Friday, October 28, 2011

food photography class

A Couple of weekends ago my good friends Kelly and Woody (damnit, Corey... people call him Corey now...) taught a Food Photography class at Kitchen Conservatory. Photos are super important in food blogging, and you can never have too much knowledge, so I thought this was a great idea! I was surprised that only 3 of us who took the class were bloggers! The rest of the pupils just loved food and photos. In any case, I sure love to be surrounded by people just as nerdy as me when it comes to these two subjects.

It was an informative, fun, and tasty class. I'll try to spread the learning with this post... but hopefully they will do this class again, and you will go, because there was so much good info. I don't think I can do it justice with a blog post and a sketchy memory. My friend and fellow food blogger Stacey was also at the class. See her recap here.

The first dish we made and photographed was a winter panzanella. See Kelly's recipe here, and Stacey's take on it here. We took it outside for this one. Natural light is really the best for food photography, which is why my summer photos are always better than my winter ones. But you do have to be aware of some factors... too bright of sun can cast harsh shadows and/or make the photo too bright, so an overcast day is ideal. If it is too bright out, take it to a slightly shaded area, or use a white board or something reflective to bounce light to help balance the shadows out.

Some basic food photography tips:

• Shoot in Aperture Priority setting (usually indicated by an "A" on your little settings dial.) The camera will tell you what the ideal aperture is for the light you have, and the shutter speed will adjust accordingly.

• Whenever possible, use a tripod. This will allow you to use a slower shutter speed, so you get sharper images without any blur from your shaky hands.

• A light box is simple to assemble, and can make a huge difference in your photos. All you need is a box (or some white foam core), tracing paper, tape and white poster board. This tutorial is similar to the set-up Corey had in class.

The next recipe was a sangria. Yay, booze! We learned the key to photographing transparent containers is to have the light source BEHIND what you are photographing. This helps avoid reflections and gives you a good view of what is in the container.

Lighting was one of the main subjects of the class, because it is KEY no pun intended originally, but now that I'm reading it again... Ha! pun!) when it comes to photography. Some lighting tips:

• If you are in a room with two different kinds of lights (i.e. a florescent overhead and a yellow bulb lamp), turn one of the lights off. Having more than 1 kind of light will confuse your camera's white balance reading and you will end up with blueish or yellowish photos.

• Softer light is usually better. Use tracing paper between your light source and your subject as a cheap and easy way to soften light.

• A simple white board or a pan covered in foil make good reflectors. Place one opposite of your light source, with your subject in between, to bounce light. This will help fill in shadows and get the whole subject more evenly lit.

Next up was soup. Soup is one of the hardest things to photograph... it's just hard to make it look "pretty." In this case, Kelly picked a pretty soup... curried pumpkin. The garnishes of caramelized onions, red chile flakes and cilantro helped make the dish even prettier. This was the one dish that I photographed using the homemade light box.

As you can see, playing with the direction of the lighting source can make a pretty big difference. Corey had a basic utility light that could be moved around the light box to create different looks. I like both of these photos a lot, and they look very different!

And, dessert. Bittersweet chocolate tart with a pretzel crust!! OMG, so good. You must make this. See Kelly's recipe here. We did some more playing around with light angle and camera angle for this course. I loved the look of the scratched up cookie sheet!

Like I said, informative, fun and yummy. Thanks Kelly and Corey! I feel like a better blogger already, and I know my photos will continue to improve using the knowledge I gained from the class. What are your favorite food photo tips? What are your favorite food blogs with great photos?

Related Posts:

A farewell to my trusty old camera
Corey Woodruff shoots the Mafia (from Corey's blog)
Smitten for Salume Beddu (Food Blog Mafia post)
Where the cookies roam (Food Blog Mafia post)
Bloody Mary Panzenella
Curried Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup
Pumpkin Creme Soup (Every Little Thing Blog post)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

beer & bratwurst mac & cheese

A couple of weeks, my sister-in-law texted me from her lunch at Cheese-ology, a macaroni & cheese restaurant here in St. Louis. She was having their seasonal beer cheese and bratwurst version, and insisted that I needed to either go get some or make some. Now, I've never been a huge fan of mac & cheese. Even as a kid, I refused to eat the stuff (yes I was a strange child, and I knew it, and I liked it). I've had some as an adult that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but I am picky... it's gotta have some sort of sharp flavor element, like mustard or sharp cheese. Beer seemed right up my mac & cheese alley!

A couple of weekends ago I went to Hermann, MO for their Oktoberfest. While I was there, I stopped at the fabulous Swiss Meat & Sausage Co. to stock up on their yummy goods. I got some of their beer bratwurst specifically for this perfectly timed fall dish.

I was a little nervous, having never made Macaroni & Cheese. But I know the basic techniques... cooking pasta, making a béchamel, drinking beer.... so everything was easy. I had my sister-in-law and brother over, since she gave me the idea and had tried this dish. My brother ate all the mac & cheese growing up, so I knew he was a good judge, as well. They really liked it. And so did I! You can really taste the beer, but it compliments everything well, giving it the kick that I look for in mac & cheese. I served it with a simple fall salad (greens, shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, orange vinaigrette) and the Schlafly Oktoberfest that is in the sauce.

Beer & Bratwurst Macaroni & Cheese

-14 oz. box dried macaroni (whole wheat works great for this! healthy! ;))
-3 beer brats, sliced (freeze them a bit to make them easier to slice without smooshing)
-4 Tablespoons butter
-3 Tablespoons flour
-1 1/2 cups milk
-1 1/2 cups Oktoberfest or Märzen beer (I used Schlafly Oktoberfest)
-1 teaspoon mustard powder
-6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
-4 oz. aged provolone cheese, shredded
-1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Cook macaroni to al dente, drain, set aside.

Cook the bratwurst, adding a splash of beer a few minutes in, until all the pieces are cooked through and have some nice browning. Set aside. Chop into smaller pieces, if desired.

In same pan, melt 3 Tablespoons of the butter. Add the flour and stir, cooking until the raw-flour smell is gone and the roux is starting to turn golden. Add the milk and beer, stirring and scrapping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add mustard powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until it thickens a bit, about 8 minutes. Turn off heat and add cheese, stirring until all is melted and sauce is smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning, add salt as needed.

Add drained macaroni and the chopped up bratwurst to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a buttered casserole dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter, and add it to the bread crumbs, stirring until well combined. After 20 minutes of baking, top the mac & cheese with the breadcrumbs and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the topping starts to brown. Let cool & set about 10 minutes before serving.

Related posts from the archives:
Bratwurst Pizza
Meatloaf Cupcakes
Mini-Meatloaf Cupcakes

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

fennel & bacon pizza

I was craving pizza ALL DANG DAY yesterday. So when it came time to head home and make dinner, guess what I made? Pizza. Due to lack of planning (okay, laziness and hunger.... you got me) I used a store-bought fresh dough and sauce. How does this qualify as a blog-worthy post? I'll tell you... I was quite excited about my toppings choice. Fennel and Bacon. 2 of my favorite things (see the list of links below for proof).

I simply cooked bacon pieces (about 3 strips), set them aside, cooked sliced fennel in the bacon grease, and topped my pizza with it. You should do this. It's a fast, yet soul-satisfying and interesting weeknight dinner. And, yeah, my pizza was a rectangle. I seem to lack a proper pizza pan, and had to use a cookie sheet.

Related posts from the archive:
Pizza topped with Nostalgia
Caramelized Leeks & Morels tart
Tater Tot Pizza!!
Oktoberfest Bratwurst Pizza
Mini Pizzas with Prosciutto & Quail Egg
Potato Pizza
Fennel Clementine Salad
Fennel Bacon Bread Pudding
Rainbow Trout Stuffed with Fennel
Cannelini Beans with Fennel and Bacon
Forking Fantastic Roasted Fennel
Grilled Fennel with Salmon
Sausage & Fennel Bread Pudding

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

chicken upside down cake

While enjoying a pineapple upside down cake made by my friend Kelly, the idea of a chicken upside down cake came up. While this started as a joke, I quickly decided I needed to make it a reality. This is what I came up with... great fall flavors, like roasted chicken with cornbread stuffing, almost. I was actually surprised that it worked! Fun and yummy!

Chicken Upside Down Cake

Chicken bottom/top:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 shallot, finely chopped
-2 stalks celery, chopped
-3 small carrots, chopped
-1 medium parsnip, chopped
-2 Tablespoons flour
-2 cups chicken stock
-4-5 leaves fresh sage, chopped fine
-1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
-1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
-pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg
-1/2 a roasted chicken, chopped, bones & skin removed
-salt and pepper

Cornbread "cake":
-1/4 cup butter
-2/3 cups sugar
-2 eggs
-1 cup buttermilk
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1 1/2 cups cornmeal
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 can creamed corn
-2 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

Cook onion, garlic and shallot in oil until soft and starting to brown. Add carrots, celery and parsnips. Season with salt and cook until just soft. Sprinkle flower over vegetables and cook, stirring to coat, for 2 minutes. add Chicken stock, making sure to scrape he brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let come to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add herbs and chicken, let simmer while you prepare the corn bread batter.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Melt butter. Whisk sugar into melted butter. Whisk in eggs until well-blended. Combine buttermilk and baking powder and stir into butter mixture. Stir in cornmeal, flour and salt until well blended. Stir in creamed corn and sage.

Spray a 9"x 13" glass baking dish with non-stick spray. Pour chicken mixture into dish and spread out evenly. Pour Corn bread batter over chicken mixture and gently spread out evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes until middle of cornbread is firm and springs back to the touch. Let rest for 10-15 minutes. To turn upside down, cover baking dish with parchment paper then a cookie sheet that is larger than the baking dish. Carefully flip cake over. Cut and serve.