6 Photography Tips + GIVEAWAY!

Photography Book

Let me be the first to say that I am in no way qualified to be giving tips on photography. Mine is marginal at best. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to improve!

I work in a creative business. While my end of the bargain is writing, I often partner with photographers to make the necessary visuals happen. For me, it’s a highlight of the job. I love concepting marketing material, discussing ideas with a designer and photographer, then collaborating to make a great piece.

photo-3I feel like I’ve long been able to spot good photography, but not necessarily create it for myself. Last winter, I took the first step by purchasing a Nikon D600, which is WAY over my amateur head. The idea was to grow into it, learning about photography beyond the point-and-shoot.

Well…Sadly, I haven’t done much. Most of the problem is time. I usually style and finish taking food shots in less than 5 minutes. Tisk, tisk. I also need to take more steps toward shooting in the raw and creativity in general.

That’s why I was super stoked when the folks at Cooking Light contacted me, asking if I would read/review The Unforgettable Photograph by George Lange, with CL editor Scott Mowbray. Heck yeah, I’ll take a chance to learn something about photography!

So far, I’m enchanted with the book. There are 228 “tips, ideas and secrets,” each with an explanation, photo, and–my favorite–the camera settings used to accomplish the shot. I LOVE that the authors break a complex art down into much more manageable pieces. Here are 6 easy things I’d like to try with my food shots:

  1. Move into a tight, simple angle.
  2. Move around, 90 degrees.
  3. Avoid the flash.
  4. Know where the best light in your house is.
  5. Try an out-of-focus foreground.
  6. Make your own simple backdrops.

Those sound easy enough, right? Once I master those, I’ll move on to a handful more, and so on. Now then, for the good part. I have an extra copy of The Unforgettable Photograph to give away!

In the comments section below, tell me your favorite subject to photograph. Enter by midnight on December 16, and I will randomly pick a winner!

Good luck and happy photographing!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Oil

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes. You think of them at Thanksgiving, casseroled or candied. You might order them in french fry form, if you want something “healthy” to go with your burger. But they are so much more!

Ubiquitous in my native South, these little tubers pack some serious nutritional punch. They are absolutely bursting with vitamins A and C, and boast a low glycemic index. They also give you pretty skin. I’ve heard of celebrities eating only sweet potatoes for days before a photo shoot to get “that glow” beta carotene gives. It just makes my palms orange. But I digress…

Sweet potatoes are a staple on our table. We eat them super frequently, but not exactly the same way I did as a child. Then, sweet potatoes were almost always served in “casserole” form, which involved those pretty orange gems being boiled, creamed together with a copious amount of butter, then topped with more butter, brown sugar and pecans than you can shake a stick at. That preparation is certainly tasty, but then it’s pretty much dessert!

These days, we save the sweet potato casserole for holidays, and keep our weekday fare very much lighter. I have about a million variations on roasted sweet potatoes, but I’ll share this favorite today. The combination of coconut oil with sweet, savory and warm spices will blow your mind. Enjoy.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Oil

2.5 pounds of sweet potatoes, cubed into 1 inch pieces (peels or no peels–your preference!)

1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon grated orange rind (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Sweet and spicy pecans (optional, but awesome)

Preheat your oven to 400.

Mix the melted coconut oil, honey, orange rind, cinnamon, chili powder and cumin in a small bowl.

Pour the sauce over your cubed sweet potatoes, tossing well to coat. (NOTE: Cold sweet potatoes will make the coconut oil seize up a bit. That’s okay, just toss the potatoes again after about 5 minutes in the oven.)

Spread the potatoes evenly on a cookie sheet coated with parchment paper. Sprinkle with Kosher salt.

Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, turning once during cooking. Check your potatoes. Are they almost tender? If so, it’s time for my secret step: the broiler, baby.

Kick the heat up to broil, and roast for about 3 minutes extra, until the potatoes brown lightly on top and puff up around the edges.

Serve hot.

My First Apple Pie

Pie and fork1

In families, many of us have a role to play. I’m the dessert girl. And hence–through our three Thanksivings–I have made the same number of desserts.

Extended family on Mom’s side always asks for Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake, so I made that Thursday for lunch. Friday was Vore’s birthday. I made Almond Butter Blondie Cake for his family’s celebration, serving it with candles. And for today’s gathering at my parent’s house, I decided on apple pie, a favorite of my dad’s.

Would you believe I’ve never made apple pie before? A piece of Americana that I’ve never cooked on my own! Tragedy.

Given that this was a new venture for me, I thought it best to follow a trusted recipe. I chose Organic Valley’s Caramel Apple Pie. I’m pleased to say my furry little sous chef and I turned out a pretty American classic. I recorded the adventure in photos. Enjoy!

Pie CollagePie Collage 1Pie Collage 2Pie Collage 3

Pumpkin Spice Scones with Cranberry

scones

What should you eat for Thanksgiving breakfast? Pumpkin, obviously! These little scones are inspired by holiday flavors, containing just the kind of ingredients you’ll find on your Thanksgiving table. Pumpkin, cranberries and brown sugar–How’s that for a good start to your Turkey Day?

For the scones: 

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/3 cup cranberries

1/2 cup pumpkin

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

For the topping: 

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon organic sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt.

Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir the cranberries in and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the pumpkin, buttermilk, brown sugar and vanilla. Make sure the brown sugar dissolves completely.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour the pumpkin mixture in. Mix until just combined. Your dough will be slightly crumbly.

Scones 3Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form a disk. Roll to about an inch thickness. It should be about 8 inches in circumference.

Pour the butter over the dough, spreading it out evenly. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together, then sprinkle over the dough. Use your hands to lightly press the cinnamon sugar into the dough. Slice into 8 even wedges.

Bake at 425 for 12-14 minutes. Serve warm, and try not to drool.

An Open Letter to Restaurant Chefs

Starring Veggie Plate 1

Dear Restaurant Chefs,

I think you guys are amazing. Most of you labored through culinary school (jealous!) and work crazy hours, all in the name of churning out delicious food. Your creativity inspires me on a regular basis. I love seeing the menus you write and tasting your unique flavor combinations, often copying them at home and on this site.

Allow me to tell you more about myself. I’m that customer you love to hate. The squeaky wheel who inquires about ingredients, makes special orders and very occasionally sends a salad back if it comes mixed with a smattering of bacon. I did politely ask the waiter to leave it off. I’m a vegetarian.

I really do try not to be a pain. I never ask you to create a special something just for me. Sides will do! I apologize for being picky. I tip your waiters well. Heck, I even wrote a post titled “How to Order When There’s No Veggie Menu Option” in an effort to make it easier on you guys when my kind comes to visit.

For the most part, you are incredibly accommodating. I’ve found that a majority of restaurant chefs actually get jazzed at the challenge of preparing a delicious meat-free meal. Ninety percent of you will, upon request, deliver a veggie plate that knocks my socks off. But then, there’s this:

Bad Veggie Plate

That’s plain old spaghetti, tomato sauce and canned black beans, presented to me as the “vegetarian plate” at a seated dinner. This looks like something a drunk college kid would concoct. (In your defense, this was served at a university’s conference center and could very well have been imagined by a drunk college kid.)

Today, can I give you a few tips on dealing with the likes of me?

1. Put something without meat on the menu. Fish doesn’t count. I know, I know: How could someone possibly want a meal with no steak/chicken/shrimp? The fact is, lots of Americans are paying more attention to what they eat. You simply don’t need heavy protein at every meal. I’ve seen my meat-and-potatoes guy order a black bean burger over the beef version. If he’ll order it, anyone will.

2. Don’t lean on pasta. Beggars can’t be choosers, but I loathe it when the only vegetarian option is a simple pasta dish. I can make that at home! You’re charging $18 for something that costs $2 to make. Pasta primavera is a carb heavy cop out. Which brings me to my next point…

Veggie Plates

3. Avoid carb loading. My standard reply to a waiter who tells me their restaurant doesn’t have a vegetarian item is, “Can the chef use the sides to make a vegetable plate?” They are usually A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Check out all the colorful plates above. Those artful combos arrived at my table by ordering just this way. But several times, I’ve received a plate that was straight carbs. Once, I got three kinds of potatoes and a tiny portion of green beans. Potato + small salad + mixed vegetables = easy.

Now then, I’d like to close by saying thank you. If you make the teensiest effort to accommodate me, I’ll be the most grateful customer you have all week. I’ll tell my friends about you. I will come back time and time again. I will bring family and clients to eat at your establishment. Heck, I might even mention you on this little blog. (Thank you Bottega, Chez Fon Fon, Highlands, Hot + Hot and Cafe DuPont for being special order veggie plate rockstars in my hometown!)

I’l go ahead and thank you all in advance for your efforts to accommodate vegetarians, the health conscious and those who had a big fat steak with lunch and don’t want the same for dinner. Restaurant chefs, we appreciate you!

XOXO,

Britt

Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars

_BBR1625 2

With little Sprout on the way, my sweet tooth is raging stronger than ever. Who am I kidding? All my “teeth” are pretty strong. I’m eating everything like a trucker! But still, sweets taste better than ever right now. This has caused an onslaught of baking around our house.

I’ve tried to be semi-well-behaved, not eating batter with raw eggs and reducing refined sugar where I can. That’s how these Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars came into being. I took a look in the cabinet, pulled out a few things that sounded like they’d go well together, and got experimenting. Three batches later, I think it’s safe to say our family is into the results.

Now then, how shall I describe this delicious little bar cookie? Perhaps a Hello Dolly would be its closest cousin? Think crunchy crust on the bottom, creamy, caramel tasting middle and cake-y top–everything a layer bar should be.

I’m not going to call this dessert “healthy,” because I’m rarely a fan of sweets that fall into that category. But I did replace butter with heart healthy coconut, most of the flour with oats, and a good bit of sugar with dates. Can we settle on “healthier?”

Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars

Base Layer:

1 cup oats

1 cup unsweetened coconut shreds

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons coconut oil

Place the oats and the coconut in a Vitamix or food processor. Grind until you’ve almost got a flour. Add in the brown sugar and coconut oil, and pulse a few times. You should have a yummy crumble.

Press firmly into a greased 8 x 8 metal pan, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Layer 2:

12 large mejool dates, pitted

2 tablespoons almond butter

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup dark chocolate chips

No need to clean out the Vitamix/food processor! Add the dates, and process at a high speed until crumbly. Add the almond butter, coconut milk and salt to make a creamy, delicious carmel goo. Pour this over your crust then sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.

Layer 3:

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut oil at room temperature

1/4 cup full fat coconut milk

1/4 cup organic sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the sugar, egg, coconut oil and vanilla. Beat with a mixer until fluffy. Add the flour in 3 additions, until just combined. Pour over the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool, then place in the fridge before cutting. We store ours in the fridge, freezing about half so we don’t eat the entire batch…Because it’s entirely possible and it wouldn’t be pretty. Enjoy!

In other news, we have a winner for The Cooking Light Lighten Up, America! cookbook giveaway. #3 was Polynesian delight:

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 4.59.28 PMTeri K on October 29, 2013 at 12:37 am

Loco moco…hamburger and an over easy egg placed on rice and smothered with gravy. So ono-licious (delicious), as we say here in Hawaii.

I am ridiculously excited to mail this package to Hawaii! Congratulations, Teri! I think anything “smothered in gravy” is a winner.

GIVEAWAY: Cooking Light’s Lighten Up, America! Cookbook

People, I love a cookbook. When I get my hands on a new one, I read it cover to cover like a novel. I’m thinking this is not normal? A few of my most loved/used cookbooks include:

Super Natural Every Day

Peas and Thank You

The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

The Best of Cooking Light

Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita

I might have a new favorite to add to the list. A few weeks back, Cooking Light sent me their new cookbook, Lighten Up, America! to try. The premise is super fun. Allison Fishman Task traveled the country finding regional specialties, then headed back to the kitchen to slash calories, fat and sugar.

_BBR1591 effect

Once again, I read it cover to cover like a weirdo. What an engaging book! It’s scattered with stories about delicacies from all over the United States and great pictures of the original treats in action. I had a blast seeing if I had tried or even heard of the combinations.

In an effort to give the book a fair review (beyond pretty pictures and captivating back stories) I decided to try three recipes: St. Louis Butter Cake, Broccoli-Cheddar Soup and Butternut Squash Agrodolce, subbing acorn squash. We loved all three.

The butter cake was super decadent and the squash had a unique flavor profile. Vinegar + honey? Yes, please! The soup was probably our favorite. It gets a rich, creamy texture from potatoes. In short, I found the cookbook delightful, and the recipes easy to follow. The results were fabulous!

Broccoli

To win a copy for yourself, please reply to this post by midnight CST on 11/2/13, telling me your favorite food from your region or state. I’ll use random number generator to pick a winner and notify you by Monday.

Now then, to get this party started, my favorite Southern foods all seem to involve fried cornmeal! I love fried green tomatoes and hushpuppies the most. I also adore buttermilk biscuits, potato salad, and black eyed peas + cornbread. I could keep going forever, but I’ll suffice it to say that my cooking and tastes are definitely heavily influenced by my Alabama roots. Now then, your turn! What’s your favorite food from home? 

Baby Cakes

Oh hi. I’ve been mighty quiet lately. It’s the longest I’ve gone without posting a blog since I started this site in 2011. Excuses? I’ve got some good ones!

Me and my Shadow 1

My goodness, this is me. I took this photo yesterday, thinking there wouldn’t be much to show. Apparently I look far more pregnant than I realized. The good news is that the belly isn’t from downing all the yummy fall treats that are cropping up. Vore and I are expecting our first little Sprout in March 2014!

I am 17 weeks along, and loving that I can share the news. A few questions I am sure you will ask:

Were you sick? Yep. I felt like junk all summer. I had a very hard time getting creative in the kitchen because pretty much all I wanted was bread, crackers and bubbly water. So glad that’s past me!

Since you’re pregnant, are you eating meat? No. My reason for being a veggie is taste and texture based, and I wondered if I might crave meat while pregnant. It hasn’t happened. I am being careful to eat a high protein, plant-based diet filled with a variety of whole foods.

Will Sprout be a vegetarian? I suppose that’s up to the bebe. I’m pretty sure Vore will make animal protein an option. I don’t eat tofu weenies, so the baby won’t either. But veggies will always be piled high on our plates!

Now then, onto our other news. We moved! We loved our little townhouse, but the lack of a yard wasn’t working for the puppy or our growing family. We also wanted a location closer to downtown to cut commute time. Interweb logic says you’re not suppose to picture your current home (scary stalkers and whatnot) so I’ll give you a parting shot of our old place. Goodbye, suburban townhome!

photo-3

We bought a white brick house on a quiet street in a stellar school district. Vore only has to drive 10 minutes to get home from his work in the heart of Birmingham. He can join me for lunch! While the house was in pretty good shape, it does need a little love to make it look 2013. We’ve been living with workmen for the last 3 weeks, and I’ve been camped out at my parents’ so I can get some work done during the day. Thanks Mom and Dad!

We’re slowly settling into the new place, and loving where life is taking us. [Pregnancy, a puppy and a house, all in the space of a couple of months. We don’t mess around, huh?] I’ll leave you with a gratuitous shot of snoozing Reagan. Isn’t she a love?

photo-4

Vegan Snickerdoodle Biscuits

rolls 1

In New York, the “cronut” craze has taken the city by storm. Half donut, half croissant, crazy people are standing in unholy lines to experience this funky hybrid. The little treat I made this morning has the mutt effect as well:

Cinnamon roll? Sorta.

Biscuit? Well, not quite.

Scone? Hmmm. I guess it’s scone-ISH.

Perhaps I should call it a cinna-bis-cone. But that’s a mouthful. I’m going to compromise with myself and call these bad boys “Vegan Snickerdoodle Biscuits” because they don’t contain any animal products and were born of a biscuit recipe.

In May, Cooking Light published recipe makeover for drop biscuits, which I made and loved. I tinkered with that recipe to the point that it’s almost unrecognizable. That’s okay…I think you’ll recognize it as your new favorite breakfast.

Vegan Snickerdoodle Biscuits

for the biscuits

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons coconut oil

3/4 cup coconut milk (full fat)

 

for the filling

1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

*1 tablespoon coconut oil for brushing on top and a bit more brown sugar to sprinkle over the shaped biscuits

Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl, stirring to combine.

Place 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 30 seconds or until melted. Add coconut milk, stirring well.

Add coconut milk mixture to flour mixture. Stir with a spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. The dough will be a little sticky.

Dough Sized

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface. Sprinkle the top of your dough with additional flour and use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a long rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.

Rolled Dough sized

Use a brush to spread the melted 1 tablespoon of coconut oil over the entire surface of the dough. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and brown sugar evenly.

Brown Sugar Baby sized

Starting rolling your dough, long end to long end, jelly roll style. (You should have a long skinny round when finished.)

Rollin sized

Use a knife to cut 10-12 equal biscuits.

Cut up Sized

Transfer them to a baking sheet coated in parchment paper, and brush the additional 1 tablespoon oil over the top of each biscuit. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

brush sized

Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool 3 minutes; serve warm.

On Tap for Meatless Monday: Fresh Summer Corn Tart

Corn Tart

Happy Meatless Monday, y’all! Vore and I actually talked about our groceries recently–from both a budget and a health perspective–and he thought it might work well for him to go meatless TWO days a week. (Who is this man? I won’t complain.)

For those who might be stumped about vegetarian recipes meat eaters will enjoy, I have written a post with my favorite recipes. Here’s what we’re loving lately:

  • Mama Pea’s Black Bean Burgers. This is my go-to burger recipe. My guy loves it! I make a double batch and freeze leftovers for a quick meal. They’re great as burgers or crumbled on top of a salad.
  • Pizza. We usually make our own, but if you are in a pinch for time, this Annie’s Rising Crust Spinach Mushroom pie is the jam.
  • Veggie plates! Last night I made a corn tart (recipe below), mixed grilled veggies and Pink-Eyed Peas with Smoked Paprika from Cooking Light. I also buttered and grilled a couple of pieces of Portuguese bread. It was easy breezy and plenty filling for my hungry guy.

Now them, about this tart. YUM! I loosly followed this Whole Foods recipe, making substitutions based on what we had in the house. I used the healthified crust from my Tomato Pie Remix recipe in the place of the prepared version. Get to the store or farmer’s market while there is still lovely fresh corn and make this. You’ll thank me.

Fresh Summer Corn Tart

for the crust: 

1 1/2 cups homemade breadcrumbs, unseasoned

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup unsalted canolini beans

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

for the filling

3 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal

1 cup full fat coconut milk

3 ears yellow or bicolor corn, husked

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, chives and thyme)

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Tomatoes and basil for topping

*Combine the bread crumbs, butter, beans and salt in the food processor or high speed blender. Pulse until the beans/breadcrumbs/butter are integrated.

*Squish this mixture evenly into a 10.5 inch tart pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Ta-da! Crust.

*Bake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes. Meanwhile…

*Use a whisk to beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add in the cornmeal and coconut milk and whisk until combined. Stir in the corn, feta, herbs and salt. Get them good and integrated.

*Pour the egg/corn mixture into your prepared crust and bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes. Top with tomato slices and basil and enjoy!