Beth – I love the feeling of this shot. It was hardly styled, but rather a moment in time. We all love incorporating the written ingredients in our shots, and thought shooting into the set as opposed to overhead felt more natural with this one.
Bette wrote on the background on this old green school chalkboard and I threw it out of focus so that the words didn’t dominate the ingredients. I’ve been exploring the light from my north facing windows and thought lighting the shot this way would make the set feel more natural, helping tell the story. I usually think for a single shot like this, shooting daylight would be easier than strobe or tungsten light. But to my surprise, I found that I still needed to use bits of diffusion, flags and fill to finesse this image. All the same tools that I use when shooting with strobe and tungsten.
Bette – (see image below) This beautiful matte white cutting board is made by a small pottery studio called Henry Street Studio. The thin, unique and special pieces are made by Loren and Aliza Simons, mother and daughter. The pieces are available in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Their sensitivity to color and finish is immaculate and each piece is very special yet usable, and approachable.
They have sales on their website seasonally, and it is always a nice surprise to see what new glazes and shapes they have been creating. I feel so fortunate to own several of these beautiful ceramics and to have the opportunity to use this piece in this shot with Beth and AJ. For more information go to www.henrystreetstudio.com.
A.J. – I’ve always felt that Asian cooking is best left to those who really do it well and I’m not too proud to admit I’m just not one of them. But who doesn’t love pork chops marinated in soy, ginger and 5-spice powder? That’s usually the extent of it for me. But I was recently reminded of a dish I became enamored with many years ago, Minced Squab Wrapped in Lettuce Leaves. It’s a stir-fry of finely minced squab breast seasoned with a firey blend of Asian ingredients. The squab is served with crisp, chilled lettuce leaves that serve as wrappers. I thought it would certainly be an easy enough dish for me to tackle, and it is. In this version I’m using pork in place of the squab. Please feel free to spice if up with additional chili pepper, if so desired.
1 medium sweet or hot chili pepper, thinly sliced, plus ½ teaspoon
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 pound ground pork
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 heads of baby Boston lettuce, leaves, separated, rinsed and dried, for serving
For garnish, use any or all of the following: 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, 1 thinly sliced scallion, 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped salted peanuts, 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips, 1 mini cucumber, thinly sliced, 2 medium radishes thinly sliced
To make a dipping sauce combine 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, ½ teaspoon of toasted sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon chili pepper and 2 teaspoons sliced scallion and set aside.
Season pork with salt and pepper to taste. Heat grapeseed oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add garlic, ginger, remaining chili pepper and half the scallions. When garlic is golden add pork and stir-fry until cooked through. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and remaining 2 teaspoons fish sauce. Add remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil, lime juice, 2 tablespoons cilantro and remaining sliced scallion. Stir to combine then transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with lettuce leaves and desired garnishes.
Beth – When AJ, Bette and I spoke about this shoot, AJ mentioned that she stores her asparagus in a jar filled with a little water. This inspired Bette to bring in this vintage glass jar. We started with the camera from the side but could not find the shot that we wanted. By raising the camera to look into the jar, the delicate tips of the asparagus appeared in a much more dynamic way. I was shooting with daylight and found that the quality of light kept shifting forcing me to scrim the light. This is what created the soft quality of the light on the spears.
A.J.- To store asparagus and keep them fresh, I trim away ½-inch from the bottom of their stems. I stand the asparagus in a tall glass filled with water, about ½-deep, then cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate up to a week.
Bette – I tend to get carried away sometimes when I’m at the flea market because I have regretted not buying items in the past. Does that ever happen to you? Once I leave, I obsess over the one thing I didn’t get that I should have. So now I act on what I want when I see it.
I found these glass slides at Elephant’s Trunk, one of my favorite flea markets in Connecticut. I debated whether to buy them and then how to use them. I feel like this shot is only the beginning of what we can actually do with them.
This recipe that AJ brought to us is so simple. I am not a great cook, but I made this when I got home from shooting and it was a success. Scroll down for the recipe.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus additional, if desired
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh-snipped tender herbs to garnish, such as chives, dill, tarragon or parsley
Fill a large skillet or sauté pan with water, 1½ inches deep. Bring to a boil, season with salt to taste and add asparagus. Simmer asparagus until barely tender. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain again. Pat asparagus dry with a clean kitchen towel.
To prepare the sauce, push hard-cooked eggs through a sieve into a bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to blend.
Serve asparagus with a spoonful of sauce; garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and additional black pepper, if desired.
Pan-Seared Whole Wheat Potato Gnocchi With Mushrooms and Ramps
When cooking with ramps my suggestion is “less is more”. Don’t be fooled by their delicate leafy greens. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are a very distant cousin to the sweet cultivated variety. They can be quite harsh and will easily overwhelm other ingredients if overused.
½ recipe Whole Wheat Potato Gnocchi (see above recipe)
3 ounces ramps (about 12), root ends removed
8 ounces mixed cultivated or wild mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 rounded teaspoons thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus additional for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil; add salt to taste. Line one baking sheet with a cotton kitchen towel and lightly oil a second one.
Carefully drop the gnocchi into boiling water. As they rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon to the towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Transfer the gnocchi to the oiled baking sheet being careful the gnocchi do not touch. Let them dry at least ½ hour.
Remove green tops of ramps and cut into strips. Chop the bulbs and stems. Trim mushrooms and remove stems if they are tough. Cut large mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the ramp bulbs and stems and cook until tender. At the same time, heat the remaining butter and olive oil in a second large skillet over medium high heat. When the butter is foamy add the gnocchi in a single layer. Sear on both sides until golden brown. Raise heat in the skillet with ramps to medium-high. Add the mushrooms and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the mushrooms are lightly browned add the green tops of the ramps and thyme leaves. When the greens are wilted add the seared gnocchi and grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately with additional Parmigiano for sprinkling over.
Bette – Ramps are here, which means that the official sign of spring has finally arrived. It was a cold and tough winter in NYC that held on for longer than any of us wanted. Granted, AJ loves the cold weather, but even this winter tested her.
AJ called to tell us she had to shoot the ramps with gnocchi. We laughed but have come to understand and trust AJ with regards to her amazing food talent. She was right. The gnocchi, which AJ rolled, boiled and then browned with butter in the skillet was wonderful. As we awaited our chance to taste the ramps and mushrooms after the shoot, which seemed so natural a combination to her and although unusual to us, was in fact delicious.
A.J. – If you’ve ever been tempted to make homemade pasta, potato gnocchi are a great place to start. There are no pasta machines or rolling pins necessary. It’s merely a base of mashed potatoes enriched with egg yolks. Flour is slowly kneaded into the mixture until it forms a dough. The key to keeping gnocchi tender is not to add too much flour. Use only as much as the recipe calls for and always use mealy potatoes. Ordinary supermarket russets work best. While they cook, don’t poke at the potatoes too often – the dryer the potatoes remain, the less flour they will absorb. To keep the potatoes light and fluffy it’s important to puree them while they are still hot.
2 pounds (about 3 large) mealy potatoes, such as russets, scrubbed
⅔ cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for working dough
⅓ cup whole-wheat flour
2 large egg yolks
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
Place unpeeled potatoes in a large saucepan. Fill with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Simmer 25 – 30 minutes, or until tender.
While potatoes cook, whisk all-purpose and whole-wheat flour in a large bowl until blended. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust lightly with additional flour.
When potatoes are tender, drain, cool slightly, then peel. Puree the potatoes while still hot using a food mill or potato ricer. (Don’t use a mixer or processor. The potatoes would become too gummy.) Add egg yolks, salt and nutmeg to potatoes and blend. Transfer both the flour mixture and potatoes to a work surface. Gradually knead flour into the potatoes. Continue kneading until dough is smooth then lightly coat with additional flour and set aside. Cut off a small piece of dough and roll it into a ⅔-inch thick snake. Lightly flour the snake and cut into ½-inch pieces. Transfer gnocchi to prepared baking sheets. If you want to give the gnocchi the traditional ridged pattern, roll each piece against the flat tines of a fork. Continue making gnocchi in the same way using the remainder of the dough. If you plan to cook the gnocchi immediately, cover with a cotton kitchen towel. Otherwise, the gnocchi can be frozen for later use. As each pan is filled, transfer to a freezer. When the gnocchi are frozen solid, place them in plastic freezer bags or containers. The gnocchi will keep frozen about 1 month.
A.J. – While patiently awaiting the arrival of the first fruit of the season I enjoy making a clafoutis with dried fruit and nuts. Clafoutis, for those who might not be familiar, is one of the simplest desserts to assemble. It is basically a crepe batter poured over fruit. After it bakes, the texture of the clafoutis lies somewhere between a pudding and a warm cake. In this version I macerate dried fruit with brandy and a vanilla bean. The brandy moistens the fruit and adds another layer of flavor. If you prefer not to use brandy, brewed bergamot tea would be a fine substitute. Be sure to use good quality dried fruit.
1½ cups dried fruit, any combination of apricots, pitted prunes, golden raisins, sour cherries or figs
¼ cup brandy
½ vanilla bean
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
Pinch of sea salt
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sliced almonds or chopped shelled pistachios or a combination of both
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving (optional)
Crème fraiche, for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a shallow gratin pan approximately 7½” x 12”.
Cut large pieces of dried fruit into bite sizes. Combine the fruit, brandy and vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the fruit has absorbed all of the liquid. Set aside to cool.
Combine the eggs, sugar, orange zest and salt in a large bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in the milk and cream then slowly add the flour. Whisk until the flour is completely incorporated. Arrange the dried fruit in the bottom of the prepared gratin pan. Pour the egg mixture over the fruit. Reserve some of the nuts for garnish and scatter the remaining nuts over the clafoutis. Bake in the preheated oven 25 – 30 minutes or until the clafoutis is set and lightly golden. Allow the clafoutis to cool slightly before serving. In the meantime, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and toast the reserved nuts on a baking sheet in oven for 5 minutes or just until golden.
Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the clafoutis, sift over a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar and serve with a spoonful of crème fraiche.
Bette – Beth had the most exquisite ranunculus at the studio. The red of the flower was like velvet. We had finished shooting and Beth brought them over to me to shoot together, for one last shot of the day. I was immediately inspired. I used an old baking sheet and some basic custard cups in stainless steel. The teacup, which is an antique from my aunt Gladys, worked beautifully with the flower and its color, mimicking a flower, but not necessarily a ranunculus. We deconstructed the flower showing all parts of its beauty.
Bette – I hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot with Beth and AJ for OST for some time. I wanted to approach these shots a bit differently and was thinking about layering and balance. Beth and I talked about the surface, and once we figured out that the dried fruit would be beautiful with the silver background, I started putting the props together, old and new, sleek and textured. I really love the composition, the palette and the feel of this shot and also the recipe shot, which all be posted at the end of the week.
Beth – This image was shot using daylight from my window facing east. I found it important to diffuse the window light while shooting these very reflective props and surface. A big v-flat reflector bounced the light back into the shadows giving the food texture and depth.
A.J. – Whether I have baked or purchased a large crusty artisanal-style bread, I never waste a single crumb. A freshly baked loaf, especially one that emerges from my own oven, stimulates all of my senses and needs very little to enhance it. But as the bread ages, it becomes my inspiration for many wonderful dishes. I often rub thick toasted slices with garlic and tuck them into bean or vegetable soups. I add giant croutons to my salads, make an array of crostini and grilled sandwiches and often add crunch to gratins by topping them with coarse homemade breadcrumbs. Another favorite way of using slightly aged bread is to lightly toast thin slices and make open-faced sandwiches the French call tartines. They can be topped with almost anything. The simplest tartine is spread with sweet butter and a layer of jam. I’ve enjoyed tartines made with meat, cheese, fresh or cooked vegetables, purees, spreads and any combination of the above. An important feature of a tartine is that it looks as good as it tastes. This is when the food stylist in me really comes out.
This tartine is made with fresh ricotta, preferably one that is produced locally. By stirring an extra virgin olive oil into the ricotta, it gives the cheese a light fluffy texture and fruity flavor. The cheese is topped with roasted canned San Marzano tomatoes. I roast the tomatoes until they have a sweet concentrated flavor and they have begun to caramelize. Be sure when purchasing San Marzano tomatoes that they are not just San Marzano style tomatoes. The tomatoes should actually be grown in the San Marzano valley of Italy. This information can be found on the label.
One 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes in tomato puree
Extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, flat parsley or thyme
Garlic Confit with Thyme (recipe previously posted)
4 large ½-inch-thick slices country-style bread, lightly toasted
A large handful of baby arugula
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil an 8-inch shallow, non-reactive baking pan. Drain tomatoes and reserve puree for another use. Puncture tomatoes and drain the interior liquid. Arrange tomatoes in the prepared baking pan; season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle tomatoes with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast in preheated oven for 60-75 minutes or until they are dry and pulpy and their edges are lightly browned. Set tomatoes aside to cool.
Blend ricotta with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Stir in herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Coarsely chop tomatoes. Peel 3 confit garlic cloves. Mash with a fork adding some of the confit oil to make a paste. Stir garlic into the tomatoes.
Spread a layer of the ricotta mixture over each slice of bread, dividing it equally. Arrange equal amounts of the roasted tomato over the ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil and top with an equal amount of arugula leaves. Serve immediately.
A.J. - I always find it convenient to prepare one or more types of condiments to store in the fridge. I keep them in mind when planning my meals. It could be a bowl of garlic infused roasted peppers, a salsa verde, slow-roasted tomatoes with herbs or a garlicky aioli. It’s a convenient way of adding another layer of flavor and texture to a dish. One condiment that seems to find it’s way into many of my preparations this time of year is Garlic Confit with Thyme. It takes merely minutes to prepare but offers a multitude of uses for at least a month or two. I toss it with blanched or roasted vegetables, use it as a base for vinaigrette, and often puree it with beans.
Maya – Pulling together multiple elements is a common task for stylists and often times layering helps to do this. Each ingredient on the surface need not float alone like a specimen. Instead, grouping items brings naturalness and cohesion. So in the same way that friends pile in to a car for a ride together, the dark wooden board is a “vehicle” for unity for the bread, cheese, and greens pictured below. The variation of the tones and textures of the layers also keeps a rhythm going throughout the composition and more elements to play with.
Beth – Such a simple shot but somehow it always takes time to adjust the image till it’s how we want it to look. The last few minutes I’m always running back and forth between the set and the computer finalizing everything and making sure that the food looks casual and as fresh as possible. You wouldn’t believe how many times I run back and forth.
For this image we got everything into place, then come all the adjustments. AJ moistened the tomatoes, added oil to the ricotta and we took the photo. We noticed that the arugula had wilted and needed to be replaced and the oil in the ricotta had all but disappeared, having run to the bottom of the bowl. We took another photo. Looking closely at the computer we decided that we needed more crumbs around the bread slice. Once again the tomatoes were dry and needed moisture. We had to nudge the greens– check the monitor– add a little more oil to the ricotta and after last looks, took this final shot. Far from casual, right?