Friday, March 20, 2015

Umami Grain Bowl with Anthology and First Spring Foods (!!!) with New York Times

This month's column at Anthology focuses on abundant flavor through the savoriness that is umami. 

I make a lot of food. I love a meal containing numerous elements. Bright colors, a fantastic array of textures, and depth of flavor is one version of a meal that often appears at my table. The starring roles change, but this is the overarching theme.

Weird and wonderful additions like anchovies, bottarga, and roasted seaweed (all together! …it's totally  great, and very much about proportions) bring what is otherwise a simple meal to a whole new level….

making the anchovy-roasted garlic dressing

beautiful radicchio fresh from its char...

Please let me know if you decide to make this delicious dish. It definitely was satisfying to produce it. :) Here is the full story.

In equally delicious news, more of my work debuted on Page One in this week's New York Times Food section. This colorful Ode to Spring is another Mark Bittman story - I always love when I'm tasked with articulating his recipes, for their no-nonsense, tasty tendencies. If you recall another I produced last year, he wins my heart….

Here are some of my favorite outtakes - 

Each of the recipes is lovely. The indulgence of the deep-fried spring onions is an obvious winner, but my personal favorite is the delicate peas over still-crunchy grilled little lettuces, dressed in garlicky, minty goodness. Here is the full article and recipes, if you're seized enough to want to make them.

In other recent news, I produced a vivid and totally delightful "Shapes and Colors of Spring" story for the Fifth Anniversary Sweet Paul Magazine, now available for purchase or download. Here are two recipes (one, two) from the story, currently online. That is worth sharing in a story all on its own. Also, look for another gorgeous front page feature from  yours truly, in next week's NYTimes Food. And more. Always more, cuz what is a freelancer to do if not producing new, drool-worthy content?

I hope you all have delicious food lined up for this weekend. I'll be eating my way out of leftovers, maybe even without putting them onto plates… xo 

Happy spring!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

2015 Saveur Blog Nominations

Click here to nominate me

It is that time of year again, for the annual Saveur Blog Awards. Please nominate my blog,, for Best Food Photography and Most Delicious Food. Nominations are open until March 13th. Add your two cents and help me become a finalist!! :D

Thank you for your love of my work, and for believing in me. 

Here's to lots more good eating!!!

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

Celebration. Love. All things delicious. Here, a few extra-special notes of 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 an endlessly moist cake. It was a great idea.

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

Psst - it's really easy to make once you have your ingredients gathered, so in the spirit of love, why not?

The full story is here. 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.

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. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Aromatic Poached Salmon with Anthology, Cal Peternell's Braised Chicken Legs with New York Times, Birmingham Magazine Sweet Potatoes

Some years, January is one of the slowest times and affords contemplation: to dream up new projects, to consider what the arc of the year will look like...

Not this year.

Which, I guess is a good thing, but I have had trouble keeping up already. There are a number of pretty fantastic projects now finished which will soon make their way out into the world. Some will debut soon, so keep your attention here and when they go live, I'll be sure to let you know.

They are gorgeous displays of beautiful, real food, articulated in new ways that I am quite proud of. Others - like the party for thirty I just single-handedly put together (from scratch!) - were huge labors of love for friends, and now poof, they're gone.

I also just completed my latest column with Anthology, which is very much in the spirit of the above: a labor of love, gorgeous displays, and completely about real food. If you're not sold by the pictures, tell me what it is they lack….

Because for me, their elemental nature - and knowing just how delicious everything tasted together - is enough to make me want to cook it all over again.

The full story and recipe is here.

These are for the plump aioli into which everything got dabbed….

The flavorful poaching liquid, which I have used for soups and to cook grains in, since. Nothing goes to waste if I can help it…

Yum. What do you think?

Another hearty, straightforward meal I produced is these chicken legs from Chez Panisse's own Cal Peternell. They were recently featured in The New York Times, and taste as superb as they look.

This soothing recipe with sweet potatoes I created for Birmingham Magazine is also out now - 

For the same month, I was asked to photograph soup dumplings at a local restaurant. They were quite good. (I love my job.)

Though spring isn't here yet and I pine for the soft breezes and warm sunlight, I am also very grateful because I have more winter incubating to do. There will be so much good work to share once spring does grace us with its presence, but let's be invigorated by the heartiness of winter foods for a little while yet.

If you wonder where does all the food go, I have a good lot of fun figuring out ways to use up all the remnants and leftovers, over on Instagram. Always a challenge to use every last bit in an interesting way (that isn't the same thing), I am constantly surprised by the new things I discover. So many happy accidents. :)

I hope you're nourishing yourselves as we roll out 2015. Every meal is an opportunity to delight your palate and soothe your bones! 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! Last-Minute Tasty Bites and A Smoky Sipper

Let's send 2014 off properly with these delightful nibbles and sips (scroll down for recipes). 
See you all on the other side….. xxxooo

Fried rosemary potato chips

Caramelized onion, thyme, and Gruyere puff pastry bites

Calvados, Lapsang souchong, Champagne cocktail

Fried rosemary potato chips
makes a large bowlful

11/2 lbs or so of mixed sweet and russet potatoes*, scrubbed, knobs or ends trimmed, and sliced thinly on a mandoline
distilled white vinegar, for boiling
good flake sea salt, like Maldon
peanut oil, for frying
3 sprigs rosemary, torn into smaller sprigs

*I had red potatoes available and not russet, and did okay. General consensus is that russets produce a more consistent potato chip.

Soak the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water. This will help them release their starches, the enemy to a good fried potato chip. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add two tablespoons of white vinegar. Drain and rinse sliced potatoes and boil for 3-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove slices, lay out onto tea towels, and pat them dry to be thorough.

In a large skillet, pour in about an inch of peanut oil and heat on medium high. Add potato slices in batches, a few handfuls at a time. Turn with a slotted spoon every 20-30 seconds, up to 5 minutes, until the potatoes stop "fizzing". When they have stopped releasing bubbles, there is no more water in them and it is this key moment in which they will retain their crispness, before they start to burn. Keep in mind smaller chips will finish sooner than larger ones.

Transfer finished chips to a large bowl lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat this process until you have completed the lot, tossing them for even saltiness.

Add the rosemary sprigs and turn as you did the potatoes until they stop fizzing. Add them to the chip pile, scatter a final pinch of salt on them, and toss to coat. Allow to cool fully.

Great alone or dipped into crème fraîche. Store remaining chips in a resealable bag at room temperature for one week.

Caramelized onion, thyme, and Gruyere puff pastry bites 
serves 20-30

4-6 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 cup Gruyere, finely shredded
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 package good puff pastry - I used Dufour
good olive oil
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Over medium heat in a heavy skillet, cook onions in a glug of olive oil, stirring occasionally, until they become translucent. Lower heat to low and cook onions until they have softened to collapse and become caramel in hue, about a half-hour. During this time, stir occasionally: you do not want them to brown, but they don't need babysitting. Add the thyme at the end and give a stir to incorporate.

Heat oven to 400 degrees (F). Roll out puff pastry between two layers of lightly floured parchment to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut the pastry into one-inch lengths, and into one-inch widths. At this size, there's enough to feed 20-30 people, so adjust scale (2-inch segments, for instance), if you have fewer mouths to account for. Chill on parchment-lined baking sheets for 5-10 minutes.

Score a square inside the perimeter of each pastry using a pairing knife. Pile a little caramelized onion mixture inside that square, topped with a pinch of shredded cheese, followed by freshly cracked pepper, and place into oven.

Start to check after 15 minutes, baking pastries until deeply golden. Rotate pans from bottom-to-top and turn front-to-back as they bake. Cool for a few minutes on the sheet pan, then transfer to a wire rack.

Serve warm. Store leftovers between layers of parchment in a sealed container, frozen or refrigerated. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator for a day. Reheat in a toaster oven or oven for same flaky texture as when first baked. Keeps for 2 weeks refrigerated, one month frozen.

Calvados, Lapsang souchong, Champagne cocktail
serves 2

2 oz Calvados
1/2 oz smoky Lapsang souchong-infused neutral spirit - I placed 8 teabags in 1 cup good vodka for one week, then discarded the teabags - keeps indefinitely
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 1/2 tbsp agave nectar
juice from one lemon
Champagne to top off

Place all but the Champagne in a shaker and top with ice. Cover, seal, and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into two coupe glasses and top with Champagne. Cin Cin!!!

I have loved sharing the fun and adventure of this year with you. Thank you for being here. 

Here's to many more adventures in 2015!!!!! 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rounding the Year out: Holiday Sips with The New York Times (Another Page 1!), Walnut Recipes with Food52, and More

The last few weeks have gone quickly by. There's a flurry of work which you should know about. Much great food and drink for winter days to keep you and your loves cozy, or, just yourself.

So important to give special things to yourself, and, hey, it all starts with you. Is there a little pep talk in there? Maybe. But if so, it's for me, as the start of New Years aren't an easy thing. It's like I have to figure out where I am, all over again….

Anyway. These are all great eating and drinking, so get some. :)

This feature was sparkly and huge on Page 1 - always something I relish - Christmas Eve. Both cocktails are lovely. I especially like the Apple Brandy-Islay Scotch-Champagne riff on the French 75. I have made similar at my own bar for a while, but used a Lapsang Suchong infused spirit I'd created instead of the Scotch. Bright, warming, and surprising.

Also with The Times is this tasty recipe, prepared with fresh pasta, chopped tarragon, yuzu juice, togarashi pepper (if you can find it - though cayenne makes a fine substitute), and delicious plump crabmeat.

Good eating indeed. And, this extra-special gingersnap cookie recipe.

While looking at these sweets, I was reminded of the gorgeous brownies I produced for the December Birmingham Magazine. They are utterly scrumptious. Use this recipe if you're looking to make a batch for yourself.

AND, there's more…. now you can see how the days go by in a blur over here!

My "What to do with a bulk of Walnuts" story is the newest installment for Food52's Halfway to Dinner column. If you haven't seen my other features, I also created recipes and the stories for capers (to die for), preserved lemons, and red quinoa!

 Roasted kabocha, celery, pomegranate, walnut, and fried sage salad

Beet, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, walnut, and mint salad

 Walnut pesto

 Bourbon-roasted squash soup with blue cheese and candied walnuts

This last recipe - a persimmon-walnut bread pudding - has a special place in my heart. And belly. I basically threw a bunch of stuff together while keeping the tenants of bread pudding in my back pocket, and came to the other side with an outrageously delightful dessert (or breakfast!). Please do let me know if you try it.

Well, that's almost all of it.

Christmas was spent somewhat uneventfully here, with the beau home but fiercely under the weather. We are both emerging, and if I have my way, I'll have a New Year's post up in a couple days. Please hold me to it! There are some other tasty bites I've been keen to share.

I hope you have had a joyous Holiday Season, and that you are feeling light with the days remaining in 2014. Woo-hoooo! xxx