My garden is filling in nicely, and all this green has me inspired. This pasta salad is a little taste of spring—exploding with nutritional superstars. There are enough greens to make it healthy, but enough pasta and cheese to make it a treat.
Dave devoured it, so you can trust that it’s delicious in spite of itself.
Don’t skimp on the lemon—it brings the taste to the next level.
Go green pasta salad
1 lb pasta
1 cup peas
3 cups baby arugula
12 stalks asparagus
12 large brussels sprouts
4 green onion stalks, chopped
Juice from one whole lemon
A block of pecorino or other hard italian cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
For pea pesto:
1/2 cup peas
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup baby arugula
Cook pasta to al dente. Strain and then toss with pea pesto (add gradually—you might not need all of it). Set aside and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Chop asparagus and brussels sprouts into small, bite-sized pieces and cook in boiling water until slightly tender. You’ll want to remove the veggies from the heat before they lose their green color (and all their nutrients) so have an ice bath ready. When they begin to get tender, strain the veggies and add them straight to the ice bath.
When the pasta has cooled, add brussels sprouts, asparagus, chopped green onion, peas and arugula. Finish with a generous shaving of cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
I’m famous y’all! Well, as famous as I’ve ever been (but not quite as famous as my husband, the Taco Bell TV commercial star).
You can catch me and this little blog o’ mine in the May issue of Women’s Health magazine. The article is “50 cooking tips that will change your life,” and I’m in some pretty great company. I may be a little biased, but it’s a fantastic read, and I learned some great new tricks. Some of my favorite below:
- “Don’t throw out those last drops of jam in the jar; shake up a fruity vinaigrette instead. Add equal parts oil and vinegar to the jar, give it a good shake, and season with salt and pepper to taste” - Marisa McClellan from FoodinJars.com
- “Soak bitter greens, like arugula and kale, in a bowl of ice water in the fridge for about an hour to cut their bitterness. Run the leaves through your salad spinner several times with a paper towel to get them nice and dry and crisp.” - Dina Avila from LeekSoupBlog.com
- “Never throw away a rind of a piece of cheese. Drop it into a pot of soup—any kind!—for added flavor. Remove it with a spoon and discard before serving.” - Jenny McGruther from NourishedKitchen.com
- “Light Italian salad dressing is a marvelous shortcut for adding flavor to homemade salsa. Add 1/4 cup to three cups of salsa.” - Clay Dunn of TheBittenWord.com
- “Spritz your cheese grater with nonstick spray before using it to make shredding—and cleaning—easier.” - Aida Mollenkamp
Pure genius, right?!
Merle wasn’t nearly as impressed …
My name is Jada and I have a problem. I can’t stop bringing home props for my food photography. Gilded glass bowls from estate sales; fabric scraps from JoAnn’s; paper straws from the dollar bins at Target.
If $1 vintage pastel parfait bowls are wrong, I don’t want to be right …
So, it’s only appropriate that the first post in my Photo Files series is:
Tips on using props to improve your food photos
1) Color. Not all food styling should be perfectly matchy-matchy. I get a lot of ideas for great color combinations from design and wedding blogs. Pinterest is another endless source of inspiration. Slight variations on complementary colors can make for the most beautiful photo setups—sage greens and deep oranges, vibrant blues and muted peaches—play around and have fun. Here are some of my favorite recent color palette inspirations:
2) Set the mood. Food photography isn’t all about making your audience salivate; it’s about evoking feelings of warmth and comfort; aching nostalgia; playful vibrance; and the many other emotions that go hand in hand with food and eating. For example, look at the differences in mood in the images below. The photo on the left uses a rustic, intricate silver platter and dark bottle of balsamic vinegar to set a romantic mood. The gold-accented dishes and pink and blue floral tablecloth evoke fun and light-heartedness. Of course the props aren’t the only factor in creating this mood—lighting, backgrounds (stay tuned!) have a lot to do with it—but they are important elements. Before you go grabbing that tarnished vintage serving spoon or modern neon placemats, think about the story you’re trying to tell.
3) Bright white, crystal clear. Not every dish and prop in your setup should be colorful and attention-grabbing. Never underestimate the importance of a solid collection of white and clear dishes. White dishes make almost any foods look particularly photogenic, because the food can shine without any interference, and help bounce the light; clear dishes allow unobstructed views of the food from any angle.
The best place to buy props
You likely already have a number of good “props” hiding in your kitchen. But, as I can attest, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to hunt for more. Here are my favorite prop sources:
- Estate sales. Estate sales are, far and away, the best source for props. At least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of rummaging through in Chicago and the surrounding ‘burbs. Not only are they completely LOADED with vintage kitchen wares and linens, but the stuff is cheap. Some of my recent finds include a vintage, cast iron pizzelle maker ($6); a beautiful glass bowl with an etched floral design and gold rim ($11); retro milk glass snack dishes ($5); and colorful, like-new table linens (between 50 cents and $6).
- Joann Fabric (or any fabric/craft store). This is a good place to start building a collection of fabric swatches to use as tablecloths and napkins in your photos. Buy a yard of each of your favorites and you’re set.
- Vintage/thrift stores. Chicago has some fantastic thrift and vintage shops, but, in my opinion, they pale in comparison to the estate sales (both in price and selection). Still worth a try if you’re looking for something specific … or just need an excuse to go shopping.
- HomeGoods. I freakin’ love this place. If you’re looking for modern, stylish props and quality kitchen goods at a great price (discounted Le Creuset anyone??), this is your spot. This is also the place I buy almost all of my white dish ware. The discounts are deep and the stock is fantastic.
- Etsy.com. You’ll find some really special stuff on Etsy—if you have the patience to search through the millions of items on the site. Fortunately, many popular design blogs and magazines often highlight their editors’ favorite Etsy finds, so keep your eyes peeled.
Happy prop shopping! Stay tuned for future Photo Files on backgrounds, lighting, food styling and more.
Spring has not quite sprung here in Chicago, and the natives are restless.
We’re all ready for it, and the husband is ready for the plants to go outside. My seedlings—now more like full-fledged plants—are spilling out of their containers, straining toward the windows and begging for fresh air. Despite less-than-balmy temps, I’m willing the warmth to arrive—and maybe some fresh seasonal recipes will help.
I don’t ever cook with them, but these radishes caught my eye last weekend, and just seemed very springy: fresh, dewy, earthy.
I suspected the fatty, creamy richness of avocado might complement the crunchy spice of the radishes, and after paging through my trusty Flavor Bible, I got some affirmation. The resulting recipe would be perfect for a spring picnic, a tea party or an afternoon snack.
Radish, avocado and herbed goat cheese baguette
(Makes about 2 dozen slices)
1 french baguette, sliced thin
8 oz goat cheese
dill, sea salt and pepper to taste
2-3 avocados, sliced thin
Slice radishes paper thin with a sharp knife or madoline.
Spread a baguette slices with a thin layer of goat cheese.
Layer on sliced avocado and top with a generous amount of sliced radish.
Sprinkle with dried or fresh dill, course sea salt and pepper to taste.
One of my biggest blog goals for 2013 was to step up my photography. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of food blogging—sometimes even more than the actual cooking—so it’s been a fun, exciting and inspiring journey.
I’ve also been insatiable when it comes to finding new resources that can help me take my blog to the next level, and I love that there are so many great bloggers out there who share their secrets on photography, blog monetization, post layout inspiration, etc. I’ve been saving these tips on Pinterest, and plotting my own series of posts to pay it forward (stay tuned!).
One of the many tutorial posts that has inspired me lately is this one on “moody” food shots. I didn’t follow the tutorial step-by-step, but rather was inspired by the images in the post, since I’m working with an already decent understanding of photography, lighting, editing, etc. Here’s what I came away with …
Important things to remember:
- Dark background. This is crucial, and it’s easier than you think. I bought two pieces of cheap, thin wood from Home Depot, and stained them dark. Cost me less than 10 bucks. For the shoot, I grabbed a chair and slid it up against my sliding glass door. The “countertop” board laid flat on the seat of the chair, and the “wall” board was propped up against the back of the chair. In many of my photo setups, I’ll use a big white foam board to bounce the light and eliminate shadows, but in a “moody” shoot you probably won’t need it since, 1) shadows would actually be desirable and 2) the background will likely be so dark that the shadows won’t be an issue anyway. This brings me to the next tip …
- Diffused light. Moody shots require diffused light. Assuming you’re setup near a window, clouds can act as a natural diffuser, but if it’s fairly bright out, you’ll need something to prevent harsh lighting. I use either a white sheet or a slightly transparent shower curtain liner (tacked up against my sliding glass door/window). Works like a charm.
- Exposure 1 to 2 stops below standard exposure. You can play around with this, but I found that anything higher was just too bright for the “moody” vibe. Keep in mind, if you don’t have anything light-colored or reflective in the photo, such as a white dish, brighter ingredients, etc. (and in my case, a silver platter) your photo will be underexposed, so you may have to compensate for this with your exposure settings or in post-processing.
- Shallow depth of field. I shot at 1.4 aperture to get a nice dreamy, blurry background.
- Good photo editing software. I use Lightroom 3, and with this shoot, my VSCO presets helped me get the film-like coloring/grain/etc. You don’t need a preset, of course, but it can help make editing quicker and more effective, especially if you’re like me and don’t have a formal education in digital editing software.
I’d love to see your “moody” shots—link away in the comments.
And, for those who could care less about food photography and just wanted the damn salad recipe …
Balsamic-roasted strawberry salad with crispy pancetta
3-4 handfuls spinach
6 oz. thinly sliced pancetta
1/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
8-10 large strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Mix sugar and balsamic vinegar and pour over strawberries. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the pancetta and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Drain on a paper towel and let cool.
While the strawberries finish, toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden and fragrant (about 10-15 minutes). Remove both from oven and let cool.
Reserve a few balsamic-roasted strawberries for garnish, and mix the rest, with the balsamic vinegar sauce and olive oil, in a blender until the strawberries are pureed. Refrigerate.
Once chilled, toss all ingredients and dressing until fully incorporated (you may not need all the dressing). Top with strawberry garnishes and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
The weather in Chicago is seriously wearing on me. These days, I’m checking the 10-day forecast obsessively, waiting for the day that breaks 50 degrees. Come on 50. Fifty and sunny.
And I’m dreaming about travelling, far, far away …
… back to Tuscany and its rolling hills, dotted with grape vines, olive trees and medieval castles.
European vacation is nowhere in the foreseeable future, so I’ll have to settle on giving my mouth a vacation.
Hmmm … that didn’t sound quite right. But you get my point.
This cannellini spread is quintessentially Tuscan—simple, rustic, peasant food from the old country. And since we’re talking a little stay-cation of sorts, let’s do it up right with some apt kitchen props.
Doesn’t this collection make you feel like you’ve wandered into a rustic Italian farmhouse?
- Chef’s planet 30-oz. oil pourer
- Sagaform wine carafe with oak stopper
- Provence Ploughman’s platter
- Flax tea towel
- Cantaria round casserole
- Viertri rustic planter
And to complete the experience …
Rustic cannellini spread
1 cup cannellini beans
5-6 artichoke heart quarters (canned/jarred)
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste
french baguette, sliced thin
melted butter for brushing baguette slices
Blend all ingredients minus the bread in a food processor or blender until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Slice baguette as thin as possible and brush slices generously with butter. Toast under the broiler on a cookie sheet until golden and crispy.
Serve dip with baguette slices.
Are you on Instagram? Silly question, of course you are. If not, you must join and immediately follow Sonya Yu.
For me, it’s her double F appeal: Food + Frenchies.
I mean, COME ON.
The Frenchie photos drew me, so imagine my surprise when, during my early-morning Instagram browsing, I discovered her glorious foodiegrams. **Squeeeeeeeee!!!**
These delicious slices of life will, well, make you want her life. It’s a wonderland of adorable flat-faced pups that graciously pose for pictures (no bribes required?); perpetual brunching; breathtaking travel vistas; and achingly perfect floral arrangements.
And, behold: her non-iPhone photography.
Basically, she’s my hero.
Sonya, if you’re in Chicago anytime soon, I’ve got the in on the hottest brunch spots in town.
I’m thrilled by the inherent beauty in freshly picked herbs, shimmering with dew; cracked pomegranates with glowing crimson seeds; rustic french bread, steam billowing from an airy interior; and the list goes on—I could wax poetic about edible inspirations (did I borrow that from a fruit bouquet company tagline?) for hours. And capturing this beauty in a photo is almost as satisfying as devouring the finished product.
So imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to pair up with May van Millingen—an artist who takes as much pride in documenting a plate of food, in all its fleeting glory, as I do—to work on a photo/illustration collaboration.
I loved the colors and simplicity of these Greek salad sticks, and May did them proud.
You can see more of May’s beautiful work on here website, mayvanmilligen.com.
Oh yeah—and the recipe isn’t too shabby either.
Greek Salad on a stick with homemade tzatziki sauce
Makes about two dozen skewers
1 head butter lettuce
1/2 of a red onion
1 hothouse/English cucumber
4 oz. feta cheese
7 oz. plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced cucumber
salt and pepper to taste
Tear lettuce into small pieces (about the size of a business card); cut cucumbers and feta into 1/2-inch cubes; roughly chop onions into 1/2 inch pieces. Assemble skewers with a piece of lettuce, a cucumber piece, a piece of feta, another cucumber and a piece of red onion.
Mix all ingredients for tzatziki. Chill skewers and sauce for 10-15 minutes and then serve immediately.
I can’t always come up with witty post titles. Fortunately, this one should catch your attention in spite of itself. You really can’t go wrong when you stuff fresh, fiery jalapeños with ground beef and melty cheese, drench them in beer batter and fry them to golden-brown perfection. The homemade ranch is the icing on the cake.
They’re big and gooey, which makes them a little tricky as a finger food. Still, the most macho men (and hardcore ladies) will take them to the face while hovering over the game-day app table without thinking twice. My advice? Grab a plate, hunker down, and go to town on these babies with a fork and knife.
Cheeseburger jalapeño poppers with homemade ranch
Two dozen jalapeños
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb sliced American cheese (from the deli), chopped
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons dried, minced onion
1 tablespoon garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough vegetable oil to fill a small stock pot, sauce pan or deep fryer so that the poppers are completely submerged during frying
For beer batter:
1 1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
For homemade ranch:
1/2 cup mayo
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tablespoon dill
1/2 tablespoon dried, minced onion
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the ground beef with a little oil or butter in a skillet over medium-heat until cooked through—5 minutes or so—stirring constantly.
Pour off excess fat and add meat to a bowl with cheeses, onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir together until the cheese begins to melt and the ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
Slice each jalapeño, down the side in a “v” shape, as shown below, and carefully remove the seeds and white veins. If some seeds and veins are left, that’s fine–your poppers will just be a little spicier. Keep the tops with the jalapeños they came from as best as you can so you’ve got a good fit on each popper.
Fill a piping bag (or a plastic bag with a hole snipped on the end) with the popper filling and pipe a bit into each popper. The insides should be full, and the “lids” on the poppers bulging a bit, but not so much that the poppers don’t stay together.
Set filled jalapeños aside and prepare the batter by mixing all batter ingredients.
You can also prepare the ranch sauce at this time—simply mix all ranch ingredients in a bowl and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat. You’ll want to reach and maintain a frying temp between 360 and 375 degrees or so.
When oil is heated to the proper temp, using tongs, dip each jalapeño, one at a time, in the batter; let excess drip off for a second or so and quickly place directly into the oil. Immediately after putting each jalapeño in the batter, agitate with your tongs to make sure the popper doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You can fry poppers in batches of 2 or 3, for about 3-5 minutes each or until golden brown. If necessary, adjust the burner to maintain your oil temp.
Drain poppers on a paper towel and serve immediately with ranch.
Why brussels sprouts (and broccoli, for that matter) get a bad rap is beyond me. When prepared well, they’re a fantastic accompaniment to just about any meal. Also, it’s a fallacy that you have to add bacon to make them taste good. Of course, a little bacon never hurt anyone. Take it from my new fave paleo blogger and partner in crime, Nicole over at BaconIsHealthy.com.
I digress. To prove to you all that brussels sprouts are amazing—and don’t need to be studded with pork fat to shine—I whipped up a recipe, and it couldn’t be simpler.
Inspired by a delicious dish at my favorite lunch spot, I added parsley root. Truth be told, I was aiming for parsnip. I thought I bought parsnip. I was wrong. Using it anyway proved to be a wise decision, though—it added something really special to the finished dish.
Brussels sprouts with parsley root
1/2 lb brussels sprouts
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 parsley roots, chopped
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Remove any outer leaves from sprouts. Boil water and add brussels sprouts. Cook for three to five minutes, then remove and promptly shock sprouts in cold water.
Cook onions and parsley root in butter over medium-high heat until tender, several minutes.
Add brussels sprouts just for a minute or so, or until they’re cooked through (tender). Drain any excess liquid and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Add mayonaise, lemon and salt and pepper. Serve warm.