Saturday, October 22, 2011

Red Rice Salad and A Photography Workshop

I've missed you guys!  It's been a crazy, busy week. 

Remember the photography workshop I gushed about last month?  The one that I won a spot in?  It happened on October 15th and I've been dying to tell you about it all week.  Work and a mishap with deleting all my red rice photos from my memory chip before they made it onto my computer delayed this post a bit.  I finally have some quiet time to get it all down (and I squeezed some time in yesterday to re-shoot the red rice).  Right now I'm sitting in the quiet of my living room, with a cup of hot tea and the cats snoozing nearby while Hubs is still sleeping upstairs.  Ahhhh.

From Left to Right: Shawnda of Foodie Bride, Katie of Epicurean Mom, Nancy of A Communal Table (in the black), Lori of Lemons and Lavender and Diane of White on Rice Couple

A week ago today at this time I was driving to spend the day with the White on Rice Couple and several other talented bloggers for an all all day food photography and food styling workshop.  I have to say, I had a few butterflies in my stomach during the car ride there.  And the night before...I felt kind of like a kid, too excited and restless to sleep in anticipation of going to Disneyland the next day.  I was also a little nervous to meet everyone in person for some reason.  This was my first time meeting any other food blogger in the flesh.  Going from cyberspace to real life is kind of surreal.  But my butterflies disappeared seconds after I walked into Todd and Diane's beautiful studio and I was warmly greeted with a big hug from Diane, followed by a greeting from their sweet dog, Sierra. 

Though it was only 8 am, the studio was buzzing with energy.  Nancy from A Communal Table was serving her delicious egg bake with salsa and Alex from Dishin' it Out with Alex was plating her bounty of gluten free sweets, including cinnamon chocolate chip cookies, banana peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and mixed berry mini muffins.  Todd was setting up the audio/video.  And Diane was being the hostess with the mostess! 

The workshop participants trickled in and we all talked and got to know each other.  And we ate. There was A LOT of eating going on throughout the day!  Though many of us were from various reaching parts of Southern California from Santa Barbara to San Diego, we had a few from out of state as well, Brooklyn, Houston and Portland.  Everyone was there to learn, have fun and support a great cause. 

The workshop was a fund raiser for Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie's Kitchen who's husband, Mikey, passed away unexpectedly just over 2 months ago.  To learn more about Jennie's story click here.  Jennie attended the workshop with us and it was great getting to know her.  She is an amazingly strong and inspirational woman.  She is real and down to earth.  I encourage you to check out her blog. It's about food.  It's about life.  It's inspiring. 

Diane walking us through her styling process step by step

After the breakfast meet and greet, we got down to business and Todd and Diane began sharing their knowledge about photography, food styling and community.  They have an incredible passion for what they do and you can see that it is not a "job" for them.  It's an integral part of their life. 

We got the opportunity to do our own hands on photography and styling, with full access to their drool worthy "prop room".  I have to figure out how to get one of those....or maybe a prop closet to start?  

My first attempt at styling...was not much of success

Diane showing her approach to styling the lemons...she lost the bulk and broke it up with lemon slices.  See the difference?

Someone else set this up and I played around with the positioning and lighting

Another perspective on the same scene

Alex shooting her peanut butter banana chocolate chip cookies with Sierra standing guard

Diane putting her styling touches on Alex's cookies.

My attempt at shooting Alex's cookies.  Diane added the ribbon to break up the dark colors and add movement to the shot.

Playing around with pears and light and shadow
Aren't figs pretty?

Todd took the time to help me take the first baby step in using my camera on manual settings.  Not an easy thing! Though I have relied on the food setting on my camera for the past year and a half, I realized that my control is very limited.  It will take some time and a lot of practice, but I plan to ween myself off my beloved food setting.  This week I have been taking some pictures with food setting and an equal amount of photos the manual setting...I'm not quite ready to take the training wheels off, but I'm working on it! 

This is the second hands on styling session where I tried my hand at styling baked goods leftover from a cookbook shoot.

Shooting more cookies

We shared breakfast, lunch and dinner together on Saturday and the food was homemade, healthy and delicious.  At lunch we had tender pulled pork with crisp sesame rice crackers (asian nachos as Diane called them) and a trio of salads - kale salad with pine nuts, edamame salad and my personal favorite, red rice salad.  Don't get me wrong, they were all mouthwatering, but the red rice salad had me going back for seconds.  I knew I wanted to make it at home.

Lastly, I want to tell you about the culmination of our day with Todd and Diane.  Dinner was a family style Vietnamese feast of spring rolls where we got to cook own own shrimp, beef and veggies on tabletop grills.   The rolls are filled with your choice of ingredients...lettuce, fresh herbs, veggies, pineapple, beef and shrimp, dipped in a fish sauce or peanut sauce. 
Todd and Diane doing some pre-dinner prep

Jennie helping set the dinner table
It was fun, fresh and healthy.  And of course, like everything else we ate, it was delicious!  Another inspirational dish that I hope to make at home very soon.  Hubs and I might even venture to Little Saigon to try out some other Vietnamese cuisine.  

See all those fresh herbs and lettuce?  Marinated shrimp and beef and fresh veggies are under the plastic wrap.  The rice paper wrappers are on top of the plates.  You dip the wrapper in the red rimmed bowl filled with warm water to soften the wrappers.  All you have to do is cook your food, fill your wrapper and dip in one of the sauces.  Good stuff!

I want to extend my thanks to the White on Rice Couple and everyone who was at the workshop for a fabulous day!  I met some amazing people, learned a ton and walked away with my mind racing with thoughts about how to incorporate all that I learned into my blog and into my life. 

Check out these posts from fellow workshop participants recounting their experiences last Saturday.

Now, let's get into the nitty gritty details of this unique rice.

I love the exotic look of the red rice

I had never heard of red rice before last Saturday.  I took Diane's advice and went to a local asian market to find it at an affordable price. It's a slightly chewy grain of rice with a nutty flavor. The texture is similar to brown rice, but not quite as chewy. The rice is dressed in a magical caramelized shallot vinaigrette. Fresh parsley and mint give it a nice bright flavor and diced cucumbers provide a refreshing crunch. It makes a great side dish, or you could turn it into a main dish with some grilled shrimp on top.

The salad is easy to make. If you can figure out how to cook red rice. The package I bought from 99 Ranch Market had no cooking instructions. So I turned to the web for help. Apparently there are wildly different thoughts on how to cook this uncommon grain. One recipe recommended soaking the rice overnight, while another said to soak it for an hour and another said just rinse it to remove the excess starch. In Diane's recipe she mentions that red rice takes a bit more water than standard rice and recommends using a rice cooker for more even cooking. Basically I took an amalgamation of suggested techniques and just gave it a go. I rinsed the rice to remove excess starch and used a rice cooker. The first go round turned out very sticky. I think I had too much water. I tossed it in the garbage and started again. This time I used less water, added a spot of butter (to prevent sticking). After nearly 2 hours in the rice cooker, it turned out pretty darn good.

The shallot vinaigrette is fantastic. It would be great on any salad, from couscous to kale. I will be making it again to experiment with other uses for this tasty goodness.

The red rice salad kept well in the fridge and fed me for lunch for several days. This recipe is going into the keeper file. Now I have 3 1/2 pounds of red rice to use up and will be trying out some other recipes with this pretty little grain.

Red Rice Salad
from White on Rice Couple

Serves: 3-4 (yields 4 cups of cooked rice)


1 cup raw red rice, cooked according to the package instructions (I used a rice cooker used a ratio of 2:1, 2 parts water, 1 part rice)
1 cup diced cucumbers
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint

Shallot Vinaigrette:
3 large shallots, minced
3 medium cloves of garlic minced and crushed with side of a kitchen knife (use a sprinkle of salt to help crush the garlic)
4 tablespoons of olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Cook the rice and allow to cool.  In small non stick skillet add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat on low.  Add shallots and garlic and cook until the mixture is a light golden brown (about 15 minutes).  Remove from heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper.  Stir until the ingredient are well incorporated and the sugar is dissolved.  Set the vinaigrette aside and chopped the cucumbers and herbs.

Once rice is completely cooled, stir in cucumbers, herbs and the shallot vinaigrette.  You can serve it room temperature or chill it in the refrigerator.

The dish can also be served warm.  Toss in cucumbers and herbs while rice is still warm and then serve.


  1. That's so cool that you went to that workshop! I loved looking at all of the pictures!

  2. Jealous!! It sounds like you had an awesome day, breakfast, lunch and dinner? you totally scored on that one.
    Take care....Laura was over for dinner tonight and she loved her caramels :)

  3. I loved reading about your experience at the workshop Gloria! It sounds like an amazing day. I was afraid to shoot on manual at first too, but honestly, once you play with it for a while, you'll find it gives you so much more control. I love it now :)

  4. I would love to attend a workshop like this. Sounds like you learned a lot and ate some great food. I'll have to look for red rice. Interesting.

  5. Guess I am a little late reading this :) I love the play by play and pictures of the event. What a wonderful opportunity. I thought you have always done amazing photos before, I can't wait to see what you start to do now. A Prop Closet is a great start! And I want to hear how it's going weaning off the food setting!