Friday, February 27, 2015

14 Days of Avocados and Winter Soups (AKA Is it Spring Yet??)

With the cold and the grey that cloaks everything, I decided to produce a personal project titled "14 Days of Avocados." Daily on Instagram, I am sharing a photograph a day of a unique recipe, and once the two weeks have passed, I will be sharing them all here in their glory. And on my new website, which is coming along nicely…… (stay tuned!)

This vivid project was conceived as a means to escape the last onerous days of winter, and while it may still be cold out, I've been up to my eyeballs in amazing food and loving each and every creation. The colors alone have made for a new pep in my step. We are on day five right now - click here to follow the fun!

Simultaneously,  I've been participating in an ongoing soup competition, also on Instagram. Soup soothes the soul. I love making soups of all kinds to nourish myself through these frigid days.

Paths crossed with the chowder which was produced for 14 Days of Avocados - and happened to be timed nicely for the soup contest. There is also a new favorite, a bright tomato soup, which has made it as a finalist in said competition! So, here are the recipes for both, because being nourished feels great.

Please vote for my tomato soup finalist here. This is what the tomato soup image looks like, so you may find it easier -

You have until Friday, March 6th, to cast your vote. Please share it with your friends and families, if this image compels you to do so! :)

Winter chowder with smoked fish and avocado

1 leek, white and light green parts only, sand rinsed and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 cups frozen corn
3-5 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
good olive oil
2 tbsp pastured butter
4 cups fish stock
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup dry vermouth
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz smoked trout or wild salmon, to top
1 avocado, diced, to top
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped, to top

Melt butter and a glug of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Sauté leeks until they become translucent, stirring so that they do not brown. Add celery and potatoes and sauté for 5 or so more minutes. Stir every so often to keep things cooking evenly.

Add dry vermouth to pan and continue cooking until it is almost evaporated. Add stock, wine, spices, thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover with top slightly askew, and lower heat to low. Simmer for a half hour or so, until the flavors meld and the soup thickens a little.

Remove from heat. Add in corn and stir to incorporate. Pour cream and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

You can either serve this immediately, or after cooled to room temperature, refrigerate overnight and allow the flavors to meld even more. If you choose the second option, as you reheat: do not allow the soup to boil.

To serve, flake smoked fish over top, add diced avocado, and fresh parsley. Serve with crusty bread to sop every last bit up.

And now for the delicious tomato soup….

I think this is the most flavorful tomato soup I've had, to date.

Please make it and drop me a line agreeing in fantastic enthusiasm, or let me know what it needs more - or less - of! :)

 Tomato soup with nutmeg and smoked paprika

1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth - use homemade if you can
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
2-3 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp pastured butter
good olive oil

a few slices of good crusty bread
1/2-1 cup grated gruyere cheese
good olive oil

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat a glug of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Sauté onion until translucent, 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Give the mixture a good stir.

Add tomatoes and their juices, coarsely breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add in the stock - I give the tomato can a rinse with the stock to get all the last bits, pouring the liquid mix into the pot - along with the nutmeg, paprika, bay leaf, and a good pinch of sea salt and a few good grinds of black pepper.

Bring to a simmer,  then cover and cook on very low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream. Allow to cool almost to room temperature. (I left it to sit with its lid on overnight before blending. This also helped the flavors to meld further.)

Remove bay leaf. Use an immersion blender to purée most of the soup. The idea is to keep a little texture but have the body of the soup largely smooth and supple. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. To serve, reheat but do not allow to boil.

In a toaster oven or using the broiler setting in your oven, dress the slices of bread with small piles of the grated cheese. Broil on a baking sheet until bubbling and melted. Serve the broiled cheesy toast atop the soup, drizzled with good olive oil, finished with another grind or two of black pepper.

Let these soups nourish and sate you. Stay warm in these last burdensome winter moments! Spring is just around the corner…..

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Olive Oil Cake at Anthology & A New Giveaway

All things delicious.
Here, some extra-special delicious….

I've wanted to make an olive oil cake for a while, and so I figured Valentine's Day was as good an occasion as any.

A friend gifted me a bunch of homegrown citrus - including these kumquats - from her friend's father's garden in New Orleans (how lucky am I?!). This seemed like the perfect occasion to marry a citrus compote with a fantastically moist cake.

This was a great idea.

I made two cakes with a mindset to give some away.  I have two sets of friends expecting babies very soon. Who wouldn't benefit from homemade-with-love goodies while adjusting to new schedules and the myriad challenges babies present? Yes.

This cake is quite easy to make once your ingredients are gathered, so in the spirit of love, why not make more?

The compote requires a little more attention than the cake but it gives back big. You could choose to make only the cake, which is utterly amazing on its own. I hope you make both. The combination of jewel-toned jamminess enrobing velvety cake is luscious. Seriously.

for the cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
3 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 2/3 cups good extra virgin olive oil - I used arbequina 
6 pastured eggs
2 1/2 cups pasture-raised whole milk
3 tbsp orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup Cointreau or Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao 
butter, for greasing

for the compote
2 cups kumquats
4 blood oranges - juice and flesh to be used separately
juice of 1 lemon
3 cardamom pods, bruised with the flat side of a knife
1/2 cup organic cane sugar

(Start the compote a day ahead)

Rinse and scrub the fruit under cold water. Cut off ends from blood oranges. Set orange cut-end down for easy work and slice off the peel and outer membrane, following the curve of the fruit as you slice. Squeeze any juice from ends and peel segments into a small bowl to use for later, then discard. Carefully remove the orange segments - aka supremes - by slicing along the connective membranes. Do this over the bowl you squeezed the peels into to catch the juices, and squeeze the leftover membrane of its remaining juices before you discard. You should end up with 1/2 cup or so of blood orange juice. Place the supremes in a bowl and set aside. 

Slice the kumquats into quarters and remove the seeds. Wrap seeds in a piece of muslin and secure with kitchen twine. Place the kumquats, supremes, muslin-wrapped seed bundle, sugar, lemon juice, and blood orange juice into a saucepan. Give the mixture a stir and bring to a bare simmer over low heat. Cook, covered, on low for a half hour. Remove from heat, then pour into a glass dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight once cooled.

The next day, remove any loose seeds and pithy elements with a small spoon. Empty the fruit-seed-syrup mixture into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Skim any foam which may come to the surface. Bring heat to medium-high, and gently stir as the mixture bubbles, for 5 minutes. 

Remove muslin bundle, pressing it gently between two spoons to express any juices (careful, it is hot!). Stir some more as it cooks for another 5 minutes. Return to a rapid boil for a minute or two and then remove from heat. Pour compote into a glass dish and refrigerate once cooled a bit. The compote will thicken as it cools. Refrigerated, the compote will keep for a few months. It is so good it won't last that long....

Prepare the cake while the compote cools. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients - zest goes with these - in another large bowl. 

Grease the two springform pans and line the bottoms with parchment. 

Add dry ingredients gradually to wet and whisk until just incorporated. Pour the batter between the two pans, set onto a rimmed baking sheet. 

Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Check the smaller cake for doneness by giving it a jiggle. The center should give a little (similar to cooking custard), while the outer circumference should be deeply golden. Continue to bake if not done, checking back every few minutes. The larger cake will take 15-20 minutes longer. Check for doneness in the same fashion as you did with the smaller cake. 

As they each finish baking, cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then slide a thin knife along the circumference of the ring before removing. Cool inverted on a baking tray (so as not to mar the surface) until at room temperature and discard parchment. 

Store any leftover cake in a container between layers of parchment, in the refrigerator. Cake can also be frozen (wrapped tightly in cellophane, then foil, then a resealable bag) for later indulgence.

Serve this cake at room temperature in wedges, with a spoonful or two of the luscious compote on top. 


So many things going on right now, it is nice to part the chaos with something so sublime as this.

I know I say that with every post. But really - I faced a recent hospitalization that confronted me with the need to change my lifestyle. I am recovering and overall am well, but it wasn't something to take lightly. I am grateful for having listened to my body and deciding to drive to the ER to see what all the funny business was about. And I'm extremely grateful to my family for their never-ending support.

Beyond that and my regular juggle of delicious projects, I experiment daily with foods of all kinds….whether for the basic need to get food in my belly for breakfast, or in the hopes of creating a gorgeous new story and then playing to flesh out ideas. Stay tuned for some news relating to that, soon.

In the meantime, here is a new giveaway to whet your appetites and inspire you, as you experiment in your own world:

This beautifully written and illustrated heirloom-style book shares regional French food in its traditional, authentic origins, based on 27 distinct regions throughout France. Co-authored by the great Chef Jöel Robuchon and French historian Loïc Bienassis, the duo share lesser-known specialties and highlight dishes specific to each region featured.

In order to qualify, follow me on Instagram if you aren't already, and leave a comment below telling me what French food you have made and loved, or which you would like to make most, that you have not tried already.  

You can also tweet "check out @melinaphotos French Valentine giveaway:" or tag me on Facebook saying the same. With each additional mention, your name gets added to the hat an additional time. In any comment that you leave, please leave a contact email so that I may be in touch with you should you be the winner. If I don't have an email, I have to pick another winner. 

To be eligible, you must live in the US and add your comments, tweets, and tags by 11:59 EST, Monday March 2nd.

Happy Valentine's Day! Share in the love.