This Blog is Moving!


Hey everyone, I am moving this blog to a new address!

The gist: I am continuing this blog at

In more detail:

  • I am tying this blog closer to my photography business and am retiring the name The Spice Train. The blog will continue on my photography business site
  • All The Spice Train content that I have published here in the past will remain here and you will continue to be able to access it here just as you did before.
  • If you are currently subscribed to The Spice Train you will automatically continue to receive updates of new posts from the new URL.
  • The new blog will focus mostly on photography and less on original recipes. I’ll still continue to post my own recipes every now and then but more often than that I’ll cook, photograph and then link to great recipes that I have discovered on other sites. In other words, the new space will become more of a curated collection of great recipes than a source of original recipes from me. There is an incredible wealth of outstanding recipes out there and I’ll post my own only if I truly feel that I have something new to contribute.

Head on over, the first post is up. See you there!

–nicole :)

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S’mores Mousse Tart with Crystallized Ginger Meringue

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: This tart has all the great features that s’mores have and none of the annoying ones, plus it’s subtly flavored with pumpkin spice and crystallized ginger.

S'mores Mousse Tart with Crystallized Ginger Meringue RecipeBuy 703

You can think of this as a fancy s’mores tart. Instead of gooey, uber–sweet marshmallow fluff it’s got a torched meringue whose flavor is enhanced by little pieces of crystallized ginger. The chocolate part is a creamy, bittersweet mousse instead of straight melted squares that get all over your fingers and the crust is a graham cracker crust, but not just any old graham cracker crust. Rather than crushing up the bland, store-bought crackers I used this delicious homemade graham cracker recipe and morphed it into a tart crust recipe. And it was surprisingly easy to do, too. I basically just left out the leavening agent (baking soda) and that was all that was needed.

Just like any graham cracker crust dough this one is too brittle to roll out and transfer into the tart pan, instead you need to press it in with your fingers. I flavored both the tart crust and the chocolate mousse with my favorite spice blend, pumpkin spice, but if you’re not into that (why not?) you can use cinnamon in the crust instead and leave the spice out of the mousse entirely. :) 

S'mores Mousse Tart with Crystallized Ginger Meringue
The crust for this tart is adapted from Martha Stewart.
Recipe type: Dessert
For the graham cracker crust:
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • ¼ cup wheat germ
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
For the chocolate filling:
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For the meringue topping:
  • 4 egg whites
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (make sure you have the individual pieces more or less separated and not in one large clump to make it easier to fold them into the meringue)
For the graham cracker crust:
  1. Whisk the flours, wheat germ, salt and pumpkin spice together in a bowl.
  2. Beat butter, sugar and honey for a few minutes until fluffy.
  3. Beat in the flour mix.
  4. Bring the dough together with your hands and flatten into a disc.
  5. Press the dough into a 9-inch greased tart pan, then place the pan in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Bake the tart crust until golden-brown (8–12 minutes).
  8. Let cool completely.
For the chocolate filling:
  1. Add chocolate and pumpkin spice to a bowl.
  2. Bring ¾ cup heavy cream to a boil, then pour over the chocolate/spice mix and let sit for a minute.
  3. Stir to combine cream and chocolate into a smooth mix. (If you end up with chocolate clumps, gently heat the mix over a pot of simmering water). Let cool.
  4. Whip 1 cup heavy cream with the sugar to stiff peaks.
  5. Fold the cream into the chocolate mix.
  6. Pour the mousse into the cold crust, spread out evenly with an offset spatula, then chill in the fridge for 1½ hours.
For the meringue topping:
  1. Beat the egg whites until they start to foam, then, with the mixer running, gradually add the granulated sugar until you get glossy peaks.
  2. Again with the mixer running, gradually add the powdered sugar.
  3. Fold in the crystallized ginger.
  4. Spread the topping onto the chocolate mousse tart and briefly burn with a torch.

Food Photography and Styling: What I really liked about this tart was the alternating layers of brown and white and to extend that color pattern to the rest of the photo I put the tart on a white cake stand and set it into a brown set. The slice I cut out of the tart was a mess so I couldn’t put that into the composition and instead I just put the dirty knife into the frame to complete the story. As usual I used my strobe and large softbox and lit the set from the left with a few flags to keep the background (which is my trusty wood tray) dark.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

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Turnip Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: This meal is easy, cheap, delicious and a great way to use up all the turnips that might be piling up in your vegetable garden.

Turnip Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and SageBuy 703

Turnip and potato are a wonderful combination. Usually I roast the two together and eat them with a goat cheese salad but I had already done that a bunch this turnip season and was looking for something new. And this dish is it. It’s a straight-forward potato gnocchi recipe but with pureed turnip mixed in. The strong flavor elevates the gnocchi from slightly bland to absolutely delicious and with a bit of browned butter and some chopped sage you have yourself an easy, cheap and yummy meal.

One thing you have to watch out for here is the moisture in the turnips, you don’t want that to clump up your dough so here’s what you can do: put the turnips into your potato ricer one by one after they’re cooked and peeled and just squeeze them enough to get rid of the water, it works surprisingly well. After that you can blend them up in your food processor and mix them into your dough. Enjoy!

Turnip Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
  • 2 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 1 pound turnips
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of fresh black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 sage leaves, chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Poke a few holes into the potatoes with a fork, then place potatoes and turnips on a baking sheet and roast until a knife goes through easily, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  3. Peel the potatoes and put them through a ricer into a bowl.
  4. Peel the turnips and put them in the ricer but don't try to push them through, just squeeze them enough to get the water out of them.
  5. Puree the turnips in a food processor, then mix in with the riced potatoes.
  6. Add egg, flour, salt and pepper to the bowl and distribute the ingredients evenly by stirring them around with a fork.
  7. Carefully knead the ingredients just enough to let them come together into a ball.
  8. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.
  9. Roll each piece into a ½-inch-thick rope.
  10. Cut the rope into 1-inch-long gnocchi. (If you like, lightly press and roll each gnocchi down the backside of a fork to create ridges).
  11. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  12. Add half of the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface (1 - 2 minutes).
  13. Spoon the gnocchi out and cook the remaining half in the same fashion.
  14. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook until it starts to brown.
  15. Add the sage and cook for a minute.
  16. Drizzle the butter over the gnocchi and serve.

Food Photography and Styling: Isn’t that spoon great? I got it a while ago from an antique store, it apparently used to be a mining spoon but I think it looks great as a sauce spoon in a food photo. It’s got a super-long handle (like 8 inches), which means that I can grab it easily and firmly without any worry that my finger tips will be in the frame…wonderful! The surface in this photo is the new metal trunk that I used for the chocolate tart in the last post and I think it almost looks like fabric in this photo. You think so too? Either way I like the look a lot.
As for the food styling I intentionally didn’t skim the foam off the butter to keep the liquid in the bowl of the spoon from looking just uniformly dark. Other than that I made sure to distribute the sage bits more or less evenly over all the gnocchi and arranged them in a nice, circular pattern that keeps the viewer’s eye circulating around in the frame.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

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Chinese Five-Spice Powder Chocolate Cream Cheese Tart

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: This tart is easy to make, tastes delicious and has a flavor profile that is new and unusual (in a good way). It’s a mix of a chocolate tart and a cheesecake but with a whole extra layer of flavors added by the Chinese five-spice powder.

Chinese Five-Spice Powder Chocolate Cream Cheese TartBuy 703

I had the idea for this tart after I made my Chinese five-spice chocolate truffles with crystallized ginger a little while ago. Five-spice powder is a blend of white pepper, fennel, star anise, cinnamon and clove and it’s an unusual ingredient for chocolate but works great with it. I initially wanted to make it a mousse tart but then I thought a bit of tang would go well with the flavor combination so I added cream cheese, which gave it a more cheesecake-like texture (but it’s definitely more a chocolate tart than a cheesecake). Overall the tart has a delicious and very multi-faceted flavor profile that I really like. It’s easy and straightforward to make with a simple chocolate–espresso tart crust that’s briefly pre-baked and then filled with a chocolate/cream cheese/sugar/egg and spice mix. Bon appetit! 

Chinese Five-Spice Powder Chocolate Cream Cheese Tart
This recipe is for a 9" round pie pan or a 14" by 4½" by 1" tart pan.
Recipe type: Dessert
For the crust:
  • ½ tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2½ tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • ¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
For the filling:
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 12 ounces cream cheese
  • 9 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 2 eggs
For the crust:
  1. Mix the vinegar and the milk. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, sugar and salt, then cut in the shortening and the butter with a pastry cutter.
  3. Pour the milk/vinegar into the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, then fit into the greased pan.
  7. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
For the filling:
  1. While the crust pre-bakes, shave a few chocolate curls (about 0.5 ounces) off of one of the bittersweet chocolate bars with a vegetable peeler. Set aside as garnish.
  2. Finely chop the rest of the bittersweet chocolate and melt in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Set aside.
  3. Beat cream cheese, sugar, cocoa powder and Chinese 5-spice powder in a bowl until smooth.
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the chocolate.
  5. Spoon the filling into the crust, fill it all the way up to the rim and smooth out with an offset spatula. Be sure to let the filling touch the crust all around.
  6. Bake the tart until the filling rises up about half an inch above the rim, about 30 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely.
  8. Chill in the fridge and sprinkle with chocolate curls before serving.

Food Photography and Styling: This surface is my newest prop, it’s an old metal trunk (I suppose it could have been a toolbox in its day) and I knew it was a winner as soon as I spotted it in an antique store last week. It has just the right texture, marbling and color to lend interest to a food photo and is at the same time subtle enough to not steal any attention away from the food. I’m sure you’re going to see a lot of it here in coming posts. The chocolate color of this tart worked perfectly with the surface and I shot it from overhead because that is in my opinion the best perspective for things with oblong shapes like this tart pan.

You can probably tell that I followed the rule of thirds very strictly with the center of the pan sitting on the left vertical line that divides the frame into thirds and the edge of the fabric running along the right dividing line. To make the composition look a little less rigid I sprinkled chocolate curls not only on the tart but also on the surface.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

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