Monday, October 31, 2011

Lemon Bunt Cake-Donna Hay Photo Challenge

Don't get discouraged by this photo, keep reading....
In my quest to learn as much as I can about food photography I found some amazing blogs, one of them is Jungle Frog Cooking, by the talented Simone.  Simone takes amazing photos and in an effort to learn from the pros she recently started a Donna Hay styling and photography challenge.  Who doesn't like the photos in Donna Hay magazine?  She has an amazing team of talented people who style and photograph food like no other.  The  second DHSP challenge was to replicate the image below, originally photographed by Con Poulos and styled by Steve Pearce, that appeared in issue 44 of DHM

Read Simone's post about her process of replicating this photo and to find the recipe, the cake is worth the butter, really tasty and lemony.  I personally think that Simone did a terrific job, way better than mine.  I like how she explained the process of taking the photo, I will try to do that next time.  I am totally open to feed-back by the way.

Now mine....I started by making one cake but soon realized that my pan was too big so the bunt cake turned out too small.   Then as I was ready to start taking pictures the sun came out ruining my whole set up (initially there was lot of fog so the light was perfect, naturally filtered).  I had to give up on that cake, you can see the only photo I took.

See how the sun totally ruined the effect, too bright!
I then made a second cake doubling the recipe (which required a pound of butter BTW!), so the cake looked better.  I thought I had made the glaze thicker the second time but as you can see on the top picture the glaze pooling happened again and looked really unappetizing.  The light was still too bright, I am sure they used a special set-up to filter the light and bounce it so it looks more diffused (if I knew how to do it I would take picture for Donna Hay too, don't you think?).  I also suspect that they shot the photo with high ISO because it looks grainier than mine, in retrospect I should have tried that.  But I am here to learn, so if I don't push myself I will never improve. 

The official page of the Donna Hay photo challenge is here if you are interested in joining this fun monthly event.  I am looking forward to the next month challenge.

Edited to add the recipe:

Lemon Bunt Cake
from Donna Hay

220 gr butter (melted)
2 large eggs
330 gr caster sugar (superfine)
120 gr sour cream
60 ml lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon rind (finely grated)
300 gr all purpose flour (sifted)
2 teaspoons baking powder (sifted)

Preheat oven to 160 C (320F).
Place the butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, lemon juice and rind in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the flour and baking powder and whisk until smooth. Spoon into 2 x well greased 4 cup capacity (1 liter) Bundt tins and bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool in tins for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Lemon icing
320 gr icing sugar (sifted)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water (boiling)

To make the lemon icing, place icing sugar, juice and water in a bowl and mix to combine. Spoon over cakes to serve. Serves 8-10

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roasted Eggplant Dip with Cashew

If you are like me you find yourself at parties gobbling down eggplant dips wondering whether people would mind if you ate them by the spoonful.    I recently got my eggplant dip fix when I had dinner at a wonderful farm-to-the-table restaurant called Gather located in Berkeley.   Chef Sean Baker offers many vegan and gluten free dishes in his menu, which is so interesting you would want to taste every single dish.  Everything we ate was delicious but I especially liked a dish that contained eggplant cooked in three different ways.  The eggplant puree was incredibly velvety and I would have brought a pint home if I could.  I wasn't surprised when the waiter told me that there were macadamia nuts in the puree because of its richness and the nutty taste.  I finally tried to make it at home with cashew since I couldn't find macadamia nuts.   Even though it was different from the one I ate at Gather it was delicious nonetheless.  This must be the easiest dip to make with just four ingredients.  Pass the spoon....

My photo challenge...brown food, so hard to capture!

Roasted Eggplant and Cashew Dip

4 Chinese eggplants
1/2 cup cashew nuts
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven at 400F.  Cut eggplants lengthwise and brush tops with 1 TBS of oil.  Roast until tender, about 20 minutes, let cool.  Process the nuts and the garlic with 1 TBS of olive oil in a food processor until a paste forms. Remove the pulp from the skin and add it to the nuts.  Process until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Black and White Wednesday

 Lemon verbena

I can't believe I haven't posted any recipe the whole week.  Time is just flying faster every week, I wish I could slow it down a little.  It is not that I haven't cooked, I can assure you I have cooked plenty, but somehow I can't find the time to set up the dishes to take pictures, the light is not right ,or I run out of time.  I have a long list of posts ready to go but I need good photos, so stay tuned...

 Sunflower seed macarons

I leave you today with a small selections of past pictures turned b/w on iphoto.  The original photos didn't quite work for one reason or another, but with no colors they turn into something else.

Pecan banana tartlets

I added these pictures to participate to the weekly culinary event Black and White Wednesday started by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. If you would like to participate by submitting a food related picture you can find the instructions found here.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Black and White Wednesday

I love black and white pictures.  The focus is on the subject and the forms, not on the colors.  B/W pictures with high contrast are the best, they feel strong, they have an attitude.

I am posting these pictures as part of a black and white Wednesday installment started this summer by Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook.

The photos below were all shot in color but turned black and white on iPhoto.

Frittata ingredients, eggs, shallots and garlic

Cabernet grapes, ready for harvest.

White anemone flower

To participate to future B/W Wednesday please visit Susan's link.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blueberry Smoothie-Lactose Free and Vegan

I don't know about you, but I have been slacking recently in terms of nutrition.  In Italy I ate tons of vegetables, but once back in the States I became very lazy, I started eating tons of grains and little fresh vegetables.  I want to eat healthier to feel better, and I also decided that I was drinking way too many cappuccinos, which filled me up and prevented me from eating a good breakfast, not to mention the overload of caffeine.  I stocked up on organic frozen blueberries and decided to drink a smoothie every morning.  I use coconut milk to avoid lactose, and to make it denser I add a banana.  Sounds good?  You can add a scoop of protein powder to make it even more nutritious. 

What is your favorite healthy breakfast?

Blueberry smoothie

1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup coconut milk
1 medium banana
2 TBS maple syrup

Blend everything in your blender until smooth.  Drink at once.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Polenta Cakes with Heirloom Tomato Salsa-Harvest to Heat

I love fresh salsa, I could eat it by the spoonful.  It is so healthy-raw, vegan, packed with nutrients, delicious!  I normally don't make it since I have to admit that I didn't have a recipe until now.  

I noticed the book Harvest to Heat by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer at a heirloom seed expo I recently went to.  I was attracted by the stunning cover photo, but what was so interesting was the content of the book.  I believe in the farm to the table concept and this book is loaded with stories of chefs and the farmers and artisans that provide their ingredients,  not to mention the amazing recipes.  One of the recipes that jumped at me, begging asking me to make it asap, was this one, gluten free, vegan, and in time for the last heirloom tomatoes of the season and just plain appetizing.

The salsa is beautiful to look at (I am a firm believer that food has to be attractive), and so delicious to eat.  The addition of ground cumin adds a slight bitter and smokey note to the salsa, and is genius.  I added less heat that the recipe calls for, I would think that the original recipe is quite spicy.  The lemon juice add a great deal of acidity and keep the cilantro nice and green.  The variety of corn they suggest to use is called Flint Corn made from several varieties of hard corn kernels, also known as Indian corn, I used regular stone ground organic corn found at my local grocery store.

You can view the recipe by clicking on this link.

I can't wait to try more recipes from this book like Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes with Zucchini Pistou and Yellow Tomato Vinaigrette, or Stir-Fried Fava Shoots with Shrimp and Caramelized Shallots, or Milk Chocolate Semifreddo with Star Anise Carrot Cake

Doesn't this chicken seem so say "Oh Boy"?


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fun Shopping for Photo Props

There were only two of these cups, I love the color!

I don't have a recipe today, but I want to talk about my new obsession passion, learning how to take better pictures.  While writing a post on my favorite food photographers and bloggers  I recently discovered so many fantastic photographers who inspired me to take better pictures.  One blog in particular, Still~Life Style, written by the talented Paula Walters, inspired me to find more interesting pieces to play with while styling the food.

 Love the white ruffled glass dish on top of the red one

 The pink dish imparts a more feminine mood to this photo

So in the effort to increase the pool of objects to use in my photos I went to a local charity store that I normally scout.  This time I feel I found so many more things than before because I was looking at everything with different eyes.  I was looking for color, interesting shapes, and unique pieces and I found few things I love for a total bargain.

Great vintage muffin tin, I wish I had space to hang it in my kitchen

There were many glasses and jars but these caught my attention

I hope this won't be a daily thing, I don't have infinite storage!  I would love to find more silverware though, I am short on them.  Next I would love to go to the Alameda flea market, but I am concerned I will come back with way too many things.

So where do you find your inspiration?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fig Hazelnut Mini Tarts-Gluten Free

Do you believe in fate?  I believe that sometimes things are meant to be, but I can't explain why.   I recently lost a non baking prospective job, I am not even sure how it happened, likely due to a not so clear e-mail exchange.  Fate wanted that the same day I scheduled an interview with a woman who is opening a bakery in my town, ten minutes walking distance from my house.  Maybe there is a bakery job in store for me, and it would have been impossible to accept it if I had started at the other job.   I also applied to become a Master Gardener and with the prospective job I wouldn't have been able to do it, so maybe it was meant to be.

I think fate wanted me to try this recipe.  I had some figs left from a tart I made on Saturday, and was wondering what to do with them (besides stuffing them in my mouth).  While trying to stuff organize more recipes in my overflowing recipe box, a little recipe card literally jumped out at me.  I originally found it in Martha Stewart magazine, get October 1995, and because it looked so good I kept it but forgot all about it for sixteen years, and four moves later fate wanted me to find it again, when figs are in season.

 Had I found it in January I would have put it back in the box and forgot it again, don't you think?  Are you a believer now?

Since the original recipe contains only two tablespoons of flour I knew it would be a great recipe to adapt and make gluten free.

Below you can find Martha's recipe with few changes I made.  The original recipe calls for brandy and ground pepper but I skipped both.  This is such a versatile recipe, and I plan on using it with other nut and fruit combination, pistachios and cherries come to my mind for example.

I lettori Italiani possono trovare la ricetta tradotta in basso.  La ricetta originale contiene farina,  l'ho trasformata in una ricetta priva di glutine usando 50:50 farina di riso e amido di mais a parita' di dosi.

Fig and Hazelnut Tart
Makes four 4" tartlets of an 8" tart

8 figs, preferably Black mission
1 1/2 cup/200 gr skinned hazelnut, toasted*
1 tablespoon rice flour
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 large egg plus an egg white
2 tablespoon/1 oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Heat oven to 350F . Cut 6 figs into 3/4-inch dice. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. In a food processor, process nuts until medium fine. Sift together rice flour and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar; add to nuts; pulse to combine. Add egg, egg white, butter, and zest. Process to combine, about 10 seconds. Add batter to figs, and mix together.
  3. Spray four 3 3/4-inch (or one 8-inch) tart pans with vegetable-oil spray. Divide batter evenly among the pans. Cut remaining 2 figs lengthwise into six slices each. Arrange three slices over each tart. Place tart pans on a baking sheet. Bake until tarts are set and golden brown, about 40 minutes (for individual tarts or one large tart). Remove from oven and cool slightly. Remove tarts from pans, sprinkle with remaining sugar, and serve.
*If you can't find skinned hazelnuts, toast them at 320F for 10 minutes, then using a kitchen towel rub them against each other until the skin comes off.  It won't work for all the nuts, but it is okay because whatever skin is left it will impart flavor too.   Return the nuts to the oven and toast for another 10-15 minutes.

If you are like me and you can't get enough figs, here are more recipes using this amazing fruit:
Fig raspberry crostata with linzer crust
Fig tart from Chez Panisse
Ricotta fig tart
Focaccia with figs

Crostata di fichi e nocciole

8 fichi, preferibilmente neri
200 gr nocciole spellate
10 gr  farina di riso
10 gr amido di mais/maizena
60 gr zucchero a velo
1 uovo piu' 1 albume
30 gr  burro, sciolto e raffreddato
2 cucchiaini di scorza di limone
Mezzo cucchiaino di sale
  1. Riscaldare il forno a 180C. Tagliare 6 fichi a dadini.
  2. Macinare le nocciole con lo zucchero e la farina fino a risultare in una farina fina (aggiungendo la farina si fa si che le nocciole non si trasformino in burro). Incorporare il resto degli ingredienti, mescolare bene, e aggiungere i fichi a dadini, e mescolare bene.
  3. Imburrare bene quattro mini formine da crostata o una da 20 cm. Dividere il composto tra le formine.  Tagliare i due fichi rimasti in 6 fette in lunghezza.  Disporre tre fette per ogni mini crostata.   Trasferire le formine su una pirofila da forno, e cucinarle fino a che le crostate sono dense e dorate, 15-20 minuti.   Lasciare raffreddare, rimuovere le crostate dalle formine e spolverare con ulteriore zucchero a velo.


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