Food Styling Remix: Seafood Cobb Salad

I really struggled with the title of this post. I feel as though it should be Adventures in Food Styling rather than highlighting the Seafood Cobb Salad that I remixed and then photographed twice for my home kitchen. Whatever the title, I’m baring it all today in the hopes of helping you to be a better food stylist by learning from my mistakes.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Closeup

Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed and Rephotographed

We are always looking for what we call “Joe’s Fish” when we travel — the local seafood restaurant that offers wonderful seafood at reasonable prices that only the locals know about. Recently on our trip home from Ohio, we were determined to take the time to find a good lunch place near Indianapolis. By using my Yelp app on my phone, I found Mitchell’s Fish Market in Carmel, Indiana, and we were in luck! While not exactly Joe’s Fish, Mitchell’s is a supper-club style chain with excellent seafood and meat options on the menu.


My out-of-focus photo shows you how Mitchell’s styled this Seafood Cobb Salad.

I ordered the special salad of the day, a Seafood Cobb Salad, and a lobster tail. As I do, I took a photo of the plate, but my iPhone seems to be having some issues with focusing. Maybe I’m doing it too quickly; I only include it to show you the original styling of this presentation.

Once home, I was determined to remake this delicious salad. I gathered together the makings of the original salad — two lobster tails, a can of crab, one pound of shrimp, two hard-boiled eggs, and a pound of bacon. Yes, the ingredients were expensive, but I made enough of the meat mixture to separate into frozen packets for at least four more servings. I spent a long time looking for the right recipe, but finally just created my own. I cooked the bacon until it was crisp but not crunchy, boiled the lobster tails for seven minutes and then immediately put them in ice to stop the cooking. I opened the can of crab, and thawed the precooked shrimp and pulled off the tails. I chopped it all into bite-size pieces. Pretty darn easy.

Most lobster roll recipes call for a mayonnaise-heavy dressing, but I tried lightening it up a little by adding a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette to some mayo. That worked nicely, giving the dressing a slightly sweet taste that was not overpowering. I put the salad on a bed of red-leaf lettuce and started taking photos.

This is where we get into the food styling fail. This is actually the BEST photo I got of the bunch.

GotMyReservations -- Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling

  • To start with, the layers of the salad would have been prettier in a clear bowl, like this photo from Rachael Ray’s web site.
  • The egg is dominating the photo, rather than the seafood salad, and it’s not cut very carefully.
  • The deep red edges of the lettuce fade out without proper lighting and just look black — not very appetizing.
  • The plating of the seafood is not done carefully; it looks tossed on (as it was).


So what’s a girl to do? Remake the salad and buy a new lens.

With purchased lobster roll salad and more carefully thought-out styling, I rephotographed the salad with my new 50mm/f1.4 lens. What a difference!

First I tried it in a clear bowl a la Rachael Ray. My new Monet tea towel made a nice backdrop.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed Food Styling

 Then I tried it in the white bowl again. It’s amazing what a good lens and some careful food styling will do to essentially the same photo, isn’t it?

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling in White Bowl

What’s the moral to this story?

Both salads were very tasty; it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster. The bottom line is that in food photography, good equipment makes a difference, but it’s important to thoughtfully style the photograph before you use that fancy lens!

To Visit:

Mitchell’s Fish Market, 14311 Clay Terrace Blv., Suite 100, Carmel, IN  317-848-FISH

I’m linking up today at Open House Party Thursdays sponsored by No Minimalist Here. Be sure to stop by and visit some of the creative bloggers sharing their work!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

Cooked: A Manifesto for Summer Reading

As tech week for Godspell continues to have its way with me, I’ve actually started to think about life beyond Sunday. And that life includes being careful about what I eat.

It’s not that I haven’t been eating and cooking more carefully. We don’t eat takeout food for supper nearly as much as we did when I was teaching. We know which organic fruits and veggies are musts, and which don’t have to be organic. I’m learning how to make my own salad dressing to control salt, fat, additives and sugar. I’m limiting my morning trips to McDonalds for breakfast. I’m MUCH better than I was a year ago.

But I’m still eager to do more. Yesterday I sent out the call on Facebook for midweek farmers’ markets and found options for Tuesday and Wednesday. With my hometown Saturday market and the Sunday market that is on the way home from church, I can buy most of what we eat this summer from our nearby Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois farmers.

But it’s not just eating close to the soil. It’s actually being proactive about reading labels and knowing what’s in my food.

I’ve been watching Food Network Star on Sundays, and one of the chefs is staking his big chance to have a network food show on what he calls the “culinary sins” including sugar, fat, bacon and liquor.  I’m interested in watching how this plays out, because in his real life back in San Francisco, Russell Jackson “takes local, fresh ingredients and gives them a whimsical twist.” His website for his underground restaurant company is as shrouded in campy mystery as his point-of-view is on Food Network Star, but I think I’m going to like what he cooks. There’s nothing wrong with adding a little wine to one’s skillet.

You’re probably asking how my avowed plan to “eat healthy” connects with the seven culinary sins.

I also saw on Facebook — and don’t lecture me about how Facebook has become my major source of news — that Michael Pollan has written a new book. The reviewed Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, and I am eager to hear what else Pollan has to say. I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, but I think I’ll start again with a revisit to Pollan’s writings before I read Cooked. After a year of purposeful eating, I think I’m in a better mindset to read and internalize Pollan’s manifesto, but I can’t actually remember how far he wants me to go in avoiding those “culinary sins.”

So watch for reviews of Michael Pollan’s books this summer, and maybe some recipes. I’ve got my reservations with some reading!

Retro Bistro — French Food in a Strip Mall

I know you’re asking — why would you go to a French restaurant in a strip mall?

The answer is that Retro Bistro is one of the best French restaurants in our area, and its unfortunate location in Mount Prospect probably keeps it from being too busy and too pricey for our budget. I can live with the strip mall location.

Retro Bistro’s ambiance is warm, friendly and relaxed. You can take your well-behaved children and you don’t need to dress up. It’s not a fussy place. The bar is fully stocked and the wine cellar is extensive. I have never been disappointed in either the food or the service at Retro Bistro.

We popped in on for Sunday dinner after a concert at our church which is just down Golf Road. The restaurant is open for brunch from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm on Sundays (call to check first – I’ve seen them closed on Sunday mornings), dinner on Sundays from 4:30 to 8:30,  lunch 11:30 to 2:30 and dinner 5:30 to 10:00 Tuesdays through Saturdays. They are closed on Mondays.

Today we chose the prix fixe (fixed price) menu for $33.00 per person. We had wine, an extra appetizer, coffee and three courses and the bill before the tip was just over $100.00 — Retro Bistro provides excellent value for the price.

Of course I can’t go to a restaurant without taking pictures of the food, so enjoy our meal vicariously.


I was not compensated for this review and I didn’t tell them that I was a blogger. I just wanted to share that I have no reservations about recommending Retro Bistro.

Retro Bistro / 1746 W Golf Rd / Mount Prospect 60056-4071  / 847-439-2424

Chicago Day 1: Sepia Restaurant

I’m linked up today and for the rest of the month in the 31 Days Challenge at The Nester. By clicking the tab at the top of the page, you can easily access all of the 31 Days in Chicago posts.

If you’ve got a story to tell about your experiences in Chicago, I welcome guest posts. Join the fun by emailing me, or if you’re not ready to write, go to The Nester’s web site to follow some other stories this month.

From its hidden-away front door to its sexy bathroom, Sepia is a treat for anyone who finds it. Every detail is important to the ambiance of this West Loop restaurant carved out of an old print shop. Its cocktails are creative and delicious and its wine cellar is carefully curated to match the menu. Even the coasters (which I desperately wanted to steal but didn’t) are thematic. Sepia is a total experience.

And the food speaks for itself. The Sepia menu is seasonal and inspired.

House made charcuterie selection

Carnaroli risotto, beets, walnuts, pecorino pecato, pickled lemon

Grilled albacore tuna, squid ink couscous, berbere spice

Halibut, sweet corn, fingerling potatoes, crispy onions, curry

Selection of three domestic cheeses

Our anniversary dessert — a nutella mousse

In addition to the beautiful main dining room, Sepia also has a private room available for rent. I took a photo through the door and even empty, it was stunning.

Sometimes I wonder if celebrity executive chefs (Iron Chef) actually are a part of the day-to-day operations of a restaurant, but it seems that Andrew Zimmerman really put his heart and soul into Sepia.

P.S. I’m still struggling with the gaucheness of taking photos in elegant restaurants, and we took these photos with my iPhone. I know they’re not perfect, but they didn’t cause the other people in the restaurant to roll their eyes at us.

October 2012 Challenge

I’ll be linking up with The Nester again this year for the 31 Days Challenge — and what better travel destination to choose than my own beloved city? I’ve combed through my archives and I have lots of beautiful Chicagoland sites to share with you, as well as a whole bunch of restaurants. Some will be new to you and some may be old favorites.

If you’d like to join me as a cheerleader for the home team, I’d love some guest posts about your experiences in our fair (but sometimes windy) city. Just email me — my link is in the contact box on the right. Just send me your photos and text, and I can format the post for you.

Last year I just about killed myself with magazine-style articles about places in Europe that we visited. I’m hoping to keep this year’s posts shorter, with lots of photography. You know that I love a challenge; I think I’m ready to introduce you to my Sweet Home Chicago. See you Monday!

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Food Cult: Dinner at Plum

One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new restaurants. For Tech Kid’s birthday, we went to a highly touted Oakland restaurant, Plum. I’m still struggling with my cameras, but I just had to share photos of the inventive work of Plum’s chefs.

Beet Boudin Noir, with brussel sprouts and turnip

Avocado Risotto with pistachio,lemon, and cucumber

Raviolini with mixed milk ricotta, nettles, and green shallots

One perfect raviolini

Samples from the Plum Charcuterie with pickled vegetables and violet mustard. I’ll leave you to guess what’s in these delectable morsels.

King Salmon with fava, potato, radish, and vandouvan (curry-like spice blend).

Roasted Pork and Belly with young chard, new onion, and mustard

I’m not sure what this wonderful dessert was — it was ordered specially for the birthday boy.

This lonely little turnip is all that was left on the plate when we finished this sumptuous and scrumptious meal.

If you are visiting Oakland, I highly encourage you to seek out this very good restaurant (make reservations!). The portions are on the small side, but every bite is full of interest.

Food Cult: Sweet Home, Chicago

It’s plastered all over my media; it’s on my lips pretty much constantly. We’re going back to France next spring and I can barely contain my excitement and anticipation of a very good time.

Every chance I get, I’m looking for French inspiration around me in my suburban Chicago “real life.” While friends were visiting last month, we discovered a new-to-us French restaurant one of Chicago’s trendy downtown neighborhoods. Kiki’s Bistro was fabulous.

The Thursday special was bouillabaisse…

And the salads were fresh and also creative…

From the minute we walked in, dressed in our mixed bag of work and tourist clothes, we were treated as friends. Kiki helped us choose wines, and our waitstaff could not have been friendlier or more knowledgeable. It was a wonderful experience; put Kiki’s Bistro on your bucket list for your next Chicago visit.

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Food Cult: The Perfect Beef

I already blogged about our gastronomic extravaganza at the extraordinary Richard Phillips restaurant at Chapel Down Winery just outside of Tenterden, in Kent. Unfortunately, in checking my links, I found that the restaurant just closed. So, so sad. I hope you enjoy the photo anyway. It makes my mouth water for a taste of that perfectly cooked beef.

Does your blog need a restaurant bucket list? The idea’s not mine; I really appreciate the link-up at Hamburgers and Hotness!

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