Monday, November 21, 2011

Capture Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is almost here! Do you spend yours with family, friends or stay at home by yourself? I've spent my Thanksgivings over the years in many different ways. Most of them have been with family but there have been years where it was spent with friends and other times have just had a quiet day at home. Whether with family or friends one thing you can usually count on is an obscene amount of food.

Last year I had the privilege of having two Thanksgiving feasts. I took part in a pottery/cooking class with Chef Robin Leventhal and one of the classes centered around Thanksgiving dishes. The class assisted as Chef Robin showed us how to make everything for a Thanksgiving feast including turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, salad, salad dressing and even brussel sprouts.  How we were able to make all of this in one class session I have no idea.  I enjoyed photographing this unique way of celebrating the holiday. The photos at the end of the blog post were all taken during that class using an Olympus E-P1 and no flash.

One thing to keep in mind when photographing the holiday is to capture not only the food but the people too.  Try getting some photos of the cook in action.  Take photos of the turkey being basted, potatoes being mashed, the table being set and most importantly the carving of the turkey.

If you have any control over the food presentation, make the turkey platter the star and really stand out by dressing it up with fresh herbs and vegetables.  Sage, rosemary and/or thyme are great herbs to use as a garnish. Grapes and/or cherry tomatoes, fresh or roasted, also make good garnishes that contrast well with turkey and photograph well.

I like to like shooting Thanksgiving food from over head, however the most important thing to remember is to shoot at different angles.  A lot of people tend to shoot things at the same angle all the time. Don't be afraid to try shooting different angles.  From above, at a 45 degrees and at eye level are the three main angles.  You might be pleasantly surprised with what you get when you experiment with angles.

After the table is set with food, you'll want to get some photos of the dining table with your family/friends in the shot. This shot should be done with a wide angle lens to fit everything and everyone in the frame. Set the turkey platter close to you, on one end of the table and make that the main focus with everyone sitting beyond it.  To get everyone in the frame you will need to shoot just above the turkey.  If you don't use a flash it will be difficult to get both the turkey and everyone at the table in focus since you will probably need to shoot at a large aperture (low F-Stop value) if there is not a lot of available light. Using a flash is recommended for this shot, ideally an external flash on your hot shoe, bounced off the ceiling at close to full power.  This will allow you to use a small aperture to make more of the scene in focus.  If you don't have a flash, try taking a few different photos focusing some on the turkey and some on the people behind the turkey.  Also, the further away you are from the subjects the more in focus they will be. So you can try that and then do some cropping in post processing.  Try taking some photos standing up for a higher perspective.  Take one or two with everyone looking at you and some candids of people in conversation, smiling and laughing.

Most people serve Thanksgiving family style and pass around plates of food for you to dish onto your own plate.  Try to capture some close up photos of people passing food to each other or dishing food onto their plates. Don't forget to serve some food for yourself!  You'll want to get a photo of your plate full of food. Try to get at least a little bit of everything on your plate.  Think of it as a family photo, you don't want any food left out of the shot.  This is the one I like most to photograph from above so you can see everything on the plate easily.  Between bites of food, take a few photos of people enjoying themselves.

Lastly, try to get everyone together for a group shot after dinner.  Use a tripod and bring a remote or use your camera's timer so you can be in the shot too.

Chef Robin Starching the Turkey Chef Robin Preparing Turkey Platter Golden Raisin Apple Herb Pumpernickel Stuffing and Turkey Gravy Cranberry Walnut Chutney Turkey Platter Thanksgiving Plate

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SpiceCare by Table Fare

Spices and SpiceCare ContainersI do a lot of restaurant and recipe reviews but it's not very often I do a product review. No one asked me to do one and I didn't get any freebies either. I've been thinking about getting some new containers for my spices for a while now but have been pushing it off. A couple of people mentioned the SpiceCare system via Facebook comments to a post I made many months ago and I have kept those in mind since then.

What finally pushed me to get these is my switch to all organic spices. I bought them in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs.  I don't know why I didn't do this before.  The prices for spices at Mountain Rose can't be beat.  Gone are the days of spending $5 for a little bottle of spices.  You can get 4 oz packages of just about any organic spice you can imagine and most of them are between $2 and $4 a bag.  One of these bags would probably fill up a grocery sized jar at least 4 times.  They also carry teas, oils and other goodies.

I bought a couple of 6 container SpiceCare starter kits and some singles.  I've managed to fill them all up with spices and could use a few more.  I also bought the label pack which has pre-printed spice labels.  There's only one spice I wasn't able to find a pre-printed label for and that is for the curry leaves.  The label fits behind a metal plate that slides over the front of the spice container.  The smallest sized ones are more difficult to slide on and off.  It's also hard to figure out which is the top and which is the bottom of the metal plate on the small ones.

The containers are three-sided and made of a hard plastic.  Two of the sides are clear so you can see the contents and one side has the metal plate with label on it.  All the containers can stack on top of each other and come with flip top lids. One of the things I like most about these contains is the lid which has a leveler built into it so you can use it to level off your measuring spoon.  You can also buy the optional shaker screens, which come in three different sizes, but I chose not to.  I prefer to be able to stick my measuring spoon in the container without having to fuss with removing the screen.

These containers are a real space saver.  My old spices were organized alphabetically in store bought glass containers of all different shapes and sizes in my cupboard.  Now I have them organized more conveniently by types of spices in the SpiceCare containers.  I have all my whole seed type spices in one column, two columns of powdered spices, two columns of leaf spices and I have one column with what I would categorize as pumpkin spices (allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg).

If you're looking for a new way to organize your spices I would highly recommend these SpiceCare containers by Table Fare. They save space, look great and are convenient and easy to use. SpiceCare SpiceCare Lid Seeds

Monday, November 07, 2011

Cashew Mayo Cole Slaw

Cashew Cole SlawI was looking through my Allergy & Candida Cookbook trying to find what I should make next.  I ended up skipping a couple of the categories because I'm on a new candida diet that is more strict than my previous one.  So I skipped the beans and sandwich category and went on to the salads and dressings section. And honestly cashews or any nuts really aren't on my diet either.  Shh don't tell anyone. I looked through the rest of the cookbook but there isn't much else I can eat.  I may do just one more, from the dessert section.

I actually covered two different recipes tonight. I made a cashew mayo dressing which I used in the cole slaw.  The cookbook gives you so many different variations of mayo's the combinations are limitless.  You can choose from almonds, sunflower seeds, filberts, macdamia and cashews.  There's also a long list of optional herbs to choose from as well.  I went with a bit of dry mustard with the cashews.  The texture was surprisingly close to mayo but I don't think it tasted a lot like mayo.  It basically tasted like a thick almond milk.  It wasn't too bad mixed in with the cabbage and celery though.

Cashew Mayo Ingredients Cashew Mayo

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ham, Cabbage and Squash Soup

Ham Cabbage and Squash SoupSummer is over and fall is here, it's the perfect time of the year for soup.  I usually make a squash soup every fall, typically a butternut squash soup.  I honestly was never very knowledgeable about winter squashes. Pumpkin and butternut are the only two I have any experience cooking with, but there are so many other good ones that I never thought about using.  I've used a couple of new ones this year and learning the names of some of the winter squashes that I've seen every year but never knew their names.  I used spaghetti squash for my fake pumpkin pie and used delicata, the long one with green stripes, for this soup recipe.

I'm on a low carb/low sugar diet which is why I have been trying out other squashes.  The two squashes I normally use, butternut and pumpkin, are both high in carbs while delicata and spaghetti squash are lower.  Some other popular winter squashes are acorn, ambercup, autumn cup, banana, buttercup, carnival, golden nugget, hubbard, kabocha, sweet dumpling and turban. In addition to all those there are over a dozen different varieties of pumpkins. has a pretty comprehensive list of the different varieties of winter squashes and pumpkins.  I haven't done my research yet to determine the ones that have the least amount of carbs.  In general winter squashes have more carbs than summer squash.

I found this recipe for ham hock and cabbage soup on Caveman Food's blog. There is also another version of it using potatoes instead of squash by Emeril Lagasse. I didn't stray too far away from the recipe he posted but I did alter it slightly:
  • made a bigger batch by adding some additional water 
  • used delicata rather than pumpkin
  • added 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • used 3 fresh sage leaves rather than 2
  • used 5 cloves of garlic rather than 3
  • used ham shanks rather than ham hocks
I'm pretty thrilled with how it turned out and it didn't take as long as I thought it would.  It took about 2 hours of cooking and the prep work took a while, especially for the squash.  I wasn't sure what the best way to peel a delicata squash was but I ended up using a potato peeler which seemed to work out pretty well. The squash was a lot harder inside than I thought it would be,  making spooning out the seeds a little more difficult.  The squash turned out pretty mushy, I was hoping for a little more texture in them so I might recommend adding the squash maybe 15 minutes later so it cooks for 45 mins instead of 60, I updated that in the recipe below.

4 Tbsp bacon grease
1.5-2 lbs ham shank or hock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
small head of green cabbage, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 cups chicken stock, homemade recommended
3-4 cups water
4 cups delicata or other winter squash

  1. Heat bacon grease in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add celery and onions and cook about 10 minutes. Add the ham shank/hock.
  2. Add cabbage, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, salt and cayenne.  Stir and cook until cabbage is slightly wilted, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock and desired amount of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
  4. Add the squash, cover and simmer 45 more minutes.
  5. Remove the ham from the pot and let cool for a few minutes.  Remove bay leaves from the pot, if you can find them.  Remove the meat from the bone and chop into small bite sized pieces, add back to the pot and serve.
Soup Ingredients Chopped Ham