Pretty Dishes

The Latest
February 26, 2011, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Photography

So I haven’t been around much because I’ve been busy, but the good news is that despite this, I have still been cooking and photographing, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write or edit anything to post. The material is sitting and waiting for my schedule to free up though. What exactly have I been busy with? Very exciting things.

The first will remain somewhat mysterious, but I can share pieces of the story. At the start of the year, I volunteered to contribute some chapter opener photographs to an upcoming cookbook. Originally my photographs were to be the only ones in the book and would feature a finished dish from each chapter, but the publisher decided later to have more photographs throughout. As a result, a professional photographer was hired for the in-chapter photos (of finished dishes), but I was allowed to stay on and shoot more general ingredient photos for the chapter openers.

In spite of this shift, it is a very exciting opportunity, and I’m thrilled to be involved with the project. It offered an entirely new experience and a chance to grow as a photographer. The photography credit and images will be great résumé and portfolio pieces.

The shoot was a challenge, not due to any of the people involved (they were wonderful!), but attempting to capture seven perfect shots of more than a dozen setups (several of the openers had up to four options) was no small task. It was intense trying to get it all done in one day (before the January sun set at 4 p.m.!), but everyone was pleased with the result, and I only had to reshoot one chapter opener at a later date (for a slight variation on the original).

On top of all that, I had to edit my images for print for really the first time. I’ve had a few photos published before, but I didn’t have to worry about the color correction or print specs for those—I just sent along the original files. This time I needed to carefully process each image and provide match prints. I spent many a night obsessing over the most minor details. Being a photographer is certainly not as simple as “aim and shoot”! I realized how much less pressure there is when only posting photos to the Web.

On to the results: The feel of this particular cookbook is bright, colorful, wild, and over the top. Can you guess from these sample shots what the recipes showcase? (Don’t give it away if you know already!) If you’re wondering about some of the compositions and amount of dead space, note that as chapter openers these photos will not be the only element on the page.

Obviously this has been the main reason for my diverted attention these past two months. The cookbook will be released this fall, and I will refrain from sharing more details than that until it is at least sent along to the printer—because then there can be no doubt it is a done deal! At that time I will happily post the final images and any other relevant information.

More excitement: Two weeks ago my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting M and K in New Orleans, our first visit to the proper South. I could go on and on about this trip (miss you, M!), but I’ll focus on the food, which was phenomenal across the board. We tried all of the standards: beignets and cafe au laits at Café Du Monde (totally lives up to the hype), a muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery (delicious, and a whole one is a good foot in diameter!), hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s (they go down so smooth . . . ), barbecue shrimp at Deanie’s Seafood (more on this below), and charbroiled oysters at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (fantastic). We also tried Cajun pasta, gumbo, jambalaya, hot wings, soaked salad, red beans and rice, and king cake from various eateries. It was an incredible tour of the seafood, spices, and palate of New Orleans—one we won’t soon forget.

I loved each meal for different reasons, but I think my favorite one of all was the barbecue shrimp. I had been looking forward to Deanie’s for months beforehand. Really, I had been looking forward to trying the famous dish ever since M and I made a version at her place last year. Deanie’s did not disappoint. My meal started with a fresh house salad with blue cheese dressing. Then the waitress brought out my bowl piled high with whole shrimp in an amazing seasoned butter sauce. Served with it was one of the best French breads I’ve ever had. There are no words. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the flavor of the sauce was absolutely divine (even more so soaked into pieces of bread). I was practically floating on air when we left.

I made barbecue shrimp at home again last night just as M and I did, and while it was really good, now that I’ve tried the real thing, it just can’t compare. The spice packet packs a little too much punch and the seasoning ratio isn’t quite right; Deanie’s sauce was a little more subtly warming and satisfying. I’m sure I’ll never be able to recreate the (secret) original recipe exactly, but Deanie’s does provide a version of the dish on their website. (I’m also planning to make their Sweet Fig Vinaigrette, which sounds great.)

You can even watch a Deanie’s cook make barbecue shrimp on the New Orleans episode of the Travel Channel show Man v. Food. At the restaurant they prepare a compound butter infused with their spice mix, and then they sauté the shrimp in it in a skillet; the packet instructions and the Web recipe instead call for melting the butter, stirring in the spices, and then pouring over the shrimp before baking in the oven. I suspect this difference in preparation affects the outcome. I’ll try making it on the stove top sometime and see for myself.

I have become fascinated/slightly obsessed with Southern food as a result of the trip, and I can’t wait to visit again. If you love food and history and music and fun, you should visit New Orleans as soon as possible too.

Otherwise I have been working, reading, cooking, and continuing to learn the nuances of my new camera and how to better my photographs. It has been a rewarding 2011 so far, and here’s to more of the same!


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