Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Savory Mushroom Chicken Crepes

Simplicity. The more I discover about food photography and what catches my eye, the more I appreciate simplicity.  While I adore gorgeous images of beautifully set tables and of course, of attractively styled food, I truly love the shots that catch the pure beauty of the ingredient itself.

Seemingly fairly easy to take a pictures of a vegetable or a piece of fruit, my last Food Photography Challenge truly caused me to stretch myself with an assignment to shoot a vegetable raw and then prepared.  For my final submission I chose scallions fresh from my Dad's garden - dirt still clinging to the tender, fragrant roots and then our favorite Scallion Biscuits.  Taking less than 10 shots to capture my favorite image, it was the simplicity of the scene that, in my opinion, brought balance to the photo.

Unstyled (the scallions were simply place on a cutting board), natural, and raw, taking such a shot is not always as easy as I thought.  (From our Photo Challenge Group, also see Stacey Siegal's stunning shot of Romanesco, magazine worthy indeed).

The weeks prior to the challenge had me shooting sweet potatoes, grilled onions and fungus... the every popular mushroom.  Taking over 200 mushroom shots, I only found a few achieving the simplicity I was looking for.  The savory crepes created from the mushrooms, though, were a delicious treat that I eagerly polished off after finishing their photos.

A Cooking Light recipe from one of my "go-to" books, Cooking Light Chicken, I used my new favorite crepe recipe from Alton Brown to wrap the creamy goodies, creating a wonderful light lunch.  The tender mushrooms sauteed in chicken broth and white wine, if desired, are mixed with onion and chicken and then lightly "creamed" with a touch of cremé fraîche.  Simple, tasty, and a nice change from the sweet crepe we are used to, these savory wraps have made it to our dinner rotation.

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Crepes

1 batch savory crepes (We like Alton Brown's Savory Version)

1 teaspoon butter 
1 cup vertically sliced onion 
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups thinly sliced baby portobello mushroom caps (about 6 ounces) 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine 
3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth 
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
2 cups left over chopped chicken
Thyme sprigs (optional)


Directions from Cooking Light:  

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Add mushrooms, salt, and pepper; cook 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender, stirring frequently. Add wine, and cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently. Add broth and fresh thyme; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; add crème fraîche, stirring until well blended. Add chicken, tossing to coat.


Place 1 crepe on each of 6 plates. Spoon about 1/3 cup mushroom mixture into center of each crepe; roll up. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired. Serve immediately.



Monday, February 20, 2012

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies - Secret Recipe Club

Since returning from an Italian Idyllic vacation a few months ago, my attention has been drawn to all things Italy.  I miss the bustle of Rome, the limoncello of Sorrento, and the steaming volcanic islands near Lipari.  The food though, has me more than simply missing it, I crave it.  I crave a simple tomato sauce made with fresh ingredients and served in normal sized portions.  I crave Greek Salads (amazingly they were on every Italian Menu).  And, I crave Nutella.

Imagine my pleasure when opening my Secret Recipe Club assignment email for the month of February, and I found "My Italian Grandmother".  I'd hit the jackpot.

Michele, a native of New York now residing in New Jersey, is about as far away from me, geographically, as one can get and still be in the same country.  Her cooking style, though, is quite the opposite, and more along the lines of being my neighbor.  With numerous recipes by my beloved Giada in addition to a plethora of Italian (and some not  so Italian) themed posts, Michele's blog offers an abundance of choices to help ease my Italian yearnings.

I've actually made two recipes from Michele's blog this week alone, though only one made it to the photo shoot (the other was eaten before a shutter could be pressed).  The first, Pasta e Fagioli, was a hit with our entire family.  Easy to put together, hearty and full of flavor, we substituted tortellini for the elbow pasta (my son's request) and white kidney beans for the red, and everyone was happy.  Hence... no photos. 

For dessert a plate of Giada's and Michele's Nutella Chip Cookies proved to be the perfect finale.  Though my first batch was slightly overcooked and a bit crunchier than I would have liked, everyone reached for seconds and complimented the rich, chocolaty flavors.  Note to baker:  be sure to follow the directions closely, baking only until "lightly golden around the edges".  The centers will still appear somewhat soft, but those somewhat soft centers are absolutely gush-worthy as they melt in your mouth.

Michele, thanks to you and your Italian Grandmother, Emilia, for the wonderful recipes you have to share on your blog.  With my Italian themed cravings still going strong, I'll be visiting often.

Pepper Jack, Scallion and Cilantro Drop Biscuits - A Food Photography Challenge

Food Photography Challenge 2 - A vegetable photographed raw and cooked,  side by side in a collage.

Food Photography... if someone had asked me two years ago if I would find myself spending hours in a kitchen with my lens pointed at a biscuit as I casually dropped perfectly chopped scallions around it I would have laughed.  Yesterday my kids did just that, they laughed.  So much for my "serious studio", which happens to be my kitchen table where the natural light hits just as we arrive home from school this time of year.

The second challenge in my newly joined Food Photography and Styling group earned deep respect from me as I struggled for the optimum images of Food Two Ways, raw and cooked, side by side in a collage.  While I didn't have much trouble with the raw versions, the cooked versions in the collages didn't have as much success.  Blasting my way through mushrooms (not so pretty cooked - but I now have a delightful Mushroom Crepe recipe to share), Sweet Potatoes (my mushy potato photo didn't make the cut) and beets (gorgeous raw images, but I don't really have a good recipe... anyone?), it was my Dad who made the choice easy for me.

Dropping off a bunch of scallions, freshly picked from his garden with the dirt still clinging to the fragrant beauties, I had my vegetable.  Only hours old, I couldn't help but pop the onions in front of my camera lens and begin shooting away.  While other veggies had taken numerous images to gain an acceptable shot, these fresh from the garden specimens were captured in less than 10 clicks of the shutter.

On to the cooked version I struggled once again to find the perfect recipe.  Grilled?  Absolutely.  A few placed on top of Pork Tacos lent a delicious grilled scallion pop to the dish, but not a particularly nice photo.  Scallions in a Summer Corn Chowder?  Again... positively delicious, however being mixed into the chowder itself didn't really show the scallion, and besides, it's not really summer.

A last minute decision for a side of bread proved to be my decision maker.  Our old favorite, Cheddar Scallion Biscuits, was enhanced with the addition of cilantro and the use of a spicy pepper jack cheese in place of the cheddar (more of a "this is what we had on hand" rather than any sort of extraordinary creativity...).  Only minutes from idea to batter, the biscuits cook up quickly and disappear just as quickly when placed on the table.

Popped into my collage the biscuits again made me smile.  Not being particularly familiar with collages, I found even more to think about when shooting the images.  Usually I use square photos for my posts, but the collage had me instead using half of a square image, requiring more of a "tall", shot to fill the frame... challenging for this photographer (and amusing for this photographer's kids).

For more stunning side by side images from our amazing Food Photography group, browse through our blog circle starting with Laurie Vengoecha, a San Diego and Riverside County Food Photographer as well as the brains behind our photography challenge group.  Our group currently includes 12 talented photographers from across these beautiful United States and I'm truly honored and excited to be a part of the Food Photography and Styling Project.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yogurt Granola Parfait

Every once in a while we stumble upon something so simple we almost don't want to admit that we didn't know about it.  Such is the case with the Yogurt Granola Parfait.  The height of simplicity with a few layers of ingredients taking only moments to put together, it wasn't something that I learned I loved until I was on vacation in Italy last October.

European Yogurt Parfait... creamy and delicious!
Breakfast on the Seabourn Legend was indeed a daily treat and became one of the favorite parts of my days on the ship.  Dining most mornings outside, in The Cafe, my husband and I took in the views of the approaching ports as the golden hues of the rising sun set the landscape aglow.

With servers taking care of our daily cappuccinos and cooked to order items, we would wander into the buffet area for choices of fresh breads, fruits and yes, yogurt parfaits.  Admittedly not a buffet girl, I chose to skip the bufet offerings the first few days, and turned up my nose at my husband's parfaits thinking that the granola would me mushy and the yogurt full of fat.  I could not have been more incorrect, sort of.

Prepared ahead of time, the yogurt was layered with granola, and yes, the granola did lose most of it's crunch, but in such a delicious texturiffic sort of way that I found myself craving it as the day went on.  In addition, something about the fresh, European yogurt had me ready to pack my bags and move to Europe.  Creamy, and yes with some fat, it was like something I've never tasted here in the USA.

Breakfast on the Legend... Legendary indeed!
Coming home there was no way to recreate the luscious treat we had on the ship, but as my memory fades, the Trader Joe's Greek Yogurt has become a decent substitute, and when layered with one of our homemade granolas it has also become a treat.  Our most recent Apple Cinnamon Granola blended nicely with a dose of vanilla yogurt for a delightful parfait.  The Orange Almond or Maple versions from a few weeks ago have worked their own magic with the vanilla or plain yogurts.  Frankly, any granola layered with any sort of yogurt and optionally topped with fresh fruit can become this wonderful yogurt parfait treat.

As I find myself yearning for my breakfast without responsibility on the ship, the yogurt parfait takes me back, if only just for a moment.  Simple, tasty and a good start to your day, yogurt and granola make a wonderful pairing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Honey Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi

Twenty years is a long time to be with anyone, and when that someone is gone, they are terribly missed.  Such is the case with our little grey, used to be stray, cat, Pawsi.

Pawsi used up the last of her nine lives yesterday when she succumbed to old age after twenty years of life.  Living an extremely well traveled life, Pawsi was born in Grass Valley, California and lived her first 12 months mostly in the wild.  However, she grew to enjoy the niceties of life and the taste of food from a can when she began spending time on my mom's porch in the winter.  One day Pawsi venured inside mom's house, was found lounging on a pillow, and her life in the wild was over.

Coming to live with us nearly half my life ago, she traveled from Northern California to Louisville, Kentucky where she found she enjoyed the snow... but only for a short time before she returned to the warmth of the house in front of a blazing fire.  Traveling across country once again she returned to California and enjoyed the sun in San Diego where she lived her life happily catching mice in the warm weather and occasionally bringing home bunnies for her owners.

Not relishing the thought of living life totally inside a house, Pawsi became adept at dodging coyotes and brought her family to tears one evening when she refused to come home and we saw a cat dragged off by a coyote.

Poor Liv sat on the floor crying as we realized that we might have lost our little cat.  At that moment my son started yelling, "Open the door!  Open the door!  The cat is sitting there!" and sure enough, Pawsi had made it home once again and looked at us a if we were all a bit crazy to be so happy to see her.

During the last few years she lost her taste for the outside and became content to live life lounging on pillows and stretching out in the sun.  Aging, she lost strength in her legs and eventually her eyesight, but never her purr.  Aloof and happy on her own, she enjoyed a nice pat, but no longer wished to be held.

As our grand, athletic, lady took her last breath in my arms yesterday these thoughts passed quickly through my mind and I realized how much we had been through together.  A marriage, new homes in different states, babies that have now grown into young adults, and most recently the addition of two rambunctious puppies who I'm certain she is not missing in heaven.

With her empty bed a reminder of our missing kitty, Liv and I grilled a delightful mahi-mahi in Pawsi's honor.  Mahi Mahi was the only food that she would regularly eat other than those awful (though she loved them) cans of Fancy Feast that my mom gave her a taste of so long ago.

While she preferred her fish plain, Liv and I found a bright marinade with just a few ingredients that brought a powerful punch of flavor.  Sweet, yet slightly sour, this Asian-like recipe goes together in a snap for those days when you just don't have the energy for a big meal.  Tossed on the grill, the fish is cooked in a flash and works wonderfully with a side of rice to sop up the remaining sauce.

Pawsi, thank you for living your life with us.  We miss you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Blueberry Waffles

It wasn't until I was in my late 20's, after I met my husband (some 20 years ago...), that I discovered I have a love of blueberries.  Growing up, I don't remember eating a blueberry other than in a sweet, cupcake-like muffin, and I certainly don't recall ever eating a fresh blueberry right out of the basket.   Fruit salads also remained blueberry-less.

My husband, however, lists blueberries as his favorite fruit and has indeed passed the blue gene down to Liv.  As a baby she she would gobble exorbitant amounts of the little blue orbs costing me a small fortune in out of season organic berries.  Today she still loves blue berries and will snack on a handful them right from the freezer as she whips them into some sort of smoothie.

Also loving all things breakfast, the Blueberry Waffle is a frequent Liv request, especially on leisurely weekends.  While she prefers to place her berries by hand into pancakes, creating an individual smilie face on each one, I prefer to dump a handful or two into my waffle batter for more of an I-don't-have-time-for-that scattered look.

With our new Cuisinart Waffle Maker, waffles have been making more of a frequent appearance on our breakfast table.  This particular version is filled with plump fresh berries in addition to protein-rich eggs and whole grains for a healthier start to her day.  Topped with additional fresh berries as well as Pure Maple Syrup, we have a keeper.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Crepes

Happy National Crepe Day!
February 2nd

How many 12 year olds to you know who come home from school starving and ready for an afternoon snack?  Lots, I'm sure.  But how many 12 year olds do you know who come from school and whip up a batch of crepes??  I credit our Liv Life blog for inspiring my 12 year old to think outside of the pbj sandwich box and for teaching her to make crepes on her own when she wants them.

Our crepe journey began shortly after we launched Liv Life and has grown and considerably improved along the way.  Our first attempts, a lovely strawberry version, produced good, but somewhat gummy (though we didn't realize it at the time) crepes.  When filled with market fresh organic strawberries and topped powdered sugar, though, they were absolutely divine.

Over the years we've continued to use our original recipe, simply tweaking it here and there, learning about the importance of the rest period (allow the batter to rest for about 1 hour after mixing), and adding chocolate on occasion.  However last weekend Liv suggest trying something new... just for fun.

Turning to my buddy (he doesn't know he's my buddy... but he is), Alton Brown, who had just done a piece on crepes on his tv show, I headed to the Food Network for his recipe.  Following his directions to a "T", I forwent my whisk in place of a blender and gave the batter a 10 second whirl as directed.  The batter then received a good hour plus rest in the fridge, and we were ready.

Setting our small nonstick skillet on the stove (Alton says there is no need for a real crepe pan), we heated the pan and swirled in a small amount of butter.  I then ladled a small amount of batter and set once again to swirling.  Hardly believing my eyes, I found I had just produced the thinnest crepe in all of my "extensive" crepe making experience! Not only was it thin, but the first crepe of the batch actually turned out beautifully and didn't have to be sacrificed as many of my first crepes do.

In my excitement, I may have become slightly too exuberant.  Turning to show Liv our beautiful crepe, my elbow hit the ladle sticking out of the blender and that is when the slow motion began.  Ever so slowly the blender began to tip, the batter began to fly and the ladle began to drop.  I must say I don't think I've ever before spread a spill in the kitchen a clean 8 feet, so this was indeed a day of firsts.  And tears.  Well, not really tears, but a very disappointed (and slightly miffed) 12 year old girl who only had one crepe and now had another hour to wait for more.

BSS | Breakfast Interrupted from Bruton Stroube Studios on Vimeo.

This video from Bruton Stroube give an example of our kitchen during The Spill! 

I can confidently say that waiting that hour before making your crepes is a good idea.  We now have first hand experience with a beautiful, well rested batter versus a 30 minute - we can't wait any longer - slightly rested batter.  While the new batch was good, the first and more rested batch was better.  Since our spill day, we have made crepes time and again, and yes, the crepes are worth the wait.