As you guys know, I aim to keep it real around here. I try to share my failures and frustrations alongside my joys, successes and good hair days. Shooting this recipe for the blog last week was a MASSIVE frustration.
We’re talking: I’ve-been-working-on-this-for-hours-and-it-still-looks-like-hot-garbage level frustration.
This-was-one-of-my-worst-ideas-ever level frustration.
Why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-be-a-photographer-anyway? level frustration.
This exercise in humility started with me wanting to share this dish I made for my Paris workshop. It is a crazy-good salad. A super-easy, healthy, not-to-be-missed sort of salad. I realized I would be letting you down not to share its deliciousness with you.
And I knew I wanted to try something different when it came to shooting it. Lately I’ve been trying to develop a distinct photography aesthetic: tons of color, hard light, long shadows and minimal styling. The sort of image that looks like it was shot poolside in the French Riviera in 1966. (Oddly specific, I know, but thus are the workings of my brain.)
Because I live in Seattle (which, for all those unfamiliar with this fine city, has no relation whatsoever to the French Riviera), shooting in this style means getting better at using artificial light. I researched for about a gazillion years and then bought myself a fancy speedlight. I read and practiced and watched online tutorials late into the night until my retinas were practically scorched. I was confident I had the basics down.
Then when I set my equipment up and started shooting, everything that came out of my camera looked awful. Overexposed. Underexposed. Weird white balance. Strangely greasy looking. It was a complete mess.
After multiple hours of trying to coax the shot I’d imagined out of my camera, I was on the verge of tears. (Ok, a few actual tears were shed.) I was contemplating packing up my gear when Beau reminded me of one of my favorite sort-of-joking-but-not-really mantras: “Sometimes the only way out is through.”
To be clear, this is the motto of the doggedly hard-headed (oh, hello!) and not always the sanest of advice. On this particular afternoon, it was just what I needed to hear. I decided I was going to keep going until I created something--anything--I liked. I stopped worrying about pinning down the “perfect image”. Which allowed me to approach the shoot as an experiment. I just tried one thing after another to see what the result would be.
Once I let go of what I thought “should” work, things started to come together. In less than an hour, I had a composition and lighting I liked.
I’m not going to lie, there’s a piece of me that doesn’t want to share this story. That part of me wants to post these images, slap up the recipe, wave my hands and pretend it was all easy-peasy and took no time at all. But I know how much I appreciate seeing the creative process of other photographers and artists. And how much a glimpse of the foibles, quirks and insecurities of others reminds me that we’re all imperfectly human and fumbling forward through life the best we can.
Herby Lentil Salad with Smoked Mackerel and Soft Boiled Eggs
- 1 ½ cups (315g) dried black or green lentils (I used black beluga lentils)
- Sea salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
- ¼ cup (60ml) red wine vinegar, divided
- 6 large eggs
- 1 medium shallot, minced (to yield about ¼ cup)
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) good quality Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (15g) parsley leaves
- ⅓ cup (10g) tarragon leaves
- ⅓ cup (10g) picked dill fronds
- 6 oz. (170g) smoked mackerel (smoked trout works well, too), torn or flaked into 1-inch (2 ½ cm) pieces
*Notes: I use a variation of this steaming method for my eggs. It has several advantages over boiling: 1) It’s faster. 2) The temperature inside the pot doesn’t go down significantly when you’re cooking a bunch of eggs, so the results are consistent. 3) Eggs peel much more easily when steamed (even super fresh ones!).
- I used Trader Joe’s smoked peppered mackerel in this recipe and it was delicious. I don’t even really like mackerel that much. But this stuff is great. In Paris, I buy the house brand of peppered smoked Mackerel an Monoprix.
- The lentils and soft boiled eggs can be cooked 1-2 days in advance of assembling the salad. Toss the lentils with 1 tablespoon of vinegar while still warm then cover and refrigerate. The eggs can be peeled and stored whole in an airtight container in the fridge.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Salt the water until it tastes just a tiny bit briny. You want to taste that salt is present, but you don't want the water to taste super salty. Add the bay leaf and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer until the lentils are just tender. This should take between 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of your lentils. Check them often in the last few minutes of cooking and make sure not to cook them until they are mush or falling apart.Drain the lentils in a sieve and run a little cold water over them to cool them slightly. Place the drained lentils in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the eggs. Place ½ inch of water in a medium saucepan and place it over high heat. When it comes to the boil, add the eggs. Cover and cook for 6-7 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Six minutes yields eggs that are barely set in the center and runny in the middle. Seven minutes yields eggs that have more of a gel set. (I think 6 ½ minutes yields a perfect egg.) Immediately drain the hot water from the eggs and place the pot with the eggs under cold running water for about 3 minutes, then leave the eggs in the cold water to finish cooling. I prefer this to an ice bath because I don’t like my soft-boiled eggs ice cold. You can use an ice bath if you like. Crack the eggs all over on a countertop then peel the eggs under cold running water and set aside.
To make the vinaigrette, place the minced shallot, a generous pinch of salt, about ½ teaspoon of black pepper, the mustard and the remaining 3 tablespoons vinegar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To assemble the salad, roughly tear about ¾ of the herbs and add to the bowl with the lentils. Toss the with the vinaigrette. Transfer the dressed lentils to a serving platter. Arrange the trout over the lentils. Halve the eggs lengthwise, arrange them over the salad then lightly salt the yolks. Sprinkle the rest of the herbs over the salad just before serving.
Makes 4 main-course servings.
I hope you’re enjoying the start of spring. This might be my favorite season in the kitchen. I love all the delicate flavors the season bring us: The faint nuttiness of fresh asparagus. Spicy-sweet wild strawberries no bigger than the tip of your pinky. Tender morels, smelling of the forest floor.
The shortness of the season renders these spring delicacies all the more appealing. Here and gone in a few short weeks, their ephemeral nature makes rhubarb and pea greens much sexier than their heartier cousins, apples and kale.
We’re still in no-man’s land when it comes to produce--winter fruit and veg is starting to feel boring and heavy, but all the treasures of springtime have yet to make an appearance at the market. But I couldn’t help jumping the gun just a bit with this recipe. I decided we needed a breath of spring air in the kitchen and splurged on a pound of fresh peas from California (produce nirvana) to make this frittata.
I had some of the Sunshine Dust my friend Sherrie sent me hanging around, so I whisked that into my eggs to make this frittata extra healthy. The spicy mix of turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and peppercorn brightened up the whole affair and gave it a little more zing.
Now, I’m on something of a frittata kick. It's a cinch to throw together and happily accommodates almost anything you have knocking around in the fridge, making it an ideal weeknight supper. Throw in some of the beautiful spring produce headed our way and it will be the star of your Sunday brunch.
Happy Weekend and XO!
Turmeric Frittata with Peas, Shrimp and Fresh Herbs
- 6 large eggs
- Sea salt, to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoons Sunshine Dust (or ½ teaspoon each of ground turmeric, ginger and black pepper)
- ¼ teaspoon ground pink peppercorn
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 scallions, white and green part, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 cup shelled English peas (from about 1 lb. unshelled peas)
- ½ pound medium or large shrimp, shelled
- ¼ cup roughly chopped basil, tarragon and mint, plus extra to serve
- 4 oz goat cheese, crumbled (I like to use a semi-aged goat cheese like Bûcherondin or Caña de Cabra)
*Notes: This frittata recipe is super flexible. Make a vegetarian version without the shrimp. Try it with or without the turmeric, with different herbs, veg or cheese. The variations are pretty much endless!
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with a generous pinch of salt, the Sunshine Dust and the pink peppercorn. Set aside.
Preheat your broiler. Place an 8- to 10-inch nonstick, cast iron or carbon steel sauté pan over medium heat. Add one tablespoon of the butter. When melted and sizzling, add the scallion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes more.
Add the reserved tablespoon of butter. When melted, add the shrimp, herbs and another pinch of salt. Cook for 30 seconds, then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook for 3 minutes (to form a crust on the outside of the frittata) then turn the heat to low, cover and cook until almost set around the edges, but still a bit runny in the center, 8-12 minutes more.
To finish, place the frittata under the broiler and cook until the top is puffed slightly and the cheese just turns golden brown. Rest for a few minutes before garnishing with reserved fresh herbs and serving. Can be served warm or room temperature.
Makes 3-4 servings.
Hello from Paris!
I hope you had a beautiful Christmas. I was a bit under the weather/jet-lagged, so Beau and I had a pretty mellow holiday: a walk over to Notre Dame to hear the Christmas bells toll, a leisurely stroll through the Luxembourg gardens with a stop for coffee at the Café de Flore. A seafood extravaganza for two and early to bed. We didn’t even pop the bottle of champagne we bought!
But I’m planning to make up for our rather subdued Christmas celebration in a few days. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place to ring in the new year than the city of light. Beau and I have a table booked at one of our favorite restaurants. There will be oysters. There will be champagne. There will be all manner of other deliciousness and then there will be heading out into the chill to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the city.
But before all that, let’s talk about your New Year’s Eve dinner.
If I were home, I’d be fixing this Salt-Roasted Beef with Lemon-Hazelnut Pesto, Pears and Celery Root. My friend Kyle and I served this at the pop-up dinner we hosted earlier this month. This beauty is Kyle’s invention. How he comes up with such creative dishes, I have no idea. Also, it takes him about two seconds to whip up an entire menu. Without cracking a cookbook. While I am jealous, I am also thrilled to be the beneficiary of his chef-brain. And even more thrilled that I got to eat this dish three times in one month: once while we were testing it, once at the dinner and again when I shot it for the blog with my friend Carrie.
This roast sits at the intersection of easy and impressive. Exactly what you want on a holiday where you should be sipping champagne with your guests instead of sweating away in the kitchen. The salt crust seasons the meat while sealing in all the delicious juices. The roasted pears and celery root are a meltingly soft, subtly sweet base for the beef--far sexier than mashed potatoes. And the bright, herby pesto makes it all sing. Plus, how often do you get to smash open your meal with a hammer? Very exciting stuff.
However you decide to ring in 2017, I hope it brings you joy. Thank you for following along here and for all your kind comments and emails over the past year. You make this adventure I’m on so much more fun!
With much love,
Salt-Roasted Beef with Lemon-Hazelnut Pesto, Pears and Celery Root
- 2-3 lb boneless cross-rib roast (also known as a flat iron roast)
- 6 cups kosher salt
- 3 egg whites
- ½ cup cold water
- Freshly-grated black pepper
- 1 recipe Lemon-Hazelnut Pesto (below)
- 1 recipe Roasted Pears and Celery Root (below)
- ½ cup hazelnuts
- ¼ cup mint, gently packed
- ¼ cup parsley, gently packed
- ¼ cup cilantro, gently packed
- 2 tablespoons dill
- 1 preserved lemon
- ¼ cup minced shallot (about 1 large)
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup hazelnut or olive oil
Pears and Celery Root
- 2 slightly underripe pears
- 1 large celery root
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
*Notes: My wonderful neighborhood butcher turned me onto the boneless cross-rib (or flat iron) roast called for in this recipe. I love this cut because it’s flavorful and a great value when you’re feeding a crowd. It does have more connective tissue and marbling in it than some other cuts (sort of like a prime rib roast). If that’s not your thing, you might want to consider a different cut of beef. They’re considerably more expensive, but a tenderloin roast or strip roast never disappoint.
- If you roast or grill a larger cut of meat even once a year, I recommend you purchase a corded meat thermometer like this one. You stick the probe in the middle of your roast, while the display sits on the countertop by your oven. Set the desired temperature and it will beep when your meat is ready. No opening the oven door and letting out the precious heat. No guessing as to when your roast will be the exact doneness you like. A corded thermometer will take your roast game to a whole new level.
Remove the beef from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it so it can warm up slightly.
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until the nuts turn golden-brown and fragrant, 8-12 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, roughly chop the nuts or crush them with the side of a chef’s knife or with a mortar and pestle (no need to peel). Place the nuts in a medium bowl. Roughly chop the herbs and add them to the bowl. Cut the preserved lemon into quarters and scoop out the flesh and toss or reserve for another use. Finely dice the peel and add it to the bowl. Add the minced shallot, lemon zest and juice, salt and olive oil and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Set aside to let the flavors come together.
To prepare the beef, mix the salt, egg whites and water in a large bowl until the salt is evenly moistened. Place a thin layer of the salt mixture just wider than your beef roast on a rimmed sheet pan. Place the beef on top of this layer and generously sprinkle with black pepper. Use the rest of the salt mixture to cover the roast, pressing to seal the beef in. Place in the oven and roast to desired doneness: 120°F for rare, 125°F for medium rare, 130°F for medium. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest, without breaking open the salt crust. (Don't worry if the crust has a few cracks in it when it comes out of the oven; that's fine.) Rest the beef for at least 15 minutes before you crack open the crust and slice it.
While the beef is roasting, prepare the pears and celery root. Remove the skin and any roots from the celery root and slice into ⅓-inch thick pieces. Core the pears and slice into ⅓-inch thick pieces. Place the pears and celery root on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and toss with olive oil to coat. When the roast is about 10 degrees under the desired doneness, place the pears and celery root in the oven. When you remove the beef, increase the oven temperature to 475°F and roast until the pears and celery root are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, 30-35 minutes.
When the pears and celery root are done, crack open the salt crust on the beef using a rolling pin, meat mallet or hammer. Brush the salt off the beef and slice. Transfer the roasted pears and celery root and the beef to a serving platter. Spoon some of the pesto over the beef and serve immediately, passing the rest of the pesto alongside.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Recipe by Kyle Wisner