Sunday, December 27, 2009

Polenta of Possibilities

Inspired by a new cookbook I received for Christmas, my culinary adventure du jour was polenta. The recipe was as simple as cornmeal, water, and salt but I decided to spice it up with 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper. Once the polenta had cooked, I pressed it onto a lined cookie sheet and allowed it to cool for about an hour. Using a cookie cutter, I created small rounds. Each one was brushed with olive oil and pan fried for 2 minutes on each side creating a wonderfully crisp outer shell on which to perch delicious toppings. I dressed the crunchy cornmeal cakes with onions that were caramelized in apricot nectar and butter. This brought a wonderful sweetness and balanced the heat of the cayenne pepper. Since it was truly a blank canvas on which to create, fried polenta has secured it's place as another weapon in my culinary arsenal.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

PB & Ganache Sandwich

It's that time of year again... cookie exchanges, secret santas, and gift giving galore. Christmas baking is in high gear here at my house and today I stumbled upon a delicious combination - chocolate ganache and peanut butter cookies. Since I happened to have a vast amount of chocolate ganache, thanks to my truffle making endeavors, I decided to boost the yum factor of my peanut butter cookies by combining them with the sweet chocolaty filling. Sandwiched between two perfectly crisp cookies, the gooey ganache added a level of flavor that can be described in one word... perfection. It's a simple, classic combination but one that makes me weak in the knees every time. There is no resisting the power of chocolate and peanut butter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Turnip Test

My dad and I share an interest in cooking and we love to try new recipes. A few weeks ago, he tasked me with finding a delicious way to prepare turnips and I have been pondering it ever since. Before today, I had never even tasted a turnip. First order of business, I needed to taste a turnip. To me, it was somewhere between a radish and a potato... tuber texture with a sassy attitude. Now that my taste buds were armed and ready, I commenced Operation Turnip. After scouring food blogs and thumbing through cookbooks, I found several recipe ideas that convinced me that turnips and ginger would make for a delicious soup. Using a blender, I combined roasted turnips, fresh ginger, and cannelini beans to create a thick, rich base. I happened to have an abundance of turkey stock right now, so I added a few ladles of that into the turnip mixture. A little heavy cream smoothed out the texture to velvety perfection and I topped the soup with scallion and crumbled bacon. The end result was aromatic, robust and delicious. Mission accomplished.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Custom Confections

There is nothing more thoughtful than handmade gifts for the holidays. Figuring out what to create for everyone on your list can be daunting, so here is an idea I found that is easy and impressive - chocolate truffles. Cross all the chocoholics off your list with these sinful delights. Not only is this recipe simple, it is adaptable. Easily adjust the flavor to suit your recipient's taste. I added 1 teaspoons of vanilla to boost the sweetness in mine, but other tasty additions could be orange extract, brandy, or coconut flavoring. Try crushed nuts or even chocolate sprinkles to dress up the outside of the truffles. Personalizing the treat makes it evident that you spent time thinking about the person, making the gift even more special. After all, it's the thought that counts... right?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Apple Appeal

With Thanksgiving only ten days away, thoughts are shifting to "the dinner". If you are the chef du jour, you are probably planning what you can make ahead of time in order to streamline the chaos of that fateful Thursday morning. If you are lucky enough to escape the duty of preparing the feast, you have at least started dreaming about those tasty holiday favorites. Personally, I have a weakness for dessert. If left unattended, I will overindulge. So... this year I wanted a dessert that would satisfy my sweet tooth but not push me out of my skinny jeans. The option I came up with was homemade applesauce. Testing commenced immediately. A squeeze of lemon juice, a hint of vanilla, and a dash of nutmeg were added to liven up this recipe. As the ingredients slowly simmered together, they created a delightful aroma which permeated the house. Served warm with a dollop of whipped cream, the applesauce was just as scrumptious as a piece of pie. Not only could it stand as a dessert, it was also an exquisite topper for oatmeal the next morning. Applesauce has officially earned it's place at the big kids table.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

Everyone has a way of dealing with leftovers. Some people make casseroles, some people eat leftovers for lunch. Usually, I shove them to the back of the refrigerator until they are unrecognizable, never to be heard from again. In this day and age, no one can afford to waste good food, so today I decided to break my careless leftover habit. My goal was to create something delectable from yesterday's remnants. The result was single serving pot pies. I started with store bought pie dough. Pressing the dough into a greased muffin tin, I created small cups that would hold the bounty of chicken and vegetables from last night's soup. I plucked fresh sprigs of thyme and sprinkled them into the meaty filling to boost the flavor. Using a tiny cookie cutter, I created small overlapping circles of dough that sealed the top of each pie and locked in the juicy goodness. In a 450 degree oven, they baked approximately 10 minutes. The crust was buttery, flaky and delicious. The filling was warm and hearty. A savory aroma of thyme leaked out as the crust was pierced by my fork. They looked special, tasted lovely, and could be tailored to fit whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. With a little bit of creativity, yesterday's scraps became today's main dish. As the old saying goes, "waste not, want not."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ode to a Cheesehead

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Since I have no chance of avoiding football each and every Sunday, I have decided to embrace the sport as my culinary inspiration. I have vowed to move beyond pizza and hot wings and bring a little edible adventure to the game. Since the sports media centered around Green Bay this week, I chose cheese as my ingredient du jour. Of course, I could have selected waffles to represent the indecisive nature of Brett Favre, but I wanted to focus on the positive. Hip hip hooray for the Cheeseheads! Sharp cheddar and Parmesan were the star players in this recipe. After shredding about 1 cup of each cheese, I tossed them together in a bowl. Using a nonstick skillet on medium heat, I melted small piles of the cheese mixture until they had a golden brown edge. (Each pile was slightly larger than the size of a silver dollar) Using a spatula, I gently lifted them out of the pan, one by one, and draped them over the top of a bottle. Quickly and delicately, I pushed the edges down to form a bowl. After they had cooled, I filled the cheese cups with tangy chicken barbeque and topped with a sprig of fresh parsley. Crunchy and meaty, these tiny wonders packed a mouthful of flavor into one perfect bite.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trick or Treat

Break out your scarf and mittens, crank up the fireplace, and go get yourself a pumpkin. Fall is in full effect, so embrace it. Roasting pumpkin seeds is a tradition that is synonymous with fall so today I diligently toasted up the innards from my jack-o-lantern after carefully carving his mischievous face. With a kiss of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, the seeds were just as crunchy and addictive as I remembered. The only problem was that they left me wanting something sweet. I decided to combine the crispy seeds with my hankering for a sugary delight and pumpkin seed brittle was the result. I referenced a recipe for the brittle from Food Network, poured it over the roasted pumpkin seeds and let cool for 2 hours. The sweet and salty snack satisfied both my cravings and produced a gorgeous amber candy that broke into shards like glass. Beautiful and delicious... what a treat!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Harissa Chips

Sundays mean one thing at my house... football. This is the day when my husband has full reign over the living room and the focus turns to all things pigskin. If there is one thing I know about football, it is that snacks are a crucial element to maintaining the energy level needed of a die hard fan. In addition to the usual fare of chicken wings and soda, today I introduced harissa chips. Thinly sliced red potatoes got a healthy drizzle of Fustini's harissa infused olive oil and then baked in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. I browned them 5 more minutes under the broiler and then set them on a paper towel to drain. Sprinkled with salt, they were a crispy delight. The harissa brought some serious heat to the chips which was a pleasant change in flavor. It was not the kind of heat that burns your lips, but a heat that settles in the back of your throat and makes you feel like a fire breathing dragon. Needless to say, this fiery snack was well received and will make the roster again next Sunday. Who's ready for some football?!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cure for a Cold

Well, autumn is officially here. It's time for scarves, jackets, and the sniffles. Chicken soup is the undisputed remedy for cold weather ailments, so today I made a big pot of the hearty panacea. I started with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and picked it clean of all the meat. After setting the meat aside, I boiled the carcass and it's remnants along with a red onion, some celery stalks, three carrots, and several cloves of garlic to create a delicious base for the soup. Once the stock was strained I added in some freshly chopped carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, and spinach. With a healthy pinch of pepper, this nutrient packed soup was locked and loaded and ready to tackle any intruding germs. (Sniffles BEWARE!)

Chicken Soup on Foodista

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Can't Believe it's Homemade Butter

Until today, I thought making butter at home was an obsolete practice which involved stout women in colonial garb and hours of laborious churning. After reading a fellow blogger's post about how easy it was to make homemade butter, I decided I had to try it for myself. (thank you to Them Apples) Sure enough, it was as simple as shaking a jar. It took about 25 minutes for it to work through the stages of forming butter (which I used as a rare opportunity to give my arms a workout while sitting on the couch). After straining off the buttermilk, I rinsed the butter with ice water to remove any excess milk. I portioned it out into several small batches and rolled it up in wax paper for safe keeping. I also decided to make salted, thyme/parsley, and basil butter but the pure unsalted version was the smoothest, creamiest butter I have ever tasted. So the next time you have some bottled up frustration, take it out on a jar full of cream and then at least you will have something to show for all of your vigorous shaking.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dog Tale

My loyal canine friend always sits outside the kitchen, watching patiently as I stumble through all sorts of culinary creations. He waits quietly and looks at me with an encouraging expression. I know he is secretly hoping for a mishap that will lead to delicious morsels flying through the air and landing conveniently on the floor for the taking. He rarely gets treated to any of the finished product but today was his day. I decided to tackle homemade dog treats. I found an easy recipe for peanut butter biscuits at and doctored it up a bit for my pooch with special dietary issues. I used rice flour instead of wheat flour, I opted for water instead of the milk, and for one batch I added 1/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. When presented with the option of cheese or peanut butter, he chose the peanut butter but that's not to say he didn't eat his share of the cheese treats too. For all his unconditional love, this was my token of appreciation... Good boy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Diary of an Accidental Foodie

Oil and vinegar are pantry staples...but if you are a "foodie", you probably seek out unique flavors in oil and vinegar the way some people savor particular varieties of fine wine. This past week I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Traverse City, MI. Downtown, I stumbled across a tasting bar called Fustini's. The store was flanked by gorgeous stainless steel canisters that housed 21 different types of olive oils and 14 varieties of balsamic vinegars. Strolling along the bar, I sampled delectable infusions of everything from meyer lemon to porcini mushroom. The wonderful balsamics were all from Modena, Italy and barrel aged at least 12 years. They ranged from white balsamic to pomegranate and of course there was the traditional 18 year balsamic. The flavor combinations seemed endless. I opted for the tunisian harissa olive oil and the cherry balsamic. As soon as I got home, I couldn't wait to get another taste of that flavorful heat of the harissa so I quickly sliced a baguette and dipped the crusty bread right into a deep pool of oil. Delicious.

I must admit, three years ago I never even thought about flavored oils and vinegars. Thanks to my friends at Sur La Table, who generously gave me my first good bottle of aged balsamic vinegar, I have been officially converted. Yet another milestone in my adventure as an accidental foodie.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Eating the Rainbow

Every Saturday morning, I peruse the local fare that is strewn about along the bluff here in St. Joe. This weekend's find was carrots. Their unusual coloring caught my attention and I snatched them out of the bin the minute I saw them. I raced home and snapped these photos of the crunchy characters in all their crooked glory. I immediately sliced them into a carrot salad, mixed with cucumber slices and balsamic dressing, and their flavor was as punchy as their hue. I must continue to eat the local rainbow as long as it is around because winter's grey umbrella is looming.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Conveniently Delicious

After 11 straight days
of working (5 of which were on
location in the rain) all I wanted this morning was a tall cup of coffee, a delicious muffin, and some relaxation. Mission accomplished. This delightful concoction was an experiment in convenience. Since I had vowed not to get out of my pajamas today, I used only ingredients that were currently in my pantry. I foraged through my kitchen and found Bisquick (don't judge me), some organic sugar, half and half, as well as the remnants of a pint of blueberries. Long story short, I made a thick pancake batter from the Bisquick and poured it into muffin tins, tossed in the juicy blueberries and dusted it all with sugar. VOILA!...delicious muffins. The blueberries plumped up out of the tops, the sugar baked into a crunchy crust, and when I slathered on some butter it became absolutely mouth watering. For a second, I forgot about my 14 hour work days and sore feet. Ahh, the power of food.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sinful Sunday

Gluttony on a Sunday, is that a sin? If it is, I'm guilty.  This morning, I made stuffed french toast with fresh peaches and mascarpone cheese.  I started with two thick slices of whole grain artisanal bread.  I coated the bread in a mixture of egg, half and half, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Then I tossed the peaches in a pan with some butter and balsamic to give them a decadent glaze. After toasting the bread to a golden brown, I spread on the mascarpone cheese and poured the gooey peaches over the top. Organic maple syrup topped the whole thing off and it was so good I wanted to lick the plate.  It was a religious experience.  It is Sunday, after all.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tomato Epiphany

Tomatoes have never been on my favorite food list...until now.  I  just discovered the sweet and delectable yellow pear tomato.  I always knew they were a wonderfully bright prop food that added a nice punch of color to a salad, pizza, or pasta but never had the urge to actually eat one.  In my mind, they were exactly like the tasteless red globes from the grocery store...good for color, not for consumption.  Well, I was wrong.  These tiny drops of gold are super sweet and insanely delicious.  This makes me wonder, should I give all my food enemies a second chance?  Perhaps brussel sprouts are not the foul little creatures I imagine in my head.  Right now I will focus on the tomatoes.  One food revelation at a time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Smitten with Blueberries

Ever since I moved to Michigan three years ago, I have become an absolute blueberry addict. Much like Georgia lays claim to the best peaches, Michigan wins the prize for best blueberries, hands down. In an effort to enjoy every last shred of summer, I have vowed to try more recipes that truly showcase the season's splendor. Today's exploration was blueberry buttermilk cake. The recipe came from and originally included raspberries but I made a substitution to accommodate the wealth of blueberries in my fridge. Before baking, the top of the cake gets dusted with a layer of sugar which forms a gentle little crust on this delightful treat. The fluffy cake and the pockets of warm fruit are the perfect partnership. Kudos to Smitten Kitchen, this recipe is versatile, quick, and absolutely delicious.

*SIDENOTE TO STYLISTS: This recipe is an easy go-to cake when you need a delicious looking dessert for a shot. Start to finish, this cake only takes about half an hour.

photography by Nathan B. Harrmann © 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Spoils of Summer

As summer starts to wind down, I can't help but think about the impending winter and how dreadful it will be without the glorious berries and warm weather vegetables that I have grown accustomed to.  All I can do now is enjoy every last morsel so that is exactly what I plan to do.  This past Sunday, I collected wild raspberries along the train tracks.  They were tiny, delicate and juicy...nothing like the mushy behemoths from the grocery store.  I paired the delectable little berries with chocolate zucchini cupcakes that were the best use of my vegetable bounty to date. (thank you 101 Cookbooks) Maybe I can find a way to make brussel sprouts and root vegetables as delicious as the spoils of summer.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Deliciously Askew

Oh sweet imperfection. When you spend 10 hours a day consumed by the minutia of everything, it is a wonderful respite to enjoy the beauty in things that have not been fussed over.  When it comes to food at home, I don't care if every morsel is in an aesthetically pleasing place, I just want it to be delicious.  I want it to wrap me up in warmth and say "welcome home."  This muffin, made for me by a friend, is the epitome of homemade splendor.  Good old fashioned comfort food.  No one spent hours placing each chuck of chocolate into position or painstakingly perfected the golden brown hue on the top.  The muffin was just born beautiful.  The chips are perched on top in a wonderfully random order and have a glorious glisten from the heat of the day.  What could be better than coming home to find one of these little beauties waiting for you?  (finding 12!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Garden Junkie

Mother Nature is truly amazing.
Everyday when I pick through my garden, I find something more intriguing than the day before.  The textures, shapes, and colors are specimens of pure beauty. Unparalleled. 
Each detail is so deliberately functional and yet aesthetically divine. I could spend 
hours investigating the intricacies of the garden, and usually I do.
I am pretty sure I'm addicted.
(Admitting you have a problem is the first step.)  

Monday, July 20, 2009

Project Zucchini - Part 3

Ok, so I've grown them, harvested them, and now I am cooking them. I've made zucchini lasagna, sauteed zucchini, grilled zucchini, baked zucchini, and I've even tossed it in my spaghetti.  This weekend, I tried my hand at zucchini bread. Aside from the tiny flecks of green in the loaf, you would never even know about the veggies in this deliciously moist bread.  Everyone has their own way of making this standard but since I am a rookie, I started with the internet and pieced together my favorite elements from different recipes.  I took the basic ingredients from and then added lemon zest and a crumb topping after reading several different iterations.
I left out the walnuts in the bread but added chopped pecans to the crumb topping.  I think my next experiment will be chocolate zucchini cupcakes, thanks to 101 Cookbooks. Hmmmm, could I count a cupcake as a serving of vegetables?  I think so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Love

There are an infinite number of reasons to love summer.  My cause for bliss is the delicious fruit that grows here in Michigan, namely the blueberries. If there is such a thing as absolute perfection, this fruit is it. Plump, juicy, and sweet as can be. They are not too big, not too small. I bought the berries seen here at a roadside stand and every single one was just as delectable as the next.  I always have good intentions of baking a cobbler or a pan of muffins but the berries never seem to find their way into any recipes. They do, however, find their way directly into my stomach.  I love summer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A nod to Nemcosky

What comes to mind when someone says "food stylist"?  Tweezers, tools, and kits. What they represent is precision control. While tweezers are extremely handy, sometimes I feel like my fingers work just as well as any utensil. Yes, you get sticky, gooey, and sometimes even smelly when you use your fingers rather than utensils but there is something hypnotic about actually feeling the food that you're working with.  So often as a stylist I get disconnected with what I am preparing and get completely consumed by the exact placement of every tiny element. That leads to overworking the shot. Lately, I have been trying to relax my styling. I have found that starting the process with a loose gestural approach and ending with just a few decisive strokes leads to a more honest looking outcome.  It is very reminiscent of drawing class. "Start loose and then tighten up" my teacher would always say. The only difference is that now my hands are left with a coating of olive oil and parsley rather than graphite and eraser dust.  Thanks for the advice Professor Nemcosky, I am trying to loosen up!

photography by Nathan B. Harrmann © 2009 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Project Zucchini - Part 2

Well, here it is...the first crop of zucchinis!  They are gorgeous and delicious. I gave the first one a quick flash in a skillet with some olive oil, onions, and broccoli.  Then I put the warmed up veggies on top of an arugula salad from the garden and it was the perfect dinner. Since there are several that are almost ready for harvest, I smell a batch of zucchini bread coming soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sorting It All Out

I was recently given a large plastic tub full of broken tiles, plastic scraps, and beach glass. It has been sitting in the garage for about a week so tonight my husband and I decided to start sorting.  We discarded several shards of glass and tile that amounted to nothing more than junk and picked out the soft, worn pieces that were glorious shades of blue, brown and powdery white.  These are some of my favorites so far. I am very excited to get to the bottom of that bin, but I have a feeling it will take several evenings on the back stoop to sort the whole thing out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Antiques on the Bluff

"Antiques on the Bluff" is one of the many reasons I love St. Joseph, MI.  On the first Sunday of each month (May through October) dozens of vendors set up booths all along the park overlooking Lake Michigan.  It is a stylist's dream.  Gorgeous props strewn about along the tree lined sidewalk.  Vintage glass milk bottles, cast iron skillets, primitive bowls, tea towels, and the list goes on.  Today I scored 3 small antique spoons.  At only $1 a piece, how could I pass them up?  I can't wait to use them in a shot. I also found myself lingering over a bowl of keys for quite a while.  Perhaps I will come up with a purpose for them if I just buy a bunch. Well, there is always next month!  

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Test Shoot - Part 2

This was the other half of today's shoot.  I wanted to balance out the frozen vegetables with the natural beauty of fresh ones.  I kept the propping to a minimum and let the veggies do all the work.  Thank you Mother Nature!  And of course, many thanks to the photographer.

photography by Nathan B. Harrmann  © 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Frozen Veggie Exploration

Today I spent the morning 
doing some testing with a wonderful photographer named Nathan Harrmann.  We had discussed the idea of frozen vegetable blocks, and I knew I wanted to arrive at a graphic image with a humorous undertone.  I was pleased with the overall outcome and it was a great exercise in visual brainstorming.  I did have to refreeze the peas because they were not formed into a block like I had hoped.   The broccoli, on the other hand, came out if the package just as you see it.  Thanks for a fun day of shooting, Nathan!

photos © 2009 Nathan B. Harrmann

Monday, June 29, 2009

Project Zucchini

I am fascinated by nature.  I captured these images in my zucchini garden over the weekend.  My plan for this project is to document their growth and eventually end with images of zucchini bread or another zucchini recipe.  Stay tuned to see how it turns out.