June 25, 2012

Pasta Salad With Peas, Paneer, Baby Spinach & Pistachios, With A Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing – A Recipe & Some Photography!

t’s been a couple of months since I joined Simone in her monthly Donna Hay Photography Challenge. Not only did I have the time this month, the recipe for the challenge is something I like – a Pasta Salad. I don't really like salads, especially the raw vegetable kind, but if there's pasta in it, then I cannot resist it. I did put my own spin on Donna Hay’s Goat’s Cheese, Lemon and Pea Pasta mainly because I couldn’t find some of the ingredients and once I’d started adapting the recipe it was almost as if I couldn’t stop!
But more of that later and I’ll start by concentrating on the photography part of the challenge first. The photograph of the Goat’s Cheese, Lemon and Pea Pasta was from the February 2011 (Issue 55) Donna Hay magazine, photographed by William Meppem and styled by David Morgan.

Image courtesy of Simone (Jungle Frog Cooking)

The photograph is typically simply styled with the focus on the freshness of the dish, and this time the colour in the photograph comes from the food with the pan and the background all white.  I quite like the styling in the photograph which is minimalistic and draws the eye to the food straight away.  There were a couple of things about the photograph that I didn't quite find appealing, though.

The first was the bluish cast, almost like an incorrect White Balance setting. This could have been an intentional use of creative/ artistic license perhaps to suggest the coolness of the pasta salad on a warm summer day. The other was my feeling that the composition was too tight, with both sides of the pan being cropped. My personal preference would have been to see one complete edge of the pan (right side).       
The photograph has very little shadows and the light seems to be coming from the upper right side (the right side is blown out whereas details are visible on the lower left side) . This is not how I usually shoot my food, as I like shadows in my photographs, so this would be a challenge.
One option would have been to shoot perhaps outdoors with natural light. I’m not sure how well that would have worked, and I didn’t have a chance to find out since the monsoons are here and its raining most of the time.
My other option was to shoot indoors and use white boards to reflect light such that there was very little shadow, which is what I did.    

(My preferred version of the challenge photograph)

Styling-wise, I don’t have white coloured pans, and my shallow pan is on the larger side. So I used a white bowl instead. Heavy rains and overcast skies outside meant, that I had to shoot with my camera on a tripod. Again, I wasn’t really happy with my results. The main problem was that I was trying to emulate a style I’m comfortable with, and there wasn’t enough natural light since it was a day of incessant rains!
Trying to keep to the original style scheme, I used my 100mm prime lens as that gives a really nice shallow depth of field at the back of the salad/ pan. This also meant that the sides of my bowl got cropped out of my composition, and I couldn’t get as much space at the top as I wanted.
Maybe I should have used another lens, but given that my natural light was fading, I decided to continue with this lens. I adjusted the White Balance (advantage of shooting RAW) and brought the temperature down to 3500K to get that bluish cast. I must say I didn’t like this photograph very much.

(My first and less preferred version of the original with a slight bluish cast)

So I took another shot with only one side cropped out, a slightly different angle and without the bluish colour cast while still trying to keep to that simple and all white styling.  I felt this was a better composition, but that’s a personal preference. This one was shot at aperture - f/ 2.8 (the lowest on my lens),  shutterspeed – 1.3s and ISO 100.
And how would I have shot it if I had to do it all from scratch? I’m not too sure because after almost an hour of trying to be inspired by the original photograph, I was a bit tired and fed up with the fluctuating natural light scenario outside my window, and my creativity had taken a walk. So I kept the white but changed things around a bit. I shot this photograph at aperture f/ 4.0, shutterspeed – 0.6s and ISO 100.

As for the recipe, I changed things here quite a bit partly because I couldn’t find the ingredients and mostly by design. I couldn't find goat's cheese/ Feta or rocket leaves/ Arugula so I substituted paneer for goat’s cheese, fresh baby Malabar spinach (from my neighbour’s garden) for the rocket/ arugula, added some toasted pistachios to the mix.

Malabar spinach (Basella Rubra) is this gorgeous looking spinach (actually its not a true spinach but a very, very distant relative) with beautiful heart shaped deep green leaves growing on ruby red vines. My neighbour has it growing all over the fence of her back garden and is more than generous with it.

Rather than add everything to the Pasta Salad, I made a tangy and sweet, garlic flavoured dressing with fresh basil from my pots, to add to my salad just before serving.  This salad was a much needed and refreshing lunch after some tiring photography! Let’s just say that I was way happier with the Pasta Salad than I was with my photography.

Pasta Salad With Peas, Paneer, Baby Spinach & Pistachios,
With A Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing
(Partly adapted from Donna Hay's Goat’s Cheese, Lemon & Pea Pasta)


350 to 400gm penne
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
200 gm paneer, crumbled
A small handful of baby spinach
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing

1 garlic clove, crushed 

2 tbsp lemon juice (adjust to taste)
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp honey
3 to 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp shredded basil
Salt to taste


Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes, adding the peas in at the last minute, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Crumble paneer into largish pieces.
Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Just before serving add the dressing, the crumbled paneer, the baby spinach and the pistachios to the pasta and peas and toss well to coat. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Serve as a side to the main meal. This recipe serves 4.
Read full post.....

June 20, 2012

Black & White Wednesdays {A Culinary Gallery} – Week #37

 am happy to guesthost and present to you the 37th week of Susan’s Black & WhiteWednesdays, a weekly collection of some black and white food photography from the world of food blogs. My thanks to all of you who sent in your photographs to showcase in this gallery. The photographs are presented here in alphabetical order of the photographers’ names. Enjoy!
It’s up to you what you do with contrasts, light, shapes and lines to emphasize the essence, or what you see as the essence – no colours that will seduce the eye, only emotion that will capture the heart.” -  Joel Tjintjelaar.

Black & White Wednesdays - The Gallery!

Alessandra ZecchiniOrange and Yellows in Black and White 


CinziaMadeleine Mold

Jayne Denise GlasperZucchini-Apple Bread Cake

Lubna Karim - Pickled

Lynne Daley - FPFarmers'Market

Lynne DaleyWatermelon


RajaniEvening Snacks

RajaniEvening Snacks 

Rosa Mayland - A Taste Of The Past

Rosa Mayland - Geneva Cows

ShruthiMorning Breakfast

SimonaAfter Dinner

Srimati Ragi Semiya Payasam

SusanBok Choy


SusanWhere’sThe Cake?

Suzanne PepinMeat Grinder

Vishaka BharadwajDried Peas, Soaked

Vishaka BharadwajMugs

Usha of My Spicy Kitchen will be hosting the next edition of Black & White Wednesdays. If you would like to send your black and white culinary photographs, please see her announcement for further details.

Read full post.....

June 18, 2012

Fresh Fig, Caramelised Onion & Paneer Pizza

raditionally, even though this is changing slowly, Indians are not very adventurous when it comes to food. Not that there’s anything wrong in a preference for food that one has grown up with. For one thing, on the whole, the generation that my parents belonged to accepted that it was alright to eat out once in a while but wondered why anyone would choose food served in restaurants over fresh and healthy home cooked fare.
Then again, having been used a cuisine that made excellent use of spice (I’m not talking about the oily, spicy and calorie-rich stuff that gets dished out in most eateries in the name of Indian food!) most foreign cuisines tend to feel a bit bland and unexciting on the Indian taste buds.
Yet change in food habits is inevitable, especially in today’s market driven world economies, and change can be a good thing. With a lot of food ingredients that used to sound exotic now lining our store shelves in even smaller cities and becoming a lot more affordable, many Indians have embraced non-Indian cuisines with open arms. Two world cuisines that we have really taken to and made so Indian that they are no longer recognisable in the countries of their birth are Chinese and Italian food!

Our Chinese dishes, pastas and pizzas have taken on very Indian flavours and are as Indian as rice and chappathis. I’m sure there is no other part of the world where you can eat a “tandoori” pizza!
Having eaten authentic pizza (I consider a pizza eaten in Italy authentic though the Italians might not agree), it was next to impossible to enjoy the stuff they serve in the name of pizza even in pizza chain restaurants. However there was a time when we had very little choice but that since I hadn’t mastered bread making at home.

Even after I learned to make decent bread, a good home-made pizza eluded me for a long time. But a lot of practise later, I can now manage a decent pizza and make them on and off though I haven’t really blogged them The only other pizzas on this blog, as of now, are a Hawaiian Pizza and the one I made for a Daring Baker challenge. That challenge involved not just making the pizza but tossing it up in the air which I have never quite got the hang of, not having the skills of either a pizzaiolo or a juggler!
I prefer the less adventurous and theatrical kind of cooking in my kitchen and my pizzas are always pressed out by hand. The kind of pizza that everyone , especially our daughter, likes and so the one I make more frequently is the one with  my home-made tomato based sauce topped with vegetables and cheese.

A few months back it was the season for figs and I decided to use them on a “no tomato sauce” pizza with caramelised onions and paneer. You could use Feta cheese if you prefer as the salt of that balances the sweetness of figs very well. Feta is very expensive here when I can find it, and I’ve found paneer works extremely well as a substitute. Store bought paneer is normally unsalted, except for the kind that we get in Goa which is salted. If you make your own paneer at home, then you can salt it to your taste and even add a dash of spice like cumin to it.
We prefer thin crust pizzas so that’s how I make mine. Do not over bake this pizza or the paneer will become tough and chewy.

Fresh Fig, Caramelised Onion & Paneer Pizza


For the pizza bases:

1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Enough water to form the dough

For the toppings:

4 medium sized onions, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
8 fresh figs, sliced or quartered
200gm paneer cubes
More olive oil to brush on the pizza
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or dried herbs)
Salt to taste
Red chilli flakes to taste
Semolina to dust the baking sheets


To make the pizza dough:

Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk and then add the yeast. Stir well and keep aside for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
You can knead the dough by hand but I prefer to do it in the processor. Put the flour, salt and olive oil in the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times. Now add the activated yeast-milk mixture and run the processor. Add enough water to form a dough that is kneaded to a soft, smooth and elastic consistency.
Remove the dough and shape it into a ball and place in an oiled bowl allowing the oil to coat the dough well. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise till almost double 9 about an hour and a half).
Deflate the dough and knead lightly a couple of times. Divide the dough into 2 halves and shape each into a smooth ball. Roll out or press out each ball into a flat 11” round. Dust the pizza sheets with semolina and place the pizza dough on this and cover with toppings as mentioned below.

The toppings:

Heat the oil in a pan and stir-fry the onions in it till they caramelise to a golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep aside to cool.
Brush the pizza dough with olive oil and arrange the caramelised onions, figs and the paneer cubes  on top. Lightly sprinkle with salt and red chilli flakes, and then the rosemary too. Lightly drizzle a little more olive oil on the pizzas.
Bake the pizzas at 240C (475F) for about 20 minutes or till the edges of the pizza are golden brown and the paneer starts browning at the edges.
Serve warm. This recipe makes two 11” pizzas.

I am including the Black & White photograph of my "ready to bake" pizza in Susan's Black & White Wednesdays which I'm honoured to host here this week.

Read full post.....

June 13, 2012

Announcing Black & White Wednesdays Week #37

lack and White photography is close to my heart and to me it portrays character and emotions that are somehow never visible in the glory that is colour.  
Ted Grant described this essence when he said, “When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls!” This pretty much describes all black and white photography for me.

When Susan announced, sometime back that she was going to post a weekly gallery of Black & White food photographs, I thought it was time someone finally gave Black & White food photography its due. And I am happy to help her guest host this edition of Black & White Wednesdays here.
So, you are most welcome to join us here with your B&W food photographs which I shall post on the 20th of June, 2012 (next week). Just see the “Rules” below to find out how.

As per the rules of this event there aren’t too many restrictions about the kind of photograph you may submit. Your photograph/ photographs must be monochrome/ grayscale, which includes images with Sepia and Cyanotype tones in addition to the obviously well-known and traditional B&W. However, B&W images tinted with pink, purple, green, cobalt, etc., are not acceptable for this event.
 Your photo needn't be only of food, but anything of a culinary nature, from a stack of dishes to a restaurant storefront. You can also submit more than one photo per week, but do ensure that the photos are distinct from each other so that the gallery will represent as much diversity as possible.


The Rules:

Post a (or more) black and white culinary image on your blog any time from the 12th of June to the 18th of June (both days included). It does not have to be posted on a Wednesday, as the event gets its name because the round-up is posted every Wednesday.  In your post please link to Susan’s BWW page and to this announcement. The use of the BWW logo is optional.
Then e-mail a 500px wide version of your black and white photograph/ photographs to aparna[at]mydiversekitchen[dot]com along with BWW #37 in the title field of your e-mail.
Also mention your name, the name of your blog, link to your BWW post and the title of your photograph in your mail.
The deadline for submissions is Monday, the 18th of June at 6:00 p.m. New York time (approximately 3:30am on Tuesday, Indian time). Please note I will not be able to entertain late entries, since I will be posting the round-up on Wednesday the 20th of June.
Looking forward to seeing your photographs in my inbox…….

The previous edition was hosted by Cinzia and you can see last week’s BWW gallery on her blog.
Read full post.....

June 11, 2012

Kiwifruit, Green Grape & Mint Frappé

n many parts of the world, and in the US particularly, I believe that an Indian summer refers to a rather warm Autumn day. If you have lived through a true Indian summer, you will never describe the days as warm. They are likely to be pretty hot and dry in most parts of India and if you live on the coast, then it would be very hot, humid and sticky. As I’m fond of saying, the only good thing about the Indian summer is the mangoes.

The one other thing about the summer is that you need no excuse to indulge in summer coolers, whether the traditional Indian summertime drinks, ice-creams, milk and fruit shakes, cold coffees, iced tea or more exotic stuff like a frappé.
I always thought that a frappé was some sort of a cold coffee until I discovered that it was just a cold blended drink, which could have different ingredients depending on the region where it was made. It turns out that what I call a milkshake (ice-cream et al) also qualifies for a frappé in some parts of the US.

Apparently, frappé means “to chill” in French, and for a drink to qualify as one it must be chilled before it is served or made with cold ingredients. A frappé usually is made with ice cubes or crushed ice and often whipped in a blender of some sort which created a foamy or frothy layer on the top of the drink.

Some kiwis, a small bunch of seedless green grapes, mint in my pots which needed pruning, plenty of ice in the fridge and a real hot and sticky Indian summer definitely called for an ice-cold frappe! And here’s my recipe for it.
This is really more of guide than a recipe for a fruit frappe and you could change quantities, even substitute some ingredients, maybe add or subtract one or two to give you something to suit your tastes if you don’t think you would like this one.
If you cannot find Indian rock salt, use regular salt, or a flavoured salt that would go with your combination of ingredients.

Kiwifruit, Green Grape & Mint Frappé


3 medium to large medium kiwifruits, peeled and chopped coarsely peeled, chopped coarsely

3/4 cup small, sweet and seedless green grapes

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

 1 cup ice cubes

1/4 cup apple juice

 Sugar, according to taste
A couple of pinches (not more) of kaala namak/ Indian rock salt
A few sprigs of fresh mint for garnishing


Blend or process the kiwifruit, grapes, ice, apple juice, chopped mint, Indian rock salt and sugar until smooth. Pour into tall glasses and serve immediately, garnished with fresh mint.
This recipe makes 4 glasses of delicious minty green frappé.

My black white photographs from this post are joining Susan's Black & White Wednesdays weekly gallery whose 36th edition is being hosted by Cinzia on her blog.

Read full post.....

June 2, 2012

Exercises In Food Photography #2 : Less Is More, So Let’s Keep It Simple!

just want thank everyone who joined in last month’s exercise on Aperture & DoF, as well as those who had planned to be a part of it all but couldn’t due to constraints. Not having the time to spare has been my number one excuse for many things blogging, including the paucity of posts on my blog, so I understand. I honestly didn’t expect so many people to join me and am happy to see the response. I’m also hoping that some of you who weren’t here last month will be able to join in this month.

Fresh Plums

(100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture f/ 4.0, shutterspeed 1/125s and ISO 100)

Over the past couple of years, one comment/ compliment I have got again and again is appreciation that many of my food photograph compositions are simple or minimalistic. I am, by nature, a fan of the less crowded style of composition in photographs, though I equally appreciate photographs that have multi-elements of composition.
But I have a confession to make about how a lot of my food photographs ended up minimalistic, so much so I have adopted that style quite a bit. When I started out taking food photographs, I had very few props on hand to use apart from table napkins, dinnerware and cutlery which I used regularly and many of which weren’t exactly designed to produce great food photographs.
Many books and material on the net written about props for food photography will tell you to find them at junk sales or thrift shops or else beg, borrow or steal them from friends and family. As for sales and thrift shops, we don’t have them in India, at least not where I live. The other option was out of question since I wanted to keep all the family and friends I had and not lose them because of photography!

Tomatoes & Mint

(100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture f/ 3.2, shutterspeed 1/50s and ISO 200)

So I collected whatever little I could find to use as props, that wouldn’t burn holes in our pockets or take up precious shelf space and tried to style and compose my food shots with that. I do now have enough props (actually not enough though my family wouldn’t agree!) to move a bit away from my minimalistic approach, yet there is something about the style which will always appeal to me.
In my opinion, the saying “Less is more” really is true with a minimalistic food composition. There is something very appealing, stylish and classic about it, and it also allows your eye to concentrate on the main focal point of your composition without distractions.

(55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens at aperture f/ 4.0, shutterspeed 1/40s and ISO 100)

So for this month’s exercise, I thought it would be nice to work on the theme of “Less is more” and shoot a photograph (any food of your choice) in a minimalistic composition. Let the food reign supreme in your photograph without the distractions of too many props. If you must use props, use as few of them as you can. You could try to add points/ elements of interest in your photograph with garnishes, for example. You’ll get an idea of what I mean about this assignment from the photographs in this post.

(100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture f/ 5.0, shutterspeed 1/30s and ISO 320)

This month has been great for meeting a lot of friends who are also food bloggers, as Goa is a popular summer vacation destination. Sravanthi, Arundathi and Deeba were down here and in the manner of true food bloggers, they all came bearing gifts of food. I chose to use the gorgeous dark cherries that Deeba brought as my subject for this exercise. All the other photographs in this post were taken on previous occasions and serve to illustrate the subject of this month’s exercise.
My husband found the time to make the wooden background boards he had promised me (I still have to paint some of them) and so I had to use them. You might find those boards cropping up a little too frequently in my photographs in the near future…..

Fresh Dark Cherries

I used a 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture f/ 5.6, shutterspeed 1/13s and ISO 200. The light came through a window on the right and I used a white foam board on the left (at about 8 o’clock position) to reduce the shadow. My only props were the teacup with the cherries in it and 2 saucers. I used the pale pink accents of the cup and saucers to complement the colour of the cherries.

What You Have To Do To Join In:

     1.      Take one (or more if you would like to do so) of your subject (any food of your choice) using as few props as possible, preferably not more than one or two, like a plate/ glass/ cup and a napkin/ fork/ knife/ spoon, etc. The lens and settings you use are entirely upto you though it would be nice if you mention them in your post for others to know. Do try and use Manual settings if you can.
     2.     Post the photograph(s) and details about them on you blog, with details about the shot. Recipes are also a nice idea so we can try out your dish if possible. 
     3.     Please ensure that you link back to this post/ page in your blog post. Then add the link to your Photography Exercise post using the Simply Linked Widget that appears at the bottom of this post. This will direct readers to you blog and allow them to read your post.

Please make sure that the text in your link is correct otherwise no one would be able to reach your post.
If you do not have a blog, then upload your photographs on Flickr or any other hosting site and then use the link of that photograph in the Widget.

The deadline for this exercise is the 25th of June, 2012 so that gives you a little over 3 weeks to get it done. I’m looking forward to seeing all your photographs. I would also request you all, if it is possible, to please visit fellow photographers involved in this exercise and give them your feedback and criticism because this is one more way of improving ones skills and craft.
If you have any doubts or need any clarifications about this exercise, please leave a comment at the end of this post and I'll get back to you.

Other Exercises In This Series:

Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF
Exercises In Food Photography #3 : Overhead Food Shots – A View From Above

Exercises In Food Photography #4 : Feature Just One Ingredient!

Exercises In Food Photography #5 : Adding Some Life To Your Photograph!

Read full post.....