Friends

A weekend away.

I've always said that I don't self-identify as a blogger.

I'm a photographer with a blog.

However, because of my blog, I've made some really wonderful friends.

I spent this past weekend on a 'creative retreat' with Nicholetta from www.pepperandpaint.com, Gabby from www.foodgirlintown.com and Kathy from www.eathalifax.ca. We stayed at Nicholetta's summer home on the North Shore where we ate, drank, cooked and laughed for hours.

We talked about blogging, photography, food styling, creative writing, our families, friends, and inspirations. We talked about future goals - our hopes and our dreams.

We ate non-stop. Nicholetta's velvety roasted cauliflower soup, Kathy's baked oysters, Gabby's favourite Italian treat, prosciutto wrapped melon, and the small mountain of smoked salmon that I had brought along. Sesame noodles, mushroom bruschetta, a plethora of cheeses, chocolate, crackers, and cured meats, plus copious amounts of wine.

I am thankful to have met these women who so inspire me. 

French Meringues (made easy, thanks to movita beaucoup)

Do you know movita beaucoup? If the answer is yes, then please proceed reading about how she helped me make beautiful French Meringues on my second try. If the answer is no, then get your butt to her website RIGHT. THIS. MINUTE

www.movitabeaucoup.com

Here's what happened. This is from my Facebook page on New Year's Eve:

I was hoping to set up a really beautiful, all white photo shoot with gorgeous French meringues, but it turns out, you can't make regular lemon pie meringue, pipe it onto a cookie sheet and make these little French dainties. They brown in about 3 minutes and stay ooey gooey no matter how long you leave them in the oven. Oops.

movita's reply:

No. No you can't. But had it worked? You would have been a Meringue Pioneer. Also, meringues are my most favourite baked treat.

From that point, I knew I would require movita's guidance to get it right the second time.

Me:

Was there even the teeniest, most slim of chances that it might have worked?

movita:

Whelp, the meringue most people use on top of pie is light and not very stable - so it all depends on the type of meringue you use. Swiss meringue is one of the most stable AND it can be consumed in three ways: right after whipping (it's food safe as the eggs have been heated to 160F), baked or in swiss meringue buttercream! It's my favourite!

So, here, with help from movita, is a recipe for French Meringues that worked for me on the first try. Some of my meringues cracked, but a) they look really pretty when they're backlit in a photo and b) they tasted amazing, so I didn't really care too much about that. I piped some short and flat like a French macaron with a little hat, and I piped others taller and fatter like a little meringue mountain. I used movita's beautiful meringue recipe, but modified it to use Meringue Girl's egg white to sugar ratio. I also added vanilla. They're pretty quick to make (other than baking time) and so pretty. Make them if you can!

French Meringues

4 egg whites, room temperature, weighed

sugar, double the weight of the egg whites

1/2 tsp vanilla

- preheat oven to 200ºF - line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper

- grab a hand held whisk and a pot that the bottom of your stand mixer bowl fits into snugly - place 1-inch of water in the pot and bring it to a slight simmer on the stove - the water should be barely simmering - combine egg whites and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, mix on medium-low speed until just combined and a bit frothy, about 1 minute - remove the bowl from the mixer and place the bowl over the pot of barely simmering water - mix the egg whites with the hand held whisk for 3-4 minutes - you don't have to whisk the whole time because trust me, if you do, you will feel like your arm is going to fall off - just keep the whites moving so they don't scramble - remove whites from heat after 3-4 minutes and rub a bit between your fingers - if the sugar still feels gritty, return the bowl of whites to the pot and keep mixing until sugar dissolves - once sugar is dissolved, remove whites from heat and dry the bottom of the bowl with a tea towel

- return bowl to stand mixer - with whisk attachment, mix whites on medium-low speed for 1  minute and then crank up the speed to medium-high - I used speed 8 on my Kitchen Aid - mix meringue for 7-10 minutes until thick, glossy and doubled in size - I found the meringue doubled in size around the 5 minute mark but wasn't really thick and glossy until 9 minutes of mixing - I added the vanilla at the 8 minute mark

- movita uses an ice cream scoop to scoop meringue into dollops on the baking sheet and then uses a small spoon to coax the tops into peaks  - I used a piping bag - use whatever you fancy - just remember, the bigger the meringue the longer they take to dry out inside - scoop/pipe meringue onto parchment lined sheets and bake 1-2 hours until crisp and dry all the way through - if they start to brown at all, take them out of the oven - when movita's meringues are done, she turns off the heat, and lets the meringues sit, in the oven, for an hour unless, as I mentioned, the meringues are turning brown - if that happens take them out STAT.

 My small flat meringues were dry and crisp after 1 hour and 10 minutes in the oven - the taller fatter meringue mountains took 1 hour 30 minutes - just eat one to check for doneness - when all is said and done, if yours are chewy in the middle, don't worry, they'll still be delicious! I ate about 50 meringues in 3 days - some dry and crisp, some chewy in the middle, and I have zero regrets.

Portrait Of A New Friend

Simon Thibault is a Halifax-based food writer. Published in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The Coast, East Coast Living and more, Simon has also produced content for CBC Radio in the Maritimes and as well, national syndication. In addition to writing, he's a programmer at Devour! The Food Film Festival, has been selected as a judge for the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards and is currently working on his first book.

Of course, I had heard Simon's name throughout the years - online, printed in The Coast, via mututal friends - but it was only at this year's Devour! The Food Film Festival in November that we had a proper chat and made a plan to hang out.

After breakfast at The Coastal, we drove back to Simon's place for tea and talk. As soon as we sat down, I knew I wanted to return and photograph this portrait.

Squash, Chorizo and Blue Cheese Strata

collaborate  (verb)   kuh lab uh - reyt

to work, one with another

My friend Kathy, from eatHalifax!, and I have been wanting to collaborate on a project for a really long time. Finally, last Sunday we got together to make this gorgeous breakfast Strata featuring Chorizo sausages from Ratinaud French Cuisine, Chef Jason Lynch's beautiful new Dijon Mustard and Blue Harbour Cheese's Urban Blue - all made right here in Nova Scotia.

Food styling and recipe : Kathy Jollimore

Photography : Kelly Neil

Squash, Chorizo & Blue Cheese Strata - serves 6

1 small or 1/2 large acorn squash, seeds removed, cut into wedges

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 Ratinaud Chorizo sausages, casings removed

6 eggs

1/2 cup cream

1 1/2 cup milk

1 tbsp. Jason Lynch's Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. chopped herbs: oregano, rosemary and\or sage

1 loaf rustic French bread, cubed or torn into pieces

1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano 

4 oz. Urban Blue cheese, crumbled

- Preheat oven to 450º - Place the squash on a baking sheet - Drizzle with 2 tsp. olive oil and season with salt and pepper - Roast until soft, about 20-30 min (you could also roast longer at a lower temperature if desired) - Remove from oven and scrape off any charred bits. Scoop out squash into a bowl. Lightly mash and season lightly with salt and pepper.

- Reduce oven to 375º - Butter a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.

- Heat a skillet over medium heat - Add the remaining olive oil - Fry the chorizo until just cooked, breaking it into smaller pieces - Set aside.

- Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, Dijon, and fresh herbs - Season with a pinch of both salt and pepper - In the baking dish, mix together the bread, squash, Chorizo, Parmigiano and Urban Blue cheeses - Pour the egg mixture over top - Press the bread into the liquid (if using day old bread, feel free to refrigerate an hour or even overnight) - Bake until the liquid is fully absorbed and the top golden brown, about 40 min. Serve immediately.