Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Photo Shoot~Chocolate Cake

My son has been begging me to make a cake. I finally succumbed to his wishes and of course a photo shoot occurred before he came home from school to eat it.

I had just gotten these vintage straws in the mail from ebay and had an idea for them in the shot. However as with most photo shoots the plans did evolve into something different. I found some other props at my favorite store anthropologie and I went in a slightly different direction. I love combining new items with vintage.

thinking about props-getting ideas

Every shoot is a little bit unique but what stays the same is the focus and that is the subject. In this case the cake. I made the cake using a recipe I make quite often. This one is from the Food Network website by Pamela Anderson (not of baywatch). Usually I frost it with a chocolate buttercream however today to save some time I used the bakers one bowl recipe I got while working at kraft. It is very quick and surprisingly good. Albeit on the sweet side.

After the cake was done and frosted. I get my scene set. For me creating a world out of what I see in the viewfinder is play time. All that matters is what is in my frame. The first thing I decide upon is the look. When I get a vision in my head I start with a background. In this case the old wood I found was perfect. These were actually old shutters that had some rot. I turned them over and viola beautiful barnwood.  The plate on which to put the cake I loved with it’s handmade look, scalloped edges and muted color.  On the wood however it did not pop so I added a white plate underneath for separation. The recipe book worked great with the vintage straws because the colors were coordinated but subtle. Too me it had a homey feel.

When I shoot using natural light the goal is to find the best light. Not the brightest light but the softest most flattering light. The light will change drastically so working quickly is what I must do. This could be a detriment however I think it is a plus. You have to think fast and you don’t have time to second guess. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like the end result and then you reshoot the next day. This does not happen often.

view from the top

So I found the light in the north lighted window of my kitchen which was spectacular. It started changing quickly due to daylights savings. I moved to a big window in the front with the sun very low. I was shooting on the floor and decided to lay down to get this shot which I absolutely love. As I was laying down I pointed the camera up and the sun was peering over my wood backdrop. It created the effect you see.

Rays of sunlight 

As my new photography friend Kevin said in an email to me. Breaking the rules (ie: shooting into the sun) can yield great results. Always be critical of what others tell you and ultimately judge for yourself. Don't desire to be liked or admired and don't allow your integrity to be compromised.

This I believe to be true and for such a young guy to know this already. Wow!
He is a very good photographer who I am sure will have great success.

So I shot my chocolate cake, broke some rules, made my son happy and had fun. Life is good. 

The End

Oh I almost forgot the recipes...

A Chocolate Cake That's Got It All-Pam Anderson

Butter or shortening, for coating pans
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups cake flour
2 Tbsps cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa, preferably dutch process
1 tsp instant coffee
3/4 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 lg egg whites, at room temperature
14 Tbsps unsalted butter, melted but not hot

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9 inch pans and dust with flour. I always use a parchment round in the bottom. This cake is super moist and will stick.

Whisk sugar,flour,cornstarch,baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Place coffee and cocoa in a medium bowl. Whisk in 3/4 cups boiling water to form a smooth paste. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Set aside.

With a hand mixer in a medium bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Without cleaning beaters, mix melted butter into dry ingredients until mixture is smooth. Immediately add cocoa mixture and beat until batter is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully fold egg whites into batter until just incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between pans and bake until a skewer inserted into center comes out with wet crumbs, 30-35 mintues. Remove from oven and let pans cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert each cake onto a plate. Frost when cooled.

Bakers One Bowl Frosting

4 squares bakers unsweetened chocolate
1 pkg (16 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsps vanilla
1/3 cup milk

They microwave but I use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Add sugar, butter and vanilla. Gradually add milk and beat constantly on LOW speed until well blended. Easy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Am Thankful For....

Top part of the beautiful plant-looks like cabbage

So hard to finish this sentence because there is truly so much to be thankful for. Even though our country is in a recession and the news has not been the brightest worldwide.

Every end of November our thoughts go to turkey, pie, stuffing, football, whose house we are traveling to or not traveling to.
Everything focuses on food and the meal that we are about to enjoy on this Thursday the 24th day of November.

We think back to the meals we grew up having and we remember funny things that happened in years past. Don’t even get my husband going on this one. He would be happy to talk about the year the tablecloth was set on fire by a relative who placed a bouquet of flowers down on the table next to the tapered candles.

Ah yes memories. We remember the meals from the past. Who could forget the canned
cranberries that no one ate. The green bean casserole with the canned onions on top. The pumpkin pie that was a little rubbery. That was then this is now. Today I cook the meal. I do traditional foods with a gourmet twist.

I am thankful for Brussel sprouts. These beauties are a vegetable that I serve  this time of year. They are in season so are at their peak.

I grew some for the first time this year. They were planted to late in the growing season so they are to immature to be eaten. However watching them grow was something I appreciated. They are a beautiful plant.  About 6 inches tall when I planted them. With thick rubbery leaves that just got bigger as the summer progressed. As they grew the stalk got thicker and little sprouts started growing along the stalk as it protruded out of the ground. It looks like a spine to me with the sprouts being vertebrae.

The stalk that grows out of the ground

I have many loves and two of my biggest are photography and cooking. So combining the two is a dream come true. When I photograph food. I get very personal with it. I look at what I am photographing and think about what makes it special. For me the light coming through the leaves was beautiful. The way it outlined the veins. When I pulled the plant from the ground it was spectacular. The weight of it and its purpose was apparent. It was not fragile in any way. Each little sprout was like a work of art. Each leaf resting on the next so tightly and compactly.

I think as home cooks  we appreciate food much more when we know where it comes from. 
When you go to the store and get produce all sanitarily wrapped in plastic to me it has no feeling. When I pull a plant out of the ground or go to the farmers market that food has meaning to me. Hence, I take better care in it's preparation. I have a respect because I know the grower. There is a human attached to it.

Even though my Brussel Sprouts will not be adorning the Thanksgiving table I will use the leaves as garnish around my Turkey. Also part of the top can be used in a floral arrangement. I love combining flowers with vegetables.

Cooking Brussel sprouts is not hard. For successful preparation first they need to be in season. Any vegetable that is not fresh will not be good no matter what you do to it.

little cabbage like sprouts grow along the spine

Brussel sprouts tend to be tough. What I have learned is to make an “X” in the bottom of the stem with a sharp knife. Also trim off the end of the stem to open up the cells. This will insure even cooking. I like to steam my sprouts in a double boiler. If you have sprouts of different size obviously the smaller ones will cook quicker. Just do a knife test. I simply season with fresh salt and pepper.

A quick do ahead method is to steam them the day before serving. Place in a container covered in the refrigerator. When ready to serve. Cut in half and sauté with butter or extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Or try this recipe by Ina Garten one of my favorite chefs. I have been making her recipes for years and they work.

Be sure to think this Thanksgiving about where your food came from. It was grown with love by someone and we need to be Thankful to them for getting it to our table.

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the US

mother earth

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When Your Garden Gives You Green Tomatoes...You Take A Photo

I am not a gardener. Oh I have tried. To grow vegetables that is.

It is a joke between my husband and I about my lack of gardening prowess. But what I do have however is an appreciation for anything grown.

So my yield this year on tomatoes was 4 red ones, 6 green that never went to red before the frost and two green ones eaten by my Labrador Retriever, who is a vegetarian.

Ok nothing we could ever survive on, but being the creative that I am I jumped at the chance to photograph my little green darlings. Plucking them from the vine before the cold made them unphotogenic.

They are simply gorgeous and are bringing me much joy as I move them around on set. The color is stunning.

This year’s low tomato yield I believe to be credited to the weather partially, always blame the weather that is the Chicago way, or to having them in a pot that was too small.

No matter, the few tomatoes that I did grow were stellar in taste. Even though the yield was low my joy was high.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post. I am pulling my brussel sprouts out of the ground before the next frost. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Beautiful Clementines in Season

As a food stylist and photographer there is nothing more exciting than going to your local grocer and seeing a beautiful piece of produce that looks like it was just plucked from a tree. The leaves intact make this clementine so photogenic.

This time of year the clementines are at their peak. After shooting this was suitable for eating and very juicy I might add.

A little clementine history from Produce Pete
 follows. Clementine's are the tiniest of the mandarins. Imported from Spain, Morocco, and other parts of North Africa, clementines are a cross between a sweet orange and a Chinese mandarin. They are small, very sweet, and usually seedless. Most people think of clementines as small tangerines, but they're a different variety entirely, with a distinctive taste. The Clementine is an excellent eating orange. Its small size and lack of seeds make it particularly popular with kids. Clementines have been available in Europe for many years, but the market for them in the United States was made only a few years ago, when a devastating freeze in Florida made domestic oranges scarce and expensive. A lot of oranges, including clementines, were imported from Europe, and clementines started to catch on. Over the past few years they've become increasingly popular, and as the demand has gone up, so has the price.

Clementines also make a nice garnish for the Thanksgiving bird. I hope you can find clementines in your neck of the woods.


Oatmeal is something that ¾’s of our family enjoy. When the weather is cold hot oats hit the spot. 

This studio I work at started putting oatmeal out for breakfast and I really enjoyed it. Let’s face it if there are pastries I will eat them but having oatmeal was a healthy alternative. I felt full after eating it but in a good way.

So I started making it at home. I have this mini crock pot that came with my big crock pot. It is the perfect size for holding our morning oatmeal. When the oatmeal is just about done I put it in the crock pot and cover it. That way it stays hot but is not really cooking so when everyone gets up, all at different times, it will be hot and ready for toppings.

I like dried strawberries, brown sugar and raisins on mine. The sky is the limit with topping ideas.
How about granola, nuts, dried cherries, cream/milk, cranberries or apricots, cinnamon/nutmeg, or fresh fruit. 

The oats that I have prepared are Trader Joe's steel cut oats. How much do we love Trader Joe's products? I have found so many great products there. This one is on the top of my list. I believe it is organic as well. I add a little vanilla to the cooking water and a dash of salt always.

What I like about steel cut oats is the al dente texture. The taste is more nuttier and the texture is chewier than your regular rolled oat. Some think it has a higher nutritional content. I don't believe there is any proof to this.

The texture is due to the processing of the oats. Large steelblades are used to chop the groats into two or three pieces, leaving steel cut oats with a texture that is chewier and coarser than most other forms of oats. 

If you have oatmeal lovers in your household do give this one a try. Drop me a note I love comments. Let me know your thoughts on oatmeal. Love to hear from you all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Today is one of those rainy fall days when the leaves lose their crunch to the wet and become soggy. The light is inspiring and filtered through the clouds making the sky a giant soft box. A hot steamy cup of coffee tastes extra good and you want to put on warm socks grab a good book and snuggle under your new fall blanket. Well I may do the book thing a little later but now I have to catch up on my blog writing. So I am tethered to the computer for a good bit.

Today I am thinking about pomegranates. They are an amazingly inspiring fruit. When I first met one it was a mystery. What do you do with it? How do you eat it? What once used to be considered an exotic fruit is now commonplace in American cities.

The pomegranate is an ancient fruit originating in the Middle East. Westerners started embracing it when scientists discovered the leathery skinned reddish fruit with a crown on one end might help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, folic acid and iron. The pom is the new super food. It is replacing green tea and red wine in topping the list of anti-oxidant rich foods.

I like pomegranate fairly well but it is my daughter that is mad about them. In fact when I come into the kitchen after she has had one it looks like a crime scene from her favorite csi show. I think you know what I mean. The knife is a bloody/pinkish red and the cutting board is filled with the blood red juice dripping onto my counter staining it ever so beautifully. She is just lucky I am not a clean freak.
I tend to look at things in a real way. I like the way it looks all splattered about. Even though I wish Eva, my daughter would get a little better about clean up.

Anyway I tend to see beauty in the real and even messy parts of life. So the pomegranate crime scene can become a thing of beauty and inspiration.

On Halloween night we were at a neighbors for a little after trick or treat dining. Another neighbor Dillon and I were chatting of all things blogging and frugality. Two things I love talking about. Anyway we got talking about our favorite diy projects. I was telling him how I took a pomegranate that we had that was over ripe and browning inside and instead of throwing it into the compost I thought of the red juices that stained my cutting board and decided to take some gauzy fabric and dye it with the crushed pomegranate. Ok I do get a bit excited talking about creating something out of nothing. To me it is thrilling.

I diluted the juice from the crushed pomegarite with a little water and the cloth you see in the photo is the result. I like the color it is very subtle. Many foods are great for making natural dyes. How about beets red or orange, purple cabbage, turmeric, onionskins. What I like about natural dyes is they have a more organic feel to them.

I often dye my Easter eggs this way. Thanks to Ms. Martha Stewart.

So after I told him about my pomegranate dye he told me about a blog he saw that showed how to hit a pomegranate to get the seeds out easily. He did not remember his source or I would reference it. Anyway as in the picture you hold the half of pomegranate over a bowl and I used my meat mallet to whack it. Make sure the membrane is peeled away slightly this will help the seeds literally just fall out.

One quick whack 

hand model? I think not

Before my daughter would attack the pomegranate picking away frantically trying to get the seeds. Not anymore thanks to Dillon’s little suggestion. This method worked very well.

I saw an article on the internet on how to deseed a pom by soaking 
it in water to get rid of the juices and loosen the seeds. Oh such a bad idea. When you rinse the seeds you are losing all the good stuff. I also saw a piece of plastic in our local grocery that touts itself as a pomegranate deseeder. Come on you don’t need a $4.00 piece of plastic to get your seeds out. Just give it a good whack and your done.

I have to say that I get so many tips from people who are not necessarily in the “food business”.

That is why I am always very inquisitive and interested in learning how others do things. Sometimes I learn so much from unexpectant sources. If you have any tips to share about pomegranates or anything please comment. I love to hear what others are doing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuna and Noodle Casserole

Every once in awhile don’t you just crave those oldies but goodies you grew up on. There is something about the flavors of our childhood that bring us joy and comfort. The recipe your mom made you were we’ll acquainted with. Like old friends.

I had some pretty weird things growing up liked chipped beef on toast and canned creamed asparagus on toast. I think these dishes came from the great depression when to make things go further they added a thick white sauce to everything and put it on toast. I think the slang for it was “shit on a shingle”! I don’t see me blogging about these anytime soon. Even though at the time I ate it up.

One childhood favorite that I long for every now and then is tuna and noodle casserole. I don’t have my mothers recipe it was probably one of the recipes on the label of Campbell’s soup.

I looked at joy of cooking for some guidance and this is what I came up with. Books such as joy of cooking are good resources for creating some of these old recipes. You can revamp them to your liking and create a new updated version.

What I love about this recipe is the crunch top and creamy interior. So soothing for these colder days ahead. My husband voted it the best one I have made so far. So hey it is definitely worth a blog post.
For the topping cooks have used things like bread crumbs, potato chips, etc. I happened to have some trader Joes dried French onions (you know those onions that go on the famous dish a lot of people make at thanksgiving with overcooked green beans) my husband picked up a can last year and I never opened them yet. When I was making this casserole they came to mind for the crunch component. I really liked how it turned out . I hope you do too.

Tuna and Noodle Casserole
2 Tbsps butter, unsalted
½ cup chopped onion
6 ozs wide egg noodles, cooked
1 can cambpells cream of mushroom soup
3/4 can (use empty soup can for measure) whole milk
1 tsp white wine Worcestershire sauce
2 small cans albacore tuna, drained
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
¼ cup chopped parsley, loose pack
salt and pepper, to taste


Melt butter in saucepan. Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Cook Noodles in large pot boiling water. Do not over cook. Cook al Dente. You are cooking them again in the oven if you cook them too long at this point they will be mushy and overcooked.
Drain when done.

When onions are translucent turn off heat. Add soup, milk, tuna, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, peas and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Mix gently with noodles and place in casserole dish. Top with trader joes French onions Bake at 375 degrees F. until heated through. Top will look slightly crusted and browned. If getting too dark put tin foil gently over top and continue heating. About 15 minutes total.

Suggestion: I would go out on a limb here and serve this with a full bodied chardonnay and salad of mixed greens.