I have to admit – I have a bit of a blog crush on today’s Blogger Spotlight. I have been reading Melanie’s blog My Kitchen Cafe for some time now, and hers is a blog that you know you can go to and get a good recipe. I know several people who have made her recipes and every single person raves over them!! If there was one blogger that I would want to meet in real life, Melanie would be my choice! So I’m so excited that she is participating today!
From her blog: “I started this home-grown food blog simply as a way for me to categorize and keep my personal favorite recipes in one easily accessible place and to encourage my hobby of cooking and baking. Several years later, this blog still houses my favorite tried-and-true recipes as well as the new, dishes and desserts I’ve made and loved. My goal is mainly to prove to myself that I can make healthy, delicious, simple (with the occasional splurge on time and ingredients) recipes for my family.
I think of myself as very, very average when it comes to kitchens and cooking. I have one oven. One sink. Minimal countertops. One refrigerator. Mismatched dinnerware. Broken-handled wooden spoons. And I love it. It’s exciting to try and create masterpieces within my average kitchen and average cooking abilities.
What you won’t see is overly fussy ingredients or recipes. I don’t think you need hard-to-find ingredients (uh, wherefore art thou marinated jellyfish??) to create great tasting food. Let me assure you, I live in the podunk midwest and heaven knows, I don’t have specialty food stores at my beck and call. I’m fairly confident that anything I can find to cook with, you can find, too.”
What inspired you to first start writing your blog?
I started blogging almost three years ago, and to be honest, it happened mostly because I kept posting recipes on my personal family blog and some of my extended family members gently told me they would rather see pictures of my kids than see a recipe. Rude, I know. Because of that I a) cut them out of my inheritance and b) followed their advice and set up a blog solely dedicated to recipes. It basically started as a place to house all my tried-and-true recipes and also give me an avenue to post those new recipes I make that make me say, “Dude, I need to tell people about this one!”
Except for an occasional giveaway here or there, my posts are all centered on recipes. Recipes, recipes, recipes! Oh, and sometimes wordy dialogue since I have problems being concise. I really love just simply sharing fantastic recipes. It’s always fun and interesting for me to see which recipes get the most instant feedback from readers. Sometimes I’m surprised! Like when I recently posted this White Bean and Tuna Salad – seriously, who knew that so many would go ga-ga over it. I thought for sure it would be one of the most boring, never-looked-at recipes on my site. But I posted it anyway because I couldn’t stop eating it. I’m glad others can’t stop eating it, either.
Yes, I plan my menu and I do it in 2-week segments (using this template). Can I tell you a secret? I love to plan my menus. I know, I’m weird. But I actually look forward to payday because I know I get to plan a new 2-week menu! You know you need to get out more when menu planning is your favorite hobby. I try to incorporate some of our favorite tried-and-true recipes on each menu plan so as to please my husband and four charges, but I also throw in the new recipes that have been on my waiting list to try.
Do I have to answer this? That’s like trying pick a favorite child. Hmmm…I’d have to say, this sweet and sour chicken. It is one of the most popular recipes on my blog but the reason it is my personal favorite is because it honestly brings pure and utter joy to my husband’s face when he walks in and knows it is for dinner. It is his all-time favorite meal (and my kids eat it without gagging and complaining, too – win, win!).
Here’s my little niche. My favorite thing about my kitchen is a) the abundant cabinet space and b) the counter that stretches across the middle. That’s where my kids hang out when I’m cooking. Sometimes they color, draw, play with play-dough, bug each other…and sometimes they help whisk, stir, measure. Either way, it gives me time to be a mom and enjoy cooking and baking.
Remember I’m a nerd and I like menu planning? Remember that? Well, it’s also the only way dinner makes it on to our table each night. Every evening before I head to bed, I take 2-3 minutes and I review what dinner is for the next night so I know what meat to thaw, what prep work needs done earlier in the day (i.e. Slow cooker, make rolls, etc.). By simply having it written out and knowing what the plan is, it saves us from spending our life savings on hot dogs or 5 buck pizzas.
I’d say it’s a pretty equal split – 33% from cookbooks (checked out from the library, mostly!), 33% from bloggyland and 33% my own creations (some of which fail very miserably).
Dude, bread, cheese and chocolate. No recipe needed. Just some outlandishly good artisan bread, extra sharp cheddar cheese and dark chocolate.
My favorite part, for sure, is the positive affirmation that comes through the readers who leave comments or who email me. It’s amazing the support people have given me! I am constantly overwhelmed by the feedback I get from people I’ve never met and the joy they find in trying the recipes. Don’t worry. My husband makes sure it doesn’t go to my head. He does this purely by asking me “So, are you going to take a picture of those hot dogs and post about them?” when that’s what ends up on the dinner table.
Up until a few months ago, I used a Canon point-and-shoot, but in May-ish, I upgraded to a Nikon D90. I use one main lens for my food: 50mm 1.8. I have another lens, a 18-200mm 3.5, but I usually use that on my kidlets instead of the food. I use a kitchen barstool and some colored placemats for most of my pictures, although with the low light conditions, I just invested in the Lowell EGO digital lights and they are absolutely amazing. They have changed my life when it comes to taking food pictures when it is already dark in the evening. And since it gets dark now at like, 4:30 p.m., I’m seriously in love with them. I know, I know, I need to get a life.
Any suggestions or hints to have great food photos?
I am far from a professional when it comes to food photography since I have no idea what half the buttons do on my camera. But I will say that my main goals in getting a good food picture are to a) use good light. If I can’t use natural daylight (before I had my digital lights), I wouldn’t even bother taking a picture. Lighting is key to a good picture, in my book! b) keep it simple and uncluttered and c) take a hundred pictures and cross my fingers that one of them will turn out!
My mom made dinner every single night that I can remember but because she did not really enjoy cooking, we rotated through a lot of the same meals – spaghetti, tacos, cornflake baked chicken, chicken stir-fry, etc. I still make a few of my mom’s tried-and-true recipes but I have adapted many of them to use less processed ingredients (i.e. no more cream of whatever soup!). Because I’m obsessed with trying new recipes and I cook a lot, my cooking style is probably a bit more extreme than how I ate growing up – but I’m happy to report that my mom is my biggest (only??) fan and has probably tried every recipe on my blog (and loved most of them, too, thank goodness!).
What was the first dish you ever cooked?
I don’t remember! Isn’t that sad? I wish it was some life-changing memory. I made cookies a lot during high school but didn’t delve much into main dish fare; however, in college, my rooommates and I all rotated dinner nights and I got pretty good at lasagna and cowboy dinner (long story – great meal).
I sneak into my pantry, close the door, and eat chocolate chips by the handful. Come to think of it, that’s more of a coping skill when my four boys decide to run around the house like chickens with their heads cut off, but I guess it’s kind of my way of cheating, too.
I have over 200 food blogs in my google reader and I obviously can’t list them all here, but I will say the food blogs I go back to over and over are the ones where the blogger has stayed very true to their purpose and identity. I tend to avoid those food blogs whose reviews of promotional/free items and giveaways outweigh the recipes. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I’m a simple girl – I like to get straight to the heart of the matter and find great new recipes to try!
Take us through a typical day of eating in your house.
Um, let’s see…I try to make a hot breakfast for my kiddos to start the day. Either these oatmeal pancakes or french toast, sometimes scrambled eggs and toast or oftentimes these bran muffins play a part. Then lunch, which is my arch nemesis, is a real gourmet spread of PB&J and/or ham and cheese sandwiches. Dinner is the meal I most look forward to because I am either making one of our best loved meals or making a new recipe I’ve really been looking forward to. And of course, the day is sprinkled with lots of snacks – we are huge fans of homemade S’mores in the microwave, honey wheat pretzel sticks and string cheese (my husband works for a cheese company so I usually have string cheese coming out my ears!).
What is your best tip for saving money on groceries?
Shop around. Isn’t that the worst news ever? With four small kids, I hate dragging them all into the grocery store, let alone three grocery stores! But I have to say that I save the most when I look for sales at different stores, plan my menu around the meat/produce on sale and do a marathon, multiple-grocery-store shopping trip. Sorry. I wish there was a money saving fairy that could wave a wand and we’d all instantly save, but I’m learning that saving money takes work. Ugh. I hate work.
What is your best tip to becoming a successful blogger?
A large part of blogging is identifying what you really want to get out of your blog. I’m not talking money or free stuff – I’m thinking more along the lines of what you want your blog to be and how you want it to be perceived. There isn’t any right or wrong answer – every blog is different and that is what is great about this community, but a successful blogger, to me, decides what they want out of blogging and then stays true to their identity and purpose. It’s easy to get swayed by what is popular in bloggyland, but I greatly admire those food bloggers (all of them very successful in their own right!) who have a clear voice and purpose and they stick with it. Also, I think it is important to stay in touch with those who read your blog – letting them know you appreciate them and staying friendly and open (even when they tell you that your most favorite, prized recipe tasted like crap – can you tell that’s happened to me a time or ten?).
Thanks Melanie! And I can vouch for that Sweet & Sour Chicken – it is SO good! I made it and blogged about it forever ago, and now it is one of my most popular posts!
Want to check out Melanie’s blog? Here’s where you can find her:
Website: My Kitchen Cafe