I am blessed to have a life full of great friends, loving family, and good food, and this weekend was jam-packed with all of those things. But what I really want to focus on is the time I set aside to hang out with an old friend and sorority sister, Korri.
It’s funny how things change. How we met was certainly under different circumstances – and you might guess that the interests that drew us to the same sorority house were a little different than our current endeavors. Nowadays, Korri is the highly talented genius behind klc photography, and she happens to be a food-lovin’ vegetarian. I’m passionate about food too (just a little, don’t you think?) and endlessly trying to figure out my camera and take better pictures. So we made a little deal: I’d cook up a multi-course vegetarian lunch, and Korri would show me some tips and tricks on how to photograph it. This might be a little bit of a different project for Korri, since she is usually photographing people at their weddings and with their families (gorgeously, I must say – please go take a look!). But who could argue with good food, good photos, good friends, and babies (yep, they were present too!)? They all added up for a wonderful afternoon.
We started off with a spiced beet soup. I discovered that I can actually get some pretty cool shots utilizing the stainless steel grill covers and backsplash on my range.
I think a little work is needed to get my white balance corrected (I don’t know about you, but I am seeing more tomato soup than beet soup.) But all of a sudden I feel like I have a little secret weapon in my kitchen, something to give my photos a unique quality, and that feels pretty empowering.
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I had no clue how to change the aperture on my camera. I know, I know. Why the heck invest in an expensive piece of equipment if you can’t even do that? I knew that in theory I should be able to change my “f-stop number” to manipulate the amount of light coming in and thus how much of the image is in focus, I just hadn’t put two and two together and realized the little dial to accomplish this. Thank goodness that’s figured out now! I think the recipe needs a little tweaking still, so you can expect to see this again in the near future.
|Lower f-stop, more light coming in, less objects in focus|
|Higher f-stop, less light coming in, more objects in focus|
The next course involved something I had been dying to experiment with ever since I read about it a raw foods cookbook one day in the bookstore. I’m not a raw foodie, or a vegetarian, but the idea of crisp eggplant “bacon” got stuck in my head and wouldn’t budge. I didn’t go as far as buy a dehydrator to make it; instead I cooked it overnight in the “warm” setting on my oven. My version might not qualify as truly “raw” for those who follow that kind of diet (raw food must be “cooked” under a certain upper temperature limit) but it certainly worked. Thinly sliced eggplant marinated in a fiesta of soy sauce, honey, liquid smoke, and spices turned into crispy strips perfect for snack or crumbling into salads or pasta dishes. I tossed it with arugula and crumbled gorgonzola, piled it on top of grilled polenta wedges, and finished it with a poached egg. (Naturally.)
Dressed with a simple drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, this salad was hearty and delicious and the perfect combination of hot and cold. This shot was taken without any external lighting and I was surprised at what I was able to accomplish without any of my usual hoopla. Although I’d still like to practice a little more, I think there’s a strong possibility that I can get some good shots, in my kitchen at night, under regular lighting. I wish I had broken the yolk for some of these shots; as I find the whole unbroken egg a bit boring; lesson learned.
I also learned that it’s ok to eat off the floor. Well, not really. But that sometimes that’s the best way to achieve the coveted straight-down-from-the-top angle. I definitely want to experiment with this a bit more, maybe using some additional lighting (this was shot at a very high ISO setting, hence the lack of sharpness.)
And since I want to give you a full lesson on the eggplant “bacon” sometime in the future, that’s all I’m going to say about this for now
Finally, for the third course, we broke out my “security blanket” – my Lowel Ego lighting system. I almost use these lamps (I have two, plus a tripod for one of them) since 99% of my photos take place long after sunset. Sometimes I use both, sometimes just one; I can’t seem to settle on the perfect configuration so I’m always trying something new. To get the shots of the Jamaican Jerk Tempeh Wraps with Broccoli-Raisin Slaw, we used just one of the lamps, and positioned it for a front-lighting effect. Because the Ego lights are on the cooler side, I think they actually do a decent job of imitating natural light.
Tempeh has been catching my eye and palette on a bunch of blogs lately, for it’s versatility and high nutritional content as a meat alternative. I had never eaten tempeh before, never mind cooked with it, so that fact that I threw a package in my grocery cart and decided to make it for company might sound like risky business to some. But I hardly ever shy away from a cooking challenge and don’t worry about something turning out so badly that I wouldn’t be able to fix it. Not that this needed any fixing. This recipe was such a hit that it’s the only one from this post I’m actually ready to share with you. If you’re new to vegetarian cooking, I would actually suggest starting with tempeh rather than tofu. While tofu might seem a little more mainstream and readily accessible, I actually think it’s trickier to cook well. Tempeh is harder to screw up – there is no liquid to drain and it’s already fully cooked. Simply give it a flavorful marinade, then briefly pan-sear or grill to crisp it up a bit. The flavors in this Jamaican jerk marinade came out wonderfully in the finished tempeh, the spices noticeable and distinct alongside the sweet and tangy broccoli-raisin slaw. I like food with a lot of texture, so I really liked the chewy, coarse bite of the tempeh too.
|Again, I was playing with my f-stop numbers, so you might notice that this shot has a bit more of the background sandwiches in focus than the first shot at the beginning of this post.|
But before I share the recipe, I want to give a HUGE thanks to Korri for driving all the way out to my house (there’s a common misconception among Bostonians that Worcester might as well be “western Mass”, but that debate would require a whole separate post.) It was much fun to catch up, eat good food, and learn some new tricks which definitely boost my confidence in my photos and give me a lot to play around with. And of course, I have to thank Korri for letting us meet and play with her gorgeous baby boy, Teddy. If you still haven’t gone to check out her site, go, NOW! I can honestly say that the unique quality of her photos – vintage, artistic, simply stunning – makes me wish I had an occasion to photograph. So if you are in the Boston area and have an event you’d like documented – engagement, wedding, baby-on-the-way, family fun day, party, whatever – please consider letting Korri come and capture that for you. And give the rest of us more great photos to look at.
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (from 2 oranges)
zest from one orange
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
4 scallions, chopped
3 cups broccoli slaw mix
1/2 of a red pepper, sliced thinly
2 large scallions, sliced thinly (light green and white parts)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons Jerk marinade
splash of cider vinegar
8 oz tempeh*, cut in thin strips
4 wraps of your choice (we used Joseph’s Low Carb Lavash)
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl or baking dish and add the tempeh strips. Let marinate for at least 20-30 minutes, or longer.
To prepare the slaw, combine the broccoli slaw mix, red pepper, scallions, cilantro and raisins in a bowl. Remove a few tablespoons of the jerk marinade and whisk together with the yogurt and cider vinegar, to taste. Toss with the vegetable mixture and set aside.
Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Drain the tempeh from the marinade and add to the skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until browned.
To assemble the wraps, place 1/4 of the slaw mixture and cooked tempeh strips in the center of each wrap. Roll up, slice in half, and enjoy.
*Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated area of the produce section in your grocery store, along with the tofu, “fake meat” products, wanton wrappers, etc. I used Light Life Organic Three Grain Tempeh.