so much flavour, they weren't missed.

Cannellini (White Kidney) Bean Hummus (page 300)
After last month's Carrot Hummus (page 296), which only my dog and I enjoyed, this recipe offered some redemption. The cooked white kidney beans from my freezer were a tasty alternative to chickpeas and what the dip lacked in nutty flavour, it more than made up for with the drizzle of smoky paprika oil. As with most of these spreads, it was better the second day once the flavours of the ingredients had been allowed to develop and meld. One of the selections for this month, Garlicky Flat Breads (page 176), would have been a good choice to serve with this but I made them back in September and pressed for time, resorted to store-bought lavash crackers.

Celery Gratin (page 380)  
I love celery in so many forms: raw, as the star of a soup, and as a background flavour in countless delicious dishes that would be lacking if it were absent, so I never imagined that I would not like it in any preparation.
In this recipe, the method of oven-braising seemed to concentrate certain flavours in the vegetable that I just didn't care for, flavours that the cream and even the crispy, cheesy topping couldn't mask. Having said that, I should confess that I didn't follow the recipe exactly so it's perhaps unfair of me to judge it. I don't like butter and generally don't use it in savoury cooking but I am aware that it often mellows strong flavours - eg the acid in Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce with onion and butter. The butter I left out may have been critical to the success of this dish. I'm looking forward to reading the others' reviews.....I'll take their word for it if they say it's delicious!

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  1. Dear Zosia, all of your dishes look very appetizing to say the least - love the colorful peppers you chose for the bean stuffing - I also used peppers, red ones and I also think this was a rather labor intense yet very flavorful recipe indeed. Your Red Cabbage dish also has fantastic colors - this is the only one I did not make and I read your comments and will remeber them when I get around to trying this one. The Creamy Mushroom Soup has an incredibly velvety texture - it did have great depth of flavor, I agree. The Pasta has become a new family-favorite and I could not agree with you more with respect to the one-pot convenience here. Peggy suggested bringing it along to a picnic - I think that is also a great idea, as our kids munched on the left-overs at room temp and still loved the taste. Beautiful Cannellini Bean Hummus with the very pretty swirls of Paprika Oil and as far as the Celery Gratin goes - this was our least favorite this month,mostly because of the stringiness of the celery, but I might not have been careful enough when preparing this - but, as I said before - so many other delicious recipes!
    Thank you again for your participation this month, I certainly appreciate it!

  2. I also made the pasta (loved it), hummus (yes!) and the salad among other recipes this month. Thank you for saying that the hummus was more flavorful on the second day. I was a tad disappointed in the blandness of the hummus when I made it but on the second day, man did I taste the garlic. It was delicious. Such a low-calorie spread instead of mayo or butter. And, very inexpensive. I am too much the amateur to stuff chiles but am enjoying everyone elses. I wasn't interested in the celery gratin but thought Cathleen's did look very, very good. Thanks for your comments because there are many things from this book I want to make and the celery will go towards the bottom. I make Ottolenghi Baby Spinach salad often - is very special when I can make it work for a dinner party. In fact, I made it last week with the leftover dates from our salad. I agree, using Ottolenghi's method is a great idea. I hadn't made that connection. Wonderful post. I am posting tomorrow morning.

  3. Isn't it nice that the long winter is over? I love comparing notes with the other CCC-ers on recipes I also made, and seeing the reviews on the ones I didn't. I don't think the butter would have fixed the celery gratin. It was my least favorite in the book so far. So stringy... I agree on the mushroom soup. I like your big dollop on top of the soup. I'm tempted to try the pasta! Wonderful selections!

  4. Hello Zosia, What a wonderful post, and I really do love your insights into other cookbooks, and variations on changing out or improving the dimensions of flavor in such an intelligent way. Your stuffed peppers and the slight variation look sensational and I do plan on giving this dish a try. I also did not prepare the salad, but you've convinced me as such and I shall also give your suggestion from the Jerusalem cookbook a go- marinating the dates with vinegar. And again, your hummus also looks so appetizing and delicious, lovely photos throughout. It appears your opinion on the celery gratin are similar, well except for me, though I doubt I would prepare it again. Please accept apologies on my delayed reading and commenting this month for everyone as I've been working so hard coordinating and planting my garden, yard, finishing the deck edibles and so am a bit behind my time. See you soon. Thanks for another great month!

  5. Wow! Love the photo of the hummus! Your pasta dish looks so pretty - I did not care for this so much - mainly to the store bought pesto, and not my usual brand. And the salad! Isn't it just the prettiest? So vibrant looking - and we do feast with our eyes first. We really enjoyed the stuffed peppers as well. The celery gratin was one of those love/hate recipes! We were on the love end. I did not make the soup, but yours looks lovely - such a nice presentation.

    So glad to hear you are enjoying Grace Young's book! The recipes have been unbelievably delicious. There have been very few recipes that I have not been totally crazy over. If you are at all interested, she also has a Craftsy class, that I hear is really good. Hoping to take it myself.

  6. Your dishes all look so delicious! I only got to two recipes this month (including the pasta), but it was fun. Late posting, but loved seeing all of your results!!

  7. I didn't like the celery dish much either, and I love celery and didn't skimp on the butter. I love your idea of using Ottolenghi's method of quick-pickling the dates for that salad. I also appreciate the reminder to go make his salad.


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