EDWRR1Icebox Cakes for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.I had the fun, fun job of chatting with incredible pastry chefs (Dorie Greenspan! Christina Tosi! Michael Laiskonis! Dominique Ansel! Joanne Chang!) about icebox cakes of all things. Even the fanciest chefs, including those who admitted to having never made this type of no-bake cake (ahem, Michael and Dominique), came up with something brilliant and elegant. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the challenge as well. Here’s a link to the recipes.

With romaine hearts, cucumber, jicama and pumpkin seeds, this crisp green salad is insanely refreshing.I have a confession to make: I went all the way to Mexico and fell in love with a pretty basic green salad. Sure, I ate tacos (twice a day), some fantastic grilled chicken and some pretty incredible ceviche. But it’s a salad, at a hotel restaurant, no less, that I can’t stop thinking about.

You see, my trip was to Tulum, which, in the last 10 years has gone from being a backwoods, electricity-at-night-only kind of beach spot to one where half of the people on my Instagram feed go when New York temperatures start demanding boots instead of clogs. These days, Tulum is more bobo than boho, with a relaxed haute hippie vibe (don’t be surprised if you awake to seeing people shooting yoga videos on the beaches and rocks) and, of course, hotels with WIFI signals. (How else could people upload those photos, leaving everyone in Brooklyn drooling?)

Because of restaurants like Hartwood, Gitano and Posada Margherita, Tulum has also become a bit of a food destination. I didn’t go for the food, however. I went for a wedding and a pretty incredible one at that. It was my first real vacation since my daughter was born three years ago and my first long vacation without her.

I’m ashamed to say that, on this trip, I neither visited the famous Mayan ruins nor did I do much obsessive chow hounding. The wedding kept us pretty busy (if you call drinking margaritas in designated spots busy, that is), and in my down time, I was happy to just float in the Caribbean or swing in a hammock with a used copy of Blood, Bones and Butter.

I did, of course, get hungry at times. Unless I was eating a meal hosted by the bride and groom, I often went to the restaurant at my hotel, El Pez. The food there was quite tasty if not groundbreaking, with plenty of good fresh ingredients, including eggs with yolks the color of sunflower petals. On the first night, my friend and I ordered a seafood platter, which included a whole fish covered with octopus, clams and shrimp, all grilled and well-seasoned. Nothing wrong with that! With it came a salad, the salad. A tumble of romaine hearts, pea shoots, large chunks of diced jicama and cucumber and a bracing lime dressing, this salad was so refreshing; hydrating even. I couldn’t stop eating it and remarking, “This salad!” which earned me a few funny looks.

I later had a more substantial version of the salad, this one made with caramelized onion and avocado. There might have been pumpkin seeds as well or I might have imagined them. No matter. I think that the secret to this salad was generous use of lime juice and salt along with a lot of crisp vegetables. I loved the way the cucumber and jicama were cut into large pieces (about 1-inch chunks), giving you delicious contrast between their well-seasoned outsides and plain, juicy interiors. My market sells jicama pre-diced, so you’ll see that the pieces in my photo are a bit smaller.

Ok, enough salad analysis. Here’s the recipe! (Plus, bonus photos from a wedding that looked like it was straight out of a Pinterest board.) continue reading

Photos for The Modern Potluck.

It’s a wrap!

It's so fun to see how this...

It’s so fun to see how this…

...becomes this.

…becomes this.

Some of my favorite cookbooks include no photos or just very few in the centerfold. Of course, cookbooks like this haven’t been published in the last 10 years. With the rise of access to free recipes online, cookbooks have become more like precious objects. They’re expected to be beautiful, with plenty of lush photography, and perhaps, multi-textured covers you just want to hold.

Originally, I was jealous of all of the bloggers who have the skills to style and shoot their own books. Photo shoots are expensive, and in my case (and in many authors’ cases), I was paying for the photos from my advance.

Of course, the shoot ended up being the most fun part of the process for me. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, and it was an incredible experience to collaborate with people who are so good at what they do. By the end, I viewed the shoot as an investment in the book that I hope pays off!

If you’ve never been to a food-related photo shoot and wonder why there are so many people, here is a little summary of all of the jobs.

It takes a village to shoot a cookbook, especially when you're working outside of a studio.

It takes a village to shoot a cookbook, especially when you’re working outside of a studio.

Photographer: Pretty self explanatory. This is the person who takes the pictures and is often the person who assembles the team.

Photo assistant: Does a wide range of jobs to help the photographer, like setting up lighting and props and breaking down scenes after the shot. When we did a day of shooting at my house, there were two assistants plus an intern to help with all of the moving parts.

Art director: In the case of my book, the art director came from the publisher. This person gives general direction in the beginning about the types of colors and textures to include and creates mood boards to help guide the rest of the team. On the shoot, the art director often comes to watch how the shoot progresses and gives feedback on the shots as they happen.

Food stylist: The stylist does so much more than just add a few sprigs of cilantro to a cooked dish! He or she figures out the best order to cook and shoot the food; shops for all of the ingredients; cooks the food and finally styles it. Most stylists spend time working in restaurants and then years assisting before taking on their own high-profile jobs. And while they have a few tricks for keeping food looking photogenic (for example, they often spritz food with water or brush with oil if it starts to lose its sheen), editorial food photos these days show completely edible dishes.

Food styling assistant: The assistant helps the stylist in any way possible, including shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning.

Prop stylist: You know all of those plates, utensils and napkins in a photo? Prop stylists source all of the non-food items necessary for a shoot, including the background surfaces. Oftentimes, the stylist stays on set to choose the items for each shot. In my case, the photographer, the photographer’s assistant and food stylist all chipped in on this task.  Prop styling sounds glamorous but often involves a lot of wrapping, unwrapping and schlepping. (For larger budget jobs, the prop stylist often has an assistant or two).

Props for The Modern Potluck.

This looks like a ton of props but we used all of them!

Food styling essentials.

The food styling essentials.

Love Game of Thrones? This is a must-watch.

Great questions to remember to ask about your work life from Seth Godin.

So many beautiful new things at Rose and Fitzgerald.

You know how you’re never ever supposed to stir rice after you cover the pot? One of my idols, Andrea Nguyen, discovered otherwise in her post about  how to make perfect rice.

Food 52 is cooking from Laurie Colwin’s books this month. These books  are close to my heart: They inspired me to become a food writer over a decade ago. Her recipes, well, I can’t say any of them have ever quite worked out well for me, but she did make everything she cooked sound so completely compelling. I can’t wait to see what other cooks conclude about her recipes.

Note to self: Make this Chinese-style steamed whole fish.

This pistachio pavlova is everything. Or everything I want in a dessert, anyway.