Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Cottage Cooking Club - March 2017 Recipes

The month of March marks the second month of our second project for our international online cooking group, The Cottage Cooking Club. Presently we are cooking our way through a wonderful family-friendly cookbook written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, entitled „River Cottage Every Day". And the optional „Love your Leftovers“ by the same author.

This month I prepared ten recipes from River Cottage Every Day. I will write about each dish in the order in which I prepared them.

My first recipe for this March post was the Focaccia (page 8) from the chapter Daily Bread.

With just four ingredients, namely bread flour, sea salt, yeast and olive oil, Hugh´s recipe has become my go-to recipe for Focaccia, that soft, tasty bread with a light oily, salty crust – perfect for any season and „eminently tearable and dippable“.

I like to sprinkle one of my favorite spice mixes on the Focaccia, before baking and after having drizzled a mild olive oil all over the un-baked bread. My spice blend of choice these days is Za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice mixture is so delicious and it is so easy to mix yourself. Make sure to sprinkle the Focaccia prior to baking and keep some of your mix for dunking a nice hunk of your Focaccia in flavorful olive oil and then in the Za'atar. Or sprinkle Za'atar over plain yogurt and drizzle with olive oil, and you've got a terrific dip.

To make the Za`atar, you combine 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, 1 Tbsp. sumac, 1 Tbsp. ground cumin, and 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds. Stir in sea salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. That´s it!

And make sure to also have some delicious, sweet Roasted Garlic on hand when serving this Focaccia. A perfect side.  For the Roasted Garlic you will need a large head of garlic and olive oil. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut top 1/4 inch off heads of garlic to expose cloves. Place garlic in small baking dish. Add oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Turn garlic cut side up. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until garlic skins are golden brown and cloves are tender, about 55 minutes. Cool. And serve.

My second, third, fourth and fifthy recipe for this month were Tomato Toast (page 54 ) from the chapter Making Breakfast, then Lemony Zucchini on Toast (page 263), then Roast Potatoes with Lemon, Rosemary, and Thyme (page 316) from the chapter Vegetables Galore, and Zucchini Kisir (page 117) from the chapter Weekday Lunch Box.

I did take some liberties with the Tomato Toast which, in Hugh´s recipe is a riff off a Spanish breakfast treat that calls for toast, a hint of garlic and grated tomatoes, salt and olive oil.

I took these elements and proceeded to do my version of Hugh´s Tomato Toast. Looking for some inspiration at the green grocer the other day, I did a staring down contest with the tomatoes on display there. Since summer tomatoes are far from being available in spring, I decided to roast cherry tomatoes on the vine, with olive oil, garlic and rosemary from our garden and served these atop toasted bread, a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt – yum!

Next up were the Roast Potatoes with Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme. If ever there was such a thing as a foolproof recipe for small fingerling potatoes (skin on) or small new potaoes this must be it.

Simply wash your chosen spuds, leave their skins on, parboil for a good five minutes, then dry. Add them to baking sheets together with sliced lemons, garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil. Toss. Salt and pepper. And roast for about 40 minutes or until your potatoes are golden brown – since I used red skinned ones, the potatoes looked dark reddish brown.

Serve nice and hot as a side dish to whatever strikes your fancy that day – roast chicken or fish would be nice.

Then the Lemony Zucchini on Toast – a recipe that is one of our favorites, no matter in which book Hugh decides to include it.

This recipe is a great stand-by recipe – you can add lemony zucchini and summer squash to just about any dish. Try them with pasta, as part of a mezze platter, add them to couscous or a bulgur wheat salad – or serve with some lovely cheese such as goat cheese.

My herbs are already doing so well, that I decided to add some lemon thyme to these – in lieu of the regular thyme that Hugh´s recipe calls for. Good choice. It adds a nice herby lemony flavor and looks pretty too.

And then there was the Zucchini Kisir – a rather simple yet very elegant salad. This will be a recipe that I see myself making for the kids come summer . A perfect salad-on-the-go or salad-in-a-jar recipe.

Bulgur wheat is readily available around here and personally I like that it holds its shape nicely after cooking. Add yellow and green zucchini, lots of fresh herbs (Italian parsley, chives and dill) and a tangy dressing made with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a fruity olive oil. I did not add tomatoes this time but when nice, ripe tomatoes cross my path, I will do so.

Carrots are generally a staple at our house, so the Roast Carrots with Butter, Cumin and Orange (page 318) from the Chapter Vegetables Galore regularly make an appearance at our dinner table.

I like the fact that the preparation method for this dish smartly combines baking them covered first and then roasting them uncovered for an additional 20 minutes. Tossed together with cumin and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and salt, and then finished off with some grated orange zest and some freshly squeezed juice to brighten everything – this side dish awakens all your senses – sweet, savory, fresh and utterly delicious.

What I like about Hugh´s recipes the most, apart from the fact that they are really delicious and family-friendly, is the fact that they leave a lot of room for interpretation – I enjoy playing around with the ideas in the book, and it is fun to try out various combinations. So I took the liberty and combined three of Hugh´s recipes in one bowl – for the bottom layer I made the Beet and Walnut Hummus (page 127), then for the second layer I added the Beef with mustardy Lentils“ (page 101) and for the third and final layer, I made a topping of  Summer Slaw“ (page 120) – all three recipes from the same chapter of Weekday Lunch Box.

I liked this Weekday Lunch Bowl – the flavors went so well together – the eartyness of the Beet Hummus, then the nuttyness of the Mustardy Lentils – topped with the tangyness of the Summer Slaw. Each recipe stands out yet harmonizes with the other elements. Love experimenting and getting delicious results.

Last but not least, the sweet treat, the Ten-Minute Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 393) from the chapter Treats.

These cookie actually only take ten minutes to prepare (hence the appropriate title) but they took a bit longer to bake (at least in my oven) then the recipe called for. I used dark chocolate, oats and chopped nuts the first time I made them but this time I only used dark chocolate chunks.

A cinch to prepare and a cinch to bake. Best enjoyed warm and while the chocolate is still gooey.

In summary, we loved each and every recipe this month – a lot of familiar River Cottage flavors, a lot of well-known techniques and reliable, family-style recipes that we all enjoy so much.

This is still fun and I still love cooking from the River Cottage family of cookbooks!

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 or both books. 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.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Baked Dutch Cheesecake on a Weekday Afternoon

After I got sidetracked for a while, today I thought I would ease back into things with something simple and delicious – a lovely Baked Dutch Cheesecake with Quark. Just the thing for a weekday afternoon.

Quark, or fresh cheese, is one of many dairy products that is rather popular in lots of European countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany. While the Dutch call it kwark, and the French refer to it as fromage blanc, we call it Quark in German, but, basically, it is the same product. We can by it with different levels of fat content - varying from 10% to 40% FDM (fat in dry matter).

Mixed with fresh saisonal fruits or berries, Quark makes for a nice and healthy dessert, loaded with protein and minerals, It can also be enjoyed as a spread for your favorite sliced bread. Or mix it with herbs from your garden and serve it as a wonderful dip for fresh veggies or boiled new potatoes. But Quark really shines in all kinds of cheesecakes.

Cheesecake is one of my absolute favorite cakes. The flavor is sweet and tart, it is lemony and creamy. It is always a treat. It is also really so simple to make, so great for a baking novice, with but a few ingredients that are not much trouble to procure - that you might even have lingering around in your well-stocked fridge.

There are a lot of different recipes for Dutch Cheesecake out there, baked or un-baked, with fruits or berries, with a puff pastry or cookie (speculaas) dough base. We prefer the baked kind. The other day I came across a lovely Baked Dutch Kwarktaart and after I sufficiently tinkered around with a recipe, I finally settled on this no-fuss version which I like, rustic look an all, some days that´s all I need to make me happy.

Baked Dutch Cheesecake (Gebakken Hollandse Kwarktaart)

  • one round of good-quality, all butter, puff pastry (storebought or homemade rough puff pastry) to fit your round springform pan (about 26 cm or 10 inches)
  • 5 eggs (L), free-range or organic
  • 250 grams superfine baking sugar
  • the scraped seeds of one vanilla bean or 2 tsps natural vanilla sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • finely grated zest from one organic lemon
  • 500 grams Quark*

  1. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a round measuring about 30cm.
  2. Butter your baking pan, line the bottom of the pan with a round of baking parchment.
  3. Transfer the puff pastry to the baking pan.
  4. Chill for 10 minutes until completely firm.
  5. Then preheat your oven to 200° Celsius (400° Fahrenheit).
  6. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, lemon zest and quark.
  7. Take the baking pan from the refrigerator.
  8. Pour the filling into the puff pastry lined baking pan.
  9. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes or until the filling is set and golden.
  10. Transfer to a cooling rack, unmold and serve either cold or at room temperature with or without powdered sugar.

If you cannot get hold of Quark* you can  make it yourself. Quark is a mild creamy cheese without the sour taste of yogurt. It is a soft un-aged cheese and is NOT the same thing as cream cheese or cottage cheese. It is also distinct from ricotta because ricotta is made from scalded whey. It usually has much lower fat content than cream cheeses and has no salt added.


  • 1.5 l  milk (try and use organic milk in this recipe)
  • 0.5 l  buttermilk (organic is definitely best in a recipe like this but do not use low-fat buttermilk. It will not work well)

  1. Pour both milks in a heavy pan and bring up to 38° Celsius (100 °Fahrenheit).
  2. Cover the pan and let it sit at room temp overnight.
  3. The following day, the whey should have separated from the milk solids.
  4. Line a colander with cheese cloth, knot the four ends together and suspend the bundle for a good three hours over a bowl to catch the whey. 
  5. Untie the know, spoon out the Quark – it should be "dry", the consisitency should look like a cross between cream cheese and yogurt. 
  6. NOTE: For cheesecake, let it drain a little longer. Or add some freshly cut chives, Italian parsley, lemon zest, finely mashed garlic, salt, and pepper and you have a basic herbal quark (Kräuterquark), a great spread right on your favorite bread or roll.

In no time you can be enjoying a delicious tart that is a perfectly suited for a weekday afternoon, rain or shine, it can even be considered a healthyish afternoon (or breakfast) treat.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Monthly Cooking Event for a Cause - Über den Tellerrand kochen, Bonn (Germany)

Here is just a little up-date of another delightful cooking event to better the integration of immigrants and refugees from many different countries into German society. As a group, we meet up every first Sunday of the month to cook and bake together in the afternoon and then enjoy the fruits of our labor in the evening. There is a ton that we can learn from each other and for the particpants is it always fun to discuss Syrian culture while chopping an onion or to talk about the education system in Eritrea while rolling out some cookie dough. At the same time, we discover unknown dishes, recipes, tastes and flavors and venture into the unknown, we make room for new perspectives and different points of view. And we even manage to re-discover our own traditions, maybe with a new twist or a fresh interpretation! That´s what I would call a successful team effort.

On Sunday we enjoyed various dishes. As the theme for the evening was Kurdish Food, we started the dinner off with a traditional Kurdish Red Lentil (Nîsk) Soup - the ingredients included white rice and red lentils, onions, cumin, red lentils and fresh coriander - as well as tomato paste and red pepper paste.

We then had Falafel with chopped vegetable saladFalafel, of course, is the ultimate Middle Eastern street food, the name of which probably comes from the word pilpel (pepper). It used to be made in two ways: either as it is in Egypt today, from crushed, soaked fava beans or fava beans combined with chickpeas, or, as it was made on Sunday, from chickpeas alone. The basic components of the Middle Eastern Side Salad were cucumbers and tomatoes dressed in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The vegetables were all diced: the size of the pieces varies depending on personal preference. Some cooks prefer to dice the vegetables very small, other cooks prefer a more chunky texture. This kind of salad has different names throughout the Middle East. It is a refreshing side dish that compliments all kinds of main dishes and can be served with any meal – even breakfast

Then there were platters brimming with Hummus, the Middle Eastern dip made of chickpeas and silky tahini sesame paste as the base. Nicely finished off with chopped herbs, paprika and olive oil.

Ibo from the Syrian city of Afrin and "his crew" prepared Kurdish Kebab Banjan (fried eggplants, flattened meatballs, tomatoes all layered into baking dishes and then cooked in the oven) and homemeade Ayran (jogurt, water, a bit of salt and garlic).

And, of course, we had some sweet treats in the shape of cookies for dessert.

As always, hugh thanks to all the wonderful participants, sponsors, organisation team (including Anke Krämer and Sara Meiers) and the Katholische Familienbildungsstätte Bonn for letting us cook in their wonderful kitchen!

We will be cooking and baking again on the first Sunday in April - be prepared to learn more about some delicious food and seasonal desserts from many different parts of the world!

For more information, feel free to take a look at the FB page for the Über den Tellerrand kochen, Bonn group here and follow along, if you like!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Cottage Cooking Club - February 2017 Recipes

With some delay we are breathing new life into The Cottage Cooking Club. Over a period of six months, once a month 8on the 28th), members and guest bloggers will post their pics and comments of and on the food that they cooked from River Cottage Every Day – "RCED“ (for all) and/or River Cottage Love Your Leftovers - "RCLYL" (optional). Both cookbook are by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The recipes will not be chosen by me, participants will choose as many OR as little as they want each month, make one soup or ten dinners or three desserts, whatever they prefer. Then they put together one post at the end of the month and let the rest of the group know what they think of the dishes that they prepared. Are they worth trying? Do the recipes work as written? Any suggestions on changes?

Together, as a group, we will cook as many of the recipes from the book(s) as we will manage during a six-month period - so no matter whether we have cooked all recipes from the book(s) or just a fraction, we will conclude our activities - as far as these two book are concerned - at the end of July 2017.

For my February post, I started with one of my favorite light lunches – a quiche/savory tart. There is one on page 328 called „Gill´s poached Leek and Blue Cheese Tart“, and Hugh names this tart to be a „River Cottage classic“.

Other than switch to goat cheese, I did not tinker with the recipe. Make this one, it is a winner, we loved it. The leeks are available year round but are particularly nice during the colder months and they become really tender and sweet when cooked with butter and water prior to being added to the pastry shell. Other than the cooked leeks, there is cheese and eggs and cream – what is not to like about that?! Oh, I did add some of my beloved herbs, chives and Italian parsley to the filling.

The second recipe had to be a treat, of course, for some reason February was the month of treats. On page 384 there is Hugh´s recipe for „Easy Rich Chocolate Cake“. And what an indulgence that is. I love what Hugh says about this cake „Everyone should have a little black cake in their culinary wardrobe, and this is mine“. Now this is mine too.

With 8 ounces (225 grams) of deep dark good-quality chocolate (70%), same amount of butter, eggs, sugar, ground almonds and very little flour (I always use spelt flour), this is a wonderful recipe. I have made it three times since I first laid my eyes on it and every single person that tried it, loved it.

The third recipe is nothing spectecular but I like the fact that it was included in this book. On page 339 there is a rather simple recipe for „Apple Compote“ or apple sauce that we should all have in our recipe repertoires. With just two ingedients, this is ceratainly a great way to use those apples that have been lingering in your fruit bowl or in the fridge or wherever you keep them for a while now – personally, I like to add a healthy dose of Ceylon cinnamom to mine and if the apples are not too juicy to begin with, I also add a generous splash of natural apple juice. Other than that – this is a nice recipe to know.

The fourth recipe has become a staple in our house ever since I have made this (identical recipe) for the first time from River Cottage Every Day Veg. The recipe for „Beet and Walnut Hummus“ on page 127 is perfect this time of year with beets being widely available.

With toasted fresh walnuts, dry-fried and ground cumin seeds, bread crumbs, garlic, lemon juice, a mild olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and tahini (that versatile sesame seed paste) - to lend an extra layer of flavor – this is certainly a different kind of hummus. So vibrant, so delicious and one of my favorites. I like to serve the beet and walnut hummus as a starter, dip-style, with warmed tortilla triangles. If you are a beetroot lover and if you are looking for a different and eye-catching recipe to try, then this hummus is for you.

The fifth recipe for this month were the „Green Beans and Tomatoes“ – another recipe that is identical to the one found in River Cottage Every Day Veg. My kids adore this dish – in winter I always use good-quality canned tomatoes, in summer fresh garden tomatoes that I will peel beforehand. And I like to always add a good pinch of Italian peperoncini to the olive oil – to give this dish that extra kick. A bit of spice never hurt green beans and tomatoes.

Recipe number six is another treat and THE reason why one should not hesitate to buy this book. I know there is a ton of red beet chocolate treat recipes out there but this one is simple and utterly delicious, our kids love these „Chocolate and Beet Brownies“ on page 397.

Moist and with a slight tinge of burgundy, not too sweet and a never-fail-recipe that is wonderful as is but made even better (if I may say so myself) with the addition of a thin layer of unsweetened crème fraîche and poppy seeds.

Go ahead, make it, you know you want to.

My seventh recipe for this post was the "Beet and Cumin Soup with Spiced Yogurt" (page 274). This comfort-style soup definitely tastes like a true River Cottage recipe - the flavors are familiar and comforting and we enjoyed this burgundy, earthy winter soup.

Again, if, like us, you enjoy beets in every imaginable way, you should try the soup while beets are widely available and reasonably prized in winter (at least around here). The Spiced Yogurt is a wonderful element of the soup but you should not limit its uses to this soup, drizzle it on rôtisserie chicken or serve with pita bread and veggies.

Last but not least, the "Honey Whole-Wheat Cake" (page 386) is a must if you are looking for a comfort-style cake with the definite taste of honey. Make sure to use a mild variety of local runny honey (if possible) that you enjoy, or it will overpower the cake.

It is worth noticing that the recipe calls for whole-wheat flour and ground almonds (I left the skins on) and according to my experience if you want a more pronounced taste of almonds, you could toast them before you process them to make your own almond meal. You can also make this recipe with spelt flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder as well - I tried it and it works.

What I really liked was serving this cake warm, with some Greek yogurt and fruit (whatever is in season) alongside. You can re-heat a slice and enjoy it as breakfast cake (very fashionable these days) as well. The ground almonds keep this teatime treat moist for a day or two (well, if it lasts that long).

In conclusion, I hope that my post will convince you to join us for a month or two or even the remainder of the six-months, who knows, there is still time...For more info, pls go to The Cottage Cooking Club site here.

So far, I (family also) have enjoyed cooking from RCED - the tastes feel comforting as many of the flavor compositions are similar and identical to the RCEDV that we cooked from what now seems like a lifetime ago.

To me, springtime always feels like the right time for new hope and fresh projects!