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Tuesday
Dec132011

BALSAMIC ROASTED ROOTS + SPINACH SAUCE

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Our pastor was talking about his child with Down's Syndrome. He showed videos of him laughing and dancing even when there was no music playing, and in short, relayed what an unexpected source of joy he has been to their family. A child whose condition is thought to be a burden, has enabled every person in their family to take note of the little things. The difference he noted in his sweet three year old boy, is that he feels entitled to nothing and therefore can find joy in anything. My eyes teared, an easy feat actually, but anyone would have, with humility tugging on you throughout his story.

We hear the word "joy" this time of year and we can look right through it. It's a season of sparkly gifts and things, but I want to stay focused on what actually fills me up. It makes me so happy when I come home late from work and Hugh has remembered to plug in the lights around our front door. We don't have a timer and our eyesore of an extension chord is huge and bulky, but the sentiment that my sweet husband plugs them in just for me, fills me with joy. It's in the small things, the unexpected things. And while there will be dissappointment, sorrow and loss, there is also joy when you look for it.

I'm sure you've caught on by now that I am not much for give-aways or product review, but when I was invited to try a few things from Gilt Taste, I made an exception to my self imposed rule. This website has some pretty fabulous artisan food products and is backed by a number of respectable names in the food world. They sent me a CSA-style box filled with some of the most gorgeous vegetables I'd seen in quite a while. So the following is what I came up with from a few of the contents in the box, assisted by a few staples in my pantry and fridge. While there's plenty of flavor on this plate, as is, I could see this as wonderful base for a vegetarian entree, maybe with a tender whole grain added in, or a basic protein of your choice.

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BALSAMIC ROASTED ROOTS + SPINACH SAUCE // Serves 4
As per any recipe I write, you need to trust your gut. The vegetable roasting timing may vary, and the sauce, because it is textured, is forgiving, so alter the flavors as you wish.

1 lb. Assorted Small Carrots
1 lb. Assorted Small Beets
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar, divided
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper

1 Bunch Fresh Spinach Leaves
1 Large Clove Garlic, minced
2 tsp. Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Light Whipping Cream or Whole Milk
1/3 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp. Prepared Horseradish, optional
Squeeze of Fresh Meyer Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Microgreens for Garnish

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Scrub the beets and carrots clean. Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler, doesn't have to be perfect. Lay them out to dry on a dishcloth (use a dark one, the beets bleed).
Preheat the oven to 425'. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Toss the dry roots in the olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Sprinkle half the balsamic and toss again. Roast the vegetables on the middle rack anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on size. You want to be able to pierce a butter knife through the largest vegetable on the tray.
While the vegetables are cooking, make your spinach sauce. Steam the spinach for just a minute or two to cook down. Remove to cool. Squeeze out any remaining water and chop well. You should have about a cup worth.
In a medium saute pan over medium low heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the butter to melt, stir it around. Add the chopped spinach and cream and stir to coat. Cook until the spinach absorbs most of the cream. Stir in the parmesan, few pinches of salt and pepper, horseradish if using and stir. Using a mini blender or immersion blender, give the spinach a few pulses to break it down. You don't want quite a puree, more of a texture sauce, some chunks are fine. Add it back to the pan and thin with milk/cream if you wish. Squeeze in a bit of fresh lemon juice to taste. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm. When the vegetables are ready, remove to cool slightly and drizzle on the remaining balsamic. Plate each portion with a schmear of the spinach sauce, the roasted vegetables and microgreens for garnish. Round out the meal however you wish.

* The assorted carrots, beets, spinach, garlic and microgreens were sent to me by Gilt Taste while the text and recipe are my own.

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Thursday
Dec082011

DARK CHOCOLATE + GINGER FLATBREADS

My intention this year was to give edible gifts and charity donations in peoples' names for Christmas. Everyone starts talking about lists and ideas and I worry that my idea won't go over so well - that my gift will look chintzy regardless of the cost. It's going to be on my new years resolutions to really follow through with that next holiday, if that is what I WANT to give. Because the season is about giving joyfully, not fulfilling a list. And yes, I am aware it isn't too late to do that this year, but the ship has sailed on committing to that for this year.

I got the idea for these treats from a Food & Wine magazine and thought they'd be nice to have around this time of year for when people stop over (which actually doesn't happen too often come to think of it, which is why I end up eating them). They're kind of like the ever popular "bark", except there is a whole grain cracker standing in for some of the chocolate thickness, making them lighter. They have a nice snap to them, a perfect sweetness and wrap up beautifully for a gift. The sturdiness makes them ideal to send in the mail too! So whether you need a treat around for you or someone else, it doesn't get much easier than dipping crackers in chocolate.

We are sharing this recipe with our lady friends over at Wedding Chicks so be sure to check out their other great edible treats!



DARK CHOCOLATE + GINGER FLATBREADS // Makes 16
Inspired by Grace Parisi at Food + Wine magazine

Get creative with your toppings. I added a dribble of peppermint extract to some extra chocolate and sprinkled crushed mint candies on top, sort of like a cracker peppermint bark. Some chopped pistachios and dried cherries would be great too, you could gift a variety pack!

6 oz. Dark Chocolate (I used Valrohna 71%)
16 Flatbread Crackers such as Ak Mak or Finn Crisp
1/4 Cup Crystallized Ginger, minced
3 Tbsp. Toasted Sesame Seeds

Maldon Flaked Sea Salt



Break up the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler (set a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bowl). Stir it every so often until the chocolate is completely melted, about 4 minutes.
Lay your crackers on a baking rack with some parchment paper underneath for easy clean up.
Coat the top of each flatbread with a generous layer of the melted chocolate (I use a spoon and a silicone pastry brush, an offset spatula or butter knife will work as well). Set them on the baking rack.
Sprinkle the chopped ginger and sesame seeds on top, no need for perfection, just go ahead and sprinkle. Add more if you please.
Finish them with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and put the tray in the fridge to set.
They will last about two weeks in an airtight container.

Tuesday
Nov292011

THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL



I started writing a post about spicy chiles. I babbled about how I have made inedible food by underestimating the heat of tiny peppers - a lesson it seems you learn once per chile. That was the short of it because really I just want you to read this article: How to Love What you Do.

I found it via a good friend's twitter and while it seems to be written for photographers, I heard the whole thing speaking to the cautious me. The me who came back from her tax appointment last night thinking WHAT am I doing?!? A question I really need a good answer to given the amount of people asking me, "Your book is written! Now what are you going to do?".
You know how you are never to ask a lady if she's pregnant unless you're absoluetly sure? I would also love to officially add the what-are-you-doing-next question to that forbidden list. I will tell you when I know. Just like the pregnant lady.

I love number 5 about making decisions because it reminded me of all the things I've talked myself out of. The big and the little. I'm motivated and inspired and that's what I wanted to share with you. That and this soup, which is one of the most flavorful things I've made in a while. The broth started off like drinking fire, and then I fixed it and truly feel it's a wonderful recipe base that you can adjust to your taste preferences.
Noodle bowl or not, I hope you decide to think big today, because "doing is all that counts".

THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL // Serves 4
Adapted from Food and Wine via Harold Dieterle of Kin Shop, New York

I know heat is subjective, so I am giving amounts for a medium spicy soup. I would start there and add accordingly. It's tougher to neutralize the spice in a soup like this, so start moderate. The original recipe calls for fish sauce, which I can't handle, so I opted for peanut butter and tamari. I'm sure you can find the original on their website.

1 14 oz. pkg. Extra Firm Tofu
2 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
2 tsp. Sesame or Olive Oil

2 Thai Chiles or half of one VERY Small Habanero, seeded and chopped
3 Stalks Fresh Lemongrass, inner bulbs, finely chopped
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Shallot
1/4 Cup Peeled and Chopped Fresh Ginger
1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil
2 1/2 Cups Coconut Milk (about a can and a half)
1 heaping Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp. Natural Smooth Peanut Butter
Zest of Two Limes
Juice of One Lime
Salt and Pepper
2 Cups Roughly Chopped Mushrooms (I used medium portabellos)
Around 9oz. Soba Noodles, love these
Fresh Cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish

Wrap the tofu in a few paper towels and set it on a plate to drain with another plate on top. Leave it for an hour or up to six. Preheat the oven to 400'. Cut the tofu into 2'' cubes, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the tamari and oil and bake for about 25 minutes until the edges are browned.
In a blender or food processor, combine the chiles, lemongrass*, garlic, ginger, shallot and 1/4 cup water and puree until smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil. Add the lemongrass puree and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until fragrant. About two minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, muscavado, tamari, peanut butter, lime zest and a cup of water. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.
While the broth simmers, cook your soba noodles.
To the broth, ddd the sliced mushrooms, stir in the lime juice, taste for salt and pepper and let it sit another 5 minutes. Divide the noodles and tofu between your bowls and laddle the broth on top. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

* Lemongrass is a beautiful ingredient but try to find a store that sells nice fresh stalks. You can tell because they will be pretty firm. I find it easiest to smash them with the side of a wide knife and peel back an outer layer or two, then chop up the insides to cook with.

Sunday
Nov202011

BANANA SNACKING CAKE WITH CASHEW COCONUT CREAM



It hasn't completely sunk in, but the holidays are paving their way. The tree lots are popping up, we've got our Thanksgiving assignments and little white lights are slowing starting to line the houses in our neighborhood. I've got tubs of peppermint ice cream (my absolute favorite) in the freezer and there is a blooming white poinsettia on the porch. I just began to feel taken by the sentiment of this time of year in craving more time with friends and family, reflecting on the past year with thanks. Days pass and then you look back at a years time and so much has happened. So much! I know I have a ton to be thankful for. The big things like a kind and funny husband, a supportive family (two of them now!) a great place to live and good food. But the little things are not lost on me either. I just hope we all take the time to soak it all in.

This snack cake is my last non-festive treat before I jump into the holiday dishes with two feet. You don't get much less festive than banana cakes this time of year, but I couldn't help myself. I'm now ready to burn out on pumpkin and peppermint with the rest of you. I've been having a thing with almond meal lately, as I appreciate the flavor, extra protein and the crumbly texture in my baked goods. Because it is gluten free, I am careful when I use it exclusively, to make sure everything stays together. You could go all almond meal if need be, but know it will be a fragile cake. Here, I mix in a bit of spelt flour (wheat free, but not gluten free) and it yields that delicate texture while tasting pleasantly grainy from the spelt.
It's a tasty little snack, a perfect compliment to afternoon coffee, but personally, a distraction to keep Hugh out of my peppermint ice cream.

BANANA SNACKING CAKE WITH CASHEW COCONUT CREAM // Makes one 8x8 cake
The cream frosting is from So Good and Tasty via My New Roots

You could use sweetened coconut if that is what you have on hand, just know your cake will be a bit sweeter. I gathered a tip from Kamran's recent post, and think it's perfect for baked goods with almond meal. I pull it out a tad early and cover it with a dishtowel to hold the steam in and it keeps it moist. He leaves his cake covered for 8 hours, I felt mine was good after an hour. Lastly, I have found that nut meals dry out quicker, so keep it air tight and it should last you 2-3 days. They have a great, well priced almond meal at Trader Joe's.

1 Cup Almond Meal
1/2 Cup Spelt Flour
1/2 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tbsp. Light Muscavado Sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, plus extra for finishing
Few pinches of Fresh Grated Nutmeg

2 Large, Extra Ripe Bananas
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, warmed to a liquid
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract


Cashew Cream
1/2 Cup Raw Cashews, soaking in water for an hour
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp. Honey or Maple
1 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

Preheat the oven to 350'.
Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
In another bowl, smash the bananas really well, breaking down the chunks. Add the oil, eggs, vanilla and mix. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients.
Grease an 8x8 glass baking pan and pour in the mix. Bake on the middle rack for about 22-24 minutes. Being sure the center is just set.
Allow it to cool for about 5 minutes, cover it with a dish towel and let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour as it re-absorbs some of the steam.
For the cream, drain the cashews and put them in a food processor with the coconut milk, honey and lemon juice. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. It will have a bit of texture to it. The cream will keep in the fridge for about a week.
I prefer to add a bit of the cream to each piece as eaten, not frost the whole cake. Finish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Wednesday
Nov092011

CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER SOUP



I had a nice big head of cauliflower in the fridge, knowing it would make for a nice soup or a puree of some sort, something easy. I'm partial to roasting most vegetables this time of year, and there is something about the crusty edges and nutty taste of a roasted cauliflower floret that certainly shames any past habits of steaming. The high heat of the oven brings out the natural sugars in the vegetable and rounds them out, caramelizing them with charming flecks of brown, hence the color of my soup.

There are two ways to go with a cauliflower soup, depending how rich you want it. While the rainy days passed, I scribbled notes of browned butter, a bit of cream, maybe some shaved grano padano cheese on top. Then we went to San Francisco for a few days, and ate some pretty wonderful food, so I decided to scale back that decadence just a bit. I'm all for those ingredients in moderation, but my favorite jeans were feeling snug, so here we are with a broth base and I don't feel like I'm missing too much. If you want more richness, replace some of the broth with cream and dress it up with cheese or browned butter as you wish. Even after a good run in the food processor, there is some texture to this soup, so enjoy it for what it is.

In other news, we've been married a year this Sunday, so that's really exciting. Time flies when you're trying to figure out how to make a book together. I love, love. Like really love it.

CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER SOUP // Serves 4

I was eating some leftovers today and was thinking that if you halved the broth, this would make a nice puree underneath your protein of choice - sort of a nice alternative to mashed potatoes. Just a thought.

1 Head Cauliflower (about 3 lbs.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Fresh Grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Broth//
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Shallot, chopped
1 Clove Garlic, chopped
3 Cups Low Sodium Vegetable Broth
1 tsp. Dried Thyme
1 Tbsp. White Balsamic Vinegar

Toppings//
1 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Fresh Torn Bread, roughly 1'' pieces
Ground Pepper
1/2 Cup Toasted Hazelnuts, Chopped
Fresh Thyme Leaves
Shaved Parmesan, optional

Preheat the oven to 450'.
Cut the cauliflower into florets and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the fresh nutmeg and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper and toss everything to coat. Bake on the middle rack for about 35-45 minutes, tossing the cauliflower halfway through, until they are fully roasted and you see a good amount of brown edges. There is a pretty wide grace period here. Remove to cool.
While the cauliflower roasts, start the broth. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the vegetable broth, dried thyme and vinegar and warm through.
When the cauliflower is cool to touch, add it and the broth mixture to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. If you want more contrast, add a bit more vinegar. Add it back to the saucepan to keep warm.
To make the croutons, heat the remaining oil in a small pan, add the torn bread and a pinch of ground pepper and stir it around for 5-8 minutes until crisp and the edges are browned.
Serve each portion with a few croutons, chopped hazelnuts and a pinch of fresh thyme leaves and shaved parmesan, if using.