My Top 5 Tips for Making Your Food Photos Look Delicious!

Top5 TipsAs a food stylist, my job is to make food look beautiful and delicious and to entice the viewer into either buying the food (advertisements, packaging, menus) or make the food (cookbooks, recipes). There are many ways that I do this but I am going to share with you my top 5 favorites:

1. Use white plates. While you know the saying “every rule is meant to be broken” certainly would apply here, I believe a fail safe rule to show off your beautiful food is to plate it against white. White dishes provide a neutral background and set the scene for your food to be the “star”. And white dishes come in so many shapes and sizes you could easily vary that in order to get different looks without compromising your gorgeous food with a busy plate or serving dish.

2. Vary the focus within your photograph. A sharp focused “sweet spot” on your food highlights that area and draws attention to it. It is the first thing someone will see when they look at your food photograph (at least that is what we aim for). By letting backgrounds get a bit blurry (or really out of focus) it becomes less important and less visually interesting to the viewer. Even letting part of the food or plate lose focus helps to draw the viewer to that one highlighted area which becomes your focal point, selling point and delicious draw of attention.

3. Make a little mess. A few crumbs, a drip of sauce, a spill, melty cheese dripping, a bite out of your food, a messy prep area….you know what I am talking about. This is the human element that draws the viewer in and helps to tell the story. Suddenly the viewer feels like they are there with you preparing or eating that food. Messes evoke feeling, mood, atmosphere. But you also must know where that fine line is. Too messy can look unappetizing or like a big mess that may make the viewer uncomfortable or not hungry for your food anymore. Suddenly they are thinking about cleaning it up instead of eating it.

4. Topping it off. Many foods need a little “something” to top it off to make it shine. Something like when Emeri Lagasse hits his food with that one special ingredient and yells “BAM!” Some foods need it to push them from mediocre to incredible. You know the feeling when you look at a food photo and it is good but something is missing? It’s that “BAM!”, that focal point, that accent that puts it over the edge. It could be a beautiful fresh herb garnish or a drip of sauce running down the side of the casserole dish or a spoon that frames the bowl nicely. It could be as simple as bringing out one tomato in your salad in a way that makes it look so enticing and juicy and red and ripe that it becomes the star. Sometimes it takes some experimentation on set to figure out what is missing.

5. Great lighting. It takes beautiful light and beautiful food to make a beautiful food photograph. Period. One without the other is only half as good as it could be. That’s why I lOVE the food photographers I work with. I fondly refer to them as “Masters of light”. Now, I know many of my readers are food bloggers like myself or serious amateur photographers who love food. My suggestion would be to start out with a light kit that is easy to set up and use. For my blog photos I use CowboyStudio 2275 Watt Digital Video Continuous Softbox Lighting Kit/Boom Set. Since it is continuous light and not strobe, I use it for both video and still photography. I love how portable, easy, and inexpensive it is to use.

 


Simply Pretty Fruit Kabobs

I love thinking of new ways to use tools I already have. The way I figure it, every tool and piece of equipment that I own MUST have at least 3 different uses than what I typically use them for.

I have  dozens and dozens of cookie cutters.  All shapes and sizes from a 1/2″ cutter up to 4″. I have made over 10,000 cookies with my cutters but I have also used them for cutting other types of food.

cookiecutters1

 

Cookie cutters are great for cutting fruit and vegetables into pretty shapes. I started making fruit kabobs for my daughter and her friends when she was little. Not only did the children love eating them they loved making them. Anything to get kids in the kitchen is a good idea to me. So now I still rely on fruit kabobs to brighten up any get together or put a smile on my teenage daughters face. How can you not smile? They are so adorable and fun.

 

cookiecutters3cantaloupe

 

 

cookikecutters7final

The first step is to cut your melon crosswise into the thickness that you would like your fruit pieces to be. I cut mine between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick. No need to peel or deseed. Keep it simple!

strawberriescut1final

 

The next step is to cut the stems off the strawberries. I like to cut them into a heart shape.

cookiecutters10final

Next, start assembling your fruit onto skewers. I always have bamboo skewers on hand so I use those.

cookiecuttersfruitkabob1final

Serve them upright in a fancy dish with or without a yogurt dipping sauce.

 


Happy Homemade Soup Day

Oh February, how I love you. Snowy days and nice warm soup. Cuddling up and jammie days. It makes perfect sense that national homemade soup day would fall in February! When I make soup I tend to not follow a recipe but I forage through the refrigerator and the pantry for whatever looks yummy. Today’s soup has a vegan root vegetable theme. I happen to have had quite a few root vegetables on hand as well as a pantry full of beans and canned tomatoes. My daughter has been requesting vegetarian meals lately so this soup was meant to be! I used my crockpot for this soup but it could easily be done on the stove top.

soupveggie2final

For some added fun, I took a video of me styling the soup for the camera.

Root Vegetable Soup
Author: © 2015 Jennifer Janz
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 64 oz. Vegetable stock
  • 1 Tablespoon Thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon Curry Powder
  • (2) 15 oz. Cans Fire Roasted Stewed Tomatoes
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 Large Carrots, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 Stalks Celery, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 Medium Parsnips, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 Head Cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 Head Broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • (1) 15 oz. Can Kidney Beans
  • (1) 15 oz. Can Cannellini Beans
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a crock pot set on high, place the first 7 ingredients. 2 hours later, turn crockpot to low and add the remaining ingredients (except for the cilantro). Cook for another 2 hours or until the veggies are tender. Garnish with cilantro.

The Kitchen Scale – One of my favorite kitchen tools

Now I know what all you creative kitchen artists are thinking….a scale? As in making my food all uniform and precise? Not for me you say? Well, hopefully, I can convince you that the scale is your friend.

I have done a ton of baking in my career. And often I am asked to test and write recipes. For this type of work, the scale is a life saver. I need to be right on in my portion sizes and yields. The scale is perfect for documenting ingredients too. For a baker, recipe writer and recipe tester there is no better tool than the scale. Here are my top reasons why:

1. You can get a precise yield from weighing all your cookie dough and dividing it by the size you want each cookie to be.
2. You can make sure all cookies are uniform in size. This helps not only with getting a perfect yield but with making sure each cookie on the cookie sheet bakes at the same rate.
3. You can make sure all your baking ingredients weigh out at the appropriate weight rather than going by a measuring cup which can vary so much depending on how you fill it.
4. You can weigh out burgers or meatballs and get all the same size for ease of cooking times. No guess work.
5. You can weigh out nuts which can be hard to measure in a metal measuring cup.
6. When splitting a dough into parts, for dinner rolls for instance, you will know how much each piece should weigh and thus divide evenly.
7. When making a two crust pie (top and bottom) it is helpful to know that each crust is the same weight.
8. Are my portions even? I love using my scale when freezing food in portion sizes.
9. Does your recipe call for a medium onion? That is very vague! Follow a weight chart for these and test or write your recipe with more confidence. Here is a chart in case you are curious:

Onion Size Approx. Size Weight Amount Chopped
Small Lemon 4 oz (0.25lbs) 1/2 cup
Medium Navel Orange 8 oz (0.5lbs) 1 cup
Large Small Grapefruit 16 oz (1lbs) 2 cups

(Chart Source:Culinarylore.com)

It’s important to get a scale that fits your needs. I love the digital scales for their preciseness as well as one that weighs in grams and ounces. Grams are so much more precise for baking than ounces. I also love a scale that has a flat surface that any sized bowl will fit on and one that will weigh at least 5 pounds. Below is my suggestion for a heavy duty built to last scale. It measures up to 17 lbs. which would be great for large scale projects. It also calculates percentages for you.


Valentine’s Day Red Velvet Layer Cake for Two

 

 

I love Valentine’s Day. I love the sweet treats that the holiday brings. My idea was to create a cake for two to share.

I made a red velvet cake from a box mix using two 8″ round cake pans to give me a little more height on each layer. I also used Wilton’s cake baking strips to keep the layers flat and even.

I always make sure to weigh each 8″ round pan with the batter in it to make sure I will be getting even layers.

After baking, I let the cakes cool then cut them each in half lengthwise to form 4 layers. This cake required only two of the layers so I wrapped up the other two layers and put them in the

freezer for use at a later date.

redvelvetcake1final

 

I then cut out the layers with my round cookie cutters.

  redvelvetcake3final

Next I tinted my vanilla frosting to add two colors: Orange and Yellow. I kept 1/3 of the frosting white.

redvelvetcake4final

I alternated the yellow and white frosting for the layers, then frosted the entire cake with the orange frosting.

I then sprinkled on shredded coconut and gently pressed it into the sides.

redvelvetlayercakefortwofinal2


There are so many variations you can do with this cake. You could chose different shaped cookie cutters, a different cake flavor (or multiple flavors),

a different flavor frosting or filling for the layers, a different topping for the outside or a vary the height of the cake by how many layers you choose.

You can even vary the size of the cake.  What about doing a cupcake sized layer cake for one? What are your favorite flavors and ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 





White Plates are the Right Plates

Okay, so truth be told, white plates are usually the right plates but as all rules are meant to be broken I could be proven wrong quite easily. My theory is that white plates tend to make almost every food look pretty darn amazing. Why? Because white is neutral and unassuming. White is quiet and subtle and stark. White doesn’t fight with your food or cause chaos. White enhances the colors of your food. It is the perfect backdrop for most foods because it doesn’t compete with your food. White plates let your food be the shining hero, the movie star, the talk of the town. White has a way to let your food do all the talking. White is the perfect date….hahaha….

 

Let’s look at some examples:

 

Boiled crayfish in the bowl with dill

Here are some crayfish plated on a patterned plate. There is a lot going on here visually. I tend to look more at the brightly patterned plate than

I do the crayfish. Not only is this plate distracting but it does nothing for the appetite appeal of the crayfish.

 

Boiled crayfish in the bowl with dill

And here is the same food plated on a colored plate. This plate does not work first and foremost because the plate is the same color as the crayfish.

The more subtle patterning is distracting. Again, I am not looking at the crayfish. I do like that the green leaf lettuce was used to separate the crayfish

from the plate but it is not enough to make this photo work.

boiled crawfish with fresh lemon on the plate

And here is the same food on a white plate.

The composition of this plate is much better than those examples above but even without the better composition I think the white plate really lets the crayfish shine.

This photo is all about the crayfish. The added color of the garnishes are nice accents as well.


National Chocolate Cake Day!

5000chocolate cakefinal

 

In honor of  National Chocolate Cake Day I am featuring one of my

               favorite EASY chocolate cake recipes.

 

Pro Food Styling Tip: I was often frustrated by cakes which rise higher in the middle

than on the sides. This not only makes them hard to frost but nearly impossible to

cut into even layers without wasting cake by cutting off the “dome”. I now use
Wilton 2-Piece Bake Even Strip Set and am thrilled.

 

 

Deliciously Easy Chocolate Espresso Cake
Author: © 2015 Jennifer Janz
Prep time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • [b]For the Cake:[/b]
  • 1 Box Devil’s Food Cake
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • [b]For the Filling:[/b]
  • 2 Cups of your Favorite Dark Chocolate Frosting
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark fKaro Syrup (optional)
  • [b]For the Frosting:[/b]
  • 2 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • 6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso
  • [b]Garnish:[/b]
  • Chocolate Curls or Strawberries
Instructions
  1. Mix the devil’s food cake according to the package directions, adding in 1 tablespoon of instant espresso and cayenne pepper. Bake in (2) 8″ round pans. Remove from oven when done and let cool.
  2. For the filling, combine the frosting and karo syrup until well combined and glossy; set aside.
  3. For the frosting, combine all ingredients with your mixer until semi- stiff peaks form; set aside.
  4. Split each cake in half lengthwise to form 4 layers. Set your bottom layer on a serving platter and top with 1/3 of the chocolate frosting. Repeat layering with the fourth layer of cake at the top. Frost with chocolate espresso whipping cream and garnish with chocolate curls. Keep refrigerated until serving.