Masthead header

Homemade Ricotta

Do you remember the very first time you tasted a spoonful of fresh, creamy, silky, mildly sweet ricotta cheese? If not, it’s time you did. It’s easy to make, and nothing you buy will ever compare to a batch of fresh homemade ricotta. Nothing.


Ricotta Recipe
Adapted from Donna Hay
Yields 1 Cup


6 cups full cream milk (not ultra pasteurized) ~ I used Snowville Creamery Whole Milk
2 Tblsp white vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice (I prefer a little tang of lemon in my ricotta)


1.  Place the milk and a candy thermometer in a saucepan over medium heat and heat to 176 degrees F.
Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and lemon juice and allow to sit for 5 minutes or until curds form.

2.  Line a colander with three layers of clean cheese cloth and place over a deep bowl. Use a slotted spoon
to carefully spoon the curds into the colander leaving as much of the whey behind as possible. (Save for another use.)
Don’t rush as to not break up the curds. Allow to drain for 5 minutes.

3.  Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and tie around a wooden spoon, suspend over the colander and bowl to allow
for  more drainage. I left mine in this state for a half hour for a thicker ricotta.

4.  Spoon the ricotta into a glass or ceramic dish and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator for up
to one week.

Now that you have your freshly homemade ricotta, what will you do with it? I made this with some of mine:
A Potato, Brussels Sprouts, and Ricotta Focaccia. You can find the recipe on page 106 from our
513{eats} Summer 2012 Issue.


The Aunt Sassy Cake ~ A Honey Vanilla Buttercreme Pistachio Cake

Bake me a Cake, but please, not just any cake. Yesterday I posted a photo of A Honey Vanilla Buttercreme Pistachio Cake, made for our photo shoot about CAKES for the 513{eats} Summer Issue by professional baker (and professional photographer) Karyn Hlad Miller.

The recipe is from Baked, a pair of rustic-chic bakeries owned by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito in Brooklyn, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina. Lucky for us, Karyn owned one of their cook(bake)books, and chose this cake for her spread – of which you can read Ilene Ross’ entire story here (pages 52-61).

The aromas that filled her home that day were of the baking in heaven kind. The ‘care packages’ we left with made Karyn our best friend forever. Thank you Karyn for sharing the origin of this cake and therefore, the recipe, for all of us.

Baker: Karyn Hlad Miller
Painting by Jen Wood



The Aunt Sassy Cake
Created by  Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito Of Baked
Servings: Serves 12–16
  • 1 1/3 cups shelled pistachios
  • 2 1/2 cups cake cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted unsalted butter , softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract | Get the recipe!
  • 2 large eggs , at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
  • 3 large egg whites , at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole whole milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy heavy cream
  • 24 Tbsp. (3 sticks) unsalted unsalted butter , softened
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract ***Karyn substituted one whole vanilla bean, scraped, instead of the 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Note: This recipe is for a classic, one-tiered layer cake.

To make cake: Preheat oven to 325°. Spread pistachios on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool.

Grease 3 (8″ x 2″) round cake pans with butter or cooking spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease paper and dust pans with flour, tapping out excess.

In a food processor, pulse 1/3 cup pistachios until chopped. Remove and set aside for garnish. Pulse remaining 1 cup pistachios until chopped; remove 2 tablespoons and set aside in a medium bowl. Process remaining pistachios just until finely ground to a powder. Sift cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into the bowl with the 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios. Stir in pistachio powder.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, scraping bowl, about 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. With mixer on low speed, beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. Beat in flour mixture, in 3 additions, alternating with the cold water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until blended, scraping bowl; then beat batter 15 more seconds. Scrape into a large bowl.

In a stand mixer with whisk attachment (and a clean bowl), beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. With mixer on medium-high speed, add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat just until soft peaks form; do not over beat. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold whites into batter just until no white streaks remain. Divide batter between prepared pans and gently spread evenly. Stagger pans on oven racks so pans are not directly above one another. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around sides and turn cakes out onto racks. Remove parchment paper. Flip cakes again and let cool completely.

To make buttercream: In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk sugar and flour until well blended. Add milk and cream and whisk until smooth. Set pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool completely, about 1 hour.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in cream-flour mixture, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating until blended with butter. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in honey and vanilla. Refrigerate until buttercream holds its shape and is thick enough to spread, about 20 minutes.

To assemble cake: Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread top with 1 cup buttercream. Repeat with another cake layer and 1 cup buttercream. Add last cake layer, top-side up. Spread sides and top of cake with about 3/4 cup buttercream to crumb coat. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Frost with remaining buttercream. Garnish cake with reserved chopped pistachios. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before serving; cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days. If cake is refrigerated for more than 15 minutes, let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving.

The Anchor OTR

I am still playing catch up and although I have already shared a few images here and there on facebook, Chef dos Anjos and his restaurant, The Anchor OTR, deserve a full on post!

From our very first conversations about photography for his website (which you can see right here) and marketing materials – what to capture, and ultimately, how to use the images to visually convey the feel, voice, brand, and story of his restaurant -  we were completely on the same page.
From the location of his restaurant (across the street from Washington Park) to taking the time to hand select interior accessories and artistic elements that represent his vision, to cooking up beautifully plated and flavorful dishes using the freshest possible ingredients, Derek’s personality is imprinted everywhere.
It was fun hanging out at the restaurant for an afternoon, tasting, photographing, people watching, mingling with his amazing staff and catching the nuances of what makes The Anchor OTR, The Anchor OTR. Below is what I saw.






This gorgeous, artisan crafted glass chandelier was created by artist Ashlie Beal of The Light Factory. You can find her here.




Food Photography 101 Tips ~ Start with the Light

Though I enjoy teaching a full on workshop as well as one on one mentoring for a comprehensive and hands on course in food photography, I’m often asked for little tips for taking better food photographs. From food bloggers who may be more food writers than photographers, to people who simply love to photograph their food for their instagram feeds ~ people just wanting their food photos to look better. So I thought I’d start a series and share some quick, simple tips for natural light food photography, here on my blog.


I’m going to start the first one off with LIGHT. That’s right, I didn’t say, start with an expensive, state of the art camera and all the gear and lenses that go along with it. Instead, start with whatever camera you have, even the one most of have with us at all times, our camera/phone. You can always move up in equipment, but if you don’t know how to work with and understand light, it won’t matter much. Beautiful, soft light is the most important element, (beautiful food and composition being another close first) but, without light, there is no photograph.

Not all light is created equal. Start by looking for natural daylight, like by a window. This is the same whether you are at home, outside, or in a restaurant. Place your food in the light, preferably where the light is coming in to the side of the food. Be sure to turn off all the artificial lights (if possible) around you, as well as the flash (especially the flash.) The additional artificial lights can add unwanted colors and casts that will effect your image. If there is direct, harsh sunlight coming in, assuming you don’t have the option of looking for a softer light source, you’ll want to diffuse (or soften) that direct light with a diffuser, such as a sheer curtain, sheet, paper/cloth napkin, or the like. You’ll see the difference this immediately has on your food. If you happen to be outdoors in your back yard, a park, or urban area, look for shaded areas where the food is not in direct sunlight. Examples would be under an overhang, just inside a doorway, or the side of a building that is providing a clean, white, even, shadowed light. Watch out for trees as they do give shade, but also lots of uneven dappling, which isn’t what we’re looking for. The goal is to place your food in soft, indirect, natural light.

This first example shows the effect of using a diffuser in a harsh lighting situation outdoors. The first image has the plated dish set in dappled/full direct light with no diffusion. The image next to it is in the same location, but diffused with a mid-sheer disk being held above the image in between the sun and the set.


The next set of examples below were taken in the room in my home that I use often to photograph my food set-ups. I lovingly refer to it as mon petit studio. (It’s my dining room.) Though I happen to have a bay of three windows, one window would work just fine. Additionally, I am using a tripod here, but I could have just as easily hand held my camera as there was plenty of light coming in through the windows.

In the first row of images, the first image on the left shows my initial indoor set up, with no diffusion at the window and full light hitting the set from the left side. You can see that it’s quite bright, even from this wide shot. The image next to it, shows a close up of my set, with a sheer diffuser added at the window, giving the scene soft lighting. However, note that the right side of the salad is quite dark. Though the light is now nice and soft, most of it is hitting the side closest to the window, the left side. In this situation, simply use a reflector – like a small piece of white board or foam core (bend it in half so it stands on it’s own, you don’t need a stand) or even the white side of a menu (if you’re in a restaurant) or drape a white cloth napkin up over a dark menu – to bounce light back on to the food. Place the reflector facing the opposite side of the light source (here, the window) so that it is, in fact, catching the light and bouncing (or reflecting) the light back onto your food. Move it closer to the food if you want more light, farther away if you want less light. This can be done regardless of being inside or outside.

light-post-ex_1_no-bounce copy
This second row of images is the same set up as above, but with the example of adding a white foam core reflector to the right of the set which is bouncing just a little more light back on to the right side of the salad. It softly opens up all the shadows. Again, move it around to your liking.
light-example_with-bounce copy

This last set of images of ice cream shows another example using the exact same set up as the salad above.  There is no diffusion in between the light coming in through the window in the image on the left, and then the effect the addition of a sheer mesh window curtain panel has on the same image, on the right.
The addition of the sheers creates the soft, non-direct light that is most pleasing in food photography. As a side note, I did add a bounce card to the right, as I did above, to kick in just a little more light in the shadows to the right of the surface and ice cream alike.


*There may be some of you who prefer the un-diffused or un-reflected versions. If your images are for your own enjoyment, remember, in the end, they are your images and should be to your liking.

Take your time and learn to understand the different qualities of light. Don’t be afraid to manipulate it by practicing and then using the simple tips shown here. In time, you will learn to see beautiful light everywhere.
Initially, I encourage you to take multiple images with all the variations so you can compare them for yourself. You will see a world of difference in your food photos using these simple steps alone.

Be sure to subscribe to my feed to keep up with the next Food Photography tip!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Katya - 19 March, 2014 - 12:40 pm

Dear Gretchalina, thank you for your fist article about food photography. It is really interesting and useful. It was pleasure to read and look over your pictures. Looking forward the story continuation.

Nichole Crowley - 20 March, 2014 - 10:24 am

Thank you sooo much for this blog post! Even as an experienced photographer I still have things to learn and this was a great example! Thank you!

gina - 20 March, 2014 - 8:44 pm

Thank you both Katya and Nichole;) I’m glad both of you enjoyed this little blog post. I love sharing what I know, or at least how I approach things, and hope that it is helpful to anyone who is interested, and I’m looking forward to sharing many more little tips!

[…] She has generously organized some of her tips for photographic success in a series on her blog Gina Weathersby Photography. This is probably because people like me keep asking her questions. […]