A Food Photographer’s Disneyland

Blueberry Muffins

In mid-September, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the White on Rice Couple’s food photography and styling workshop. I had booked the class months prior, as soon as I got their email announcing the class date. I rushed to sign up that very same day, because their workshops often sell out since they limit the class to 12 students.

I made a mini-vacay out of the trip by spending a full day in Newport Beach, just a 15 minute drive from the photography studio in Costa Mesa. While this post isn’t about Newport Beach, I highly recommend a few activities if you make it down there. Definitely spend some time on the beach; the ocean was pretty warm when I was there, so I rented a boogie board and had some fun with the waves. I also did an evening Glow in the Dark SUP tour which was really chill and relaxing after a day in the sun. Now back to the workshop…

Todd Porter and Diane Cu, the husband and wife team behind White on Rice Couple, are simply amazing. It was so apparent from the first minute of the first day that they absolutely love what they do. They’re also gracious workshop hosts, warm and friendly, and even cooked us all an amazing breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. They just published their own cookbook, so I should have known the food would be delicious!

In two full days, we covered everything from food photography to styling to the business of photography, and even painted our own prop surfaces. For the majority of the workshop, we were free shooting, using any of the thousands of props and assortment of foods we could get our hands on. This place is truly Disneyland for food photographers. The studio is complete with a full kitchen and gets tons of natural light through the morning and afternoon. There’s a massive prop room that holds every possible dish, utensil, glass, you name it…in every color imaginable. This is just a sliver of the space.

The workshop was completely hands-on, which is really the only way to learn, IMHO. As we were shooting, Todd and Diane would walk around and offer suggestions and tips, answer questions, and even help troubleshoot camera or Lightroom issues. Our final exercise on day 2 was a “lightning round” shoot, which comprised of about 12 stations setup with different subjects and lighting. We had 30 seconds to photograph each station, before rotating to the next…the pressure was on!

So was it worth it? Absolutely. I learned more than I could distill in this single blog post, but here are a few nuggets worth sharing:

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Baking Crack Pies at Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar Class

Two weekends ago, I flew out to New York to celebrate the wedding of two close friends from grad school. Given that it was Labor Day weekend, I spent a few extra days checking out some delicious spots, old and new, in New York City. For me, travel and food go hand in hand, and one of my favorite ways of exploring a city is through its restaurants and cafes. On my list was Momofuku Noodle Bar (how have I never been?), Russ and Daughters, Black Seed Bagels, and a few others.

On my flight to JFK, I started planning out my stops in the city, and one of them was definitely going to be Momofuku Milk Bar. As a huge fan of Christina Tosi, owner of Milk Bar, I really wanted to swing by one of the locations and snag one of their signature corn cookies. I’ve had co-workers and friends bring me back Milk Bar treats as souvenirs, but I had yet to go for myself. As I was checking out the Milk Bar website for locations, I immediately saw “CLASSES” at the top of the page. OMG. What’s better than buying a sweet treat from Milk Bar? Getting to bake your very own treat in their kitchens. I just *had* to do this.

Fast forward a few days later, and I’m hanging out in Milk Bar’s production kitchen in Williamsburg along with 20 other students. We’re all eager to dive into the class, with our signed Milk Bar books in tow and signature Tosi headscarves tied with a nice big bow (yep, the guys wore them too!). The class was part of the Milk Bar’s Bake the Book series, and each Saturday class covers one of their flagship recipes in their book. My class was all about baking Milk Bar’s famous Crack Pie and birthday cake truffles, their spin on the classic cake pop sans stick.

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Vanilla Crepe Cake

Vanilla Crepe Cake Some girlfriends catch up over a cup of coffee. Others may share tales of their weekend debauchery over drinks. But I have to say that there’s A LOT of great chit chat that happens when close friends spend the day together in the kitchen. Every few months–definitely not as often as we’d like–my good friend Corinne and I plan a baking party. That’s right. BAKING PARTY. Once the date is set, we spend the week leading up to the big day thinking about which fancy dessert we want to bake — the more unique and intimidating, the better. During our last party, we made mini fruit tartlets and Alfajores cookies. It was our first time baking those beauties and surprisingly, they turned out well. But even if they didn’t, no worries – baking day is a judgment-free, safe place :)

This time around, I made a 25-layer vanilla crepe cake topped with fresh raspberries. Corinne baked a beautiful fig tart using a variety of green and purple figs from the farmer’s market. And she made lemon bars for extra credit – she’s a baking machine! Now on to the vanilla crepe cake! Perhaps you’ve seen these cakes before as they’ve been made famous by the Lady M bakery, with locations in New York, LA, Singapore and Korea. Essentially, the cake is made up of over 20 layers of crepes with a light filling between each crepe. Given how much I love making crepes, both sweet and savory, I wanted to give this cake a try.

Vanilla Crepe Cake… 

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Slow-Roasted Salmon

Slow-Roasted Salmon

As a Seattle native, I’ve been spoiled with access to arguably the best salmon in the world. We take our salmon very seriously in the PNW. So seriously, that the local news stations cover the arrival of Copper River salmon from Alaska each year. No joke. And in my family, buying high quality fish has always been super important. In fact, over the last 20 years, my parents built a friendship with our local fishmonger, Richard, at Pure Food Fish Market located in the famous Pike Place Market. They always give him a call before stopping by, just to confirm what’s best to buy that day, whether it’s fish, crab, or any other type of seafood.

I have so many childhood memories of enjoying salmon for dinner, usually served on a bed of Persian herbed rice called sabzi polo (recipe coming soon!). Then and now, my favorite salmon preparation is simple: brush on olive oil or butter, sprinkle some salt and pepper, and serve with fresh lemon wedges. When you have an delicious piece of fresh fish in front of you, why mask its flavors with anything more?

When I can get my hands on good salmon in SF, I usually place it in a pan and bake it at 450 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. However, lately I’ve been stumbling upon recipes that call for slow-cooking the salmon, which basically means baking the salmon at a low temperature for a longer period of time. I decided to give it a try, and baked the salmon fillets at 275 degrees F for 18 minutes. After cutting into my first piece of the salmon, I was SOLD. The fish was cooked yet still moist, and had an incredibly buttery texture and rich flavor. Squeeze a lemon wedge or two over the salmon, and serve with a side salad such as my Radish, Goat Cheese and Grape salad.

How do you like to cook salmon at home? Have you tried slow-roasting?

Slow-Roasted Salmon… 

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Radish, Grape, and Goat Cheese Salad

Radish, Grape, and Goat Cheese Salad

♫ Cooking to Red Lights by Tiësto

It was only a matter of time until I mentioned one of my latest obsessions on this blog. And no, I’m not talking about a newfound vegetable or clever kitchen gadget. I’m talking about the best workout of my entire life…Barry’s Bootcamp! They opened their first location in SF last June, and working out there 4-5 days a week has been transformational. I’m happier and feel better, both inside and out. The Barry’s Bootcamp instructors are super positive and energetic, the hour-long workouts are intense, and the music is just what you need to push your limits. There’s a real sense of community, especially when you start to see the same faces sweat it out at 7am.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can introduce you to one of the craziest challenges I’ve had to go through: a 30-day no added sugar, no white flour, and no alcohol challenge. This was organized by one of my favorite Barry’s instructors, the amazing Erica Stenz. I signed up to test my willpower – could I really do this? I usually roll my eyes at these types of challenges, but I was really bought in on giving this a shot.

And…I made it! Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a slip ups on the sugar and flour, especially because sugar is added to everything – even bacon! It was much easier than expected to cut out the alcohol even when faced with a bachelorette party, the Beyoncé + Jay Z concert, Outside Lands music festival, and many more tempting events over the last four weeks. Was it worth it? Well, after 30 days, I look and, more importantly, feel the best I ever have.

So, with all that in mind, I’d like to share a new salad recipe with you that I enjoyed while on my challenge. No added sugar is quite the challenge for a girl with a sweet tooth, so I’ve been finding ways to sneak fruit into some more savory dishes. In this salad, the spicy radishes, sweet green grapes, and tart goat cheese all work really well together, especially when tossed with mache lettuce (aka lamb’s lettuce), which has a nutty flavor. I prefer to lightly dress this salad with a really simple champagne vinaigrette (recipe below). During the challenge, I used lemon juice or balsamic vinegar with olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced shallot, if I had it on hand.

Radish, Grape, and Goat Cheese Salad

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