Monday, January 28, 2013

Roasted Mushroom Qunioa Salad - A Food Photography Challenge

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms and Pears

The New Year brings new ideas.  And while I'm not much for resolutions,  my holiday season of "I so totally deserve that" indulgence has found me turning to more healthy options as I avoid some of those carb-loaded baked treats.  While the thought of our recent Peanut Butter Cookies smothered with that decadent Peanut Butter Ganache makes my heart race, it's heart-healthy quinoa that my heart actually craves.  As luck would have it, my Inspired Plate Food Photography and Styling Challenge for January is.... Healthy.  And, Quinoa = Healthy.

Posts on quinoa here on Liv Life are nothing new.  From salads to protein filled Warrior Breakfasts to quinoa kissed cookies, quinoa is where I turn when I feel the need to fuel myself with nutrition.  Though my family hasn't quite embraced the seed as much as I have, quinoa finds its way into our menu plan usually every week, and leftovers find their way onto my lunch plate in place of my beloved PBJ (with extra PB...).

Glancing at a December email from Whole Foods, their recipe for Quinoa with Roasted Mushrooms leaped off the page.  Overflowing with many of my favorite ingredients, quinoa, mushrooms, pears and balsamic, I amped up the flavor even more with a touch of rocket... or arugula, giving this salad a nice peppery spice when contrasted with a crumble of cheese sprinkled over the top.

Photographing said salad, however, brought a bit more difficulty.  Trying to zest up the photo as much as I did the salad, I opted for a bowl I had picked up months ago and not yet used.  They only had one left on the clearance shelf at  Pier 1, I knew one day I would find the right dish to photograph it with.  While I'm not sure this salad matches the prop perfectly, it did bring a sense of the spring season that I'm so longing for, and when combined with morning light the photo also brought a sense of brightness to my winter table.

Hearty, sweet yet savory, and oh, so healthy... This Roasted Mushroom Salad most certainly fits the bill.  Ready for more healthy food photography?  Join me as we whisk off to Michigan where my fellow Inspired Plate member, Jennifer Grant (an Editorial Food Photographer and Stylist) brings beauty to the healthy photo.

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms and Pears in turquoise bowl

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache

Some holidays are meant to be celebrated with flair, and today is indeed one of those days.  National Peanut Butter Day ranks right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving in my book, and remains a "holiday" that I sometimes entertain celebrating daily.

If you are a familiar reader of Liv Life, you may remember a peanut butter recipe or two... those Peanut Butter Waffle Sandwiches are still being requested by my carpool girls, along with the PB Granola which also remains favorite. Peanut Butter Krispie Treats?  Well they've earned the third spot on our list of all time viewed posts.  Apparently I'm not the only one with Peanut Butter love.

As such, we most certainly couldn't let National Peanut Butter Day go by without a peanut butter treat, and with chocolate also pretty darn high on our happy scale, why not go all out and put the two together??

Enter Fine Cooking's recipe for Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwiches by one of my favorite bakers, Abby Dodge.  I don't think I've found a recipe from Abby that I don't love, and the well worn page in my October 2007 Fine Cooking magazine evidences that this one is no different.

Being a dairy as well as gluten free recipe, this one meets the requirements of my lactose intolerant son and has him smiling and eating without worry.  For those not needing gluten/dairy free conditions, you'll never know the difference.  Actually, when we started making these my family had no dairy issues, so the recipe was simply made out of pure peanut butter love.

Pure peanut buttery taste shines in this flourless cookie, and the bite becomes ever so addicting as the chocolate center sets up, bringing an irresistible creamy crunch that surprises that palate.  Described in the reviews on the Fine Cooking site as "The ultimate last meal cookie", I don't think there is anything further I can add.

With that, let's celebrate...

   Happy National Peanut Butter Day 2013!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kotor, Montenegro - a Day in the Medieval City

Bay of Kotor after hiking to the fortress.  Sunning views

With the promise of a glorious sunrise in addition to stunning vistas, I didn't need an alarm to get me out of bed as our ship, the Seabourn Spirit, entered the Bay of Kotor in August of 2012.  Located on the northern coast of beautiful Montenegro, the Gulf of Kotor provides a particularly picturesque entry to the quaint medieval city.

As the golden sun low on the horizon welcomed us on deck, my husband and I along with our two teens found ourselves lost in the sheer beauty of the majestic fjord-like landscape.  Brilliant hues of orange and yellow gave way to saturated greens and blues as the sun made its way higher into the sky, and our ship glided peacefully past the sleeping town of Perast and on by the Church of Our Lady of the Rock.

Entering the Bay of Kotor at sunrise in August 2012
Entering the Bay of Kotor at sunrise

View from cruise ship of Perast in the Bay of Kotor
Perast, the Bay of Kotor
Reaching our final destination for the day, Kotor itself, our eyes glanced upward towards the fortifications of St. John's Fortress along with the 1,350 steps required to reach the top.  From our breakfast seat on the back of the ship, the trail didn't look all that bad and the cool morning breeze gave us inspiration for our much anticipated climb.  Fueled with Seabourn's signature Belgian Waffles, a quick change had us ready for our summer weather trek.

As one of the best preserved medieval cities in the Adriatic and a UNESCO world heritage site, Kotor proved to be one of the most anticipated stops on our 10 day Adriatic voyage. With our prior day being a "day at sea", my 16 year-old son was more than eager for a bit of strenuous leg stretching and with all the vigor of an energetic teen the 1,350 steps reaching some 4.5 km above the city had him running up the first few flights and never stopping till he reached the top.

Visiting in August is indeed beautiful, however, the temps rising into the low 100ºF by late morning make taking the fortress trek as early as possible a good idea.  I had thought I was in fairly good shape as I started the steps, and while I made it to the top, I did find that my mid-40's body needed more water and photo breaks than my teen-aged kids.  Suffering the two laughing at me as they pranced on ahead, I'm now ever so thankful for those photos that take me back at a glance. 

Reaching the top leaves one somewhat awestruck from the remarkable beauty of the surrounding area along with breathtaking views of the city and bay below.  The extraordinarily clear air made for brilliant hues of natural blue and green contrasting nicely with the man-made red tiles of the city roofs below.

What you need to know about the hike:

Steps leading to St. John's Fortress in Kotor, Montenegro
  • Cost:   3€ per person
  • Hike consists of approximately 1,350 steps and a 4.5 km rise in elevation.  Note that the steps are steep in some areas and realize that they are very old.  As such, crumbling and loose rocks can be found and caution for secure footing is advised.  There are no handrails, but sometimes a wall for support.
  • Heat.  Mid summer is HOT - our day ended with a mid-day temp of about 104ºF with fairly high humidity.  Start out early in the morning if at all possible and bring water, though water may be sold along the trail.
  • We saw all shapes, sizes and ages on the trail, but quite a few people turned around before reaching the top.
  • Take care not to deface or damage anything along the trail, remember you are walking on history.
Returning to the city after our hike, Liv treated herself to her "I must try one in every city" Gelato, and pronounced Kotor gelato to be fabulous.  Shops and restaurants line the streets, and we found the vendors to be exceedingly friendly and welcoming.

Display of Gelato in Kotor Montenegro

Our afternoon spent walking the cobbled street led us to the 900 year-old Cathedral of Saint Tryphon.  Consecrated in June of 1166, the cathedral received heavy damage in an earthquake in 1667.  Lacking funds for a full reconstruction, one will notice that the two towers are not mirror images.

1979 brought another major earthquake which again greatly damaged the cathedral.  Careful restoration has brought this beautiful piece of Romanesque architecture back to its original splendor for all to visit.  With a rich collection of artifacts and frescoes, the cathedral also boasts a selection of art objects and religious pieces.  Entrance fees: 2€ per person.

The Church of Our Lady of the Rock, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Back on board the ship, our family made its way on deck for the exit cruise of the Bay of Kotor.  Rumor had it that our ship's Captain was friendly with the Priest of the Church of Our Lady of the Rock and that we were "in for a treat" as we passed.

According to legend, sailors returning from a particularly difficult voyage on July 22nd of 1452 discovered a representation of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in the shallows of the bay. Considering the find a miracle, the sailors pledged to honor their find with a worthy sanctuary, and so began the "building" of the islet.

Dropping stones in the bay became a tradition for any sailor returning safely from a voyage, and over time old ships were sunk at the same spotWith the combination of the sunken ships and the dropping of the rocks, an islet emerged from the sea and there was built the Church of Our Lady of the Rock.

Housed in the church are numerous paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-centruy artist from Perast, as well as paintings from other Italian artists.  The most famous artifact, perhaps, is an intricate tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović, also of Perast.  Taking over 25 years, Jacinta used golden and silver fibers as well as her own hair to complete the masterpiece.  It is said that she produced the tapestry while waiting for her love to return from a long voyage and became blind while finishing the piece.

Back on our ship, most of the guests trained their cameras on the church of Our Lady of the Rock as we cruised past.  The blowing of our ship's horn made us all jump, however, after moments of silence the bells of the church rang out in response bringing a remarkable finish to a most memorable day in Kotor, Montenegro.

 Blowing the ship horn as we passed, the bells from the tower in the Church of Our Lady of the Rock rang out in response.