Califonia Bountiful

Get packin'

July/Aug. 2013 California Bountiful magazine

Moveable feasts for picnics, beach parties and road trips.

More online: Food styling

A few months ago, we asked California Bountiful readers and Facebook fans to select the theme for a summertime recipe feature. You voted for picnics. Then we called Patty Mastracco. In no time, the Sacramento-based recipe developer and food stylist created an easy, moveable feast that looks as good as it tastes. Now, let's take it outside.

Patty Mastracco creates recipes, then makes them picture-perfect.

A few of Mastracco's favorite tips for great picnics:

  • Pack two separate coolers: one for drinks and the other for food. You'll open the coolers less often, giving the warm air fewer opportunities to get in.
  • Freeze what you can, such as plastic water bottles and juice boxes. Even cookies can start the day frozen. These items will act as ice blocks to keep the rest of your food cool.
  • Instead of ice cubes, try using large blocks of ice or ice packs. They'll melt or thaw more slowly. An inexpensive substitute? Fill gallon-sized resealable bags with water and freeze until firm.
  • Pack the food you intend to eat first on top. Also on top: sandwiches and similar foods that may get crushed or soggy.
  • Use resealable bags or containers to keep food dry, and make sure the seal is tight. If you haven't purchased resealable containers lately, you might be surprised at the new shapes and colors available.
  • For inexpensive, no-fuss flair, bring brightly colored utensils, paper plates and napkins to your moveable feast.
  • Don't forget the antibacterial wipes. They're perfect for cleaning messy hands and your picnic site.

Barbara Arciero


Food styling: Tools of the trade

So, what does a food stylist do?

"I like to tell people I play with food and get paid for it," Patty Mastracco answers with a laugh.

Mastracco's task is to make food look picture-perfect for photography, video or film. She's part chef, part artist and part magician. Scroll through the recipes in this section and you'll see the mouthwatering magic she created for our camera. Not only did she cook up the recipes for California Bountiful, she also styled them for our photographer.

Here is a quick look at the tools of a food stylist's trade.

This little tool gives meat an authentic-looking char—so authentic, you'll think it's hot off the grill. A blast from the torch also caramelizes the sugar atop a luscious crème brûlée.
An apple glistening with tiny drops of moisture is more likely to make your mouth water than a dull, dry one. Water from a spritzer also provides just the right amount of condensation on a tall glass of lemonade.
The smaller the brush, the greater the control. And for a food stylist, it's all about control. Mastracco often brushes steak with a sauce that includes paprika, herbs and oil so it looks extra juicy and perfectly seasoned.
Bent-nose tweezers
These food-stylist helpers get into the tight spaces that fingers can't. They also facilitate the precise placement of ingredients. We watched Mastracco pick up and move individual slivers of mint as she meticulously fine-tuned the look of the watermelon salad.
Baby spoons
You can always add more sauce, but you can't take it away. That's one reason Mastracco keeps a collection of baby spoons in her tool kit. Smaller spoons provide more control than larger ones. She says that each of her baby spoons has a story.
The chef's mantra is, "Use the right knife for the right job." It's the same for a food stylist. For example, a serrated knife helps you cut a tomato without squishing it, but using the same knife on an avocado creates unappealing ridges.
Toothpicks and citrus juicer
Are the grapes rolling away? Is the sandwich falling apart? Secure them with toothpicks. Mastracco keeps a citrus juicer on hand so she can brush the juice over pears, apples and other cut fruit to keep them from browning too quickly.
Who doesn't love tape (except the bureaucratic red kind)? Double-sided scotch tape is handy for several tasks such as keeping the delicate skin of an onion in place.

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