Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings

Lamb chops and pesto with spiralized sweet potato shoestring fries

Hello, friends! Here’s my first dinner of 2015, and it’s a good one! I made lamb chops with pesto and spiralized sweet potato shoestrings, and there’s a recipe at the bottom of the post. But first I want to talk about a few of my resolutions this year. The two that I’m trying to focus on are: working to improve my photography, and eating more real food, both life pursuits that make me truly happy.

I take thousands of photos, and I cook at home most nights of the week. But every year I like to re-commit to my passions out loud, to help keep me accountable. And by out loud, I mean, on this blog. This year I’m trying to cook more meals at home – particularly using my Walden Meat CSA and as much local produce as I can get my hands on, shoot more photos, and share them on my Instagram feed, blog more about the food we eat at home – that one’s to encourage me to actually eat at home! And learn more about my camera, take more risks with my shots, and keep reading and learning about photography.

Walden Local Meat Lamb Chops

So here’s what I’ve been playing with tonight – let’s chat a bit about this photography work. Some behind the scenes talk? I hope I don’t bore you here. It’s like my very own photo crit. That’s short for critique, and it’s where your peers and professors share feedback in art class. It always terrified me. But one of the best ways to improve your work is to think critically about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well, so here we go!

I’ve been spending a little bit more time on Pinterest lately to help improve my composition. Before I write a post or cook dinner, I like to look at photographs of the same type of food, and analyze the styling. The goal of course, as with most art, is to be inspired by many, directly copy none, and seek to develop your own style and point of view. That’s hard though, isn’t it? I’m not sure that I can pinpoint my P.O.V. – it’s mostly real food, cooked in a real kitchen. I’m still playing with how best to achieve that on a regular basis, and make my work recognizable as my own. I love the play of light and dark. And I’ve been trying to vary my backgrounds – nobody likes hundreds of photos of the same plates on the same white background. Even though I love my Ikea white DOCKSTA table. And I do wish that it was a real Saarinen Tulip table though… alas, I’m currently priced out of my own taste, the perils of majoring in Architecture with significant advanced coursework on the Modernist Home.

This week I took my copy of Helene Dujardin‘s Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling off the shelf, to re-read it now that I’ve improved (and/or taken hundreds of thousands of shots) since purchasing it, and reading it originally in 2011. I thought I could use a fresh perspective. I also purchased a second Lowel Ego lamp, because, although I’d much prefer to be shooting in natural light, I’d have to be eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon for that to happen around here.

So let’s get started with this dinner! I started with the lamb rack, which I decided to cut into chops, because they cook quickly. Whole racks look really gorgeous in food photography, but I was being practical here – individual chops take just a few minutes to cook, and you can cook each one to the doneness that you’d like. We’re a family of mixed doneness requirements, so individual chops are the best choice.

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired with the raw meat, so I shot a few chop shots quickly before finding the one I wanted – and, I managed to screw up the exposure on my camera while I was fiddling. There were several underexposed shots, and a few overexposed shots, but I figured that I’d be able to process one of them in Lightroom to my liking. This is not ideal, as you might notice, the final shot looks a little blue. So I fixed it, and moved on. And then I went onto the pesto. Store bought. I don’t bother with making my own pesto in the middle of the winter – the basil costs too much, we don’t eat a lot of it, and I usually only go home with a half cup from the Whole Foods salad bar, which is fairly affordable. I’ve also really been digging this local vegan pesto from Sauces n’ Love, based in Lynn, Mass. They also make this great scarpetta sauce. So this pesto. I wanted to try working with my black velvet background. Getting some light and dark in play to really make the green pop. But then I thought I should try a few shots on the table top – light on light. I like them both, so I put them together! Here’s the diptych I ended up with.

Basil Pesto

Of course, I want to show you what that lamb really looks like – not the six perfect pieces that I seasoned with Maldon salt and pepper, and artfully arranged in the photo. Nope, real life is rougher. My knives aren’t always as sharp as I’d like them to be. Here, you notice a few hacked pieces. They got the same seasoning, but this is what you’d more typically see in my kitchen. I’ve always really loved countertop shots, but they are definitely more of a challenge, because the lighting on my countertop… sucks.

Lamb chops and pesto

And now let’s move on to part three of this meal: the sweet potato shoestring fries. In my trusty cast iron pan. Oh, the dramatic chiaroscuro! Those perfect spirals! I love it. Next time though, I’ll bake these on my sheet pan. They crisp up a little better. Sometimes I sacrifice for art.

Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries in the Cast Iron

If you’ve been following my saga for the past few weeks, you already know that I’m obsessed with my new spiralizer. It’s the Paderno 4-blade Spiralizer, which I purchased from Amazon.  I’ve been preaching the gospel of this spiralizer. I’ve been possibly boring the entire internet with all my talk about this spiralizer. Here are my shots – the “here’s the tool, and here’s the vegetable, in a state of undress” shot, and then the “spiralizer in action” shot. Note the lights I have rigged to the bead-board. They were hanging under the cabinet, but they kept on falling off.

Spiralized Sweet Potato with the Paderno Spiralizer Spiralized Sweet Potato

Although I love my Nikon DSLR, I love shooting with my iPhone even more – but this is likely because I get the most practice with it. Your best camera is the one you have with you – and I’ll always snap a quick shot with my phone, even when I’m shooting with the DSLR. I still have a lot of trouble with the manual focus on my camera, and I can always get a slightly crisper shot on the phone.

And I really like using vscocam to edit my pictures – upping the contrast, and boosting the exposure always works gangbusters. And you can fade the photo ever so slightly, to give it a bit of a dreaminess. You do always risk falling into the over-processing trap – I’m still mourning the entire year on my first smartphone (an Android) that I used some terrible app and destroyed all of my photos with the fake polaroid filter. I hope I’m not falling in the same trap, but I really like the photos that I’ve processed recently with VSCO. I wish I could afford their desktop software!

I was having a lot of trouble shooting the sweet potatoes with the DSLR, but I love these shots that I got with my phone:

Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries

I also managed to snap some of the finished dishes on the iPhone, which you see below. I tried the plate out first with my trusty white on marble. And then switched things up with my new darker cutting board, and a napkin – I love the contrast in this one the best.

Lamb chops with pesto and sweet potato shoestrings diptych

And there we are – here’s a final closeup of the dish! Thanks for playing along! Now it’s your turn. You’ve been so quiet: any feedback? 

Lamb Chops Pesto and Sweet Potato

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings
for 2

A rack of lamb, between 1-1.5 lbs.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 sweet potato, spiralized or cut into matchsticks
1 teaspoon cumin
salt + pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pesto – good store bought is okay!

First, preheat the oven to 450 F, and prep the sweet potato strings. Peel a sweet potato, and spiralize it, trimming the noodles with scissors so they aren’t too long. You could also cut the sweet potato into matchsticks if you don’t have a spiralizer. In a bowl, toss the sweet potato strings with olive oil, a generous pinch of flaky salt, a few grindings of pepper, and about a teaspoon of cumin. Toss with your hands to coat, and spread the potato out in a large cast iron pan, or a baking sheet, trying to give the potatoes room so that they crisp and don’t steam. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and flip or toss gently. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, watching carefully that they don’t burn, but you want to get them to brown just slightly. To ensure that these are crispy, and not soggy, I like to spread these out to cool on a paper towel after baking to let them crisp up further.

For the lamb – slice the rack into individual chops, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high, add a tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and sear the chops, about two minutes on each side. A minute more if you’d like a more medium chop. Take chops out of the pan, and let rest for 5 minutes on a plate before serving. Serve with a generous dollop of pesto on each chop, or with a little side of pesto to dip in.

{Fall at Wellesley College}

Fall leaves and Tieks

I spent a few weekends ago at Wellesley, with my best friend Lizzy, participating in the Alumnae Leadership Council, running around our old haunts, and capping off the experience speaking on a panel to prospective students and their parents.

It was one of those weekends that I probably should have taken my fancy camera to try to capture how absolutely stunning it was, but as it happens, your best camera is actually the one you have on you, and I tried to catch as much of the light as I could with my iPhone. A few of these have already landed on my instagram – I’d love for you to take a look over there! – but I wanted to share the rest here, so they don’t languish on my phone like the thousands of other pictures I take every month. It’s crazy how in the age of Facebook, digital photo sites, and more, 95% of my photos stay locked away on a tiny device. I’ve been trying to rectify that. I’m also trying to get out from behind the camera more often. That’s a more challenging proposition.

Here are some of my favorites:

Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center Wellesley

Breakfast at Wellesley Tower Court

Flower Wellesley College Greenhouse

Cactus Flower Wellesley Greenhouse

Wellesley College Greenhouse

Apologies to Tony Matelli

Davis Museum and Cultural Center

Jewett Art Gallery Wellesley College

Alison VanVolkenburgh

Tower Court Breakfast 2

Galenstone Tower Wellesley

Paths at Wellesley College

Shakespeare House Wellesley

Wellesley College Observatory

Lulu Chow Wang at Night

Lizzy at Night

It’s hard to describe what Wellesley means to me – I was so lucky to spend four years in this enchanting place, but I’m even luckier to be part of a community of people shaped by their experiences here, a bond that continues and strengthens long after you graduate and are set free into the world.

Colors of Fall

fall esplanade

cookbooks

apple pie

balsam fir

bears

charles river esplanade

coffee at frontside grind

cranberry beans

night corgis

north conway echo lake

north conway fire pits

north conway

rosh hashana carrot cake

walden local meat share

white mountains vista

Pretty much all I want to do today is run around throwing leaves everywhere, drinking hot chocolate, and frolicking. It’s here! FALL IS HERE! 

Other things of note:

:: 29 miles until I get to 300 miles cycled in September with RunKeeper. Only 1.5 days left to go!
:: 40 days until I run a marathon. Probably should start running again
:: Reading: Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Shroom, Dinner – The Playbook
:: Eating: fresh shell beans, meat from my Walden Local Meat share
:: Drinking: iced coffee. (I’m from New England. I’ll drink it all year long.)
:: Back in rotation for stew, stocks, and other warming dishes: my Instant Pot!

Lately

topiaries.jpg

sockeyesalmon.jpg

Hardboiled Eggs

20140701-151133-54693232.jpg

20140701-151133-54693793.jpg

20140701-151504-54904772.jpg

20140701-151505-54905300.jpg

Green Juice

June, which, somehow is gone already, was a good month.

I went to Dublin, to speak at LocWorld. I ate at a Michelin starred restaurant. I had many cups of good coffee, and a few great scones. I have pictures that I’m still processing. I’d love to be back on Howth right now.

I had dear friends come stay with me for their Wellesley Reunion year – we had a house full of college nostalgia. Somehow I missed both Secretaries of State Clinton and Albright – they were both back to celebrate their reunion cycle. I waved at stylish women in antique vehicles who graduate college in the 30’s. I hope that one day I’ll be just as awesome.

I drank a lot of green juice. It got hot around here quickly! I also purchased more straws for my home. Everything is better with a straw.

I got a new photography light – a Lowel Ego – to shoot photos in my kitchen at night.

I ran two races. One of them included a pre-run kayak portion.

I went to track workouts at work. Track workouts are hard!

I but the bullet and got a membership to the Y, mostly so that I can use the pool. I’d forgotten what it was like to swim — and mildly surprised that I could swim a thousand yards without getting bored or exhausted. Sure, an eight year old could beat my pace, but I’m happy to be out there mixing up my workouts, and swimming never feels like “exercise”.

I got a new bicycle. I’m a little afraid of riding it because the seat is high, and I don’t *really* know how to stop yet.

I walked 10,000 steps every day. (My average was 14,000.)

I acquired a modest number of new cookbooks from the New England Mobile Bookfair: one by Bernard Clayton, another by Waverley Root, and the third by Diana Henry.

I listened to several episodes of the Splendid Table, and caught up on RadioLab.

I have a new work commute that lands me in Harvard Square at the end of the day. In the morning, I’ve been enjoying the smooth cold brewed iced coffee at 1369 coffee house. I have very few vices, but coffee is my favorite.

new air conditioner only raised my electric bill by about $5.

Here’s to a fabulous July!

Yellow

Bananas

We got sun today! It’s been a week of dreariness. Grey, sludgy, slushy – I’ve been under the weather, and trapped in the house. It’s the time of year that I get bored of the cold and grey, and hope that we get out of it soon. Spring, when I can play outside again. Spring, when things grow and bloom. Spring, when the ice cracks up on the lake, that whistling and howling and popping that requires you to be walking next to the water at precisely the right moment. Spring, when things feel like they are happening again. In the mean time, I’m patient. I’ve been reading. I’ve been dreaming about writing a cookbook, and a children’s novel, and learning how to paint botanicals. I acquired a bright new lamp, and a little yuca tree, and I’ve been drinking warm beverages.

There’s a lovely photographer I follow named Xanthe Berkeley, who has been working on a collaborative project with Andrea called the color/colour project, focusing on shooting a color at a time. In the cold and grey, I like to pick up my camera to combat the dreariness, so I thought I’d follow suit and capture some yellow this week.

Coffee and eggs Craspedia Mayo Measuring Tape The street

I think we could all use a little less of this ^, and a little more of this..

Yuca Tree

Happy Weekend!

– Sam