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This will be a short post as it’s Friday and my attention span is dwindling….BUT! I wanted to start a little series called “Food Foto Friday” wherein I show you my latest experiments in food photography.

Note: I am NOT a professional photographer! I’m learning. But I’m hoping that my learning experiences will help you. Or at least interest you. You can let me know.

First up: Experiments in Natural Light with Lana Bars.

I first posted about Lana Energy Bars here. And recently I made about 18 more batches so that I could bring them to practice with me and share them with my team. I used this opportunity to take some photos and practice what I learned at the House of Brinson Food Photography workshop.

What I learned at House of Brinson: You can take awesome photos with just natural light. Even if there isn’t that much of it.

What I learned in my apartment: This is true.

Consider the below comparison image:

In the image on the left, I turned on the fancy-pants light with umbrella diffuser thingie I bought at Adorama. Holy red overtones, Batman! That seriously looks terrible. Or at least requires some serious Photoshop color correcting. Which I don’t feel like doing, people.

On the right-hand image, I turned off all the lights in my apartment. I mean ALL of them. And put this tray on the floor. Not extremely close to the window. The window is on the left side and really doesn’t let in all that much light to begin with. But look at the improvement. NO PHOTOSHOP! None, I promise.

Also, House of Brinson taught me to love my tripod, which I now do. I attached my camera and pointed it to the floor – at the tray of bars. No shaking – which is great because I had to slow the shutter speed WAY down to let in enough light.

So there you have it. Natural light is better. The tripod is my friend, and there are energy bars for all (literally):

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Looking for a dessert for Easter Sunday? Since today’s theme is being helpful, I thought I would throw this Fruit and Nut Trifle out there. You will want to eat the whole bowl. The. Whole. Bowl. Do it.

Fruit and Nut Trifle

Trifle
What You Need:
1 c of almonds chopped
2 t water
4 t sugar
2 t cinnamon
1 c dried apricots and cranberries chopped
2 t butter
2 pears cored and diced
mandarian orange segments – small can
1 Tbsp rum
4 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup confection sugar
1 cup orange juice
raspberries for decoration
sponge cake – see below for recipe

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl toss the nuts with cinamon then water and sugar and then spread on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes and toast for about 7 minutes.

Chop dried fruit and cover with hot water and a little rum and let set for 10 minutes.  Drain the fruit and add to the nuts. Toss.

In a saute pan heat the butter and add a little sugar. Add the diced pears and saute and then add the fruits and nuts.

In a bowl mix the heavy cream with the confectioners sugar vanilla and rum.  Mix until cream is whipped to soft peaks.

Brush the cake with the orange juice to make it a little moist.

In a trifle bowl first add some whipped cream and then place the sponge cake on top to cover the cream.  Layer with the fruit/nut mixture and then add a little cream.  Follow with the cake and continue to build the trifle.  Finish with the whipped cream.  For a festive look top with fresh raspberries. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Sponge Cake

What You Need:
8 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup cugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
orange juice for brushing (optional)

What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large square pan (13″x18″) and line with parchment paper.

Put the eggs into a mixer (Kitchenaid or handheld). Slowly add the sugar to the eggs, beating until they are twice the volume from when they started and a pale lemon color.

Slowly add the flour to the above ingredients and also the lemon zest.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 15 minutes.

After it’s done, you can brush the cake with some orange juice, using a pastry brush. This makes it nice and juicy, and adds a complementing flavor for the fruit and nuts in the trifle.

Try not to eat it all. Or eat it all. Whichever.

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Recently, I helped Mom (a.k.a. “Marmo”) lead one of her customized tours around Italy.  Mom’s philosophy is a good one:  try to keep the trips to two general areas within an 8-10 day time frame.  If you try to squeeze in too many spots, you’re only going to skim the surface of each area, and you’ll be shifting around too much to relax every once in a while.    The plan for this particular trip was to target (1) the Amalfi Coast and (2) Rome.

Marmo and I fly into Rome then take the train to Naples.  From Naples, we meet our driver, who takes us into Sorrento – a beautiful town at the beginning of the Amalfi Coast.  Our digs for our stay in Sorrento:  The one and only Excelsior Vittoria Hotel – a gated compound of baller type bodaciousness, complete with palm and lemon trees, beautiful gardens, and the most ridiculous view overlooking the Gulf of Naples towards Mt. Vesuvius.

Spanning six generations (it’s still under the same family ownership), The Excelsior has grown from a beautiful cliff side estate, into a 5-star hotel of dreams.  And for the group’s first day in the Amalfi coast, Marmo arranges a hands on Neapolitan Pizza making demonstration.  For this, I am beyond excited.  Readers of the blog are well aware of our undying infatuation with Pizza.

We are led to a bar around the pool, where there is, indeed, an outdoor brick oven in which wood logs have been burning for about 2 hours in preparation for our class.  Our class is being prepped by the head chef of the hotel, Vincenzo Galano, and a second chef whose name I didn’t get.  They first instruct us as to their method, which is very simple: a 3 hour rise, a little sugar with the yeast, some double zero flour and water.  No overnight rises or complicated gimmicks; it’s very straightforward.  I need to get a closer look to observe the finished product.

And, indeed the dough is softer and fluffier than my freshly shampooed hair.  I had always thought that an overnight rise was essential for that ultra soft feel for pre-cooked pizza dough, but this proved otherwise.  The two man Pizza dream team then instructs us on hand pressing the dough, and lets each of us take a crack at it ourselves.

After the dough is flattened, the sauce is applied, followed by the mozzarella, some grated parmesian, and some olive oil.  It is then transported into the oven, and spun around with some of those extra long pizza peels that I want to decorate my apartment with.

Basil leaves are chopped up and spread onto the pie after it is pulled from the oven, nice and piping hot.  And the final result is wonderful.  The melted mozzarella has a milky, slightly sour, yet fresh tang to it.  The basil supplies a faint, but noticeably minty backdrop.  The cooked dough is beautiful.  Charred on the outside, but chewy and floppy when chomped down upon.  The center of the pie is the way a Neapolitan pie should be: saucy, sloppy, and a tad oily.  Skewering sections of this pie accordion style with my fork is a thing of ease.  Delicious.

The sauce is wonderfully fresh, while the grated parmesan cheese adds a nice, subtle kick not typically included in our New York furnished Neapolitan pies.  Halfway into my pizza, I’m thinking about sneaking Vincenzo and his pizza making sidekick through customs back in Newark so we can dominate the NYC/Neapolitan Pizza scene.  This pie would be easily on par (if not better) with some of well thought of joints in Manhattan.

And with what would be a theme for our stay at the Excelsior, Vicenzo and the rest of the staff could not be nicer.  Everyone got their own apron and chef’s hat, as well as the perfect amount of instruction (neither too much nor too little).  And after an hour or so of being around that oven, what better way to celebrate than to kick back, enjoy a freshly made pizza, some sparkling Pellegrino, a glass of wine, and a view of the Excelsior’s garden of lemon trees?

There is no better way.  Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more tales of my trip to the motherland, or feel free to contact Marmo to create some tales of your own.

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There are so many memorable scenes from The Big Lebowski, but my favorite is the intro scene in which the Dude, expertly played by Jeff Bridges, cruises an LA supermarket in his signature bathrobe for the sole purpose of purchasing half and half for his White Russians. He takes a sniff of the carton, and then pays for it with a check.

For those of you unfamiliar, a White Russian is a drink made with half and half, Kahlua and vodka served over ice. It’s sweet and creamy and cold, like a milkshake, just not thick. And I love them.

Recently, I was in South Beach, competing with my team, Full Throttle, in the Nautica Triathlon. Post-race, all the team members were relaxing poolside, replenishing lost calories with a variety of beverages.

One of my teammates passed me a blended ice drink. when I asked what it was, she told me it was a Vonder Slide, which was essentially a White Russian made into a blended, frozen drink, invented by and named after another teammate, Karen.

Upon sampling the beverage, and also drinking someone else’s in its entirety (sorry, Jess), I shouted over to Karen, holding up my cup, “The Vonder Slide is going on he blog!” This was met with what I understood to be enthusiasm at the time, and so here it is:

The Vonder Slide

I decided to make a slightly healthier version (ha!) with almond milk instead of half and half. Don’t get me wrong, I love my half and half.  But I thought I would try a little something different. Turns out, the almond flavor goes very nicely with the Kahlua. It also makes the Vonder Slide accessible to all my lactose intolerant readers – bonus!

What You Need:
Makes 2 -3 drinks
A blender
Ice – 2 scoops
1 cup almond milk (or half and half)
1/4 cup Kahlua
1/4 cup vodka
Strawberries for garnish

What To Do:
Throw all the ingredients minus the strawberries in the blender and whip it up to your desired consistency. You can add more ice if it’s not icy enough for you.

Once you have established your desired consistency, pour your concoction into tall glasses, and garnish with a strawberry.

Don’t forget the straws!

Slip into your bathrobe and onto the pool deck.

The dude abides.

Karen is not only an accomplished mixologist, but also an incredible athlete. She placed fourth in her group at the South Beach Triathlon which earned her a spot on the podium. Congratulations, Karen!

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It’s John’s Birthday today, and while he might kill me for doing this (if he can catch me), he is 30 today!

I thought I would take this time to tell you a few things about John and why he is an awesome brother: 

1. He fields my various witty remarks (anxiety attacks, pleas for more blog content, harassment about his weekend plans) that I shoot at him via gchat with apparent ease and only occasionally ignores me.

2. John has two general reactions:

Positive reaction: “Great.” Sometimes things can be “glorious,” and then you know it’s really great.
Negative reaction: “S*&T!” The delivery of this remark is always the same regardless of the magnitude of his disapproval. 

3. I can only sometimes detect the fear in his eyes when I tell him my latest crazy scheme.

4. He gives dating advice! My personal favorites are these:
a. Do as I say, not as I do.
b. Do not laugh excessively at a dude’s jokes.
c. Stop dancing like that.
d. No fear, naw mean?
Side note: I literally have no idea what he means. Especially about the dancing.

5. Regardless of what is going on, what we had been talking about previously, John will divert my attention to Vespas. I receive links to them all day long accompanied by his Vespa negotiating tactics:

“Let’s low ball these people and take no prisoners: We’re willing to pay $2400 over 6 months.  Throw in the helmets and the automatic, in-dashboard cannoli dispenser or there is no deal.” 

6. He will practice his golf swing, (sans clubs) anywhere. In public, out in a bar, on the sidewalk, etc.


7. My dog, Toby hates him. But John will walk him for me anyway.
8. When I moved back from California, he let me sleep on his couch on weekends for a whole year and hang out with his friends. I got very good at beer pong.
9. He likes to sing “Shout” in public. To rave reviews.
10. John used to eat some weird stuff when he was younger. One of his favorites was, “grilled cheese dunked in yogurt.” this was a classic American cheese sandwich which he dunked in Dannon vanilla yogurt as he ate it.
Gross.
However! I have updated this gastronomic disaster and created something truly delicious. So in honor of John and his birthday, I give you Comte and Scallion Grilled Cheese on Focaccia Bread with Honey Mustard Yogurt Dipping Sauce.

What You Need:
For the sandwich
4 slices Focaccia bread, sliced about 1″ thick
Comte cheese, sliced thinly: enough to cover the top of two of the Focaccia slices. I used a “Tewksbury” cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery that I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket.
1 bunch scallions: chop the white and light green parts only, discard the dark green leaves.
2 tablespoons butter
For the honey mustard yogurt dipping sauce
See this recipe from a previous post about a sangwich.
What To Do:
Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the chopped scallions and sauté until they are soft, about 7 minutes.
Take your bread slices and one by one, dunk them in the pan of butter and scallions, pressing both sides into the mixture.
In the meantime, heat up the broiler of your oven.
Once you have coated both sides of all four pieces of bread, place the sliced cheese on top of two of the slices. Top these cheesed-up ones with the remaining two pieces of Focaccia and let simmer in the pan for about 2 minutes. Flip and simmer another 2 minutes for the flip side.
By this time, your broiler should be nice and hot. Transfer the sandwiches to a cookie sheet and pop them in the broiler so they get nice and toasty. But watch out for that broiler – don’t let your cheesy masterpieces burn!
Remove from the oven and serve immediately with the honey mustard yogurt dipping sauce on the side.
Finally, in honor of John’s birthday, we are giving away a prize. All you have to do is wish John a happy 30th in the comments of this post and you will be entered to win a prize.
What is this prize, you ask? John was recently in Italy and brought back another jar of this fabulous herbed sea salt.
We will randomly choose one commenter and award him/her the prize!
Happy birthday, little bro!

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We have reached another Friday! Gonna see a movie this weekend? We have some recommendations that pair well with food (of course)!

Our first film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Chow down on some garlic bread with these recipes while you watch.

Our second film: My Cousin Vinny. Streak your hair, get out your leather and go to Brooklyn for grits at Egg!

Our third film: If you fry it, they will come: Hot dogs and Field of Dreams. Magic in the Moonlight.

In other news, I’ll be traveling to South Beach today for my first Triathlon of the season. You can also get the recipe for my home made energy bars at that link. Tweeting will be light as I don’t want to take out my pre-race panic attacks on you lovely people.

Come Monday or Tuesday we might have some more BIG NEWS. So stay tuned. And we will also be continuing our Meals on Reels program. Don’t forget to send us your favorite movie/food scenes! Post ’em in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

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It’s no secret Elana and I love our movies. So, for the next week or so, we are going to be presenting some of our favorite movie scenes that have a focus on food, followed by a top 15 list. We will also be combining a feature with either a recipe or a restaurant review related to the food.

There is really only one qualification, but it’s an important one: the food needs to play an integral part in the movie scene.  It cannot just be lurking in the background, or part of a good scene at a dinner table or restaurant.

Take Heat for example. Trust me, I’ve been thinking of every way possible to work in the Pacino/Deniro diner scene from Heat into this list, but despite it taking place within the confines of an eating establishment, the scene really never defers to food at any point. The same goes for other close calls, like at Tommy’s mother’s house in Goodfellas; Food is there in full force, but it never quite becomes the focus.

In light of the foregoing, we now commence our random teaser list, followed ultimately by our final countdown. Elana will kick things off while I continue to kick it in Italy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Elana here! I am going to begin with a new-to-me film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There is an excellent scene in which Scott makes “dinner” for his new crush: a dinner comprised solely of garlic bread. I have to say, this is my kind of meal (CARBS!). It also happens to be Italian in nature and very easy to make.

First, you should watch the scene:

Bread makes you fat??!? I love that. Ok, So in true John and Elana style, I will offer you TWO recipes:

1. For Old-Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

2. For Elana’s Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia. Oh yeah.

Old Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

What You Need:
1 loaf of Italian bread (white)
2-3 cloves garlic, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Butter, softened
Sea salt
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

What To Do:
Heat up the broiler portion of your oven.

Slice the baguette of Italian bread diagonally into 1 inch thick slices.

Take the garlic halves and run them along the surface of the bread (both sides!) – almost like you are buttering your bread with garlic.

Then actually butter the bread (both sides again!) with the softened butter! Place the buttered, garlicked bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt as well.

Toast just a few minutes on each side – remember to keep an eye on that broiler, it works quickly.

Once your toasts are toasty, take ’em out and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Serve to your new girlfriend with the seven evil exes. The garlic breath will probably help you defeat them.

Now, let’s jazz things up with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia:

What You Need:
1 head of garlic, roasted (instructions below)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt – a pinch
Rosemary – a few sprigs
1 loaf of focaccia bread

What To Do:
For the roasted garlic:
Heat up the oven to 350 degrees.
Take a head of garlic and chop off the pointy part. Place it in a piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil, like so:

Then cover the garlic completely with the foil. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the garlic cloves are soft and easily pierced with a a knife. It will look sorta like this:

Squeeze out the garlic cloves from their papery skins and plop them into a food processor or blender. If you lack both of these implements, you can mash them up with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the pinch of salt and blend it all together.

Heat up the broiler of your oven.

Cut 1 inch slices of the focaccia bread. I used a Scratchbread focaccia that I purchased at the Brooklyn Flea over the weekend.

Using a knife, smear some roasted garlic paste onto your slices of bread. Drizzle with a little olive oil and pop them in the broiler to brown. Just a few minutes – remember how speedily-fast that broiler cooks!

Sprinkle with a few sprigs of rosemary and serve (with extra roasted garlic paste on the side, please!).

This one will DEFINITELY help you defeat evil exes. And everyone else too.

And finally, garlic that looks like this should not be used:

But feel free to plant it in your garden if you have one.

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