Friday, March 29, 2013

Average Betty makes Idaho mashed potato pops

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My friend and fellow food blogger Average Betty features my Idaho mashed potato pops in her most recent video recipe. I love her variations: She makes a Jalapeno Popper Pop with pepper jack cheese and bacon, and a Garlic Parmesan Pop with garlic powder and grated parmesan cheese.

Click the video above to watch her make these easy and completely delicious Idaho potato snacks. Isn't she adorable?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Whole wheat jam muffins, and Weston's first internship

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My 11-year-old son Weston is spending his spring break doing an internship.

Yes, he's young to be working. But he's a passionate budding entrepreneur and keenly interested in how businesses work.

So I hooked him up with my friend Blake, a serial entrepreneur who most recently founded eLocalRank, one of the top search engine optimization companies in Los Angeles. Blake offered to teach Weston the basics of keyword research and SEO campaign building. Weston jumped at the opportunity.

Blake put an extra desk in his office. So far he's had Weston build a list of 800 keywords for my business website and coached Weston through the process of writing the copy for his own website, which will go live later this week.

He also made Weston do jumping jacks and push-ups when his concentration lagged halfway through his first day. That's my kind of boss.

Weston is learning some very valuable lessons:
  • Entrepreneurs work very, very hard. Sometimes they even sleep on the couch in their offices instead of going home.
  • Even the most interesting jobs involve a certain amount of repetitive, boring work.
  • People will pay you to do things they don't understand, can't do themselves, or don't want to do themselves.
So how does this relate to the muffins? I baked a dozen and took them to Blake's office on Weston's first day. A gesture of thanks from a mom who's grateful her son is getting a chance to feed his entrepreneurial spirit.

These muffins come together in less than five minutes. Mix them when you get up, put them in the oven, and go take a shower. By the time you're ready for work, they're ready to go to the office with you.

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Whole wheat jam muffins
These simple muffins work best with a loose jam or preserve that isn't too sweet.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup your favorite jam or preserves, preferably not overly sweet (if jam is very sweet, cut sugar to 1/2 cup)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin generously with nonstick cooking spray.In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice.In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil, egg, milk, and jam.Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and fold together gently with a spatula or large spoon just until the ingredients are combined.Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the muffin tin 2 minutes, then take the muffins out and cool them the rest of the way on a rack. Note: If you're bringing the muffins to work, it's fine to wrap them in foil in a single layer while they're still warm and transport them that way.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 muffins

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The genius of The Fresh 20 meal planning service

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The first time I met Melissa Lanz, founder of The Fresh 20 meal planning service, she challenged me to change the way I thought about writing this blog.

"I don't know why food bloggers are giving away all this great content," she said. "Content is valuable. People will pay money for it. I don't know about you, but I want to make money."

I can't remember exactly which other members of Food Bloggers Los Angeles were there that day. And I don't know whether those words have stuck in their heads the way they've stuck in mine.

I hope so.

In 2011 Melissa gave a presentation at the International Food Blogger Conference in Santa Monica on how to make money from a food blog outside of advertising. She talked at breakneck speed for 20 minutes and threw out idea after idea that most of us in the audience either had never considered or assumed we weren't qualified to execute.

It was the most inspiring presentation about food blogging I've ever heard.

At our March 2013 Food Bloggers Los Angeles meeting, I explained to the group how Melissa inspired me to package 30 of my recipes into my first ebook (Soups and Stews: Delicious Recipes for Chilly Days, available on for Kindle and on in other formats).

It's no surprise to me that The Fresh 20 is taking over the food world by saving weekday family dinners. The concept is brilliant: You buy 20 fresh ingredients, keep your pantry stocked with basics, and get five nights of dinner recipes that are delicious, economical, healthy and gorgeous.

It's also no surprise that The Fresh 20 Cookbook, which comes out in April 2013, will be featured on national talk shows, in national magazines, and on countless websites and blogs.

Melissa planned all of this from day one. She didn't start a blog and see where it took her, like I did. She looked around, found a gap, made a product to fill it, and charged money for it.

I love a woman who gets stuff done.

Melissa, if you're reading this - I am so happy for you and so proud of you. Thank you for inspiring and pushing me to find ways to make money doing what I love.

More from The Fresh 20

Enter The Fresh 20 Great Pantry Giveaway to win 20 essential pantry ingredients plus top kitchen appliances

Pre-order The Fresh 20 Cookbook

Sign up for The Fresh 20 meal plans (available in gluten-free or vegetarian as well)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SmallBizLady Melinda Emerson's classic macaroni and cheese

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Melinda Emerson's old-school macaroni and cheese

Sometimes you get really lucky and you meet someone who inspires you, makes you think, and fills you with confidence that you are smart, wise (not the same thing), and capable.

And if the stars are all in alignment, said luminary happens to mention that she's got a kick-ass recipe for classic macaroni and cheese.

Last summer, I was that lucky person. Through a project for my former employer, I got to spend a day with author, New York Times columnist, consultant and small business guru Melinda Emerson, also known as SmallBizLady. And somehow, she made me feel like I was ready to conquer the world.

I can't tell you exactly what she did or said that gave me such a boost. A few raised eyebrows. Knowing nods. Conversations where ideas swam around, turned into concepts, and stood up as full-fledged action plans.

When I decided recently that I was ready to start my own business, it was in large part because of Melinda.

I don't think she knew how loud her voice was in my head after that day in Minneapolis last summer. But it was.

When I went out on my own, Melinda was one of the first people I reached out to. I asked for help, unable to offer anything in return. And she helped - by tweeting links to my new website, letting me write a guest post on her blog, and sending supportive and encouraging tweets just when I needed them most.

Velveeta and Kraft Singles: That's what Melinda's dad brought home from work, so that's what Melinda's mom used in her macaroni and cheese

This week, as a tiny token of my admiration and appreciation, I made Melinda's macaroni and cheese, a recipe she dictated loosely over a sweaty dinner in Minnesota. Yes, there is processed cheese food in the ingredients. Melinda's dad worked for Kraft. Velveeta and Kraft Singles - that's what Melinda's dad brought home, so that's what Melinda's mom used. And this week, to honor Melinda, that's what I used too.

This is the macaroni and cheese I remember from my childhood. Sophisticated palates may not like it, but if you grew up in the 60s and 70s in a house where no one ever attempted a roux, this will taste like your youth.

P.S. Hey, Melinda, if you're reading this - thanks. For the recipe and the courage.

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Classic macaroni and cheese from SmallBizLady Melinda Emerson
An old-school, classic macaroni and cheese recipe with Velveeta, Kraft Singles and Ritz crackers. If your mom cooked like my mom, this will taste like the macaroni and cheese of your youth.
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (small or large)
  • 12 slices Kraft Singles American cheese
  • 1 pound Velveeta cheese product, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 8 Ritz crackers, crushed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with foil and put the baking dish on the baking sheet.In a large pot of boiling water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 2 minutes shy of the stated cooking time on the package. Drain.Line the bottom of the pan with 6 of the Kraft Singles. Add 1/3 of the macaroni. Scatter half the Velveeta cubes on top. Repeat with another layer of Kraft Singles, macaroni and Velveeta. Finish with a layer of macaroni. Break the butter into 4 chunks and put one at each corner of the pan.In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour carefully over the macaroni in the baking dish; the liquid should come up to the edge of the pan and mostly cover the macaroni. Cover the top of the casserole with the shredded cheddar cheese, then the Ritz cracker crumbs.Bake the macaroni and cheese for 45-50 minutes. The casserole should be bubbling at the edges and golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let sit 15 minutes before serving so the macaroni absorbs some of the excess liquid.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10-12 servings

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Grandma Rose's rugelach on The Shiksa in the Kitchen

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My grandmother Rose Chankin Sharron and me, c. 1989

Tori Avey, also known as The Shiksa in the Kitchen, came over a few weeks ago to bake my Grandma Rose's rugelach with me.

My mom was visiting at the time and the three of us sat around the dining room table for hours, talking about family, cooking, and "the olden days," as my kids refer to them.

I think you'll like the way Tori captured the essence of this family recipe. My grandmother's rugelach don't look or taste like any other rugelach I've seen. But to me, they're traditional. They're my tradition.

And she kindly left out the part about my great-grandmother possibly running a brothel in western Russia at the turn of the 20th century.


Oops. Cat's out of the bag.

Read Tori's post: Erika's "Unorthodox" Rugelach on The Shiksa in the Kitchen

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fruity braised chicken thighs for my mother

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Plump braised chicken thighs - perfect for my mom's next dinner party

My mother (hi Mommy! Love you!) is one of my most devoted readers.

This surprises me only because my blog is about cooking.

My mom cooked our family meals when I was growing up, but she didn't like it much. And it showed.

I grew up on baked chicken breasts (sprinkled with paprika for color), baked fish (sprinkled with paprika for color), frozen vegetable medley, and the occasional baked potato. I don't believe any baked good ever emerged from our ovens.

(Don't worry, she won't be insulted that I'm sharing this. She admits it freely.)

These days, though, my mother is throwing dinner party after dinner party.

Why the sudden change of culinary heart?

We lost my dad more than four years ago. Since then my mother has done an admirable job rebuilding a social life.

Like me, she's decided to be the organizer. The one who issues the invitations instead of waiting for them.

My mom has asked me to help plan the menus for a half-dozen parties. She uses my recipes and then, when her friends ask, she proudly points them to this blog.

My mother loves my blog. But she's had the same complaint suggestion for a few years: "You need more chicken recipes."

So here I am with a chicken recipe. An easy one, too. Perfect for my mom's next dinner party.

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Fruity braised chicken thighs
Start this chicken dish on the stove to crisp the skin, then move it to the oven to finish cooking. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs yield the most flavorful meat.
  • 6 large chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup apricot jam, quince jam, or orange marmalade (your choice)
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Heat a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. (A cast-iron skillet works perfectly for this dish.) Sprinkle the chicken thighs with the salt and place them skin-side down in the skillet. Leave them alone for at least 5 minutes, then lift one up with tongs and peek. You want the skin to be deep golden-brown and crisp around the edges. When it's so, remove the chicken from the skillet and park it on a plate for a moment.While the chicken is browning, whisk together the wine, mustard, garlic, and jam. Add a good amount of freshly ground pepper and whisk again to combine.Turn off the heat. Pour off the rendered fat in the skillet. Put the chicken back in the skillet, skin-side up this time. Pour the wine mixture over the chicken and put the skillet in the preheated oven. Bake the chicken about 40 minutes, until the skin is dark and caramelized and the sauce has thickened. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings