September 30, 2012

Ajo Blanco/ Sopa de Ajo / White Garlic Gazpacho, And An All-White Photography Exercise

A
Ajo Blanco is a Spanish cold soup from the regions of Granada and Malaga (Andalusia). “Ajo” is Spanish for garlic and “Blanco” means white, so this soup is essentially white and garlicky. It is a more traditional recipe than the “red” gazpacho because it was made in Spain long before tomatoes arrived at its shores from the Americas.
Ajo Blanco requires no cooking and originally was a poor man’s meal and made with only bread, garlic, oil, and water.  Andalusia  is an almond and olive producing area of Spain so it was but natural to incorporate these easily available and affordable ingedients  into the soup. Stale bread was soaked in water to soften it and then blended with crushed almonds, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, water and salt.
Ajo Blanco is always served chilled, usually with grapes, melon or baked potato on the side. One normally thinks of soup as a healthy, light-in-calorie and filling sort of dish. Ajo Blanco feels light on the palate and is pretty filling, but is quite rich. However, one must remember this was originally a poor man’s meal, and really a meal in itself, so those calories would have made all the difference.
 
(Taken at aperture - f/3.5 , shutterspeed - 3.2s  and ISO 100)

Over time, and depending on who was making it, the Ajo Blanco has taken on newer incarnations. Many recipes have the grapes being incorporated into the soup itself. Many others add cucumber to it making it even more suitable as a summer-time soup. I even saw one recipe which used cauliflower! Apparently there is no hard and fast rule to make it except that it should have bread, almonds, olive oil, some vinegar and salt. You can even decide if you would like to leave it creamy like soup or a bit watery so you can drink it straight from a glass!
It not summer here, though the days are warm enough to warrant a chilled soup, especially if you’re not in the mood to do much cooking. It’s also not the season for grapes of any sort right now, yet the Ajo Blanco came to my mind because of Simone. She has a monthly photography challenge on her blog, and this month’s challenge was to photograph food using an all-white theme, that is white would be the predominant colour scheme with a touch of another colour to provide a contrast, if necessary. The rest of the challenge was open to interpretation.
 


(Taken at aperture - f/3.2 , shutterspeed - 1.3s and ISO 100)


I wanted to do this if I had the time, and as usual I just made the deadline. So, as I was saying, I was thinking of white coloured food. I had initially planned on baking cookies, but my new oven just died on me a week back, and will mostly take a couple of weeks to be revived, so there was no baking to be done.
Then I remembered the “White Gazpacho” which seemed perfect. After much perusal of various recipes, I decided to make a white chilled soup with my own variations on the ingredients. It’s probably not a true Ajo Blanco, because it has a lot more ingredients to it, but this is my take on the soup. I used apple instead of grapes, and lemon juice instead of sherry or wine vinegar as the only vinegar I had was white and apple cider.
 I also used some cauliflower because I wanted to cut down on the flavour/ taste of cucumber. My Ajo Blanco is perhaps not so much “Ajo” but we don’t like too much of garlic. I have to say that in India, the Ajo Blanco is definitely a rich man’s soup given that almonds, sherry/ wine vinegar and olive oil are quite expensive.
 




Like a lot of traditional recipes Ajo Blanco also leaves a lot of room to personalize it to suit one’s taste. So my recipe is really just a set of directions which you can adjust or change to make your own version of what you would like to eat. At the end of the day, isn’t that what good food is all about?
 
This post is also about a food photography challenge. As I mentioned above, the subject of the challenge is an “all-white theme”. This can be a bit of a challenge because if everything in your composition is white, where is the contrast between the various elements in your composition going to come from? This also means the camera will have problems setting a “correct” exposure so you have to fiddle with your aperture, shutterspeed and ISO settings quite a bit, or go for increasing exposure (move on the + side of the in camera meter) if shooting in Av (aperture priority) mode.



 

One way I deal with the contrast problem is to use varying shades of white throughout the photograph. The other thing to do is to provide just a little bit of colour which will provide the contrast and show up the “whites” much better. It is important that the hint/ touch of colour is in the food (or pretty close to the food because the eye is always drawn to this. So if your colour contrast is away from the food, your eye will not be drawn to the food first, which it should in food photography.
I did this by garnishing my Ajo Blanco with olive oil and chives. This might look a bit pale and I could have used other “brighter/ more colourful” garnishes like bread croutons, toasted almonds or mint. I however wanted to keep to a “pastel-style” garnish and not take away from the soup itself. I also added a touch of “colour” at the back with a vinegar bottle to balance the composition a bit.
The rains are on their way out and though there’s ample sunlight now, every time I’d set everything up for a shoot, the skies would become overcast so I didn’t have very good light to take these photographs. You can see slow shutter speed times I used and I had to brighten the photographs a bit in post-processing. All of these were taken using my 50mm f/1.8 lens.
 
(Taken at aperture - f/3.2 , shutterspeed - 1.3s and ISO 100)

My two critics at home gave me opposing opinions about the photograph. My daughter thought it was “washed out” and needed colour to brighten it up. When I explained the “white” theme, she said she got that but still didn’t particularly like the photograph! My husband on the other hand, thought it looked good, while I felt there was scope for improvement somewhere….
That prompted me to take a couple more differently composed photographs which were still white but with a little more contrast in terms of colour. I tend to prefer and shoot darker, moody tones and have shot very few food photographs that lean towards over-exposure and white/ pale/ pastel tones so it was an interesting challenge. I have been looking at these photographs for too long deciding which ones I liked best that all I’m seeing now is white! So I’ll leave the judging to you all, and let you tell me which ones you preferred, and why.
 

Ajo Blanco/ Sopa de Ajo / White Garlic Gazpacho

 

Ingredients:
 

1 cup blanched almonds*

1/2 cup milk

1 cup peeled, deseeded and chopped cucumber

1 cup steamed cauliflower florets (optional)

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped** (mixed with 2 tsp fresh lemon juice)

1 cup white bread cubes***

1/2 cup thick yogurt

1/4 cup olive oil (you can use 1/8 cup if you prefer)

1 tsp garlic (or more according to taste)

2 tbsp honey

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth**** (or water)

Salt and pepper to taste

Chives/ mint/ chopped cucumber/ bread croutons/ toasted almond slivers/ olive oil to garnish and serve

 

Method:
 

*Blanching almonds is easy to do. Put a small pan of water to boil. When it starts boiling, drop the almonds in it and turn the heat off and cover the pan. After about 2 minutes, drain the water completely. Take an almond and pinch the skin at one end. The almond will pop out of its skin easily.
**Use green grapes if you can find them. Otherwise, use an apple instead or even in addition to the grapes. You can use a tart variety like Granny Smith or a Golden Delicious like I did.
***This soup traditionally uses stale country-style bread up to a week old! You can use stale/ day old sandwich bread after removing the crust. If you have sourdough bread or baguettes, use that for a better flavour. If your sourdough/ baguette is really stale, remove the crust and soak the bread in some water for about 10 to 15 minutes, squeeze out the water and then use.
****You can use water which is good because it dilutes the gazpacho without changing the taste. However, vegetable broth gives a nice flavour especially if you’re not very keen on a cucumbery tasting gazpacho. However, a strong/ flavoursome vegetable broth will change the taste of the gazpacho. What I did was to cook the cauliflower in 1 1/2 cups of water, and use this liquid in place of broth.
 
First lightly toast the blanched almonds in a pan. Then grind them to a fine paste using the milk. Keep aside. Put the cucumber, cauliflower, apple (with lime juice), garlic, honey and 1 cup of vegetable broth/ water in a blender and blend till smooth. Add the almond-milk paste and blend further.
Now add the olive oil, yogurt and the remaining 1/2 cup of broth/ water and just blend till well mixed. The gazpacho can be a bit thick or thin as you prefer. An Ajo Blanco is meant to be a well-blended soup so you might like to strain the soup at this point to remove any solids. I personally prefer the slightly grainy texture and didn’t strain mine. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.
Chill the gazpacho and serve with garnishes of choice. The gazpacho keeps refrigerated for a day and actually tastes better as the flavours develop on refrigeration. This recipe serves 4 to 6.
 
 
 
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September 27, 2012

Fresh Dates & Apple Crumble

I
n foodblogdom , today is the reveal date for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge. Looking at my posts these past couple of months, you wouldn’t even know I’m a Daring Baker. I haven’t been doing the challenges for various reasons including the fact that I didn’t have a working oven. Another reason being that nowadays, I’m not very excited by recipes that involve a whole lot of butter, cream and sugar, unless there’s a technique to be learnt.
So when I saw this month’s challenge I knew I was going to be making it because it was a savoury recipe, it was a yeasted bread and there was scope for doing something I hadn’t done before. However, circumstances conspired against me. I was busy during the first half of the month and my brand new oven dies on me so no baking until my oven gets repaired. The last I heard of it, the “dead” part that needs to be replaced and been ordered by the company and it’ll take a couple of weeks before my oven is working. In a nutshell, I’m not doing / posting the Daring Baker challenge this month either!
 


I will do the challenge for myself once my oven’s back in action, though. So I’m going to post about something else which excited me – fresh dates! Dates, dates and moredates of all kinds tend to take over the market here during the holy month of Ramadan/Ramzan. Devout muslims break their daily fast with dates during this period of fasting.I’ve seen the common dark brown and sticky variety or the less common wrinkled light brown dry and chewy kind, but this year, for the first time, I saw fresh dates still on the vine.

Fresh Barhi dates are a yellow in colour and if they’re not ripe, they will taste astringent. When they start ripening they’re crunchy and just sweet a bit like apple. As they ripen they become sweeter and when they’re really ripe they look a little wrinkled and the pulp is very soft, squishy and honey sweet. There is also a red variety of fresh dates, and how dates ripen can differ depending on variety.



 

I liked eating these yellow dates off the stem, but my husband and daughter didn’t for some reason. All the better for me! So I thought maybe I could cook/ bake with them. I baked them in a crumble and a cake, put some in salads, and even tried a coconut chutney with it. I wanted to experiment a little more but Ramadan/ Ramzan was over and the dates disappeared suddenly as if they had never been here in the first place. So, I will have to wait for another year to experiment and I will.



 

For now, here’s the crumble I made with the fresh dates and apple. A crumble is a essentially a fruit-based dessert with a streusel/ crumbly topping (hence the name) and usually served as a warm dessert with ice-cream, cream or custard on the side. Think of it as a healthier version of a pie and a wonderful way to showcase seasonal fruit.



 

This crumble is a healthier version and uses oil instead of butter, and not much at that. With lots of fruit, almonds and oats, this is much lighter and rich in fibre too. A perfect everyday sort of dessert that’s easy to make too. If you cannot find fresh dates, feel free to substitute that with more apple or another fruit of your choice. You can serve it with ice-cream, some cream or custard. Vanilla ice-cream would be best, but we found the crumble pretty good with Belgian chocolate ice-cream too. 

Fresh Dates & Apple Crumble
 

Ingredients:
 
3 largish apples (I used Golden Delicious)
 
3/4 cup fresh dates
1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice, preferable fresh
1/4 cup brown sugar
A pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise flower 

For the crumble: 

1/3 cup rolled oats
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp freshly grated coconut
Ice-cream, cream or custard, to serve

 

Method:
 
Peel, core and chop the apples. Pit the dates and quarter them lengthwise.  Put both the chopped apples and dates along with the orange juice, salt, cinnamon stick and star anise in a pan and bring it to boil. Turn down the heat, and simmer until the fruit is cooked and tender but not mushy.
Discard the cinnamon stick and star anise and divide the fruit equally between four oven-proof dishes.
In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the crumble and sprinkle over the fruit. Bake the dates and apple crumble at 180C (350C) for 8 to 10 minutes.
Serve with cream or vanilla ice-cream. This recipe serves 4.
 
 
 
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September 19, 2012

Pineapple Pistachio Cookies With a Tangy Sugar Glaze

F
or a long time, I had a love-hate relationship with pineapples. To be honest it was more of hate than love. For some strange reason, pineapples used to give me an itchy throat as a child. I couldn’t even drink pineapple juice for the same reason. So there was no way you could get me to eat pineapple, even if you presented it to me in something I really liked.
If you get an itch on your skin you can scratch it. You might go overboard and scratch the heck out of your itch but at least, you have the satisfaction of having scratched your itch. Now imagine having to live with an itch that’s somewhere deep in your throat that you cannot reach……….
If you live in countries in the tropics, as I always have, you’ll know that there are going to be pineapples around some of the time and they will tempt you with their aroma, itch notwithstanding. At some point I finally gave into the temptation, only to discover that pineapples no longer made my throat itch!



 

Talking about the aroma of ripening pineapples, it one of the best ways to evaluate whether your pineapple is likely to be sour or sweet. Once you’ve picked out a good looking fruit, take a sniff at it. If you get a heavenly, fruity whiff then your pineapple is most likely to be perfect. If you cannot get much of an aroma, it might be unripe, possibly sour or else you’ve got a cold! And if it smells overly fruity and fermented then you do not want to spend your money on it.



 

People keep talking about what to do when life gives you lemons, oranges, apples or whatever. But what do you do when life hasn’t given you pineapples and you want to make something with pineapple? You go to Plan B and use tinned/ canned pineapple!  
I don’t really advocate processed foods, but I have to admit they do save the day occasionally and there’s no harm in using the mildly processed ones once in a while. I would prefer to use fresh pineapple if I could get it, because sitting in a can of sugar syrup seems to make pineapples lose much of their fruity flavour.



 

I’ve had this pineapple cookie project on the backburner for a while now ever since I saw some pineapple filled ones in some cookie book. However I wanted to make some cookies of my own and not follow the recipe from the book.
I opened a can of pineapple slices (use the bits or crushed pineapple if you can find them), and after much thought decided that pistachios and ginger would be nice flavours to have in a pineapple cookie. Some butter, brown sugar, oats and flour, an egg and some leavening power and I had a really nice cakey cookie that wasn’t very sweet. That’s right; this isn’t your average crunchy, chewy type of cookie.



 

So I made a simple lemony sugar glaze topped with candied ginger to my cookies, which made eating one of these cookies feel like have a little bite of a spiced and tangy frosted cake in cookie form. Now if you are a traditionalist and don’t think this is a cookie, then give it another name but try it out. Chances are you will like it. I’m not a cookie lover and I liked them. I might be biased since I made them, so don’t take my word. Just make some and then decide for yourself!
 
Pineapple Pistachio Cookies With a Tangy Sugar Glaze
 
 

Ingredients:
 

For the cookies:
 

1 can pineapple tidbits or slices

(you will need 2/3 cup drained pineapple, crushed/ very small pieces)*

100gm butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp pineapple extract

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
 

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cup icing sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

Couple of tbsps of lemon juice
 

Some finely chopped candied ginger to decorate cookies

 

Method:
 

*I used pineapple slices, so I drained them really well, then chopped them and ran them a couple of times in my blender to crush them. Don’t overdo this or you will have a purée. The idea is to just crush them so they lend texture to your cookie. If there is visible liquid in your crushed pineapple, drain it once more. Your crushed pineapple should be moist, so don’t press out all the sugar syrup.
Put the butter and brown sugar in a bowl and whisk really well till fluffy. Add the egg, pineapple and vanilla extracts and mix well.
In another bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir it into the creamed mixture.  Fold in the chopped pistachios.
Drop teaspoonsful of the batter, a little apart, on lightly greased baking sheets and bake at 165C (325F) for about 15 to 20 minutes or till the cookies are golden brown. Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer them to racks to cool completely.
To make the sugar glaze, put the icing sugar, and the lemon zest in a small bowl. Add just enough lemon juice to make a very thick glaze. Mix well with a spoon.
Once the cookies have cooled down, spoon a little sugar glaze on each and decorate with candied ginger. Leave till the glaze sets and serve. Otherwise store them at room temperature in airtight containers.
This recipe makes 30 to 36 cookies.
 
Del Monte and IndiBlogger have tied up to host the Del Monte Blogger Recipe Carnival and the Pineapple Pisatchio Cookies of mine are going there.
And my black and white photgraph of the cookies goes to Haalo of Cook Almost Anything who is hosting the 50th edition of Susan's Black & White Wednesdays
 
 
 
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September 14, 2012

Vegetarian Burgers From Scratch : Brioche Style Burger Buns, Vegetable-Black Eyed Bean Patties & Oven Baked Rosemary-Potato Wedges

W
e live in a place that is a bit of a tourist haven so you’ll find a lot of activities here are tourist oriented. This includes restaurants and eateries so now we can boast of names well known around the world including Subway, Dominos Pizza, KFC, Baskin & Robbins. For some reason, McDonalds haven’t made an appearance here so far, not that I’m complaining.
I know one person who would love to see a McDonalds come to Goa, and that’s my daughter. She’s pretty much into eating healthy but loves the occasional “junk food” treat. However, most such places here do not offer that many vegetarian options, and those that do aren’t all that great and are probably “junk” food because they only deserve to be junked and are a waste of good money!
I remember when Akshaya was a little over 4 and saw the McDonald advertisements on television for the first time. She wasn’t really interested in the food but she wanted the plastic toys they were giving away for free with every meal. “Collect the whole set” the ad said, and seeing my daughter’s reaction, I could see the ads were getting through to their target audience!
Soon after that we were in Portugal for a few months and on a visit to Lisbon, we came across a “Big M”. I still remember the disappointment on Akshaya’s face when she found out that they didn’t serve any vegetarian food at this McDonalds. Even the fries were cooked in animal fat!
All we could do was promise her a McDonalds experience whenever we travelled to an Indian city that had one. Many months later, we visited Chennai and trust our daughter to remember “the” promise! We decided to indulge her. After all, a big city like Chennai had to have a McDonald’s somewhere.



 

After taking care of some work and shopping, we decided it would be nice to have our lunch at McDonalds. We asked our taxi driver if he could take us there, and he was clueless as he had apparently never even heard of the name and didn’t know what we were talking about!
So we started asking for directions, and we had various very good natured and helpful people point us in all directions telling us we weren’t very far from McDonalds.
To cut a long story short, we spent a couple of hours in heavy traffic looking for a McDonalds which, as it finally turned out, Chennai never had! That quest ended with one very dejected little kid and three very tired and hungry people getting off at the first decent restaurant desperate for their lunch.



 
Akshaya has since eaten quite a few McDonald meals in other cities she has visited, including Chennai which now has them. I have come to the conclusion that while it is fun to eat out, a lot of the time, many of these treats are better prepared at home. Most of them can be made easily, and even if they take a bit of time and effort, things become easier with a little planning ahead.
Take the case of burgers. It doesn’t take much time to prepare the patties and you can always do them ahead and freeze them for use later. Then all you need are burger buns, some vegetables and cheese or whatever you choose to put in your burgers. They’re so much healthier and if you choose carefully, they actually make for a balanced meal that everyone loves.





I get pretty good burger buns at the local bakery/ store so it doesn’t make sense to make them at home. But this time I decided to make some from scratch, just for the fun of it. It’s another matter that I like to bake bread, and had seen a recipe for what is supposed to be the best burger bun out there. Never having eaten it, I wouldn’t know, but I was willing to make it to see if this bun was indeed worth the attention is got. Best, I have no idea but I can tell you that thebun baked by Hidefumi Kubota at the Comme Ça is really good.
It is a light brioche bun made in the style of brioche with some butter and egg and this makes all the difference. I made mine with a bit of oatmeal flour, but you can go ahead and use all regular flour like the original recipe suggests.
Having decided to make my vegetable burgers from scratch I decided to make them as “healthy” as I could. For my burger patties, I used black eyed beans and rolled oats along with mashed vegetables.
And I baked some potato wedges in the oven instead of the usual deep-fried finger chips/ fries. These wedges are seasoned with herbs and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.






Here is what gives the baked potato wedge its crunch. First of all, soak the raw potato wedges in cold water for about 15 minutes and discard the water. This ensures that some of the starch gets out of the potato. You can do this twice, but I do it only once and find it’s more than enough. The other thing to do is to par-boil the potato wedges. Drain the water and then pat the wedges dry. This makes the wedges crisp up on the edges very nicely. And the best part is that the crunch remains even after they’ve cooled down a couple of hours later (if they last that long).




"The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger" according to Chris O'Brien, but with this burger I can promise you that the journey would probably take at least four times longer!
 

Brioche Style Burger Buns

“It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun.”
- Ray Kroc, creator of the McDonald's franchise 
 
(Adapted from The New York Times)
 

Ingredients:
 

1/4 cup warm milk

 2 tsp active dry yeast

 2 tbsp honey

3/4 to 1 cup warm water

1 egg

 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

 3/4 cup fine oatmeal flour*

 1 1/2 tsp salt

25 gm unsalted butter, softened

Some milk to brush over the buns

 Black and white sesame seeds (optional)

 

Method: 

*Just run about a cup of rolled (or quick) oats in the chutney jar of your mixer/ grinder to a fine powder. If it is coarse, your burger buns will be a little dense.
In a bowl, very lightly whisk together 3/4 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and honey. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg and keep aside.
You can knead the dough by hand, but I always take the easier route if it gives me the same results so I used my food processor with the kneading blade.
Put the flours, salt and the butter into the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times till it resembles crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and egg to this and pulse on low speed till the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will be sticky like brioche dough.
If you find it too sticky to knead in the processor, once the dough comes together take it out, and knead on a floured work surface.
Knead by scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. You want the dough to remain slightly tacky, so resist adding more flour as you will end up with tough, chewy buns.
Shape dough into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl turning it to coat well. Cover, and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. This should take from 1 to 2 hours.
Oil a baking sheet (or two, as required) or line with parchment paper. Using a dough scraper, divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Gently roll each one into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.
Lightly brush some milk over the buns and sprinkle the sesame seeds over them. Place a shallow pan of water at the bottom of the oven when setting it to pre-heat. Bake at 200C (400F) for about 20 to 25 minutes or till the buns turn golden brown. Cool on a rack.

 

Vegetable-Black Eyed Bean Patties

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”
- Orson Welles 
 

Ingredients:
 

1 tbsp oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1/2 tsp garlic paste

 1 large tomato, deseeded and pulp removed, finely chopped

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

 1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)

1 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup mashed cooked vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, beans, green peas)

 1 cup cooked black eyed beans, mashed

Salt to taste

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 cup breadcrumbs 

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

 

Method:  

Heat the oil in a wok/ pan and sauté the onion and garlic paste till the onions become soft and raw smell of garlic disappears. Add the tomatoes and cook till soft. Now add the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli powders. Sauté for another minute and then add the mashed potatoes, vegetables and the black eyed beans. Salt to taste, and mix well. Take off the heat and let it cool.
Once cooled, add the oats, coriander leaves and enough breadcrumbs (if not all) and mix with your hands so that the mixture is thick enough to shape into balls that will hold their shape. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions, shape into balls and flatten into neat patties. You might want to lightly oil your palms if the mixture tends to stick to your palms.
Refrigerate them for an hour and then fry/ brown them in a skillet with a couple of table spoons of oil. Alternately, you can brush both sides of the patties with a little oil and brown them under/ on the grill.
Use these patties in burger or else serve them as cutlets for a snack with a little Indian chickpea vermicelli and sauce on the side.  

 

Oven Baked Crunchy Rosemary-Potato Wedges

"For me, a plain baked potato is the most delicious one....It is soothing and enough." 
- M.F.K. Fisher 
 

Ingredients:
 

4 large potatoes

2 1/2 tbsp olive oil

3/4 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp garlic paste

Salt and freshly crushed black pepper to taste

2 tbsp fresh rosemary (or less if using dried)
 

Method:  

Scrub the potatoes well and cut them into wedges. Soak them in cold water for 15 minutes and then drain the water. Parboil them or cook them in the microwave till they’re half cooked. Discard the water and pat the potato wedges dry.
Grease a baking sheet with one tablespoon of oil. In a bowl, put the remaining 1 1/2 tbsp of oil, garlic paste, pepper, salt, and cumin powder. Mix well and then add the par-boiled potato wedges to this and toss till well coated.
Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake at 220C (425F) for about 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and using a spatula turn the wedges over. Return them to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes or so till the wedges start crisping and browning at the edges.
 
Take them out and season with the rosemary. Toss the wedges to coat them well. Give in to the temptation to pop one into your mouth straight out of the oven, at your own risk and if you’re willing to suffer burnt taste buds! Let them cool a bit and serve on the side with burgers, or perhaps with a dip or ketchup.
This recipe serves 4, so you would need to double the recipe for more.
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September 6, 2012

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

L
ast month I had promised that I would have an exciting theme for this month’s exercise. I’m sorry but I have to postpone that particular theme to the next month, because I haven’t been able to take the photographs for it as yet. It’s a theme that will require a decent amount of light, and given the way it has been pouring here this past month, good light is something I haven’t had much of. Hopefully this month the sun should finally make its presence felt and I will be able to take those pictures!
That’s not to say this month’s theme is not fun. It might be a little more challenging because you will have find willing models to pose for you, since this month’s theme is about “adding some life” to your food photography.
Most of us, me included, tend to take photographs of food in well thought out (and sometimes not so well thought out!) settings, table ware and props. However introducing a bit of life or a human element can take them to a different level, making  them more appealing and filled with warmth as compared to “still life” sort of food photography which is the norm.
I haven’t taken too many of these simply because my two readily available models though quite obliging, are not always around or free to pose and help me out when I ‘m usually taking my photographs. Sometimes I think it’s too much of a coincidence that it is when I need them they suddenly seem to get very busy with other things which must be done just then!
I once remember reading a comment someone left on a blog a couple of years back. It was a discussion about food photography and the lady who left the comment said she wasn’t much of a fan of food photographs where everything was styled/ arranged as it looked very unnatural to her. I believe the phrase she used was "staged food photography".
I thought she had a somewhat valid point there, even though different styles appeal to different people. I know that I don’t like those stock photographs where a person (or people) look very posed, with a smile showing perfect teeth and looking like they were trying to sell you some food. Yet this is good photography and there is a market for it like in magazines and advertisements.


 
Fresh Strawberries
(Taken with a 50mm f/1.8 lens at aperture – f/ 3.2, shutterspeed – 1/25s and ISO – 200)


What I’m talking about photographs where the food is the main focus,  with a suggestion of human presence in the photograph.  Imagine a photograph where a steaming hot cup of coffee/ tea is on the table and another where the cup is in someone’s hand suggesting it is about to be drunk. To my mind, the second situation lends a more personal feel which has an appeal that the first one doesn’t. Now this appeal might not be there in every situation in food photography, but it is a style of food photography that is worth exploring.

So this month’s theme is about adding some “life” to your food photographs and this involves taking photographs where food is the main focus of the photograph, with a human element that doesn’t distract from the food. So spend a little time thinking how you could do this and then do your photography. Consider situations where someone is eating a cookie, taking a bite of cake or a fruit, pouring out tea/ coffee/ milk/ juice, pouring honey over pancakes or waffles, rolling our pastry or dough, etc.
 

Eating Kulfi (Indian Ice-cream) At The Fair
(Taken with a 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens at aperture – f/ 5.6, shutterspeed – 1/640s and ISO – 400)
This was taken some time back when my daughter and I went to visit a yearly exhibition-cum-fair of traditional Indian crafts, folk dances and food. This Kulfi (a creamy and milky Indian ice-cream) and Kachoris (a stuffed deep-fried pastry) are a must-do for us.

 
Beaten Rice Flake Cookies
(Taken with a 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens at aperture – f/ 5.6, shutterspeed – 3.2s and ISO – 100)
A baking experiment that turned out nice but not quite the way I wanted them to be – making cookies with beaten rice flakes (aval/ poha). They need to be improved upon and the recipe needs some more tweaking…..
 

Green Amaranth Leaves
(Taken with a 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS lens at aperture – f/ 5.0, shutterspeed – 1/80s and ISO – 200)
No, these weren’t a peace offering nor did he bring them in place of flowers! He was just obliging enough to spend a part of the morning holding them for me till I found the “right” angle to shoot these amaranth leaves. 

 

What You Have To Do To Join In: 
 

1.          Take one (or more if you would like to do so) of any food of your choice but there must be a clear presence of some human element in your photograph. Please put some thought into your composition and angle of shooting so that the food is the focus of your compositon and the human element complements it. As always, 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.   I see some people posting, “this photograph is for the photography exercise at …………..” and that’s about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the purpose of this series is to also share how you composed and shot your photograph so others could perhaps learn from you.  

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 usual 3 week period for doing this exercise stands so the deadline for this exercise shall be the 30th of September, 2012. I’m looking forward to seeing all your photographs. Happy shooting!

May I request you all to please, please visit fellow photographers involved in this exercise and give them your feedback and criticism (as you see it) because this is one more way of improving ones skills and craft. You are most welcome to critique my photographs as well.
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. 

On an aside, I just wanted to mention that I have been approached to conduct a 2 day workshop on the Basics of Food Photography. The workshop would be sometime in mid-late November at Chennai, and limited to a batch of 15 people.
If you would be interested in participating, please leave a comment on this post or e-mail me at aparna(at)mydiversekitche(dot)com for further details. Thanks.


Other Exercises In This Series:


Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF

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


Exercises In Food Photography #3 : Overhead Food Shots – A View From Above

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


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