Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Tis Jammin' Season

Jake and I finally got around to strawberry picking before the season ends. Strawberry picking usually kicks off our summer of fruit picking and jamming, road trips, laying by the pool, hiking, and camping. Luckily we were able to pick 10 pounds of strawberries at Boyd Orchards  in Versailles, Kentucky.

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That's right, one, zero, ten pounds. I already have a list of food with strawberry I want to make:
Strawberry Granita
Roasted Strawberry Butter Milk Cake
Strawberry Shortcake
Strawberry Jam

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I started the jammin' session with strawberry jam. However, it seems like lately I keep running out of ingredients when I want to make something. I did not have enough pectin. The jammin session only produced three pints of strawberry jam.

On the flip side, I convinced Jake to make his grandmother's biscuits for strawberry shortcake. This was one of the very rare occassions Jake makes something for me. Wheee!

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Grandma Krasch's Biscuit

2.5 cups sifted flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut in small pieces
2/3 buttermilk (approx. see #2)
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a mixing bowl.
2. Beat egg in a one-cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the cup with buttermilk. Set aside.
3. Add butter into dry ingredients, use a dough blender to mix butter in until pea size.
4. Add egg-milk mixture to dry ingredients. Mix with a few strokes.
5. Roll out dough in a lightly floured surface until 1/4-inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter/ circular cookie cutter.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Serve with fresh strawberries/ strawberry jam and whipped cream.

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For the next jammin' session, I am thinking blueberries or blackberries.
Till then, I got 8 more cups of crushed strawberries waiting for me to jam 'em.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Beer Bratwursts

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Before I moved to the United States, I thought hot dogs were the only kind of sausage around. Until I moved to Wisconsin, home of the World's Largest Brat Fest. My soon-to-be-in-laws have brats practically every week in the summer. Then I start to love sauerkraut, mustard of all kinds, and large soft pretzels. Eh, how did a girl grew in Hong Kong become a German?
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Since moving to Kentucky, we hardly have brats except on Super Bowl, today (Memorial Day), and a few must-grilled-out holidays. Johnsonville is my trusty go-to brand. Don't read the nutrition information and the ingredients on the back of the package. It's the taste that counts.

For one package of brats, I use one can of beer. Tonight, Milwaukee's Beast was all I got (remember those college days, anyone?). I would choose a better grade light beer or dark for an extra zing. I usually cut up an onion and add into the beer brat mixture, tonight I ran out of onion. To make things worse, my half jar of sauerkraut went bad. Who knew sauerkraut could go bad?

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Here's how beer brats work:
Bring beer (use enough beer to cover up brats), onion, and brats to simmer. Keep simmer for 10 minutes, meanwhile heat up the grill. Jake refuses to get me a grill, so I have been "grilling" brats on cast iron pan (mostly because we live on the third floor of an apartment building). Let brats sizzle until cooked at 160F inside.

There are many ways to make beer brats. Some grill first then simmer the brats in beer, or vise versa. I have seen people place a foil baking pan half filled with beer in the grill (if your grill is big enough). Once the brats are done on the grill, then transfer the brats into the beer pan.
This website is dedicated to bratwurst:

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Usually the brat will be covered with sauerkraut, but at least I got some good spicy brown mustard. Serve with any picnic sides of your choice. Tonight I had steamed corn on the cob and salad mix from my CSA box. Yummy!

Happy Memorial Day!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

High Hope Steeplechase

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After living in Kentucky for a year and half, I still don't get the whole thing with horse races. Last Sunday Jake and I went to the High Hope Steeplechase at Kentucky Horse Park. I explained to Jake that steeplechase is like hurdle for horses, close enough, right?

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In Wisconsin, people tailgate for Badger games, Packer games, Brewer games, and other sporting events. But not for horse races. We showed up without a cooler filled with food or drink and no picnic spread. I found a towel for Lola that I keep in my car truck, and we used it as our picnic blanket. Very classy compared to the families dressed in neatly ironed khakis with polo shirts and cute sundresses.

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Here we go!

Did you know that steeplechase horses are different than the racing thoroughbred?
I thought horses are just horses...
We randomly picked a horse that we think will win, and of course, our horse never won.

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There is nothing cutter than watching terrier dog races. They use a fake squirrel to lure the dogs to dash for the finish line. It gets them every time. Lola would have saw right through their trick.

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Even though I was probably the only one there holding a DSLR camera without a fancy zoom lens, I am happy to see how my pictures turned out.
We were unprepared for High Hope Steeplechase, I kept thinking what I would bring for a picnic at the race track. Knowing me, I think about food constantly.

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Speaking of picnics, what will you be making for Memorial weekend?
I will be making a Wisconsin "tradition", more on that later.

Happy Memorial Weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Composition - Part II

Last time I discussed some elements that would make good photo composition. Such as the rule of thirds, depth of field, leading lines, and texture and pattern. However, composition does not just end here. There are lots more to it than meets the eyes. Before writing this and the previous post, I did lots of research on photography composition and not one website has the same advice. But here are a few more composition elements that will help make your photo “pop”.

      By keeping the scene minimal, our brain quickly picks out subject of interest. But the camera does not discriminate, it captures everything the frame will allow. Then it is up to you to choose the subject by selecting a focal length or camera viewpoint that would make subject the center of attention.

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Fill the Frame
       When shooting a large-scale scene, leaving too much space will make the subject seem small and loses the focus as being center of attention. Zoom in to fill in the space, or get closer to the subject. Use nature elements, like trees, to fill in the spaces around the frame.

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      Busy background makes the subject blend in and loses the focus. Simple background, or using focal length to blur out the background are great ways to allow the subject to tell the story.

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      Instead of having the horizon in the middle of the picture, shift it up or down based on what is the subject. For example, if the sky is the subject, lower the horizon, and vise versa.

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View Point
      Before snapping the picture, think about where do you want to position the subject of interest. If you have been snapping at eye level, maybe switching the view point to above or below the subject.

Here is a picture of my sister when we were at Bayou Festival in New Orleans. Instead of snapping a portrait of her, I took the picture from above.

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Go Crazy
      It is important to understand the concept of composition, but bending rules sometimes bring out jarring effects. While writing this post, I had a hard time finding pictures that would fit these composition element categories. Everything I know about photography so far is by experimentation and practice. Now I know what look for before snapping. You see, there is still so much to know about photography and I am just getting started.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Orleans!

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Last week I had one too many beignets at Cafe Du Monde, endless pounds of boiled crawfish, jambalaya, and gumbo (and still not enough!). It was any foodie's heaven. I was in New Orleans in a week with my sister, eating my way through the city and admiring beautiful mansions.

There was music every corner. We went to a couple restaurants with live jazz music, where people danced freely as if everyday is a Friday.

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I kept imaging what it would be like living in one of these apartments in the French Quarter. I could listen to live music, chow down on good food, and shop at cute boutiques. What a life.

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Jackson Square

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Best way to tour the city is to take the street car.

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This is the magical beignet with sugary wonder dust. I had beignets at Cafe Du Monde four times of the five days we were there. Yes, it was that good.

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Did you know there are about 2 million alligators living in the swamps of southern Louisiana? And they love marshmallows?

I went on a swamp tour (it was nothing like Swamp People) outside New Orleans. There was alligators everywhere, which to my surprise, are very gentle and calm creatures. I even held a baby one.The tour guide fed alligators marshmallows and raw chicken. Sounds like a well-balanced meal.

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I love every part of New Orleans, minus the heat and humidity. I have grown to love Creole cuisine and its culture. I took pictures of all the good foods I had, which I will write about later. I miss the beautiful city already. It's magical.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dinner Tonight

Much of my nutrition career is teaching about MyPlate. I love the concept, because it's easy to understand and follow without worrying too much about serving sizes. The idea of MyPlate is that 1/4 of the plate should be lean protein, 1/4 whole wheat product (rice, bread, pasta, potato, etc...), and 1/2 fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that the dinner plate needs to be a reasonable size, not restaurant plates. When I was helping out a weight loss class, my students always complained how hard it was to keep up with the amount of veggie and fuirts per day. MyPlate gives a good visual presentation of what a meal should like. So I decided to take pictures of my dinner for the last week and half, just to see if I met the MyPlate standard.

Day 1: Pan-fried salmon, boiled broccoli with carrot-ginger vinegrette, and buttered homemade no-knead bread.

Day 2: Left over from Cinco de Mayo. Two whole wheat taco shells with sautee zucchini, black beans and tomato stew, shredded chicken, top with chedder cheese and hot sauce.

Day 3: Baked pork chop with chili lime panko breading (from Kraft Fresh Take), oven roasted asparagus, and buttered homemade no-knead bread.

Day 4: Chinese noodles with sauce and bacon-green beans. I am not even sure how to describe the sauce. It was sent to me from my Mom in Taiwan, it's dark, chunky, and lots of flavor and spices.

Day 5:  Whole wheat penne with homemade marinara sauce and leftover oven-roasted asparagus.

You might have noticed that several of my food posts have these very unphotogenic orange bowls. They are from my college days, I am waiting for the day when I do my wedding registry for grown-up dish set.

Day 6: Homemade barbeque chicken and broccoli chedder pizza. We had friends over for a pizza party, I was too busy chit-chatting and forgot to take pictures of my plate.

I think I did a pretty good job with keeping the protein at a reasonable portion and having vegetables in all of my meals. I have at least another serving of vegetable for lunch and 3-4 fruits per day.

What does your dinner plate look like?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

Growing up in Hong Kong and Taiwan, cookies were unseen in my house. Sure, we had "cookies" like rice crackers with seaweed on top and saltine crackers. My sister and I only got chocolate chip  and peanut butter cookies when our family friends brought us Mrs. Fields' cookies from the fancy boutique. Needless to say, chocolate chip and peanut butter did not exist in our house until when I was in high school when my sister got into baking. Don't feel like I missed out, I would give up chocolate chip cookie for life just to have dim sum and my Grandma's cooking whenever I want.

Today, chocolate chips (and anything chocolate-related) and peanut butter are staples in my pantry, and peanut butter cookies are the most requested dessert in my house.

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I love that fragrant nutty smell of peanut butter. One of these days I am going to try making my own peanut butter.

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I have always used the peanut butter cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (which is an awesome go-to cookbook), but today I tried the one from Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (from Smitten Kitchen). The chocolate chips just bring these cookies up a notch.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup crunchy peanut butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips.
3. Drop by rounded tablepoonfuls onto cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion.
4. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

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p.s. Anyone know why my cookies look green?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Composition - Part I

This morning I walked across a stage, shook many hands, and received my master's of science diploma.

Yippeee! Woot! Woot!

It feels great to accomplish something big.

Now back to a topic that I have not touch on for a while. Photography.

Composition is a photography topic that I have yet to fully understand, but it is what makes your photo "pop". Some elements that make good composition include texture, depth of field, pattern, symmetry, and lines. A successful picture is one that has a good balance of one or more of the elements above, and immediately draws viewers' attention to it. Sound abstract? I understand. Composition is about how to position your subjects in the frame that will make the subject the subject. 

A very well-known "rule" (even though there are no rules in photography) is the "Rule of Thirds".

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Imagine the picture is divided up into nine squares, with two horizontal and vertical lines. The rule of third says you should position the subject along the lines, or at the points they intersect. Some may debate that this is an overrated approach. Even by moving away from the centre can make everything else in the scene balance with the subject.

Here are other examples of what would make good composition.

Depth of Field:
    This gives a more three-dimensional and the depth view of the picture by giving a foreground, middle ground, and background.

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Leading lines:
    This plays on the fact that our eyes are naturally drawn along lines, while a poorly composed photo leave us not sure where to look. It is like a "journey" through the scene, pulling viewers into the scene.

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Texture and pattern:
     These two also give a more three-dimensional feel.

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Lots of photography talk here, till next time then.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

No-Bake Strawberry Pie

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I took my last final exam ever on Monday, and now I am looking forward to the graduation ceremony on Sunday. With all this free time, I am not sure what to do with myself. I have been going on runs in the morning before the 80 plus temperature hits, then all I want to do is take naps. On the flip side, my sister and I are meeting up in New Orleans in a couple weeks. I already know I will be having beignet and seafood everyday. If you have any suggestions for places to visit or eat in New Orleans, let me know.

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I made some chocolate fudge cookies a couple weeks ago, they turned out to be a flop. I must have done something stupid while doubling the recipe. The cookies turned out to be great crust for this no-bake strawberry pie.

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It's strawberry season and I am loving it.

Last summer I found some strawberry plants growing in the apartment grounds from a neighbor's backyard. That day, Jake and I planned a secret mission. We paid a raccoon five dollars to dig up some of the plants. When I say raccoon, I mean we transplanted some strawberry plants from the neighbor's backyard into our pot. It was quite an operation. Those strawberry plants are now in a hanging pot, producing even more strawberries this year. There growing on apartment compound, so I would say no crime was committed here.

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I wish I had a problem with strawberry growing out-of-control. I can only imagine the number of pies and jams I could make.

This pie was easy to make and perfect for hot days like today.

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No-Bake Strawberry Pie
(Recipe adapted from Whole Foods Market)

A dozen of cookies (gingersnaps, graham crackers, or chocolate cookies would work well)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved one pound and sliced half pound
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cornstarch
Whipped cream

1. Pulse cookies in a food processor until finely grounded, about 1 and 3/4 cups crumbs. Add butter and pulse again until completely blended. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan and press evenly into the bottom and sides. Chill in refrigerator while preparing filling.

2. Put 1 pound of strawberries into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and juicy. Transfer to a small sauce pan. Add sugar, water, and cornstarch, stir to combine. Bring content to boil, stirring often, until very thick and glossy, about 4 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

3. Arrange the sliced strawberries over crust, pour strawberry mixture over the top and smooth out to ensure it fills in the space between berry slices. Chill until set, 1 to 2 hours, top with whipped cream, enjoy!

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