Tag Archives: Maine food photography

Consider the Mandoline (or something like it)

   mandoline veggies

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?!”

roots

peeled veggies

muji slicer with carrots

mandolineveggies_0126s

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

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Make the Basics Part IV: Goat Cheese

lucky cat

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.

fresh milk
milk in pot
cheesecloth

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
packaging

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.

Jam Session

concord grapes from Hannah Holmes

An acquaintance who lives one street over posted this notice on Facebook last month: “Neighbors: We have a few hundred pounds of organic, free-range, native, sustainably pollinated Concord grapes fixing to fall off the vines and make a righteous mess. Want?” My answer was, more or less, “I’ll be right over!” First, I have a hard time turning down fresh, free food growing in someone’s yard. Secondly, I’d long thought bunches of wild, deep indigo Concord grapes would be a fantastic photo subject. Thirdly, I seem to have a masochistic desire to complete recipes that involve ridiculously time-consuming, tedious steps, but that result in a very satisfying or unusual end product. So, yes, I basically spent the better part of two days picking and then photographing grapes in various stages of undress, making the jam, and then shooting the pretty purple spread.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes
Hannah
was not kidding when she said they had a few hundred pounds of grapes. The smell immediately hit me when I arrived in her driveway. It was so intense it almost seemed artificial, like grape Kool-Aid scent wafting through the air. The vines stretch from her garage all the way down a fence that extends at least 50 feet along the length of her backyard. When you’re surrounded by these plump, purple orbs, it’s hard not to pop one in your mouth, so, of course, I did. Hannah, knowing what I was in for, waited for my reaction with a bemused smile. The tartness immediately made my lips pucker and my eyes grow wide. Wow! That is some seriously intense grape flavor.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes
I spent a couple hours arranging and shooting grape clusters and vines in numerous set ups on a metal background, and then began the process of skinning the grapes. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does take a while…especially when you’re skinning 5 pounds of grapes! When they’re ripe, you can just squeeze one end of the fruit between your thumb and forefinger, and it pops right out of its protective coating. The skins and naked fruit were so cool looking that another round of photos ensued. Eventually, I got back to the jam making itself. I used this recipe, though as is my standard practice when making jam, put in half the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. And for a second batch, I used honey instead of sugar, and I much prefer how that tastes. The jam thickened nicely without pectin after about 45 minutes of simmering. The grape flavor is still incredibly intense in jam form, so one does not need much to satisfy the desire for a hint of sweet, tart fruit flavor. A dollop on top of goat cheese on a cracker or a thin schmear on some whole grain toast is about all you need.

concord grape jam from Hannah Holmes' grapes

If a friend or neighbor has a surplus of these blue-black beauties, or you see them growing on the side of the road, I recommend you run right over and get yourself some antioxidant-rich grape goodness. If a labor-intensive jam isn’t in the cards, try making something simple like juice that could be added to seltzer to make a refreshing homemade grape soda.

Growing Faithful


Every year I fret over our small garden and think nothing is going to survive, let alone prosper. It is still a revelation to me after several years of growing food that you put seeds or tiny seedlings in the ground, they get bigger, blossom and produce beautiful vegetables! It really is satisfying. And, of course, it’s not quite that simple. I weed, add compost and other organic fertilizer to the soil and the plants, water, use organic pest sprays, etc., but inevitably I get busy with other things and my attention wanes as the season goes on. Despite this, we had and have loads of things to harvest, even beans and brassicas that seemed to be getting ravaged by some pest or another early on bounced back formidably and continue to produce glorious green goodies. (Naturally, not everything thrives. For some reason, despite two successive plantings of carrot seeds, we ended up with a grand total of three carrots!)

This year, for the first time, I started some seeds (kale, eggplant, tomatoes, nasturtiums, and a new hybrid of kale and brussel sprouts called flower sprouts) indoors under a small grow light. I seriously doubted these fragile little plants could endure the torrential downpours that have become the norm, and the occasional cold or hot spells we had this spring and summer, not to mention what seems like an absurdly short growing season. But they did! And that experience was even more satisfying because I was nurturing plants from their birth through to their adult stage, and because we ended up with so much more food than we would have if we had been buying all seedlings, which can get to be expensive. Below are some of the results of these efforts (or lack thereof), which, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m quite proud of! Next year, I promise to have a little more faith in the resiliency of a loved-just-enough garden.