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Food Photography Tips: Part 4

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Welcome to Part 4 of my series Food Photography Tips! (Click here to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.)

I’m on a mission to help beginners make their food photos look better, so we’re going to jump right in with some info about basic editing techniques.

I’ll be covering the basics of editing in this post, plus showing you a complete editing workflow example from start to finish.

Food Photography Tips: Editing

A lot can be done to improve your photos with the right editing tweaks. On the other hand, it’s also easy to really overdo it and make food look pretty unnatural. With that in mind, I’m going to share editing basics with you so you can start to enhance your food photography.

Editing Software

Let’s start with editing software. There are tons of programs, sites and software you can use to edit your photos. Keep in mind that free versions are usually more restricted in what you can do, whether it’s with adjustments, export options, file organization and more.

(I use a Mac so all my recommendations are specific to Mac-friendly programs. Sorry, PC dudes and dudettes.)

At the most basic, you can use a program like Preview to view and make some simple edits like exposure, contrast and saturation on your photos. You can also use iPhoto to do similar.

For web-based programs, options like give you quite a bit of functionality.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

For folks who are more serious about taking things to the next level, you have options.

Aperture (for Mac) was my go-to program until a few months ago because its library system, dashboard, and controls were very similar to iPhoto.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

It was a natural transition for that reason, but unfortunately, Apple is no longer supporting Aperture via new updates. I decided it was time to jump ship to a new program for that reason.

Many folks I know use Photoshop for the bulk of their food photography editing, and it can do amazing things. I tend to find Adobe products not quite as intuitive so it took a while to get used to it, and I’m only barely scratching the surface of its potential.

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The main downfall of Photoshop is its lack of filing or library system to organize your pictures. I use Photoshop for certain tasks, though more for designing graphics.

I made the switch to Lightroom a couple months back after a few failed attempts at converting. My main struggle was in understanding the library system that Lightroom utilizes—because it’s so different from Aperture—so I actually did a couple online tutorials from to learn more about it.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Turns out, after a short adjustment period, I really love Lightroom!

Basic Editing Adjustments

Let’s talk adjustments. While there are dozens you can make to your photos, I’m highlighting some of the most basic here. We can break it down simply into a few main categories: adjustments related to light and dark, color, and other interesting features like sharpness. Again, these are just some of the most fundamental.

Light and Dark

How can you adjust the lightness or darkness of an image? First is exposure, the overall amount of light in the photo. Cranking the exposure up will eventually make it too bright or “blown out.” Dialing it down makes it really dark. While higher or lower than normal exposure can lead to dramatic effects in photography, with food it generally looks bad; either the food is too shiny or you can’t see it.

Next, you can adjust highlights and shadows. Highlights take the brightest parts of your image, say, the reflection of a window on an apple and make it even brighter or conversely, dull those lightest parts down.

Shadows deal with the darkest parts of a picture. By adjusting the shadows up or down, you can make them more or less intense. I find that most of my photos need a bit of shadow lifted off simply because of how I shoot and prefer the light to hit my subjects (from the side). Sometimes, minor adjustments in highlights and shadows are all that’s needed to make the photo pop.

Lastly, trying playing around with contrast. It’s going to accentuate the difference between darks and lights in your photo—and also intensify or dull the colors—and make it more dramatic. Sometimes I’ll adjust the contrast once I’m happy with the exposure, highlights, shadows and white balance. It’s personal preference, but I like a bit more contrast in my photos because it adds visual interest without making the photo look unnatural.


Perhaps the single fastest way to correct a photo—or to make it look weird—is by adjusting the white balance. Essentially white balance is composed of two color ranges: blue to yellow (warmth), and green to pink (tint). The goal with most food photos should be an image that looks like it was shot in white light—not too yellow or blue and with a normal amount of tint. Remember to keep lamps and other light sources (unless it’s a dedicated photography light) off while you’re shooting since the tendency is for those to throw a yellow cast on to your food.

Even the most well-intentioned photographer can end up with photos that need white balancing because, for example, darker or cloudy mornings (particularly in the winter) can lead to blue casts on the food. Sometimes weather or outdoor conditions need to be accounted for.

It can be tricky to adjust white balance, but most advanced programs have pretty good auto balance features or pickers / samplers that let you pick a neutral point in your photo to set the white balance from. Think of them like a frame of reference where you tell the computer, “This is supposed to be neutral white or grey,” and it adjusts the warmth and tint for you. I like to sneak in something white or grey into my photos for that reason. Even something as simple as a basic white sack cloth can help you balance the color later.

Once you’ve adjusted the white balance, consider other color adjustments like saturation and vibrance. Caution: These are very potent features! A little goes a long way. Saturation is how concentrated the colors in a photo are. Turn it up all the way and you’ll see how garish the colors gets. If you turn it down all the way, you’ll end up with a black and white photo.

Since it’s easy to overdo saturation, I prefer to avoid it in most cases and use vibrance instead. It take just the weakest colors of a photo and bumps them up. Again, use caution because it’s still easy to overdo it and end up with something that looks like abstract art and not realistic-looking food.

Other Interesting Edits

Fixing blemishes in your photo is possible in most advanced editing programs such as Photoshop (PS) and Lightroom (LR). This is one place where I think PS excels over LR and has better functionality and spot matching.

I really try to make my photos as clean as possible before editing because, while these blemish tools can do amazing things, when you start trying to fix large areas of the photo, things can get weird fast.

With that in mind, get into the habit of wiping plate / bowl rims, dusting off your table or backdrops, looking for pet hair, etc. There’s a difference between adding crumbs to a photo on purpose or spilling some salt artfully on the table and having poorly plated food. A little neatness goes a long way later on.

Other helpful basic adjustments are things like sharpness or clarity. Again, treat these tools gingerly. Too much sharpness can make food look piece-y or artificial against its background. Sometimes too much luminance (an adjustment in LR) makes food look too soft.

One more thing to keep in mind: Most editing programs have auto functions and while I’ve found they can be quite good, sometimes the software doesn’t get it right. Be sure to always check your auto-edited photos before you post them, and remember to turn off screen darkening programs—like f.lux—and adjust the brightness of your display before you begin editing.

How I Edit My Photos: A Sample Workflow

Here’s a basic workflow I use on much of my photography. Individual photos may vary, but I try to keep things as simple as possible by using good light to begin with.

(Note: Click on the screenshots of my LR dashboard to enlarge them. I normally don’t set my blog photos up this way, but I want you to be able to see the details.)

Once I import my photos to LR, I quickly scan through and flag which ones I want to edit. (Hint: Hit the P key to flag your top picks).

Here’s a shoot I did recently for my Cabbage with Apple & Onion recipe. The original was really, really bad. (Like, really.) Taken at night with my old Canon Elph point & shoot, too close with yellow lighting and obviously, the styling was seriously lacking.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.59.11 PM

I cooked it up again and styled it simply, but in a much more pleasing way. I took advantage of bright early afternoon, indirect light and added some burlap and my favorite kitchen towel (click here to see where I get props) for texture.

I kept the plating basic—just using the skillet I cooked it in—and put it all on top of my Erickson Woodworks reclaimed barn wood background for a rustic feel. Lastly, I blocked some light from the left to add a bit of shadowing using my trusty black foam board.

I’m using a Nikon D610 DSLR camera body. My lens choice here was the Nikkor 50mm f / 1.4 that I just picked up on sale. It’s way more pricey than my budget 50mm f / 1.8 (I used that for my whole cookbook), but it was time to upgrade.

Cabbage with Apple & Onion Recipe |

Okay, so after importing to LR, this is what I’m seeing in the Develop pane. It’s already shaping up to be much better, but this photo could use some tweaks.

First, I notice that the tint is a bit pink which I’d like to change. I also want to straighten the photo to make those barn wood planks vertical. Looks like it could use a bit of adjustment with exposure and contrast. And, I’d like to correct a couple blemishes.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Today I decided to straighten this photo first. To do that I click on the Crop & Straighten tool. It looks like a box with dotted lines. From there, I slide the Angle adjustment until the planks look vertical.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

That should do it. Then, I click done.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Next, I’m going to tackle the white balance.

Shooting in RAW gives me far more options for adjusting white balance than shooting in JPEG. If you’re a novice, JPEG can work just fine, but I recommend getting comfy with RAW by practicing. (Note: RAW files are much larger than JPEGs so you’ll need an external or cloud-based storage system if you do a lot of photography in RAW.)

I’m in the Basic editing pane now, right at the top. Note the range of options LR gives me for editing the white balance because I shot this in RAW.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Sometimes, the Auto white balance looks just fine. Other times, it looks off.

You can help things along by using a white or grey object in your photo, then using the dropper / picker tool to click on a target neutral to set the white balance.

Note the Temp (blue to yellow) and Tint (green to pink) of the original. It’s a bit cool (blue) and pink for my liking.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

When I try to that in this photo, I’m having a hard time finding RGB values that are very close to each other. So, I resorted to Auto, and it looks good to me. Slightly warmer and less pink.

Note the Temp value warmed up to 4050K and the Tint dropped down from +26 to +18 (less pink). I’m happy with how this looks, so I move on to adjusting other Tone settings.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

If you’re new to editing, the Auto function under Tone can do a pretty good job. I find it tends to overexpose photos, so if I’m in a rush, I sometimes hit Auto, then drop the exposure back down a bit.

Here’s what happens when I hit Auto Tone. Looks pretty good. Note how the adjustments changed, including highlights, shadows, whites and blacks.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

If I’m in less of a rush, I tend to adjust Tone manually, starting with exposure, then changing things like contrast and lifting shadows. Use these tools conservatively or you’ll end up with photos that look pretty freaky.

Compare the values I adjusted to what Auto did. Notice how mine are a bit more conservative.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

I’m happy with my adjustments so I’m moving on to spot correction.

Now, this is a bit picky, but there are a couple spots I want to correct out of preference. When I’m editing for a cookbook, I’m way more detail-oriented than when I’m editing for the blog.

See where the arrow is pointing? I want to get rid of that bit of cabbage.

So, I click on the Brush tool (round circle with an arrow), and click on Heal. I adjust the size of the circle until it matches the size of that cabbage crumb.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Then, I hover over the blemish and click. LR picks an area of the photo to heal. I can move that around to get a perfect match.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

I lift a couple other spots off the skillet handle, then click done.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

This is almost ready to export, but I want to check all my changes. There are a few options here.

Use the shortcut by pressing \ on your keyboard, and it’ll toggle between a full-screen view of before and after.

Or, you can toggle between a few different split screen views of the before / after by clicking down at the bottom of the pane next to the full screen image icon.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

My last step is to Export the image. I select the photo I want to export, then right click to bring up the options. (Or, use Export in the nav bar.) I use some different pre-sets most of the time, such as export file type and size, especially if I’m batch exporting for use on my blog and the photos can be the same.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Then, I add a watermark (using Photobulk or Photoshop) or text overlay (using Photoshop or for a free option, PicMonkey), and I’m done.

Here’s the finished image as it appears on the blog.

Cabbage with Apple & Onion Recipe |

I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but once you develop a workflow that works for you (and you practice enough), you’ll get really efficient.

To sum it up, most food photos are best when the it still looks natural. Personal style and artistic touches are certainly part of food photography so experiment to see what you like, but keep in mind that some basics still apply.

Click below for the other parts of this series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 2
Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

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Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Hard boiled eggs are part of my weekly food prep, but they can be such a pain to peel.

If the eggs are really fresh, the white is still very voluminous which can make the membrane stick to the shell. The result is often a million pieces of broken shell that pull bits of white off until it looks more cratered than the dark side of the moon. Not only is it annoying, it’s wasteful.

Now, I know everyone has their tried-and-true method for hard boiled eggs. If you have something that works for you, that’s awesome. Keep doing it!

From personal experience, I thought I had my method on lockdown. I used to boil the eggs, then plunge into icy cold water. And while it worked (most of the time), it wasn’t foolproof. I’d sometimes get batches where the white would stick to the shell and end up frustrated.

After seeing steamed eggs mentioned on The Kitchn, I knew I had to try this method, but I was skeptical. I mean, my boiling method worked most of the time. Reluctantly, I dragged out my steamer basket. (It was shoved into the back of a kitchen drawer, long forgotten as a relic of my low-fat cooking days when every vegetable was meticulously steamed.)

The results blew me away. Even fresh “hard boiled” eggs peeled with ease. Their shelly coats slipped right off, making peeling a breeze.

Click below to watch the video or keep scrolling down for a photo tutorial:

Plus, I didn’t need to add salt or oil or vinegar to the water. I didn’t have to poke holes in the bottom or leave them in my fridge for a week. I didn’t need to add one at a time to a Mason jar and shake the shell off. I didn’t have to do some incantation over the pot and hope for the best.

So, here’s the easiest way to make hard boiled eggs with shells that come off every single time: You steam them.

First, fill a medium pot with about an inch of water. Make sure your steamer basket fits before you do this. Bring the water to a boil. (Usually, I add the water and basket, then bring the water to a boil, but I wanted show you there was water in the bottom.)

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Carefully add the steamer basket. Don’t burn yourself!


Add the eggs straight from the fridge if you can. (The temperature difference from cold to steam is what helps loosen the shell from the egg’s inner membrane.) Cover.

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Set a timer for 10 minutes for medium-well yolks. They will be just a bit tender in the middle instead of fully yellow and dry. That’s my preference. For well-done yolks that are light yellow all the way through, steam for 11 minutes. (Note: If you live at high altitude, you’ll have to adjust for longer time.)

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Meanwhile, set up a bowl with ice water. It needs to have ice so there is a big temperature difference again. Cold water without ice won’t work as well.

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Move the eggs from the pot to the ice bath. Chill the eggs for 10-15 minutes.

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

To peel, I tap the more rounded end of the egg on the counter to get it started.

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Then, I peel straight down and as I go around, the shell comes off in big sections.

Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs | Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |

Store in the refrigerator for later or eat right away.

Easy, right? That’s all there is to it. It’s quick and easy to make these hard boiled eggs, and no special equipment like a rice steamer or pressure cooker is required.

Give it a try and let me know how it went in the comments below!

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Foolproof Hard Boiled Eggs |


How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Today I’m sharing with you the easiest tips for how to clean a cast iron skillet.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love my cast iron cookware. It’s versatile, cleans up easily, and goes from stovetop to oven seamlessly. There’s something magical about the delectably brown, seared crust you can get on a steak from a cast iron skillet. I don’t use it to cook everything, but it’s in regular rotation in my kitchen.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Cast iron isn’t perfect though (for example, it tends to heat very unevenly), and figuring out how to clean a cast iron skillet can make even the most brave kitchen warriors a little uneasy. There’s definitely a list of dos and don’ts, but luckily you’ll master the basics quickly.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet will act almost like a non-stick surface. It’s not going to be slippy-slidey like Teflon, but food should stick minimally and the pan should clean up with some warm water and a little scrub from the rough side of a sponge.

The more you use your cast iron and the more you pay attention to some very basic maintenance, the better it’ll do. If you skillet loses its seasoning because you’ve cleaned it with soap, it’s rusty, or food is just sticking a lot more than usual, it’s probably time to re-season it.

Lodge, known for its cast iron which is made the in the USA, has instructions for how to re-season cast iron on its site. I like to season my cast iron in the oven using Lodge’s instructions when I first get it home anyway.

If you’re looking to get started, I really love this 5-piece Lodge set and you can often find it on sale on Amazon, or check your local Target or Ace Hardware.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

[Note: Lately when I’ve shared photos of Lodge cast iron, I’ve gotten pushback because the company does use GMO soybean oil to season its skillets in-factory. Here’s how I look at it: Am I stoked they use it? Not terribly. But if I suggest buying from a company that doesn’t use soybean oil but the cookware is made overseas, I am scolded for not supporting Made in USA products. If I suggest Made in USA cookware, I’m scolded because of the soybean oil issue. My solution: If you buy Lodge and the soybean issue bothers you that much or there’s a soy allergy involved, remove the seasoning and re-do it with your oil of choice. Directions for that can be found on The Google. Even if you buy vintage cast iron from an antique or thrift shop, you don’t know what kind of oil was used in it before you, so you may want to re-season. Of course, you could always buy foreign-made if the soybean oil issue is that bothersome, but do you really know what oil was used by those manufacturers anyway? My opinion on it: Buy domestic, season it again when you get it home, and move on with your life. Don’t over-analyze to the point it makes you crazy.]

But what if you’re just wondering how to clean a cast iron skillet from normal use? Don’t be intimidated! Follow these steps.

1) Wipe out any excess fat.

2) Use warm / hot water and a dish brush or the rough side of a sponge to loosen any stuck on bits. Alternatively, you can deglaze your skillet if you’ve used it to cook meat that’s left brown bits (called fond) in the bottom and either use that liquid as the base of a sauce or just toss it out.

3) If you have really stubborn, stuck on bits, add a bit of kosher salt as a mild abrasive. You can use a mild soap, too, but be sure to follow step 4. If you use harsh soap, abrasives or the dishwasher, you’ll strip the pan of its seasoning.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

4) Immediately wipe your pan dry to prevent rusting, and add a small amount of oil to preserve the seasoning. The more saturated the fat—think coconut oil or lard—the less likely it’ll be to oxidize. It’ll be ready to go for the next time you want to use it.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Click below to watch my video about how to clean a cast iron skillet!

That’s it! Now you know how to clean a cast iron skillet!

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How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Food Photography Tips: Part 3

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Welcome to Part 3 of my series on Food Photography Tips! (Click here to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.)

I’m on a mission to help beginners make their food photos look better, so we’re going to jump right in with some frequently asked questions. Part 4 will deal with basic editing techniques so stay tuned for that!

Food Photography Tips: FAQ 

Okay, I’m pretty new to all this, and I’m still kind of confused about how to use ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Help!

There’s nothing worse than having to guess at camera settings. Sure, even basic cameras have automatic settings, but when you can learn to adjust them yourself, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. The thing about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed is that they must all be pretty balanced to get the shot.

Yes, editing software such as Photoshop, Aperture, and Lightroom can all help manipulate the final image. However, getting the best shot you can with the camera—then using editing software to make any final tweaks—is not only the best way to really practice, it’s the most efficient way to work.

Let’s look more closely at the hat-trick of settings commonly called “shooting in manual”: ISO, aperture and shutter speed.


ISO is a measure of your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the easier it is to get a properly exposed shot as light gets dimmer. Now, before you go max out the ISO on your camera, consider this: Higher ISO is generally associated with grainer shots, sometimes called noise.

Full-frame cameras (like my Nikon D610) with larger sensors are the most forgiving at higher ISO setting. Simply put, more sensor area means your camera can make the most of limited light. Higher ISO is also great for lower light situations and vice versa. The catch is that higher ISO settings often mean slower shutter speeds which can make hand-holding tricky.

On the other hand, crop-frame cameras (like my Nikon D3200) have smaller sensors and are therefore less sensitive to light. What does that mean? Generally, you’ll have to shoot with a lower ISO, say 100 or 200. If that’s the case, you may have to work a little harder to make sure your images are properly exposed, such as choosing a slower shutter and using a tripod. Lower ISO settings are also good for bright outdoor shots or action.

Let’s see what adjusting the ISO does since a visual may make the point for you.

Here I shot the same basket of onions from the same location at the same time of day. Note what happens as I adjust the ISO. These are all shot with the same aperture (f / 2.2) and shutter speed (1/400). Also, you can tell I didn’t use a tripod because the camera angle changes slightly, but I wasn’t trying to be super precise.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Note that as the ISO doubles, the resulting in the photo getting twice as light. Higher ISO = more sensitive to light which works well in this indoor shoot. Now, could I have adjusted the shutter speed to get away with the photo on the far left (ISO 125) being properly exposed? Yes. I’d have to slow the shutter speed down from 1/400 to say, 1/40 or 1/50. I’d likely need a tripod since the long shutter speed is more likely to result in blur.

Here’s something interesting to note:

Using my photo editing software, I was able to auto- and manually correct the exposure to something that look acceptable. Again, I’d rather rely on the program to make minor tweaks or account for unfortunate lighting when I have no choice, not shoot using trial and error, then hope the software can fix it. But, you have to do what you have to do.


In a nutshell, aperture (or f-stop) is how narrow or wide your lens opening is. Apertures come in a wide range and greatly affect the depth of field (or bokeh) a shot has. The best way to describe bokeh is that an object is in focus while the background of the shot is blurred…either a little or a lot.

Your options for aperture depend on the lens you’re using. For example, my old zoom lens had a range from f / 3.4 to f / 11. The Nifty Fifty lens I use most often starts at f / 1.8 and goes up from there. My 105mm macro lens starts at f / 3.

It can be confusing since the lower the aperture number the wider the lens, which means more light gets into the camera. Shooting on a low aperture is one way to make the most of lower light situations. It also results in more bokeh, which can be great for side-on shots but tricky for overhead shots where the objects are all different heights.

The higher the aperture number, the narrower the lens, resulting in less light entering the camera and less depth of field. There will be less depth of field and more of the frame will appear in focus. This works well for overhead shots, but in order to get proper exposure, the shutter speed generally has to slow down to make up for the smaller aperture letting less light into the camera. The solution is often to use a tripod for overhead shots with medium to high aperture numbers, especially if your conditions are a bit on the darker side.

These are all shot with the same ISO (1000) and shutter speed (1/400).

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Be careful when using aperture. Using a very low aperture value can make it hard to focus on certain objects, especially round or cylindrical things like glasses. And too much bokeh can make it hard to tell what the food actually is!

Shutter Speed

The shutter is the handy dandy part of the camera that closes when you actually push the button to take the photo. Just like you can adjust ISO and aperture, you can also adjust shutter speed.

Shutter speed is generally displayed as a fraction like 1/10 or 1/400 or in whole numbers like 1″ or 2″. A fast shutter, such as 1/250, means the shutter takes 250th of a second to close. A slow shutter, like 1″, takes one second to close. Try playing around with just the shutter adjustment and actually listen. You can hear how fast or slow it closes.

These are are shot with the same ISO (1000) and aperture (f / 3.2). Notice how as the shutter speed slows, the images get brighter because more light hits the sensor. It also means the image is more subject as your hand moves. Using a tripod alleviates this problem quite a bit.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Generally, the darker the conditions, the slower the shutter needs to be to allow enough light into the camera to get the shot, and vice versa.

Lately, I’ve been shooting on aperature-priority mode, displayed as an A on your camera’s main adjustment wheel. This means I choose the aperture and the camera decides on the shutter speed.

Usually, I set the ISO ahead of time on that given day depending on the conditions or the job I’m doing. Then I pick the aperture I’d like to use and the camera figures out the shutter. In the image below, I had my ISO set to 1000, then picked f / 2.2 as the aperture. The camera chose a moderately fast shutter to accommodate for more light entering due to a wider aperture.

The image below is unretouched, and I think it’s a pretty good one in terms of overall balance: ISO 1000, f / 2.2, shutter 1/200.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

 Do you use a tripod?

I have a tripod and use it about 20% of the time. I have a relatively small space to shoot in—on my dining room table or my couch—so a tripod usually gets in the way. I LOVE the freedom that hand-holding the camera gives me. Now, there are some benefits to tripods: It’s easier to create consistent shots in a series when you want to work at the same angle / position, and you’re less likely to end up with blurry shots or things that are out of focus.

If I’m working with low light—say, my aperture is on a more moderate setting and my shutter speed is slower…typically below 1/60 or so—I prefer the tripod because I don’t run as much risk of any hand movement blurring the image. Put another way, if low light forces me to run a slower shutter speed, I usually break out the tripod.

With all this taken under consideration, I tend to use a tripod if I absolutely have to, but I prefer to go without. A great tip is to hand-hold your camera to find the angle you want for a particular shot, then set up the tripod to duplicate it. (Bill Staley told me he’s been using that method lately, and it’s really smart.) Investing in a moderately priced tripod that will last is probably wise if you’re serious about improving your photography.

Here’s the tripod I have. It does pretty much everything I need it to, has many adjustments, and is lightweight.

What’s the difference between RAW and JPEG?

RAW and JPEG are two types of image formats that DSLRs can shoot in.

Think of RAW like a digital negative that’s not processed. It gives you, the “developer,” more options when you’re editing that image. RAW images are intended to capture the subject most closely to how it looks in real life. This all sounds great but just know that RAW files are very large and usually require some external storage device or they’ll fill up your hard drive. (You should be backing up to external- or cloud-based storage anyway, but it’s just something to note about RAW.)

JPEG is a common file format for images, but its downfall is that the image is compressed and doesn’t contain as much original data as a RAW file. Each time a JPEG is edited, the image quality degrades which is why it’s not really suitable for print projects. When you upload photos to a blog or social media site, there is usually some compression that occurs anyway. So, if you aren’t keen on printing, you can simplify the process a bit and work with smaller files if you shoot in JPEG.

Think of JPEG like making a photocopy. Each time you press the “copy” button, the resulting

When it comes to setting your camera to RAW or JPEG, it’s helpful to know what your goals are. If you have any inkling that your photographs will be used for print, you should probably be shooting in RAW.

Click below to skip to other parts in the series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 2
Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Questions about anything in this lesson? Leave them in the comments below!

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Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken

How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken |

How to brine a turkey or chicken? I’m covering this simple method in today’s post and giving you my favorite go-to brine ingredients for succulent poultry every time.

I first started brining my chicken back when I got my hands on Mel Joulwan’s ahhhhmazing book Well Fed. Since then, I’ve created lots of different brines, mostly for lean chicken (think white meat) and pork. Letting the meat soak in brine, a salted water sometimes infused with herbs and spices, is sort of like a marinade.

How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken |

Instead of just imparting flavor though, the brine keeps the meat moist and juicy which is always a challenge with leaner cuts. How does it work? Basically the salt causes the muscle protein to soften and get less tough when cooked. More moisture is retained during the cooking process.

If a little brining time is good, more must be better…right? Actually no. Oversoaking the meat will eventually cause moisture to be drawn out of the meat. The following method works for any lean meat—chicken, turkey, and shellfish like shrimp are great—and you can scale up or down depending on the quantity of protein you’re dealing with.

How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken

  1. Prepare a container to hold the poultry. A stock pot will hold a smaller turkey while a very large bird will have to go in a clean, new bucket or other container lined with food-safe plastic.
  2. Remove any giblets and pat the bird dry with paper towel.
  3. Add the salt and spices to the container, then the appropriate amount of water. Stir well to dissolve the salt. (Recipe is below.)
  4. Carefully add the turkey or chicken to the brine. Place the container in the refrigerator for the correct amount of time. You can’t leave this on the counter.
  5. When the brining process is complete, remove the poultry and rinse off the excess salt and spices. Discard the brine. Pat the poultry dry with paper towels, then proceed with your preferred cooking method.

How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken |

Basic Brine Recipe for Turkey (for a 10-pound bird)

Follow the directions above, allowing the turkey to brine for about 10 to 12 hours. Tip: Mix your brine ingredients (except the water) in a Mason jar ahead of time and store for when you’re busy. Mark on the lid how much you’ve made…enough for a 5-pound or 10-pound bird, for example.

*For a 5-pound whole chicken, halve the quantities. Brine for 5 hours.

**For a 20-pound turkey, double the quantities. Brine for about 24 hours.

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you!

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How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken |

3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good: Ask Steph

3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good—Ask Steph |

(Want to submit your own question to be feature on Ask Steph? Submit it via the contact form, and use the subject line “Ask Steph!”)

Julie H. writes:

I’m new to Paleo and want to eat better, but I get bored with a lot of the meals I cook. How can I make things taste better so I’m motivated to stick to eating this way?

Julie H.

A lot of readers here are probably not just new to Paleo, but new to cooking a lot at home as well. Creating flavor so that food isn’t boring on your palate is so important, and I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty simple if you remember some basics. When healthy food tastes good, you’re more likely to come back for more rather than turning to processed food loaded with salt, sugar and fat.

A Simple Formula For Max Flavor

When you have a really great meal at a restaurant and the taste harmoniously sings on your tongue, it’s most likely because the chef has done a great job balancing three or four different flavor components:

salt + sour + sweet or umami

The good news is that you don’t need a trip to culinary school to start experimenting with these right away.

Ingredient #1 For Making Flavor: Salt

The most strict of all Paleo diets calls for NO added salt to food. None. I have one word for that: bland. When food lacks salt, the result is a lack of flavor, unpalatable. You don’t want to go crazy in the other direction by over-salting, but adding salt to food is the most basic seasoning technique.

When you’re focusing on real, whole foods and avoiding processed, pre-made foods, your sodium intake tends to drop off dramatically.

There are lots of different types of salt, but sea salt is my favorite because it tends to be less intense than kosher varieties. There’s fine, medium and coarse grain and even flakes. I like a medium-grain sea salt for an all-around variety. What about iodized salt? I tend to avoid it because I’d rather get dietary iodine—an essential micronutrient—from whole foods such as sea vegetables, seafood and eggs instead.

Salt is also important in the cooking techniques like brining or sweating veggies to reduce their moisture content. That could be a whole post by itself!

What are some other ways to add a salty element to your food: using pickled or fermented veggies like sauerkraut or capers, cured meats such as bacon, olives or even coconut aminos.

Ingredient #2 For Making Flavor: Acid

Acidic / sour ingredients really help brighten up the flavors of a dish and are also good at cutting through an overly fatty dish. Typically, I add some acid right at the end of cooking to freshen up the flavor just a bit.

Another great way to add an acidic element to your meal is by incorporating a sauce such as salsa or vinaigrette. I always keep fresh limes and lemons in my fruit bowl for a quick squeeze of acid.

Some other ways to add an acidic / sour element to your food: using fermented or pickled veggies or different types of vinegars—apple cider and balsamic are my favorites.

Ingredient #3 For Making Flavor: Sweet or Umami

Using these two components can depend on the recipe you’re making, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Sweetness doesn’t mean you have to add sugar. Rather, consider sprinkling on some dried or fresh fruit; a drizzle of honey or maple syrup; or even roast veggies to bring out their natural sweetness.

Umami is basically a savory flavor that’s imparted by foods that have the amino acid glutamate. Note: Eating real foods that are higher in glutamate is not the same as using an additive like monosodium glutamate (MSG). Yuck.

Some ways to add umami to your food: using mushrooms (I like shiitakes), broth, tomatoes, fish sauce, coconut aminos or sardines.

Don’t Forget About…

Texture. Adding an element to your plate that breaks up the texture is another way to keep food interesting. If everything is soft, add something crispy / crunchy or vice versa. Some options: raw veggies, chopped nuts, plantain chips, etc.

Spices and herbs. Get your pantry stocked up with these because they’re awesome ways to add flavor. Click here to get my free guide.

Hopefully, this gives you some inspiration to make food that’s never boring!

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3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good—Ask Steph |

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below!

Bone Broth 101: How to Make the Best Broth Recipe

Bone Broth 101 |

Bone Broth 101: How to Make the Best Broth

Steph’s note: Today’s awesome tutorial is brought to you by Ryan Harvey, founder of Bare Bones Broth Co. Bare Bones offers hand-crafted broth shipped right to you, but if you’re more of a DIY type of person, Ryan shares some of the secrets for making the best bone broth right here for you.

All About Bone Broth

So what’s the big deal with bone broth these days? It has less to do with bone broth and more to do with the rising awareness of the role our gut health plays in the overall health of our mind, body and soul.

We’re finally starting to acknowledge that what we use to fuel our bodies directly affects the way we think, the things we do and how well we do them. Often referred to as our “second brain,” the human gut is home to over 10 trillion bacteria, a number no human can fully comprehend, yet we’re always looking for and believing in that one all-inclusive lab-manufactured antidote promised to make us feel better.

News flash: There isn’t just one food, one medicine or one supplement. There is, however, bone broth, which can be added to any diet as any or all three of these things. What other real food source contains as many bio-available vitamins and easily assimilated nutrients and extracts of pure collagen (A.K.A gelatin), skin, bone and fat ⎼ you know, the stuff that pretty much makes us human, gives us our silky smooth skin and allows us to grunt beautifully while hitting our max power snatch with ease.

Funny thing about bone broth: It’s nothing new. In fact, broths and stocks have been used for centuries by cultures around the world as a remedy to anything and everything. It also happens to be the base for all cooking, as it’s the first thing you would learn how to make in kitchens around the world as a chef’s apprentice or culinary student.

It’s what stops a stomachache dead in its tracks by soothing and healing the gut, and it quickly returns our joints to normal after an intense workout or rigorous hike. We have the natural occurring gelatin and glucosamine to thank for this; something all commercially available broths lack.

With that said, I want to share a handful of factors that will influence the outcome of your homemade bone broth. Got gelatin?

Factor #1 That Makes Great Bone Broth: Animal’s Upbringing

When deciding how to fuel my body, I always ask where my fuel came from and how it came to be.

Chances are, if you are here reading this then you and I have something in common. It’s no secret that what the animal eats, we eat. This doesn’t just apply to meat. Bones contain marrow, and marrow in turn pretty much contains the essence of our being.

If we’re healthy, that’s great but if we’re sick, our marrow is sick. The same goes for animals. The whole idea is that we’re extracting all this healthy good stuff from the animal and using it as both a food and a medicine for our bodies.

Believe it or not, this all matters on a molecular level, where everything that makes you you is working hard to maintain your optimal health as efficiently as possible. If the animal was factory farmed, ate garbage and didn’t see a pasture a day in its life, you won’t be doing your body any favors in the long run by using its bones.

Pardon my soapbox, but supporting the ranchers and farmers that raise pastured animals and grow organic produce is the only way we’ll ever see a change in our current food system. You want better access to healthy and sustainably raised meats and fresh produce? Then find and support a farm. I’ve seen numerous farms and ranches here in Southern California grow rapidly under the support of enthusiastic communities looking towards a better future in food.

Factor #2 That Makes Great Bone Broth: Animal’s Age 

That’s right. Animals are no different from us in that their bones and joints wear down and degrade over time, reducing the amount of connective tissue and consequently reducing the amount of gelatin that will end up in your broth.

The younger the animal, the more gelatinous your broth will be. Veal bones, joints, feet and necks would yield the most gelatin, as these animals are butchered very young.

You can usually find veal bones at a local butcher for a decent price. Stocks made from veal are a chef’s secret weapon in the kitchen, taking everything from soups and sauces to risottos and braised meats to the next level.

Factor #3 That Makes Great Bone Broth: Bone Type

This is where most people run into trouble.

In my experience the most commercially available bones are usually beef or veal femurs. Femurs are great as they contain a ton of marrow but very little collagen. You want a good mix of bones, joints and feet. I suggest using a 1:1:1 ratio of bones, joints and feet. This will almost guarantee you achieve that victorious gel.

Just remember to always use joints and feet, this is where you will find the most collagen. If you can’t find all of these, go ahead and make your broth with whatever you can get your hands on, you’ll still benefit greatly from the added vitamins and nutrients.

Factor #4 That Makes Great Bone Broth: Bone to Water Ratio 

Whether it’s in a crockpot or on your stove, add water just to cover the bones, and no more.

This is where a lot of folks think they’ve messed up. You’ve spent all those hours simmering away, finally cooling and refrigerating your liquid gold only to wake up in the morning to find no jiggle. You haven’t been defeated! Simply bring your broth back up to a gentle simmer and let evaporation take over. Reduce your broth by an inch or so, cool and refrigerate. If it’s still not jiggling, repeat the process.

A combination of things could have happened here – too much water, bones from sick animals, or you simply didn’t let it simmer long enough. In most cases, the gelatin simply isn’t concentrated enough to give your broth a Jello-like consistency. This is OKAY. Your broth is still loaded with plenty of good stuff.

Try not to get so caught up on the aesthetics. I see people everyday crying out for help because their broth didn’t gel, as if the broth gods are smiting their attempt at glory.

Factor #5 That Makes Great Bone Broth: Time

The beautiful thing about making broth is that once started, it requires very little attention.

The biggest issue here is not letting your broth simmer long enough. We simmer our beef broth for 48 hours and 24 hours for our chicken. Simmering for multiple days is a great way to really get everything out of the bones.

Something we do, and that I highly suggest, is to wait until you have 6-8 hours left to add your vegetables or leafy greens, such as parsley or leaves on your celery. This will prevent any bitter or burnt tastes from being imparted into your broth. The vegetables can only be cooked for so long before they begin to break down, giving your broth and undesirable and often burnt flavor.

It only takes 8 or so hours at a simmer to extract the nutrients and flavor from them, anyway. Anything much longer than this and the vegetables become sponges, soaking up all your hard-earned nutrients.

In my opinion, those are the most important things to keep in mind when making bone broth. As with most things, the more you make it the better you will get. And the better you will get at noticing all these little idiosyncrasies during the process, like waiting to add your veggies until later in the process. It took me several burnt, bitter and off-flavored batches before I finally started figuring out at what times to add what ingredients.

A Simple Bone Broth Recipe

Run through this simple checklist when making any bone broth your gut desires:

  • Roast any bones beforehand for added depth and flavor, except fish.
  • Put bones in pot and add water just to cover bones.
  • Add your acid to help draw out the good stuff. We use apple cider vinegar.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Skim, skim and skim some more. Scum and impurities rise to the top during the initial simmer phase. Simply skim, discard and keep simmering.
  • Once there is no longer any scum rising to the surface, keep simmering, adding water only to cover the bones as necessary.
  • Prep your veggies. Peel onions, as the peel can impart a burnt or bitter flavor.
  • After about 15-18 hours for chicken and 35-40 hours for beef, add your veggies, herbs and spices. Wait until the final hour to add parsley or celery leaves.
  • Return to a simmer for the final leg, and this time don’t worry about adding more water. You want the nutrients and gelatin to concentrate as we bring in the flavors from the veggies and herbs.
  • Add your parsley and / or celery greens if desired. Let simmer for another hour or two.
  • That’s it. You’ve done it! Strain your broth and cool it down or use immediately for making your favorite soup, stew, sauce or meat dish!

If you’re ever short on time or can’t seem to procure bones from healthy animals come check us out at Bare Bones Broth Co.! We’ll ship our broths directly to your door, nationwide!

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Bone Broth 101 |

Questions about making bone broth? Leave them in the comments below!

DIY Photography Background: No Tools Required!

DIY Photography Background |

DIY Photography Background—No Tools Required!

Steph’s note: This is another post in a series for fellow bloggers who are interested in improving their food photography and blog posts. You may also be interested in How to Take Better Food Pictures.

Creating a DIY photography background to make your pictures stand out is really simple, and this version requires no tools. I was inspired by this post and ended up with a lightweight, double-side, portable board that I can tote around the house, looking for the best light.

You could certainly scour your neighborhood yard sales for scrap wood with that authentically distressed, worn look. (That’d be a notch in your re-use belt.) But if you don’t have the time or access, this is a great alternative.

My local hardware store had these lightweight “hobby boards” in different types of wood. I chose poplar because it had the lightest color and was the least expensive. The sizes available to you may vary, so my quantities may not work for you, but do the best you can with the concept. I chose the 48″ long boards because I wanted a long enough platform. Somewhere between 36″–48″ should be long enough. Any shorter than 36″ and you may run into problems with portrait shots, especially when they’re straight on from the subject.

I was able to assemble mine, let it dry overnight for good measure and paint it the next day. It dried quickly because I watered down the paint. Choose a FLAT finish so the paint reflects very little light.

If you’re looking for more tips and tricks to improve your food photography, check out this awesome resource, Tasty Food Photography.

Supplies for this DIY Photography Background:

  • Four 48″ poplar hobby boards
  • Eight 24″ poplar hobby boards
  • Wood glue
  • Paint in your chosen color(s)—I got sample sizes in aqua and brown—with a FLAT finish
  • Paint brush
  • Disposable container to mix the paint and water

How to make the DIY Photography Background:

Find a clean, dry, flat surface to construct the background on. You may want to use a drop cloth or old sheet to protect the surface from paint and glue. Lay the 48″ boards flat and leave a small gap between each one, about 1/16″. I wanted the appearance of planks instead of one solid surface, but do what you like. Be aware that if you make the gaps larger than 1/16″, you’ll be able to see the boards underneath when you complete it.

DIY Photography Background | stupideasypaleo.comDIY Photography Background |

Do a dry run and arrange the 24″ boards perpendicular to the longer boards. There will be some wood overhanging and if you have a saw, you can trim the excess. I didn’t because I had no access to tools. Once you’re happy with the arrangement, you’ll start gluing. DIY Photography Background |

Squeeze a moderate amount of wood glue across the long board, going section by section: Apply enough glue for one short board, then lay the short board down, pressing firmly. Be careful not to squeeze glue into the gaps or it’ll show when you take the photos. Continue this until you glue down all eight short boards. DIY Photography Background |

Gently lay some heavy books on top of the boards and let them dry for at least 3 hours. Overnight is better.DIY Photography Background |

The next day, get ready to paint your boards. I created a wash by combining the paints with water in a 1:1 ratio. This allowed the paints to dry quickly and helped create a layered effect.DIY Photography Background | stupideasypaleo.comDIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background |

For the blue side, apply a thin layer of brown paint. Allow it to dry completely. Then, apply layer of blue paint in an uneven fashion. Do this by dabbing the blue paint, then smoothing it out by brushing it in both directions. The idea is to allow some of the brown paint to show through to create a worn look. I applied two or three layers.DIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background |

For the brown side, use the same technique as above, but only use the brown color. That’s it! Once it was dry, I was able to start shooting on it right away.DIY Photography Background |

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Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

DIY Photography Background |

How To Take Better Food Pictures

How to Take Better Food Pictures |

Want to know how to take better food pictures—especially better ones than Martha Stewart?

Food blogging is pretty unique (compared to other subjects) because you’ve got to convey a recipe’s appeal across a computer or phone screen. If you can’t smell the aroma and taste the mouth-watering flavors, the imagery of the food helps draw you in—or makes you click away. After all, we eat with our eyes first.

That being said, if you don’t come to the blogosphere with prior photography experience (like yours truly), learning to take pictures of food that actually look enticing can be a monumental task. In my early blogging days, I put more effort into the recipes and writing than the photos, and it shows.

Before we get to the do’s of taking better pictures of food, let’s start with the don’ts.

Top 5 Food Photography Blunders

1) Using the flash. Please, above all else, stop using flash carelessly with food. It creates areas of extremely high and low light that give food strange shadows and shiny spots. Put plainly, it makes food look chintzy. Every time I see food photos with improperly used flash (yes, there is a right way to use it), I think of awkward, crazy club photos from college days: everyone’s got their eyes squinted shut, doing that raise-the-roof thing. Not cool.

2) Getting too close. Resist the urge to get super up close and personal with the food. I’m so guilty of doing this when I first started blogging and part of it was due to my camera’s limitations. (See #2 below.) The other part was I thought it looked sweet. When you get too close to the food, it’s hard to tell what it is. Nobody needs a Rorschach test when they’re deciding to make a recipe.

3) Sloppy plating. You don’t have to be a professional food stylist, moving crumbs around with tweezers, but pay attention to basic neatness. It’s one thing to show what a casserole looks like when you just cut into it; it’s quite another to show food thrown onto the plate. Clean up messy spots and splashes. There’s a difference between making food look approachable—and not like a sculpture—and it coming across like Martha’s.

4) Shooting in low light. Nowadays, with a decent camera and good editing software, you can save lots of low-light photos from the trash can. But. BUT. There are some things you just can’t fix because they’re too dark. Shooting for 4 months in the Scottish winter taught me a lot about getting creative with light, reflectors, plating and camera settings. When in doubt, save the food for tomorrow and shoot in better light.

5) Only shooting in landscape or portrait. If you only ever shoot in one orientation—horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait)—start doing both…now. You never know when you might need the opposite orientation for another project or post, and if it’s months later, you’re screwed. When I wrote The Paleo Athlete, I realized all of the photos should be in portrait. A handful of them weren’t. Unfortunately, they were from archived recipes, and I didn’t have time to reshoot them all. Give yourself options.

Now, the do’s. Most of these I learned from this amazing book, Tasty Food Photography by Lindsey at Pinch of Yum. It’s by far the easiest photography book I’ve read and is specifically geared toward bloggers who need to take better food pictures.

Here are some before and after examples of my own recipes using techniques I learned in Tasty Food Photography:

How to Take Better Food Pictures | How to Take Better Food Pictures | How to Take Better Food Pictures |

Massive improvement, right?

5 Tips for Better Food Photography

1) Practice. Yep, the old saying is true. If you want to get better, you’ve got to spend time making nice with your camera. Taking lots of pictures and playing with settings and staging is the only way to transfer theory into reality. Shoot often.

2) Invest in a basic DSLR camera. Yes, your phone’s camera and point and shoot cameras can do a surprisingly good job, but there are major limitations. If you have any inkling that you like food blogging, an entry-level DSLR (like my Nikon D3200) gives you maximum versatility. You can adjust settings like ISO and aperture—which gives you the most options for working with light—along with a thousand other things. Most entry-level models come with an 18-55mm lens which will get you pretty far. I also use a 50mm f / 1.8 fixed manual focus lens (nicknamed the Nifty Fifty) for that cool depth of field look called “bokeh.”

3) Learn to love natural light. Shooting with artificial light can be done, but it takes lots of practice to make it look, well, natural. I generally shoot around mid-day, somewhere between 10 and 2. If you can’t do that due to work schedules, shoot on your off day(s). Early morning / later afternoon light is either flat or really yellow. Food looks best when it’s lit from the sides or back (unless you’re shooting from overhead). For example, I usually shoot in a west-facing window. I put the food on the kitchen table and tend to shoot standing parallel to the window, so the light hits from the left (or right).

4) Use some simple props to fill space. Remember #2 above…getting too close? Since you generally don’t want to be too zoomed into the food, you’re going to back out and have some open space in the shot. I keep my props simple: old worn baking trays, cutting boards, utensils and simple dish cloths or napkins. Play around with how to fill up the space. That being said, negative (empty) space can look amazing and dramatic, particularly when shot from overhead. Experiment.

5) Fill the plate with food. No matter which size plate, bowl or serving dish will be in the photo, make sure it’s full. I tend to use small salad plates and smaller bowls because it gives the illusion of fullness without requiring a mega-batch of the recipe. Most of the time, a large plate with a tiny amount of food on it looks awkward. By using smaller plates, it’s also easier to fit more than one comfortably in the shot. If you’re out buying plates for props, try to buy at least two of the same.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned about taking better food pictures, and there are tons more in Tasty Food Photography. Two other books I really found helpful: Plate to Pixel and Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers. Get out there and start snapping away!

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How to Take Better Food Pictures |

Have questions about food photography? Let me know in the comments below!

6 Easy Paleo Recipe Ingredient Swaps

6 Easy Paleo Recipe Ingredient Swaps | stupideasypaleo.comToday I’m featuring six easy Paleo ingredients to transform almost any recipe! 

If you’re new to Paleo and wondering how the heck you’re going to keep from reinventing the wheel and finding brand new recipes for everything, this is the post for you. The easiest version of Paleo is to stick to meat and eggs, veggies and some fruit and healthy fats but with a few basic swaps, you’ll recreate flavors and textures that you thought were off limits (minus the gut irritation and inflammation). 

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #1: Instead of cream or milk, use full-fat coconut milk.

If you’re not eating dairy anymore, that means staying away from milk and cream in recipes. Certain dishes will lack the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel that you’re familiar with and wind up tasting, well, watery. Full-fat coconut milk makes a darn good sub for whole milk or cream and while it does have a slightly coconutty flavor, I don’t find it overpowering. The best part? If you use coconut milk instead of milk, it’s almost always a 1 to 1 substitution.

If you’re allergic to coconut or don’t care for the taste, another great option is homemade almond milk. To make it extra rich, I cut the water in the recipe down from 4 cups to 3. Sure you can buy pre-made nut milks in your market’s refrigerated section but most of them have preservatives and other pointless ingredients. 

Here are a few of my favorite recipes using coconut milk:

Coconut Milk Latte, Crock Pot Chicken Yellow Curry Soup, and Creamy Leek Soup

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #2: Instead of butter, use ghee or coconut oil.

If you’re not down with butter, alternatives exist to mimic both the texture and / or flavor. (Note: grass-fed butter finds its way into some Paleo kitchens but some folks who are ultra sensitive to dairy proteins avoid it). The good news is that ghee (essentially clarified butter that’s been cooked a bit longer to have a caramelly, almost butterscotch flavor) gives the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamin K2 in butter without the potentially problematic proteins. It’s basically butterfat. You can make your own or find jars in your market’s butter section. Bonus: it has a really high smoke point, making it ideal for high temperature cooking.

Avoiding all dairy? Coconut oil, which is mostly saturated fat, is a great butter stand-in because it’s solid below 77°F and has a moderately high smoke point. Sure, it tastes nothing like butter, but it’s really versatile (even great as a moisturizer, a body butter, a hair mask, a make up remover, etc.). Read more about coconut oil – which to use and which to avoid – in my article here

Bonus: ghee is part of the Whole30, so if you’re planning to do one in January with me, stock up now!

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #3: Instead of soy sauce, use coconut aminos.

So no…cavemen didn’t use coconut aminos, but they didn’t use soy sauce either. Remember, Paleo’s not a historical re-enactment of exactly what our ancestors ate. Soy sauce is responsible for that savory umami flavor that forms the background of so many dishes, Asian-inspired or otherwise, but soy sucks for so many reasons and is one of those “health” foods to avoid. What’s a savory-seeking saveur to do? 

Use coconut aminos instead. Made from the fermented sap of the coconut tree, this savory liquid isn’t an *exact* doppelganger for your beloved bottle of soy sauce, but it’s the next best thing. 

Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use coconut aminos:

Sweet & Savory Blueberry Tortilla, Paleo “Noodle” Bowl and Umami Mayo

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #4: Instead of rice, use cauliflower “rice”.

6 Easy Paleo Recipe Ingredient Swaps |

If rice is off the menu because you’re eating strict Paleo, consider using “riced” cauliflower instead. Simply put, cauliflower rice is created by grating, blending or processing the white veggies down into rice-sized bits. Anything you put rice in, you can switch out for cauliflower instead. It becomes a blank canvas upon which you’ll create layers of flavor by adding spices, meats and other veggies.

My favorite way to rice cauliflower is putting it in the food processor though some folks swear by putting large cauli chunks in a blender full of water, blitzing it, then straining the “riced” pieces out. A cooking tip: small pieces cook faster and won’t get water-logged. Also, don’t overload the pan.

Great recipes to try with cauliflower “rice”:

Indian Pineapple Cauliflower RiceCabbage Rolls and Paleo Caramelized Onion Cauliflower “Cous Cous”

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #5: Instead of white flour, use coconut flour.

This one’s tricky because coconut flour is mega absorbent so you can’t use it in a 1 to 1 ratio in recipes that call for white (wheat) flour. You can bake with it, use it as a “breading” for chicken or fish and use it as a thickener, but remember this ratio:

1 cup white flour = 1/4 cup coconut flour

Sometimes, it’s more like 1/3 cup coconut flour, but this general range works. 

A word to the wise: if you’re planning to do a lot of Paleo baking (which I don’t recommend) coconut flour is expensive. It’s also made from dried, very finely ground coconut meat so it’s pretty dense in calories. I use it sparingly, mostly as a thickening agent.

Here’s my favorite way to use coconut flour as a breading: Paleo Chick-fil-A

Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #6: Instead of wine (for flavor), use homemade broth.

Many recipes call for red or white wine in soups, stews and sauces because it adds a layer of flavor. And whether you side with Julia Child or not (she famously said, “I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”) there is a way to substitute for the alcohol in your recipes: use homemade broth. Sure, you could do store-bought broth if you’re in a pinch, but you’ll want to find a brand that’s pretty squeaky clean. 

My favorite way to make homemade broth: save the bones from chicken thighs or a whole chicken (or you can buy grass-fed beef bones, lamb neck bones, etc….whatever you fancy), put them in a crock pot and cover them with water (sometimes I add a halved leek or other veggie trimmings like the nubby tops of carrots or leftover celery) for flavor. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar (bonus if you add a bit of fish sauce like Nom Nom Paleo does). Keep on low for 24 hours, strain and use. Can be frozen or used fresh. As an added bonus, it’ll be rich in minerals and gelatin. Bone juice, for the win!

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6 Easy Paleo Recipe Ingredient Swaps |

Have you used any of these easy Paleo recipe subs before? What’s your favorite that I left off the list? Leave me a comment below.

Coconut Milk Won’t Solidify? Here’s Why!

Coconut Milk Won't Solidify? |

Coconut milk won’t solidify no matter what you’ve tried?! It’s a common problem with a simple explanation.

With the growing popularity of Paleo and dairy-free recipes becoming more plentiful, you’ll probably run into dishes that call for the cream from a can of coconut milk as an ingredient (even my Paleo Tzatziki Sauce and Paleo Cucumber Mint Raita list it). Usually, you’re supposed to put the can in the fridge for upwards of 24 hours, then be able to open the can and spoon the solidified cream off the top.

If you’ve ever followed those instructions only to open the can and find your coconut milk’s still soupy, it’s pretty frustrating (especially if you’re making something where a very thick texture is a requirement like coconut whipped cream). So what gives?

Back to Basics…What is Coconut Milk?

When fresh coconut meat is grated down with water, the liquid yielded is call coconut milk. It’s a combination of the water and the different healthy fats in the coconut meat such as fast-burning MCT oil (medium chain triglyercides) and saturated fat.

When it’s prepared via blending, the fat component (often called coconut cream) gets suspended in the watery component, and it appears to combine. But when left to sit undisturbed, the coconut milk will separate into two layers much like a bottle of oil & vinegar salad dressing. [Bonus science nerdiness: the fat is hydrophobic (water-fearing) and is rejected from the water layer.] Normally, the top, semi-hard cream layer is what you’d scoop out and use for recipes.

Why Your Coconut Milk Won’t Solidify

One word: emulsifiers.

Emulsifiers are chemical additives which cause the fatty and watery layers to stop separating from one another, and if they’re in your coconut milk, you’ll probably never get that thick creamy layer at the top of the can no matter what you do. [Another common way to get fatty and watery components to emulsify is by introducing air like you’d do when making homemade mayo.]

Common Coconut Milk Emulsifiers & Additives

1) Guar gum. This is a carbohydrate compound (polysaccharide) that comes from guar beans. It’s very commonly used to thicken coconut milk and cause it to stay emulsified. Often found in canned coconut milk.

2) Carrageenan. Derived from seaweed, this is another polysaccharide carbohydrate used to thicken coconut milk, though more commonly the type sold in paper cartons (not recommended because it’s often full of other junk). Carrageenan’s been implicated as having some pretty gnarly effects on the gut, among other things. Read more about it here.

3) Methyl cellulose or corn starch. More carbohdyrates / polysaccharides used to thicken and emulsify coconut milk.

4) Sodium or potassium metabisulfate. Though not used as an emulsifier, this chemical additive’s put in coconut milk as a preservative / bleaching agent to keep the color white.

The Solution to Get Your Coconut Milk to Solidify?

Buy a brand that doesn’t contain emulsifiers and preservatives. Better yet, look for a brand that only has two ingredients: coconut and water. My favorites are here and here. Both fit the bill and are sold in BPA-free cans, too. You can also make your own coconut milk at home (click here for a great recipe).

Have you ever had trouble with this? Does the answer surprise you?

Coconut Milk Won't Solidify? |

Coconut Butter from Scratch

Coconut Butter from Scratch | Coconut butter from scratch is one of those kitchen hacks that’ll save you a ton of money and it’s stupid-easy (we like that). It may sound mystical, but when you get down to it, coconut butter is nothing more than pulverized coconut meat that’s been ground down to a very smooth consistency. It’s delicious and absolutely full of the healthy MCTs (medium chain triglyercides) and saturated fatty acids that provide energy and keep us feeling satiated.

Why’d you want to make coconut butter from scratch? It’ll save you a LOT of bucks. Store brands sell for upwards of $12 or more for about 2 cups. That’s pretty pricey for my wallet even though the store bought coconut butter is pretty delicious. The good news is you can make something that’s just as yummy.

What can you do with coconut butter? Anything you’d do with a nut butter: bake with it, put it in mashed veggies for a punch of fat and creamy texture, eat it with apples or a square of dark chocolate or use it as a regular butter substitute. The possibilities for eating coconut butter are virtually endless though my favorite way to eat it’s probably just off a spoon!

The one caveat for making coconut butter from scratch: you need a powerful blender or food processor to grind the coconut down. I’ve done it in both and the blender (like a Vitamix or similar) is faster but they each give a good result.

Coconut Butter from Scratch |

Ingredients for Making Coconut Butter from Scratch

Equipment for Making Coconut Butter from Scratch

Directions for Making Coconut Butter from Scratch

  1. Load the coconut flakes into the blender or food processor. Add a pinch of salt. Turn the machine on.
  2. If using a blender like a Vitamix, you may want to use the tamper to push the flakes down. After a minute or so, the coconut will begin to liquefy. Stop the machine and scrape the sides down with a spatula. Continue until the coconut has turned to coconut butter and is liquefied and store it in an airtight container like a mason jar.
  3. If using a food processor, this processor will take longer…somewhere in the range of 8-10 minutes. Patience is your friend. Stop the machine and scrape the sides down with a spatula a few times. Continue until the coconut has turned to coconut butter and is softened and store it in an airtight container like a mason jar.

Recipe Variations for Coconut Butter from Scratch

Troubleshooting Making Coconut Butter from Scratch

What if….

  • …the coconut butter won’t seem to liquefy?

Try adding some melted coconut oil to the coconut flakes as it’s processing to loosen it up.

  • …the coconut butter is always hard when I go to use it?

Coconut oil solidifies around 77°F so in the cold months, it’s often in the solid form. You can store it at room temperature and not in the fridge to help it from being too hard. Also, if you’ve stored your coconut butter in a glass mason jar (recommended), you can warm some water in a pot on the stove and place the glass jar of coconut butter in to soften it.

  • …I can’t use a big batch?

This coconut butter recipe is easy to halve (or double if you want more).

Have you ever made coconut butter?

Coconut Butter from Scratch |

5 Paleo Flavor-Making Juggernauts

5 Flavor BoostersThink back to the best meal you’ve ever had…go ahead, I’ll wait a moment. What was special about it? The flavors…complex yet subtle, layered by the chef to compliment each other left you with an experience. Far from plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, right? With a little know-how and a bit of creativity, you can make super tasty, rockstar-status meals.

It’s all about balancing flavors (this could be a long lesson but I’ll keep it to the basics). For novice cooks, try working with this simple triad: salt, acid and aromatics. For example, if a dish just tastes flat, try adding an acid like vinegar or citrus juice to brighten it up.

If you want to go a bit further, you can play with notes of bitter, savory (umami) and spicy.

You can create big flavors, too and it’s as simple as having these five Paleo-friendly, taste-tickling juggernauts on hand. These are my must-haves that I always have around my kitchen.


The options are pretty endless here and it’s generally accepted that vinegars (except for malt vinegar…derived from grain) are Paleo-friendly. Besides the obvious use in dressings or condiments, vinegar is a great way to add a bright note to veggies or heavy dishes like stews.

My favorites: apple cider, balsamic and white wine vinegars


Okay, this one can be controversial. Some folks who follow a very strict Paleo template don’t use any salt. At all. I tried this when I started Paleo 4 years ago, and it made food pretty boring. By avoiding processed foods, the amount of sodium intake in your diet is already substantially lower. As someone who enjoys cooking and my food, salt is part of the game. I use regular salt during cooking to adjust the overall flavor and sometimes flavored finishing salts as a very light sprinkle before serving. Which type of salt is best? Read this article from Chris Kresser for a comprehensive answer.

My favorites: Maldon Sea Salt flakes, smoked sea salt (pictured), truffle salt

Citrus Juice and Zest

DSC_0033Another option for adding a note of acidity or brightness to your food. Besides the obvious lemons and limes, you may want to experiment with others like grapefruit for savory foods (one of my favorite ceviche recipes uses grapefruit juice). If you’re throwing the zest out with the spent fruit rinds, though, you’re missing a gold mine of flavor! The outermost, colored layer of the skin (not the white pith underneath) contains the citrus oils that make the fruit so fragrant. I use a microplane grater to remove the zest and toss it in everything from dressings and marinades to desserts.

My favorites: lemons, limes and grapefruit


DSC_0035These form the backbone of your dish…the flavor foundation everything’s built on. Used in cooking from cultures around the world, they can be used as a dominant note (think garlic chicken) or as a subtle layer. I always have plenty of aromatics hanging around! The powdered / ground form is useful for some dishes (especially where you don’t want to introduce a lot of extra moisture) though I lean toward the fresh variety just because the flavor is so much more pronounced.

My favorites: onion, garlic, and ginger

Fresh Herbs

DSC_0037Fresh herbs are so great! Not only are they relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to grow your own no matter your space constraints, from pots on a balcony to huge backyard gardens. Heartier fresh herbs like rosemary hold up well to cooking (like in Rosemary Balsamic Butternut Squash) while more delicate leaves like cilantro do better in cold applications (because they’ll wilt otherwise). They’re great to sprinkle on top of a finished dish for another layer of flavor or to brighten up the colors on a plate.

My favorites: flat leaf parsley, mint and rosemary

Let me know what your flavor-making essentials are in the comments below!

Perfect Hardboiled Eggs


There are lots of methods for making hardboiled eggs, but I’ve always found good luck with this one. Some readers on Facebook asked for tips on peeling the eggs once they’re cooked, and here were some of the most common replies:

  • Don’t use eggs you just purchased. Keep them for a few days before you boil them. As the egg gets older, the white shrinks a bit and makes it easier to peel.
  • Add salt to the cooking water.
  • Soak in ice water after they’re done.

What are your tried and true methods for easily peeling hard boiled eggs? Let us know in the comments below!

5 More Tips for a Successful Whole30

doing-the-whole30I’ve pulled together five MORE of my favorite tips for having a successful Whole30 (or just eating clean Paleo) into one place!

You can also check out tips 1-5 by clicking here.

On staying hydrated…

On staying off the scale…

On going out to eat…

On undistracted eating…

On the importance of chewing…





The Easiest Way to Cut Orange Segments

The fancy schmancy term for the orange segments is “supremes” (pronounced su-prehms). You can call them segments…I won’t tell anyone. Works with any citrus fruit.

  1. Wash the fruit.DSC_0683
  2. Cut the top and bottom off.DSC_0684 2
  3. With a sharp knife, cut the rind off in sections by moving from top to bottom all the way around the fruit.DSC_0686DSC_0685
  4. Make a cut on each side of the inner membrane. DSC_0687
  5. The segment should release quite easily. DSC_0688
  6. Continue until the entire fruit is done.

*Hint: steps 4-6 work best if you hold the fruit in your hand but I couldn’t photograph it that way by myself.