Friday, July 16, 2010

'Cots and crunch

I had some friends over for dinner the other night. And while the reason I invited them over was to thank them for continually and repeatedly taking care of Lucca for me while I'm out of town, they showed up on my doorstep with a bucket full of apricots. Freshly picked THAT day. In fact they ran a little late arriving 'cuz they were out picking apricots. How wonderful does that sound?? I mean first off - how dare they show up with "gifts" but could I turn them away? OF COURSE NOT!

The cream is there to dress it up, but really, it needed no dressing

Gorgeous. Simple, rustic and gorgeous.

The apricots were small, but perfect. I'm not a huge fan of fresh apricots but I seriously love them cooked into things desserts. And these apricots were so fresh and perfect that even this "non-apricot-lover" enjoyed a few uncooked ones!

Fresh picked the day before

I knew I needed to make them into something quickly since there was no way I was going to let them get past their prime when they were a gift and started off so beautiful the day I received them. So I got down to it the very next day. But what to make them into??

Yup, throw an egg yolk into your crust

Yup, throw some cornmeal in there too...

It's summer. I'm currently training for a half marathon (note the Team in Training badge to the right). I will likely be donning a bathing suit in the near future. Therefore, I didn't want to make anything too heavy and sweet like an apricot pie. I also didn't have any social functions at which I could "get rid of this" dessert, so I wanted to keep it small and simple.

It's quite a crumbly crust, but it DOES come together

I was thinking a lot about apricot tarts but didn't want the typical apricot and almond tart with the almond filling. I was craving just fruit and crust. I finally put a whole bunch of epicurious recipes together and made up my own: Honey Vanilla Poached Apricot Cornmeal Galette. Yes, when you put 3 different recipes together you get a mouthful of a title. And no, you do not poach the baked apricot galette in honey and vanilla...

I just rolled it out on the Silpat, assembled, then baked. Très facile.

I've been reading about cornmeal pie crusts a lot and they intrigued me. I ♥ cornmeal. I ♥ the crunchiness cornmeal adds to muffins and breads. I ♥ it! So I wanted to make a cornmeal crust. But I didn't want a double crust since I was trying to keep this a little light. So I used this crust recipe, but halved it and left some of the sugar out.

Beautiful color on those 'cots

I also didn't want to fuss around with a pie plate or baking dish and figuring out if I had enough filling and what not. So I decided to make a galette. Making a pie into a galette suddenly allows you to call it "rustic" and "earthy". I liked the freedom a galette gave me. Just make it as big as I had filling for. So I kinda studied this recipe a little, but didn't use any of the elements from it.

I cheated with peach preserves *ssshhhh*

For my apricot filling I again didn't want a super thick and sweet pie-filling type apricot mixture, so gently poaching them sounded like a much better idea to me. I found this recipe and like it a lot, though next time I might throw a cinnamon stick in as well?...

It's okay that I drank that syrup afterward, right?
I KID!!!

And here's how I put them all together: made up the cornmeal crust and let it sit in the fridge. While it sat, I poached the apricots (though I'd probably suggest a full pound instead of 3/4). While the poached apricots drained, I rolled my crust dough on a Silpat, to a 9-10" circle and spread 1/3-1/2 cup of peach preserves over it (I didn't have apricot in the fridge - peach worked just fine). Next was the layer of poached apricots. Yum. And finally, I didn't like how those poached apricots looked, so I cut up some fresh apricots and arranged them on the top. Folded the edges of the crust over, sprinkled with "big sugar". And voilà!

Definitely needed those "prettily" arranged apricots on top

Ready for baking!

I baked around 400° for half an hour and it came out GORGEOUS (I mean, if I do say so...) It was just as I wanted it. Not too heavy. Not too much "pie filling". Not too sweet. Mostly just fruit and crust. And oh, that WONDERFUL cornmeal crunch... I immediately fell in love with it. Immediately. I could have made cookies out of just that crust (ok you might want to add an additional egg or egg yolk in if you do that - too crumbly otherwise!) Yes, I dolloped some whipped cream on for my photo shoot - but it really didn't need it.

When something is so colorful and delicious looking, it's hard to get a bad photo

Let's not forget to mention that I did not eat this in its entirety for Monday night's dinner. I fed some to a friend and sent a huge chunk home with her. Whew! Crisis averted!

But highly recommend. Highly. And what I'd recommend even more? Getting some fantastic friends who not only take care of your dog, but bring you fresh apricots when you're in the middle of thanking THEM. Priceless.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's not very often I prepare things that come out of boxes or containers and feed them to people. For instance, one of the most beloved cakes we make in our family calls for a box cake mix to start (horrors!) Yet I'm on a mission to find a "from scratch" recipe that will taste the same (or better)! I know - there's nothing really WRONG with it, but somehow it just seems healthier to NOT dump something out of a box, manipulate it a bit and serve...

Such a corny name, but what would you call it?

Another favorite recipe also calls for "boxes" and "containers". Four Layer Delight. The original recipe includes instant chocolate pudding and Cool Whip. Yes, it could be worse - and I could instead make my own chocolate pudding and sweetened whip cream. But the way we've made it for years is with Jello pudding and Cool Whip. So why make it more complicated?

The crust alone would be a yummy cookie!!

Mmmm... cream cheese and powdered sugar

Four Layer Delight is a dessert my mom has been making for just about as long as I can remember. And until this weekend, I thought it was something we only ate in our family. Then I Googled it. Here I thought no one would know what I was talking about if I said "four layer delight" but apparently it's not as original as I thought.

Yes you could make a complicated homemade chocolate
pudding - but this is instant

It's such a perfect summer dessert 'cuz it's fast and easy, it's cool, and it can be made way in advance. The way we make it (which I think happens to be the most common, though I did see a butterscotch version) is:

Layer 1..... Pecan shortbread crust
Layer 2..... Sweetened cream cheese
Layer 3..... Chocolate pudding
Layer 4..... Cool Whip sprinkled with nuts

Aw Nuts!

It was difficult to pause and take this picture - yes I was eating it

Ok maybe you call that five layers? Do the nuts count?
Heck though, I'm not counting. It's too refreshingly yummy delicious!!

Four Layer Delight:

1 1/4 c flour
3 T powdered sugar
1 cup ground nuts
1 cube salted butter, melted
1-8oz cream cheese (low-fat ok)
1 cup powdered sugar
1-8oz container Cool Whip (light or fat free ok)
2 small (3.9 oz) boxes instant chocolate pudding
2 cups milk (skim ok)

Mix the 3 T of powdered sugar, flour and nuts in a 9x13 pan. Add melted butter. Mix & press into the pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees - until brown. Let cool completely. Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1 cup Cool Whip and spread over the cooled crust. Combine chocolate pudding with milk, beat until thick and spread over. Top with remaining Cool Whip and ground nuts. Let sit in the fridge for at least a couple hours.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bloggers in Boulder

If you spend much time hanging around the food blogosphere you're probably already aware of the Food and Light Photography Workshop that Jen from Use Real Butter coordinated, executed and instructed in Boulder, CO early this week. She invited fellow über bloggers, Diane & Todd from White On Rice Couple and Helen from Tartelette to assist and teach alongside her. Combine this with the fact that my dad's best friend, Nick lives in Boulder and I really couldn't turn the opportunity down!

A few of my shots from the workshop

In order to be a kick ass food blogger, you must own and love at least one's a rule.

(this one happens to be Jen's Kaweah)

I'm not entirely sure how to boil an incredibly full 4 days down to 1 blog post, but I'm going to try. Let's preface this all by saying that the days I spent in Boulder were absolutely incredible. It truly resembled a summer vacation the likes of those we had in elementary school where we would forget all responsibilities and just PLAY. I talked my parents into coming along to Boulder and Anita accompanied me as well. We all stayed at Nick's Boulder Foothills home; played with his doggies, laughed with his friends and ate his wonderful food. I've visited Boulder many times in my childhood, mostly due to Nick and Carol, but coming as an adult is a totally new experience and I'm already looking forward to coming back.

Todd popped the champagne ~~ We all toasted to Anita's recent marriage!

No one was surprised that Jen's table looked PERFECT

Andrea, Susan and Helen ready for bubbly on the deck

But then of course there was the workshop. Oh, the workshop. Other than 1 Nikon course I took a few years ago (long before I knew anything about photography and therefore the content flew right over my head) and some HS classes which were more about developing than photography, I've hardly taken a photography class. And now I'm afraid that I will never again take another photography course strictly because this one was SO INCREDIBLE. Now, part of the reason this course was so awesome is because it was so perfectly designed and catered to food photographers and really, that's what I tend to be. A sports or nature photographer wouldn't have gotten quite as much out of it; but that's why it was called the FOOD and Light workshop.

Roasted beets with goat cheese & hazelnuts and marinated flank steak (with chimichurri)!

I ♥ Jen!

Photo courtesy of Helen

Now, for some shout outs. I must begin with our UHMAYZING instructors. First, Jen Yu. In some circles, all you do is mention her name and people light up. If it's not clear from reading her blog, it's ABSOLUTELY clear when you meet her in person: Jen is a FREAKING gem. She's sweet and generous and super sharp and thorough and honest. I had such high expectations for this workshop and she managed to exceed them! It was very clear that since the workshop was in UseRealButterLand, Jen was the one who hustled to make it happen and make it happen WELL. From the CRAZY packed swag bags we got full of goodies from Izze, Chef's Catalog, Stonyfield, Savory Spice Shop, Earthy Delights, New West KnifeWorks, Nations Photo Lab and more, to the free endless coffee she arranged for us at Atlas Purveyors, to the prizes she organized to give out for best photos, to the lists of restaurants and accommodations she gave us, to the questionnaire she sent us in order to plan the teachings. *whew* I'm tired just listing it!!! She DID IT!

Helen shows us how she can make Frito-Lay bean dip look fancy - brilliant woman!

As if the above weren't enough, Jen also pulled some additional fantastic people/fantastic photographers/fantastic bloggers to host the workshop with her. Helen Dujardin. Most know her as Tartelette. I know her as the woman who single-handedly seduced the entire food blogging world into LOVING and obsessing over the French macaron. I absolutely blame credit her. Helen also uses her magic pastry hands on a camera and tripod to capture the beauty of her product. Her style is flawless and her photos are magnificent. It's no wonder she has so successfully slid from the world of pastry into the world of food styling and photography. She's just one talented woman. We were incredibly lucky to have Helen and her fantastic eye along for the ride as well.

White on Rice Couple - they came up with that, not I

And finally a couple I've met briefly before (through Jen, of course) but was excited to get to know better. Diane Cu and Todd Porter. White On Rice Couple. Yes, I do tend to be a bit partial to the very trendy "white guy/Asian girl" couple. I am, after all a product of such a pairing. But these two are not only fun and hilarious but SHARP. They know their trade and they execute on it well. I think I learned more technical knowledge and "tricks" from Todd and Diane than anyone else. Did you know you can program the function button on the front of your Nikon to spot meter?? THANK YOU TODD! Their style is different from Helen's is different from Jen's, but none is "better" and all had something genius to teach.

Jen's peach blueberry crisp with homemade ice cream ~~
The Layer Cake Shiraz they thought was rather apropos, yes?

The workshop "started" for a few of us on Sunday night with an incredibly generous invitation to Jen & Jeremy's Elev. 8233 foot, mountain home. Oh the perks of having friends who are AWESOME. She fed us and wined us and we laughed and squealed over Kaweah and we ate and took pictures and we laughed some more. I left said 8233 ft. feeling like I might burst...full of food and jokes and excitement at the upcoming days.

Let's get down to it...

What I would give to have light like this to shoot in all the time! *swoon*

The workshop started down in Boulder on Monday morning. The greatest part of the workshop was the amount of hands-on time we got to shoot. Yes there was some lecturing. But 4 lectures/demos over 2 days time with the rest of the time reserved for casual discussion and shooting was just perfect. The instructors would cruise around offering advice or making themselves available to answer questions.

Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery, Third Floor event space

We had mounds of fresh veggies and fruits from the Farmer's Market, spices from Savory Spice Shop and baked goods generously donated by Sugar Bakeshop in Denver. The food table was flanked by the "styling" table; full of dishes and glassware and knives and napkins and tablecloths. We were let loose to "go forth and style" and then shoot what we'd styled, and that's when we could apply what we'd learned in our lectures.

One of my shots from the first session

The photos speak for themselves. There was a lot of talent in that room. You might notice that there are sometimes multiple photos of the same "styled" item. That's because after someone would style a food, they'd often move on and leave it to go shoot something else. Meanwhile, another student could come along and shoot their own version. It worked.

One of my last shots on Tuesday ~~ Taylor chats with Anita while Susan shoots

We were asked to shoot after each lecture, so 2 sessions on Monday and 2 on Tuesday, and after some brief post-processing, upload a few of our favorite shots to the flickr page (mine are tagged with my name). We got a lunch assignment to shoot our lunch and upload that as well. Anita and I spent the first 5 minutes after being served our lunches at The Kitchen, putting some of our new skills to use. The funniest part is that there were other Workshop Goers dining at The Kitchen, but we weren't sitting with them. So an average Monday luncher was very likely wondering why so many people around the restaurant were shooting their lunches!

I like this one - Spilled Lavender

Side note: Tuesday, Anita and I had the pleasure of sampling Boulder's best sashimi at Sushi Tora, with Elana and her adorable and very talented son, Ethan. We then stopped by the highly popular kitchen and home store, Peppercorn so Elana could pick up one of Anita's books. We were all floored and tickled to see both Elana's book and Anita's displayed together (it's as if they knew!) on a table in the baking section!! Man, I am so not worthy of this company!

Showing the setup of one of my shots

Then me taking the picture
Photo courtesy of Helen

And finally the end result...

By the end of the 2nd day it was time for awards. The class voted on their favorites and the instructors voted on their favorites. I was so thrilled to hear that I actually WON one of the prizes!!

(Silly) instructors reviewing the photos

Most Original (instructors vote): Me!!
Most Original (group vote): Jenny
Best Overall (instructors vote): Christopher
Best Overall (group vote): Annie
Most Improved (instructors vote): Ethan
Most Improved (group vote): Shanon (I picked my fave of hers)
Best Styling (instructors vote): Marla
Best Styling (group vote): Anita
Best Lunch (instructors vote AND group vote!): Taylor

My award winning Most Original photograph I called "Here, Bunny Bunny"!

The prizes were *generous* too. I chose a $100 gift certificate to Chef's catalog. WOW!! But there were prizes from the Culinary School of the Rockies, New West KnifeWorks, and the Savory Spice Shop in Boulder. Jen REALLY worked her magic!

After breaking down the tables and chairs, and turning the event space back into... an event space, a handful of us walked down to The Kitchen Upstairs for a few drinks. What a wonderful group of people. I think we were sorta half wanting to practice our new photography skills and half just wanting to kick it and relax and enjoy each others company.

The Kitchen Upstairs ~~ My yummy drink!

I could have eaten all of this chicken pate (and more)

Roasted beets with feta ~~ Loved everything about The Kitchen

It was a perfect few days and I left Boulder wanting to return. You know that's the sign of a sensational vacation.

What a great group - can we do this again?!

A final huge thanks:
Jen (post here)
Helene (post here)
Diane & Todd (post here)
and of course to my marvelous travel companion, Anita (post here).