Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blood orange curd: Calling all food stylists

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I think I've shared with you my acceptance (more or less) of my mediocre photography skills. I have limited time and limited patience. I do the best I can.

But the blood orange curd is really sending me over the edge. It's a pink blob. It didn't look good in a bowl. It didn't look good on a spoon. It looked better on toast, but this was the best I could come up with:

And even I'm not deluded enough to think that this is at all good.

So here's my challenge to all of you. Tell me how you would style this photo. I will try just about anything I have the props and lighting to execute. The method that works best will earn both my undying gratitude and a dozen brownies shipped or delivered to your door. Because seriously, people, I need help.

For those of you not familiar with curd - it's got the consistency of mayonnaise. And it's highly reflective.



Update: Another try

Based on some of the advice in the comments and from my good friend and master photographer Rachel Kaganoff Stern (visit her blog Inside the Kaganoff Kitchen if you want to see some truly spectacular food photography), I did a second round of photos this morning. Here's what I got:

Better, I think. Still not fabulous. I had trouble getting both the curd and the blood orange slice in focus. I wonder if that's me or my camera?

Tomorrow morning I'll try some of the other suggestions, with fuzzy oranges in the background.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Green garlic bacon quiche in a bread bowl

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The first time Michael and I traveled to France together (a long time ago), I learned something important: Michael is a man who eats quiche. Particularly French quiche. Particularly the traditional and beguiling quiche Lorraine, with its bits of smoky ham and creamy-smooth custard, although he might pass that up in favor of a good-looking quiche aux poireaux dotted with slivers of velvety pale-green leek.

The first quiches I ever made used the method outlined in Mollie Katzen's classic, adorable Moosewood Cookbook, a book I got shortly after college, when I was first teaching myself to cook. I was then, as I am now, afraid of rolling pie crust, so I used (sue me) frozen crusts. I filled them with all kinds of things over the years: bacon, spinach, the gorgeous leeks, mushrooms, whatever. The Moosewood custard is tame, hardly French, a nod to the health-conscious Americans who think butterfat will kill them on contact. She uses milk, eggs, and a little flour to build her custard. It's tasty and it's certainly quiche, but it's not French quiche - the quivering, meltaway creaminess that slips coolly down your throat. French quiche can only be made with heavy cream.

A few days ago I wrote about eggs baked in miniature bread bowls in my LA Cooking Examiner column, an idea I saw first on the Noble Pig Vineyards blog. I loved the method and immediately began wondering what else could be baked in bread bowls. Quiche seemed a natural candidate. When Michael tasted the quiche in the photo above, he remarked that the custard had soaked into the little bit of bread left inside the hollowed-out crust as it baked, making the outside very crisp and everything inside flavorful and soft - an effect he liked very much. Have I mentioned he's hard to please discerning? Very hard to please discerning. When he likes something, you know it's a sure winner.

I used green garlic and bacon for this version, and you should too if green garlic is still in season in your area, because it's a spectacular combination. But if you can't get your hands on green garlic, try mushrooms, spinach, or whatever else you usually like in quiche. The method remains the same.

 Green garlic

Green garlic bacon quiche baked in bread bowls
  • 8 small sourdough rolls
  • 1 stalk green garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cooked crumbled bacon
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (you want a mild cheese here; don't overwhelm the flavor of the green garlic with something strong)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice off the top of the rolls about half an inch from the top - not much, really. Using your fingers or a small paring knife (or a combination of the two), take out most of the bread flesh, leaving each roll a hollowed-out shell. Line up the empty rolls on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Divide the green garlic, bacon, and cheese evenly among the hollowed-out rolls. In a measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and cream. Pour the egg mixture into each roll, filling it nearly to the top. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the rolls.

Bake the filled rolls about 30 minutes, until the filling is set and puffed up, and the tops are browned nicely. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 5 minutes before serving. The quiches can be eaten warm or at room temperature; if you keep them covered overnight, warm them in the oven (I used the toaster oven) for a few minutes before you eat them the next day. Because, of course, quiche makes the perfect breakfast, in France or anywhere.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Weston's guacamole recipe

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Meet Weston, my eight-year-old son.

You haven't heard as much about Weston up to this point because he's not as food-obsessed as his 11-year-old brother Emery. But he definitely has his likes (roast chicken, Caesar salad with homemade croutons, lettuce soup, bacon and cheese quesadillas, banana chocolate chip muffins) and his dislikes (chopping onions, anything spicy, my lovely salmon with mustard and tarragon, and most of what I've made for dinner in the past year).

What's more, Weston is a great sous-chef. He can saute, stir, whisk and flip. He doesn't rhapsodize about food the way his brother does, but in the kitchen, he gets stuff done. He knows he doesn't like chopping onions because one afternoon he chopped five pounds of onions for a stew we were making. After the first pound, when his eyes were tearing and his nose was running and he was clearly miserable, I offered to take over. He insisted on finishing. When he commits, he commits.

Our avocado tree bore more fruit than usual this year, and Weston, ever the daredevil, followed a climber friend up its branches a few weeks ago and picked a few dozen at once. The glut of ripe avocados five days later inspired Emery's spring scrambled eggs, about which I wrote recently. But still there were more. Unasked, Weston took on the task of making a daily guacamole to use up the avocados he had picked.

About the same time, Weston got his first email account. He emails his friends about Pokemon, his grandparents little love notes, me scheduling requests ("Can we go see the Percy Jackson movie this weekend?").

Unbeknownst to me, he also used his new email account to send most of the people in his address book his first written recipe - for guacamole. He didn't send it to me. Maybe he assumed I knew it by heart, as I'd seen him make it so many times. You'll notice it's very simple, very unadorned; don't let that put you off. It's delicious. Here it is, unedited:

Weston's guacamole


Put the avocado in a bowl mash it 'till it's mushy then squeeze lemon into the bowl.(no seeds)put salt and pepper in 'till you think it's good enough.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Truffled egg salad recipe with Eggland's Best

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I haven't yet found a way of cooking eggs that doesn't agree with me. I like eggs scrambled, poached and fried; hard-boiled, soft-boiled and in omelets; swimming in soup, dressing up fried rice, and whipped into meringues. You could say I'm pretty much a fan of the egg.

But pair a cooked egg with truffles and watch me go from a mere admirer to one of those screaming, crying, quivering, speaking-in-tongues fans you see in the footage of the Beatles' 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. Eggs with truffles take my breath away. Make me forget my name. Could convince me - maybe - to root for the Red Sox.

Which is why, when Eggland's Best gave me a dozen of their beautiful, nutrient-rich eggs as part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I knew that I'd be making truffled egg salad.

I've already gone on ad nauseum about my obsession with truffles - the nine-course truffle dinner party last summer, the Oregon truffles that show up at the farmers' market in winter, the risotto with Oregon white truffle oil that makes me swoon. You know I like truffles. I've written a half-dozen truffle recipes in the past year, maybe more.

But let me assure you: This recipe is different. This is a recipe so simple, so elegant, and yet so otherworldly, you will make it the first time and think "How did I not know about this?" And you will immediately put it into rotation, as I have, for cocktail parties, pre-dinner nibbles, or general displays of spousal affection. Does my husband love me more because I make him truffled egg salad? He'll deny it. And yet, and yet, I think it's possible.

Don't worry if you can't afford actual fresh truffles. Neither can I, most of the time. The combination of truffle oil and truffle salt (a combination of sea salt and grated truffle, available at gourmet stores) give the egg salad enough truffle flavor. If you've got canned or fresh truffles, or truffle paste, feel free to add it in. Basically, when it comes to truffles in this egg salad, more is better.

Truffled egg salad
  • 1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled, peeled
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • 3 Tbsp white or black truffle oil
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt (or to taste - I tend to go heavy with salt, so start with 1/4 tsp first if you like things less salty)
  • grated fresh white or black truffle (optional; if you can afford it)
  • 2 Tbsp minced chives
Put the eggs in a large bowl and bash them with a potato masher until they're coarsely chopped. Add the mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of the sour cream or creme fraiche, and the truffle oil; mix until evenly blended. If it's not creamy enough, add more sour cream or creme fraiche, a tablespoon at a time, until you get the texture you want. Add the truffle salt, grated truffle if you're using it, and chives, and mix briefly.

Serve on toasted slices of baguette or crackers.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Susanna's gluten-free salty oatmeal cookies

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I've been blogging about food for more than a year, and the people with whom I talk and email regularly know it. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I got up the nerve to send a mass email to my wider net, letting them know about this blog, my LA Cooking Examiner column, and the opportunity to raise money for ovarian cancer research with Kelly Ripa's Cake-Off for a Cause. (Thanks to all of you who voted for my team's Snow Day cake - we didn't win, but it doesn't matter, because your votes put money in the bank for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and that's the important part.)

One of the benefits of having "come out" as a food blogger is that suddenly people I've known for years are asking me for advice and chatting me up about food. A few weekends ago, for example, my neighbor Susanna rang our doorbell and invited me to come down the street to her house to sample some cookies she'd made from a cookbook she'd borrowed from the library.

Susanna's gluten-free salty oatmeal cookies

Every time I see Susanna, I'm both amazed and dismayed that we see each other so little. When I met her and her family, I was mourning the departure of the family who'd sold them the house - good friends with whom we'd shared vacations, family dinners and more than one parenting milestone. But Susanna and I fell in right away. We'd overlapped in New York in the late 80s, and a short round of "six degrees" revealed that she'd spent a year at an investment bank working with one of my closest childhood friends. It was good karma, I thought: One friend moves away, another shows up.

But one thing after another has gotten in the way of our good intentions. Our kids don't get along as well as we'd hoped. Susanna was pregnant with her third when they moved in, and while my kids were getting older and more self-sufficient, she was having a baby and nursing a baby and juggling the baby with her older kids. When we met I was an at-home mom, but Susanna had a high-powered full-time banking job; now we both juggle work and family. Months go by when we wave but exchange no more than a few sentences of adult conversation. Occasionally we run into each other on the street and stand on the curb catching up while one child or another whines and pulls our arms, eager to move along.

That's why I was so happy when Susanna showed up at my door. I grabbed my camera and followed her down the hill to her house. She'd taken out All Cakes Considered by National Public Radio's Melissa Gray, a collection of sweets recipes that came together over a year of baking treats for the NPR offices. On the kitchen counter sat a big plate of these salty oatmeal cookies, which I thought were extraordinary.

The headnotes for the recipe, which I scanned while eating my second (maybe third) cookie in Susanna's kitchen, said that Gray tried hard to replicate the expensive cookies at a snooty coffee shop near the NPR offices, and that it took several attempts. The secret to the crisp, light, crumbly texture turned out to be brown rice flour, and the final recipe was gluten-free - even more appealing to Susanna, who says she feels better when she avoids wheat.

I took some pictures, ate a few more cookies, and savored the half-hour of girl talk. And then her men reappeared, back from camping, in need of attention and showers. And back up the hill to my own house I went. It may be months before we can steal another half-hour, but I hope not. I'm working on a gluten-free cookie recipe of my own, so next time I'll have an excuse to drag Susanna up to my house.

Susanna and Scout with her salty oatmeal cookies - the dog showed remarkable restraint

I don't have the book, so I can't give you the specifics of the recipe. (And I wouldn't, anyway, because that would be unauthorized borrowing.) But here are a few recipes I've found online that come close. They all seem to have started with the desire to replicate the salty oatmeal cookies from a certain DC coffeehouse, so we're clearly on the right track.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Recipe: Scrambled eggs with kale and provolone

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I am one of those unfortunate people who has struggled with her weight since the dawn of time.

I am not a woman of excess. I have friends (you know who you are) who make resolutions to eat 28 desserts in 28 hours. I have non-blood relatives (you know who you are, too) who believe that pate is a food group and no meal, including breakfast, is truly over without something sweet, and I don't mean fruit.

Of these extremes I fall far short. I like vegetables. I'm not much for dessert. Balance in all things, that's my mantra.

Unfortunately, some idiot invented french fries. And bread. And polenta, and pasta, and pretty much any other starchy, salty, fiberless fare you can imagine. These are my binge foods, my comfort foods, my one-bite-and-I-gain-10-pounds foods. I'll never give them up. But I'm constantly looking for ways to trick myself into forgetting, however temporarily, that they exist.

Thus was born my current experiment, which I'm calling 5 by 5. Simply put, I am trying to get five servings of fruit and vegetables in before 5pm. I see lots of potential benefits:
  1. It's simple.
  2. It keeps me focused on eating the "right" things instead of denying myself the "wrong" things.
  3. It's good for me.
  4. It distracts me through the witching hours, which for me are 2pm to 5pm, the long afternoons at my desk at work, a little sleepy, a little cranky, and jonesing for a carb fix.
  5. My cravings may not be gone, but my stomach is just too full for anything else.
  6. If I feel like having cereal or pasta for dinner, when I'm even more tired and cranky and craving, at least I feel less guilty about it. And I eat less, because I'm still full of vegetables.
Am I doing this to lose weight? Maybe. But if I don't lose weight and still end up eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer starches, I'll end up healthier, and I'll consider that a positive outcome.

One key to success in getting in five servings: Breakfast. Which is how I ended up with this delicious, healthy scramble. One serving of veg down, four more to go  by 5pm.

Scrambled eggs with kale and provolone
  • 1 tsp olive oil 
  • 8 leaves kale, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 slice provolone cheese, torn into small pieces (or cheese of your choice)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale and garlic and saute about 2 minutes, until the kale is wilted but not limp. Pour the eggs over the kale and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Scramble with a spatula until the eggs are cooked through and the cheese is melted. Turn the eggs onto a plate, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.