While cooking, listen to this: Till There Was You by The Beatles
In my dream world, Rina and I work in a light filled studio with professional equipment. Our kitchen is white and full of state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances and large windows. Our counters are covered with fresh flowers; our workplace filled with props and kitchenware that photograph wonderfully. Jon Hamm makes frequent visits and Ina Garten does cooking demos for us. It's a pretty damn great place to be.
But, sadly, my magical powers haven't kicked in yet, so we have to work with what we have on hand. If that means shooting in Rina's bedroom, where the sunlight is, or doing dishes every six minutes to keep her tiny sink from overflowing, then so be it. It's all part of the process that hopefully one day we can look back on and laugh at. Anyone who's stopped by or been privy to the tornado that is our recipe testing and shooting days (hi, Cornelia!) knows that's it's basically a hot mess. But it's something we love nonetheless.
The photos we take for the blog are a perfect example of the struggle of the side-hustle. Working a full time job and making the most of our social life means dedicating one day a weekend to a full-blown cook- and shoot-a-thon. We usually make about five recipes every other weekend, depending on the recipe's complexity and complications. It's a grand ole time with lots of musical song sessions, snacks and kitchen mishaps, but it can be frustrating, especially when it comes to composing and lighting photos.
Where Rina's the masterchef, I take on the role of humble photographer. The challenge comes in, especially in the winter months, when we're racing the sun. Colors change by the hour from blinding bright white to cool eerie blue. I'm no professional and barely have a grasp on the physics of light and image, but when it comes to shooting food, natural light is a must! This proves to be difficult on gray winter days. It's all a game of trial and error, I'm finding, and this salad recipe proved a valuable lesson in the importance of Photoshop's color correction ability. Praised be you, Adobe.
Adjusting so the red and greens pop along side the browns, was tricky as the sun was setting. Plus, I was in Rina's bedroom with one light-filled window, so my options were limited. I think these salad photos turned out pretty decently, considering everything, but the salad's taste? Man oh man is this exactly what your New Years needs.
Oh, Happy New Year, by the way. 2018 looks great on you. We're so happy we have you here for another year of adventures. As a thank you, we're delivering this halloumi salad deliciousness. We're big fans of halloumi, in case you haven't noticed. Those fries we made are hands-down one of my favorite recipes. But I can't take credit for this salad's genius - it comes from my mom, who started with the crispy Parmesan chickpeas and never stopped. When I was in high school, this salad was a staple. I always got so excited when my mom made it, and I tried to hoard as much halloumi as I could.
I know not everyone is a fan of this salty Greek cheese (I beg of you to just give it one more shot!), so if you're super adverse, feta will work just as well. The chickpeas are what really steal the show, so make sure you don't skimp on the pan frying. There's nothing worse than soggy, half-cooked chickpeas!
So, until Rina and I have our dream photography kitchen hybrid studio, we'll be shooting out of Rina's tiny NYC apartment, dreaming large. Here's to a new year filled with fun and exciting adventures and even more halloumi recipes.
PAN-FRIED CHICKPEA + HALLOUMI SALAD
Yield: 4 servings
Total Cook Time: 30m
Category: Salad, Sides, Gluten-Free
Source: Alyssa's mama
12 ounces spinach or other mild, leafy green
1 cup sliced tomato
½ cup red onion, diced or sliced into half-moons
1 avocado, diced
1 8-ounce package of halloumi cheese, cut lengthwise into thin slices
1 can of chickpeas, drained and patted dry
2 Tablespoons oil
1 ounce Parmesan cheese
Salt + pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 medium-to-large clove of garlic, minced
Honey, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fry the halloumi: heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot (a flick of water should sizzle upon contact), add the halloumi directly to the pan. Fry on each side of 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Once cooked, place on a paper towel to absorb access grease.
Make the chickpeas: using the same pan, heat your olive oil until shimmering. Add chickpeas and cook until crispy and golden, about ten or so minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Give it a stir, then turn down the heat and add Parmesan, stirring until the cheese has started to form a gold crust. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
Make the dressing: in a jar or other seal-able container, add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon, garlic, honey, salt and pepper. Shake well and season to taste.
Assemble! in a large bowl, add the spinach, tomato, onion and avocado. Top with chickpeas and halloumi. Dress when serving.
To keep: Though everything keeps decently, this salad is best served hot. Leftover chickpeas and cheese will keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days. Other ingredients should be stored separately, to avoid sogginess.