Monday, September 28, 2009

In Case You Missed BlogHer Food 09….

Three years ago, after only 5 months of food blogging, I wrote a whole post on food bloggers. I waxed poetic on the support and rapport I felt as a blogger and writer and my amazement at how food can bring about such connections. Such was the case again at BlogHer Food 09, held Saturday just 40 minutes from my suburban front door in San Francisco.

BlogHer Food, crowded with 300 food bloggers (as well as the occasional husband or offspring), was a wonderful, enlightening, happy event. Kinda sad to think that it was only one day long. Albeit it one very long day. Starting at 8am with a Networking Breakfast in the Gallery Room of the St. Regis and ending at 8pm after a Cocktail Reception on the 4th floor terrace, the day was packed with demonstrations, educational sessions and food.

Let me just start by saying that the St. Regis Hotel is one very nice place, with a helpful staff and good food. Breakfast consisted of various fresh croissants, a berry medley, sliced melon and kiwi, yogurt, hot egg paninis, fruit smoothies, as well as coffee, tea and juices. The beginning of the conference started with a welcome from BlogHer staff members Jory Des Jardins, Elise Page and Lisa Stone, who shared some fascinating facts and figures about women bloggers. Like 78% of the attendees had never been to a BlogHer conference before, 53% of women online are actively using social media every day, and that 52% of active blog readers read about food! You go, girls…

The conference day was split between 3 educational session, two demonstration breaks, and lunch. Attendees had their choice of break-out sessions on either Visuals, Vocation or Values, with some pretty well-known bloggers and writers leading the sessions: Ree Drummond from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, David Lebovitz, Helene Dujardin of Tartlette (who was kind enough to test recipes for me when my book, The World Is a Kitchen, was in production), Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, and so many more wonderful, inspiring and successful bloggers.

I spent the day on the Visuals Track (although you were allowed to jump around to different sessions, or even attend multiple sessions within one time frame.) The majority of the Visuals conference room was set up with tables, so those of us that wanted to take notes on laptops or tweet the sessions could do so. The session information ranged from the very basic for the beginner to the more advanced for those who were contemplating food photography as a living. My interest was purely personal, trying to make my blog look more visually appealing. I mean, Photoshop can only get you so far. Kinda like needing good ingredients to make a good dish, you need to start with a good photo to get an appealing end product.

Session 1, Developing Your Visual Voice, was led by Matt Armendariz of and Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. The focus was on 7 Things to Think About Before You Pick Up the Camera. I thought I would share their wisdom:

1. Be inspired by others: keep a scrapbook of photos/shots you love, to use as a reference. Shots with different angles, textures. Things to replicate. Digital or hard copy. Once you have a body of clips, then you can start deconstructing those images to get a sense of where you might want to head with your own photography. Notice:
  • Time of day – early in am or late in date – due to quality of light
  • Indoor vs. outdoor
  • Minimalist vs. dense composition – proportion, positive/negative space
  • B/W vs. color
  • Dark vs. light
  • People – to include or not to include
  • Flash or no flash

2. Think about your photos in context – will you be adding text to the image or will it stand alone? Will the photo always be the same size?

3. Understand where you are shooting – inside, outside, restaurant, farmers markets. Lighting can be nonexistent in a dark restaurant, wonky at a farmers market.

4. Think about the type of shots you are after, what you want to achieve, how best to tell your story.
  • Ingredient shots: single subject or multiple ingredients.
  • In process shots: breaking down of ingredients or preparation. Educational, can communicate textures, how something is cut. Evolution of the recipe.
  • Ready to eat shots
  • The aftermath shot
  • People shots
  • In motion/action shots: dripping sauce onto something, beater missing
  • Eye level: some things should be shot at eye level, rather than top down.
  • Incorporating text into shot

5. Plan your workflow. Think about what you need to do before starting. What kind of food you are shooting, staging. Prep things in advance for food that is sensitive (ice cream, steamy dishes). Be organized. Have ingredients on hand, camera batteries charged, decide where you area going to shoot, set aside plating equipment, prep ingredients. Do in-process shots, cook, plate, shoot.

6. Look thru the viewfinder. Really look and take time to compose the image. Try to look at it as a complete photo. Look at your shadows. Move around to eliminate them unless you want them purposely in the shot. Look for blowouts, background, edges,

7. Read your camera manual cover to cover (this was a recurrent theme at all 3 sessions). Get to know your camera and what it is capable of. Don’t be afraid of the technical aspects of your camera

Other good info coming out of this session:
  • Point and Shoot camera recommendation: Canon G9 (you can shoot raw files)
  • Try to shoot on a tripod and tethered to your computer so you have a bigger visual to work with. You will have an easier time composing a shot.

Next Up: Part 2 of the BlogHerFood 09 Recap

Friday, September 25, 2009

Family Favorite Revisited: Barbecue Brisket

I’ve been digging up recipes out of my archives, which leads to walks down memory lane. Typically the end of summer is not meant for nostalgia, but I just felt the need. I love finding recipes that are tattered, torn, and stained from years and years of use. I can remember where most of them came from, who I shared them with, and little adjustments I have made over the years to simplify or enhance a dish. I think that food—like fashion styles—makes cyclical appearances in our household: to grace the table, please the palate, and allow us to remember fond times built around food.

For last Sunday’s dinner, I queried Mr B and Butcher Son on possible main dishes. Both wanted barbecue. But we have been having some unusual dry thunderstorms, followed by bouts of rain. Not rain so much as spit. Moments of wisps of water showering down fron the clouds above, unexpected and welcome. Enough to make the car dirty, perk up the lawn, perfume the air, and keep the cover on the barbecue. So we settled for an old standard, Rocky Mountain Brisket.

Brisket is an underrated cut of beef. Most often used to make corned beef, it is cut from the breast section of a cow, and is one of the tougher pieces of beef, meaning it requires a long cooking time to make it tender and palatable. It is reasonably low in price, and with a crockpot or slow-cooking oven, you can turn this slab into a tasty marvel. Such is the case with our oven-baked barbecue brisket.

I first came upon this recipe, served with barbecue sauce, in a cookbook given to me by my husband’s family not long after we were married. Called Colorado Cache Cookbook (my husband is from Colorado), it’s one of those spiral-bound Junior League fundraiser cookbooks. Yes, there are some unusual casseroles and a section on game meats, but there are some gems in there, too. And Rocky Mountain Brisket is one of them.

The two things I love about this dish are the ease in making it and how my house smells while it cooks. The brisket, once rubbed down with seasoning, is popped into the oven for 3 hours. You don’t even touch it. Doesn’t get much easier than that, does it? But as it cooks, the aroma fills the air. In fact, Brilliant Daughter came over early for dinner to do some laundry. She wanted to eat right away. Kept checking on the meat to see if it was done, and practically begging me to start dinner NOW. Either she was really, really hungry or the smell really is that good.

This dish is great for Sunday football. You can pop it in the oven when the game starts and eat when it is over, without missing a play. It comes with its own barbecue sauce, which I have modified slightly over the years. In a pinch you could use bottled sauce, but many are too strong or thick to use for this purpose.

I served this dish with a broccoli slaw (recipe courtesy my SoCal brother’s friend, coincidentally called Mrs B) and macaroni salad. The combination felt like a summer barbecue meal, even as we sat and listened to the raindrops fall.

Rocky Mountain Brisket with Barbecue Sauce
4 pound beef brisket
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons crushed bay leaves
2 tablespoons Liquid Smoke

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 14-ounce bottle of catsup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Liquid Smoke
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons molasses
3 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine salt, pepper, chili powder, and bay leaves. Rub meat completely with liquid smoke. Place meat, fat side up, in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle dry seasoning mixture over all. Cover tightly. Bake for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, make barbecue sauce by combining all ingredients in saucepan and bringing to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook on medium for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and scrape seasoning off meat and cut into very thin slices, across grain. Pour half of sauce over the meat and combine. Serve with extra sauce on large rolls.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

Broccoli Slaw
2 bags prepared broccoli slaw
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2/3 cup olive oil

Whisk all ingredients, except oil. Together in a small bowl. Slowly add in the oil, as you whisk. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In large bowl, pour in slaw, almonds and blue cheese. Toss with the dressing and serve.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kitchen Play: Apple Tartlettes

Sometimes my husband must think I am crazy…at least about food. Like today. I had 9 pounds of Gala apples, bought for the ridiculously low price of 33 cents/pound. (There was a limit on how much I could buy, otherwise I would have bought a lot more.) I knew I wanted to make applesauce, but I also wanted apple tartlettes. Something for dinner and to send with Butcher Son to the crew at Robert’s Market.

I started by making a double batch of a shortbread tart dough, just as Mr B went off to the dentist. When he returned, there was a whole row of tartlette pans, filled with raw dough. There was also a large skillet with a caramelized apple mixture; something I found in this month’s Bon Appetit. I thought it would go well in the tart shells, but after getting started, I realized that the mixture would be too runny for the tart shells. It’s good eaten with a spoon and some whipped cream, and probably really good with the rice pudding it was intended to be served with, but not so much for the tarts.

So I started peeling apples and cutting them up in various ways and arranging them in tart shells. I sprinkled them with a sugar/flour/cinnamon mix, dotted them with butter and put 5 into the oven. Not bad. But I still wanted to try some type of caramelized apple.

I put on my thinking cap and decided to dice two apples and saute in butter. Then I added sugar and caramelized the mixture a bit, adding some cream at the end. I partially baked a tart shell and scooped some in, shuttling it back to the oven to cook.

Meanwhile, my eye kept roaming back to the original caramelized apple mixture. I really wanted to use it somehow. So I partially baked another crust and then strained the apples out and piled them on the shell. Then I added some of the caramelly syrup and stuck it in the oven.

I can see that the diced caramel apple tarts are doing well, so I proceed with a second one. Pop it into the oven. Now I only have 5 shells left. Three I do with concentric apple slices and then I get lazy and do two with diced apples. I mean, by now its 3pm and I started this adventure around 11.

Final tally is 4 1/2 hours, 14 tartlettes, 1 pound Gala apples and lots of smiling faces. The favorite at our house was the off-the-cuff caramel apple tart. Sweet and gooey. And I actually had a lot of fun playing in the kitchen. Now, off to make some applesauce….

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lollipop Pies: Simple Concept, Difficult Execution

I was most intrigued by the adorable lollipop pies at Luxirare. Not just the pies, but the blog and step-by-step arty pictures that go along with it. (Not to mention her gorgeous packaging. How does she find the time?) It makes me realize that I really need to improve the visual part of my blogging skills. Even though I have a nice camera, I have never learned how to use it properly and to its full advantage. Maybe the Visuals Track at BlogHer Food ’09 will do the trick. But I digress….

I love little bite-sized morsels of any kind, but particularly those that are sweet. I regularly make my chocolate chip cookes in one-bite pieces, mini-mocha brownies are a holiday standard, and I love these cute little mini cinnamon macaroons for a tea party. And I always use part of my cupcake batter to make mini-cupcakes. (I feel less guilty eating the smaller portions.) So I thought I would give lollipop pies a try. I had gobs of homemade jam and fresh fruit, and it calls for store-bought pie crust rolls, so the ingredients really are not that complex. The construction, however, was another matter.

The original post on Luxirare just showed the simple steps with no real recipe. Fortunately, at some point the author was kind enough to post some guidelines to at least help us along. Although for the life of me, I cannot find that link. Thankfully, I did cut and paste the tips into a document (which are provided for you below).

Getting to work, I rolled out the prepared crust, I carefully cut the circles and went about putting dollops of filling in the center. I inserted the lollipop stick (wrapped in foil to prevent burning), sealed the edges, brushed with egg wash, and popped them in the oven. I did this 5 o 6 times, each time varying my technique. I tried:
  • Jam filling and thickened fresh fruit filling, both seemed to leak
  • Understuffed and overstuffed, leaks
  • Hand sealing the edges, using a fork to seal the edges, and using both techniques to seal the edges, all three seemed to leak
  • Egg wash to help seal the edges, still leaks
It didn’t matter what I did, leaks kept appearing, which caused the edges to burn. Out of probably 30 lollipop pies, I had maybe 8 that did not leak. Working in batches of 5 or 6 with different variations and techniques, I just couldn’t get the rhythm of it. So, while I love the concept and the fun of eating them, the amount of work to get it right took the joy right out of it. Rather than seeing it as a task to master (like feet on macaroons), I saw it a huge frustration that was not worth the trouble. Not like me to give up, but that’s the honest truth.

If you are going to try to make your own lollipop pies, here are the hints to make it a bit easier. And I wish you the best of luck!
  1. Place tin foil over the stick before you stick it in the oven, it will burn if you don't.
  2. Try to get your store bought pie dough as THIN as possible. Roll it out so it doesn't break, but don't use the pie crust as is. Otherwise you will not be eating pie pops. You'll be eating cooked pie dough.
  3. Cornstarch; better known as "cheaters powder" is good for a reason; it helps thicken things when it needs to hold its shape. You shouldn't over do it with the cornstarch, but you do need to balance the watery-ness of the pie filling so that your pops hold their shape. You can use jams, but I would mix it with fresh fruit too. I cooked the filling before I wrapped it with the crust.
  4. Try to fill your pops as much as possible. Its not easy, you might break them but as I said it takes a couple times before you get the hang of it.
  5. Don't be afraid to use other shapes, Bakerella went as far as using Hearts.
  6. I cooked these at 375 for 15 minutes. If you want a toastier crust, go longer. If you like a light crust, stay short. Keep an eye on these.
  7. Let them cool before wrapping them.
  8. You can also freeze them uncooked ahead of time, and bring 'em out when guests are over. As I said, very rarely do dinner guests EVER finish their dessert because they are already full, and most women want to fit into their jeans tomorrow morning so this is a good option for a light finish.
  9. Make sure to flour your surfaces so that nothing sticks.
  10. Make sure to slather egg whites onto pie crust so that it browns nicely.
  11. If you have a small toaster oven, its better to cook your pie pops in these instead of a big oven.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vacation Time Is Over

Yep, I’ve been missing in action while galavanting around the great state of California. Had a great time in SoCal with new baby Reagan and her big sister, Katherine (who loved my Cowboy Burgers). Then over to my brother’s home for a few days. He was more than a bit under the weather due to some very questionable food at an upscale SoCal eatery. In fact, he had been in bed for 5 days. So I whipped up a batch of my Not Your Grandmother’s Chicken Soup for him. It’s good for what ails you, whether cold, flu, tummy or otherwise. Seemed to help aid in his recovery. Either that or it was my mere presence that helped bring the color back into his face….

We stopped back at home to repack and shop and we were off to our favorite annual summer spot, Pinecrest Lake. Given the late date of our visit, it was like having our own private beach. Very few visitors, since school had started everywhere. Kind of nice. Trails were quiet, boat rentals were half-price, and I got the R&R I so desperately needed.

The good news is that while I was gone, my garden flourished. We didn’t get a garden planted in the spring, but I was determined not to wait until next year. I planted an early fall garden with help from Butcher Son. In went lettuce, radishes, carrots, cilantro, sorrel (just for you Tea), beets, cauliflower and horseradish. Mr. B installed a drip system throughout the garden to minimize water use and then we waited.

It’s been wonderful to watch all the little green shoots push up out of the dirt and every time I went out, there were new leaves on everything. So almost two weeks away gave all the little guys time to grow and make mama proud. And that they did. The lettuce is getting close to ready, the pumpkins are finally taking off and the horseradish is going strong, with some wicked sticker leaves shooting up. But best of all, I had my first harvest. I was actually able to pick the first of radishes!

Ah, the glory of picking your own food. Such a joy. I wanted to share the crop with the family, so I made a simple chimol, inspired my friend Tea and Tea & Cookies, and served it with skirt steak tacos, homemade black beans, and a salad. The chimol was the perfect crunchy complement to the juicy skirt steak and there was nary a word at the table as we relished the meal.

Can’t wait for the rest of the garden to grace my table.