Nutmeg Sweet Potato Stacks

Nutmeg Thyme Sweet Potato StacksBuy 439

The other day Pinterest acquainted me with the concept of a potato stack. I was immediately intrigued by the visual appeal of these arrangements and had to try making some myself. A potato stack consists of super-thin (you need a mandoline for this) potato slices brushed with oil and seasonings and baked inside the cups of a muffin pan until soft in the middle and crispy on the outside. For the recipe here I chose sweet potatoes and flavored them with freshly grated nutmeg, fresh thyme and some salt. If you’re tired of the more traditional holiday sweet potato side dishes this is a very pretty alternative.

Nutmeg Sweet Potato Stacks
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Peel the sweet potato and slice into very thin discs using a mandoline.
  3. In a bowl, mix oil, nutmeg, thyme and salt.
  4. Brush the cups of a muffin pan with oil.
  5. Stack the potato slices on top of one another into the muffin pan, lightly brushing every second slice with the oil mix.
  6. Bake the stacks until lightly browned on the edges, 25 to 30 minutes.

Food Photography and Styling: I had trouble thinking of any larger context to show these stacks in so I decided to go very close and let the food speak for itself. The thyme sprigs helped create a focal point and their color complemented the bright orange well. I laid my curved fork on the plate next to them to keep the plate from looking too naked and also to help guide the viewer’s eye into the frame. I again lit the set straight from the side with one of my Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 strobes and a Hensel Ultra IV Softbox – 35×58″ (90x150cm).

Lens: I took this photo with my 105mm f2.8 NIKKOR macro lens. You can find the current version of this lens through the following link (I use an older version that is no longer being sold): AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens.

Camera: I used my Nikon D600 to take this photo. You can find the current version of this camera through the following link: Nikon D610 DSLR Camera.

 

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Prop Talk – Beer

It’s prop talk time! (For those of you who are new to this blog: once a month I write a post about some of my favorite food photography props. You can see all previous prop talk installments by clicking the Prop Talk! tab in the menu at the top).

Today’s post is about beer. Beer is a wonderful prop. It can also be a subject, of course, but I’ve only ever photographed it as a prop, meaning as a supporting character in the background, not as the star of the photo. What I love about beer is the action and immediacy that it adds to an image. When you see beer with a nice topping of foam you know someone must have just been there to pour it. That tiny cue breathes life into an image in a way that few other props manage to accomplish (one exception to that is steam, which I will talk about next month).

Beer isn’t easy to handle though. For once, you have to be ready because the foam disappears quickly. I always have my shutter remote control in one hand, a freshly opened beer bottle in the other and start to snap away as soon as I pour. It usually takes a few tries to get it the way I want it so I always keep a large empty glass next to the set to pour “used” beer into.

Another crucial aspect is the color of the beer. Some beers are so pale they look thin and almost colorless in a photo. To avoid that I use fairly dark beers (New Castle Brown Ale is my favorite). If you want to give the shot extra action appeal you can fill only part of the glass to make it look as if someone had just drunk half of it. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to drink too much “used” beer while still in the process of shooting, it will impact your photographic performance. :)

Below are a few examples of how I’ve used beer as a prop:

BBQ Ribs
Buy 147
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich
Buy 352
 
Chipotle Shredded Pork with Raspberry Habanero Jam
Buy 298
 

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tarragon and Bourbon Caramelized Shallots

Grilled Cheese SandwichBuy 435

This sandwich is a step up from the classic plain grilled cheese but it’s still a very down to earth meal. Fresh tarragon, a mix of ground yellow mustard seeds and cheddar cheese and caramelized Bourbon shallots stuffed between two slices of sourdough. Fry it on both sides and you’re done. Quick, very easy and delicious!

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tarragon and Bourbon Caramelized Shallots
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 3 sandwiches
Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 shallots, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Bourbon
  • 6 slices firm white sourdough bread
  • softened butter
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds, ground
  • 30 tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
Instructions:
  1. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a pan.
  2. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat until brown, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the Bourbon to the shallots and cook for another minute, then take the pan off the heat and set aside.
  4. Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread.
  5. Turn the slices upside down, sprinkle the tarragon on the non-buttered side.
  6. Mix the cheese and the mustard seeds together in a bowl.
  7. Sprinkle the cheese/mustard seed mix onto the tarragon.
  8. Evenly divide the shallots on top of the cheese.
  9. Top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of buttered bread, keeping the buttered side on the outside.
  10. Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat for 3 minutes.
  11. Fry each sandwich on both sides until the cheese has melted and the outsides of the bread are browned.

Food Photography and Styling: Grilled cheese doesn’t wait for any photographer so I made sure to adjust the lighting and all the props beforehand with two pieces of dry bread as a stand-in. I sliced the sandwich carefully with a serrated bread knife so as to not squoosh the bread together and then worked fast and took the final exposure within about a minute of putting the sandwich on the set. (And even during that one minute the stack had already lost some height). I observed the rule of thirds and placed the top sandwich’s cheese and onion layer along the lower dividing line of the frame and the browned shallot that I focused my lens on on an intersection point.

Lens: I took this photo with my 105mm f2.8 NIKKOR macro lens. You can find the current version of this lens through the following link (I use an older version that is no longer being sold): AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens.

Camera: I used my Nikon D600 to take this photo. You can find the current version of this camera through the following link: Nikon D610 DSLR Camera.

 

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Paprika Chicken and Egg Noodle Casserole

Paprika Chicken and Egg Noodle CasseroleBuy 432

This casserole is based on the Hungarian “Chicken Paprikash,” a creamy dish prepared with chicken, egg noodles and flavored with paprika. My husband, Dan, came up this recipe. He is a stellar cook but usually doesn’t have much time for it so he mostly just steps in when I need a break from the kitchen. The other day I was all “cooked out” so he made this delicious meal for us. It’s an adaptation from this cooks.com recipe and blends the creaminess of some sour cream with crunchy celery, flavorful oyster and shiitake mushrooms and thyme and a hint of spice from the Hungarian paprika. Great comforting food for cold weather.

Paprika Chicken and Egg Noodle Casserole
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 3-4
Ingredients:
  • 1 large or 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (they are easiest to cut when they are still a little frozen)
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces dried egg noodles
  • ⅔ cup sour cream
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika*
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Put chicken, celery, onion and broth in a pot, bring to a boil, cover, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and egg noodles to the pot, stir well and continue to simmer with the lid on until the noodles are soft (5 – 7 minutes).
  4. Remove the lid, turn the heat to high and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.
  5. Turn the heat off, stir in the sour cream, pepper, paprika and thyme.
  6. Transfer into an 11" x 7" baking pan, sprinkle with the cheese and bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
  7. Turn on the broiler and brown the cheese for a minute or two.

Food Photography and Styling: I decided to shoot this casserole dish on my cold, blue/gray zinc surface because I thought that color complemented the yellow/brown food best. Luckily I found a blue-ish napkin in my prop closet that I could use to put a rectangular frame around the casserole pan. I got the baking dish from the World Market recently and I like its curved handles and the way it bulges nicely on the sides (I don’t like long and skinny baking pans). It’s often very difficult to match whites but the salt and pepper shaker were close enough in color to the pan to work nicely. I again used one of my Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 strobes with a Hensel Ultra IV Softbox – 35×58″ (90x150cm) to the back and left of the set.

 

Lens: I took this photo with my 105mm f2.8 NIKKOR macro lens. You can find the current version of this lens through the following link (I use an older version that is no longer being sold): AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens.

Camera: I used my Nikon D600 to take this photo. You can find the current version of this camera through the following link: Nikon D610 DSLR Camera.

 

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