Monday, March 30, 2009

Lou Manna's Food Photography Workshop

A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to spend the day at the studio of Lou Manna, a commercial food photographer here in NYC. He was giving a workshop through Adorama all about digital food photography, so obviously I had to check it out!

Here's Lou. He is definitely a character! He is very approachable and outgoing, and not afraid to speak his mind. In his own words, he's "in your face", kind of like his style of food photography — bold and striking! (He really liked that pointer and nearly broke his TV with it at one point ;) )

Lou is the author of Digital Food Photography, which is a great read and has a lot of good information about both photography basics and working with food in particular. I definitely recommend it as a jumping off point, as well as his blog, which also has some photography tips.

His studio has a big kitchen, and the rest is filled with computer and photo equipment. One corner of the studio was dedicated to props — glasses, plates, fabrics, and an incredible amount of little bits and bobs to add character to the photos.

We also had the pleasure of working with Dennis Williford, aka "The Photo Cook". Dennis is a chef and photographer, and he cooked us a delicious lunch and helped us to style food for our photo shoot at the end of class.

The first half of class was a meet & greet, followed by a portfolio critique of each of the students' portfolios, which was very insightful and helpful. After that, Lou gave a presentation to go over some concepts like color balance, composition, and working with the food. We had some chicken cacciatore for lunch, and then Lou went deeper into the subject of lighting. To end the class, each person styled their own food and took photos.

Lou works mainly with studio lighting, which was perfect for me since that is what I use in my "finished product" photos on this blog. His setup is a bit more sophisticated than mine, though!

Lou's primary studio setup is a stand with a sheet of translucent plexiglass serving as the base. The translucency is great, because you can shine light coming from underneath to get a bright white backdrop for the food. The food in the picture was styled by one of the other students in the class.

Some food styling action:

Dennis helped me with my styling and suggested that I use this beautiful purple potato. I'd never seen one like this before:

Lou set up the lighting for us, using a main light with a softbox, a bright backlight and some mirrors to reflect light back into the shadows. He is a huge proponent of mirrors and a technique which he calls "feathering the light", which means directing the main light slightly away from the subject and bouncing it back with reflectors.

Here's one of my attempts — I opted for a relatively simple salad and used some of the cool props available. Dennis gave me the tip to keep the salad in the fridge while setting up my shot to keep it looking fresh.

That one was OK, but Lou made it more enticing by spraying a mix of water and glycerin onto the salad:

I guess that's why most of the food used for professional photos isn't actually eaten! :)

In professional food photography, no matter what kind of style the final shot has, there is always a stylist at work to keep the food looking its best. If you're interested in learning more about food styling, I have taken and highly recommend the online food styling class given by Photo Styling Workshops. You can also check out Lou's blog or book, or the wonderful blog of Lara Ferroni, Still Life With.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blueberry Crumb Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

piece of blueberry crumb cake

I was so happy to see that Sihan of fundamentally-flawed chose Blueberry Crumb Cake for TWD! I was drawn to the picture of this recipe, and was seriously considering choosing it for my own turn (which is coming up soon!! :) ) Anyway, the cake definitely lived up to the picture in the book. It was moist and delicious, with the crunchy, buttery topping adding a nice texture and flavor.

[blueberry crumb cake recipe]

full cake on white plate

I didn't think it needed any accompaniments, but I'm sure it would be great with some tea. I'm not a huge fan of coffee and fruit (more like coffee and chocolate!), but some nice herbal tea could work;)

crumb ingredients in food processor

First step was to mix all of the crumb ingredients together. I omitted the walnuts and added some extra of everything to compensate. What can I say... I am a crumb lover!

crumbs mixed

I may have gone too far in mixing the crumbs, but I don't think it really mattered because it gets all mushed together anyway when you put it on top of the cake.


berries in flour

The berries are tossed in flour first to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

sugar and zest

I really love Dorie's method of mixing zest and sugar together. Mostly because I get to lick the flavored sugar off my fingers afterwards ;) (Don't worry... hand washing follows;) )

finished batter

Thick and creamy finished batter! Easy to assemble with the creaming method.

batter in pan

Smoothing the batter into the pan after folding in the berries...

batter in pan

And then smothering it all with delicious crumbs.

baked cake

It smelled heavenly!

Blueberry Crumb Cake
(Note: I omitted the walnuts and slightly increased the rest of the ingredients for the crumbs in the pictures)

70 g butter (5 T), room temperature
50 g sugar (1/4 c)
73 g light brown sugar (1/3 c packed)
42 g all-purpose flour (1/3 c)
1/4 t salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts

280 g blueberries (2 c/1 pt)
250 g all-purpose flour
2 t flour for covering blueberries
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
132 g sugar (2/3 c)
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon or 1/4 orange
85 g butter (6 T), room temperature
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk (4 fl oz)

[recipe instructions on Sihan's blog]

Nutrition Facts from
per 1/8th of recipe
[click to show or hide]

I thought it wasn't too bad at first... turns out, I'd typed in the amounts wrong ;) D'oh!

piece of blueberry cake with full cake in background

Dear Blueberry Crumb Cake, why must you have so many calories?? ;)

Thanks to Sihan for picking this yummy recipe! If you want to practice some portion control, go get the full recipe at fundamentally-flawed. The rest of the cakes can be found on the TWD blogroll!

blueberry cake with bite taken out and coffee mug in background


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

French Yogurt and Marmalade Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

slice of yogurt cake, covered in lemon cream

This gloriously simple cake was chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction for the TWD recipe this week. The cake is supposed to be covered on top with a marmalade glaze, but instead I made some of Dorie's lemon cream for a deliciously tart and rich topping.

[yogurt cake recipe]
[lemon cream recipe at serious eats]

cake on wooden tray with two slices cut

The cake was extremely moist because of the oil added to the batter, which allowed the light citrus flavor of the zest to shine through. The yogurt also adds some moistness and a slight tang.

kumquats in package

I actually used kumquats for this, since I'd bought them on a whim the other day and forgot to get a lemon. I love kumquats, but it's not an easy feat to zest them, especially if they're the tiniest bit soft! I managed to eke out around a tablespoon from the whole package. And then, I proceeded to eat so many of the zested kumquats that my lips burned.


Photos of the cake assembly. It's really a very simple cake... whisk the dry ingredients together, then combine the zest and sugar in another bowl. Dump the eggs, yogurt and vanilla into the sugar and whisk to combine, then whisk in the dry, and finally fold in the oil with a spatula.

sugar and zestdumped in wet ingredients
after adding dry ingredientsafter adding folding in oil

...then dump that into a waiting loaf pan, bake, and there you have it :)

batter in loaf panbaked cake

Even though you are supposed to serve it original side up, I really liked the look of the upside-down cake too ;)

loaf cake upside-down

I also finally made the lemon cream recipe that everyone raves about, and it is amazing! It went really well with the cake, too.

lemon cream ingredients

I loved the fact that although Dorie's lemon curd recipe has significantly less butter, the lemon "cream" recipe has more tang and less of a buttery flavor!

I read in the P&Q that some people had problems getting the custard up to 180°, but I didn't have a problem with it.

custard in food processor

The key to this recipe is adding the butter bit by bit to the warm (140°) custard while the food processor is running to create an emulsion. The silky texture of the finished cream is amazing.

lemon cream emulsifying in food processorlemon cream closeup in food processor

French Yogurt and Marmalade Cake
(Note: I'm omitting the lemon cream, since it was optional, and including the glaze in this info)

125 g all-purpose flour (1 c)
45 g ground almonds (1/2 c)
2 t baking powder
pinch of salt
200 g sugar (1 c)
zest of 1 lemon
125 g plain yogurt (1/2 c) (I used 2% Greek yogurt)
3 large eggs
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 c canola or safflower oil

1/2 c lemon marmalade
1 T water

[recipe instructions on Liliana's blog]

Nutrition Facts from
per 1/8th of recipe
[click to show or hide]

overhead shot of cake with slices cut

Thank you, Liliana, for picking a simple and delicious recipe! You can get the full recipe at her blog. The TWD blogroll is there if you want to see more of these beautiful cakes!

Oh, and Happy St. Patty's Day!!! :)

half eaten cake slice with lemon cream on top


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lemon Cup Custard - Tuesdays with Dorie

custard cup with spoon and lemon, bite of custard on spoon

Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles chose Lemon Cup Custard for the TWD recipe this week. A. and I thought it was very tasty! I forgot to add the lemon extract, so it wasn't extra lemony, but it had just a hint of flavor.

[lemon cup custard recipe]

cup of custard with spoon alongside

There were a lot of negative comments on the weekly Problems & Questions post on the TWD blog. Apparently people thought it had too much of an "eggy" flavor/texture, but I think that's just how custard is. Personally, I thought it was very good, and I was also happy to have a dessert that was lower in sugar and calories and higher in protein than normal!

cup of custard with lemon in back

There were only a few ingredients in this recipe, just the basics for a custard. For this type of recipe it's best to use quality ingredients, since each one plays so much of a role in the flavor and quality of the finished dessert.

(And there is the lemon extract that I forgot to add! D'oh)


It is a pretty straightforward recipe, although I thought steeping the lemon rind in the milk was a little odd. I ended up letting it steep for like 2 hours because I'd mistimed dinner, but I think that just gave it a little bit more of a chance to infuse.

Whisking the eggs and sugar:

whisking eggs and sugar

I forgot to strain the milk while combining it with the eggs, so after I combined it all I strained it into another bowl and skimmed off the top.

scraping bubbles off of custard

VoilĂ , the baked custard! These ramekins actually held 1/4 of the recipe instead of 1/6, so I ended up tacking on a couple of extra minutes to the bake time.

baked custard

Lemon Cup Custard

2 1/2 c whole milk (590 ml)
1 1/2 t lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
4 large eggs
100 g sugar (1/2 c)
1/4 t lemon extract or 1/8 t lemon oil (optional)

[recipe instructions on Bridget's blog]

Nutrition Facts from
per 1/6th of recipe
[click to show or hide]

custard cup with spoon on platter

Thank you, Bridget, for picking this recipe (and sorry about all the haters! ;) ) Check out her blog for the full recipe, and don't forget to look at the TWD blogroll to see the rest of the custards.

custard cup ramekin on top of lemon with spoon


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chocolate Armagnac Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

slice of chocolate cake

Chocolate Armagnac Cake, chosen by LyB of And then I do the dishes as this week's TWD recipe, has one of the more amusing backstories in Dorie's repertoire. It's the cake that got Dorie fired! As the story goes, she once substituted prunes and Armagnac for raisins and Scotch in this cake, and was subsequently booted from her restaurant job.

[chocolate armagnac cake recipe]

whole cake

Though it sounded a bit weird to me to have prunes in a chocolate cake, they did give the cake a lot of moisture and sweetness. I thought they were a nice addition (even though I forgot to cut them up, so I ended up with whole prune chunks).

flaming prunes on the stove

I had a lot of fun flaming the prunes! ;) I used Scotch whisky instead of the called-for Armagnac, since I couldn't think of any other foreseeable use for the Armagnac. I ended up not being able to taste the flavor of the Scotch too much in the end product, although the kitchen smelled Scotch-tastic for most of the baking process.

prunes and empty Scotch bottle

I also used almond flour instead of the ground pecans, because, well, I am lazy and I already keep almond flour in the freezer.

adding dry ingredients to batter

Beaten egg whites gave some structure to the cake.

folding in egg whites

Baking and glazing the cake:

batter in panfully baked cake
peeling off the parchmentputting on the glaze

The glaze was a mix of melted chocolate, powdered sugar and butter, AKA deliciousness.

glazed cake on stand

Here are the recipe ingredients and nutrition facts! Be afraid, be very afraid.

45 g finely ground pecans or walnuts (2/3 c) (I used almonds)
31 g all-purpose flour (1/4 c)
1/4 t salt
12 moist, plump prunes, pitted and cut into bits
1/4 c plus 3 T water
1/4 c Armagnac (I used Scotch)
200g bittersweet chocolate (7 oz), coarsely chopped
113 g unsalted butter (1 stick, 1/2 c)
3 large eggs, separated
133 g sugar (2/3 c)

85 g bittersweet chocolate (3 oz), coarsely chopped
3 T powdered sugar
42 g unsalted butter (3 T)

[recipe instructions on LyB's blog]

Nutrition Facts from
per 1/8th of recipe
[click to show or hide]

I finally got wise and calculated the nutrition facts BEFORE eating this cake;) It didn't stop me from eating it, though. Sigh.

Many thanks to LyB for this week's pick! Head over to her blog for the full recipe, and look at the TWD blogroll to check out the plethora of cakes.

cake slices with full cake in background