The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

Red Quinoa and Jade Pearl Rice
 with Sage Brown Butter

We hope that all who celebrate had a lovely Easter...
And that everyone got to enjoy a long weekend!

We are in full bloom over here at TAE, both in the garden
as well as with some of out farmers' market finds. There is nothing
that says spring quite like a blooming bud, and we have just a
couple that we are working with here today.

The first beauty is the Spring Onion Chive in full bloom...
how pretty are these! And the second is from our garden,
the gorgeous flowering answer to spring, in the form of Sage.

As for our Market finds these delightful little legumes are fresh chickpeas,
or garbanzo beans. They make a perfect snack to just munch on and
have a bright nutty spring green flavor. We added them raw to our
quinoa dish for an added spring touch.

For our salt and pepper seasoning, we are going with a Fennel Salt
and a favorite pepper of mine the Tellicherry. They are both
fantastic additions to top off any dish, and add a bit of earthy
warmness to give a bit of a royal touch. However any of your
 favorites or what you have on hand will do nicely.

I enjoy using gourmet or finishing salts in the majority of my
recipes. I use less or no salt during preparation, then add
the salty goodness in desired amounts at the finale. But
we will explore this more in future posts.

We have also jazzed up our flavor profile just a bit, with the addition
of Sage Brown Butter...OK, so what does brown butter not make better?
The warming and earthy nutty notes of brown butter, paired with the
warming earthy notes of crispy sage...Oh Yea!

And if that is not enough to give you a warm and well loved spring tummy...
how about we prepare our rice in a lovely tea concoction of cardamon and
pepper corns, with a bit of laurel and cloves? Not enough...OK, so maybe
some pan roasted walnuts with Pimenta dioica berries (allspice)?
 Love me now?

What you will need:
For the quiona and jade peal rice
1 cup raw organic red quinoa
1 cup raw jade pearl bamboo rice
1 tablespoon cardamon pepper tea
(steeped in 1 cup boiling water)

For the sage browned butter
6 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, softened
10 large fresh sage leaves

For the toasted walnuts
1 cup shelled walnuts, crushed
1 teaspoon Pimenta dioica berries, ground

For the garnishes 
1 small bunch of spring onion chives
1 1/2 cups un-shelled fresh chickpeas
1 teaspoon fennel salt
1 1/2 teaspoons tellecherry pepper, ground

Let's get cooking:
For the quiona and jade peal rice
Begin by preparing your rice, 1 cup rice to 1 cup cardamon tea
and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to low
and simmer for 20 minutes, fluff with a fork and set aside.

Now for the quinoa, add 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water, and
bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15
 minutes or until liquid has absorbed, fluff with a fork. Place in
a large mixing bowl.

For the sage browned butter
Place softened butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, once butter
has melted, add torn sage leaves. Continue to sauté until butter
begins to brown having a nutty toasted aroma, and sage
is dark and crispy. About 4-5 minutes.

For the toasted walnuts
Place crushed walnuts in a hot pan over high heat, toss a bit
for about 1 minute. Then add your allspice and continue to move
around in the pan until well toasted and fragrant. About 2-3 minutes.

For the garnishes 
Place rice along with quinoa into your large mixing bowl. Toss a few
times to incorporate. Shell your fresh chickpeas and slice in half, toss
in with your quinoa and rice. Add sage brown butter and toss again.
Now add toasted walnuts and chopped spring onions. Garnish
further with spring onion and sage blossoms.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

For more quinoa try out these dishes:
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad~That Skinny Chick can bake
Zucchini Quinoa Aalad with Microgreens~Gourmande in the kitchen
 Quinoa Tabbouleh with Endive~She's Cookin'

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Food Photography "A Perspective"~ 
Food Styling with Nancy Lopez-McHugh

Above photo property of

Perspective~ The classical definition is to Look Through or Look At. Or we
 could say The way one Perceives an Object or maybe the Visual Scope of
 something. The Artistic definition is defined a bit differently~

In Art the "Perspective" generally means a technique to capture the visual
aspects and draw attention to what we want to show, or a visual of what
we are trying to say. Typically with most mediums in art this begins on a
dimensional level. But we will get more into this a bit later.

For now, we are going to see just how we can arrange our subject(s) to
get across the feeling and/or message we are trying to portray.

My wonderful and amazingly talented friend Nancy has graciously offered
to show us some tips on how to get a wonderful subject to end
up being an extraordinary subject.

Nancy is the author of Spicie Foodie, as well as the cookbook
author of An Epiphany of the Senses. So please join me in welcoming
her once again to share her talents with us here...

Hi everyone, I'm Nancy. Before we begin I'd like to thank my lovely friend Alisha for inviting to participate in her new photography series. I hope you enjoy this tutorial and, if I do my job well, that you pick up a few new tips to improve your food photography.

Those of you familiar with my photography know that I use props minimally. I do not have a dedicated studio space nor storage area needed for excess amounts of props. Everything you see on Spicie Foodie is real food that I eat moments after the shot. I don't use oil to make foods shiny, no mashed potatoes disguised as ice cream, my salads and pastas are not "fluffed up" with styrofoam. The styling on my photos is all natural and I try to keep it simple.

Food styling is an integral part of being a food photographer. It doesn't matter if you are a pro or someone just looking to improve your blog's photography, styling is something you need to know. I promise it's much easier than you think and you don't need to have loads of props or equipment.

Learning a few styling basics can transform your photos from boring snapshots to interesting photographs that make the viewer want to reach in and grab a bite. There are literally hundreds of ways you can style food. Much has to do with personal tastes and individual perspectives. Some may focus heavily on props, others like myself, less so. There is no right or wrong way only your way and your style.

These photos were all shot using indirect window light and a small reflector to tone done the harsh shadows. The camera was propped up on a tripod, if your light source is minimal I suggest you also use a tripod. Let's begin with some biscuits on a table with no additional props and see how we can make them interesting.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

This is a bad photo. The problem is that I am zoomed in too close to the subject, so you can't really tell what it is. It is uninteresting and too busy with the viewers eye not really knowing what to focus on.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

In these two photos you can see that by rearranging the biscuits now the viewer has something more interesting to look at. Though much better than the first photo, both can be improved.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

When I'm photographing several items I've found that stacking can be quite interesting. Compare this to the photos above, better right? Did you notice how your eye follows the curvy path? Rather than perfectly aligning the biscuits and instead arranging them in this off pattern it made the image more interesting. Little details like this can mean so much, pay attention to them. The photo isn't bad but let's play with the styling a little more.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

Here you can see that adding an additional biscuit and moving it around gives the image a little extra something. Don't be afraid to shoot many photos, in fact shoot many photos. Keep playing with the arrangement until you find one that is interesting to you.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

Don't be afraid of showing a messy space. Sometimes a little mess can accentuate the feeling of wanting to grab a bite of the food. Think to yourself, what would this food look like if I was actually eating it right now? Eating biscuits is messy show those crumbs and bits and pieces.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

The previous shot was good, but we can add a little extra oomph with some color. Herbs, salad greens, flowers or plants can all add an interesting tone to your photographs. Here I've used a dried leaf to give the photo some color. You can experiment by moving the decorative prop around the subject. It is amazing how a simple extra ingredient or props can change an image from okay to a great photo.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

The green leaf above gave the image some oomph and extra pop with a complementing yet contrasting color. In this image I am showing you that even something of the same tonal range can add just as much oomph to an image. Additionally the wheat plant creates a curved pattern that draws the viewers eye from the left side, over the biscuit pile, and down to the crumbs. This is a good shot because it gives the viewer a couple of things to look at without overstimulating the eye.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

Another way of styling the biscuits is by simply adding a napkin or a piece of fabric under the stack. Again there is extra color and pattern to keep the viewers attention. Fabrics can be used in countless ways, practice and experiment to find what works for you.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

As I stated above, shoot many photos. Add, remove, and rearrange both subject and enhancing props. Also make sure you move yourself and the camera around to yield different results.

styling; food photography; food styling; tutorial; Spicie Foodie; guest post; The Ardent Epicure

In this last photo you can compare the results. You can clearly see that while there is nothing wrong with the photo on the left adding a little styling creates a more interesting photograph.

This tutorial is but one of the countless ways these biscuits could have been styled. They could have been placed inside a box, bowl, or in a bag. They could have a glass of milk alongside them. Extra color could have been added with some fruit. They could have been shot on a different surface, from a different angle and with different lighting. The possibilities are truly endless. While you can use this tutorial as a guide it is also important to develop your own style. All you need is practice and before you know styling will become second nature to you. Thank you and I hope you enjoyed the tutorial.

Thank you so much Nancy for joining us here and kick starting this series
off so beautifully! For more photography tutorials you can check out
Nancy's site here, or purchase some of here lovely photos here.  

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Pear, Plum, Citrus and Red Onion Salad

It is now officially spring here in the Norther Hemisphere , regardless
 of the weather. So I say a bright sunshiny salad is in order...

You see, there was a Farmers' Market excursion last weekend. And during 
this excursion, I had my partner in crime along with me. My friend Priscilla
of  She's Cookin' and I were forging our way through the local organic
produce at SoCo Farmers Market

And what did I spy amongst the extensive selection of delights? 
These bright and lovely beauties are Manderinquats, a hybrid of the
 mandarin and the kumquat. With a sweeter rind than the kumquat,
and a bright juicy, slightly tart flesh. Delicious!

I have made a citrus based salad with red onion on a number of occasion, 
and it is always a favorite. But this time I decided to expand on that salad
a bit, by adding a few other tasty fruit choices.

I had some other goodies on hand, fresh organic Bosc Pears, a few plums
and some Blood Oranges. Then I dressed it very simply with a bit of
orange juice, agave and grapeseed oil.

What you will need:
For the salad
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 pears, thinly sliced
2 medium blood oranges, thinly sliced 
3-4 plums, thinly sliced 
3-4 manderinquats, sliced lengthwise and seeded
2 ounces micro greens
2 ounces pea shoots

For the dressing
4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons grapeseed, or other light oil
1 teaspoon agave, or honey
A bit of finely ground white or black pepper

Let's get cooking: 
For the salad
OK, so there is no cooking involved, but some slicing and
whisking will be in order. The ingredients can be sliced any
way you see fit, but I recommend that you keep a consistent
slice throughout. This will insure that each bite has 
maximum flavor and textural appeal. 

Layer the greens onto individual plates, then layer on the onions.
Continue to layer the fruits on top as desired.

For the dressing
Add all ingredients into a small bowl, whisking briskly to combine.
Note: you can make more dressing if desired.
Serves 4

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Jalapeño Poppers 5 Star Junk Food with
 Mango and Grapefruit Salsa Crème

It is time once again for our 5 Star Makeover group to post the
months challenge theme or ingredients. And March's
challenge theme is Junk Food. The task was to incorporate
junk food into our dishes...and so we did.

As always the 5 Star Makeovers are hosted by the ever lovely
and talented Natasha of 5 Star Foodie, and the incomparable
Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks

Junk Food...As per Bing online dictionary = food lacking nutritional balance:
 food that does not form part of a well-balanced diet, especially highly processed,
 high-fat snack items eaten in place of or in addition to regular meals.

Now as for our Wheat Thins, they really do not run off to badly, as far as
junk food is concerned. But our, so yummy, Easy Cheese, well lets just
say it is fully qualified to fit the bill. Although the second ingredient is
indeed cheese, the rest run off like a "Who's who" of the
 processed food world.

Have you ever seen red jalapeños? They are the result of allowing the
ripened green jalapeños to mature further while still on the vine. The
result is a slightly sweeter pepper. The seeds, the portion that contains
the majority of the heat, are hotter in the more mature versions.

I decided that a nice cooling salsa would be a perfect accompaniment
 to out rather heated little stuffed peppers. So I went light on the heat
in this area, just enough to give it that salsa like flavor.

The salsa has an added touch of refreshing coolness with the addition
 of some Crème fraîche and Lime. Then we pulsed that baby
up to get a smooth and creamy sauce.

We are adding just a hint of additional flavor with some black cardamom,
cumin and black pepper.

Our traditional bread crumbs are being replaced with, you guessed it,
crushed Wheat Thins. Since they have always been the cracker of
choice whenever we indulge in this creamy cheesy treat, I
decided to keep them together here.

What you will need:
For the poppers
8 medium jalapeños

3 ounces Easy Cheese
½ cup Mexican cheese blend, grated
1 pod black cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 jumbo egg, beaten
2 tablespoons cream or milk
1 cup Wheat Thins, crushed
1/2 garbanzo flour, or other flour

For the salsa crème

Small handful of cilantro, leaves and stems
1 mango, peeled and diced
4 grapefruit sections, chopped
1 teaspoon jalapeño, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons white wine or juice of choice
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons Crème fraîche

Emulsion blender or small food processor
Mortar and pestle
Parchment paper
Baking sheet

Let's get cooking:
For the poppers
Take your cleaned peppers and slit lengthwise down the center, careful
to not slice in half, we are leaving them whole. Not cut a small cross at
the top just below the stem area. Wearing gloves, remove seeds and stems
from the peppers, if you want a bit more heat you can leave a few.

Once you have your peppers prepped, lay out your grated cheese and
spread long stripped of the Easy Cheese onto the top in sections like
in the photos above. Note: I found this much easier then trying to mix
 the cheeses together. Stuff each pepper with the cheese mix and set aside.

Now grind your Wheat Thins until they are fine like bread crumbs,
add your black cardamon, pepper and cumin mixing well,
place on a plate. Place your flower on another plate, then
whisk your eggs and cream then place in a bowl.

Dredge your stuffed peppers through the egg mixture, then the
flour, repeat. Then dredge threw the Wheat Thin crumbs.
Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Bake in a 350 (F) degree oven rot 30 -35 minutes or
until the cheese begins to bubble out of the peppers.

For the salsa crème
Note: you can make the salsa portion ahead of time
adding the Crème fraîche just before serving.

Prepare your mango, grapefruit, shallot and peppers by
chopping them into small bits. Add all remaining ingredients
along with  these into a mixing bowl. Using your emulsion blender
blend until completed smooth, add the crème fraîche, continuing 
to pulse until smooth and fully incorporated.
Serves 4

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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11:07 PM

What's for breakfast? California Scramble with Toast

Posted by Magic of Spice

California Scramble with Toast

Who likes breakfast?
Well really this could be a light meal for any time of day, but since
we had it for breakfast... let's call it breakfast :)

Scrambled eggs are a classic and quite often considered a comfort food.
There are two primary ways I like to prepare them and one being the more typical
American version, while the other is the classic French style.

For this recipe we are going to combine the two techniques giving us a fluffier
 scramble than the French style, while maintaining its soft creamy texture.

The American style utilizes a technique of briskly whisking the eggs to incorporate
air into them. Usually adding the cream along with the eggs, prior to whisking.
Then they are cooked relativity quickly over a medium to high heat in a frying pan,
or similar type of pan. This method if done correctly will produce a fluffy,
 yet drier finished product.

The French method does not utilize the "air incorporation" technique, but rather
a more gentler agitation of the egg yolks. The cream is added at a later point
while the eggs have nearly completed cooking. The milk, along with additional
butter, are added cold into the hot eggs and allowed to complete the cooking
process without the addition of further heat. This method  commonly makes
use of a double boiler rather than a frying pan, on a very low heat.

The soft eggs that we are going to prepare, work beautifully with
a lovely crusty grain bread. Or what ever your favorite might be,
but I do recommend a crusty bread as the texture pairs
wonderfully with these soft creamy eggs.

And of course we want to load up on the fresh organic veggies...
You may remember from the last post that I have quite a bit of endive
to put to use. And joining them are these delightful crimini Mushrooms
and some colorful sweet bell peppers.

For our herb and spice selection we have a few goodies as well.
The herbs are a garden selection of sage, savory and thyme.

For our spices we have Himalayan Pink Rock Salt, Tellicherry Pepper
 Corns, and a sweet addition with the Raw Rock Sugar. But of
course any salt, pepper and sugar you have on hand will work as well.

Then we are going to top it all off with some Sheep's milk feta, fresh
ripe avocado and some lovely vine ripened tomatoes. And
to add just a bit of a kick we are serving these breakfast
 toasts with a favorite salsa.

What you will need:
For the vegetable sauté
1-2 tablespoons avocado oil
(or other oil)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, shopped
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
(then halved)
1 large sweet bell pepper, chopped
2 endive, chopped and core removed
1 tablespoon raw sugar, ground
1/4 cup white wine or vegetable broth
2 sprigs thyme leaves
1-2 sprigs savory leaves, chopped
3-4 large sage leaves, chopped

For the scrambled eggs
2-3 tablespoons cold butter, halved
8 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pepper, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt, ground
1/4 cup cold half and half or heavy cream

In addition
Feta cheese, crumbled
1 ripe avocado, sliced
4 small vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
8 slices crusty bread

Large mixing bowl, room temperature
Large whisk
Large sauté pan
Wooden or rubber spatula

Let's get cooking:
For the vegetable sauté 

Start by heating the oil in your sauté pan on a medium/high heat, until hot.
 Add shallots and garlic, until shallots are just translucent and garlic is slightly crisped.
 Then add mushrooms and peppers, until mushrooms have sweated
 a bit and peppers are slightly tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Now add sugar and continue to cook while stirring for just a few moments,
or until you see the edges of your vegetables to be just a bit caramelized.
Add wine and herbs then reduce heat to medium, continue to simmer until
liquid had evaporated, about 5 minutes or so. Set aside.

For the scrambled eggs
Add eggs, salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl and whisk
very briskly for several minutes until you begin to see foam
 on the top of your eggs.

In your cleaned sauté pan, add 1/2 of the butter over a low heat,
until butter has melted. Add eggs maintaining the love heat, while
constantly scrapping the bottom and sides of the pan. Do not
leave them on the flame without keeping them in continuous motion.

If the eggs are starting to congeal too quickly, remove from heat
for a moment or two, then return to heat. Do this as often as needed
to maintain a slow cooking process. Depending on the size of your pan,
this should take 10 minutes or more.

Once the eggs are congealed but still a bit wet, add remaining butter
while maintaining your low heat. Fold the butter gently into the eggs
until melted. Now add your cream and fold into the eggs, remove from
heat and fold in your vegetables.

Divide into 8 portions and scoop onto prepared toast, layer on top
with feta, avocado and sliced tomatoes. Serve with salsa.

Serves 4

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Alisha~Magic of Spice

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