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Archive for July, 2010

The Ultimate Goal

KaiA few weeks back, we were at the farmers’ market with our friends, Gareth and Karina, and their son Kai. As we perused the stalls, Gareth came up to Karina and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I got Kai a treat.” He then held up a bag of cherry tomatoes. I was so impressed. That’s exactly where I want to be with Zayden in the not-too-distant future. If I can raise a child who finds fresh vegetables as appealing or more appealing than French fries or candy bars, then I can call myself a success when it comes to laying the groundwork for lifelong healthy eating. So far Zayden’s favourite foods are shrimp, berries and bananas, so I think we’re well on our way to meeting that goal.

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White Wine Marinated Shrimp with Garlic Sauteed Bok Choy

Shrimp & Bok ChoyTHE VERDICT:

This was a simple, fresh meal. The white wine marinade is pretty basic and could also be used to flavour fish or chicken. While it is a good staple marinade to have in your repertoire, we preferred the Honey-Wasabi Shrimp from Rachel Ray’s magazine that we grilled up earlier in the summer. Bok choy is one of our “go-to” veggies, and it always pairs well with shrimp. A simple saute in some garlic and oil, and you’ve got a healthy, flavourful side dish.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

White Wine Marinade (source: Everyday with Rachel Ray magazine; original recipe)

Garlic Sauteed Bok Choy (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1 head of bok choy (or several heads if you are using baby bok choy)

6 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

  1. Thoroughly rinse bok choy as it tends to contain a lot of dirt and sometimes small insects between the stalks.
  2. Separate leaves from stalks. Cut stalks into bite-sized pieces. Tear leaves into smaller pieces.
  3. Heat oil in a wok or saute pan. Add garlic and saute until just browned.
  4. Add the chopped bok choy stalks. Saute until tender.
  5. Add the leaves and cook until just heated through.
  6. Serve.

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Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Rosemary Applesauce and Maple-Gorgonzola Squash

Pork Chops and SquashTHE VERDICT:

Yet another tasty meal inspired by our Best of Chef At Home cookbook and Closet Cooking. The pork chops are a fairly simple dish, but the savoury applesauce adds a nice flavour boost. Thanks to the simplicity of this dish, we were able to serve it to Zayden without any changes–we just minced it up into a more manageable consistency for him in the mini prep. He enjoyed it along with plain roasted squash. Only the grown ups indulged in the sumptuous maple syrup and gorgonzola topping. The squash dish is a bit rich to enjoy often, but we highly recommend it for special occasions or to accompany a special mid-week meal like this.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPES:

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Rosemary Applesauce (source: The Best of Chef at Home by Chef Michael Smith)

Applesauce

1/4 cup olive oil

4 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (we chose to forego the onions when we made this dish)

4 apples, cored and cut into chunks (if feeding this dish to a baby, you may want to peel the apples as we did)

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary

a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops

4 thick centre-loin pork chops

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • For the applesauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the onions and patiently cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are caramelized and turn golden brown. Add the apple chunks, apple cider vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir well. Simmer until the apples are very soft. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve chilled.
  • For the pork chops, preheat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Splash the oil and toss the butter into the centre of the oil. This will help keep the butter from burning. Pause until the butter begins to brown.
  • Meanwhile, pat the chops dry using paper towels, then season them with salt and pepper and carefully place them into the hot pan. Sear for 2 minutes or so on each side. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Freestyle variation: try adding a spoonful or two of grainy mustard or horseradish to the applesauce

Roasted Squash with Gorgonzola and Maple Syrup (source: Closet Cooking; original recipe)

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A Quick No-Cook Lunch for Mom & Baby

Avocado, Tofu & TomatoTHE VERDICT:
My favourite baby foods are those that require little or no special preparation, and I love coming up with new flavour combinations for Zayden to try. This one looked so good, I ended up eating the leftovers for a snack the first time I made it and made extra the second time so that I could have it for my lunch too. Baby can enjoy it as is, but mom (or dad) can easily make it into a more substantial meal or snack by using it as a topping on crackers, toast or grilled meat or stuffing it into a pita or tortilla. It would also be a good alternative to salsa or guacamole if you wanted to serve it with chips.

THE RECIPE:

Avocado, Tomato and Tofu Salad (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1 avocado, finely diced

1 brick of soft tofu, finely diced

2 roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

garlic powder and black pepper, to taste

  1. Thoroughly wash all the vegetables.
  2. Dice veggies and tofu–increasing the size of the dice as your baby becomes more competent with solid food.
  3. Serve atop crackers or dip with chips, if desired, but remember, your baby shouldn’t be eating chips until at least age 3 as they are a choking hazard.

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Photographing Tonight’s Dinner

We’ve had quite a few compliments (thank you!) on our photographs, and some questions about how we photograph our dishes.  I’ll go through our process at a high level, and then give some technical details later for those who care.  Our main goal was to portray our food accurately, and have a process that was quick and easy, so as to not interfere with dinner.  Any equipment we used had to be compact and ready to go with minimal setup.

Lighting Setup

I use one camera flash which is mounted on a light stand, off the camera.  I trigger it using a cheap radiowave trigger.  This setup enables more control over where shadows and highlights fall, and creates a better sense of depth than if the light were coming from the direction of the camera.  I have the flash shooting through a white translucent umbrella, which turns the small flash into a large, soft light source.  This minimizes bright reflections and softens shadows, making the food look more attractive.

By way of example, the first photo below  is from an early post, and is lit just from our dining room chandelier.  The bottom photo was taken with the setup described above.  As you can see, the photo on top has an unflattering yellow colour cast, uneven lighting over the food, and not much contrast.  Nothing really pops or stands out, and the food definitely does not look as good as it tasted.  In contrast, the following photo is bright, has no colour cast, and the vegetables and shrimp colours really pop.  This is the difference a small, simple lighting setup can make.  Sure, you can fix the colour cast and contrast in your favorite photo editor, but poor lighting cannot be made to look like good lighting in Photoshop.  Plus, that’s more time on the computer and less time eating dinner with your family.

Before

After

From a technical perspective, there are a few things that make this so easy.  First, we cut the majority of the ambient light by using a fast (1/125 sec) shutter speed.  This means we’re only lighting the food with 1 light source, which means no competing colour casts from the tungsten bulbs in your kitchen lights.  We use a fairly stopped down aperture to ensure the majority of the dish is in focus.  I’m working around ISO400-640, but can go to 800 or 1000 now since Lightroom 3′s noise reduction is so good.  I’d rather have more depth of field and some noise that’s easily minimized than out-of-focus food.  From this trio of settings we then balance the flash power to get a good exposure.  Since we’re working on our own time and with a subject that isn’t moving of its own accord, we can afford a longer recycle time, giving us the luxury of using higher flash power (I’m usually working at 1/4 or 1/2 on an SB-80DX).

It usually takes 1 or 2 shots to get the lighting and exposure right, and then maybe another 1 or 2 to get a composition we like.  A lot of food photographers like to backlight their food and then use reflectors to fill in the shadows facing the camera, but we don’t have time for that, so I generally sidelight as shown in the setup photo above and take the hit of not having great separation between the food and the “scenery” behind it.

That’s about it!  We’re usually quite conservative with our photography, as we’d rather have the food speak for itself than some edgy lighting trick or overprocessed photos.  Plus we want predictable results that we can publish with our blog posts as soon as they’re ready.

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Bison Burgers with Zucchini Sticks

Bison Burgers & Zoo SticksTHE VERDICT:

We’re determined to enjoy our BBQ even if the weather doesn’t cooperate this summer. After grilling up some bison steaks, we were eager to try the bison burgers we’d seen at 3p. Justin tried the jalapaeno version (of course!) and I tried the regular patty. We served them on whole wheat hamburger buns from Cobs, dressed them up with some Qualicum Spice cheese from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and used cucumber and tomato slices in lieu of condiments. Overall, a good burger though a bit drier than using ground beef. Due to the lower fat content in bison, it’s best to cook your burgers at a lower temperature to avoid excessive dryness.

The zucchini sticks were our alternative to fries and a great way to use up the zucchini we had sitting in the fridge. They aren’t quite as tasty as the deep fried restaurant version, but came very close. While we used them as a side dish, they would also make a great casual appetizer or snack.

If you want to try it yourself . . .

THE RECIPE:

Parmesan Crusted Baked Zucchini Sticks (source: Closet Cooking; original recipe)

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