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I have a serious thing for butter. Like serious.

Senior year of college I went to South Beach on spring break with a bunch of friends. We rented a condo with a “full” kitchen, thinking we’d save some money by cooking a bit. Cooking consisted of making ramen and eating it out of water glasses (because there were no bowls), so needless to say there wasn’t too much going down in the kitchen. But before we left I had visions of whipping up big breakfasts for the group before heading to the beach everyday. And that breakfast prep would require butter. Not a ton- just a stick or so to get us through the week. So why buy a full pack when we got there? No no no- I would just bring a stick of butter in my suitcase. Makes perfect sense, right? Yeah, my roommate pretty much vetoed that plan.

So needless to say I kind of love butter, and this recipe really brings out that love by having it be the star in both the biscuits and the biscuit spread The combo brings together to of my absolute favorite food bloggers- Deb and Ashley- so you really cannot go wrong here. I’d recommend either doubling the batch of biscuits or planning on making some pancakes that same week to use up all the butter. Or you could just slather it on toast- that would be pure heaven.

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Buttermilk Biscuits from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 10-12 biscuits

  • 2 1/4 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 9 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 °F and cover baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large, wide bowl. Using fingertips or a pastry blender, work butter into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, Add buttermilk and stir until large, craggy clumps form. Reach hands into bowl and knead mixture briefly until it just holds together.

Transfer dough to floured counter and pat out until 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick (err on the thin side if uncertain, as the tall ones will literally rise and then tip over, like mine did the day I photographed these). Using a round cutter (2 inches for regular sized biscuits, 3 inches for the monstrous ones shown above), press straight down — twisting produces less layered sides — and transfer rounds to prepared sheet, spacing two inches apart.

Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly, then serve warm.

Blueberry Butter from Not Without Salt

  • 1 stick butter, salted (or add 1/4 tsp salt), softened
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Confectioner’s sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh blueberries

Combine the butter and the sugar. Mash the blueberries with the butter until the butter is lightly colored from the blueberry skins. You still want to maintain lots of nice blueberry chunks, so be careful not to over mash. Store in the fridge for up to one week.

Thank you all SO much for all your warm support yesterday! And hello to all you newbies that just found CC through the feature- I’m thrilled to have you!

As promised, today I want to take you guys behind the scenes of the cookie swap with Ina. In between shots with the photographer (the esteemed Quentin Bacon), we were pretty much given free rein of the barn space. The space is stunning and feels like you’re living within a Restoration Hardware catalogue, but about a million times better. I went to town snapping shots of her kitchen and pantry!

The kitchen space is her own test kitchen- not just a set. The pantry is filled with actual items and equipment she uses everyday. The fridge has all her homemade stocks and ingredients she actually cooks with. It’s all real! I totally snooped.

The kitchen itself is amazing. She’s got the most beautiful gas range I’ve ever scene, and each side of the stove is flanked with matching refridgerators, Cuisinarts, and Kitchen Aid Mixers. A dream! The ceilings are quite high and with an entire wall of floor to ceiling windows, the entire space is bathed in light.

We also got to explore her beautifully manicured gardens. I couldn’t get over the amount of lavender! From here we caught a glimpse of her actual house and more of the rolling landscape. It’s crazy to think back to all those afternoons growing up, sitting on the couch doing my homework, and staring at this house in the credits of her show. And to now be viewing face to face- what!?!?

The day was best summed up when Joy kept repeating, “Yep this is real. This is happening. No big deal- typical Thursday.” I really did have to keep pinching myself throughout the whole thing to remind myself this was actually happening. Then there was the point at which I used her bathroom- that made things feel pretty darn real.

Lastly, here is the recipe for the ginger cookies (you can get all the cookie recipes online here). This is a great dough to make ahead and then freeze into logs during the holidays. Then when you’re ready to bake the cookies, just pull the dough out 10 or so minutes early to let it soften before slicing and baking.

Apple Cider Ginger Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup apple butter
  • 1 large egg
  • red sanding sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and dried ginger. Set aside.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg, vanilla extract and apple butter, and beat on medium speed until just combined.

Add the dry ingredients, to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat on low speed until the dough begins to come together and the flour disappears. Stop the mixer and finish incorporating the ingredients with a spatula. Once all the flour is thoroughly mixed in, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to overnight).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough into your hand, roll into a ball, then roll the ball around in granulated sugar to coat. If you like thicker cookies, place the ball of dough directly on the baking sheet. If you like thinner, but still chewy, cookies, flatten the balls into a small disc in your hand. Bake cookies for 8-9 minutes, just until lightly browned around the edges. Cool on the pan for 7 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Well… something (clearly!) amazing happened this summer! Two things in fact- I met the Barefoot Contessa, and participated in a cookie swap in her home!! Let’s back up, shall we?

Back in June, the lovely ladies at Ladies Home Journal asked me to participate in a cookie swap with a “famous chef” in the NYC area. I immediately said yes and began pondering what restaurant chefs or bakers they’d have participate in a blogger cookie swap. Minutes after saying yes, I received an email back saying that the cookie swap would be with INA GARTEN at her house in Hamptons! First I about fell out of my chair, then I screamed, and then I called my mom and we screamed together. I couldn’t believe it! The rest of that day is just a blur.

The shoot took place in July. One Thursday morning I left my apartment at the crack of dawn and headed to midtown to meet Deb, Joy, Zoe, Lisa, and Julie and hop on a motor home to East Hampton (let’s be clear- I was just as excited to meet these amazing ladies, too!). The day of schedule was as follows: first breakfast with Ina at the 1770 House, and then a cookie swap at her house. The swap took place in her recently built “barn,” the incredible kitchen space where she now does all her recipe testing and films all her television segments. After getting all dolled up we spent the afternoon chatting, sipping sparkling wine, and nibbling on cookies around her gorgeous rustic dining table.

For the swap, each blogger had to provide an original cookie recipe. I came up with a super chewy ginger cookie flavored with apple butter and rolled in red sugar – a twist on your traditional holiday ginger cookie. Other cookies included Ina’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs, Joy’s Black & White Red Velvet Cookies, and Zoe’s Chocolate Caramel Matzo. You can get all the recipes in this month’s issue of LHJ.

All of us were pretty intimidated to meet Ina, but she immediately put everyone at ease. She’s truly one of the most genuine and down to earth people that I’ve ever met- and I assure you, I’m not just saying that. Really. Yes, I love her recipes, but the source of my admiration really comes back to her poise and business sense. She also has an incredible sense of humor and can be pretty witty and sassy! That was cool to experience.

At the end of the day she kept thanking us all for coming. I wanted to be like “Are you kidding? I would have walked here!” Sadly my solo photo with her will probably go down as the most awkward picture of me in history, but oh well! It was such an incredible day and I’m still reeling from the experience.

A HUGE thank you to Ladies Home Journal for making the whole experience possible, and including me. Be sure to check out all the other ladies’ sites this week to see their pics, recaps, and recipes. I’ll share my cookie recipe with you guys tomorrow along with some behind the scenes pics and other little tid bits about the day. I have been dying to tell you all about this for the last four months- I’m so thrilled the day is finally here!

All photos by Quentin Bacon

Today I thought I’d take a break from food photography and talk more about food styling. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again-I am by no means an expert or professional when it comes to food photography or styling, but in my 2+ years of blogging I’ve picked up a few things and watched how my photos have not only improved, but really transformed to define my style as a blogger and food blogger.

There are so many food blogs out there and it can be really hard to differentiate one’s self. But I have found that by identifying the types of food photography I’m drawn to and the style I like- I can better differentiate my own style, and slowly but surely- my blog. There are a couple of things I do when it comes to “styling” my photos, and I use that term lightly because again, I am not an expert. Here is my method:

Use a Consistent Background You may have noticed for my past few food posts that my backgrounds have been comprised of gray slate, white dishes, and occasionally some burlap thrown in. I would call this my “summer style” as I’m shooting most dishes on my patio to get the best light. The background is a combo of my patio tile, a Brooklyn Slate Board, a white tray from Target, and a piece of burlap.

In the winter I shoot on white fabric in my living room. I may change this up this fall/winter as I get better at manipulating light, but I will still stick to a clean look that primarily highlights the food.

I will occasionally throw in other fabrics, especially for holidays, but overall I prefer something simple and not too busy, so I try to stick to that to best express my style.

Determine Text Usage I was not so clear about this initially. Once I started learning Photoshop and I was capable of putting text on photos I thought “Great! I can do it, therefore I should do it!” Wrong. I like clean, simple, classic dishes. I like clean and crisp photos. Text can make things too busy. Yes- I do use text on some photos, like this series when it’s necessary or for non-food related posts, but for the most part all recipe posts contain no text. I mean honestly, how bad is the text in these red velvet whoopie pie photos? Ugh I cringe, they’re not even the same color and the font is awful! Learn from your mistakes- I use the same font and color on all Plate to Pixel posts. That doesn’t mean text on food photos is bad, though. Tracey’s blog, Shutterbean, uses text really well- she knows how to mix and match fun fonts and graphics to complement her photos, and the overall design corresponds to her blog voice and content.

Look to the Experts The ideal goal is to have someone be on Pinterest and recognize your photo as from your blog without having to look at the source. It’s a pretty lofty goal, but think about it- you know a Smitten Kitchen photo instantly. Joy the Baker does this really well too, with her consistently colorful and playful backgrounds. There is not only a strong consistency to the style of both their photos, but the way in which they capture a dish being prepared is consistent. That brings me to my next point…

Define Your Food Prep Style When I first start blogging about food, I felt like I needed to capture every little step of a recipe- photograph the flour, photography the egg that goes in, and so on and so forth. It took forever and I didn’t really enjoy the process. Now my goal is to show a portion of the food prep process, but not the whole thing. So for instance in Monday’s post I showed a shot of the raw pasta and the sauce on its own, but not the pasta going into the water or the tomatoes on their own. There is no right or wrong here, I believe it’s just a matter of keeping things consistent. Some bloggers do a great job of showing only the finished dish. Do what works for you and stick to it!

Woo, that was a lot! But I truly think it’s all worth thinking about it. I’m still working to accomplish all these things, but focusing my efforts makes things so much simpler. Do you have any food photography or photography styling tips? I’d love to hear!

Muffin Image Credit

So as I mentioned on Monday, I headed home this past weekend for the holiday. I always go home for Easter, and even though we don’t really celebrate the holiday in a traditional manner, we always eat really well (naturally).

Every time I’ve gone home in the past few months, my mom has been making these insanely delicious blueberry buttermilk pancakes. I literally can’t get enough of them, they’re truly the best pancakes I’ve ever had. The key is in the buttermilk. It’s important to have really fresh, good quality buttermilk (my mom used this one ). Beyond that, you need to be really liberal with the butter when making these. Along with the butter in the batter, you’ll need several tablespoons to keep the pan generously coated while you’re frying up the cakes. My mom kept a stick right next to the pan, and in between each batch added another 1/2 tablespoon or so to the pan. This makes for a very indulgent pancake so if that scares you away, I urge you to save them for a special occasion and not skimp on the butter!  Aside from that, she eliminates the sugar in the batter. There- that makes them a little better.

Here’s a few shots from that day. Do you have a favorite pancake recipe? Certainly send it my way if you do!