Friday, May 17, 2013

Salami Pasta

This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe for small pasta with salami, which I first saw on her show, Nigella Kitchen. I love watching her cook because she clearly takes so much pleasure in preparing and eating everything that she makes. She also doesn't seem overly concerned with whether or not something is authentic or fancy - just whether or not it tastes good. That's just my style!

I was excited to try this recipe because it looked easy and tasty. It's also a nice way to use up sliced salami, which we often have on hand and sometimes end up tossing because it sits around too long. I love the addition of the beans in this recipe too. I never would have thought to add them, but they taste great with the salami and they add great texture and protein to the dish. While the dish takes a bit of time to cook because I like leaving the sauce to simmer for a while (though you don't necessarily need to simmer it as long if you don't want to), the dish is very simple to throw together. This one's a definite keeper!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Breaded Goat Cheese Bites

I am kind of obsessed with cheese. I can have a seriously appalling amount of cheese in one sitting. Sometimes, good old cheddar just won't do and I want something even more indulgent. Enter goat cheese. And sometimes just goat cheese isn't enough, so I bread it and fry it. Oh, yeah.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

I have been watching a lot of British chefs on the Food Network lately. Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have kind of taken over my TV. I love cooking shows, but they are even better when the hosts speak in lovely British accents (though I have to say it is really weird not hearing Gordon Ramsay drop a dozen f-bombs every half hour - his cookery course show is much cleaner than his others!). If you need me, I'll be practicing British cooking terms - like "spring onions" and "double cream" - in a terrible accent.

This cauliflower mac and cheese was inspired by Jamie Oliver's version from his cookbook Meals in Minutes. I kept wanting to make his version but forgetting to get crème fraîche and pancetta at the grocery store, so I just put together my own. I realize that this isn't technically mac and cheese, since I used fusilli and not macaroni, but if you're a stickler for that stuff, just sub in the elbow macaroni and you'll be good to go.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Food Photography Tips and Tricks: A Link Roundup

I am super excited because I bought myself a new toy a few days ago - a new DSLR camera! I have been using a point and shoot to take pictures for the blog, and recently have made an effort to learn more about photography and to improve the pictures that I take for the blog, and in reading about photography, I found it turning into a bit of a new passion. I think my pictures actually have improved quite a bit even in the last few months. I was finally able to get a few pictures on Tastespotting and Foodgawker recently, which was a personal goal of mine for a long time and which has brought a bit more traffic to the site.

One of the best resources I came across is the book Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin, the author of the blog Tartelette which has some of the most beautiful food photography I've seen. It's super straightforward, with tons of pictures to show what she is talking about. It's perfect for a beginner who is enthusiastic about taking better food photos. I've also been looking at lots of online resources, which I have linked to at the end of this post.

Anyway, after doing all of this reading, I realized there are things that I want to do with my photography that I simply couldn't do with my basic point and shoot. That's not to say point and shoot cameras are bad, of course, or that the pictures you take with them aren't good - you can take beautiful pictures with a point and shoot and terrible pictures with a DSLR. However, I wanted to be able to do more with my camera, but couldn't because of its basic settings. I was feeling quite restricted by what my camera was able to do.

For example, one major thing I love in photos is the lovely blurry backgrounds (or "bokeh," as I have learned it's called). My point and shoot can't really do that. I tried to fool it into doing that by using the food (macro) setting, which blurs the background a bit because the camera is being told to focus on what's right in front of it so it can't keep the background completely in focus as well as in the normal setting, but in my opinion it just doesn't look quite like it does when the picture is taken with a DSLR. Maybe a higher-end point and shoot could do it, but mine is pretty basic. I also wanted to be able to experiment with camera settings somewhat, but didn't even have a manual setting on my camera.

I spent some time thinking about whether I wanted to get a really good point and shoot, or if I wanted to take the plunge and buy a DSLR and put to use all of the reading I had been doing about apertures, ISO, depth of field, shutter speeds, and all of that good stuff. I decided I wanted to get a DSLR, so I spent a ton of time looking at them online. I finally found a good deal on a solid entry-level DSLR (a Canon EOS Rebel T2i) and snagged it. I'm so excited to take a ton of pictures with it. We'll be taking a vacation to the west coast in a couple of months so it will be nice to bring it along and take non-food pictures as well.

Anyway, since I have photography on the brain, I thought I'd share some of the most useful online photography resources I have come across over the last few months. (And again, I would highly recommend Plate to Pixel, though it's not as easy to access as just clicking a link - but it's worth it!) Many of these are specific to food photography (including discussions of styling and composition), but there are also general photography resources geared towards beginners. These can be found either on my Resources page or pinned on my Pinterest photography board, so please feel free to check those out. I'll keep adding resources I find to those locations as I find them, so you may want to check back in the future as well. I hope they inspire you to improve your photos the way they have inspired me!

Food Photography Basics - Sally's Baking Addiction

Food Photography Basics - The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Food Photography Props on a Budget - Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach

Food Photography Tips - Bella Eats

Food Photography Tips for Food Blogs and Food Bloggers, Written by a Professional Food Photographer - Food Photography Blog

Food Styling Q and A with Tami Hardeman - Gourmande in the Kitchen

The Language of Food Photography: The Principles of Design - Gourmande in the Kitchen

My Take on Food Styling and Photography: a comprehensive overview of photography, styling and composition basics - 6 Bittersweets

Photography 101: a series of posts, including some that are geared to those with point and shoot cameras - Kitchen Wench

Photography Tips, Tricks and Tutorials - Taylor Takes a Taste

A Quick Guide to Understanding your Digital SLR Camera - Kevin and Amanda

Styling Pro's Secrets to Gorgeous Food Photos - Will Write for Food

When Good Food Looks Bad: A Styling Post - Running with Tweezers

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spicy Italian Sausage Penne

Back-to-back pasta recipes on the blog this week! But I can't help it. I love pasta. It's so easy and versatile (and not to mention delicious). I have a couple of go-to pasta recipes (including my spaghetti alla puttanesca, which I can almost make in my sleep) but I also really like trying something new, or putting a new spin on an old favourite.

I use Italian sausages with pasta quite often, but I don't do anything particularly fancy or complicated with them. Usually I just break them up while frying them and then toss them in tomato sauce, often with artichoke hearts. I then saw Jamie Oliver's recipe for "Pregnant Jools's Pasta" in his cookbook Meals in Minutes, which is a different approach to sausage pasta than my usual. He puts the sausages through the food processor before frying it up, which gives the sausage a more silky texture, as opposed to the more rustic texture of my sausage pastas. He also makes the sauce with carrot, celery (which unfortunately I didn't have on hand) and diced tomatoes, which makes it taste fresh.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pulled Pork Pasta

We had a lot of pulled pork left over from making pulled pork sandwiches the other day. Instead of making more sandwiches, I thought we would try making some pulled pork pasta. I have to admit that the idea came from that Boston Pizza commercial where the guy eats their pulled pork penne and turns into a "foodie," which in the commercial, apparently isn't a good thing. Too bad for me, since I self-identify as one. The commercial actually drives me crazy (mostly because it gets played alllll the time) but the idea was interesting.

I was going to make some tomato sauce to mix with the pulled pork but didn't have time, so I just used jarred sauce. Since we had the leftover pork, all of the hard work was already done. This was super quick and easy, and pretty tasty. It's so simple that I kind of feel silly writing it out like you don't know how to boil pasta and heat some sauce, but I guess not everything I put on this blog is going to be complicated, so here it is in all its glory!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pan-Seared Salmon with Bacon Clam Chowder

This might sound kind of cheesy, Chef Michael Smith is kind of a culinary hero of mine. It was his show, Chef at Home, that I first started watching years ago that made me think that I could actually cook something decent if I tried (I didn't count boiling pasta and heating sauce from a can as "real" cooking back then). He really made cooking accessible for me, and I began to see that it was actually easier than I thought to put together great dishes.

Nowadays I also follow chefs like Jamie Oliver who seem to have a similar approach to home cooking. They have shown me that it's not necessary to obsessively follow recipes to make good food, but rather to learn the basic processes and the ingredients and then get a feel for how the dishes are made so that you can freestyle somewhat and personalize the dishes once you get comfortable with them. Some may say it's a casual approach to cooking, but I like to think of it as instinctive.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Coleslaw

I have been meaning to make pulled pork for ages. It's one of those recipes that I pin and bookmark every time I see it, but have never gotten around to trying. Well, I was watching Chef Michael's Kitchen the other day (love that show!), and lo and behold, he was making pulled pork sandwiches. The recipe was simple enough, and he was using a slow cooker, so I adapted his recipe and finally made us some yummy pulled pork.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chicken with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

I've been watching a ton of Food Network lately, which is good because I get a lot of new recipe ideas, but it's also bad because I see so much delicious food that I can't immediately eat. I have discovered so many great shows lately. Our PVR is really filling up, and I have gotten so many good ideas for dishes to try!

I was watching one show where they were making chicken with mushrooms in a cream sauce, and I pretty much thought about that dish for days. I never used to like mushrooms much, but I guess my palate has developed because now I really enjoy them. I finally decided to make it, so I adapted a recipe I found from the BBC, since I couldn't remember the show that I saw it on. I am so glad I finally tried it. It's going to be one of my regular dishes on the dinner circuit for sure!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baked Eggs in Avocado with Fresh Salsa

I'm usually not much of a breakfast person and most of the time I have something quick like cereal or Eggos. (Sometimes too many Eggos - blueberry ones - slathered in butter. It's a weakness of mine.)  Every once in a while though, I find a recipe that inspires me to do something fancier for breakfast.

That's what happened when I saw baked eggs with bacon in avocado on SteakNPotatoesKindaGurl. I love avocados so I couldn't wait to try them. I wanted to add some freshness to the dish, though, so I thought I would make it with some homemade salsa and without the bacon.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Baking Basics: A Link Roundup

I have always been much better at cooking than baking. I still remember how I used to ruin Pillsbury cookies. You know, the ones that you only need to scoop onto a baking sheet and put into the oven. Sad.

Over the last year or so, I've become a much better cook, but I think that part of my success is due to the fact that cooking is generally much more forgiving than baking. I can freestyle a recipe or substitute ingredients and the dish can still work out (most of the time).

Baking, on the other hand, is more like a chemistry experiment to me. (I should say that I was never particularly good at chemistry, though it probably didn't help that my chemistry labs in undergrad were at 8 in the morning. Nobody should make me play with chemicals at 8 in the morning.) Everything has to be so much more precise and there is a lot more room to ruin a recipe if you don't know exactly what you're doing.

While I have improved my baking skills enough that I can handle Pillsbury cookies now, and have ventured into the wonderful world of making sweet treats from scratch, I still have a lot to learn. I have been reading a lot of amazing food blogs and information sources from professional chefs online that have outlined a lot of great information that I didn't know. I figured there might be others out there who are novices and want to learn more, so I thought I'd start this link roundup feature of useful information that I come across.

While this particular roundup is about baking basics, I'm planning to share more links every once in a while on other cooking topics. I hope you find them helpful too!

Top 10 Tips for More Successful Baking. - The Kitchn

Think you know how to measure dry ingredients? I thought so too. (I was wrong.) - Sally's Baking Addiction

Learn how to bake muffins with high tops. (Now all I can picture is muffins with running shoes on.) - Sally's Baking Addiction

Check out these tips for making great cookies. Did you know the weather can matter? I didn't! - A Spicy Perspective

50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes. - Sweetapolita

Anna Olson's baking tips. - Food Network

Anne Burrell's Top 5 Tips for Baking Like a Pro. - Food Network

The World's Greatest Baking Tips from Dan Lepard. - The Guardian

Friday, March 08, 2013

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

I have been experimenting with changing up my go-to brownie recipe lately but haven't been totally happy with the results yet. (I'll definitely share the recipe when I get it right!) The upside of the culinary experimentation is that we have had a couple of batches of brownies to eat. Even if they aren't as spectacular as I imagined them, they are still brownies and I can't pass those up!

Still, I was craving something sweet, but not too sugary for a change. I couldn't stop thinking about the can of coconut milk I had in my cupboard and thinking I wanted to make a cold dessert with it. I have never made dessert with coconut milk before, but started thinking about what I could do and decided I wanted to try a rice pudding. I found a tasty-sounding recipe on Epicurious and adapted it. It yields 4 to 6 servings, depending on how big a portion you want. (I ended up with two small bowls and two medium bowls.) It is a bit rich, so you may want to keep the portions on the smaller side.

The rice pudding was delicious. It was rich and creamy even though I only used 2% milk, and it was sweet, but not overly so. The original recipe called for twice as much sugar, but I found even cutting the sugar in half that it was sweet enough for me. The hint of lime was a good balance for the richness of the coconut. The texture was great too - the rice was soft but not mushy, so the pudding still had substance to it. I would definitely make this again. It satisfied my craving perfectly!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Shrimp, Avocado and Tomato Pasta Salad

This shrimp, avocado and tomato pasta salad is a dish that I threw together the other day when I was trying to figure out what to do with the ripe avocado that we had sitting around. I wanted to try something new but didn't have anything particular in mind, so I used the avocados as a starting point and tried to figure out what would taste good with it. We had cooked shrimp in the freezer and a couple of pints of ripe grape tomatoes, so I decided to throw those ingredients together into a quick pasta salad.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Crispy Cheese and Dill Quinoa Balls with Spicy Mayo Dip

Holy SMOKES, guys, I'm in love with these things. This recipe for these quinoa balls was inspired by the ones I saw over at A Pretty Life. I was excited to find another way to prepare quinoa besides in a salad so I thought I'd try them, but I wanted to put my own spin on them. I thought that the version I planned in my head would be good, but I had no idea how delicious they would be.

The quinoa balls are tasty, but eating them with the spicy mayo is what takes them over the top. They are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and the dill pairs so nicely with the cheese. The spicy mayo adds a rich creaminess and some zip to them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have this bad habit of putting bananas that are past their prime into the freezer and just saying that one day I'll use them to make banana bread, rather than just tossing them. Or maybe that's a good habit, since that means I don't waste food if I can help it. However, I'm also notoriously lazy with actually getting around to making said banana bread, so I often end up with a bunch of frozen, sad-looking bananas sitting around in the freezer for ages.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Homemade Chicken Soup

My husband got sick recently, so I decided to make him some chicken soup from scratch. The canned stuff, while convenient, just isn't as good. Unfortunately, just after I decided to make the soup, I realized I didn't have any chicken with bones or any chicken stock on hand.

After some very unhelpful Googling about whether or not I could make a decent chicken soup from scratch using just chicken pieces without bones, I thought I would just roll the dice and give it a try. I did have a can of chicken noodle soup on standby, in case it didn't work.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blueberry Scones

I love blueberry scones. I used to buy them along with my morning coffee all the time, which got a little expensive. I never thought about making my own until I stumbled across a recipe for blueberry scones on Garnish with Lemon. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to try to make them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One-Year Blogiversary: Reflections and Lessons

The Captivating Life is one year old today! I actually didn't even realize that until late last night. I can barely remember my friends' birthdays half the time, let alone my blog's birthday. In light of the special occasion, I wanted to reflect a bit on where the blog came from, where it has gone in a year, and what I have learned.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tomato and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Hi everyone! Sorry (again) for being away for so long. Life with a baby has been more hectic than anticipated so I haven't had my act together enough to blog regularly like I had planned. I consider it a success to just get dinner on the table so I haven't taken much time to actually take pictures in the process.

I have missed blogging, though, and with spring coming soon (or so I keep telling myself) I am making grand plans for many new projects around the house and kitchen and am going to do my best to get back to blogging somewhat regularly to document it all.

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