I wanted to set myself a challenge to shoot something that is difficult to make look appetizing. It’s fair to say, these lamb koftas didn’t lend themselves as well to being photographed as, say, the cupcakes in the previous post. Generally, I find savoury food more difficult to make visually appealing than sweet. Maybe because sweet things tend to be ‘prettier’, so what makes them delicious is more easily communicated visually. Meat, especially, always presents a challenge, as the line between it looking amazing -making you want to dive right in – and disgusting –making you want to be sick- is a fine one.
I found that photographing the meat straight after it had been cooked meant that it retained some of the glistening grease from the cooking oil, rather then becoming dull if it was left for too long. Also, adding lots of greenery in the form of spinach and herbs helped to increase the visual appeal of the dish. Going for a rustic feel, I assembled the meat in its pitta on a wooden board. Using Camera Raw, I changed the white balance to ‘Cloudy’ (shooting in RAW lets you do this), to give a warmer cast to the image. Then in Photoshop I heightened the contrast using ‘Levels’ and boosted the saturation.
Koftas (or maybe kofte?) are Turkish kebabs made from minced lamb, served in pittas. This recipe is from a recently acquired cookbook gem ‘Kitchen & Co’ by Rosie French and Ellie Grace – the duo behind the blog Salad Club and the restaurant French & Grace in Brixton, London. It’s one of those rare books that is written in a lovely relaxed voice, is visually stunning, and also has easy, delicious recipes that have to be made again and again (just try making these and see for yourself!).
I am currently unemployed. The café that I was working at has changed hands, so I took it as an opportunity to move on, move out of home and get on with my life. However, for now I am still in fully-fledged holiday mode (which will only last a little while longer, or so I’ve told myself). This leaves lots of time to sit around in my onesie watching trashy daytime TV, eating toast and trying not to think about life. One of my many distraction techniques is to spend ludicrous amounts of time on Instagram. For the uninitiated, Instagram is like Twitter, but with photos. For those still dumbfounded, it’s an app that lets you post photos on a live feed, and follow other people doing the same.
One of the things that is (horribly 21st century word) ‘trending’ on Instagram at the moment is bee pollen. It is especially prevalent among the health-obsessed Instagrammers, the type of people who see a spinach, kale, kiwi and avocado smoothie as a desirable breakfast. Things like porridge topped with chia seeds, hazelnut butter and bee pollen (and yes, I did just quickly pop onto Instagram to do a search for ‘♯beepollen’) are appearing. Bee pollen is formed by bees when they gather nectar- apparently they roll pollen into balls then discard it. It’s supposed to be very good for you, allegedly containing all the nutrients that humans need, which balances out the large amount of butter and sugar in the cupcakes ever so slightly.
I thought I would sprinkle some bee pollen on top of these cupcakes, definitely more for aesthetic appeal than for taste. It’s fair to say it looks much nicer than it tastes – it has a pleasant chewy texture but tastes oddly savoury. I also used honey rather than sugar for the drizzling syrup, to stick with the bee theme and to give a sticky moistness to the cupcakes, which is complemented by the slight sourness of the yoghurt icing.
I’m going a little canapé mad at the moment, what with all the festive parties. These were inspired by some lovely canapés that the chef at work made for our Christmas party, which were wolfed down in seconds. Canapés can be, to my mind, the most exciting part of a meal – when you’re starving hungry they tease you with what’s about to come.
I made these for a New Year dinner party. The party had eleven guests (and five courses if you count the canapés) so I ended up making three different sorts, totaling around sixty. By the end of meticulously balancing tiny bits of fennel on top of minuscule dollops of crème fraiche, I was going slightly cross-eyed, and had lost count of how many I’d made. I also assembled grated beetroot, pesto and pancetta on circles of toast, and smoked salmon, cucumber and mustard mayonnaise on more blinis.
Blinis are small Russian yeasted pancakes (a bit like tiny crumpets) that are traditionally used as a vehicle for smoked salmon and caviar. But they work well with a variety of toppings, such as here with silky crème fraiche and crunchy fennel. Blinis take a couple of hours to make, as the batter needs to be left to rise, but they can easily be make a day in advance and kept in an airtight container.
The trick to a good canapé, I think, is to get a good mixture of contrasting textures and colours that work well together. This canapé would have looked and tasted a bit bland if it were not for the little segment of orange, and some bright green fennel fronds placed on top – at which point I almost resorted to using tweezers.
One of my stocking fillers this year was an empty glass bottle with the words ‘Home-infused Olive Oil’ on it. Right, better get to it then. I decided to use the classic combination of punchy raw garlic and fragrant rosemary. The scent of rosemary is evocative, for me, of childhood summers spent running around the garden, pulling up reams of herbs and flowers in a very destructive manner.
The herb pot outside the back door has been stripped of its overflowing summer bounty by the inclement weather. However, the woody rosemary clings stubbornly on, its tough stems bracing against the fierce winter wind. I plucked the reluctant leaves from the plant, gave them a wash and squeezed them to release their aroma.
This is only one possible ‘infusion’- I have also tried chilli oil, where one or two (depending on your spice threshold) dried chillis are added to the oil. You could also try another herb, such as basil, oregano or thyme. The oil is best if left for at least a day to let the flavours infuse. As it is used, keep topping up with more oil, giving it a good shake, and it might even last until next Christmas.
One of my more specialised Christmas presents this year was a cook’s blowtorch. We have been trying in vain to come up with uses for it other than caramelising the sugar on top of a crème brûlée, tentatively suggesting things like charring the outside of aubergines, but it really only has one purpose. I love this particular dessert so much, though, that having a piece of rather expensive kitchen gadgetry designed solely to make it seems fine to me.
Crème Brûlée originated in England, in Cambridge, under the appellation ‘Burnt Cream’. The dessert was then adopted, and probably perfected, by the French, and given a much more elegant name. On a recent trip to Paris I opted to try many incarnations of the dessert, ranging from passable to sublime. The exact combination of a thin layer of crisp caramel hiding a luscious, wobbly underneath is surprisingly hard to come by. Often they are fiddled about with, and things like ginger, blueberries or cardamom are added. For me, the most successful crème brûlée will always be one flavoured purely with vanilla.
The blowtorch took a bit of getting used to: the rushing of gas and the sudden ignition are slightly alarming – my first couple of attempts definitely deserved the description ‘burnt cream’. After a few practices and some YouTube tutorials, I was able to get something resembling gently caramelised. A few black patches are fine though- the slight bitterness greatly complements the creamy, sweet custard.