Food Photography – Mom's Strawberry Shortcake


Pictured: Mom’s signature birthday cake – Strawberry Shortcake.

My father and brother demand it for their birthdays each year. I’m sure this will scandalize everyone, but when I was little I used to pick off the strawberries and just eat the cake!

I like to marvel at this photo I took from my dad’s recent birthday… perfectly aligned cake, not a drop of Cool Whip amiss, strawberries and candles evenly spaced – Mom is a much more meticulous baker than I!

I really really (really) love this time of year. Not only do I hate the cold, but there is so much more to do in the warmth. Hiking, climbing, swimming, the list goes on. Edwin was not meant to be contained indoors! The only issue I have with the summer is the shift towards colder meals. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good salad, but otherwise I prefer my dinners hot.

Chopped English Cucumber

Of course, I try to keep an open mind so I thought I’d give a cold soup a shot. English cucumber is a seedless variety of cucumber that has an edible skin and is often considered less bitter than most. It’s also friggin’ long; several feet. It’s the most common ingredient in a cold cucmber soup, today’s dish. The major ingredients are the cucumber (duh), dill and yogurt. I decided to add corn and tomato because, well, I like a soup with substance and a pureed soup makes me feel like I’m eating water.

Dill Fronds

This is definitely not the most appealing-looking soup I’ve made, but appearances can be deceiving. It’s got a light flavor and the cucumber and yogurt combine surprisingly well. On top of that, this is one of the few soups that calls for little to no salt. Oh, and did I mention it’s by far the easiest soup I’ve ever made? Give it a shot and let us know what you think.

Chilled Cucumber Soup

Chilled Cucumber Soup
Feel free to substitute the shallot with garlic, onion or scallions.

1 english cucumber; chopped
1 small or medium scallion; minced
1 handful dill fronds
2 cups yogurt (regular works fine, but consider greek if you’d like a thicker consistency)
1 cup corn kernels
1 plum tomato; diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients except the corn and tomato into a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve with the corn and tomato on the side as a “garnish.” Enjoy.

Baked Ziti

Last week I decided to make something a little different for dinner. My husband really enjoys lasagna, but because it was a weeknight we didn’t have the time to take quite that long. I settled on baked ziti!

It’s funny, whenever my family goes out to dinner it’s usually to an Italian restaurant. My husband also has an Italian grandma. Despite all that, I never typically cook Italian.


My newbie attempt adapted from Taste of Home turned out pretty well, and I made enough ziti to almost overflow my shallow 13×9 ceramic baking dish. I don’t like a lot of vegetables in my pasta sauce, so I left them out and instead added Italian sausage, oregano, parsley flakes and more red pepper flakes. I also took out the provolone cheese so that it wasn’t quite so cheesy.

I had meant to include some spinach as well, but unfortunately I forgot to include it. I’d love to hear your ziti recipe and see what you recommend as well!


Baked Ziti
adapted from Taste of Home

1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (14 oz.) Italian diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 tiny can of tomato paste
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 box ziti
1 cup (8 oz.) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large nonstick skillet, saute the onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, broth and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F. Cook ziti according to package instructions. Drain and return to pot. Stir in the tomato mixture, ricotta and basil.

Transfer to a shallow 13×9 baking dish and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted.

Kitchen Tips: What is Brining?

So it occurred to me recently that a lot of my Kitchen Tips have been more relevant to meat than veggies. Oh well, culinary terms are good for you. However, if you’ve got any questions you’d like answered in the vegetarian subject area, let us know.

Brining is the process of immersing a meat in a brine for anywhere from a few hours to two days; resulting in it becoming significantly juicier. A brine is a solution of liquid with a significant amount of salt; usually 3% to 6%. Brining does three things. First it breaks down the muscles a bit; making it more tender (brining is often considered a type or marinating). Second, the salt interacts with the proteins in the meat, giving them a higher water holding capacity. Third, it absorbs any herbs or spices that may be in the brine very well.

So, basically, when done correctly you have the potential for a very tender, very juicy, very flavorful meat. This has great potential for turkey, a type of meat that many consider very dry. Simply Recipes has a great recipe for brined chicken that I’ve tried and loved. Give it a shot some time.

Let’s bake! What do you say? When too much time passes without any baking I get antsy!

I was bouncing some ideas off Edwin recently for what to bake, but he didn’t seem to interested in what I was coming up with. I understand his hesitation; typically baking experiments either end in sweet and wondrous success or abject failure!


I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge from a batch of ziti. Too many times these things go to unused and I find myself throwing away expired whipping cream, ricotta, sour cream and buttermilk. Not this time!

I’d also been thinking about coconut cake lately. I visited Alton Brown’s recipe, but he suggests coconut milk, coconut extract, coconut cream and coconut water. I don’t even know what coconut water is, but it sounds like an unwanted road block to me!

I turned to a Cooking Light coconut cake recipe and adapted it to make one dozen cupcakes. I didn’t have cake flour on hand, so I looked up an interesting adaptation to make all-purpose flour more like cake flour. I also put some shredded coconut in the food processor to make it as fine as possible and then added it to the batter. And of course, I experimented with adding 1/4 cup of ricotta.


You can’t pick out the ricotta, but it does give it some more flavor complexity and adds to the texture. I have a bad connotation with the word “dense” so I definitely wouldn’t call them that, but they’re more on the substantial side than flimsy and airy. I decided to pair them with the kind of frosting you’d find on a German chocolate cake – golden, full of coconut and sweetened with evaporated milk almost like Dulce de leche. I also made a batch of coconut buttercream frosting for half of them, but I much preferred the German chocolate cake frosting. The buttercream was just too sweet for the cake, I thought.

I think these cupcakes are very different from what I’m used to, and I am loving them!


Secret Ingredient Coconut Cupcakes with German Chocolate Cake-Style Coconut Frosting
Cake recipe adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

1.1 cups all-purpose flour (one cup plus a little less than half a quarter cup) + 2.5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3/8 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup shredded coconut, pulsed in a food processor
1/4 cup part skim ricotta

Drop paper wrappers into cupcake pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine flour + cornstarch, baking powder, salt, shredded coconut in a medium bowl with a whisk.

Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric beater or stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs one at a time.

Alternate adding flour mixture and coconut milk to the bowl while beating; begin and end with the flour mixture. Add ricotta. Beat until combined.

Using a tablespoon, drop two tablespoons of batter into each cupcake wrapper. Divide any extra evenly so that wrappers are 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

German Chocolate Cake Frosting
Adapted from Cupcakes! From the Cake Mix Doctor and also found on

6 fluid ounces evaporated milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut

In a large saucepan on medium heat, combine evaporated milk, sugar, butter, egg yolks, and vanilla. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for approximately 10 minutes. The frosting should be thickened and golden. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting cupcakes.

Food Photography – Carrot Rainbow

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Time for another round of food photography. Today’s shot is from my trip to Europe last year. While backpacking around, I made it my goal to experience a wide variety of foods and visited a market square in just about every city I was in. These carrots are from a stand in Freiburg. I loved rainbow of colors together and, I must say, they were quite tasty.

Carrot Rainbow

A Secluded Cabin In The Woods, A Good Book and Home Fries

You may have picked up (or not!) that I’ve been a wee bit quiet around here the last few days. My husband and I took the opportunity last week to abscond for a mini vacation.


It had been a while since we went anywhere for more than a long weekend. It’s just been a busy year, and it’s rare for all the stars to align so that we’re able to make plans in advance.


We rented a cabin in West Virginia at Lost River State Park. The park was recommended to me by a co-worker, and it sounded like just the kind of low on planning/high on relaxation trip that we needed.

halfway up the mountain

The mountains in West Virginia are truly gorgeous. Typically we do our mountain trips to Douthat State Park or Warm Springs, VA, which are excellent, but the mountains in West Virginia just seemed endless. Rain was really only intermittent, and the weather behaved at a perfect 70-75 degrees.

side of a mountain

If you like the mountains, cabins at state parks really are the way to go. If you’re a technophile you might go mad (no television, no cell phone reception, no internet), but the cabins are inexpensive, well-maintained and generally spacious. The cabins we’ve stayed at have fireplaces, bedding and towels and a fully functioning kitchen with a stove, fridge, microwave, pots and pans and utensils.

five counties

I’ll throw out another plug while I’m at it – if you’re looking for something a little less rustic, on our last night in West Virginia we ate at a nice restaurant attached to a gorgeous inn with great mountain views – The Guest House at Lost River. The owner encouraged us to walk around and explore the property after our meal. It was beautiful and the rates are pretty reasonable for how nice it is. There’s not much in vicinity, but I thought my husband broke it down nicely, “if you just want to chill in opulence, it’s your place.”


Getting back to cabins – because you’re in remote regions, cooking your own food is usually the only game in town. There was nearby no grocery store to run to for eggs and milk, but luckily we picked up a few things before we left. I was able to throw together some curried home fries for brunch one day.


I just don’t buy into the idea that meals need to be complicated or time consuming to be good. I have a great memory of enjoying brunch at a friend’s house a few years ago – omelets, home fries with rosemary and thyme and mimosas.

chopped potatoes

I tried to pack only a few spices so that I wasn’t carrying the entire kitchen with me, so we brought salt and pepper, curry powder, cayenne, Nature’s Seasoning and paprika. I cubed two russet potatoes into 1 inch pieces and seasoned them generously. I cooked them for about 20 minutes in the cabin’s heavy cast iron skillet; they probably would have cooked faster if I had covered them. Whether you’re vacationing in the mountains or enjoying brunch with mimosas, home fries are a delicious addition.

smoking potatoes

Lost River Home Fries

1 medium onion, diced
2 russet potatoes, washed and cubed
non-stick cooking spray
salt and pepper, curry powder, cayenne, Nature’s Seasoning and paprika as desired

Heat large skillet to medium temperature and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Dice onion and add to skillet. Wash potatoes well, cut into thin slices and cube. Add potatoes to skillet about 2 minutes after onion. Add seasonings and stir potatoes frequently so that they don’t burn or stick to the pan. I was most heavy handed with the curry powder and salt.

Cook for about 20 minutes, or shorter if your skillet has a cover (if you have a cover, cook for half the time covered and half the time uncovered). You should be able to pierce the potato with a fork without resistance. Season with a little extra curry powder and salt on top before serving, as some of the spices do get cooked away.

Thanks to everyone who gave us feedback on the new design. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re proud to say it’s a success. As always, we love hearing from you, so feel free to let us know anytime you have something to say. We’ll keep innovating in DinnerCakes land, so keep your eyes peeled for changes down the road.

Cut Green Beans

As usual, my weekend was packed with things to do. You’re running around all week and then next thing you know it’s 5pm on a Sunday, you haven’t finished your laundry, dishes have stacked up and you’re very hungry. Enter my glorious quickie-fallback: stir fry.

Stir Fried Green Beans with Bell Pepper

Green beans should be in peak season for most people as well as green peppers. I decided to take these as my focus for this side dish. It’s ingredient list is short, but may use more ginger than you’re use to. There’s a style of cooking called Kan Shao, which means “dry cooked” – no stock or water. It’s a bit different than most stir fries, but I liked it.

Grean Bean and Green Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Ginger

Green Bean and Green Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Ginger

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 lb green beans
1 green bell pepper
ginger cut into 56 1/4×2 inch matchsticks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Trim the green beans and cut in half. Cut your green bell pepper into half inch matchsticks. This doesn’t work out too well for the top and bottom of the pepper but go ahead and throw them in with whatever shape you can get.

Heat your wok to high heat and add your oil, swishing (carefully) to coat. As soon as the oil begins to smoke, add the green beans and bell pepper and stir fry for 2 minutes. Transfer everything to a plate. Heat the additional tablespoon of oil and add the ginger, stir frying for one minute. Add the green beans, bell pepper and additional ingredients. Stir fry for 2 minutes and serve with salt and pepper. Enjoy.

Kitchen Tips – Egg Whites Only

Edwin and I hope you’re enjoying the new site design that we unveiled this week! Coming to a clean and simplified site makes me feel all warm and fuzzy… it’s like having a freshly cleaned room!

In addition to the new design, we’re also trying out some posting changes. Kitchen Tips will be posted on Fridays, and Saturdays will be a day of rest for now. This is for a few reasons, but mostly because we thought you all might enjoy greater variety of content throughout the week. Like most things on DinnerCakes, this change is certainly open to debate – so please tell us if we’re way off base!

Now on to the Tips!

When you grow up around someone who cooks, you don’t always realize how much you’ve picked up just by observing.

I was recently helping a friend who was making a cake for her boyfriend’s mom’s birthday. The recipe called for some whole eggs (egg yolk and egg white) and then a few whites only. I was surprised when she was unsure how to separate the egg white from the yolk, aside from just breaking all the eggs into a bowl and then fishing the yolks out.

It takes a little practice, but it’s just a careful dance of cracking open the egg and letting the egg white run down as you pass the yolk back and forth between the two halves of shell. This would probably make a good tutorial video (if we had video tutorial capability… I’ll tuck this away in the back of my mind!), but I hope these photos help make a little sense of it.


Crack the egg in the middle.


Carefully pour the yolk back and forth, letting the egg white run down.


Maybe it’s my engineering background or the way I was raised, but I hate wasting food. Whenever I have leftover ingredients I try to think of some way to use them. Often, I roast them, trying some new combination of herbs and/or spices, hoping for some new successful discovery (they’re all discoveries, just not all great ones). Even if it doesn’t become a big hit, I feel better knowing I used all I could. What can I say? I like efficiency.


Last week I posted a recipe with chickpeas and if you used canned, then you probably had half a can leftover. That’s where this recipe comes in. Roasted chickpeas can be a great crunchy food to snack on. At the base, there’s just oil and a bit of salt; but you can easily experiment with other herbs or spices to see what you get.

Turmeric and Cumin Roasted Chickpeas

Cumin and Curry Roasted Chickpeas
This recipe is for two cups cooked chickpeas, but can easily be scaled down.

2 cups chickpeas; cooked, rinsed, drained, dried
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 450. Combine all the ingredients and place in a aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally so the chickpeas brown (relatively) evenly.

Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes and (optionally) add additional salt to taste. Chickpeas should be crunchy. Enjoy.