Fancy

My mom is a photographer, so I grew up with cameras being around pretty much all the time. In high school she gave me an old Minolta that had belonged to my grandfather, and I used it in the high school photography class that all the “bad” kids take to get easy art credits. Maybe I was a “bad” kid?

Anyway…

I took a lot of pictures with that camera, mostly just wasting film because I never really got the hang of all the technical jargon. I don’t remember much from the class, but now that I take pictures digitally for the most part, I can take hundreds of pictures and the worst part about it is having to go through them all.

After making the decision to put more energy into blogging and less into feeling bad that I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, I decided that I should experiment a little bit with taking better photos. I have quite a bit to learn about my camera, and photography in general, but I love taking photos and I know that they only way to get better is to do something. A lot.

So I’ve pretty much turned the camera into an extension of myself. I see things through the viewfinder even when I’m not physically looking through it. I think I’ve improved quite a bit even since picking it back up last December, but I can’t be the best judge.

One thing I have been doing is experimenting with “fancy” food photography style photos. I’m not sure it’s really my style. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Another thing I’m working to improve on is putting in the effort to perfect recipes before I share them. I am a very casual cook. I don’t often use recipes and when I do I usually change things right off the bat. Sometimes it’s because I’m missing an ingredient, sometimes because I look at the recipe and know that it won’t work the way it’s printed so I adjust things as I go along. The problem is, I rarely take notes.

I didn’t take notes for this recipe either, but I did make it like 4 times before I decided it was ready to share here. I’m pretty confident it can’t be improved upon.

I got the inspiration for this salad from a friend of ours whose family we spent Christmas Day with. She served it for dinner that day alongside an amazing roast leg of lamb with like 1 million cloves of garlic stuffed into it. Since then I’ve made it about once a week, eating it until I get tired of it (usually with only a serving or so to go, which I then send with Joe for lunch) and then craving it again just a couple of days later. Since it was originally part of a special meal it’s got a special place in my brain, listed under the heading “impress your guests with fancy food” even though it’s just as easily eaten with your fingers straight from the bowl, all by yourself.

I never asked her for the recipe so I don’t know if she made it up or if someone else deserves the credit but I haven’t come across a recipe quite like what I have here, so I’ll just call it unique and pass the fame on to her. This salad pretty much makes a meal. I’ve been eating it with a hard boiled egg alongside, or a heated up samosa. It’s very filling and even more delicious.

Kale and Yam Salad with Farro and Pomegranate
Makes about 6-8 decent sized servings

One bunch kale, washed, thick stems removed. Any kind of kale is good.
4-5 medium sized yams
1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 pomegranate’s worth of seeds
1 large handful raisins or dried cranberries, optional
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the yams in a 400ºF oven for about 45 minutes, more or less depending on size, until a fork sticks in easily. Allow to cool.

While the yams are roasting, bring the water and stock to a boil. Add the farro, cover, and reduce the heat. Cook for about 50 minutes until the grains have mostly split and are soft but still have a little bit of bite. Turn off the heat and let sit until about room temp. Don’t worry if there is liquid left when you do this, the grains will absorb quite a bit more as they cool. If there’s stock leftover in the end, save it to add to soup.

Meanwhile, mix together the very basic vinaigrette. Feel free to add other things if you want, but it really doesn’t need it. Adjust to your own tastes if you like more or less vinegar. Roughly chop or tear the kale and toss it in the dressing. Allow this to sit at room temp while the farro cooks and cools. Slice up the onions and get your pomegranate seeds ready. Once the yams and farro have cooled to about room temperature you can add them in. Peel and cube the yams, and drain the farro well before adding these things to the kale. Next add the onions and pomegranates, and the raisins if using them. Give it all a good stir (I used my clean hands as it seemed to work the best. Don’t be afraid to touch your food!) and serve it up. It’s good at room temp or cold, and will keep for 4 or 5 days in the fridge.

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Something Fresh

Thursday was a hard day in computer land if you live in my house and your name is Venessa. My computer completely wacked out and had to be restored from a back-up that wasn’t quite complete.  Joe had to retrieve about 200 pictures from my camera card from over the last 3 weeks. I’m really really glad he knows a thing or two about computers. More than this guy at least.

I also had a lot of trouble getting somethings right in a post I was doing. It took me all afternoon to get it written and put pictures in, and when it finally came time to check the final draft I realized thatmuch of the formatting was way way off. This has been happening more and more over at blogspot and while I have been happy there, I decided it was just time for a change. There’s been too much frustration in my life lately, and that was one area I had some control over. Hopefully the transition goes smoothly.

That post was a recipe for a hearty muffin full of fiber and protein, and since I’m getting a fresh start in this fresh year and I already have been posting a little bit about eating light, I thought I would post this quick soup. It’s bright and rich at the same time. It’s incredibly flavorful and also incredibly easy on the waistline. Maybe your waist will look like this bulb of fennel’s if you eat it a lot.

Fennel (one of my favorite foods for like the past, oh, 2 or 3 years) and bright green apples go in, alongside a hit of fresh thyme and some other minor players. I didn’t really have a recipe but I imagine it would be good with pretty much whatever proportions you like, as long as you remember to balance it out in the end with the lemon juice to brighten it up. At least as bright as this friend’s plumage

I took it on a picnic to the zoo on Friday, in some borrowed thermoses. It was so nice to have a little cup of warmth after tromping around and making all the animal sounds out in the cold of an early January day. Topped with a little dollop of greek yogurt and a few more thyme leaves, it really hit the spot.

(I didn’t have anything witty to say about soup in cups. Sorry.)

Fennel and Apple Soup with Thyme

  • 2 bulbs fennel, fronds removed
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 green apple
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme or about 1 tsp dried, plus more for garnish
  • 2-3 cups veggie stock
  • 1 small winter squash, flesh only (I used a Delicata)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • plain greek yogurt to garnish, optional

Roughly chop the fennel, celery, carrots, apple and squash. I didn’t peel anything except the squash, just chop it. Put it all in a pot and cover with stock. Add the thyme and a dash of salt, cover and let simmer. Once everything is pretty soft, after about 15-20 minutes, turn off the heat and puree completely either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender. If it’s too thick you can add a little more stock, or if you like a thicker soup bring it back to a boil and then simmer on low for a little bit until it’s a consistency you like. Add about half the lemon juice and then taste, adding more salt or more lemon juice if you like.

Ladle into bowls and garnish each with about 1 Tbsp greek yogurt or so, and a sprinkling of thyme.

Good News

You know how when the sun comes out in the middle of winter it’s like you’ve never seen it before? Even if it was out the day before? (But especially if like here in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs?) 

You know also, how when you actually get to go outside and let your totally bundled up self absorb some of that sunlight it makes you feel really warm and happy and want to skip around in a meadow somewhere.

Yeah me neither. Not at all.

Recently I made muffins that pretty much served to encapsulate that breath of sun in a slightly sweetened fluffy goodness. They had apricots. Lots and lots of them. Frozen at the peak of summer but then folded into a muffin batter hearty enough to sustain you on even the coldest winter day.

The bad news about these muffins is that you probably don’t have several gallon sized freezer bags full of apricots with which to make them over and over, like I have. The good news about them is that you really could use just about any type of fruit in them. They could have frozen berries, or peeled and chopped apples or pears, or even frozen peaches.

Oh, I thought of some more good news about these muffins. They are pretty healthy, since they’re whole wheat and oat and have a whole mess of protein rich ingredients alongside that pile of fruit.  They are a great breakfast or snack for this time of year, when most people are trying to eat a little bit lighter. Even more good news is that they are great slathered in butter, in case eating light isn’t a priority.

Sun is Shining Good News Muffins
makes 12 regular sized little cups of joy

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup bran flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use greek, it’s tangy!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen berries or chopped fruit, loosely measured

Preheat your oven to 500°F. This will make the muffins rise up a lot and have a nice domed top. Don’t worry, you’re going to turn it down when you actually put the muffins in. 

Beat the liquid ingredients together until well combined, then add the bran flakes and stir till they’re mixed in all the way. Let it sit while you whisk together the dry ingredients and prepare your muffin tin. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the flax, in a large bowl. Then add the fruit and nuts and stir around to coat all the pieces in flour. This helps to keep them all from sinking to the bottom when the muffins bake.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and combine just until you don’t see any large streaks of flour left. It’s ok if the batter doesn’t look completely smooth.

Fill the cups of your tin about three-quarters full, maybe a little more. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.