Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Delicious, not Photogenic...

Sometimes, even the most delicious food can't help but render itself less than desirable when translated to photo form. Be it due to photographer error, or just the subject matter of the food, this is the reason I haven't had many posts this week. The things I've been eating are delicious, just not very photogenic.

These Anaheim chiles translated all right, but the finished dish not so much. Over the weekend, one of my amazing flickr friends was recently on a trip to New Mexico, and posted links to several very interesting articles in the comments to one of my photos. I got so excited thinking about the Southwest, and then remembered that I had an issue of Saveur from Sept./Oct. 2001 that had a cover story of the "Fall Flavors from New Mexico". Unfortunately, there is no link to Jan Ellen Spiegel's well written story of the Arellano family, who live near Embudo, NM - between Taos and Santa Fe. On an ancestrally inherited plot of 2.5 acres, they grow an absolutely astounding array of fruits and vegetables:
In an average year, they will grow ten varieties of tomato, 14 different chiles, ten types of potato and five of eggplant, a half dozen squashes, a dozen lettuces, corn, radishes, cucumbers, beets, onions, leeks, garlic, okra, asparagus, bok choy, mizuna, kale, artichokes, fennel, chives, dill, and edible flowers. They also harvest a dozen varieties of pear, most of them Asian, with names like chojuro, hosui, and korean giant; ten different peaches; five kinds of cherries and three of plums; apricots; grapes for eating and for making wine; several varieties each of blackberries and raspberries; and gooseberries, elderberries, melons, figs, persimmons, quince, hazelnuts, and black walnuts (they pick pine nuts from wild pinon trees).

As I read and reread that paragraph (which didn't include the 25 varieties of apples "hanging and the trees" and "espaliered on trellises"), I tried to visualize these "garden rooms" as Estevan Arellano called them, and tried to grasp the yearly work of a master preserver, his wife, Elena Arellano. This example of eating off the land is almost hard to believe. There were several simply arranged Arellano family recipes accompanying the article, and the one for Green Chile Stew was the one I couldn't pass up. Photographer Laurie Smith was able to capture the stew (though probably in a controlled environment with exceptional lighting!) in an inviting manner, and the ingredient list only confirmed to me that this was going to be a terrific meal.

I opted to take out my new Crock Pot for its 3rd voyage on the Rcakewalk culinary seas, and started with a frozen package of that grass fed beef from my chest freezer Sunday night before bed. It was a round steak, and bright and early at 7:30 a.m. I rubbed it, still mostly frozen, with ample amounts of salt, pepper and cumin. Then I let it warm up in the lowest setting of the wonder that is a Crock Pot for a couple of hours before adding a half jar of home canned tomatoes (the original recipe used fresh, but I'd imagine a 14.5 oz. can would be about what I used), and a couple of quartered garlic cloves. Meanwhile, I roasted 8 Anaheim chiles until they were blackened in spots before resting them in a covered bowl to cool enough to peel, seed and ultimately coarsely chop. When the meat cooked just enough, I removed it and cut it into large chunks and removed what little fat was on it (since it was a round steak, typically very sinewy and tough - not to mention a large round shape). I left the bone in the pot for a bit of extra flavor though, and added a couple of cups of water. Then I added a chopped onion, and let it cook until about 3 pm, when I added 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1/8ths and the roasted chiles. After the potatoes cooked, another hour or so, the finished result was complex for the simplicity of ingredients involved. And even more surprising, that round steak was tender and shredded easily with two forks, not to mention tasty! We added a bit of sour cream and Frank's Red Hot, and a slice of Wisconsin mild cheddar to the bowls for good measure. The beauty of this kind of recipe, is that you can add more or less of what you like, and even more or less liquid depending on your tastes. Chalk up another winner for the Art of Crockpottery!

I haven't made a cookie since December, so yesterday I figured it was about time. Since it is our Anniversary this Friday, I asked my Husband what kind of cookie he wanted, and he said "just plain M&M or chocolate chip, you know?". I do know, and also knew that the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever made was thanks to Alton Brown. The recipe, from the episode "Chips for Sister Marsha", is genius. Instead of beginning with softened butter, you go full out and melt it before creaming it together with mostly brown sugar and some granulated sugar.

These are not healthy, but in my exercises in kitchen-related math, if the whole recipe contains 16 Tablespoons of butter and I got 18 total cookies, that's less than 1 T. of butter per indulgence, and I never eat much butter in normal life. Not to mention that the resulting cookie beats any NYTimes perfect chocolate chip recipe, or probably any of the hundreds that show up in Google searches. I used a cup of co-op organic bulk Sunspire "m&m's", and a cup of dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips. A dozen went directly into the freezer, where they can't find me, and the others are staying fairly quiet on the counter. My Husband not only ate one, but two! They are rich too! Hand sized, and non-photogenic at all, but I guarantee you after one bite, you too will be assured that you have found the best chocolate chip cookie recipe as well.

Monday morning, I had to make these little babies: Fudge Babies, which in no way, shape or form can be construed as good looking. A bite, however, and you will be as hooked as I am. I found the recipe via another flickr contact, and many many thanks go to Chocolate Covered Katie for posting them. They are essentially dates and cocoa powder, mixed with ground walnuts, but I had to add just a T. or so of agave syrup to get them to adhere into ball shape. Likened to the Lara Bar, which I confess I've never eaten, these remind me of the "Chunks of Energy" that can be purchased in the bulk bins at Outpost. They are so good, you can see why Katie emphasises making them NOW. My Boy-O and I can't get enough of them, and I'm keeping the few that are left in the icebox to discourage us from gobbling. I am actually finding it harder to resist these than the Alton cookies, and THAT dear readers is saying something.

So today, I had an extra egg white leftover from Alton's cookies. Their supreme chewiness stemming also from the addition of an extra egg yolk. A publication that won't be named (but click the link, and you no doubt will see it) since I actually detest the free subscription I have, had this recipe posted on the Editor's page, and I'm a sucker for any type of nut. These are mixed with quinoa too, which was totally intriguing. In the mammoth site, I could not locate this little gem, so I will type it for you. It's that good, it's crazy.

I made a half batch and used peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts. The recipe below is as written, with my notations in parenthesis.

Spiced Nuts and Seeds
  • 3 c. mixed whole nuts
  • 1/4 c. flaxseeds
  • 1/4 c. quinoa
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds (I used sesame seeds, since I didn't have sunflower)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 1/2 t. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
Mix nuts and seeds in a bowl. Beat egg whites with spices and salt and mix well. Spread nut/seed mixture onto parchment lined sheet pan, and bake at 325 for about 30 minutes or until deeply browned, stirring occasionally.

I never thought of adding raw quinoa to granola or other "nut mix" type recipes, but it's great! The Boy-O was gobbling again, and I actually had to put it out of his reach. I had upped the cayenne quotient too!

It was afternoon when I finished these and got them packed in jars, usually a perfect opportunity to photograph. For some reason, my camera is doing strange things. I consulted my manual, and read almost the whole thing. I also tried to access some live human help on the Canon website, to no avail. I am going to have to schlep myself over to a camera store and throw myself at the mercy of a clerk nearly half my age, I think. I don't think it's a big problem, but it is one rendering my photos a bit less exciting than usual. Hopefully, that won't affect the ability of the food to entice you!


  1. I have two views when it comes to the subject of this post -- one, that some of the most delicious foods in the universe are also the least photogenic; and two, that sometimes beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder.

    I, for one, think that those chocolate date goodies are just gorgeous... And just the description of those "nuts and seeds" has me salivating.

  2. Rebecca, a photo is worth a 1000 words. And here through your photographs, you have given us 1000 calories and then some.

    All of these items look spectacular and show your creativity talents both in the kitchen & behind the lens.

    I definitely need to try that Spiced Nuts and Seeds mix.

  3. I agree, I think some of the yummiest foods look like mush. I LOVE Alton's chewy CCC. I think they are better than the righteous NY Times CCC.

  4. Just found your blog via Mr. Gaston! Love it...can't wait to spend the night combing through all your yummy recipes!

  5. Rebecca, I think all your photos are photogenic. :) Really.

    Anyway, in blogging, I've learned that even a bad photo is better than no photo at all.

  6. Everything came out great in the photos I think! The spiced nuts and seeds looks amazing - what a great way to snack.

  7. Your recipes and photography are well above par despite your protestations. You have a lovely blog. I'll be back often to see what is going on. Have a great day.


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