Mushroom and Mangetout Risotto

A delicious and light summer evening meal that’s all done in one pan and doesn’t take too long to cook. Risotto is a good option if you want something quick and healthy without too much fuss. This version has chestnut mushrooms and mangetout and utilises vegan cheese as a substitute for parmesan.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes.

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 celery sticks, finely sliced
  • 250g punnet Chestnut mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 300g Arborio (risotto) rice
  • 750ml vegetable stock (make sure it’s vegan)
  • 150g mangetout
  • 100g vegan cheese, chopped or grated (I used blue cheese style)
  • handful of rocket leaves.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the onions and celery together for 2 minutes. Add the quartered mushroom and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for 30 seconds and then add the uncooked rice. Fry for two more minutes and then add your vegetable stock one ladle at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each ladle of liquid before adding the next. Continue this, stirring occasionally, until there are two ladles of stock left and then add the mangetout. Add the last of the stock and cook until the rice is done. You may wish to add a small amount of water if it becomes too dry. Risotto is meant to be quite a moist dish. At the end of cooking turn off the heat and add a generous knob of vegan butter, then cover the pan with either a lid or some tin foil. Leave to stand for 5 minutes while the rice absorbs more liquid.

Serve with the vegan cheese and a small amount of rocket leaves.

Classic Griddled Polenta

Fed up with potatoes, pasta and rice? Try this classic dish as your carb substitute. You can have it either on its own or as an accompaniment to a variety of vegetable dishes.

Makes about 16-20 triangles.

Ingredients:

  • 150g course cornmeal (polenta)
  • 850 ml vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • bunch of fresh rosemary.

 

Bring the veg stock to a gentle simmer in a large saucepan. Start to whisk the water so that it creates a whirlpool and then slowly pour in the cornmeal, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps forming. Don’t stress if some lumps form anyway, you’ll be able to beat them out as the polenta cooks. The mixture will start to thicken straight away and will also start to spit. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting to minimise this and either put a lid on the pan or stand back a little. The spitting does subside after a little while. Gently simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently with the whisk so that it doesn’t stick too much to the bottom of the pan.

While that’s cooking lightly oil a baking tray at least 2 cm deep with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside. Just before then end of the cooking time pour the ¼ cup of olive oil into the polenta and season with black pepper. When the time is up and any lumps are gone pour the polenta into the baking tray until it is reasonably even. Leave to set for about 30 minutes.

Once you have a solid sheet of polenta, cut it into large squares and then cut the squares in half so that they form triangles. Brush with more olive oil and cook on a griddle pan for a few minutes each side until browned. You can also barbeque them to get a similar result. Use a sprig of rosemary to garnish.

BBQ Aubergine with Garlic and Cherry Tomatoes

With all the glorious sunshine we’ve been having lately it’s certainly tempting to pull the cover off the barbeque and fire it up. It can be hard sometimes as a vegan to know what to put on the grill that isn’t meat-free sausages or corn on the cob (although both are lovely). Next time you’re cooking outdoors try this simple recipe to add some flair to your table. Another useful thing about this is that you put it straight onto the coals so it doesn’t take up any extra space.

Makes 8.

Ingredients:

  • 4 aubergines
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season.

You will also need 8 sheets of tin foil, cut into 10 inch squares.

 

First off set up your barbeque and get it lit. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways. With a small sharp knife score deeply into the flesh of each aubergine but make sure you don’t go right through to the skin. Rub each aubergine half in a tablespoon of the olive oil and then season with the salt and pepper. Place each half flesh side up on a sheet of the tin foil, then sprinkle some garlic onto the flesh of each one. Put about six tomato halves on top of that and then carefully wrap each aubergine in the foil until tight. Make sure that the aubergines are completely sealed in the foil.

Once the coals are white and ready to cook on, using a pair of barbeque tongs place each aubergine parcel gently on top of them, underneath the grill you will be doing the rest of your cooking on. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, turning halfway through to ensure even cooking. Carefully remove using the tongs and place on a tray to cool slightly. The aubergines will be cooked when they are soft all the way through.

Kale – The Queen of Superfoods

Possibly one of the best vegetables you can eat, kale is abundant with vitamins A, K, C and B6. Other great nutritional A-listers include manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium and just one cup will give you 3 grams of protein. Kale is also an indispensable source of Omega 3 and has more iron per calorie than beef. Plenty of reasons to be consuming this versatile vegetable on a regular basis.

Part of the Brassica family (which also includes wild cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), kale comes in a few forms. Curly kale is the most common seen in supermarkets and greengrocers, but other types include Lacianto (Black kale), Red Russian and Redbor. It can be eaten raw in a variety of salads, although its health benefits are improved slightly when steamed for 5 minutes. I add it to dishes a lot in the last five minutes of cooking, which softens it nicely without overcooking it. In the supermarkets you can buy it whole or ready-chopped in bags. The ready-chopped way does add a touch of convenience for the busy cook and I do often get it this way myself. Just remember ready-chopped doesn’t mean ready to eat, so wash it before use.

Kale is a great way of getting your belly full without consuming a high amount of calories – one cup is just 33 calories, as well as containing 10% of your recommended daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.

I have prepared two recipes below which contain the raw and steamed versions of this ‘Queen of Superfoods’. Both are perfect for the summer weather and both are incredibly easy to put together with, apart from steaming the kale, no cooking whatsoever. I hope you try these out and enjoy them.


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Kale and Spinach Tabbouleh Sandwich

Preparation time: 10 minutes. Chilling time: 1 hour.

Ingredients:

 

  • 65g fresh baby spinach
  • 50g chopped kale
  • 100g quinoa, cooked
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered (orange rapture are also good)
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • ½ cucumber, diced
  • Handful of coriander, chopped
  • 4 tbsp almond yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 Pumpkin seed bread rolls (or rolls of your choosing)
  • 8 baby gem lettuce to serve

Simply put all the ingredients apart from the lettuce and the bread into a large mixing bowl and combine. Cover and leave in the fridge for one hour for the flavours to amalgamate. Cut the bread and put a small drizzle of olive oil on each side. Place two gem lettuce leaves on the bottom layer, then put a large spoonful of the tabbouleh onto the lettuce, put on the top layer of bread and enjoy.

 


Kale and Pineapple Smoothie

A delicious and healthy summer drink that will get kale into everyone. Steam the kale using a steamer for 5 minutes once the water has come to a gentle boil. Once the five minutes is up drop the kale straight into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Makes 1 Litre

Ingredients:

  • 1 pineapple, diced
  • 1 cup steamed kale
  • 1 cup almond yoghurt
  • 6-8 ice cubes.

Put all of the ingredients, including the ice cubes, into a blender and process until smooth. Simple as that. Enjoy!

It’s That Documentary Thing – Why I love what I do.

Moments captured in a fraction of a second.

Moments captured in a fraction of a second.

Formal portraits, posed shots and family pictures: the staple of any wedding photographer. These are all great, but what really gets me going is the other stuff. The running around, catching people when they’re not posing, when they’re just doing their thing throughout the day. What I love is capturing life!

Which is why I get a lot out of weddings. I can do just what I love all day long.

Life unfolds very quickly at a wedding. Every moment of the day there is something going on, someone is doing something worth taking a picture of, so you find yourself running around for most of it and sometimes it feels like you’re struggling to keep up. But then you press the shutter release at exactly the right moment and the work goes right out of it. An elated feeling of satisfaction fills you and you’re riding high, looking keenly through your photographer’s eye to repeat the magic. And it does repeat, over and over again because, like I said, there is always something going on.

It gets even better when the client shares your vision, when that moment you photographed (the one you knew was going to be the killer shot of the day) ends up in the final album. For a photographer that’s the ultimate sense of achievement.

I live for these natural moments. To me it’s like documentary photography, something I’ve been a fan of since childhood. It’s life unfolding before my eyes, and nothing makes me happier than to record it.

When I first started photography I would study artists like Joseph Koudelka, Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, photojournalists I greatly admired. Though I knew I didn’t want to go into that field myself, it was an element I always wanted to include in my work, and weddings give me a great opportunity to accomplish that. This is particularly true of the morning preparations, where everything is far more informal, and that’s why it’s my favourite time of the wedding day.

Details in a Wedding Shoot

The small, seemingly inappreciable things in life. Those we sometime notice, but often don’t. These are the things a photographer pays particular attention to, and the wedding photographer is no exception. Weddings are full of people and that is what the wedding photographer is there to capture. Yet there are other things that must be considered for a more rounded record of the day: the setting, the atmosphere, and of course the details.

At each wedding, my 70-200mm lens is used for more than flattering portraits (though it is particularly adept at this), it is also used to zoom in on the smaller elements that complete the whole picture. Whether it’s a fork, a shoe, or a box of chocolates it is the wedding photographer’s job to make sure that these little items are all included in the final piece. Some of these pieces make it to the finished album and some do not, yet having them in your image selection (even if they are not used) will make you stand above photographers who ignore them entirely.

Bridal Mehndi worn at an Asian wedding. This with the jewellery makes for an intriguing close-up.

Bridal Mehndi worn at an Asian wedding. This with the jewellery makes for an intriguing close-up.

Invitation cards on a wooden table top can give a touch of colour and elegance to a wedding album.

Invitation cards on a wooden table top can give a touch of colour and elegance to a wedding album.

Details on the back of the bride's dress. A picture almost guaranteed to be featured in the wedding album.

Details on the back of the bride's dress. A picture almost guaranteed to be featured in the wedding album.

I go around at every opportunity getting close-up shots of various elements from table decorations to earrings, keeping my eyes peeled for any little object that will make a good photograph.

The trick, I think, is to not let this search detract from your main mission but rather to augment it. These are filler pictures, if you will, but to me (and to many brides) they are an integral element and a necessary narrative tool in telling the full wedding story.

Shooting Fashion Cinema Style

A fashion shoot is a long and very full day. On the day itself there’s lighting to set up, set designing, make-up to do and outfits to sort out. There’s plenty to do before shoot day too, with meeting after meeting over theme and style, casting and location etc. It helps to see a fashion photography shoot like a short film made with stills, and as with a film there is pre-production, production and post-production. This fashion shoot was for Jehan Couture, a dress designer from London. We met over a period of a few weeks to sort out the finer details. There was only one model required for the day and, after considering a few options we chose Lisa, a model I’d worked with a few times in the past. With the budget being small we made the location the designer’s own home and styled various areas as and when we used them.

Only a fraction of the time on a fashion shoot is spent taking photographs, the majority of time being used for preparing the clothes, model and set, but as the photographer there’s still plenty to do and there’s no real down time until the shoot is over. The Jehan Couture set lasted twelve hours and in that time we achieved six final images for publication. A fun but hard-working day. I used one light and a reflector for most of the shoot as I wanted minimal lighting and hard lines. I’m a big fan of muted colours, which to me give a very cinematic feel and I nearly always tone colours down in post production. The whole team worked hard and that shows through in the final results.

Capturing Pregnancy

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Personal work does not get much more personal than this: My wife, six weeks before giving birth to our son. This was something we had been talking about photographing for a while, but of course we had to wait for the time to be right, for the bump that was our child to be a good enough size to photograph. When my wife was seven and a half months we knew the time was now.

 

I set up at our home studio with the help of an assistant, opting for the stage backdrop (something I’m a big fan of but which doesn’t get used so much these days). We used two flash heads to light Sam: one, the key light, to camera right and above her, the other camera left and at eye level. My assistant held the reflector just to my right and in close to Sam to bring extra light onto her front.

We shot in quick bursts as, for obvious reasons, staying on her feet for too long was impossible, and put Sam through a variety of poses. Sam is great at bringing out the right facial expression for the camera, even if she’s in discomfort (two years ago I photographed her in the snow with barely anything to keep her warm, and she still kept smiling), and this day was no exception. As always, if I asked for something from her that was what I got.

 

We kept the session short and took plenty of breaks. Ideas flow if you just let them even if you don’t have much time, all you’ve got to do is have the camera ready to record them, and these were shots that we didn’t want to pass us by. I wasn't a social photographer back then, so capturing a pregnant woman was a new experience for me, but we got what we wanted: a keepsake of a time that, looking back, seemed to be over all too quickly.

And then, six weeks later...

Window Light Photography – Using Natural Illumination for Great Portraits

The sun: That great, flaming ball of hydrogen and helium, 4.5 billion years old and the source of all our heat, light and energy. The window: not quite as old (it didn’t come into popular use in homes until the early 17th century), formed most commonly of silicon dioxide and found most commonly kicking around under your feet at your local beach. To the photographer, these two ingredients blended together in just the right way form the underlying framework, the holy grail, in fact, of natural light photography.

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

For anyone getting into photography in any serious way artificial light is an integral and essential element of the process. It would be very difficult to embark on a long photographic journey without some form of fill-flash or softbox , or combination of both. I personally use two lights for almost everything. However, there are times when turning off the electricity not only saves your wallet but also produces something quite magical in front of the camera. If the light is right (as in not too harsh with direct sunlight streaming straight in) fill the space a few feet away from a large window with a person or object and you’ve got yourself a giant softbox that didn’t take a lot of time to put together.

But if you think that’s all you must do don’t be fooled, life isn’t that simple. The camera sensor and the human eye read light differently. The human eye adjusts to changes in colour and quality, the camera does not. You must make the adjustments for the camera to read correctly, and in this case that means bouncing back the light from the opposite side of the window to create an evenly lit scene for you to photograph. If you didn’t do this then one side of your subject would be in bright light and the other in shadow, with your camera’s meter doing its best to find a middle ground. You can employ a variety of tools to bounce back the light, companies like Lastolite and California Sunbounce make purpose-built reflectors that quite often fold up neatly and then spring into action when required. You don’t have to go to such an expense though. I use sheets of white polypropylene or silver card, depending on how much light I want to kick back. I also have A4 metal sheets for smaller objects like food and still life (N.B: watch your fingers on these, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stabbed myself on the corners while reaching for them).

Getting this right takes time and practice and it’s unlikely that you’ll get it the first time around. Study your subject under the light you’ve created. Move them closer and further away from your window and try your reflector in various positions. A word of warning: choose the colour of your reflector wisely. White produces a subtle, soft fill light, whereas silver and metallic are quite a bit harsher. The gold side of your purpose-built reflector can put a warming glow on your subject but can also make them look like Donald Trump – I never use them.

As always experiment, have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

Abstract Portraiture

I started thinking the other day about portraiture while doing some retouching, and how fluid the process is. You start with an idea but more develop while you are working. It’s often a collaboration between you and the person you are photographing. The creative process bounces between you in rapid fire the further you get into a session. It’s not always like this, but it happens often enough to take a lot of pictures you hadn’t previously considered. This is when I like to look outside the norm and get a little bit abstract with my photography.

This can be a bit hit and miss but it’s a great opportunity to experiment. After all, isn’t that how we learn? Over the years I’ve come up with a number of interesting shots this way (as well as a whole battalion that will never, and should never see the light of day), and they all tell their own story in their own unique way. The secret, I think, is to not be afraid to mess up. We’re not paying for film anymore and memory cards are cheaper than ever, so keep shooting and keep experimenting. Take pictures from behind, or from a lower or higher angle than you normally would. Get in closer than you’re used to, or just photograph parts of your subject. Photograph the hands, the hair, or a close-up of their tie, anything that defines your subject and tells the viewer a little about them. This is play time so anything goes. Experiment and have fun.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Try photographing from behind...

Try photographing from behind...

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.