The Secrets to Dazzling Food Photos Revealed

Are you as obsessed with food photography as we are?  If so, have we got a book for you.

The Food Stylist’s Handbook by Denise Vivaldo with Cindie Flannigan is such a fun read we almost decided to become food stylists on the spot. Their book has all the guidance necessary to begin or advance a food styling career. This how to manual explains exactly what the job entails, equipment needed, the different niches and of course, how to get started. But don’t overlook the fact that it also contains a ton of valuable advice for us regular folk looking to put out stunningly beautiful culinary masterpieces we want to shoot and eat.

We adore the Tricks of the Trade chapter that delves into topics as diverse as getting more height out of pancakes, which brand of egg to use for a flawless presentation and achieving the most gorgeous spiral cut from your ham. Above Cindie assembles the perfect Sundae, but this one’s made of Crisco not ice cream, so admire but don’t eat.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to configure fake or edible food, the tips in The Food Stylist’s Handbook help everyone present a better plate. Need some guidance in making that burger you’re about to consume more instagram friendly?  It’s in the book, showing how one can adorn with condiments found on the table, perfect for a restaurant blog post. Want to impress friends who come over for lunch? The magic to beautiful bacon for your club or BLT is in the cooking method, using skewers or foil to get just the right curl to your strips.

Edible flowers add a charming touch to any plate, especially white china laden with salad and chicken breast in need of a pop of color.

And a dash of just the right herbs and spices brushed around grill marks make shrimp irresistible.

Regardless of why you want a stunning presentation, the answers you are searching for abound in words and pictures throughout this sensational guide book.

And the ladies haven’t forgotten the importance of serving containers and utensil recommendations to insure that delicious courses get the best send off possible.

So take it from the women who have honed and mastered the techniques and get your own copy of The Food Stylist’s Handbook.  Who knows, you may become the next Picasso of the instagram world or at the very least of your own kitchen table.

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Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

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Deborah Madison Shares From Her Own Cozy Kitchen

When searching for answers to life’s questions we like to defer to the masters, and Deborah Madison certainly falls into that category. She was cooking from an enlightened perspective long before it was fashionable or even acceptable in many circles. From the San Francisco Zen Center to Chez Panisse, Madison has taken every opportunity to engage in the deepest examination of vegetarian cuisine.  And now a lifetime of expertise has been condensed into her latest book, In My Kitchen, a collection of favorite vegetarian recipes she serves at home.

We must start by highlighting the mouthwatering Romanesco sauce inspired by a trip to Spain. This deep, complex, sunny blend is oh so satisfying. We added a big dollop to soup, but honestly we want to slather this winner on everything in the kitchen including the roasted cauliflower recipe she pairs it with in the book.

A crisp, sweet, spicy citrus and avocado salad with lime-cumin vinaigrette atop shredded greens is the definition of invigoration and the ideal accompaniment to heavier dishes of beans or animal protein. Deborah is not interested in pushing lifestyle choices down anyones throat and is thrilled that in this day and age one can choose to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore on any night of the week it calls to them.

That is not to say that vegetarian and vegan dishes can’t be supremely satisfying.  Their hardiness is clearly demonstrated in her potato and chickpea stew with sautéed spinach. It’s a memorable bowl sure to warm the hearts of all who dive in.

Deborah’s rubarb-rasberry compote couldn’t be easier and the tangy, tart, mildly sweet flavor is a winner served with cookies, over ice cream or as a side dish, transforming any weeknight dinner into a special occasion. It is beyond scrumptious and all we had to do was throw a few easy ingredients together, 3 to be exact. We made a triple batch and enjoyed it for a full week before finally scraping the bowl clean.

Worried Deborah’s healthy style will deny you sweet treats? No need, her walnut nugget cookies pair surprisingly well with the rhubarb and raspberry compote.

While encouraging readers to nourish themselves in the fashion that best suits their mood, Deborah makes the process surprisingly easy and we greatly appreciate that. Those ready to dive into a healthy dose of mother natures best would be wise to pick up Deborah Madison’s, In My Kitchen and transform their cooking with instruction straight from the cozy kitchen of one of the shining stars of the culinary world. Bon Appetit.


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Rachel Hollis Makes Comfort Food Easy


Rachel Hollis’ new cookbook, Upscale Downhome, is forcing us to come clean.  First, cooking is not one of our well honed talents and on top of that we love comfort food. So when the opportunity arose to witness Rachel’s cooking in person, we grabbed it and can honestly say we were amazed not only by how tasty everything was, but also by the abundance of short cuts she incorporates into her book. Upscale Downhome is just the home cooking cheat sheet we have been searching for.


We found the charming presentation and vibrant pesto mayo of her BLT Bites (page 42) too adorable and delicious to refuse and admit to grabbing a few extra for the trip down memory lane they conjured. Perhaps a more seasoned chef would find a recipe for a BLT mundane, but we would proudly display and serve this particular version at all our festive gatherings for the delight they bring to everyone who sees and tastes them.


One of the best features of this book is that each step is not only explained, but also clearly detailed in photos, so readers know they are on the right track all through the process, not just at the end when it is too late to make amends. Turkey Chili (page 105) puts the slow cooker to good use and we love dishes that practically cook themselves by simmering away for hours.


Comfort food comes in all forms and there are plenty of produce based dishes to indulge in, including a snappy Fresh Green Bean Salad (page 121).


But when we think hard core comfort food, we have to say we fell in love with Rachel’s Sticky Ham and Cheese (page 39) which combine the sweetness of King’s Hawaiian Rolls with salty and savory melted Swiss and ham slices. The enchanting miniature size of these beauties make them all the more irresistible.


Creative ideas for pulling together a variety of festive events abound. Besides sections dedicated to dips, snacks, casseroles, slow cookers and dishes to bring to potlucks, Rachel also has a delightful dessert division. Her Cookie Pudding Pie (page 187) combines all our favorite sweets and serves them in divine, tiny canning jars.

For those interested in endearing recipes, party ideas and presentations for family-friendly comfort foods, Rachel Hollis’ Upscale Downhome is just the guide for you.

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Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived


New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.


Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.


Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.


Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.


For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.


We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.


The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

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Mexican Culinary Magic


Pati Jinich introduces her new book Mexican Today by stating, “This is a book of recipes born out of passion: passion for my family; passion for my native Mexico and its ancient, modern and evolving foodways; passion for the changing Mexican cuisine within the United States, my home for the past eighteen years and the birthplace of my children; and passion for delicious, unforgettable, irresistible food.” And after sampling her recipes we definitely see, smell and taste exactly what she means.


Pati’s Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote, glistens with full bodied sweetest from the freshest corn enhanced by her unique spice blend. We went back for seconds and thirds and would have continued but for our engorged, happy tummies.


We were particularly taken with her Fast Track Chicken Pibil, a recipe that simplifies the cooking process without skimping on the smokey achiote essence or richness.


She recommends serving the chicken pibil atop crisp corn tortillas and alongside her refreshing pickled onion and cabbage salad, also found in her book.


We were tickled and surprised by the chewy sweet, salty and savory Everything in the Pantry Cookies which combine most of our own pantry staples including pretzel pieces.


Pati’s drink recipes also surprise and delight and we found ourselves thoroughly enchanted by her honey and hibiscus flower tea with its understated, sweet-tart core.


Mexican Today provides simplicity, as well as new and old twists, on contemporary Mexican cooking. The recipes reflect a long practiced fusion in the Mexican kitchen. Pati explores the way Mexican foods have merged and evolved on both sides of the border. A consummate storyteller, as evidenced by her five seasons as host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen”, she shares not only the research but also personal experiences behind the making of this book. All her dedication and hard work unify into an inspired cookbook and a great read.

Link here Mexican Today to purchase Pati Jinich’s book from Amazon.

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Southern MasterChef Winner Shares Her Favorite Recipes


Whitney Miller’s second cookbook, New Southern Table, lightens up the cuisine of Whitney’s childhood and adds her interpretations of global cuisine to the mix.


Her book launch, hosted by Melissa’s Produce, began with fresh fruit of the season including Christmas crunch grapes and cinnamon persimmons. Both sweet reminders of the glorious fruits and vegetables currently at their peak of fresh sweetness.


Whitney introduced us to her cookbook with Creole succotash salad. Corn, grape tomatoes, cucumber, green onion and feta cheese are doused in a light vinaigrette. A side of bacon crumbles adds some salty, smokiness if guests choose to toss that in as well. Whitney grew up on a farm in Mississippi, so fresh produce abounds in her book.


Chopped green beans and mushroom sauté, are covered with slivered almonds and dollops of goat cheese, creating an exhilarating combination of healthy, whole food bounty.


Inspired by Roy Choi’s sliders she sampled in Los Angeles, Whitney crafted her Mississippi banh mi using seared beef tips and a carrot and broccoli slaw. She doesn’t hold back on the heat either, adding both sliced jalapeños and a mighty tasty Sriracha spread slathered on a sturdy french roll.


Baked apple hand pies use the authors own olive oil pie dough recipe to insure the crusts stay flakey all the way around the cinnamon and granny smith apple filled centers.


And simply because everyone loves brownies, she regaled us with her brownie cookies. These addicting, crisp edged, fudge centered disks of joy had us eating more than we care to admit. At least they were calories well spent.


For guidance on healthier versions of Southern cuisine with a global slant from a 22 year old winner of MasterChef, pick up a copy of Whitney Miller’s New Southern Table and enjoy the ride.


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Indian Cuisine Made Easy With Crack The Code


The charming Nandita Godbole has come out with the second edition of her inspired book, Crack The Code, Cook Any Indian Meal With Confidence. This latest version contains more recipes and supports fine tuning of the culinary skills involved in the preparation of Indian food.


The ancient secrets behind the multitude of spices, herbs, techniques, skills and kitchen supplies necessary to craft this wondrous cuisine are simplified and spelled out in detail by Nandita who has created a curry cravings code cheat sheet to help along the way.


Ms. Godbole’s previous book, A Dozen Ways To Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts For the Culinary Indulgent, is a beginners guide to Ayurvedic principles and how they influence Indian cooking, allowing readers to enjoy both delicious and health propagating meals. In-depth sources for information on Ayurveda are available in her bibliography.


A proponent of healthful eating, she supports procuring the best quality, unadulterated ingredients possible, such as those sold by Melissa’s produce embracing organic, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable attributes.


Recipes suitable for vegetarians and omnivores alike fill her books and she includes guides for basic indian spices and how to create your own spice blends.


Soups, salads, snacks, entrees and side dishes from exotic regions in India are easily broken down into bite sized morsels, so even those with relatively little cooking experience can master them.


Nandita’s daughter and husband are heavily involved in the preparation, cooking, recording, public relations and photography surrounding her books.


For those interested in capturing the essence and techniques of the Indian kitchen, Nandita’s books offer easy to read and understand, beautifully illustrated guidebooks to the cuisine.  For access to Crack The Code by Nandita Godbole as well as her previous book A dozen Ways To Celebrate, please click on the titles to be transported to Amazon where you can purchase electronic copies for your iPad or Kindle.


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Healthy And Delicious From A French Kitchen


We miss French food, there used to be more of it in Los Angeles at all price points, but now it seems to have fallen out of favor and we can’t understand why.  Susan Herrmann Loomis, the author of In A French Kitchen, believes it may be that people think French is too heavy or not healthy and she says that is not the case at all and then proves it with her latest cookbook.  Her story filled read explains French cuisine and why it’s so remarkable, while sharing the dishes she loves.


Our introduction to her book began with  herb infused ice water, always a restorative libation that we keep forgetting is easy and elegant.  We are up for making this traditional drink a regular part of our lives, thank you Ms. Loomis for the reminder.


Rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon, orange, cucumber, almost any combination, of fruit, herbs or vegetables will work.


We like simple and Susan introduces a delightful appetizer of breakfast radishes sprinkled with salt then placed  atop french baguette slices slather with thick layers of butter.


And not just any salt, but Fleur de Sel Guerande, a mineral heavy, grey salt that Susan finds superlative.  Based on how wonderful the radish appetizer is, we have to agree with her.


The melon salad with shallot vinaigrette (page 93), combines sweet and savory in the most refreshing of ways.  The citrus, mint, shallots and freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns give the juicy sweet fruit something to play off.  We could eat this salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner all summer long.


Mushrooms with chorizo (page 290) is another uncomplicated dish, requiring only that the mushroom cups be filled with Spanish chorizo, cracked pepper and herbs of your choice.  They are baked in the oven for about 5 minutes or until hot throughout.  Easy, attractive platters fly out the kitchen almost by themselves.


Braised broccoli (page 76) takes advantage of the vibrant color and flavor of the cruciferous gem by honoring its natural character with onion, garlic and herbs.


Sausages with tomatoes and golden rice (page 42) create a hearty dish that allows the spice of the sausages to incorporate with the tomato, onion and spices, the perfect match for turmeric scented basmati rice.


Susan informs us that every meal she has in France, which has been her home for two decades, ends with a big green salad and we were regaled with simple greens lightly tossed with classic vinaigrette (page 96).  The perfect ending to a healthy, well balanced and delicious dinner.


Of course we had to partake in her sweet pie pastry (page 208) filled with raspberries and creme.  The rich pastry shell is a wonderful base for the sweet-tart berries and the thick yellow creme which come together to form a sweet, tart, creamy, cookie crumble reminiscent fruit tart.


Thank you Susan for reminding us that French food can be healthy, makes the best use of seasonal produce and celebrates the flavors of the French countryside that we can all relate to even if we’ve never set foot in your beautiful village.  Until Los Angeles expands her French offerings we are happy to use your guidance to indulge in some time honored French principles from the kitchen.


In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis is now avaialbe through Amazon.





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The Blender Girl Smoothies Are Outside The Box


The always effervescent Tess Masters, also known as The Blender Girl, has just released The Blender Girl Smoothies, her collection of 100 inspired, healthy and scrumptious blender concoctions that make adding fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, healthy oils and superfoods to our diet an absolute delight.


The book is broken into headings, Light and Fruity, Clean and Green, An Exotic Ride and Dessert, so we can design our smoothies around how we’re feeling at any given moment.


We’ve sampled a number of her recipes and are particularly thrilled with the cohesive balance and tangy, sweet, spicy blend of Pineapple Salsa (pg. 118) as well as the Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake (pg. 186), where raw cashews mimic the flavor, creaminess and delight of the rich dessert.   We are looking forward to checking out the Spicy Mango Magic (pg. 140) and her Pina Colada (pg. 112). 


Tess turns us on to the myriad of ingredients we never imagined pulling together over our yogurt, banana and arugula smoothies that we have been repeating for over a year.  Wheatgrass, natural extracts, orange blossom water, flax seed, chilies and cacao are just a fraction of the healthy options available to boost both flavor and healing properties in our morning or anytime smoothie routine.


Blenders of all sorts work beautifully with Tess’ step by step instructions, from order of ingredients added to secrets for sneaking in the super healthy stuff.


We have been using Melissa’s Produce in our smoothies, from their sweet seedless pearl sized champagne grapes to their super spicy arugula, with stunning results.  It’s important to remember that the higher quality, pesticide free, chemical free, non GMO, locally sourced produce we use, the greater the benefit to the body.  We are now intent on making sure we buy organic within the dirty dozen category.


For a little help in the health and wellness arena that tastes wonderful, Tess Masters and The Blender Girl Smoothies book gives us a new perspective and a ton of options to spice up our life and our wellbeing. Thank you Tess.


For more information on Tess Masters and her vegan, gluten free world, check out her web site                                                               

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