A Kiss in the Kitchen

a photographic exploration of Italian food, culture & wine

Tag: studio photography

Chocolate Easter Cakes with Honey Mascarpone

Since Easter is my favorite holiday I was inspired to create, style and photograph something beautiful and delicious as a personal project. This is a simple chocolate cake recipe that is layered with mascarpone, an Italian cheese made from cream, and candy coated milk chocolate Easter eggs. This will make a lovely dessert for an Easter brunch or dinner. It is unbelievably good and you are guaranteed to make a lot of new friends with this one. Enjoy!

Chocolate Easter Cakes with Honey Mascarpone

Chocolate Easter Cakes with Honey Mascarpone. Photo by Leslie Brienza

Chocolate Easter Cakes with Honey Mascarpone
Makes 4-6 cakes
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  1. 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  2. 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon good quality unsweetened cocoa, I use Droste
  3. 3 tablespoons canola oil
  4. 3/4 cup water
  5. 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  6. 1 3/4 cups sugar
  7. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  8. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  9. 2 eggs
  10. 1/2 cup buttermilk
  11. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  12. 1 cup Mascarpone
  13. 2 tablespoons honey
  14. 6 ounces candy coated chocolate Easter eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and lightly flour a jelly roll pan
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
  3. Once butter is melted whisk in the cocoa and stir until smooth
  4. Add the water and oil to saucepan and bring to a boil
  5. Remove the pan from heat and set aside
  6. While chocolate mixture cools whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl
  7. Pour the slightly cooled cocoa mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla
  8. Add the buttermilk mixture into the batter
  9. Pour the batter into pan and place in oven on center rack
  10. Bake until the top is firm to touch and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Set aside to cool
  11. Once cake has cooled, cut out rounds using a biscuit cutter or top of glass, about 2 1/2" in diameter, set aside
  12. Mix honey and mascarpone together in small bowl
  13. Place one cake round on plate, spread mascarpone on top, add another cake round, then more mascarpone until there are three cake layers and three layers of mascarpone.
  14. Dust cakes lightly with powdered sugar and top with crushed chocolate eggs.
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/

Winery Images Hang on Walls in Themed Hotel Rooms

There is a very hip hotel in Portland, Oregon called Hotel Vintage Plaza and they recently renovated their rooms so that each is named after and represents an Oregon Winery. A selection of images of the wineries including the vineyards, bottles, views etc.  are hung in each room. I just found out that five of my images of Methven Family Vineyards were chosen to hang in that particularly themed room. These are the images they chose:

Wine Splash-IMG_0119

This image was taken in my studio when I first started photographing for Methven Family Vineyards. I used a very high shutter speed and had a lot of patience as I shot this wine pour over 40 times, cleaning up, cleaning the glass and resetting the shot after every take. These glasses are the very fragile Riedel glasses specifically designed for Oregon Pinot Noir. Reidel calls them “the perfect Oregon Pinot Noir Dream Glass“. Luckily it didn’t break because it was the only one I had! Finally, after all that, I got this one image that worked. Once I have a full day free again I’ll try doing more of these but with different backgrounds and maybe with a Rosé.

Reserve 2004-IMG_7092

Since bottle photography is one of my specialties, I personally wanted to create this group image for them. The year 2004 was the first vintage for Allen and Jill Methven as wine producers and new owners of the vineyard. There aren’t any of these left to sell but I’m sure there are a few hanging around. Also, these glass bottles aren’t really used anymore in the industry because they are very heavy and very big  which isn’t practical these days. One nice thing is that they have a very deep punt, which feels nice when you’re pouring the wine because it feels like an expensive bottle, which it was. You can see in the image how deep the punt is compared to a bottle you may have at home. It was a very good year!

View of the Vineyard-DSC_0067

This image was taken on a beautiful summer day once you turn off the main country road. The road is long and winding and leads up to the tasting room and vineyards which you see in the distance.  The shadow made by the tree proves that clear days and sunshine do exist in Oregon! I do a lot of winery photography partly because the atmosphere is so beautiful and it just feels good to be there.

Entrance to Tasting Room-IMG_1608

This is the entrance to the tasting room which resembles a Tuscan villa with the cypress trees and all. You can see the vineyards in the reflections in the glass. There is also a Bocce court on the property which is always busy in the summer months. The interior is just as beautiful with all natural materials and a huge commercial kitchen.

Wine and Chocolates-IMG_1080Lastly, in this image I wanted to show a scene that is all too familiar with Oregon Pinot Noir, wine and chocolates. These two go extraordinarily well together and there are certain varietals that, when tasting at the vineyard, you will be handed a chocolate truffle in order to get the full experience. They’ll even explain the proper way to have the two together. Combining my food photography with wine always makes a nice scene

If you want to see more images like these I have a portfolio called ‘Wine and Olives’ on my website as this is one of my specialties and passions. Follow me as I continue to photograph wineries in Oregon, New York and Italy. One of these days I’ll get myself out to California to explore the wine scene there. If you find yourself needing a hotel in Portland and stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza make sure to ask for the Methven Family Vineyards room.
Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions for beautiful wineries to visit anywhere please leave a comment.  More of my winery and glass images can be found on my website.

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto. Photo by Leslie Brienza

I learned many things about cooking good Italian food while spending the summer with my relatives in Italy. The way they simply prepare the meals, the high quality, natural products they use and the conversations and good times that evolve around the dinner table are all part of every day life there.  These are things we rarely see or have time for anymore in the U.S. 
The one thing I remember most from cooking with them is that they don’t measure or weigh hardly at all. It’s all about ‘a pinch of this’, ‘a bunch of that’, ‘about 20 of those,’ or ‘a handful of these’. Unless it’s a specific dessert where precise measurements are required it really isn’t that important. We tend to complicate things by using recipes that have 30 ingredients which, to me, taste just as good when using only six. Of course the quality of ingredients used is why they only need a few.
I made this risotto without any measuring because I only watched what they were doing but didn’t write it down. Nonetheless I was so happy with the results. It also allows for a more relaxed way of cooking.  A lot of it is in the method of preparation which Italians make so simple. The following recipe has simple guided measurements otherwise It wouldn’t help you at all. Just keep in mind these are approximations and the most important things are the quality of ingredients and the way the ingredients are prepared.
Since I can remember I’ve always made risotto with arborio rice and some will argue this is the king of rice for risotto. Well, I discovered that many use carnaroli rice as well and when I asked my relatives it was split down the middle. I decided to try it with carnaroli for the first time. What I found was that the risotto seemed a lot creamier and also absorbed more of the broth than I remember when using the arborio, lending it more flavor. Even with more absorption of the liquid the rice still held it’s texture and firmness. Carnaroli will now be my rice of choice from now on.  I wonder how it would be for rice pudding, hmmm, that’s another post! If you’ve tried it or have any tips for your own risotto post a comment below.

This recipe made enough for four as a first course.

Classic Italian Risotto
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  1. Carnaroli rice - about one cup
  2. Chicken broth- I used about one quart
  3. 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  4. Extra virgin olive oil- enough to soften the onions
  5. 2 generous pinches of salt
  6. White wine - I used about 1/2 cup
  7. 2 pats of butter
  8. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese- freshly grated-I used about 1/2 - 3/4 cup
  9. Truffle oil, to drizzle on top
  10. Black pepper, freshly ground
  11. Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
  1. Heat chicken broth in a saucepan to almost boiling
  2. In another larger saucepan cook chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent
  3. Add rice and cook until starches start to release
  4. Add white wine and salt and cook until wine is evaporated
  5. Add broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until evaporated after each addition
  6. Once rice is al dente turn heat to low and add butter and cheese stirring until incorporated
  7. let rest for about five minutes before spooning into bowls
  8. Top with truffle oil and crushed black pepper to taste
  9. Garnish with fresh basil
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello!

At first, I thought the worst part of making limoncello was going to be having to carefully zest all of the lemons. But once I put everything in the jar and closed the lid it was then that I realized the hardest part, the wait! I’ll have to wait about three weeks before savoring a small glass of this amazingly sweet and potent Italian liqueur.


Limoncello. Photo by Leslie Brienza


 Enjoying a limoncello in Italy is like experiencing something from another planet. On several lucky occasions there were those hot afternoons in Tuscany I remember where the restaurant owners just happened to have a homemade stash behind the counter. They would always be happy to share and enjoy a small glass and some relaxing conversation with their new American friends.
Well, my first attempt is resting in a cool, dark place now and in about two weeks I will let it see the light of day and that is when I will add the final ingredient, simple syrup.  Ah, I am already dreaming of Sorrento!
Even though I am not using the Femminello St. Teresa lemons from the south of Italy, I am sure the final product won’t disappoint. I am told the traditional way to make limoncello is in a terracotta vase. I will have to explore that more in depth next time. For now, we will have to get by with a glass mason jar.

Here is the recipe I adapted from my cousin, Pietro. I will post some images in a few weeks once it is ready. Have you ever made limoncello and if so, how did it turn out?  Leave your comments below. Ciao!!


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Prep Time
45 min
Prep Time
45 min
  1. 8 lemons, zested
  2. 1 4" cinnamon stick
  3. 750 ml 100 proof vodka
  4. 3 1/2 cups filtered water
  5. 3 cups sugar
  1. Sterilize a half gallon mason jar in oven for ten minutes at 225 degrees without opening oven.
  2. After ten minutes turn oven off and let jar stay in oven until ready to use.
  3. Zest lemons using a vegetable peeler or small knife. Make sure only to zest the yellow and not the white part.
  4. Once jar is cool pour vodka inside and add lemon zest and cinnamon stick
  5. Close jar tightly and store in cool, dark place for 16 days, turning lightly to mix twice a week.
  6. After 16 days, heat water in medium saucepan and add sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved and almost reaches a boil to make a simple syrup. Cool completely.
  7. Add simple syrup to vodka mixture and stir gently
  8. Leave to rest for another seven to ten days to mellow out and incorporate the flavors.
  9. Strain through a cheesecloth into sterilized limoncello bottles. Enjoy!
  1. ~Sterilize jar before using
  2. ~Avoid zesting any white part of the lemons
  3. ~Use organic lemons if possible
  4. ~Make sure the vodka is 100 proof
  5. ~Order limoncello bottles during the resting period. World Market and Fishs Eddy have a nice selection of thin bottles
Adapted from my cousin Pietro's recipe
Adapted from my cousin Pietro's recipe
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/
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