Arrow-right Camera


Cookbook Review: ‘Handmade Gatherings’ makes entertaining easy, fun

Wed., April 23, 2014

‘Handmade Gatherings: Recipes & Crafts For Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties’

By Ashley English (Roost Books, $34.95)

Quick look: Slow down, celebrate the seasons and share hosting responsibilities with these beautifully styled potluck parties. This book offers ideas for 16 themed, family-friendly gatherings – four for each season – plus 52 recipes and 32 crafts and activities.

What’s inside: These simple but special celebrations embrace a collaborative approach to entertaining. Whether it’s asking guests to contribute side dishes, picnic blankets or supplies for a hands-on art project, they feel welcome by taking an active role in making these get-togethers go off without a hitch. Ashley English centers her celebrations not only around food but making memories with thoughtful, well-planned, seasonal activities. She sets the scene – or “tablescape” – and creates a shared experience, offering ideas for dishes and decorations as well as things to do.

Chapters are divided by seasons, and each one describes a different event. Spring comes first, with suggestions for Maypole dancing, seed planting and silk-dyed eggs. In summer, English shows readers how to make pinwheels and plum-scented liqueur, throw a pickling party and stage modern takes on old-fashioned cake walks and ice cream socials. There’s pumpkin carving and root beer making in fall and soup-, candle- and cookie-making in winter. All are communal affairs, with guests sharing the workload – and fun.

Recipes include pistachio-crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette and wildflower risotto for spring; collard green galette, bourbon iced tea and peach-cardamom lattice-top pie for summer; rosemary and sage apple hand pies and butternut squash and herbed cider soup for fall; and pine nut and anise seed cookies, hot buttered rum and roasted salted figs for winter.

English lives outside of Asheville, N.C., and has hosted parties on mountaintops and patios, around campfires and in fields, gardens and orchards. She writes for Design*Sponge and Taproot and is the author of five other books. Follow her culinary adventures at

What’s not: Invitations to charming, handmade gatherings at her home, which you will likely want to receive after looking through the lovely photographs and mouth-watering recipes in her latest volume.

Pistachio-Crusted Asparagus with Feta Vinaigrette

From “Handmade Gatherings.”

“Don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to eat this entire dish yourself,” English writes. “I speak from experience. My husband and I fully intended to eat this over the course of several days; it was so good, however, that we polished it off in one sitting.”

2 pounds large asparagus

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup shelled pistachios

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

For the vinaigrette

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Several grinds of black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse asparagus and cut about an inch off the stem ends. Pat asparagus dry. Place asparagus on a dry baking sheet, put in oven, and bake for 3 minutes to dry off any excess moisture. Remove sheet from oven and toss asparagus on the sheet with olive oil.

Crush the pistachios in a food processor (or under a towel with a kitchen mallet or hammer) for about 1 minute, until finely ground. Transfer ground nuts to small bowl. Using a spoon or clean hands, mix nuts with salt.

Lay asparagus out evenly across baking sheet. Sprinkle spears with half of the ground pistachio and salt mixture. Turn spears over, then evenly spread them with the rest. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and, using tongs, carefully place spears onto a platter.

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a lidded container or food processor. Shake or process until smooth. Drizzle plated asparagus with vinaigrette. Top with feta and parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Serves: 4 to 6

Wildflower Risotto

From “Handmade Gatherings.”

English uses violets and apple blossoms, but says whatever’s fresh, available and edible in your area would work just as well.

3 slices of bacon

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cups Arborio rice

6 cups hot chicken, ham or vegetable stock

1/2 cup wine (or additional stock)

1/2 grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence

A few grinds black pepper

Pinch of sea salt

Edible wild flowers to cover the risotto, about 1 cup

Cook bacon in medium pan over medium heat until it starts to get crispy. (Use a cast-iron skillet, as it goes directly from stovetop to table.) Remove bacon from pan and set it aside. Drain about half of the bacon fat, then add diced onions. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add rice and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add 1 cup stock and stir into rice. Stir nearly constantly, without stopping for more than 20 seconds at a time. Whenever the liquid level gets low, add another ½ cup of the stock. Add wine in place of stock one of those times, if using.

After rice is cooked fully but still has a bit of bite (after about 40 minutes of cooking), add the Parmesan, herbes de Provence, crumbled bacon, pepper and salt. Cook for about 5 more minutes, leaving it a little looser than you would serve it, because it will tighten up as it cools.

Sprinkle the flowers over the top of the dish. Serve at the table in the pan.

Serves: 4 to 6

Note: If you want to make this dish vegetarian, simply omit the bacon and replace the fat with 3 tablespoons cooking oil, and use vegetable stock.

Collard Green Galette

From “Handmade Gatherings.”

“No Southern foods gathering would be complete without collards on the menu,” English writes in the introduction to this recipe. Dressed with crumbled bacon, “These greens are sure to please culinary traditionalists and radicals alike!”

1/2 recipe basic pie dough (See below)

For seasoned vinegar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of sea salt

A couple of grinds of black pepper

Pinch of hot pepper flakes, or to taste

For collard filling

5 slices of bacon

1 sweet onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large bowl of chopped collard greens

4 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup white wine or rosé wine

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons cornmeal (for the galette crust)

For egg wash

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon cold water

For crust: Remove 1 disk of chilled pie dough from refrigerator. Roll out dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer pastry dough to a large pan lined with baking parchment. Place pan in refrigerator to chill while you prepare filling.

For seasoned vinaigrette: Warm vinegar in small sauce pan over low heat until hot to the touch. Remove from heat. Add sugar and stir until it has fully dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Once vinegar reaches room temperature, transfer to a spouted container and set aside to serve with galette.

For filling: In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook bacon until it starts to get a little crispy. Remove bacon, place it onto a paper towel set on a plate, and set plate aside. Cook onion in bacon fat for about 10 minutes, until it begins to brown around the edges. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add collard greens and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the greens begin to wilt. Crumble bacon into greens and stir to fully incorporate. Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, until cooking liquid has evaporated from bottom of pan. Transfer greens to a bowl and cool for at least 10 minutes. While greens cool, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Assemble galette: Mound greens in middle of chilled pie dough. Gently press mixture toward edge of pastry, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Fold up border, overlapping pie dough and pressing folds together every few inches.

Beat egg yolk with water. Brush folded crust edges with egg wash. Sprinkle crust edges with cornmeal. Bake galette for 35 to 40 minute, until crust is golden. Cool on wire rack for at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving; serve with seasoned vinegar.

Serves: 6 to 8

Basic Pie Dough

From Handmade Gatherings

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

3/4 cup ice water

Mix flour and salt together in a medium-large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, incorporate butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal (you should still have rather large bits of butter when you’re done). Slowly drizzle in ice water. Stir with a mixing spoon until dough starts to clump.

Transfer dough onto a floured work surface and fold it together into itself using your hands. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky. Cut dough in half and shape into two balls. Wrap each dough ball in cellophane and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Proceed according to the galette recipe instructions above, using one dough disk and freezing the other.

Yield: 1 double crust

Click here to comment on this story »