Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Easy Lunch: Bean Salad

Easy Lunch: bean salad
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

The last days I was way too lazy for cooking. Happenstance, my wife made this great bean salad which is done in no time and will get better over the day as longer the flavors have time to blend. Serve it with some roasted bread and a glass of white wine and you will have a wonderful easy and quick lunch on a too hot day to cook.

Bean Salad
(serves one or more)

1 can (285 g) cooked kidny beans
1 can (285 g) cooked large white beans
1 spring onion
1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
1.5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
0.5 teaspoon sugar
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch black pepper

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Slice the spring onion (should be about 1 to 2 tablespoons of finely sliced spring onions) and blanch them for a few seconds. Then drench them in cold water.

Drench the beans and put in a suited bowl. Add chopped parsley, sliced spring onions and mix.

Make a vinaigrette out of the other ingredients. Add salt to taste. The vinaigrette will be sour in taste. This will disappear later.

Pour vinaigrette over beans. Mix gently and let stand for at least one hour so that flavors can blend. Add salt and black pepper (or cayenne pepper) to taste.

Serve with some roasted toast or white bread and a glass of white wine. Enjoy.

Variation of easy lunch
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

About the two photographs
The two photographs are almost the same. The difference between them are just two details. In the 2nd photo I have moved the parsley leaf a bit more to the back. Now it is on the toast bread instead of in front of it. And I have added some bread crumbs in front of the plate. I did this for two reasons: I feel that the toast bread in the 1st photo was just like a prop and not be part of the dish. By showing a bit more of the front side of the bread (which was covered by the parsley leaf) and by adding the crumbs I wanted to bring it to the attention of the viewer. The crumbs add a bit of casuality (which I like), the image is not that clean as the 1st one is.
In both photographs I have used a tilt-shift lens, mainly to reduce DoF field more without using a too low aperture. The other reasons was that I wanted a small turn of the focal plain. It is not straight to the frame as it would be with other lenses. I slightly turn it around.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tradition at its best

Dresdner Eierschecke (2/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

I have been asked to post the recipe for "Dresdner Eierschecke" several times. And I have to apologize that I needed so long to write it down. The name "Eierschecke" for this cake refers to the top layer which is an egg custard. This cake is a speciality in the German regions Saxony and Thuringa. Dresden is the capital city of Saxony and famous for the historic parts of the city with the "Dresdner Zwinger", Semperoper or the Frauenkirche. I found the recipe for Dresdner Eierschecke a while ago in a monthly journal in 2007 and it was a success from the start. It needs some time to prepare it, but it is worthwhile the effort. I have made some slight changes, so this recipe will differ from other recipes for Dresdner Eierschecke, but it was done in the sense of it.

Dresdner Eierschecke
(for one baking tray)

...for the dough:
350 g all purpose flour
20 g baker's yeast (I use original baker's yeast)
3 tablespoons sugar
125 ml milk (lukewarm)
50 g butter (softened)
1 egg
a dash of salt

...for the curd filling:
750 g curd (Quark)
130 g sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 package instant pudding powder (flavor: vanilla)

...for the egg custard layer:
1 package instant pudding powder (flavor: cream)
375 mL milk
5 eggs (divided into yolks and whites)
150 g sugar
150 g butter
a dash of salt

flaked almonds
powder sugar

For this recipe you need instant pudding powder, which are well known in Germany. I package is meant for 500 mL pudding. The instant pudding powder contains flavor and other ingredients, but no sugar. So you should try to get a pudding powder which is suited for 500 mL of milk.
I'm using vanilla flavor instead of vanilla sugar. It is more intense in flavor. This is for sure a variation for the traditional recipe.

Put flour into a large bowl. In the center form a dell. In this dell crumble the yeast and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and some of the lukewarm milk. Mix gently with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Use just a bit of the yeast. This pre-dough mixture should be fluid. Let stand in a warm place for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes add the other ingredients for the dough and knead some time to from a smooth dough. I suggest to knead at least for 5 to 10 minutes. If the dough is too moist add some more flour. Let stand this dough in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The dough should double in volume.

Meanwhile prepare the egg custard layer and the Quark filling.

For the Quark filling mix eggs, sugar and vanilla flavor until foamy. Add Quark and pudding powder and fold in. Set aside.

For the egg custard layer whisk the egg whites with a dash of salt until stiff. Mix the pudding powder with some of the milk until well blended. Bring the rest of the milk and sugar to a boil. Mix in the pudding powder mixture and while constantly stirring bring to a boil again. Let cool slightly. Then mix in the butter, then the egg yolks. Fold in the egg whites and set aside.

Preaheat oven to 200°C. Grease baking tray.

Knead dough again and roll out the dough on the baking tray. Form a rim and prick the dough several times with a fork.

Disperse the Quark filling on dough to form the first layer. Then very carefully disperse the egg custard on top of the Quark layer to form the next layer. Sprinkle with almond flakes.

Let bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. If the top is getting to brown cover with some baking paper. When cake is done take out of the oven and let cool on a baking tray.

Before serving cut into pieces and dust generously with powder sugar. Enjoy.

Dresdner Eierschecke (3/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Lemon-Mint Ice Tea
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

It happens not too often this year here in Germany where I live, but we were having some damn hot days. Days, when you don't even can think of cooking without sweating, although the oven might be cooler than temepratures outside. These dog days of summer are meant for having a long Siesta in the shadows with something cold: ice tea.

My recipe for Lemon-Mint Ice tea is just one variation. It is more like a blueprint for me, sometimes I make it sweeter, other times I use more lemon juice or lime juice. Sometimes I omit the mint leaves, other times it is more like mint ice tea. Just play around with the ingredients. The only thing I would suggest, use a tea of good quality. I always use loose tea leaves, never tea bags. If you drink a lot of tea like I do you will come sooner or later to tea leaves.

Lemon-Mint Ice Tea
(hope no one else is requesting a glass)

750 mL ice cold water
1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice
some fresh mint leaves

250 mL boiling water
Tea Leaves to make 1 litre black tea
1.5 Tablespoons sugar

Combine the first three ingredients and set aside.

In a suited pot pour boiling hot water over the tea leaves and let brew for two minutes. Then pour the black tea through a sieve directly into the ice cold water mixture.

Serve the ice tea with some extra wedges of lemon or lime. If you like you can garnish the ice tea with some additional mint leaves. If you like it ice cold add some ice cubes to your tea.

Use your favorite black tea for this recipe. I prefer a strong black tea variety. But if you like you can use tea bags too. The amount of mint leaves needed depends on the mint variety and how strong the flavor is. I would suggest to start with not too many. Dog days of summer will last mid of August. So there is some time left to get the right mixture.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The "true" color - about white balance and color mood

It all seems so easy in these digital times of photography. Hit the release button and there you go with a fantastic food shot. Load it up to your computer and almost in no time you can take a look at the results.
...but sometimes taking a look at the results ends up with an unpleasant surprise. What looked great through the view finder or on the little camera screen, now has a not appealing touch into yellow, blue or green. Or you get responses from others telling you, that your photos have a yellow, green or blue color cast. Where in hell did these pretty colors turn into something else?
The answer is very easy: The colors that we human beings see are or can be different from the colors cameras or computer monitors "see, produce or display". The trick is, that we learned to see colors right, even if they are different in the "real" (physical) world. Yes, that can be true. Make a very simple experiment. Take a simple white plate and photograph it with you camera outside on a bright day around noon and then in the house under a simple light bulb. Don't change the camera settings. Load the photos to you computer and take a look at them. The one outside should be white (with default settings of your cameras turned on). But the one taken inside will have a yellow cast. The plate isn't white anymore but more or less yellow. You eye has seen a white plate all the time, because you have learned that the plate is white. Even under physical conditions, where the plate isn't reflecting light, so that it will appear white, we think it is white. This is great for us, because we don't get confused by color changes due to different lighting situations*, but for photography it means to learn the basics about color balance - mainly White Balance. We have to adjust our camera to see things right.

1st statement: Colors in the "real" (physical) world can be different from what we think. Cameras can only display the colors of the "real" world.

What does this mean for food photography? We have to adapt our camera in some way to overcome this physical problem. We have to make our camera ready to see the colors as we want to have them. The keyword here is White Balance. I do not go into the technical background on the meaning of color temperature. It isn't necessary for what we have to do. Important is, we have to change the camera settings in a way, that the camera produces "true" colorsm, so that white is white, blue is blue...

2nd statement: if you never have read any manuals READ the part of your camera's manual on WHITE BALANCE. Do it! If you don't know how to use the white balance feature of your camera right, the colors coming out will always be hit or miss without any control. So, read your manual.

Every camera has some pre-settings for white balance based on general assumptions. These pre-settings often come very close to "reality" and produce good results, which can be improved by some easy postprocessing steps later on. You will find settings for "cloudy day", "sunny day", "in shadow", "tungsten lamp" and others symolized by little pictograms. And you will find a "manual white balance". Try the pre-settings under different conditions to get familiar with them. Use some simple objects for this training: a white plate with some fruit on it for example. Take shots in your usual photography spot. Compare the results.

Now read your manual on "manual white balance adjustment". This is the fine tuning of your camera. Believe me, once you know how to use the manual white balance, you will never use the pre-settings. The idea behind the manual white balance is, that you adjust your camera depending on the momentary light situation by using a so called "gray card". And if you don't have a photographic gray card, you can use a sheet of white paper instead, which oftens gives you good results too. During manual white balance setting steps you "photograph" the gray card (white paper) and the camera is adjusted to this gray/white. Now the white balance is adjusted and colors should be as "true" as possible. At first this might take some time, but after a few times, you will be very fast doing it as a routine step in photo shooting.

Why a gray card? Everything in photographic lighting is based on measurements resulting from reflection of ligth from a defined (photographic) gray card, which reflects defined amount of light. It is a technical agreement on how to measure light, lighting, reflections in photography. You can get these gray cards in every photoshop for reasonable prices.

Now your camera should produce photos with "true colors". But when you take a look at your photos on the computer monitor, they still don't what you want them to be?

3rd statement: you also need to calibrate your computer monitor to display "true" colors. Yes, also the monitor might not display the colors correctly. Most monitors are calibrated during manufacturing, but during the lifetime of a monitor this calibration might get lost due to technical limitations.

I will not go into detail here on monitor calibration and how to do it. I have written about it in the Food Photography Club of Flickr in the thread "Tips, Tricks & Opinions: Monitor Calibration". There you will find more information about it.

If you remember, in my title I have mentioned "color mood". Why? Because sometimes true colors are not what we want to have for compositional reasons. Maybe you want a warmer (more yellow, reddish) color mood to get the impression of a warm day or for a more cozy feeling. Or you would like to have slight blue cast for the idea of a cool morning scenery. Or you just want more popping colors, e.g. an aggressive red, for emphasizing a certain idea. For all these reasons and photographic ideas you may want to change the color mood a bit from neutral (white balance) to a different color mood (warm, cool). Also this can be done with many DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras. After you have adjusted manually the white balance, you can manipulate it towards more red, yellow, blue, green... Or you can do it during post processing your images by changing the color balance manually.

My personal opinion
There is nothing more annoying than a wrong white balance in food photography. Green looking potatoes are not very appealing to me. Or who wants to look at a blueish vanilla ice cream? Did a greenish looking steak makes you salivating? White Balance control is an absolute must in food photography, because we are connecting certain colors with different flavors and taste. There is a correlation for me between color and if a food is appealing to me or not. And for me there is nothing worse than to ruin a food photo by mismatching the color balance (which can not be post process later). I always check white balance before and while shooting. Especially, if you are using natural light, color balance can change from one moment to the other. So, if you like just one take home message from me, my message for today is: Adjust and control white balance for food shootings very carefully. And better check it twice than to miss it.

* Funny thought. After you have read my post on color and white balance, try to imagine how dificult it would be to describe the color of a simple thing like a plate. It could be something like this: "I have bought yesterday a plate, which has a velvet soothing white on a bright day, not too cloudy, around noon. This changes to a wonderful yellow on our dining table with our new light bulbs at a color temeparture of 2700 Kelvin. But if I would have known, that it is aweful blueish on early sunday mornings around 8am, I would never have bought it"

If you are interested in details:
On Color Temperature
On Gray Card
On Color Balance
On Understanding White Balance

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Potato Tapas

Potato Tappas (1/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

This is a very easy to make snack with potatoes. The spiced potatoes will be baked in the oven. You can serve them with salt only or with a dip or sauce you like.

Potato Tappas
(should serve 4)

1000 g potatoes (waxy, firm variety)
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs oregano
1 tablespoon paprika powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chilli pepper powder
5 tablespoons olive oil
Maybe some additional oil

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line out one baking tray with baking paper.

Wash and clean potatoes very carefully. Then cut them into wedges.

Remove leaves from thyme and rosemary sprigs. Chop thyme leaves, rosemary leaves and oregano sprigs as fine as you like them. In a large bowl combine the herbs, and other ingredients to make a marinade. Add some salt.

Add potatoes and mix well so that th epotatoes are covered from all sides with the marinade.

Arrange potato in a single layer on the baking tray. Drizzle remaining marinade over the potatoes. Bake potatoes for 30 to 35 minutes until they are golden brown. If the potatoes getting too dry during baking you can drizzle some olive oil over them.

Remove from oven, add salt to taste and serve hot. Serve them with dip or sauce.

A very easy to make dip: grind one garlic clove with a bit of salt and mix it into 100 g jogurt. Add some lemon juice to the jogurt and add salt to your taste.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Find your Light

I am sometimes asked, how I do light my photos, if there is a general setting for my lighting, which light source I use and so on. This question isn't that easy to answer, because beside the technical side, lighting is a very personal way in composing images. Especially in food photography lighting is essential and you have to find your own light.

For the technical stuff and background information I would suggest the reading of:
Lou Manna: Digital Food Photography. Beside covering the various aspects of food photography in detail (e.g. composition with great examples), the book is also covering the topic of lighting in food photography.
Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul Fuqua: Light - Science & Magic. This introduction to photographic lighting is covering all the aspects of lighting from scientific background to application. It is a great textbook.

My Lighting Equipment:
Natural Light from windows. I use it whenever I can, because I like the differences it is producing, although the pace at it will change can be hard sometimes.
Artificial Light Bulbs (5000 K), stands and equipment. When there isn't enough light or when I want to reproduce a very defined lighting, I am using artifical steady light bulbs. The light bulbs I'm using do not get hot, they still get a little warm though, but nothing you would have to worry about in food photography.

Useful Supplies:
I have various white foam boards of different sizes for fill light. The white styrofoam has the advantage, that the surface is irregular, so that the reflected light is softened a bit.
Silver and golden foil for stronger and harder fill lights. I fix these foils often on the foam boards. The golden foil will produce a more yellow (warmer) fill light. I use it seldom in food photography. The silver foil will produce a stronger fill light than the white foam board. You can bend the foil to produce fill light covering different directions onto the object, so that you can get an almost shadow less object.
Black card boards and papers to shade areas or to "direct" light. By excluding light from certain areas you can create a kind of light beam situation.
Small mirrors. I have several of them for effect light and for a strong fill light in certain areas.
Translucent papers will help you to soften (a too hard) light source. I have them in different sizes and can mount them on litle sticks to just shade certain areas. This is useful for example, when you want to reduce highlights which are too strong.
Sheer Curtain. I'm often using a pieces of sheer curtain to smooth (soften) light. This will soften also hard shadows. Especially useful when using natural light from a window.

Lighting setting:
There is no standard recipe for that, although I do prefer a back light or side light. I seldom use a front lighting. Beside a main light source (main light direction) I have often a fill light from opposite direction of main light source to control shadows. Angle of light and strength of light are depending on what I want to get in my photo, there is no general way to photograph food.

Find your own Light:
Lighting is essential part of the composition. Try to envisage the photo prior you do it. Think of the lighting before taking the photo. Should it be bright or more mysteriously dark? Should it reflect a direct natural light or a more soft still life light? Should it create certain effects? You can't think of lighting without taking the food into account. How do you want the food to appear in the photo? Are there stronger contrasts in the food you have to take care of (e.g. bright and dark parts)? Dark food is "eating" light and in combination with bright food you may have to use a strong main light and shade the brighter parts or you have to use a strong fill light for the darker parts to balance the lighting in these different areas. And because lighting is central part of the composition it is a very personal thing. You have to find your own way, which is a process. The (technical) basics are described in the books mentioned above.

How to learn lighting:
Take a look at many food photographs and analyze them. Find out how they might have been done in lighting. Where is the main light source? What is about shadows? Lighting angle (high or leveled). Is it a soft lighting without hard shadows or is it more structural light creating defined shadows? What is the mood of lighting? Is it bright and sunny, mysterious, dark, cozy, warm, cold, stylish, fancy? How is the lighting for different types of food?
And if you like a certain kind of lighting, try to re-create it. Try to find out how it was done and try to realize it in one of your own photos. In most cases you will end up with something completely different, but in this process you will learn much about lighting.
Try to "see light". This can be done always. Try to analyze the light surrounding you. What is the difference between light in the morning or afternoon; on a sunny or cloudy day. Do it where you like to take your photos and you will learn how to use the light more effectively in the area where you take your photos. Is there a time of day, when light is "best" for you?
And learn from and with others. Talk and discuss about food photography, composition and lighting. Let other critize your photos. You can learn much more from your mistakes than you might expect. If someone doesn't tells you, that the lighting in your photo doesn't work, how will you ever find out? Everyone likes to get compliments on their photos, but the value of a honestly ment review is much more. It gives you something to work on and to improve your skills. A place for such a discussion on the internet is the "Food Photography Club", where members and also non-members can discuss about foo photography in detail. I and others have created this group on Flickr a while ago just for the purpose to learn from each other and to have an in-depth discussion on food photography.

Interested in further posts? I will post some more about food photography in the future (follow the label photography in my blog). If you are interested in a post about Hard light, Soft light you should read the post about it in Alessandro's blog Food-o-grafia

If ou like this post you may also like "Let there be Light!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's nothin' but a Hotdog

It's nothin' but a Hotdog
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Maybe Hotdogs are the "typical" American Recipe for Non-Americans. Not that there aren't any fried sausages in a bun or with bread recipes in Europe. But Hotdogs seem to be THE signature recipe for fried sausages fast food.

I sometimes make Hamburger, but I haven't made Hotdogs for ages. To make Hotdogs is by far no fast food with all the preparing of cucumbers or fried onions you have to do in advance. Even with a store bought hotdog bun it takes some time, but I have to admit that it is worthwhile the effort. So, here my version of a Hotdog.

(should be made 4 hotdogs)

1 small salad cucumber (you need about 200 - 250 g)
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
cayenne pepper and salt to taste

1 tomato
salt and pepper to taste

4 small onions
2 tablespoons butter

4 hotdog buns
4 hotdog sausages (I used Frankfurter Sausages)

Ketchup (or tomato sauce for hotdogs)
Mustard (as hot as you like it)

Peel onions and slice very thinly. Heat butter in a pan over medium high heat and then add onions slices. Let the onions cook on low to medium high heat to brown them. This will take about 10 minutes. You should brown the onions slowly. So they get some sweet notes. When onions are browned to your liking dry them on some paper towel and set aside.

Wash the cucumber and slice them. In a bowl combine vinegar and sugar, add salt and cayenne pepper to your taste and add the cucumbers. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

From the tomato just use the flesh. Cut it into cubes and add some salt and pepper. Set aside.

I make my hotdogs in a pan with some oil. So I pan-fry my sausages until they are browned from the outside on medium high heat. To prevent sausages from bursting I prick them with a toothpick several times from all sides before frying.

Prepare the hotdog buns according to package directions. Slice the buns lenghtwise but don't cut through.

Making the hotdogs:
Pat dry the cucumber slices and make a frist layer with them. Add tomato cubes. Put the sausage on this and add ketchup and/or mustard to your liking. Add fried onions and then close the hotdog. Serve right away.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Peach Jam

Peach jam (2/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Last week I could get some real good peaches, fruity and full of flavor. Isn't there anything better than to make jam out of them? Because these peaches were very ripe and full of flavor, I choose a very simple jam, just peaches and sugar. To support the fruity notes I added some lemon juice (which also supports the gelling process). Again I'm using a commercial gelling sugar which combines all necessary things for the jam. I used a 1:1 ratio gelling sugar for a real sweet jam. Beside for breakfast, this jam is great for any other sweet stuff, like cakes.

Peach Jam

1000 g peaches (weigth after you have pitted them)
1000 g 1:1 gelling sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Note on Gelling Sugar: I'm using a commercial gelling sugar which contains the neccessary acidifier, pectin, gelling ingredients. It is foolproof. And I'm just too lazy to do this completely from scratch.

Cut pitted peaches into pieces. In a large pot puree half of the peaches, then add rest of peaches, sugar and lemon juice. Let stand for 1 hour and stir from time to time.

Meanwhile sterilze your jars. I fill them onece or twice with boiling water and pour out the boiling water immediately before I fill in the jam. This would 1500 mL of jam. So have enough jars at hand and prepared.

Bring the peach mixture to a boil stirring all the time. Let cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Fill into prepared twist off preserving jars and close jars. Let stand for 1 minute and then turn up side down. Let stand for 10 minutes and turn over again. Let cool completely.

Peach jam (1/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Comfort Food: quick and easy

Prawns and scrambled eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Prawns with scambled eggs on buttered bread is one of the typical dishes in northern region of Germany. Especially in harbours where you can get fresh shelled and cooked prawns you will find this in many variations. Mine is just another - very easy - variation. I like prawns with scrambled eggs on a typical German "Schwarzbrot" (coarse rye bread) without butter on the bread. When I'm not in the mood for cooking I get some prawns from my favorite fishmonger and within a few minutes comfort food is ready to serve.

Scambled eggs and prawns
(just for me)

about 100 g prawns
3 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
chives (chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
2 -3 slices coarse rye bread

Bring the prawns to room temperature. I often use pre-cooked shelled prawns. So they don't have to be cooked. I would suggest to use these. If you like you can add them in the end to the scrambled eggs in the pan to heat them up.

Mix eggs with milk until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat butter in pan over medium high heat. When hot add egg mixture and let cook until the eggs are set. Then turn the mixture once and add the chopped chives (as much as you like). Let cook until the eggs are done. The eggs should still be moisture and fluffy.

Put scambled egg on a (if you like - buttered) slice of bread, top with prawns and garnish with some chopped chives. Serve with a glass of beer or two.