Blogging suspended

Posted By mattantonino / July, 6, 2011 / 0 comments

I thought I should put up one post to let everyone know – I’m suspending blogging on StartingtoCook.

Simply put, I love blogging here but don’t have time to run all of my businesses, get myself moved to Australia, blog here as well as I’d like and the feedback, commenting and ad return so far don’t justify the time I’m putting into the work.  So I’m closing the blog for now.  I don’t know if or when it will return.  It’s been fun food blogging but I need to focus on food shooting and getting moved, visa approved, and my new wedding & portrait business started in Melbourne.

Thanks for reading!


9 Great Recipe Sites

Posted By mattantonino / June, 26, 2011 / 0 comments

Inspiration comes from many places for me.  As a new cook I tend to stick to the basics (ingredients, techniques, etc.) and learn as I go.

For recipe tracking I use LivingCookbook because it’s *perfection* in recipe form.  I have about 52,000 recipes in my LivingCookbook from all sorts of places.  You can import (and export) Mealmaster format, a LivingCookbook format, plaintext and more.  I use the RecipeFox plugin for Firefox to grab and save recipes off the major sites.  It comes with a list of 100s of recipe sites.  These are some of my favorites, many of which use RecipeFox.

Usual Suspects

1) Food Network

Great for finding recipes from your favorite FN stars (such as the ever-hot Giada).  A dedicated Healthy Eating section, full episodes of your favorite shows and recipes that easily export to MealMaster, LivingCookbook or plain text format.  A large database of great recipes makes this a no-brainer at #1.

2) AllRecipes

A HUGE database of fantastic recipes along with the best ingredient search tool makes this my go-to site.  Easily export any recipe to MealMaster, LivingCookbook or plain text with RecipeFox.

3) Saveur

A little higher-end fare (read: fancy) makes Saveur a keeper.  While not being as culinarily challenging as Epicurious, many of Saveur’s recipes are accessible, tasty and excellent.  RecipeFox integration makes this my 3rd favorite recipe site.  RecipeFox friendly.

4) Epicurious

You will be more likely to find a Roasted Vegetable and Prosciutto Lasagna with Alfredo Sauce than a traditional chicken alfredo but that’s why I love Epicurious.  This site is advanced and typically not what the home cook makes.  (The first recipe under Christmas is a Prosecco-Raspberry Gelee)  If you have orange-flower water and Prosecco in your pantry, this is the site for you.  (If you have no idea what those are, this site may be overwhelming at first.)  RecipeFox friendly as well.

Under the Radar

5) DrinksMixer

Quite possibly the only mixed drink site you need.  I have never really had much trouble finding anything on here. Recipes for everything from A Berry Breakfast Drink to the Zipper.  Search by ingredient, drink name, etc.  Terminology, a glossary and drinking games.  RecipeFox friendly!

6) VisualRecipes

Step-by-step photographic how-to of each recipe.  This site is a MUST for new cooks.

7) Cooking Light

This is my favorite healthy-only site. With a healthy cooking 101 section and my favorite – recipe makeovers, and one of my favorite magazines, this was a must-include on my favorite recipe sites.

Personal Faves

8) Recipe Goldmine

Another *huge* recipe site with all sorts of great and simple foods. This is my go-to site when I just need something I can make tonight.

9) Jamie Oliver’s site

I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for Jamie’s cooking. I am the only American I know who watches Oliver’s Twist. I don’t understand his temps or half the ingredients he says until I see them.  I don’t care.  I would watch Jamie cook all day (and sometimes do!)  My mini shell pea pasta and smoky bacon sauce is a Jamie food.  They are homecooked goodness and rich, high quality skill.  Does he cook 89-star food?  Not usually.  Is he amazing in a kitchen?  Absolutely.

Effortless chicken and rice dinner

Posted By mattantonino / June, 14, 2011 / 1 comments

My dad drives truck over the road and so is out of town almost everyday.  My mother raised five of us kids nearly alone and in the process learned to cook efficiently.  Sometimes cooking for a family on a busy evening isn’t about speed so much as your quality of life and the time you get to spend with loved ones.

This meal takes 45 minutes or so but the effort is so minimal that it’s not a “real” 45 minutes.  Trust me. (Or read ahead…it’s there, I swear.)  It’s a very simple meal I’ve had in my back pocket for awhile now.  Think about the incredible number of chicken and rice variations on this dish, too.

How many boxes does this tick?  Healthy? Check. Easy? Check. Quick? Check. Light cleanup? Check. You knew you read this blog for a reason.

bowl of chicken and rice with mixed vegetables

bowl of chicken and rice with mixed vegetables

Effortless Chicken & Rice


  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless & skinless
  • 1 cup white or basmati rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can of mixed vegetables
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • Italian dressing


  1. Cube the chicken breast into bite sized bits and marinate in italian dressing.
  2. Place all ingredients except chicken in a microwaveable bowl.  Mix well.
  3. Cover and cook 20 minutes in the microwave.
  4. Add chicken to bowl. Stir thoroughly.
  5. Microwave 5-7 more minutes until rice is completely done and chicken has warmed back up but not dried out.

I swear that’s all there is to it.  When you pull it out just give it a stir, season it with a bit of salt & pepper and you’re done.  Home cooked taste with very little effort and almost no dishes to clean. (Hint: in the 20 minutes this thing cooks you can help a kid with  homework, send another to get a bath and pour yourself a drink. Just sayin’.)

Leave me a comment on how you modified this! (Think: different veggies, other broth, meats, more seasoning, garlic & herbs…)

Mini shell pasta with creamy smoked bacon sauce

Posted By mattantonino / November, 8, 2010 / 1 comments

I can’t believe I’ve written this many posts on StartingToCook without mentioning even ONE Jamie Oliver recipe.  I absolutely love his cooking and recipes.  I wanted to try a recipe with mini shells, like the ones they use in soup and I ended up finding this creamy bacon sauce pasta.

Once I made this recipe, I was even more of a fan of Jamie Oliver.  This is a very “home cooking” meal.  Make it on a cold night, sit back with a bowl and enjoy! (And it has bacon – call it good!)

mini shell pasta with bacon and pea cream sauce

mini shell pasta with bacon and pea cream sauce

bacon and mini shell pasta shapes with creamy pea sauce

macro close up bacon and mini shell pasta with creamy pea sauce

pea in a mini pasta shell super closeup macro

Homemade gourmet macaroni and cheese

Posted By mattantonino / April, 23, 2010 / 7 comments

Ah, good ole mac and cheese. My girlfriend’s daughter came to us a few nights ago after some Kraft with “this tasted nassssty.” I’m glad she is growing up. Now we get to test better recipes for family classics. This one had to be the first. While it came out “slightly dry” (don’t overboil or overbake it, hey) I think we’ll enjoy it next time. I always have tweaks after the first and second cook.

This recipe was an amalgamation of all the ones I was able to find for fancy mac & cheese. Call it an “original” – maybe my first.

As you can see from the lighting diagram in photo #2, the setup is very simple again. Softbox on left, reflector(s) on the right. We shot this a little after dark so the background was simple enough to control. Photo #3 was taken in the oven. I thought I’d sell more if I got some cooking shots and oven baked photos. The light was a simple stove light with the kitchen light. I had to shoot these with a really slow shutter though, so I was on a tripod the whole time. #5 should definitely sell the best. Graphic designers love that copyspace and I try and give it to them with all the food photo setups I shoot.

I’m going to try submitting #4 to Tastespotting just to see how it does. (Edit: This is my 2nd most popular post thanks to TasteSpotting, FoodGawker and StumbleUpon! Thanks!!)

* Now that you’ve made it to the blog, why not bookmark or subscribe so you can find your way back?

baking gourmet mac and cheese


Shrimp Pasta, 2 of 2

Posted By mattantonino / April, 20, 2010 / 1 comments

This is a 2-for-1 post and this is the second part of my two-part post. Last week I thought about making shrimp pasta. I really wanted to photograph shrimp pasta. It sounded tasty. Then I somehow didn’t bring the recipe ingredients to the grocery store. I crossed shrimp pasta off my recipe list and grabbed everything for beef stroganoff.

The recipe I wanted to make is this (from Shrimp Pesto Pasta

I ended up picking up a box of frozen and made that (Part 1 post here). It was decent but definitely nothing I’d call “great.” I knew when I was eating it that yes, the photos would be ok, but no I wasn’t done. I had to eat this the right way. So Thursday (grocery day here) came again but this time I had my ingredients list with me. We read the recipe and couldn’t believe how fast this was to cook! Basically you cook the pasta, toss everything together, mix, heat the shrimp through, and serve. It was done in under 20 minutes including boiling the water.

Photographically I’m done with shrimp for awhile. It is pretty tough to light. I always feel like I’m *slightly* blowing out the highlights. I don’t like dark food but I can’t find an exposure I like for these. For the stock photography of it, I knew I wanted some closeups as shrimp is a “main food” – something people can search for and may want to see pretty much nothing but shrimp. It’s also a food mainstream America is familiar with so I knew I was good getting close and personal. My designers would want some copyspace so I gave them that and my restaurants, foodies and such would want the whole dish so I shot that too. I have other angles and props but I wanted to show you a little of each set we did. Mise en place, ingredient closeup (frozen shrimp), shrimp pasta closeup, copyspace version and finally restaurant/foodie version.

This recipe is an exact make of the MyRecipes one so again, no recipe here. I’m going to be posting more recipes – I am just not a good enough cook yet (there’s that “Starting” thing again!) and I don’t want to mess up people’s great food so I stick to the plan, make it, shoot it and link you to it.

Shrimp Pasta, 1 of 2.

Posted By mattantonino / April, 11, 2010 / 4 comments

This is a 2-for-1 post and this is the first part of a two-part post. This week I thought about making shrimp pasta. I really wanted to photograph shrimp pasta. It sounded tasty. Then I somehow didn’t bring the recipe ingredients to the grocery store. I crossed shrimp pasta off my recipe list and grabbed everything for beef stroganoff.

The recipe I’m going to make is this:

Shrimp Pasta

So why am I telling you about a recipe I haven’t made Well as I was walking through the frozen food section I happened to notice a very similar meal – in a small, “microwave me” bowl. Nahhhh – I couldn’t! I’m trying to learn to cook – frozen is cheating, right

Well, one thing I love is to photograph food. ANY food. I am learning to cook in order to shoot the food so I thought a little practice round would be perfectly acceptable. Now let’s be honest – this food pales in comparison to that recipe – but it was definitely good practice. I know that I want a lot more shrimp in the dish than the puny (and discolored) pieces in the frozen food. I want a bit more color as well. I will also likely toss some parmesan cheese over the top of this dish to finish it. The photography of this frozen meal actually worked. I’ll sell these photos – but yes, I’m making this again, the right way!

Let’s just say this could taste fresher. I am excited for part 2, for sure.

Sun dried tomato, bacon and garlic mushroom pasta

Posted By mattantonino / March, 27, 2010 / 13 comments

I originally found this recipe on Slimming Eats. I’ve made a few changes to suit my palette. Slightly more tomatoes, double the Canadian bacon, a bit less cheese…Basically I love this but wish it had a bit more sauce to it. It’s a light, summer pasta I will definitely have again and again.

Instead of just one shot of the food I’ve done a series this time. First is my mise en place shot for the mix. Second is my masterpiece. Third is a stock photo I will be selling with copyspace. Finally, I included another lighting setup shot. This lighting is much simpler than my last lighting setup shot. One strobe, one reflector, great light.

Trivia: A pound of garlic cloves can produce 7 to 10 pounds of mature cloves the following summer.

Bonus! This is the setup photo for my mise en place shot. I shot this to give you an idea what went into today’s shoot. Light from the strobe hit the left side of the food. Bounce from the reflector filled in the shadows. Reflector was closer (it loses some light on reflection so closer = more power gained back. It balances the two out to have the reflector about half the distance of the strobe.)

Recipe after the jump!