Monday, July 3, 2017

The Prodigal Food Blogger -- How the food blog world has changed for me

For the last few weeks, I have struggled with logging on to my food blog and Facebook Page. I just couldn't find the right words, and I'd second-guess if I should even write a post that doesn't have a recipe and photo. This morning, I'm on week #2 of my annual 4 week summer break from my job. I've decided to come clean about my personal feelings about being a Food here I go!

Here's the thing-- I started this food blog in 2008 because I love to cook and bake. I never sought fame and fortune when I created "A Feast for the Eyes".  I was inspired to start my own food blog by several food blogs that I was visiting on a regular basis.  My original goal was to store the recipes I've made, and then I discovered that I really enjoyed learning how to photograph food. (Some of my earliest posts are in dire need of a makeover!)

Even though I was raised in the restaurant business, I wasn't exactly the best cook. My recipe creativity and skills needed some serious help.  About 15 years ago, I began to crack open the culinary world when I honed in on Rachel Rays' 30 Minute Meals, on Food Network.  That's when I began to realize that I didn't need to buy canned soups or processed foods in order to feed my growing son. From there, I discovered Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, Ann Burrell and many other Food Network Stars.  By watching their videos, I started to improve my knife skills and was thrilled to discover that my cooking was improving!  I also found inspiration from food blogs and I'd spend hours reading blog post and slowly gathering my personal faves.  So, I picked up my inexpensive point-and-shoot camera and started posting. I found this to be so much fun!

Posting on my food blog become my obsession creative hobby and I slowly began to build a following. Slowly, but surely, I began to enjoy some perks of being a food blogger. I got "freebies" (food or kitchen tools) to test, went to food blog conventions and I became completely immersed in Food Blog World.  Today, small food bloggers (like me) don't get those perks any longer and any additional income that my food blog once earned no longer exists. The reason for this is that food blogs are expected to have very high traffic in order to make money.. I find that when I land on some food blogs, I am assaulted with pop-up ads and videos and so much advertising-- and I don't care for that.  I get it, though.  It's a way of making a living. Food Blogging was changing and I wasn't so sure this is the direction I wanted to head.

Today, Food Blogging has become a very profitable business and it has become a full-time job. I know Food Bloggers who make six figures a year (I'm serious), and who reap the benefits of their popularity (and their talents) with free cruises, free kitchen remodels and the perks of free cookware and gadgets. Kudos to them-- but I know I'm just not in that range of success and popularity. I would have to switch my blog over to a different platform and a re-design would cost me thousands of dollars!  I just couldn't justify that high of a financial investment since this is my creative outlet.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Mixed Berry Scones

So many of my fellow Americans love biscuits, but I much prefer what I perceive is a "cousin" to this Southern specialty.  I'm talking about scones.  I think I prefer scones because they are mildly sweet, and so versatile with all the ingredients that you can add to them.  I've made several versions of scones, and shared them on this blog here

This recipe was featured on Cook's Country, and I decided to bake them especially for my husband. My husband is a berry lover, so I was pretty confident he'd like these.  If you are familiar with Cook's Country Magazine (and the TV show) they are part of the America's Test Kitchen family.  I like that there's usually a "twist" in the recipe to make it even better.  Here's what the publisher had to say,
To keep the (frozen) berries from bleeding into the dough, we tossed the berries in confectioners’ sugar. To get light and flaky scones, we discovered that treating the butter in two different ways was key. First, we processed half the butter until fully incorporated into the dough. Then, we added the remaining cold butter and processed it until small clumps remained, creating pockets of steam as the scones baked. A simple glaze of butter and honey adds a nice finish to the scones.

I have a pastry cutter, but I find that my food processor gets the job done very quickly.  Butter is incorporated in two batches.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taco-Mex Homemade Hamburger Helper (One Pot Wonder)

When I made the recipe for Homemade Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper, it was a big hit with my family. I was reminiscing how my my mother used to buy a Mexican-themed one. It's been a very long time, but I remember a taco-style flavor to the beef.

I thought I'd tinker with the recipe and see if I could adapt this with a Mexican/Southwestern theme and see if I could create my own version of my childhood memory.

I discovered Avocado Oil at Trader Joe's and like using it in lieu of olive oil, because it has a higher smoke point. If you ever spot it, buy some! It's great.  Once I browned the ground beef, I added a chopped onion and red bell pepper.

I love black olives, so a drained canned of those was added to the mix.  Some taco seasoning (I make my own but packaged is fine), tomato paste would give some color and flavor the sauce.

I always keep a can of mild diced green chiles in my pantry. They are very mild, since I'm sensitive to really hot peppers.  Okay, then, we mix this right up...

 So, now we build the "sauce" by adding some flour...

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Ultimate Sugar Cookie - and my best cookie baking tips

A few months ago, one of my students brought a plate of sugar cookies to share with my office. For me, it was love at fist bite and I had to fight the urge to not share the cookies. However, in good conscience, I passed them around and everybody raved about them. I asked her if she'd get the recipe from her dad-- and after constant a few reminders, she brought me a recipe card. Score!

The recipe card was hand written with the name "Aunt Esther's Sugar Cookies". I asked who she was, and my student said she had no idea, and her dad couldn't remember how he got the recipe.  Well, Aunt Esther, whoever you are-- thank you so much!  The recipe only had ingredients and no detailed instructions. The few instructions said to squeeze the dough into one ball and pinch some dough and shape them into balls and roll in sugar. However, I was able to find a way to make the batter so that the dough turns out soft enough to scoop...

...and then gently press down with the palm of my hand.

I have baked many sugar (or vanilla) cookies in my lifetime and they are all good. But this cookie recipe ranks #1 favorite with my family now.  Every time I bake a batch (and I've made these a few times) my intention was to  photograph them, like most food bloggers do-- with a pretty mat or napkin, the classic milk jar with a colorful straw...but these cookies disappear way too fast! I give up. I just need to share the recipe with these quick photos,  because you'll thank me.

Whenever I post photos of cookies I've just baked, I am asked how I get my cookies to look just like a professional bakery.  Here are some "tricks of the trade" I've picked up over the years that have improved the results of my cookies:

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Homemade Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper (One-Pot Wonder)

I can remember, back in the early 1970's when Hamburger Helper first hit the supermarket.  My mother, being born and raised in the Bavarian Alps, had a limited repertoire of  American cooking. We were both shocked and surprised when Mutti brought this home to make for our dinner. My two brothers and I absolutely loved it!    I think Mutti loved how inexpensive and easy it was, since she also worked full-time, while raising the three of us.

Today, the times have changed, as many families are becoming more health conscious (thus, moving away from "processed foods). However, I still have great food memories of Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper, but now I can make my own with ingredients from my pantry and refrigerator, and I can control what's in it!

When I spotted this recipe on "The Daring Gourmet", it was a windy and rainy day and I was transported back to my childhood. I especially loved that this recipe is a One-Pot meal, and I had all of the ingredients on hand.

The main ingredients are ground beef and cheddar cheese...of course. You can use medium or sharp-- whatever you prefer.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Farmhouse Chicken Noodle Soup (Pressure Cooker Style)

First, let me explain that if you don't own a pressure cooker, you can still make this recipe in a regular old stock pot. Just increase the cooking time by four times! If you do own a pressure cooker, then this is THE chicken soup recipe for you! Pinkie promise!

Besides making this in a pressure cooker, with only 20 minutes of cooking time*, the chicken broth turns out to be super flavorful-- and there is an unexpected ingredient that helps to give that special "umami" that tickles the taste buds.

I did a little internet search for "Pressure Cooker Chicken Soup" and was surprised that many of the recipes list "chicken bouillon" or "chicken broth" as an ingredient.  That made no sense to me! 
I wanted to make chicken soup with....well, chicken!  I knew I wanted to add a mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), herbs etc. and nothing else!  Then I remembered one of my most used books, "Pressure Cooker Perfection"  from America's Test Kitchen.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sprinkle Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Here comes my transparency, to my friends and readers: My birthday was last July. Okay,'s now March!  I made this cake for my own birthday, because it's become my own self-inflicted tradition to bake my own cake, because it's fun!  I kept meaning to post this recipe, but Pumpkin Season came around, then Peppermint Season...and so I decided to hold on with sharing this recipe until spring. So, without further it is!

Yes, I enjoy baking cakes, very much. I'm not adverse to cake mixes at all, though I get a personal satisfaction baking a bake from scratch. Canned frostings, however, will never find a home in my pantry. I think they taste awful, to be honest. I'm not a fan of the texture and artificial flavors-- especially when making homemade buttercream is so easy to do!

So, while July was many moons ago, I wanted to share this recipe with you, because this cake is worthy for any occasion. Change the sprinkle colors to spring pastels, and this would make an impressive cake on your Easter Table-- for any birthday...or "just because".

I believe that what made this particular cake so spectacular was the frosting.  Yes, I do believe that's so true! Have you never made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream?  No?  Well, hold on-- because I hope to convince you that this frosting will make you swear off any canned frosting forever-- and just might make a classic buttercream seem a bit underwhelming.

But, first, let's start with the cake recipe.  For the batter, we're using cake flour, instead of all-purpose flour.  Cake flour has a bit less gluten, you see, so this is better insurance for a tender cake (or crumb, as bakers like to call it).  There's also buttermilk in the batter, and I believe this adds a lovely, yet subtle, tang and moisture to the cake. Of course, there's butter in the batter, sprinkles  and whipped egg whites are gently folded in.

There we are!  Three 8"-round cake pans of cake that is ready to be cooled. So, it's time to make some Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  A stand mixer is the best way to do this. You could use a hand held mixer, but you might need a third hand.  This is buttercream, so there is an absurd amount of butter (like, um, like almost five sticks of butter).  Yes, queue the cholesterol police.  Keep in mind, this is for a special occasion, and if your guests love this cake as much as mine did-- there won't be much left over.  So...

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pizza Wheels (Party Pizza Buns)

Yes, it's really me! I'm back, and this time, I hope to resume posting at least every Sunday. (This is my new mantra). Today, I made a decision that I must make time to post at least a dozen new recipes I've baked, braised, roasted or stewed so that I could share them with you!

Each weekend, I keep telling myself to allot the average of two hours to edit photos, write a printable recipe card and then write a blog post-- with that hope that I would entice my readers (or that people searching for a recipe like this one) will land on my blog.  But one week, turns into two...and then a month...and then two months... and, before I know it, I start receiving emails from food blogger friends or loyal readers asking if I'm okay and if I'll resume posting again.  The answer is "yes" and "thank you"!

So, let me begin by sharing these amazing King Arthur Flour Pizza Buns!  I love baking, and I especially love baking recipes with yeast.  I was just speaking to a young lady who aspires to learn new ways of cooking and baking. I told her that one of my favorite resources is "King Arthur Flour".  My pantry is loaded with so many of their ingredients, and I don't use any other brand of flours.  I subscribe to their blog and I love their monthly "Bakealong Challenge".  King Arthur Flour posts step-by-step instructions so that anyone-- beginner or advance-- should be able to successful replicate their recipes.

I honed in on this particular recipe, in January for two reasons. 1) It was Super Bowl weekend and 2) I had leftover pizza sauce, mozarella cheese and pepperoni.  What a perfect way to use up ingredients and feed my hungry men!

The dough is quite easy to make-- especially if you have a stand mixer (which I do, and wouldn't part with for anything in the world).

After a little over an hour, my dough was beautifully puffed up (aka "proofed") and I found the dough to be so easy to work with. I was able to shape and roll it into a 12"x18" rectangle.  I've brushed on the leftover pizza sauce...

...and now I'm going to add my filling.  This is where you can become as creative as you like. Homemade pizza is almost a weekly thing, in our home and I've posted several on my blog here

My current favorite pizza toppings are sausage, mushroom, sliced black olives, bell pepper and onion. But, today, I would make the favorite pizza of my men.  Here, I am rolling up the dough and filling into a tight log-- pinches the ends.  This reminds me of  the King Arthur Flour Cinnamon Roll recipes that has become a family favorite!

Using a very sharp kife, I made shallow knife cuts so I would be able to gauge slicing the log into 12 pieces. 

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