Sunday, December 19, 2010

Simple Hazelnut Christmas Cookies

Hazelnut Cookies for Christmas
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

These christmas cookies are easy to make and fast too. In Germany they are called Haselnussmakronen. The cookies are crunchy after baking and have some cracks on the outside and some bigger holes inside. The icing with chocolate is optional. You will find many variation sof this type of christmas cookies in Germany.

(numbers of cookies is depending on size)

2 eggs (medium size, in Germany: size M)
250 g powder sugar
250 g Hazelnuts (grounded finely)
grated peel of 0.5 lemons

chocolate for icing

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line baking tray with baking paper.

Mix the eggs with powder sugar until very foamy. It is important that the sugar is completely dissolved. It can take about 10 minutes. As longer as you mix as better the cookies will get. Fold in the grounded hazelnuts and lemon peel. Using a pipe bag pipe little cookies on the baking paper. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 munzes. The cookies will slightly brown and will get cracks on the outside. Let cool on the baking tray for some minutes before you transfer them to the cooling rack.

If you like you can dip the cooled cookies into icing chocolate.

On the photo
I was using a color setting with browns (wood, cookies, backdrop) and sprinkle in some more christmassy green and red. Because you can not tell from the cookies I have added some hazelnuts as reference. I use natural light coming from upper right from a window. A bounce from lower left for fill lights and to reduced shadows. I have tried it with more shadows, but then the chocolate icing gets too dark for my idea.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Almond Cookies Matches

Almond Cookies Matches
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

It's November and it is getting closer and closer to christmas. And christmas is cookies time. And fun. Here is a very easy recipe based on an almond piped cookies. By using a different piping nozzle you can turn them into cookies matches by glacing the tip of the cookies with red color icing or into burnt matches by using chocolate.

Almond Cookies Matches
(depending on size)

70g almonds (grounded)
100g powder sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons Amaretto
60g softened butter
160g all-purpose flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder

Red Icing:
100g powder sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a few drops red food coloring

Toast the grounded almonds in a pan until golden. remove immediately from heat and let cool on a plate. Mix sugar, egg yolk, milk and amaretto until the sugar is dissolved . Add butter and mix until well blended. Add almonds and mix. Mix flour and baking powder, then add it to the butter mixture. Mix until blended. Don't overmix.

Fill dough into a piping bag (round piping nozle with a diameter of 8-10 mm). Pipe cookies onto a baking paper with a lenght of 8 to 10 cm. Place the cookies on baking paper in the fridge for 1 hour. Meanwhile pre-heat oven to 210°c. Take cookies out of fridge and bake for about 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool completely.

For the icing mix the ingredients. The mixture should not be running. Dip the tips of the cookies into icing and place them on a rack. If you like melt some chocolate on low heat. Dip tip of cookies into chocolate for burnt tip of the matches.

Decorating: Make a small box which looks like a match box. Put some cookies into the box.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coconut Rice (Thengai Sadam)

Coconut Rice (Thengai Sadam)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I found the original recipe for coconut rice in cookbook for vegetarian cuisine from South India and adapted it slightly to my needs and preparation. I love nutty flavors in this recipe by the sauted coconut, the roasted sesame seeds and the cashew nuts.

Coconut Rices
(should serve 4e)

1 cup long-grained rice (I used Basmati Rice)
1 tablespoon oil (in the original recipe ghee is used)
0.5 fresh coconut
1 green chili (or more, if you like it hot)
0.5 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black gram dal
1 teaspoon Bengal gram dal
1 red chili (halved, seeds removed)
0.5 teaspoons Asafoetida
8-10 curry leaves

2 table spoons oil (in the original recipe ghee is used)
4 Tablespoons cashew nuts
Sugar to taste (optional)
2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds

Prepare the coconut. Then grate the coconut flesh. I like bigger pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and add the grated coconut. Sauté on medium high heat until the coconut is golden brown. Take from heat and take coconut out. Let dry on some paper towels. Set aside.

Dry roast the white sesame seeds until they are sligthly brown. Immediately take out of the pan and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons oil over medium high heat and add the halved cashew nuts. Sauté the nuts until golden. At last add some sugar to taste to caramelize the nuts. This will give them a delicat sweet touch: I like them this way, but you can omit this step. Remove from heat and let them dry on paper towels. Set aside.

Cook rice according to package directions with 0.5 teaspoon salt. When rice is done add finely diced or chopped green chillies and the sautéed coconut. Set aside.

When the rice is done make the tempering. Heat two teaspoons oil on high heat. Add first mustard seeds. Let cook for about 30 seconds. Then add cumin seeds, black gram dal, Bengal gram dal and the halved chili. At last add the Asafoetida and curry leaves. The tempering is done when the mustard seeds start to pop. Then add the mixture to the rice and mix. Garnish with the cashew nuts and roasted sesame seeds. Enjoy.

On the photo
I stayed here in a monochromatic color setting with brown the dominant color, except for some green. I used a wider depth of field here to get a more busier appearance of the scene. I wanted an impression of a table with plenty other dishes, although I show only one part of it. Therefore I cropped it harder, so that it looks like on a serving tray with the garnishes on the side. The coconut in the food is/was hard to highlight, but the coconut in the back does it. The whole coconut also adds a nice strcutural contrast to the brown basket and the brown backdrop. To highlight the rice more I laced it in a white bowl that acts as a framing and seprates it from the rest. The three other white circles (little bowls and coconut) are not overlapping to have them as own structural elements. The lighting was easy. Ligth from a window from upper right. On left back and back I used black flags to get a darker background. On the very fron I used a bounce from top to get some fill light in front of the bowl.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Moonblush Tomatoes

Moonblush Tomatoes
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I found the recipe for moonblush tomatoes on Sylvie's Blog 'A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit'. I was hooked by this easy recipe and by adding the flavors of olive oil and thyme. The first time I have made it as described by Sylvie. The 2nd time I couldn't resist and did it my way and it did work too (at least for me).

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
(Moonblush Tomatoes lazy man's style)

Preheat ovent o 220°C. Take as much cherry or/and date tomatoes as you like and half them. Put them cut side up into an oven proofed dish. Brush them with olive oil, sprinkle them with a bit of salt, then with sugar to your taste. Rip off the little leaves from thyme sprigs and sprinkle them over the tomatoes to. Put tomatoes into the oven and keep temperature for 5 minutes at 220°C. Then reduce heat to 70°C and let the tomatoes in the oven as long as they are as dry as you want them.

This is a recipe with no amounts and times given. I do amounts and timing here as I like it in that moment.

About the Photo
A very easy setting using a high angle. The color setting is based on primary colors of red, blue and a bit of green. Again I'm using a warm (red food) vs. cold (blue background) color contrast. The blue is not just the cooler color here. It also stands for freshness and sea (referring to a mediterranean setting). The red tomatoes in a soft backlight are of a warm red. For the styling I added the fork with a single selected toamto on it. The fork acts here like a kind of framing to get the attention to that tomato. I used this styling idea here to the attention of the viewer focussed more. Otherwise an anchor point would be missing here for me. The addition of the thyme sprigs and the olive oil bottle are just to make reference to the recipe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Torta di Fregoloti

Get your piece of cake
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I found the recipe for Torta di Fregoloti a while ago and forget about it. I rediscovered it in a food journal lately and found the idea interesting not only to use almonds as in many other recipes for Torta di Fregoloti but also more of it. That makes the cake or pie much more nuttily. Instead of just using almonds I used hazelnuts and walnuts along with the almonds. So maybe this is not a Torta di Fregoloti as you know it or as it is written down in the books, but I tried to catch the idea of it and to make it my own.

In German one could call it a 'Streuselkuchen mit Nüssen' and in English I would translate it as crumble cake or pie with nuts. The cake is based on a very simple shortcrust cake (Mürbeteig). It makes for a dry crumble cake. Instead of cutting it into pieces everyone is breaking off a piece of the Torta di Fregoloti. Serve it with a good cup of coffee (or red wine). Kids will like it with a glass of milk or a cup of cocoa.

Torta di Fregoloti
(makes one cake of 24 cm)
250 g all-purpose flour
150 g sugar
70 g almonds (coarsly chopped)
70 g walnuts (coarsly chopped)
70 g hazelnuts (coarsly chopped)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
200 g unsalted butter (cold)
2 tablespoons Brandy (you can omit the Brandy, if you bake for kids)
Topping: powder sugar

Preaheat the oven to 200 C. Grease a spring form of 24 cm in diameter (you could also use one of 20 cm, but the cake will be higher and baking time longer). Chop the almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts as coarse as you want them. I like to have bigger pieces of them in the cake. Mix the nuts with flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add cold butter (cut into chunks) and brandy and using your hand form a crumbly dough. DO not over-knead it with your hand. The dough should be crumby. Fill dough into baking form and bake for about 25 minutes until cake is golden.
Let cool cake completely on cooling rack. Then dust generousely with powder sugar. Serve cake as it is and invite everyone to break off pieces of the cake to enjoy with coffee, red wine, milk, cacao or whatever you want.

One remark on greasing the form. I do not use butter. I line out the form with a large piece of baking paper in a way that the paper looks over the rim of the form. In that way you will get the cake out easily and you can use the paper to wrap the cake into it. It looks very rustic and it is great way to take it with you for a picnic.

Simple Pleasure
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

About the photos
I started with a view from above to show the crumbly top of the cake (2nd photo). Instead of dusting it with powder sugar through as sieve (as shown in the photo) I use the powder sugar directly because the sieved sugar wasn't good to see in the photo. By that I found out that I like it that way even more. Because of the sugar the nuts weren't that visible and so I added some roasted one for the styling on the cake and some beside. I already started to get a more casual look by having some of the sugar on the baking paper, but still have a more clean look. The lighting was simple. Natural light from a window and just a very slight fill from lower right (2nd photo). The structural composition is made by two circles and by a square (paper). The cake is almost centered to make for a very balanced shot. The one side of the paper is overlapping the cake to get more tension into the composition. The color scheme is based on a warm (brown of cake, paper) and cold (dark blue-grey of the background) contrast. Beside the sieve I didn't use proppings to keep the attention on the textures and structures of the cake. I used a 50mm lens at f=11.
Although the photo shows the cake well I though it was a bit too clean and not casual and messy enough. So I go for a messy setting as shown in the 1st photo. Basically it is the same concept as in the 2nd photo. I go closer and used a slightly leveled angle with a 70mm lens at f=4.0. The lower angle and closer setting is getting the focus on the break up of the cake. With a more shallow depth of field I add some dimension to the composition by not having the whole cake in focus now. But you can still see the textures of it. The break up of the cake add just the messyness I wanted to have for it. The lighting wasn't changed except that I used a fill light from lower left to get more light on the 'inside' of the cake. I didn't use a bounce on right side here. Iwanted to have some shadows here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mediterranean Filled Tomatoes

Straight from the oven: mediterranean filled tomatoes
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

These filled tomatoes bring together some mediterranean herbs with rice, miunced meat and feta cheese. The filled tomatoes are easy to make and you can easily made them in advance and also for many guests. You can serve them straight from the oven or even just luke warm. If you have some leftovers, out them in the freezer for the next day. Re-heat them in the oven for 10 minutes.

Mediterranean Filled Tomatoes
(depending on size, for about 8 tomatoes)

100 g rice (cooked and cooled)
2 medium sized onions
1 garlic clove
150 mL Olive Oil
250 g minced meat
150 g Feta Cheese
4 sprigs Thyme (about 10 cm long, just the leaves)
3 sprigs Rosemary (about 10 cm long, jsut the leaves)
5 Sage Leaves
2 heeped teaspoons paprika powder
salt and pepper to taste.

Chop onions and garlic clove and cook them in about 50 mL of the olive oil over medium high heat until softened. Remove from heat and let cool down. Add minced meat and rice and mix. Cut the leaves of rosemary and sage into pieces and add them with the thyme leaves to mixture. Add paprika powder and mix all to form the filling. Crumble the feta cheese into mixture and mix carefully so that the cheese still show some bigger pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste, but take into account that the feta is already salty. Set aside.

Wash and clean tomatoes. Cut off the upper part to form the lid. Let the stem remain on the tomatoes. Using a teaspoon removed the flesh and inside of the tomatoes so that you can fill the tomatoes. Don't thow the flesh away. You can make a great tomato juice from it, just puree it.

Preheat oven to 200 C. Fill the tomatoes with the filling generousely. During baking the filling will shrink a bit. Set the tomatoes losely into an oven proofed dish and drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the tomatoes. Salt and pepper the tomatoes again to taste. You can add an additional sprig of thyme or rosemary to flavor the olove oil during baking, but keep an eye on the herbs, because they should not gett too brown. Bake tomatoes for about 20 minutes. To avoid browning of the green stems you can wrap or cover them losely with aluminium foil. After 10 minutes you can brush the tomatoes with the olive oil again.

Remove from oven and serve with toasted baguette.

About the photo
Almost no propping this time (except for some herbs in the back). I wanted a minimalsitic setting to refer to the "straight from the oven" idea. To mbring out the red of the tomatoes I have used a backlight and slightly over exposed the image. To make the red work I used a well saturated green as color contrast. This complimentary color contrast can make the red more dominant, especially if the green is not as bright as the red. With the blue of the oven proofed dish and the yellow of the olive oil I have together the proimary colors (red, blue and yello) which is a very active and popping color triangle, which often gives the impression of freshness and sunny feeling. I alos used a cool-vs-warm color contrast. The red and yellow are the warm colors (food) which are in contrast to the cool colors green and blue (background, dish). As main structural element I have used the diagonal line made by the tomatoes. Together with the fron side of the oven proofed dish they make a triangle which opens to the front side. At last I have focussed on one tomato only and make it dominant. The other tomatoes are blurry or cropped. There was not much of styling. I have just selected the tomato which should be in front and placed the other behind and beside. The whole arrangement was done in less thean 5 minutes, because the overall arrangement was made while the tomatoes were in the oven. After I have had my tomatoes I tried other settings with the leftover tomatoes, but nothing worked as this setting: straight from the oven.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Now during the dog days I don't like to cook. For these hot summer days a fruit salad is the best. And with blueberries in season now here in Germany I made an apple blueberry salad. There is a bit of cooking though, because the apple slices have to be seared in the pan with walnuts for a few minutes to caramelize them.

(up to 4 servings)

500 g blueberries
2 apples (cut in slices)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons walnuts (cut in pieces as you like them)
3 tablespoons sugar
mint leaves

Marinade for the blueberries:
1 tablespoons honey
juice of a lime

Cream-Cheese jogurt:
3 tablespoons honey
90 g Cream Cheese (I use Philadelphia)
3 or more tablespoons jogurt
lime juice to taste

To make in advance: Marinade the blueberries in a mixture of honey and lime juice. Keep in the fridge for about 30 minutes or longer. So the blueberries will be cool when serving later for the salad.

To make the salad: on medium high heat melt the butter, add apple slices and walnuts and sear them until the apple slice get soft. Add sugar and caramelize apples and walnuts. Remove from heat and arrange the apple slices and walnuts on plate. Top the mixture with the blueberries and if you like add some of the marinade too. Sprinkle with small mint leaves (or with chopped mint leaves).

Mix the ingredients for the cream cheese jogurt. If you like it smoother add more than 3 tablespoons jogurt. Add some lime juice to taste.

Serve the apple-blueberry-salda with thre jogurt on the side. Enjoy!

Summertime (with fruit salad)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

About the Photos
At first you may find that both photos are not that different, but they are from a technical point of view. The 1st one was made with a 70mm macro lens at f=2.8 and the 2nd one with a 50mm at f=1.7
I often get the question which lens I use for food photography. And there is only one answer: the one which I could get the result with I have in mind.
For the first one I chose a longer focal lens to get a narrow angular field (perspective). With longer focal length the persepctive difference between front and back is narrow. This gives a good balance of front and back and the long focal length is avoiding distortions with this kind of angles.
In the 2nd I used the 50mm lens which has (compared to the 70mm) a wider angular field. Things in the back seems to be smaller as compared to thos in the very front. In a leveld angle photo this can add some dynamic to the composition. In the angle I used here in combination with the ascending diagonal line one could get the impression the fruit has a motion towards the front.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nectarine-Coffee Jam

Nectarine-Coffee Jam
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

The combination in this jam is really addictive. The fruity sweetness of teh nectarines is completed by the delicate touch of coffee beans. As I don't like my jams overly sweet I use for most of my jams a commercial gelling sugar. For the Nectarine-Coffee Jam I have used "Dr. Oetker's Super Gelling Sugar 3:1" (German Brand). It already contains pectin and you can reduce sugar to 1/3 of fruit weight.

Nectarine-Coffee Jam
(3 to 4 jars à 400ml )

900g nectarines (weighted after pitting)
300g super gelling sugar (Dr. Oetker's, read note)
7 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons coffee beans (use your favorite coffee blend)
1 vanilla pod

After pitting the nectarines weight them to make 900g fruit. Puree half of the nectarines (I use the food processor). Cut the other half into small pieces. Put fruit into suited pot. Add 6 tablespoons of lime juice and the super gelling sugar and mix.
In a mortar pound the coffee beans and put into a suited cooking bag (I used tea bags). Close bag and put into fruit mixture. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrap out the vanilla seeds. Put seeds aside and add the vanilla pod halves to the fruit mixture. Let stand the fruit mixture for 2 hours.
After two hours bring mixture to a boil over high heat stirring all the time. Let cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Then remove from heat and remove the vanilla pods and the coffee bag. Add the last 1 tablespoon lime juice, vanilla seeds and mix.
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.

"Dr. Oetker's Super Gelling Sugar 3:1". Dr. Oetker is a well known brand in Germany. There are several gelling sugars available. The "3:1" super gelling sugar already contains pectin and you only need 1/3 of sugar. If you can't get it, make the jam as you know it or find in cook books.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Apfelschmalz - a typical German bread spread

Typical German Bread Spread: Apfelschmalz
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Apfelschmalz (if you like to translate it: apple lard) is one of those typical and rustic bread spreads you will have for what is called 'Brotzeit', which is a snack with a rustic bread and often beer. Apfleschmalz is fruity and the sweet notes of the apples are great with the salty lard and the onions. Good things ofetn come the easy way.

(serve with rustic bread)
1 apple (a more sour variety)
2 onions
150g lard
4 sprigs thyme
5 sage leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice

Cut the onions in not too small pieces. Heat lard on medium high heat and add the onions. Lett cook on medium high heat until the onions get a light golden brown. While cooking stir ferquently.

Meanwhile peel the apple and cut into small pieces. Drizzle lemon juice over the apple pieces to avoid browing. Bind the herbs together. When onions have a nice golden color, drain the apples. Add the herbs and apple pieces to the lard and let cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Then remove the herbs and add some salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and fill into jar. Keep it in the fridge.

Serve it with some rustic bread, salt and pepper. I suggest a glass of beer.

On the photo
A composition based on the two diagonal lines. The ascending diagonal line (from lower left to upper right) is made by the slice of bread, the jar, and the bread in the back. The opposite diagonal line (descending line from upper left to lower line) is made by the orientation of the little board, the knife, and the top slice of bread with the spread on it. Almost every element in th ephoto has the orientation in one or the other diagonal line, except for the bread crumbs on right side. I kept the photo in a more monochromatic color setting. The lighting: main light source is coming from right side (a near window). I use a white bounce on lower left side to reflect some light back on the spread to get it brighter. Another bounce at the distance in upper left to brighten the shaded area a bit. Postprocessing: just some color adjustments and highpass filter.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Raisin-Almond Cake

Taken from the books
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Some cakes I bake frequently. This one belongs to it. Actually it is a bundt cake with raisins and sliced almonds, but not baked in the typical bundt cake (Gugelhupf) form. The recipe I have posted ealier here on my blog in the post Bundt Cake with Raisins and Almonds

For the photo I have chosen to place the cake on cook and baking books. There are some books which I often go back to, because the recipes in are typical or foolproof. Some recipes are know for many many years, some from my childhood. If you are German take a closer look at the books and I'm pretty sure, that one you will know: the top one. It is a baking book originally published in 1960 (this is a reprint of the original, the original book belongs to my mother) called "Backen macht Freude". It has been translated into English and is available as "German Baking Today" (published by Dr. Oetker). Unfortunately they have redo it and changed the photographs to meet todays readers expectations. If you have the chance to take at vinatge book, you will see how dramatic food photography has changed. You will get an idea, when you browse the photos of the Vintage Cookbooks group on Flickr.

For the photo I wanted to achive that we all rely on a set of cookbooks, we like or which we are familiar with. The books are arranged in a way, that you can't see which orginal title it is. In the top one I have made a little dog-ear to indicate, that it has been used. With the crumbs I gone a bit messy to empohasize the feeling that it is an every day cake, you grab a slice and you don't take care about crumbs you produce. The background I have over exposed intentionally. I wanted the background just for the brightness and the vague idea of plates and glasses. For the styling I have had to cut off several slices to get the distribution of raisins, almonds and the typical little holes in the cake I wanted, but at the end of the day the cake was done and because I did this cake just for me, it didn't matter that the slices were not that perfect.

For the lighting I have used natural light coming from upper left (window about 2 metres away), smoothed by a curtain. I have used two bonces on front left and right to get light reflected on the cake front. So the brightness gradient was reduced and I could get a nice brightness on the cake without over exposing the background too much. An additional bounce was place on right side to get some more light on the siide of the cake too. I have used 70mm macro lens with a shallow Depth of Field (aperture: f3.5) to get a blurry background and to just have the sharpness on the front part of the cake. I did some minimal adjustment with Photoshop (tonal values adjustment, high pass filter), that's all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Every year I color eggs for easter like many others do it too. It is not only tradition but also fun to do. This year I was trying 'natural' colors. My own experiment with natural colors like parsley or red onions weren't successful. The colors were very pale and I have to cook the eggs for too long to get them colored at all. So I was going with 'natural' egg colors I get from a local market for organic products.

The first color I tried was red/purple (cochenille, carmine, natural red) which originally is produced by scaled insects. I like the well saturated purple you can get as you can see it in the above photo. To emphasize on that beautiful color I used a very simple top down angle with just the basket and hay for structural contrast to the purple of the eggs. I kept the colors of the background as dark as possible so that the color of the eggs stand out well.

Easter Eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I tried yellow (curcumin) and green (chlorophyll) too. Both colors were well saturated but still have that earthern touch to it. Again I used the basket with hay, because the structural contrast is really nice. I kept the background in upper right very dark to get a brightness contrast. Especially on the yellow egg I tried to get a soft brighter highlight to create the feeling of sun light falling onto the basket with the eggs. The gradient into the dark gives a kind of homey feeling to this one.

Easter Breakfast
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I took up an idea from the former years in this one: a breakfast with easter eggs. I used pastel colored eggs here in a yellow basket to have all primary colors in the composition. The colors of 1st order can give a sunny and happy feeling. Pastel colors are not as active as the pure colors would have been, but they still create a nice sunny sunday feeling. The background is almost white with some repetition of the colors of the eggs in the napkins. The main viewing line is the ascending diagonal line from upper left to lower right which is also the direction of the main light sourec (window in upper left, soft lighting). I kept the upper right a bit darker to emphasize the 'beam' of light on the eggs. I added some little feathers for a natural touch here.

Easter Breakfast (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This was the breakfast idea from 2008. Again based on 1st order colors red, blue and yellow. And alos the ascending diagonal was used here which ended on the yellow egg.

Easter Tradtion: coloring eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

'Coloring' eggs is an idea from 2009. Again with the primary colors represented in the eggs shown. No obvious viwieng line in this composition, because I wanted to keep a very casual feeling with no obvious order to be seen. This is a photo out of a series of three.

Yellow Eggs and flowers
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Also from last year: close ups on eggs with flowers in the back. I did that not only for yellow, but also for blue and red. The more monochromatic setting is emphasizing on the color and it seems to intensify the colors even more. The flowers add a structural contrast using the same color of the eggs.

I found the last of the easter eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

There is no easter in our family without the traditional easter egg hunt. You never will get too old for this fun on easter sunday. I've entiteld the above photo "I found the last of the easter eggs". The hay and the basket in the far back should represent in this photo the natural touch of egg hunting in the garden. The milk can on the left as a reference to childhood when you have had milk for breakfast. The photo has intentionally more shadows and lights to get the idea of an early morning when beams of light hit the breakfast table. The shadows also emphasize on the sunny side with the green egg in front in the sun light. Actually it was cloudy and the main light coming from the left is from a window. I used it without smoothing it, but I used black flagis in upper left and behind the wooden board to get more shadows in the back. There was just a very slight bounce used from front to lighthen the shadows on the green egg a bit. I used the can as a flag too to avoid to harsh hightlights on the yellow eggs.
...hope you have found your easter eggs.

If you like to see more colored easter eggs, I would like to invite you to visit my Flickr set on Eggs.

I would like to whish you all a Happy Easter and many colored eggs.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Broccoli Soup with Croutons

Broccoli Soup
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Broccoli, some love it, others hate it. This broccoli soup is flavorful and you can make it as thin or thick as you like it. By adding more creme you can make the soup more smooth.

Broccoli Soup with Croutons
(serves 4)

For the soup:
1000g Broccoli
300mL milk
400ml vegetable broth
2 tablespoons Creme (Creme fraîche)
Nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Creme for serving

For the croutons:
4-6 slices toats bread (without crust)
1 clove garlic (halved)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

Clean and divide the broccoli into single florets. Cook the broccoli in salted water for 15 minutes. Decant the water and rinse broccoli under cold water. Set some nice florets aside for garnish. Put the other broccoli back into pot and add milk, broth and 2 tablespoons of creme. Puree the broccoli to make a creamy soup. If you like the soup thin you can add some more milk (or water). Add salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper to taste. Keep soup warm.

Meanwhile cut toast bread into cubes. Preheat oil in a pan and add the garlic to flavor the oil. When oil ist hot enough add the bread and sear until goldden brown. Remove garlic. remove croutons from pan and dry on paper towels. You xcan add some salt to taste.

Serving: put the soup into bowls, add some broccoli florets and serve with croutons and the some of creme on the side (so everyone can thicken the soup)

About the photo
The photo is based on a green (broccoli) and blue (towels) contrast in an otherwise brownish setting. The focus is set on the broccoli and croutons in the soup. The two glasses in the back should refer to a table setting with more than just one serving. The main viewing line is from lower left to upper right with the towels as starting and end point. A 2nd line is build by the two bowl. Both lines meet in the bowl in front. The towel in the back is also making a reference to another bowl with soup. I have used a bright setting with amore shallow depth of field so that the green of the broccoli florets are standing out more. Eveything behind the bowl is more or less out of the focus to reduce the meaning of these elements. The main light source is coming from upper right (window). A sheer curtain was used to smooth the light. A bounce was used on left side in the back to make the back brighter. Another bounce was used in lower right to reduce the shadows on the towel a bit. A third bounth is coming from upper front to give some fill ligth on the florest in the soup.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Swiss Chard Quiche

Swiss Chard Quiche
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Quiche sounds like a fancy french recipe, but when it comes to the cooking and baking they are easy to make, can easily be made for a large number of guests in advance, you can reheat them and they are fantastic for having them in the freezer when you are mucht too lazy for any type of cooking. The making of the shortcrust is not time consuming and again you could sore the dough in the freezer to have it at hand. For this one I have used swiss chard.

Swiss Chard Quiche
(for one large quiche form 26cm diameter or for some smaller ones)

200g all-purpose flour
130g butter (right from the fridge, cut into pieces)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon vinegar
1-2 tablespoons water
butter for greasing the form
flour for working with

1 bush swiss chard
2 onions
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated peel of 1/2 lemon
200g whipping cream
100ml milk
4 eggs
75g Gruyère cheese (grated)
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste

Making the dough: Put flour, butter, salt and eggs into your food processor and mix until the butter and flour are mixed (about one minute). While machine is running add the vinegar first and then 1-2 tablespoons water and mix until dough is formed. The dough will be crumbly still. Knead with hands a few times to form the dough. Then wrap into clinch film and let rest for at least one hour in the fridge. You can prepare the dough the day before you will bake the quiche.

Making the filling: Divide the swiss chard into single leaves and rinse under water. Cut the white stem part of the leaves. Cut the leaves into stripes. Cut the stems into small pieces. Cut onions into rings and garlic cloves into small pieces. Preheat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add onions, garlic and the stem parts and cook for about 43 minutes. Then add the leaves and let cook on low heat for five minutes or until the leaves are soft. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.

Preheat oven (200°c) and greas the form with butter. Get dough out of the fridge and roll out thinly (to avoid sticking use some flour). Line out the form with dough and form a rim. Prick the dough several times with a fork. Arrange the swiss chard mixture on dough.

Mix whipping cream, milk, eggs and 60 grams of the cheese until well blended. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Pour this mixture over the swiss chard. Sprinle with the rest of cheese. Bake quiche in the oven for 35-40 minutes until quiche is done and golden.

Note: if you don't like shortcrust you can use store bough puff pastry too.

About the photo
This is a very basic recipe, easy to make and rustic. I wanted a very basic setting and so I used just the quiche (still in the form) on a towel with a fork on the side. The colors are subdued and earthern to reflect the rustic impression. An old-fashioned looking fork and the wooden board do the same. The quiche is almost centered on the vertical line to get a more quite image. The lighting is coming from upper right from a window (the fork is in the line of light). A bounce on lower left is giving a slight fill light to brighten the front part of the towel a bit. In upper left I have used a flag (black cardboard) to get shadows here. This is enhancing the direction of light coming from upper left.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Potato Bread Spread

Potato Bread Spread
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

The Original title of this recipe is "Waldviertler Erdäpfelkas". Waldviertel is a region in northwestern of Austria. Poatatoes are often called Erdäpfel (apples grown in soil) in Austria. Kas is a shorting for Käse (cheese), but it doesn't mean that there is cheese in it, but the consistency is like that of cheese or reminds one of cheese. I found this recipe in a book for bread spreads. This one is rustic and easy to make. You can easily make it in advance.

Waldviertler Erdäpfelkas (potato bread spread)
(no idea how many this will serve)

200g potatoes (flour type)
1 egg (hardboiled)
50g butter (softened)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 onion
2 anchovy filets
1-2 pickled gherkins
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon caraway (grounded)
1-3 tablespoons yogurt
salt to taste
dark rye bread (or any other kind of rustic bread)

Peel potatoes and cook until soft. Let cool. Then mash the potatoes. Divide hardboiled egg into egg white and yolk.

Chop anchovy filets, onion, gherkins and egg white. If you like you can leave some bigger pieces. If you want a smooth spread chop to small pieces.

Mix softend butter, mustard, hardboiled egg yolk, grounded caraway and paprika powder until smooth. Add the mashed potatoes and mix until well blended. If the mixture is not smooth enough for you, add yogurt until desired consistency.

Then add the ochopped anchovy filets, onion, gherkin and egg white. Mix carefully but do not mash. Add salt to taste.

Serve this spread with your favorite bread. Sprinkle chopped chives over the spread.

About the photo
The idea was quite easy. Because it is a very simple and rustic bread spread I used a rustic and easy looking seeting, which could represent the idea of a quick and easy snack. I used the top down angle with the food not taking much area. So there was more room for the rustic setting. I kept the background mainly in grey tones with the wooden board as main element. I have several of these wooden boards. I buy cheap ones and paint them the colors I like or find appropriate. The main compositional element are lines. There are thre from lower left to upper right (1st by the little board with the bread on it, 2nd made by glass and little plate, 3rd towel). These thre lines are counterparted by the line of the knife. The wooden board is bringing in the vertical line which is also used by the spread (on bread and on plate). The brown plate is taking the lead here, the eye seem to rest on it longer. This was intentionally done, because it gives some tension to the food on the bread. I tried to give the spread on the plate more attention, because one could see the texture of the spread here better than on the bread.
Lighting was easy. Natural hard light from a window on left. A fill light from lower side and another fill light from rigth side to brighten the shadows.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How close to the food should one get in food photos

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (7/7) - the final shot
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

... a personal view on close up shots in Food Photography.

The question is how close should I get in my shooting to the food and not how close can I get in food photography. A close up in food photography is not a question of the technical limitations but a question of composition and content. Sometimes it seems that photographers like to get as close as possible (technically) to the food and not even thinking about a wider setting (what is the best way to make the food look appealing).

Maybe I should explain first what I mean with close up. For me a close up is a setting where only small part of the whole food/dish is shown OR where the food take most of the area in the photo, so that there is almost no background or empty space to be seen. An extreme close up would be a macro, where only details of the food are shown.

A look into food magazines
I read (monthly) food magazines for quite some time. And most of the photos presenting the food are not close ups. Most shots are done with a wider setting, presenting not only the food, but also plates, tableware, proppings and other stuff. And in my opinion there is a reason for it: the background is important for the mood of a photo. A table setting can be stylish, casual, formal, rustic, sunny or related to other impressions. And often it is that feeling the setting is creating which makes us want to make the recipe or what is more important (for them) to buy the magazine.
Close ups are used when the food is very stylish or the styling is important, but in many of these closer settings you still have "space" around the food/dish. Close ups are also used for ingredients, when they are presented alone (often against a sheer white background).

What is the difference between close up and wide setting?
No, I don't mean the distance to the food. What I mean is the difference in the compositional idea. With getting closer to the food you do two things: (1) you reduce background information, so that the space around the food is getting smaller and (2) you concentrate more and more on the food and its details.

(1)The space around the food, the background or whatevery you would like to call it has an important role in food photography. It is making the environment with all the different aspects of tableware, proppings, background and backdrop styling, or colors used. In a wide setting the food is the major element in the composition BUT not the only one. And with the other elements you can create atmosphere and mood which is influencing our perception of the food.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this photo for "English Breakfast Muffins" two elements explain what the food on its own couldn't do. The newspaper stands for breakfast, because it is that time of day, when many of us read the news. And the tableware withits ornaments are standing for typical (or what we think is typical) English tableware. The orange marmelade does the rest. In a close up on the muffins you would have had a hard time to transport this message. As closer you get as more you loose this compositional idea.

(2) As closer you get as more and more you are relying on the food's own fascination. And every little detail of the food is getting more and more important. When in a wider setting a "spot" on the food can easily be overseen, it will jump into your eye when you get close. And as closer you will get as more the shown detail has to speak for the whole food/dish and has to represent it in an appealing way. In one word, it has to be PERFECT.

Perfection is what makes a close up really difficult. You have to capture that one thing that makes your food look beautiful, the thing that makes other say wow. In a wide setting every element is "small" and so the small spot might not even get noticed, but in a close up every element is "big" and so the small spot will turn into a big one, a distracting one.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (7/7) - the final shot
The photo at the beginning of this post is a good example. I think it is a good close up, not perfect maybe, but in my opinion I came as close as possible to what I have in mind. There is no obvious distracting spot to be seen and this single cookie is a good "summary" for the whole food. The sauce on top has a nice texture and the white chocolate makes a nice curl. There are no distracting crumbs on the cut through. But what is most important: although this photo is old (it was taken in 2006) I still like it. Yes, that's a main point: I still like it.

Anchovy and Caper Vinaigrette
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

It is completely different for this close up. This is one of my close up shots which is NOT good. But a good example to explain why. It was made for an "Anchovy and Caper Vinaigrette" that's why there are some lettuce leaves. The lower left corner with the leaf is too dark, it would have neede an additional fill light. And in this close up you don't get what the food is all about. The surface of the vinaigrtee is nit very attractive in this close up and the bits of anchovy and caper are hard to recognize. With that angle the color of the vinaigrette is not well defined. OK, one could say a vinaigrette is hard to photograph. But I would say, if you can't do it right, why do it at all. Think of a different way to do it. When I would do it now, I would go most likely with a wider setting to include what this vinaigrette is for. Salad stands for freshnes, for a light dish (I would try to include that). This vinaigrette seems typical for mediterranean food. I would try to include that. It would be a different approach: this close up tries to focus on the food/recipe no matter what. Now I would try a different approach: do not focus completely on the food but try to transport the idea of a mediterranean salad with a wonderful vinaigrette on a sunny day. I'm not sure how wide in my setting I would get here, but the next example could present a first idea for this one too:

Leek in vinaigrette
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This setting is much wider as the one before, but this could also stand for the vinaigrette.

A suggestion
I know close ups are fascinating, especially when they are professional. But they have to be well done to reach the viewer. A small mistake can turn into a big one and the food sin't appealing any more. Before you get closer and closer to the food think about, if that is the way to show the food from its best side.

Two examples from my older shots (both were taken in 2006).

Close up
Rhubarb Pudding
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Although this is close to the food (the spoon with the pudding on it), the leveled angle gave me the chance to include the dish in the background which let it appear not as close as it was. According to my own explanation above, this one wouldn't be a close up. But from the perspective here it seems very close (and technically it was very close, because it was very close to the minimal distannce of the lens used here). I still like this one for its color and the texture of the pudding on the spoon: it has a nice texture, smooth but not runny. This photo is an example for what I said above: perfection. The spoon was the first element I brought in, mounted and fixed in this position. Then I did the lighting so that the reflections on the spoon were just right for me. I placed the glass with the pudding in the back so that it is behind the handle of the spoon. After all these arrangements were done I dripped on the pudding very carefully, so that it looked "nice" in my opinion. I did this not once, I did it several times. As soon as the pudding was on I did an exposure series.

Wide setting
Fruit Soup (1/3)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

A close up of the fruit soup couldn't shown the all the different fruit which are in the soup. The wide setting was perfect to disply them on the side of the soup and it gave me the chance to play around with the different elements in this composition.

The next two examples are using the same object (brussel sprouts) and again one close up setting and one wide setting.

Close up
Brussel Sprouts
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This close up is working on two details which are not only representing the food, but also make this recipe for me. (1) The popping green color of the brussel sprouts which stand for freshness and the crispyness of the sprouts. The shimmer on them let appear them juicy. (2) The crispy browned onions rings. The taste of the brussel sprouts is so enhanced by browned onion rings. In a wider setting I couldn't have focus more on these two details. I would have lost the onions rings, because they would appear too small.

Wide setting
Hot brussel sprouts curry with Azuki Beans
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I choose a wide setting here. Getting closer here would have mean that I would focus more on details, but there are no details which are important to get the "idea" of this recipe. I include it in this post after the comment made by Wizzy about propping in wide setting. A wide setting doesn't need automatically more proppings. Beside the bowl the food is presented in, there is just a spoon and a place mat. The grey backdrop is a paper board. Such proppings like spoon, napkins, place mats, glasses, bowls are at hand. Even if you don't have many different ones, you can combine them in different ways.

If you like this post, you might also like:

Monday, February 22, 2010

High and Low Key Food Photography

Food Photography is about creating a certain "mood". A food photo, which doesn't create a mood for the viewer will not be effective as a photo with immediate responses like happiness, a cozy feeling, a friendly impression, a stylish look or any other response.

High and low key approaches could create suchfeelings, moods and impression by using this idea which is often used in fashion photography or b/w photography. A high key photo could be described in using bright colors, a soft lighting and reduced contrasts. A low key photo can be described by using dark colors, a harder lighting and stronger contrasts. I low key you often find large areas which appear almost black.

High Key
With the bright colors, the soft lighting and the reduced contrasts you can create a friendly mood. Impressions like sunny, soft, friendly, cozy, smiling, bright, airy, light come to mind.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this one I have used a very simple composition: apples in a bowl against (cropped on right side) and a light green background. The light is coming from left through a window and was smoothed by a sheer curtain. So, I could get a soft light without to harsh highlights. When you take a look at the highlights on the apples they are bright but the borders of the highlights are soft. To get the image brighter I have overexposed the image. I tried different setings of getting the image as bright as possible without creating blow outs in the highlights. Although blow outs are used in high key shots, I think that in food photography one should use blow outs carefully. Here I wanted definition in the highlights too.
The colors have almost the same brightness and saturation so that the contrast are reduced. I was using the color triangle of a broken red, blue and green. This can create a happy impression and is not as active and dominant as the primary triangle of red, blue and yellow.
I cropped the bowl on right side. One could say I cropped the shadow side of the bowl and so I cropped out some of the contrasts which would have occured in the shaded area. For the apple on left side I used a fill light from upper right to reduce the shadows on the right side of this apple.
To make a softer appearance I used a more shallow Depth of Field.

Why I used a high key setting here? The color of the apples (variety 'Fuji') are of a lovely bright red to pink with some yellow notes. They are not overly sweet and have a 'light' taste with fresh fruit notes. So color and taste were the reason to go with a very bright setting, which creates a sunny, light and friendly feeling.

Low Key
With the dark(er) colors, a hard lighting and the higher contrasts you can create a more subdued mood. In stills you can even create the mood of old paintings. Impressions like evening, rustic, subdued, homey, earthern, heavy come to mind.

Red Apple
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

As soon as I saw this apple (variety 'Red Delicious') I knew that I would use a low key approach here. The texture and coloring of the apple is very picturesque and reminded me a bit of apples you can see in still life paintings. The surface of the apple is very unique, indvidual. So I just wanted some light on the apple to highlight this structure but want to leave the empty space more or less in darkness. Because a plain black or dark background would give an artificial look, I used a dark wooden board for some structures. And the wooden backdrop is emphasizing the rustic character in this photo.
In contrast to the high key photo above I used flags to exclude light and to direct it. The light is coming from upper left side from a window. I didn't smooth it here. You can see that the hightlights are strong and have much sharper borders than in the high key photo. A black board (flag) was placed on the right side of the apple so that no light could be reflected to the right side of the apple. I wanted tto keep it in the darkness. There is also a flag on upper side of the photo to keep the back more in the dark. To direct light and to create a smaller, more visible, beam of light I use two flags on left side (black boards) to narrow down the light as much as needed. A bounce from upper front is giving a soft fill light on the apple to highlight a bit the structures of the apple surface.

High & Low Key
In the two examples above the food gave me the idea to use a high key or low key approach. But you can use the same food to create completely different food photos.

Rose Tea (1/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Rose Tea (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In these two photos for rose tea (dried rose buds)I created a complete different mood in the high key shot (3) and the low key shot (4). Although you can compare the settings, which are very similar, the mood and impression of both is very different.

I like both photos for different reasons. The high key one for its very airy feeling and the brightness, which is creating a very clean impression. The low key one is highlighting the wonderful color of the rose buds. Against the dark background the color is standing out well. To break the plain black of the background I have placed a cup in the back. This is adding orientation and dimensionality. Without the cup in the back it would have been to artificial. I could have placed some buds on right side of the plate for that reason too but I wanted to keep the photo as simple as possible. In the high key shot (3) I have some rose buds on right side of plate to structure the white a bit more. Otherwise I would just have an area of color against a white background.

High and Low Key Photos are maybe more "extreme" concerning lighting and contrasts, but they give you the chance to play around with mood in your food photos. And they give you the chance to train yourself in lighting and how to use light. In photography it is very important to know the basics of lighting and to train your skills.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pickled Eggs

Pickled Eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Pickled eggs (in German: Soleier) is not only a good usage of hardboiled eggs but more little salty treats.The recipe is very easy and you can adjust it to your own ideas. Take the recipe as a kind of blue print for your own pickled eggs. The salty eggs go well together with a sweet and spicy chutney.

Pickled Eggs
(ingredients given for 1 litre)

40g salt
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 cloves

You have to adjust ingredients and hardboiled eggs to your own needs. The amount of salt water depends on the size of your preserving jar.

The number of hardboiled eggs depends on the size of your preserving jar. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes. Let cool down and crack the shell (but do not remove the shells). This will give the salt water the chance to penetrate the eggs much better.

Prepare your preserving jar(s). Clean them and fill them with hot water. Remove water. Carefully put the hardboiled eggs into the preserving jar(s). Add the spices and the herbs.

Bring water with the salt to a boil so that the salt disolves completly. Add as much of the hot salt water to the eggs in the jar. The eggs should be covered completely with the salt water. Close the preserving jar. Let stand for 24 hours before you serve them. You can store the pickled eggs for a few day in the salt water.

Serve them with your favorite chutney, sauce or dip. You could also try tabasco sauce or just mustard.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Curd Doughnuts with Cranberries

Curd Doughnuts
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

During the time of Carnival you will find all different kinds of doughnuts in Germany. Big ones, small ones, filed ones and with all different flavors. These one here are different in their own way: there is curd in the dough. Curd (German: Quark) is very special. It adds such a nice fresh note, something between jogurt and a cream cheese. Cranberries in the dough are not typical for German but they go so well together with the flavor of the curd.

Carnival season in Germany starts on 11th of November at exactly 11.11am each year (called the 5th season) and ends with Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). The high season for Carnival in Germany starts thursday before ash wednesday called Alt-Weiber-Donnerstag (Old Hag's day). On sunday the street carnival has in many cities of the rhine region a first highlight with parades in the quarters of the cities. In Cologne and Bonn they are called Veedelszoch and it is must to participate in the parade of your own quarter. On carnival monday there are the big parades in the cities. Famous is the carnival monday parade in Cologne, which is one of the biggest ones in Germany.
I have to apologize: I live in Bonn (near Cologne), so my opinion might be influenced in some way.
You can find some more information on Cologne Carnival on Wikipedia. Or you might like to visit the information presented by the City of Cologne.

Curd Doughnuts with Cranberries
250g Curd
3 eggs (medium size)
60g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 dash salt
50ml sunflower oil
2 tablespoons raspberry fruit brandy
250g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
40g dried cranberries (chopped)

150g sugar mixed with
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
in a bowl for dusting the fried doughnuts

oil for deep frying

Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt until creamy. Add the curd and mix until blended. Add sunflower oil and mix until blended. Add fruit brandy and mix until blended.

Mix flour, baking powder and chopped cranberries. Add to the egg mixture and mix just until blended. Do not overmix.

Heat oil for deep frying in a suited pot. Carefully put walnut sized pieces of dough into the oil and fry them for 2-4 minutes from each side or until slightly golden. The doughnuts will double in size during frying.

Take the doughnuts out with a slotted spoon and dry on kitchen paper. While still warm roll the doughnuts in the sugar cinnamon mixture.

They are best when they are still warm. Serve them the same day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Post Processing in my Food Photography

I'm frequently asked, if I do post process my digital photos. Of cause I do! It is part of the whole photography process. For me "post processing" is the part which is comparable to "film development & print" in analog photography. Post processing is the fine tuning in digital food photography and for me integral part of it.

In the following I will give a brief overview about the post processing steps in my photography.

White Balance / Color Balance
Although I check the white balance frequently throughout a shooting using a grey card and manual white balance of my camera, there are cases where a little correction is needed or where I would like to emphasize a certain color mood.
I check every of my photos for white balance, even if the white balance doesn't need to be adjusted. It has become a routine operation for me in post processing. And with that routine I have trained over time my eye for slight variations in color mood, color hues and white balance.
To do this properly a color calibrated monitor is essential. A detailed thread on this topic can be found in the Food Photography Club of Flickr (Tips, Tricks & Opinions: Monitor Calibration).
A good white balance is always based on a proper setting of the white balance of your camera. When you have a digital SLR use the manual setting(s) and follow the manual. For manual white balance you will need a grey card (or when you don't have one a white sheet of paper instead) as reference for the manual white balance setting. If you don't have a digital SLR or your camera is just offering some pre-settings, use the one which comes closest to a neutal white. If you can't decide which setting works best on the little LCD screen of your camera, try different pre-settings. So you have different choices for the post processing later. For post processing it is very helpful to have something "white" in the photo as reference for your white balance adjustments. I often have used a very small piece of white paper and placed it somewhere in the photo where I could easily clone it out later after I have adjusted the white balance.
If you are interested in some more information, I suggest the following links:

A properly focussed photo is the basis of a good photo. With "sharpening" or "re-sharpening" I do not mean to sharpen an otherwise blurry photo and to repair it in some way. I would suggest to do it the hard way: DELETE every blurry photo. The worst thing that could happen to me is to rouine a good composition by wrong focussing and to get a blurry photo.

With a perfect focussed photo you can go into the further steps of post processing which are doing more or less the same as you know them from analog photography when you develop your films or doing prints in the darkroom. I don't want to get in the more technical details here, but in film photography the chemical processes involved enhance the sharpness of photos. A phenomenon which is often described as "unsharp maskening" and makes use of differences in toning of neighbour areas of your negative or during print development. Software products like photoshop are offering a digital tool to mimic this effect called unsharp maskening. It can be found in the filter section under the different sharpening tools.
For food photography I like the tool "highpass filter" often more, because it seems to enhance the overall contrasts and dimensionality of the photo. Especially for photos, where you need just a slight sharpening this works great. You will find it in the filter section under other filters.
In photos where I have large colored areas which should not be sharpened and other areas with fine structures which should be sharpened I also use the unsharp maskening method in the luminance channel of the photo. For this you have to switch from RGB-mode to the LAB-mode first. Then select the LAB-brigthness from channel section of your photo. After doing this you use a slight soft-focus of a- and b-channels (Gauss effect). With that you get good defintion in the fine structures without sharpening the colored areas too much.
For my post processing I often use the high pass filter with a pixel radius less than 5. The luminance method is more complex and you need some more fine tuning here. I often start with a setting for the unsharp maskening of the luminance of pixel radius of 1.0, a strength of 200% and a threshold of 2. For the soft-focus effect according to Gauss I start with 0.5 pixel radius for a- and b-channel.

Although I have used the expression sharpening in this section, one has the say, that it is not a sharpening (in the wordest true sense) but a method to enhance the contrast in your photo so that they appear "sharper". What I have said so far is based on my experiences for digital uses. For hard print you could use the same tools, but the tools are used differently.

Is there a case, where sharpening of a photo is a must? Yes. Any time you reduce image size in pixels or reduce data to make image smaller in storage size, you should re-resharpen your photos to maintain their status in sharpness. All my photos of medium size I posted here or on flickr are re-sharpened after size reduction.

Sometimes, when I have overseen a mark, fleck or stain, I try to clone it out. I have to admit, that I do this only for very small areas, where it can easily be done. The reason: I'm too lazy to spend too much time for this kind of post processing. And you can do it much easier, when you plan your shooting and do the arrangements very carefully. But accidents can happen and when it can easily be done, I do it.

Sometimes I play around with contrasts, gamma values or color saturations. But I have to say, that I don't use them frequently. Or when I use them I use them very carefully. Changes to the original levels seldom exceed 5%. And when I used them in post processing a variation in contrast, gamma values or saturation was part of the whole process. Example: When I would like to have enhanced contrast but can not get the effect by lighting, exposure and aperture I take into account if I could get that effect by post processing.

Gereneral discussions on post processing
Here are two links to threads on post processing you might be interested in to read:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cream of White Turnip Soup

Cream of White Turnip Soup
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

White Turnip (German: Speiserübe, Mairübchen, Teltower Rübchen, French: Navet) were a very common vegetable in past. They were discovered again here in German and you now can get the different varieties again. The taste of White turnips remind a bit of cabbage turnip (Kohlrabi) and radish with a delicate sweet touch. Together with potatoes they make a nice and easy to make Cream of White Turnip Soup.

Cream of White Turnip Soup
(4-6 servings)

500g white turnips
400g floury potatoes
1 leek
4 tablespoons butter
800ml vegetable broth
100g Creme Fraiche (sour creme)
salt and pepper to taste
nutmet to taste
For garnish: Pumpkin seed oil (or walnut oil)

Peel white turnips and potatoes and cut into pieces. Clean leek and cut into rings (use only the white part). Heat butter in a suited pot and add turnips, potatoes and leek and cook for a minute or two but don't let brown. Add the vegetable broth and a bit of salt. Let cook until the vegetables are soft (depending on size this will need between 15 to minutes). When vegetables are soft puree the vegetables with a hand blender. Mix in the Creme Fraich but do not let cook again. If the soup is too thick add some water. Add salt and pepper to taste. At last add some nutmeg powder.
Garnish the soup with a few drops of pumpkin seed oil (you can also use other oils like walnut oil or even truffle oil).
For some greenery you can use the green part of the leek. Cut it into small rings and blanch them for a few seconds, so that they get soft) Add some leek rings on top of the soup.
Serve with some white bread.

You can serve it in smaller cups for a nice starter soup (then you will have around 6 servings) or in larger bowls (around 4 servings)

Monday, January 25, 2010

An apple a day...

... keeps the doctor away, I know. But it is also giving me the chance to talk about food photography and conceptional ideas. I have bought two different apple varieties on our local market (Belle de Boskoop, Braeburn). I started with a still using Boskoop apples.

Boskoop Apples
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

The basic idea was to use a random looking arrangement of Boskoop apples, but using one single center apple as the focal point. From the apples I used one which combines the most typical characteristics of the batch. Around this center apple I arrange different ones showing different chrarctristics, e.g. different color (a deep red or bright red in upper right, a green one in upper left or an orange one in lower left). To make the single center apple the dominant point in this photo, no other apple is touching this one and around it is some free space. And I used a very shallow Depth of Field (80mm/f 2.8 tilt-shift lens, with an extreme tilting of about 10° to reduce Depth of field even more).

An apple a day
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this second shot I used a slightly lower angle and a closer view to emphazise the ascending diagonal line more. Although this diagonal is also used in the upper one, the tighter cropping and lower angle is forcing it more. Especially because the three apples in upper left making a line in same direction. And the three apple cropped on far right are doing the same. Although I didn't change the arrangement, the effect is bgetting obvious here by just two little changes.

Another apple a day - better take two
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this photo, using Braeburn Apples, I have used a similar idea, but varied it. First, the apples are looking more or less the same. But the center (single) apple is used too. I used a slightly wider Depth of Field (and no tilting) at 70mm/F 3.5. I wanted a very bright impression so I used a fill light from lower left and from left side with the main light (natural light from a window) from upper right. The apple in lower right gets another fill light from lower right to reduce shadows here.
Composition wise I have used the descending diagonal line here mainly created by the only two apples which are not cropped. The upper right I filled with apples, so that they build a kind of triangular shape, where the diagonal line is one side. At first there was no apple in lower left. I introduced one to break an otherwise too stiff composition.

Braeburn Apples
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Here I have forced the diagonal line as the main element. The line is created by the two apples like in the other and the apples in upper left and lower right corner. But the two apples behind the line are now emphazising the diagonal again. This is mainly do to the fact that I have removed the other apple in uupper right and the one on left side. And I changed the lighting. Just a very reduced fill light from lower left, the apples in upper left were shaded a bit, so that the center apple is the brightes spot in this photo. The effect is enhanced, because of the focal plain being on this apple. And you can see here the effect of the fill light on lower right apple. Whereas the apple is showing shadows here, in the former one the shadows are reduced obviousely. With a more hard light from upper right as compared to the smooth light before, there are some good shadows which are supporting the diagonal line.

So with two apple varieties and different ideas you can vary your composition and play with different elements in your photo: color, element characteristics (color, structure, shape), light, arrangment, angle, depth of field. Sometimes not much is required to change the composition and the effect it will have on the viewer.

...on the process
Between the first two photos and the last two photos was a time of one week, where I thought about how to change the setting or what to make different. The main idea was how to structure the photo (arrange the apples). In the first two I was using the ascending diagonal line, but the "many" apples cover the diagonal line a bit. In the last two I have tried to make this line more obvious. I also like the differences between the two diagonal line and how viewer's react to it. The diagonal line from lower left to upper right (ascending line) create a feeling of going upwards, going away into the back, moving away. The diagonal line from upper left to lower right (descending) is often associated with a movement towards the viewer, going downward. Often this line has an "inviting" character and in food photography it could be associated with "serving something to the viewer". I think especially in the 3rd shot with the brighter apple in focus this is to recognize (at least for me)

If you like this, you may like this one too:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brussel Sprouts Curry

Hot brussel sprouts curry with Azuki Beans
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This is a more unusual combination in a vegetable curry: brussel sprouts in a combination with small red beans (Azuki Beans). The sharpness of the curry is complemented by the sweetness of dried apricots. Mango Chutney adds another certain sweet sharpness. Use your favorite curry as mild or as hot as you like it. You could also increase the amount of curry to your liking.

Brussel Sprouts Curry
(serves 4)

900g brussel sprouts
80g Adzuki Beans (Azuki Beans, small red beans)
50g dried apricots (quartered)
1 onion (cut into small pieces)
2 tablespoons Ghee
2 tablepoons curry powder
400mL vegetable broth
1 cinnamon stick (5cm long)
2 tablespoons mango chutney
100g yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

Let soak Azuki Beans in water overnight. Next day: pour into a sieve. Set aside.

Clean brussel sprouts (remove outer leaves, cut the stems crosswise). Cook brussel sprouts for about 5 minutes in boiling salt water. Pour into a sieve and rinse brussels sprouts with cold water. Set aside.

Heat Ghee in a suited pot and add onions and coook until translucent. Add curry powder and cook for about one minute. Add broth and Azuki Beans and cook for 45 minutes. Add brussel sprouts and cinnamon and let cook for another 15 minutes or until brussel sprouts are soft. Add apricots, mango chutney and yogurt and let cook on low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or bread.

Brussel Sprouts Curry
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lamb Mincemeat Curry

Hot and comforting
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This Lamb Mincemeat Curry is not made with a commercial curry powder. Fresh black cardamom, fennel, cloves and cinnamon make this curry and the spices fill the air during cooking. Raisins add a sweet touch. And with red chili and ginger you can make it as hot as you like it. The dish is completed with mint jogurt and some fresh bread or rice. Found the recipe a while ago in a monthly food journal and adaptit to my liking

Lamb Mincemeat Curry with Mint Jogurt
(serves 4)
900g Lamb Mincemeat
6 small onions (should make around 200g)
2 carrots
1 piece fresh ginger (50g)
2 red chiles (less, if you like it mild; more, if you like it hot)
500mL vegetable stock
300mL - 500mL water
12 black cardamom pods
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon grounded cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato puree
50g raisins
6-8 sprigs fresh mint (peppermint)
greek jogurt (10% fat)

Open the black cardomom pods, remove the seeds and ground them in a mortar with a pistil. Ground the fennel seeds. Add grounded cloves and cinnamon and set aside. Cut onions, carrots and fresh ginger into small pieces. Cut chiles into rings (if you don't like it too hot, remove the seeds).

Preheat oil in a suited pot. Add lamb mincemeat and roast until slightly browned. Add spices and roast for another minute with mincemeat. Add onions, carrots, chiles and ginger and cook for another minute or two.

Add tomato puree and mix into mincemeat mixture. Add vegetable stock and 300 mL water. Mix and dissolve the pan drippings. Add two sprigs mint and salt to taste. Let cook on low heat for 75 minutes. You may add more water if the curry is getting too dry. After 75 minutes add the raisins and let cook for another 15 minutes.

Chop some mint sprigs and add them to jogurt. As rule of thumb use the leaves of two sprigs for 150g yogurt. Mix yogurt and add salt to taste. Set aside.

Before serving season the curry to taste with salt and pepper. Add chopped mint leaves to garnish the curry. Serve the curry in a bowl with the yogurt on the side and some bread. If you like you can serve the curry also with cooked rice.