29 September 2010

homework pics

I bought my DSLR a month or two ago because I wanted to improve the quality of my food (and I guess all other) pictures. I was on full auto for a long time, but what's the point of a SLR if I'm not going to learn how to use it properly? So I signed up for an intro to photography workshop at the Washington School of Photography thanks to a groupon or living social deal. I'm glad I did because I finally get what ISO means *not* regarding to internal auditing for work, and I now know what the f-stop does. Am I a pro now? LMFAO hellz to the nizzo. But am I starting to understand basic stuff like composition better? Indeed.

So during our first class we went over that technical stuff and then 6 basic composition guidelines -- rule of thirds, filling the frame, leading lines, change of perspective/point of view, repetition, and frame within a frame. (All are easily googled for examples if you're curious.) We were supposed to bring in some examples for critique in class. I had all these grand ideas of food pics I wanted to take... closeups of pillowy cupcake frosting kissed with sprikles, filling the frame with some nifty kitchen gadgets, cookies that look so scrumptious you can't help but drool... Unfortunately, I didn't do a whole lot of baking/cooking, and also sometimes what's conceptually awesome in my head doesn't translate well in real life (or at least I haven't figured out quite how to make it translate yet). I did manage to get 2 food-related pics that I liked, and both were well-received from the instructor and the class with "This is an interesting picture" comments, lol. Actually for one of them, he asked the class what they thought, and I think they were scared. Something about being a serial killer...

Here are the 2 food pics I brought in for my homework assignment. Which composition techniques did I use for each? What do you think of them?

~~ 1 ~~

~~ 2 ~~

I've also learned a few things about my photographing skillz: 1) I need a tripod. My hands are so not steady! And 2) I take a bazillion pictures to get one good one. I'm hoping that with this class and more practice, I'll start getting better than 1 in a bazillion. I'll definitely save a lot of time if I can get it right sooner rather than later. I just gotta keep practicing. So with any luck, over time, you'll see this blog get prettier!

What's your favorite way to compose your food pictures?

27 September 2010

daring bakers: decorated sugar cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. You can find the recipe on Mandy's blog. I followed the cookie recipe almost exactly - I just added a tsp or two of cinnamon to spice it up a touch!

We were supposed to decorate these cookies with a "September" theme. And while most of the American population starts thinking about football come September, I think of the same thing I think of for 3/4 of the year: softball. September is the beginning of the last season of the year - that last 8 weeks before the cold kicks in and I trade in the glove and ball for, well, different kind of gloves and balls (ski gloves and dodgeballs, but not at the same time!) I currently play on 3 teams, and because of the timing of when I got to bake, these cookies are dedicated to my Sunday night team, the Coconut Banger's Ball Club:
Super cute, right!

So I made cinnamon sugar cookies, and topped them with vanilla icing. We weren't required to make royal icing from scratch, so the first round of cookies I used a store bought cookie decorating icing. That's what I used on the stars. But I wanted to try the royal icing, too, so I whipped up a batch using meringue powder and used it to make the softballs. I have no idea if it turned out the way it was supposed to... but the icing dried well enough so I assume I got it right. I used a decorating writing icing tube thing for the red, blue, and yellow writing/outlines.

11 September 2010


I haven't yet met a rolled food I don't like. Cinnamon rolls, sushi, croissants, lumpia, mocha rolls, those little canned crescent dough things... And to add one more to the list - rugelach.
Pronounced "rug-uh-la," these are little rolled Jewish cookie - tender, just sweet enough, and completely addictive. It's either a yeast-based dough or a cream cheese based dough (like this one) that's rolled into a circle, then spread with a variety of fillings (jam, cinnamon sugar, chocolate, nuts and berries, etc - I'm partial to apricot preserves!), then cut into triangles that are rolled into little crescent shapes. They can also be shaped into logs and cut into little pieces:
While rugelach are common enough that you can get them almost anywhere, they're particularly popular during Jewish holidays - and given that Rosh Hashanah just ended yesterday, I had to try my hand at them. Okay that's not entirely true, hehe, I'd already been planning to make these this week because I had some awesome ones in this deli in NY last weekend. Then I noticed all the happy new year statuses from my Jewish friends on facebook... good timing, right!

from Ina Garten

8oz bar cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 C flour

1/3 to 1/2 C apricot preserves (or your jam of choice)
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
raisins (I used golden raisins)
mini chocolate chips

and one egg for the egg wash

Make the dough: Cream the cream cheese and butter until light. Beat in the sugar, salt, and extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour until just incorporated. On a lightly floured surface, form into a ball. Cut into 4 equal parts, flatten into discs, wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least for several hours, or better yet, over night.

Prepare the filling: Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Place jam in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until it's all liquidy.

Make the cookies: Lightly flour your work space. Take out one disc of dough and roll out into a 9" circle. Spread a thin layer of jam evenly over the circle, leaving a 1/2" border. Sprinkle with a tsp of cinnamon sugar. (If making chocolate rugelach, spread a super thin layer of jam and cinnamon sugar like above, then sprinkle the mini choco chips evenly, then press into the dough so it'll be secure when you roll it up. If making the raisin one, first sprinkle the raisins with a bit of cinnamon sugar and give them a rough chop. Then same directions - super thin layer of jam, a bit of cinnamon sugar, press chopped raisins into dough.)
Use a pizza cutter or large knife to cut the disc into 12 wedges (like a piza is cut). Starting from the wide end, roll each wedge towards the point. (Keep in mind you can also roll into a long rectangle that's 4-5" wide, then spread, roll, and cut.) Place the roll with the point on the bottom (so they don't unwrap) onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 while it chills.
Beat the egg in a small bowl, then add a bit of water and beat well to make the egg wash. Brush each cookie lightly with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar -- you can use more cinnamon sugar, turbinado, sanding sugar, or just plain sugar. Bake for 17 minutes.

Makes 48 cookies.

10 September 2010

spanakopita (or, greek spinach triangles)

'm a Top Chef fan, especially this season because it's set in my home town. DC, despite being a small city, has a plethora of really great restaurants. That is partially thanks to renowned chef Jose Andres, who's the mastermind behind Jaleo (supposedly the place that brought tapas to DC), Cafe Atlantico, Minibar, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. (I've been to all except Minibar, which is the one Bourdain went to in his DC ep, and is definitely in the top 5 of my To Eat At list). The Chef at Zaytinya is Top Chef contestant from last season, Mike Isabella. (See how I brought that right back around :-)) One of the most memorable things I ever ate there was a crab (or was it lobster?) spanakopita which was a special during the Easter season a few years back. It was AWESOME.

So I've had a hankering to make spanakopita lately, plus it's on my Hit List. Lo and behold, Mike Isabella has a little instructional series on just this dish. Here's the first vid. He says "uh" a LOT, but once you get past that, it's a really informative set of videos. I watched it a few times to get an idea of how to do it, and viola - here's my spanakopita!
The first time I tried to make this, I was fresh out of college. I knew I was supposed to defrost the phyllo... so I left it on the table for, like, an hour. When I started to unroll it, it cracked almost immediately! I promptly quit trying to make it, and haven't bothered since, lol. But this time, it phyllo was not as tough to work with, simply because I actually prepared well - fully thawed (won't forget that one), damp towel to keep it covered, everything organized so I could move quickly. That being said, I still tore a few sheets. And the towel can't be that wet because the phyllo turns gooey.

Please enjoy the pretty process pics. I <3 my new camera!

adapted from Mike Isabella's videos

1/2 large vidalia onion, diced
1 leek, white part only (mine was pretty small), diced
4-5 stalks green onion, diced
olive oil
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
8 oz package feta
1 egg
2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried parsley
freshly ground red pepper flakes, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
phyllo dough, defrosted overnight in the fridge
clarified butter

Heat olive oil over medium high heat and sautee onions until half translucent. Add the leeks and sautee another 2-3 minutes. Add the green onion and sautee until everything is soft.
Turn off heat, then add spinach and mix until everything's combined. Add about 1/2 tsp salt and peppers to taste. Put into a large bowl and allow to cool while you prepare the phyllo.

For the phyllo - cut into 11"x3" strips. The package of phyllo I got was 18 sheets, so I only had to cut one 3" strip -- this recipe makes 18. (Please see my note at the end of this post.) Cover with damp towel so it doesn't try out.

Add the feta to the spinach mixture and season to taste. Mix in the egg.

To form the spanakopita: Lay out a strip of phyllo. Brush with clarified butter. Put a heaping tablespoon of spinach mix in the bottom corner. Fold over to form a triangle, press down the filling a bit, then keep folding (like making a paper football). Brush top with more butter. Place on parchment lined paper.  When you have enough for one tray, put in fridge for at least 30 min (and then repeat until you're done with filling).
Make sure the oven rack is in the top 3rd, and then preheat oven to 350. Bake spanakopita for 8 minutes, then flip them over, and bake for another 3-4, or until the whole thing is toasty brown.

Enjoy hot! Mmm flaky.
When I do this again (and I'll be making this again soon because I have leftover phyllo), I'm going to play with the size and shape. For one thing, the one I had at Zaytinya was shaped more like a cigar, so I'll try rolls. Also, I don't think that I got enough flaky layers, so I'll double up the sheets of phyllo.

03 September 2010

crab cakes for Chesapeake eggs benedict

This baby is one of my favorite special breakfast ot brunch (or in crab fest's case, dinner) items.
Crab cakes by themselves are a treat, but top them with a runny poached egg and some hollandaise? Taking them to the next level. They're not terribly hard to make (assuming you know how to poach an egg, and if you want a good idea - google how Alton Brown does it cuz he's the man) but they do take some time and good timing to have everything come out at the same time. We cheated and used a hollandaise mix, thus the recipe for only the crab cakes here, since that's the only recipe we really used, hehe. But basically, if you have 2 people, great - one can poach the eggs while the other fries the crab cakes. OR if its just you, make the hollandaise first, then poach the eggs while the crabcakes are being broiled and muffins being toasted. By the way, split an English muffin with a fork, please! Nooks and crannies, folks... you don't get them if you use a knife, mmkay! 

Besides these crab cakes, you'll need English muffins, eggs to poach, and some hollandaise. Oh, and butter for the muffins. To make the eggs benedict: buttered muffin topped with crabcake topped with the egg topped with hollandaise. Serve with some homefries for breakfast. Mmmm. Or with salad for dinner. Mmmm.

Crab Cakes
adapted from allrecipes.com

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (1/2 if you don't like a little kick of heat)
1 1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp old bay powder
1/2 C crushed buttery round crackers
16 oz crab meat
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp mayonaisse
squeeze of half a lemon (no seeds!)
salt and pepper to taste
1 C panko
more oil for frying

Sautee green onion and garlic in the 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Set aside and allow to cool while you combine the next five ingredients (from the dry mustard to the buttery round crackers) in a small bowl. Put crab meat into a large bowl. Add egg and mayonaisse to it then give a gentle toss. Add the spice mix, cooled onion/garlic, and lemon juice. Toss gently until combined well -- but be gentle so you keep the chunks of crab. Form into patties. This will make 12 small patties, or 8 larger ones. Use the english muffins as a size guide. Refrigerate until ready to use.

If you're going to fry these: heat up some olive oil over medium high heat. Coat each patty with panko, then fry until each side is golden brown.

If you're going to broil them, set oven to broil. Coat each patty with panko. If they're small, broil for about 6 min a side. If they're larger, about 8 minutes per side.