Between Chapters….Spring Green Gazpacho Escape

I have always used books to escape or to avoid things or to soothe my bothered brow. I realized a few days ago that I  have never, ever read so much in my life as since mr. Trump has been president. Most days I just need to tune out his vitriolic hatred for all things good in this world as much as possible. I tune out by reading. Magazines, newspapers, recipes and books.  I have, in fact,  taken my reading to an entirely new level in the past few years. More than read, I devour pages, upon pages of novels….thousands of ideas and words. No quicker than I finish one, I am on to the next. On the other hand, one cannot live off books alone….one has to eat  real food…so a few days ago, between chapters, I tossed a few ingredients to my blender for this  batch of green gazpacho. A drinkable lunch while moving to the next chapter. (Dare I say, thank you mr. president? Hmmmm…probably not.)

A few small Persian cucumbers, fresh arugula, garlic, basil, mint, a splash of vinegar and olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. No particular amounts of each, just whatever you have. Blend until smooth, taste and adjust flavors, drink while reading.

No recipe is needed for this refreshing summer soup, but I will share a list of some of books I have read recently for your own little summer escape. Bon Appetite while reading.

BookList

  • “The Flying Troutmans”, “Summer of My Amazing Luck”, “Irma Voth” all by Miriam Toews
  • “The River” – Peter Heller
  • “The Dark Road to Mercy” – Wiley Cash
  • “The Island of Sea Women” – Lisa See
  • “The House at the Edge of the World” – Julia Rochester
  • “A Terrible Country” – Keith Gessen
  • “Voices from Chernobyl” – Svetlana Alexievich
  • “Peacekeeping” – Mischa Berlinski
  • “Delicate Edible Birds”, “Florida” – Lauren Groff
  • “There, There” – Tommy Orange
  • “Only Thieves and Killers” – Paul Howarth
  • “The Witch Elm” – Tana French
  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” – Ottessa Moshfegh
  • “Improvement” , “Lucky Us” – Joan Silber
  • “Motherland” – Paul Theroux
  • “The Widows of Malabar Hills” – Sujata Massey
  • “A Victim of the Aurora” – Thomas Keneally

Teresa Blackburn.     http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

 

 

Sugared Strawberries with Easy Homemade Labnah E.A.T. #37

 

Bright crimson to deep carmine local strawberries are at their peak.  Please do yourself a favor and stop by your local farmer’s market or roadside stand or pick-your-own farm to get your own berries before they are all gone. It is a sweet short season not to be missed.

Have you ever made labnah, or yogurt cheese?  If you have then you will know what I am talking about when I say it is the easiest cheese to make requiring no special skills or ingredients other than a good plain Greek yogurt and sea salt. I first encountered Labnah in Mexico years ago and have loved it ever since. Tart and just a bit salty it is the perfect foil for sugared fresh strawberries.

Cheesecloth, string and a bowl are all the tools needed and 24 hours to drain. The liquid drips out leaving a firm creamy, spreadable cheese. I have, in the past, added fresh herbs for a savory spread or raw sugar for sweetness.

Labnah ready to eat along with berries and baguette slices which I like toasted.

I didn’t sugar the berries ahead of time as I did not want them to “water out” and lose their firmness. I also really enjoy the crunch of raw sugar. You can use as much or as little sugar as you like.

Toasted baguette slices smeared with labnah and topped with fresh Tennessee strawberry slices and raw sugar is either the perfect dessert, snack or lunch. Textural, crunchy, just sweet enough with the tart-saltiness of the labnah. Treat yourself. It’s as Easy-As-This.

Spring Strawberries and Yogurt Cheese (Labnah) on Toasted Baguette

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Ingredients:

  • I quart of plain Greek Yogurt
  • Sea salt flakes such as Maldon
  • 3 cups of fresh, local strawberries preferably
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • Baguette slices
  • You will need cheesecloth and kitchen string

Directions:

  1. Fold a length of cheesecloth to make three layers. Cut into a large square about 16-18 inches. Fit layered cheesecloth square down into a bowl large enough to hold 1 quart of yogurt.
  2. Stir 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes into the yogurt mixing well.
  3. Scrape the yogurt into the bowl lined with cheesecloth. Gather up the edges, twist the cloth and tie with kitchen string. You will want to have enough of a “tail” of cheesecloth to suspend over the bowl in the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow all the liquid to drip out of the yogurt creating a spreadable “cheese”.  (You may have to be inventive in figuring a way to suspend cheesecloth over bowl as I had to be. I wedged the fabric at the top between two refrigerator trays and set the bowl underneath. You will figure out your own way.)
  4. Store yogurt cheese/labnah in an airtight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
  5. Toast baguette slices. Set aside.
  6. Rinse and drain fresh berries. Remove the cap and slice. Sprinkle with raw sugar to suit your taste.
  7. Smear baguette toast with labnah, top with sugared berries, adding more sugar for crunch if you like. Eat. Enjoy. It is as easy-as-that.

Teresa Blackburn.     http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

 

Just Peachy Blueberry Peach Pecan Scones

There are peaches, and there are peaches. There are the ones you buy at the supermarket with no taste, or the ones you buy and have to wait for 4 or 5 days for them to ripen before eating them,  and there are just picked, juicy, ripe, let’s-eat-them-today peaches that taste like summer sweetness. I have met few folks who do not like a good, ripe peach that you can eat in hand while the juice runs down your arm, which is one of life’s simple joys. This post is an ode to those kind of peaches.

In a few days there will be a new peach cookbook released by Gibbs-Smith Publishers that I had the pleasure of working on. “Just Peachy” by Belinda Smith-Sullivan. She is a person extraordinaire. Not only do her familial roots run deep in the South, she is a woman-of-the-world in both a culinary and travel sense.

Here is one of my favorite pics of Belinda amongst all those ready-to-pick South Carolina peaches. The granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, Belinda is also a chef, food writer, creator of her on line of spice blends and a commercially-rated pilot who resides in South Carolina where some of the best peaches in the world grow which are the inspiration for this book.

photograph of Belinda by Mark Boughton Photography

The lovely photography in this book is by Mark Boughton. Check out his work on line. I had the rare chance to both style the food and do all the tabletop photo-prop styling for this cookbook and it was a great, just peachy time! Thanks Belinda and Mark.

Cover Image by Mark Boughton Photography “

This recipe, “Blueberry Peach Pecan Scones”, is easy to make and bake in less than 45 minutes total time. Serve them warm from the oven with homemade peach preserves (another recipe in the book you will love) and a smear of softened butter.

Because of all the peaches and blueberries, these scones are not as dry as some and were still good a few days after I baked them.

You can add the lemon glaze that is part of the recipe, or as I did, just sprinkle them with decorating sugar for the crunch.

Here, have a bite. Enjoy.

Blueberry Peach Pecan Scones

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar (I used half white and half raw sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (I love this spice so I used a bit more)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, or heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup of peeled and chopped ripe peaches
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (I frozen fresh berries on a flat tray and used instead of grocery store frozen, which you can use)
  • 1/4 cup milk, for wash
  • (My addition – 1/2 cup plain decorating sugar)
  • Glaze recipe: 1/4 cup fresh squeeze lemon juice + 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. This step can also be done in the food processor.
  3. Combine buttermilk, egg, lemon zest and almond extract. Stir into the flour mixture along with the chopped peached, pecans and blueberries just until combined.
  4. On a lightly floured work surface, gather dough into a loose ball and flatten somewhat. Dust with flour, dough will be sticky, and roll out to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut dough into 4 inch square and then cut squares diagonally to make triangles. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with milk. (Dust with decorating sugar if you are using.) Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  5. For the glaze mix together lemon juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Drizzle over warm scones if desired.

Based on original recipe by Belinda Smith-Sullivan from her cookbook “Just Peachy” published by Gibbs-Smith Publishers.

Teresa Blackburn      teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

Heavenly Meringue Topped Old-Fashioned Banana Pudding

Let’s talk about Banana Pudding. The real deal, not what I seem to be encountering recently. The Southern iconic dessert I grew up eating in West Tennessee, made by both my Grandmother and Mother, started with a homemade vanilla custard pudding layered with vanilla wafer cookies and lots of bananas, topped with peaks of meringue baked until golden brown and is my absolute favorite dessert.

How and when banana pudding recipes took a wrong turn I cannot say, but they did so, along with homemade fudge and biscuits.  The list could go on and on, but that is for another day.

Often what is  called banana pudding is made with store-bought custard or pudding mixed with a pre-made whipped topping, a scant representation of wafer cookies and bananas added to the mix and topped with additional whipped topping. Not whipped cream, but whipped topping. This is not banana pudding, this is a dessert made with bananas and some fake stuff.

This recipe for banana pudding is so easy you may not even have to go to the grocery except to buy the vanilla wafers and bananas! The rest is just basic pantry ingredients.

I use “Nilla Vanilla Wafers”, ripe, but not over ripe, bananas, egg yolks for the pudding and the whites for the topping. The pudding takes only minutes to thicken and the meringue takes even less time to whip. From start to finish you will spend about 30 minutes to create this heavenly delicious dessert.

A generous portion of all the ingredients layered in a deep dish….

….egg whites, vanilla extract and sugar whipped together until the meringue “holds a peak” and is piled on top, ready for the oven.

Golden browned meringue to die for. Eat it warm from the oven or chilled. Heavenly good.

Heavenly Meringue Topped Old Fashioned Banana Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar for pudding + 1/4 cup sugar for the meringue
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 5-6 ripe bananas, sliced
  • 1 box vanilla wafer cookies (you will need about 30-40 depending on your baking dish shape)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the 1/2 cup sugar, flour and salt in the top of a double boiler pan.
  3. Whisk in the milk and egg yolks. Turn heat to medium high. Cook over boiling water, whisking constantly for about 10-12 minutes or until custard pudding has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  4. Beginning with a layer of pudding on the bottom of the baking dish, add a layer of wafer cookies and then a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat layering until your dish is filled, finishing with a layer of pudding. How many layers will depend on shape and size of dish you use. I used a 2 quart deep casserole dish.
  5. In a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, slowly add in 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, beating the meringue hold a stiff peak. This takes about 5-7 minutes.
  6. Top banana pudding with all the meringue, creating “meringue peaks” with the back of a spoon and “sealing” the meringue to the edges of the filling. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until meringue is golden browned. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, at room temp or chilled. Keeps a few days in the refrigerator.

Based on the basic recipe on the side of the box of Nabisco Nilla Wafer cookies sold everywhere.

http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

Good Things Lentil-Tomato Soup with Bok Choy and Lemon

This past week I often wondered “is it me?” or “is it them?” when pondering the roller coaster world of photo shoots. To put it mildly this past week was one for the books in all ways. I am still reeling a bit from the drama, the multitudes on all the various sets, the daily mental Rorschach test I needed to do to keep things balanced. Do you have weeks like that?

Along with “the crazy” there are some very good things afoot….one good this weekend is that we “spring forward”into Daylight Savings time and I, for one, love it when I get that extra hour of natural light at the end of the day.  It was also International Women’s Day this past week. I hope you celebrated all the great women in your lives… mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, every last one.  Another good thing was I made comforting, healthy, warm and cozy lentil soup. When the going gets tough, the tough make soup! Soup and laughter can get you through a lot.

Red Lentils, tomatoes, broth, chopped fresh bok chop, lemon juice all cooked together with some herbs served piping hot with an additional squeeze of fresh lemon and toasted baguette slices. Easy, quick and cozy.

Lentils are full of good things as well. An edible legume, they are rich in complex carbohydrates which will boost metabolism and help burn body fat. The are a good source of fiber, low in fat and are good sources of folate and magnesium. Lentils are gluten-free as well. You can have a pot of lentils ready to eat in about 30 minutes more or less which is another good thing.

The lemons add a wonderful flavor layer to this soup which is a cross of tomato soup and lentil soup with a bok choy twist. Enjoy. I you  have leftover, freeze for later. It’s nice to have some good things ready and waiting for when the days get tough!

Good Things Lentil-Tomato Soup with Bok Choy and Lemon

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of dried red lentils (or any other)
  • 1 can of cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 to 3 cups water as needed
  • 1 bunch of bok choy, trimmed and chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • lemon wedges for serving
  • toasted baguette slices for serving

Directions:

  1. Rinse lentils well in mesh strainer. Place in a stock pot.
  2. Add can of tomatoes with juice, garlic cloves, broth and lemon juice to the pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer. Cook, stirring every now and then, until lentils are just beginning to soften, 20 minutes or so. Add water as lentils cook if needed.
  3. Stir in chopped bok choy and cook for another 10 minutes or until lentils are soft but not mushy.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Serve piping hot in bowls with lemon wedges for squeezing into soup and toasted baguette slices.
  5. Note: You can freeze leftovers for later if you like or enjoy for lunches later in the week.

Teresa Blackburn.    www. teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

One Pot Chicken with Creamy Cassoulet Beans

For a split second or two I wanted to believe that the days would be getting warmer…there was evidence of this last week when Nashville was in the high 60’s, low 70’s, but alas that is not to be…yet. Gloomy…dreary….chilly…or depending on how you look at it, cozy…homey….toasty is what we have. A good time for making a substantial “One Pot Chicken with Creamy Cassoulet Beans” meal.

I know I have brought this up before, but have you ever been to “Lazzaroli’s Pasta Shop and Italian Market”? It is one of Nashville’s culinary jewels. Located on 5th Avenue North, in Historic Germantown, in an unassuming building, the small space is chock full of freshly made pastas, homemade sauces, every shelf is full of bottles of incredible vinegars, canned tomatoes and olive oils to die for. Cool-cases of cheeses and meats. Coveted small jars of Luxardo cherries, boxes of well-priced Maldon Salt, containers of duck fat and a multitude of Rancho Gordo Beans. The list is long, my blog posts are usually not, so do yourself a favor and make a food pilgrimage. Check their website for days they are open and hours.

I have been familiar with Rancho Gordo dried beans for many years and have cooked them often, but when I spotted these Classic Cassoulet Beans last week at Lazzarolis, reading the label front and back, captivated me.

One large pot with chicken pieces, carrots, tomatoes, broth, the cassoulet beans, lemons and herbs all cooking slowly from early in the day to evening. The chicken will be falling-off-the-bone and juicy, the beans creamy-firm.

A sprinkle of fresh thyme, a warm, freshly made baguette, wine and thou….Bon Appetit.

 

One Pot Chicken with Creamy Cassoulet Beans

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Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. of skin-on bone-in chicken pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil for browning chicken pieces
  • 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 4 cups chicken broth and 1 to 3 cups water to be added as beans cook
  • 1 lb. Rancho Gordo dried Cassoulet Beans (or any dried white bean) soaked for about 4 hours in warm water before cooking…overnight is fine also
  • 3 bay leaves
  • a handful of fresh thyme, divided
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can of cherry tomatoes with juice or 1 can of chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 1 bag of ready to cook baby carrots
  • 1 lemon sliced

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add in sliced garlic and cook for a few minutes.
  2. Generously season chicken with sea salt and black pepper and add to the pan, working in batches,  brown on both sides until the skin is somewhat crisp.  Set chicken aside, loosely covered.
  3. Scrape oil and garlic from the pan into a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold the beans, chicken and vegetables.
  4. Add chicken broth and 1 cup of water to the pot along with the soaked and drained beans. Toss in the bay leaves and half the fresh thyme and bring to a boil. Turn heat to simmer and cook beans for about 3 hours, or until they are just beginning to soften. Add water as needed. Cook time may vary depending on your pot and stove.  Check beans every now and then.
  5. When the beans are just beginning to soften add the tomatoes, carrots and chicken pieces to the pot. Nestle the chicken down into the broth and beans. Add more water if needed. Bring to a low simmer. Cover pot for about 1 hour, stirring gently every now and then.
  6. Remove lid when beans are soft, not mushy and add in lemon slices, slightly squeezing to release the juice. Cook another 20 minutes. Check chicken for doneness. Chicken should be falling-off-the-bone.
  7. Serve in bowls with additional sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves along with a crusty baguette for sopping up all those juices. A full-bodied red wine is great with this dish.

Teresa Blackburn.   teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

 

 

 

Oui, Oui Dark Chocolate Mendiants E.A.T. 36

There are chocolates and there are chocolates.  Not all are created equally. One of my favorites for making these easy Mendiants is a French brand, Valrhona.It is fitting to use this brand as Mendiants are a French confection. You can, of course, use any good quality, bittersweet chocolate. Mendiants are so easy to make and very beautiful in their simplicity. Studded with orange peel, pistachios, sea salt, almonds, candied ginger, coconut shreds and edible gold flakes these would make a lovely, sweet Valentines gift. Oui? Oui, oui it’s as easy-as-this.

I use a double boiler pan to melt the chocolate, but you can just place in a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water if you don’t have one. Gather all your add-ins while chocolate is melting in little bowls so you can work quickly while chocolate is still warm and melted.

 I drew around a small glass creating circles on a sheet of parchment paper to help me make the mendiants all about the same size. I added a dollop of melted chocolate to each circle, then spread it out with the back of a spoon and sprinkled toppings, working with one circle at a time, slightly pressing ingredients down into the still melted chocolate.

All you do is let the chocolate cool and harden. It really is as easy-as-this.

Oui, Oui Dark Chocolate Mendiants

Ingredients: (you can use all or just some of these when making your own Mendiants. I varied ingredients so they were all a little different. You can also just use whatever you have on hand…pecans, walnuts, any candied fruit, etc.)

  • 16 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup candied or dried orange peels
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon edible gold flakes, hearts, or any edible gold cake decorations
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt flakes, such as Maldon
  • 1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes or shreds

Directions:

  1. In the top of a double boiler melt the chocolate over simmering water. Stir every so often. You can also melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water if you do not have a double boiler pan. Make sure all your pans and spoons are clean and dry with no moisture so the chocolate will not “seize”.
  2. While chocolate is melting, gather all your add-ins…nuts, fruit, etc.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a glass about 3 inches in diameter turned upside down, draw 15 circles over the paper with a pencil. These will be your “guide” for making mendiants round and approximately the same size. It’s okay if they are not perfect.
  4. When chocolate is totally melted, using a spoon, add a dollop to each circle. Spread out to the edges of your “circles” on the parchment creating chocolate disks about 1/4 inch thick, more or less. While chocolate disks are still soft, stud each with a variety of ingredients. Gently press ingredients down into the chocolate so they are embedded somewhat into the surface.
  5. Leave finished mendiants on sheet of parchment to cool and  harden completely. Serve immediately or store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for later.
  6. To give as a gift put a few in a small candy bag or box. These make great easy-to-make at home edible tokens of affection.

I first made these for a magazine article I was working on a few years ago. Since I have made them a few times as they are so beautiful and delicious and are always a welcome gift.

Teresa Blackburn.    teresablackburnfoodstyling.com