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The Photography of Biscuits & Such

Happy March! This week, courtesy of a conference Dan’s company is sending him to, we are in California (yay!). It’s my first time in California, second time on the West Coast, and first time ever traveling as the spouse of someone going to a conference. I feel very much like I expect my Grammy did in the 60’s and 70’s as she and Poppie traveled around the country (World? They’ve been everywhere). While I’m gone I’d like to share a little look into one of the things I get asked about most, the photography on Biscuits and Such. It’s something that I work constantly to improve and I thought it would be fun to give some background information, tips, etc.

a panoramic holga image from wrightsville beach, nc. made in 2003.

To start, for those of you who don’t know this about me, I have a BFA in photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I was lucky enough to have a mother who twisted my arm into attending Durham’s arts magnet school, Durham School for the Arts, which is where my interest in photography began. Not just any photography– specifically alternative processes. Three different (equally amazing) teachers guided me towards pinholes, medium format, cyanotypes, toy cameras, and more during high school. I had a holga long after they became cult classics but long before Urban Outfitters sold them for $60. I loved everything about experimental photography– I ate it up. That passion stayed with me throughout my years at MICA. While I, of course, learned formal darkroom skills, the art of the Fine Print, and processed hundreds of rolls of film, my real passion was for (almost) forgotten processes like palladium, Van Dyke, and cyanotype. As seen in my senior thesis, shown in part below.

multiple cyanotype panels of myself in scuba gear.

This is all to say that when I started Biscuits and Such in October 2008 I had spent more of my photography education painting chemicals on paper than behind a viewfinder. While I am (and have been for many years) a photographer, food photography did not come naturally. See as evidence a photo from that first post, Country Style Steak.

That is a horrible photo. The composition is bad, there’s crap in the background, the lighting is weird, and the food does not look appetizing. Nevertheless, I leave the photos untouched on that post because, well, it’s the first. Since those days, I’ve improved. Significantly, I think. Here are some of the things I try and consider when I’m photographing food:


Every time I teach a photography workshop I get to the part of the lesson where I’m supposed to explain the rule of thirds, and then I forget it. I mean, as a photographer I understand it- don’t center things, images have more interest and tension if the subject is off center- but I always forget how to explain it. Essentially, there are two rules I always follow when I’m photographing anything– don’t center your subject (that applies 99.9% of the time), and MOVE YOUR BODY. The most helpful photography advice I’ve ever received, in all my years of formal training, is to not just pick one spot to stand and photograph. You might think that one shot, one pose, one position is perfect (why waste more time, right?), but you’ll always be surprised at the better picture you can get if you walk around your subject, squat, stand on a chair, tilt your head, tilt your camera. More often than not, the final photo I take of something ends up being the one that I use (though that rationale could lead me to never stop taking photos– there has to be an ending to every photoshoot).


Our second apartment in Takoma Park had the best lighting in the world. It was seriously incredible- perfectly diffused, every sunlight hour was golden hour in that room. Since we left that apartment, however, I’ve had to struggle to find the light and make images that are well lit. The number one rule in photography, particularly food photography, is that whenever possible use natural light. Hopefully you’ve heard this over and over again. The thing that takes a ho-hum picture and makes it great is the light. Natural light can provide all the tone and shadow you need at a low barrier. It’s free- just find the sun. That being said, there might be times when you need to photograph indoors (away from windows) or at night.  In the winter I find myself photographing at night (or in our windowless kitchen) more often than I would like because of timing and the short daylight hours. In these cases, an external flash is a wonderful tool. I use the Canon Speedlite 430 Ex II, which is pure magic. It allows me to bounce light around the room, creating images that are evenly lit and clear.  However, not everyone is ready to purchase an external flash– it took me many years of food photography before I was there! If you’re not the owner of an external flash but want to make photographs indoors there are a few options- you can put a UV bulb into a lamp or light to add some white light to your kitchen scene, you can use a tripod to take images with a slower shutter and white balance your images to get rid of the orange hue, or you can diffuse the built in flash in your camera. Now, I know everyone will tell you that the built in flash on your camera is the worst. thing. ever, but it can work to your advantage. Simply hold a white business card or piece of paper in front of the flash as you shoot, which will diffuse the light to make the images a little softer. It’s not a perfect substitute for natural light, but in a pinch it will do.

The Scene:

There is a delicate balance in food photography between being so close to your food that the image looks like an impressionist painting and being so far away that the food becomes just another element in an elaborate tablescape. Ultimately you want to create an image that shows the food in all of its glory, but also an image that is interesting and complex. One thing that I struggle with is making myself step back. For my final photo shot I’ve started creating a scene. That can be as simple as setting up a wooden board in my bedroom near the window or as involved as using different backgrounds and fabric to show the food paired with ingredients, tools, or other props. It’s nice for your lead photograph to be a visual summary, it sets the scene for the story and the recipe.


What drew me into food blogs in the beginning was the step-by-step style posts where I could look at my mousse and try and gauge whether it looked how it was supposed to. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on process photos, not wanting to overwhelm readers with too many images, but also not wanting to just post three photos of the finished product. The reality is that some times I don’t take process photos because there’s too much going on, or because I forget, or because making food takes up all of my hands. Other times the process photos turn out poorly and I don’t think it’s worth posting them. However, I ultimately think that they add to the post and the recipe, so I like to include them. I really love action shots where things are frying, being poured, or people are demonstrating what to do with their hands. I think it makes an image that is dynamic and also instructional, which is the goal. For action shots where you are both the chef and the photographer a tripod can be your best friend. It allows you to multitask while taking clear images (and helps you not drop your camera!). You can set up the shot BEFORE you pour the beer into the pie crust, getting the photo you want without having to ruin your crust by pouring too much beer into it.


More than anything else I see the photographs I take for Biscuits and Such as art. As such, I try and make images that are beautiful and that tell a story. One area where I love to experiment is with my focus and depth of field. Depth of field is determined by your f-stop, which controls the size of your aperture (the hole that the light goes through). Essentially, the smaller the aperture, the less light comes through, the more things are in focus. A classic example of a high fstop is the group f64, which included such photography heavy hitters as Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams. In contrast, a low f-stop means a larger aperture, more light getting through, and a shallower depth of field. This allows for creative focus, which can be a beautiful way to highlight different parts of a dish or scene.


A good post should include a few types of photographs. There should be process shots, there should wide shots showing the whole dish, and there should be detail shots. Detail shots are beneficial in two ways- they give further insight into a recipe by showing up close how the food should look at different stages. They also allow you to flex your creative muscles. In this age of constant photo sharing, having a few beautiful detail shots can take your blog (and your recipes) a far way. Don’t be afraid to get close to your food, and use your detail shots to highlight ingredients or moments that may not be imperative to the recipe, but tell a story that can enhance the experience.


At first, I was all about the food. My pictures were much more documentary, just including the materials and tools I was using to make the food itself. When we moved back to Baltimore and I lost my perfectly lit kitchen, I had to start taking my food out to the backyard to photograph. After I while I realized that I could only post so many pictures of food sitting on my outdoor glass table any longer without you revolting. So I started investing in things to create an outdoor “studio.”  Since then I’ve started to evolve, including more fabrics, patterns, props, and techniques (such as chalkboard paint) to make my photos more dynamic. I still think that as a community food blogs are moving too far from pictures of the food and that the food should be accentuated by props, not just an element in an elaborate tablescape, but I do think that experimenting with color, pattern, texture, and writing can all be interesting ways to make your images more interesting and dynamic.

Abstract vs Literal:

Finally, I think that a really interesting direction to head with food photography is the abstract. I often have enough to say in a post that I need a lot of photographs, and it’s boring for them to be all the same. I like to include a huge variety, from carefully set scenes to detail shots to more abstract images. Abstract images can be a beautiful way to let the ingredients, settings, or tools sing. Food is beautiful, and the in the process of making food you can find some wonderful glimpses. Photos that are more literal in content, showing when/how to add ingredients or how things should look during different steps are incredibly important, but a well rounded post includes images of all types. Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful moments!


I hope this has been helpful! I’d love to hear your photo tips and feedback!

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Skillet Sausage Quiche

In an almost continuation of the Cast Iron Chronicles, I want to share what is probably my new go-to quiche. I made it for dinner a few weeks ago where a lot of friends were coming, and it was the perfect combination of vegetables, sausage, eggy cheesy goodness, and a pizza crust.

The beauty of cooking quiches (and pies in general) in a skillet is that because skillets heat evenly, the entire crust gets crispy. Which is not ideal for every scenario, but totally perfect for a quiche. I almost have no words for this, except of that it was delicious and you should make it immediately.

Skillet Sausage Quiche


2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp yeast

Dash of salt

Dash of red pepper flakes

3/4 cup warm water

2 cups bread flour (more might be necessary)


6 eggs

2 handfuls fresh spinach

4 small italian sausages (I used turkey)

12 cremini mushrooms

1 medium yellow onion

2 heads garlic

Dash of pepper

At least an hour before you’re ready to cook, make your pizza dough. Whisk together yeast, olive oil, salt, pepper, and water. Slowly stir in flour until combined.  Transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise for one hour.

To make your filling whisk together eggs. In the large skillet you plan on using to make the quiche, cook the sausage. Slice the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Stir into the eggs. Add pepper. When sausage is cooked, cube it and stir in in. Fold in spinach. Heat oven to 350.

When the pan has cooled, roll out dough on a floured surface and press it into the pan. Pour in filling. Bake 40 minutes or until cooked through.


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Irish Car Bomb Pie

Last Saturday morning, I was laying in bed talking to my Grammy. She commented on the fact that we’d been eating (making and sharing, really) a lot of pie lately. We discussed what pie plans I had for that weekend, I tried to explain Berger cookies over the phone (difficult), she told me about some cookies she’s been enjoying (they’re like communion wafers sort of), and then she launched into a story about a pie she had made. Now, my family, on both sides, are born story tellers. A night out to dinner with my grandparents is better than a night at a comedy club. They’re hilarious, and they know how to deliver a line. Grammy’s pie was sort of a catch all pie of things she had around the house, born out of a craving for wanting to eat a pie. The way that Grammy cooks is very what’s-available– she started throwing things she thought might be delicious into the pie, including a little bottle of Bailey’s that she found in the fridge.

This got me thinking about Bailey’s, and how delicious an Irish cream mousse would be. And then I started thinking about what kind of pie would compliment an Irish cream mousse, and by the time I got off the phone with Grammy I had decided that the best pie to make would be an Irish Car Bomb pie.

Now, for those of you not familiar, an Irish Car Bomb is a mixed drink that includes Irish stout, Irish whiskey, and Irish cream. The name refers to the ingredients, and is a kind of flip reference to a period in recent Irish history known (on Wikipedia anyway) as The Troubles.  The drink is made by mixing together whiskey and Irish cream in a shot glass, and then dropping it into a half filled pint of Irish stout. And then you have to chug it before it curdles. I don’t drink Irish Car Bombs.

In fact, I don’t do shots. Let’s just say that I had a very memorable 21st birthday (my sister Lauren, Megan, and Dan were committed to my having a great time) and I’ve now done enough shots for a lifetime. But I’ve seen plenty of people drink them, my Irish grandfather thought the pie sounded good, and I figured, what the hell. Let’s make the booziest pie ever. Seriously, I out boozy-pied myself.

An Irish Car Bomb pie, in its final incarnation, is a stout crust, a layer of Irish whiskey ganache, a layer of stout pudding, and Irish cream mousse. However, that’s not how it started. The original pie was a stout crust, whiskey ganache, and Irish cream mousse. It was delicious. Seriously good, light, a total hit. But as Dan pointed out the next day, something was missing. It didn’t have the stout flavor that is so important in the drink (and Dan would know, he’s done many an Irish car bomb). So we went back to the drawing board and I decided to make a stout pudding.

(the best part of having a food blog is having the online recipe book. two things i prefer to cook with- biscuits & such on my ipad and a glass of “chef’s juice”)

Originally I planned on making a chocolate stout pudding, but then, right before the part in the pudding process where you add the chocolate (after the stout had been incorporated), I stuck my finger in to taste. And it was delicious. Full of that unique Irish stout flavor, light but rich. I thought, why ruin it? Let’s keep this as close to the drink as possible! So I left it as is.

The final product was delicious. The stout pudding layer is unlike anything I’ve every had before, the whiskey ganache is completely decadent, and the Irish cream mousse is just… delectable. It’s rich, creamy, and very unique in flavor. I think it’s a perfect way to end National Pie Month this year, and it will definitely be on my table again. Thanks for coming along for the pie-filled ride, guys! Now excuse me while I go zumba off all this whipped cream.

Irish Car Bomb Pie
This pie is best if allowed to set overnight, so plan ahead! 

ICB Crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup shortening

3/4 stick butter, cold

1/2 cup Irish stout (such as Guiness)

1 oz Irish whiskey

Whiskey Ganache:

6 oz bittersweet chocolate

1 oz Irish whiskey

1/2 cup heavy cream

Stout Pudding:

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 12 oz bottle Irish stout

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

Dash of salt

Irish Cream Mousse:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup Irish cream (like Baileys)

1 tbsp warm water

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup sugar

The how to:

Begin by making your crust, the morning before you’d like to serve the pie. It’s a really delicious pie, but each layer needs some time to set. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to work in the shortening. Next, cube the butter and work that in. Pour in the whiskey, and mix with a wooden spoon. Next, add the stout. Stir until combined. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

After an hour, roll the pie dough out on a floured surface. Heat your oven to 350 and push dough into pie dish. Now, you’ll want to weight the crust with something while it’s baking so it doesn’t puff. I prefer dried beans, but they also sell fancy metal balls. Place a layer of parchment over your crust and fill with the weigher of your choice. Then bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.

While the dough is baking, make your ganache. In a double boiler combine the cream and chocolate, whisking until melted. Remove from heat and add ganache. When your pie crust comes out of the oven, pour the ganache into the bottom. Let set for at least three or four hours, until firm.

Once your ganache has set, begin with your pudding. In a double boiler combine sugar, salt, and cornstarch. First whisk in the cream, then the milk, then the stout. Over a medium boil, stir occasionally (making sure to scrape the bottom), until the pudding has thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the pudding on top of the ganache and refrigerate for two hours.

After your pudding has cooled and set, begin with your mousse.  Heat chocolate in a double boiler.  You don’t want the bottom of the bowl to be making direct contact with the water.  The water should also be slowly boiling, not rapidly.  Stir the chocolate occasionally until it’s melted and smooth.  Remove chocolate from heat, but keep the water simmering.

Whip heavy cream and Irish cream together until it holds soft peaks.  Cover and refrigerate.

Whisk egg yolks, egg, salt, and sugar together until foamy and light.  Place over saucepan and whip with electric beater.  Move the whisk in a circular motion until the eggs are fluffy and hot to the touch.  Don’t keep it over heat too long, or your eggs will scramble.  Remove from heat and continue beating on high for five minutes until thick ribbons fall from the beater when lifted.  Whisk in water.

Fold 1/4 of the egg into the chocolate.  Incorporate completely, then fold in the rest.  Finally, fold in the cream to make it smooth and light.

Spoon over pudding. Refrigerate overnight.

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