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 forever since I last posted here. Wait, it’s been forever!What can I say..There was work, lots of it and at a fast pace, summer hang outs with friends and weekend discoveries around town. A trip to France that pumped all my energy and emotions and getting back in the groove of things which has been easier than anticipated.
I am spending the weekend in a cabin in the northern Georgia with my bestie Tami from Running With Tweezers and I can tell Fall is right around the bend. I am a bridesmaid at her wedding and we decided to do a bachelorette weekend all together in a serene and peaceful house. The Appalachian mountains are quite lovely and tranquil during Fall.
We are just spending a couple of quiet days catching up, genuinely talking about our hopes, fears, giving each others support and words of wisdom. Cooking, snacking, drinking wine and relaxing on the back porch doing nothing of extreme importance. A couple of days to read, relax and enjoy the sound of the river below. I needed it.
Adjusting our internal clocks.
Adjusting my own after three weeks spent in France surrounded by family, great meals, long dinners under the sun and shaded homestead was easier than I thought. I went back into the kitchen right away and cooked comforting meals every night. The husband is still back and forth between here and Charleston so it’s been me and old pup Tippy (will be 17 this coming year!), a good book in the evening and catching up on y’alls blogs and instagrams…
On the weekend, easy peasy meals have been most welcome. The weather has been hot and humid, typically Southern and there has not been much time spent baking, roasting, braising, etc… I am looking forward to those days when Sundays turn into lamb roasts, onion soup and braised chicken. Until then, it’s a loaded heirloom tomato salad, a minty quinoa and cucumber salad or better yet, a quick pasta dish with nothing else than a couple of add ons and a drizzle of olive oil.
When in France, I picked up the coolest black and white spaghetti at a gourmet store. Striped squid in gluten free spaghetti. I feel like playing Mikado with my brothers again everytime I boil a handful. My to-go lunch one hot Saturday was a simple quick toss of said pasta with Stilton blue and fresh cut figs. A little olive oil and I was in business. Simple method, simple flavors. Cooking like we do in my family.
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.
When my husband drove into town this past weekend, I don’t think he expected to find his wife coughing, well hacking away would be more appropriate, and bent over from the pain felt in every rib and back muscle everytime a coughing fit would come about. It was not a lovely sight. But, I selfishly admit that I was so happy to finally unload onto him all duties and responsibilities for 48 hours.
See, we have been living apart and in different states since October that I moved to Birmingham. Since then, I have been holding the fort here by myself. I have fixed, nailed, caulked, hammered, glued, and pretty much everything else that he used to do when we were both in Charleston. It’s telling how much you stretch your strength, both mental and physical when alone. I had lived by myself before. But not by myself after 15 years with "Mr-Handy-Dandy-I-Can-Fix-Anything-Oh-Look-Honey!-I-Just-Built-Us-A-House" – kind of man. Because he did. Built us a house. The house that was now reduced to a U-Haul in my driveway.
This was the first time we really felt like things were moving forward in a "together" kind of way. Until then, I had brought things from Charleston to start making the rental house into more of a home but this was the big push. Our stuff. Fifteen years of living in South Carolina together and six plus years in our house on the creek. There had been a few little "well this is it! We are indeed relocating to Alabama" moments in the last few months but this was more poignant to me than getting my first water bill in my new city.
I am quite grateful that neither of us are materialists folks so the amount of stuff we bring with us easily fits in a small storage unit until we found a more permanent home here. I was happy to see that what we both considered "must pack" items were family things we could not replace; pictures, albums, family heirlooms, etc… And here I was, sick as could be the one weekend I needed to muster up all my energy to unload our belonging into a storage unit for a few months.
My dear husband ordered me back to the couch for a few hours. He wanted to take care of me and I completely let him do that. And it felt incredibly good just to lay quiet and rest under a couple of blankets. I could not stay still more than an hour though and quietly headed off to the kitchen to make soup. He was weary of the drive. I was craving something clean, flavorful and warm to make my limbs and throat feel better.
I started gathering ingredients for a makeshift Tom Yum soup. Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, and went off on a tangent of the most delicious kinds. My original idea for a soup quickly evolved into a Thai inspired butternut squash and coconut soup with a little kick and lots of fragrant and healing ingredients.
The end result was a super satisfying bowl of soup that took no longer to make than a cozy nap on the couch…
This combined with a good day and a half of rest and I was almost back on my feet. Enough to help him out a little on Sunday and make us another scrumptious meal on Sunday. I chose a completely different flavor palette this time with a Pozole. A pork and hominy stew garnished with fresh avocado, radish and cilantro. Clean and filling. Perfect for a cold weekend night.
Making every moment count now when we see each other is a given. We don’t get to see each other every weekend and when we can make the drive either way, the visits are really short. So, things as simple as sitting down to a nice meal and watching a good flick afterwards are what we crave. Then I know the dinner parties, visits with friends, game nights, etc… will resume or be created anew just as they were in Charleston.
It’s kind of like dating again. But as much as I like having my boyfriend visit, I am ready to have my husband back so we can really get to live this new town together!
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!
This is the time of year when my family would usually travel a few hours to settle in the Alps for the summer and enjoy cooler temperatures and lots of hiking in the gorgeous of Les Alpes De Haute Provence.
These days, everytime I look at our pine trees and feel a whiff of a cool breeze, I just can’t help but smile wide and feel energized. I think about all the wonderful picnics, lunches on the graveled terrace and lots of hours spend at the community pool.
It was a time to spend with my mother hovering over her cooking magazine and cookbooks and pick dishes we would do together or techniques she thought I was ready for. This was my kind of summer school. We’d bookmark recipes, crafts, articles, discoveries.
Like many of you I use Pinterest, notepads, bookmarks, and lots of other devices to keep track of my favorite links. I have enjoyed doing a little round up last week and from the feedback I got, you guys enjoyed it too so I have decided to make this a weekly thing.
So…here what caught my eye this past week. Have a wonderful weekend!
– I am also adding one of my favorite salad this week, a Caesar Salad and Shitake Mushroom Salad I shot for Food & Wine Magazine. Recipe after the jump.
Caesar Salad With Shitake Mushrooms, with permission of Food & Wine Magazine:
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cubed gluten free baguette (or your favorite bread, gluten free or not) (1-inch cubes)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
3/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 hard-cooked eggs
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste (or 2 anchovies, mashed with a fork)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 small heads romaine lettuce (about 1 pound each), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
– In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the cubed bread, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to coat the bread with the oil. Sauté the bread until crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in half the garlic. Transfer to a large salad bowl.
– In the same pan, heat the cooking oil over moderately high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half the remaining garlic and the parsley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute longer. Add the mushrooms to the croutons.
– Put the eggs, vinegar, anchovy paste, and the remaining garlic, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 5 tablespoons olive oil in a blender or food processor and whir until smooth. Add the lettuce to the mushrooms and croutons, sprinkle with Parmesan, and then add the dressing. Toss to coat.
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.
Before I talk about this comforting and tasty Vegetable Couscous, I would like to announce the annouce the winner of the "Where Women Cook: Celebrate!" book giveaway. Folks! Congratulations to Heather from La Tarte Tatin all the way in Seattle!
Heather, please email your snail mail address to mytartelette AT gmail DOT com and I will put the book in the mail first thing Monday morning!
Now back to the Vegetable Couscous….
Earlier this year, Food & Wine Magazine assigned recipes to food bloggers and photographers for images for their site. I had a blast shooting the ones they gave me. Less than 48 hours after I had submitted my images, I got another email saying that they loved my images and could I shoot another ten. They were afraid timing was tight before the holidays. Little did they know my schedule! As a photographer, there is little room for normalcy! Weekends, holidays… we follow the food.
And I would follow that bowl of Vegetable Couscous everywhere. And I did. It was one of the favorites from the shoot. Reminded me of my childhood. The couscous dish my grandmother used to make, just a bit lighter. We eat everything, with fish and vegetarian dinners being the majority so this was perfectly fit for a light dinner al fresco. Paired with a tomato salad and a glass of rosé, it turned out to be all we needed to satisfy our hunger and enjoy the evening.
Hope you enjoy the recipe! Have a wonderful weekend!
Vegetable Couscous, with slight modifications, from Food&Wine:
Note: you can make this gluten free by using gluten free couscous instead of regular one. For the sake of making the recipe as per the requirements of the photo shoot, I used regular couscous.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut into thin slices
4 carrots, cut into thin slices
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small eggplant cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, including seeds and ribs, cut diagonally into thin slices
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
5 1/2 cups water
1 2/3 cups drained and rinsed chickpeas (one 15-ounce can)
1 1/3 cups couscous
In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion, carrots, fennel, eggplant, garlic, and jalapeño. Cook, covered, until the vegetables get soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, coriander, caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon of the
salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring once or twice for another minute.
Add 3 1/2 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas, stir and cook another 2 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the couscous: in a medium saucepan, bring the remaining 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the
couscous. Cover ad take the pot off the heat. Let stand for 5 to 8 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Spoon some couscous in individual bowls and spoon some of the vegetable stew and broth over it.