Dark Days of the Heart & Food for Thought

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I have been having some dark days. Since early morning November 9th. I have been out of sorts, prone to tearful eruptions, and feeling a dark sadness that is so vast and complicated that I cannot quite put my finger on it.  I am pretty sure you know what I mean and  may be  feeling it too. November has been a cruel month.

But this afternoon while driving and listening to the radio I heard one of my favorite songs  playing in the background. I turned it up and sang along. It lifted my spirits. I learned this song when I was around 9 or 10 years old. It was part of my grade school class American Folk Songbook. We had a record player in our class and our teacher would often play the record of folksongs and we would sing along. I believed it then and I believe it now…take heart, sing along…..

Peace.

“Braised Garlic Chicken with Yellow Rice” from “Cuba – Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen”

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Cuba, Cuban travel, Cuban music & style, Cuban food. The “it” place right now is Cuba. Thank you President Obama, Thank you the Rolling Stones and…..

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…..Thank you “Cuba! Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen” a new cookbook beautifully photographed by Dan Goldberg and prop styled by Andrea Kuhn, whom I have the pleasure of working with every now and then. The stories written by Jody Eddy are captivating.

This is the first on my list of recipes to cook from this book, “Braised Garlic Chicken with Yellow Rice”. I had this dish in Miami over 40 years ago & in Cuba almost as long ago. If you can “dream in food” this dish has been one of mine. The chicken oh-so garlicky & moist and the rice cooked in broth & bijol (or annatto powder) for added flavor. Dios Mio!dsc_0404

When it was illegal to travel to Cuba from the United States years ago,  therefore making the very idea much more enticing, my friend Terry and I traveled from Mexico to Havana a few times with a temporary visa that I still have. This was what was stamped instead of your real passport. No record of ever being in Cuba showed up in our permanent passports when re-entering the USA. There were few hotels in Havana at the time. On the main plaza The Ingleterra was a lovely old place with lots of ornate plaster and men in dark glasses sitting around in the lobby to watch who came and went. We were the only Americans there…Mexicans, Greeks, French, many internationals..and us.

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Hotel photo…see how few people on the streets…I hear it is pretty crowded these days. The almost total lack of other tourists was rather surreal.

On our trips half the time we were intoxicated by our surroundings and the other half from the mojitos. We had manicures, haircuts and salsa lessons given to us by the hairdresser, ate in La Floridita along with international men in suits doing deals, had chicken with yellow rice and plantains & more mojitos at La Bodeguita de Medio, strolled the Malecon, it was magical….we were young, we & Cuba were a novelty and we were changed forever.

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I have seen this same car in many other photographs of Cuba. This is a pre-digital photo!

 The recipe for braised garlic chicken & yellow rice in this cookbook is exactly like my “food dreams” of this dish. Next I will try the roasted pork, the flan, the lamb….all simple to make recipes with familiar ingredients used in a very Cuban way. If you buy one cookbook this year or need a great gift for a cook or traveler this one is it.

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Tablecloth is fabric I purchased in Havana. White Rum is a 30-year-old bottle I bring out every now and then for a sip.

Buen Provecho!

Braised Garlic Chicken with Yellow Rice

  • Time: 2hrs
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

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Ingredients for Chicken:

  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups bottles sour orange juice, or 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice mixed with 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 12 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Ingredients for  Yellow Rice:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 3 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 teaspoon bijol, or a pinch or saffron, soaked in a little warm water
  • 1 cup frozen peas (optional)

Directions:

  1. Using a food processor, process 20 garlic cloves dropping them in one clove at a time. When all garlic is chopped, add the juice, oregano, cumin seeds, salt & pepper. Pulse to blend.
  2. Place cut up chicken in a glass bowl & pour garlic marinade over chicken turning pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours before cooking. Toss chicken every now and then in the marinade.
  3. When ready to cook preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Reserve marinade. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt.
  5. Heat vegetable oil in a large cast iron or other oven-safe  baking pot with a lid. Working in batches, sear chicken skin-side down in hot oil until skin is crispy and browned. As chicken pieces are browned set aside.
  6. When all the chicken pieces are seared return them to the pot and pour the reserved marinade over all. Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil. Braise chicken for about 1 hour. Chicken pieces should be fork-tender with meat falling-off-the-bone.
  7. Remove braised chicken pieces to a platter, covering to keep warm. Pour remaining braising liquid from the cooking pot to a small saucepan & bring it to a boil. Slightly reduce liquid. Taste & adjust seasoning with salt & pepper. Cover and set aside.
  8. To make the yellow rice heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion & a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion softens, about 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic & cook for 2 minutes.
  9. Add the rice to the pot & saute for a few minutes until rice begins to smell slightly toasty.  Pour in chicken stock & bijol or saffron. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat & cover tightly with a lid.
  10. Cook over low heat until the stock has been absorbed. Taste & adjust seasoning if needed. (If using peas add them to the rice now.) Let rice sit covered until ready to serve.
  11. When ready to serve Chicken: Turn on broiler and place chicken pieces on a baking pan, skin side up. Broil for a few minutes to re-crisp the skin. Serve chicken with yellow rice, spooning some of the reduced braising liquid on top.

Adapted from the cookbook: “Cuba! Recipes and Stories  from  the Cuban Kitchen” published by: Ten Speed Press, Authors: Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn, Jody Eddy

Teresa Blackburn    teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

 

Pumpkin-Maple Biscuits & Karma

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Last week I had a couple of projects going on at home from various clients…recipe developing and testing using canned pumpkin puree and as always happens I ended up with a can opened & partly used…what to do? I find it so hard to toss out food even though a large part of my job as a food stylist has to do with just that! This is the one part of being a food & photo stylist that is hard for me. I grew up in a blue-collar household, poor by today’s standards, and food was not wasted…ever. For some reason when we did not finish our food my Mother always brought up the starving children in India…why India I do not know…but it stuck and every time I toss out food I have that image in my head. Her point was made simply and straightforward.

By the last day of many photo shoots there is always food that has been too handled and left to sit out just too long while being photographed to be eaten. It has to be tossed and this always gives me pause. On the other hand, on most photo shoots we end up taking car loads of food to local food banks. I am hoping that cancels out my bad food karma turning it into good food karma.

So with a half can of leftover pumpkin puree and not wanting to toss into the trash bin,  I tossed it into one of my easy weekend morning go-to recipes for two, now three ingredient biscuits. Deliciously saved and reused.

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“The well” is my favorite part of biscuit-making…learned from my mother it always works to aid in making the most tender biscuits ever.

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Dry ingredients….using a fork…make “the well” by pushing the flour mixture up against the sides of the bowl creating a bowl or “well”. Add wet ingredients all at once…..

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….quickly stir together pulling the dry ingredients into the wet using a fork…don’t try to mix totally… gently and quickly make a “slaggy” dough….

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….dump out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to meld wet and dry together to form a smooth dough…pat out into a circle…fold over and pat out again…repeat about 4 times…patting and folding and patting….

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…cut biscuits straight down…no twisting the cutter and spread out on parchment lined baking sheet…

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…brush tops with maple syrup and bake.

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Warm from the oven smeared with softened butter. Happy Weekend y’all.

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Pumpkin-Maple Biscuits

  • Time: 30mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, divided
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • softened butter for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the flour, salt & pumpkin pie spice. Use a fork to make “a well” in the middle of the mixture.
  3. Add pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons maple syrup & whipping cream. Using a fork, gently and quickly blend ingredients together. Your dough should not be totally blended.
  4. Dump out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Using your hands fold and knead to create a smooth dough. Pat into a circle, fold over and pat out again and folding and patting out…repeat 4 times lastly patting dough out into a circle about 1/2-3/4 inch thick depending on how you like your biscuits.
  5. Cut out biscuits…taking care to not “twist” the cutter…just cut straight down. Place biscuits on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  6. Brush tops with remaining 2  tablespoons maple syrup. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Biscuits will be light and fluffy with a glazed top and are best eaten warm. They will keep up to one day and can be reheated.

Teresa Blackburn        www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

Peanut Butter-Banana Bread, Clean Water & The “Farm to Fork” Dinner

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My friend Liz makes the best banana bread. It is moist, nutty with just the right amount of spices & banana flavor. Every Christmas a few lucky friends are gifted a loaf or two of her bread. Due to her acumen in this field of baking I am always a bit hesitant to make my own banana bread fearing the results will be disappointing.

Last week 4 very, very ripe bananas were either going to be tossed or turned into a loaf….I chose the latter. Not trying to copy Liz’s bread, but to try something different, I made this loaf without nuts and with the addition of peanut butter powder. Have you used this yet? We add a shake or two to our smoothies each morning. It has all the yummy peanut butter flavor without the calories.

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Brown sugar, Greek yogurt & vanilla bean paste…all part of the batter….

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….resulting in this lovely loaf of goodness using over ripe bananas that could have been tossed, but were saved for better things!

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Speaking of “better things”….You may now be curious about the heading for this post…”I get the banana bread part, but what is the reference to this “Farm to Fork” dinner?”

Coming up very soon, October 27th to be exact, is a celebration dinner and fundraiser here in Nashville. The Cumberland River Compact’s 5th Annual “Farm to Fork” Dinner once again brings together local chefs, farmers, artists & musicians to celebrate the fall harvest and keeping our waters clean. This is a very important fundraiser for us all.

The job of the Cumberland River Compact is to work to create awareness of the need to keep the waters of our beloved Cumberland River and it’s tributaries clean and safe. This takes the time of many dedicated folks and money to keep the public aware. For more information on this fun and delicious night next Thursday, October 27th click here.

Just imagine trying to cook and run a kitchen without clean water? Imagine and be thankful.

Peanut Butter-Banana Bread

  • Servings: 12slices
  • Time: 1hr15mins
  • Print

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Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter powder
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup raw brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a regular size loaf pan.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment mash the bananas. I leave them a little bit chunky.
  4. Sprinkle in the peanut butter powder and mix.
  5. Add in the softened butter, egg, vanilla bean paste & sugar. Mix well.
  6. With mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the banana mixture, along with the yogurt,  and mix just until blended.
  7. Scrape batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the top of is a dark golden brown. Test with a cake tester to make sure the inside is baked. The tester should come out clean with just a few crumbs. Let loaf cool in pan on a wire rack before slicing.

This bread is yummy for a few days and is sublime toasted and smeared with butter.

Teresa Blackburn      www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

October Apples, Sauced in a Star Anise-Brown Sugar Syrup

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….’today, in October sun, it’s all gold—sky and tree and water. Everything just before it changes looks to be made of gold.’ (“The Wide Net” by Eudora Welty, The Collected Stories)

This “changing-time” is apple season…days are still sunny and warm, but the evenings are cool and crisp. It is time to once again crank up the stove and do some more serious cooking. Apple Sauce is a favorite of mine, but it’s almost impossible to find any canned or jarred product that is truly satisfying. The best in the world is homemade and a bit chunky in my opinion.  I enjoy a bold flavor in my sauced apples so I often make my own.

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A few years ago I bought a hand crank apple peeler that clamps onto my kitchen counter and is honestly just so much fun to use that I sometimes get a bit carried away and keep on peeling ’til there is not much left but the core! For making apple sauce this is one kitchen gadget/tool that you must have.

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Beautiful apple peel ribbons.

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Apples from a neighbor’s tree.

I made up a simple syrup using cranberry juice, star anise seeds and brown sugar. The peeled and chopped apples simmer and cook down in this very flavorful syrup making the final product uniquely delicious.

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Apple sauce put up in wee jars so each bite is fresh.

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Pick some local apples and make up a batch of this recipe…any type of tart, crunchy apple works…spread finished apple sauce on toasted bread, a turkey or grilled cheese sandwich or serve with your next pork roast. These little jars make very nice fall/winter gifts as well.

October Apples, Sauced in Anise-Brown Sugar Syrup

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Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs tart fall apples – Honey Crisp, MacIntosh, Arkansas Black or Granny Smith
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 2 cups raw/brown sugar
  • 2 whole star anise seeds
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Directions:

  1. Peel apples & rough chop. Put in a stainless steel cook pot.
  2. Add the Star Anise simple syrup to the pot. Turn heat to medium high. Stir mixture until a soft boil begins then turn to simmer. Stir every so often to keep apples from sticking. Cook down until mixture has thicken but is still chunky.
  3. Remove pot from stove and stir in lemon juice.
  4. Spoon apple sauce into small glass jars with tight-fitting lids and process in a water bath for 20 minutes. Remove jars from water & set on a wire rack to cool. You should hear a soft “thump” when lids seal properly and they will be concave. Cool completely and store in pantry until ready to eat. Depending on the size of your jars this recipe makes 6-8 jars.

How to make simple syrup:

  1. Put 2 cups cranberry juice, 2 cups raw/brown sugar & 2 whole star anise seeds in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar has dissolved and turn heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes until mixture thickens slightly. Set aside to cool. Use immediately or chill in a glass jar with a lid.

How to do a simple water bath processing:

  1. If you have a canner then fill with enough water to cover the size jars you are canning up to one inch above the jar tops.
  2. Place filled jars in wire rack that comes with the canner pan and lower it down into the water. Bring water to a rolling boil. Process jars in boiling water for 20 minutes. Turn heat off and leave jars in cooling down water for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove jars from canner to a wire rack and let cool completely. Jars will seal as they cool making a soft “thump” sound. Jar lids will be concave when jars are properly sealed.

Note on canning:

I have used a large stock pot with a round wire cooling rack sitting on the bottom of the pan instead of a canner kit. You just put the rack in the pot, place jars, not touching, on the rack & gently cover tops of jars with water. Continue the processing as you would when using a canner from this point on.

Teresa Blackburn     http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com

Early Fall Roasted Vegetables, E.A.T. # 19

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Coming home with a sack of leftover vegetables is not unusual for me. At the end of many of my food styling projects there are often random vegetables left over…one red bell pepper, one onion, a few new potatoes, a lemon, a handful of beautiful okra and a box of arugula along with a half carton of heirloom baby tomatoes were the recent jewels….I just cannot bear to leave them unused and wasted.

The last thing I really want to do at the end of a long day is cook at home after cooking all day while working. But roasting vegetables isn’t really cooking…it is a technique that requires little effort and the reward is a healthy, colorful,  relaxing, easy-as-this dinner.

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Oven turned to 400 degrees. Longer cooking vegetables go in first after being tossed with olive oil, salt & pepper…..

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….quicker cooking vegetables added to the pan halfway through cook time along with a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence. Easy enough to make your own or purchase at most supermarkets or on-line.

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Eat healthy and be well.

Early Fall Roasted Vegetables

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy-as-this
  • Print

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Ingredients:

  • any random selection of vegetables, rinsed & roughly chopped
  • suggestions: new potatoes, red bell peppers, heirloom cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, okra pods, asparagus, onions, beets, cauliflower, broccoli…whatever you have
  • olive oil
  • sea salt or kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • Herbes de Provence or Italian Seasoning
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • arugula leaves or baby spinach

Directions:

  1. Turn oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss roughly chopped vegetables in olive oil, salt & black pepper.
  3. Spread vegs that take longer to cook out on a baking sheet & roast for 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven and add vegs that take less time to cook to pan. Sprinkle over all with Herbes de Provence.
  4. Return pan to oven and roast another 12 minutes. Remove pan from oven.
  5. Serve roasted vegetables with a dusting of grated Parmesan and fresh greens.

Teresa Blackburn    www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com      www.foodonfifth.com

Chilled Crookneck Squash & Pea Soup – Bounty shared from a West Tennessee Garden

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West Tennessee folks have always been proud of their gardens. I have known this since a young child when everyone, rich or poor or in the middle,  had a vegetable garden…some small…some very large…all very neatly planted. Rows and rows of succulent peas, beans, tomatoes, corn and squash!

Your vegetable garden reflected who you were and your connection to your community. Sharing the bounty was a big part of it as well. One neighbor grew too much corn so it was shared with neighbors…another grew too many cucumbers to eat or pickle so the extra got passed on.

This beautiful cold soup was made from yellow crookneck squash grown in the West Tennessee garden of my friends, Anita & Larry Mullins.  A gift from their garden is an always a very deliciously welcome gift! The sharing tradition continues all the way to my Middle Tennessee kitchen.

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I combined these squash with some green peas from the Nashville Farmer’s Market I had frozen a month or so ago with an onion and some low-fat & low sodium chicken broth. Quickly simmered together until softened……

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….then blended until smooth & chilled for an hour or so.

Right before eating I stirred in a dollop of cold cream. Topped off with a handful of chopped up homegrown cherry tomatoes, sea salt & cracked black pepper.

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Every bite deliciously creamy and cool…every spoonful a “West Tennessee summer day! A big thanks to my garden friends!

  • Servings: ”4″
  • Time: ”1
  • Difficulty: ”very
  • Print

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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of chopped Yellow Crookneck Squash
  • 2 cups fresh, shelled green peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie broth)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chilled cream
  • 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
  • sea salt & cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Add chopped squash, green peas, chopped onion, salt & pepper to a pan along with the broth. Cook just until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat.
  2. Blend in batches in a blender until smooth.
  3. Chill until ready to serve. Right before serving stir cream into soup. Taste and adjust seasoning. Top each serving with some chopped cherry tomatoes & more pepper & salt if desired.

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