Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Cottage Cooking Club - September Recipes

Today, marks the fifth month of our international online cooking group, the Cottage Cooking Club. As a group, recipe by recipe, we are cooking and learning our way through a wonderful vegetable cookbook written in 2011 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, called „River Cottage Everyday Veg“.

The Cottage Cooking Club online cooking group is meant to be a project aimed at incorporating more vegetable dishes in our everyday cooking, learning new ways to prepare tasty and healthy dishes, and sharing them with family and friends.

We will make an effort to use as much local, regional, organic and also seasonal produce as is resonably possible. With that goal in mind, during that month of September, I prepared a few wonderful dishes from the book.

Let us start with a picture of these purple beans, called "Blauhilde" (literally meaning „blue Hilda“), a heritage bean variety that was planted and harvested at a non-commercial garden specializing in heritage plants and crops. Although these beans loose some of their lovely purple color during cooking, they were delicious and I am always incredibly delighted when I find rare veg like these.

Onto this month´s recipes then. My first recipe for this September post is the „Fennel and goat´s cheese" (page 102), from the chapter "Raw Assemblies".

I chose to make this dish as a starter because there is still tons of fresh, crisp and wonderfuly fragrant fennel available around here.

For this recipe you have to slice the fennel very thinly and let it macerate for a good thirty minutes with freshly squeezed lemon juice, mild olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. After the fennel had a chance to rest for a good thirty minutes, the slices will be a bit softer, yet still crunchy and fresh. You will have to taste the dish and add more seasonings …

…and maybe finish it with a scattering of fennel fronds and a bit more oil. I also opted for some freshly grated organic lemon zest to wake up the fennel even more. We love fennel and lemon, so we really enjoyed the anisseed flavor of this dish and appreciated the crunchiness of the raw fennel together with the tanginess of the lemon juice and the zest – this dish is even bette when prepared with a rather mild olive oil – so the flavors of the vegetables rather than that of the olive oil shine through.

The second recipe is a very colorful salad recipe, the „Fish-free salad nicoise“ (page 85), from the chapter "Hearty Salads".

Having made salade Nicoise before, I was curious to see whether we would enjoy this tuna free version as much as the original. Hugh´s version calls for new potatoes, French beans (I used yellow as well as green ones), eggs (of course, those farm-fresh ones are best here), lettuce (I opted for burgundy and green oak-leaf salad), olives, basil (for extra flavor, I added basil blossoms as well) and tomatoes (I used small yellow and red ones and those wonderful zebra tomatoes as well).

The thick and tangy dressing consists of a bit of crushed garlic, olive oil, cider vinegar, dijon mustard and some runny honey. As this is quite a substantial salad with lots of late summer veg and a hearty dressing, I can tell you that no one missed the tuna in this dish. We loved this recipe.

The third recipe I chose was „Roasted Squash“ (page 346) from the chapter "Roast, Grill & Barbecue".

Now, the hardest part about this recipe was deciding which variety of pumpkin to use for this – I settled on the hokkaido pumpkin with ist glorious bright orange color – when you roast or bake or cook hokkaidos, you can leave the skin on, making the preparation time even shorter and the recipe even more of an everyday kind of recipe.

Cut the pumpkin into wedges, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper and a couple of fat garlic cloves, scatter everything on a parchment lined baking sheet and your are all set.

I chose to add a few French shallots and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme and could not have been happier with the outcome. Except to add a few leftover cubes of the pumpkin to a wheatberry salad the next day.

Recipe number four this month – now there is my absolute September favorite, the „Mushroom risoniotto“ (page 258) from the chapter "Pasta & Rice".

Quicker and easier to cook than rice, „risoni“ (or orzo) is a tiny rice-shaped pasta that is indeed quite charming but it took me a while to find it in stores around here. But I am certainly glad that I persisted and made this lovely, autumnal mushroom risoniotto with baby portabella mushrooms, they have a robust meaty texture, perfect for the rich mushroom ragout that gets added to the cooked pasta.

The risoni needs to boil for about nine minutes or until the pasta is approaching softness. But it should retain a certain bite. While the pasta is bubbling away, you will be preparing the mushroom ragout with your choice of mushrooms, garlic, thyme, balsamic vinegar, white wine, double cream, salt, pepper and lots of chopped flat-leafed parsley. I chose to add a few finely sliced spring onions along with the garlic – they are so abundant right now and they always add such a wonderful mild onion flavor. What a delicious side dish – we loved everything about it, the taste, the texture of the risoni, the meatiness of the mushrooms, and the creaminess from the double cream – perfect with lots of chopped parsley.

The fifth recipe for this month was a lovely soup, the „Puy lentil and spinach soup“ (page 162) from the chapter „Hefty Soups“. I have prepared the famous French Puy lentils before and written about their virtues – suffice it to say now that they are earthy and nutty and hold their shape incredibly well when cooked.

This soup is quite similar to the kind of lentil soup I prepare – but sans bacon and sausages. The base is a wonderful homemade vegetable stock. Other than the stock, the ingredients for the lentil soup itself are shallots, carrots, thyme, garlic, tomatoes, Puy lentils, Italian parsley, salt, pepper and baby spinach.

A perfect light soup, yet hearty enough to satisfy even the hungriest of taste testers the day I made it  – especially when served with a nice loaf of bread – I really liked the addition of the tomatoes, giving the soup a very nice layer of acidity. The addition of the fresh baby spinach at the very end also added a nice layer of flavor and some richness as well, a very nice touch. Just before serving, I garnished the soup with shaved parmesan and a good drizzle of my favorite mild olive oil  – perfect.

The next recipe was entirely new to me. I had never prepared „Cauliflower pakoras with tamarind raita“ (page 318), from the chapter „Mezze & Tapas“.

The batter for this intriguing appetizer consists of gram flour, baking powder, ground cumin, corinander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, plus some fine sea salt.  It had the most delightful warm color. It is true what they say about gram flour varying greatly. I used some organic one which I have used for pancakes before and I know from experience that it seems to need more liquid than the regular gram flour available around here – so I ended up adding more water to the batter than the recipe called for – I just went by the description of the batter having to have a consistency of „double cream“. And I fried a few „test florets“.

Fried like this in a very tasty batter and served warm with a cool mango chutney raita – this was a true crowd pleaser indeed. As I could not find the tamarind paste, I went with the optional mango chutney - a cool, tangy yet slighty sweet dip - wonderful alongside the warm, spicy fried cauliflower pakoras.

The seventh recipe this month was a wonderfully fragrant side-dish of „Runner beans with tarragon and lemon“ (page 375).

So many beans still available around here – I must admit to serving quite a few of them during this time of year. I really liked the preparation method for these. You simply sweat some shallots, add garlic and beans and sweat some more. Then after ten minutes you add a bit of water and cook for a few minutes until the beans are done but still hold their shape.

The recipe gives you a choice of using either „runner beans“ or the more widely available „French beans“ . In general, runner beans are stronger in flavor and coarser in texture than green beans and I used French beans for this recipe. The final touch is lemon juice, salt, pepper, and tarragon. Often used in French cooking this herb has long, soft green leaves and a distinctive aniseed flavor – love it.

Last but certainly not least, I prepared the „Two veggie sarnies“  (page 195) from the chapter "Bready Things".

These are two kinds of sandwiches served on two kinds of bread. The first one is a „Mushroom, watercress and blue cheese“ sandwich that I prepared as per recipe except I used goat´s cheese instead of the blue cheese and rocket instead of the watercress – both these greens have a pungent, peppery taste but the watercress did not look all that good when I was shoppping for it. I used a wonderful, moist rye bread. Great, hearty sandwich with a lot of flavor.

The second sandwich is a „Curried egg, lentil and flat-leaf parsley“ sandwich that I prepared with a lovely mulit-grain bread. What a great way to use those left-over lentils from the Puy lentil and spinach soup and add them together with eggs, mayo, curry powder, parsley, salt and pepper to make a wonderful topping for sandwiches – a bit messy but quite delicious.

What a month full of wonderful recipes- I managed to incorporate eight out of ten in our regular dinner/lunch schedule and was pleased as punch that all of the recipes received glowing reviews – love cooking from this unique cookbook!

Please note, that for copyright reasons, we do NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoy the recipes in our series, hopefully, the Cottage Cooking Club members and their wonderful posts can convince to get a copy of this lovely book. For more information on the participation rules, please go here.

To see which wonderful dishes the other members of the Cottage Cooking Club prepared during the month of September, please go here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Fairgrounds - Pützchens Markt 2014

The so-called „Pützchens Markt“ is a huge fair, held yearly in the city of Bonn, Germany. It always runs for five days beginning on the Friday before the 2nd weekend in September. It is one of Germany´s biggest fairs in terms of turnover. Approximately 550 businesses, exhibitors and vendors present their goods and activities on the 80.000 square meters fair-ground. The nearly one million visitors each year attest to what has become a favorite late summer tradition.

There are always hundreds of stalls where you can play carnival games, enjoy varieties of drinks and food including some German classics such as Bratwurst, but also the usual fairground sweets. You will even find a Bavarian beer hall to help you get in the mood for the „Oktoberfest“.

The fair has a long and fascinating past. Its roots go back to the worship of Saint Adelaide. Around the turn of the first millennium she provided food to the poor and her gift of working miracles soon became known. When in a period of great drought Abbess Adelaide thrust her crosier into the ground, water began to well up. The village "Pützchen" was named after this well and up to this day, believers hope to be healed by the well´s water. Pützchen is said to have become a place of pilgrimage around the middle of the 14th century. Soon traders started to set up tents and stalls to sell their goods here. Gradually, a fair developed which continued to expand and to diversify greatly with time. Soon traders, travelling people, wandering minstrels, entertainers, tamers and circus performers started offering their skills, trades and wares here and Pützchens Markt was born. Today, you could say that the fair draws on centuries of history, it has been attracting visitors for more than 640 years now, as the first recorded date for this fair can be set around 1367.

There is a tons of fun to be had with the many rides to choose from. There is the huge ferris wheel which could already be seen from afar while the fair was still under construction. This „Big Wheel“ with its open and rotating gondolas is the tallest of its kind worldwide and has been the landmark of „Pützchens Markt“ for many years now.

There is also a traditional merry-go-round

…and some fierce „jungle fun".

Time for a break to enjoy some German sausage treats…

…or some burnt-sugar almonds (my personal recipe for this traditional fairground treat will follow below).

…or some sweet pancakes with various topping including, of course, that well-known chocolate-hazelnut spread from Italy.

While riding the merry-go-round, you could take a good look at, and certainly smell, the „Reibekuchenhütte“ where the staff was busy continuously frying those traditional potato pancakes that people love to eat with apple compote.

More fun rides and absolutely incredible blue skies...

…colorful balloons (guess which one the girls wanted to take home)...

…the weather held up beautifully….

…which in turn attracted even more visitors to the fair.

A rollercoaster with an observation deck.

Time for another break and maybe some colorful lemonade with ornages, limes, cherries and other fruits

Oh those spinning rides…

…guess someone got hungry and took a bite out of this surfboard.

Our girls certainly enjoyed themselves…

...and loved this huge slide…

…and could not get enough of these rides.

My absolute favorite - sweet, delicious, colorful, decorated gingerbread hearts.

And I got this personalized Kitchen Lioness Gingerbread Heart from my Schatzi – love it!!!

Traditionally the fair is opened by the mayor, broaching the first keg of beer on Friday. The end of the fair is marked by grand fireworks around ten o´clock on Tuesday night. Admission to the fair is always free, however you will pay for all rides etc. on an individual basis.


Fairground Burnt Sugar Almonds

Ingredients for the Almonds
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean or 3 tsps. pure (homemade) vanilla sugar
  • 200 grams white sugar 
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • 125 ml water
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 200 grams natural almonds

Special Equipment needed
  • a heavy-duty/cast-iron pot NOT a non-stick pan.
  • a sturdy wooden spoon
  • a baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Preparation of the Almonds
  1. To make the vanilla sugar, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add it to the sugar. Mix well. (Instead of discarding the scraped vanilla bean, you can always place it in sugar jar with tight-fitting lid to flavor your sugar.) OR: Use 3 tsps. store-bought, qood-quality, pure vanilla sugar
  2. Add the sugar, salt, water and cinnamon into the heavy saucepan and set it over medium heat. Stir to mix, then bring it to a boil before adding the almonds.
  3. Add the almonds to the pan. With the wooden spoon, stir over high heat, to boil the water away.
  4. The sugar will dry out after a few minutes and the almonds will take on a grey-brown tinge. Keep stirring, so that the almonds do not burn on the bottom of the pan.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, to keep the sugar from browning too fast and burning. At this stage, the sugar heats up and starts to melt again. It is already brown from the cinnamon, so it is hard to see the color change. Just keep stirring, so that the almonds become evenly browned and about half of the sugar is melted and gives the almonds a shiny coat. They will stick together but you will separate them later. When they are shiny, but not burnt, remove the pan from heat.
  6. Place the almonds on the prepared parchment lined baking sheet and using two spoons, separate the almonds if they stick together tooo much. Either let them cool completely or serve them while stillwarm. NOTE: the Fairground Burnt Sugar Almonds will keep best if kept in a tin or glass jar in a dry, cool place.