Photographing the new Food Network Cupcakes! App

What do you get when you combine 1400 cupcakes, delicious recipes, a team of talented folks, a week of photography, 50 lbs of butter and sugar and plenty of code and technology?

Food Network’s Cupcakes! App, and folks let me tell you how incredible the entire experience was. This app for the iPad contains more than 100 cupcake and frosting recipes, and if I was a glutton I’d tell you I actually tasted most of them. But I’m not (wink wink) and I only tried 99 or so, give or take one or two.

Now that the app is out it’s such a delight to sit back and scroll through the recipes and watch the videos, but there was quite a bit of work that goes into making an application of this magnitude. Lots of meetings, plenty of discussions, and that’s just before we even set foot into the studio to begin the main photography. Once we were in our groove it became a wonderful yet serious endeavor, with dozens of cupcakes baked, frosted and decorated, sets constructed, frames animated, images approved, and so on. This doesn’t even count the amazing design work that happened after photography, and trust me when I say this as I’m sure I could be biased: it’s one fantastic  application.

And the recipes? Solid and thorough, tested like crazy from the Food Network kitchens in New York. One day I’ll even share with you my favorite cupcake from the entire app (hint: it’s savory, not sweet!). But first you’ll need to buy the app from itunes. You’ll love it.

Until then how about some behind the scenes images?

A messy studio is a productive studio. Well, that’s what I kept saying as we began to be overrun with these sweet treats. And props. And surfaces. Since shooting this we’ve expanded the studio, thank goodness. But there is something fun about being up to your eyeballs in cupcakes, even if the powers-that-be kept their eyes on you so that you wouldn’t eat them.

Here we are working on one of the animations from the application. Have you seen it? I still chuckle every time, it’s adorable. And the cupcakes are delicious. I keep saying there’s a skinny elf in this image over on the computer but really, that’s just Armando who came in from NYC to assist and save the day on numerous occasions. I love you, Mando!

Look, it’s the elf again. The application not only contains recipes but tips and tricks about frosting as well as having the right gear on hand to create many of the cupcakes. Here’s an extreme overhead shot.

Adam works on another animation, this time featuring candy bees and a hive made out of cupcakes. Quite possibly my favorite bit of the application.

For a week the studio became a fine-tuned cupcake factory (we even installed a 3rd oven!), and batches of cupcake cooled throughout the studio. It was quite a sight to see.

Here’s Alexis, Adam’s assistant extraordinaire. I asked her to perform double duty and hand model for one of these scenes. You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with, we love her so much. She doesn’t even slap me when I print out photos of her from facebook and stick them to the kitchen ceiling. Not yet, at least.

More cupcakes awaiting their close up!

You know you’re fancy when you’re building custom-made props and boxes for cupcakes, right? Of course, them gems deserved nothing less. And when you can’t find exactly what you need you make it yourself, no?

And lastly, here are a few more screen shots from the app. You can buy yours from the iTunes store here. Thanks so much to Deb and Mory and everyone at Food Network. A very special thanks to the design team for making such a beautiful and intuitive application, it’s an honor to be involved! Now go eat a cupcake!




Talkin’ Turkey!

You certainly don’t need me to tell you that the Big Food Holiday is next week. Everywhere you turn you see tips, tricks and ideas for Thanksgiving so you’ll understand me when I say that I’m going to join the chorus! No, I will not be offering a turkey tip exactly, but I want to direct you to Cooking Channel where you’ll find a variety of recipes that I think you’ll like. And why would I do this? Because I photographed these recipes for Cooking Channel a few months ago and may just end up using one of the recipes next week for the big day.

What are your plans? I’m giddy just thinking about our week: my parents fly in Monday, my sister joins us Tuesday, and we’ll all be celebrating a giant Thanksgiving meal here at our home. Adam will do the bird, I’ll be in charge of music, decor and the hosting duties, while we’ll be joined with our friends, neighbors and extended family. We will toast a guest’s birthday, share what we’re thankful for, and wish my parents a 50th wedding anniversary all at the same time! While the exact anniversary isn’t until the end of December, I’d be a fool to not take the time to wish my loving folks the best of celebrations a bit early. When you make it to 50 Years you almost deserve to have those around you toast you many times over!

After the holiday I’ll be packing a small suitcase and heading to Australia to visit Hamilton Island for a few days, stopping off in Sydney before hightailing it back home to shoot a few assignments and work on my 2nd book. It’s a crazy time for all of us, remember to take a few moments for yourself but — MOST IMPORTANTLY — give thanks and lots of love to those in your lives. Tell them what they mean to you, even if they look at you crazy and tell you to stop. Trust me on this one: we all need to know how important we are to each other, it’s what makes this crazy life worth living. So do it. For me at least. And remember this: I am thankful for you and I love you. Each of you. I do. I really do.

Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage, Smoked Bacon, and Cornbread Stuffing

This recipe is from Tyler Florence and hits all the right spots. C’mon, maple AND bacon ON a turkey? Yes please. The recipe is here.

Bay and Lemon Brined Turkey

I get rather obsessed with a lemon+poultry combo. Then again I get rather excited about lemon+anything combo. You cannot go wrong. This recipe from Dave Lieberman can be found here.

Jamie’s Christmas Turkey

Ok, so it needn’t be December to enjoy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas turkey.  We all know Jamie knows what he’s doing. Recipe is here.

Turkey Roulade with Apple-Cider Gravy

A lighter, smaller holiday meal can come from something as simple as a turkey breast. In fact, 2 years ago we decided to forgo the entire bird and just use the breast. This recipe was delicious and you’ll find it here.

Thank you to Adam C. Pearson for the gorgeous food styling and Dani Fisher for prop styling. Dani is ammaaaaaaazing.

All images © Matt Armendariz for Cooking Channel. Thanks to my friends at Cooking Channel for letting me share!




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.

Meanwhile, over at Cooking Channel…

So we wanted to create something in the spirit of Mardi Gras for Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog. The result is something so delicious that I just had to point you in that direction. And since I just got back from Louisiana yesterday I might just have to make another batch. With beer. Plenty of beer.

And just for kicks, we also decided to make a quick video comprised of still images. Sumthin’ like 220 or so. And there are focus issues. And the music doesn’t line up exactly. And it’s very DIY. But it’s fun! And Adam let me film his famous hands. Enjoy it and happy celebratin’!


Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Yea, so I’m still continuing with Thanksgiving sides and apparently I’m still on this Chipotle kick. I can’t help it. A part of me thinks I might have taken a quick ride on a time machine back to the 1990s when everything went chipotle, but to skip over its smoky personality because of fashion would be a disservice to my table. So while I was experimenting with recipes recently like this Chipotle Sweet Potato Spoon Bread I did that’s over on the Cooking Channel I decided to do a simple mashed sweet potato with a nice dose of chipotle. It’s far from an original concept, I’ll give you that. But it’s delicious and a nice change. Plus if you’re inclined to do a different type of turkey this year (something with an Asian or Cajun flavah) then these sweet spuds will be maaaaaaarvelous.

Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Since I’m on a Food Network/Cooking Channel tip here, I’ve based this recipe on Alton Brown’s recipe. Not much changes, it’s literally quite simple, but I might add the teeeeeeeeniest tinnnnnnniest bit of extra adobo sauce for added flavor. And when looking for chipotles you’ll find them in a can packed in sauce, referred to as “chipotles in adobo”.  You will always find a few cans in our pantry. Oh, that sounded like I was giving you our stash, didn’t it? I wasn’t. You’ll have to buy them yourself.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you can use salted, it’s fine, just taste as you go along so you don’t oversalt!)
1 whole canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from the can
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, see above)

Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender and cooked. Drain and return the potatoes to the pan and add butter, peppers, adobo sauce and salt, if needed. Mash them up well, mixing ingredients. Serve immediately. So simple.

Is This Thing On? Taping a Segment

Adam and I recently taped a segment for an upcoming food show and I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes moments. I don’t want to give away anything but it’ll air next spring on a certain cable channel that I happen to do some work for. Or maybe not once they get back to NYC and view the tape (rimshot, please).

So let me ask you: do you have dreams of your own television show? Do you think you’d be fantastic performing in front of a camera, beaming your happy face into the living rooms of happy viewers all over the world? THEN GOOD FOR YOU BECAUSE OH MY GOD IT IS SOME CRAZY WORK AND OH MY GOD HOW ON EARTH DOES AIDA DO IT?!?!??!?!??!?!?!?!?!!?!?

There. I feel better. It’s not that I am ungrateful but let me tell you this: those bouncing happy faces that cook with ease on television know what they’re doing. And how. And they’re gorgeous professionals with wonderful crews who have endless energy. Me? I was beat after 6 hours of doing it.

Am I signing? Practicing my zombie moves? I have no clue. I was setting stuff up here.

(by the way is anyone else watching The Walking Dead on AMC? I am so completely in love with that show, it’s beautiful and the zombies actually scare me.)

The crew arrives and sets up a few Kino Flo light kits. Kinos are constant lights (they stay on) that are balanced for natural daylight. You see them in video productions all the time and they make for a very solid yet pleasing light source. Plus they’re quiet and relatively easy to move around.

A few lights were even set upstairs in our brand new Prop Shop to illuminate the action down below.

Part of the segment involves photography so we set up a shot while the crew filmed us. Here a crewmember snaps a shot of the food with his point-and-shoot.

Here’s one of the final images. We shoot tethered to the computer so that we can see every image as they come in. It’s nifty when you’re in the studio. The downside? Everyone can see every image as they come in. Augh.

We moved upstairs to film a quick interview segment. Lights were set up everywhere, don’t think I wasn’t keeping a close watch on the fine breakable things. It would not have been pretty if one of those c-stands fell over on the Mud Australia, Caroline Swift or Rina Menardi. Not at all.

Delightful sound guy who’s name was Mike. Mike with mic.

Adam sets up some props while the crew does the flag and scrim thing.

Adam rearranges some color coded plates and bowls. This is probably my most favorite thing about our studio now.

Look! I’m taking a photo with my camera of the monitor that’s taking a photo of us. It’s all very Meta, you know.

We finished our interviews and headed downstairs to cook some food. Adam is doing some swap-outs and preparation for the camera. On the wall behind him are printouts of my cookbook coming out in Spring.  We chose a recipe from the book.

The cameraman gives us an ok sign. Things look good.

Finally, we made our way back to the front of the studio so that the camera crew could get beauty shots of the recipe. Adam refreshed the food and readjusted the plate while I stood back and let them do their thing. I enjoyed the break and it allowed me to be the spectator and not the photographer.

Social media in action: Adam tweets from the set.

The director views the food on that nifty little monitor. I think I need to get one.

I’ll make sure to let you know when it airs.

The Last Cobbler

In a few days I’ll be hopping on another plane to a place that promises lots of good food, relaxation, sunshine and wine. It’s a trip we’ve been planning for a while, but what I wasn’t planning on was real life enveloping the weeks before and after this excursion. In this case real life means work, and work means travel, and that means I’ll be up in the air and away from home for many weeks. When I return it will no longer be summer but early fall and I can’t help but feel slightly Rip Van Winkelish about the whole damn thing.

I’ve managed to cram quite a bit of summer in the past few weeks. Dinners outdoors with best friends, long walks in the muggy streets of NYC with my blogging family, even one last hurrah at our house just the other night dedicated to the bounty of figs. Summer is my favorite season and I just don’t like to see it ending, footstomp footstomp footstomp!

(But trust me, I’ll think I’ll be ok drinking wine in Nice with this man and indulging in rioja-induced tapas crawls of marathon proportions in Spain with the hubs)

As a symbolic gesture I picked up stone fruit at the farmers’ market the other day, knowing that it could very likely be the last peach or plum I would buy and cook with at home for some time. Of course I’m looking forward to what’s around the corner but saying goodbye to stone fruit always leaves me a bit melancholy. What better way to throw it a little party than by making a cobbler.  I am a Certified Cobbler Freak and it almost doesn’t matter what kind either. I don’t think anyone can go wrong with warm fruit, topping and the required scoop of ice cream. You just can’t.

I have my standard recipes for cobbler but we felt like doing something a bit different. A quick search online turned up Aida Mollenkamp’s recipe which sounded good. Little did I know it would actually turn out GREAT.

Do you know Aida? Do you watch her show on Cooking Channel? She brings a smile to my face everytime I think of her, and she’s even funnier and sillier in person. Not that I’m calling her silly, mind you. It’s just being around her makes me feel good. I do love that woman somethin’ fierce.

I’m glad that my last homemade cobbler of the summer went out with a bang. I suspect I’ll be making this cobbler for years, too. In my version I tweaked it just a bit, punctuating the wonderfully mellow peaches with tart dried cherries from my trip to Michigan. It was a match made in heaven. Speaking of heaven, those fluffy clouds of sour cream biscuits on top? Yea, they made this dish. It’s all about those biscuits.

Peach and Tart Cherry Cobbler with Sour Cream Biscuits adapted from a recipe by Aida Mollenkamp

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream

¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, seeds reserved
1 ½ pounds fresh peaches, pitted and cut into sixths
1 cup of dried tart cherries (you can find them here)

2 teaspoons sour cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375˚ F and arrange a rack in the middle.

For the Biscuits: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend thoroughly.

With a large box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture using the large holes and then toss to coat. Smear in the sour cream and heavy cream and knead until the dough comes together with your hands. Divide into six pieces and flatten into disks; cover and reserve in the fridge.

For the fruit filling: In a large bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and vanilla seeds. Add peaches and dried cherries and mix until the fruit is evenly coated.

Put the fruit mixture into a 2-quart baking dish and top with the biscuit dough evenly across the top.

To Assemble: Brush the tops of the biscuits with sour cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until the filling is bubbling, the peaches are tender when pierces with a knife and the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool before serving. Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Meanwhile, over at The Cooking Channel…

Hi folks! I’m not sure I announced it here but I’m so pleased to say that I’m a regular contributor to Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog.  I’ve had the best time creating recipes that focus on real flavor, great ingredients with a built-in element of fun and flare (and this is because I always have “party” on the brain, ya know).  This week I created a really simple Ice Cream Terrine with Sauteéd Peaches and I want you to go over there and check it out. For me, pretty please?

And a quick photo bonus for all us food photography geeks:

I took the photo on the left with a point and shoot camera. The right image was captured by my 5D. Never ever let it be said that you cannot take a good food photo because you don’t have an expensive camera. Just don’t. Your talent is greater than the camera you are using and you can make beautiful images with anything. Remember this!