We had an unexpected snow day yesterday and since our offices at Oxmoor House were closed, my husband and I decided to enjoy it to the fullest. Took the dogs for walks in the snow and around the neighborhoods to check if we can help anyone. Tidied up the house floor to ceiling, caught up on our reading and watched a couple of movies. Oh, and had a couple of cocktails in front of the fireplace.
Things are slowly going back to normal today and we’ll have to catch up on our photo schedule the best we can. I secretly wished the roads were still undrivable just so that I could watch the pup frolic in the snow. Bailey is like a kid with a new toy everytime he steps outside (5 year old lab-pit mix), while Tippy (17 year-old collie-sheltie) enjoys the freezing temperatures on his old bones.
It’s been a fun day also spent in the kitchen making soups to keep us warm and cozy. Lunch was an old Food&Wine recipe I had clipped a while back (Bon Appetit also has a version of it in this month’s issue that I have not tried yet), Spicy Pork And Kale Soup With Harissa. It’s an interesting blend of Asian flavors (soy sauce, galangal,..) and Moroccan ones (harissa). It works really well together and we polished off a couple of bowls with joy. The original recipe called for ground chicken but without the possibility to go the store, I used what I had in the fridge. Dinner was super aromatic Root Vegetable Soup, thick and creamy, that I served with Croque Monsieur.
I hope and trust everyone to have enjoyed their Thanksgiving holidays and little time off here in the States. We sure have. Bill and the pups came to Birmingham for Thanksgiving and the older pup, Tippy is staying with me while Bill and Bailey (The Inseparables) have gone back to Charleston.
While we were busy bees around the house, hanging paintings, fixing odds and ends around the place and getting the last bit of furniture we needed, we also enjoyed being together and doing things for the two of us, as a team. We had not spent any quality time together for a long long time (September or so) and these four days felt like the ultimate luxury.
We do have a blast together. One would hope so after fifteen years together, right?! We are quick to recognize our "adjusting" period and give the other some breathing room. After operating apart for most of the summer and Fall, it is imperative that we do not waste any seconds of those precious moments. And I enjoy pampering him with good home cooked meal whenever I can and these past four days were no exceptions.
We had a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with friends eating turkey, yes, drinking Champagne cocktails and making S’Mores huddled around an outdoor fireplace. We also hosted our first dinner in the house we are renting this year. I am pretty happy with how the decor/furniture situation is shaping up. Nothing like having a blank canvas to take your time to find the appropriate pieces.
It was in that cozy spot that I came up with this new soup. A complete "open the fridge and throw a few things together" kind of moment when I find myself with way more vegetables than days available to eat them. A mix of Swiss chard, kale, zucchini, turnips and avocado. I topped each bowl of soup with a few grilled shrimp, well seasoned with smoked paprika to make it a bit heartier since the days got wintry cold almost over night here.
I am liking the feeling of a comfy sweater, warm high socks and a big bowl of soup by the fire these days.
One more thing before I go: Congratulations to Jacqui of Good Things Grow for winning Julie Le Clerc’s cookbook Made By Hand. Please send your mailing address to mytartelette AT gmail DOT com so I can send the book your way!
I just absolutely love this time of year. The temperatures may be higher than Spring feels like in other part of the world but we are still (and I insist on still) a few weeks away from scorching 100F (minimum) and 100% humidity (also a minimum). That means I can meander the farmers market without melting or rushing to get home once the milk and eggs find their way to my basket.
Every Saturday that I am in town, from April to December you will find me right at opening hour at the market. I like to be able to talk to the vendors who have now become friends. Instead of "hey we’re back!" when the market opened again this season, it was hugs and stories shared all around. We had months to catch up on and lots of good news to share. New breeds for Jason at Meathouse. New lasagna and fresh pasta flavors for Brian at Rio Bertolini, new farmland for Ken and his crew. So proud to see so many young talents share their craft and passion with produce- intense people like me.
They know my habits. I am not special. They know the habits of all their regulars. I am grateful for their enthusiasm and little extras they put in my basket once in a while. I love that they never mind my taking pictures as if they were about to disappear with their next breath. Charleston is lucky to have caring farmers and individuals. We are lucky to have this amount of gorgeousness so many months out of the year. I do my weekly shopping there and right now I am all about the greens, mushrooms and radishes. In a few weeks it will be heirloom tomatoes and squash that will be prominent.
Going with the rythm of the season is a treat. I am aware of it. If you have access to a farmers market or to a farm, make a trip there. There are fantastic passionate people working to get you the best produce possible. I like to honor them with photographs and still life shots. They make my work so much easy. Clients are always thrilled to see ingredients as fresh as these!
It makes getting home after a long shoot and staring at the content of the fridge with a hungry stomach that much easier. I can look at the chalkboard pantry door and see what I can combine from both dry and fresh goods to make dinner. (Side note: when we built the house back in 2005, I took the pantry door off its hinges and painted it with a coat of chalkboard paint. It makes tracking one’s fridge and pantry content that much more efficient). Lately, I have renewed a love affair with soft and creamy polenta, topped with lots of greens and once in while with an egg or a few grilled shrimp. (season kick off here was a few weeks ago)
Fresh, easy, quick and completely satisfying. I have to thank my mother for reminding me of the wonders of polenta. When they visited last and she was so sick the whole time, it was the only thing she could eat without being bothered much afterwards. Instead of making different meals for everyone, we would just make one big batch and partake. Months after, I still reach for the tin of polenta whenever I want something light, yet comforting.
Here is my favorite way to serve it at the moment: topped with sauteed Russian kale and shitake mushrooms, plenty of garlic and parsley and with a poached egg on top.
What is your favorite easy dinner to make?
Creamy Polenta with Russian Kale Shitake Mushrooms (with option to be topped with a poached egg):
For the kale and mushroom mix:
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cups cleaned and roughly chopped Russian kale
1/2 pound fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup water or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
For the polenta:
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fine grain yellow polenta
dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
For the poached egg (optional) (but oh so tasty!)
I find that Elise’s post about poached eggs is the best one to date. You can check it out here.
Start by preparing the kale and mushroom mix.
Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium high. Add the kale and mushrooms and sauteed for about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock (or water), salt and pepper, cook for another minute and remove from the heat. Let cool while you prepare the polenta.
In large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and polenta at once and stir quickly with a whisk or wooden spoon to prevent the polenta from clumping. Add the nutmeg. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the polenta cook, uncovered for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Check the seasoning once again.
Divide into four portions, top with the kale and mushroom mix, adding a few tablespoons of the juice as you go along and top with a poached egg if desired.
I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving had a wonderful time doing so. We surely did. The whole week was actually pretty darn good. It was rich in connections and reflections. The time spent in the kitchen with Laura reminded me of the time spent at home preparing a holiday meal with my grandmother and mother. It was comforting and soothing in so many ways.
It was a lot of fun cooking a huge feast with another like minded person. It’s easy to talk food, pies, gratins, table settings, photography while chopping, boiling, cooking, peeling, etc… We made a lot of dishes. We wanted to try new recipes and still some beloved family ones. We certainly did not hold back but we had plenty to box up for our guests to take home. I have learned years ago that Thanksgiving leftovers are a must!
I will revisit a couple of the dishes for a later post but among the biggest hits were the Apple Cider Brined Turkey from Bon Appetit, Laura’s mashed potatoes with creme fraiche, a root & leek vegetable gratin and a fennel-brioche and sausage stuffing. And the greens beans! I must revisit those miso green beans soon and post the recipe!
When everyone gathered around the table and shared some of their stories, time, themselves, my heart just fogged over. I was thankful for being surrounded by so much love and friendship. Many times I had to pinch myself that the day went as beautifully as it did. And continued the day after when Laura and her fiance Alex requested that I shot their engagement pictures. We had so much fun…well into the evening with dinner and drinks.
The weekend was spent quietly putting china and linens away, shopping at our farmers market and loading up on lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Taking some time to sit in the park with Bill and share a crepe and a cup of coffee. It finally started to feel like the holiday season (except for the 80F weather). Those simple things are all I crave for. They fuel me and refuel me times and times again. Just as certain foods do.
After a few richer meal than usual, I like the simplicity of a few good salads or soups. Without being a full blown detox, it’s nice to dig my fork into a lighter fare. Lately, it’s been lots and lots of variation around quinoa salad and this one is the one I have made countless time in the past couple of weeks. It’s versatile enough to be a side dish or main course (with a poached egg on top…fabulous!). Kale and butternut squash are abundant this time of year but any seasonal vegetable would work.
I generally pass on desserts in favor of a good juicy apple or pear this time of year. I do however have the habit of making dessert for our Sunday suppers with friends and crisps and simple tarts are always high on the list during Fall and Winter. Having a spoonful of a little sweet something always makes me feel like I am ending the weekend well and ready for the week ahead.
The quinoa salad is one I intent to serve for lunch during the Food Photography Workshop I’ll be teaching in Charleston on December 10th. Yep, I enlisted Laura to assist and help prep some great foods for all the attendees. On a side note, there are 3 spots left for that workshop!
I am curious though….what do you like to cook or bake to give your body and self a little break this holiday season? Looking forward to being inspired with your answers! Thanks for sharing!
Apple Cardamom Crisp:
Makes 6 to 8 (depending on your ramekins)
For the fruit:
6 regular size apples (your choice) or about 12-15 lady apples
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
juice and zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cardamom
Preheat the oven to 350F (convection or regular) and position a rack in the center. Prepare the fruit:
Peel, core and slice thin the apples. Place them in a large bowl with the cranberries, honey, lemon zest and juice, cornstarch and cardamom. Toss well and reserve.
Prepare the crisp topping:
In a medium bowl, combine with your fingertips or a pastry blender the flour, sugar and butter and form large clumps of dough. Refrigerate at least an hour or freeze overnight.
Assemble and bake:
Divide the apples evenly among 6 gratin dishes or ramekins. If the crisp dough was refrigerated, just break apart clumps of it over the fruit with your fingertips. If it was frozen, you can simply grate it on top with a large cheese grater.
Bake for 20-30 minutes. Let cool.
In a large pot, bring the quinoa and water to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered until all the water has been absorbed (about 20 minutes). Remove from the heat, fluff with a for and place in a large bowl to cool for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, heat one teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet, add the onion and cook until it turns translucid. Add the garlic, butternut squash and kale. Cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove the lid, check that the butternut squash is tender but not mushy or hard when you poke a piece with a knife. Add the thyme and continue cooking until the all the liquid creating by the cover has evaporated.
Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold the cooked quinoa and the cooked vegetables together along with the vinaigrette.
Serve room temperature or cold.