Monday, March 25, 2013

Some Fantastic News

I had planned on this being an Easter Egg story. I had some delicious, easy recipes gathered and almost all of the photography complete, when I received the big news. Are you seated? News that we are to move so I can grow a new branch in my work, as staff photographer at Southern Living Magazine. This was a many-month process and with the news now official, we realized we had to tell everyone. We are thrilled. And now, to move ten years of a life and home.

We have innumerable treasured stories from our lives in New York. The many friendships we have cultivated and nurtured, the not-so-savory path of "figuring things out" and taking on New York City day-to-day. Even the subway will have a more fond place for me as we transition to leave (is that even possible??).

Birmingham, Alabama will be our new nesting grounds (it is an egg story, after all). I will share bits from my new life as part of the talented staff at SL, but please be patient as we get settled. There will be *a lot* of boxes to unpack, farmers markets to discover so we can fill our refrigerator shelves, the task of driving to get re-aquainted with....... you know, new roots to grow. So thank you for traveling with me and being so supportive as we take the leap. See you on the other side!!!

Now, for various bits I have been cultivating to-date, and, another giveaway....
Scroll to bottom for recipes-

Shirred eggs with spinach, buttermilk, and ham

Ham Roast

"Buttered Eggs" - adapted from Canal House Cooks Everyday

Easy baked brioche jalapeño eggs

Chili Nutmeg Egg White Soufflé 

Egg Yolk Ricotta Ravioli

Simple recipes you can actually throw together - with a little care - at a moment's notice. For real. And totally delicious! Try for yourself and see.

In other bits launched, I spent some months' time fine-tuning my dear friend Chrissy's new look. We had many back-and-forths to refine things together, and I must say I was extremely fortunate to have such a similarly-minded collaborator.  She is one of the reasons I will miss New York so. Bird of a feather, in addition to swapping stories about delicious food lovingly prepared, I have benefited from her gifted clarity as a yoga teacher for many of my years here. The following are some of my favorites from our work together, along with a few images I shot for the story she produced on chocolate giant, Jacques Torres. 


See Chrissy's full story with Jacques, here.

And now for the giveaway!

I am offering BOTH the latest Food 52 Cookbook, as well as The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook to one lucky recipient. You are likely familiar with the witty style and interesting creations from Food52. I love their weekly updates and am a big fan of their simple, no-nonsense approach. In the cookbook - signed by both Amanda and Merrill - choose from seasonal recipes like late-night coffee-brined chicken, roasted fennel and white bean dip, state fair cream puffs, pastitsio, and heavenly oatmeal molasses rolls, along with a chock load of others. With great mise en place photos and others showing process, and, of course, many drool-producing final creations, you're sure to succeed at some pretty tasty offerings!

From Robert Rose Publishers in Canada, the Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook includes great things like nutritional profiles and preparation guides on many grains, from buckwheat groats to hominy to teff, along with many more familiar grains like amaranth, oats, and rice. This is a great reference tool! Recipes include: almond-flavored millet with cherries, cockaleekie soup (a traditional Scottish recipe), congee with Chinese greens and barbecued pork, kasha and beet salad with celery and feta, amongst many others - 125 in all. Each recipe comes with a detailed chart highlighting its specific nutritional benefits. Pretty cool stuff. :)

To win: subscribe to my blog and leave a comment (with a means to contact you, should you end up the winner) explaining what foods/recipes make you feel happy and satisfied. For an extra name in the hat, follow me on Twitter - @melinaphotos - and leave a note there, and like my Facebook page - Melina Hammer Photography - leaving a comment there. Each comment gets you an additional ticket, so to speak. :) I will add everyone together and pull a name at random. Chances to win this giveaway end at midnight EST, Sunday April 14th. This is available only to continental United States participants. I will announce the winner shortly after, and contact you for your shipping address to send along the books. Good luck!!!


Shirred eggs with spinach, buttermilk, and ham
makes one serving

2 free range eggs
a small pour of buttermilk (around 2 tbsp)
a good handful of spinach - will cook down, so be generous
a few slices of roast ham (see following recipe)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup comte or gruyère cheese, grater
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
butter to grease the casserole
olive oil for sautéing 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). In a small skillet set on medium heat, pour a glug of olive oil and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and stir around once the greens begin to wilt. In all it should take about 7 minutes tops. Remove pan from heat. Grease the casserole and line the edge with the ham. Scoop the spinach-garlic mixture into the center, and pour the buttermilk over. Season with s+p. Sprinkle a little of the cheese, then crack the eggs into the center. It can be helpful to hollow a couple wells for the eggs to nestle into. Finish by adding most of the rest of the cheese, saving the last bit to sprinkle as it comes out of the oven. Place on a baking tray and bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the whites of the eggs are set. Add more s+p to taste and one last scatter of the cheese, handle carefully with potholders, and serve.

Roast Ham
serves 18-20

18 lb smoked free range ham, ham hock cut off and saved for another use
2-4 cups apple cider
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
spicy mustard for serving

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F) and remove all but lowest rack. Score the surface of the ham in 1-inch spacing, first in one direction, then turn the ham a quarter turn and then scored again. Should make a diamond patchwork design. Place ham in roasting pan and then slide it carefully into the oven. Pour enough cider to fill bottom of pan. Roast, checking in 15-20 minute increments, and refill bottom of pan with cider. This keeps it from burning and smoking up the house. 

After roasting for 1 hour, in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir to combine honey and sugar until sugar has dissolved and the mixture becomes a glossy, thick liquid. Remove ham from oven and paint the honey-sugar glaze all over. Replace in oven and roast for another half-hour and then remove again, painting glaze all over once more (you may need to reheat the glaze, as it will thicken when left to sit).

In all, the ham should roast for up to 2-2 1/2 hours, and be golden and caramelized when done. Serve the pan sauce beside after draining off the fat, along with spicy mustard.

Easy baked brioche jalapeño eggs
makes 12

12 pull-apart brioche dinner rolls
4 free range eggs
6 slices bacon
jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1/2 cup mascarpone
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Use a small serrated blade to hollow the centers out from the rolls and save for another use (like croutons or bread crumbs). In a bowl, scramble the eggs with s+p and the jalapeño slices. With a butter knife, slather mascarpone on the insides of the rolls, then set each a few inches apart onto a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Eye the length needed for the bacon and line the rolls, trimming to fit. It is okay to have a few small pieces overlap - tastes great and looks just as good. Pour the egg mixture in slowly. If any overflows, scoop it up with a rubber spatula and try again. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until there is no jiggle when agitated. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Buttered Eggs, adapted from Canal House Cooks Everyday

as many free range eggs as you think you'll need, then add a few extra - these will go fast!

Toppings can include (feel free to get creative here) -
torn ham pieces (great to use some leftover ham for this)
sliced Dutch matjes (a DELICIOUS fresh herring from Holland, I got mine from Russ & Daughters)
sliced sable
cucumbers, sliced very thinly on a mandoline
wild salmon roe
wasabi flying fish roe
crème fraîche
good mayonnaise
fresh dill
fresh chives

Fresh eggs do not peel easily once hard-boiled, so plan accordingly and use eggs that are 1-2 weeks in your refrigerator. In gently boiling water, lower eggs into saucepan. Eggs should be in a single layer, with about an inch of water above them. For soft, custard-like hard-boiled eggs, cook for no more than 9 minutes. Drain, running cold water over eggs, then place in a bowl with cold water in refrigerator until cool enough to handle. Tap on counter surface and begin peeling at rounder end, where the air pocket is. Once peeled, rinse off any shell bits and cut into halves. Set aside.

Prepare slices of any of your toppings as appropriate and chop or tear herbs. Smear or spoon the mayonnaise or crème fraîche, followed by fish or meat, followed by roe or herbs. You can also prepare small bowls of each topping to allow guests to make their own, which makes a festive, pretty presentation. Enjoy!

Egg Yolk Ricotta Ravioli
serve 2-3 ravioli per person

wonton wrappers
egg yolks from very fresh free range eggs
ricotta cheese
freshly grated nutmeg, if you like
pink Himalayan sea salt
freshly cracked pepper
fresh chives, cut on the diagonal
freshly grated grana padano or parmesan

Fill a large pot with water and season generously with salt. Heat on high to bring to boil. Meanwhile, lay out a number of wonton wrappers on a clean, dry work surface. Create a ring of ricotta in the center of each wonton. Sprinkle with the sea salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Carefully lower an egg yolk onto each ring - it is essential that they remain unbroken or you must re-do. Wet the edges of the wonton with water and press a second wonton over top, sealing the edges. You will need to crimp or pleat in places, in order to gather the surfaces and seal them properly. Repeat until you are finished with however many ravioli you have decided to make. 

Lower each ravioli with a slotted spoon into the gently boiling water. After a maximum of 2-3 minutes, lift ravioli from water with slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Place onto serving dishes, grate cheese on top, and scatter with fresh chives. Serve with a green salad or steamed asparagus.

Chili Nutmeg Egg White Soufflé - from my mother
serves 4

2/3 cup parmesan, grated and divided into 1/2 cup and the remainder
1 cup grated gruyère cheese
3 tbsp butter, plus more to grease ramekins
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
egg whites from six free range eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp chili powder
good pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Grease four ramekins. Sprinkle parmesan inside and turn to coat all surfaces. Empty out any remaining into the next, and repeat until all ramekins are lined with parmesan. Place in freezer. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter and add flour. Stir to combine and for three minutes continue stirring, cooking roux. Gradually add in milk and stir continuously, bringing to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring, and add in the nutmeg, chili powder, and cayenne. Remove the pan from the burner, stir in 1/2 cup parmesan, and transfer to a large bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until they hold stiff peaks. Fold in 1/4 of the whites into the sauce. Fold in the remaining whites, along with the gruyere, until all are combined. Remove ramekins from freezer and place on a baking tray. Spoon mixture into ramekins, leaving 1/2-inch space from top edge, and top with the remaining parmesan. Bake the soufflé for 30 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve immediately. 

Happy Easter everyone!!! xxx ;-)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Late-Winter Strata, Sour Cherry Hand Pies, and More: Soothing Delights to Remedy the Chill

There is something about the last days of winter - agonizing about *still* wearing all those layers, looking forward to any break showing signs of spring - where we snatch ourselves away from the persistent cold, and the most soothing meals are prepared (and eagerly gobbled up). It is with this in mind that I have gathered a few hearty favorites.....

They are quite easy to prepare and totally delicious, and will likely bring you to want more.
Scroll to bottom for recipes...


All that is required in the case of the strata is a bit of chopping and sautéing, followed by layer-layer-layer and then *bake!* with the result being a delightful cheesy crust atop savory bread pudding, spiced meat, and seasoned veg. Dig in. 

This quiche is the most custardy creation I have come across. You will swear up and down exclaiming how good the combination of egg-pumpkin-speck is, their textures and flavor notes riffing off each another. Again with just a little sautéing, mixing, and pouring into the crust to bake (which itself is not rocket science, and so nice, adding a delicate crumb). The finished product is a pretty simple creation - and HUGELY satisfying - to keep you warm and fed.

For those lentils, they may not look like much and that is okay. Not every meal is a knock-down drag-out over-the-top creation. In this case I literally only had a few leftover jars of things in the refrigerator, and in a stroke of genius for lunch recently, pulled them out as I put a pot of French lentils on the stove to cook. Adding a spoonful here and there from each resulted in a nourishing, richly flavorsome dish, one that I'd be proud to serve to others (and certainly to feed my own body again).

And oh the golden pies.......... my mother gave me a jar of Michigan sour cherries (thanks, mama!) which ended up sitting for some time in my pantry. Short on time to make a *wow* dessert for some friends with a new baby, I pulled from my coffers to make these outstanding cherry, dried apricot, and orange zest puff pastry hand pies. And how. Sometimes it is the simplest foods that bring such rewards. And also brought said friends to ask for the recipe so that they can wow their friends (here you go, guys!). This is the spirit of each of these creations, and after making them to fill your own bellies, I hope you will get a knock at your door to share, and then share some more.



I used a new rolling pin on the dough for those heavenly pies, a lovely one from the Vermont Rolling Pin Company. Hand turned beautiful wood (mine is walnut), they prodcue different rolling pins for different purposes and personalities. See for yourself. And the pâte brisée for the quiche? Same rolling pin, same great results. 

Now for the recipes - 

Hearty Vegetable and Meat Strata
Serves 8-10

2 large bunches chard or 1 bunch collards, spines cut-out and chopped, separated from leaves, also roughly chopped
1/2 lb slab bacon, ground pork, or sausage, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large onion or several shallots, finely chopped
1 loaf brioche or seeded bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
7 eggs
butter to grease the pan 
good olive oil to sear the veg and meat
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded
3/4 cup gruyere, grated
1/2 cup ricotta
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
sea salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and swirl around to edges. When the oil smiles, cook in batches the onion or shallots, the sausage or bacon, and then the greens. Season onions with s+p, and once they begin to soften, about 3 minutes or so, transfer them to a bowl and set aside. Add the meat and more cracked pepper, sautéing for 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Transfer to another bowl and set aside. Lastly, add the chopped spines of the chard or collards, season with nutmeg and s+p, and after a few minutes - stirring occasionally - add the chopped leaves. The fat in the pan leftover from the meat should season the greens nicely. They should only take a couple minutes to sauté once the leafy parts have been added. Remove pan from heat.

Place bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of a buttered roasting pan. Scatter half the meat around, followed by the greens and onions. Add in half of the ricotta and a third of the gruyere and parmesan. Follow this with another layer of bread, then the last of the meat, onions, and greens, topped with the remaining ricotta and another third of the gruyere and parmesan. Prick the remaining bread with a fork - this is for the liquid which follows to absorb better - and add slices on top in a single layer. In a bowl, whisk together 5 eggs and 1 cup milk. Pour carefully and evenly over the bread. Using a sheet of parchment laid over the surface, lightly press down to compress the layers slightly, which also aids in absorbing the egg mixture. Cover parchment with foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, up to a couple days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Bring roasting pan out from the fridge, uncover foil and peel parchment away, and allow to sit for a half-hour. Whisk the remaining eggs and one cup milk together and season with a little sea salt. Pour over bread, again carefully and evenly. Sprinkle remaining cheeses on top, place on a baking tray, and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until golden in places. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Harissa-kissed Lentils with Walnut Pesto and Crème fraîche

1 1/2 cups French lentils, picked through and rinsed 
2 tbsp (to your liking) harissa paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup walnut pesto
a dollop of crème fraîche
freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

for the pesto - adapted from Chef Jody Williams
1 cup walnuts - roasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 cloves garlic, crushed 
3-5 sundried tomatoes - try to find them packaged without preservatives (not as red in color as a result, but still as flavorful)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sherry vinegar
good extra virgin olive oil

Pulse all ingredients except olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Add olive oil in a stream while pulsing the mixture to create the texture of your liking. Stop and taste if need be. Store in ceramic or glass, covered and refrigerated. Good for up to one month.

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with water, about an inch above the lentils. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cover. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and lentils are tender (check after 15 minutes to see if more water is needed). Keep covered until done. Mix in harissa and walnut pesto to taste, and perhaps a last drizzle of olive oil. Add a dollop of crème fraîche once served into dishes. 

Pumpkin & Speck Quiche
Serves 4-6

for the filling-
4 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups kabocha or other pumpkin squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup speck, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 sprigs fresh thyme
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

for the dough -
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt 
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold water, plus more if needed

Mix flour and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until pea-sized bits remain, about 10 seconds. Drizzle water in a thin stream while pulsing the food processor until dough just comes together, no more than 30 seconds. The dough should not be wet or sticky. Empty dough out onto cellophane laid on a work surface and separate into two piles. Form each into a ball and flatten into disks, then wrap each separately, somewhat loosely.  Use a rolling pin, roll from center outwards, turning dough 1/4 turn as you go so each side gets its share. Dough will likely have pushed to limit of cellophane at this point. Refrigerate for an hour to allow the gluten to relax - second disk is yours for another use (once you make this quiche you'll use it quickly for another), and can be frozen for up to one month. 

Bring disk out of fridge and remove plastic. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough  to 1/4-inch thick, turning to for evenness. Drape into an 8-inch springform pan, gently freeing dough from edge while pressing it down with the back of your finger flush to base of pan. Trim evenly around top edge (you can use a paring knife or kitchen shears), using any leftovers to patch thin areas or mend cracks. Prick all over with a fork and chill in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, pan fry speck until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Place onto absorbent paper to cool and sear squash in fat until browned on all sides, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. (This can be done a day or two in advance.) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Place a sheet of parchment over dough and weight with baking weights, beans, or rice. Blind bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove weights and paper, and bake for a further 10 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven, and scatter speck around base of pastry. Lower oven to 300 degrees.

Whisk together eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the kabocha and pour mixture into pastry. Top with thyme leaves and another grind or two of pepper, and bake for 30 minutes, or until custard has set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then release spring collar from around pastry. Use two spatulas or palette knives to transfer quiche to a serving platter. Serve with a shaved brussels sprouts or mixed green salad. 

Sour Cherry Hand Pies
Makes 4

1 package store-bought puff pastry (Dufour makes a great version)
1 1/2 cups sour cherries (can substitute currant jam or other similar tart preserves)
5 dried apricots, cut into small dice
zest and juice from one orange
grated fresh nutmeg, if you like
1 egg and a drop of heavy cream, for pastry wash
dusting or cane sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Roll out puff pastry to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a small plate or teacup, trace four 5-inch rounds. Save scraps for another use. With another plate/cup of a slightly larger dimension, cut out four additional rounds (the tops). Chill on parchment-lined baking sheets in the refrigerator.

Mix cherries, apricots, zest, juice, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Spoon mixture into the centers of pastry disks, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Paint edges with water, place pastry lids on top, and press to seal. Using the tines of a fork, press around the border and score the center for steam vents. Lightly scramble the egg with the cream, and using a pastry brush paint the pie surfaces all over. Sprinkle sugar on top and bake for 15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Simplicity (and to-die-for yummy) personified - enjoy!