Ras el Hanout–Spiced Chicken and Pineapple Fajitas with Pico de Gallo

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: The Moroccan ras el hanout–spiced chicken has a delicious and complex flavor that works perfectly with the charred bell pepper, the juicy pineapple and the spicy pico de gallo. The recipe is quick, easy and perfect for busy weeknights because the chicken can sit in the marinade throughout the day and will be flavorful, very tender and ready for the grill pan or skillet by dinnertime.


Ras el hanout-spiced chicken and pineapple fajita recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I suppose you could call this recipe a Mexican-Moroccan fusion dish. It has all the elements  of a traditional fajita, like bell pepper and spicy, fresh pico de gallo (and pineapple for extra juici- and sweetness) but the ras el hanout-spiced chicken adds a north African flavor bent as well. I used my homemade ras el hanout spice mix made with cinnamon, cumin, clove, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, fenugreek and fennel seeds and it goes really well with the rest of the flavors and makes these fajitas special.

I mixed the spices into a yogurt marinade not only to flavor but also to tenderize the meat. I found that really important because I think chicken breast meat can be really tough otherwise. (It’s actually the same marinade I used for this Caesar salad the other day). The chicken should marinate for eight to ten hours so it’s perfect to throw it in in the morning and cook it at dinnertime. The preparation is very straightforward, you just sear the meat, the vegetables and the fruit on a grill pan or a cast iron skillet and 30 minutes later dinner is served! 

Ras el Hanout Spiced-Chicken and Pineapple Fajitas with Pico de Gallo
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
For the chicken:
  • 1 large or two small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout (here is a ras el hanout recipe if you want to make your own)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
For the pico de gallo:
  • half a small red onion
  • 3 Roma tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro
  • 1 serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed (if you want it spicier, leave some of the ribs and seeds in)
  • lime juice to taste
  • salt to taste
For the fajitas:
  • half a red bell pepper
  • half a green bell pepper
  • 4 slices pineapple (fresh or out of a can)
  • flour or corn tortillas
Instructions:
For the chicken:
  1. Cut the chicken breast(s) into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Whisk yogurt, ras el hanout, salt and lemon juice together in a bowl.
  3. Mix in the chicken cubes and marinate in the fridge for 8–10 hours.
For the pico de gallo:
  1. Peel and dice the red onion.
  2. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes, then dice them.
  3. Dice the serrano pepper.
  4. Mix all ingredients together and season with lime juice and salt.
For the fajitas:
  1. Slice the peppers, set aside.
  2. Drain the pineapple if using canned pineapple. Set aside.
  3. Shake the marinade off the chicken, then grill on a grill pan or a skillet.
  4. Grill the peppers and the pineapple.
  5. Warm the tortillas and fill with the chicken, pepper and pineapple.
  6. Serve with pico de gallo.

Food Photography and Styling: I’ve had this skillet for a long time and had only used it once in a photo years and years ago and then never again because I really didn’t like the look of the long, oval shape. And the truth is I’m actually still not quite comfortable with that, I wish the skillet were rounder and more plump so to speak but it’s the only fajita skillet I have so I used it here.

Since I always find it awkward to try to fit tortillas into a composition I grilled and then folded them up here so that I could stick them in between the skillet and the salsa rather than having them sitting around open somewhere in the composition as large, round yellow/white shapes. To make the photo look fresh and summery I used my through-the-doorframe lighting technique with only a very thin white curtain to create fairly hard shadows that looked like late afternoon outdoor light to me. 
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Behind the Scenes – How I Monetize This Blog

Hello, hello my web friends! I’m back with another behind the scenes post and this time it’s a behind the scenes of food blogging rather than food photography.

I’ve gotten several questions recently about whether I get anything out of this blog other than the fun of creating it and the fun of connecting with other food and photography lovers and the answer is yes, this blog does produce money and I thought I’d write a post for you that explains how.

So if you want to learn about blog monetization because you’re thinking about starting a blog yourself or if you maybe just find it interesting to look behind the curtain of an online business this post is for you. For all of you who come here strictly for the recipes and photography, I’ll be back with more of that next week! :)

So, let’s get to it. I make money with this blog in four different ways:

Blog Monetization

 

1) Photo Licensing Sales. I sell licenses to all of my photos to photo buyers (magazine editors mostly) who want to use them in their publications. Buyers can either use the buy button that I have underneath each photo or they contact me and I e-mail them the photo along with an invoice. 

Selling photo licenses

 

2) Affiliate Sales. I am an Amazon affiliate (also sometimes called associate). What that means is this: when you click on a link on this blog that directs to an Amazon product page (like the equipment links on my FAQ page) and if you then buy something (anything) on Amazon during the next 24 hours I get a commission of a few percent. The cost to you is the same and, of course, this is anonymous, I can see what was bought but not who bought it.

I also have an Amazon link in my sidebar and that link works in the same way. If you click on that sidebar link you’ll be taken to the Amazon homepage and when you buy something there within 24 hours of clicking on the link, I’ll get the commission.

Thank you all so much for using that link, I really appreciate your support!! <3

Amazon Affiliate Link

 

3) Product Sales. By product I mean the eBook and the two Photoshop video courses that I’ve created and that I am currently selling. You can find them in my sidebar or on my store page. I am planning on producing more of my own products in the future but for now I have those three. 

The Spice Train Products

 

4) Business Advertisement. My blog is an advertisement for my food photography business (granted that’s an indirect way of monetization). The blog is basically a living portfolio where I showcase my photos and that can lead to food photography assignment work. I have a static portfolio website as well but because the blog constantly gets “refreshed” I find it to be very useful as a tool that attracts the attention of potential clients.

 

Now, what I currently don’t do is run network ads. Network ads are advertisements that are served by a network and they appear in the sidebar of a blog, in the header or footer or sometimes in the middle of a blog post or on top of a photo. A blogger who runs network ads gets paid to do so by the ad network.

The reason why I don’t run network ads is two-fold: 1) they slow down the load time of a blog tremendously. And, more importantly 2) the blog owner (me) has almost no control over what ad is being shown. I don’t want to advertise for companies and products (or even persons, such as political candidates) that I don’t like and that’s the main reason why I removed all network ads from The Spice Train about a year or so ago. I haven’t missed them and I’m sure you haven’t either. ;)

And that is it! I hope some of you find this information useful or at least interesting. :) I’ll see you back here with another recipe next week!

10-Minute Pumpkin Spice S’mores Trifles

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: This super easy s’mores trifle dessert is perfect when you want to serve up the classic burnt, crunchy, gooey, melted chocolate dessert flavors but don’t have a campfire handy. It takes almost no work at all, cleanup is a breeze, and because you eat this s’more with a spoon you won’t get it all over your face.


10-minute pumpkin spice smores trifles recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Memorial day weekend is coming up and that means s’mores season is finally kicking off! S’mores are one of America’s finest inventions, in my opinion. The combination of flavors and textures is wonderful and never gets old. The one minor gripe I have with s’mores is their messiness, there is just about no way to eat them without bathing your hands, cheeks and chin in chocolate and marshmallow goo. How do you get around that? Very simple, you turn the s’more into the trifle that I have here and eat it with a spoon.

The dessert is made up of layers of crumbled graham crackers (mixed with a bit of melted butter and a smidgen of pumpkin spice), chocolate layers that consist of simple hazelnut spread (warmed up a bit to make it easier to drizzle) and marshmallow cream toasted with a torch. I got the idea for this recipe from My Baking Addiction (a blog as beautiful as it is delicious) but left out the strawberries and added the pumpkin spice (because it works great with the hazelnutty chocolate).

One thing is important when you assemble the trifle: don’t use too much chocolate or marshmallow cream because they are both very, very sweet. You want about half of each spoonful to be graham cracker crumbles. (This doesn’t come across in the photo because the marshmallow cream tends to spread to the outside of the glass and hides a lot of the graham crumbles from view).

Anyway, there you have it, a very easy, fast, cheap and delicious s’mores dessert that doesn’t get your hands (or face) dirty.


10-Minute Pumpkin Spice S'mores Trifles
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
For the graham cracker layer:
  • ⅓ cup crumbled graham crackers
  • 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
  • ⅛ teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • pinch of salt
For the chocolate layer:
  • a drizzle of hazelnut spread, warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave
For the marshmallow cream layer:
  • marshmallow cream
Instructions:
  1. Mix all the graham cracker layer ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Layer graham crackers, hazelnut spread* and then marshmallow cream* into glasses (it's easiest to pipe the marshmallow cream). Toast each layer of marshmallow cream with a torch.
Notes:
*Don't use too much hazelnut spread and marshmallow cream, both are very sweet and can very quickly become overpowering. You want at least half of each spoonful of this dessert to be graham cracker crumble.

Food Photography and Styling: To me, this dessert is all about starting the outdoors season and I thought plastic spoons would be very appropriate for that so that’s what I used. The surface is a new antique wooden board I found in an antique store this weekend and I thought it worked perfectly here. The blue provided great contrast to the brown chocolate and the rustic look added to the outdoorsy feel of the shot. As usual I used my strobe to light the set and made sure to have a lot of shadows and highlights in the scene to make it look like a sunny afternoon.

For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Herbed Roasted Cauliflower Rice with Coriander and Grilled Zucchini

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Why I Love It

Why I love it: This vegan dish is very easy and quick to make, tastes absolutely delicious and is also quite healthy with the fresh herbs, coriander, lemon juice, and vegetables. It works equally well as a warm side dish or a cold side salad and is a perfect fit for any grilled meat and seafood. Happy summer!


Herbed Roasted Cauliflower Rice with Coriander Grilled Zucchini Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Grilling season is almost here – yay! I love grilled meat and seafood and one of my favorite side dishes for anything grilled is cauliflower rice. Have you made cauliflower rice? It tastes really wonderful, has a texture very similar to actual rice but is much less dry. I absolutely love it. It’s also very easy to prepare, you just briefly pulse cauliflower florets in your food processor, toss the “rice” with olive oil and your favorite seasoning (I use ground coriander), spread it out on a baking sheet and roast it for about ten minutes. Done! In the recipe here I mixed the rice with grilled zucchini for extra texture and a bit of smokiness and fresh mint and cilantro for summery freshness. It’s a wonderful side dish that you can serve warm or cold. If you like you can also sprinkle a few chopped raisins in for a little sweetness.

Herbed Roasted Cauliflower Rice with Coriander and Grilled Zucchini
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Side
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup chopped raisins (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut the individual florets off the cauliflower and cut larger ones in half so that they are all approximately the same size.
  3. Working in batches, pulse the cauliflower florets in the food processor until they have the consistency of rice.
  4. Toss the cauliflower with the oil, the coriander and the salt and spread onto a rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Roast for 10 minutes.
  6. While the cauliflower is in the oven, thinly slice the zucchini and grill on a grill or on a grill pan.
  7. Toss the cauliflower rice with the grilled zucchini, the lemon juice and the herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. If you're adding raisins, mix them in.
  9. Serve warm as a side dish or cold as a side salad for grilled meat and seafood.

Food Photography and Styling: I wouldn’t necessarily call this side dish ugly but it is definitely visually uninteresting so I created a lot of story and atmosphere around it to support it. To me this is a summer dish so I wanted to show freshness and a grilling season/summer time feeling. I did that by putting lots of green herbs in the composition (to me green says “summer”) and since mint is an ingredient in this recipe that made overall sense as well. The lighting (as always I used my trusty strobe) is coming from a low angle and is fairly hard with lots of highlight and shadow interplay to give the photograph an outdoorsy feel.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Chai Latte Dry Spice Mix

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Why I Love ItWhy I love it: This chai latte dry spice mix takes only a few minutes to make and doesn’t require any grinding of spices. Because all ingredients are dried the mix can be kept in a jar in the cabinet and is ready for use with a simple tea strainer anytime.


Chai Latte Drink

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Dry Chai Spice Mix

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I love a good chai latte. In fact, I never even sit down at my desk in the morning any more without one in my hand; the drink gives me comfort and makes me feel ready to face the day. In case you’re not familiar with it, what we call chai latte here in the U.S. is a hot, slightly sweet drink that consists of milk and black tea flavored with a combination of spices (I use cardamom, clove, black peppercorns, ginger and cinnamon).

It’s very simple to make fresh at home and there are actually a number of different ways to do it. You can make an “instant” version – a powder of ground spices, dried milk and sugar that you stir into hot water or milk. Alternatively you can make a chai concentrate by infusing brewed tea with your mix of spices and keep that in the fridge until you’re ready to use it and then just heat it with milk.

What I do is this: I buy all my chai spices dried (but not powdered), add loose black tea to them and keep that mix in a jar in the cabinet. It keeps for a long time and when I’m ready for a chai latte I steam milk and submerge the spice/tea mix in a tea strainer in it. (If you don’t have a steamer you can certainly heat the milk in the microwave or on the stove top but I personally like the taste of steamed milk in this drink). To sweeten I use honey, it complements the warm flavors wonderfully.  

Chai Latte Dry Spice Mix
 
Author:
Recipe type: Drink
Ingredients:
  • 20 whole green cardamom pods
  • 14 whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1½ tablespoons dried cracked ginger
  • 1½ tablespoons cinnamon chips
  • 2 tablespoons loose black tea
Instructions:
  1. Add all spices to a mortar and crush very lightly with a pestle.
  2. Mix the crushed spices with the tea.
  3. Store the mix in an airtight container.
  4. To make a chai latte, add about 1 tablespoon of the mix to a tea strainer, then steam* 6 ounces of milk, drop the tea strainer into it and let it steep.
  5. Sweeten to taste with honey.
Notes:
*You can also just heat the milk on the stove top or in the microwave.

Food Photography and Styling: While delicious, this drink is a bit on the boring side as far as looks go. Its only interesting feature is the foam surface and to make that surface look nice and sparkly I lit the drink from the back. I didn’t hold my steam wand perfectly in the milk as I steamed it and that’s how I ended up with these huge bubbles you can see. But the thing is, I thought they added character so I was actually quite happy with them (even though I know a professional barista would probably scoff at them). Since the drink is brownish in color I picked a dark blue surface and dish for contrast and since the recipe is not just for the drink but also for the spice/tea mix I photographed it separately in a tea strainer to properly show the reader what it looks like.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Chai Latte Dry Spice Mix
This entry was posted in Drinks.

Almond Orange Mousse with Anise

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Why I Love ItWhy I love it: This gourmet dessert has a complex and sophisticated flavor but the recipe is very easy (foolproof really) and the preparation is quick (~20 minutes, plus about an hour of chilling).


Almond Orange Mousse with Anise Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I got the idea for this flavor combination from a biscotti recipe I saw recently. While I am not a big fan of biscotti I did like the sound of almond, orange and anise together so I used them in this dessert. It’s a very creamy, light and fluffy mousse that is a perfect finish for a gourmet dinner. I built the mousse on an egg yolk and sugar base that I flavored with orange zest, almond extract and ground anise seeds. After that I folded in whipped cream and whipped egg whites and stiffened the whole thing with gelatin. It’s a dessert that tastes like a lot of work went into it but in reality it’s very easy to make and just about impossible to mess up. I suggest you eat it by taking a bite out of an orange slice, then follow up with a spoonful of mousse and repeat.

Almond Orange Mousse with Anise
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 6
Ingredients:
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • ¾ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise
  • orange slices
  • finely chopped almonds
Instructions:
  1. Whip the two egg whites to stiff peaks. Put in the fridge.
  2. Whip the cream with 1 teaspoon sugar to stiff peaks. Put in the fridge.
  3. Add gelatin along with 3 tablespoons of cold water to a saucepan. Let sit for about 4 minutes.
  4. Whisk the egg yolks with ⅓ cup sugar, orange zest, almond extract and anise in a bowl until creamy.
  5. Heat the bloomed gelatin just until dissolved.
  6. Whisk the gelatin into the egg yolk mix.
  7. Fold in the cream.
  8. Fold in the egg whites.
  9. Cover and chill in the fridge until set (about 1 hour).
  10. Scoop the cream onto individual plates and serve with orange slices and chopped almonds.

Food Photography and Styling: I think of this dessert as very fancy so I wanted to create a modern, elegant look. The dish is my matte black candle holder and the surface is just a plain black poster board. Even though the spoon is antique I thought it worked here because of its elegant shape; I liked how its pointy tip mirrored the tip of the piece of orange slice. I “glued” the spoon in place with tacky wax, without it it kept falling over on its side. To follow the rule of thirds I made sure to place the spoon on the right vertical line that divides the frame into thirds.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Caesar Salad with Grilled Ras el Hanout Chicken

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Take the classic salad recipe up a notch by marinating chicken breasts in a delicious Moroccan ras el hanout spice and yogurt mix before grilling them to smoky perfection.

Caesar Salad Grilled Ras el Hanout Chicken

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Ras el hanout is a spice blend of North African origin and even though there are a few common ingredients among the different recipes for it, the main rule seems to be that everyone’s ras el hanout is different. I saw lots and lots of different blends, each using different spice combinations and different proportions. So for my mix here I went through my spice cabinet and basically grabbed all my favorites: cardamom, cumin, clove, coriander, peppercorns, fenugreek, fennel seeds and cinnamon.

I ground everything up in my mortar with my pestle (a good right–arm workout) and then mixed it into a yogurt-based marinade that I used for the chicken. It turned out quite tasty, it’s a new and different spin on the traditional Caesar. But you don’t have to stop there, the ras el hanout is quite versatile beyond the salad as well. I’ve used it on roasted vegetables and yesterday I even sprinkled some on my pasta and tomato sauce lunch.

Caesar Salad with Grilled Ras el Hanout Chicken
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
For the ras el hanout:
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the chicken:
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • one large or two small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite–sized cubes
For the salad dressing:
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons milk
For the salad:
  • romaine lettuce
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • chopped chives
Instructions:
For the ras el hanout:
  1. Grind all ingredients except for the cinnamon in a mortar with a pestle until finely ground.
  2. Mix in the cinnamon.
For the chicken:
  1. Whisk yogurt, ras el hanout, salt and lemon juice together in a bowl.
  2. Mix in the chicken cubes and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  3. Shake the marinade off the chicken, then grill on a grill pan on the stove or on a grill (skewer the cubes if using a grill).
For the salad dressing:
  1. Whisk all ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Keep in the fridge until you use it.
For the salad:
  1. Put lettuce on plates, top with chicken and Parmesan and serve with dressing and a sprinkle of chives.

Food Photography and Styling: Styling salads is really difficult in my experience and one of the things I have learned over time is that it’s best to just let the lettuce fall naturally and then adjust. Placing every leaf on the plate with intent ends up looking terribly staged. So for this photo I grabbed a bunch of freshly cut lettuce and dropped it on the plate from a few inches up. I did that a few times until I thought it looked natural and inviting.

My new marble tile became the surface for this shot because I could not think of ANY other surface that would have worked with the romaine shade of green… To make the set look less boring I added a drop of salad dressing next to the creamer on the tile. (I actually started by trying to make a trail of several drops but that turned out to be impossible to do by myself, I wasn’t fast enough back up the ladder with my camera to take the shot before the drops had spread out and run into each other. Sometimes it would be nice to have an assistant :)).
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Ginger Cardamom Raspberry Jam with Yogurt and Toasted Hazelnuts

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The tried-and-tested yogurt, fruit and nuts breakfast gets an update with this easy ginger cardamom raspberry jam and fragrant, toasted hazelnuts. Happy morning! :)

Ginger Cardamom Raspberry Jam with Yogurt and Toasted Hazelnuts

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

What I love about this breakfast is that all three components can be made ahead of time so unless you’re in the mood, you don’t have to put in any effort in the morning (something that certainly appeals to me).

I’ve already used the jam in several recipes here (namely the baked brie and these Linzer cookies) and it’s so versatile that I’m sure this is not the last time you see it. Instead of sugar I used agave syrup this time just because I really like it, I find it much less harsh than white sugar.

Ginger Cardamom Raspberry Jam with Yogurt and Toasted Hazelnuts
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup whole hazelnuts
  • 6 ounces frozen raspberries
  • 3 tablespoons agave syrup
  • ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spread the whole nuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven until dark brown (15 to 20 minutes).
  3. While the nuts are in the oven, make the jam.
  4. Add frozen raspberries, agave syrup and cornstarch to a saucepan and start to cook on medium heat, stirring until everything is combined.
  5. Once the raspberries have thawed add the ginger and the cardamom.
  6. Cook until the fruit is completely broken down and the jam thickened (about 10 minutes).
  7. Let cool.
  8. Chop the hazelnuts and serve in jars or bowls along with yogurt and jam.

Food Photography and Styling: I was going for a bright spring morning feel here and used minimal diffusion to get that look. I set a few whole hazelnuts on the “tablecloth” (just a large linen napkin) to tell the viewer that that’s what the chopped nuts are (and also because I find whole hazelnuts to be very pretty). The milk glass and bottle fit with the overall atmosphere and kept the background from looking too empty. To follow the rule of thirds I set the yogurt jar on an intersection point and let the tallest prop (the milk bottle) touch the upper horizontal dividing line.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.