Thursday, April 24, 2014

Growing My Blog: Interview with Lindsay of Pinch of Yum

A few months ago, I discovered the food blog Pinch of Yum. I was shocked that I hadn't come across this terrific food blog earlier. Lindsay features gorgeous food photography and healthy, delicious meals. For example, this week she posted a recipe for a Garlic Parmesan Chicken Lasagna Bake:

I'm working on another blog development post right now about food photography, and Lindsay's photos are featured several times. They are consistently beautiful. She even wrote an ebook called Tasty Food Photography about how to take photos like hers that I can't wait to get my hands on! (Mom- if you're reading this, that's a blatant hint for a birthday present.)

Once I was done ogling at drool worthy post after post, I noticed a tab labeled "Income" and found that each month, Lindsay's husband Bjork posts a breakdown of how much money they made, what sources it came from, and what they think is working or not working on their blog currently. This kind of information coming from a very successful food blog is gold for a blogger like me. I read post after post and learned so much about advertising, analytics, and traffic. It gave me a lot of courage to try new things on my blog, things that have worked very well!

Then, even better, I found Food Blogger Pro! Bjork started a blog, service, and community to support newer food bloggers (or any bloggers, for that matter) and help them grow their blogs. It's a great resource and has answers to all kinds of questions about ads, traffic, analytics, design, etc. It's an invaluable resource.

I'm so grateful to bloggers like them for sharing their knowledge and taking the time and energy to help others! Including answering a few of my questions about how they got to where they are today. Here's what I asked Lindsay about:

Why did you decide to start a food blog? 

I was sharing recipes all the time on Facebook, and didn't want to keep annoying my friends on Facebook, so I decided to start a blog. I was unsure of myself at a first, but my husband Bjork was really encouraging and told me that I didn't need any special knowledge to start a blog, so I went for it!

What pieces of photography equipment could you not go without? Do you have any lighting solutions for those who don't have lots of natural light? 

I could not go without a good background. I use a old wood boards from a table that we bought at the market in the Philippines. I also rely pretty heavily on my artificial light (Lowell EGO Digital Imaging Lamp) in the winter or during really busy times of the year when I can't always shoot in natural light. 

What was the spark for Pinch of Yum to make it such a well-known blog? Was there a specific post that triggered it?  

There was a post I did in my second year of blogging for Healthy Sweet Potato skins that was pinned by the woman who was, at the time, the most followed user on Pinterest (she was actually the founder's mother). This was a huge thing for Pinch of Yum because it started to get more exposure and be seen outside of my own little circle. It wasn't an overnight boom; it was more like a three day spike in traffic and then a dip back down to "normal", but that was definitely a tipping point for future growth for the blog.

How did/do you break through growth plateaus for Pinch of Yum? 

We find that traffic will increase and then plateau periodically, maybe for a few months, and then get bumped up to the "next level". I think making your content available across more platforms can really help to keep those plateaus from lasting too long - if you're constantly branching out into new areas and getting your content in front of new faces there is inevitably going to be growth.

Considering the size and complexity of Pinch of Yum, how do you and Bjork divide your time between recipe development, photography, and writing vs. managing ads, ebooks, and other behind the scenes stuff? At what point did you and Bjork decide he should take on a bigger role than taste tester (which is of course, very important!)? 

Bjork started working on the business side of the blog after I had already been blogging for about a year and a half. He was just kind of playing around with ads at that time, but I think when we started to make more monthly income from the blog than from our day jobs, we realized that this was something that probably deserved more of our time. Right now I do about 30-40 hours/week on recipe development, photography, writing, social media, ebook and other product creation, and personal connections via email, and Bjork does the ads, affiliate programs, and server and hardware maintenance. We make a really good team with what we're good (and not good) at, so it's nice to be able to work together for our strengths to compliment each other.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to newer food blogs, what would that be? 

Do it for the love. You HAVE to do it for the love. You can't start with the expectation that you're going to make millions or get tons of followers overnight. Be bold, be creative, and have fun. If your heart's in it, and you prove to yourself that you actually want to do the work enough to make an income from it, then the rest will follow. :) And if not, you will have spent your time doing something awesome and loving the process. Win win!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Favorite Roasted Chicken

I love roasted chicken. There are few things better than salty, crispy skin and a well-cooked bird. It took me a few attempts to master cooking it perfectly and crisping the skin, but I think I have it down now after combining components from several different recipes and figuring out what works.

To get that lovely, crispy skin, I've found the best thing you can do is make sure it's very dry. Pat the chicken down all over with paper towels, let it sit for a bit, then do it again. Then, of course, slathering it in butter helps with this process.

Another reason I love cooking a whole chicken is that it's so multi-purpose! The delicious meat, drippings from the gravy, stock from the carcass, and soup from that. One chicken goes a long way and can stretch into several meals. I'll be sharing what I do with the chicken once we've had our dinner over the next week or so!

This particular chicken was our "Easter chicken", no hams were to be found in the supermarkets near me here in Cape Town.

Roasted Chicken

    1 whole chicken
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp paprika
    1/2 tsp garlic powder
    1/2 tsp onion powder
    1/3 butter, softened
    1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
    1/2 onion, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Mix together the salt, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
2. Set chicken on layered paper towels and pat the chicken down with additional paper towels to soak up moisture, making sure to lift the wings and legs. Let it sit for a few minutes, then do it again.
3. Season the chicken all over with the seasoning mixture, including inside the cavity. Rotate the bird to make sure you cover all the skin.
4. Rub the butter into the skin and cavity. Again, make sure you've covered the entire surface of the bird with butter and put a liberal amount of butter inside the cavity.
5. Stuff the cavity with the celery and onion. Set chicken on roasting pan. If you don't have one, you can stack a cooling rack on a cookie sheet.
6. Cook the chicken in preheated oven for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and cover with foil. Let rest for 20-30 minutes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

SA Sunday: Rugby Match

Two very popular sports here in South Africa that we don't see a lot of in the United States are cricket and rugby. We went to our first ever cricket match a few weeks ago. It was a blast! We went to day three of a five day match. Yep, you read that right. Don't worry, they break for food and sleep.

This past weekend, we decided it was time to attend our first rugby match! Rugby has elements of American football and soccer, which I love and watch frequently, but I still don't at all understand this new game. They spend a lot of time buried on top of one another fighting over the ball and kicking it to the other end of the field. I'm not sure if I can get on board with this, but hey, I felt the same way about baseball at first. I need to watch more so I can get a better handle on this. Usually, going to games really helps me solidify my understanding of the sport, but we missed half of this game. Why you ask?

We bought our tickets online the day before. We new it would be a popular game: it was Cape Town vs. Johannesburg. Unfortunately our only option for ticket collection was to pick it up at will call, but this wasn't such a big deal, we'd done this at lots of past sporting events.

We'd spent the day at a few different beaches (we saw wild baboons AND penguins in one day! AH!), and got home about an hour before the match. On our drive home, we saw that the area surrounding the stadium was already packed full of people walking and trying to park, so we decided to walk instead of drive. It was only about a fifteen minute walk and we got there twenty minutes before the start of the game, er match.

We wandered around for a few minutes looking for a "will call" or "ticket pickup" sign with no luck. Eventually we found ourselves in a gigantic line- it wrapped around a corner of the stadium. I verified with a couple of people working there (reality: I pestered every person in some sort of uniform) that this was indeed the line to pick up tickets, since there were no signs or any other indication this was where we should be.

We thought we must have misread the start of the game- maybe the stadium opened at 5:05? But 5:05 rolled around, when we were about half way through the line of all lines, and they were announcing the players. Eventually, we were let into the base of a staircase which led up to a small office, where one person, on one computer, was printing off the tickets for each person who had purchased online individually. One single person was looking up and printing off tickets well over a thousand people, and they only started about a half hour before the game. This was some very poor planning on their part.

My best guess is that they weren't expecting this kind of turn out. Everyone around us was incredibly upset and when we got up to the office, a woman who I assume was a manager was getting chewed out by people livid that they'd missed half the game because they didn't have the option to print their tickets at home. After working as a manager in a restaurant, I have a lot of sympathy for people getting yelled at who are the only ones who can be held responsible for an out of control situation. Watching that episode chilled my own temper and sense of injustice way down, and we were finally in our seats a few minutes before half time. It helped that this wasn't a match we were invested in. I can't imagine what that scene would have been like if it was a Ducks game.

After that debacle, it was incredibly fun to be at a game that had the energy of a football game. I desperately miss going to Ducks games every weekend during the fall! Rugby had all of that passion and excitement, and I was into it. Even though I couldn't quite track what was happening, the Cape Town Stormers were up by 15 points for most of the game, and that was enough for me.

All the photos in this post were taken by Fiance. Thanks, Fiance!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Goo

You guys. I tried to make you a really fun Easter dessert. It was going to be a delicious marshmallow fudge topped with toasted coconut.

It did not turn out.

The marshmallows didn't exactly melt the way they were supposed to and the fudge didn't set up correctly. And by correctly I mean at all.

So it was dubbed "Easter Goo". It was still sugary deliciousness, but nothing at all recognizable.

I even made delightful little meringues to go on top. Instead, I just had to eat those by themselves. Sigh.

Fiance's reaction when seeing it out was "What the heck is this? It looks weird." Yikes.

Everything worked out, though. I was forced to think on my feet and came up with Hot Cross Bun French Toast with Apple Compote, which I shared with you all last week.

I highly recommend this dish for Easter breakfast or brunch. It was ridiculously decadent, easy to make, and perfect for Easter.

Have a great holiday everyone, and happy baking! I hope yours goes more smoothly than mine did.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sausage, Leek, and Potato Pie

I had so much trouble naming this dish. It was originally supposed to simply be a pie, but then I couldn't find a pie dish and my cake tin was too shallow, so I ended up baking it in a casserole dish. Did that make it casserole? It's not shaped like a pie.

Then, there were too many key ingredients: cheddar cheese, sausage, potatoes, leeks... How do I create a name that isn't absurdly long?

Fiance insisted that it was more pie like because of the flaky, crunchy top and it was originally intended to be a pie, so it stayed a pie.

This dish was inspired by a pie feature in a local magazine. I couldn't help but laugh to myself when I read the opening line:

"When we hear the word 'pie' most of us think of pastry with a meat filling."

Just another daily reminder that I am not in the US, but the very different and wonderful South Africa. Meat pies are not very popular at all in the US- when we think of pies, we think of cherry pies or the all-American apple pie. The only relatively common savory pie eaten there is chicken pot pie.

So I took a crack at this well-loved style of pie and made my own with the ingredients we most love. Do this in a pie dish or a casserole dish, whatever you prefer.

I've never cooked with leeks before, and I loved the subtle flavor they provided without doing a thing to disrupt the texture.

Start by layering some half-cooked potatoes, sliced potatoes in a buttered dish of your choice. Top with sliced leeks, chopped onions, and garlic that's been sautéed.

Then on goes chopped sausage and fresh parsley.

Then a glorious cheese sauce.

And, one of my favorite things in the world, a layer of puff pastry. I didn't even bother trimming the corners. It's "rustic", right? Brush on an egg wash to make sure it turns out nice and golden. I cut little slits in it to let some of the air out.

Bake it for a good hour or until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked and the top is golden and lovely. You can broil it for a minute or so to make sure it's really golden, if necessary.

Serve with a salad, or call it a meal as is. I love and adore easy one dish meals like this! You could easily prepare this in a disposable foil container and freeze it before baking.

Sausage, Leek, and Potato Pie
Serves 5-6

    3 leeks, chopped into 2 cm slices
    1 onion, diced
    1 tsp minced garlic
    2 tsp olive oil
    4 yellow potatoes
    1 lb sausage, cooked and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
    1 tbsp chopped parsley
    3 tbsp butter
    3 tbsp flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp black pepper
    2 cups milk
    1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
    1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
    1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, onions, and garlic and cook until onions are just soft.
2. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave for three minutes on high heat, until slightly soft and partially cook. Let cool, then slice into 1/2 inch slices.
3. Grease a pie dish or casserole dish with butter. Layer the potatoes in the dish and top with the cooked veggies, sliced sausage, and parsley.
4. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for about three minutes, or until flour is just beginning to brown. Add the salt, black pepper, and milk and continue to cook until mixture has thickened and sticks to the back of a wooden spoon, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add the shredded cheese. Stir until cheese has melted.
5. Pour cheese sauce over the sausage and potatoes. Lay the sheet of puff pastry over the dish, trim the edges if necessary. Whisk the egg and brush over the puff pastry. Cut little slits in the pastry to let steam and air out.
6. Bake the pie in preheated oven for an hour. Broil for a few minutes if necessary to brown the pastry.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chicken and Pineapple Curry

This delicious, simple chicken and pineapple curry is adapted from Tastes of Africa,a new favorite cookbook of mine. According to the book, this is a popular dish from East Africa known there as Kuku Nanazi. Although I'm mostly exploring South African recipes while we're here in Cape Town, it's fun to read about nearby cuisines and experiment with them. The original recipe called for shrimp... but I'm not too keen on combining meats like that, unless it's beef and pork in sausage! So I decided to keep it simple and just use chicken.

The pineapple in this dish does an excellent job of balancing out the heat from the green chiles. We had this curry with basmati rice cooked in coconut milk, and it was perfect!

Start off by sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil until soft and fragrant.

Next, all of the lovely spices. This is my favorite part of making any curry. We're using ground ginger, curry powder, ground cardamom, turmeric, and ground coriander, along with the usual staples, salt and pepper.

You'll also add the green chile at this point. I recommend using half a chile- we really like spicy and this was plenty of heat for us. If you really want to kick it up, throw in the whole thing. In fact, the original recipe says 1-2.

Once the you can smell the spices, add coconut milk, cubed chicken breasts, and chopped pineapple. Usually, I would use a fresh pineapple, but this time I will admit I used canned. I didn't feel like playing the "is it ripe?" guessing game and then wrestling it open. I know, I know, I'm lazy.

Let the whole thing simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is a little thicker.

Aren't curries pretty? I love the vibrant orangey yellow color! This was really simple and quick to prepare, it definitely falls in the weeknight dinner category. It also makes great leftovers for lunch.

Serve with veggies and rice, if you so please! For those who are paleo, coconut cauliflower rice would be excellent with this.

Chicken and Pineapple Curry
Adapted from Tastes of Africa
Serves 5-6

    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 onion, finely diced
    2 tsp minced garlic
    1 tsp ground ginger
    2 tbsp curry powder
    1/2 tsp ground cardamom
    1/2 tsp ground coriander
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1/2-1 fresh green chile, finely diced 
    1 can coconut milk
    5-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
    1 small pineapple, cubed or 1 can cubed pineapple
1. In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, and garlic. Saute until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant.
2. Add the ginger, curry powder, cardamom, coriander, salt, pepper, and chile. Saute for 1-2 minutes, or until spices are fragrant.
3. Add the coconut milk, chicken breasts, and pineapple. Bring coconut milk to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
4. Serve with coconut rice and veggies of choice.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

SA Sunday: Royale Eatery

I had quite the challenge for Fiance's birthday a few weeks ago: find a restaurant in a town who's food scene you don't know, that he is guaranteed to love.

He's usually game to try any new food, but left to his own devices he will always pick one of his favorites: pizza, burgers, or nachos. I decided to indulge this on his birthday.

We've had very little luck with pizza in Cape Town- it's either really bad or on the lighter side, not the greasy, saucy, filling pizza we're looking for. I'm sorry, Cape Town. You have a lot of good qualities, but pizza making isn't one of them. There are still a few pizza places we need to try, though, so I could still be proven wrong. This ruled pizza out.

Most of the Mexican food places here are a little higher end and serve incredible creations like butternut quesadillas and octopus ceviche (I can't WAIT to go to El Burro!), but not giant platters of cheesy nachos loaded with fillings like Fiance enjoys so much. So I decided not to go down that route.

This left burgers, which was great. We've had a lot of really good sandwiches in Cape Town. I did a lot of research and had several contenders, but I finally landed on Royale Eatery. This is their tagline:

"Royale is a restaurant. We serve burgers. Not just any burgers - burgers that make your soul tingle and your dreams come true."

Ummm, yeah, this was definitely where we'd eat.

I made reservations for Friday night. They have a different area in their restaurant for reservations- upstairs, where there's a very different feel and decor. And, you can't order pizza if you're seated up there! (There should maybe be a warning for this on their website) Luckily, we weren't there for pizza. It's a gorgeous restaurant. Here are a few photos from their website.

To drink, I got a Mango and Coconut Batida and Fiance got the house red.

They do incredible things with burgers. They use several different meats, like beef, wagyu beef, lamb, chicken, fish, ostrich, and chorizo. Here's a snippet from their menu:

Fiance got the Cheddar Royale and added chorizo, and I finally settled on the Merino burger: a lamb patty topped with roasted red pepper pesto, coriander, and caramelized onions.

Royale Eatery also specializes in milkshakes, so we knew we had to end our meal with one. Fiance got to choose, it was his birthday, after all, and we got a chocolate peppermint shake. It was a chocolate shake with little delicious, crunchy peppermint balls all throughout.

Royale Eatery definitely held up to the reviews: it was one of the best burgers I've ever had and I'd believe they have the best in Cape Town!