Food Photography

Here are a few examples of some recipes I have produced, tested and photographed over the years.  These were taken with a digital camera and some are 35mm film.  I have such an absolute passion for baking and cooking and capturing the end result.

banoffeepie2Banoffee Pie with grated Ghirardelli milk chocolate
chocolate crostiniCrostinis with Ghirardelli chocolate squares & sea salt
vanilla easter cakeVanilla Easter cake
vanilla easter cakeVanilla Easter cake
poached egg - draining waterThe perfect poached egg – draining on paper to prevent soggy toast
perfect poached egg with pepperThe perfect poached egg with pepper
the perfect poached eggThe perfect poached egg with pepper and toasted French bread
The perfect poached egg on toasted French breadThe perfect poached egg on toasted French bread
perfect poached egg with runny yolkThe perfect poached egg with runny yolk on toasted French bread
loaded baked potatoesLoaded baked potato wedges
loaded baked potatoes deconstructedLoaded baked potatoes
saffron rice puddingSaffron rice pudding with raisins
saffron rice pudding with raisinssaffron rice pudding with raisins
spicy brown rice and black bean skillet with diced avocado
Orange Ginger beef stir-fryOrange Ginger beef stir-fry on steamed brown rice
sauteed mushrooms with  minced garlicMushrooms sauteed in olive oil and minced garlic
sauteed mushrooms with garlicSauteed mushrooms with minced garlic
sauteed mushrooms with garlicSauteed mushrooms with minced garlic
chicken tortilla soupChicken tortilla soup with shredded Monterey Jack cheese
food styling for food photographyThanksgiving – food styling for food photography
creamy parmesan and italian parsley pastaCreamy parmesan and Italian parsley pasta
1920s Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake1920s Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake
1920s Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake1920s Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake
Recipe of Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake1920s Ritz Carlton Tea Room Lemon Pound Cake

French Macarons – The Trials and Tribulations

 
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 Introduction

 These beautiful, delicious, delicate little cookies are complete jerks.  They’re just like cats – they are vicious and finicky; either working with you or against you.  I have been wanting to write a post of the recipe I have found that works best for me since the Spring of 2014.  I stress the words “for me” because the process in which baking the cookies is like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans for your specific body type.  It even comes down to the weather condition inside your own house in whether they will be a success or a failure of your efforts.  I’m totally not joking.  I’m sure there is some snarky, smug pastry chef looking down his nose at this post.  Well, listen pal, it’s difficult baking these in a home kitchen without the luxuries of commercial appliances.

I have always seen these cookies as the cutest, little things – displayed on their sides revealing its filling and signature feet.  They can be any color you can imagine and the flavor fillings are nothing but complimentary against the subtle taste of the almond flour and chosen extract.  You can flavor these cookies with any sort of extract, as a matter of fact, but I just adore pure almond extract.  Hell, I’d wear a few dabs on my wrists if it were socially acceptable.  I love it!  My first few glimpses of these dainty french cookies was in Marie Antoinette; that movie where Steve Coogan was ripped off by given such a small role or appeared to be doing Sophia Coppola a favor.  Who knows.  I guess we’ll call it a cameo.  I digress…
In the Spring of 2014, I came across an issue of Food Network magazine while at the check-out line in my local grocery store.  It proclaimed that I could bake my own macarons from home and that I will be proud of such an accomplishment.  After fully reading the article in the car as my husband drove us home, turns out Food Network’s test kitchen tried 90 (yes, folks, NINE-ZERO) batches before they found which method would be best suited in a home kitchen environment.  They did the work so we, at home, didn’t have to.  Pfffft…  (in all seriousness, A+ for effort, Food Network!)
After a few batches of disappointing results, I felt determined to master this.  How could I, a damn great and creative baker, be bullied by snooty cookies? I got back to it – I tested Food Network’s version, internet recipes from trusted pastry chefs and following along to YouTube videos.  I, ladies and gentlemen, have decided on which recipe I have found to be the go-to of French Macaron recipes.  I am basing this on ease of method and technique, taste and texture.   The actual method can be very, very tricky especially for you French Macaron virgins.  Folks – I give you, an adaptation  of my favorite recipe from Martha Stewart. Links will be posted at the bottom of this post.  Get ready ’cause this is going to be a loveship/hateship.  I am about to post as many pieces of advice as possible next to the ingredients and steps.

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Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar – Brand is irrelevant but I prefer Domino.
3/4 cup almond flour – Bob’s Red Mill Almond meal/flour is the way to go for this.  TRUST.  This can be found in almost any grocery store, even Wal-Mart carries it. Do you like to make your own almond flour?  That’s cool.  Be sure you research your how-to’s prior to attempting this recipe.  
1/4 cup superfine sugar – Brand irrelevant; most recipes call for super fine which I haven’t gone out of my way to find; instead, I use regular granulated sugar and it works just as well.
2 egg whites, room temperature (aging optional) –  Aged means the longer it sits out, the better it’ll whip up because food-science and more food-science.  >>Cue Alton Brown lesson here<<
1 tsp almond extract (or your choice of extract) – I love almond extract and I like it strong so you can definitely reduce the amount by a quarter if it’s a little too strong for your taste.  Some extracts are tinted so keep that in mind if you’re not going to use food coloring; that may distort your desired effect and shade of “eggshell” or “ecru” (see baked example above).
Pinch of cream of tartar –   Again, science.  Cream of tartar aids the protein molecules of the egg whites to bond excessively and coagulate.  :: Jessie Katsopolis voice :: Just use it, hah?!  
Food coloring gel –  Depending on your desired shade, use a few drops and adjust from there, you will have time to add more during the folding process.  The shade will deepen slightly when baking so just keep that in mind.  I use a toothpick when adding the coloring. 

 Tools/Appliances

Stand mixer with the whisk attachment ~or~ Handmixer which is what I have because, let’s face it, I can’t afford those gorgeous Cuisine Art stand mixers.  Most recipes I have read through and have tried almost always call for a stand mixer.  It works just the same.

Mini food processor/chopper this is completely optional but it helps when pulsing the almond flour and powdered sugar together and also to chop up any bigger bits of almond.

Sieve this is recommended if you do not have the processor/chopper.  The recipes I have come across call for sifting the sugar and flour through the sieve to loosen it, get some air between it, and catch the bigger almond bits.  When I used this method, I found that I had to use my rubber spatula to push the sugar and flour through it.  I don’t find this to be a necessary technique and I will explain why in step 4 of the “Method” section.

Rubber spatula this is a necessity.  If you don’t have one, go to Target or Wal-Mart and buy one.  They’re inexpensive and essential.

Medium/Large Glass bowl I like using Pyrex large glass bowl when I’m whipping the egg whites and mixing the batter.  The steel bowl is just too noises and it scratches  which makes me nervous.  If you’re using a plastic bowl, that makes me even more nervous.  But – to each their own.  I’m not judging.

Little random bowls/cups I use these to hold ingredients I’ve measured out.

Pastry bags I use the large ones but whatever you choose is fine.

Round piping tip 1/2″ plain round.

2 Baking sheets –  Use that trusted baking sheet that never fails you.  FYI – The darker the sheet, the more the heat it will attract.   

tray

Parchment paper Or, if you’re fancy (like I am), use a silicone baking mat.  For you French macaron virgins, I highly suggest you try parchment paper first so you can see the undersides of your cookies when checking for doneness. 

best silicone baking mat ever

Prep

  • Super important – Please prep!  Get everything measured out and ready to go because there isn’t really room to stop and start again.  You’ll be busy multitasking during the method portion so this is not optional.  Your ingredients need to be measured and ready within reach so you are able to just pour then proceed.
  • Humidity.  Oh, yes… humidity plays a major role in whether your cookies will be successful.  Be sure you have a ceiling fan going or have a cool humidity-free area to place your raw cookies.  I will go over this in step 8.
  • I use a tall glass or cup and put my pastry bag in it with the piping tip attached and facing up so when I transfer the batter into the bag, it doesn’t leak through the piping tip.  Set aside.
  • Place baking sheets on top of each other.  Line the top baking sheet with your silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
  • If you are going to use sprinkles or edible decorations, get those ready too.

prep

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.  Some recipes call for the convection setting but it’s not essential.  I have used the convection setting on my awesome oven before and I find that bakes just as well without convection.  **Note:  as with all other baking recipes – adjust temperature as needed.  My oven tends to run hot so I found my sweet spot at 280°F.

2. Pulse powdered sugar and almond flour together for about a minute or so until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.  **Note:  do not pulse too long or you will end up with almond butter.  If you do not have a processor, sift already measured almond flour and powdered sugar together.  This can be just a bit time-consuming.  You will be left with some almond bits and you can discard.  Sifting is used to catch the really big bits of almond and the hard pieces of compressed powdered sugar.  You want your macarons to have a smooth end result.  If you do not use the processor or sieve, it will look bumpy and grainy as shown in the pictures above (blue macs w/blue plate).

AFlour blend

3. Using your stand mixer or handmixer, begin whisking egg whites at medium speed until foamy.  Add in cream of tartar and continue until soft peaks form – ripples will begin to appear from the mixer.  Add in sugar until combined then switch mixer to high-speed until stiff peaks form.

eggwhites foamy limbo shiny ripples firmpeaks

4.  If you’ve gone the sieve route, here is where you’ll want to sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together on top of the stiffened egg whites.  From the food processor, grab the pulsed flour mixture and gently shake on top of stiffened egg whites.  Add in extract and coloring (if using).

5.  With your rubber spatula, begin folding egg whites into flour mixture.  You will fold about 50 times.  The time we just spent in achieving stiff peaks is basically irrelevant now because we’re taking most of the air bubbles out in the folding process.  I have read in recipes that your batter is ready when it shiny and resembles “lava” -_-    The easiest way for me to explain the “lava result” is to grab some batter with your spatula and let it fall back into the bowl.  It should look like a flowing, continuous ribbon that disappears into itself after 5 seconds.

mixing mixing2 lollava

6.  Pour batter from bowl into pastry bag (this is why I have it propped into the glass/cup).  Grab your doubled baking sheets.  If your parchment paper keeps rolling up on itself, grab a thick amount of batter with your fingertip and dab underneath of each of the four corners of the parchment paper – this will act like a paste from the paper to the baking sheet.  Now, let’s pipe!

readytopipe tipfacingup

7.  Pipe a 1″ circle (or more if you want them bigger) on the paper/silicone mat making sure to leave a gap in between each cookie.  They will spread out slightly so ensure you judge spacing appropriately.  You will pipe with the tip straight down squeezing with light and consistent pressure.  Then let go with your piping hand and quickly pull up.  You will see a little bit of a peak but it should disappear back into itself (ah, yes, see step 5 above).  Twist the top of the bag to tighten it then begin piping again.  Also, make sure to pipe an extra cookie which we will use as a “test cookie” when checking for doneness.

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In the above example, I used a variety of decorations and sprinkles.  If you choose to do the same, place sprinkles and/or decorations immediately after piping so they will stick to the wet batter.  Also, make sure you only use a few of the candied sprinkles as we do not want to interrupt the baking process with the sprinkle’s weight.  I also used edible stars and hearts made by Wilton that are paper-thin; I used those all over the cookies for a really gorgeous effect.

8.  Once you’ve finished piping, tap the baking sheet on your counter twice.  Then turn baking sheet around and tap twice again.  This helps bring some air bubbles to the surface and pop.  If this step is not done, your cookies will look like there are huge lumps underneath.

9.  Place your raw cookies in a humidity free area for about 10 minutes.   You will gently press on a cookie and if batter sticks to your fingertip, it’s definitely not ready.  It will be ready when it feels dry to the touch… and that’s it – no more, no less.  Do not let it sit out or dry longer than that.  Remember that humidity thing we covered under “prep” section? (For those that chose to skip that section, time to scroll back up and read).  This process allows for the cookies to form a shield and this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your indoor conditions.

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 Bake

1.  Place cookies in preheated oven and bake for 8 – 15 minutes.  Remember to double up on the baking sheets which is to ensure they do not burn from the bottom.  Bake until cookies have risen. When you apply slight pressure on the tops, they shouldn’t jiggle/move around.

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2.  Check for doneness with our test cookie.  Regardless of the parchment paper/silicone baking mat route, try to peel the paper or mat from one of the undersides of the cookies.  If it’s still a little sticky, let bake for a couple more minutes.  If it peels off cleanly, they are pretty much ready to take out of the oven.

2.  Leave cookies to rest on its baking sheet after you’ve taken them out of the oven.  Let rest for 2 minutes until cool enough to handle.  Transfer onto wire rack until cooled completely.

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The Murphy’s Law of French Macarons – Anything That Can Happen, Will Happen

Here are some problems you may encounter – not all at once, hopefully:

  • Will they collapse just when you think they’re looking like award winning cookies?  YES.
  • Will they crack and split when baking?  YES.
  • Will they look absolutely gorgeous but turn out to be burnt at the bottom?  YES.
  • Will you accidentally nudge one causing them to collapse or crack?  YES.
  • Will the cookie detach from the shells?  YES.
  • Will they look absolutely perfect but upon getting them off the paper/mat, you find they weren’t really done therefore the bottoms stick?  Oh, YEP.
  • Will its signature feet look beautiful in the oven but when taking them out to rest, you come back to find it’s collapsed and ruffled?  YES.. but that isn’t too much of a big deal, actually.  It’s just personal at that point.

The taste and texture of these cookies are so addicting.  But for those of us that are in love with baking, the baking process is the addiction itself.  Keep your chin up!  You will get it right!

Most importantly – HAVE FUN!  Like I stated above, baking macarons is just like owning a cat.

Suggested Fillings

Be careful with which fillings you choose and most importantly WHEN you add them in.  Most fillings will cause soggy cookies and we do not want to lose the light and subtle crisp which makes these cookies very unique.  The most recommended time to add your fillings are as close to packing/serving as possible.

Jams – there’s a huge variety that can compliment the choosen flavor of your macarons.  I personally love seedless raspberry, blueberry and cherry.

View my favorite Chocolate Buttercream   recipe

Blueberry cheesecake – a quick simple filling:  8oz plain cream cheese and blueberry jam mixed until combined.

Chocolate ganache – here is one of the better recipes I’ve used.  One thing to keep in mind is if the ganache will be used as a filling or a glaze; keep an eye out for what you have in mind.

Honey & Mascarpone – equal parts mixed until combined.  Adjust more honey or mascarpone to taste.  I like a strong honey flavor so I tend to add more honey.  In my honest opinion this subtle flavor combination and filling works very well against the taste and texture of macarons.  It’s my ALL-TIME favorite.

h&mcheese

Packaging and serving:

When serving to guests, I often use mini-cupcake liners so they sit securely on its side.  They are very fragile and delicate so if they do happen to fall, the shells will crack.  These liners come in a variety of colors, designs and patterns that will fit any occasion.

If I am delivering to a customer, I use a cookie box and line with decorative wax paper.  I like to use different ribbons to tie around the boxes for an added personal touch.  There is an endless amount of ways to decorate for your guests/customers.  The creativity can be found anywhere online or I often find inspiration walking around in my local hobby store.

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Browse for Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal (flour)

Martha’s recipe from which I adapted my recipe

Browse for some of the most amazing inspiration on Wilton Online

Food styling and photography by Alissa Odedra – please leave a comment or message for contact details.

Simple Yet Flavorful Mexican Rice

During my family’s ritual Saturday barbecues, the meal just wasn’t complete without my aunt Norma’s Mexican rice and my aunt Debbie’s borracho beans.   I will definitely write a post on Debbie’s beans but first thing is first:  the rice.   This delicious and simple rice.  If we showed up and the rice wasn’t made, my sister and I marched over to her demanding that she make it.  She complied for years but only until recently when she said, “Okay girls, it’s time you learned and it’s time to pass on the recipe”.  She thought she sounded pious and passing on the staff of wisdom but it was really along the lines of you-want-it-you-make-it scenario.  Anyhow, here it is:

The amount of rice is up to you.  With that said, the rice-to-water ratio is going to be up to you and you’re going to have to eyeball it.  General rule of thumb with raw white long grain rice is for every 1 cup of rice, add 2 cups water.  I hate to eyeball recipes but that’s the best I can offer right now.

Ingredients

  • White long grain rice (washed)
  • water – enough to cover 1/2″ above rice… maybe a bit more
  • 1 can of Hunt’s Roasted Garlic tomato sauce
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes (or: 2 tbsps of the loose powdered bouillon)
  • Olive Oil

Method

1.   Heat olive oil in hot pan.  Add rice and stir to combine rice with olive oil.

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2. Toast rice until some grains are toasted and aromatic with that amazing, toasty, nutty, smokiness.  Be careful not to go into the dark toasted brown territory; there’s no going back and you’ll end up with mushy rice.

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3.  Pour water in (please stand back as water will react to hot pan) and tomato sauce.  Crumble in bouillon cubes around rice in pan.

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4. Do not stir!

5. Cover then let simmer over medium until rice is tender.  If you find the rice is still a little al-dente, gently push rice from sides into the center of pan and let simmer an additional 5 minutes.

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6. Remove from heat, serve hot and enjoy!

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Notes:

*if you choose to stir around the rice while it is simmering, it will mush up.  It’s not the end-all-be-all but if you’re choosing to surround yourself with judgemental people, then you may want to take this into consideration.  Mushy rice – quite the scandal.

*all grains of the rice will not turn brown when in the toasting process… and that’s okay 🙂  each grain of rice is beautiful, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

THE Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

As the title implies, this is THE (pronounce it as “thee”) ultimate in chocolate buttercream frosting.  I’ve searched endlessly for a recipe like this for a few months.  I’ve come across many that are certainly tasty but not quite like this.

Her name is Alice Currah.  As her “About Me” section of Savorysweetlife.com states, she is the cook, baker, writer and photographer for the website.  She is also the author of Savory Sweet Life, a book featuring 100 recipes that I’m desperate to feast my eyes on.  Now, this link includes step by step instructions with images and examples of the frosting.  I, along with a couple of other eager bakers, have found that the end result does not turn out as brown/dark as her images.  Not saying that this is a bad thing at all.  Mine came out a little pale in comparison; it might be the cocoa powder I used or my method, I am not completely sure.  In any case, I highly doubt the lucky person consuming it will sit there hand-over-chin critiquing the outcome of your frosting.  If that person chooses to judge and criticize, snatch the dessert from their hand.  They don’t deserve to taste it.

The recipe is short, simple and easy to follow.  It makes 3 cups – enough to frost 24 cupcakes but I do not like to pipe a huge mountain of frosting on top of my cupcakes.  You may want to make 1 + .5 of the recipe or even double it if you like a little cupcake with your frosting.  In addition to this amazing buttercream, there are dozens of recipes that look just absolutely tasty and worth a browse.  Bourbon Bacon Jam? I am salivating over the photo. I took a quick peek at the recipe and again, it is short, simple and appears to be easy to follow.  I say that because I’m a pretty experienced baker.  The webpage containing the recipe features lots of great images and technique.  I have included the link to the recipe on her website and also pasted the recipe below.  I really hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

http://savorysweetlife.com/2011/04/chocolate-buttercream-frosting/

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
 Author: Savory Sweet Life
Recipe type: Dessert
 Prep time:  2 mins
Cook time:  3 mins
Total time:  5 mins
Serves: 3 cups
A simple recipe for classic chocolate buttercream frosting. Perfect for frosting cakes, cookies, brownies, or cupcakes.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!)
  • 3½ cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.