Saturday, August 22, 2009


Today's post is short:

1. I'm on vacation. Hooray!

2. I got a new camera. I made the best of my old Canon, but it stopped working earlier this week. However, I just so happened to see an amazing deal for a used digital SLR on craigslist the day before my camera decided to stop working. I swear, I had nothing to do with that.

3. Two pictures from somewhere in western North Dakota:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beginner Photography Tips and My FAVORITE Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've had a few people ask about what kind of camera/lenses I use and my set-up. I decided now would be a good time to share my equipment and techniques. I will also share my favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies! Hooray!

Disclaimer: I don't know anything about photography.

Here is the camera I use:
It's a Canon A85 Powershot. I received it as a Christmas gift when I was a freshman in college. I don't think they make this model anymore... So, no lenses involved.

Here's my "studio":
See all the sunshine? It's bright!

And, I know nothing about photography, but here's what I do:

1. Use natural light (no flash!).
2. Use minimalistic plates/backgrounds (I have two colors of plates and two colors of tag board: white and blue).
2. Use the macro setting.
3. Keep the camera still (easy if you have a tripod).
4. Adjust the photo. I use Picasa, which is very easy to use and free. I use it to crop, adjust the light and color balance, sharpen, and sometime slightly blur the background.

I usually shoot on the Aperture setting, but with this camera, the f-stop value doesn't seem to make a huge difference.

Here's a before picture that I took later in the day when it was a bit dark:

...And after a few Picasa adjustments:
This picture also features today's recipe! They are a bit flat in the above photo due to the extreme heat of my apartment, but they are simply the best in my book. They can range from gooey on the inside and chewy around the edges to chewy in the middle with crisp edges depending on how long you cook them.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
aka my Grandma Mildred's Chocolate Chip Cowboy Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (or a second stick butter)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 generous teaspoon vanilla
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups chocolate chips (I really love Guittard milk chocolate chips, as they are delicious but not outrageously expensive)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder together and set aside. Beat butter, shortening, and sugars until very fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until well incorporated. Add half dry ingredients, mix until incorporated, then repeat. Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Drop cookies onto cookie sheet using two spoons or a scoop and bake 9-12 minutes, depending on how done you like them. I prefer to take the cookies out around the 9 minute mark (they will look underdone) and let them finish cooking on the cookie sheet out of the oven.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spicy Cucumber Salad

As a result of our CSA, cucumbers have been accumulating in the fridge. Then, my parents came to visit and brought a cucumber from the garden. Something had to be done. I went through the fridge and found what I could and threw it together. This is what resulted:

Spicy Cucumber Salad

Makes 4 Servings

2 Cucumbers

½ Bell Pepper (any color)

1 Jalapeno

¼-½ Red Onion

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Lime Juice

Freshly Ground Black Pepper and Coarse Salt

Slice cucumber into quarter moons, approximately ½-inch thick. Dice bell pepper into medium dice and jalapeno into fine dice. Slice onion into large pieces. Toss all vegetables, then drizzle with olive oil and lime juice. Toss. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Spicy Coleslaw

A large head of cabbage came in this week's CSA. So, I made coleslaw, and now we only have... 3/4 of a large head of cabbage. I think more coleslaw is in order.

I am not a huge fan of dishes where mayo is a key ingredient. When I saw Mark Bittman's take on coleslaw that uses a vinaigrette in mayo's place, I thought it would be worth a try. This coleslaw had a great bite to it (both in texture and flavor) and would recommend it to anyone with a surplus of cabbage.

Since we only had three people (which is one more than usual), I halved the recipe. I omitted the peppers and parsley, but the dish still had plenty of flavor.

Spicy Coleslaw
Adapt from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food
Makes about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry or balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive, peanut, or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
6 cups cored and shredded cabbage
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, peeled if desired, seeded, and diced
1 cup diced scallions
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Whisk the Dijon mustard and vinegar together in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil. Add the sugar and whisk to dissolve.

Add the cabbage, peppers, and scallions (reserve some for sprinkling on top, if desired). Toss with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate for an hour up to 24 hours (I served right away). Toss with parsley just before serving.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A successful experiment: blueberry fritter bread!

For my very first job I worked as a hostess and cashier at a bakery and restaurant. There were many delicious things (cookies, artisan bread, pies!) but the most popular item they carried was fritter bread. Fritter bread was available in a wide variety of flavors and eaten both fresh and as amazing French toast. Fritter bread was pricey back then and even more so now—fetching $5.99 a loaf. I recently got the idea to try making my own with no-knead dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This is also my first attempt at (almost) step-by-step photographic documentation… the light’s not great in the kitchen—apologies!

I adapted the blueberry compote recipe from She Simmers. I ended up with about twice as much compote than I needed, but the extra is delicious in plain yogurt (here’s an opportunity to make your own, if you haven’t tried it yet) or on ice cream. If you don't want the extra, half the compote ingredients.

And, without further ado:

Blueberry Fritter Bread

1 pint blueberries, washed but still wet

1/2 cup powdered sugar (more if your blueberries need it)

1 pound no-knead Artisan bread dough (challah, brioche, or boule dough)

Splash milk, cream, or lemon juice and additional 1/4 cup powdered sugar for glaze

Put wet blueberries in small saucepan. Add 1/2 powdered sugar. Stir to combine. Heat over medium-low heat until thick and syrupy, stirring occasionally. Carefully sample to check sweetness balance and add more sugar if necessary.

Transfer half of compote into a large bowl and let cool until warm, but not hot. Enjoy the other half on pancakes, yogurt, ice cream, etc.

While the compote is cooking, pat bread dough to roughly ¾-inch thickness on floured surface.

With a bench scraper or knife coated with cooking spray, slice the dough into small pieces.

Add the dough pieces (separate as you add them to the bowl if stuck together) to the compote bowl and gently stir until all the dough pieces are coated with compote. Transfer mixture to a greased loaf pan and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake in a 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until crusty on top. If in doubt, bake a little longer. There’s a lot of moisture in the dough and compote and you want to make sure it bakes all the way through.

Let cool in pan for 15 minutes then turn out onto wire rack. Let cool completely (if you can wait. I couldn’t). Gradually add milk, cream, or lemon juice to ¼ cup powdered sugar until a glaze consistency is reached. Drizzle onto bread.

There you have it!

See those blueberries? They're in the bread! That slice didn't last long...

Get creative with the filling- try raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or apple. If you have any bread left over, I highly recommend French toast or bread pudding. Or, make two loaves and save one for later!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Easy Homemade Pizza

Pizza is my favorite food. It is also near the top of my husband's list. As a result, pizza is consumed fairly frequently in our apartment. When we first moved to Minneapolis, there was a takeout place a few blocks away that had a pretty good deal on Mondays, so we'd have a weekly pizza. There were always a few frozen pizzas stashed in the freezer for times of emergency. Then, I discovered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Since then, we have not looked backed. We no longer get takeout or buy frozen, although we do occasionally go to Punch, although that's a different kind of pizza, so it doesn't really count.

I used to only like pepperoni on my pizza. Pure and simple. I've branched out a bit and now like a number of things, but stay far away from olives. We always have pepperoni, onions, garlic, and a pepper of some sort on hand and that's what goes on the weekly pizza.

I par-bake the crust before topping to prevent a soggy crust. I choose to bake the crust on a cookie sheet on a pizza stone. I have attempted several times sliding the pizza directly on the stone with varying levels of success (and failure) and feel safer using a cookie sheet.

The crust is crisp on the bottom and edges, with a good chew and airy crumb. It takes perhaps a bit longer than getting takeout, but it's far cheaper and tastes unbelievable better. Try it. You may never buy pizza again.

(The Artisan Bread in 5 recipes can be found here.)

Easy Homemade Pizza
Approximately 1 lb. no-knead boule dough (or olive oil dough, if you prefer)
Pizza sauce of choice (make your own or use store-bought for a short cut... I like Trader Joe's)
Toppings of choice (I like pepperoni, onions, peppers, garlic, and dried oregano)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle a nonstick cookie sheet or a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray or brushed with olive oil with cornmeal. Pat or roll the pizza dough to approximately 1/4-inch thick (more or less, depending on how you like your crust). If dough resists stretching, let rest and try again a few minutes later. Let rise until dough loses its chill and becomes slightly puffy. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings. If using fresh herbs (such as basil and oregano) wait to put them on until the last minute or two or when it's out of the oven to preserve the flavor. Bake the topped pizza until the cheese is melted and golden and the crust is browned.

PS- See the pepper on the pizza? I grew that! Well, I planted the pepper plant in my parents' garden. I think that counts.