Monday, June 17, 2013
About six months ago Liv discovered Roasted Kale, or Kale chips. As she has always been somewhat averse to anything green (with the exception of my beloved avocado), her discovery gave us reason to celebrate. The fact that even asks for roasted kale simply makes my heart sing!
However... enter my oven. Said oven, some 17 years old and not of high quality to begin with, has taken it upon itself to randomly beep an overheating error code even when it's off, having us flip the breaker to make it stop. With the little breaker switch not looking so sturdy itself, I've simply not been using my oven. But things like kale chip requests have me searching new cooking methods and my trusty grill (it never lets me down) solved this problem.
Oiling our organic kale with avocado oil (I've been using one from Chosen Foods that I found at Costco) and crushed garlic, I placed my baking sheet onto the grill and before long my neighbor actually popped his head over the fence to ask what was smelling so good. Leaving one side of the grill off and the other side on high, the kale was nice and toasty at about 12 minutes, and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese brought a delightful saltiness that had us both impatient for the kale to cool.
So whether you are avoiding heating that oven on a hot day or dealing with an oven on its last leg like me, the grill does a fabulous job.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Nothing says summer quite like a platter filled with sweet, juicy watermelon. Whether it be cut into easy to eat triangles or chopped into a fruit salad, I see watermelon as something to take a bite of. The crispness, as well as an occasional dribble of juice down the chin, brings happy memories and thoughts of fun in the sun.
With two watermelons on my counter though, I've been researching uses other than the usual slice and eat, and found recipes for smoothies popping up time and again. Ready to experiment, we mixed Liv's favorite fruit - banana - along with mango and a yogurt in the blender. What resulted was a smoothie worthy of gushing, and I'm beginning to see watermelon in a new way...
Seeing things in a new way isn't always easy for me, a self proclaimed creature of habit, and often takes me a little time to adjust. Such is the case with photography. I've always been a straight forward, tack sharp sort of photo girl, but some of those more artistic shots, you know, the ones... those with blurred edges and off center focus, always have me wishing I could master that skill. Now I can.
Partnering with the amazing people at Lensbaby, I've been "playing" with the Lensbaby Composer Pro in combination with a set of macro converters for about a month. Have you heard of Lensbaby? I'm ready to gush!
Receiving the lens a few weeks ago, I do admit to experiencing a bit of a learning curve, or more accurately, a slowness on my part to see things in a new way. I usually shoot in manual, but I do use the auto focus feature on my camera (Canon 60D), and as such I experienced a bit of difficulty figuring out the manual "sweet spot" in my shots. Practice, though, soon had me bringing home incredible shots that a month ago I would never have pictured myself taking.
Nevertheless, it's the mid-level macro converter bringing the Composer Pro close to, but not on top of my subject (a 16mm converter which lets you focus from 2.25" - 6") that has positively won my heart. Perfect for food photography... I'm starting to see things in a new way, and I'm also beginning to wonder how I shot so long without this impressive lens.
|Photo courtesy of Lensbaby|
A different concept from the usual camera lens, you will find yourself reaching for the Lensbaby time and again and bringing home shots that will most definitely make you smile.
I've had so much fun with this new (lens) baby of mine that it has become my near constant companion. We've walked the beach together, attended school functions, completed Dance Mom duties and simply spent time shooting around the back yard where flowers don't much mind staying still for multiple shots. I'm enamored with the creativeness it's brought to my food photography seeming to sometimes bring a completely different mood to the scene.
I find myself setting up my food shots just as before, and shooting with my usual 60 mm lens (an old favorite). Receiving nicely balanced shots with the crispness that used to make my heart give a little leap is now leaving me just a touch bored, and before I know it I'm reaching for the Lensbaby and shooting off center without total focus. I'm see things in a new way.
|Old style crisp shot...|
Saturday, June 8, 2013
|Loving our new Lensbaby Composer Pro Lens!!|
With these beautiful berries, I usually serve them unadorned, cut into a bowl, or even simply eaten out of hand. However this year I've stretched, and put them into muffins, even a pie, and now this fabulous, savory quinoa salad which we prepared for Wendy, The Weekend Gourmet's, new Monthly Salad Bar Club (this month's challenge is to include berries).
With the perfectly ripe berries, this salad came together better than I had expected, including a shot of lime juice and zest that brought the flavors singing to a new level. Sweet, savory and protein packed with quinoa, this salad filled my lunch plate and had me returning for more.
|Lensbaby Macro Converters get you close!|
Adding antioxidant-rich strawberries to the mix has this salad's nutritional benefits reaching for the stars while the flavor alone is something you can be proud to serve. Thanks to Wendy for stretching my salad recipe and for starting the Salad Bar Club. Want to join too? Head over to the Salad Bar Club Facebook Page and become part of the team! Next month we bring you Pot Luck Salads, stay tuned.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Salad... something I refused to eat when I was younger but now can't get enough of. With recipe after recipe crossing my desk, those with store bought dressings are usually passed over in favor of those where I can make my own. Hence, when a representative from the Harvard Common Press emailed asking if I would like to review a copy of Michele Jordan's Vinaigrettes & Other Dressings, the answer was a resounding, "Yes!".
Receiving the photo-splashed book a few days later, the continuing title of "60 sensational recipes to liven up greens, grains, slaws, and every kind of salad" had me certain I'd made a good choice. Pouring an iced tea I settled myself in a comfortable chair in the sun and proceeded to read the book cover to cover. Usually I turn down the pages of recipes I want to come back to, but with this book the process was pointless. After turning down every page except the Sunday Morning Miracle - Bloody Mary Vinaigrette (I personally am not a Bloody Mary fan, but that's another story...), I gave up and realized I have some 59 new recipes to try.
|My somewhat worn copy...|
Arriving at the recipes, Michele brings everything from the most basic simple vinaigrette to those with more complex flavor nuances and on to classically creamy concoctions everyone is sure to love. Finishing up with ideas for slaws, potato and pasta salads as well as a couple of bread versions, all areas of salad seem to be covered.
Each dressing includes a description, and my favorite part, a "Best Uses" section with additional ideas for serving. Many recipes include gorgeous photos (I'm a sucker for a cookbook with beautiful photos), and with further investigation I discovered Michele styled the photos herself.
|Arugula, watermelon, red onion and feta with the Vinaigrette|
Her version actually uses watermelon juice as a base bringing a sweet, fresh flavor to my beloved arugula. Serving to enhance the sweet watermelon pieces in my salad, the dash of lime and sprinkle of chopped cilantro complemented the flavors beautifully actually leaving my Watermelon Arugula Salad indeed tasting like watermelon (see recipe below).
Along with the offer to review the book came an offer to interview Michele, and our few emails exchanged back and forth showed a "real" person, filled with a sense of humor and passion. Currently living in Sonoma, Michele reaps the bounty of local crops and soon had me homesick for my hometown. Join me as we enjoy a few moments to chat...
Interview with Author Michele Anna Jordan
Liv Life: Through the book, are there a few recipes that have become regulars in your kitchen? Favorites of you or your family that return time and again or are most requested?
LL: I believe I read that you did your own food styling for the photos in Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings, any tips for readers on making their everyday presentation more attractive?
LL: I see you are a Bay Area native (I grew up in Marin County), where did you grow up and what drew you to Sonoma?
LL: Has food always been a part of your life?MJ: Yes. I had an eager and curious palate as a child and found ways to get the things I wanted to eat fairly early on. I began cooking from recipes when I was 8. I began hosting dinner parties when I as 9. My mother was a terrible cook, though she loved making candies and baking cakes and was good at that. Alas, for her, I didn't have much of a sweet tooth.
LL: I've read you enjoy all types of writing, do you have a favorite?
MJ: Storytelling--i.e., nonfiction narrative--is my passion. You see this style in my book Salt & Pepper, especially, but also in all my other books. I slip it in wherever I can and am at work on a non-food-related literary memoir.
LL: When you were in High School did you see yourself as a writer? (more of a personal question... I have a son in high school who excels in English and writing and says there is no way he could ever be a writer.)MJ: When I was in high school, I could not imagine any future at all. I married at 16 (a long strange story), didn't miss a day of school, started college when my younger daughter was 3 weeks old, left my marriage at 21, with two baby girls. Somehow I always knew I was a writer, though for a long time I didn't know how I would actually make this happen. But it was in my bones from a very early age. Junior high and high school were miserable and complicated times for me. I am probably still recovering ;-) Not probably, actually.
LL: Your bio describes a passion for dance, my daughter share's your passion. How did you come to know and love the hula?
MJ: This story will be told in the memoir but it has to do with a boy I fell in love with when I was 9. He was Hawaiian and he and his family had a huge impact on me. They still do. I started studying hula (in the past, I'd studied ballet and I've always danced) about 11 years ago, as a way to honor him and grapple with my grief over his death. I loved hula from the beginning and have recently entered into a formal program of study. But he is the genesis and the foundation.
LL: And speaking of choreography... tell me about choreographing the world's largers BLT??
MJ: In a way, it was all about choreography. I divided the sandwich into sections--8 feet per section--and had 4 people assigned to each section. Everything was prepared in advance, of course, and the most fun part was the Parade of Ingredients, lead by a marching band, me, the Mayo Queen, 3 toddler salt flakes, a head of lettuce, 2 tomatoes. Then came the bacon (each bacon team member, carrying their bacon), the lettuce and the tomatoes. Bread, mayonnaise, salt and pepper were already in place at the long table. When the Mayo Queen dropped her golden spatula and said "Let the slathering begin," the teams followed the instructions and made their section. It took maybe 10 to 12 minutes to construct the entire sandwich, which was then sliced and sold.
You can check out worldsbiggestblt.com.
Many thanks to Michele and the Harvard Press for including me in the launch of this fabulous book. I'm honored to wholeheartedly recommend Vinaigrettes & Other Dressings: 60 Sensational recipes to Liven Up Greens, Grains, Slaws, and Every Kind of Salad to anyone looking to liven up a salad. The book provides endless ideas for not only salads, but marinades and sauces for everything from fish to fruit to even desserts. Pick up a copy and enjoy an afternoon reading in the sun followed by salads with endless flavor.
|Shot with our new Lensbaby Composer Pro... loving this new lens!|
Monday, May 27, 2013
Usually I'm pretty darn good at following rules. A traffic light turns yellow? I almost always stop. No glass outside by the pool? Nope, we never do that. Cross the street at the corner? Yep, I follow that one too.
However, for this month's Inspired Plate Food Photography and Styling Challenge though, I think I have to give myself a fail. Our challenge this month of "Herbs, with a clean/messy added element" had me actually failing twice.
Looking at my schedule lately, I think I can explain it all away with "I've got too much on my mind", or maybe it's simply a lack of attention to detail. Or perhaps this little image sums it up:
In any case, I finished my first (notice I said first...) shoot nearly two weeks early. So proud I actually completed a project ahead of time and that the photos turned out worthy of a photography challenge, I loved my empty bowl with just the last bits of Coconut Avocado Frozen Yogurt swirled at the bottom to complete the "messy" portion of the shoot. The spoon was set just so, perfectly balancing off of the ingredients that I had scattered around the shot.
Checking the due date of this project I happened to notice the word "Herbs" right at the top. With not an herb to be found in my frozen yogurt, I scooped myself a bowl and returned to my recipe file to find something filled with herbs.
Last weekends dinner with Mom and Dad proved the perfect opportunity to fire up the grill, and our Grilled Tomatillo Mango Salsa paired with the grilled Mahi-Mahi beautifully. Cleaning up the kitchen before Mom and Dad got here I was happy that all the dishes were done, the fish ready to grill, the salad prepped and the dessert in the freezer (that was the Fabulous Frozen Margarita Lime Pie we posted earlier this week).
Setting down at the computer with the extra time I had before they arrived I glanced at our challenge prompt and once again my heart sunk once again with failure. Messy element... well now that the kitchen was all clean and ready for guests the messy wasn't going to happy. As such I'm settling for this sort of messyish shot of the before of the tomatillos.
Arriving in a papery husk, I've found many of my friends somewhat intimidated by the green fruit. Tomatillo Salsas, with their slightly sweet flavor, are many times not as hot as other salsas. (Take care to take a small test bite first though, as you just never know.). As the tomatillos arrive somewhat firm, I like to grill mine, giving them a richer flavor and a preferable (for me) texture.
A ripe mango on the counter proved to be the perfect complement to the grilled tomatillos, onions and small piece of serrano chili, while also bringing a nice color element to the bowl. Served alone with tortilla chips or as a topping for a piece of grilled fish, you most likely won't have this salsa around long. All the better to return to the kitchen for that lost messy shot...
Please join me as we make our way around the Inspired Plate blog circle. First up, we head to Australia to visit Sabrina Wong a Perth Food Photographer with her photography challenge shots.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Say the word "Margarita" and you have my attention. A self-proclaimed margarita snob, I like my margarita tart and strong with a heavy dose of lime. Being somewhat particular, I've been known to send drinks back time and again when they boast only a sweet, somewhat limey and no tequila flavor. With some 25+ years of margarita experience, I finally know what I like.
And what I like more than the drink itself just may be this Frozen Margarita Lime Pie. Going against all of my rules, this pie is creamy, somewhat sweet with only a very, very faint hint of tequila (and that might only be because I doubled the ingredient in my pie...). It does however bring a fabulous lime punch that brings a smile of approval to my face and makes the most perfect summer dessert.
Taking part in the ever popular Pass the Cook Book Club (where we reach to use the sometimes neglected cookbooks already on our shelves, or at least on Kita's shelf), Kita has once again chosen a winner, and another one that I personally don't have on my shelf but after trying this recipe I just might have to buy. Slushed!: More Than 150 Frozen, Boozy Treats for the Coolest Happy Hour Ever, by Jessie Cross, boasts an Amazon bargain price of under $6.78 (that's under 5¢ a recipe!) and if this Frozen Margarita Pie is a sign of the rest of the book, I'm sold.
Using low-fat cream cheese in my version, no one was any the wiser and my calorie guilt reduced. The addition of lime juice and zest (we did add a little lemon too) brought a wonderful margarita flavor that combined beautifully with the little bit of tequila and Grand Marnier. Reminiscent of a cheesecake, I actually preferred the pie a bit less frozen, though others liked the fresh from the freezer texture.
Definitely a keeper, this recipe will be making the rounds this summer everywhere we need to bring a dish. Thanks Kita! (I just ordered the book...)
Monday, May 20, 2013
We meet under the cover of darkness. At the agreed upon time he arrives, dimming his headlights as he slides his car easily next to mine - always baking in, never front first. My heart races ever so slightly with anticipation as I step from my car casually checking over my shoulder looking for the others. After a quick hug in greeting he asks, "You're sure you want that many?" to which I respond without hesitation, "Yes... Absolutely yes.".
Taking my favorite reuseable bag from the back seat, I make my way to the back of his car and he opens the lift to reveal the goods. A gasp escapes me as I take in the bounty.
Some perfectly ripe, others set to be ready in 3-5 days, I gather the beautiful green orbs as LeRoy and Todd do the same. All the while Pablo takes handful after handful and passes them out to other moms in the parking lot.
Over the years, I don't think I've ever been so thankful for a friend's job. You see, Pablo works in an area of Temecula, CA that has access to my obsession... the beautiful and healthy California avocado. Allowed to gather the ones he finds on the ground, the recent Santa Ana winds have dropped an abundance that would end up going to waste, and hence, Pablo has been keeping all of us Dance Moms and Dads happy with the extra fruits of his labor as we meet for dance pick-up on Thursday nights.
Pale green in color, the exceptionally creamy - yet low in fat - dessert uses low-fat coconut milk as a base in combination with my favorite, tart Greek yogurt and two perfectly ripe avos. The citrus zest of limes and lemons brings a bright burst of flavor making this dessert a tropical treat. Not exceptionally sweet, this froyo may not be a favorite with the kids, but it did the trick for me.
Here's hoping those winds keep blowing.