Meanwhile, over at Cooking Channel…

Boy oh boy it’s Crazy Times over here and I bet it’s the same for you. It’s not even officially June 21st and I’m already in full summer mode. I’m happy about it as it’s my favorite time of year and if I can coax a little extra out of summer I’m all for it! For us it officially began when we started working on a series of recipe images for our friends at Cooking Channel. Ok, they’re like family, really.

There’s a certain satisfaction you get from seeing all your hard work completed and in our case it’s all up on the Summer Sides section of Cooking Channel. Have you seen it? With the exception of the video we cooked, photographed (and taste-tested, naturally) these flavorful side dishes that are guaranteed to “steal the show at your summer picnic, potluck or barbecue.” Which is very true. If I had to pick a favorite I’d say it’s either the Mexican Grilled Corn (you cannot mess it up!) or Extra Virgin’s Grilled Vegetables, which to me could become a main dish along side a nice baguette and plenty of wine.

Side note: A few days after photographing the vegetables from Extra Virgin, the show featuring Debi Mazar and her husband Gabriele Corcos, I ran into her while working on another project in which we’re both involved in. I tried not to make it strange by saying “Oh hi! We’re co-workers and I shot your eggplant.” Because there’s really no gracious way to say that when I think about it. As I expected she was lovely :)

Anyway, back to the food! Check out the link for some really delicious summer sides because, well, isn’t summer entertaining really all about side dishes? You already pretty much know what is going to the be the main dish, don’t you?

Speaking of Food Network…

More about this a bit later. I HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE.

Book Reviews: Italian Cookbooks

I’m happy to announce the return of book reviews from Kristina Gill. Her book review column has proven to be quite a great lil resource for books, her selections knock it outta the ballpark each and every time. And having just released my own book, well, I’m realizing that one must share the booklove as much as possible. Take it away, Kristina!

I stumbled across a nice book 15 years ago called Sua Maestà, il Raviolo (“Her Majesty, the Raviolo”). It was a book about ravioli from every region in Italy. That book, in 1996, introduced me to Slow Food, and the Slow Food publisher in Italy. I have been a member of Slow Food Italy off and on since…longer than I can remember. I have slowly bought most of the Slow Food recipe books, as they’ve been released, region by region (most of them anyway), including the four monothematic volumes. A new one on Pasta was just released. I think these books are, hands down, the best Italian cookbooks out there (they have no pictures). They are thin paperback volumes, and include socio-cultural notes about the origin of the recipes, ingredients, and people. Nothing excessive, just a sentence or two, here and there explaining what’s what. The recipes are often from the osterie which appear in the Slow Food annual restaurant guidebooks. If you can read Italian, or even feel your way through it, they are worth having a look at, especially the monothematic or raviolo book.

If you can’t read Italian, but are looking for something authentic or just inspirational, there are a few choices out there which I believe produce great results that you will be happy with. That’s what this week’s reviews are about: great Italian cookbooks. This list is by no means exhaustive!! I have many others, but today, these are at the front of my section.

Italian Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, Steven Kolpan (Wiley 2011; photography by Francesco Tonelli)

Wiley has been doing the “At Home with the Culinary Institute of America” series for a while now. I think they are excellent books. This Italian cooking one is no different. It is a comprehensive collection of the most common Italian recipes– carbonara, ragù, polenta, gnocchi, antipasti of all sorts, soups, fresh pasta. This is a big book, kind of formal, but right on the money for your classics. This is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking.

The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Michael Joseph, 2009; Photography by various photographers, including Jonathan Gregson and David Loftus) This book offers a similar range of Italian classics, but a bit more modern if I may. The classics are interspersed with “typical” Italian preparations, mainly Tuscan. It goes beyond the sampling of dishes that a one time traveler may know and gets into the boiled octopus with potatoes, penne con stracotto (penne with beef braised in Chianti), and roast guinea fowl stuffed with lemons. That is to say, it gets into what you might find on the table for lunch on a Sunday afternoon at your Italian mother-in-law’s house (not my Italian mother-in-law, though). Of enthusiastic note, this has a section on gelato (gelato al gianduiotto anyone?) and desserts including strudel, panettone, and ricciarelli the Siennese almond meringue! Again, this is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking, home style.

Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo (Quadrille, 2011; Photography by Christopher Terry)

This is a book to accompany the BBC series of the same name, which I’ve never seen. However, how can anyone resist an Italian cookbook with a perfectly baked Neapolitan margherita pizza on the back cover?? Two giants of the Italian cooking scene in the UK take readers on a feeding frenzy around Italy. In addition to the recipes which have little overlap with the previous two titles, you have lots of notes on socio-cultural aspects of Italy and its food and dining culture. Like The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book, this book has a very ‘home cooked’ feel to it, which I like a lot. This doesn’t have the range of recipes that the River Cafe book has, but it has an excellent and numerous selection. This would be the perfect book for someone leaving on a first time trip to Italy, or someone who has just returned and wants to keep the memory alive.

Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph 2005; photography by David Loftus).

This book is Jamie’s interpretations of the food he ate and cooked with people during a trip around Italy. I wouldn’t say it has an “authentic” feel to it, at the same time, I think it is solid enough to stand in this round up of reviews, and because of Jamie’s ability to transmit his enthusiasm, it’s one of my favorite non-Italian Italian cookbooks. Jamie’s no-nonsense style of cooking and Italian food are a natural marriage. That’s why I recommend this book to anyone who wants to feel quite at ease about trying out Italian food, but who doesn’t want to get bogged down in detail. Jamie is also fun, has a great writing style, and David Loftus shoots all his books. What’s not to like? This is a great book for anyone interested in good food (and great pictures of good food).

Eat Ate by Guy Mirabella (Hardie Grant Books, 2010; Chronicle Books in the USA; photography by Earl Carter).

I felt like including this book because it is a very nice book, especially aesthetically. It is by an Italo-American-Australian cafe-owner and artist named Guy Mirabella. Honestly, I think the most Italian thing about the book is the author’s set of maternal grandparents from Sicily. But I love his spirit for telling his family history and childhood memories related to extravagance, generosity, love, tradition, life, and food, the chapters of the book. This is probably a more “modOz” take on Italian food, but that shouldn’t detract from the great flavors the author puts together in his recipes: pumpkin, ricotta and herb pizza, chicken, capsicum, and leek couscous, roast pumpkin and asparagus lasagne (lots of pumpkin in this book), chargrilled calamari, fennel, and Asian herb salad. This is a book for anyone who wants to serve ‘grown-up’ food that you won’t find on any other table.



Updates and Fun Things!

Has it really been 2 weeks since I posted last? Here I was gonna keep this fun momentum going because there are so many exciting things happening! And you know what? I didn’t. Please forgive me? I’m going to jump right into all this because there are so many things to say!

Photo by Nikki from Pennies On A Platter. Thank you, Nikki!

Food Blogger Bakesale

The LA branch of the Food Blogger Bakesale, organized by Gaby Dalkin, was a huge sugary success! Benefitting Share Our Strength, Saturday’s bakesale was crowded, fun, energetic, and raised over $2000.00 to help end childhood hunger. It was great seeing so many friends (some twice in 1 week, for me that is RARE, heck, for anyone who lives in Los Angeles that’s rare) and participating in such a worthwhile event. The biggest gesture of gratitude goes to Gaby for tirelessly organizing the event and also to BLD for hosting it.

Photos by Rick Motzkus

 

On A Stick! Book Party

Fifty of our closest friends and family joined us at Border Grill for a celebration of the release of On A Stick! For those of you who made it amid all the craziness of a busy spring season, I truly thank you and I love you and your support means the world to me. Thank you for being there. And a special thanks to Border Grill for such delicious nibbles all served on a stick, naturally! I love Mary Sue and Susan, I love Leah and Peter, I love Border Grill and typing this at 6am makes me want some guacamole and sangria!

Sidenote: Yes, I realize that I get to hang out with the World’s Most Gorgeous Women and this photo proves it. Hotness times a million billion trillion. And each of these amazing women are as equally beautiful on the inside. I am so lucky!

Speaking of the book…there are book winners!

Ok, over 700 people left comments for the On A Stick! book giveaway. I AM COMPLETELY SPEECHLESS! SEVEN HUNDRED PLUS. And while I wish I had cases of cases of books to giveaway (I really wish I did, seriously!) I only have a few to share. To the winners: Nisrine, Katie, Allison, Ellie, Stacy and Lisa, your books will go out soon!

I also did a book giveaway on Design*Sponge, thank you Grace and Kristina! Winners will be announced shortly there as well!

A review

Speaking of the book again, here’s a lovely review of On A Stick! by the LA Weekly‘s food blog Squid Ink.. It’s an honor to even have it reviewed by LA Weekly and the one and only Jenn Garbee.

 

I’ve had friends send me snapshots of On A Stick! on display (thank you Powell’s in Portland, thank you Joe!) And now it’s not only at Barnes & Noble but also Urban Outfitters. Which makes me wanna grab a lomo and some Ray Bans and get all hip on your ass. Oops, sorry about that. Thank you, Urban Outfitters!

Powell's in Portland. Thank you Joe! We love you!

Savannah Bound

We are heading to Savannah tomorrow for a bit of fun and some running around. I fully plan on taking the Paula Deen tour and heck, maybe I’ll even show up at her doorstep and beg and annoy her into letting take a tour personally. I wanna see where the buttery magic happens. If you have any Savannah recommendations please do let me know! And yes, I’ll be missing BlogHer Food this year, I hope everyone enjoys the conference!

 

Speaking of running around…

Here’s a little video we made of a smoothly-operated photo shoot at our studio. Everything came together and there were no freakouts, no set collapses, no plate breakages, nada! Since everyone always asks me what happens on the set of a food shoot, well, now you can check it out for yourself!

 



On A Stick! My new book is out today! And a giveaway!

My sister Angela got her book yesterday. Thanks Amazon!

Well whatddayaknow? Today is the relase of our first book, On A Stick!

I’m thrilled, elated, a bit nervous but happy that this book hits store shelves today. It was an incredibly fun project that required some state fair visits, tons of research and plenty of taste testing and you should know I gave 150% of myself to this book. Especially the tasting part :)

On A Stick! is a book about – wait for it, wait for it – FOOD ON A STICK. Ok, I’m being silly and knew you’d figure that part out, but this book is where high brow meets low brow, where favorite recipes meet new fangled ideas in some fun and silly ways. Are you seeing the parallel between me and the book? God I sure hope so!

When I began to discuss the idea with Quirk, my publisher, I knew there’d be so many fun moments in store but I also knew it’d be quite a bit of work to produce a cookbook. While I’ve photographed several books for others, this was the first that landed on my shoulders but you should know it was a team effort. None of it would have been possible without my rock, my live-in stylist and my husband Adam. And the same goes for Jenny Park, my tester, writer and assistant stylist. And also to Haley White, my intern at the time, who kept me company and provided valuable assistance and feedback during the process.  And also to our friend Eddie Vasquez who helped me sample item after item after item at a State Fair last year. Who says I don’t take my work seriously?

Top: Adam and Eddie conduct serious research at the San Diego State Fair last year and yes, they are Fine Art. Bottom: Adam enjoys a Hot Dog Covered In French Fries in Seoul, South Korea last week. The work never stops!

 

But back to the book!

 

I did my best to cover all my favorites on a stick, from party food to street-fair food to appetizers and desserts. And because there’s that natural thing that happens when you have food on a stick – you simply must dunk or dip it – I included several recipes for dips, marinades and sauces.

And then there are the photos. Fresh off of Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches, I began to rub my eyes and pound my fists a few times as the challenges of photographing food stuck on sticks began to wear me down. It wasn’t easy! Luckily Margaret McGuire, Editor Extraordinaire, was there every step of the way to assist and inspire me with words of encouragement. And with Adam’s styling I think we pulled it off.

Let’s have a look at a few of the book’s images, shall we?

Chicken and Waffles On A Stick.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Chicken & Waffles then you need to get up on this! Based on the dish I love at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles I wanted to put it on a stick and drown the whole thing in syrup. Oh. My. God. No, you shouldn’t eat this everyday but for something different on a stick I do love it.

Coconut Shrimp. Not everything in the book is on a giant long stick reminiscent of state fair cuisine. These tender shrimp are dipped in shredded coconut and fried, a flavor combination creation in Heaven above. Serve with mango salsa and you have yourself a cute little appetizer. They pair wonderfully with cocktails, I’m telling you.

Fried Pickles. Oh puhleeese quit looking at me that way. You know you want some. And if you love them already then you know where I’m coming from. Again, excellent with cocktails or beer. Not that I drink all that often.

This Panzanella on a stick was the very first recipe I wrote and tested. I took them to a 4th of July bbq last summer (it’s been that long already!?) to test on a crowd and you know what? They loved them. It’s fresh, summery, with enough chewy croutons to give these skewers some substance. Secret admission: I was kinda hoping people didn’t like them so I could eat them all myself. I’m serious.

Popcorn Balls. Is there anything better than a sticky face and sticky hands? Not really. When we shot these I told Adam to leave them on my computer stand just in case I needed to photograph them again. I AM SUCH A LIAR! I left them there to eat over the course of the day which I did. Sticky camera and mouse be damned.

Fruit Salad Skewers. These make me happy. They’re easy to assemble and great for kids, but you know the best part about them? The fluffy sweet sauce that they’re dipped in. I’m going to leave it at that and encourage you to make them. And invite me over.  I’ll bring extra sauce.

Spaghetti & Meatballs On A Stick. When I traveled around with my advance copy of the book this photo was always met with laughter. Was it good laughter or bad laughter? No one would tell me. But go ahead, laugh if you want, this dish is delicious, silly, a bit labor intensive but guaranteed to make you, um, smile. C’mon, it’s on a stick. Enjoy and delight in the silliness of it all! Besides, it’s the only time you’ll be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs with one hand while holding a glass of red wine in the other. Another drink reference, must I see someone about that?

There are so many more recipes in this book, not all silly, either.

To celebrate the release of On A Stick!, I’ll be giving away 5 autographed copies! All you have to do is leave a comment below, it can be stick related or you can tell me how much you love corndogs, I’m easy! Just leave a comment and next Monday, May 9th I’ll pick 5 winners and write sweet nothings in your book and mail them to you! EASY! Unfortunately you must be in the United States to win and must leave your comment by 9am PST time on Monday the 9th. I’m so excited to send some lucky winners a book that I may just throw in a few secret surprises!

Visit Amazon.com to buy your copy today!

A New Banner!

So I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and felt like it was time to update the banner on this here lil food blog! I wanted to return to something a bit rustic and messy that incorporated some of my favorite props as well as photographs recently given to me by my mom. Thanks, Mom!

I realized I hadn’t changed the banner in quite some time and I’m always inspired by Adam Roberts‘ regular changes to his site. Now that it’s complete I thought I’d do a quick behind-the-scenes about it. And by quick I mean really quick; there are only two images (well 3 actually) that comprise the main banner and they’re magically stitched together in Photoshop. I wanted to do it in 1 pass but the background I chose wasn’t long enough. Darnit!

Here’s the view of the left side from above. Using my foba camera stand allowed me to get really really really really high up in the air and also keep things sturdy. I’m a klutz so this matters greatly. Anyway, items were arranged in a very casual, spontaneous manner using a few old books I had. In fact, the book on the right is The American Woman’s Cook Book from 1947 and The Butterick Cook Book on the right. The Butterick cookbook is 100 years old this year and belonged to Adam’s grandmother. Many of her notecards and clippings were inside the books and I happily used them on my impromptu table.

Here’s the image on the right side. I used black flags and large black v-flats to remove some of the light and add shadows. Red wine, dried fruit, some cheese and fresh fruit complete the scene with grapes placed strategically to allow for a headline. The boards were salvaged from my old garage and many of the plates in this shot came from ABC in NYC. The knives, fork and linen are vintage pieces from all over the place. And if you look in the final image you’ll see I replaced the photo with a recent image of me being silly with a wax mustache. I mean, c’mon, how could I be serious?

After both images matched my banner template using an overlay feature I combined them both in photoshop, using a third image (below) to graft any extra surface space I’d need to make it fit. After all the images were layered properly I blended and merged them, cleaned up some of the messy surface and put my logo on top. Voila! New banner!

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you did I’ll make sure to go behind-the-scenes with every banner and write about it here!

Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen

I met Sara a few years ago in the Bahamas and quickly discovered she is the kind of person everyone knows. As the owner of Foster’s Market in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Sara is the author of several cookbooks and has numerous appearances on Martha’s show as well as the Today show. I have yet to make it to her market but in the meantime I’m so happy to have this book. Her latest, Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal, is filled with traditional Southern favorites as seen through Sara’s kitchen. It’s a book that you can’t help but get hungry from just looking at it as it’s packed with Southern favorites that I want to eat this very second. All the classics are there with contemporary twists like Shrimp Jabalaya, fried chicken, brisket and spare ribs. Now can you see why I’m all about this book?

Because I’m anticipating summer mode I wanted to try a few things so I could hit the ground running once it warms up a tiny bit. I’m in love with Sara’s skillet-fried corn and can only imagine how fantastic it will be when I make it with summer’s best corn. Still, even using the corn I used it was still delicious and remarkably simple. Corn, butter, basil, salt, and pepper (plus a few pieces of summer squash and zucchini just like the photo in the book) are so delicious that I really can’t wait to serve this outside with some ribs, a few burgers, I can bet it’s fantastic with just about anything. And the combination of basil and corn is completely new to me and it’s fantastic. Make sure to check out the recipe at the end of this post.

Sara’s familiar tone in writing really makes you feel as if you’re there and have known her for years, which I love. I also love her glossary of Southern pantry essentials, should you need a brush up. But the thing about Sara’s Southern Kitchen that really makes me hungry is the food photography from Peter Frank Edwards. The food is gorgeous, real, and captured in such a way that it truly feels as if you’re just sitting down to enjoy a meal with Sara and the family.

Luckily for us Sara’s husband Peter created this video as they were working on the book. I knew I had to share it!

 

 

Skillet Fried Corn from Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal
Shuck 6 ears fresh corn and cut the kernels directly into a bowl. After removing the kernels, hold each stripped cob over the bowl and scrape with the back of the knife to release the juices. Cut 4 fresh basil leaves into thin strips and set aside.

Heat 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until foamy. Add the kernels and their juices, rinse the bowl with ¼ cup water, and add the rinsing liquid to the skillet. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook and stir until the kernels are tender and the liquid thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the basil and serve warm.

Matt says: You can add sliced of summer squash and zucchini to this dish for color. It’s heavenly. Photo by me.