Shepherd’s Pie Potato Skins + a peek behind the scenes making the hot new cookbook, Perfect
Unless you’re not following me on any of my social media chanels (whyyyyyyy?), you already know about this really exciting project I’ve been involved in: I photographed my friend Naomi Nachman’s brand-new pesach cookbook, Perfect for Pesach.
Now, you can scroll down for an amazing sample recipe from the book, but I thought it would be fun to take you guys on a little behind the scenes adventure to see what goes into a cookbook photoshoot.
First, we had to pick a date. Naomi and I knew that the photoshoot would take about two weeks, full days, morning to night, so we had to both clear our schedules fully so we could spend our time doing basically nothing else. Next, I had to pack up my props and equipment, and literally move into Naomi’s house for a few weeks. I wish I had taken pictures, but literally, my car was STUFFED with cases and cases of props, lighting, backgrounds, and more. I barely had room to fit in a small overnight bag with some clothes and a toothbrush! 😉
No jokes. This is only a partial view of the prop situation!
Once I arrived at Naomi’s house, we had the task of turning her dining room and living room into a photography studio. Sounds simple? It wasn’t. We laid out all of my props, in stacks, on Naomi’s dining room table. It was covered in stuff. You probably never thought about the kind of props required to shoot a whole cookbook, but you need a ton. Plates of every size, color and shape, for starters. Then we need serving dishes, cutlery, napkins, glasses. There are also “extra” items that you use to prop up a photo, like a coffee pot, serving tray, cutting board, little dishes for garnishes and things, and so.much.more. And here’s the thing. The book has over 120 recipes, which means over 120 photos. Which means over 120 different sets up props, because we can’t really have the photos look repetitive!
We also had to think about backgrounds. Obviously, I couldn’t use 120 different backgrounds, but when you go through the book, take notice – there are a lot! I find it important for the visual element of the book to have a good variety of colors and textures. We used wood, stone, metal, fabric and more! (And some secret stuff, like vinyl floor tiles, that totally look like the real thing!)
Doesn’t look like pesach food, does it? Left: just-in-case shot. Sometimes the pour shot doesn’t pan out. Right: I got lucky here that the pour shot was perfect!
Once we had all of the props, backgrounds and equipment set up, it was time to think about preparing the food. Luckily, Naomi runs a catering company and has experience managing a kitchen staff, so they were able to knock out a ton of dishes for me to photograph each day. On most days, we had a kitchen staff of 3-5 people. It was intense.
Here’s basically how we did it. Each night, we made a shooting list for the next day. We aimed for 10-15 items per day. Noami then made a shopping list for one of the team to shop from. In addition to the ingredients for the recipe, we also needed edible props. Naomi and I both feel strongly that the photos should represent the recipe – so if the food has herbs, we can use herbs as an edible prop. But if it doesn’t, herbs don’t fit in the shot. We had, at all times, a huge selection of herbs, citrus, leafy greens, and more. Some times, we had to send someone out for one specific thing – like kettle cooked potato chips to go alongside the chili photo.
The garnish has to fit the dish. Left: Shallot potatoes have parsley, so it was a natural fit for the photo. For the chili, we chose chips and avocado – the items we would normally serve this dish with.
In order to create really beautiful images for each photo, my job as the photographer was to really think about each recipe. How did it look? How will it present the best? What color props would compliment the dish? What kind of lighting would convey the feel I wanted for the food? What kind of background would complete the look? Which angle would showcase the food best?
The food has to dictate the angle. Left: a layered recipe like these lemon curd trifles needs to be head-on, so you can see all of the layers. Right: Blueberry cobbler looked better overhead. Fun fact: I literally sat and waiting for the ice cream to melt, because I thought it looked better for the shot!
Sometimes, it was a huge process to go through. I would try one dish, then I wouldn’t like it, and try another. Sometimes I tried 4-5 dishes. Sometimes I tried multiple backgrounds. Added cutlery, took it away. Added napkins, got rid of them. Added new ones. Sometimes I expected to go for an overhead shot, but then I saw that it wasn’t highlighting the food well, so I switched to a different angle.
Meat is notoriously hard to photograph. Left: This london broil just looked perfect, and the shot came together in minutes. It was the final shot of the day, so we got to drink that wine after! Right: This spiced braised flanken is one of my favorites in the book, but it was so hard to make it look as good as it tasted! We tried (what felt like) a thousand different dishes and set ups to make it look good.
Ultimately, just over two weeks after we started, we accomplished our goal: over 120 mouthwatering photos that would capture just how delicious Naomi’s passover recipes really are. And then we reached the hardest part: shooting the cover. If you think each dish required an intense amount of effort, the cover….I don’t even have words for how stressful it was. We planned and analyzed, and deliberated over every element of the photo. We were in constant contact with the publisher, ArtScroll, as they gave feedback and suggested changes. It took almost an entire day, but there we were. We had a magnificent cover worthy of an extraordinary book.
It’s hard to describe just how much effort was invested to go from the left photo to the right one. And yes, many of the items are different than the paper says – that was all part of the process!
Although the recipes aren’t mine, I am so proud to have been a part of this book (plus I got to taste the majority of the food and can vouch for how awesome it tasted!) and I am really confident that you’ll love it. I got permission to share one of the recipes from the book with you guys, and I chose one that really embodies what the book is about. Shepherd’s Pie Potato Skins – it’s a great year round recipe that just happens to be….perfect for pesach!
- 8 red potatoes, with peel, cleaned well
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3 Tablespoons ketchup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place potatoes on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, prepare the meat filling: Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion; cook for approximately 5 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and carrot; sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes, until softened.
- Add beef; cook, stirring to break up the meat, until meat is browned. Add ketchup and salt. Reduce heat to low; cook for approximately 10 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Set aside.
- Prepare the potato skins: Cut each baked potato in half and scoop most of the potato flesh into a small bowl, leaving a small amount attached to the skin. (This will help the skin hold its shape.) Return potato skins to baking sheet.
- Prepare the potato topping: Add oil, salt, pepper, and egg to reserved potatoes. Mash until smooth. Set aside.
- Assemble the potato skins: Fill each potato skin with meat mixture, then spoon or pipe mashed potatoes over it. Sprinkle paprika over potatoes.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until tops are golden.
- Meat filling can be made ahead and frozen.
If you’re still on the fence, here are some of the reasons I love Perfect for Pesach:
- Every recipe has a (if I may say so myself) gorgeous photo
- The recipes are very doable, without fancy ingredients or complicated techniques
- The recipes are pesachdik, but you’ll find yourself making them all year round
- Naomi is an experienced cooking teacher and chef, and shares a lot of tips throughout the book. I found myself learning so much from her during the photoshoots.
- Naomi provides freezer tips to help you plan ahead.
There are a bunch more reasons to buy it, but I think you get the idea!
Buy Perfect for Pesach on: Amazon | ArtScroll (use coupon code PREPARE to get free shipping – expires 3/16) or pick it up at your local Jewish bookstore.
One last thing: I want to give a HUGE shoutout and thank you to Melinda Strauss, of Kitchen-Tested fame, who helped me style most of the shots, who carved all of the meat to perfection, who handled the fish because I didn’t wanna, and most of all, who kept things rolling and kept Naomi and I organized. Literally don’t know what we would have done without her!
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post – and I know you will love this book! -Miriam
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that a small percentage of every book sold goes to help support this blog. Thanks for your support!