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!