Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My interview with Australian Food Stylist and Author of Wild Sugar Desserts Lyndel Miller

Well today the kitchen is in a bit of a buzz as I am happy to announce that I have my first interview/guest blog post.  Today I have the pleasure to post an interview I gave to fellow food stylist Lyndel Miller. She is chatting today about her life as a food stylist, her new cookbook and other good stuff.

Cover of Wild Sugar Desserts published by New Holland Publishers

Here is lovely Lyndel Miller food, prop and interior stylist, recipe developer and writer who hales from Brisbane Australia.



In your “about” section on your web page in paragraph 7 you can be found fossicking. Can you tell us non Australian's what that means?

It means to rummage or search for :)
I am constantly searching for props, for my hire catalogue or a particular job. Right now I am on the search for “Kitsch” items which is great fun!

Can you tell me a little bit about the food shots on your portfolio? Were they shots you did for fun or jobs or both?

Most of the photos in my online portfolio ( are published works. I can’t wait to have the time to do just some portfolio shots that are just for fun.
You’ll find a lot of dessert images are from my latest book Wild Sugar Desserts which I not only food and prop styled but co-authored.
I contributed over 40 recipes of my own and some from our successful family business.
I am also a recipe developer. I love this aspect of my job also.

In Chicago it is very hard to break into the food styling field. Can you tell me about your experience getting into food styling? Did you assist a stylist first to learn the trade?

I have been very fortunate, in the right place at the right time you could say. During my studies, a mutual friend introduced me to a talented photographer named Mindi Cooke who wanted to break into food. We got together and started doing portfolio work and soon that stemmed into commercial work which Mindi sent my way.

We built a strong relationship and absolutely love working together. Mindi also worked on the book.

I feel right at home with the work. I felt like I had been doing it all my life really and in some respects I had been. I have spent well over 10 yrs in commercial kitchens in the past. I had already been “plating” dishes in a rustic fashion for years.

I would imagine it is the same with other food stylists, you either have it in you or not?

I have jumped at opportunities for TFP (trade for portfolio), this is when photographers and stylists collaborate on a piece of work for free to get a sample for their portfolios, if I have felt the work would benefit my portfolio and I think it is a good idea.
I have been very fortunate as it is difficult here too in Brisbane, Australia. Most work for stylists is generated in Sydney, so you really need to be pro-active. Luckily, I am getting enough work to fuel my passion and I am writing another cookbook which I hope to have published. 

Before I ask you about book number two lets talk about book number one out this month. How did the idea for Wild Sugar Desserts come about?

Wild Sugar Desserts was a gift from Skye Craig (Masterchef Series 2). I had done some styling jobs for Skye, which was a great success, and one thing led to another and Skye offered me to co-author her dessert cookbook with her. We were untied by our love of desserts. We love, cried and danced our way through the book and it evolved into such a thing of beauty. Our publisher loved it so much that they headlined it for the international market. So it should be available in your stores too. It is very exciting. 

We want to give the photographers credit, can you tell me who worked with you on Wild Sugar Desserts?

I worked with Celeste Vlok from Sydney and Mindi Cooke from Brisbane. Both amazing photographers and great fun to work with. 

Has there been a food item or job that was most pleasurable to style? How about one that was bloody awful?
All of it is pleasurable, I just love my craft. I love the challenge.

Not so pleasurable, mmm-real ice cream, you can have some trying moments with it, you have a giggle with the challenge, you have to embrace it.

Do you have a food blog? What do you think of all the food blogs at the moment?

I haven’t had time to make one, but have had a lot of interest. I have a page though at

I really haven’t an opinion on blogs at the moment as I haven’t had the time to explore. I don’t follow any at this time. I love "What Katie Ate", here in Australia, Kate’s work and blog is really fantastic. ME TOO I LOVE HER WORK.

Have you done both commercial and editorial food styling? Which do you prefer?

I love both!! Commercial work is your bread and butter though. 

In Australia do the stylists work on a day rate?

Yes we do. Rates can range from between $650-$1,350 per day AUD 

Is there a food styling tool you could not live without? 

Tweezers, bamboo skewers, baby wipes, lens cleaner and herbamare are my must haves in my styling kit. If I had to pick one thing, that's tough-tweezers.

What do you think are the most important elements of a good food photograph?

That the food is the hero! Composition, and that the food (hero) generates an emotive response. I aim to create "food porn" (can I say that)?

You also rely on the photographer to create beautiful lighting. Some times you may have to direct here to get the result you envisage.

Is there a dream job or client you would love to have? 
I would love to work with my idols in the styling industry. Sibella Court, Glen Proebstel are my favourites!
I love Sharyn Cairns and Chefs Karen Martini, Nigella, Jamie, Yotam, Tessa Kiros, Charmaine Soloman and Ravinger Bhogal...there is a few!:)
I admire them for different reasons, all are fabulous!!! And am sure I am yet to discover others :) 

My dream will be to publish my next book currently in the making with many family secrets. All "Healthy Bee" recipes that peeps used to queue up to 10 metres down the street for. There are treasures to come.

Oh that brings me to my next question. Can you give us a sneaky peak on your next book? 
Well,  the Healthy Bee was our family owned restaurant. It closed 5 years ago after my dad passed away suddenly. People came for miles to eat here. Celebrities would get off at the airport and have their limo drivers pick up supplies from the restaurant for their trips. So this book will be very personal.

I will have recipes that are healthy, easy, inspired deliciousness all done in a kitchy style. Very exciting.

Has social media been a boost to your business and if so how?

It has, I think, and I say that because others think I do it well. Though I don't think I am that savvy, so it could possibly work better for me if I spent some time learning more about it. Any suggestions?

I enjoy networking and connecting with creatives and supporting others. It is a great place to share inspiration. I am loving Pinterest at the moment and have a Food Glorious Food board at pinterest is great fun but I wish artists were credited more for their beautiful work. That is it's downfall I think.

Looking forward to getting a copy of your book and trying some of those gorgeous looking recipes like this one for Strawberry Yoghurt Cheesecake. 

Photography by Celeste Vlok

Strawberry Yoghurt Cheesecake 
This is one of my all time favourite desserts. All credit here, goes to my culinary hero, my Mum, Carole Seymour..It took years to get this recipe mind you, and while I have made this now numerous times, I never tire of it. I modify it often, as does my daughter ( that’s the beauty of it! ) ..My kids jump up and down at the whisper that one may be on it’s way, planned for a Sunday treat…we all love it, I hope you love it too , and make for all you love. Strawberry is my choice of yoghurt, cherry a close second. Thanks MUM !!!! Love you 
Serves 8 -12,( big slices in this house!!)


1 packet ( 400g / 14 0z ) digestive biscuits or your choice
6-8 tbsp ( 80 - 100g) melted butter ( some biscuits are more absorbent than others)
Butter, for greasing 20 cm spring form pan


2 ½ cups ( 630g ) of your yoghurt of choice or 4 x ( 170 g = 680g ) sized flavoured yoghurt tub ( of course you can use greek yoghurt and add a coulis here, just make to 2 ½ cups..have a play )
250 g ( 9 oz ) cream cheese
1 cup ( 200g / 7 oz ) raw sugar
2 tbsp ( 40g ) powdered gelatin ( or agar agar *)
1/3 cup ( 2 fl oz ) hot water


Prepare a spring form pan, cover the base with greaseproof paper or foil and grease over the top and sides of pan with a little butter.

Crush the biscuits, use a food processor or place biscuits in a zip lock bag to suit and roll a rolling pin over the contents until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs.

In a small saucepan, over a low heat, melt the butter. Combine the two ingredients and press into the base and sides of the prepared spring form pan.

Place the prepared base in the freezer for 10 minutes, until you add the filling.


Blend the yoghurt, sugar and cream cheese in a blender.

Take the gelatin powder and hot water and mix well, to avoid lumps.

When fully dissolved add to blended yoghurt mix and blend again. At this point don’t walk off to a soapie or answer the phone. Gelatin sets REALLY quickly! )

Remove the pan from freezer, and add the filling, return to fridge to set.

When set remove and run a knife around the edge of pan, release the spring and carefully remove the ring over the top of cake.

Cut to desired serving sizes and serve on it’s own or with Berry Coulis page 00
For the vegetarian or additive sensitive, use Agar Agar as an alternative to animal derived gelatin. 

Thanks so much Lyndel for such a great interview and for sharing a recipe! Through our emails back and forth across the ocean I have come to know you and am happy to call you friend or do you say "mate"?!
If anyone has any questions for Lyndel or myself please leave them in the comments section or email us directly. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Frost Gelato

Raspberry Gelato From Frost

In cities and suburbs alike new shops come and they go. So when a new shop comes to town we hope it will be a good one and stay longer than the last. In the fall of 2011 the kids were talking about a new shop called Frost opening on the main drag of our suburb, Highland Park, IL. They had heard it was a gelato shop.

When Frost came to town I was optimistic, who doesn’t love good gelato, but was not rushing right out to check it out. My son and daughter who are pre-teen and teens respectively, go up-town with their friends and hang out. It is a social thing for their age group. They had both tried the new shop before I and couldn’t wait to tell me it was soooo good. I heard about the flavors they tried and the buzz was starting about Frost.

Now I have to say that the first time I had real gelato was in Florence, a little gelato place on the quay about two blocks north of the Ponte Vecchio.
Those were the days

Walking the streets of Florence and Rome all day believe me you need the calories to keep you going on the cobblestone streets and through the ruins. So we stopped in. I was in heaven. The colors and flavors were spectacular. I believe I had pistachio. Smooth, creamy, perfectly balanced goodness. Pure joy.

So the rest of the Italy trip it was gelato not every day, but most. One day we were near the famous Trevi fountain and there was a gelato shop on the corner. We stopped in for a scoop and ended up having a nice talk with the person in the store about gelato and how it was made. I was intrigued. The shop was so small but he said he made it on the premises. We talked, he in his broken English me with my broken Italian, and he asked if I wanted to see where it was made. He took me to the basement. It was a very small room with a machine and a work table.  He told me how they put the ingredients in and gelato was made. But of course he would not tell me the details because then he would have to kill me. That is what I love about Italians, they have a passion for whatever they love. Gelato is no exception. It was made with love, quality ingredients and artistry.

After Italy the next best gelato I had was in Philadelphia when on a trip with my husband and kids. One night we stumbled by this gelateria, Capogirogelato.
Oh this was good. Just like Italy.  That is what my standard is when comparing gelato. It was a perfect nightcap to a fabulous dinner. We walked the streets of Philly with our gelato, back to our hotel in perfect bliss.

So when I had the opportunity to try our new gelato place in suburbia I was hoping for Italy but not counting on it.

It was the month of November and still a little too cold for gelato, actually is it ever too cold for gelato? but my son and his friend were hungry so I thought we would stop in for a treat. It was my first time. When you walk into the store you notice it is clean. The next thing you notice is the greeting you get from behind the counter. A smile and a welcome are most appreciated in today’s I’m too busy society.

Ok already feeling good and then things get really good when you get in line by the gelato case. It is a visual overload. First of all the case is huge and a work of art. Each gelato and sorbet is garnished with an ingredient for that particular flavor.
So if you can’t understand the Italian name you can figure it out by what’s on top. You take one look at it and know that it is fresh.

The store carries 38 flavors total. Twenty three regular gelato, two dietetic with no added sugar, twelve sorbets and 1 yogurt. Each month 4-5 flavors in the case may change to allow for seasonal fruits. The colors are vibrant and grouped together by type.
Janice A Gelato Whiz Holding Tangelo

While you are in line the person behind the counter will help you with your decision by offering a sample of any flavor. What is so refreshing is that no matter how many samples you want they are patient and kind. It is as though you are in their home and they are proud of what they have made for you and happy to share. You don’t feel rushed.

On this particular day I tried the sea salt caramel (this happens to be the stores most popular flavor at the moment), my son and his friend had mint chip. We went to find a seat at one of the tables and after the first bite I knew this was as close to Italy as I had been in a long time.

As you are sitting enjoying your gelato the staff comes around with free ice water to cleanse your palette. It is this customer service combined with a killer product that sets Frost apart.

Gelato (jeh- lot- o) the Italian translation means, “frozen”.  What makes gelato different from ice cream is the fat content. Gelato has 3-8% butterfat and ice creams tend to have 12-25% butterfat. To be called ice cream you have to have 10% or more. Gelato’s lower fat content is attributed to milk vs. cream, and no eggs or butter. So gelato while tasting rich and decadent is healthier than ice cream.

I took some blackberry home to serve for dessert added fresh berries and mint

Another factor which makes gelato less like ice cream is the air that is incorporated into the products. Most ice creams have 75% air whipped into them. Gelato 20%. So you are getting a denser more creamier mouth feel. Also less air means more bang for your buck. Who wants to pay for air?

I went into the shop today to take some photos for this article/post. After the shooting was done I sat down with Steve Rams, one of the owners, and he told me the story of how Frost came to be in Highland Park and soon to be the rest of the Chicago land area. It was fascinating.

Steve is one of the three owners of the Chicago franchise for Frost. He is joined by Ed and Kurt Bruksch. This team is literally family and they have all know each other since childhood. Ed is the patriarch of the group and the one who started the ball rolling with gelato. He was a retired snowbird dividing his time between Illinois and Arizona. While in Arizona he and his wife visited one of the Frost stores in Tucson. Ed fell in love with the store and of course the gelato. He got the idea to make this happen in Chicago. Out of retirement he came, and 2-3 years ago he was offered a franchise. He got his son in law Steve and son Kurt on board and they left their careers in private banking and stock brokerage respectively and now are master gelato makers.

 Steve said, “people thought we were crazy to be selling gelato in the Midwest”. However, they were smart guys, did the research and the research said otherwise. They went with the facts and their gut instinct and on November 4, 2011 the first Chicago land store was opened in Highland Park. I asked why Highland Park?

Store front

Again according to Steve, they did the research on communities in the Chicago land area.  This covers the Wisconsin border south to Joliet and the lake to Rockford. Quite a large area to research but they did and according to statistics such as foot traffic, etc. Highland Park came out as the place to be. Very good for us indeed.

The acquisition of the space and timing of the opening worked out for the best. Starting the shop in November while it was not super busy would help the new company get all its duck in a row before the big summer season got underway. So everything worked out beautifully and the owners and staff are looking forward to a great summer in Highland Park.

This family owned franchise has two other key members, Steve’s wife Ellen and Kurt’s wife Janice, they are in charge of managing events and party planning for the stores.

The Highland Park location has a party room in the back that fits 16-20 comfortably. They also rent out an authentic Italian gelato cart for special events.

The enthusiasm and excitement from this group is contagious. They love what they do, they love gelato and it shows.

The franchise has major growth potential and is always looking for quality team members to work with them and grow their company. From counter help, called scoopers or gelato whiz’s to management and beyond. Very exciting news in our economic times.

So keep an eye out for Frost coming soon to an area near you. Until then come on over to Highland Park for some of the best gelato you will ever have.  

Almost Gone

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Roast Chicken Tuesday

About twice a month on a Tuesday I head to Whole Foods market for what I call Chicken Tuesday. It used to be on Thursday now moved to Tuesday. Chicken Tuesday is when Whole Foods offers whole organic roast chickens for $6.99 regularly priced $8.99. You can choose from different flavors such as plain, herbes de Provence, cajun or lemon. I usually wait for them to come fresh off the rotisserie waiting  like a stalker until new chickens are packaged. I don't like chicken that has sat too long in plastic on a heated surface. Whole Foods does write the time that the chicken came out of the rotisserie on each container. This is a nice touch. 

To me this chicken can't be beat for a quick meal. Last night I roasted some potatoes with some meyer lemons, summer savory, and garlic cloves. When these were just about finished roasting I added the chicken and turned the temperature of the oven from 400 to 350 degrees F to rewarm the chicken. I also poured the juices from the chicken on the potatoes for extra flavor. Some green beans were steamed to complete the meal. 

So check your local Whole Foods market to see what night they offer this chicken deal. I actually can get two meals out of this chicken. On Wednesday I  take the rest of the meat from the carcass and make a homemade chicken noodle soup. You could also do a chicken tetrazzini, chicken salad, or any other dish which calls for cooked chicken.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Cupcakes

There is a bakery in a neighboring suburb that I die for. Everything I get from this bakery is luscious. I have to say that I am a bit of a baking snob. I bake well, not to brag or anything but I know good bakery when I taste it. I bake for work and taste so many recipes after awhile you just have a feel for quality.

The cupcake thing has been all the rage for quite a few years now and I have tasted many. I must say few are worthy of the calories and the hefty price tag.
These cupcakes from the Three Tarts Bakery are what I consider cupcake perfection. Just the right amount of frosting to cake. The sweetness and fat are balanced in the frosting which is a butter cream. This is the key. Having a good cake is nothing if the frosting is bad. Some are too sugary, grainy or just plain too much.

As a little pre-Easter treat for the kids I picked up a few  cupcakes from the bakery. One was chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream and sprinkles the other yellow cake with vanilla butter cream topped with coconut shreds. They were so excited when they came home from school and each had a cupcake waiting to greet them. I have to say they were even better than I make. The cake is moist but has structure. As I said above the frosting is perfect. 

This bakery is also a cafe and they have wonderful soups, salads and sandwiches which are made from the bread they bake on the premises. Not "baked-off"  frozen blobs being sent from a far away locale. Fresh baked as in made by a baker from scratch with their own hands not a machine. You know like they did in the "old days"!

The bread at the bakery is gorgeous artisanal bread. Which tastes as good as it looks.  They have done special orders for me for food styling jobs that have made me a great success at the shoot. Making mini rolls that  could not be found in stores.  They also make breads to order. The staff is very accommodating and the bakers are very knowledgeable and great at what they do. So refreshing in today's cookie cutter society.

If anyone is in the area, stop by or give me a ring and we'll  have a latte or tea and lunch. Oh I forgot to mention the lattes are good too! 

In nice weather (coming soon) you can sit on cafe tables outside

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Macro Spring

Japanese Plum Tree in Front Yard

My friend Dianne reminded me that my  blog has detoured from food momentarily. 
Yes she is right. I will get back on track this week, I was derailed by something us Midwesterner's go nuts for and that is early spring! In the month of March we set record temperatures for warmth. We had 8 days in the 80's or near 80's. I grabbed my camera and could not get enough of the beauty around me out of doors. 

Wild Chives In The Field Where I Walk The Dogs

The things that start popping through the ground are like old friends. You have not seen them in awhile but when you are reunited you smile ear to ear. That is the memory that hit me when I was out shooting for this post. I shot very close and got some great macro shots. I am really into macro photography. I love looking at ordinary things in a new way. Up close you can see life around you in a more intimate way. The way a rain drop hangs. How often do we stop to notice these things. I do. Always. My kids say "Mom you're weird"! Well maybe I am but I would not change a thing about my weirdness it is who I am. It is my art. Dare to look closely. 

Very Tiny Blue Belles In Neighbors Yard

These beauties Are The First To Arrive In Suburbia

Moss On The Back Fence

My Son Turned 12 This Month!