easy tomato sauce

easytomato
These past few weeks have not felt like summer at all.  I know the rest of the country is going through a heat wave, but here in Northern CA we are having some fall-like weather.  It’s foggy, cool and windy.  When the weather turns cool, I start looking for warm comforting meals.  I asked the kids what they wanted for dinner the other night, as they were huddled under the blanket, (we’re wimps here in Cali) and they both said pasta.  Pasta is our comfort food and we eat a lot of it in the fall and winter.


I decided to check out my friend, Denise’s site for a recipe.  Denise is the one who taught my photography workshop.  Her site is of course, GORGEOUS, and I’m trying hard not to compare my photos to her photo of this dish.  She is of course, a professional, and I must keep that in mind.  She is also an amazing cook, and I can’t wait to try more of her recipes.

This pasta sauce was a hit with the kids, (kid rated 10) and such an easy and simple recipe to make that it’s now going to be bookmarked as a family favorite.  It’s also a two-nighter meal, and what mom doesn’t love that.  I see this recipe being made a lot come fall when were back to crazy schedules (I’m so not ready for summer to end in that sense).  This sauce is also a great make-ahead sauce.  You can make it up one day or on the weekend and refrigerate or freeze it, and then just re-heat it with some fresh pasta.
  
I would recommend using a different type of pasta rather than the one I used.  You will want to use a pasta with some texture or ridges to it.  We used Ziti, and it was a bit glossy so the sauce fell off of it.  

easy tomato sauce:

recipe from Chez us
serves 4-6

printer friendly version

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4oz package (1/ 4 pound) pancetta, cut into small pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled 
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into small chunks 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 28oz can peeled tomatoes, very good quality, do not drain
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red chili (red pepper) flakes, or more or less depending on how spicy you like it – I used 1 teaspoon plus a small pinch
  • kosher salt to taste
  • box of your favorite pasta

First things first, chop up the pancetta, and peel and chop up the vegetables.

  Heat 1-tablespoon olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat.  
Add the pancetta and cook until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.   

While the pancetta is cooking, get out your food processor. Throw in the chopped onion, garlic and carrot and mince away.  
Note: If you don’t have a food processor, then you will want to mince the garlic and cut the onion and carrot up into very small pieces.

Once the pancetta is cooked, add the minced carrot, onion and garlic mixture along with 1 teaspoon or more of the red chili flakes.  Cook over low heat, until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.  

Add in the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, to break up the tomato pieces.  

Cook over low heat until thick, about 30 minutes.  Season with salt.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add your pasta and cook according to package directions.  Drain your pasta and put it back in the pan that you cooked it in.  Add the tomato sauce to the pasta and toss to coat.  

Serve the pasta up in individual bowls and top with some fresh Parmesan cheese.  

How easy was that recipe?
Like I said before, this pasta was a hit with the whole family and was a two-nighter meal.  

It’s definitely a recipe that I will be making come fall because of its ease, simplicity and taste.    We served this up with a side salad and some crunchy garlic bread.

cold soba noodles with miso tofu and summer vegetables

cold soba noodles with miso roasted tofu and summer vegetables
cold soba noodles with miso roasted tofu and summer vegetables

Welcome to marinmamacooks.com!  I finally have my own domain, yeah!  I’m a real blog now, (just kidding, kind of) but it’s a big step for me and I do feel a bit grown up.  I lost a couple of things in the transition like my pin counters, but these things happen and it’s pretty minor in my opinion.

One of my favorite sources for new recipes are magazines.  I love opening one up and looking at all the gorgeous pictures and tempting recipes.  I use to love reading In Style, Oprah and magazines like that, but now I love to ready cooking magazines (I guess I’m getting older).  I currently have a subscription to bon appetit and Martha Stewart Living.  I’m like a kid in the candy store each time one of them arrives.  There’s just something about getting a magazine in the mail.  Cooking magazines are great because they usually focus on seasonal recipes and ingredients.  I hate when I look at a cookbook and crave a recipe only to find that the ingredients are not in season. 

I saw this recipe in the July issue, and it spoke to me.  It looked so fresh and simple, the perfect summer meal.  The recipe did not call for the miso tofu, I added that in to give it some protein and keep it a vegetarian recipe.  You can make this without the tofu and it tastes wonderful.  The cutting of the vegetables was a bit labor intensive, but that was the only thing that took time.  I’m sure there is an easier way to dice up the veggies, and if you have any, send them my way.  I do sometimes find it a bit therapeutic to cut up a bunch of fresh vegetables, it just depends on my day.  Feel free to use any vegetable in the below recipe. This dish is a great make-ahead meal for those busy summer nights.  
Here are my leftovers the next day at lunch!  Yum!

cold soba noodles with miso tofu and summer vegetables:

recipe adapted from bon appetitmiso tofu recipe from Eating Well
serves 4-6

for the miso tofu: 

  • 1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons, miso
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

for the soba noodles:

  • 1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar – I used brown rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha (hot chili sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil – make sure you get toasted sesame oil 
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 2-3 radishes, sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper – sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 8 oz buckwheat soba noodles (Japanese-style noodles)
  • 1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems – these add amazing flavor to the dish, so this is a must
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black or white sesame seeds
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or brush on some olive oil. Make sure that you coat it well, because if you don’t, then the tofu will stick to the baking sheet. I used my olive oil cooking spray.  

Drain the tofu and wrap it in some paper towels and gently press out the excess moisture.  Cut the block of tofu into square cubes like the picture below.  I cut the block of tofu into 8 slices and then cut those in half to get these squares. It really doesn’t matter how you cut up your tofu, just make sure they are cut into even pieces.

cubed tofuCombine the 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons miso and the 2 cloves minced garlic in a large bowl, and use a spatula to mix it together. It will resemble a thick paste.

miso paste with lemon and garlic_Add the tofu squares to the mixture and gently toss to coat. It may not look like there is enough mixture to cover all of the tofu, but there is.

Spread the marinated tofu in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
miso roasted tofu
Bake the tofu on the middle rack, turning two or three times during baking, until browned. About 18-20 minutes, or until the tofu is browned on all sides.
Tip: You can make this tofu up ahead of time, (like the day before) and just re-heat it for a few minutes in a 250-degree oven.
miso roasted tofu
While the miso is baking, wash and slice up the vegetables and set aside.In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the rice vinegar, olive oil, sriracha and toasted sesame oil.Throw the matchstick sliced vegetables into a large bowl, top with the dressing and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain.  Run noodles under cold water to cool them; drain well and add them to the bowl with the vegetables.  Add in the scallions and toss them with noodles.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve up the noodles into individual bowls and top them with the sesame seeds, cilantro stems and warm tofu.  
Tip:  Store the tofu separate from the noodles, so they don’t get soggy.
cold soba noodles with miso roasted tofu and summer vegetables
Like I said earlier, you can make this with or without the tofu or even add chicken if you like.  We all loved this dish and will definitely make it again. It was so simple to throw together and gave us great leftovers.  
cold soba noodles with miso tofu and summer vegetables

Serving Size: serves 4-6

cold soba noodles with miso tofu and summer vegetables

Ingredients

    miso tofu:
  • 1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons, miso
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Soba noodles:
  • 1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar - I used brown rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha (hot chili sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil - make sure you get toasted sesame oil
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 2-3 radishes, sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper - sliced into matchstick sized pieces
  • 8 oz buckwheat soba noodles (Japanese-style noodles)
  • 1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems - these add amazing flavor to the dish, so this is a must.
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black or white sesame seeds
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or brush on some olive oil. Make sure that you coat it well, because if you don’t, then the tofu will stick to the baking sheet. I used my olive oil cooking spray.

Drain the tofu and wrap it in some paper towels and gently press out the excess moisture. I cut the block of tofu into 8 slices and then cut those in half to get these squares. It really doesn’t matter how you cut up your tofu, just make sure they are cut into even pieces.

Combine the 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons miso and the 2 cloves minced garlic in a large bowl, and use a spatula to mix it together. It will resemble a thick paste.

Add the tofu squares to the mixture and gently toss to coat. It may not look like there is enough mixture to cover all of the tofu, but there is.

Spread the marinated tofu in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the tofu on the middle rack, turning two or three times during baking, until browned. About 18-20 minutes, or until the tofu is browned on all sides.

Tip: You can make this tofu up ahead of time, (like the day before) and just re-heat it for a few minutes in a 250-degree oven.

While the miso is baking, wash and slice up the vegetables and set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the rice vinegar, olive oil, sriracha and toasted sesame oil.

Throw the matchstick sliced vegetables into a large bowl, top with the dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain.

Run noodles under cold water to cool them; drain well and add them to the bowl with the vegetables. Add in the scallions and toss them with noodles.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve up the noodles into individual bowls and top them with the sesame seeds, cilantro stems and warm tofu.

Tip: Store the tofu separate from the noodles, so they don't get soggy.

Like I said earlier, you can make this with or without the tofu or even add chicken if you like. John and I loved this dish and will definitely make it again. It was so simple to throw together and gave us great leftovers.

http://www.marinmamacooks.com/2012/07/cold-soba-noodles-with-miso-tofu-and-summer-vegetables/

food photography workshop, part 2

foodphoto
SO, I have been trying to practice what I learned in the photography workshop (here’s the link to part 1 of the food photography workshop), but I will be honest, its been hard trying to concentrate on photography with the kids around 24/7.  I’m not complaining at all, I’m actually loving and savoring having them around, it’s just that I can’t concentrate or really work on the blog as much as I would like (hello, mothers guilt).  Ramping up my food photography is definitely on my to-do list this fall when the kids are back in school and a routine is set (Oh, how I love routine).  

I really wanted to get out part 2 of what I learned at Denise’s food photography workshop, before I forget it all.  Remember, these are my takes on photography and I’m not claiming to be an expert at all!

Below are some props that every food photographer needs; 2 white foam boards, 2 black foam boards, one handmade light diffuser called a scrim.  The scrim really helps a lot on bright sunny days, because it diffuses bright, harsh light.  You can make a scrim by cutting out a frame in a piece of cardboard and then taping some velum paper to the back, or you can even use some wax paper and tape it to the back.  You could also use a white sheet in front of your widow to diffuse the light or some regular old white copy paper, basically whatever you have on hand and whatever your budget allows.  I like the scrim frame below because its easy to move around and position where you want, and you don’t have to worry about taping a sheet or paper to the window each time.  All of these items can be purchased at any art supply or craft store, and will set you back about $20 or so.

Below is my mini studio, and an example of how I set up my boards.  I use my den most of the time, as it has the best light and is close to my kitchen.  To make trekking back and forth easier, I use one of my rimmed baking sheets to carry my props and food to and from the kitchen.  I just prop up the foam boards with something heavy behind them. You can also tape the two boards together in the back and they will just stand up on their own.
You can already see the difference the in the mood between the white and black boards.  The white evokes a bright and happy daytime mood while the black is a bit moody and creates a night-time or rainy day feel. 
Below is an example showing you where I typically set up the scrim.  I will move the scrim around (up or down) depending on where the light source is hitting the food.  
The white boards are great when there is not enough light, as white reflects light and helps to brighten up the food and the scene you are creating.  You will want to place the white board on the opposite side of the light source.  If you want more light or you just want to create a clean, crisp background, put the other white board behind the food as a backdrop.  
 
Black boards absorb light, and are great to use on bright days, or just when you want to create a mood or showcase the colors in your dish. I find I’m more drawn to using the black boards, as the food and colors really stand out against the black backdrop.
 
I’m showing you some contrasting examples below between the white and black boards.  
I like the look the white board gives the chicken curry below.  It’s a summertime dish so the white background helps to set a fresh and bright sunny mood, like summer.
You can also see the difference in the pizza photos below.  I used a white board and parchment paper to create a lunchtime feel for the photo below.
I used a baking sheet and black boards to create this mood below.  
The black transforms this lunchtime pizza into a dinnertime or appetizer pizza.
I also think the pizza stands out more against the black.
I took this photo below at the workshop.  When I look at this photo, I think of a wintery or rainy afternoon, and that I’m setting out a tray of cookies to enjoy with a nice glass of tea or coffee.Ok, so onto the one piece of equipment that I’m so excited to use come wintertime.  I want you to take a look at the photo below and tell me if you think it was taken in the day or at night?
It was taken in the day, but it was in a dark room.  Isn’t it amazing?  This photo below shows you how dark the room was.  All we had for light was this Lowel fluorescent light unit.  I’m so excited for winter photography, because I can finally take some decent dinner photos with this light.  This light is great for those times when there is no natural light available (like in the winter anytime after 5:00).  I know most food bloggers are not fans of using artificial light, but I cook for my family, and I only photograph what we are actually eating. We don’t eat dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, so this light is going to be a major help.
 Here is a photo showing you the set up.  You will notice that the white board is set up on the opposite side of the light source to reflect the light from the unit onto the carrots.  
In low light situations, like the one above, you will definitely want to use a tripod, because when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos.
Ok, I hope these tips were helpful!
 

Ina’s summer garden pasta with video tutorial

Ina's summer garden pasta with video tutorial (1 of 1)-3
Ina's summer garden pasta with video tutorial (1 of 1)-3
Ok, here is my first attempt at a “homemade” cooking video.  When I say first attempt, I mean first attempt.  Zoe and I pulled this together yesterday afternoon, and there weren’t any re-takes, we shot and edited with what we had.  I’m proud to say that this video was filmed and edited by my 12 year old daughter, Zoe. Yay Zoe!  Zoe is always shooting videos with her friends, and editing up a storm, so I asked her if she might want to earn a few bucks by filming some videos for the blog this summer. I think she did a wonderful job, and all in all, for our first video, I think it turned out pretty good.  Making your first video is like putting together your first blog post or posting your first photograph.  It can be a bit intimidating, but you have to start somewhere, so here you go.  The video has a cute ending, so stick with it.

I hope you enjoyed the video portion of this recipe (geez, I sound like a stewardess on an airline). For those of you that want the classic recipe post, I have added that as well below.

I seriously love Ina Garten, and have quite a few of her recipes on this blog. Her recipes are easy to follow and perfect for the “everyday” cook. This pasta one of my favorite summer pastas, as the ingredients are simple and fresh and the flavors are amazing. This pasta is the perfect make-ahead meal. The tomato marinade take literally 5 minutes to assemble and it can sit out anywhere from 4-10 hours at room temperature. The longer it sits the better. It’s also the perfect meal to serve up at a dinner party, because it’s virtually a one-bowl meal (less dishes to clean up) and so easy to prepare because all you have to do is throw in the capellini right before serving (the capellini only takes 3  minutes to cook). Instead of slaving over the stove, you can spend quality time relaxing with your friends. Now, that sounds great to me!

Ina's summer garden pasta with video tutorial (1 of 1)-4

Ina’s summer garden pasta:

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home
Serves 6

NOTE: I cut the tomato portion of the original recipe in half, as 4 pints of tomatoes were a bit too much for us, and my kids really don’t want a bowl full of tomatoes. 
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (4 large or 6 medium cloves) 
  • 10-12 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra for serving 
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta or capellini
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Below are the ingredients that you will need for the tomato marinade.
Wash up the cherry tomatoes and basil.  Cut the tomatoes in half.  
Slice up the basil into thin strips.
 Combine the cherry tomatoes,1/2-cup olive oil, minced garlic, chopped basil,1/2-teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1-teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine.  
Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for a minimum of 4 hours.  
Just before you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the capellini and cook according to the directions on the package (be careful, as it only takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook capellini pasta).  

Drain the pasta well and add to the bowl with the cherry tomatoes.  Give the pasta a toss and then add in the 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and mix together.  
Serve up the pasta in large bowls and top with some Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Ina's summer garden pasta with video tutorial (1 of 1)-3
Another thing I love about this pasta is that you can usually get two nights out of it (at least in my family).  Serve this up with some crispy garlic bread and you have the perfect simple summer meal.  

 I chose not to speak in the video because honestly, I’m not ready to do that yet.  Every time I hear myself on video I cringe.  I say the words “you know” and “like” too much, so I have to work up the confidence to do a talking cooking video! 

Ina’s summer garden pasta with video tutorial

Rating: 51

Serving Size: serves 6

Ina’s summer garden pasta with video tutorial

NOTE: I cut the tomato portion of the original recipe in half, as 4 pints of tomatoes were a bit too much for us, and my kids really don't want a bowl full of tomatoes.

Ingredients

  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (4 large or 6 medium cloves)
  • 10-12 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta or capellini
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Instructions

Wash up the cherry tomatoes and basil.

Cut the tomatoes in half.

Slice up the basil into thin strips.

Combine the cherry tomatoes,1/2-cup olive oil, minced garlic, chopped basil,1/2-teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1-teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine.

Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for a minimum of 4 hours.

Just before you're ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the capellini and cook according to the directions on the package (be careful, as it only takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook capellini pasta).

Drain the pasta well and add to the bowl with the cherry tomatoes. Give the pasta a toss and then add in the 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and mix together.

Serve up the pasta in large bowls and top with some Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

http://www.marinmamacooks.com/2012/07/inas-summer-garden-pasta-with-video-tutorial/

curried chicken salad

currychickensalad

Want an easy, tasty, family friendly summer meal that can be made ahead of time?  Look no further because this recipe has it all. This is one of our favorite summer meals (well any time of year meal).  Its chock full of flavor and can be served up in so many ways that you’ll never get bored.  Top it on some mixed greens or basmati rice, throw it in a whole grain tortilla or serve it between your favorite sandwich bread.  The possibilities are endless.

This salad is also great to bring to a potluck picnic.  My friend Yvonne brought it to our 4th of July pool party and we served it up on some whole-grain tortillas and paired with my lacinato kale salad.  It was such an easy and healthy potluck dinner, as everything was made ahead of time.

curried chicken salad:

recipe from epicurious

serves 6

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt, I use plain Greek yogurt
  • 5 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium red onion (1 cup), diced
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes, halved - You can also substitute 1 cup of chopped mango for a cup of grapes.  I always do this when mangos are in season.
  • 1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped – I just buy cashews that are already salted and roasted
 
Below are the ingredients you will need (you just need 1 more cup of grapes, as I forgot to add that below).
Prep all of your ingredients while your chicken is simmering, and then you will be ready to go.
In a 2-to-3-quart saucepan, bring 4 cups of water along with the 1 3/4 cups chicken broth to a simmer at medium-high heat.  
Note: When simmering, bubbles will break the surface slowly, mostly around the edges of the pot.  
Once the water is simmering, add the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 6 minutes 
I kept my heat at medium-high here because once you add the chicken the water cools down a bit.  
Remove pan from heat and cover, then let stand until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes, or more.  You may get 2 large breasts that are 1 1/2 pounds or 3 small ones, so the cooking time will vary depending on the size of your chicken breasts.
Make sure your chicken is cooked through; sometimes it takes less than 15 minutes for my chicken to cook or sometimes it takes more.  I just pull the chicken out and test it with a meat thermometer. You want the chicken to be at 165 degrees, as there is nothing worse than undercooked chicken, YUCK!
 
Transfer cooked chicken to a plate and let it cool for 10 minutes or so.  
Once the chicken is cool, chop it into 1/2 inch pieces.
While chicken is cooling, whisk together in a large bowl, the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 5 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 

Add the chicken, red onion, grapes and cashews and stir gently to combine.  

Cover and refrigerate the chicken salad till needed. Serve this up as a sandwich on your favorite bread or on a grilled whole-grain tortilla. 

We love this served up over some basmati rice in the winter.  Feel free to substitute apples when grapes are out of season.  You can also use walnuts or almonds in lieu of cashews or omit the nuts and add some celery.  Seriously, you can add and mix in whatever you like.
Curry is known to be good for you, so do something good for yourself and make this salad!

kale, pluot and ricotta pizza

kaleplout
ISO: 400  A: f/1.4   S: 1/160

We’re getting creative with food lately in the Grandy household, as I don’t want to be dragging the kids to the grocery store every day (I mean it is summer, come on).  So, I find myself scrounging the pantry and fridge for some new and tasty lunch and dinner ideas.  Zoe has been super helpful at creating some fun pantry lunches. She made a cheese quesadilla with salami in it last week, and she’s been awesome at packing leftovers for lunch to take to her intense dance camp. Eli just happily eats whatever combination Zoe and I throw at him. He’s not a picky eater at all.

I took a look in my fridge, and I of course had some kale, (remember, I am kale obsessed) and some leftover ricotta from this amazing grilled kale and ricotta salad I made last week (recipe later).  I had a big bowl filled with nectarines, pluots, (a plum-apricot hybrid) and plums.  I always keep some whole-wheat naan bread on hand to make mini pizzas with or to serve alongside a kale salad for dinner. I thought to myself, why not create a mini lunchtime pizza with the above ingredients.  
Don’t you love it when you get creative, and end up coming up with something so delicious? Sometimes those are the recipes that turn out the best because there is a sense of pride in the effortless creation. 
This is an aesthetically beautiful pizza.  The crispy green kale contrasts so beautifully with the pinkish red pluots.  The heat slightly wilts and chars the kale and really brings out the green color.  I think this pizza would be a beautiful appetizer as well.  
ISO: 400  A: f/2.2  S: 1/100

 

kale, pluot and ricotta pizza:

  • 1 slice whole wheat nann bread 
  • ricotta cheese – approximately 2 tablespoons, it’s really based on taste and personal preference
  • 1 dinosaur or lacinato kale leaf – de-stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 pluot or plum, sliced thin - I used a red pluot
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Spread a layer of ricotta onto the nann bread.  
 
In a small bowl, toss the sliced kale and pluots with the teaspoon of olive oil. 
Top the pizza with the marinated kale and pluots.
Bake at 425 for about 7-10 minutes, or until the crust is browned.
 
Slice up and enjoy.  I paired this pizza with my lacinato kale salad, and it was the perfect healthy lunch.
ISO: 400  A: f/2.2  S: 1/80
You could also throw this combination on top of a regular pizza crust to make a larger dinner sized portion, just make sure to increase the quantities of the other ingredients.  
If you don’t have ricotta on hand, you can try another soft cheese such as goat cheese. 
I think I am going to pick up some pizza crust, and make this for dinner next week for John and I.  Come to think of it, my kids might even like the sweet combination of the pluot and the tartness of the kale.  I will give it a shot and let you know their opinion!
 
So, this was my first attempt at taking photos at home with the Aperture setting. I had a lot of photos that I discarded and though I didn’t necessarily get the perfect photo (one without any blurring, the crust is blurred in some spots), I feel proud that I keep the camera in manual mode and didn’t give up and go to an automatic setting.  My next step is to figure out how not to get a blur in my photo.  Maybe I need to work on the focus, or turn up the ISO or drag my tripod out of the garage and start using it.

Here is my how I set up the pizza to be photographed.  As you can see, I have tons of natural light with the french doors, (almost to much, I think).  I used a black foam board for the background as well as on the right side (opposite side of where the light was coming in from).  The black helped to create a mood, and to showcase the colors on the pizza.
I will explain more about boards and such in part 2 of my food photography workshop.


Cheers folks!

food photography workshop, part 1

foodphoto1
Guess what I did this weekend?   I went out of my comfort zone, and attended a semi-private food photography course, instructed by Denise Woodward, with my best blogging buddy, Em. Isn’t she a doll?  I was in this photo, but cut myself out of it as I was squinting up a storm.  It wasn’t pretty!

I’m so glad I took the workshop with Em, as we were both totally clueless about our DLSR cameras, and had been taking all of the photos for our blogs using the automatic settings on our cameras, I know, LAME! 

This course was so eye opening, because I finally learned about aperture, shutter speeds and ISO’s.  I really had no clue as to what those meant before taking this course, seriously. Denise helped Em and I get out from shooting in automatic,(yaay) and shooting in manual! Em and I were there from 10:00 till 4:00, and we were spent by the end of the day. It was literally information overload, and when I got home I was ready for a glass of wine and a brainless movie with the family. John, the kids and I hit DJ’s for dinner, and then went to see Spiderman. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. 
Here is a photo that Em took of me being the “serious” photographer, thanks Em.
We learned so much that I want to share it all with you, but I can’t fit it into one blog post. I will highlight on some of the major points today, and add another post later.  
 
First off, you need to invest in a tripod. I thought I didn’t need on, but when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos. I thought I had steady hands until Denise turned down the lights and I took some photos without a tripod.  They were blurred and not crisp.  When I used the tripod my photos were clear and perfect. Luckily, I have a tripod in the garage somewhere that I am going to start using. If you don’t have a tripod, here is a link to the tripod that Denise uses and highly recommends.
I just took this photo of Denise’s tripod to show you what it looked like.  
Here is the photo that I took with the tripod.  As you can see, everything is crisp and clear.

Aperture:  

The aperture is the size of the lens opening (called the f-stop or f-number). It controls the amount of light that is let in: a larger aperture (f/1.4) lets in more light, while a smaller aperture (f /16) lets in less light. A larger aperture (lower f/number) will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it blurry. This photo below was taken with an aperture of f/1.4.  You also will want to have a larger aperture if you’re shooting in a low light situation.
A smaller aperture will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it quite focused as well. This photo below was taken with an aperture of F/16.  
If you’re ready to move from shooting auto to manual, then you should start out shooting in the aperture priority or aperture (A) setting on your camera.  When you’re in the aperture setting, you set up the aperture (or f-stop) while the camera automatically calculates the appropriate shutter speed to expose the image correctly (so you don’t have to worry about setting that).  As you become more familiar with how the camera calculates the shutter speed to the aperture setting, then you can try moving over to the M or manual dial on your camera. In the manual setting you will manually set up the shutter speed as well as the aperture. I am going to keep working at the A setting for now, and slowly move over to the M setting as I become more familiar with shutter speeds.
 

ISO:

ISO is kind of complicated to explain, but here is a great link if you’re interested in learning more.  Denise told Em and I to keep our ISO at 400 for food photography.  You can increase it to 800 or higher at night-time to let in more light to the camera, which will then result in a faster shutter speed.  The shots will be a bit grainer and more “noisy” the higher you set the ISO.  Feel free to experiment with the ISO at different settings as you get more use to working manually with the camera.  

White Balance:

Keep your camera set to auto white balance.  You can change the white balance when you edit your photos, if you wish.  
 

RAW vs. JPEG:

For food photography, Denise recommended for us to shoot our photos in RAW.  This does take up more memory on your camera, but its well worth it. 
 
Below are some more of the photos I took while playing with different apertures and lighting.  
If you live in the bay area you should definitely sign up for a course with Denise.  Just go to her website and email her.  She co-hosts small private classes (8-10 people) as well as instucts private and semi-private classes at her home studio.  I highly recommend the semi-private or private class, as Em and I got all of our questions answered, and got some major one-on-one attention that you might not get in a class setting.  Denise also has a mouthwatering cooking blog called, Chez us, that you should check out.  


All I can say is learning photography is like learning any new hobby or sport, it takes lots and lots of practice, and that is what I am going to be doing over the next few months.  I am vowing to only shoot in manual mode, so wish me luck!  


In the next post I will go over lighting for nighttime or low light photography situations, and some props that are must needs for any food photographer. 

no campfire s’mores

photo[1]
photo[1]

Everyone loves a good old s’more. S’mores and summer go together like peanut butter and jelly. There’s nothing better then roasting a marshmallow over a campfire till it’s browned and crisp, and then mashing it between two graham crackers and a hunk of chocolate. The marshmallow and chocolate ooze out over the sides, and you just have to get in there and devour it before it spills out all over the place. Am I enticing you? Do you want a s’more?

S’more’s are not just for camping anymore. They can be made at a moments notice in the comfort of your kitchen (though it’s not as fun as roasting them over a campfire). The hardest part is coming up with a clever name to call these favorite childhood treats. I am calling them no campfire s’mores, but I’m willing to create a merit badge for all you Boy and Girl Scouts out there who can come up with a better name. Send me your suggestions, and I will change the name. I would call them homemade s’mores, but I’ve already done a post on that where I actually made the graham crackers from scratch (Ok, I love s’mores!). I reserved that recipe for the fall and winter because honestly, I’m not much of a cookie baking gal in the summer. I would rather be out enjoying the outdoors than baking away in the kitchen.

All you need for this recipe is a broiler, a box of graham crackers, chocolate and some marshmallows. I keep these ingredients on hand for those last minute dessert ideas which come in handy for those last minute sleepovers.

no campfire s’mores:

  • your favorite brand of graham crackers
  • your favorite brand of marshmallows
  • chocolate – we prefer the dark chocolate carmel squares from Ghirardelli

Below are your run of the mill s’more ingredients but with a slight twist. We chose to use these Ghirardelli dark chocolate carmel squares. They take your basic s’more to a whole new level. The melted chocolate and carmel oozing together with the marshmallow is pure bliss to your tastebuds.

DSC_0118Turn on your broiler.  

Get out a baking sheet, and top one half of the graham cracker with the chocolate and marshmallow.
Put the s’mores under the broiler, and broil till the marshmallow browns and the chocolate starts to melt.
Take the s’mores out of the oven and top them with the other graham cracker half.  
That’s all there is to it. 
No stick or campfire needed for these s’mores and the clean up is a cinch!

These could also be called the lazy mama or city mama s’mores.
Got a better name? Let me know!

Like s’mores, then you have to try my frozen s’mores.

frozen s'mores (1 of 1)

homemade Arnold Palmer

homemade Arnold Palmer

homemade Arnold PalmerI’m making a toast to my dad, aka, Papa Bear today. Cheers Dad, this post and recipe is dedicated to you. This iced tea recipe came from my dad, and it was one of my favorite growing up summertime drinks. You knew it was summer when my dad made up a pitcher of this sun tea.  I think my dad created the Arnold Palmer before everyone knew what it was.

So, you’re probably wondering what’s up with the name Papa Bear? My brother and I gave my dad the nickname “Papa Bear” because he’s always had this year round beard, and he’s the most lovable and huggable person. He truly reminds us of a big lovable bear. My friends chimed in and soon my dad was known by all as “Papa Bear.” The name has stuck with him through the years, and my kids only know him as Papa Bear. My dad loves the name, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I had forgotten all about this sun tea until my recent visit to NY. My dad served up this tea alongside some amazing homemade strawberry shortcake that my stepmom, Rita, had made. The fist sip took me back in time. All those happy childhood memories came flooding back. Camping each summer at Lake George and Schroon Lake, whitewater rafting, tubing, canoeing and just sitting outside on a hot summer night sipping this iced tea with my dad on our back yard picnic table. We would sit out there for hours just reminiscing and enjoying those long summer nights.

This is a great drink to bring to any 4th of July party or picnic. It’s refreshing and super easy to make, and isn’t that what you want in a summer beverage? I let a batch of this brew on the deck in the morning so that it’s nice and cool come dinner time.

DSC_0028-2

homemade Arnold Palmer:

  • 7 cups filtered water 
  • 7 normal sized tea bags such as Lipton or your favorite tea – If you’re using the family sized tea bags then you will want to use around 4 bags
  • 1/2 container (6oz) frozen lemonade concentrate

Get a large glass container and fill it up with the 7 cups of filtered water. If your container can’t hold 7 cups, then just fill it up and add 1 tea bag per cup. If your container can hold 8 cups (2 quarts), then just add one more tea bag to the mix. Tear the tags off of the tea bags and then tie the bags together in a knot.Add the teabags to the water and cover with a lid. I did not have a lid for my glass container so I used some plastic wrap and put a rubber band around it so it wouldn’t blow off.

Sit the tea in the direct sun for about 2 hours or until the tea looks dark.

Add 1/2 container of frozen lemonade concentrate and stir to blend.  If you like it sweeter, then add more lemonade.

Refrigerate the tea till cooled. Pour some chilled iced tea in your favorite glass and add a lemon wedge if desired.

Tip: Want to put ice in your iced-tea but don’t want to water it down?  Make a second batch of tea and pour it into some ice-cube trays and throw those in your tea.

You can totally change up the recipe by adding a flavored tea as well as flavored lemonade.  
homemade Arnold Palmer I hope my kids have the same happy memories when they make this iced tea for their kids someday.  Cheers to you Papa Bear!  I love you!