Traveling Photo Shoot: Truffles

Montreal is rumored to have some of the best pastry shops this side of the Atlantic, and while I was skeptical (I’m coming from the NYC area after all) I was excited to try as many pastries and confections as possible. On a particularly overcast morning walking through downtown Montreal, I passed by Suite 88 Chocolatier which just looked so tasty and so damned posh that I knew after a museum visit I’d be returning to give it a try.

I ordered two of everything.

Even still, several pieces didn’t make it till the photo shoot. Which brings about another concern – how do you photograph delicious pastries while on vacation? Sure, taking photos of the store displays and local dishes is great and makes for amazing photos, but what if you’re doing it in your hotel room? Or in my case, a comfortable bed and breakfast in the Plateau/Mont Royal neighborhood. In the small shared kitchen was what amounted to a thrift store collection of plates, one small white one suitable for a truffle display, and a brown and silver patterned scarf I brought along for the possibility of chilly evenings. An open window and 20 minutes to goof off and I had a completely makeshift traveling photo shoot.

All of the truffles were gone by the next afternoon, just in time to try another pastry shop. Travel photography is definitely a skill I’d like to develop, but with New York in my back yard I think I’ll have a lot of opportunities to practice.


The Best of the Worst – Vacation Food

Most chefs that I’ve met will eat almost anything. They’ve got good taste, but that doesn’t mean that they’re picky. Even if it’s bad, they’ll try anything…because you just don’t know until you try. Furthermore, while professional chefs may eat and cook well now there’s still a good chance a little bit of fast food or microwave mac and cheese is comfort food.

In honor of these foods, here’s the quick roundup of some of the not-four-star but tasty foods I came across on vacation.

Vacation was kicked off at the Norwalk Oyster Festival, where I convinced myself to finally give oysters a try. To ease myself into it I ordered some fried oysters, which taste like generic fried seafood I suppose. Yummy! Next I tried a raw one , and well – I just can’t do them. After spitting out my first, last, and only raw oyster I headed back to the fried oyster booth and got another. Also, tartar sauce is pretty good. Why haven’t I tried that before?

The Marchiano’s Calzone. I’m not entirely sure this is actually a calzone, but it’s calzone-like. Sunday mornings living in the East Falls & Manayunk neighborhoods of northwest Philadelphia were some of my favorites because of this thing. After a typically obnoxious Saturday night on Main Street we’d wake up and walk down the hill to Marchiano’s Bakery for one of these delights, and wander on home in time to catch the football game. I don’t even want to begin to analyze the nutritional values of this (or lack thereof) but it’s the definition of comfort food. Unfortunately, I’ve never tasted anything like it.

The entire time we were in Montreal, we kept meaning to try Poutine. According to our trusty guidebook, “The legend is that sometime in 1957 a customer walked into Le Cafe Ideal…and asked owner Farnand Lachance to add a handful of cheese curds to his order of [fries and gravy]. He shoved the result in front of his customer and muttered “Quel poutine” – which could be roughly translated as “What a mess.” ” Finally, on the last evening of our stay we went down to the Rapido diner on the corner for a fresh plate of poutine, and were pleasantly surprised. So surprised and delighted that we nearly cleaned the plate.

After tasting them and deciding I liked them, I mentioned to Greg that it was just like cheese fries, but with gravy on them. He reminded me that it wasn’t the gravy that originally made the dish strange, but the addition of the cheese – which I’m still having a little trouble understanding.

On the Road

Hello out there! I’m sorry for the interruption in posting, but fear not – I have not abandoned you! I’m currently traveling and eating my way across Montreal, and taking as many photos as I can of all of the lovely things I’ve come across. See:

Vacation started Friday night after work with a bottle of champagne and a trip to the Norwalk Oyster Festival, where I tried fried oysters for the very first time! It then spilled down into Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday for a far-too-short trip, and then the long drive up to Montreal on Monday. I’ll be here exploring and discovering every nook and cranny till Saturday. In the mean time I’ll be away from the blog. Hoping you’re eating sweet!

xo, Jenny

Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

This week I’ve had a one day weekend, (yesterday) and most of the day was spent casually baking peach cupcakes with brown sugar frosting, as found on Smitten Kitchen. Over the course of seven hours I baked, frosted, set-up, arranged, photographed, edited, and weeded 135 photos. Perhaps it should take more time or less time to really get through the whole process, but it’s rare that I get to cook and “work” so casually.

Two more days of work, and I’m setting out on an 8 day adventure! On Saturday morning I’m heading down to Philadelphia for a couple of days to see friends that I’ve really missed since moving, and then on to Montreal!!! I’ve never been to Canada before and am really looking forward to it. While my French-Canadian is really poor, I’m hoping I’ll be able to mumble my way through things with what remains of my high school French memory.

Of course, one of the things I’m looking forward to on my trip is getting the opportunity to taste new things and hopefully get some cool travel food photographs. I’ve travelled a lot in the past, but have somehow managed to avoid snapping any photos of some of the world’s most incredible meals. While I can still taste the fine French cheeses and delicious Argentinean steak, it would have been far easier to mesmerize people with photos.

Anyway, on to the good stuff – the recipe:

Peach Cupcakes – Makes about 30

3 or 4 Peaches (4 if medium, 3 if large) – Peeled, cored & chopped into smallish cubes, about 1/3″.
3 c. Cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
3/4 c. (6 oz) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
3/4 c. Sugar
3/4 c. Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 c. Sour Cream

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a mixer, beat together the butter and both sugar until it become fluffy and lightens in color (a minute or two). With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla to the eggs, and add the eggs to the mix one at a time, beating to incorporate. Scrape the bowl again. Add the flour in two parts, alternating with the sour cream and taking care not to over mix. When the batter is fully incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chopped peaches. Divide into muffin cups lined with cupcake papers and bake for about 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

Brown Sugar-Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 c. (4 oz) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
1 pound (two 8 oz packages) Cream Cheese at room temperature
1 1/4 c. Light Brown Sugar
1 c. Powdered Sugar
1/4 c. Cornstarch*
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

In a mixer, beat the butter until it is completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat it into the butter until completely combined and smooth. In a small bowl combine the sugars and the cornstarch and whisk together until they are completely combined. Add the sugars to the cream cheese and beat on medium until the frosting has lightened in color and is very fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape the mixing bowl down occasionally while mixing.

*Note: The original recipe includes the 1/4 c. of cornstarch, added for the purpose of stiffening the frosting. I also added a little more powdered sugar to my recipe to give the frosting a little more body and sweetness. Next time though, I’m considering cutting the cornstarch down or out altogether (it just seems a little weird to me) and upping the powdered sugar to make it even sweeter. I like it sweet, what can I say?

The End of Summer Pie

Blueberries are in season through September, although summer is fading fast here in New England. As many people have off on Monday for Labor Day (the last hurrah of summertime), and the summer berries are getting scarcer in the grocery store aisles, I thought it was time for the last summer pie. Blueberry-Raspberry Pie with a Lemon Crust.

After the storm last week a lot of businesses were left without power, including a little store nearby that sells farm fresh produce. The loss of power didn’t stop them though. They set up shop out front of their store and had a little farmer’s market. I was able to pick up 3 pints of blueberries (used here), a quart of freshly picked peaches, and a pint of strawberries.

This time of year, on the brink of fall, I feel like the need for pies is especially strong. I didn’t eat a lot of pie growing up – the revelation of raspberries is something that I didn’t experience till college believe it or not – but no matter where you’re from or what you like, pie always feels like home. More cozy than a cake, more special than a cookie. Pie is LOVE.

I’m really looking forward to fall pies and tartes. The apples and pears that will be in season very soon will be a delight to mix and match with end of summer fruits and exotic spices. In late fall the nut and veggies pies I hope to try should do a great deal in the way of warming us up. In the mean time it’s nice to sit back with a piece of the last summer pie and think about the roller coaster this summer has been!

New York City in the summer time is every bit as sweltering as the movies tell you it is (The Seven Year Itch anyone?). Compounded with the heat and pressure of a New York kitchen, summertime can be downright suffocating. For the first time I can remember, I’ve actually felt the seasons change. Growing up in South Carolina it seemed like there was summer, fall and spring. Winter weather doesn’t even register in my memory. In Philadelphia it felt as though we sweat through summer and dove right into freezing through winter, with maybe two or three weeks of spring or fall to break it up.

Lemon Pie Crust – Make twice for top and bottom crusts – 9″ pie.

1-1/4 cups All-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out the dough)
1/2 cup Butter, unsalted, very cold and chopped into small pieces
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
3+ Tbsp. Ice water
Zest of 2 medium lemons

In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt & lemon zest. Add in chopped butter and pulse several times until butter is cut into the flour in tiny pieces, roughly the size of peas. Remove from food processor and in a bowl mix in ice water by hand until dough comes together. Take care not to knead or overwork the dough. Roll into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until use, at least 1 hour.

When you’re ready to roll out the dough, flour your counter and rolling pin. Remove from the refrigerator and allow dough to sit for a couple of minutes at room temperature. Place disk in floured area, lightly dust the top of the dough with a sprinkle of flour, and roll out the dough, making sure there is about an inch and a half to spare on either side of your pie dish. When rolling out the second pie crust, I used a pastry cutter to create the wide lattice strips. Since this is a juicy pie, a solid top crust with a vent would work as well.

Blueberry-Raspberry Filling – Bake at 350F degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes

4 cups Blueberries, rinsed and picked over for stems and twigs
2 to 2-1/2 cups of Raspberries, gently rinsed
1 cup Sugar – plus more to sprinkle on pie crust
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. Ground Allspice
1/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
4 Tbsp. Minute Tapioca
2 Tbsp. Butter, unsalted, chopped into small pieces
Egg Wash

In a large bowl stir together blueberries, raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, allspice, nutmeg and Minute tapioca. Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes (I usually do this before rolling out the pie crusts, about the time I start preheating the oven). Pour into pie shell. Scatter dots of butter over the filling and cover with top crust or lattice. Eggwash the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.

Check the pie regularly after about 45 minutes to make sure the crust is not browning too quickly. If the crust becomes golden brown before filling has begun to bubble in the center of the pie, cover with aluminum foil to prevent further browning. When filling in bubbling from the center the pie is finished!

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

A Homemade Vanilla Latte

Some people drink several pots of coffee a day, and while I don’t really consume THAT much coffee, it’s at least 2 medium lattes a day. One on the way in to work at 6:30am (I can’t even get started cooking without it), and usually one in the evening before or around dinner. I’m lucky to have a simple espresso machine at home, nothing fancy – just an old steam driven Mr. Coffee.

Recently, while playing around with a couple of different simple syrups I decided I needed to keep one of the most basic syrups on hand for my at home lattes – the vanilla syrup. It’s simple and adds just enough vanilla sweetness to my evening coffee. This is a small recipe that will give you enough for at least 10 coffees.

Vanilla Syrup

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 vanilla beans, split & scrape out seeds

Put sugar, water, vanilla bean pods & seeds into a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain out bean pods and store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

I use about a tablespoon per latte. Sometimes two. If the syrup begins to crystallize simply return it to the stove and bring it back to a boil.

Inspired by: Matt Armendariz

While I’ve been writing and reading blogs for the past 5ish years now I’m still pretty new to the world of food blogging. So when I came across Matt Bites by Matt Armendariz, who has been cooking up delicious things and writing about it since 2005 I realized just how late to the game I might be. His blog, photographs and enthusiasm for all things food & photography are truly inspiring.

After peeling through his blog and extensive press and features resume I took a look at his photography website and was even further impressed. His use of color, sometimes vibrant and sometimes muted and subtle immediately shines in each image. The compositions and arrangements of foods and accessories is balanced and energetic.

Most of the time I feel like I’ve just sat down to the table with family and friends to enjoy an extraordinary meal through his photographs. With a background in graphic design and art direction and a long history in the food industry, it’s no wonder Matt has such an eye for elegant culinary images. His images show that it’s about the food, but not just about the food. It’s about the atmosphere and the people whom this food is for. Who made it? Why was it made? Where will it be eaten? Is it a joyous occasion? Is it an everyday cup of tea? What type of food is it? Rustic? Fresh? Light? Hearty?

Images these good almost make me feel like I’ve already eaten whatever it is in front of me – and it was DELICIOUS. Now that’s inspiring.

All images copyright Matt Armendariz. 

Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons

The truth is, the coconut macaroon is a seriously underappreciated little cookie. It’s so easy to make, takes so little time to prepare, and tastes so good (especially right out of the oven) that your biggest problem with this recipe is making enough to last more than an hour or two. A lot of bakeries will dip their macaroons in chocolate, which is delicious and looks great, but also requires tempering your chocolate, and might not provide an even distribution of chocolate in every bite … or the two bites it’ll probably take to finish one of these.

Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons

3 oz. of egg whites (approximately 3 large egg whites)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 (14 oz.) package of sweetened coconut flakes
6 oz. mini chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You’ll also need a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet and a small cookie scooper.

In a small bowl whisk together the egg whites, sugar and salt until the egg whites are slightly foamy. In a larger bowl combine the coconut and chocolate chips. Pour whisked eggs over the coconut and work the entire mixture together with your hands (feel free to wear gloves if you really want to avoid the stickiness) until completely combined. With a small scoop, scoop a clump of the coconut mixture, pack it lightly in the scoop, and drop onto the cookie sheet. Bake about 25 minutes or until the cookies take on a beautiful golden color. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before you bite into them, they’ll be hot! (but OH SO GOOD.)

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