Behind the Scenes: Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary [Part 2]

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

A couple weeks ago, I shared behind the scenes photos taken by Anna Guziak (if you missed that post, click here). Today’s post includes my photos, tips, and tricks I use when doing a food photoshoot, as well as the recipe for the dish you see in the pictures. (Scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to skip right to the recipe.)

To be honest, I've been hesitant to share photography advice on my blog because I am far from an expert. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Offering advice in this area makes me want to crawl into a closet and hide from the imposter syndrome that lurks in every corner or my mind. 

That being said, I’ve had a handful of people ask me about my photography process. I’ve come to realize maybe hearing how I photograph without fancy lighting, a full photography studio, and a myriad of lenses could be helpful. So, I’m learning to push imposter syndrome to the side and talk about what I love, even if I still have a great deal to learn myself. 

(It’s worth noting that what I’ve shared below is simply what I do and the equipment I use - it’s not necessarily the way things need to be done or the equipment that has to be used. Do what works for you! This post also focuses mainly on my process of learning photography, so I haven’t included advice on styling, lighting, composition, how a camera works, etc. You can find much of that information by checking out the links I’ve included in the “Resources” section below.)

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary
Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

Camera + Lenses

I currently use a Canon EOS 60d. My very first lens was a 50mm lens. It's often called the "nifty fifty" and is useful for a variety of types of photography. Even now, I use my 50mm about 85% of the time. 

Before talking about more equipment, though, let me say this. When you first start learning about camera equipment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you need to spend thousands of dollars to create a decent image. You don’t. You can make very clean, crisp images with whatever equipment you have. I have professional photographer friends with tons of great equipment, and that equipment can absolutely enhance what you’re able to do. However, if you are just starting out, I would recommend first learning to use what you have, then upgrade equipment as you become proficient with what you currently own. If all you have right now is a smartphone, practice creating really awesome images on your smartphone. There is so much you can learn about styling, composition, lighting, etc. before even making a camera or lens purchase. 

When you learn first with what you have, I personally think you become a better photographer in the long run because you don't use equipment as a crutch. I also have a habit of wanting to dive into a hobby head first, then abandoning that hobby a few months or a year later. So, for the first year I started learning photography, I borrowed a camera from my sister. I wanted to learn how to use it and make sure this was a hobby I’d actually stick with before making any large purchases. 

Eventually, I bought a new and upgraded lens (my 50mm lens) to fit the borrowed camera, but I made sure what I purchased would also fit the camera I planned to eventually buy. As I got better and also felt confident this was a hobby that would stick around, I purchased a Canon EOS 60d (and made that purchase when newer Canon products were released, which meant the price of the 60d went down pretty significantly). 

About a year after purchasing my camera, I got the 24mm wide angle lens, and another year or so after that, purchased a 100mm macro lens. Since my photography is almost entirely focused on food, these lenses work for me, but if I was doing weddings, portraits, landscapes, etc., I'd change up or add to what I have.

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

Lighting

Ninety-five percent of the time, I use natural lighting. I’ve taken photos in a number of locations around my house, and have concluded that most of the time the window in my dining room works best. I typically push the dining room table right up against the window and take my pictures there. You can see a few pictures of my setup in the previous “Behind the Scenes” post. 

Taking food photography pictures with 2-year-old toddlers running around brings its own set of challenges. They still take a decent nap, so most of the time I work on photo shoots while they’re asleep. If they don’t take a good nap that day or the weather doesn’t cooperate for me to get the right light I need, I hold off and shoot another day. I’m a planner, but in this area (and in many others) my kids have taught me to be more flexible. 

With baby number 3 on the way, the chances of all three kids sleeping at the same time during the day are slim, so I’m branching out into the world of artificial lighting. I bought the Lowel Ego Tabletop Light and love it so far. Shooting during the day in natural lighting is still my preference, but the tabletop light gives me the flexibility to schedule photo shoots at night when needed. 

Props

Most of the props I own are actual items we use as a family in regular life - utensils, dishes, linens, or the ingredients used to create the dish I’m photographing. At garage sales or on clearance racks, I’ve also collected a handful of items we don’t necessarily use regularly but help add a little more variety to the images. 

I love photographing on all white dishware because I think it makes the food really pop. I also have an assortment of glasses, since I love creating drink recipes (especially cocktails). I’ve learned, though, that if I do want to buy new glassware for a photoshoot, I don’t need a set of four. Usually, just one or two glasses are sufficient. (Also, we had soooo many glasses at one point that it was getting ridiculous, so I’ve pared down my stash a little.) 

I use a marble pastry board that I use as a backdrop for many of my shoots, as well as an olive wood cutting board, slate cheese board, flour sack towels (my favorite linen to use), and a handful of other odds and ends. I also made a wood backdrop out of a few pieces of plywood, screws, and a bit of paint. (Someday, I'd love to get my hands on a few of these backdrops from Erickson Wood Works.)

My philosophy is the same with props as it is with any other equipment. Use what you have first before making any big purchases. A white foam board and a kitchen towel can help you create a beautiful picture. As you dive into food photography more, keep an eye out for fun props at garage sales, second-hand stores, or the clearance section at stores such as Target or World Market. IKEA also has really inexpensive items that can work great for photo shoots. And when there’s a prop you really want to use in a photoshoot but don’t want to purchase, you can always ask around to see if someone near you is willing to lend you an item (I’ve done this several times before!). 

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary
Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

Editing

For editing, I currently use Lightroom, which does all that I need. Maybe someday I'll learn to use Photoshop, but Lightroom is a fantastic product. That being said, for a couple years, I just used iPhoto (gasp!) on my computer and didn't purchase Lightroom until I had grown out of what iPhoto could do. Again, this has forced me to learn how to better take a photo initially, rather than relying too heavily on post-production to fix all my mistakes. Editing software can be incredibly powerful, but your end result will be much better if you use editing software as a tool to enhance an already good photo rather than a band-aid to fix a poorly shot photo. 

When it came to learning Lightroom, I read blog posts, watched YouTube tutorials, and Googled “how to do _______________ in Lightroom” more times than I care to admit. Not exactly glamorous, but it’s a process that’s worked for me. There are also affordable online classes and workshops that teach how to use Lightroom or Photoshop (check out Skillshare for starters).

My Learning Process

As far as actually learning how to photograph, you can find a ton of information available for free or at a very low cost to help you get started. Sometimes, though, the benefit of having someone personally answer questions or walk you through how your camera works can make the learning process much less overwhelming. The very first year I started, I took a photography class through my local park district and video chatted a couple professional photographer friends who were willing to teach me what they know. Those video chats were invaluable. I also watched YouTube videos, took a Skillshare class, purchased a food photography book and an ebook, and read a lot of blog posts. 

Over the course of four and a half years, I’ve spent about $75 on learning photography. Again, you don’t have to drain your savings account in order to improve. That being said, if you’re able to participate in workshops or classes and invest in other resources right away, go for it! Those opportunities provide a learning experience that self-teaching simply can’t replicate. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, I’ll take more in-person classes and participate in workshops or retreats. But for my family and me right now, despite my impatience and desire to race ahead to learn everything I possibly can as soon as I can, I’ve realized that taking things slowly has been a better, more realistic pace. 

Oh, and most importantly? Take photos. Lots of photos. Reading and research will only get you so far. You’ve got to keep shooting. 

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

Resources

There is no shortage of information available about photography. This is an extremely abbreviated list, and I could spend hour after hour adding to it. I've included a handful of links and resources to help you get started. 

Blog Posts

"Food Photography Tips for Food Bloggers" from Cookie + Kate
"How I Instagram" from The Fauxmartha
"Fauxtography 101" from The Fauxmartha
"One Pot Butternut Squash Soup shot with an iPhone" from The Fauxmartha
Photography tips and tutorials from White on Rice Couple
"Artificial Lighting Tips for Food Photography" from Pinch of Yum
Additional photography tips and tutorials from Pinch of Yum

Books/eBooks

Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Nicole S. Young
Tasty Food Photography by Pinch of Yum (This is one of the first food photography resources I ever used, and it's extremely helpful for beginners.)

YouTube

"Food Photography Tips with Andrew Scrivani"
"Food Photography: Lighting and Compositional Basics" from Andrew Scrivani (Pretty much anything from Andrew Scrivani will be extremely helpful.)
"Tips for Stunning Food Photography with Top With Cinnamon"

Online Classes

Check out Skillshare or Craftsy.com for a variety of affordable online classes.

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary

Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary
Yields about 20-25 appetizers

2 medium apples
4-5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 whole sprig of rosemary, plus 1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 baguette*
8 ounces Fontina cheese**

Prepare the apples by cutting each apple in half, removing the core and seeds, and then slicing each apple into ¼-inch thick slices.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 whole sprig of rosemary to the skillet. Heat for a couple minutes until the butter is melted and starts bubbling.

Reduce heat to medium, and add the apple slices to the skillet. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, turning and stirring occasionally. The apples are done when they are browned and tender.

While the apples are cooking, move an oven rack to the position closest to your oven’s broiler flame.

Preheat your oven to broil (to high if you have a high/low setting). Slice the baguette into ½-inch thick pieces (you’ll need about 20-25 slices total), and lay them out on a baking sheet. Lightly butter all the slices using the remaining 1-2 tablespoons of butter.

Thinly slice the Fontina, and top each piece of buttered bread with 1-2 pieces of cheese. Place the cheese-topped bread in the oven under the broiler flame, and broil for 2-3 minutes until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted. (Keep a very close eye on the baking sheet so you don’t burn the bread and cheese! You may also want to rotate the baking sheet halfway through to ensure even cooking.)

Remove the bread from the oven. When the apples are done cooking, top each piece of bread with 1-2 apple slices, and sprinkle with fresh rosemary. Serve and enjoy!

*Note that this recipe may not use an entire loaf. That just means more bread to snack on while you cook!

**Fontina is an Italian cow’s milk cheese that melts really well. I’ve been able to find it at both Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and most other grocery stores. You can, however, substitute another cheese such as Gruyere or Gouda.


If you missed Part 1 of my "Behind the Scenes" posts, make sure to click here! You'll get to see photos (taken by Anna Guziak) of me making this recipe and setting up to photograph it.


Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter

Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter

I'll be the first one to admit that a stocked pantry with grab-and-go foods is essential. Whether you have to head out the door early for work, or you've got toddlers pulling on your legs asking for a "nack! nack!" (translation: snack), chowing down on a granola bar or muffin is sometimes the best you can do at the moment.

But I find when the noise settles and there are a few moments of calm, I need to stop and eat - and I mean actually stop. It's not always just for physical nourishment; sometimes, it's for my mind and soul. I need to sit down without staring at a screen and without a pen, scribbling down my grocery list. I need to enjoy the food in front of me and embrace the opportunity to slow down. Some days, this means warming up leftovers for lunch and attempting to eat without interruption. Other days, it's simply drinking a fresh cup of coffee while it's still hot, or indulging a really good chocolate bar at the end of the day. Most recently, it's meant an afternoon cup of tea with some sort of baked good - a scone, muffin, or in this case, biscuits. 

While the cold weather lingers (currently accompanied by clouds and rain), I've been craving comfort food, i.e. anything buttery and straight out of the oven. But I also find myself looking forward to the bright, fresh flavors of spring. This recipe - warm, lightly sweetened biscuits dotted with flecks of lemon zest and rosemary - is the best of both worlds. My favorite way to enjoy them is with copious amounts of lemon-honey butter (or sometimes an big spoonful of raspberry jam) and a steaming cup of herbal tea.

Make a batch and sneak away for a few minutes to truly savor. Savor the flavors of rosemary and lemon, the textures of creamy, sweet honey butter and crumbly, flaky biscuits. Most of all, let yourself savor a moment of stillness...because we all know it won't last forever. 

Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter.jpg
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter

Lemon + Rosemary Biscuits with Lemon-Honey Butter
Yields 10-12 biscuits

Biscuits
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling out the dough
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, diced
1 cup buttermilk, plus a little extra for the top of the biscuits

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a silicone baking mat), and set aside.

Add flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, soda, rosemary, and lemon zest to a food processor. Pulse until combined.

Add the diced butter to the food processor, and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like coarse meal. There should still be pea-sized bits of butter throughout the flour mixture.

Add the buttermilk and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. You don’t want to overmix, otherwise, the biscuits will be dense. It’s OK to still see small bits of butter in the dough.

Spread a bit of flour on your work surface. Turn the dough out on the floured surface, and pat it into a rectangle, about ¾ inch thick. Fold the dough over and pat it down gently again. Fold it over one more time, and pat it down until it’s ¾ inch thick again. (Be careful not to overwork the dough beyond this.)

Use a 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits. Reroll the dough scraps as needed and continue to cut out more biscuits until all the dough is used.

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space in between each one. Brush the tops with buttermilk or milk (this helps them brown).

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the tops and edges are slightly browned. Remove from the oven, and let them cool slightly. Serve warm with lemon-honey butter. (They also taste great with raspberry jam!)

Lemon-Honey Butter
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup honey
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix together all the ingredients until smooth. (I prefer to do this with a stand mixer or handheld mixer.) Transfer to a small bowl or dish, or spoon the butter onto plastic wrap, roll into a log shape, and wrap it up tightly. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use. 


This recipe was originally featured at Lark + Linen.


Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones

Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones

There I was, frantically plunging the bathroom toilet upstairs, trying to free the pipes and save the bathroom floor from being overrun by murky waters. I succeeded – mostly. Until I didn’t. It seemed maybe a few too many “flushable” diaper liners and their contents from my kids’ cloth diapers had run their course in that bathroom, and the toilet finally decided to revolt. I tried one last time to flush, convinced everything was cleared up and I just needed to do a final test.

Nope.

The waters rose, I plunged with a vengeance, and suddenly toilet water covered my bathroom floor. Fortunately, it was mostly clean toilet water, but toilet water nonetheless. Minutes earlier, I had plopped my toddlers in their cribs in an effort to keep them out the way. I could hear them playing, and for the moment they were happy. Hallelujah. But I was not.

Keep reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones
Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones
Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones-8.jpg
Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones

Full post and recipe instructions can be found at Coffee + Crumbs!


Behind the Scenes: Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary [Part 1]

I am so excited to share this post with you today! Instead of my photos accompanying a recipe post, my friend Anna Guziak is behind the camera to help me give you a glimpse into what happens in the kitchen when I create and photograph a recipe.

Anna and I met about seven years ago when she was my wedding photographer, and this past fall, she took family photos for us. She is not only incredibly talented, but also probably one of the kindest people I've ever met. I'm not used to stepping in front of the camera, but Anna has an amazing ability to put you at ease and capture beautiful, real-life moments.

As you scroll through these images, I want to note a few points about my food blogging process. First, I do not have a photogenic kitchen. Anna makes it look good in her images, but you can very clearly see that I lack the Instagrammable white cabinets, marble countertops, and stainless steel appliances. So, when I photograph a recipe, I create a makeshift setup in my dining room that can be easily taken down when needed.

I move the dining table against the window for the best natural light I can get in my house and set up a few white foam boards for the photo backdrop. For many of my posts, I style the food on top of a marble pastry board. I also have a wood board, various linens, and a handful of other props that I use when I want to change things up.

Secondly, I am a complete mess when I cook and develop recipes. Even when I try the "clean as you go" technique, my kitchen looks like the aftermath of a hurricane. For this post, I tried to straighten up as best I could while still keeping it real. But much of the time, my kids’ leftover breakfast sits on the counter alongside food-splattered Post-its with recipe notes, pages torn out of food magazines, and at least a couple cookbooks or my iPad opened for reference. This particular day, I also had the help of family watching the kids while Anna and I worked, but normally I’m fighting to get it all done before the naptime clock expires. I’m usually still in my pajamas, too…but I figured no one really wanted to see that much of real life.

Anna took all of the photos in this post, and in a second blog post, I’ll share a few of my photos plus the recipe for the dish you see in these pictures (Crostini with Caramelized Apples, Fontina + Rosemary). In Part 2, I’ll also share more about the photography equipment I have and links to resources you may find helpful if you’re getting started with food photography.

Want to know more about what happens behind the scenes in my kitchen? Feel free to ask a question in the comments section! And make sure to check out the rest of Anna’s work over at AnnaGuziak.com!