Friday, April 29, 2011

DIY Lightbox

While I often do alot of cooking on the weekends, there's a good amount that gets done at night or after the sun sets (easy to do in the winter :/).   Thus, when I saw some posts about a diy lightbox, I sent my dad the links and asked if we could make one when I was home.  {home...  over christmas...  this has been sitting in my drafts folder for awhile!!}}

If you know my dad, you know that it would probably be a little more complicated than that ;)   And it was!  But he was only thinking of me, so I say that with love <3.  Given the limited space in my Boston apartment, dad wanted to make something that could be put away when it wasn't in use.  His solution was to use angle moulding (like this) instead of a cardboard box.  I'll do my best to explain how it went down...

First up was measuring out lengths of angle to make the box, I think we went with 18"h x18"d 24"w.  Thus, 8 pieces 18" long (to make 2 square sides) and 2 pieces 24" long (to attach the squares together).  Then I got to cut the angle using a vice grip and saw.  I was pretty focused ;)

Then dad marked the angle and I got to drill holes in the angle where we would attach the corners to make a box.  For the two longer pieces, we flattened out the edge of the angle before drilling holes, so they could be attached to the front of the the square sides.

With 8 pieces, I put together two squares (for the sides of the box).

On top of the screw went a washer, lock washer and nut, then tightened. 

Don't forget to check to make sure everything is aligned!

Once the two squares were assembled, we screwed on the longer pieces of angle that attached the two squares together.  A little finagling was required to make sure they were tight enough to stand up, but loose enough to allow it to fold in on itself.

Lucky for me, my mom happened to have an old white sheet that pretty much fit over my light "box" (frame?), so I just have it draped over the angle.  The frame sits on an old foam core board, and I can swap in/out poster board, napkins and placemats.  I have some velcro that I can use to attach different backgrounds/tissue paper/fabric when I get my act together, but for now I've kept it simple. 


I'm still playing around with it, but it has certainly helped my night-time shots!   My lights can probably be optimized  (I've got three situated around it), but it's a start.  I've got some compact fluorescent bulbs in lamps, but honestly I'm not sure they're the best.

Pasta w/Spinach Sauce & Shrimp

Does anyone have any tips or tricks you'd like to share??  My photography, especially playing with lighting, is very much in progress!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bake for Hope

 I wanted to let you in on a fantastic virtual bake sale to support a cause near and dear to me.  My two friends Cara and Jen are hosting Bloggers Bake for Hope, as part of a week-long, nation-wide bake sale leading up to Mother's Day.  All of the proceeds will be donated to Massachusetts Komen for the Cure.

How does it work?  Bloggers (like me) are donating baked goods that will be put up for auction.  May 4-6, buyers will make virtual pledges on the Bloggers Bake for Hope site.  At the end of the bake sale, the highest bidders will be awarded the donated baked goods and donations will be made via PayPal.

What is my donation you ask?  Well a batch of everyone's favorite Seven Layer Bars, of course!  They'll be packaged up and shipped to you, should you be the highest bidder ;)  So spread the word, tell your friends, and don't forget to check out the Bake Sale on May 4-6th!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Eggs

Dear Mom & Dad-

I made you some crunchy peanut butter eggs for your easter basket.

What I didn't realize is how they start to melt as soon as they're out of the fridge, so I don't think they'll make it home.   It's not because they're so delicious I couldn't stop eating them...

I'll make it up to you, promise!


When I saw Dawn's chocolate PB eggs w/crunchy filling, two thoughts immediately came to mind.  1.  I must make these.  2.  Why didn't she use pretzels instead of panko breadcrumbs?  As the queen of all things sweet and savory, I was a little surprised Dawn didn't use them herself. 

FTC Disclosure:  Pure Dark slab received as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program

Scientific method-style, a side-by-side comparison of prezels versus panko was warranted.   It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it ;)  The pretzels made for a sturdier filling that was easier to work with and had a more substantial crunch, they happened to be the ones I preferred.  The panko filling was a bit softer, but did have a good uniform crunch.  Panko or pretzels, you won't be disappointed!

I figured an easter bunny was the best judge ;)   Pretzel on the left, panko on the right

Crunchy PB Eggs
slightly adapted from Vanilla Sugar 
Yield:  ~16 small eggs

1 1/2c crunchy PB (as per Dawn's suggestion, I used WF organic crunchy)
2T powdered sugar (may want a bit more if using dark chocolate)
1/2c coarsely crushed pretzels (I used TJ's Multi Grain Pretzel Nuggets)
sea salt, to taste (I used a good pinch)
4oz chocolate, your choice milk or dark (I used a 70% dark chocolate)*

*You may need more of this depending on the size of your eggs and how thick your coating is, but I found this to be enough.

Add peanut butter, powdered sugar, pretzels and salt to a medium bowl or tupperware container.  Mix well, then taste and add more sugar if it's not sweet enough for you or more salt.  Cover well and refrigerate overnight (or a few hours) until mixture has hardened.

Form rounded tablespoon-fulls of peanut butter mixture into oval (egg) shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place formed eggs in refrigerate while you melt the chocolate.

Coarsely chop chocolate and place into a small bowl.  Set the bowl over a small saucepan with a bit of simmering water.  Allow the chocolate to melt, and stir to make sure it is smooth.

When you're ready, dip your peanut butter eggs in the chocolate.  I used two forks for this, turning the eggs over to make sure they're well coated in chocolate before returning them to the parchment lined cookie sheet.  Repeat with remaining eggs, melting more chocolate if you're running low.  My apartment was too warm to set the eggs (why did they turn on the heat again??  boo), so I popped them back in the refrigerator to harden.

Feel free to trim off any chocolate edges or drips from the sides of the eggs with a sharp knife if you like!  I need to keep mine stored in the fridge, but (again) that might be a function of my apartment.

Edited to add:  If you want these to keep these at room temperature, it's probably better to temper the chocolate, as Megan suggested in the comments.  Try these links from Dave Lebovitz and Serious Eats for the way I learned to temper chocolate...  and apparently forgot :)

Are you making any treats this weekend (Easter or otherwise)??

Thursday, April 21, 2011

PPB Burritos

If you follow me on twitter, you may have already caught this idea.  In case you missed it, I wanted to share :)

There was a little place two blocks from my apartment in Philly where I discovered this little gem of a burrito. Slow cooked pork, fried sweet plantains, and black beans in a warm tortilla blanket. 

PPB Burritos
inspired by Pico de Gallo

Not so much a recipe, but how I recreated these at home.  Crunched for time, I took all the shortcuts- bottled BBQ sauce, frozen sweet plantains and canned black beans.  Feel free to use homemade versions to take it up a notch!

Pulled Pork (or chicken, or tofu):  I used pork tenderloin done in the slow cooker, the pulled and tossed with BBQ sauce (bottled or your own)
Sweet Plantains:  I used Goya's from the frozen section, cooked according to package directions (but you can make these with ripe, black plantains)
Black Beans:  I used canned, but if you have the time feel free to use some you've soaked and cooked up yourself
Whole Wheat tortillas

Now, make an assembly line and make your burritos!  Warm the tortillas to make them a little more pliable (15sec in a wet paper towel in the microwave should do the trick).  Then add some beans, pulled pork, and top with plantains.  Do the burrito fold, wrap them in foil, and you'll have them ready to take to work :)  To reheat the burritos, I used my toaster oven at work, set to 350 for probably 15min, but you can also use a microwave.

(For 4 burritos I used 10oz pork tenderloin, 1 pkg sweet plantains, 1 can of beans.  Feel free to play around with proportions!)

Are you a fan of sweet plantains?  Definitely underutilized in my kitchen, they're delicious!!  And I bet they'd be a bit healthier if I made them myself...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Orzo Pesto Salad

So...  I've been in a funk lately, sorry about the lack of posting here!  Luckily I already had some dog therapy scheduled for this weekend  :)

Sampson! (cell phone pic)

A 5mi hike with the boys, cake baking (details to come), spectating, another good run, and I'm feeling more like myself.  I bit the bullet and signed up for a few tri's this season on Friday, so that helped too!  I guess that means I'm officially in training?  ;)

When I was making some lunches for last week, I recalled reading a post about an Orzo & Broccoli Pesto Salad from Heidi's new book.  I hadn't written down the recipe, but I had picked up some broccoli.  Here's what I came up with...

Orzo Pasta Salad
inspired by Heidi Swanson
serves 2

2c broccoli, cut into small florets  (this was one head for me)
1/2c whole wheat orzo, cooked
3-4T pesto (jarred or your own, I happened to have some from Italy!)
2T greek yogurt
chickpeas or smoked salmon
lemon zest (I didn't have any on hand, but this would be a great addition)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  In the meantime, fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.  Add broccoli to the boiling water, cook a couple of minutes.  Remove the broccoli and immediately plunge into the ice water (this will stop the cooking and retain the bright green color).

Add a healthy shake of salt and the orzo, cook to al dente.  Drain broccoli and cooked orzo, then transfer to a large bowl (use the same one from the ice water, emptied & dried).  Add pesto, greek yogurt, lemon zest (if using) salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

If desired, add 1/3c chickpeas or 1oz smoked salmon for a little extra protein.  I tried both, and I preferred the chickpeas ;)

Battle Orzo Pesto Salad

Who will be watching the Boston Marathon tomorrow?  I'll be volunteering at the 10k elite water stop after riding some of the course in the morning.  Any runners out there???  Let me know what you're wearing and I'll be sure to keep my eyes out for you :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Springtime Pasta

Wow, it's been quiet over here!  I guess a couple of presentations in as many weeks can get me behind on posting ;)  The good news?  It finally feels like spring!!  To celebrate I decided that the fate of the two meyer lemons seeking refuge in my fridge were going to become pasta.

The zest of the two lemons made it into the dough and I reserved the juice for a sauce once the pasta was cooked.  The pasta came together in no time, and in under an hour I had my pasta drying so I could use it another night.  (If you want to see the awesome pasta drying rack my dad made for me, scroll to the bottom of this post)

Now, I went and made a pretty good pasta dish.  But....  there's always a 'but', no?   Well, bear with me.  I added shaved asparagus to the pasta in the last minute or so of cooking.  Once drained, this mixture was tossed with goat cheese, the reserved lemon juice, and a bit of the pasta cooking water to make a sauce.  Some sundried tomatoes and smoked salmon, and a tasty dinner was had.  But I couldn't taste the lemon :(

Moral of the story?  Sometimes simple is best, and I should've left well enough alone, dressing the meyer lemon pasta with some good olive oil, meyer lemon juice and perhaps a shaving of parmesan or grana padano.  Next time!!

Meyer Lemon Pasta
Serves 2-3

150g Italian-style 00 flour
50g white whole wheat flour
zest of two meyer lemons
generous pinch of sea salt
2 lg eggs

Mound the flours on your work surface (a granite countertop or a large wooden pastry board work well).  Make a well in the center and crack eggs into the hole.  Add a generous pinch of salt.

Beat the eggs well with a fork, then slowly begin to incorporate flour from the inside perimeter of the well into the eggs.  Once enough flour has been incorporated, knead dough until smooth and elastic.  If the dough is too dry (maybe your eggs are a little small or the mushrooms are absorbing more liquid), add water, a few drops at a time, until it is easier to knead.  If the dough is a little wet (eggs a little large, etc), add a little extra flour until the dough is not sticky.  Wrap the dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for a few minutes.

Divide the dough in half, and wrap one half back up as you work with the other.  Roll out one part of the dough on a slightly floured surface.  Fold in thirds, roll out with rolling pin.  Repeat two times.  I really wanted to get more pictures while I was doing this, but I needed another pair of hands.  To get the idea, check out this post!

Run dough through the widest setting of your pasta roller (this was a 1 on my machine), fold in thirds, and repeat twice more, almost like you were making puff pastry.  Adjust your pasta roller to the next thinnest setting and run dough through.  Continue this process until your pasta dough is nice and thin (I did this to 7 or 8), the dough will start to ripple a little bit and if it was regular dough would almost be transparent.   To finish the pasta, cut your pasta sheets into desired shapes using appropriate cutter (I chose fettucine).

At this point you can cook right away in boiling, well-salted water for a few minutes.  Or, you can dry overnight and then cook one night when you're more pressed for time!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Out of curiosity, I purchased two cans of hominy and they've sat in my pantry for...  well, I don't want to admit how long ;)  Hominy, it turns out, is maize (corn) that has been alkali-treated to remove the hull and germ.  When dried and ground into a flour, it is the basis of masa harina (think corn tortillas).
white hominy (Image Source)

I made two recipes, and enjoyed the different texture hominy added to the stews.  I'd throw it in every once in awhile to mix things up, but to be honest I'd probably throw some quinoa in there next time or make some cornbread ;)  They were solid recipes though, so if you're looking to try it out these would be a good place to start.

Green Chile Pork Posole

The first recipe was a Green Chile Pork Posole from Bon Appetit (recipe here).  My only change was to use a jar of tomatillo salsa instead of fresh tomatillos (couldn't find them at the store).  The second was a Turkey & Hominy Chipotle Chili from the NYTimes (found here).

Turkey & Hominy Chipotle Chili

Have you ever tried hominy?  I'm thinking Joanne has the right idea with her hominy puree, maybe I'll have to give it one more shot!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Crab Mac & Cheese

When I saw Lauren's Lobster Mac & Cheese, my mouth was watering.  Although I'm not a fan of lobster (I know, I'm crazy...  but I'm ok with that), my mind immediately created a crab version spiced up with Old Bay.

Now, while I love a good mac & cheese, it's not something I indulge in very often.  This recipe isn't completely without guilt, it's definitely one that won't break the proverbial calorie bank.  Which is a good thing, as it's definitely worth throwing into the rotation for special occasions :)

Crab Mac & Cheese
adapted from Healthy Food for Living
Serves 2-3  (or 6 at a potluck!)

If you really love Old Bay, feel free to use even more than I did.  You could taste it in dish, but I think there was some room for a bit more!  Or perhaps mine isn't quite that fresh?  Add to taste!

4oz dried pasta (rotini, elbows, or whatever you have on hand, I used Barilla Plus rotini)
6oz crab meat (lump, claw... whichever you like)

For the cheese sauce:
1c milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1T butter
2T flour
2oz cave-aged gruyere, finely grated
2-3oz grass-fed cheddar, finely grated
1/2t kosher salt
1t Old Bay Seasoning  (or more, see note above)

For the topping:
1/2T butter
3T whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1T Fiber One crumbs (or more panko)
1/2t Old Bay seasoning

I followed Lauren's directions for the mac and cheese, so check out the original recipe!

Do you have a favorite mac & cheese recipe?
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