I was so happy to be asked to return to The Middle Spoon! They were one of my first clients two and a half years ago when I was just getting started with food photography and we've both done some growing since then. They just opened a brand new location of The Middle Spoon in Sunnyside Mall in Bedford and it's open for lunch, with lots of comfort food on the menu - homemade soups, salads and sandwiches, but don't worry, they've still got lots of their signature homemade desserts and award winning cocktails to choose from. Plus who can resist those cute little chocolate 'Spoon' garnishes tucked on top?
I love the notion of classic cocktails, especially the Negroni - a perfect marriage of Sweet Italian Vermouth, Campari and Gin - but the reality is, I'm kind of a sissy when it comes to hard liquor.
I prefer the flavour of alcohol to be masked by pretty flavours like elderflower cordial, fresh-squeezed Clementine juice or interesting homemade simple syrups.
And yet, something about old-fashioned classic cocktails calls to me.
So I got to thinking - maybe I could enjoy a Negroni by balancing the dominant alcohol flavour more towards my liking.
A tender poached Bosc pear resting in a pool of dark and rich, sweet and deeply-bitter syrup will give my New Year's Eve table the wow factor I was hoping for.
Negroni Poached Pears
4 small-medium Bosc pears
1 C Sweet Italian Vermouth (aka Red Vermouth)
1 C Campari
1 C Gin
1 C Water
- Alton Brown recommends coring pears from the bottom - do this then cut a thin slice off of the bottom so they'll sit upright when finished poaching - remove skin from pears with a vegetable peeler
- lay whole cored pears on their sides in a small pot that gives them enough room to move around a bit - add Vermouth, Campari, Gin and Water to pot - David Liebovitz recommends cutting a parchment circle to cover pears while poaching - I totally did this and recommend doing it too - bring liquid to a simmer/gentle boil and cook pears 25-30 minutes, maintaining a constant simmer/boil the whole time - I lifted the edge of the parchment every 5 minutes or so and gave the pears a bit of a turn
- gently remove pears from Negroni liquid with a slotted spoon and stand each one upright on a plate - put plate of pears in fridge to cool - turn up heat on liquid to medium-high and boil Negroni syrup down to about 1/2 C, around 30 minutes - pour hot Negroni syrup into a heat-proof vessel (I used a Pyrex measuring cup) and set aside to cool
- serve cooled pears topped with cooled Negroni syrup - if you want to get fancy you could add a dollop of lightly-sweetened whipped cream, a wedge of Clementine for squeezing and a mint leaf
If you're like me at all, then you obsess over the idea of making wonderful dishes you've heard of on your travels but are often intimidated as to where to begin.
Until recently, I felt that way about Gnocchi, Risotto and Zabaglione.
I spend a lot of time looking at recipes and photographs of food online. I also own a small fortune's worth of cookbooks. After hours spent looking and admiring I decided that the only way I was going to overcome my fear of these dishes was to make them. I turned off my computer and closed the cookbooks.
Zabaglione is an Italian egg yolk-based custard traditionally made with Moscato D'Asti but is these days most commonly made with Marsala wine (France also has a version called Sabayon). It is silky-smooth, frothy-creamy, not too sweet and goes beautifully with fresh berries. Something I had noticed about all of the recipes I came across for Zabaglione is that every recipe was different. They all had any number of different ingredients, including whipped cream, vanilla, cinnamon, however the one thing they all had in common was egg yolks, sugar and Marsala. I thought I would start with a simple, basic ratio of those three ingredients ingredients and tweak from there. Luckily, I made gorgeous Zabaglione on my first try - it's so easy you won't even believe it!
Per person - 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp sugar + 1 Tbsp dry Marsala wine
Set a pot on the stove with about 1-2 inches of water in it - bring water to a gentle simmer - put yolk + sugar + Marsala in a bowl that fits over the pot but doesn't touch the water (essentially a double boiler)
Whisk for 4-5 minutes until thick, creamy and ribbony - pour into dessert bowls or champagne flutes and top with fresh fruit
Zabaglione cools quite quickly and can be eaten right away. I will often make it just for myself and eat it plain without berries - heavenly!! You can also pour it into dishes, wrap them with Saran and put them in the fridge for later. It's a very easy way to impress guests at a dinner party!
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Andrew Breen of Outshine Online Marketing to shoot some product photos for The Middle Spoon on Barrington Street in Halifax. They wanted three stellar dessert shots and three wicked cocktail shots to use on the scrollbar of their upcoming website.
They also asked me to capture a very cool flaming drink - the specialty of Jenner, their bartender.
And then for fun I did a few shots of the room.
Along with stickerbooks, jelly shoes and Cabbage Patch Kids, JELLO Pudding Pops, and their spokesperson Bill Cosby, were two of my favourite things about growing up in the 80s.
The texture of a Pudding Pop is something I will always remember - smooth and creamy without the crystallization of a Fudgsicle (although let's get real - Fudgsicles are pretty friggin' awesome too!!).
I came across a recipe for Butterscotch Pudding Pops a couple of weeks ago on CHOW.com and thought I'd give them a whirl. The recipe gave me the chance to try some things I've never had before like Foxhill Cheese's gorgeous unhomogenized milk from the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market.
Also, I used gelatin for the first time... (don't worry - it's SUPPOSED to look like this)...
made a huge mess in my kitchen... (although that's not new!!)...
and used these really cool popsicle molds I bought at the Superstore for $7.
The intro to the recipe suggests adding a couple of tablespoons of Scotch to the recipe to punch up the flavour. Sean and I don't really drink, but we have a fully stocked liquor cabinet, including a barely touched bottle of Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch so I said what the hell?
They were perfect.
No really - these Pudding Pops were one of the most flavourful things I have made in a LONG time. I mean we could REALLY taste the Scotch but it added such an amazing depth to the taste I would never make them without!!
**A funny side note - I doubled the recipe thinking I would freeze half of the batter as Pudding Pops and turn the other half into ice cream but here's the thing. When you put homemade PUDDING batter into the fridge to chill, so you can turn it into ice cream, it actually turns into PUDDING. Man did I ever feel dumb when I peeled away the cling wrap and realized ice cream was NOT an option. It did make me laugh though!! (When I pulled the pudding out of the fridge it was delicious but at the same time, it was really lumpy, which I found visually unappealing. I did a little research as to WHY it was lumpy and so the recipe below is adjusted with the directions I will follow NEXT TIME to hopefully avoid those yucky lumps!!)
Butter-Scotch Pudding Pops
1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
4 Tbsp Butter - cut up
2 Cups Cold Half and Half (this is labelled 'Coffee Cream' on the shelves here, however, I just used half milk, half heavy cream and they turned out great)
2 teaspoons Unflavoured Gelatin
3/4 teaspoon Vanilla
1/8 teaspoon Salt
2 Tbsp Scotch
~ Heat brown sugar and butter over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and bubbling - about 8 minutes - cool
~ Put 1/4 Cup of Half and Half into a small bowl - sprinkle gelatin over the surface of the cold cream - do not disturb 3 minutes - it will turn wrinkled and wavy right away
~ Add the gelatin-cream mixture, plus the remaining 1 3/4 Cups of cold cream to the cooled brown sugar mixture - turn heat to medium-low - as the cream heats, the brown sugar and butter will melt and the gelatin will dissolve - whisk until gelatin is no longer grainy (once heated through should take about 4 minutes) - do not heat above 170 degrees or the gelatin will not set
~ Remove from heat - strain through a fine mesh sieve - stir in vanilla, salt and Scotch - pour into popsicle molds and freeze OR for pudding, cover surface of batter with plastic cling and refrigerate 3 hours
After one hour in the freezer, I took my molds out and inserted large wooden popsicle sticks through the centre of each pop. Before I put the sticks in I wrote a message on each one with a Sharpie (U R SO Cool!! - Bite Me!! - Eat Me!! - Me Love You/Long Time - I Love Lamp - the last one is still in the freezer and I forget what I wrote on it!!). In my research I read that in order for Sharpie ink to be toxic to humans, you'd have to drink at LEAST an ounce. I've eaten three Pudding Pops in the last couple of days and I'm still alive.
These were easy to make and a truly nostalgic tribute to my amazing childhood. Sean and I agreed that the punch of liquor would make them a unique and interesting dessert to serve at a dinner party and so we'll probably do that soon. With the recipe for Vanilla Pudding Pops on the CHOW website, the flavour options would really only be limited by your imagination!!
ps - a huge thank you is in order to my awesome husband Sean for taking the shots of me devouring a Pudding Pop - it was very strange being on what I call the 'wrong side' of the camera but he managed to make me look good!!