Monthly Archives: November 2011

Whole Wheat Breakfast Biscuits

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Still looking for something to put your cinnamon apple butter on? Here, let me help you. These whole wheat biscuits should do the trick.

Biscuits are one of those things that just never occurred to me to try making myself before now. Growing up, I really liked opening the Pillsbury canister of premade biscuits and getting scared by the popping sound the container would make when bursting open (I hope you all know what I’m talking about right now).

The great thing about making your own homemade biscuits is that you can feel a little bit better about yourself since you’ll know exactly what’s going into them. Also, they use whole wheat flour which make them a healthier option.

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Whole Wheat Breakfast Biscuits

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) of butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey

Directions:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together flours, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces. Using a pasty blender (or your hands), cut the butter into the flour mixture. Add in heavy cream and honey and continue to mix using the pastry blender until everything is combined. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and using your hands, flatten it out until it’s 1/2” thick. Using a biscuit cutter (or any other round device like a cup), cut out your biscuits and place onto a greased baking pan. Place the pan into the oven and  allow to cook for 15 minutes or until the tops start to turn golden. (A 2” biscuit cutter will yield 8 biscuits.)

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The biscuits come out with a little bit of a crumbly, scone-like texture and are delicious when served warm with apple butter scrambled eggs and ketchup on top.

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If you have any leftover biscuits, store them in the fridge and just pop them into the microwave for 30 seconds when ready to eat again.

Enjoy!

Cinnamon Apple Butter

For those long-time readers that remember my obsession with pumpkin butter last year, it will probably come as no surprise that I have developed a new fondness over apple butter.

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But not just any apple butter.

Cinnamon apple butter that is sweetened only with the help of natural sweeteners like pure maple syrup and honey. I’m not sure how much of a difference there is between natural sweeteners and granulated sugar, but regardless, I always feel better when I can avoid the white stuff.

Remember all those apples I picked with Mister E?

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Apple butter was the perfect way to use the majority of them up without having to worry about any going to waste. And perhaps the best part about this recipe is that it is a set-it-and-forget-it kind. The most time consuming part of this recipe is peeling the apples. Once the apples are peeled, there’s not much left for you to do.

Cinnamon Apple Butter

  • 7 medium sized apples (any variety will do)
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions:  Peel and dice apples in 1/2” pieces. Place apples and all other ingredients in a crockpot set to low. Using a spoon, toss to coat apples evenly. Cover and allow to cook for five hours. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Enjoy!

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Don’t worry, it won’t take you the entire five hours that your apple butter is cooking to clean everything up!

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Spread the apple butter on anything from toast and biscuits or try stirring a spoonful into your morning oatmeal or yogurt. You really can’t go wrong here. Oh, and it’s my personal recommendation that you pair the apple butter with cream cheese on toast (preferably something nutty like this bread).

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Feeling a little generous? Why not give some apple butter to your Thanksgiving Day host/hostess this year? A jar of apple butter along with a basket of biscuits, scones, or muffins would be such an easy gift to prepare and would come off as so thoughtful on your part to give a homemade gift.

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The only thing is, you should really can your apple butter if giving it out as gifts. Not sure how to can something? Don’t worry, I didn’t know either three days ago. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty simple and you really don’t have to worry about breaking jars (which was my irrational fear before trying).

Before you start, you’ll need to acquire the proper canning jars. Ball and Kerr are the two most popular brand of jars and can usually be found in your local supermarket’s baking aisle. I picked up these super cute mini 8-oz. jars from Target, but you can use any size you like.

To begin canning, put a large pot of water over high heat. (If you don’t have a large part, it’s ok. You just might have to do each jar individually instead of all together.) Gently place the glass jars and circular, metal lids into the pot of water. Allow the jars and lids to sit in the simmering water. Using tongs, remove the jars and lids from the water before it starts to boil. This step helps slowly warm the jars up so there are no sudden changes in temperatures which could lead to the jars cracking and breaking.

Place the jars and lids on a towel and gently pat dry. Fill the jars with the apple butter leaving about a 1/4” of space at the top.

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Place the metal lid on top of the jar, being careful to line the edges up. Place the outer ring on top of the lid and screw tight.

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By this point, the water in the pot should be boiling. Using tongs, carefully transfer the jars back into the pot of water.

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Most directions I read said that I shouldn’t place the jars directly on the bottom of the pot and should being using a rack. Since I didn’t have a rack, I took my chances and placed the jar directly on the bottom of the pot which seemed to work just fine.

The jar should be fully emerged in the water and should have at least an inch of water covering the lid. Allow the jar to sit in the boiling water for 10 minutes.

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After 10 minutes, carefully transfer the jar back onto the towel using the tongs to handle the hot jar. Pat dry and allow to cool (may take up to 24 hours). You will know that your canning adventures were successful if after the jar is cooled, the middle of the lid won’t flex up or down. If you are able to press down the middle of the lid, your jar did not properly seal.

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Either write the jar’s contents or a cute message to the recipient of your gift on top of the lid using permanent marker. Finally, tie a ribbon around the outside of the jar and your gift is ready for giving!

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Are any of you guys out there experienced canners? If there was a showdown, which would win – apple butter or pumpkin butter?

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

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Do you know how sometimes you get an idea stuck in your head that you just can’t shake? You become so persistent to see your idea through, despite the fear that it might just be a huge bust. Well, that was this cake for me. Except for the bust part. Thankfully, it turned out rather delicious (if I do say so, myself).

After picking so many apples with Mister E, I had the thought that what I really wanted to use my apples for was a coffee cake. I did some searching around online, but couldn’t find any recipes for what I really had in mind.

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So, I turned to where I always go when Google fails me – my mother. And wouldn’t you know it, she had a recipe for me. After a little tweaking of ingredients and adding a cinnamon streusal layer and cinnamon glaze – lo and behold, I had an apple cinnamon coffee cake!

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Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (or 1 cup unsweetened applesauce)
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 granny smith apples, cored and peeled
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Cinnamon Streusel, see below
  • Cinnamon Glaze, see below

Directions:  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and dice the apples into 1/4” pieces. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soada, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Stir in vegetable oil, apple juice, vanilla extract, and eggs. Mix until well combined. Lastly, stir in apples and walnuts. Pour batter into a large, well-greased, bundt pan – adding in the cinnamon streusel layer (see below) in the middle or the top (depending on preference). Bake for one hour and 15 minutes. Make sure a cake tester comes out clean before removing cake from oven. Allow to cool before drizzling cinnamon glaze (see below) on top of cake.

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Cinnamon Streusel

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions: Place all ingredients in a bowl and combine using either hands or a fork. Resulting mixture should appear crumbly.

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I choose to put all of my cinnamon streusel mixture on last after pouring all of my cake batter into the pan. This was based on past history with my particular bundt pan not doing well with streusel mixtures put on the bottom of the pan or in the middle.

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Cinnamon Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions: Whisk together all ingredients until well combined and mixture starts to thicken.

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I served my apple cinnamon coffee cake at a family get-together that I hosted at my apartment this past weekend. We had all just seen a local production of The Drowsy Chaperone that my uncle was in and it was already 10 p.m. by the time everyone made their way back to my apartment (which is conveniently close to the theater).

It was my largest get-together to date (I can’t believe I comfortably fit thirteen people into my one bedroom apartment!) and this cake made hosting such a breeze! I simply brewed a large pot of coffee and set out a stack of plates and forks next to the cake and let everyone help themselves. Three cheers for easy hosting!

Well, not completely easy. I still had to deal with cleaning up after three of Prince’s “accidents” after he got a little too happy being around so many people. You can’t win them all, people.

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Breakfast Talk

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Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t screw it up and whether it ends up being cereal or eggs, it’s always satisfying. Unfortunately, during the week, I find that I don’t have time to sit down and eat a proper breakfast. So, I’ll usually eat a piece of toast (my favorite is this Yoga Bread that is filled with cranberries and pumpkin seeds) with a schmear of cream cheese on the go and will later eat a banana once I get into work.

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Even on weekdays that I do find myself with enough time to sit down to eat, I’ll still usually stick to my toast, but will throw an egg in on the side for a little protein punch.

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But on the weekends?

Well now, breakfast on the weekends is a different story.

Weekend breakfasts may just be my very favorite thing in life. I get to start my weekend mornings off by making myself something that I will actually be able to sit down and enjoy. I feel well-rested after not having to wake up to an alarm. There’s (usually) no rush to get anywhere by a certain time and I can sit and read the news or a new book while eating to my little heart’s content. I have a full day ahead of me to make completely my own and do the things that I feel like doing. It’s the absolute best.

There are always plenty of egg sandwiches in every shape and form to be had.

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Or cheesy baked eggs with garlicky zucchini.

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Or eggs with leftover bruschetta. Are you getting the impression that I like my eggs? Good.

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Sometimes I’ll ditch my eggs for a yogurt parfait. (This one is made with Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries that were thawed in the microwave, a banana, and Trader Joe’s vanilla almond granola – seen here.)

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I try to savor my weekend breakfasts as much as possible since, before I know it, it’s Monday morning again. And I’ll be eating a piece of toast on my way out the door as I simultaneously double check my hair in the mirror and change out of my slippers and into my work shoes that I’ve waited until the very last possible moment to do.

Or, I’ll  be standing over the kitchen sink eating my bowl of cereal while I wait for my coffee to finish brewing and have my daily chat with Prince and Kaylie.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that (the cereal part, I mean. I know the animal part is kind of pathetic). It’s still breakfast after all. It’s kind of hard not to enjoy it.

Fall Dinner Party

My friend, Jennifer, and I had so much fun planning our Pinterest Party that we decided we should plan something similar, except this time with a theme. Given the season, it wasn’t too hard to decide upon throwing a Fall Dinner Party! Feeling bad that guys were excluded from the Pinterest Party, we invited our significant others as well as our friend, Kyle, to join in on the food this time.

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For starters, I made butternut squash pizzettes as an appetizer by using my Butternut Squash Pizza recipe and using Cuban bread as the crust. Everyone was a huge fan of them, although I definitely prefer a regular pizza crust over the Cuban bread. I think if I were to serve this again as an appetizer, I might use regular pizza dough and shape it into small, individual pizzas.

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I also made an Autumn Chopped Salad from Espresso and Cream found via Pinterest. This salad combines the sweetness of pears and cranberries with a nice tanginess from the combination of a vinaigrette and poppy seed dressing. The only changes I made were to omit the bacon and sub goat cheese for blue cheese.

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For the main course, Jennifer made Apple and Sage Porkchops (found via Pinterest). I’m not a huge pork-eater, but boy, were these good!

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For sides, Jennifer made a Apple and Cranberry Stuffing (found via Pinterest)

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while I made a Pumpkin Mac’n’Cheese from Healthy Food for Living (yup, you guessed it… found via Pinterest). I changed things slightly by turning this into a baked mac’n’cheese and also added breadcrumbs to the top.

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Here’s my plate with a little bit of everything on it:

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Our dinner reminded me of a Thanksgiving Day Dinner with a twist. My absolute favorite item was definitely the apple and cranberry stuffing. I’m a sucker for anything sweet though, so I might be biased.

For dessert, Jennifer made Apple Cupcakes with a Caramel Buttercream Frosting. We all agreed that the cupcake had more of a muffin consistency rather than that of a muffin. However, Mister E declared these his all-time favorite, so you know that they were still delicious!

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And there you have, our Fall Dinner Party! I really liked how all the flavors came from things that are in season and how they complimented each other so well. I find that planning dinners can sometimes be stressful since I usually find a recipe for just the entree or just the side dish, and I struggle finding complimenting items. Perhaps I should think more seasonally when trying to pair my food from now on.

Oh, and P.S. I already made my own personal version of the Autumn Chopped Salad for lunch over the weekend – this time subbing salad greens for the romaine lettuce.

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It was delicious!

Purging the Fridge

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Going without power in the cold was an experience like noneother. It really opened my eyes to how much my life is dependent on electricity and how much I take it for granted. Without it, I truly felt paralyzed. My life came to a screeching halt as my only focus was staying warm, finding warm food that wasn’t granola, taking a hot shower, and taking proper care of my pets.

So much thought and preparation had to be put into every decision. If I wanted to go somewhere, I had to consider the road conditions – was there ice? Would there be road blockages from fallen trees? Would I have to go through inner roads where stoplights would be out? Did I have enough gas to get where I wanted to go? Could I find an open gas station if needed?

And this was all within a span of two days! Over 200,000 people in the state of Connecticut went an entire week without power in the cold! Even today, ten days after the storm, there are still some poor stragglers that are still waiting for their power to be restored.

As if the cold nights, lack of internet or television entertainment, the use of candles and flashlights, no coffee, and worrying about where you were going to find gas wasn’t enough, you can add having all of your food spoil in the fridge to the list.

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That would be my fridge after what I will kindly refer to as “the purge”. Unfortunately my grocery timing couldn’t have been any worse as I went on a big shopping spree at Trader Joe’s just two hours before my power went out.

Immediately after I lost power Saturday afternoon, I quickly grabbed all of my meat products from the fridge (which included chicken breasts, ground beef, salmon, and beef bacon) and threw them into the freezer. I then banned myself from the fridge and freezer knowing that I would be losing precious cold air if I opened the doors again. As long as the fridge and freezer stayed shut, I knew that there was a good chance it would remain cold inside.

When my power still wasn’t restored when I woke up Sunday morning, I knew I would have to take further measures to protect my food from spoiling. I made plans to go over to Mister E’s house where there was still blessed power and decided to bring as much of my food with me to store in his refrigerator. I didn’t have a ton of room to carry everything, so I had to be selective with what to bring. Items that made the list include:

  • chicken breasts
  • salmon
  • ground beef
  • beef bacon
  • eggs
  • coffee creamer
  • sliced cheese

Of course I would have brought my entire fridge’s contents with me if I could, but there really just wasn’t space for all of it. Unfortunately, there were quite a few casualties in the wake of my decision.

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It was very painful to throw out so much food. Almost equally painful was the stench coming from everything. I couldn’t believe how badly things had spoiled in the span of two days. To be fair, some of the food, especially the produce, didn’t have a long shelf life left in them to begin with.

For the produce items, it was easy to tell what had spoiled based on looking at it. I also knew the majority of my freezer items would have to go since the temperature in my freezer had risen above freezing (I knew this since my ice cubes had melted). The hardest items to determine whether or not they had spoiled already were the dairy ones. I basically did a smell test on every item. Anything that had the faintest whiff of funky got tossed.

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On Tuesday, I went grocery shopping to restock everything that I had lost. To help make sure I didn’t go too overboard with the spending, I made a quick list of the items that I had tossed. I also made sure to stick to the outer perimeter of the store where most of the produce/meat/dairy/freezer items are. I only ventured into the inner aisles to pick up tomato sauce and canned pumpkin.

My grocery bill totaled just shy of $100, which isn’t as bad as what I was expecting.

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A stocked fridge is a happy fridge!

Have you ever had to throw the majority of your fridge’s contents?

Improving Your Photos: Indoor Lighting

Now that it’s getting dark out earlier, I figure it’s a good time to cover some basics in photographing food at night. I’m by no means an expert and in no way are my methods the right way. Some of you may even end up laughing at me when you find out what I do, but what I do works for me, so maybe it will work for someone else as well. I think some of you will be surprised to learn that you don’t have to put in much more effort to produce this kind of difference in photos:

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Setting our clocks back an hour can sure feel great when you get to sleep in an extra hour the following morning. However, to many people, this now means that it is pitch black by 5 o’clock in the evening. And for those that hold regular office jobs with very few windows, this can mean the absence of daylight in their lives from Monday morning to Friday evening.

Wait, did you hear that? I think that’s the sound of photographers around the world mourning the losing of their natural daylight.

We already covered that photographing your object in natural light is the number one thing that you can do to help produce better photos, but to illustrate that point, check out this example:

Here is a picture of turkey-lentil meatloaf that I took in January of this year in natural daylight (around 3 p.m.):

Here is a picture of the same turkey-lentil meatloaf recipe taken last month in October at night in artificial lighting:

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Hm… now which one looks more appetizing to you? I’ll tell you my opinion – it’s not the one that looks like dog food.

Now that we’ve covered what a challenge it can be to photograph an object at night  and indoors (let’s assume from this point forward that your subject is food), let’s cover some simple things that you can do to overcome it since you don’t want anyone thinking that you’re eating dog food, right?

The first step you need to take towards better indoor photography is to understand white balance. What is white balance? White balance is basically the way you calibrate your camera’s color settings for the environment that you’re shooting in. If you tell your camera what kind of environment or lighting that you’re photographing in, it will try to help you by compensating it’s color levels. To put it a different way, it’s like telling a friend the weather outside to make sure they don’t walk out in a bikini when there’s a blizzard. You want to make sure your friend is appropriately dressed in a warm parka.

Here’s an example of what my white balance button and menu look like on my camera (a Canon Rebel XS):

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You can see that my camera gives me different setting options for whether I’m taking a photo in direct daylight, shade, under clouds, indoor lighting, or using a flash. The majority of times I leave this setting on Auto and let the camera figure things out for itself. However, when you’re taking a photo at nighttime and indoors, it usually helps to take the camera off auto and specify your lighting conditions.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a DSLR camera! There’s a very good chance that your point-and-shoot camera has a white balance feature on it as well. Pull out the owner’s manual or do a quick Google search to find out. It may not have as many options to choose from, but you should still try to play around with it.

Ok, but back to white balance settings. Looking at my options above, you would think that if I’m shooting indoors under artificial light, I would want to use either the tungsten or white fluorescent light options. Let’s take a look and see where that gets us.

To start with, here is a photo taken on the Auto white balance setting (I’m letting the camera figure out what color settings it would like to use) under my nasty kitchen lighting:

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Ok, so that isn’t awful, but the photo isn’t really showing off the food the way I want it to.

Let’s try changing my white balance setting to the Fluorescent Light option:

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Well, that certainly made the picture less yellow, but now it has a strong red tint. Not good.

Let’s try again, this time using the Tungsten Light setting for white balance:

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Hey, now we’re getting somewhere! There’s still a slight yellow tint, but the food is starting to look a little bit more true-to-real-life in color. If I’m in a a restaurant setting or over at someone else’s house, I will usually adjust my white balance to the tungsten light setting for photographing food. It’s usually the quickest way to ensure my photos don’t turn out overly yellow or red.

But let’s take things one step further, shall we? In the white balance menu above, did you notice the setting called Custom? By choosing the custom white balance I can tell my camera what is white. Again, think of it like calibrating the camera’s colors. Or to go back to our analogy, the custom setting would be like calling up your friend and telling them they should wear a parka today without telling them what the weather is like outside.

For my Canon Rebel XS, I first have to take a picture of something white. I’ll use anything from a towel, a piece of white paper, a white wall, or a white plate. (Tip: The picture doesn’t need to be in focus, so if your camera has any difficulty taking an all white picture, put your camera into manual focus and snap the picture.) Once I have a completely white photo, I define it as the custom white balance by going in under my menu. Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like for my camera:

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Once my custom white balance is defined, I still have to change my white balance setting from automatic to custom. Now let’s try taking a picture using the Custom white balance:

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Woah! Huge difference from above, right? You’ll see that any yellow tint is completely gone and is instead replaced by a slight bluish one.

Let’s do a little recap:

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Starting from the top-left corner and going clockwise, the white balance is set to 1) automatic 2) white fluorescent 3) tungsten and 4) custom.

Now, the white balance setting that you choose to use really comes down to preference. In general, I like using the custom white balance to avoid overly yellow photos. However, there are times that I don’t have the time to properly set the custom white balance. Or sometimes I think that the food looks too washed out using custom and prefer the warmth that a tungsten white balance setting gives. Like I said, it really is personal preference and the overall look that you’re trying to achieve in the photo.

Ready to take things one step further?

This next part is really for only those of you that have time to dedicate to editing your pictures. This is also the part that I’m probably going to have people tell me that I’m an idiot who has the photo editing skills of a nine-year-old and should not be writing on the topic.

Those are the people that I would like to call photo snobs.

To be clear, there are tons of photo editing software out there that you can choose from at all different price levels and are geared to all different skill levels. There are also millions of methods for editing photos. What I’m about to show you just happens to be my method for editing that fits within my financial and time limits. If there’s anything that you take away from this, it’s that you should explore different editing features with whatever software or program you choose to do and to keep an open mind about it.

I use Microsoft Office Picture Manager 2010 as my photo editing software (stop cringing, you photo snobs!). This program came as a bonus when I installed Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint on my computer and has proven to be very user-friendly and easy to use.

Alright, so here’s the basic steps that I follow when editing a photo that was taken in indoor lighting. As an example, I am using the photo from above that we took using the Custom white balance setting. In Picture Manager, I click on the Edit Pictures button in the middle of my toolbar which opens my Edit Menu on the right-hand side of my screen. I then click on the Color tab which is the second one on the Edit Menu list.

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Within the Color tab, I click on the Enhance Color button. This button acts in a similar way to White Balance in that I can dictate what part of the photo should by truly white. It is for this reason that I like to include some white in all of my photos either as a dish or placemat.

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So after you click on the Enhance Button, you will be asked to click on an area of the photo that should be white. For this particular photo, I clicked right in between the five and six o’clock position on the lip of the bowl. As you can see below, the area now appears to be more of a true white and the rest of the photo appears to be brighter and more vibrant.

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Sometimes I’ll stop at this point. However, for this particular photo, I felt as if there was a slight purplish tint over everything. To correct, I adjusted the hue settings using the slider bars on the right-hand side.

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Things were looking really good at this point, and I could have stopped, but I was still slightly annoyed at how dark some of the food was in the bowl from the shadow being casted on it by one side. To correct, I went back to my Edit Menu and clicked on the Brightness and Contrast tab. I very rarely adjust the brightness settings, but will usually use the Contrast and Midetone adjustments. After a little playing around, I finally found settings that I was happy with.

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Ok, just for giggles, let’s do one more recap.

Here’s the picture straight-out-of-the-camera (often referred to as SOOC) using the automatic white balance setting:

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And by putting forward the most minimal effort and changing the white balance setting to tungsten lighting, we get:

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And if you were to choose to take an extra 60 seconds and take a picture of a white object first and define it as your custom white balance setting, you would end up with the following picture:

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And if after all of that, you decided to take the extra three minutes to edit the custom white balance photo, it would then look like this:

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Wow, did you get all that? I know it seems like a lot to take in, but if you pull your camera and manual out and do a little reading and a little experimenting, you’ll be feeling comfortable with this in no time!

Also, you shouldn’t feel like this is the only way to take a photo indoors. I’m not saying the last photo is exactly magazine cover-worthy, but when compared to our starting point, there is a huge improvement. But you could always use a light box which is a common method used when photographing food. Or you could always splurge for some professional lights. And while it has many nay-sayers, sometimes the flash can be your best friend in a dark setting.

Whatever route you choose, I hope you survive the next few dark months and feel inspired to experiment a little bit with your photos!