Farmhouse Table -- Sneak Peek

You know, a lot of people ask me whether I prefer photographing people or food. My love for photography, as well as my career, began with food photography. It's technically still life, or product photography, though I don't really see it that way. Food is an extension of the the personality of its maker, that's why food styling is such a big industry compared to say,  household applicance styling. I like to see the personality of the dish in the photo, which is the same way I stylize my photo sessions with people. I don't like to rely on fake props or over the top trending do-dads (ie: turning your child into a tortoise while shoving him into a crate and twisting his head sideways -- or in the food world milk bottles and mason jars--mason jars just really aren't appropriate in every situation!) I believe that now I can safely say I love food styling, wedding photography and portrait photography all equally. If there is a beautiful and interesting story to tell, whether it's a piece of chicken, a baby, a cake or a bride and groom walking down the aisle, I am thrilled to work on it. And then eat it, of course. The chicken that is....

When I photograph food i photograph real food. I don't put glue in a bowl of cereal or hair dry a bun (is that a thing?) We all know when a photo of food is fake--have you ever looked at a fast food ad and really thought to yourself, wow that is definitely a real photo! No, you probably haven't. Fast and commercial food styling is a different beast, it's a given that the food is partially if not all fake/inedible. Which is fine, as its own category. But most restaurants, small businesses, cafes and bakeshops tend to prefer photos of their actaul food. I hate throwing food away after a shoot, especially when your clients are pro chefs and bakers, the food is too good to toss!

I am so happy to be working on photos with a local catering company here in Rochester -- Farmhouse Table Food. I was able to pop in to a real event they were catering (don't mind me sneaking into your wedding to take a photo of your food please!) to get some live action shots. This husband-wife team focuses on rustic style, scratch-baked farm food with an emphasis on local suppliers. Hooray for real food! Stay tuned over the next few months as the project unfolds ;)

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Les Macarons & The Cookies

Speaking of food trends....macarons.

Les macs hit their popularity peak around 2010-2012. Before living in Paris i had actually never seen a macaron before., never even heard of them. My first glimpse of the macaron was through the window of ladurĂ©e....I never went in though. Student's budget. But I could tell they were something special. During my senior year of college my muse food bloggers (Aran of Canelle et Vanille and Helene of Tartelette) were the pioneers of actaully making them at home. Before they started posting them almost weekly, I'm not sure I even knew what name to call them...Because I tried to emulate these bloggers to a T, I decided to overcome my  fear and make them myself. I remember the day. I was on assignment from the student newspaper to photograph an ROTC shooting range ceremony in Idaho. It was a long drive. The entire time all I could think about was getting back to make my macarons. Earlier that week I had gone to my local Spokane Safeway to make my ingredient purchase.....almonds. Wow almonds are expensive....I ended up buying the mixed nuts that for whatever reason were half the price. Powdered sugar and almonds. Was there anything else? When I got back to my shared college home i set my stage. How on earth did i not have a baking sheet. Well there was a pizza tray....still with the left over pizza bits from the neighbors next door. My food processor? My roommates magic bullet. My pastry bag? A ziploc. That's how I made my first batch of macarons. All the fear accumulated from horror stories about exact temperatures and perfect hand strokes---whaaaaat. If a college kid can make macarons with a magic bullet and a pizza tray in a thirty year old oven then I'm positive that you can too. 

Want to read the full flashback? Find it here.

Shortly after the macaron took off! Boutiques sprung up around the country, even here in Rochester! You can find processed macs at TJ Maax, frozen macs at Trader Joes and many stores in between. The majority of Americans these days are familiar with macs today. Though their novelty has since worn down a little, they still represent ..... something special. One of the most visually pleasing cookies, if for only that --- but for me, personally, they represent a little more. I love these cookies. Whether they are last week or not. Nostalgia. 

Well. Six years later I still happen to like these little biscuits. Old news? Oh well. They'll always be my thing, my reminder of the beginning. But why am I even bringing them up? I made around two hundred of them the other day as part of a cookie bar at a wedding and i realized perhaps it was time to post a new recipe. An easy to follow recipe without the urban legends that seem to follow this cookie like a ghost. here it is.

Ingredients: 
4 egg whites
1 1/3 cups almond flour*
2 cups powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar)
1/2 sugar
1 tsp extract
Powder coloring (optional)
Parchment paper
Pastry piping bag (no tip needed)

*I recommend almond flour rather than grinding your own. 
Your egg whites can be any temperature -- day old, hour old. fresh from the fridge. I personally find no difference between the results. 

Method:
1) Start beating your egg whites in an electric mixer. Slowly add the granulated sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes slowly increasing the speed) and then add your coloring (if using). You know you're finished beating when you can turn the bowl of whipped whites upside down and it doesnt fall out.
2) Line baking sheets with parchment papers. 
3) Sift (don't skip this step) the almond flour and the powdered sugar together. This removes clumps that cause lumpy macarons. 
4) Remove the bowl from the mixer and dump in the almond/sugar mixture. yes all at once. Using a rubber spatula, start "folding" the batter in on itself. You are going to fold it over and over around 50 times. There is no magit number of strokes. The number requires on how stiff our eggwhites are. You need to keep folding until the mixture becomes viscous enough to fall back in on itself. Some people refer to this state as "lava"...... how many of you have ever seen lava in person? A better analogy is thickish caramel. You do NOT want it to seem fluffy. If it resemble mousse or soufle in any way, keep beating it. 
5) Spoon the batter into a pastry bag, you do not need to use  a tip, the opening on most pastry bags is sufficient enough (if your bag requires you to cut off the end, cut it so that the opening is abut the width of a finger.
6) Pipe small rounds onto the parchment paper. Pipe the rounds to be slightly smaller than a quarter. 
7) Let the batter dry. This step is crucial. Your macaron should be gummy before you bake it. Depending on the temperature and humidity, it might take 15 minutes or it might take an hour. Check by lightly pressing your finger into the side of one of one of the shells, if it is sticky it needs to dry more. If it is gummy and your finger causes an indentation, it's ready to bake. 
8) Bake macarons for about 10 minutes at 325 degrees F.  You need to keep an eye on them while they are in the oven. All ovens are different, if yours is too hot it might cause your shells to brown a little on the outside. It's better to turn the temperature down a little than have to pull them out early. If you undercook your macarons they WILL stick to the parchement. Don't take them out before 10 minutes even if they start to brown. 
9) Remove shells from the oven and let them cool completley on the parchment. Once cool, remove and fill with buttercream, chocolate cream, jelly or whatever other filling comes to mind. 


What are your macaron rituals? Did this recipe work for you? 

Food Trends

Ramps. They are this year's it vegetable. A few years ago kale was the food blogger/instagrammer's golden child, remember kale cihps? Sadly it has since dropped status and has become the butt of many unfavorable jokes and memes. Food trends. We love them. They are an integral part of the American cultural identity. Why? To me, what defines American cuisine is it's versatility and it's ability to constantly change; it's the cuisine that is always searching for the next new thing. What's new. What's next. Our food has always been this way. I can't tell you how may people in Brazil asked me if Americans eat hamburgers and hot dogs every day.....my response was usually somewhat acidic, clicking my tongue saying no, we eat Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican -- a whole lotta Mexican -- Southern, French, Japanese and German food every day. But you eat rice and beans every day. Granted, American cuisine does have the regretable shadow of being swallowed by big Fast Food  and processed food corporations...but even so If you go into any home in America and ask a family about their favorite foods they will most likely still reply with a food that reminds them of home and family, something their mom or grandma once made. I guarantee you that it's not a bag of doritos. 

As for food trends, the current wave seems to be a bit greener than the past few years. Less than ten year ago haute cupcakes where a huge game player. Hundreds of boutique cupcake shops sprung up around the country. The cupcake trend was soon overtaken by the French macaron fad (i actually remember this being around 2009 or so) and was then followed by cake pops, cronuts and whatever else is lurking currently in the foodie blog world. I love food trends. Food is one of the few things we all do. Well, unless you are a new subscriber of soylent. No, no soylent cannot be a food trend!

What to do with my trendy ramps....there are many options out there. Pickled, fried, sauteed -- or how about pesto? Pesto it is. My trendy ramp pesto contains diced ramps, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cloves garlic, crushed walnuts, salt and pepper. I actually ground the pesto by hand with the pestle because i haven't purchased a new food processor yet. It's more work but the result is much fresher, thicker. I recommend giving it a try if you have the extra time. 

What has been your favorite food trend of the past decade?

The Public Market

I love public markets. Who doesn't. I've been gawking over farm stalls around the world for years. I think many of us are drawn to Farmers or Public markets because of a pastoral sense that we are doing something a little more natural, a little more homegrown, maybe a little more like they used to do it in the old days. Is the price better? Usually, but depends on your location. Are the goods better? That's a good question. Sao Paulo is a big street market city. Every day of the week there are at least two street markets known as feiras around the city. Each feira has a specific day and you can find it there every week without fail. Feiras are very drawing. Row upon row of tented vending tables; piles of the brightest fruits you've ever seen. You thought you knew what the word banana meant, but oh you were so very wrong. Banana mile i used to call it, the last row of around eight or nine tables selling different varieties of bananas. You can also find leaves, beans, bags full of garlic -- caulifower the size of your head. A feira is a beautiful place and is usually more or less around the exact same price as the going rate for produce in the super market. What's the catch? You're in heaven until you look down-not down at the ground, down under the table, down behind the stalls. Where did this food come from? Is it from a farmer? It's a farmers market isn't it? Unfortunately the heaping piles of boxes, bags, labels and marked trucks say otherwise. In Sao Paulo, as in most enormous urban centers, the majority of the city's incoming food (produce, meat, dairy products etc) passes through a central hub. This central hub, known in Sao Paulo as CEAGESP, is a shopping mall sized warehouse that operates nearly around the clock managing the logistics of bringing in enough food to the city to feed its twelve million habitants. The food comes from all over the country as well as from abroad. Local? No. Necessary? Of course. I said twelve million people didn't I. The truth is that the organges, apples and cucumbers that are sent on through to the supermarkets are the same ones that get picked up and sold at the street markets. So what do you get from buying them in the market? Convenience, a more pastoral shopping experience and you help pay the bills of the vendor who is selling the items. So not great, but not bad either. 

What about in the US? Almost every major city in the US has at least one Farmers market and each market has its own history and makeup. Does yours offer local or independent "farmers" products? The only way to know is to get down there and start snooping. Last weekend I visited the Rochester Public Market for the fist time. I was thrilled, it's known as one of Rochester's top attractions. It's a typical market; crowded, laughing kids, the smell of freshly fried doughnuts (yum) and row apon row of tables full of baskets of apples, oranges and potatoes. As we slowly walked through my smile started to droop. Ok, everything is from California. That's fine. It's still winter, I get it. But by the time I reached the end of the line I realized I hadn't seen a single organic stand. I started to feel like I was back in Sao Paulo! Sure the apples were charming nestled snuggly in their little wicker baskets, but these are the same non organic apples you can get at the grocery store. Bummer. On the way out I ran into a booth that I had missed, the one organic booth at the market. They weren't selling apples or oranges. They were selling canned, pickled and preserved items as well as bundles of garlic greens and "ugly" potatoes as my husband says. Small World Market, a downtown Rochester based company specializing in all things local. Honestly their sauerkraut tastes like a crisp pickle. Did I mention it's unpasteurized? We seriously need more fermented bacteria in our diet. We evolved with it. Go find it! The lovely attendant at the stand assured me that there are quite a few small street markets in the city that do sell local and organic products... you just have to find them. 

So the moral of the story is that the term farmers market doesn't necessarily mean its from the farm. That is, a small, local and organic farm. Always question your food. There's no shame in asking the vendor where his apples are coming from.

If you do happen to get ahold of this bacteria friendly sauerkraut, i recommend using it in the best sandwich in the world. That is, pesto, fried eggs, pea shoots and of course, sauerkraut. 

Recipe: Banana Bread Cake

It's cake. Wait, no it's bread. It's bread cake. This banana bread cake is actually my favorite recipe for banana bread, turned cake with the addition of some lemon mascarpone frosting. This cake features brown rice flour, chia seeds, coconut, oats, brown sugar and of course, bananas. It's a simple yet elegant way to make something (from the pantry) when you are invited to a last minute dinner party. Tastes like a good old banana bread, but the simple shape of the pan, frosting and a few flowers (plucked from a vase!) can really up the wow factor. 

Ingredients:
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
4 very ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla 
1 cup milk or alternative milk (almond, soy etc)

1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese
1/2 stick butter 
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla 
1 tbsp cream

Method:
1) Mix all ingrediets together beginning with the wet ingredients. 
2) line two small cake pans with parchment paper (or one large loaf pan!)
3) Divide batter among pans and and bake at 350F for 45 minutes (make sure to test the doneness with a toothpick)
4) allow cake to cook completely before frosting. 

5) In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the butter. Gently add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat in cream as needed. 

Recipe: Chicken & Turmeric Soup

Bit of a dreary day.  Spring is slow to come, so that means we aren't out of soup season just yet. This is a quick, realitvely cheap soup that honestly takes less than thirty minutes of hands on time. I love to make thick soups with leafy greens. My go to green has always been collards, but it's a bit easier to find kale greens around here so i suppose i have a new go to green. I expect that once the weather gets nicer i'll see a few more collards...in the meantime i see no problem with kale. I love adding a really strong ingredient to soup, like turmeric, in order to avoid over salting. I'm coming off of a long weekend in Montreal (five year wedding anniversary, thank you) and now have an enormous stock of maple syrup. Nearly half of the dishes i ate in Montreal contained maple syrup. So now i fear most of my dishes for the next few weeks will as well. Op!  Just add a dash, it really does blend well with the turmeric! 

Ingredients: 
2 chicken breasts (or 1 lb boneless chicken thighs, they're cheaper and you can still buy organic/humanely raised)
2 liters chicken or vegetable stock (either store bough or your own)
1 cup water
1 handfull of thyme sprigs
1 can chickpeas (half a cup dry)
2 tsps turmeric
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
About 4 cups raw chopped kale or collard greens
1 large red onion, sliced
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
2 tsp crushed caraway seeds (optional)
1 tbsp pure maple syrup (optional)
Salt and pepper

Method:
1) Bake chicken breasts or thighs for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 until cooked through. Set aside and let cool completely.
2) Heat oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook down for another 3 minutes. Stir.
3) Add turmeric, pepper flakes, thyme, caraway and maple.
4) Add stock and water. Stir and let come to a low boil. 
5) Add kale or collards and chickpeas. Cover, turn heat down to medium low, and let greens simmer down. 
6) Taste broth and add salt (this will depend on the saltiness of your chicken or vegetable stock). Turn down to a low simmer. 
7) Shred cooled chicken and add to sauce pot. Stir and let simmer on low for 30 minutes or until you are ready to eat. 

Garnish with caraway seeds, crushed crackers, croutons, cream or cheese. 

Local

Buying local. It's a dream phrase. As i mentioned in the previous post, one of the things i was looking forward to the most about Rochester was the ability to buy local food stuffs. 

My first adventures with local products aren't as romantic as picking strawberries off a bush, but they're items that can be purchased year round. Milk! and Beef! First is the Pittsford Farms Dairy. Pittsford is a suburb of Rochester and is only about fifteen minutes from my house. They are famous in the area for their milk, which they pasteurize in their own facility. They recieve raw organic milk from three different dairy farms located about forty five minutes south of Rochester. The milk they process is used to make their signature products like butter, ice cream and egg nog. The taste is notably different from that of supermarket milk. Maybe it's just the glass bottle (which you can return each time) but it is close enough to make it practical for me to visit once a week for my dairy needs. 

My second local find was visiting the farm store of Wilson Beef Farm in Canaseraga, NY. It's about an hour south of Rochester, so it's not a weekly grocery trip. But once every three months is more than doable. The cows are hormone and antibiotic free and are fed both in pasteur and on feed. I don't eat a lot of meat, but i appreciate it. And the flank steak is incredible. Whether local or not, buying cruelty free meat and eggs should be at the top of your list when searching for a source. 

I'm definitely looking forward to finding more local foodstuffs in the area!

Recipe: Moqueca Baiana

(reposted from The Salty Cod)
Moqueca is a Brazilian fish stew usually served with rice and a panko like garnish called farofa. There are many varieties of moqueca, but my particular favoirte is one inspired by moqueca from the state of Bahia. The key ingredient for this moqueca is dende oil, also known as red palm oil. This recipe below is made using ingredients found inside the US. 


Moqueca Baiana
Serving: 4

Ingredients:
Two cans coconut milk
Four quarts stock (or water)
One pound large shrimp (if you can find with heads and skin, better)
One large red onion
One large red bell pepper
1 tsp red chili flakes or 1 fresh hot red chili
4 cloves garlic
Dende oil (known in the US as Red Palm Oil)*
1.5 cup farofa (or panko)*
Shredded unsweetened coconut
Fresh cilantro
Limes
Salt, pepper
Prepared rice (brown or white) for serving

*Red palm oil can be found in most grocery store (Trader Joe's has). It usually can be found solid in a jar (similar to coconut oil) and runs anywhere from five to fifteen dollars a jar.
*Farofa is made from a roughly ground tapioca flour. It is possible to find at international import stores, but if it's not available in your area regular panko works just as well.

Method:
1) Prepare the shrimp. If you can find whole shrimp with their heads still attached, get them. They will add an extra flavor dimension to your moqueca. If you can't find, no sweat, but you will need to make sure you use a stock such as fish stock or chicken stock. If using shrimp heads, remove all heads, legs and shells from the shrimp meat and throw (heads) into a pot. Add four quarts water (or stock) and bring to a boil. Strain the liquid into a Medium stock pot and discard the heads and shells. Set shrimp bodies aside.

2) In a saute pan, heat 2 tbsp dende oil (red palm oil) and add sliced onions, bell pepper, garlic and chili pepper. Heat until fully sweated. Add to the stock. Over medium heat, stir the coconut milk into the stock/onion/pepper mixture. Set aside.

3) Prepare your rice.

4) Prepare your fried coconut. Heat 1 tbsp dende oil in a small frying pan. Once hot, add the shredded coconut. Stir until the coconut absorbs all the oil and begins to crisp (turn a darker orange color). Let fried coconut dry on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.

5) Prepare the farofa. Heat 1 tbsp dende oil (see the pattern here?) in a saute pan. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add panko and stir until completely absorbed and the panko begins to crisp. Sprinkle with salt and take off heat.

6) Cook shrimp. In (another) saute pan, heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Saute shrimp for about two minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cooked shrimp to Stock pot and stir. Taste moqueca and adjust salt and pepper levels.

To assemble: Start with rice, add a heaping scoop of moqueca (as much shrimp as you can scoop), sprinkle with farofa and fried coconut, garnish with fresh cilantro and for good measure drizzle a fresh squeeze of lime over the top.

Enjoy.