Tag Archives: cookbook

Getting Real

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Real Maine Food: 100 Plates from Fishermen, Farmers, Pie Champs, and Clam Shacks published this week by Rizzoli is the culmination of a project I began working on in September 2013. How satisfying to see the finished product of a long-term, labor-intensive project! Hard work, yes, but documenting the work of a wide range of the state’s unique food producers—from a fifth-generation maple syrup maker to a nationally revered heirloom apple expert to scallop dredgers to stone ground flour millers—was also some of the most rewarding and interesting work I’ve done. Many images that originated with the book project appear on my recently overhauled web site, most notably in the Ocean section.

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Sorting scallops near Chebeague Island.

Lobster bake on a 19th-century schooner.

Ben Conniff and Luke Holden, the book’s authors, operate fifteen lobster-shack style restaurants—called Luke’s Lobster—in the U.S., all serving exclusively Maine products. Initially a food writer, Ben had the idea to do a book that would showcase Maine food and the people that work so hard to produce it. I jumped at the chance to partake in a subject near and dear to my heart.

Our travels took us around the state over the course of a year. Following the seasonality of the food gave me renewed appreciation for those who make their living growing and harvesting the bounty of Maine’s fields and waters. So often, the season for one’s product of choice is limited to a few months at best, which means long, grueling days packed with many challenges, not the least of which is weather. Given the choice, I’d certainly opt for the most glorious of crisp fall days picking heirloom apples in a centuries-old orchard to bitterly cold mid-winter ones harvesting mussels from an ice-covered barge on the open ocean, although photographing both was a treat!

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John Bunker picking heirloom apples.

Bangs Island Mussels

Matthew Moretti of Bangs Island Mussels readying a boat to go to the barge from which they harvest and clean mussels.

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Adam Campbell of North Haven Oyster Company with a prime specimen.

Ben does a great job of describing our encounters with various food producers, making this much more than a cookbook in the traditional sense. I can recall several pre-dawn mornings waiting on various piers for one kind of boat or another that would whisk us off into some unusual and captivating world different from any we’d experienced before. The people we met during these adventures were so passionate and knowledgeable about their professions that they were a real joy to learn from and spend time with, and, of course, to document at work. Some of my favorites, both visually and from a personal standpoint, were apple expert John Bunker (so singular in his knowledge that many people here refer to him simply as “the apple guy”), and Adam Campbell and Matthew Moretti, who are sustainably growing oysters and mussels, respectively.

In addition to the myriad environmental shots, I shot 20 plated dish or ingredient images to go along with a quarter of the recipes in the book. The rest of the Maine-based artistic team was the fantastically creative designer Jennifer Muller (yes, she hand-lettered those recipe titles) and the ultra-talented and meticulous food stylist and recipe developer Vanessa Seder (check out those expert butter- and cheese-melting skills). Since the three of us have a similar aesthetic sense, we had a great time compiling our various props and making plans for how to best portray the selected recipes. We shot over four days, emailing the ever-patient and helpful (“Hey, could you go easy on the polka dot props?!”) New York-based editor, Christopher Steighner, sample images along the way. Here are a few of the resulting recipe shots. Some others can be viewed in the Table section of my site.

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Lobster rolls à la Luke’s Lobster.

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Ingredients for finnan haddie (smoked haddock) and leek pie.

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Butternut squash soup.

The depth and breadth of this project was a rare and wonderful opportunity for me as a photographer. Seldom does such a suitable long-range project present itself. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. Reading this book and making the recipes in it, I hope you’ll feel as inspired and energized by the people producing and harvesting food in Maine today as I do.

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Adventures in Cookbook Photography

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Well, it appears it’s time for my bi-annual blog post! What can I say? I guess I’ll say this: Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep a little more apprised of my day-to-day world than this venue provides. However, I do like to bloviate on rare occasions when I have the time, so here goes…

This fall marked the publication of the fourth cookbook I’ve done the photography for (with two more on the way next year!). Adventures in Comfort Food by Cafe Miranda’s Kerry Altiero and co-author Kate Gaudet is a wide-ranging mix of creative twists on classic comfort food and Maine fare, interspersed with ethnic-inspired dishes. The restaurant’s slogan “Because We Can” will give you a pretty good idea of the wackiness factor here. And Kathleen Pierce of the Bangor Daily News has done a great job of conveying the vibe and mindset behind Cafe Miranda and the cookbook here and here.

This is not a book I thought I would end up working on, despite already being a fan of the kitschy, mammoth-menued restaurant in Rockland, Maine, that inspired the recipe collection. I was skeptical about the photogenic properties of “comfort food,” especially comfort food that would be prepared without a professional food/prop stylist on site, and I was leery of chef-driven projects. But, not one to immediately close doors without due diligence, I agreed to meet with Kerry to discuss the project one day last August. I walked into the cafe at the end of a stressful day of shooting. I was badly in need of a drink, a nourishing meal and a laugh…not necessarily in that order. Kerry delivered on all fronts. I left the restaurant in high spirits, with a full belly and ready to tackle a book I had almost talked myself out of. I knew right away—no matter what happened in the course of making this book—he would keep me laughing. That, and the constant flow of cappuccinos and nourishing food that he provided from his farmhouse kitchen during several winter weekend shoots, made a challenging project fun. It was like working on a book with an Italian grandmother who has a really twisted sense of humor. And there’s a reason for that: Constance Altiero, Kerry’s Italian grandmother, was a big influence on him.

Another crucial element to this book’s success was Kate Gaudet, a friend of Kerry’s with top-notch organizational and word-smith skills who helped dream up this project. Luckily for me, she also turned out to have an innate sense for food styling and was a diligent, thoughtful and amiable companion and assistant throughout the process. Her many talents included lightening fast ironing and expert pierogie poofing (see page 137). I literally could not have done this work without her.

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Oven-Roasted Fish Tacos

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Green Beans in Yellow Curry

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

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Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale

The three of us compiled our various collections of dishes, cookware, silverware, linens and background surfaces from which to create 50 unique recipe shots, some that have the stamp of Kerry’s unique brand of humor, and others that have my signature austere/authentic look (including the ones pictured here). We  contemplated at length the feel we wanted to convey for each shot. There are so many elements to consider: vessels, backgrounds, color schemes, not to mention the placement and appearance of the food! And on top of that, of course, are those pesky little photographic things like angles and lighting.

Overall, I think the images tell the story of the food well: an eclectic mix that offers something for everyone. And I really mean that. As a non-meat, low-gluten, overall healthy eater I have already dog-eared about a dozen recipes in the book, so if you’re of a similar persuasion don’t be thrown off by the term “comfort food.” Two that will be on regular rotation in our house are No Excuses, a coconut-curry broth packed with veggies, rice noodles and tofu, and Oven-Roasted Kale, which is accented with mushrooms, feta and red onion. For a dinner party this weekend, I’m leaning toward the Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale. (Fresh veggies figure prominently in Cafe Miranda fare thanks to Kerry’s farm, which is meticulously managed by Anne Perkins.)

And hey, look at that, it’s December and I’ve just given you a great gift idea for the adventuresome cooks in your life, especially the ones who will appreciate a side of humor with their polenta pizza casserole. You can order signed copies at CafeMiranda.com or sans garnish from elsewhere.

Make the Basics, Part III: Ice Cream

Before summer really is over, I thought it’d be a good time to post about my latest culinary passion: making ice cream. When I had envisioned people making their own ice cream in the past, I always pictured someone laboriously turning a crank on a wooden barrel filled with ice and rock salt and thought “oh, that seems like way more trouble than it’s worth!” But then came three fabulous food-filled days in February of this year on Isle au Haut, a small island off of Stonington, Maine. Yes, ice cream on a Maine island in February. Sounds enticing doesn’t it?

Well, here’s how it went down. I was on the island for a whirlwind trip (more on this adventure later!) to do the photography for the fantastic forthcoming cookbook Desserted: Recipe and Tales from an Island Chocolatier to be published by Down East this fall. Kate Shaffer, a co-owner, with her husband Steve, of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, has penned a fabulous book full of humorous stories and knock-out chocolate-centric recipes. The book contains four ice cream and sorbet recipes. I saw her making one of them, the Maine mint chocolate chip, and was captivated. She put the mint-infused custard she had made earlier into her cute, little ice cream maker, which to my delight did not have a giant crank or a pile of ice. It had a frozen metal cylinder that is placed into a plastic container with a small plastic handle that she easily spun around a few times every 4 minutes for 20 minutes or so. Then the ice cream was placed in the freezer for several hours to set. Easy as could be. (The only potential stumbling block is planning far enough in advance so that your custard has time to cool thoroughly overnight in the fridge and then the ice cream has time to freeze solidly.) There are also electric ice cream makers that presumably make the process even easier, but I like the low-tech crank method because that’s just the sort of gal I am: one who appreciates things that are less likely to break down, less noisy, involve you more in the process and all that good stuff.

And then I tasted that ice cream. And wow, I was in love. It was better than any ice cream I’d ever purchased anywhere. It was fresh and creamy and had a perfect balance of flavors. I vowed to get my very own cute, little ice cream maker as soon as the temperature rose above freezing. Since May I’ve experimented with several recipes. Among my favorites so far, aside from Kate’s Maine mint chip, which is still at the top of the list (the recipe can be found in Desserted come October), are salt caramel ice cream, strawberry ice cream, blueberry ice cream and sweet corn gelato. I like making ones that feature foods that are in season in Maine because the ice cream tastes that much more fresh and flavorful. Most of the recipes are very simple and involve making a custard from milk and eggs, which means after mastering the basic process it should be fairly easy to make up your own recipes. I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to! There’s also a new book out called Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home that uses a different method, not involving custard. I’ve heard good things about it and am eager to check it out. Let me know if you have any favorite ice cream flavors or recipes you’d like to share, especially before summer is over!