Aug 31, 2009

Great Blogger, Greater Personal Chef, Greatest Lady: Julie Ann Rhodes

We have had the pleasure to know and to work with Julie Ann Rhodes of The Roving Stove. Her blog has just been thoroughly perused and we must say, it is as personable, welcoming and appealing as her food. Check out her plug for The Entertaining Encyclopedia, and be sure to read the previous post about her family lake house. And have some tissue handy.

Thanks, Julie!

Aug 28, 2009

Benjamin Bratt Smiled At Me

The Day Benjamin Bratt Smiled At Me
By Cindie Flannigan

We often make prop food for television shows. We've made food for Related, Method and Red, Law and Order, Family Law, several made-for-TV movies, and most recently, The Cleaner. Which was why I was on the set of The Cleaner, carrying a wedding cake when Benjamin Bratt walked by me and smiled. He may have been smiling at the lady with the huge cake but I prefer to think it was *me* he was smiling at.

We had two identical cakes baked, frosted (courtesy of Jamaica's Cakes), and picked up at the beginning of the week. Then we waited for the prop master's call. He let us know the night before they needed the cakes. After getting the call we picked up flowers and got to work at 5am to put the flowers on the cakes and deliver them by 7am to a studio in Burbank.

As it often happens in television, they didn't get to the shot that day so I assume the crew ate the cakes or cut them up and took them home. They were delicious cakes by the way, dense buttery vanilla cake with a chocolate buttercream filling (Blog Mistress Mandy's wedding cake was made by Jamaica. We LOVE Jamaica and she also makes some of the best pastries and sticky buns in LA). We got to do the entire thing over again the next week. Nicole at Jamaica's Cakes was quite surprised to see us again.

Anyway, here is a photo of the cake and a photo of the way it looked on TV. Thanks for the TV photo, Ed!

Aug 25, 2009

When God Was A Boy

Blog Mistress Mandy celebrated her birthday yesterday. When she told Denise she had turned 33, this was her response:

"33 -a fabulous year! When I turned 33 I was working at Saint Veronica's Rectory in San Francisco with Father Quinn, cooking dinner every night for the five priests that lived there. They bought me a present and I nearly fell over when I opened it: a silky black teddy! Needless to say, I was surprised and the priests all clapped and said it's such a special year! Really? I asked " Oh, yes, Denise it's the year Jesus died on the cross! Happy Birthday!" I can't make this s**t up!"

Mrs. Mandy got a pink Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer from her husband. Hmmm.

Aug 21, 2009

Denise's Julia Op Ed Piece on The Huffington Post!

Click here to enjoy this entry on The Huffington Post!

Julia & Julie

I haven’t gone to see the movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell yet. I was invited to a showing but to be honest I am ambivalent about it because I knew Julia Child. I’ve been blessed to meet her, thrilled to eat with her, and honored to work with her. She was one of the most honest women I ever met. Julia was so funny but not necessarily intentionally; it was just the way her words came out.

When I put out my hand to introduce myself the very first time, I said, “Hello, I’m Denise from Los Angeles,” and she replied “I’m Julia from Pasadena.” And when she asked me what I did, I said “I’m a food stylist.” Her response, “Oh dearie, I don’t like most food stylists, they muck around with the food! Do you muck around with the food?” I ducked my head, ordered more champagne and didn’t make eye contact with her bright baby blues.

Like thousands of women who have a career in the food industry today, she influenced me. She taught me. I adored and admired her.

I did read Julie Powell’s book years ago and I hated it. I thought the writer came off as a whiny child, piggy-backing on Julia’s fame to sell a book. I saw no talent for food or cooking. I have been rereading the book this week to see if I feel differently now that Julia is gone. Nope, still feel exactly the same.

And, maybe because I’ve lived in Hollywood too long, even the title offended me. Julia should have been given top billing.

I don’t want to rehash what Russ Parsons so brilliantly wrote in his L.A. Times article, "Julie, Julia and Me: Now it Can Be Told". Just let me say that he writes about the fact that Julia Child was not impressed with the blog and, by the way, Julia’s feelings were not a secret, she had told many of her friends.

Instead, let me tell you a little something about my experiences with Julia.

I first met Julia because of Stephanie Hirsch (her assistant of 16 years). I was seated next to Stephanie at an IACP conference dinner. We got along like a house afire. I became Stephanie and Julia’s roommate at IACP conferences for several years. You can’t imagine the look of disappointment on people’s faces when they knocked at the door to our hotel suite and I was the one who opened the door, not Julia. People would actually push past me as if I wasn’t there, demanding “Where’s Julia?” I’d try explaining that she’d be out in a minute and, no, I was not holding her hostage, but their suspicions remained until Julia arrived.

Do you know what always impressed me about Julia? It was that she always did the very best possible job she could because that was who she was and that as what she was made of. She didn’t whine or complain; she did what she needed to do and got on with it. And she was grateful for her life.

I assisted Julia on several book signings. She would not leave until she had signed a book for every person that had stood in line, even when her fingers got completely stiff. Always polite, she’d thank me for bringing her cold water but nary a word about having to pee. She’s sit there until she was done. She was a trooper.

If she was cooking something in front of a television camera and discovered something wrong with a pot of soup, or with anything else on the set, she fixed it. She didn’t nitpick, she didn’t order others around, she just did it. She was determined that everything be right. If a producer or director made a suggestion about the food or changing a procedure, she’d simply say “Yes, but I think I’ll do it my way.”

I have an original black and white photo of Julia taken on the set of The French Chef, shot by Paul Child. In it, she’s squeezing a suckling pig in her arms, getting him ready for the roasting pan. The photo radiates pure joy. Even the pig looks happy. Every day I walk past that photo and say “Thank you, Julia. Bon App├ętit.”

Aug 20, 2009

The Perfect Drip

We recently received a great food styling inquiry regarding the elusive "perfect drip". This was a first for us! No one had ever asked us this specific question, but upon quick reflection, we had a lot to say (shocker).

In order to achieve drips in print or video we need to control the liquid that is dripping. This means making it either thicker, thinner, smoother, or shinier.

To thicken liquids we use often use xanthan gum, however this can cause liquids to become a little cloudy.

To make a thick liquid flow better we often use Karo syrup (sugar syrup). Karo syrup comes in clear, golden, and dark amber colors and it makes an excellent stand in for maple syrup. Karo syrup also add gloss and sheen to liquids that have been thickened with flour or cream. Karo can be used to thicken or thin, it also adds body to watery sauces.

To make liquids as controllable as possible, we like to have everything at room temperature so we will often make a color correct copy of the sauce that doesn't contain any fats that can harden when cool or separate.

When using mustard or ketchup we usually stir in a bit of Karo syrup.

When using maple syrup, we never use real because it is so thin. We will buy the cheapest, sugariest kind and put it in the freezer. This makes the syrup very thick. And it drips slower. If pouring any drips over anything that is porous, like pancakes, waffles, bread, etc., we first spray the item with Scotch Guard. This creates a water-resistant barrier.

We also use Scotch Guard on glasses that we want to look chilly with condensation. We spray glasses lightly with Scotch Guard, then let dry completely (just a few minutes).

If you are shooting quickly, water can be misted onto the surface of the glass. The Scotch Guard causes the water to stay "beaded." Water can be re-misted as necessary.

For condensation that needs to stay in place for a longer time, we mix a small amount of glycerine or aerogel and spray that onto the glass. The beads of moisture will be sticky but will stay in place forever.

Glycerine or aerogel mixed with water can also be used to spray onto anything that needs beaded water; such as salads, raw veggies, the skin of tomatoes, etc. For larger beads of moisture, glycerine can be applied with the tip of a toothpick in single beads, for those super close-up shots!

There are a couple of products we use to add to or replace sauces because they are so completely stable. They are probably made from petroleum by-products (ew), but they work great for photos. Alfredo sauce in a jar (Ragu or Classico brand), Velvetta cheese for gooey cheese, pre-made gravy in cans.

For milk or cream we often use white glue.

We mix a little melted ice cream to drip onto fake ice cream to make it look melty. Melty ice cream demands to be eaten!

Denise and I sat down over lunch today and discussed what drips mean in photography. Here's what we came up with:

  • Drips indicate moisture and movement.
  • Drips add interest and a focal point.
  • Drips add realism. When an item of food is too perfect it doesn't look real.
  • Drips can mean gooey and gooey is always good.
  • Drips look spontaneous and unplanned. Of course, drips are always the LAST thing we do before the photographer takes the shot. We make them get everything perfect before we do the drip.
Lastly, if this all sounds like way too much work and you want manufactured replica food or ice that will never change, we recommend Trengove Studios. While it is not cheap, it is amazing to see what they create and it looks gorgeous on film.

Aug 17, 2009

Zucchini Anyone? Everyone? by Cindie Flannigan

I thought the first "crop" from our garden was special. Nicknamed "the $400 zucchini" because of the expense, I was happy and proud. I made Ed take take its portrait. It was really perfect: darkly glowing green skin, unblemished by pests.

And then the next one appeared. And the next.

Now the zucchinis are growing faster than we can eat them. This recipe was an attempt to make something to eat for dinner that used zucchini and whatever else I had in the fridge, since I didn’t feel like going to the store at 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night. It was so surprisingly delicious that I’m sharing it here with you.

Potato Zucchini Gratin

6 tbsp butter
3 medium potatoes, Yukon gold, pink or purple heirloom, or white
1/2 medium sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Several pinches ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon chopped sage
1/2 cup hot milk, more or less as needed.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch pie pan and set aside.

2. Pierce potatoes and microwave for 4 minutes, or until about half cooked. Wrap in damp paper towels and let sit for 5 minutes to cool.

3. Peel off potato skin if desired and slice very thinly.

4. Arrange half of the potatoes on the bottom of prepared pie pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Don’t skimp on the salt. Dot with a tablespoon of butter.

5. Spread about half the onions on top.

6. Arrange zucchini slices in a layer on top of the onions. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Dot with another tablespoon of butter.

7. Scatter remaining onions over zucchini.

8. Add remaining potatoes in a layer on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Dot with a tablespoon of butter.

9. Gradually pour in hot milk until it comes to within a half-inch of the top of the pie pan. Place pan on a baking sheet and tent with foil.

10. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until milk is very bubbly and potatoes are beginning to brown.

11. Meanwhile, melt remaining butter and stir into breadcrumbs. Add sage. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

12. Remove foil from potatoes and sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top. Return to oven and continue baking until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Variation: I think this would be delicious with a 1/3 cup cooked and crumbled bacon or finely diced ham as a layer between the zucchini and the onion. I didn't happen to have any.

Aug 10, 2009

New Class! Styling and Photo Techniques for Food Writers and Bloggers





The difference.

Matt Armendariz is joining Denise and Cindie to teach Styling and Photo Techniques for Food Writers and Bloggers. We want to help you elevate your food pictures from good to great, which will help increase your traffic, your clients and your sales.

This weekend class is perfect for anyone who finds themselves having to cook, style and shoot food photos. This class is also valuable for photographers who want to expand into food photography and expect to have to do their own styling. If you want to improve the food photography on your website, blog or other online content, this class is for you!

Click here for all the details and to register for the class. We hope to see you November 7 and 8, 2009 at Matt's studio in Long Beach.

Photos courtesy of Jack Coyier

Aug 6, 2009

Save The Date: Cooking With Denise And Cindie At Rancho La Puerta, May 1-8, 2010

Rancho La Puerta, the world's first destination spa, has been curing what ails since 1940. This gorgeous ranch has become synonymous with luxury and wellness, and here are just a few reasons why we hope you will join us next spring for some delicious and healthful cooking:
  • An amazing array of fitness activities
  • Luxury spa amenities
  • Superb accommodations
  • 3,000-acre property
  • World-class landscaped gardens
  • Organic farm
  • Internationally known cooking school
Click here for all the details. We also think this slide show should whet your appetite.

Aug 5, 2009

Tony Bourdain Was Touched By The Devil. Denise Feels HIs Pain.

We love Anthony Bourdain. We love No Reservations. We love his blog. What can we say? You can't fake real, and he's nothing if not real.

When Denise read his piece, "A Drive by Shooting", She. Could. Not. Contain. Herself.

Below is an excerpt from his post, followed by Denise's "comment". Can we say kindred spirits?

"So, I get invited to a movie premier. This doesn't happen a lot and it's for Julie/Julia, and I happen to be very sentimental on the subject of Julia Child . The book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" has a sort of totemic place in my personal history--as it does, I'm sure, for millions of others. I am also a big Stanley Tucci fan. He directed and co-starred in the single best live action film on the restaurant business (Big Night) and there was certainly no reason to believe that Meryl Streep couldn't "do" Julia. ( Of course she can.)

But that's not the point of this tale.The next morning, I'm still trying to reconstruct the exact progression, the details, like trying to remember the license plate of the truck that hit me. Only this wasn't any normal truck. This was far more terrifying and traumatic an event than being smashed by the grill of a Peterbilt, pulled up into the wheel well, dragged for a while, only to have my shredded remnants left by the side of the road, wondering, in my last moments of consciousness, "What the hell happened?" I'm pretty sure, judging by the vestigial ectoplasm on my jacket that I was sideswiped by pure evil.

I'm standing there by the boeuf bourgignonne station, sucking down martinis with my wife (they drink a LOT of martinis in the movie), minding my own business, having an innocent chat with some friends, when I notice someone has their hand on me.

An icy, tendril of fear runs down my spine. I turn and find myself looking straight into the deceptively attractive and reasonable looking face of Sandra Lee.
To make matters worse--and more.....uncomfortable, she's standing next to her boyfriend, Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of the State of New York.

Now, I've said some unkind things over the years about Sandra. Far too many and far too terrible things to ever apologize for. Plus, I pretty much meant every word. Once you've seen Sandra making Kwanzaa Cake on YouTube, there's no backing down . My head is reeling with the thought that one phone call from Cuomo and my last twenty years of tax returns are getting audited . I'm paralyzed, wondering what the statute of limitations is on various things I may or may not have done twenty years ago.

Sandra is talking. I know this cause her lips are moving and she's saying--overtly anyway, nice things. Like "You're a very naughty man," and she's chatting amiably with my wife. But one hand is picking over me like the meat buyer at Peter Luger selecting a rib section--like some demonic bird of prey is poking and prodding, deciding where the weakest, most tender point of entry is, giving, as I recall, a point by point review of her investigations to my wife--who ordinarily, I have to say, would have been across the table with a tomahawk chop elbow to the top of the skull by now, but who, like me, sits mesmerized and grinning insanely, frozen by the ..bizarreness of the moment which seems to go on forever as Sandra's hand wanders upward, tugs an ear lobe and asks if my ears are red yet. (They were.)

Having had her way with me, she leaves the emptied husk of my carcass teetering at the table and moves on.
I felt like the victim of a drive-by shooting. "What just..happened?" I said with a weak, trembly voice. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the quiet but very thorough disembowelment that had just occurred. Nothing. It had looked, to anyone who'd care to notice, like any other cocktail party conversation--but I knew better. I had looked into those eyes. I'd seen. Oh, she was smiling all right, but I'm pretty damn sure you could have dragged a rusty butterknife across my carotid artery right there at the table and her expression would not have changed, maybe only the eyes, they'd roll over white as I geysered onto the chafing dishes.

As we say on the show all the time, "What have we learned today?"
I learned that were a nuclear weapon to fall on New York, I'm pretty sure that if no one else, Sandra Lee would survive to clamber out of the rubble. That if it came down to a fight over the last can of food, she would surely emerge the victor.

I learned that I am truly and deeply afraid of her. And I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat."


I met you years ago when you were on tour for your first book, Bone in the Throat, at a Macy’s. I was your food stylist. You were wonderful and couldn’t have been nicer.

I worked for “Sandy” for 18 months. I was one of her original food stylists, it was a long and tortured road. The Devil changes form –who knew he’d come as a blond "lifestylist" who loves plastic surgery and botox?

When I met her for the first time I should have noticed the blood seeping from the walls, the bats flying out of her hoohaa, or the 666 on her scalp, but as a small business owner with assistants to feed, I took the gig. What I learned is: If the devil doesn’t kill you, the Valium and vodka you take to sleep at night might.

Nothing you have said should be apologized for. She’d burn babies to be famous. She touched you to get your DNA under her nails. I’m burning candles and have called my priest so you're probably safe. I knew her when she was married to her first husband, she was a Republican shicksa converting to Juidaism. Oy vey!

Continued success to you. Don’t change a thing!