Behind the Scenes of a Personal Food Photography Shoot

Pie Intro

It was a pie safe that we purchased years ago. Rustic, beat up, full of character. I could never walk by it without thinking of what it would look like filled with pies. Over the years it’s housed prop glasses, plates, beautiful ceramics, but never pies.

Eight years later I decided to do something about that.

Whenever I have some free time I love to schedule personal shoots. I get to work with friends and lovely models, create a story of my own, and shoot it the way I see fit. One doesn’t always get that luxury when working for clients as there are a variety of requirements to meet. Not that I object! It’s just nice to do something for yourself now and then, right?

The idea for this story involved a couple making pies one late afternoon. I called my dear friend Ellen at Neat Productions to handle the casting, and before long we were looking at a dozen models. I must admit I really love this part!

pie-casting

“Hold this. Turn this way. Use the rolling pin. Got it.”

 

quick-sketch

With the casting underway, I turned to my folder of sketches and drawings I stored just in case I ever got around to shooting this story. Swatches, colors, fabrics, and inspirational images go into it, and I soon started the task of turning ideas into actions. One thing I knew I wanted to use was an old stove. Luckily there’s a shop with a wonderful collection of vintage stoves right around the corner from our studio, so after asking if I could rent one I found a mover to drop it by. Those suckers are heavy!

stove-insta

Once it was delivered, it met the pie safe and a lovely old farm table. I think they all got along perfectly and all I needed to do was build a shelf over the stove and start dressing the set. I pulled from our prop collection and went to town. So much fun!

pie-safe

The lighting for this story would be a balance of very bright directional light and dark, contrasty shadows. I wanted to feel like you were in a kitchen one late afternoon when the sun has just peaked and is on its way down, high up in the sky. Not flooded with light, but still keeping the intensity. This was done by blocking quite a bit for shadows (all the black foamcore) and keeping the light high. The two wall flats were also painted a very dark shade of brown, a departure from the dark greys I prefer. It helped to cut down reflection and light. Shadows can be your best friends.

 

lighting-example

The set was extremely minimal and only took 45 minutes to put together.

set-process-1

set-process-2

set-process-3

I didn’t need a wardrobe stylist for this shoot, I wanted the models in their own clothes to keep it casual. However, I did have to hunt down aprons, and eventually decided on a beautiful blue apron from Madison And Muse for her as well as a few others for him.

hanging-aprons

Shot over 2 days, we started with the skeleton crew for the food. Pies were baked (thanks, Adam!) while I photographed ingredients and process shots. Unfortunately they weren’t baked in the vintage stove, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it.

pie-bts-collage

pie-overhead

On day 2 our models and crew arrived in the afternoon. Thanks to old Xscape, 702, Inoj, Blackstreet, Brownstone and Zhane for keeping the mood just right. After a quick visit to the hair and makeup department (a/k/a Candy Corner), the models were ready to hit the set and start making pies.

models

crimp-and-primp

Cal crimps and primps! Also, a few touch ups between takes with the amazing Aunny De La Rosa!

make-up-touch-up

 

After a few process shots it came time for the best part of the day: TO EAT PIES. Like everything we shoot, it’s completely edible and considering Adam made these pies, well, enough said. They are legendary.

I wanted to get some action shots with hands so I crawled up a ladder and made the models eat VERY slowly. Awkward yes, but it made for a great shot!

eating-pies!

Photographing the models went very quickly (they are professionals after all) so once we were done it came time for the editing process. I use Capture One to shoot tethered and to process my images, but I usually wait until I’m back at my home office with my calibrated monitors before working on edits or colors.  Most things can be done with Capture One so it was easy to finalize the shoot. If I have to use photoshop it’s for things like cloning or removing items within the frame (like a seam)

time-to-edit

seam

With the shoot done, I can now add it to my portfolio and use it in promotional materials. Now let’s eat pie! Come back tomorrow where I’ll share the final images with ya! Thank you so much for reading!

Thanks to Adam for humoring me and making beautiful pies! To Ellen, Aunny, Byron, Aubrey and Calvin… a million thanks!

 

Honeyed Apple–Peanut Butter Tart

9781118095126_p0_v1_s260x420Many projects I work on have a moratorium on sharing. Sometimes by me, other times by the publisher or editor who usually lets me know when I can start blabbing about it. Sometimes the lead times are long (a year or two in advance!), other times I just have to wait a month or two until whatever I photographed has hit the streets.

Of course, most of the time it’s ok to share a little bit via instagram and facebook, but I usually err on the side of caution and keep my mouth shut.

Which is painful when there are great recipes I want to talk about.

Like this one.

Apple-Peanut-Butter-Tart-Overhead-550px

Oh my goodness, this one.

I am a peanut butter freak, and combined with an apple or banana it’s my standard sweet snack. I knew I’d love this recipe from Jenny Flake’s The Picky Palate Cookbook when we were reviewing the recipe list, and when Adam and his team began to assemble it I knew that the shape would photograph beautifully, and I knew that the shape would also fit in my stomach perfectly.

I think I ate the whole damn thing.

Jenny says it’s easy to make, which it is. The hard part was waiting for quite some time to share this recipe, and now that it’s out Apple-Peanut-Butter-Tart-Cutyou really should try it. And the book, too. I’ve given a few copies to friends, not only to show them what we’ve been up to but also to encourage them to get into the kitchen and make stuff. Mainly this. And then to call me and invite me over so I can enjoy my favorite flavor combination via the ever-so-delightful Jenny Flake.

Honeyed Apple–Peanut Butter Tart

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
6 tablespoons honey, warmed, divided
2 apples of choice, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

2. Cut the puff pastry into 3 equal-size rectangles and place on the prepared baking sheet. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the peanut butter in the microwave until liquid-like, about 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons of the honey and stir to combine, then spread evenly over the 3 pastry rectangles, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges.

3. Layer the apple slices neatly over the peanut butter. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining honey in the microwave for 15 seconds, until liquid-like. Drizzle over the apples, sprinkle with the sugar, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the pastry is lightly browned and puffed around the edges. Let cool completely, then drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons honey. Dust with the powdered sugar. Serve as whole tarts or cut each tart into fourths.

Recipe reprinted by permission, The Picky Palate Cookbook by Jenny Flake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2012. Photograph by yours truly.

 

Winter Citrus, Revisited. Again.

Winter-Citrus-2013-Opener-Matt-Armendariz

There’s really not much left I can say about citrus. Particularly, how I feel about citrus. I’ve talked about it for years via my annual citrus round-up, and if I had my way I’d probably write a whole damn cookbook on citrus fruit. I totally would.

Matt-Armendariz-Citrus-Ring-550I think I’ve run out of words to describe the fruits of the Rutaceae family; I’ve used all the zippy and zings, tangy and tarts to last a lifetime. Besides, do you really need me to tell you what a lemon tastes like? Um, no. I’m pretty sure just about everyone knows what they taste like and how indispensible they are to cooking.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a cuisine that doesn’t include citrus in one way or another.

To me, it’s that citric acid that makes food come alive, but it also doesn’t need to knock you over, either. It can add balance to a dish, cause a chemical reaction, preserve, intensify and enchance, and it’s also an equal opportunity ingredient, happy in both sweet and savory dishes. To me it’s one of life’s absolutely perfect things.

So how have we been enjoying these beauties at our place? In so many ways. I thought it’d be fun to put together a few suggestions for all those lemons and limes that are their peak right now. Oh, and grapefruit and tangerines. And kumquats and tangelos. And, and…

 

Margarita-2013-Matt-Armendariz

MARGARITAS, ANYONE?

As luck would have it, one plentiful lime tree stands smack dab in the middle of our new yard. We moved just in time to become intoxicated by the lime flower blossoms (and if you’ve ever need proof as to whether miracles exist, lean in and smell that tiny mighty flower). The blossoms gave way to fruit, so much fruit! It seems like I couldn’t give the limes away fast enough, but being the resourceful guy that I am, I opted for a giant batch of margaritas. You can keep your neon-gree fake mixes, thankyouverymuch. A real margarita could not be easier, nor more satisfying. It goes like this: lime juice, a fantastic tequila, simple syrup or any orange-flavored liqueur like triple sec or Cointreau. I’ve been known to skip the last ingredient, which is just fine if you ask me.

Chips-and-Lemon-2013-Matt-Armendariz

FRIED LEMONS AND POTATO CHIPS

We recently finished an assignment for Food & Wine Magazine, and one tempura recipe included in the shot list used tempura-battered lemon slices. We were all so collectively bowled over by what happens to a battered and deep-fried lemon – it’s more amazing than you’d think! Incorporating that premise into snacktime yielded these chips with fried lemon slices tucked throughout.  You’ll want beer to enjoy with these things (they’re simply dipped in tapioca flour and fried), and if you need more zing, simply spring with an equal blend of lemon or lime zest and salt. Easy.

Paloma-Matt-Armendariz-2013

PALOMA

Oh my sweet Paloma, you are a beautiful thing, aren’t you? You make me wish I lived on a grapefruit plantation. And while this Mexican cocktail is usually served with Mexican grapefruit soda and tequila, I’m going straight to the source by mixing fresh grapefruit juice, sparkling water, along with plenty of simple syrup and crushed ice. And good tequila. Fly away, Paloma!

Update: About a day after this post went live a box of Texas Rio Star Grapefruit arrived on my doorstep. Can I tell you how amazing they are? I plan on remaking a batch of Palomas with the sweet juice of these grapefruits, which I learned are only grown in Texas. Thanks for sending, Kymberly, and hugs to everyone back in Texas!

Shrimp-Sweet-Chili-Matt-Armendariz-2013

SWEET CHILI LIME SAUCE

Oh, this is cheating. Ok, let’s not be so harsh. This is doctoring.  Which I’m not opposed to doing if it’s easy, delicious, and let me bring more flavor to the party. In this case, a few teaspoons of fresh lime juice and garlic added to bottled sweet chilI sauce makes an excellent dipping sauce for grilled shrimp and squid. OH AND LOOK, THESE THINGS ARE ON STICKS! I wonder what gave me that idea. I really do.

Oh, and don’t forget squeezes of fresh lime before serving!

Steak-with-Sauce-Matt-Armendariz-2013

STEAK & NUOC MAM

You may know the Vietnamese condiment made from fish sauce, sugar, chiles and lime juice as the umami-rich dipping sauce of spring rolls, bánh xèo and bánh bèo, among other things. But this FREAKING MAGIC SAUCE (yes, emphasis mine) makes an appearance at our house all the time. ALL THE TIME. Especially when meat like slow roasted pork, flank steak or grilled chicken are on the menu. I use Andrea’s recipe all the time, which can be found here.

But I don’t usually stop there. I’ll add tiny amounts to a bowl of beans, sprinkle it over pasta, and even add it to my guacamole. It’s my fave.

Curd-Tarts-Matt-Armendariz-2013

CITRUS CURD

Juice + eggs + sugar + butter + heat = curd. And it’s fantastic on just about everything. Cakes, scones, cakes, you name it. In this case Adam made these beautiful little citrus curd meringue tarts and well, they disappeared. INTO MY MOUTH. A very easy little shell was blind baked and cooled, then filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue.  A quick torch to brown the peaks of meringue came next, and then some blackberries finished it off. Tart, sweet, buttery, berry, oh lord these things didn’t stand a chance.

Candied-Kumquats-1-Matt-A-2013

CANDIED KUMQUATS

Oh really, this cannot be easier. All you need is time and a few ingredients. And thanks to Pim for the inspiration for this: simmer covered kumquats in water and sugar and a little vanilla bean and a dash of salt for about 2 hours, then uncover and reduce so that you’re left with an amazing citrus syrup. That is all. Seriously. The fruit turn soft and delicious, losing any bitterness they may have had from the long soak. Enjoy the kumquats on dark chocolate cake, on a cheesecake, or along with the syrup over vanilla ice cream.

Alrighty my friends, what’s your favorite thing to do with citrus? I’d love to know! I’m thinking 2014 already!

Citrus-Extras-Matt-Armendariz-2013



Saeco Review + Easy Tiramisu!

The email landed in my box asking if I wanted to try the Phillips Saeco Syntia, a fully automatic espresso machine from Philips. I don’t even want to tell you the number of automatic espresso machines that have lived on my counter over the past twenty years, some good, some not so good. What begins as a promising machine usually ends up in gadget fatigue, re-packed and stored somewhere else while I go back to my French press, Chemex or Nespresso because functionality and convenience win out.

To say I was dubious would be correct, but I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try this machine out. It’s not cheap, but reading the specs interested me: the ability to use my own beans, grind it fresh, steam milk, and pour a variable length shot of espresso were all things I wanted. So the machine arrived, a bit larger than I thought it might be, and I got busy.

I made cappuccino after cappuccino, espressos in the morning, flat whites (or my sad attempt, I should say!) in the afternoon, and Americanos when I ran out of milk (it happens).  I waited for the moment when I’d glance over at it, the sheen of SHINY!NEW!DEVICE!TO!REVIEW! would fade away, and it’d get packed back up and shipped back out, like they all do.

But I dig this machine. As in, it’s staying.

It’s easy to review a machine for flavor, to judge the quality of the grind, extraction and steam abilities. It’s another to review it for its longevity, in a practical situation, and decide if it’s a kitchen device you’d want.  So I put off this review as long as possible, using the machine at home for a month and then another two at the studio, where it went through the ringer of shoots, clients, crew, and friends. It was well worth the terse emails from the account executive checking in on this posting ( “ASAP” was used quite a bit). What did I learn? It makes great espresso and it’s easy to use.

The Good Stuff
The fact that it’s a solid bean-to-cup process makes me rate this machine well, as freshness counts in coffee. It grinds with a ceramic grinder and conveniently dumps the grounds into a chamber that’s easy to empty. The one touch functionality is impressive, and there’s not much else to figure out. Simplified interface and limited buttons and a dial make it easy to use, and it cleans itself regularly (keep an extra cup handy for the water output).

The pannarello arm for steaming milk works well, much better than several automatic devices I’ve tried. This seems to be a losing point for most automatic machines as they never heat quickly or powerful enough, that’s not a problem with the Syntia. And the fact that it’s completely removable for cleaning is awesome. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and pick up a steam pitcher and thermometer for accuracy.

The Bad Stuff (and it’s not that bad, actually…)
It’s slightly temperamental when it comes to water levels in the chamber and error messages lighting up, at least on my machine. But making sure everything is emptied and supplied in the water chamber and bean storage is easy enough, and if that’s the most nitpickiest thing I can say about the Syntia then that’s pretty good. Oh, and you’ll need to give yourself some time to set it up, just a warning. And please remember this: it will never taste like a shot of espresso made from a manual machine but for home use and convenience it’s absolutely perfect.

 And now, something tasty for the holidays

I wanted to create something simple and easy using the Syntia, and the fact that this year alone I think I’ve photographed 15 to 20 different trifles, Eaton Messes, and other layered desserts made me think that a super quick and easy Tiramisu would be best. These gorgeous little kinda-tiramisus were created by Adam, and I love the fact that they are individual servings, for festive reasons, ya know. There is no official recipe here and yields might be tricky, but you’ll have to do your best to figure it out. And if you have any leftovers that don’t fit in individual glasses them that’s when you put them in a big giant bowl and grab a spoon. Very delicious, very trifle.

Easy Sorta Tiramisu I mean, it’s easy, it’s sorta Tiramisu

For the Coffee
1 cup espresso
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
¼ cup powdered sugar
For The Mascarpone
8 oz mascarpone
1 cup lightly whipped whipped cream
½ cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons of the Coffee Mixture

Ladyfingers
Milk chocolate for shaving

Mix the coffee mixture until well blended, reserving a few tablespoons for the mascarpone. Soak the ladyfinger cookies in the coffee until absorbed. In the meantime, lightly blend the mascarpone, 1 cup of whipped cream, sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of the coffee mixture in a bowl.

In your individual glasses, layer the ladyfinger cookies, blended mascarpone, and top with shaved chocolate. You might need to break the cookies to fit your glass, but you can eat any leftover pieces as you assemble.

The Legal Stuff We Must Disclose: The Phillips Saeco Syntia was sent to me for review. This post was not paid for nor sponsored, all opinions, photographs and recipe are my own.

The Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest!

While you may still be a bit overstuffed from Thanksiving, this is a perfect time to remind you that we’re officially in holiday mode which means S-W-E-E-T-S!  And I really do want to remind you as well that the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest is well under way!

You’ve entered, right? What do you mean you haven’t? What?

Get on it!

This year the category is Sandwich Cookies, and if that’s not exciting enough, there’s the chance to win a $25,000 grand prize. That’s a lot of cash!

To be eligible, combine any Scharffen Berger chocolate with one or more of 12 select “adventure ingredients” (yerbe mate, coconut cream, tapioca flour, corn meal, pine nuts, sweet potato and other ingredients native to cacao-belt countries) in an original recipe. Whether whoopie pie, macaron, s’mores, ice cream sandwich, alfajores or any other sandwich cookie—you can enter up to 10 recipes total.  More information at www.chocolateadventurecontest.com.

So get those creative, cookie-minds started, folks! The $25,000 prize is nothing to laugh at, and you can enter up to 10 recipes.

Thanks to Scharffen Berger and TuttiFoodie.com!

The Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest!

Can you believe it’s that time again? That’s correct, I’m thrilled to announce the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest which launched this week! And if you’re up for the adventure, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie.com invite you to enter the fabulous, 6th annual Chocolate Adventure Contest.  So go ahead: invent, create, explore the boundaries of your own culinary imagination. This year the contest accepts entries in one category—Sandwich Cookies—for  the chance to win a $25,000 grand prize.

Sandwich cookies. As in HEAVEN. And I say heaven because again this year I’ll be tasting all the delicious entries alongside my fellow judges early next year.  And I happen to love sandwich cookies (alfajores, anyone?).

To be eligible, combine any Scharffen Berger chocolate with one or more of 12 select “adventure ingredients” (yerbe mate, coconut cream, tapioca flour, corn meal, pine nuts, sweet potato and other ingredients native to cacao-belt countries) in an original recipe. Whether whoopie pie, macaron, s’mores, ice cream sandwich, alfajores or any other sandwich cookie—you can enter up to 10 recipes total.  More information at www.chocolateadventurecontest.com.

So get those creative, cookie-minds started, folks! The $25,000 prize is nothing to laugh at, and you can enter up to 10 recipes.

I want to thank Lisa at TuttiFoodie and the folks at Scharffen Berger for including me again. And Alice Medrich. Because I love her. Oh heck, and Chef Elizabeth Falkner. And Angie from Bakearella. And John. Ok, I’ll stop now.

Get busy!

Life’s Little Luxuries: Everyday Celebrations

The following is a post inspired by Häagen-Dazs® ice cream, encouraging life’s little luxuries. It’s about taking a step back and enjoying all that’s important and delicious in life.

When I began writing about this topic, I thought it’d be easy. I was going to start by saying that even though the vacation is months away or that long weekend getaway isn’t even on the books yet that there were a few things you could do to have some fun. I knew I had certain rituals to make a Wednesday seem special (it’s a bottle of champagne enjoyed with a roasted chicken), but when I posed the question of Facebook it became an entirely different post.

What did I find? I discovered that there were dozens of people, some personal acquaintances and some not, who don’t need an excuse, a blog post, or even a reason to celebrate what matters most to them. There are people so filled with life that it spills out and flows all around them, people that really know what matters most (hint: it can’t be bought!) and people who love life so much that there is always a celebration or party wherever they may be.

Even on a Monday.

Heck, these people are my role models!

I discovered that Monica will pile the kids into the car and head out to the nearest ice cream place and eat huge sundaes for dinner, just to make an ordinary day extraordinary. The thought of this brings the world’s biggest smile to my face, can you imagine how it’d make you feel as a kid? I adore Monica and know this isn’t an everyday event, it’s for those special moments when you throw caution to the wind and really do something fun as a family. I think a spontaneous Sundae Supper is going to be a tradition over here.

 

I learned that Sherri Jo will have a weeknight fondue with the family in the middle of the living room with a great movie and plenty of special drinks (cocktails for the adults, mocktails for the kids), even in the fancy glasses! You want to talk about celebrating life! This is a party of the “just because” variety, and it makes me realize that when you love life and your family you always have a reason to celebrate. I can hear the laughter and see the smiles from here! Besides, melted cheese? Oh Sherri Jo I love you…

 

My friend Ellen of Neat Productions (who also happens to be my Photographic Guardian Angel, fyi) tells me a very special tale that all business owners and freelancers will appreciate: she takes her lunch outside, complete with silver tray and beautiful china. On a regular day. Because her husband is a freelancer as well, they do not discuss work things during their outdoor break, instead taking the time to sit under a tree and enjoy the meal before them as well as each other’s company. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to enjoy lunch this way, it’s usually a rushed affair where I barely stop to acknowledge my surroundings. I aspire to incorporate a bit more Ellen into my life, and I’m starting with this very simple way of celebrating life’s little luxuries.

 

Stephanie had an excellent way to make your day special, and it seemed to be enjoyed by a few others as well: breakfast for dinner. There were a few times as a kid we did this too, and it always made me smile. I can’t really explain why, something about changing things up with food makes it automatically special, or maybe it’s sitting down to a plate of fluffy pancakes for dinner that makes life special. It’s all about the celebration.

 

Denise tells me of a tradition that must immediately be incorporated into my life: Champagne Fridays. These tastings happen one Friday a month and involve tasting (and enjoying) a new champagne at home. As a bubbles lover this sings to me, and I love the idea of taking something so regular and elevating it into something elegant at home. And since we’re on the adult beverages tip, I can’t find a better example of someone who knows how to celebrate better than my friend Dana Robinson, who was my very first friend when I moved to LA over 10 years ago. She’s also my ITG (International Travel Girlfriend), but what I admire most is her longstanding tradition of creating a luscious bloody mary bar at home on Sunday mornings. Just because. Laying out great ingredients, a good vodka, gorgeous glassware and inviting friends over makes for a perfect weekend. PERFECT. And when I think about the afternoon nap that must follow afterwards, well, this is really what life is all about, isn’t it?

And Other discoveries? Grady makes sure to enjoy dinner with a beautiful place setting, napkins, and real flowers on the table. Diane keeps fresh flowers at her office on Mondays. Elizabeth and her boys give each other awards at dinner: “Best Mom”, “Best Cookie Eating” and have indoor picnics. Many others celebrate with Pizza Nights, Burrito Nights and Taco Nights (hell to the yes here, folks!). And my dear friend Linda keeps special ingredients on hand (homemade pâté!) which she will enjoy with a baguette and champagne followed by macarons on days that prove to be a challenge.

I sincerely want to thank all the people who took the time to share the special moments in their lives that celebrate everyday through food and drink. If these aren’t surefire ways to celebrate and enjoy life’s simple pleasures then I don’t know what is. Now I’m off to find some champagne!

In The Kitchen With: Dani Fisher’s Dark Chocolate Matzah

Hi everyone and happy Monday! It’s back to the grind for me after a glorious quasi-weekend off! Ok, when you run your own business you don’t really ever have an actual day off, but after a few hours of resetting the studio and cleaning up we did manage to sneak away here.

It really is the happiest place on earth. Plus it’s nice to walk around, enjoy some rides, and bask in some fantastic sunshine. Although, and I’m not making this up, I overheard a young child say to his mother “I just want to feel loved!”  I have no idea what that was about, however. Ok, so maybe it’s not the happiest place on earth.

We’ve been working on some cookbook as well as some Food Network & Cooking Channel projects, and you’d be correct in thinking that we’re having the world’s best time. I have to pinch myself sometimes. Especially when I think about the team that I get to work with. They’re all pretty fantastic. And the icing on the cake is getting to work with stylist Dani Fisher. You all know I’m so mad about her. When she asked if I’d work with her on a Design*Sponge In The Kitchen With feature I jumped at the chance. Mostly because Grace is a friend, and the column’s editor Kristina is my long-lost sister. I do think we were separated at birth sometimes.

But back to Dani’s recipe.

Her recipe for Dark Chocolate Matzah is like crack. You have a piece, then you need another. And while the coconut was my favorite, I’m pretty sure you’ll dig the orange version, too. You’ll have to head over to Design*Sponge for the recipe and the entire photos. Please make it. You will not regret it.

 

We also managed to sneak in a day of personal work, and even just thinking about me + Dani + Adam C. Pearson makes me giggle like a child. Talk about fun! Since we’re on the Passover theme here, we photographed a beautiful meal and I want to thank Dani for letting me share it here.

 

And yes, it was delicious. We ate it, all in the name of photography.  You’ll see what I mean.

 

 

Thanks to Adam Pearson for beautiful food styling and Dani Fisher for prop styling. And thank you Kristina!



Tart Cherry Hand Pies

 

The note inside the package from American Spoon stopped me in my tracks.

“Hope these preserved cherries bring fond memories of your trip to Michigan’s Cherry Festival.”

The timing was perfect, actually. Not only is it National Cherry Month, but the chilly weather (even in California!) and non-stop work schedule made me long for a few days in Traverse City, Michigan, eating cherries and basking in ridiculously long summer days.

 My trip to this part of Michigan in 2010 goes down as one of my favorites ever taken. I heard from so many Michigan natives after that post, many of you from Traverse City, and I can shamelessly tell you that I am jealous of you. That’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it. Jealous of the sunshine during summer, the smiles and conviviality, the lake, and most importantly, those cherries.

Oh, those cherries.

My pantry has a permanent place for dried tart cherries as well as a few jars of preserves, but as luck would have it I was completely out of the preserves when my box from American Spoon arrived. I call this Perfect Timing.

Realizing we only had a few days left to celebrate Cherry Month, Adam whipped up a crust of butter, cream cheese and a little bit of brown sugar. Tucked inside the dough went American Spoon’s Fruit Perfect, they baked and cooled before a Vanilla Bean Glaze was brushed and drizzled on top. I photographed them, using every ounce of my being to hold back devouring them. I double checked my camera’s memory card, realized my shots were good to go, and ate a few without hesitation.

And then I ate more.

Oh Michigan, I really do miss you.

Tart Cherry Hand Pies

For The Dough
4 oz butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

For The Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

For The Glaze
1/2 cup powered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 vanilla bean, sliced and seeds scraped out

For The Filling
about 10 oz Fruit Perfect Sour Cherries from American Spoon

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cold butter and cream cheese until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to just a little over 1/8″ thick. Cut the dough with 4.5″ cookie or biscuit cutter.
Continue rolling the scraps until all the dough is used. Make sure to keep the dough covered once cut. This recipe will yield 12 dough circles.

To fill the pies, lightly brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, place about 1 teaspoon of Sour Cherries in the center. Fold dough over and press lightly to remove air. With a fork crimp the edges, dipping the fork in flour to prevent sticking. Once you have filled all the pies place in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425˚.

Remove from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg wash and with a sharp knife cut two slices in the top to vent. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cherry filling is bubbling out. Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack. When the pies have cool, brush or drizzle glaze on.  Serve at room temperature.

By the way, have you seen the American Spoon catalog? They live in my permanent collection of beautiful printed catalogs and if you can get your hands on one I really urge you to do so. Breathtakingly beautiful they are.


Winter Citrus, Revisited

This is a story about winter citrus. More specifically, it’s a story about finding a day to play in a photo studio, complete with beautiful props and gorgeous styling. It’s a story dedicated to free form (there are no recipes here!), to abundant light, to taking it slow and easy during the new year, but mostly it’s a story about bright happy little fruit that inspires me.

As we enter another year (and I blog another year longer), I always come to citrus in January. Maybe because citrus represents the best of what the world has to offer. Maybe it’s the fruit’s inherent sparkle, the zing it brings to all things sweet and savory. Maybe because it’s not necessarily fleeting, but like a good strong friend that makes you smile because you know it has your back. Am I anthropromorphizing too much? Indeed I am. But I can’t help it. I guess I’m just tapping into the thousands and thousands of years that we have embraced lemons, limes, and oranges, and they are as much a part of our world as the air that we breathe.

It’s also a story about the things we like to make using citrus.

I develop a certain kind panic when I realize I’m out of lemons in my kitchen. Next to garlic, some sea salt and a few good knives, I feel like I should always have lemons on hand just in case. A quick search of my archives reveals why: lemon cupcakes, lemondrops (the adult cocktail, thankyouvermuch), lemon roasted just-about-anything, vinaigrettes, sparking sodas, my list goes on. Swap the lemon for a pomelo or blood orange and I’ll keep going. I can’t stop. The following ideas and recipes are ways we love to use citrus at home. And like I mentioned before, there are no recipes, and I hope that’s ok with you. Consider these images as starting points for future kitchen excursions. It’s January, we should all take it easy for just a little while longer, don’t ya think?

Mini Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Yes, I am starting with dessert first. Begin with lemon or vanilla cupcakes, scoop out a tiny bit of the center, pipe in lemon curd and top with Italian meringue. Torch the top ever so slightly. Devour like a madman. Oops, that was me, sorry.

 Raw Vegetable Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

You can feel the crunch now, can’t you? Raw, crisp veggies and a handful of garbanzo beans drizzled with  a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, champagne vinegar, shallots, olive oil, Dijon mustard, a teensy amount of grated lemon peel, a pinch of sugar. It could not be easier. And you know how I feel about pre-made dressings and vinaigrette. Why would you when this is just so easy? Bonus points: you can use this as a dip and on sandwiches and subs.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Hey, this looks familiar, don’t it? That’s right. A buttercake is layered with lemon curd, once again topped with meringue and torched. It was as delicious as it was pretty.

Pink Lemonade

Pink lemonade is your standard lemonade with a splash of cranberry juice for color. It’s how it gets its pink. I’m all for it, but I like to add a small amount of grapefruit juice for tartness and – in the tiniest amount possible – a pinch of sea salt. Too much ruins it, just a tiny bit adds some depth. You must have plenty of ice. Must.

 Oven Roasted Trout

Sliced lemon wedges, sprigs of thyme, sea salt, whole trout. Dinner is served. And as a whole fish kind of guy it’s moments like this when I value a really great relationship with a fishmonger. Although I’m no stranger to getting out there and catching it myself. Lemon and fish is a natural combination but you know what’s a better combo? This dish and my mouth.

Lemon Roasted Chicken

Oh, you beautiful bird, you. The stuff simple and easy dinners are made of. We always roast our chicken with slices of lemon (with larger halved lemons inside the cavity), shallots, salt, pepper, and just about any kind of fresh herb you have on hand. You can make it even better by making a gravy from the lemony pan drippings. And you see those potatoes? They’re roasted red potatoes topped with ricotta and lemon zest. Roast first, give ‘em a squeeze to break them open, top to your heart’s content. Literally a perfect dinner.

Candied Citrus Cake

Something that couldn’t be easier but with fantastic citrus flare. A traditional butter cake with candied lemon, orange, and blood orange slices with spoonfuls of syrup.  To candy the citrus slices, boil and rinse three times to reduce bitterness then simmer in a mixture of equal parts sugar and water for 45 minutes, until translucent. Arrange cooled slices on top of the cake and spoon over the syrup.

Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

What? Yet another sweet treat? That’s right. Because we were inspired by citrus sweets while at the studio we didn’t mind going into sugar-overload. Just use common sense, please. These cupcakes use plenty of lemon juice and zest in the cake, with just a very simple vanilla buttercream on top along with some happy sprinkles. Bright and happy, just like I like my desserts.

 How do you like to use citrus?

Many thanks to my gorgeous better half who styles with such grace and flair. Thanks to Found Vintage Rentals for the amazing furniture props. I live for these creative playdates! All photos and prop styling by yours truly.