BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Veggin’ Out with VegNews

Months race by with a quickening pace, exaggerated by summer’s dwindling warmth and a sun that goes to bed just a little bit earlier each day. 2012 slips through my fingers just a little bit more each day, as fluid and irrepressible as water trickling out of a leaky faucet. Since this is more than a mere plumbing issue with an easy fix, it’s at least decent consolation that the runaway months frequently bring with them a new issue of VegNews to pour over and forget all about the usual over-scheduling woes. The September/October issue may be dominated by compelling recipes for all things cheesy and unbelievably dairy-free, but there’s so much more nestled into those crisp, glossy pages, too.

There’s always a need for something sweet to balance out all of those salty snacks, and Beverly Lynn Bennett‘s Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding fills in that requirement with ease. Lightly spiked with bourbon and redolent of warm, comforting spices, merely popping this dish in the oven does wonders to soften the blow of a fading summer season. Simple enough for the most novice baker to excel, it’s a recipe to hang on to for the coming holiday season. Plus, when served with the suggested sticky, gooey, Salted Caramel Sauce, it’s truly a dessert to remember.

Bringing in a healthy yet hearty option, Gena Hamshaw proves that raw food needn’t be contained to only the warmest of months in order to satisfy. Savory “Meatballs” made of mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and red beets top a generous mound of zucchini noodles, all smothered in a rich sun-dried tomato Marinara Sauce. A delicious departure from the standard fatty, heavy rendition of the concept, these uncooked balls pack incredible amounts umami into tiny little flavor bombs.

For an issue like this, the best part of the job is definitely “cleaning up” when each photo shoot is all wrapped up. Keep an eye out for your copy if you’re subscriber, or venture out to the local bookstore if you’re not, because this is one you’ll want to hang on to!


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Summer Rain

Heat and humidity build over the course of a standard summer day, until it feels as though you’re being smothered with a damp towel every time you set foot outside. Relief comes only when the sky finally breaks open and beats the flames back with a soothing spray of warm raindrops. Thunder rumbles with the gentle vibrations of someone talking in low tones, easily lulling the listener to sleep at night. When morning comes, a few remaining water droplets remain, clinging dearly to leaves and grass. The air is the fresh and new again, until that familiar heaviness grows once more.

Click to view full size. If you’d like to save it as your new wallpaper, simply right click, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to properly fill any computer screen.


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Inedible



Tough as Nails

More than Elbow Grease

Roast Ducks

Fillet of Sole / Toe-fu
(All the credit for those titles goes to the subject herself!)

Cooking the Books

…And so ends another semester. Does it surprise anyone that my final project, even in a portrait photography class, ends up being about food? All of my lovely lovely models here deserve serious props- Thanks for being such good sports about cheerfully ruining your pans, books, and foot wear!


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Food Styling 101: Soup

Nearly a full year (!) has elapsed since my last entry in this series, but it was never my intention to let it fall by the wayside. There are, of course, a million different foods with their own unique sets of photographic challenges, so it was never for a lack of material that the posts lagged. Without wasting any more time, let’s dive right back in… To a big bowl of hot soup.

Whether rich or wan, thick or brothy, soup is particularly difficult to style and capture in photos. The category is huge, spanning all cultures and ingredients imaginable, but there are a few guidelines to remember for documenting any liquid lunch.

Cook everything (or as much as possible) separately.
When cooking for myself, soups are a favorite one-pot meal, but stewing all of the ingredients together does not yield the most visually appealing results. Vegetables have different cooking times, and although it’s fine to eat a slightly overcooked, greyed pea, it’s not what you want to see in a photo. Keeping the components separate also gives you control over the exact amounts of everything in each bowl, and what is most prominently featured as well. If it’s a tofu soup, I want to see some tofu! The carrots might be in perfect dices and that’s all very nice, but those backup singers shouldn’t get the spotlight if the recipe is named after something else.

This may mean deviating from the given recipe slightly, so be aware of what can and can’t be removed from the main procedure. In general, the main body of a soup should remain intact (especially if it involves caramelizing or stewing anything thoroughly) but all mix-ins should stay out of the pool until the end. Noodles in particular need special attention, and must be rinsed in cold water once they’re cooked through to prevent them from becoming mushy. Fresh herbs must remain far away from all that heat until the very moment you’re turning on your camera and beginning to focus the lens. They wilt in mere seconds, so be prepared to switch out droopy herbs if you need a second or third take.

Build your bowl from bottom to top. Assemble your “hero” dish like a layer cake. Put the nice looking, but not gorgeous solid ingredients at the bottom, and be more meticulous about arranging the best examples on top. Once you have the body or “meat” of the soup in place, very carefully pour broth on top. Readjust the filling as needed, and only then can you add garnishes.

Choosing where to build your bowl of soup is an issue that even I struggle with often. It’s a fine line to walk; wanting a generous portion of liquid, but not wanting to spill it while moving the dish to the set. I’m notoriously clumsy about these things, so I often style the base of the soup off set, adding just a small splash of the soup itself. Once it’s safely in place where it will be photographed, only then do I top it off (Very carefully!) with a final ladle full of broth.

Go heavy on the veg, light on broth to prevent it from looking watery. The same concept is applicable to thick, creamy soups as well. If you’ve only got a few of the goodies floating around in there, it’s gonna look skimpy no matter how lavishly you decorate the set. However, maybe you want just a plain, chunk-less creamy soup, and that’s perfectly fine, too! Just stick with one or the other; a spare soup is no fun to eat or look at.

Enhance broth with just a touch of turmeric to make it look richer. A tiny pinch goes a long way, but evokes that classic look of a long-simmered stock, bursting with flavor. Since you can’t actually offer viewers a taste, give them a hand with that visual cue to say “this is a deeply savory, well-seasoned, and delicious dish.”

Finish with a flourish. For perfectly smooth soups, add something exciting either to the side or in the center, to prevent it from looking too plain. A dollop or swirl of vegan yogurt is always a favorite, since it adds such great contrast and motion all in one swoop. Fresh herbs are a classic addition, as is a tiny drizzle of oil. More than one garnish is perfectly acceptable, but don’t go too crazy. Remember that simplicity is best.

Mind the glare. Think about each bowlful of soup as a giant mirror, and you’ll be two steps ahead of the game. Know where your light source is, and check in the viewfinder to see how and where it’s reflecting. If you want to show off all those lovely components you just spent so much time preparing, a steeper downward angle is better for capturing them. A little bit of shine and highlight is necessary (not to mention, unavoidable) but you generally want to avoid having a glare across the entire surface of the soup. When you shoot at a steeper angle (say, 45 degrees or so) you’ll pick up more of that reflection, and bear in mind that if you have more than one light source, you’ll have many more hot spots to keep in check. This would be a handy time to break out a black bounce card or gobo to cut down on those overly shiny areas.

Don’t forget about adding steam, too! Demonstrating that the soup is piping hot does wonders to evoke hunger, since it looks like it’s ready to be devoured right at that very second.

Speaking of which, what styling tips are you hungry for next? If you want to see more of this series, I need your suggestions!


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Leftovers, Reheated

Creating from dawn to dusk and beyond yields countless new treasures, failures, and everything in between. End products are usually easy to quantify, whether it’s a photo shoot that turned out exactly as planned, or a recipe that is almost, but not quite, ready for the spotlight. But what about the work that doesn’t lead up to one final output? Those are the scraps, the leftovers that get pushed to the back of the fridge where they’re forgotten. Rather than letting them spoil and go to waste, I’m pulling them all out this afternoon to reheat and serve anew!

First up is the main course: I have a number of Vegan a la Mode book signings and samplings coming up! If you’re in the Connecticut area, you won’t want to miss the chance to taste a few featured flavors. Even if you already have the book or don’t even want a copy, stop by for a taste, ask a few questions, and learn about methods for making ice cream without a machine. Those events are as follows…

July 31st: 4 – 6 pm at Health in a Hurry. 1891 Post Rd, Fairfield CT.

August 11th: Noon – 2 pm at Thyme & Season. 3040 Whitney Ave, Hamden CT.

August 18th: Noon – 3 pm at Fairfield University Bookstore. 1499 Post Rd, Fairfield CT

For the next morsel on the plate, I’ve entered my Pomegranate Ice Cream Pops into Ethical Ocean’s vegan recipe contest! Please vote for me, early and often, because you can log your choice up to once per day. The more often you vote, the better your chances of winning a fabulous prize for yourself, too.

Finally, as the gravy over the top, this summer semester’s required class has forced me to face my photographic nemesis: People. Yes, I have little experience actually shooting portraits of my fellow wo/man in any serious manner, so it’s been a learning experience, to say the least. I’ve been sharing some of my favorite shots through twitter, but you can also check in with the photo set I’ve been feeding on Flickr.

There, now that wasn’t so bad, was it? With the icebox cleared out and ready to accept more leftovers, we return you to your regularly scheduled diet of fresh foods and new posts.


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The Ultimate Ice-Breaker

You may not yet find the VegNews July/August 2012 issue on newsstands or in your mailbox, but because advance issues are now available online, I see that as free rein to start talking about it. Honestly, I can’t help myself- The summer edition is always a joy to work on, now that fresh fruits and vegetables are flooding back into stores, and every recipe sounds equally compelling. Best of all, it means I can bust out the frozen and chilled treats like there’s no tomorrow, better suited to tempering the summer sun than any blast of artificial air conditioning. Returning triumphantly with my thrice annual column, this sweet idea is one grand finale that will beat the pants off of picnic fruit salads and watery popsicles.

Key Lime Icebox Cake, complete with dozens of crunchy macadamia-flecked cookies and a tropical coconut and citrus creme. A single towering cake feeds a crowd with ease, and is best after sitting in the chill chest for at least a day, so advance prep makes it an ideal party guest. It’s the dessert that friends and family will be talking about long after the crowds go home and the summer sun goes back into hibernation. Yes, it’s that good.

It shouldn’t be long now before the issue officially lands, so you may as well start clearing space for this cake in your fridge right now!


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London Calling

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but things have been a bit more quiet than normal around here lately. Final exams have passed, and the photos are coming in fast and furious, but the number of forthcoming posts haven’t reflected that in the least. Truth be told, it’s because no one was home at BitterSweet head quarters. Maybe I failed to mention the fact that I was slipping away to London for a week? A quick jaunt across the pond, I hardly had time to get my feet beneath me before it was time to hop a plane back home again, but the brief break was entirely necessary. A few days to indulge a sense of adventure, explore a new corner of the world, and actually think about something other than food 24/7. It’s a truly refreshing change of pace! Thus, it may not have been a foodie’s dream getaway, but I still have plenty of photos and stories to share…

Continue reading


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Winner, Winner, Chickpea Dinner!

You guys- You lovely, lovely people out there, reading and baking your hearts out- I think we need to talk. We’ve been seeing each other for a couple of years now, and suffice to say that things are getting pretty serious. This isn’t a phrase that should be tossed around lightly, so trust that it’s coming from a sincere place: I love you. Honestly, those comments everyone made on my 1000th post were enough to fuel my next 1000 without pausing to come up for air. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the the bigger picture when you’re caked in wet flour and scraping burnt pie filling off the bottom of the oven, but that genuine enthusiasm and encouragement makes it more than worthwhile. It makes me want to wake up every morning and slog through the dozens of disasters, just to come up with one stellar recipe to share in this space. If there was ever one goal I had with this blog, it was to make a positive impact. Whatever that meant, however deeply felt, I just wanted to make someone, somewhere, a little bit happier. Ironic that that someone turned out to be me.

Enough sappy lovey stuff, right? Right. Now, what everyone’s been waiting for… The winners! All were chosen via the mighty, infallible Random Number Generator. If your name is on this list, expect an email with details about your winnings to arrive shortly.

Doris
Megan
Mocha
Dawn
Adam
Athena

Congrats! While these lucky commenters now have the means to pre-order Vegan À La Mode, it’s with bittersweet feelings that I must announce the retirement of the original À La Mode ebook. You’ll be able to find most of these recipes in the printed version, but revised, improved, and with shiny new accompanying photos. If you can’t wait another two months for the official release, this is your last week to check out this sneak preview of what’s to come.

I would hate to leave anyone empty-handed, so if you didn’t get lucky and want to hold out for the all-inclusive print book, I still have one more trick up my sleeve: New desktop wallpapers!

Don’t you just love misty spring showers?  Click on either photo to view full size. To use it as your new wallpaper, simply right click, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to properly fill your screen.

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