Strolling near the Pacific Coast Highway, Carpinteria. Brown Pelican, 2016.
If you’re ever in Aspen and receive an invitation to have dinner with Cathy O’Connell and her husband, Fred Venrick, say, “Yes.”
Until last September their back door was a short two blocks from my front door at The Gant. Although I never heard her complain, Cathy’s kitchen was tinier than my present mini-one. When they decided to move to a more sizable townhouse this fall, I threatened to throw myself in front of their moving van.
The Barefoot Contessa’s LEMON and GARLIC ROAST CHICKEN
Not only are CathyandFred (pronounced in one breath) personal friends, they’ve also constantly welcomed me to their table. For the 8 years Michael and I lived in Nevada, I returned like clockwork three days/twice a year to Aspen. After a nine-hour drive with my long list of to-dos, scheduled meals weren’t a priority. Happily there would always be a message waiting, “Hey, Mar, we expect you for dinner tonight.”
POTATO DAUPHINOISE from River Cottage VEG
I hope you all have friends like the Venricks who just love sharing delicious food and fine drink with others. They don’t know strangers. When Cathy meets an engaging skier on the lift or Fred encounters a potential hiking partner, they not only say, “Let’s get together.” but actually make it happen.
Katie Baillargeon, a UC Santa Barbara prof and her family came for lunch. Our menu included Asparagus Pizza from River Cottage Veg.
Cathy, like so many of my friends, serves up sensational. While Fred pops the corks, she manages to effortlessly turn out a meal. May I remind you again of that Lilliputian kitchen? When I once complimented her effusively on a braised lamb shanks and mashed potatoes with fennel dish, she shrugged off the praise, “I’m not such a good cook, Mar, but I am a really, really good picker.”
The New York Times’ Rosemary Shortbread is perfect for spring and summer.
Cathy explained she’d learned to spot good recipes, put together menus that are delicious and also manageable in her small workspace. Her response has become my mantra. I can never create recipes nor ‘just throw something together.’ I have neither the food science knowledge or knack for those skills. To be honest, I’ve never “cooked” confidently.
Lentils with Beets and Feta from River Cottage VEG
Admittedly, after five years of writing this blog, a different recipe every week, stirring the pot has become a simpler and more enjoyable chore. Every so often I even go rogue, climb out on that limb, changing up the spices or flavoring. Readers, that’s big. Chemist Jade Barker suggests that “trying a too complicated recipe doesn’t build skill faster. Rather, it’s like starting a diet by buying clothes a size too small. It’s forced and uncomfortable.” (For someone who’s done both, that’s good advice!)
Guess who requested a grilled cheese and french fries with ketchup for lunch.
With a nudge or two from Cathy, here are my 6 tips for making better choices: Choose Recipes…
1. that appeal to YOU;
2. with a comfortable number of easy-to-find ingredients;
3. which use recognizable measurements;
4. where you understand the directions/techniques;
5. which is pan/dish thrifty for less clean-up;
6. that work together, mixing complicated/time consuming with easy and make-aheads.
This Great Egret just caught his lunch of choice, some unfortunate aquatic creature.
I consider my five recipes this week as “good picks,” and worthy of any table. After 23 months of cooking through River Cottage Veg, our Cottage Cooking Club has almost cooked-through-the-book. Hugh’s simple and tasty recipes this month, POTATO DAUPHINOISE, ASPARAGUS PIZZA and LENTILS with BEETS and FETA are three I’ll make again.
It took 5 minutes to slice the potatoes for the dauphinoise with this safe, inexpensive OXO mandoline.
A Shortbread Tip: Cut the shortbread into the desired pieces/slices while it’s still warm.
I used my oblong tart pan for these bars but any over-safe container will work.
Enjoy these recipes. Have any of you adopted some tips, have clues to lessen anxiety and have more fun in the kitchen? A penny for your Tips.
A Successful Meal.
POTATO DAUPHINOISE by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
2 TBS butter
2 pounds potatoes
1 2/3 C heavy cream
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rub a large casserole dish liberally with the butter.
2. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly, either with a sharp knife or a mandoline. In a large bowl, whisk together the cream, garlic and nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes in the creamy mixture, then layer them in the gratin dish, spreading them as flat and evenly as you can. Pour over any remaining cream.
3. Bake for 1¼ -1½ hours, pressing down with a spatula every 15 minutes or so to compress the potatoes and stop them drying out. The gratin is ready when the top is golden and bubbling and the potatoes are tender.
4. You may want to turn the oven up for the last 5 minutes to achieve a bit of extra bubbling crispness. Leave to stand for 5 minutes or so before serving.
TIPS & TECHNIQUES
1. Use half potato/ half celery root OR half potato/half turnip to add a new dimension to the dish.
2. You can use half cream and half milk for a healthier version.
3. I halved the recipe and used a smaller ovenproof casserole dish. I also sprinkled parmesan on top at the last moment because I had it. Not necessary at all. Save yourself the calories.
ASPARAGUS PIZZA by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
The softened, caramelized sliced onions are this pizza’s “sauce”.
Makes 2 small or 1 large pizzas
Pizza Dough, Make your own or use store-bought pizza dough.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra to trickle
2 Onions, halved and thinly slices
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 12 ounces slender asparagus spears, trimmed
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
A little grated Parmesan, hard goat cheese, or other well-flavored hard cheese
1. Prepare the dough according to package or your directions.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees°F.
3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onions. Once sizzling, decrease the heat to low and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Roll out the pizza dough as thinly as you can with a rolling pin and then by hand and divide in half if you wish.
5. Scatter a baking peel ( if you have one) or a baking sheet with a little flour and place the rolled out dough on it. Spread one-third of the onions over the dough, then arrange one-third of the asparagus over the top. Tear up the mozzarella and distribute one-third of it over the asparagus. Scatter over a little grated cheese, some salt and pepper, and add a generous trickle of oil.
6. Slide the pizza(s) into the oven if formed on a peel, or, if formed on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the crust is crisp, the edges browned, and the asparagus tender. Check your pizza often after 12 minutes.
7. Immediately cut into slices or wedges. Serve hot.
TIP: Roasting asparagus on top of the pizza in a very hot oven makes it deliciously tender and a bit caramelized also. If you have thick spears, cut in half lengthwise…..Hugh
LENTILS WITH BEETS & FETA
Dress warm lentils with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar and toss with wedges of roasted beets and cubes of feta or goat cheese. To make a quick version of this salad, I used steamed lentils from Trader Joe’s (or, any grocery store) and pre-roasted beets sealed in vacuum bags.
The Black-crowned Night Heron hangs out during the day and forages at night.
Cottage Cooking Club is an international on-line group. led by Andrea Mohr of The Kitchen Lioness, which is cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. If you’d like to join us as we explore more of Hugh’s cookbooks, go here.
Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from River Cottage Veg Cookbook
The Good News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.
The Bad News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.
White Beans with Grilled Artichokes Salad from River Cottage Veg cookbook
One of my dearest friends recently lost her husband. In our frequent conversations she once lamented that she has ‘so much time on her hands,’ to which I replied, “Can you lend me some of that time?”
We laughed. I love to hear her laughter but she certainly understood that I ‘got it.’
For many, the past thirty, forty-some years have been about mates, partners, children and family, never mind work, careers, bringing home the bacon thing. Until one day, it isn’t. At first I was amazed, well, okay, angry, when some would say regarding losing Michael, “It’s easier for you because you had so much time to prepare for it.”
My yard is a flower shop but no container in sight around here. So I retrieved my cannellini can from the bin and made my own vessel for my bouquet.
Another check in that Mary-Was-Wrong column because it’s true. Thanks to our medical community, both his and mine, I was counseled and badgered eventually into ‘making a life.’ When Michael died, although rattled, exhausted and unbelievably sad, I had a wobbly framework to, as the Brits say, Keep Calm and Carry On.
Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookies by Ina Garten, Make It Ahead cookbook
That’s what this week’s post represents, that carrying-on thing. (I’ll never nail down calm.) Although I have no one to love and care for, I have a huge family and friendship circle to love and feed and care about. Luckily my food world collides into my friendship circle. Here’s what I mean……
It’s a lucky day when one can spot this little guy, a Burrowing Owl. He’s guarding the burrow and searching for food while Mama is minding the nest.
COOKIES for CAV, POLENTA & ROASTED ARTICHOKES
Cal Poly Care Package
This week-end I have a dinner date with a handsome young man. Cav O’Leary, a freshman at nearby Cal Poly, was our Aspen neighbor. We helped raise him, bought his fundraising offerings and loaded his Halloween sack with sugar stuff. Last May I attended his high school graduation. To say I love and care about this kid is an understatement.
The Cookie Dough
After dinner he’ll, of course, be returning to Cal Poly with a Care Package which includes Ina Garten’s favorite cookie, Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunks. Although I’ve made some adaptions and substituted ingredients, this is Ida’s cookie (recipe below). It’s terrific.
If you bake cookies often, please try a cookie scoop. It makes baking so much easier.
I’m excited about my recipes forCottage Cooking Club this month. For a recent birthday my friends, the Grauers, hosted a Polenta-on-a-Plank party. So Much Fun. Donna made three delicious ragus, beef, kale, and mushroom. After that wonderful evening we all vowed to introduce more polenta into our menus. I failed with that until this week when I put together Hugh Whittingstall’s Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from his River Cottage Veg cookbook.
Polenta on a Plank
Why Hugh calls this a ragoût instead of ragu, I don’t understand. A ragu is a sauce while a ragoût is a thick, highly-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish made with/without veggies. Since it’s his cookbook, he can call it what he wishes but I call it a thumbs-up dish and guest worthy. However, it’s decadently rich. Go easy on that “large knob of butter.”
Polenta with 3 different ragus
After returning from hiking with a friend last week, I had Hugh’s White Beans with Roasted Artichokes on the table within 15 minutes. This is a hot salad with creamy beans and cheese, grilled artichokes and tangy lemon dressing which, by adding crusty bread and a beer, made us a great lunch.
Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk CookiesMake It Ahead cookbook by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Makes 48 cookies
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks (Tip: I used Ghirardelli Chocolate 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips, available in your grocery store.)
¾ cup dried cranberries
Fleur de sel (I used Maldon sea salt flakes)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.
2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed.
4. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. (In my opinion, this is optional.) Put the cookie sheet into the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.
5. Bake for 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
TIP: If you make cookies often and don’t own a cookie scoop, buy one. If you don’t have the salt, the cookie is still fabulous. I did a taste test, over and over again.
Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook
For the Polenta
1 2/3 C milk
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
A few peppercorns
½ onion and/or 2 garlic cloves, bashed
1 1/4 C quick-cook polenta
4 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
3/4 Parmesan other well-flavoured hard cheese, finely grated
For the Ragoût
2 tablespoons olive oil
A large knob of butter
1 1/2 well-flavored mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
2/3 C red wine
2/3 vegetable, mushroom or chicken (non-vegetarian) stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To Serve (optional)
A trickle of top-notch olive oil
Extra Parmesan or other hard cheese, shaved
1. For the polenta, put the milk and water into a saucepan. Add the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and onion/garlic. Bring to just below the boil, then set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.
2.Make the ragout. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and half the butter in a large, wide frying pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and pepper and turn the heat up high. Cook, stirring often, to encourage the mushrooms to release their juices. Continue to cook until most of the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to concentrate and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minute more.
3. Add the wine and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half. Check the seasoning.
4. To cook the polenta, strain the infused milk and water into a clean pan (or just scoop out the flavorings with a slotted spoon). Bring to a simmer, then pour in the polenta in a thin stream, stirring as you do so. Stir until the mix is smooth and then it let it return to a simmer. Cook for just 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, rosemary and cheese, then season generously with salt and pepper (adding at least ¼ teaspoon salt).
5.Immediately scoop the polenta into warmed dishes, top with the juicy mushroom ragout and serve, with an extra trickle of best olive oil and a few slivers of shaved cheese, if you like.
WHITE BEANS with ROASTED/GRILLED ARTICHOKES by by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook
5 ounces grilled/roasted artichoke hearts in oil, cut into wedges, plus 1 tablespoon of the oil
1 garlic clove, slivered
1 14 oz. can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good handful of salad leaves
Crumbled or shaved Parmesan CHUNKS, to finish
Heat 1 tablespoon oil from the artichokes in a small frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for a minute or two. Add the artichokes and heat for a minute or so, then stir in the beans. Heat, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, until everything is hot.
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste (the artichokes may already have contributed some salt).
3 Arrange the salad leaves on two plates and top with the hot beans and artichokes. Finish with the Parmesan chunks and serve warm.
Tip: Oil-preserved, char-grilled or roasted artichoke hearts are available from delis and some supermarkets like Trader Joe’s.
Cottage Cooking Club is an international on-line group. led by Andrea Mohr of The Kitchen Lioness, which is cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. If you’d like to join us as we explore more of Hugh’s cookbooks, go here.
CHICKPEAS and SPINACH served over SPAGHETTI SQUASH
My end-of-month post is often a favorite since I’m meeting unique recipes and buying ingredients that have never graced my pantry. Michael was a meat and potatoes, Oreo cookies, chocolate marshmallow pinwheels and Häagen-Dazs guy. If there was a bag of Snickers around, hip, hip hooray. He did love spinach, if it was creamed, but other veggies, not so much. And, pass on those salads.
Hundreds of Black-Necked Stilts find the food plentiful at the Merced Wildlife Refuge , part of the San Luis Refuge Complex.
It was food blogger Andrea Mohr, The Kitchen Lioness, who suggested I look at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. Hugh’s cookbook contains 200 inspired vegetable recipes simple enough for beginners but sophisticated in their flavoring and spices. I’ve been cooking this book with Andrea’s monthly group, Cottage Cooking Club, for almost two years.
This week’s CCC recipes include Chickpeas and Spinach served over Spaghetti Squash. Cumin and chile (fresh or dried), provide the kick. Using Cumin again, I added coriander and cinnamon to pull together Moroccan-spiced Couscous. Dried fruits, toasted nuts and chickpeas mixed into couscous is a delightful lunch or lovely side. Spaghetti squash, to me, may be the Jim Carey of the squash world. It’s hilarious and we’ll return to it later.
It’s always thrilling to spot Bald Eagles. Morro Bay Marina, 1/15/16
Over the Martin Luther King holiday week-end I attended the 20th annual Morro Bay Bird Festival. Although rain dampened some field trips, this is a wonderful year for Central Coast birds. Thank you, El Niño. With a predicted two-day sunshine break, I jumped in the car last Wednesday and headed for the San Joaquin Valley, the state’s top agricultural producing region. It’s also where the San Luis Wildlife Refuge complex, 45,000 acres of wetlands, grasslands and riparian habitats, as well as over 90,000 acres of private conservation easements for the protection and benefit of wildlife, is located.
The Tule Elk, a non-migratory elk found only in California, went almost extinct in the early Seventies. Today a herd is protected, lives at the San Luis Wildlife Refuge and is thriving.
Thousands of Snow Geese and the smaller Ross’s Geese winter in the San Joaquin Valley
Not knowing what to expect, I was unprepared for this natural world theatrical extravaganza, The Refuges play host for 6 months to more than 20,000 lesser Sandhill cranes, 60,000 arctic-nesting geese and swans who migrate along the great Pacific Flyway to mingle with thousands of other visiting waterfowl and shorebirds. My, it’s noisy! I stayed in nearby rural Los Banos and, surprisingly, enjoyed some of the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted at M&M Restaurant owned by the six Munoz brothers.
Sprinkled throughout my Central California coast driving adventure last week were thousands of stacked and nondescript white boxes which are visible from the highway. They contain honey bees.Though not image inspiring, I found their story to be incredibly inspiring. The bee hive boxes are trucked here to spend a warm winter before almond pollination begins. In total, 1,800,000 hives are estimated to be in California (54 billion bees) now. These beekeepers allowed me to take pictures and ask questions. Since bees were swarming outside the boxes also, I didn’t linger.
Hopefully you will not only enjoy these recipes but also some photos from my last two weeks’ adventures.
A Trumpeter Swan. The “rock” in the background is a juvenile swan eating.
Aren’t you surprised that spaghetti squash isn’t more popular? Yes, it’s difficult to entice kids to willingly try different vegetables but sometimes we raise their expectations. At first bite, peas aren’t delicious. They’re mushy and stick to the roof of your mouth. It’s not really necessary to ever like cooked carrots if you prefer raw. And, spaghetti squash is not pasta although it looks like pasta. Throw Marinara sauce and a juicy meatball on top and it still tastes like squash. Start slowly, with butter, salt, pepper, a squirt or two of lemon…..
It may be magic but it’s still squash!
1.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Put the whole spaghetti squash into the oven.
3. Bake for 40-45 minutes. When it is easily pierced with a fork, remove, and let cool enough for handling
4. Cut in half, diagonally.
5. Using a spoon, remove the seeds. Then, with a fork, scrape the flesh under the seeds
CHICKPEAS AND SPINACH served over SPAGHETTI SQUASH, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
Chickpeas and Spinach served over Spaghetti Squash
MOROCCAN-SPICED COUSCOUS, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
If you want either of Hugh’s recipes, let me know. MH
Betsy looked at me oddly. After a long pause, she said, “Mary I wasn’t even two years old yet. I don’t remember it.”
TOMATO, BASIL & MOZZARELLA TART
I did the math. She was born in 1961. I was born in 1944. Holy Moly, I thought, she’s right! My first life-altering moment wasn’t even on her radar screen. “Mine was the Challenger explosion [1986 ],” she later added.
Our 17-year age difference became an additional thought-provoking layer during our week-long libraries journey. Many things that I remembered, she’d only learned in school. There were other situations we both recollected but recalled through our different generational lenses.
CAULIFLOWER & CHICKPEA CURRY
Every generation has its shared moments, life-altering events when we still remember where we were when something happened. This week I asked both friends/family to recall their first public experience that helped shape the adult they’ve become.
TO CARAMELIZE AND SOFTEN THE TOMATOES, THEY BAKE ALONE FOR 15 MINUTES AT 375 DEGREES BEFORE BEING JOINED BY CHEESE.
For 24-year-old Kacey Mahler, The Gant’s Customer Service Manager, it was 9/11. That was the consensus among the front office staff. But Bellman Chris Malone, 28, said, “Mrs. Hirsch, you may not like this but for me it was watching OJ Simpson being chased in his white Bronco by the police.” Malone, who was 7 at the time, explained, “That’s when I first realized heroes could be criminals.”
IMAGE BY ideasevolved.com
The responses were as varied as generational:
Hurricane Andrew. (a home lost); Princess Diana’s Death; Governor Orval Faubus closing all high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958; Apollo Eleven’s Moon Landing;
Team USA upsetting the Soviet Union, 4-3, The Miracle on Ice, at the Winter Olympics in February 1980;
DUST WITH POWDERED SUGAR, IF YOU WISH.
For my daughter, Melissa, it was about Jimmy Carter and her initial disillusionment with politics. “I remember listening to his energy crisis address when he was president,” she says. “It flipped everyone out – the idea to conserve energy – but I remember as a kid thinking it was a good idea. The result was President Carter got crushed in the re-election.”
I DOUBLED DOWN ON MOZZARELLA BUT IT’S YOUR CHOICE.
My Norwegian son-in-law’s first life-altering moment? ( “Yup, Mom,” Melissa e-mailed, “Swear to God, this is Stephen’s answer.”)
“The 1975 non-call of offensive pass interference against Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings game that allowed the Cowboys to win and go on to the Superbowl.”
Realizing this man is the love of my daughter’s life and father of my two granddaughters, I have no comment except, Go Vikings!
While you’re pondering how you would answer this question, here’s what I cooked up this week. My showstopper is undoubtedly Yvette Van Boven’s Sticky Chocolate Cake in Your Coffee Mug in 3 Minutes. There aren’t words to describe its fudgy appeal. Skeptical? Try it. A perfect dessert for one or two sweet tooths.
I ALSO POURED DULCE de LECHE, A CREAMY, SMOOTH, MILK-CARAMEL SPREAD OVER THE CAKE.
I made two recipes for this month’s Cottage Cooking Club from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook. The first, Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Tart is a keeper, something I’ll stick in my back pocket to bring out to impress guests. You may use a traditional round tart pan, an oblong pan which makes finger-friendly portions for appetizers or a regular baking sheet. Try other flavorful combinations such as Tomato, Thyme and Goat Cheese; Tomato, Rosemary and Pecorino or Tomato, Blue Cheese and Chives. Pretty and Tasty.
MY PUFF PASTRY RULE HAS BECOME THAT IF I CAN’T FIND DUFOURS, I DON”T MAKE A RECIPE WITH PUFF PASTRY. IT IS THE BEST, IN MY OPINION, AND, BETTER YET, ALWAYS WORKS.
Honestly, I am seldom disappointed with Hugh’s recipes but Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry didn’t work for me. Cauliflower, yum. And, I love curry. Still, this is a healthy recipe that, with its ingredients, should be packed with flavor. Although I’ve posted pictures of my effort, I need to return to the kitchen and try again. Back to you in a few weeks. Or, not.
PHOTO BY katrin.coaching-in-bulgaria.com
STICKY CHOCOLATE CAKE IN YOUR COFFEE MUG IN 3 MINUTES
Adapted from Yvette Van Boven, Home Made Winter cookbook
If you wish, sprinkle with confectionary sugar or add any syrup, liquor, ice cream or whipped cream.
1. Mix the dry ingredients in the coffee mug. Add the egg and whisk together with a fork. Add the milk and oil and whisk some more.
2. Stir in the chocolate chips.
3. Place the mug in the microwave and “bake” the batter for 3 minutes on high. The cake will rise above the rim of the mug. Use a saucer under the mug as it “bakes” to catch any drips. Let it cool for a bit.
4. Add any desired topping.
Thanks to Betty Pollack-Benjamin for introducing me to Yvette Van Boven.
TOMATO, BASIL and MOZZARELLA TART
By Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall by River Cottage Veg
Serves 4 to 6
Canola or Sunflower Oil
13 ounces all-butter ready-made puff pastry
1 large egg, beaten, for brushing
12 ounces tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 1/2 ounces Mozzarella cheese
2 TBSP shredded basil, added after the tart is baked
1. Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly oil a baking sheet or tart pan.
2. Roll out the pasty fairly thinly and trim to a rectangle measuring your pan. Put it on the baking sheet or tart pan. Cut a 1/2-inch strip from each edge. Brush these strips with a little beaten egg. Stick them onto the edges of the rectangle to form a slightly raised border. Brush the edges with a little more egg. Even if you are using a lipped tart pan, reinforce your edges.
3. Thinly slice the tomatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch slices. Discard the stalky top and skinny bottom slices. Scatter the garlic over the pastry. Then, arrange the tomato slices on top, overlapping them only slightly. Season with salt and pepper and trickle with a little olive oil.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and lightly browned.
5. Take the tart out of the oven, scatter over the cheese. Add another twist of pepper and a trickle of oil. Return to the oven. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melty and bubbly and the pastry golden brown.
6. You can serve the tart hot. Whittingstall recommends serving it half an hour or so after it comes out of the oven, with a green salad.
Cottage Cooking Club is a virtual group cooking its way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’sRiver Cottage Veg cookbook. It is skillfully managed and inspired by our leader Andrea from The Kitchen Lioness.
If, as someone once remarked, August is the Sunday of summer, it’s a sure bet your Sunday was fast and furious. Remember Nat King Cole’s lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer? Here in the West, we’ve had crazy hazy days because of our 76 forest fires (latest figure). Last Wednesday, on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park, I drove through Colorado’s Byers Canyon 568-acre fire. A surreal moment. The canyon was open but with fires burning and smoke spouting while helicopters dumped water on hot spots. Instructed not to stop, I slowly passed through this charred 8 mile-gorge on the upper Colorado River.
My take-away from this experience? Every time you encounter firefighters, thank them profusely.
STUFFED PEPPERS WITH NEW POTATOES, FETA, AND PESTO
The month’s ending translates not only to re-visiting Mother Nature but also to my monthly Cottage Cooking Club post when we share vegetarian recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook. This month I made a delicious Green Lentil & Honey-roasted Cherry Tomato Salad, a unique (to me, at least) Stuffed Pepper with New Potatoes, Feta & Pesto and, for our cool mountain evenings, Cannellini, Spinach & Porcini Soup.
IN THE WILLOWS AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, MAMA AND BABY MOOSE
In addition, I spent the end of August in Rocky Mountain National Park taking classes offered by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute. Three of my Forest Conservancy colleagues who are Master Naturalists joined me to take Birds of the Kewuneeche Valley and The Life & Times of Moose. Yep, we love this stuff. Enjoy these pictures from our latest adventure.
MOM MOOSE – SHE CAN WEIGH BETWEEN 1100 TO 1200 POUNDS.
Now, to some tasty vegetarian fare. In a word, French green lentils (preferably Le Puy lentils). “These lovely, speckled green lentils are an absolute mainstay of my cooking,” Hugh writes. “They get their distinctive earthy flavor from the volcanic soils around Puy in the Auvergne region of France. Their firm, nutty texture makes them great for adding to salads or jumbling up with all manner of companions.”
BABY MOOSE – THIS GUY IS REALLY A JUVENILE BUT WILL HANG OUT WITH MOM UNTIL SHE HAS ANOTHER CALF.
I chose to toss my warm lentils with honey-roasted cherry tomatoes and a handful of arugula topped with Parmesan shavings (Not sure that extra flavoring and calories of cheese is needed.) For the honey-roasted tomatoes, if you remember from a recent post, just halve cherry tomatoes and place them snugly, cut side up, in a lightly oiled dish. Crush 2 garlic cloves, 1 TBS honey with 3 TBS olive oil and mash together. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour over tomatoes and roast at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. I also tried this same recipe the next day using leftover cold lentils. Very tasty.
BIRDING BREAK. DONNA, FRANCINE, AND CAROL (L to R) THOSE SPINACH ARTICHOKE CHIPS ARE DELICIOUS. (I SHARED.)
Once you become enamored with French green lentils, you’ll want to dive deeper into Lentil Land, a healthy place to spend your time. Besides Hugh, many other cooks tout this legume and have wonderful lentil recipes to share: Visit Ina, Dorie, David and Martha.
Like me, you probably have stuffed peppers before. My question, did your filling include new potatoes, feta and pesto? In this recipe you get the smoky taste of roasted peppers without the messy peeling. The yummy filling is, well, yummy and filling. Substantial. And, for pesto, I visited my local market. Serve these with a green salad and artisan bread. May I suggest this dish begs for a nice glass of crisp wine?
THESE JUVENILE OSPREY WERE CHATTERING LOUDLY. ALTHOUGH WE THINK THEY HAVE FLEDGED AND CAN FLY, THEY CLEARLY DID NOT WANT TO TAKE OFF. MOM AND DAD ARE GONE, WE THINK.
Since I’m quite sure most of you readers are not lusting for soup right now, I’ll save my lovely Cannellini, Spinach & Porcini Soupwith all its variations for a later Post.
LOOKING FOR MOOSE WITH OUR LEADER, KEVIN COOK OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONSERVANCY FIELD INSTITUTE.
AU REVOIR, AUGUST
THE USFS RANGERS HEADED INTO THE WILDERNESS TO WORK – JUST DOIN’ THEIR JOB IN THEIR BEAUTIFUL OFFICE.
STUFFED PEPPERS with NEW POTATOES, FETA AND PESTO
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
7 ounces small new potatoes
4 peppers, multi-colored
1 Tbsp olive oil
7 ounces feta cheese
1/4 cup of pesto (I used less)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a pan filled with salted water to to boil, add the new potatoes and boil for 8-12 minutes, until just tender. Drain and cool slightly.
2. Halve the peppers lengthways, removing the seeds and pith but leaving the stem. Brush the outsides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
3. Halve or quarter the new potatoes and place in a bowl. Cut the feta into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the potatoes. Toss both with the pesto until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Spoon the filling into the halved peppers and bake for 40-45 minutes until browned on top. Scatter shredded basil over the peppers just before serving, if desired.
How often must I remind myself to not be cocky? Here’s how my personality rolls:
1. Bad stuff happens.
2. Make a plan. Solve that stuff.
3. Move on.
It’s my 1-2-3 approach to Life. Unfortunately it’s never worked particularly as I’d hoped. It’s not the Black and White that’s the problem, there’s all that messy Gray stepping in to clog the process.
Q: Can you identify this darling bird? A: It’s a Black-billed Magpie, a youngster.
Which brings me to June. Michael died three years ago this Sunday, June 28th. Since then, we will all agree, I’ve woven together a wonderful life. Many people who lose spouses, loved ones or partners are not able to do that. For me, really bad stuff happened ending in a sad, unsolvable result. Truthfully, I was then so weary of being brave, part of me wanted to give up. But after my family and countless friends had huddled up and lent support for ten lengthy years, I felt an obligation to find my own Way.
Pistachio Dukka, a traditional Egyptian combination of nuts, seeds and spices, is served with rustic bread and olive oil.
Which brings me to this pesky month of June. In the past three years I’ve begun to happily handle his birthdays, our anniversaries (29) and special occasions. Each of those carry joyful memories that only make me smile. So I do. June 28th, not so easy. I’ve been unable to pull up anything to cause me comfort. Regrettably it’s always a time I feel unsettled and a bubble-off. Hate that.
A bull moose, recently seen at a nearby perserve. Note the family in the nearby pond. Tom Bernard iPhoto
I charged into this month brimming with confidence, determined not to cause my friends or family angst. No whining. This was my pain to conquer. Or, not. Mother Nature and I would be best friends. That’s where I could expend my energy. There was still food to be made and blog posts to be written. I vowed to do it all with a smile on my face, a joyful heart and eight hours of sleep every night. (You jest. It’s important, my friends.) Realizing it’s the anticipation more than the day itself that seems bothersome, I soldiered forth.
New Potato Salad “Tartare” with “soft” hard-boiled eggs, capers, gherkins and fresh herbs.
So, how’d I do. About 65%. Grade B-minus. Let’s call that a win. To honor Michael and for our Cottage Cooking Club this month, I made four mouth-watering recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook. Michael would consider this a dubious tribute. He lived happily on meat, potatoes, Oreos and Hagen-dazs. That I am cooking through Hugh’s book with the Cottage Cooking Club, a group of international food bloggers, would give him pause.
Mama Bluebird is patiently awaiting birth. She was calm during a weekly bluebird box check.
This month I made Tomatoes with Herbs and Goat Cheese, Quick Couscous Salad with Peppers and Feta, New Potato Salad Tartare and Pistachio Dukka. As usual with Hugh’s recipes, all were unique and delicious. I’ve posted the dukkah recipe below and will send others upon request.
Quick Couscous Salad with Peppers and Feta is perfect to have for lunch, take on a picnic, or share at a potluck supper.
For lunch, I shared the tomato and new potato salads with The Gant’s front office staff. I received two complaints, “not enough” and “day off”. Taken as compliments. The couscous salad traveled to the authors’ picnic potluck on the opening evening of Aspen Summer Words 2015 festival. Not one to name drop, I might mention authors Richard Russo and Andre Dubus both enjoyed my salad. Empty plates. Pistachio Dukka, a twist on the traditional Egyptian combo of nuts, seeds and spices, is a tasty blockbuster and will be my summer hostess gift.
Tomatoes with Herbs and Goat Cheese, a quick and easy salad to be served with cherry, grape, or various heritage tomatoes.
Enjoy these flavorful, healthy dishes and also Mother Nature’s healing photo contributions to my June life. Hooray and Welcome, July!
My first patrol of the 2015 season. (For those of you who’ve remarked you’d pay big money to see me in my USFS uniform, you have my address. )
PISTACHIO DUKKA by Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
cumin seeds, 1 tbsp
coriander seeds, 1 tbsp
sesame seeds, 3 tbsp
dried chilli flakes, 1 tsp
fresh mint leaves, a small handful (A MUST!)
flaky sea salt, 1 tsp (I used Maldon)
bread and olive oil, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Scatter the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes until they are just starting to turn golden. Chop coarsely
3. Dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan over medium-heat until they release their aroma (about a minute). Transfer to a mini-food processor or mortar and mix together until broken up but not fine. Lightly toast sesame seeds for another minute.
4. Mix everything together. Add chile flakes, chopped mint and salt.
5. Taste to see if mixture needs more salt before serving with crusty artisan bread and olive oil, for dipping.
The dukka will keep for two weeks at room temperature in a screw-top jar. Also try scattering it over grilled veggies, a simple lettuce salad or on “soft hard-boiled” eggs.
Swallows sometimes “borrow” the bluebird boxes to make their own beautiful nests.
The Cottage Cooking Clubis an international online cooking group cooking and learning our way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook. The Club, led by The Kitchen Lioness, is ‘meant to be a project aimed at incorporating more vegetable dishes into our everyday cooking, learning about less known, forgotten or heritage vegetables, trying out new ways to prepare tasty and healthy dishes, and sharing them with family and friends.’
This Great Blue Heron is more interested in an unsuspecting fish than in my couscous salad.