30 November 2010

Choc Chip and Hazelnut Biscuits

These went down a real treat in the office. Based on a plain biscuit recipe from the Dairy Cookbook, I added chopped roasted hazelnuts and chocolate chips.

Makes about 30 biscuits

225g self raising flour
pinch of salt
150g butter
100g caster sugar (I used unrefined)
75g chocolate chips (plain or milk - your choice)
65g chopped roasted hazelnuts
½ tsp vanilla essence
beaten egg to mix

1. Sieve flour and salt into a bowl.
2. Rub in butter (I use the food processor for this - it's easier on the hands and a lot quicker).
3. Stir in the sugar, nuts and chocolate chips.
4. Add the vanilla, then enough beaten egg to make a stiff dough.
5. Turn the mixture out onto a floured work top and knead until smooth.
6. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
7. Roll out the dough thinly and using a 5cm biscuit cutter, cut into rounds.
8. Place on  silicone paper on a baking tray, leaving enough room for them to spread. Prick with a fork and bake for 10 - 15 minutes at 180°c, Gas mark 4 or until pale gold.

My baking tray takes 12 biscuits. Be prepared to cook three batches.

The Photograph
I was thinking how to make a plate of biscuits look interesting and came up with this idea using limited depth of field and the mug in the background. The original shot was wider and I tried to include steam from the mug but I couldn't make it work. (that's a another project entirely). I cropped very close. The reflections are from a sheet of clear acrylic placed on top of the the seamless black cotton backdrop. The lighting is very simple, the 60cm soft box above the table with a silver reflector above the lens lifting the shadows.below the plate. 

29 November 2010

Salmon Tagliatelle with Parsley and Lemon

This is a quick supper for one or two. The recipe is for one generous serving which I usually cook  when I have been working late. I prepare it with tagliatelle but it works well with penne rigata. liguine or spaghetti.

1 Serving (you can increase the quantities in proportion for more servings)

For the sauce:
1 tbsp plain flour
15g butter
225ml milk
½ tbsp lemon juice
1tsp grated lemon zest
1½ tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and ground black pepper to taste

A 125g fillet is enough for one. Cut the raw fish into cubes.

50 - 75g per person cooked according to the instructions on the packet. I usually add a tablespoon of olive oil to the boiling water to prevent  the pasta from sticking.

To make the sauce by the quick method: (You can do this in the time it takes to boil up the water and cook the pasta)

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over gentle heat.
2. Pour in the milk and add the flour.
3. Using a balloon whisk, stir the sauce constantly whilst heating gently, until it thickens.
4. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer and cook the sauce for 5or 6 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon regularly so that the sauce doesn't stick to the pan.
5. Add the lemon juice, zest  and salmon, stir over a low heat for 3 or 4 minutes to cook it. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
6 Once the salmon is cooked, stir in the parsley and pour the sauce over the drained pasta. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and thin strips of lemon zest.
7. Serve immediately with a green salad.

The Photograph
The lighting for this high key image was similar to previous images, the overhead 60cm soft box to give even lighting and the 30cm soft box at 45° and to the right gave the highlights on the sauce. The two wide angle flashes onto the white backdrop threw light forward to provide some backlighting. I have cropped this close to show detail and contrasts in texture. I think this is the most difficult shot I have done so far. It took a lot of planning and was good practise for working quickly. Again I think I need to give more consideration to the styling so all tips and suggestions are welcomed.

28 November 2010

Seeded Granary Rolls

Nothing beats fresh baked rolls to eat with your soup. These are homemade and I make them once a week. If they are frozen within an hour of coming out of the oven, they keep well in the freezer for up to a week. After that, they lose texture and start to dry out.

I use my breadmaker to prepare the dough and if you have one, try this recipe. I've not tried it for hand baking but I'm pretty sure it would work just as well.

1. I add the ingredients to my baking pan in this order: (makes 8 rolls)

 1⅛ cup (standard cup) water at around 25-30°c
 2 tbsp dried milk powder
 ½ tbsp demarara sugar
 2 tbsp vegetable oil
 1½ tsp salt
 1 cup of strong white bread flour
 2 cups of Hovis Granary malted wheat flour
 1½ tsp dried bread yeast

2. Set your breadmaker to the dough programme (mine is 1h 30m)
3. When the dough is ready, knead it for 6 minutes.
4. Divide the dough into 8 (about 90 - 100g per roll) and shape into a ball.
5. Brush the tops with beaten egg and dip into a bowl of mixed seeds. (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
6. Place on baking paper on a baking tray and put in a warm place to prove (I use the airing cupboard) They are ready when they have doubled in size.
7. Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (220°c)
8. Reduce the heat to gas 6 (200° c) Put the baking tray near the top of the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
9. Cool on a wire tray and freeze what you don't need within an hour.

If you don't want to seed them, brush them with egg, milk or vegetable oil as a glaze.
I perfected this recipe after a bit of trial and error. I found that the recipe in the breadmaker hand book for rolls gave a dough that was too wet and the rolls spread out instead of rising up.

The Photograph
This high key photo was lit from above by the 60cm soft box and the background (seamless white paper) was overexposed 1½ stops using two wide angle flashes either side and below the table. The camera was low, at table level and I have cropped the image tight around the central roll of the group.

Watercress Soup

In case you're wondering, I'm not a vegetarian although I have friends who are. This is yet another recipe based on one from Rose Eliot's Vegetarian Cookery. I picked up a copy that was being deleted from our library and have found it really good for soups.
A word of caution here. Some ingredients are not sold in any particular weight or volume. Watercress is one of them. You either get a bag (which is labelled with the weight) or a bunch which can vary in size depending on where it is packed. My local greengrocer sells a bunch which weighs about 80 or 90 grams including stalks (which you can chop and cook with the potatoes and onion) I used 165 grams for this recipe (two bunches) Don't stint on the watercress, you need a lot to get the lovely peppery flavour!

For 4 servings

1 medium onion, sliced
15g butter
700g peeled and diced potatoes
900ml light vegetable stock (see previous post) or water
165g watercress (reserve 4 sprigs for garnish)

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently (without browning) covered, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes and any watercress stalks (cut them into 10mm lengths otherwise they may wrap themselves around the blade of your liquidiser) cover the pan and cook on low heat, without browning, for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the stock or water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.

4. Add the watercress leaves to the pan and liquidise with a hand blender or transfer to a liquidiser. Season with salt and pepper and serve in warm bowls topped with a sprig of watercress (you can also swirl in some cream)

The Photograph
This lighting set up was very similar to the last bowl of soup, a 60cm soft box above the table, a 30cm soft box to the rear left and my polystyrene block reflectors below the lens lifting the shadows in front of the bowl. I needed to crop this quite close. There was a lot of empty space top right. Once I have sorted out the lighting, I must concentrate on the styling!

Light Vegetable Stock

These soups all require a pale vegetable stock. Using stock cubes is quick and convenient but I have found that some of them are too strongly flavoured, particularly with celery. To make a light coloured stock, use this recipe. (based on Rose Eliot's) What you put into it can vary with what's available and each batch of stock will always be slightly different . I store mine in a Kilner jar in the fridge for up to a week.

For 900ml to 1100ml of stock you can use as a basic batch:

1 large whole onion, peeled
1 carrot, scraped
1 celery stick
2 garlic cloves
a bouquet garni (use fresh herbs if you have them (parsley, thyme and a bay leaf tied together) or you can use dried herbs prepacked in a bag.
Cover with cold water (I find that 1½ litres is fine)

Bring the pan to a boil then simmer gently for an hour with the lid partly off. If you are not using  it straight away, let it cool before straining and storing. The volume will have reduced down to about 900 - 1000ml.

You can use leek tops (make sure you rinse any soil out of them before adding) and  peelings from well washed potatoes. Allspice and juniper berries (a couple of each) and thinly pared lemon zest also add flavour. Use brassicas with care or not at all, the flavours can be quite stong and can overpower delicately flavoured soups.

The Photograph
I tend not to photograph in the kitchen as there is very little space. This was hand held (I use a tripod otherwise) and lit by one 30cm soft box over my right shoulder. I don't like using on camera flash where there is a lot of reflective metal. Even with a diffuser it is too harsh and brings up too many highlights. I was quite pleased with this lighting.

21 November 2010

Carrot Soup with Ginger

Another warming soup, again based on a recipe from Rose Elliot. I added lemon juice to counter the sweetness of the carrots and find that you need to add less salt. I’ve increased the ginger a little too, for my taste but if you don’t like it too warm, use just a teaspoon.

Four Servings

1 medium onion sliced
15g butter
700g carrots peeled and chopped
1 - 1½ tsp grated fresh root ginger (depending on your taste)
salt and black pepper to taste
900ml vegetable stock
squeeze of lemon juice to taste

Single cream and parsley to garnish

1.      Melt the butter in a pan over a gentle heat.
2.      Fry the onion over a low heat for 5 mins (covered) without browning then add the carrots, ginger and a shake of salt. Cover and fry for another 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Do not let the vegetables brown.
3.      Pour on the stock, bring the pan to the boil and then simmer gently for about 10-15 mins until the carrots are cooked.
4.      Blend the soup until it is smooth, then press it through a sieve
5.      Return it to the saucepan, add the lemon juice, then the salt and pepper to taste
6.      Serve in warmed bowls. Swirl the cream into each one and add the parsley to finish.

The Photograph
This time I've used the 60cm soft box above the table with the smaller 30cm soft box at 45° to the left with a polystyrene reflector below the lens to fill the shadows. There is a nice highlight of the back edge of the bowl in the top surface of the soup. Photographing soup in bowls has taught me a valuable lesson; always place the bowl on the set, then fill it carefully with a ladle. This ensures that you don't get a tidemark resulting from trying to carry the bowl to the set. If you do get the odd spot above the surface, cotton buds work wonders.

Smooth Potato and Leek Soup

Here is an image for the same recipe but blended and garnished with chopped chives.

The Photograph
Apart from the garnish, the soup is featureless and not that interesting. Back lighting it would not have had the same effect as that previous shot. From above, the round shape of the plate and the diagonal planking create an interesting graphic effect. The table was lit by a 60cm soft box from the right with a 30cm softbox from the the bottom left at 45°. A large reflector opposite the 60cm soft box lifted any resulting shadows.
The  planking is in fact pine cladding boards nailed to a piece of MDF. I have a pair of trestles which are at a comfortable working height and I can interchange different surfaces as backgrounds very easily.

19 November 2010

Chunky Potato and Leek Soup

Based on a recipe from Rose Elliot's 'Vegetarian Cookery', this soup is really filling. Just right for damp autumn days.
Soup recipes are easily adaptable. To make a bigger batch, just multiply the ingredients.

For 2 servings


1 medium leek, sliced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
25g butter
450ml vegetable stock
Squeeze of lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper (to taste)

Chopped chives and croutons to garnish.


  1. Melt the butter on a low heat
  2. Add the sliced leeks and diced potatoes, stir to coat them in butter. Fry, covered, on a low heat for 10 minutes. Stirring often. Do not brown
  3. Continue cooking, very gently, (heat on minimum) covered, for a further 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  4. Pour in the vegetable stock, stir and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Squeeze in approximately half a tablespoonful (8ml) of lemon juice.
  6. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with chopped chives and croutons.
  8. Serve with fresh baked crusty bread.

If you prefer, you can blend this soup to make it smooth. Depending on the size of your potato, you may need to add a little more stock to get the desired consistency.

The Photograph
The table was lit with two main strobes, a 60cm parallel soft box from above and a 30cm soft box at 45° above and to the rear to give the highlights on the surface of the soup.  I think this may be overdone with the large highlight at bottom left. I don't like the harsh shadow cast by the bread on the side of the bowl. I tried to fill the shadow cast by the plate by introducing a wide angle diffused flash. I have since cut short blocks of polystyrene to stand below the lens which reflects just enough light to lift those shadows. I'm not sure about the styling. I'm hoping it makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook. I've got lots to learn. What do you think?

17 November 2010

Introduction and history

My cook books, diaries and notebooks are stuffed with recipes on flyleaves, old envelopes, scraps of exercise book paper and post-it notes. A lot of them are revisions to other people's recipes; recipes I've adapted or copied but they all have one thing in common; I've cooked them at least once and enjoyed sharing and eating the resulting dishes. Most of them are good, plain wholesome everyday food. Nothing too fancy but occasionally, I'll surprise myself...........
My food images are taken as the food comes from the kitchen, no tricks, no fakery. They don't always work and those that do may need improving. All constructive criticism, questions and suggestions on how to improve my technique are welcomed. If you enjoy food, photography or both, join the discussion.