Eating my way around the world

Category: Appetizers

Food Styling 101 + A Recipe for Fromage Forte

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A week ago, I assisted my friend Laurel Ziemienski on a few video shoots she was food styling for Kenmore appliances. It was a lot of fun to be an assistant again: no pressure to perform, and my curiosity reignited by learning a few new tricks. Food styling is not the same as cooking for the most part: all the shoot really cares is that it looks pretty. So that French cut standing rib roast pictured above? Totally raw on the inside, blow-torched to perfection on the outside. And the bowls of pasta she food styled? Pam’d to perfection. Yes, Pam, the spray oil you cook with.

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Tweezers, and paint brushes are as integral to Laurel’s kit as a good set of cookware. As an assistant, my kit consisted only of a few things: my Shun 8″ chef’s knife, my Wusthof Santoku knife (so great for veggies), an apron, and oven mitts.
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We cooked on bunsen burners behind the scenes like mad scientists, whipping up flavourless aioli and ganache to get to set ASAP (remember, it just has to look good, and damn my aioli and ganache were on point aesthetics-wise). I made so much pasta dough because we needed a shot of dough from every angle and for a few takes, I felt like I should have applied to an Italian kitchen to work in after the shoot was over. And I did a lot of shopping for her while she had to remain on set.
All in all, I would probably assist again. It was fun to get out of my regular work routine and get busy with my hands; I love the meditativeness of preparing food.

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One week later, I had my friend’s daughter’s 1yr birthday party to attend, and I had asked the host if I should bring anything to share. A few days before the get together, I started to think about all of the cheese butts in my fridge. And you know exactly how this happens: you overbuy cheese like I do. I had at least 2lbs of cheese sitting idly in my fridge, just waiting to grow mold. At first I thought mac ‘n’ cheese, but the husband said I should bring something that’s dip-able and more party-app-like, so we naturally thought of Fromage Fort.

Fromage Fort is a fancy sounding way of coining ‘leftover cheese dip.’ And it’s brilliantly easy to make. You basically just take whatever cheese you have on hand, put it into your food processor with a little wine and garlic, and Voilà! You’ve got yourself an amazing cheese spread. If you do a little research on the internet, there are many versions of it- some say add butter, some add herbs, but it’s generally the same formula. The taste will change each time you make it when you use different cheeses: the more blue cheese you use, the more of a blue cheese spread it will become since blue can be ‘quite tasty’. That being said, try and use blue sparingly if you don’t want that particular flavour to overpower the whole thing.

Fromage Fort

-1lb mixed cheese. For this particular version, I used brie, camembert, an asiago/fontina mix, drunken goat, & gruyere. It’s best to grate the hard cheese so that it blends better. (Or you can be like me and slap your forehead after realizing you should have done so and spend a few extra minutes getting it to the right, spreadable consistency) ***If you only have hard cheeses, this is where a few pats of butter can come in handy to help the spread come to a better consistency***
-2 small cloves of garlic, smashed. If that’s too strong for you, just use 1
-1/2c white wine. I had Pinto Grigio on hand, but any dry thing will do
-a large pinch of parsley, roughly chopped

-Throw the cheese and garlic into the food processor (and butter if you need to). While it’s going, pour in the wine and blend until it’s the perfect consistency you like. I like it smooth, others like it a little crumbly.
-Add the parsley when it’s blended to your perfect consistency. You can either be lazy like me and throw it into the blender and pulse a few times, or you can make it more “food style-y” and mix finely minced parsley by hand into your spread until it looks perfect.
-I like to serve it with cut up baguette and crackers. It’s also really delicious spread of slices of baguette and broiled for a minute or two- it’s really up to you.

So here’s where the food styling influence came to the rescue for me: After I had made the spread, I started scooping it out into a dish, not really caring about aesthetics- it looked awful. So, I took a pastry bag and filled it with the cheese and piped the cheese into a serving dish instead. Obviously you don’t have to do this, but it did make the dip look much more appetizing. And aesthetics is as much a part of the appeal of eating food as is the taste.


The Great Salad Round Up

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I don’t know about you, but whenever a long weekend comes up, all of the recipe boards feature meat meat meat. In copious amounts of it, in almost obscene combinations and variations of it (ie: bacon & pork belly stuffed beef short rib pot pie, bacon popsicles, etc). What if you’re a vegetarian or vegan? What if you’re trying to be a bit more healthy and incorporate some green fiber into your life? What if you just don’t feel like eating meat because you want to rebel against all of the meatapalooza advertising that’s being bombarded your way? And since this is a pretty big bbq/pool party weekend in the US (4th of July), you’re most likely going to be asked to bring a dish to share to wherever you’re being invited to. I say be self-absorbed with this one- bring something you really want to eat; bring something you want to fill your plate with and not have very much room for all of that meat being passed around. Bring one of these salads:

  • I love this salad, it’s one of my favourites for summer. It’s the grated hard-boiled egg & saffron infused marcona almonds that just elevates something so simple into something extraordinary: Blue Kale Studio Salad
  • I love love love Za’atar. I discovered it on a meditation retreat in California years ago. It was a silent retreat, but you could leave messages for the teachers to ask questions about your experiences, etc. I left messages for the chef; this spice mixture was one of my discoveries: Chickpeas & Za’atar
  • This is the salad pictured above. Feel free to leave out the fennel as I did if you’re not into it. The dressing is awesome. I love how Heidi’s dressings are so much more than oil & vinegar: Kale Market Salad
  • A-Ha! This one features a grill so that you’re not the only one who misses out on the famed charcoal action that exemplifies a long weekend. The dressing is amaze: Grilled Romaine Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing
  • When you incorporate grains into your salad it gives it more heft, and makes it more of a “1-bowl-meal” sort of thing. Perfect if you’re trying to avoid all of that meat: Heather’s Farro Recipe
  • If you’re gluten-free, the quinoa in this salad will fill you up. It’s the dressing that gets me every time with this one. Love love love: Quinoa & Grilled Zucchini
  • I love the yoghurt dressing in this. I use farro instead of barley, I like the toothiness of the farro instead. It adds a nice counterbalance to all of the softer elements of the salad: California Barley Bowl
  • I love this jalapeno dressing. It eventually tempers a bit the longer it sits. If you like it spicey, make the dressing just before serving: Greeny Salad with Crispy Chickpeas
  • This makes A Lot, is super pretty, and has rosewater in it (such a great conversation starter….): Purple Power Salad
  • The humble lentil is put into the spotlight with this amazingly flavourful dressing. Double the dressing if you’re adding in a lot of chopped veggies to bulk out the salad (which will help you feed more people): The Best Lentil Salad
  • Everybody needs a coleslaw recipe. Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my cooking gods: Grilled Sweet Corn Slaw
  • The sweetness of the grilled pineapple is so delicious in this salad. Don’t worry if you can’t find watercress, I used arugula instead: Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad
  • I have doubled this salad before to help feed a lot of people. It’s a crowd pleaser for sure: Rainbow Chopped Salad
  • Ok, not exactly a salad, but is super pretty: Blue Cheese & Red Potato Tart
  • Jamie Oliver was one of my first influences in cooking. He had this show called ‘The Naked Chef’ years ago that I used to watch in my early 20s. His premise was to use as little ingredients as possible and to do almost everything by hand; he made it look so simple. And he was just a yr older than me, so he made cooking “cool”: Superfood Salad

I hope this little list will come in handy for you this summer. Happy 4th of July!

Farçou, Lemony Labneh, & Zucchini Fritters

zucchini fritters
I’m not really sure what compelled me to start a food blog. I seem to think I have endless amounts of time on my hands, and boundless energy to accomplish many things during the day. Blogs, you see, are living and breathing entities. You must feed the beast constantly for it to survive and grow, much like a tiny, little human; just like the tiny little human that consumes much of my time and energy.
But enough of my complaining. What started out as an idea for lunch inspired by Food52, zucchini pancakes, quickly turned into a portfolio of work. After devouring the little stacks with the kid (baby approved!), I thought to myself: what would be a *fun* dipping sauce for these other than the sour cream suggested?
Duh, labneh.
Double duh- lemony-labneh!
A quick search brought me to, you guessed it, Heidi’s blog where she instructs how to make the yoghurt cheese. It’s super simple: you just strain yogurt into a bowl for 24 – 48hrs. That’s it. Mix it with a little salt and lemon rind, and you are good to go.
Done & done.

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So that fixed my yoghurt and zucchini glut that had been taking up room in my refrigerator like unwelcome house guests. But what to do with the stacks of swiss chard I’m growing and not eating? If you can turn zucchini into pancakes, can you turn swiss chard into pancakes?
Turns out you can. It’s a south of France thing called farçou, and it’s apparently a beloved fried street food. I mean, who doesn’t like fried anything? And it turns out those little farçou are also delicious with the labneh. Totally not traditional, but totally fantastic. To make a meal out of it, and to serve it as the French do, pair them with a salad.


A few notes:
-I adapted Dori Greenspan’s recipe for farçou, which calls for 2 cups of milk. My first time making this I just dumped the milk into my food processor, *forgetting* about that little line on the side of the container that says “liquid limit”. The milk spewed out, but what I ended up with were thick, chewy pancakes. Happy accident.
The second time around, because these have now become a staple for me and the kid, I dutifully followed Greenspan’s 2 cup rule, adding the milk in as I combined the ingredients with the food processor going, much as you would do if you were making pesto and adding in the oil. This resulted in thinner, crispy pancakes. Equally delicious. This is a toma-Toh / to-Ma-to thing. I prefer the thicker, chewyer kind.
And I made these gluten free, but subbing in 1 – 1 oat flour for the wheat flour.
If you don’t have more-than-you-can-handle swiss chard lying around, these would be tasty with whatever greens you can find: spinach, kale, collards, etc. And use whatever herbs you can find. Traditionally this calls for parsley and chives, but I didn’t have any, so I used oregano and thyme. I also feel that a tablespoon of dijon would be fantastic in the batter.
And finally, farçou is apparently freezable in case you don’t eat all of them in one sitting. I have yet to master that sort of self-restraint.

-For the labneh, Heidi’s recipe says to strain the yoghurt for 24hrs. The first time around, I ended up straining mine for 48hrs because I forgot about it in the fridge and ended up with a wonderfully thick cheese that didn’t separate. The second time around I was a better student and only strained it for 24hrs. It was still thick and creamy, but I noticed it separated a bit the longer it was stored in the fridge. Totally didn’t affect the taste, but I think I’ll be straining mine for 2 days instead of 1 going forward. I call for a whole lemon’s rind because my motto on flavour is ‘Go Big or Go Home’, but if that’s too pungent for you, just use half a lemon.

-As for those zucchini pancakes that started this whole journey, I wouldn’t change a thing about the recipe except that it Must be doubled. Or tripled. Because they are f***ing great. I did omit the lemon from the original recipe and added it to the labneh instead. A pinch or three of cayenne would also be fantastic in these if you’re not serving them to 10mo old babies like me…..

Zucchini pancakes, adapated from Food52
-4c grated zucchini
-1c grated potato
-2 eggs
-A handful of either/or a mix of chopped parsley, thyme, oregano
-Couple pinches of whole-wheat breadcrumbs
-olive oil
-labneh to serve

-Preheat oven to 250F
-Grate the zucchini & potato into a colander, mix with a couple pinches of salt, and allow to drain for at least 30min. Releasing as much moisture as you can will result in crispier pancakes.
-Beat eggs with the herbs, some salt, and pepper.
-Transfer zucchini & potato to a dish cloth, roll it up, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Add them to the eggs and herbs; add the breadcrumbs. Stir everything to combine.
-Heat oil in a pan over med-high.
-Form pancakes by the spoonful, drop into the pan and cook until golden brown on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep war,.
-Serve slathered with labneh
-I can’t remember how many this made because the kid & I ate them before I could count them…… sorry…….

Labneh, adapted from 101cookbooks
-1c plain yoghurt. I used low-fat, but full-fat would probably be amazing.
-1/4tsp salt
-the rind of 1 lemon

-Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, set atop a larger bowl to catch the whey.
-In a separate bowl, stir the salt into the yoghurt, and transfer to the cheesecloth lined strainer. Place in the fridge for 24 – 48hrs.
-Transfer the labneh to a bowl, and discard the whey (unless you’re crafty and know what to do with it: see this article)
-Stir in the lemon rind, and proceed to slather everything you eat with this stuff.
-Makes about 1c, but the recipe easily doubles.

Farçou, adapted from Dori Greenspan
-1 to 1.5c whole milk (depending on how thick you want them)
-2.5c oat flour
-3 large eggs
-1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
-1 shallot, coarsely chopped
-2 garlic cloves, chopped in half, germ removed
-a handful of thyme, leaves removed
-a large handful of oregano, leaves removed
-salt & pepper
-10 swiss chard leaves, stems removed & discarded, coarsely chopped
-canola oil for frying

-Preheat the oven to 250F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and line a plate with paper towel.
-Put all ingredients except the milk and swiss chard into a food processor. Turn the processor on and pour the milk in to combine.
-Add the chard and process to combine. Don’t over process though, it’s nice to see flecks of green throughout the soup-y batter.
-Over med-high heat, pour 1/4″ to 1/2″ oil into a large fry pan.
-When the oil is hot, pour 1/4c batter into the fry pan for each pancake. Depending on how large your skillet is, you can get 3 to 4 pancakes in. Don’t overcrowd the skillet or else they won’t fry up nicely. Cook the pancakes until the underside is nicely browned, about 3 – 4min. Flip, and cook until golden brown. Transfer to the paper towel lined plate to drain, then transfer to the aluminum foil lined baking sheet to stay warm in the oven while you make the rest of the farçou. Add more oil to the pan as needed.
-Makes about 15.
-To store, I wrapped them individually in parchment paper and placed them in an air-tight container, refrigerated.