10 Tips on Food Photography for Cookbook Authors

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If a cookbook author or food blogger wants to try and photograph their own dishes, I’d definitely encourage them to do so. Click on the link to see examples of my published work and read the 10 tips below to improve your own food photography.

Enlightened Cook Food Photos

Here are 10 tips I can offer to other cookbook authors and budding food photographers:

1. Rarely shoot directly overhead. It’s usually a dull angle and almost never works when plates are round, because photographs are rectangular or square.

2. Don’t use a flash camera. Use natural light and a few bounce cards if you need them. Flash produces a very flat shot and glaring highlights. If you absolutely have no other option, back way up creating distance from the subject and zoom the lens in. Then the light won’t be so hot. (This is much more flattering for people, too.)

3. Never, ever use a light box. This light is too even and looks fake. If you do use one, your food will not look real. It will look more like a Hallmark card circa 1970′s.

4. The other trick to making sure your images don’t look like Hallmark cards is to have some of image in sharp focus and allow that focus to soften toward the background. Photos where the entire image is in focus don’t look natural because if the dish were actually in front of your reader, their eye would not see it that way.

5. Make sure you look at everything in the frame and take all extraneous things from the background out, unless you specifically want them there.

6. Shoot so that your photographs have a very large file size that will equal at least 300dpi so that when it goes to print, the images will remain clear. There’s nothing more disappointing than a great photo that doesn’t have enough resolution to be printed.

7. If you don’t absolutely love the photograph of a particular dish, omit it. If there are poor photographs it very quickly lessons the perceived professionalism of the whole book.

8. Don’t ever grab photos off the web to use on your own material. You must have copyright for all images. If a publisher finds out one of your images isn’t being used legally, I can promise you they won’t work with you again. Their liability risk for being sued is too high and too costly.

9.Be sure to choose props that are unique to each shot. It’s important to have other things in the frame, not just your food. It should look like we just arrived a talented host’s home where everything was beautifully laid out. I shop thrift shops constantly for tablecloths, napkins, utensils, dish and bakeware. Make sure everything you use is laundered, polished and immaculately clean.

10. After a few attempts, if your work isn’t top shelf, find another photographer and negotiate a rate you can handle. I work with cookbook writers and food writers to quickly get food images on a budget. I’d be happy to find out what food images you need and work with you at a reasonable cost. My food photos are on 10 food blogs and in my book, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees.

Glossy, soft-cover books delivered to your door!

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In addition to immediate downloads of the The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees, beautifully glossy, soft-cover books are now available in the column immediately to the right for $11.99. Order directly from this site to save off the bookstore price and support the author best! Your book will be printed and mailed to you within 48 hours directly from the publisher! Now that’s modern publishing!!

Super Bowl Chicken Wings

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With Super Bowl Sunday fast approaching, most are thinking about betting on the big game. I’m marinating instead. Here is an awesome recipe for Chicken Wings and the story that goes with them. Recipe more via India than Buffalo!

4 lb chicken wings
3 cups plain yogurt
3 oz beer
4 limes
1½” ginger root- coarse chopped
2 t dried thyme
1 t dried lavender (yes!)
1 t black pepper
¾ t sea salt
1 ½ T sesame oil

Rockin' Chicken Wings

 

Rinse and poke holes into the wings with a sharp knife, so marinade penetrates the flesh of the chicken. Juice 2 limes and mix with remaining ingredients, except the oil. Marinate refrigerated for 1-3 days, stirring the mixture occasionally.

Grill over indirect BBQ flame or oil a preheated, baking sheet and oven roasting wings at 475º. Flip wings after 30 minutes. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Serve with remaining limes cut into wedges and celery sticks.

Sauce Safety
It’s okay to brush additional sauce on the wings as they cook, but not after the halfway point because bacteria from the raw chicken is also in the sauce. Be sure to allow ample time for it to burn away to be safe to eat.  Dispose of left over marinade and serve with clean utensils.

The Wing Story

A dear friend, Vicent Grupi, told me in1983 that he had fabulous chicken wings at a Super Bowl party. He was told they were made with yogurt. It seemed a very strange combination, yet he claimed they were the best wings ever!

I wondered how anyone, especially Vinny, could get that excited about chicken wings. To me, chicken wings were greasy, bar food with little culinary merit, yet somehow the thought of developing a recipe from that one ingredient stuck in my mind for 20 years. By then, my cooking acumen heightened and I began saving original recipes that would eventually become my first, self-published book. I learned of India’s yogurt-marinating Tandoori tradition, so that became the basis of my recipe.

Two decades after Vinny’s rave, I looked down to discover super-plump chicken wings at the grocery meat counter. They were hormone/antibiotic-free and organic, but still very inexpensive––a great place to start! Combining an unusual blend of Eastern and Western spices, I marinated those wings for 3 days, before bringing them swimming in sauce, to Texas grill master Will’s Labor Day BBQ in Venice, CA. My rock star date (who’d prefer to go nameless) was licking his keyboard fingers with delight and our drummer friend was stomping his foot with speechless appreciation. Everyone at the party said they were the tastiest, most succulent wings they’d ever had, except Will. Unfortunately, the wings were all gobbled up before he got one.  Sorry, Will!

Long before the recipe was developed Vinny moved to Florida and then passed on, but every time Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, I thank him for his friendship and wish his beautiful twin sons, Peter and Ray, whom I’ve sadly lost track of, knew that Vinny inspired this fantastic recipe. I spent many an Italian Sunday dinner with that family of all boys, who embraced me as family, too.

Rockin’ Chicken Wings

Download the new ebook, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees

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New ebook! Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees

Just in time to re-inspire those fading New Year’s resolutions of eating a healthier diet, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees is here!  Available now for just $3.99 as a PDF download, this ebook is full of the delicious protein you crave. (Use the Buy it for $3.99 button on the right column of this blog. You can use your Paypal account if you like or just let the Paypal’s secure on-line credit card processing  do a normal credit or debit card transaction.)
In Protein Entrées, you can choose from international favorites like creamy Chicken Korma and zesty Shrimp Curry in a Hurry. New tricks reinvent old favorites with Vertical Roasted Chicken and Porterhouse Steak with Caramelized Onions and Portobello Mushrooms. Confidently create perfectly moist, delicious salmon, tuna and halibut entrees to add those healthy omega 3 fatty acids to your diet. Step-by-step instructions inspire even the kitchen novice with the confidence to prepare the leanest Roast Duck or incredibly succulent Portuguese Whole Snapper with White Grape Sauce. Even Pork Loin Florentine is surprisingly lean and packed with nutrients.
Among the protein-rich recipes and tantalizing photos, Marlon informs with enlightening tips on technique, nutrition and holistic sensibilities. Every recipe is completely devoid of artificial ingredients, so there are no synthetic horomones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives or colorings–just pure, wholesome delicious food! You’ll effortlessly learn how to buy the purest, most fortified ingredients at the market, how to retain their freshness and nutrients, understand which food products and cookware to avoid. Creating nutrition-packed meals is easy — no more fad diets! Change your perception of health food forever!

Call for recipe testers for Pulled Chicken Molé

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Pulled Chicken Molé cropped

Saucy, luscious Pulled Chicken Molé with secret ingredient, cocoa powder

Hello People,

I’m working hard on finishing the first volume of the Enlightened Cook: Entrees.  Here is one recipe on which I’d love some feedback. What I generally ask of my recipe tests to provide feedback on the clarity of  the directions, accuracy of the measurements (i.e. too much salt? enough oil?). In the case of this terrific recipe, what I need in addition is info on how accurate the timing of each step was:

How long did it take at the given temperature to initially cook the chicken breasts so that they were slightly pink inside?

Was 2 minutes enough to sufficiently break down the tomato at the end into a smooth sauce?

I am considering instead instructing readers to add the tomato and then add the cocoa powder a few minutes later.  It’s really important the cocoa powder is not scalded or truly it ruins the sauce. (I’ve tasted that overcooked taste soooo many times in Mexican restaurants.)

So here is the recipe and a note on brining that will appear on that page of the book. Pulled chicken Molé is a recipe I truly love for it’s utterly unique yet unidentifiable flavor.

Pulled Chicken with Mole Sauce

3 cups vegetable stock
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
2 T olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 t crushed garlic
1 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t cinnamon
¾ t sea salt
1 t powdered arrowroot or kudzu
2 T cocoa powder
1 cup extra-ripe fresh tomato

Simmer chicken cutlets in the vegetable stock in a 2-quart pot until only the center remains slightly pink, approximately 5 minutes. Reserve the stock in a bowl and place the chicken breasts on a cutting board.

Mince the onions and the garlic and sauté them in the olive oil in the same pot on a medium heat.  When the onions are translucent, but not brown, add all the spices and cook for 1 minute as you stir with a wooden spoon. Then add ½ cup of the reserved stock. Slowly sift in the flour to the rest of the stock, then stir the mixture into the pot a little at a time. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the liquid, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce cooks down, tear the cooled chicken into shredded pieces about 1 ½” inches long and ½” thick with your fingers.

When sauce has thickened to consistency of heavy cream, remove it from the heat and puree with a pistol-style hand blender until it smooth (or puree in a blender.) Stir in the cocoa powder. Add the tomato, which has been cut into ½” cubes. Add the chicken and stir well to coat the chicken evenly. Gently reheat on a medium-low heat for  2 minutes to finish cooking the center of the chicken pieces. Do not boil or the cocoa will make the sauce bitter. Serve with soup spoons in deep bowls to savor every drop!

To brine or not to brine;
That is the question
By all means, if you have the prep time, brine! This technique adds moisture to all kinds of red meat and poultry. It’s especially great for lean protein such as turkey, which tends to dry out when cooking. To brine add a handful of salt to a bowl of water and stir to dissolve. Add spices, if you like. Submerge the flesh and cover the bowl before refrigerating. An hour has a good effect. A day is terrific. Three days seems to work fine, because the salt kills much of the bacteria , which deters spoilage. If you brine, be sure to use no additional salt directly on the flesh.