Category Archives: recipe

Almond Joy Cookies

almondjoy_329_sI wish I could take full credit for these tasty almond coconut chocolate creations, which without fail cause the response “You made these? They’re SO good! Can I have the recipe?” But like many things I bake, I started with an idea, Googled it, found something that sounded like what I had in mind and then tweaked it—in this case just a little bit. When I searched for something along the lines of “almond meal coconut chocolate cookie” I ended up at a recipe that originated from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook. The most major changes I made are an increase in volume so as to produce more than a dozen sizable cookies (they’re so good that they will disappear quickly so might as well make extra while you’re at it!), a change in the sweetener from sugar to brown rice syrup, and an increase in cooking time. Also, I usually use chocolate chips instead of cacao nibs (or a combination of the two), but you can do either depending on how sweet you want them.almond joysThe end result is a very moist, dense cookie with a lightly browned top and bottom. They really do taste like a healthy version of Almond Joy candy bars. These are also one of the few gluten-free cookies I’ve ever had that taste as good as, if not better than, most cookies that contain gluten. An added bonus is these can be whipped up quickly, and while the recipe calls for refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes, I’ve done it without that step and the end result was fine. So give them a try and see if you’re transported back to the Halloweens of your childhood when your belly was full of those little chocolate-coated coconut bars with an almond on top. This time if you eat several in a sitting, though, you won’t feel ill!
almond joy cookies

Almond Joys
(makes about 15 hefty cookies)

2 3/4 cups almond meal (I like to mix Bob’s Red Mill, which is very light and fine, and Trader Joe’s, which is darker and coarser)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or cacao nibs, or a combo of the two)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
5 Tbsp. coconut oil melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together almond meal, chocolate chips, coconut, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until doubled in volume, whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla, and brown rice syrup. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1.5-inch balls and place on the parchment. Press down slightly to flatten a bit. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then enjoy! Best eaten while chocolate is still warm and runny, but they keep well in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Festive Cranberry Tart

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I thought I’d squeeze in one more post before the end of the year (I know, wonders never cease) in case anyone is looking for a somewhat healthy, easy, impressive-looking and extremely tasty dessert to make for a holiday gathering. Vanessa Seder, an incredibly talented food stylist and recipe developer I often work with, was the inspiration for this recipe. She created a cranberry tart for a cookbook we both worked on this year, and her photo of it on Instagram got me thinking something similar would make a great holiday card for my clients. I spent two days playing with adaptations of the recipe, shooting it and making the cards. Time consuming, yes, but worth it for a nice end-of-the-year marketing piece. Here’s the photo that I printed on the card. It’s already gotten a great response!

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With two sweet tooths (yes, this is technically the plural of the phrase) in our house, I’m always searching for healthy, but still satisfying dessert options to make. I try to avoid refined sugars (or use them sparingly) and use whole grains as much as possible. You might be surprised at how often it’s possible to create great desserts with these parameters. In this case, the almond meal and spelt flour crust is crumbly and flavorful, and the tartness of the cranberries is set off just enough by the natural sugars in the maple syrup and apple cider to make the filling pleasingly sweet, but not cloying. So here’s my somewhat healthy version (okay, so a stick of butter isn’t ideal, but I also tried this with an almond meal and coconut oil crust, which was almost as good) of a cranberry tart that you can wow your friends and family with this holiday season. And they won’t have to feel bad about having that second slice!

Festive Cranberry Tart

Dough:
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. sea salt
1 cup spelt flour
½ cup almond meal
1 large egg, beaten
8 Tbsp. chilled, unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Filling:
4 cups cranberries
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup spelt flour (or arrowroot)
¼ cup apple cider
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Mix sugar, salt and flour in a medium bowl. Mix butter in with your fingers until a coarse meal with pea-size pieces forms. Drizzle egg over butter mixture and mix gently with a fork until dough begins to hold together. Form into a ball and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into a disc about ½ inch thick, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 13” round about ¼” thick. Transfer to an 11” round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it into edges. Trim off excess dough by running a rolling pin over the edges of the pan. (If you don’t have a tart pan, you can use a pie plate instead; adjust diameter of rolled-out dough accordingly).

Mix cranberries, maple syrup, flour and cider in a medium bowl until combined.

Fill the tart shell with the cranberry mixture and place tart pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 50 min. or until filling has thickened (it will solidify more as it cools). Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving if desired.

Adventures in Cookbook Photography

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Well, it appears it’s time for my bi-annual blog post! What can I say? I guess I’ll say this: Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep a little more apprised of my day-to-day world than this venue provides. However, I do like to bloviate on rare occasions when I have the time, so here goes…

This fall marked the publication of the fourth cookbook I’ve done the photography for (with two more on the way next year!). Adventures in Comfort Food by Cafe Miranda’s Kerry Altiero and co-author Kate Gaudet is a wide-ranging mix of creative twists on classic comfort food and Maine fare, interspersed with ethnic-inspired dishes. The restaurant’s slogan “Because We Can” will give you a pretty good idea of the wackiness factor here. And Kathleen Pierce of the Bangor Daily News has done a great job of conveying the vibe and mindset behind Cafe Miranda and the cookbook here and here.

This is not a book I thought I would end up working on, despite already being a fan of the kitschy, mammoth-menued restaurant in Rockland, Maine, that inspired the recipe collection. I was skeptical about the photogenic properties of “comfort food,” especially comfort food that would be prepared without a professional food/prop stylist on site, and I was leery of chef-driven projects. But, not one to immediately close doors without due diligence, I agreed to meet with Kerry to discuss the project one day last August. I walked into the cafe at the end of a stressful day of shooting. I was badly in need of a drink, a nourishing meal and a laugh…not necessarily in that order. Kerry delivered on all fronts. I left the restaurant in high spirits, with a full belly and ready to tackle a book I had almost talked myself out of. I knew right away—no matter what happened in the course of making this book—he would keep me laughing. That, and the constant flow of cappuccinos and nourishing food that he provided from his farmhouse kitchen during several winter weekend shoots, made a challenging project fun. It was like working on a book with an Italian grandmother who has a really twisted sense of humor. And there’s a reason for that: Constance Altiero, Kerry’s Italian grandmother, was a big influence on him.

Another crucial element to this book’s success was Kate Gaudet, a friend of Kerry’s with top-notch organizational and word-smith skills who helped dream up this project. Luckily for me, she also turned out to have an innate sense for food styling and was a diligent, thoughtful and amiable companion and assistant throughout the process. Her many talents included lightening fast ironing and expert pierogie poofing (see page 137). I literally could not have done this work without her.

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Oven-Roasted Fish Tacos

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Green Beans in Yellow Curry

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

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Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale

The three of us compiled our various collections of dishes, cookware, silverware, linens and background surfaces from which to create 50 unique recipe shots, some that have the stamp of Kerry’s unique brand of humor, and others that have my signature austere/authentic look (including the ones pictured here). We  contemplated at length the feel we wanted to convey for each shot. There are so many elements to consider: vessels, backgrounds, color schemes, not to mention the placement and appearance of the food! And on top of that, of course, are those pesky little photographic things like angles and lighting.

Overall, I think the images tell the story of the food well: an eclectic mix that offers something for everyone. And I really mean that. As a non-meat, low-gluten, overall healthy eater I have already dog-eared about a dozen recipes in the book, so if you’re of a similar persuasion don’t be thrown off by the term “comfort food.” Two that will be on regular rotation in our house are No Excuses, a coconut-curry broth packed with veggies, rice noodles and tofu, and Oven-Roasted Kale, which is accented with mushrooms, feta and red onion. For a dinner party this weekend, I’m leaning toward the Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale. (Fresh veggies figure prominently in Cafe Miranda fare thanks to Kerry’s farm, which is meticulously managed by Anne Perkins.)

And hey, look at that, it’s December and I’ve just given you a great gift idea for the adventuresome cooks in your life, especially the ones who will appreciate a side of humor with their polenta pizza casserole. You can order signed copies at CafeMiranda.com or sans garnish from elsewhere.

Shooting Raw

Why, yes, it has been an extremely long time since I have put up a new post here. I won’t make any excuses about how crazy my life is and how I don’t have time for this or that. Everyone’s life is crazy so really I don’t think anyone needs to make a big deal out of it, okay? Okay. Glad that’s settled.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you), I will take this opportunity to mention that some of the reason for my absence from this blog is my involvement over the past year in doing the photography for three cookbooks, which, on top of my other assignments, has kept me more than a little occupied! Two are still in progress. One just came out this month. It is called Plant Food and features innovative raw, vegan recipes. Published by Gibbs Smith, it is a colorful volume holding much inspiration within, no matter what your dietary preferences.

My work on this book took place on both coasts. While Belfast, Maine, and Santa Monica, Cal., are worlds apart, the book has a consistently fresh, vibrant and artistic tone. The chef at M.A.K.E. in Santa Monica, Scott Winegard, made my job much easier by turning every dish into a meticulously crafted work of art. Early on it was clear that simple props and subtle lighting would be the best way to approach his creations so as to let the food shine.

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Some of my favorite photos in the book are the chapter openers. When I discovered the authors were breaking the book into 13 chapters that described either the process used to create the recipes in each section or their contents, I realized it would be helpful to have a photo for each chapter that was representative of what lay within. While this was not part of the original scope of work, I knew it would make for a better book. I created many of them on the spur of the moment or, in some cases, culled appropriate images from my archive.

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While raw food practitioners will not be strangers to concepts like dehydrating, smoking and sous vide, these methods are not in my repertoire, nor do I have plans to rush out and buy the necessary equipment to partake in them, but I am curious about adapting some of these recipes for my own style of cooking. I’m betting the fennel crisps and coriander toast recipes, among others, could be easily adapted for an oven.

I’ll certainly be trying the mushroom pate which involves no special gizmos and contains ingredients usually found in my kitchen. I’m also eager to attempt the tree nut “cheeses,” which are little more than nuts blitzed with water and left to age (photo above in the “aged” chapter opener). And I will look forward to simple, but unique combinations like avocado, radish, nori, and sunflower seeds with miso lime dressing, as well as snap peas and pea shoots with mint and lemon hazelnut dressing when early summer produce finally arrives here! Whether you follow the recipes, adapt them to fit your own diet, or use them as inspiration to make up your own healthful dishes, give Plant Food a try. Failing all else, get it just to look at the pretty pictures.

(Check out the table section of my web site to view more images from the book.)

Consider the Mandoline (or something like it)

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I’m currently reading Bee Wilson’s fascinating book Consider the Fork, which is about historical changes in cooking implements and methods, and how they’ve affected what and how we eat, and, consequently, human health. She talks about kitchen gadgets that we love (she, too, is an aeropress devotee!), as well as those that get cast aside because they don’t prove useful enough, or because they actually create more work for the cook. We don’t have too much gadgetry in our kitchen, all things considered. I have to think long and hard about adding anything new as I’m loathe to clutter the cupboards any further. This is one reason that, despite pining for paper-thin veggies on occasion, I’d long avoided getting a mandoline. The other, of course, being the horror stories of people losing finger tips under its razor-sharp blade (including Wilson herself).

But after seeing mention of the Muji grater slicer set on a food blog, I was ready to take the plunge. I was sold on its price ($17.95!), ultra simple design and compact form. It has more than delivered in the three months that we’ve had it. If you have never had a similar gadget, you will want to start slicing every fruit and veggie in sight (and maybe some other things too). You will likely stare in wonder at the beauty of each new item you reduce to transparent sheets within seconds. And some of those sheets you will stack and finely slice lengthwise to easily and quickly produce piles of julienned goodies. Your salads and stir frys will be transformed by virtue of pleasing shapes and textures, and your friends will be saying in wide-eyed amazement, “How did you DO that?!”

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peeled veggies

muji slicer with carrots

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While it is clearly a dumbed-down mandoline (it doesn’t have an adjustable blade so you’re confined to one thickness), this gadget definitely earns the small amount of shelf space it occupies. It is a much faster and more uniform way of finely slicing vegetables than using a knife. But be wary: you can still hurt yourself as you would on a mandoline (I haven’t YET). Also, the grater attachment isn’t particularly useful unless you’re looking for more of a zester as it tends to pulverize or shred more than grate. I’m sure there are other slicers out there similar to the Muji that work just as well if not better. They may not be as cute and simple though!

Here’s a quick and versatile salad to get you started as you begin to explore the possibilities available to you with this meal-transforming tool! Does this sound like an infomercial yet?

Root Vegetable and Apple Slaw

2½ c. assorted root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, celeriac, fennel or radishes)
1 crisp apple

Dressing:
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1½ T. apple cider vinegar
1½ t. lemon juice
1 T. honey
salt and pepper to taste

Peel vegetables if needed. Cut those wider than the slicing blade in half. Core the apple and cut into quarters. Slice vegetables and apple using the Muji slicer or a mandoline. Stack larger slices and then cut them lengthwise into thin strips to produce matchsticks. Create a mixture of shapes for a more interesting taste and appearance. Whisk dressing ingredients together and toss with vegetables and fruit. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Voila!

root veggie and apple slaw

Make the Basics Part IV: Goat Cheese

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I’ve written before about how easy it is to make goat cheese, but it is worth another post, especially one with pretty pictures! For a few years now, I’ve made goat cheese to give as holiday gifts to close friends. After getting rave reviews from recent recipients, I was reminded again that people should know just how incredibly easy this is to do. It may sound and look impressive (and maybe I should keep people in the dark so they continue to think I’m amazing!), but really, a monkey could do this.

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milk in pot
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The biggest hurdle (and it’s not very big) is getting the main ingredients: goat’s milk and the chèvre culture. Other materials you will need are a thermometer, colander, slotted spoon and butter muslin (or cheesecloth). If you’re lucky like me and live in Maine, you can likely get fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk at your local farmers’ market (I get mine from Mainely Poultry for $5 per 1/2 gallon) or possibly a health food store/co-op/purveyor of local foods. Culture can come from a number of different sources. I use New England Cheese Making Supply. It works well to start a batch before going to bed at night and then letting it drain over the course of the next day. By that evening, it’s ready to eat! Just so you can see how easy it is, here are instructions based on those from New England Cheese Making Supply (I’m not sure why they left out the “let your spoiled cat lap up the leftover milk” step):

1) Heat 1 gallon of goat’s milk to 86° F.

2) Add 1 packet C20G (the culture) and stir.

3) Cover and let set at 72° F (it will still come out fine if it’s a bit cooler than this) for 12 hours.

4) Ladle curd gently into a butter muslin (or cheese cloth) lined colander.

5) Hang and drain for 6 to 12 hours (depending on desired consistency).

slotted spoon
goat cheese draining
goat cheese draining

Yup, that’s all there is to it. Once the cheese has drained, you’ll want to mix in a teaspoon or two of sea or kosher salt per gallon of milk to bring out the flavor (and slow the growth of bacteria), and you can add other herbs or spices too. For the holidays, I sprinkled rosemary and red pepper flakes on the surface of the rounds for a festive feel. If you’re giving them as gifts and want to get all Martha Stewarty, you can create a cute label and package too!

adding herbs
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Probably because it’s so much fresher than what you would buy from the store, the taste is remarkable. And if you find a reasonably priced source of goat’s milk, it’s definitely financially worth it to make your own…especially when you have a bit of a cheese addiction. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. A gallon usually makes 5 or 6 rounds about 2½ inches in diameter. I doubt it will still be sitting in anybody’s fridge for very long, but it seems to hold up very well even 10 days later. Give it a try! It’s easy and satisfying, and you’ll impress the hell out of your friends.

Make the Basics, Part III: Ice Cream

Before summer really is over, I thought it’d be a good time to post about my latest culinary passion: making ice cream. When I had envisioned people making their own ice cream in the past, I always pictured someone laboriously turning a crank on a wooden barrel filled with ice and rock salt and thought “oh, that seems like way more trouble than it’s worth!” But then came three fabulous food-filled days in February of this year on Isle au Haut, a small island off of Stonington, Maine. Yes, ice cream on a Maine island in February. Sounds enticing doesn’t it?

Well, here’s how it went down. I was on the island for a whirlwind trip (more on this adventure later!) to do the photography for the fantastic forthcoming cookbook Desserted: Recipe and Tales from an Island Chocolatier to be published by Down East this fall. Kate Shaffer, a co-owner, with her husband Steve, of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, has penned a fabulous book full of humorous stories and knock-out chocolate-centric recipes. The book contains four ice cream and sorbet recipes. I saw her making one of them, the Maine mint chocolate chip, and was captivated. She put the mint-infused custard she had made earlier into her cute, little ice cream maker, which to my delight did not have a giant crank or a pile of ice. It had a frozen metal cylinder that is placed into a plastic container with a small plastic handle that she easily spun around a few times every 4 minutes for 20 minutes or so. Then the ice cream was placed in the freezer for several hours to set. Easy as could be. (The only potential stumbling block is planning far enough in advance so that your custard has time to cool thoroughly overnight in the fridge and then the ice cream has time to freeze solidly.) There are also electric ice cream makers that presumably make the process even easier, but I like the low-tech crank method because that’s just the sort of gal I am: one who appreciates things that are less likely to break down, less noisy, involve you more in the process and all that good stuff.

And then I tasted that ice cream. And wow, I was in love. It was better than any ice cream I’d ever purchased anywhere. It was fresh and creamy and had a perfect balance of flavors. I vowed to get my very own cute, little ice cream maker as soon as the temperature rose above freezing. Since May I’ve experimented with several recipes. Among my favorites so far, aside from Kate’s Maine mint chip, which is still at the top of the list (the recipe can be found in Desserted come October), are salt caramel ice cream, strawberry ice cream, blueberry ice cream and sweet corn gelato. I like making ones that feature foods that are in season in Maine because the ice cream tastes that much more fresh and flavorful. Most of the recipes are very simple and involve making a custard from milk and eggs, which means after mastering the basic process it should be fairly easy to make up your own recipes. I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to! There’s also a new book out called Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home that uses a different method, not involving custard. I’ve heard good things about it and am eager to check it out. Let me know if you have any favorite ice cream flavors or recipes you’d like to share, especially before summer is over!