Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Cottage Cooking Club - February Recipes

The month of February marks the twenty-second 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, entitled „River Cottage Everyday Veg".

One of the declared aims of our cooking group is to make a decided effort to use as much regional, organic and seasonal produce as is reasonably possible.

This month I prepared eight of the ten designated recipes. I will write about each dish in the order in which I prepared them.

My first recipe for this February post is the Mushroom ragout with soft polenta (page 57) from the chapter "Comfort Food & Feasts“.

This was a recipe that I had been looking forward to for a long time. Soft, creamy polenta topped with a ragout of earthy musrooms. My kind of food in February. I stayed true to the recipe but as I am not such a huge fan of instant polenta, I used regular polenta that takes a bit longer to cook. The infused milk for the polenta contains a bay leaf and thyme, peppercorns, onion, garlic. Once the polenta has finished cooking, you add butter, chopped rosemary and Parmesan – an irresisitible taste as is.

For the topping you will need mushrooms, garlic, more thyme, red wine, mushroom stock, pepper and salt to make the most flavorful mushroom ragout. Creamy and hearty, polenta makes a great alternative to mashed potatoes or pasta and served topped with this richly flavored ragout it is a vegetarian main dish – then all you need to enjoy this lovely meal is to pick up a pretty spoon, dig in and enjoy!

My second recipe this month was the Lentils with beetroot and feta (page 237) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“. An easy, substantial side salad with lentils, wedges of sweet, earthy beets, some cubes of salty feta and a lovely dressing of mild olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

If you are a lentil lover, and of you appreciate the taste of red beets - this is a great recipe to keep in mind for fall or winter time. You can always stock some lentils (just make sure they are the type that is best used for salads) and feta are readily available in the cold months – I can easily see this salad as part of a buffet spread, in a lunchbox, or as tasty office break fare.

You should keep the beets separate until you are ready to eat, as they do tend to bleed into the salad. Another tip to keep in mind is that if you run out of time you can always use pre-cooked, vacuum-packed beets in this recipe instead of roasting them. You might loose some of the earthy flavors that you get when freshly roasting the beets but there are enough tasty components in this salad to guarantee a delicious outcome.

The third recipe in February was the Apple and blue vinny toastie (page 204) from the chapter of "Bready Things". With grated tart eating apples, Gorgonzola dolce, a bit of mayonnaise, some salt and pepper this is certainly a different kind of topping for some toasted country bread.

This is a toastie that I would definitely only serve to peole that appreciate the distinct taste of blue cheese or Gorgonzola – the combination here works surprinsingly well. Again, just chose your taste testers well.

Recipe number four this month felt like an old friend. After having made the Tomato, thyme and goat´s cheese tart in July 2014 (here), the Basil and mozzarella tart in October 2015 (here) or the Blue cheese and chives tart in December 2015 (here), it was time for yet another fabulous variation, the Rosemary and pecorino tart (page 216) from the chapter of „Store-cupboard suppers“.

The main recipe has become a family favorite, my go to recipe for those days when I am looking or a quick, no fuss, savory fare with easy to find ingredients that can be assembled in a flash. So, this recipe is another example of how handy store-bought, good-quality puff pastry can be. Add some thinly sliced tomatoes (even if they are a bit out-of-season these days), some thinly sliced garlic, pepper, salt, a bit of good olive oil and bake. Then add some chopped rosemary and grated some lovely, sharp Pecorino Romano – I opted for shavings of Pecorino instead of grating it. For the looks, of course. Failing Pecorino you can also use Parmigiano Reggiano to great effect here. It tastes just as wonderful in this recipe.

The fifth treat this month was much-anticipated Sweet potato and peanut gratin (page 63) from the chapter „Comfort Food & Feasts“. The kids love sweet potatoes and although they are not grown around here, we can nowadays find them in many grocery stores and at the green grocers. No matter which way I prepare them they always seem to get eaten – this is truly a great veg to serve to the younger crowds even if they do not enjoy vegetables in general.

Sweet potatoes can be cooked in similar ways to the potato but cook much more quickly. You can bake, mash or roast sweet potatoes, or use them in vegetable soups and casseroles. Alternatively, you can add them to risottos, pasta dishes and curries. But Hugh´s recipe is a whole other category it seems. With one kilo of sweet potatoes, a bit of heat from the chilis, garlic, double cream, crunchy peanut butter, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper – this is really reminiscent of the sauce I serve alongside my chicken satays. Rich, creamy and addictive! We loved this gratin!

Not your every day type of side dish but the kids got their fill of sweet potatoes and I got to show off my lovely vintage gratin dishes that I found at a wonderful flea market the other day. The old lady that sold them to me for a song, just shrugged her shoulders and said that she did not have a clue what to do with them! And the moment I saw them I was thinking of this sweet potato gratin that I was planning on making as small individual gratins and serve them in exactly these dishes. Sometimes things just seem to fall into place...

The next recipe on my list was the White bean salad with tomatoes and red onions (page 240) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“.

A fresh, wintry salad with white beans (soaked overnight or the canned variety), red onions, tomatoes and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper – to which I added a mixed salad of baby spinach and Swiss chard. The greens stood up well to those other hearty ingredients - they were really nice in combination with red onions, beans and tomatoes.

To cut the sharpness from the raw onion, I soaked the thinly sliced red onion in ice cold water for a few minutes before I drained the slices well and added them to the salad. A nice substantial bistro kind of salad that had a lot of flavor. It can easily be served for lunch or as dinner with just a nice hunk of country bread alongside.

Recipe number seven was the lovely and easy Potatoes and „deconstructed pesto“ (page 222) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“.

A truly nice combination of cooked fingerling potatoes, loads of fresh basil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and plenty of shredded Parmesan. What on earth is not to like about this dish. There is the ease of preparation, the short list of ingredients, the extremly simple recipe and the immense „waftability factor“ that you get while preparing this. Not to mention the fabulous taste. We loved it. A keeper.

The last recipe I tackled this month was the one that the kids kept begging for all the time. The older girls desperately wanted to bring the DIY „pot“ noodles (page 248) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“ to school – so I took a few liberties with the veg but I most certainly kept with the theme when I made these.

I used soba noodles here that I pre-cooked, drained and added to the jars first. Then it was peas, carrots, corn, napa cabbage and chives - for the flavor I opted out of the boillon cubes and added sliced spring onions, slices of fresh ginger, crushed chili flakes, lime juice, low-sodium soy sauce, pepper, sea salt, and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

When I prepared these for the lond day at school, I packed some spare lime wedges and a bit of soy sauce alonside a flask with hot water and some cute, girlish chopsticks - the girls loved, loved this recipe and are asking for seconds and thirds...and we loved eating the "left-overs" at home. Fun. Delicious. Versatile. Healthy. And a genius idea to start with.

In summary, we loved each and every dish this month - the kids went crazy for the potato gratin and the noodle pots, we enjoyed the salads and the tart a tad more...all were really happy in the end.

Please note, that for copyright reasons, we do NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoy the recipes in our series, hopefully, the wonderfully talented and enthusiastic members of The Cottage Cooking Club and their wonderful posts can convince you to get a copy of this lovely book. Better yet, do make sure to join us in this cooking adventure.

To see how wonderful all the dishes from my fellow Cottage Cooking Club members turned out this month, please make sure to take a look at their personal links and to do so, just visit here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Brussels Sprouts Tarte Tatin

In most home kitchens there are the staple ingredients. The fail safes we can turn to for last minute lunch plans, or dinner get-togethers.. For me good-quality, buttery, puff pastry is one of them, it often makes its way into my recipes in some form or another, sweet or savory. One of my favorite ways to use puff pastry is for baking a Tarte Tatin.

And as we all know, a Tarte Tatin doesn't have to be sweet, as show in some delicious savory vegetable versions that I made in the past. There was the Baby Beet Tarte Tatin (which you can find here), or the Upside-down Onion Tarts (here) that I made to rave reviews following recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for The Cottage Cooking Club. These savory versions of the classic Tarte Tatin, as well as my version with the Brussels sprouts, still have the classic caramel and rich puff pastry. Today´s recipe would work equally well with other vegetables such as red onions and butternut squash but it is particularly pretty, and delicious, of course, with the Brussels sprouts.

Unfortunately, Brussels sprouts, or „Rosenkohl“ as we call them around here (which literally translates to „rose cabbage“) have a dreadful reputation. Like miniature versions of the common cabbage, they grow on large stalks and have a sweet, nutty flavor, which some people do not appreciate. But, treated with a touch of love and care, these little buds can become one of your favorite winter vegetable.

Brussels Sprouts Tarte Tatin

  • 500 grams of puff pastry (all butter, best quality you can afford)
  • 750 grams of fresh Brussels sprouts (depending on the size of your tarte tatin mold or oven-proof pan), washed, outer leaves removed and with dry ends of stalks cut off
  • 50 grams of butter, unsalted
  • 1 tbsp of runny honey (preferably a mild, regional variety, from your favorite beekeeper)
  • 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar (Aceto balsamico)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • some plain flour, for dusting your work surface

  1. Place the prepared Brussels sprouts in a large pan and add enough water to cover, season with salt and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, then quickly drain the veg and refresh in a bowl of iced water (this halts the cooking process and helps to retain their color).
  2. Drain the cooled sprouts and leave to dry on some kitchen towel.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180° convection).
  4. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Using an ovenproof frying pan (approx. 25cm) as your guide, trim the pastry to a circle that is slightly bigger than the pan. Transfer to a baking tray lined with baking parchment and chill in the refrigerator.
  5. Place the frying pan on a medium-high heat and add the butter, honey, and vinegar stirring until melted together. 
  6. Reduce the heat slightly, and add the picked thyme leaves, shaking the pan gently to combine.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes
  8. Place the par-boiled Brussels sprouts in a decorative pattern across the base of the pan, arranged like circles. Make sure all the spuds are coated in the butter glaze.
  9. Remove the pastry circle form the fridge and place on top of the vegetables in the pan. Gently tuck the edges in around the vegetables
  10. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then check the tarte to see if there is any excess butter or liquid bubbling up around the sides – if so, gently pour this away (you may need to use kitchen towel or a cloth to hold the tarte in place)
  11. Reduce the oven to 180°C (160° convection) and return the tarte to the oven for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry has risen and is golden brown.
  12. Leave to cool for 10 minutes (the pastry will deflate slightly in this time), then place a plate over the top of the pan and carefully flip the pan over, so the Tarte Tatin turns out on to the plate. Serve the tarte warm, perhaps with a fresh salad.

If you have not tried Brussels sprouts, this recipe is a great way to get started. Just remember that when shopping for this vegetable, Brussels sprouts should have tight compact heads and no sign of wilting and the stalks should look moist and freshly cut.

Contrary to popular opinion,when you want to cook or blanch them in salted boiling watre, Brussels sprouts do not benefit from having a cross cut into the bottom of them. Instead of helping them to cook evenly, the cross can make the sprouts waterlogged.

In this recipe, the Brussels sprouts are first blanched and then are covered with buttery pastry and cooked in the oven until they are caramelized and the pastry is crispy and golden brown. The flakiness and butteriness of the pastry compliments the sweetness of the caramelized sprouts very nicely.This Tarte Tatin is gorgeous served with just a little seasonal salat or just as is.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Blueberry Yogurt Pound Cake

This lovely, lemony blueberry cake is the perfect sweet treat to serve to your loved ones any day of the week. The cake is studded with fresh blueberries and it tastes like a lighter version of a pound cake.

Instead of being made with the traditional one-to-one ratio of butter, all-purpose flour and sugar, my version is made with natural yogurt as well as healthy almond oil. The almond oil that I use hails from my favorite local oil mill (here) – it has a very light color and a mild, very pleasant taste of almonds that harmonizes perfectly with the remaining ingredients of the cake. If you prefer to use another oil, feel free to substitute the almond oil in this recipe with sunflower oil or use a light tasting, fruity, good-quality olive oil.

Full-fat natural yogurt is a surprisingly great substitute for butter when baking bread and cakes. Not only is it lower in fat, it adds a delightful tangy flavor and creates a very tender crumb.

This is one of my favorite cakes for weekdays, when there is not really much time for creaming butter and sugar, and fussing with a long recipe. The method for making this lovely Blueberry yogurt pound cake is as basic as they come. You only stir the ingredients together, spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and, just under an hour later, remove the light, blueberry-studded cake from the oven. Let the cake cool, dust with some powdered sugar and you will be in for a real "any-day-of-the-week" kind of treat.

Blueberry Yogurt Pound Cake

  • 75 ml almond oil (preferably from your favorite oil mill or manufacturer)
  • 125 grams full-fat natural yogurt, Greek yogurt also works in this recipe
  • 150 grams superfine baking sugar, also called caster sugar or sucré semoule (NOTE: if you are unable to find this fine sugar, feel free to grind regular sugar in your food processor for a few seconds)
  • 2 eggs (L), organic or free range
  • 1 ½ tsps pure vanilla sugar (best homemade)
  • zest of 1 lemon (organic or untreated)
  • 210 grams AP (wheat) flour, plus some for dusting the cake pan
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • 150 grams fresh blueberries, plus some for serving alongside

  1. Preheat your oven to 180° C (350° F).
  2. Butter and flour a 900 gram cake pan (about 20 cm/8 inches long).
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla sugar and lemon zest.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Pour the dry ingredients into the yogurt mixture along with the blueberries and fold very gently together, taking care not to mix the batter any more than is necessary as overzealous stirring at this stage could result in a tough cake later.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a small knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool on a wire rack before dusting with powdered sugar and cutting into slices to serve with some more fresh blueberries.

So, what are you waiting for - Have your cake and eat it too!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentine´s Day Wishes - Valentinstagsgrüße

To all my friends and readers of my blog: wishing you a Happy Valentine´s Day!

Ich wünsche allen meinen Freunden und Lesern einen schönen Valentinstag!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Violet Tuesday & Miniature Marzipan Bundts

Around here we celebrate Veilchendienstag today which literally translates to Violet Tuesday. In other parts of the world, it is also referred to as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Pancake Day. Violet Tuesday is also the day before Ash Wednesday and usually falls between February 3 and March 9.

The origins of this flowery name are not quite clear. Historians assume that the expression evolved because the day before Violet Tuesday is often referred to as Rose Monday, therefore, it was natural to be looking for a similar name with a flower in its designation.

Whatever the historic origins of the name, Violet Tuesday is not only referred to by various names but it is also observed in many different ways worldwide. But no matter what you call it in your neck of the woods, or how you celebrate today, the day before Ash Wednesday has long been a time for eating and merry making as people prepare for the long Lenten fast that begins tomorrow and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.

And what better day than Violet Tuesday to be baking Miniature Marzipan Bundts with an light violet sugar icing and incredibly delicious candied violets as decoration

And to be enjoying these tiny Bundts alongside a cup of tea called Earl Grey´s Lady Violet. This is a wonderfully fragrant black tea from Darjeeling, with cornflower blossoms and natural bergamot oil to which we like to add some pretty white rock candy.


Ingredients for the Mini Bundts
  • 2 eggs (L), free range or organic
  • 100 grams unsalted butter, room temperature – plus some for greasing the molds
  • 4 tbsp, super fine baking sugar
  • 2 tsps, pure vanilla sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 100 grams baking marzipan (with at least 50 % almonds – I like to use baking marzipan with 56 % almonds) - in the States marzipan or almond paste is available form the Danish company Odense here
  • 4 heaping tbsps. flour (use wheat or spelt flour here) - plus some for dusting the molds
In addition
  • mini Bundt baking tray (12 molds)
  • a pastry brush with soft bristles
  • powdered sugar
  • a few drops of violet food-coloring (optional)
  • candied violets (optional)

Preparation of the Mini Bundts
  1. Preheat your oven to 175 °C.
  2. Butter and flour your mini Bundt cake molds and shake out the excess flour. Set aside.
  3. Grate the marzipan finely – if the marzipan is too soft, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes or until it is firm enough to grate easily. Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.
  4. Add all the ingredients except the flour to the beaker of your hand-held blender and mix together until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Then add the flour and mix some more. 
  6. Add the batter to a piping bag with a small nozzle and fill the moulds 2/3 full. Carefully tap the filled molds on the counter once to get rid of any air bubbles.
  7. Bake the mini Bundts in your pre-heated oven for about ten to twelve minutes.
  8. Transfer to a cooling rack. Let the mini cakes cool for a few minutes and then turn out onto the cooling racks. Cool completely.
  9. Decorate as desired with either just powdered sugar or a sugar icing and candied violets.

These charming little cakes seem perfect for a Violet Tuesday celebration but would also make a wonderful afternoon tea treat any day. Or bring them along to your next  picnic, in your snack box, or as gifts.

Enjoy the last day of the Carnival celebrations and Happy Baking on this Violet Tuesday!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pirates and Muffins

We are still celebrating Carnival season in these parts and while it is always much fun to attend the Carnival festivities, it is also always a good idea to enjoy something delicious and hearty before leaving the house in the morning. While you will be watching the traditional Carnival parades with all those colorful and fun floats and keep busy with trying to catch as many sweets and small gifts that the participants will throw at you, you will be glad for having had a hearty breakfast.

Savory Pirate Muffins

For the yeast dough
  • 4 tbsps. milk (3.5%)
  • 125 grams unsalted butter
  • 400 grams strong wheat flour, (AP flour)
  • 1 package dry yeast  (7 grams/1/4 ounces)
  • 80 grams superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla sugar (best homemade)
  • a generous pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic
  • 1 egg white (M), free range or organic
  • 125 grams fresh farmers´ cheese (also called "quark", "fromage blanc" or "curd cheese")
  • 50 grams dark raisins
  • 50 grams golden (sultana) raisins (or use other dried fruit to your liking)

  • 1 egg yolk (M), free range or organic
  • 1 tbsp milk (3.5%)
  • some slithered hazelnuts (or almonds)

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk until warm to the touch. Add the butter to the milk and stir until dissolved.
  2. In a large bowl, carefully combine the flour with the yeast.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the raisins, to the flour mixture, and using the dough hook, mix everything together for a good 5 minutes ot until the dough has reached a springy consistency.
  4. Transfer the dough to a large, buttered bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot until it has doubled in size (this will take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180 ° C (or 160° C convection/fan-assisted).
  6. Butter a 12-capacity, regular-sized muffin tray.
  7. Take the dough out of the bowl, now add the raisins (or other dried fruit you might be using). Knead well until the fruits are incorporated in the dough.
  8. On a lightly-floured work surface, shape the dough into one big roll.
  9. Cut the roll into 12 equal parts.
  10. Shape each dough piece into a ball and add to the muffin tray.
  11. Cover the muffin tray with the tea towel and place in a warm spot until the muffins have increased their volume (this will take about 30 minutes).
  12. In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolk and the milk (best done with a fork).
  13. Take the tea towel off the muffins, and using a soft-bristled brush, brush each muffin with some of the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle a few slithered hazelnuts (or almonds) on top.
  14. Bake in your pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when touched and have a golden color.
  15. Transfer to a cooling rack and as soon as the muffin buns are cool enough to handle, take them out of their molds and serve.

They are best eaten while still warm or at room temperature. They are definitely at their best the day they are made BUT if your happen to have any leftovers, remember to „Love Your Leftovers“ and use them for French toast and serve for breakfast the next morning. Or try your hand at an old-fashioned English family favorite that works best with day-old bread,  a wonderful bread pudding which is lovely with tea, or custard or ice cream, for dessert the next day!

So, whether you are attending Carnival celebrations and are busying trying to carry home your loot consisting of small toys, sweets, candies, gifts and tiny bags of snacks. Or whether you are just simply looking to feed your hungry and exhausted cowboys, princesses, monsters, sheriffs, and pirates in general, why not bake them these savory muffin buns for breakfast to get them off to a delicious and good start to their day!