This past week, I’ve been doing the single parent thing while my wife was in Toronto doing research. Yesterday she returned just in time to prep for Valentine’s Day. She and the girls made and decorated sugar cookies, which made my photo(s) for today so very much easier. All I had to do is set up and shoot. And then taste, of course!
Archive for the ‘food photography’ Tag
I don’t necessarily have data to back up the claim that this is Canada’s favourite dish, but maybe we can just call it local lore for now. Shortly after we arrived in Edmonton, I was in the car with my kids listening to the local radio station Joe FM. The drive-time show (3-6pm) is hosted by Rhubarb Jones who just happens to be our next-door neighbour. He was running a trivia contest with a couple of callers. This is basically how it went in our car:
Rhubarb: What is the most popular dish in Canada?
My 10-year-old daughter (in the backseat): Macaroni and Cheese!
Me: What?! It may be your favourite dish, but there’s no way that’s the most popular food in Canada! [Blogger’s sidebar: Seriously, what could she know? She’s barely lived in Canada!]
Contestant: Macaroni and cheese
10 yr old: Ha!
Me: Doesn’t mean the contestant is right!
Rhubarb: That’s right!
Me: Okay, but I want to see his sources.
10 yr old: Ha!
True or not, this is certainly my kids’ favourite dish. My 10yr old is starting to learn how to make it herself. We keep it basic and make the cheese sauce from the oldest cheddar we can put our hands on. We sprinkle a mix of cheddar and parmesan over the top and bake. We made it often enough in Melbourne, but this dish makes so much more sense in the depths of winter.
As mentioned last Friday, Friday’s are movie night, pizza night, and pop night. While there are occasionally exceptions when the pizza comes from the “pizza store” (as my five-year-old likes to call it) it is almost always homemade. I got my pizza dough recipe (see below) from a good friend in Vancouver nearly 10 years ago. It’s the best I’ve found so far.
The dough is the most fun part of the process. Once the dough has risen, I like to flatten it and then throw it spinning in the air to get it to the right size and thickness. Sometimes it gets dropped, but never on the floor. More often than not, there’s flour flying in every direction and there’s a fair bit of cleanup after the fact.
Once the dough is ready, I make the pizza in thirds – one third for the kids, one third for my wife, and one third for me. The kids have Hawaiian with pepperoni and my wife and I mix it up each week, I’m partial to peppers, she’s partial to mushrooms. On top, I use a mix of mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan. I keep the wet ingredients to a minimum to avoid the dreaded soggy-crust syndrome. Finally, after the toppings are all on, I brush the crust with olive oil to give it crispness and colour. It goes in a hot oven for 15 minutes.
Based on a movie recommendation from last week, we rented Land Before Time (the original – not one of the sequels) and it was a hit with the kids. That’s good, because I learned all the old kids movies at our rental shop are just $1/week. Who can beat that?!
Technical details: ISO 100, 1/100s, f2.0, 100mm (with 12mm extension tube)
Photoshop mods: Slight crop
Pizza dough recipe
1. Mix together 250 gm (1 1/2 cups) flour, 1 tbsp (11 gm) dry active yeast, 1/4 tsp salt
2. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in 3/4 cup warm water and add to flour mixture
3. Once well mixed (i.e., homogeneous) , knead in 1 tbsp (or more) olive oil
4. Shape into a ball and let it rise for at least 30 mins.
Or to mis-quote Blazing Saddles “Veggies! We don’t need no stinking veggies!”.
Warm weather here in Edmonton again this week. This flip flopping of temperatures is pretty hard to keep up with, but warm weather means it’s barbeque season again. I’m rather overstocked on chicken these days (there was a big sale at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks back) so chicken had to be on the menu.
Today’s chicken dish is from an Australian book of barbeque recipes. I’m not any sort of expert on Cajun cooking, but I am wondering just how authentically Cajun an Australian Cajun recipe could be.
One thing I know for sure, I seriously need to get more decorative plates if I’m going to do any more food photography!
Technical details: ISO 100, 1/100s, f8.0, 80mm
Photoshop mods: Slight crop
I learned how to make fudge 10 or 11 years ago. I have always had a serious sweet tooth (despite its recent waning) and fudge has been a definite favourite. A skiing trip to Whistler, BC (a long time ago!) is the first time I recall visiting the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. When my wife and I moved to Vancouver from Wellington, New Zealand a little over a decade ago, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was back on my doorstep. But I decided it would be more fun to make my own.
Fudge is time consuming – this is a high-effort dessert. It takes time, a lot of attention and patience. Turnaround time on a batch of fudge is typically about three hours. It includes frequent stirring (until it comes to a boil), then frequent thermometer checking, then waiting for it to cool, then stirring again until just the right moment when you reckon it’s about to candy. Then you have to get it into the pan quickly. If you’re too slow (as I’ve sometimes been) you end up with a pot full of solidified fudge which you now have to chop out in chunks. Not pretty.
My go-to book for fudge recipes is Oh Fudge! by Lee Edwards Benning. It has more recipes than anyone (other than Lee apparently) would ever try and more varieties than I ever knew existed. My favourites are a chocolate, almond, sour cream fudge and triple-rich caramel fudge.
If you’re going to go to the effort to make fudge, you don’t just make a little bit, you make about a kilogram (or 2 pounds). That’s a lot of fudge to eat all by yourself. Of course, you could freeze it and dole it out over time or, better yet, you can share it with friends. I used to bring in batches of the stuff to work where I marveled at how quickly it disappeared!
My kids still love fudge, but it’s gone out of fashion a bit at our house. It’s just a bit too rich for me now. Thankfully, today I didn’t even have to make the fudge because I had some leftover from a batch I made before Christmas. These three little squares (below) are the last of the batch.
Once upon time, we bought a bread machine. The idea of homemade bread sounded so great and a bread machine would make it so easy. Just drop in the ingredients and three hours later you can have a loaf of bread. Or time it so you can have fresh bread first thing in the morning.
In truth, we probably used the bread machine less than a dozen times because the bread just didn’t live up to our expectations. Perhaps the problem was that where I grew up, we had access to an incredibly good bakery. The Golden Grain bakery made the most wonderful bread. My favourite was a plaited loaf – I think we just called it a twist. Thinking about it later, I think it was a variation on a challah loaf. That’s the bread I still crave.
Remarkably, the bakery is still there, but I haven’t been through Sudbury in many many years. It might be worth a trip sometime just to see if they still make my favourites. In the meantime, I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. While living in Melbourne, I took a couple of full-day workshops at the Essential Ingredient. It’s a cooking supply store (with a great book section) that has a cooking school upstairs. They get world renown chefs and bakers in to give hands-on sessions on a wide variety of topics.
I had the privilege of learning from two U.K.-based bakers, Paul Merry (of the Panary) and Dan Lepard (author of The Handmade Loaf). Each of them teach real bakers who run bakeries as well as run-of-the-mill bread-gluttons like me.
From the time of the first workshop (nearly five years ago), my kids have been spoiled with handmade bread. I do love a good homemade loaf of bread, but I also really enjoy the process of making bread. For me, bread-making has been something different from the workaday world. I get to make a big mess, spread flour over the counter top, get my hands dirty. Plus, there’s just something special about the smell of bread baking in the oven, isn’t there?
Bread made by hand is far superior to that churned out from a bread machine. A bread machine rushes a process that is supposed to take time. Dough that has been allowed time to rise slowly develops more flavour and more resilience. A rushed loaf is just the opposite – the taste is flat and the bread stales quickly.
Bread really appeals to my approach to cooking as it’s more art than science. You don’t just follow a set recipe of grams and millilitres. Altitude, humidity, air temperature and ingredients all come into play so the only way you know the dough is right is if it feels right.
I like to make it all on the counter top. I dump my flour onto the counter and make a big ring. I then pour in the water, yeast, and salt (and any other ingredients like sugar, eggs, malt powder) and gradually draw in the flour to form the dough. As long as the ratios of ingredients were close enough to start with, it’s easy to fine-tune it as I go by adding a little more flour or water. Once it’s all mixed so I know the water to flour ratio is right, I knead in some oil for a little fat content.
Start to finish, a loaf of bread takes three and half to five hours depending on how long I let it rise (or if I let it rise twice), but the actual effort is minor. It takes 20 minutes to make the dough and the rest of the time it just does its thing. I need to come by every once in a while to see how it’s progressing, but then I just have to knock it back, shape it and let it rise again before popping it in the oven. All up, the average loaf of white or whole meal bread takes me only 30 or 40 minutes of my time. I think it’s time well spent. So does my family.
Technical details: ISO 100, 1/100s, f2.0, 100mm (with 12mm macro ring)
Photoshop mods: Levels to darken the background slightly
My mother used to make these brownies for us growing up. They were a family favourite for me and my brothers and they continue to be a favourite for my kids now. I don’t have any other recipe that has stood such a test of time.
My mom’s version was made in a round tin and dressed with a simple white, vanilla icing. She’d often make two, serving one and freezing the other. Growing up, I always thought the brownie was pretty good, but the icing was wonderful. I would often eat them from the bottom up. Or I’d simply peel the icing off and set it aside, eat the brownie and then return for the icing. While I’ve grown out of that habit (mostly), I’m pleased to see that my kids carry on the tradition.
When I headed off to university, I would occasionally get a care package and it would inevitably include a brownie cake. Every time I have these, they take me back. They are the taste of home.
The beauty of these brownies is how easy they are to make. No three-hour prep time for this one. You can knock these together in 15 minutes plus cooking time.
I don’t know if my brothers still make these brownies, but for those of us who do, I think we’ve all evolved the recipe over time. I’ve added melted chocolate, dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and changed the icing to chocolate. Much to my children’s horror, I’ve even sometimes omitted the icing or just used icing sugar sprinkled over the top.
My idea for the photo was to shape the brownies into hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds, but only the hearts and diamonds worked out. The clubs and spades were too fussy and delicate – they all broke. So instead of being an ode to poker, it’s apparently an early nod to Saint Valentine.
Technical details: ISO 200, 1/100s, f4.0, 100mm
Photoshop mods: Levels to fine tune lighting
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 or 3 oz melted unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 to 1 cup flour
[optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans]
[optional: 1 cup white chocolate chips]
[optional: 1 cup dark chocolate chips]
[optional: 1 cup skor bits]
With a wooden spoon, cream together butter, sugar, cocoa powder and melted chocolate. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and stir. Fold in any other optional bits as you like.
Bake in a greased 9″ x 13″ pan for 30-40 minutes. Watch closely when you’re getting close, it should start to pull away from the sides. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.
Variation: Put a small amount in mini-muffin tins for “two-bite brownies”. Reduce cooking time to 10-12 minutes. Be careful not to overfill.
2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
[optional: 2 tbsp cocoa powder]
While the brownies are in the oven, beat all ingredients together until smooth. Pour onto the brownies just as the brownies come out of the oven. This will melt the icing to form a shiny glaze.