Jul 24, 2015

Pork Makes Life More Fun

I grew up eating pork. My father was a butcher and owned a small chain of grocery stores. Food supported us. Food sustained us. Food was why we got up in the morning, and that feeling is still with me.   

Years ago, I worked on a TV show with a very famous nutritionist. I always thought she was mean because she was hungry. No matter what the crew was eating, she would comment on what was wrong with it: Too much sugar, too much fat, not enough fiber...I did lose ten pounds in a month on the production but also fantasized about strangling and roasting her. I thought she'd be stringy like goat. She made me hungry for fun. 

Recently, Cindie and I worked for the National Pork Board.  We did a small video at the beach with the funny and very fun Donald Faison

There are some great tips in the video. It's part of the Pork Be Inspired marketing campaign. And guess what? I came home and thought to myself, "I used to love pork chops, why haven't I been cooking them?"

So the following evening, pork cooking commenced. 

I bought two center cut loin pork chops on the bone. There was a thin layer of cover fat and each one was one-inch thick. Not as expensive as beef and just as satisfying. One chop with vegetables was the perfect portion per person.

I mixed 1/2 cup of A-1 sauce (my father's favorite) with  1/2 cup Agave syrup, then squeezed a fresh orange into the marinade. 

I cook almost extensively in cast iron because I like it. It gives my chops or burgers a beautiful color when sautéing.  I colored both sides of my chops on high heat for about two minutes per side, then transferred them to a roasting pan. 
I finished them in a 350-degree oven for 4 minutes. They were still slightly pink inside. Not dangerous; only
delicious. While my chops were in the oven, I reduced my marinade until thick and like syrup. Put it in a small pitcher, and then cooked the green beans right in the same pan.

Plated my chops, added the beans and poured my sauce. One pan dinner in ten minutes. 

Pork is perfect for summer; simultaneously light and decadent, and tastes great with any summer fruit. The next time you're at a loss for dinner...remember pork makes life more fun!

Jul 17, 2015

Every Picture Tells a Story: 
Ten Tips to Improve your Food Photography

Introduction –How Every Picture Tells A Story: from the food to props to lighting. 

Denise’s Slide Presentation-Hamburger and Sandwich Demo and Current Work

What’s In Style Today?


Have a clear vision of what you are selling. Are you selling beef (sponsor) or are you selling a lifestyle? Are you selling a memory or your blog? Be clear on what you want to achieve with your photos.

Have at least two of what you’re shooting, i.e., burgers, pies, etc. so you or your stylist has ample pieces to play with.

Go through your product and get rid anything wilted, old or unsightly. Don’t shoot a dish that isn’t perfect or appetizing or mouthwatering. Give yourself the best product to work with. If you are unsure of a dish, just shoot ingredients!

Under-cook the food. Food looses moisture and shrinks as it cools. Cook food only long enough so that it no longer looks raw. You can always color too-light areas or apply heat with a kitchen torch or heat gun. You under-cook for the camera lens.

When designing a plate or environment for your photo, consider color (contrasting or complimentary), texture, and balance.

Create elevation and movement. Prop pieces up from the back to create definition. 
Make a hidden base under food to hold it in place using shortening, damp paper towels, cosmetic wedges, or even mashed potatoes.

Plan for the use of garnishes. Have appropriate herbs, lemon or limes, or extra ingredients to use if needed.

Know that cool food photographs better than hot food. Make cool or room temperature food appear hot by adding moisture and shine by spraying your food with PAM or water or brush with a little Karo syrup.

Study food photographs you like. What do they have in common? What don’t you like? What is your emerging style?

Less is more. Appreciate how the camera’s eye is different than your “natural” eye. You don’t need to have a sliced mushroom in every square inch of your food to know that it contains sliced mushrooms; one or two will get your point across without making the image confusing.

Click here for troubleshooting common food styling problems.
Click here for Denise's food photography resources.

About Denise
A classically trained chef, Denise founded Food Fanatics in 1988, a catering, recipe-development, and food-styling firm based in Los Angeles, California. In 2012 Denise re-branded her company as Denise Vivaldo Group, Inc.

As a consultant, food stylist, and culinary producer with over 30 years experience, Denise has helped with numerous television productions, infomercials, food manufacturers, grocery stores chains, restaurants, publishers, authors and celebrities with their projects and products.

Denise is a popular contributing blogger to the Huffington Post as well as her own blog, Denise Vivaldo Blogs.

She teaches food styling, catering and cooking classes and workshops in a multitude of locations across the country and internationally, and has been a featured guest expert on many television shows.

Denise is the author of eight books: The Food Stylist's Handbook, winner of numerous awards and considered to be the food styling bible; How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business, which has sold more than 150,000 copies and is in its 7th edition; How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business, now in it’s 2nd edition; The Entertaining Encyclopedia, winner of the Cordon d’Or for International Culinary Entertainment, and its companion book, Perfect Table Settings; Do It For Less! Parties, and Do It For Less! Weddings, entertaining books with quantity recipes; and The Top 100 Napkin Folds, winner of the Mom’s Choice Award. 

Contact: denise@denisevivaldogroup.com

Jun 8, 2015

Beautiful Weddings on a Budget

 It's June and that means wedding season. Brides and grooms are everywhere you look: In the closets, under the beds, up in the trees...don't shoot them! They don't mean to be that self-consumed.

Take a breath. June will be over in 30 days. No more tulle. No more Bridezillas. No more fake smiling for the camera. If you're the bride or mother-of-the-bride, pretend we didn't just say that.
 Several years ago, Cindie and I wrote Do It For Less Weddings. It is still in print and has relevant and valuable information.  Let us share some important tips with you.
Ten Cost-Saving Tips for Weddings

Have an afternoon wedding to avoid the expense of serving a full sit-down meal. Serve champagne, cake and cheese platters. It works for two hours.

If serving lunch, place a variety of salads on your buffet table. Plate on many dishes in varied heights, so it looks abundant. Salads are great for the ever growing number of vegans and vegetarians, and you save on not having to purchase as much animal protein, which can be pricey.

Keep control of more expensive appetizer items by having them served by roving waitstaff. This is code for, "pass the shrimp."

Present foods as attractively as possible. As an example, use straight-sided glass containers to hold cut vegetables upright. Stack containers at different levels. Have several colorful dips to choose from. Crudite never goes out of style never! It's low carb and vegan and primal and paleo!
Garnish serving dishes with fresh herbs, petals from edible flowers, or a drizzle of sauce. Food garnish is like a scarf. It helps a dull outfit.
Have sorbet already scooped and frozen into small dessert or liqueur glasses for serving with cake. Many people pass on the cake these days but sorbet is popular and inexpensive. And gluten free!
Order your dream cake in just 2 layers for less significant bucks. And the use it for the pictures. Have a simply decorated sheet cake in the kitchen for servers to cut and pass out to guests.

Decorate your cake with homemade cookies or fresh flowers. Or skip a cake altogether and make beautiful cupcakes instead. See the adorable pictures we have included with this newsletter free of charge.

Wrap small flowering plants or spices in fabric (satin, burlap, whatever goes with your décor) and tie with a ribbon (satin, twine, whatever goes with your décor) and use in place of floral arrangements. Have extra to decorate buffet table. The cost of centerpieces for about four hours of use is ridiculous, unless you like to spend money.
Forego a formal wedding. (Unless you are rich and want your parents to pay because you hated going to camp as a child and your sister got the money for a nose job and you didn't.) 

Want more DIY wedding tips? Check out my interview with Judy Bart Kancigor at JLife!

Jun 7, 2015

Avocado, Coconut & Pistachio Ice Cream

Avocado, Coconut & Pistachio Ice Cream
Makes 6 servings

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lime zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 ripe avocados
1 (8.5 ounce) can coconut cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped, plus extra for garnish
Shredded coconut for garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice.

Refrigerate until cool to the touch.

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and peel.

Place lime juice, avocados, and cream of coconut into the work bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add syrup, pulsing to combine. Stir in pistachios and lime zest.

Pour into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spread coconut on a cookie sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Garnish with toasted coconut before serving.

May 6, 2015

20 Proven Happiness Habits and Practices to Create Joy

Denise and Cindie were lucky enough to teach at Rancho la Puerta this April. During there stay, they heard an inspiring speaker, world religion teacher Hana Matt, talking about The 20 Proven Happiness Habits and Practices to Create Joy.

Cindie was inspired to share some personal thoughts as well as Hana's wisdom (see link at the bottom to Hana's full presentation).

In a nutshell, neuroscientists have found that certain activities cause the joy area of the brain to light up, causing happiness-producing biochemicals to be released.

To think that we can improve our moods and increase our feelings of joy simply by incorporating some of these activities into our lives is incredible to me. 

The habit I found surprisingly easy to change was transforming negative thoughts into constructive, positive thoughts. Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson found that “Thinking new and different thoughts creates new neural pathways. Changing your thoughts produces changes in your brain, and perhaps in your DNA. When you change your thinking to support your happiness, the old negative neural pathways shrink, and the positive neural pathways widen. That makes it easier and more automatic to think positively.” Davidson goes on to say, “When you experience a negative situation, find an equally true thought about the situation that makes you feel better, and lean into it. It is the equally true but happier thought that will lead you to joy. This is not the same as wishful thinking, or simply deciding to be happier. Instead you are shifting your focus from one part of your situation to another truthful part of your situation that creates a better feeling.”

Hana Matt is a therapist and teacher of world religions at Graduate Theological Union and The Interfaith Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley, CA. She is also the Co-Director of the Spiritual Direction Training Program at the Interfaith Chaplaincy Institute. You can contact her at hanamatt@sbcglobal.net.

Click here to view Hana's entire presentation and uncover YOUR joy!

Mar 17, 2015

San Francisco's Personal Chef Garbo proves that improving your food photography improves your business! Loved meeting her in one of our classes in 2008 and am have loved watching her grow and thrive. This article is very informative for anyone looking to burst to the next level in their culinary ventures.

Mar 10, 2015

Using Photos and Recipes to Effectively Sell your Catering Business

Appetizing food photos and well-written recipes engage readers and tell a story about your food, your style, and your expertise. To get photos and recipes worth sharing, you’ll need to approach them from your viewers’ perspective. People are busy; don’t make them work at understanding what they are looking at. Make your photos simple and colorful and your recipes brief and easy to understand.

Jon Edwards Photography

Before whipping out your camera, or even making your food, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to create interest in one of your catering menus? Are you celebrating a season, an occasion, a special type of food? Make sure your photograph isn’t cluttered with irrelevant elements that distract the eye.

Will the photo be used large or small? The smaller the photo, the simpler the elements should be. Who are your intended viewers? Where are they from, and what would they find interesting? Are they be put off by photos of upscale food? Or would they be bored by anything as pedestrian as comfort food? A June newsletter featuring an incredible wedding cake will have a completely different look and feel than a web page featuring barbecue recipes.

Whenever you cater an event, make an extra dish and set it aside to photograph during a lull or after you have served your guests. Keep sauces separate and greens undressed. Cover the food with several damp paper towels to prevent it from drying out. Arrange your entire menu on a counter or polished table. Use your smartphone, digital camera, or iPad to take a picture.
Learn easy photo-editing techniques with free apps. Not only is it fun, but you will have marketing pieces of your food at your fingertips!

I teach food-styling classes as well as catering across the United States. My career keeps growing. But, truly, my entire platform is food presentation. One of the food-styling workshops I teach is marketed to caterers, bloggers, and personal chefs. My goal is to make any artwork you put on your blog or website, in a newsletter, or on a recipe card look appealing.
Below are some cheap tricks for anybody to apply to his or her food photos. When I catered exclusively, I never had enough money in my budget to hire a professional photographer. That’s why I learned to do it myself. 

Jon Edwards Photography

Tips for Making Food Photos Appetizing
Undercook your food. Food loses moisture as it cooks and shrinks as it cools. Cook food only long enough so that it no longer looks raw. You can always color too-light areas or apply heat with a kitchen torch, such as one you would use for crème brûlée.

Have an extra of what you’re shooting so you can fill holes, prop up, or replace anything that doesn’t look good. For example, make two grilled chicken breasts—one to photograph, one to use for patching.

Make sure your prep is meticulous. Go through the product and get rid anything wilted, old, or unsightly. Cut, chop, and slice precisely.

When designing a plate, consider color (contrasting or complimentary), texture, and balance.

Create elevation and movement. Prop pieces up from the back to create definition. Make a hidden base under food to hold it in place, using shortening, damp paper towels, cosmetic wedges, or even mashed potatoes.

Plan for the use of garnishes. Have appropriate herbs, lemons or limes, or extra ingredients to use if needed.

Know that cool food photographs better than hot food. Make cool or room temperature food look hot by adding moisture and shine. Brush with oil or mist with spray oil. You can also spray your food with water or brush with a little corn syrup.

Use any available light. If needed, use a shiny sheet pan, a white cutting board, or a hand mirror as a reflector for added light.

Study food photographs you like. What do they have in common?

Less is more. Appreciate how the camera’s eye is different than your eye. You don’t need to have a sliced mushroom in every square inch of your food to know that it contains sliced mushrooms; one or two will get your point across without making the image messy.

A Caterer’s Food-Styling Kit
You can improve your photos by using professional food-styling equipment and tricks. Keep these items in a small tool bag and have them with you whenever you cook:

  • Butane kitchen torch-top with fuel
Purchase the inexpensive top that fits onto eight-ounce butane canisters (the same canisters used in portable burners) to quickly cook food surfaces, melt cheese, or brown fatty areas.
  • Corn syrup
Brush corn syrup onto the surface of meats to emphasize highlights and shine. Stir into thin sauces to add body or into thick sauces to thin down.

  • Cosmetic sponges, wedge-shaped
Use sponges to prop up food and adjust the angle for your camera. Use small pieces of sponge to lift and separate similar elements that look flat in photos (like pancakes).
  • Cotton balls
Give stuffed foods lightweight structure. Pull cotton balls apart a little bit and fill the center of omelets and burritos to keep them from collapsing.
  • Cotton swabs
Use cotton swabs for cleaning those tiny, hard-to-reach places.
  • Denture cream
Denture cream, like Polygrip or Fixodent, is designed to stick surfaces together in a warm, moist environment, making it a perfect glue for food. I use it to solve all kinds of food problems, including fixing broken pieces of meat; gluing pita bread together; holding fillings inside sliced items like stuffed meats, burritos, and wraps; and keeping slippery items in place.
  • Fruit Fresh
Fruit Fresh is an anti-oxidizing agent that keeps foods from browning. It also revives wilted greens and herbs.
  • Heat gun or paint stripper
It may look like a hair dryer but it gets much, much hotter. Use a heat gun to melt cheese, warm food surfaces, or even brown small areas of food.
  • Kitchen Bouquet
Kitchen Bouquet is a gravy browning agent made from caramelized vegetables. It can be used to color all kinds of foods and liquids. Add a tiny bit at a time to darken sauces or brush onto meats. Dilute it with water (about six parts water to one part Kitchen Bouquet) and store in a small spray bottle; spray lightly over meats and poultry to darken. Gravy Master is another popular brand.
  • Museum Wax, Quake Hold, or Florist Clay
Use these to hold items firmly in place. Sometimes that fork just doesn’t want to stay on the rim of the plate—put a small bead of Museum Wax underneath the fork and it won’t move.
  • Rubbing alcohol
Rubbing alcohol dissolves fat and grease. Dip a soft paintbrush in rubbing alcohol, then wipe very gently across the surface of a cut cake to remove excess frosting. The rubbing alcohol will evaporate in a few minutes and the cake will look perfect. This trick also dissolves the white fat that rises to the surface of cooked fish. Just remember to keep cleaning the fat or frosting off your paintbrush.
  • Spray oil
Lightly spray foods to add shine. This works for nearly everything except greens. Oil on greens looks greasy and makes them wilt very quickly. Spray oil will also make food look moist and hot long after it has cooled down and dried out.

  • Small paintbrushes
Have a dozen in a variety of sizes. I buy the cheap sets from discount and craft stores. They work great, are easy to replace, and I don’t worry about ruining them.
  • Spray bottles
Have small (two- to four-ounce) bottles filled with water and browning spray. Browning spray works on most proteins; water refreshes the look of greens and, if you’re close enough to see it, adds droplets of water to raw vegetables.
  • Squeeze bottles
Use these for precise placement of sauces and liquids.
  • T-pins
These work great to secure things together, like the slices of a spiral cut ham, wayward pasta, or layers of a sandwich.
  • Toothpicks
Use these like you would use T-pins, or use in place of your fingers to move stuff around and to keep food in place.
  • Vaseline
Use this to glue broken food together. Only use Vaseline on room temperature or cooler foods—it liquefies if it becomes too warm. Combine Vaseline with crumbs of food to patch holes.
  • Windex
Spray Windex on cosmetic sponges or swabs to remove smudges and mistakes from plates and glasses.

Jon Edwards Photography

There are a couple of rules to keep in mind when writing recipes. It doesn’t matter how much or how little cooking experience your audience has, you should be as clear, consistent, and brief as you can. Follow a standard recipe format beginning with a title, header, and serving size, followed by ingredients and directions.

Use a title that is descriptive but not too long. Cinnamon Coffee Cake doesn’t give very much information; Grandma Bea’s Cinnamon Crunch Raisin Coffee Cake with Caramel and Fresh Blueberries is exhausting; but Grandma Bea’s Cinnamon Crunch Coffee Cake is nice.

Headers are where you can expand upon the ingredients, origins, ethnicity, and preparation notes, or insert your personality, sense of humor, and memories. A header can be placed before a recipe or between the recipe name and the ingredients.

Serving Size
Serving sizes should be kept to four or six servings unless you are giving a recipe for cookies, sauces, or other items usually made in larger batches.

Always list ingredients in the order they are used in the directions. If an ingredient is used twice, put both usages on the same line, such as “2 tablespoons plus 1 cup olive oil.”

It makes no difference whether you use “tablespoons” or “tbsp.” as long as you are consistent. If you shorten “tablespoon” to “tbsp.,” you should also shorten “pound” to “lb.” and “ounce” to “oz.”

When using a packaged amount of an ingredient, like canned whole tomatoes, specify the package or can size: “1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes.”

If an ingredient needs to be at room temperature (or warm or chilled), state this in the ingredient list: “1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature.”

Be specific when listing ingredients that are available in different varieties, like milk (whole, low fat, nonfat?). Include garnishes in your ingredient list.

Be specific, simple, and clear. List steps in the order that you prepare them. (See Ways to Write Clear Recipes, page XX, for excellent recipe writing tips.) End recipes with serving instructions: “Let cool 5 minutes before slicing and serving.” Or “Spoon sauce over top and serve immediately.”

Recipe Example:Tangerine Spinach Salad
Makes 6 servings

This colorful, fresh salad has pistachio nuts, dates, and a slightly sweet dressing that complements the spinach. This recipe can be doubled or tripled, and the dressing can be made up to two days ahead if refrigerated in an airtight container.

1 (5-ounce) package baby spinach
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tangerines, peeled and segmented
6 dates, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Place spinach in a large bowl. Place olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk until creamy. Pour over spinach and toss to coat. Add remaining ingredients, tossing to coat. Serve immediately.

Ways to Write Clear Recipes
There is no one better than writing and editing everything culinary than Dianne Jacob. She is the author of Will Work for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More. The suggestions below are from her fun and informative blog, www.diannej.com/b.

Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, and that applies to recipe writing too. When I’m editing recipes for clients, whether individuals or publishers, part of my job is to line edit. That means rewriting to make the instructions clearer.
Line editing requires constant vigilance. I tighten, choose the most specific word, clarify, and strive for elegance. There’s a fine line between spelling everything out and not being too obvious. Sometimes I vote for the reader and common sense instead of more explanation.

Avoid mixtures. This kind of instruction makes me crazy: “Mix together two mixtures with a mixer, and then mix the mixtures together in a mixing bowl.” First of all, there are six uses of versions of “mix” in one sentence. That’s just nuts! If you keep referring to “mixtures,” your reader has to go back and figure out which ones you’re talking about. And trust me, you never want to mix up your reader. Substitute specific words or terms for a mixture, such as batter, custard, wet ingredients, and dry ingredients. And for heaven’s sake, don’t add more “mix” words to make your sentence even more confusing.
Set aside “set aside.” I don’t like overused terms, especially superfluous ones. Here’s an example: “Prepare a pan. Set aside. Combine the apples and sugar. Set aside. Prepare the mixture. Set aside.” Stop setting things aside. Just go on with your recipe.
No need for two words that mean the same thing. You don’t need the word “in” for these examples: “Add in the cold water.” “Gradually add in the flour.” Just add it.

Trim, trim, trim. Verbosity is one of the most common problems for editors, and I’ve got plenty of examples:
“Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.” What else are readers going to roll it out with? Stick with “Roll out the dough.” Similarly, “Place the cookies 2 inches apart from one another” works just as well by eliminating the words “from one another.”
Replace the sentence “Transfer to the refrigerator to chill” with the word “chill.”
No need to say “Place in the oven” when just “bake” or “roast” works fine.
There’s rarely a reason to tell people to remove food from the oven either.
No need to top with a topping. “Spread the chocolate topping on top of the cake.” Hmm. I’m either getting rid of top or topping, since both don’t work in one sentence. I changed it to a sauce. A chocolate topping and a chocolate sauce are similar enough.

Things don’t begin to happen—they happen. There’s usually no reason to say, “When the soup begins to boil.” Nothing is lost if you just write “When the soup boils.”
Write like you talk. I like recipes that read the way that someone talks. No one ever says, “To a large oven-safe sauté pan, add the butter and melt it.” Besides, starting a sentence with an action verb is livelier. So try “Add the butter to a large oven-safe sauté pan and melt it over medium-high heat.”

No permission needed. No need to let or allow objects to do things, such as “Allow the cake to cool” or “Let the soaked beans sit on the counter overnight.” For the first sentence, the word “cool” is sufficient in its entirety. For the second, “Soak beans overnight at room temperature” is sufficient and specific.

Don’t state the obvious. If you end a recipe with “Serve hot, cold, warm, or at room temperature,” what’s left? There is no other way to serve it. I deleted the sentence. Since the writer had no preference, there’s no need to mention it.

I’ll leave you with a good one, on the same theme. I found this line at the end of an ice cream recipe: “Serve frozen.”