If you were to visit our house right now, you’d be wondering if Christmas is really just a a week away. Oh, we have a small tree up in the living room but that’s about it. No present wrapped up underneath and a few of Christmas decorations here and there in the house. We have gifts almost all ready to go for everyone but we can’t leave them out since they are of the edible kind. The pupps have a tendency to get in trouble with bows and ornaments!
If you are reading the blog on your computer, you might notice that it has a brand new look. Nothing drastic but I wanted this page to reflect more of how I currently saw things in my head. Once again, I got in touch with Ana at Blog Milk to install a new theme for me and she did a wonderful job tweaking it to my specs. I love Blog Milk! Not going to lie. Affordable templates, small installation fee if you don’t want to bother with it and great communication. Ana…thank you for keeping on creating!
Creating. It’s always something I keep in mind even for the most mundane everyday tasks. Like cooking dinner. I am fortunate enough to have a husband who enjoys everything I cook, whatever cuisine, whatever season. My mother in law is a traditional southern cook but she has surprised me more than once in the last month by having seconds of lunch salads and soups I wasn’t sure she’d go for.
But heck…sometimes I am not that inspired comes dinner time. You would think that with the number of recipes I shoot for a living that would never have a problem picking one to make for dinner, wouldn’t you? Well, it’s like having "chefs disease"…you graze but rarely cook a meal for yourself. I see so many meals throughout the week that my brain kind of shuts down from time to time, a bit overwhelmed by the choices.
That’s when the tried and true dishes and their multitude of variations come into play and make me look like I have awesome creating superpowers. I am all about superpowers. Mine is to usually make food disappear off my plate 🙂 What’s yours?
One of those dishes is a simple pasta from Cooking Light with plenty of pancetta, lots of garlic, goat cheese and a big handful of watercress. It is actually a blank canvas to let your inspiration run wild. Pancetta is sometimes replaced with proscuitto, garlic gives way to shallots, burrata or feta sometimes eclipse the goat cheese and watercress disappears in favor of sorrel or arugula. I might thrown in some leftover smoked salmon, some fresh shrimp with a bit of chilies. Leftover roasted chicken has also been known to make an appearance from time to time. Spaghetti might give way to orecchiette or fettuccine.
I have to admit that I haven’t done any Christmas baking this yet. And it probably won’t happen until Christmas. Wait, that’s not true. There will be my mom’s Swedish cinnamon buns on Christmas Day and snickerdoodles over the weekend. Usually I am the poster child for Santa’s bakery, if there ever was one. I’ll be cooking Christmas dinner (well late lunch for us) and will be making a sticky toffee pudding cake (F&W Dec 15 issue). Probably because I like saying sticky toffee pudding with the voice of Kermit The Frog or Gollum.
I did bake a few things despite my lack of holiday baking. Mostly cakes and pies that were devoured as fast as they were coming out of the oven. Almost. During our last workshop a couple of weeks ago, it seemed that I could not turn galettes fast enough for dessert for the attendees! I’ve had a hard time resisting fall and winter fruits at the market. Apples, seckel and forelle pears, kumquats, cranberries. They all ended in my basket at some point.
It’s no secret that I do love making (and eating) tarts. I grew up watching my grandmother making loads of them on a regular basis and even more around Christmas time. Her tart fillings were simple and straightforward, always letting the fruit take center stage. Sometimes, there was a supporting actor such as a custard base, lemon curd or frangipane. If I had to choose which one I favor the most, I honestly could not. I love the pillowy softness of a vanilla custard, the acidulous tickle of a lemon curd and the tantalizing taste of an almond filling.
Pears and frangipane go hand in hand like good company and a good meal. They never outplay each other. A classic combination that everyone in my family enjoys. A bit of vanilla bean added to the frangipane never hurts either.
I hope the holidays treat you well and are a source of comforting meals with friends and family.
It’s never easy to find balance this time of year but a slice of pear frangipane tart and a glass of wine might just do that!
Been a frantic few weeks here since we moved and while it’s been a half excuse not to sit down and blog, it has not been an excuse to stop me from eating well while getting the new studio space ready to roll.
First shoot in the new space started with the lovely and awesome Gina Homolka from Skinnytaste for her second cookbook. Had to pinch myself when I was first approached by her agent to do the photography for this NY Times best seller author but had to pinch myself even harder when I was able to create my own dream team to work on it with me. Prop stylist Kim Phillips and food stylist Tami Hardeman, along with Tami’s assistant Abby, joined me on this dream of a week. We have a bit more to shoot in March and April and I can’t wait!
What’s that got to do with eating well amidst busy days? Gina’s recipes were all delicious for one, so we did eat very well on our shoot. I have a ton of leftovers from that week in my freezer for two. And third, I’ve been on a high soup making kick with all the leftover produce in the fridge.
And when I was pretty through with those, I turned to a recipe I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. Taiwanese Beef Soup. The thoughts of soy sauce, chilies, star anise, ginger and beef simmering on the stove for hours was perfect the cold I was starting to develop.
After perusing several recipes online, I turned to a friend on Facebook who directed me to one my favorite authors, Andrea Nguyen and her recipe, itself adapted from another one. I followed his advice and used beef shanks with bone marrow and oxtails. I had to adjust the spiciness for my mother in law a little and added in some sliced red chilies separately into our bowls. Everybody was happy and everybody had seconds!
Thank you to everyone who has inquired about the workshop in Charleston. Yes, it is sold out but we do have a waitlist if you are interested. You can send me an email at helenedujardinphoto[at]gmail[dot com]. It’s been a busy May with family here and a busy June but I am ready for summer cooking and summer playing!
The heat is on for sure! We’ve been grilling a lot and making big salads chock full of all the vegetables we can get at the market. The oven is currently not an option I want to have. Gets the house too hot, takes forever to cool off and with longer days and more light, we just want to sit on the patio and enjoy the refreshing evenings as much as possible.
I have not done much baking, and usually it’s been on early weekend mornings before it got too warm. Desserts have been lots and lots of fresh fruits and the occasional cookies and ice cream. Not tremendously exciting (well, except for the couple of new ice cream flavors I have been trying to nail), but when summer rolls around, there are always three desserts I tend to put on rotations at the house. Panna Cotta, clafoutis and riz au lait (rice pudding).
Riz au lait is my comfort food. My grandmother used to make it all the time whenever we needed a little TLC. For me it screams "I love you", "Let me comfort you", "make yourself a bowl and come unload what troubles you" or just "hey, things are wonderful, let’s celebrate!" It’s all that. A gentle hug, a reminder to slow down. The scent of vanilla infused milk just wafting through the house. Something that requires you to pause and stir. Inhale and exhale. To me it is the essence of cooking and sharing. As soon as I make Riz Au Lait, I want to give a bowl to someone.
Granted, it’s usually a dessert I make more often in the fall and winter months but chilled rice pudding adds a nice bite and cold creamy smooth feel. I cook the rice with milk and a bit of vanilla, just to the point of the milk being completely absorbed. I let the rice continue soaking in all that lovely goodness until it is cool. It’s soft and unctuous without being liquid. The creaminess will reveal itself in the bite, not the look. Once cooled, I top it off with fruit poached in a citrus and honey syrup. Right now, peaches are ripe and gorgeous, but it could well be rhubarb or strawberries, a mix of different berries, etc…
My extra bit of love comes from a couple of lemon verbena stems I add to the syrup. Vanilla, citrus, honey, lemon verbena. My favorites, all surrounding a comforting bowl of rice pudding. Maybe not like Grandma used to make but she would approve nonetheless. I’m pretty sure of that…
With the last days of summer right around the corner, there have been dinners on the patio after dinners on the patio. Friends, neighbors, just us. It’s been lovely. Truly. A balm for the soul. Summers are a bit harder on me than any times of the year. Summer is the time when we have entire months back home devoted to vacationing. Just that. It’s another mind set. Another way of doing things. And while I knew my family was gathering at our chalet in the Alps or just moving about France, I worked straight through the summer.
Every morning this summer, I would sit on the patio here in Alabma and listen to the sound of cicadas, a light breeze brushing my cheeks. A tease really, often quickly replaced with smoldering heat and humidity. I’d often close my eyes and I could almost feel home. I could almost hear my nieces running around in the garden, jumping off into the pool, laughing wildly with their friends, and the cicadas. Always a sign of being home.
And warm evenings with lots of grilling involved.
One thing I try not to do all summer long is turning the oven on. Where we are now, it basically heats up the whole dining and living area, bringing the smoldering heat inside for hours. So off to the back deck we go! Lots and lots of fish, meats and vegetables did end up being grilled, charred, slow roasted and smoked. Finger licking good stuff.
One thing I grew up eating were steamed artichokes and vinaigrette. While vegetable soup was a staple starter in our house, my mom would often make steamed artichokes during the summer. As well as her proscuitto and melon salad. But that’s for another time… With nostalgia tugging at me these past few months, I took it upon me to take familiar dishes that reminded me of time spent with loved ones and gave them a more current flair. Current to the temperatures, our way of living in the heat and our tastes at this moment.
Grilled baby artichokes with chimichurri sauce became an easy side our starter to many a dinner, shared with friends or just the two of us. They require a bit of prep and maybe a bit messy if eaten with a fork and knife which in my opinion is a plus… Just grill, grab and dip… They make a great snack too when watching a movie on a lazy Sunday evening or during any sport related weekend.
It’s been a while since I visited my own blog, let alone write anything on this page. What can I say? I gave myself an unintentional break by enjoying the most of summer off line. There has been much cooking and photographing but not much free time to sit down and blog about it all. With longer days and gorgeous evenings here, there have been many impromptu dinners al fresco with friends, long chats with the husband in the evening and one thing leading to another…I felt a little tug at giving myself a little break from blogging. With Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so much part of our daily lives, it’s easy to rely on those to keep in touch with everyone out there.
Truth is, I miss you guys. If you are still around. I miss being here and letting my thoughts take shape through the keyboard. Work is busy and can take the fun out of a few hours spent editing and sharing recipes and pictures. Balance. Always something to strive for. Nothing makes me happier than cooking a bunch on the weekend and photographing dishes for a future post and then the routine sets in and that post takes a back seat. One week, two weeks and soon turns into almost three months…
Needless to say, I have a whole bunch of recipes and photos to share with you!
Weekly visit to the amazing farmers market we have here in Birmingham often result in simple yet delectable recipes and musings in the kitchen.
Our favorite snack on the weekend early this summer was market fresh carrots, briefly roasted served with creme fraiche and a good sprinkle of za’atar. Our current favorite dessert is roasted plum with local honey and a dollop of soft whipped cream.
Feels like Summer is officially here in the South. Don’t let the calendar fool you! I spent my birthday last week in the company of the guy I call my surrogate brother, chef John Ondo, and a group of complete strangers on the beach while doing a food photography and cooking workshop. Well, we were strangers to each other for about five minutes. Nothing like a few nibbles he had prepared for us and a glass of wine to break down the ice and make everyone share a good laugh and a good story.
The workshop was a huge success in my book. Between photo assignments and down times, everyone walked away with a different perspective on their own photography and cooking. We ate well, enjoyed the sunshine and the heat and welcomed the rain and lower temperatures one day. It gave me the opportunity to show students why shooting in the rain always gave me the greatest pleasure. The electricity in the light, the potential for pushing your camera settings and re-programming your brain to find the unexpected.
I walked away with new friends, new connections, plans for future workshops that leave me with a skip and a hop in my step. Always something that keeps pushing me forward. On a side note, we have a couple of spots open for the workshop I am doing in Atlanta in a couple of weeks! Details HERE.
Coming back from workshops is always tricky. Let’s face it, they require a lot of planning and "on" time. It takes a few naps and a few long nights to get my internal clock re-adjusted. In those circumstances I always rely on the food on my plate to give me the sustenance needed to re-enter reality.
With the heat, my palate craves the fresh flavors of sweet fruits. A meal always end with something sweet, usually a square of chocolate or fruit compote on yogurt in the winter and big fruit salads in the summer. Right now, the farmers market abounds with local bright red strawberries. We’ve been adding them to everything, including green salads actually.
The combination of honeydew melon and strawberries is always a winning one for us. We just sliced a bunch for dessert and sprinkled our plates with lemon juice, lemon rubbed sugar and fresh mint. Clean, light and super refreshing. The kind of desserts that helps my body and mind feel reset. It’s really so easy to prepare and always a hit with our friends.
It’s full on Spring here in the South and I am absolutely smitten with it. Unlike in Charleston where we seem to get barely 10 days of this wonderful season, Alabama is downright gorgeous this time of year. Lush landscapes, fields upon fields of dogwoods and wild flowers. And lots and lots of herbs…
And the produce… As soon as the farmers market started again, there has been a fridge full of gorgeous and tasty tomatoes, herbs, micro greens, salads, radishes, tender peas, wild garlic, chive flowers and more tomatoes. Be prepared for an onslaught of tomato recipes.
We simply can’t get enough. There has been much cooking and little blogging. Thing is, we have been puppy training… After a few weeks without another pup in the house, another companion to our other dog, we drove to the shelter and rescued a little pup in need of a home. What we were told was a labrador and German shepherd mix turned out to be a German Shepherd and Great Dane mix. Please meet Tiggy. She is now 4 months old and we love her to pieces. And yes, we might need a bigger house! No shoes have been chewed up yet. She’s after tags and pretending her water bowl is a kiddie pool (she goes to doggie daycare twice a week and they have one there…which explains it all!). She and Bailey get along famously.
And she loves going to the market with us, getting lots of petting and meeting up the other dogs in the neighborhood. We’ve been busy playing, cooking and enjoying this new energy in the house.
The days have progressively getting longer and warmer. Days at work have become fuller and busier with lots of great new shoots and projects. Our evenings of slow cooking, braising have been replace with lots of grilling and tons of cold soups and salads. We are in full "Operation Tomatoes". Lots of tomato salads, grilled tomatoes, gazpachos, etc…
Here are two of the salads I made recently and are now in rotation on the weekends when we can have more time to share them with friends with a cold glass of Prosecco and lots of puppies running in the back yard.
The first one was a chimichurri marinated salad with panko crusted haloumi. Lots and lots of parsley, extra virgin olive oil, chive flowers and robust heirloom tomatoes. The other one a simple salad of fresh tomato with a kicking smoked paprika vinaigrette. Add a bit of grilled protein (shrimp, chicken, red meat) and you have a complete dinner bursting with the flavors of spring.