Thursday, February 24, 2011

More at The New York Times - and Daily Candy, too

Yesterday's New York Times dining section included more of my photography here and here.  I am grateful to work for such a prestigious organization, and it just so happens to be a lot of fun. Thanks for that! Some screen shots, below.

Over the weekend, Daily Candy gave a shout-out to Four Tines, a gourmet organic frozen food company I helped launch by doing all the collateral & packaging photography. They are carried in all the Whole Foods markets here in the city, and up and down along the east coast. It's only a matter of time before these healthy, smart, and delicious foods take over the world! :D Two of my favorites from their line:

Have a satisfying and flavorful weekend everyone!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

View from a Train & Kyoto in Green and Orange

More glimpses of Japan, as I have yet a bounteous number of images to share with you dear readers! We traveled by high-speed shinkansen - otherwise known as the bullet train - to Kyoto to visit temples and shrines in their wintry glory. This first collection is taken from the window of the train (it is always a good time to take pictures): Sloping Mount Fuji with its icy top, and some wonderful industrial landscapes...

Traveling at 185mph, I don't know how I achieved such a perfectly symmetrical image...

Wasting no time, we traveled to Fushimi Inari that evening- a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity - and walked up the mountain into the darkness.

It felt rather eerie walking along the winding path in the middle of the forest: the insistent sounds of many crows doing their evening callings, and J and I alone together. We sensed the ghostly presence around us in the displays of shrines, statues, and myriad torii. With the hour drawing later and later, we opted to turn around before total darkness set in, letting the crows take the forest for themselves.

Still with a hunger for the forest, our next day brought an adventure to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest on the outskirts of Kyoto. It was quite chilly. Though numb from cold I mustered click after click, drinking in everything and documenting it with the lens to live-again later. Good thing that I did. :)

These incredible trees dotted homes on small streets as we made our way

A small cemetery on the grounds

I hope you can gather the sense of wonderment I felt at exploring these magical places. Even with the chill biting at our limbs, it was an amazing couple of days!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pairings at the Times

Hello dear readers. I had the good fortune to be asked to produce the photography for today's New York Times "Pairings" column, in the dining section....

It was a lot of fun to produce! If any of you decide to make the recipe, do let me know. Happy Wednesday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be Mine

I love a good sweet as much as anyone and in fact probably more. I go out of my way to plan for sweets day-to-day and perfection looks like this: rich french press (or other comparable) coffee around 4pm, accompanied by a chocolatey pastry (homemade and amazing, of course). I travel with a bar of dark chocolate regularly, and like to be able to break off a little chunk when the mood strikes. So it is, and I embrace it.

Which brings me to today - Valentine's Day! I'm not all that big into celebrating these over-hyped special days but as noted earlier, I go out of my way for sweets. I thought to combine some stored-away inspirations with an excuse to make and share these confections, bringing divine treats to you and yours on this auspicious day.

Never having made a creme brulee-style dessert, I thought why not? Time to take the plunge! I'd had a recipefrom Gourmet Traveller tucked away and got straight to work.

The recipe calls for sheep's yogurt, but I mistakenly remembered goat's instead. No worries, it all turned out fabulously...
Serves 4
7 yolks from free-range eggs
65 grams caster sugar, and extra for brulee sprinkle
100 ml full cream milk (get it at the farmers' market!)
335 ml goat's milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until well combined. (I loved seeing how intensely saturated my yolks from the market were) Pour milk into a saucepan and bring to boil. Slowly pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking like crazy to prevent it from curdling. Once fully integrated, add the yogurt and whisk well (your curdling troubles are now behind you!) Pass the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and pour into 4 ramekins or other oven-suitable China - I prayed that my pretties wouldn't shatter while baking and all turned out well. Do some research in advance to make sure your China will hold up to the heat. Place them into a roasting tin and pour enough hot water (I had a saucepan on the burner once I combined the yogurt into the mix, so that it would be ready here) to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Don't worry if you have varying sizes like I did - use the median size to gauge the water.  
Note: it is a wise choice to place the roasting pan into the oven before pouring the hot water - simply too many risky liquids to spill this way or that - better safe than sorry! Pull the oven rack out a bit, place the pan down, and use a pour-spouted saucepan or heatproof pitcher to transfer the water over. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast..........
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the custard sets around the sides and still wobbles a bit in the middle. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and the ramekins or China from the pan. The residual heat will continue to cook them, finishing them off quite nicely. Allow them to cool for a half hour and then chill for a couple hours - I did overnight.
Just before serving, sprinkle sugar over the top of the custards - enough to cover the surface - and caramelize with a blowtorch or in the broiler.

I also made some cookies to go with and they make for a winning combination. Somehow I came across The Local Spoon Blog in my web journeying and found this recipe for rosemary shortbread cookies. Her urgings to just make 'em had me convinced, and I thought pairing them with the custards would be fun. They are deee-lish. Way too easy to eat one-after-the-other-after-the-other. Which means great for sharing with friends! Make them. Make them now.
For about 50 cookies
2 cups flour - I used a combination of all-purpose, whole wheat, and flax meal 
1/4 rice flour - though like Steph, I used regular flour
1 tablespoon good sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
3/4 cup sugar 
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (try to find pastured butter: humane + delicious!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and then add the cut butter. Note: I was running low on regular sugar and so used a combination of turbinado/confectioners'/caster sugars - perhaps not a good idea as far as purists go, but this recipe did not seem to suffer. Use two knives or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to incorporate the butter into the mixture until there are no chunks. I am in the unfortunate former category and it did take a while to slice and mash the butter bits until all was combined, but there was a certain satisfaction in that success. :) Then using your hands, work the dough until it comes into a ball - your body heat will warm the butter much more quickly now. If it seems to be troublesome, you may wet your hands with water to further bring the dough to shape. Roll the dough into a log - refrigerate for 10 minutes or so if it becomes messy at this point, to re-chill the butter - and cut into 1/4 inch disks. Bake for about 10 minutes on ungreased cookie sheets, or until the edges and bottoms are golden. Totally yummy, and great all on their own.

As if the above wasn't enough (!), I thought to use a recent Martha Stewart snippet and make "cupcakes" out of melted dark chocolate, painted into paper foils and filled with piped mascarpone. Yes, I am crazy. I apparently don't think anything of trying TWO complex dessert recipes which I have never made, make them, and also photograph them. It was a mostly wonderful experience, with a little humility thrown in for good measure.

Serves 6
6 cupcake foils
a fair hunk of dark semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, shaved for melting

for the filling:
1 cup mascarpone
a good scoop of creme fraiche
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Melting the chocolate went fine, and so did painting the cupcake foils - I like Callebaut bittersweet dark chocolate. Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate - it doesn't need to be runny, only a soft melt so that you can work it, brushing the chocolate onto the paper surface. The best procedure is to paint one foil and refrigerate it as you move on to the next (following in kind), and return to the first once each of the whole set has a layer painted. I went through the lot 3 times to ensure the edges wouldn't be too thin and risk cracking. Once all have 3 layers of chocolate for even coverage, refrigerate for a little while as you make the filling. When they are cold sturdy, peel the paper foil away and Voila! you will have very pretty chocolate shapes to put the delicious filling into....

For the mascarpone frosting, combine the mixture in a bowl and stir well to combine. I don't prefer it very sweet; I like the tangy presence of the creme fraiche to cut the sweetness of the confectioners' sugar. See what you like and modify as needed. With a pastry knife press the mixture firmly into a pastry bag (with whichever tip you plan to use) to remove any air bubbles. Here came the humbling part. I didn't have a large enough tip to achieve the effect I wanted, along with the the complication of the thicker texture of the mascarpone mix. Heavier like a cream cheese, it doesn't pipe as easily as say, a buttercream would. Oh well.  I understand this now for next time. Thank goodness it tasted as delicious. Twist and squeeze the bag with one hand and direct your movement with the other, swirling the frosting into form as you like. Once again, your body temperature will warm the bag's contents, so alternate chilling it occasionally to maintain the preferred consistency. Once you have those chocolate beauties filled with the creamy mixture, top with a little praline sprinkle - I used toasted pepitas - for texture and even more flavor. Wow. These are unusually delicious- not cloying in any way, and outrageously cute to boot! I hope you feel your saliva working, and that you'll want to try these amazing desserts out.
Make it sweet and have a ball. Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bicycles and Buildings

If you're like me, when you travel you have your eyes and heart on everything that comes your way. It's like everything is there to be drunk in, one feast after another. As a result I found myself documenting as much as I could keep up with. My love affair with Japan's relationship to bicycles, as well as the interest (and common practice) to create sculptural, other-worldly buildings became its own mini-project along the way. I think you'll understand if I share with you images to go along with my ramblings....

a typical scene tucked into a corner of one of Shibuya's busy intersections

Do you see these men, on their bicycles in slim suits? And the one closest to my camera, with his jumble of parcels so tidily attached on the back of his bike?? Effortless-looking.

Loving the tones and shapes - every day we would cross a pedestrian bridge that overlooked this intersection and I always found something new and fascinating about it...

On our first day in Shimokitazawa, we saw this tricked out bike hanging in a balcony alcove.

On another, we encountered this bizarre back-to-the-future style bike in a store window.

One of the few people I saw wearing a helmet.

This beautiful vintage bike sat near train tracks outside of Kyoto.

What great handlebars, never mind the leather seat and that headlight!

There were plenty of other bikes, all made for usability on city streets and sidewalks. In Japan, there are wide enough sidewalks to allow for the passage of pedestrians and bicyclists, or alternately, there are narrow paths alongside car traffic where bicycles and people make their way together. Hands down, people on foot or bike are courteous and looking out for one another. We found this to be the case wherever we went.

A mama and her tyke (check out that happy baby!).       

This is a tricycle hybrid - look closely and you'll see...

Loved this funky detailing.

Elegance & Function!

Those who know me know my partiality to red. See how the bike is set against that stone? Gorgeous.

Together in snowfall, Takayama.

In addition to babies strapped to the fronts and backs of bikes, we routinely saw elderly people traveling by bicycle. 70-and 80-somethings, evenly traversing the roadways on their way to wherever. This made an impression on J and me - I don't think either of us could recall having seen that stateside before.

Then there were the buildings. Too numerous to possibly record, here are some of my favorites.

In Daikanyama, Atelier and storefront; Culinary Institute.

Soaring elements of the massive Roppongi Hills complex.

A Louise Bourgeois sculpture at Roppongi Hills; walkways and a fountain under the steel wheel.

These each made their appearance like moments in a dream, engulfing and caricature-like. Yet their grace was evident, too. A casual presence on tiny street corners and grand thruways, these monuments often shared space next to traditional structures - company to all passers-by - evocative of the many flavors of Japan.