Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crab Fettuccine in Alfredo Sauce

Well, Jhan and I have been horribly remiss in posting. With Jhan teaching 2 to 4 nights a week, it has been difficult to make the time to cook, much less takes pictures of it.

Well, a couple of nights ago we grabbed a couple of cooked dungeness crabs from Costco. I grabbed a shot of them in the store on my new Motorola Droid cell phone, but neglected to take any real photos of them before we disassembled them for dinner.

The crabs were cooked, so we didn't have to deal with live, multi-clawed crustaceans attempting to escape from our kitchen (which probably would have resulted in high levels of screaming on Jhan's part, and endless hilarity and mirth on my part).

However, I've rarely had to deal with whole crabs, and while it was fascinating, tediously picking tiny little bits of meat out of seemingly hundreds of minuscule orifices and crannies was, well, tedious. I'm not much into fussy, messy foods, but for crab I'll do it.

Anyway, these two crabs (which we named Crabby and Crabella), resulted in a huge amount of crab meat. The first night we had an all-you-can-eat crab feed with melted butter and garlic. I didn't take any photos of it, but it was incredible and I was stuffed with crab. In the end, we got two dinners (each) and two lunches out of $14 worth of crab.Try coming close to that in any restaurant!

The second night, we went for crab and fettuccine in Alfredo sauce, with cracked pepper, thyme and parsley on top.

Given that it was white meat in white sauce on white pasta, I opted for black plates, just so that we could see the food, much less take pictures of it. I sprinkled the chopped thyme and parsley on top and added creacked pepper to add color and texture to an otherwise bland-looking dish. A sprig of parsley on the side added even a bit more color.

I went with earth tones for the place mat and napkin in order to accentuate the yellows and browns in the pasta.

I'm kind of a neat freak when it comes to my images, so it was really hard to resist the temptation to clone out the stray bits of herbs on the plate, but I managed to leave most of them.

The lighting was a simple as it could possibly be. Though I haven't been doing any real studio work lately, earlier that day I had been playing with some different lighting setups just to see what affect they had on the subject. I came to the conclusion that the simplest lighting is most often the most effective. So I decided to go with a single light for this shoot.

I used a Canon Speedlite 580EX, shot through a large reflector. What about filling the shadows? I simply propped up a piece of white foam core opposite the light source. That's it. Set up time: 45 seconds.

I did minimal work in Photoshop; other than cloning, I only did a vibrance adjustment in ACR.

In the end, the photos of this simple meal came out beautifully. Crabby and Crabella were a delightful couple, and it was a pleasure having the two of them over for dinner.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where the Heck are We?

It's been a month since the last post on this blog.

I apologize for that but several things conspired to put the blog on hold temporarily. First, I went to a conference halfway across the country for a week, then I got swamped by work when I got back. Jhan also started another evening class last month, and on top of that had surgery about 3 weeks ago.

As a result, we really haven't had much time to think about posting.

I apologize to the three of you who read this blog. However, we WILL start posting again soon. I doubt we'll post more than once or twice a week - any more than that is just too much for us to deal with, particularly since Jhan is out several nights a week!

Thanks for hanging in there. We're still here and still plan to make it through a whole year!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farmer's Market

OK, I know I've done a post on the farmer's market before and that it's kind of cheating (it's food, but it isn't a 'dish'), but I really do like taking photos at the farmer' market - and I'm in Milwaukee this week, so you get what you get.

Miniature eggplant

Jhan and I went a few weekends ago to pick up some things for meals that we were planning. We went right before the market closed as scored a huge bag of cayenne and other peppers for a buck, as well as some wonderful-looking oyster mushrooms. Both ended up in a beef and oyster mushrooms dish we'll post tomorrow.

Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster Mushrooms

The big difference here from my last farmer's market post is that we were in the middle of the day instead of 7AM. The different light made for different, but no less interesting, shots.

Peppers and Onions
Colorful peppers




Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

We've been doing this blog for about two and half months, and this is the fourth or fifth time pizza has appeared - more than any other food. So, yeah, you could say we like pizza.

And I like shooting pizza.

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

The Food (Jhan)

I know, pizza again!

But I couldn't resist this recipe. I received my new copy of Food and Wine Magazine (October) and saw the article on building a clay oven (p.86) - something I have wanted almost since I learned to cook - and even without the clay oven the recipes sounded interesting. Why did I choose the Zucchini pizza recipe? Simple: we had all of the ingredients in the house.

If you decide to make this pizza, I'd advise that you plan on about 10-12 minutes baking time (on a pizza stone) rather the the 5 minutes called for in the recipe. You may also want to add a little (1 link) cooked, crumbled, spicy Italian sausage sprinkled over the zucchini - the pizza is wonderful on it's own but this extra bit of spicy sausage would really add to the flavor. Also, use fresh summer savory - dried won't do it.

I can't wait to have this pizza again. Check out this month's Food and Wine, there are a lot of great recipes - you may even see a few more of them here.

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

The Plating

Nothing could be simpler than this: black plate on black background. It works every time. I think that's the case because the black really makes the colors of the food pop. I recommend black when you have a food that doesn't have a lot of color, because the black will accentuate whatever color the food does have.

I liked the simple symmetrical placement of the two slices, but really felt that the composition needed something to add both compositional interest and color to the plate. A fresh sprig of basil was perfect.

This was about the simplest plating I've ever done, but I think it's perfectly effective.

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

The Lighting and Photography

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza Lighting Seyup
I used three lights on this shoot... which is becoming pretty standard for me. I shot the key light from the rear through a reflector. I bounced one fill off the ceiling for a soft general light, and bounced on off the sheet to give a little front fill.

Nothing fancy, but you can see how that rear key gives some great reflections off the plate. The ceiling bounce guarantees that there aren't any harsh shadows, and the front light filled in some shadows and put most of the light on the basil in the image below.

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beef with Oyster Mushrooms

Chinese food... I like Chinese food, but it isn't something that I ever crave. And I've never really had good Chinese food in Chico, so it's something we pretty much never have or make.

But we picked up some great oyster mushrooms at the farmer's market, along with huge bag of cayenne peppers (for a buck!), so Jhan thought that a Chinese beef and oyster mushrooms would be an appropriate dish.

And it was delicious. The oyster mushrooms were delicate and the cayennes added the perfect hit of heat - hot, but not mouth burning hot.


The Food (Jhan)

I had a great time making this dish and it took me back to a time when I was cooking in a traditional Japanese kitchen with a group of kimono clad housewives. Although this dish would probably be classified as Chinese, I have used the same methods and ingredients to make some Japanese dishes. With the spices, fresh peppers and beef this dish smells great while it's cooking.

As usual, I kind of made up my own recipe combining some ideas I had gotten from a Thai cookbook and my own expertise with Asian food.

The real secret of this dish is marinating the meat. I used pre-sliced "fajita meat" that was on sale but thinly sliced flank steak will work well too.

For the marinade, mix about a tbsp of cornstarch, a tbsp of water and a tbsp of teriyaki sauce with 1 large clove minced garlic, 11/2 tsp grated ginger, 2 tsp sesame oil and an egg yolk. Add 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, cayenne and freshly ground black pepper to the mix, then add the beef and stir well to thoroughly coat all of the beef strips. Marinate for at least 30 minutes (but not overnight).

When beef is marinated, heat some oil in a heavy skillet and stir fry the beef (in a very hot pan) until browned. Push the beef to the side or remove, add in some sliced onions and fresh red chile rings (one fresh cayenne pepper is probably enough but if you want it really spicy add another pepper), stir fry the onions and pepper until just cooked. Add in the oyster mushrooms and cook for about a minute (these are delicate so don't over do it).

Turn down the heat and add about 1/3 cup beef broth and 2 tbsp oyster sauce (if you removed the beef earlier add it back in now with any juices accumulated). Cook all until just thickened - about 2 min. Garnish this with some chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. I served the beef with noodles that had been tossed with some sesame oil and cracked black pepper. Enjoy!


The Plating

I like plating oriental food because it's always very simple, clean and photogenic. This dish was no different.

I just picked up these plates for $4 a piece at T J Maxx, so I decided to use them in this shoot, along with a place mat, napkin and a bowl of farmer's market peppers in the background. Nothing fancy or inventive, but it's simple and effective.


The Lighting and Photography

Beef and Oyster Mushroom Lighting Set Up
I turned around my lighting set up for this shoot, turning the table 90 degrees so that the long side was against the wall. This gave me a longer stretch of the table to light by bouncing flashes off the sheet, resulting in a light similar to a large softbox.

I bounced the 580EX and the 430EX off the sheet as a single key light and shot the 420EX at -3 stops through the reflector at right to provide just a hint of fill. A piece of foam core in the back provided a touch of fill and an even white background.

I'm stilling deciding if I like this set up better. The big pro is the larger lighting area. The big con is that it's a lot harder to move and set up lights in the smaller available space. On the plus side, I seem to be doing a better job with this set up with white on white lighting set ups!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fig Walnut and Goat Cheese Salad

When I was a kid we lived in a house that had a fig tree in the backyard. I'm not sure anyone else ate any of the figs, but I loved them and would secretly gorge myself on them when they ripened.

Though we never had a fig salad when I was a kid, this dish brought back a lot of memories.

Fig, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

The Food (Jhan)

I was at the farmers market recently looking for seasonal fruit and noticed that there were stalls full of beautiful ripe figs - the aroma was lovely. I scooped some up and, figs in hand, scooted home to find a recipe that would do them justice.

I came across everything from fig pizza (eds. note: Fig pizza?!? You never told me about this! Why didn't we have that??) to recipes for breakfast dishes that could only be intended for old people with fragile digestive systems.

Since I wanted a dish that would show off the fruits' sweetness and color as well as being savory and satisfying, I was delighted to find a salad recipe that incorporated the figs with a creamy goat cheese, toasted walnuts and a flavorful vinaigrette. This sounded so good that I popped for the pricey walnut oil and sherry vinegar ($10.99 and $8.99 - who buys this stuff??). But the cost was well worth it. The salad had a nice mix of sweet figs, spicy dressing, soft cheese, toastey, crunchy nuts and pungent arugula.

I tweaked this recipe somewhat so here's my version:

1 cup cleaned and sorted arugula
1/3 -1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted, broken into chunks
2 oz peppered goat cheese
3-4 ripe figs,quartered

Dressing (prepare earlier to allow flavors to blend )
1clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot,minced
1 tsp good quality Dijon mustard
kosher salt
ground pepper
3tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 cup walnut oil

Mix vinegar, garlic, shallot, salt , pepper and mustard. Wisk in oil. Drizzle over salad.
This recipe make a lot of dressing - save the remainder to use for mixed green salads or over tropical fruit.

Original recipe found at

Fig, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

The Plating

This was yet another case where I had no clue what to do with the dish. Jhan has her ideas of how the dish should look, but it's a rare instance when I can actually understand - much less implement - what she envisions. I'm not sure why that is, but I think she's trying to use some form of telepathy to communicate - a form that (as a male) I'm unable to receive.

As a result, I had to sort of make it up as I went along. Fortunately, it worked out OK.

We had barely enough arugula to lay on the plate, so I put it down in a circular bed to make it look a bit bigger and to hide the stems under the rest of the dish. I cut the figs in quarters and arranged them in a rosette and put a blob of goat cheese in the center with the walnuts and dressing on top. Very simple, but it came out looking very appealing.

Fig, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

The Lighting and Photography

Fig, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad Lighting
I tried a few shots with two lights, but quickly realized that the rosette of fig quarters was going to have pretty deep shadows on one side or another unless it was lit from all sides.

As a result, I ended up with a fairly typical 'surround sound' lighting set up. The key light was placed to the left-rear and bounced off a sheet for extra softness (sounds like a toilet paper ad). The main fill was placed to the rear and shot through a reflector. And finally, I used a third light, dropped a couple of stops and shot through a reflector to fill in some of the shadows on the front side of the salad. I also placed a reflector to the left of the dish to give a bit of fill on that side as well.

I used bit of PS levels adjustments to bring up the shadows a bit more in processing.

Overall, I think it came out pretty well.

Fig, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Mmmmmmmmmmmm.... nachos. Nachos used to be a staple for me before I got married. Nachos, beer and a bad sci-fi movie: the perfect recipe for a perfect evening.


Now that I'm married, I don't get to watch too many bad sci-fi movies. But every once and a while we do make nachos (not often enough).

I tried playing with the lighting on this shoot, using some gels I had just got. It isn't the most successful shoot I've done, but I need to get out of the rut I've been in and start experimenting!

The Food (Jhan)

I admit that we don't have Nachos too often and I know that Tony would probably eat them night after night if it wasn't for his pesky wife always worrying about his cholesterol or something silly like that. I love Nachos too, but I don't think they're particularly healthy, so I rarely make them.

When I do make nachos I usually make them with ground turkey or shredded roasted chicken instead of ground beef - that lightens them up a bit. I also add a lot of fresh veggies and herbs to the meat mix - green onion, chopped tomatoes, handfuls of chopped cilantro, peppers, etc. The added veggies cut down on the need for a lot of cheese.

And while I'm always thinking about cutting calories out of a dish, I'm also rather addicted to guacamole so I can't have Nachos without guacamole (and don't forget the sour cream!). I guess everything's a trade off.

I thought that Tony did a great job of styling these nachos. Even though I knew that they would be delicious no matter how they looked, he made them look very appealing.


The Plating

Normally when you make nachos you just toss some chips on a plate, pile with cheese, olives and salsa and then repeat as many times as you want. Unfortunately, in a purely visual sense, that's not necessarily very appealing. A plate of nachos can tend to look a bit 'pre-digested', if you get my drift.

So for this dish, I actually spent a fair amount of time trying to make the nachos look appealing. I started by going through the bag of chips chip by chip, anally selecting only perfectly whole and unbroken chips for the plate. Then I carefully arranged each chip to make two perfect rings upon which I carefully spooned out meat and salsa. I sprinkled cheese on top of that and individually placed each olive. A sprinkle of cilantro, and voila! - it looked just as messy as if I had just tossed everything on the plate. Oh well. I tried!


The Lighting and Photography

Nachos Lighting
The day we made nachos was also the day I received my Rosco Strobist gel set (cool!) and figured I'd give them a shot right away.

I decided to go with a 23 orange filter to create a strong colored background. I put the filter on my 420EX, which I set on an overturned trashcan under the table I pointed it at the backdrop and hoped for the best.

The key and main fills were to the left and right of the dish, shot through reflectors. They both needed flags to prevent their white light from spilling onto the geled backdrop.

Overall, this worked OK, but only OK. I certainly got a colored background, but I'm not sure that orange was the best color. Also, I had a hard time getting the white balance on the images right when I converted the RAW files, and I was never really happy with the color of the food.


Monday, September 28, 2009

A Fine Wine Detour

OK, I know this blog is supposed to be about food and food photography, but today's post is going to have precious little of either. This post is going to be about wine tasting.

I apologize in advance for the photos; I never even thought to take a 'real' camera, so these were shot with Jhan's point and shoot.

Some of the wines we tasted
Some of the wines we tasted at Renaissance Winery

Jhan and I both love wine, and back when we could really afford it, we used to buy and drink a lot of really good wine. In fact, I was the wine columnist for a local paper for a couple of years. You can still read my  columns on my old wine blog.

But now, we've fallen on lean times and rarely get the pleasure of doing wine tasting or even drinking decent wine. But Jhan recently got a small wad of unexpected cash (bank robbery FTW!), and we decided to spurge by going out wine tasting. And boy howdy, did we!

Our typical haunts include the Sierra foothill wineries in Eldorado, Amador and Calaveras counties, but this time we decided to visit a couple of obscure but notable wineries closer to home: Clos Saron and Renaissance wineries. Never heard of them? Well, now you have.

Both actually have the same wine maker, Gideon Beinstock, who has been making wine for Renaissance Winery since 1992 and for himself under the Clos Saron label since about 1999.

We first encountered Gideon's wines several years ago at Red Tavern restaurant in Chico - a truly stunning 2003 Black Pearl. So, though we've known of his wines for awhile, this weekend was the first time we visited either winery. And was it ever worth it!

Visits to Clos Saron are by appointment only, so we called Gideon on Friday and he graciously agreed to meet us the next day, even though he was heading off to do a tasting in Grass Valley.

I'm not going to give tasting notes on the wines that we tasted (this isn't my old wine column after all) other than to say that he's growing Pinot Noir in the Sierra foothills - Pinot that probably won't won't hit it's peak for another five to ten years. Big stuff. His syrah is pure and massive. And the Black Pearl, well, it's a monumental wine. All have the potential to age ten years or more.

Gideon himself is a very soft spoken but nonetheless passionate wine maker. His home facility for Clos Saron is tiny and littered with cases of wine stacked to the ceiling, but his love for what he's doing clearly comes through.

His philosophy of winemaking is very traditionally French and naturalistic. He's not one of those wine makers who try to control and manipulate every second of the wine making process. Instead he believes in letting the process take its natural course with minimum intervention. He doesn't inoculate his wines, nor filter, fine or rack them. But rather than turning out rough or brutish, his wines have an unexpected purity and honesty.

That said, they clearly aren't for everyone, as was reaffirmed when we moved a half mile down the road to Renaissance Winery.

Renaissance is part of a huge property run by the Fellowship of Friends, either a spiritual development group or cult, depending upon your point of view. Their teachings are supposedly based on the Fourth Way, taught by George Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky. But other than seeing a very large and well maintained property, there were no odd vibes. Personally, I would ignore everything other than the fact that it's a winery.

Renaissance Winery
In front of the Renaissance Tasting room

The day we were there they were holding a vertical tasting of Cabernets back to 1983 - yes, that's not a typo. We expected the place to be packed, but other than one other couple from Sacramento, we were amazingly the only people there. As a result, we got the full attention of the wonderfully hospitable and knowledgeable tasting room manager, Lana Sladkova. We spent over two hours tasting and discussing a wide range of Renaissance wines. It was heavenly!

Lana - Renaissance Winery
Lana Sladkova, Tasting room manager at Renaissance

The wines here bore the unmistakable character of their winemaker: monumentally structured wines with incredible longevity. We were quite stunned with the complexity and quality of these wines. But the Cabernets in particular were notable. We tasted five cabs, from 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, and 1983 (the only non-Gideon wine we tasted).

1983 Cabernet at Renaissance Winery
Some of the cabs we tastes, including the 1983

Each had its own character, but shared a massiveness that was impressive, but probably not appealing to a lot of wine drinkers. People who love fruity fruit bomb wines would not be happy with these wines. These wines would knock them down, beat them up, and take their lunch money. But to me, that was a lot of the appeal - virtually no one is making wines like this any more.

Gideon's makes wine in an old world, old school style - built to age and mature, to slowly come into their own as their towering tannins slowly mellow. They are not meant for immediate gratification. And the fact that the 2001 Cabernet is the current vintage at Renaissance reflects this philosophy.

In the end, we had a wonderful, wonderful day. We tasted over a dozen wines at Clos Saron and Renaissance combined, we were subjected to incredibly graceful hospitality at both places. For me at least, it was the best wine tasting experience I've had.

We will be pairing some of these wines with food over the coming months, and hopefully, we'll be able to work more wine into the blog as we go along.

Wines tasted at Renaissance Winery
The tasting bar at Renaissance - with some of the wines we tasted

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dutch Baby

"I know; let's make a dutch baby for breakfast tomorrow!"
"I love eating small children as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure what's so special about kids from the Netherlands."
"No, silly, a dutch baby is like a fluffy, eggy pancake!"

That pretty sums up our first discussion of dutch babies. I'd never had one or even heard of them. Turns out that they have nothing to do with either the Dutch or babies. Who knew?

But Jhan insisted on making this cannibalistic curiosity. As promised, the dutch baby was eggy and fluffy and went great with fresh fruit and warm syrup. I still don't know why anyone would make such a thing, much less name it after newborns from Amsterdam, but it was really good.

Dutch Baby

The Food (Jhan)

When my son was a toddler I used to make this puffy pancake for Sunday breakfasts. As he got older I got busier and had little time to make special weekend breakfasts. The tradition has been revived though - the Dutch Baby is a favorite with my daughter-in-laws' family and she now makes it regularly as a treat for my two grandsons.

These eggy pancakes are very versatile and can be served with fruit or maple syrup for breakfast, with a savory creamed chicken or scrambled eggs and cheese for a light dinner or filled with ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream for dessert.

Use a Preheated iron skillet to bake the pancake.
  1. 1Preheat the oven and the skillet to 425 degrees
  2. In the blender mix just until smooth :
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 cup flour
  3. Pull skillet out of the oven and melt 6 tbsp butter in hot skillet, swirl melted butter to coat bottom and sides of skillet
  4. Add to batter in blender: 3 eggs
    Pulse to a count of 6 -just to thoroughly blend eggs into the batter (do not over mix)
  5. Pour batter into skillet over melted butter
  6. Bake for about 18-22 minutes until puffed and golden brown
Serve immediately, filled with your favorite filling, or sprinkled with powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Dutch Baby

The Plating

OK, this thing was in an iron skillet in the oven, so you can imagine how hot it was. Also, a dutch baby is delicate like a souffle, and cutting it or taking it out of the skillet might cause it to collapse. With all that in mind, I went for the simplest possible thing: leave it in the pan and put it on a cutting board.

Lighting and Photography

Dutch Baby Lighting
because of the size and depth of the skillet, I didn't want any strong shadows on this shoot, so a used a 'surround sound' lighting approach, with lights on three sides of the food. Most of  the photos were taken with the key light to the rear of the skillet, with fill lights to the right rear and left front.

Over all, this lighting worked pretty well for the subject, and avoided any deep shadows.

Dutch Baby

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coconut Shrimp Curry

In some ways this shoot was the opposite of the Kefta shoot. There, the food was great and the plating and lighting were bad. Here, the plating and lighting were great, but the food, though good, wasn't quite to my taste.

Spicy Shrimp Curry

It isn't that I don't like curry - I love curry. It's just that I don't like sweet curries, and this one definitely had some sweetness to it.

One thing I'm learning in this process is that the tastiest meals aren't always the prettiest, and the prettiest meals aren't always the tastiest. Some you win, and some you lose.

The Food (Jhan)

Indeed, you win some and you lose some. I thought this curry was great but Tony was thrown by the sweetness of this dish, and even though he agreed that the flavor was good, he gave it a thumbs down overall.

Here's the deal - I prepared a coconut milk curry with shrimp. For sweetness and balance, this recipe called for the addition of one green apple. I thought the apple was fine and actually added to the dish, but Tony felt that the apple slices in the curry were just plain weird. Without the apple the curry would have been good anyway, and I think I could have substituted a potato and about a teaspoon of brown sugar to round out the flavors of the spices.

It's clearly a matter of personal taste but I will say that this recipe was easy and created a spicy yet smooth red curry sauce -perfect for shrimp or chicken. The curry was also very colorful and eye appealing with chopped tomatoes and frozen peas and carrots. This stuff is good! I will definitely prepare this dish again sans the apple.

Spicy Shrimp Curry

Here's the recipe for the sauce base, you can add raw shrimp,chicken pieces or seared firm tofu for protein and an apple or other fruit and whatever vegetables you like.

Sauce base:
1tbsp good quality curry powder
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can coconut milk ( 14 oz.)
1 chopped onion
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp grated ginger
vegetable oil
Heat oil in heavy skillet. Saute onions garlic and ginger until soft and slightly caramelized. Add spices, cook until fragrant. Next add vegetables of your choice (see below). Cook until tender. Add coconut milk stir and bring to a simmer. Add protein and cook through in simmering sauce. Top with chopped cilantro and serve over steaming hot rice.

1 thinly sliced potato or 1 sliced green apple
2-3 tomatoes seeded and chopped,
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1 handful chopped cilantro
1 lb peeled whole shrimp or cubed chicken breast or cubed pan seared firm tofu
Above based on recipe from


This was a stewy curry, and I knew it would be, so I used a couple of nice square bowls for the curry (I've discovered that having two of your entree in the photo adds some depth and interest to the image). I put the rice in a nice round rice bowl, and put it all on a simple warm toned place mat. I carefully picked out the best shrimp and put them on top of the dish to act as the main attention point.

Spicy Shrimp Curry

Lighting and Photography

Spicy Shrimp Curry Lighting
I wanted a pretty soft light for this shoot, but I wanted a very bright background, so I bumped the key light (placed to the rear and shot through a reflector) up a stop or two over the fills. The front fill was too strong when shot directly through the reflector, so I turned it around and bounced it off the wall to soften it even more. I added a flash (bounced off a sheet) to the left of the dish and a reflector to the right for additional fill.

Spicy Shrimp Curry

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Middle Eastern Kefta

I love me some Middle Eastern food. Fortunately, Jhan does too, or there would be a problem. This was the first time that Jhan's made keftas, though we do Middle Eastern snacky dinners (hummus, pits, etc.) relatively often.

This was one of those shoots where the food tasted way better than I was able to make it look.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Food (Jhan)

Once again, I found myself trying to satisfy my craving for Middle Eastern food with no cash to head out to the local falafel shop. I looked around the pantry and dove into the freezer and came out with enough ingredients to make a dinner of grilled kefta with flatbread, and homemade tzatziki and tahini sauces.

For the kefta, I added grated onion, a couple cloves of minced garlic, a handful of chopped parsley, salt, pepper and 2 tsps of ground cumin to a pound of ground beef and refrigerated the meat mixture over night. I shaped the burger mix into oval patties, brushed them with EVOO and then cooked them on a charcoal grill. They smelled great while they were cooking and overall they tasted good too. Next time, though, I'll add a little more cumin, garlic and parsley. (Tony and I really like strong spicey flavors.)

One of the surprise hits of the evening though was the tzatziki sauce. I tried a new recipe and it was amazing.
Here it is:
2 of those Persian cucumbers from Trader Joe's - the best cucumbers ever!
1 container of nonfat Greek yogurt
3-4 cloves of garlic minced
3 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice
mint and lemon zest for garnish

Scoop the seedy soft center out of the cucumbers, grate and place in a colander, salt lightly and drain for about 30 minutes.
Mix remaining ingredients together, set aside.
Later, rinse the cucumber and squeeze out water, combine with yogurt mixture and check seasoning. Garnish with mint and a bit of lemon zest

This stuff is thick, tangy, minty and refreshing. It can be paired with meat or veg dishes or served as a dip. The basic recipe is from The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Plating 

This was one of those shoots where I had no clue what I was doing right from the start. Before Jhan started cooking the keftas, I knew they were going to be very small, so I picked out the smallest square plates I had. But otherwise, I had no idea what to do with them. I was afraid I was going to be plating little brown lumps.

Once the keftas were cooked, they indeed looked like little brown lumps on the plate. I tried putting some tahini sauce under them and sprinkled diced tomato and cucumber, along with some feta cheese on top.

Now they looked like lumps with diced tomato and cucumber, along with some feta cheese on top. I added a slice of flat bread to the plate in a last desperate attempt to draw attention away from the kefta's essential little-brown-lumpiness. Sadly, the flatbread was probably the best looking thing on the plate.

None of this is to say that it wasn't delicious - it was. But delicious doesn't equal photogenic, which is something that this dish - at least plated the way I did it - wasn't.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Lighting and Photography

From bad plating to worse lighting - that was the theme of this shoot. I was so frustrated with the lighting for this shoot that I didn't even take a photo of it. The main problem? Even though I was using all four of my flashes (including the 550EX I had just purchased from KEH), every shot was coming out 2 stops underexposed. Only the magic of Photoshop saved the shoot from being a total disaster.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about flashes, flash metering or any of that. I put my 5D Mk II in manual mode, set the shutter speed to 1/00th and the aperture to something between f/2.8 and f/8, and let the camera, my flashes and my ST-E2 wire flash trigger figure out the right amount of light to put out. How it does all that is a dark and bloody mystery to me. And when it comes out wrong like it did in this shoot, I have no freakin' idea of how to fix it. 

I really wish I had a clue as to what I was doing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

By now everyone knows that I'm not a huge fish fan (and if you don't, check out this post), but I do love other kinds of seafood - prawns, lobster, calamari and scallops are all favorites of mine. Fortunately, Jhan loves them too. If they weren't so expensive, we'd eat them a lot more often.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

I wish these were fresh scallops, but I'm not even sure where you would get them in town. I am sure, however, that we couldn't afford them if we did find them. These were frozen scallops we found at Costco that we managed to talk ourselves into buying...
"Ooo, frozen scallops! Yum!"
"We can't afford those!"
"This is probably the only way we'll ever eat scallops at home."
"Well, I suppose we could cook something for the blog with them."
"Only if you want to. They'd look very nice, I'm sure."
The scallops were divine (if stone cold from sitting there while I took pictures of them), but the orange saffron aioli was maybe perhaps possibly just a tiny bit less than the best thing I've ever eaten. Truth be told, it was very odd and reminded me a bit of latex paint - but only in the best possible way (if that's possible). It wasn't bad per se, but it was definitely too mayonnaisey for me, and it didn't seem to do a thing for the scallops. Fortunately, Jhan concurs, or else I'd have to sing the praises of this beautiful but odd sauce.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

The Food (Jhan)

I was so excited that we were having scallops for dinner and I wanted to find just the right recipe. I went through our shelves of cookbooks, moved on to our stacks of food magazines, and finally ended up on the Internet looking for a recipe that just said "amazingly delicious" to me.

I finally found it - or so I thought.

If you think about it, basic scallops are pretty easy: make sure they are dry, that the pan is sizzling hot, and don't overcook them. For me, it's the sauce and other fixings that make scallops truly amazing. So I found what I thought was the "perfect" recipe on the Food Network site: sea scallops with saffron aioli.

From experience I know that their recipes have been tested and are fairly reliable, so I went right to work preparing the side dishes to have everything ready just as the scallops finished their short sear. I prepared the aoili exactly according to directions, without changing anything... and it looked beautiful with that golden sunrise yellow color from the saffron and the orange juice.

Well... the scallops were great, perfectly cooked, sweet, nice crust, tender. But the aioli was not so hot! It wasn't terrible, but neither the flavor of the saffron nor the the flavor of the orange juice really came through it was just a mayonaisy sauce. Too bad, because the saffron really colored the sauce nicely. A pretty dish with good scallops, but not a recipe I care to share. I'd recommend that the next time you cook scallops you pan sear them and add a nice white wine, butter and herb sauce and just enjoy that "taste of the sea".

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

The Plating
This is one of the few dishes that I have been able to really visualize in advance. I knew I wanted two scallops in the center of a small plate, surrounded by sauce. Something green for a garnish, and done. Period.

And that's exactly how it turned out: sauce spooned into the dish, large scallop stacked on a small scallop, a bit of orange zest grated on top, and then a few sprigs of chive (painstakingly selected) delicately placed on top. I was as happy with how this came out as I possibly could be.

The Lighting and Photography

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli LightingI really wanted to try and duplicate (as close as I could) a relatively soft window lighting. So I went with three flashes to make as large a lit area as I could, based on the assumption that a big part of the softness of window light is the size of the opening that the light is coming through.

I pointed two lights at the white sheet hanging from the wall, and aimed one flash through a reflector. To add a bit of fill I used a piece of white foam core to the right of the food, and a copy of a book of my photographs (Five Assignments - it won an Honorable Mention in the Photography.Book.Now competition) that happened to have a white cover to the left of the food.

Amazingly, I was very happy with the results! The light was very high key overall, but showed a lot of detail in the scallops along with some nice highlights off the scallops, the sauce and the plate.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli