Update: While the one day workshops in Auckland, New Zealand are SOLD OUT, there are still spots available for the 2 day workshops I am teaching in Rotorua, New Zealand. (more information HERE)
This winter in Alabama has been quite different than all other winters I have spent in the South so far. Colder and lingering on. After the ice and snow that paralysed the Southern states just a couple of weeks ago, we had another snow episode just last week. This one was quite different though. It snowed on warmer grounds for a few hours and by 10pm, our streets were covered with the most beautiful blanket of fluffy snow. By 10am the next morning, it was all gone.
The evening it was snowing, one big snowflake at a time, I took the old pup and the camera and ventured outside. I was sure I’d be the only one out there. But, in that perfect quietness that happens after a snow fall, where all sounds become muted, where you feel that almost undefinable peace in your soul, I started hearing soft voices emerging all around me. Within minutes, our street became alive with neighbors, kids and dogs. Our neighborhood is full of creatives and I was not surprised to see many polaroids, brownie and diana cameras as well as high tech ones and cell phones. You could tell we don’t see snow very often! I was among them snapping away, instagramming and sending shots to family and friends.
As I could hear my feet onto the freshly fallen powder my mind wandered… Yep. While others were pondering snow angels at almost midnight, I was thinking about another kind of frozen fun. The edible kind. I started thinking about silky smooth whipped cream dessert, ice creams, snow cones, slushies, frozen drinks and granitas.
The next day after work, I picked up a whole bunch of blood oranges to make granita. I added a bit of tequila, quite a bit of lime juice and a tad bit of salt and pink pepper flakes for a little kick. The beauty of this granita is that you can make it without the alcohol for a kid friendly treat or take it a step further and turn it into a frozen margarita for an adult cocktail between friends. I admit, I also really wanted to try the new citrus juicer attachment on the new food processor the folks at Magimix by Robot-Coupe had sent me over Christmas. That thing is impressive. No more arm feeling like it’s about to fall off after juicing many pounds of citrus for juices, cakes and marmalades. I am addicted.
There’s something about blood oranges that make me eat them non stop when they are in season while I don’t really bother with regular ones any other time. They are so much more fragrant, beautiful to look at and marry themselves equally well with lots of savorydishes.
Yes, I am a sucker for cold desserts on cold days. Makes me rush to the fireplace. There’s no logic to my logic except that it was delicious and well worth the bit of prep involved.
Ok, I confess, I still enjoyed it all weekend long even with the temperature coming back up in higher ranges. Blood oranges just make me swoon.
Due to many requests and emails, Clare and I have decided to open two more spots to our Gulf Shores Food Photography & Styling Workshop, April 25th-29th. It sold out fast but we have room and plenty of brain power to accommodate and teach two more people. For more info, click HERE.
Cooking for one can be challenging. Not because recipes are often written for 4 or 6. For me they are a fast realization that I can’t share my favorite things with my mate. During the week, I live of big pots of soups filled with lots of root vegetables, plenty of herbs and a bit of protein I cook and add separately. It’s nothing glamorous but it’s good and it fills the house with familiar flavors. I also make big batches of ratatouille that I simply top with shavings of parmesan and a poached egg. Any leftover anything is greatly highlighted with an egg on top, in my opinion.
Week like this week, could prove challenging to get something nutritious on the table if I were neither a bit organized nor desiring to feed my body right. Let’s face it, and you know it, everyday can turn form nice and mellow to high pressured and brain frying. It’s always nice to come home to something one can reheat or fix in a flash. While I try to get a big pot of soup on during the weekend so I can have some ready to eat when I get home, sometimes, I find myself in the mood for something else altogether.
Composed salad are always my second best choice. Lots of greens, roasted vegetables, flavorful grains and a protein of some sort. Kale, roasted beets, quinoa, wild rice, salmon, soft boiled eggs, grilled steak. Everything makes its way into a salad. Or a soup. Small batches of Pho, oxtail stew, salmon chowder. It’s micro cooking all over again. And if you like preparing food, shopping, chopping, dicing, sauteing, mixing, well, you still like cooking for one. Even if it means, a quiet evening, one bowl and some leftovers.
Sometimes, I just get a bit more fancy with my time, especially when I get home a bit earlier than anticipated and take a few minutes to marinate, assemble and grill. And still have leftovers to come home to.
The latest issue of Donna Hay had the most tempting marinated zucchini salad and while inspired by the dish, I did not follow the recipe to a T. I paired it with some simple chili oil (from the roasted okra in this post) and blood orange marinated shrimp that I thread on fresh sugar cane sticks. They add a bit of sweet contrast to the oil in the marinade and pair perfectly well with the mint and pepper of the marinated zucchini salad.
Dining for one may be a bit of drab at times, unless with meals such as this one when something is good and you don’t necessarily want to share…
So, this long distance relationship I am in with my very own husband is working alright by most standards. It’s long, afar, with very short weekends here and there but we have, without even saying it outloud, understood that every minute counts. There is no bickering, no wondering, no hint. Just plain us. I am not saying this situation, him in South Carolina until June and me in Alabama now is easy, fun or a learing experience of the "a couple’s journey through discovery and awareness" (seriously. Ugh).
How we navigate and manage the distance and absence is not only revealing of who we are in our relationship but also of what we have been building in the fifteen years we have been together. I am really proud of who we are as a couple but I am even more grateful for having such a strong partner. Call this my two Valentine’s Day paragraph a week later which is appropriate since we don’t really partake in the red and pink celebration. Except…
Except this year. I think the distance made us a little bit softer, a bit mushier than usual when last Thursday came about. He sent roses. I got him a present. We exchanged funny cards and texts worthy of first crushes. And I really wanted to head home and cook him a nice meal. I know. Easy way for Valentine’s Day. What can I say? My husband, after all this time together, still thanks me at the end of every meal. For the thought and care. For the food itself. For the nurturing of conversations and laughs around a warm plate.
It’s the little things.
This past weekend that he came to visit, I decided to splurge a little and come up with a nice meal of Lamb Chops With Blood Orange Sauce, Roasted Okra With Chili Oil and fresh baked bread. It wasn’t complicated and we sat down and caught up. We usually eat meat about once a week, the bulk of our diet being seafood and vegetarian meals. I just could not help thinking about my grandmother who used to tell me growing up how she would always regal my grandfather with grilled lamb chops when he’d come home in between two war campaign. I smiled. I headed out to the store and got natural raised lamb chops, bright red and succulent and started cooking.
A good meal. A glass of wine. Hosting our first get together with new friends and neighbors here in Birmingham. A good weekend. A lazy one too. For once, no moving boxes, no U-Haul to unload, no storage unit to visit. Just cozying up on the couch watching all movies most of the morning. Driving around town and looking at neighborhoods where we might want to live more permanently here in Birmingham.
Hard to believe that just last weekend I was in lovely Florida teaching a hands-on photography workshop to a great bunch of bloggers or food enthusiasts. That Sunday was just the icing on the cake actually of an already darn good time in Orlando where I had come to speak at Food Blog Forum (FBF).
When Jaden asked if I wanted to be part of FBF Orlando for the photo sessions, I did not hesitate long. Jaden’s energy, kindness and genuine interest in people know no boundaries. She’s always been great of great counsel to me and I always feel relaxed and smiling after a few hours in her presence. After the intense rhythm of the past 6 months I needed to relax. Mapping out the next six months made me realize it was now or never to give myself a mandatory break.
With Jaden and Julie.
I was thrilled to see Julie again and let me tell you, she deserves a long line of kuddos, and "thank yous" for organizing the event so successfully. Not only did she organize the main event on Saturday but she also helped put together an extra hands-on worshop on Sunday for people who wanted to practice more or could not make it to FBF the day before. Thank you Julie!
It does sound cliche but I was thrilled to see familiar faces as well as finally meet the people behind my weekly reads. I love this community. Food bloggers are the best! The generosity of the food community in Florida is awesome. It made me even more excited to be back that way later in the summer and I am looking forward to seeing those wonderful peeps again.
The weekend kicked off with a little mixer/get together at Whole Foods where we were showered with attention, food and wine. Everything from small savory bites, chocolate mousse in chocolate cups to live cooking demos. Every one had the chance to mingle and introduce themselves as well as get all revved up for the next day’s events.
Indeed, Saturday was packed. I love events such as these because there is always something to learn, something to contribute and something to walk away with whether you are a speaker or an attendee. It was like a grand big talk where everyone was at ease to speak, listen and as questions.
It was a treat listening to Jaden and Scott, Jeff Houck from the Tampa Tribune, Heather McPherson from the Orlando Sentinel, Peter Scott from Izea, Lindsay Landis from Purrdesign and Dawn Viola from Wicked Good Dinner. Tons of topics were covered so that everyone could find something that pertained to where they were in their blogging journey. Branding, working with newspapers, working with brands, SEO, blog design, and photography and styling.
My presentation was broken in two parts with the first one covering basics of camera modes, natural and artificial light while the second part was a live composition and styling demo. I focused the demo on two items, one was a pretty and colorful mixed salad and the other a goopy brown scoop of sun dried tomato and white bean spread. I took the group through my thought process for composing my shot and styling the food just as if I were at home working blog or in the studio with a client.
Here is a recap of the styling photo composition session. Bear in mind that these were just decisions I took on that specific occasion. I am in no way saying that these are the decisive steps to style salads or dips. Every time I style salads and spreads I find myself doing it in a myriad of other ways:
– The salad was to be composed of mixed greens, mixed bean salad, cucumber salad, grilled shrimp and grape tomatoes.
– I decided not to scatter the ingredients all over the salad because they would get lost and would make it hard for the viewer to tell what was what.
– Instead I created small clusters of each component and placed them on the outside so that the bulk of the greens would still be visible and indicate it was a salad indeed.
– I cut a couple of the tomatoes open to add visual interest with a different angle and cut.
– I did not have vinaigrette for the salad but if I’d had some, I would have waited until the last minute to use it on the salad to keep the greens as fresh as possible.
– there were only white plates or rustic yellow bowls available as props (I had brought linens and my styling kit).
– I picked the yellow bowl to play with the all the colors of the salad components and it complemented the linens and surface I was working on.
– kept a 3/4 camera point of view so that I could show the bowl in its entirety without any weird angle and without being too "in your face" which is not helpful when you are trying to see the bigger picture.
– I picked and a medium depth of field, not too shallow that you could not tell the ingredients apart and not too deep that they were all in focus. It helped hide the fact that the cucumber was a bit passed its prime too.
The spread came from a standard grocery store plastic container which I decided not to keep for aesthetics reason and instead decided to show what one can do with a "goopey mess".
– Instead of plating a mound of spread, surrounded by bread slices and a few salad leaves for garnish, I decided to show a progression and use the spread in action so to speak.
– it allows one to play with shapes and angles and not be restricted by just one direction and composition.
– Spreads and dips are less difficult to style and more interesting to shoot if you make them do something.
– I placed a large spoonful of the spread on the side as to show my starting point
– I cut out some slices of bread and spread some of the dip on half the slices, leaving the remaining half without to show that there were still plenty to be used.
– I left the knife on the plate to reinforce this idea of movement from the starting scoop of dip to using the bread to eat it with, etc…
– I used a spring of thyme as it was part of the herbs listed in the ingredient list and it added a nice touch to the plate. I could have scattered more around but it was not really necessary with the view point I wanted to try for taking the shot.
– I went with a closer/tighter camera angle and viewpoint than the salad because there was no reason to show more of the spread/dip than necessary. It was not pretty in its natural state so it was best to focus on the best toast with dip on it.
– I chose a shallow depth of field to keep the background element of more spread and bread which were not that visually interested out of focus but still part of the plate.
Beside picking out the ingredients to style, I did not think a whole lot about what I would do until it was time to do the demo. I wanted to keep things as spontaneous as possible and talk participants through issues or decisions as I was encountering them myself. It also showed them that there is no trick or scientific formulas behind all this. The magic one creates is nothing but a series of decisions and attempts. I also stressed out that this is what I went for that specific day but I could have gone many different ways on many different days depending on light, props, ingredients, time, mood and feel I wanted to portray. There is no wrong or right. Just do what feels sincere to you.
That was the focus of the Sunday workshop which took place independently from FBF. I pretty much let the group lose at Whole Foods (!) to pick a few items to style and we went more in details about camera modes and angles, natural light and how to use its different sources for different purpose, diffusing, bouncing, speedlight and studio light for those who have to shoot late at night. After that everyone styled and composed a shot and I went around giving tips and techniques they could also use.
Adam and Joanne from Inspired Taste with Jaden. After the Sunday worshop, they surprised me by asking if I’d mentor them in photography. I said "of course!"…of course!
My goal was to give them as many tools as possible whether they decide to use one or ten. Knowledge is power. So is coming up with your own visual identity. I was thrilled to have 12 participants come up with 12 different ways to view their relationship with the camera. What a breath of fresh air! It was the best 4 hours spent before an airplane ride back to Charleston.
Thank you to all the people who attended FBF! If a Food Blog Forum comes close to you one day, hurry to be part of it. You won’t regret it. You can read more opinions, recaps, thoughts and takeaways on the event at the bottom of the Food Blog Forum Orlando page, here.
It’s another packed Sunday here with friends as well as scheduling work and we are all in the kitchen making Sangria, one of the drinks served at the FBF Saturday reception held at McCormick & Schmick’s. I was so busy playing that I forgot to ask them for the recipe but I knew that my buddy Taylor had a scrumptious one on his blog. Head after the jump to read more about it.
3 blood oranges
1 cup blackberries
1.5 liter of good red wine
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
Save one of the blood oranges for garnish. Squeeze the juices from the remaining oranges and combine with the blackberries, wine, honey, Grand Marnier into a large pitcher or punch bowl. Stir the mixture until everything is combined.
Chill the sangria over night. Right before serving, cut the blood orange into thin slices and add them to the pitcher or punch bowl. Serve cold.
Instead of worrying if I’d have time or where I’d find time to come update with posts and recipe, I thought I’d start a mini series of posts instead. Shorter posts with recipes geared toward the upcoming holidays or inspired by the plethora of produce and items I find every weekend at the farmers market.
Depending on the time and subject at hand, some post might be shorter than others but this blog is a place of stress relief and comfort first and foremost. For you and for me. For my mom too so that she can see I don’t "forget to eat". Seriously. Forgetting to eat? She had to be thinking about someone else.
In the spirit of making it count and making something good, I want to share a side dish we have been eating twice already this week: Orange & Pastis Braised Baby Fennel. Sweet, a little tart and full of the wonderful aroma of anise and citrus. B. said it was like eating candied vegetables and I am so glad I put 2 bunches of baby fennel in my basket at the farmers marker last weekend. He frowned. Now he’s rubbing his belly in approval. Ahah!
I am keeping this as my secret weapon depending on our final menu for Thanksgiving. I must confess that I *can’t* wait for Thanksgiving this year as Tami from Running With Tweezers, her boyfriend Mike, Broderick from Savory Exposure and Chris from Mele Cotte are making the drive from Atlanta to Charleston to spend a few days and celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. Food! Slumber Party! Happy Hour! Farmers Market! Walks!
We have been talking about the food for a few weeks now and there are some wonderful dishes in the works! Be prepared for some sneak peeks and posts about our dinners. That’s what you get when bloggers, bakers, food stylists, food photographers, food enthusiasts gather together around the table!
I am thankful for their gift of friendship and love to us. These folks are like my second family and I am a lucky to have these few days with them in our gorgeous city.
** You still have until Sunday to enter the giveaway for Gluten Free Girl and The Chef Cookbook! Just head over there and put your name in the virtual hat! ** Orange and Pastis Braised Baby Fennel
Notes: It’s one of those dishes that require little in the form of active hands on preparation and that cooks on its own while you can tend to more pressing issues. You can definitely use regular sized fennel for this recipe and do without the pastis by using a couple of anise seeds and broth or water instead. The anise should be subtle enough to play up the natural aroma of the fennel while the orange gives it a nice floral and sweet note.
2 bunches baby fennel or 2 medium bulbs fennel (fronds discarded – keep them for salads!)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (clementines right now are perfect for this in the South East)
zest of one orange
1/4 to 1/3 cup Pastis (or equivalent in water + 2 star anise)
1/3 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the baby fennels in half lengthwise. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan (I like to use cast iron as much as possible) set over medium high heat and sautee the baby fennels until they start to get golden. Add the orange juice, orange zest, Pastis and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the baby fennel is fork tender, 40 minutes to an hour. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the liquids reduce to a syrup and coat the fennel completely. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
There aren’t many things you’ll see me do because they are cool and there are very few people I (almost always) agree with or trust (almost always) blindly. My dear B. will tell you I spend my life with an imaginary raised eyebrow and my right ear pointed up. I am not skeptical, I am curious. Sometimes cautious. Sometimes not at all.
When Shauna mentioned that she was working on gluten free graham crackers, I had my ears tuned in to her updates. When she posted them, I blindly and happily followed her trail and made a batch. Then two. Then B. said they’d be even better under a cheesecake. So I made a batch of mini Lemon Goat Cheese Cheesecakes with Blood Orange Syrup. Then two.
I often talk about tea time as being an important ritual of my day (as much as my schedule lets me) and when I moved to the US, I became quite fond of having a few graham crackers with my tea. I was a student, they were cheap and a box lasted a while between roomie and myself.
Then I stopped having a cookie with tea altogether. Partly because it’s not that much fun a ritual when done alone so I’d save those moments for when my parents would visit and partly when I discovered it was not helping my health issues. I stopped. Until last week.
I made a batch of Shauna’s gluten free graham crackers as soon as I came home from Atlanta. I sat down with my cup of tea and my just baked cookies and sighed. Content and thankful. Bill started saying that they were pretty close to the real thing but not quite until I stopped him, with my eyebrow raised, and asked "if the real thing is what makes us truly happy then these are it for me" and added "it’s ok if you don’t like them as much…more for me!"
Men don’t generally take a hint and yet mine likes to give me some, especially when it comes to desserts. He starts by fidgeting around the cookie jar. Opens the fridge, closes it. Plays with the cookie jar some more. Until I break down and ask if he has a suggestion. He may not bake or cook, but he’s got good ideas about eating. I had all forms of citrus laid out on the countertop for an article I was working on and he suggested we use some of the lemons and make a cheesecake if possible.
Since it was spur of the moment, I had about half the quantity of cream cheese I needed but being a big fan of goat cheese in desserts, I used some to make up the difference. The tang of the fresh goat cheese worked perfectly with the tang of the lemons. I felt it needed some color though and made a quick blood orange syrup to go with it.
This first forray into a completely gluten free cheesecake was such a success that I made another batch a couple of days later. Yes. That good.
Lemon Goat Cheese Cheesecakes with Blood Orange Syrup:
Makes 8 mini cheesecakes
For the graham crakers: follow the recipe on Shauna’s site blindly…you won’t be disappointed, and grind enough graham crakers to make 1 cup crumbs.
For the cheesecake:
1 cup (250ml) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons (60gr) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup (200gr) sugar, divided
8 oz (240r) fresh mild goat cheese, at room temperature
8 oz (240gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
juice and zest of a whole lemon
3 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 325F and position a rack in the middle. Line 8 standard sized muffin tins with liners and slighly spray with cooking spray. Place the muffin pan in a large roasting pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, the melted butter and 1/4 cup (50gr) sugar. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared muffin liners and pat with the back of a spoon. Bake for 5 minutes. Let cool. Lower the heat to 300F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining sugar with the cheeses and the lemon zest on medium speed until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice and beat another 30 seconds. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin liners. Add hot water to the roasting pan but do not worry about coming up halfway the side of the muffin pan too much. The oven temperature is already so low that the water is just to be on the safe side. Add at least one inch inside the roasting pan.
Bake the mini cheesecakes for 20 minutes or until slightly giggling (or jiggle – whatever suits your mood) in the middle still. Keep an eye on them as they bake rather fast this way. Let cool completely before unmolding and serving with the blood orange syrup.
Notes: I made 8 small ones (baked in muffin tins) but you could make two 4-inch ones and bake them for about 10 minutes longer at the same heat.
For the blood orange syrup:
1 cup (250ml) fresh blood orange juice
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, stir together the blood orange juice and the sugar over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer down until the liquid is about reduced by half. Let cool and serve with the cheesecakes.
Le P’tit Coin Francais:
Pour les fonds de cheesecakes: suivez la recette de Shauna ici ou utilisez des miettes de Petits Lu ou sables bretons.
Pour les cheesecakes:
250ml de miettes de petits gateaux
60 gr de beurre mou, fondu
200 gr de sucre, utilise en 2 fois
240 gr de fromage de chevre (frais et doux)
240 gr de cream cheese ou autre fromage frais
jus et zeste d’un citron
Prechauffez le four a 160C. Habillez des moules a muffins avec des caissettes en papier de la meme taille et badigeonnez l’interieur d’huile avec un pinceau (ou utilisez un spray a huile comme ici). Placer les moules dans une grande et profonde leche frite par example.
Dans un bol de taille moyenne, melangez les miettes de biscuits, le beurre fondu et la moitie du sucre. Melangez bien avec une spatule et distribuez de facon egale a l’interieur des moules prepares. Tassez avec le dos de la spatule. Faites cuires pendant 5 minutes. Mettere de cote. Baissez la temperature du four a 150C.
Dans le bol d’un mixeur, battez au fouet les deux fromages, le reste de sucre et le zeste de citron jusqu’a ce que la pate soit lisse. Ajoutez les oeufs, un a un et en battant bien apres chaque ajout. Ajoutez le jus de citron et battez 30 secondes de plus jusqu’a obtenir une pate lisse.
Repartissez la pate entre les moules et ajoutez environ 2 centimetres d’eau chaude dans la leche frite. Faites cuire environ 20 minutes. Retirez les cheesecakes du four avant qu’ils soit completement cuits. Laissez refroidir completement avant de demouler. Servir avec le sirop a l’orange sanguine
Sirop a l’orange sanguine:
250 ml jus d’orange sanguine (frais de preference)
100 gr sucre
Placez le jus d’orange et le sucre dans une casserole a fond epais et portez a ebullition. Reduire la temperature sous la casserole et faire reduire le sirop de moitie. Servir avec les cheesecakes.