Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Best Things in Life are the Simple Ones

It is no mystery why we all love citrus at this time of year. It counterbalances the often bitter cold of the outdoors. It elevates any dish and lends itself to simple, fresh recipes. It livens up and offers a bit of sunshine to the table right when we need it most. 

In this post, I am including three recipes that I tried and fell in love with. I could eat the kale salad everyday- which would not be a bad thing, since it is so healthy. The pasta dish, which is a variation of a traditional Roman recipe, is an unexpected mingling of three main ingredients- sharp Italian cheese, spicy cracked pepper, and Meyer lemon zest. I never thought I would season pasta with that much pepper, but offset with the brightness of the lemon it was a very pleasant surprise. And I suspect that if you could eat a cloud, it would taste like the light fluffy coconut vanilla bean cream that I paired with slices of sun kissed Cara Cara oranges. It is revealing to know that even if a recipe is not complex, the outcome of several simple flavors combined can be extremely satisfying. 

Overall January was actually quite warm and pleasant where I live. Last Saturday after the conclusion of a rare rainstorm, the sky became ablaze with vivid, deep colors and magnificent clouds. The following day, my family went to hike around the Seven Sisters, a string of small extinct volcanoes on the rim of the city rising unexpectedly from the vast desert plains.

It could not have been a more perfect day, for despite it being a very gentle climb to the top of each volcano,   it felt as if we were walking among the low hanging clouds. 

I thought about my grandpa a lot that day, as I know I always will when I travel to places of a similar nature. Nearly his entire life he worked as a geologist, and it was his appreciation for natural beauty that brought him from his childhood in the Bronx to the "wild West." 

To learn of the hardships and losses he endured in his early life always surprised me, for in the short part of his life that I knew him, he was always the man with a genuine sense of humor, who loved being a geologist, insisting he drive to work in his 80's. The man who filled up old coffee cans with sunflower seeds and made sugar water every morning to give to the birds. The man who made little metal Roswell aliens to place in the yard beside the cactus plants, who deep down liked being a native New Yorker, and wearing his Yankees baseball cap. The man who would never kill a daddy long leg. 

I used to think that I wanted to be a geologist like him. I loved to scavenge for rocks in the driveway to ask him their scientific names. I was convinced that all of the quartz crystals I found were actually diamonds. 

I remember my grandpa taking us grand kids to the museum once and showing us how every mountain has a history, how each one is made up many layers. The first layer sets the foundation of the mountain, and although it gets covered up and buried under all of the layers that come after it, it influences the way the mountain forms. 

It may sound cliche, but I believe my grandpa is like the heart of the mountain. In his life he influenced all who knew him to appreciate the beauty of nature, life and simplicity. And I know this appreciation is something that will survive for generations because of all the people that were lucky enough to know him and be inspired by all he did and cared about.

Curly Kale and Blood Orange Salad
serves 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 pound curly kale, torn
1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds
3 blood oranges, peeled, sliced, and halved

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, sea salt, and chili flakes.
2. Place the kale in the bowl on top of the dressing, and toss to coat. Toss in about half of the toasted almonds and half of the blood orange segments.
3. Let sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour to marinate.
4. Top salad with remaining almonds and blood oranges just before serving.

Cacio e Pepe with Lemon
Serves 2 to 4

The recipe I used for this variation of Cacio e Pepe from Martha Stewart Living suggests using (non- gluten free) bucatini. Traditionally, a thinner pasta like spaghetti is used. So on my first attempt I used brown rice capellini. Even though it tasted great, I found that it broke apart very easily and was not too photogenic. If you can find gluten free bucatini, I suggest using it. I don’t suggest ordering it however, because speaking from experience the shipping cost is more than the cost of the pasta itself :)

Coarse salt
8 ounces gluten free bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 cup butter or butter substitute (I used Melt)
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 small Myer lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until very al dente, about 2 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta water before draining.
2. Transfer pasta to a 12 inch skillet. Add butter and 1/2 cup pasta water. Reduce heat to low, and mix in Grana Padano and cracked pepper.
3. Toss pasta with tongs to thoroughly coat it with sauce. Keep everything at a gentle simmer just until cheese melts and sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.
4. Remove from heat, then stir in Pecorino Romano. Zest lemon over the pasta. If the pasta looks dry, toss it with a bit more pasta water. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice, garnish with more cracked pepper. 

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living February 2013

Cara Cara Oranges with Honey and Coconut Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
Serves  4

3 Cara Cara Oranges
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons cherry honey
1 can whole fat coconut milk
½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Place the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator to sit overnight. Peel and slice 2 oranges crosswise, making sure to remove all of the pith. Zest and juice the third orange. Whisk the honey into the orange juice to make a syrup, set aside.
2. Remove the can of coconut milk from the refrigerator and take off the lid. Carefully spoon the thick opaque coconut from the top half of the can and transfer to a mixing bowl. Reserve coconut water in bottom half of can for another use. Add the sugar and scrape the vanilla seeds into the bowl with the coconut. Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.
3. Arrange several orange slices on each serving plate and drizzle with honey syrup. Place a dollop of whipped coconut cream beside the oranges and sprinkle all with zest.

Recipe inspired by Whole Living January/ February 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Potatoes

My older brother is the kind of person who is very regimented and maybe just a little bit obsessive about being really good at everything he does. This is most likely the reason he likes working out so much. For him, it is weightlifting that gives him a constant drive towards a desired outcome. And we all know that with workout routines come organized schedules and meal plans. 

Pretty frequently my brother comes to spend the weekend at home, and almost always there is cooking involved. I now associate his visits, strangely enough, with the aromas of chicken, rice, and sweet potatoes-the main components of his diet- wafting through the house. While I can do without the chicken, I love sweet potatoes. In fact, I am always just a little jealous when he wraps up the freshly baked sweet potatoes and takes them all for himself. Of course I can easily make them for myself, but for some reason I have often felt obligated in some way to make recipes that are more complex. I really don't know what I have had against simple cooking. 

That being said, I realize that simple cooking is wonderful. In fact I think it may be even more satisfying to create a tasty meal requiring little preparation. And when I came across these burgundy skinned potatoes with their creamy flesh, I knew I had to keep it simple as a way to honor the ingredient. 

Simply stick the potatoes in the oven to let them become more rich, and sweet, and earthy. And as they transform, create a delicious fresh, bright, slightly spicy pesto to spread on top of the warm potatoes when they pop out of the oven along with some airy, light, ricotta. It makes a perfect main course of a meal. 

Jalapeno Pecan Pesto
yields about 1 cup

1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon
2-3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1. Place the grated Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to create a sort of Parmesan "powder”. Remove and transfer to a small bowl.
2. Place the parsley, garlic cloves, and pecans in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Pour in 1/2 cup of the olive oil and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, then pulse in the lemon juice and the jalapenos one at a time until desired heat.
3. Remove pesto from food processor and transfer to a bowl. Stir in Parmesan and, if needed, stir in remaining olive oil.

Sweet Potatoes with Pesto and Ricotta
serves 4

4 Japanese purple sweet potatoes or regular sweet potatoes
Fresh ricotta
Jalapeno pecan pesto

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Set them directly on the middle rack of the oven and roast for about an hour, rotating occasionally, until soft to the touch. (You can place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of your oven so that the potato juices do not leak onto the bottom of your oven).
2. While the potatoes are cooking, make the pesto.
3. When the potatoes are cooled a bit, slit them down the center. Fluff up the insides with a fork, then top with a dollop of ricotta and a good amount of pesto. Enjoy! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Walk in the Woods and Baked Struffoli

When I have really thought about it, the world of food styling, photography, and blogging is a strange one to say the least. I have decided that as a food photographer, I must stay true to the philosophy, that much like a hunter, I have to eat what I shoot. This may sound funny, but in this day and age, it is actually quite common for a stylist to manipulate food in the way that makes it look its best- doing so in a way that compromises the quality of the food- and therefore must throw it away after a few snapshots. 

There is meaning behind the statement above. When baking, I have found that if something does not work, the only solution is to change directions to create something that has both an appealing taste and is appealing visually. This is something that I have not found to be easy to accept over the course of my little gluten free experimentation in the kitchen. But I think this is an appropriate time for me to discuss such issues, as my attempt at creating gluten free stuffoli had a much different outcome than I had expected. 

Even though I have never really been a fan of doughnuts, I came across a recipe for stuffoli and it captured my imagination as the perfect New Years dessert (the sprinkling of nonpareils reminded me of little fireworks). Yet once I finally set about trying to execute the struffoli, apparently the stubborn gluten free flour blend did not like the idea of being fried and disintegrated instantly. Long story short, I decided to make struffoli "cookies" instead, gluing them together with honey to make them spherical. Despite having wasted most of the day and lots and lots of oil, I have come to the conclusion that I made something much healthier, and possibly even tastier than the traditional treat. 

So after the stuffoli struggle, I had a sort of epiphany; perhaps I need to redirect my focus of the recipes that I post on my blog. As I suspect many of the recipes that I have posted in the past are not recipes the average reader would typically make on a normal busy day, I think my aim should be to offer more simple, healthy, fresh, yet still beautiful dishes. Since I am so fond of baking and trying to create artistic renditions of desserts and such, I am sure I will not abandon posts featuring the latter. It has just become clear to me that my blog does lack a lot of what I believe in-dishes in which locally-sourced, fresh ingredients can shine. 

Baked Struffoli (GF)
serves 8 to 10

2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Gluten Free flour blend
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks pasture butter, melted
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon anise extract
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups honey
1/2 cup chopped almonds
Colored nonpareils, for sprinkling

1. Combine flour blend, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix together butter, all 3 extracts, and egg in another bowl. Pour into flour mixture. Mix well to create stiff dough.
2. Roll out dough to 3/16 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 3/16 inch wide strips, then into 3/16 inch wide squares. Roll each piece into a ball, transferring to a parchment- lined cookie sheet as you work. Place all to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the rounds of dough until the bottoms begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Let cool.
4. Heat honey, 3 tablespoons water, and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in small saucepan. "Glue” each baked round together with honey to form a ball. Dip each ball into the honey mixture, then arrange on a platter and top with almond pieces and nonpareils.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living December 2009

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Starry Starry Pies

This is a post to commemorate some pleasant little firsts- the first time I have tried celeriac, the first time I have made vol-au-vents, and the first time I have discovered the wonderful and inspiring Homemade cookbooks by Yvette Van Boven. 

The bulbous looking celery root was a nice surprise. Its flavor is obviously reminiscent of celery itself, peppery, yet more hearty. I never would have previously thought to put celery in a pie, but when paired with cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary, it is actually quite superb and comforting on a cold winter's night. 

A vol-au-vent, I found out, is a light puff pastry shell typically filled with savory ingredients such as vegetables, meat, or fish. While the pastry recipe that I adapted for the crust of these particular pies cannot really be defined as "puff" pastry, it is fairly light for being gluten free and even seemingly multi- layered and flaky. I borrowed the idea of using celeriac as one of the ingredients to fill the pie shells from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Homemade Winter

I love it when I come across a new creative approach to food and food styling and photography, and Yvette Van Boven has certainly given me a sense of validation for my own style, combining illustration and art with scenery, culture, photography, and delicious eats. I am also especially intrigued by the photos of Amsterdam, Paris, Ireland, and surrounding areas, that accompany the recipes in her cookbooks, shot by Oof Verschuren. It is no mystery why the Homemade duo has won numerous awards. Check them out!

Gluten Free Pastry

3/4 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup millet flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
8 to 10 tablespoons ice water

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the flours with the salt and both gums. Measure out 2 1/2 cups of the flour blend and transfer to another bowl, reserve the leftover amount for another use.
2. Cut in the Earth Balance until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time to make a dough that sticks together when pressed between two fingers.
3. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, until ready to roll out.

Flour blend for pastry recipe from Helene Dujardin of Tartelette 

Celeriac, Cauliflower, and Sun-dried Tomato Vol-au-Vents 
makes about 6 servings

4 cups vegetable broth
1 small or 1/2 large celeriac, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or Earth Balance
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1/4 cup sweet table wine
GF pastry dough
1 egg, beaten

1. Bring the broth to a boil. Add the celeriac and simmer until tender. Drain, reserving the broth. Set aside.
2. Spread out the cauliflower on a baking sheet. drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 390 degrees F until tender. Stir the sun-dried tomatoes and celeriac into the cauliflower.
3. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and rosemary and saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the flour.
4. Stir in the broth, cooking and stirring until the sauce is about as thick as yogurt. Stir in the wine. Cook again until thick. Remove from heat and stir in cauliflower, celeriac, and sun-dried tomatoes. Let filling cool.
5. Roll out the pastry dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Line several small cake pans/ pie plates or 1 large pan with the dough and trim off any excess dough around the edges. Cut out stars from the remaining dough. Keep them in the refrigerator until ready to use.
6. Fill the dough with the vegetable filling. Place the stars on the vol-au-vents and brush all with beaten egg.
7. Bake the vol-au-vents about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size. Cook until they are golden brown.

Recipe for Vol-au-Vents inspired by recipe in Homemade Winter by Yvette Van Boven

Friday, January 11, 2013

Snowy Mountain's Majesty

Lately I have been taking notice of the little things; the things that are so beautiful, but I never previously thought of them as such. Winter was never my favorite season. But looking back to examine the possible reason for that, I think it might have had something to do with walking from class to class in the frigid cold and studying for final exams. Now, I love to brave the cold and take my dog for a walk and shoot some photos. The air is cloaked in a calmness and stillness that I don't think I have ever experienced before. I must say, starting off the new year with a heightened sense of observation of the world around me is somewhat liberating.

Last fall I featured a recipe for Risotto Bianco from a wonderful little book Canal House Cooking. This recipe for the Monte Bianco is also from the La Dolce Vita issue which I just love because it is a great dream of mine to go to Italy. The sweet treat is said to be a tribute to the infamous snow capped mountain in the alps, Mount Blanc. However, the mountains here in New Mexico are so beautiful at the moment, with their own dusting of powder, I made this "cake" as a tribute to them.

Monte Bianco (GF)
serves 8

3 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4-5 cups peeled whole chestnuts, vacuum-packed or in a jar, quartered
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup kirschwasser or rum
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar

1. Bring the milk and vanilla bean almost to a boil in a medium pot over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chestnuts. Cover and let the chestnuts steep to soften for 30 minutes. Drain the chestnuts, discarding the milk and vanilla pod. Return them to the pot and stir in the cocoa and liquor.
2. Working over a large wide sheet of waxed paper, pass the chestnuts through a potato ricer or food mill, showering them onto the paper. Pass them through a second time to make them lighter and more delicate. Lift up the corners of the paper and gently sprinkle about a quarter of the chestnuts onto a cake stand or serving platter in a mound. Sprinkle one-third of the chocolate over the mound. Repeat the layering process three more times, ending with a layer of chestnuts. Each layer will make the mound taller. Very gently shape the mound, careful not to pack down its delicate texture, into a pointed peak.
3. Whip the cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla together in a bowl to soft peaks. Cover the top two-thirds of the peak with half of the whipped cream, making swirls to resemble snowdrifts. The dessert can be refrigerated, uncovered, for up to 2 hours before serving. Dust it with powdered sugar just before serving. Slice or spoon wedges of the mountain with the snow onto dessert plates, adding a dollop of the remaining whipped cream to each serving.

Recipe from Canal House Cooking Vol. 7 La Dolce Vita by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A New Mexico Winter Magazine

A look at some of the spreads in the magazine above...

Finally!!! Here it is- the magazine I mentioned I was creating a while back. Initially I thought the process of putting it all together would be easy. I had established a good collection of photos over the course of the month of December- logging places, shops, artwork, recipes, food, etc.- that I thought embodied the holiday season in New Mexico. Overall I would say that this time of year in New Mexico is colorful, festive, unique and beautifully lit (definitely something worth noting). In fact, it was the lighting that made many of my shots special. 

In reality however, putting together the magazine was not easy. There were a lot of setbacks, and since I am not very technologically- minded, I was constantly searching the Internet for answers. After merging and arranging all of my pdfs only to have the entire file erased, constantly re-sizing and cropping my images, and trying every way possible to reduce the file size to a low number of megabytes, lets just say I will be happy to not have to look at the computer screen for awhile.

But despite all of the computer nonsense, I am happy that I can start off the new year feeling like I accomplished something. Having said, it will be all the more worth it to have people see my magazine, share it, and give me feedback. My aim was to create a story in photographs. I hope you enjoy :)