Torta de Palmito (Heart of Palm Casserole)

Torta de Palmito or hearts of palm casserolethe only kind of casserole I ever had growing up. We were a Brazilian family living in the American suburbs, so our food was always a little different. None of my friends even knew what hearts of palm were! My mom just made what she knew and what she knew was always delicious. It was never fancy or stuffy–just good, simple recipes she learned from her mom while growing up in Brazil—and this was a favorite. Even the American additions to the family love it and make special requests for it—in Portuguese of course.

The peeps that make it all happen with ease and joy are Jennie Kelley on food styling, and Kristen Dale Butler on props and art direction.   Kristen found inspiration in the stone (pedra portuguesa) sidewalks found all over Rio de Janeiro.  Black and white abstract geometric patterns that compliment the waves and sand next to the sidewalk, as well as of the mountains. Hence, Kristen's use of the black and white serving tray under our main dish.  Jennie ccoked the Torta exactly as mama Elisa has for years.  She baked three and we had some for lunch!  Gostozo!

Lighting was a single strobe to the right side of camera and slightly behind the dish, through a double 6 by 6 foot silk scrim. Scrim was raised a little to allow the strobe light to "leak" through, simulating sun light on the table. You get the effect of sun rays coming through sheer curtains.  No fill cards were used.  Contrast increased in post.


Click on image for the recipe.


Jimmie's Coq Au Vin

What an honor and what fun it always is to collaborate with Manny and his talented staff. Manny and I had tossed ideas back and forth for a while on what we should shoot for his blog. One of the great things about working with MR is that he always respects you as the artist and he works with such ease to capture one's true sense of style and aesthetics. 

Anyone that knows me, knows there are a few passionate loves of mine which include a love of antique serving ware, platters, plates, textiles, flowers and last but not least "les poulles".  Nothing makes me happier than when they meet at the table. Growing up in a family where my mother was a home economics instructor and my maternal grandmother was a fabulous Southern cook, how could I not acquire an interest in kitchens, culinary skills, and a love for entertaining?!

Fall and winter are the seasons this dish comes to the table. The chicken, French inspired, is cooked in a deep dish of root vegetables, red wine, herbs, pepper, salt and is a request of friends who occasionally join me at my table or fireside. I love rustic food, deep in flavors, and simple in its presentation and preparation. All the elements used on the table are a mixture of years of flea market finds, antique shows acquisitions, family bestowals, and a general love of collecting. Bon appetite mes amis. 

Click on image for recipe.

To see a complete pictorial of the Coq Au Vin dinner click here.


J. Jo's Better Than Sex Risotto!

Kitchen Goddess No. 4 is the incomparable Jan Jones! A colleague and a friend.  One of the many reasons that keep me in Dallas is the people I have had the good fortune to associate with and Jan Jones is definitely one of those amazing Texans that make you feel right at home.  She is sophisticated and graceful yet she can get down, dirty, and party with the rest of us!  This is why when I talk about Jan to someone who doesn't know her, I always use the words glamour and graffiti in my description of her.  A close friend of Jan says it best:  "Like she always says about a house, if it has great bone structure that's all you need.  Jan has exquisite bone structure so whether she is in couture or down and dirty jeans and a tee, she looks elegant!  Plus that girl can wolf down corny dogs like it's no one's business!!"

To top it all off, the girl can cook!  She brings to the kitchen the passion she puts into everything else she does. She uses the finest ingredients she can find, and prepares her meals with skill and love, and will serve it all up on a beautiful table that would make Martha Stewart jealous.  Jan is a fabulous interior decorator and you can check out her website here.


Click on image for recipe


Yes, I ate most of it, and I don't even like mushrooms, for the shot of course. Jan wanted to see the art on her Ginori china.  

We wanted to make this shot look like we were under a porch at dusk.  I had a strobe bouncing off of an 8' x 8' white foam core, directly behind the table, slightly to camera left.  Bare bulb, so that the light would spill all over the studio, hence giving me a open sky feel with blue shadows.  I achieved this by letting the strobe/white balance go blue, and warmed up the food with light from the single candle on the table.  Exposure was 1/10 of a second, at f/4, with an ISO of 250.  Strobe setting was approx. 1000 w/s at about 10 feet away from the flowers that you see on the table.

Food stylist was Erin Quon.  Prop styling, Jan Jones, who brought her own china and silver.  Art direction, Kristen Butler.   



Maggie's Flan

We chose Maggie as our third Kitchen Goddess for a couple of reasons.  First, I heard from her daughter that her food is the real reason why friends come over, which is definitely one of our requirements. Then I learned that her flan won a contest at Maggie's law firm in Miami.  If a group of demanding litigating Cubans choose your flan as the best in a tasting contest, it has to be good! 

Maggie is a typical Cuban woman, fun loving, headstrong, voluptuous, beautiful, and finds any excuse para fiestar, bailar y comer. (party, dance, and eat) And THAT is how she stays beautiful, she burns those flan calories pachangueando! (partying)

With this blog post today I honor yet another cook who has been doing it for her family for years simply for the satisfaction of hearing others say: ¡Maggie, ño que rriiicooo!


In North America we say "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  The Cuban version is, lo que no mata, engorda, what doesn't kill you, makes you fatter.  Maggie's simple yet sinful flan does exactly that!  When I shot this on Friday we kept eating "little" bites here and there, and although I felt my veins clogging up and my heart beating extra fast, I survived, with a couple of extra pounds!

The reason we HAD to taste it was because our food stylist Yvonne Clark, had made a couple of variations for us, one lighter than the other.  For the "darker" version she cooked the sugar a few minutes longer, being careful not to burn the sugar.  Either way it was delicious but I LOVE that deeper caramelo flavor.  As a result we ran into a little problem, we almost ran out of flan to shoot!  

The recipe is super simple.  When possible, try to make it with whole, organic ingredients, it makes a difference.

Yvonne, Kristen, and I, hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  Let us know if you survive, in the Cuban sense.

Click on image for recipe.

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KC's East Texas Chicken Dumpling

This girl loves to cook.  It shows when she starts talking about food, her eyes get huge and they get shiny!  Hopefully, now that I'm making her truly famous, she will put her money where her mouth is, or should I say, put her pasta where my mouth is, and invite us over for some further proof!  


From KC:

Hey Manny,  

Here is the chicken and dumplings recipe.  I've always made this by memory instead of using the exact recipe, so hopefully I've accounted for all the little adjustments I usually make.  My mom and I used to make this on the first frosty day of the year, often times on a snow day when we were home from school and stuck inside. It is a recipe that instantly reminds me of my childhood and family reunions in East Texas.  This is simple Southern cooking at it's finest. Hope you guys enjoy it. :)

We certainly did KC.  Thank you!


Click on image for recipe.


The shot was created in the studio with my usual simulated window light from the left and slightly behind the subject. No fill light or bounce cards.  With the camera almost directly above, I shot with a shallow depth of field to keep the focus on the food. But here is a real meaningful tip for you photographers out there, I use a large source of light (6' X 6' diffused scrim) so that my shadows remain soft, this is very important.  Then with my editing software, i deepen the shadows with high contrast settings.

The chicken dumpling was tested, cooked and styled by our Master Chef, Jennie Kelly, view her blog here.  She really did test it the night before AND very early in the morning she prepared the chicken.  All before even arriving at the studio.  That is dedication and passion!

Kristen Butler, my own personal prop stylist, friend, personal cheerleader, and studio wife.  She put all the parts together making it look like we were at KC's house!

Thank you both!

Melva Hess, Our First Kitchen Goddess!

Congratulations to Melva Hess, our very first Kitchen Goddess! When she was considering submitting her favorite dish to our SMD blog Melva took advice from Dr.Seuss, “If you never did you should.  These things are fun and fun is good.”

I am glad she did, and below you will find two dishes that have made her family members very happy and grateful over the years.  Melva is a mother of four plus two grand children.  So when the family gets together "it's like Christmas, and eating is a big part of it".  The breakfast dishes below have special meaning to her.  Her dad use to make this dish for his men in the Navy during World War II in the Aleutian Islands.  They were far from home and missed chocolate, so dad would make this syrup for them with pancakes.  

We photographed this in the studio with a single light source on the left side. A diffused scrim (6' X 6'), much like a single window in a dinning or kitchen area. I place the light source slightly behind the subject. The right side is all covered with large four by eight black foam core, subtracting all fill from the right.  Prop styling was done by Kristen Butler. Food styling by Jennie Kelly. Please check out her blog The Perfect Last Bite!

We, as in Kristen, Jennie and I, sampled the dishes, and have definitely decided to borrow the egg recipe for our breakfast, it is amazing! 



Melva's Baked Eggs with Grand Marnier

 Click on image for recipe.


Melva's French Toast with Chocolate Syrup 

Click on image for recipe.