Fennel Garlic Olives

Olives marinated in garlic and fennel seed infused olive oil.

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Good friends of ours with excellent taste buds took us to a fantastic restaurant the other day that served us the best olives I had ever eaten. Naturally I tried to replicate the recipe and this is the result: olives marinated in garlic and fennel seed-infused olive oil. Delicious! My starting point was this Bon Appetit video and, following BA’s lead, I made my first batch with oranges, but I thought the orange flavor was in the way so I left them out in the final recipe and I liked that better.

This was the first time I used castelvetrano olives and I was blown away by how good they tasted. Until now they had always looked like poison to me with their Granny Smith color so I was surprised by how mild and pleasant they were. I added liguria and kalamata as well and my suggestion is to keep the kalamata to a minimum because too many of them will overpower the garlic and fennel in the oil. The whole recipe is easy to do and even though it takes a bit of (mostly passive) time it’s well worth it. :)

Fennel Garlic Olives
 
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Ingredients:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic
  • 2 cups brined olives (I used kalamata, castelvetrano and liguria)
Instructions:
  1. Add oil, garlic and fennel seeds to a sauce pan and heat until the seeds start to sizzle.
  2. Turn the heat down to low and cook until the garlic starts to brown (about 20 minutes).
  3. Turn the heat off, put on a lid and let the oil sit at room temperature for about 1 hour.
  4. Drain the olives from their liquids and put in a bowl.
  5. Pour the oil over the olives and let the mix sit for 3 hours at room temperature.
  6. Chill in the fridge overnight.

Food Photography and Styling: I find it very hard to photograph olives in a rustic setting so I went for smooth and elegant here. (No need to make life harder than it is). I used natural light from a south-facing window to the left of the set to light the olives and I liked the overall look of that. The “tablecloth” is a piece of linen fabric and I got the cute little bowl from a local shop recently, I thought it worked perfectly with the olives.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/4, 1/30 sec., ISO 400. Natural Light.

Honey Soy Wings

Honey Soy Wings

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

These mouthwatering chicken wings come straight from the pages of one of my new favorite cookbooks, “Baked Wings – Crispy. Crunchy. Sticky. 33 oven baked wings to satisfy your craving.” Wonderfully written and beautifully photographed by my friend and blogging buddy, Nagi, of RecipeTin Eats, this ebook is everything a wing lover could ask for. Easy and super-flavorful recipes, gorgeous photography and design and to-the-point and easy-to-follow chicken wings cooking tips!

The book has everything from sticky (such as Sticky Maple Bacon Tossed Wings…yum!) to super-crispy, crunchy and breaded (like Parmesan Garlic Crumbed Wings…delicious!).

What you see here are sticky wings glazed with a perfect honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and ketchup sauce. They were so good I made them again the next day! If you love wings, I guarantee you’ll love this book.

RecipeTin Eats Wings Cookbook

Honey Soy Wings
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer/Main
Ingredients:
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 9 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or mirin
  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • sesame seeds, lightly toasted
Instructions:
  1. Whisk honey, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, ginger and Chinese cooking wine together in a bowl then pour into a ziploc bag.
  2. Add the chicken wings to the bag and massage to coat them evenly. Put the bag in the fridge for 20 minutes, or up to overnight.
  3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a rack on the baking sheet. Spray the rack with oil.
  5. Shake excess marinade off the wings and gather it into a saucepan.
  6. Place the wings on the rack, skin side up, put into the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes.
  7. Heat the marinade in the saucepan on medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced by about ¼.
  8. After 20 minutes, baste the wings with the marinade, then return to the oven.
  9. Repeat the basting after an additional 15 minutes.
  10. The wings should be done after about 40 minutes of baking time total.
  11. To serve, drizzle with remaining basting sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Food Photography and Styling: Thanks to Nagi’s book I finally learned how to properly cut chicken wings. Until now I had always left them intact in their zigzag shape, which makes it really hard to style them. Once they are cut into their three components, they are much easier to handle. I went for an Asian-inspired look here with a sake cup and again used my two wood trays, one as the “table” and the other as the backdrop. I lit this photo from the side with my strobe.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Salad with Baked Candied Apple Chips

Salad with baked candied apple chips – so delicious you'll actually want to eat your greens!

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Green salads are generally not my thing as I’m sure you’ve noticed from their conspicuous absence from this blog but this one here is an exception. It’s so good that even I like to eat it! What you see here is spinach and a few tomatoes and grilled chicken tenderloin chunks, topped with baked candied apple slices. It’s the contrast between sweet and savory that makes this salad, in my opinion. The recipe comes from Spicy Southern Kitchen and Southern Living’s website and it’s really interesting. Here’s how it goes:

Using a mandoline, you cut the apple into very, very thin slices and simmer them in simple syrup for 10 minutes. Then you bake them on a wire rack for another 10 or 15 minutes. When you take the slices out of the oven they are nice and malleable but they stiffen very quickly and become as hard as a candied apple. Hard candy in a salad may sound strange and is probably not everyone’s thing but I personally liked the combination a lot.

Right before serving I drizzled on a dressing I whipped up from Dijon mustard, garlic, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Delicious stuff and so healthy(-ish)!

Salad with Baked Candied Apple Chips
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer/Main
Ingredients:
For the salad:
  • 1 apple (I used gala)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • spinach
  • grilled chicken tenderloins, cut into chunks
  • tomatoes
For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3½ tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
  1. Head on over to Southern Living for directions as to how to prepare the apple.
  2. Whisk all dressing ingredients together until smooth.
  3. Mix spinach, chicken and tomatoes, top with apple slices and drizzle with dressing.

Food Photography and Styling: I used an antique wooden box that I turned upside down as the surface for this shot and propped up one of my rustic wooden boards as the background “wall.” I styled the salad such that the individual spinach leaves formed a terrace-like pattern, which looked nice, in my opinion. To introduce some movement into the shot I weaved a napkin around part of the plate. I lit this photo from the side with my strobe.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Mushroom Gruyere Tart

Mushroom Gruyere tart recipe - Garlic roasted beech and oyster mushrooms are seasoned with fresh marjoram, parsley and black pepper and baked in a flaky pie crust with Gruyere cheese. TheSpiceTrain.com

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

This tasty tart is a spinoff from the marjoram mushrooms I posted a while ago. I roasted some oyster and beech mushrooms with garlic and marjoram and then incorporated them into a tart with gruyere, egg and cream. (The crust recipe is again my favorite one that I adapted from cooks.com). Overall this is a more substantial appetizer than the mushrooms are by themselves but equally delicious! :)

Mushroom Gruyere Tart
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Ingredients:
  • This recipe is for a 6½-inch cast iron or pie pan.
For the crust:
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the filling:
  • 2 ounces oyster mushrooms
  • 4 ounces beech mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • 1 egg (and 1 additional egg if you want to put an egg wash on the pie crust rim, it's optional)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup grated gruyere
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped marjoram
  • chopped parsley
Instructions:
For the crust:
  1. Mix the vinegar and the milk. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together flour and salt, then cut in the shortening and the butter.
  3. Pour the milk/vinegar into the flour/fat and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl anymore (it should have the consistency of play dough).
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile make the filling:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove mushroom stems and carefully toss them in a bowl with the garlic.
  3. Spread them out on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  4. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper.
  5. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil evenly over the mushrooms.
  6. Roast the mushrooms in the oven for 12 minutes, then take them out and let them cool a bit.
  7. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees F.
  8. Roll the crust out and fit into a cast iron or pie pan.
  9. Poke the crust a bit with a fork so that it won't form bubbles as it bakes.
  10. Line the crust with aluminum foil, fill with pie weights and bake for 7 minutes.
  11. While the crust is in the oven, mix together egg, cream, gruyere and marjoram. Set aside.
  12. Remove the weights and the aluminum foil and bake for another 3 minutes.
  13. Take the pan out of the oven and fill with the egg/cheese mix.
  14. If using an egg wash to make the rim of the crust brown better, lightly beat one egg with a teaspoon of cold water and brush the mix onto the exposed crust.
  15. Add the mushrooms to the filling, put the pan back into the oven and back until set (about 20 minutes).
  16. Sprinkle with parsley and freshly cracked black pepper and serve.

Food Photography and Styling: If you recognize the set it’s because it’s the same one I photographed my country captain chicken in. I did the shoots back to back and while I don’t generally like to do the exact same thing for two different photos I thought in this particular case it worked. For an extra rustic and gritty look I sprinkled some black pepper and marjoram (two of the ingredients) over the surface. (Aren’t marjoram leaves just beautiful? I love their shape). I used my strobe to light the set from the side.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/9, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Crab Bisque

Crab Bisque

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

The other day when I flipped through the 1970s cookbook that I adapted last week’s Bavarian cream recipe from I came across an interesting idea: adding nutmeg to crab bisque. I tried it on my own crab bisque recipe and was surprised how well it worked. The spice added a new and unexpected dimension that I really liked. Otherwise this recipe is pretty straightforward with mostly the usual suspects: shallot, celery, tomato paste, white wine, sherry, etc. Hope you like it! :)

Crab Bisque
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth (I like it better than vegetable broth or store-bought fish stock in this recipe)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 6 ounces crab meat
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons sherry
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • a few sprigs of thyme
Instructions:
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Add shallot and celery and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.
  3. Add tomato paste, broth and white wine and bring to a boil.
  4. Add almost all crab meat (reserve a little bit for garnish), then puree with an immersion blender.
  5. Stir in the cream and the sherry (to taste) and heat through.
  6. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg into each serving and garnish with crab meat and sprigs of thyme.

Food Photography and Styling: I lit the set slightly from the back to get a nice reflection onto the surface of the bisque that kept it from looking dead. To create a focal point I added a little bit of crab meat into the center and topped it with a few sprigs of thyme. I also sprinkled some thyme and nutmeg next to the bowl to keep the table from looking too sterile and as usual I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/3.2, 1/125 sec., ISO 50. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Tomato Tarts

Tomato Tart Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Just some quick and easy tomato tarts here today. I find baking tomatoes like this to be a great way to concentrate their flavor. These tarts are made with the same easy and flaky dough recipe from cooks.com that I used for my chocolate espresso meringue tarts a while ago and then I just added gruyere, the tomatoes, thyme and salt and pepper. Yum!

Tomato Tarts
 
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Ingredients:
  • This recipe will make four 3½ - inch tarts.
For the crust:
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened and cut into small chunks
For the filling:
  • 1 cup shredded gruyere
  • 28 cherry tomatoes
  • leaves of about 8 sprigs of thyme
  • freshly cracked black pepper
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix the vinegar and the milk. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together flour and salt, then cut in the shortening and the butter.
  4. Pour the milk/vinegar into the flour/fat and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl anymore (it should have the consistency of play dough).
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  6. Roll the dough out thin and fit into four 3½-inch ramekins. (Gather the scraps and roll them out again).
  7. Divide the cheese among the ramekins.
  8. Divide the thyme leaves among the ramekins.
  9. Slice the tomatoes and fit them on top of the cheese and thyme.
  10. Sprinkle some salt and freshly cracked black pepper over the tomatoes.
  11. Bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden-brown (25 to 30 minutes).

Food Photography and Styling: I’ve baked these little tarts many times and I usually take them out of their molds but they always look very messy that way so I decided for the photo to bake them in nice ramekins and leave them in there. The little “trivet” underneath the ramekin is a small tile with a pattern glued onto it. (I didn’t make that myself, I bought it at a yard sale). I have burlap in different colors and used a beige piece as a tablecloth and then put my brown burlap ribbon on top. Red and green go well together so I made sure to sprinkle some fresh thyme all over the set. I lit the set from the side and back with strobe and reflected some light back onto the front of the set.
 
Nikon D300, 105mm, f/5, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Fries with Tarragon Truffle Aioli

Fries with Tarragon Truffle Aioli Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I’ve got beautiful chips here today that are as tasty as fries. They come with a delicious dip made from mayo, garlic, mustard, truffle salt and tarragon. (Can never go wrong with tarragon, right?) Altogether a very unhealthy but irresistible appetizer!

Fries with Tarragon Truffle Aioli
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
For the aioli:
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • ⅛ teaspoon truffle salt
  • about 20 tarragon leaves, chopped
For the chips:
  • 2 Russet potatoes, sliced very thin on a mandoline
  • peanut oil for frying
Instructions:
For the aioli:
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
For the chips:
  1. Heat about 2 inches or peanut oil in a Dutch oven.
  2. Carefully drop one of the potato slices into the hot oil, if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.
  3. Add the potato slices to the oil in batches, making sure that they don't stick together, and fry until golden brown (just a minute or so per batch).
  4. Drain the slices on a paper towel and serve with the aioli.

Food Photography and Styling: I wanted to shoot from a fairly low angle to show the nice curvy shapes of the fries but at the same time I had to be sure to prominently show the sauce since it’s an important part of the recipe. I did that by placing the sauce in a glass bowl so that it was easily visible and putting it onto the trivet, which served as a pedestal to elevate the food. My favorite part of this little wire trivet is its little feet and I made sure to place the little metal ball that was visible such that it was sitting roughly at a third of the frame, both vertically and horizontally. I lit the set from the side with my strobe and put the Guinness and its bottle cap in the background to fill the negative space a bit.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Maple Orange Chicken Wings

Maple Orange Chicken Wings

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I usually tend to avoid chicken wings because they are so messy to eat but these guys here are worth the cleanup. I glazed them with a sticky sauce made from maple syrup, orange juice, salt, butter, cloves and some crushed red pepper flakes. Sweet, sour, salty and spicy – delicious!

Maple Orange Chicken Wings
 
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Author:
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • 12 chicken wings
  • vegetable oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup freshly pressed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 green onion, sliced
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Brush the wings with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on it. Put the wings on the rack in a single layer.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile combine maple syrup, juice, butter, salt, red pepper flakes and cloves in a saucepan and simmer until thick and reduced to about ½ cup (15-20 minutes).
  6. Take the wings out, brush with the glaze, return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
  7. Spoon more glaze on, then sprinkle with green onion and serve.

Food Photography and Styling: I used my blue/gray metal surface to contrast the brown wings and went for a casual look with beer and greasy paper underneath the wings. The most crucial part of this photo turned out to be the napkin; it tied the plate to the surface, kept it from looking isolated and partially broke up its oval shape. Before I added the napkin the set looked terrible. (Plus, napkins are badly needed for this type of food so it fit the story). I played around with the arrangement of the z-shaped wings for quite a while, I didn’t want the tips poking out- or inward into random directions but at the same I didn’t want the pile to look too uniform. I used a strobe to the back of the set and a large white foam board as a reflector.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/10, 1/160 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.