Monday, August 20, 2012

Kitchen Prep and a Simple Summer Menu

It's not often that the actual counters of my kitchen make a public appearance. The light in my kitchen is particularly horrid, either with direct sunlight bursting full blast through a small window or no light at all (and I don't have a budget that can afford flash strobes for an artificial light set-up), and the counters of my kitchen are usually covered with a layer of caked-on chocolate or dirty dishes waiting to be wiped up in the chaos that pervades my life. But, thanks to some extreme coincidence and some miraculous cleaning from family and friends after July's wedding cake adventure, there happened to be a day when I was prepping for a small dinner party that (1) my counters were (relatively) clean and (mostly) chocolate-free, and (2) clouds drifted in front of the sun outside, letting diffuse light brighten up a corner of the kitchen without its usual uncontrollable intensity. So for once, that day, I got to cook with my camera beside me and capture the process rather than the end result, which is quite refreshing since usually, it's the opposite for me.

For this dinner, I didn't have any elaborate plans: it was a casual hangout on a Saturday night for a couple of friends who live a bit further away and who aren't in the area very often. (Then, a few more friends joined at the last minute--but the more, the merrier! :)) Basically, the menu was formed from whatever I managed to find inspiring at the market that morning:

a Summer Saturday Dinner

kalamata olive tapenade or tomato conserve
with toasted sweet baguette

nasturtium and granny's bonnet salad
with shaved radishes, mixed greens, and whole grain mustard and honey balsamic vinaigrette

red and gold beets
marinated in apricot-orange jam vinaigrette
with goat cheese and honey

blackened padrón peppers
with lemon zest and smoked Maldon salt

seafood paella
with mussels, shrimp, and spicy chicken sausage

Greek yogurt
with orange blossom strawberries, brown sugar shortbread crumble, and Tcho chocolate

Pine Ridge rosé
lemon and fresh mint fizz

I've been somewhat obsessed with beets lately, and the marinated beets and goat cheese that I made that night was a dish inspired by a recent visit to State Bird Provisions--an amazing up-and-coming restaurant in SF that serves small plates as you chat with the chefs working in the tiny kitchen. The tender beets are marinated in a sweet and tangy combination of apricot-orange jam (leftover from making this dessert) and a dash of vinegar and served with creamy goat cheese topped with dabs of mild honey.... so simple and divine. The olive tapenade that I made for the crostini appetizers was from David Tanis's book, with a quick squeeze of lemon juice thrown in for a wee bit more acidity than his original recipe calls for (but that I think makes the recipe even better!). The tapenade matures for a few hours in the fridge and is even better the second day, satisfyingly salty when I slathered it on top of leftover paella for lunch.

For greens, we had a colorful floral salad, all spicy with crunches of shaved radishes and whole grain mustard vinaigrette, and the spice theme continued through the blackened padrón peppers (lightly salted with some lemon smoked Maldon) and the spicy and saffron-y seafood paella, boasting a kick of smoky pimentón and tomato. For drinks, I broke into a Pine Ridge rosé that's been sitting in the back of my cupboard for a while since I thought that the dry pink would go well with the spice and seafood, but the real hit of the night as far as drinks went was the homemade lemon and fresh mint fizz. Inspired by my mint plants (which I've miraculously kept alive for over a year now), I mashed together mint leaves and lemon zest, threw them in sugar and water with whole lemons for a simple syrup, and added sparkling water to the syrup as needed for some awesome, brightly-flavored, home-grown soda.

Dessert was a completely unfussy affair, more of a plateful of the necessary tastes and textures to make up a subtle sweet ending to a simple summertime meal than a big bang at the end: fresh strawberries from the market lightly flavored with sugar and orange blossom, some buttery sweet and toothy crumble (made with hard red winter wheat for some oomph), thick and creamy and tart Greek yogurt, and a square of dark Tcho chocolate to round it off. Sometimes, easy is best. :)


  1. Wow, you certainly took good advantage of your clean counter... ;)

  2. I adore all the colour and vibrancy in this post ;)

  3. Mary@siftingfocus.comAugust 21, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    Stephanie, your photos are just lovely. I apologize if you have answered this question somewhere else on your blog but I could not find it. What camera and lenses do you use? The composition, lighting, and overall quality of your photos are beautiful. And, from what you served at your dinner party, it sounds and looks like a very tasty event all around.

  4. Melissa | Being a BearAugust 21, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    I can completely relate to your lighting problems. I've finally given up on running back and forth from kitchen to living room with my camera, an incredibly heavy hot pan, and a trivet. It's all "finished product" shots from here on out. :) Congrats on you brief moment of great light - the pictures turned out beautiful.

  5. really great photos!

  6. I loved this peek into your kitchen, Stephanie. Having been to my house, you know well how dark mine is, the light is something I struggle with every day. Seeing your counters reminds me of how mine used to look, when we first moved in, and I wish I had kept their light white brightness! This post is lovely and delicious, as always. The menu looks gorgeous.

  7. Gorgeous photos and styling.

  8. Thank you for the inspiration. These photos are beautiful.

  9. This post makes me want to cook. Just beautiful.

  10. Hi Mary! I use a Nikon dSLR and, for these photos, a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

  11. How gorgeous! I haven't been able to find uncooked beets at all since moving to Paris -- the French seem to have this obsession with pre-cooked, vacuum-packed beets (yes, even at the farmer's market!). Love the pop of colors from the edible flowers in the salad.


I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!