Thursday, June 25

800 already? Q & A with the wandering chef


How is everyone today? I have been writing my blog for just over four years. Two years ago I sat down and answered a wide array of questions, most of which had a common theme and were generally asked very regularly. So I thought, I would share the answers to many of my frequently asked questions.

Here I am two years later and still getting the same question, tho a few of the answers have changed and a few questions have been added. So I decided to re-do the first Q & A-I hope you enjoy reading about me and I look forward to celebrating the 800th post later this month!

The wandering chef

Question: Why the wandering chef?
Good question, it refers to my cooking style and how I learned to cook. When I was in high school I traveled as an exchange student to 14 different countries. This opened my eyes up to  experimenting with food, cooking styles, and ingredients. I was given a open view of different cultures, their food, and what they considered comfort everyday food. This created a knowledge which combines a wandering array of styles.

Actually, I did not even come up with the name. My other half did. He inspired me to start a blog. I was talking about writing a cook book. He said it was the perfect way to try different writing styles and create a base of readers. He came up with the name after I talked about how diverse I wanted to be. He said it would encompass my cooking style and help the readers trek through them.

Question: Do you honestly cook like this all the time?
Yup, seriously. We very rarely eat out, I would say two-three times a month max. That includes getting take out. We eat home cooked dinners every night and at least once a week I bake something fun for breakfast. 

Now, do not get mislead. We cook every night but, not huge fancy meals filled with multi-course dishes. Most nights are simple dinners main, veggie, starch or bread, salad and that's it. Usually, once or twice a week I will go over the top. Food crazy nights, we eat too much, love it and then eat just salad the next night.

Roughly once a month I get really inspired and will go way over board, bake or cook like crazy and then spend a few days living off of it. Breakfast really tends to be our time for going store bought. Entenmann's doughnuts are sort of a family favorite around here, we get them once or twice a month, but most days it is eggs and toast.

Question: How do you have so much time to cook and bake?
Okay, truth-I do not. I actually probably cook or bake far less than it seams. I work a full time job so I actually do not have large amounts of time to devote to cooking and baking. Dinner usually takes thirty minutes to an hour, some nights less. I usually have a weekday off, that tends to be my cooking/baking blogging day.

In all honesty I tend to list out what I want to cook/bake for the day and create a time table. It includes when things need to be started, rise times, when things can go in oven. This way I can do other things at the same time.

Question: Who else in your household cooks?
Great question we all do! My other half is an amazing griller and partner in the kitchen. He actually cooks most of the time for breakfast eggs, pancakes, and caramelized bacon are his specialties.

These days we have helpers having two teenagers in the house is great. One loves baking, making guacamole (which is seriously better then mine), and mixing up great beverages to accompany meals. Her homemade raspberry green iced tea is fantastic! The other one is in love with all things cooking. So far he has helped me write 5 recipes and I am sure he will either be an executive chef or rock star. These days he like to watch competition cooking shows and create a list of things to learn, we never say no to teaching and eating his creations.

Question: I noticed an influx of vegetarian and gluten free dishes, is this because of your family?
The vegetarian part is. The eldest teenager is not a fan of meat, never really was, we always new one day she would go vegetarian and this year she did. It has allowed me to open up a whole new venue to recipes. Cooking globally has helped since several cuisines focus heavily on meat free dishes.

The GF are for a co-worker of mine with a terrible inability to eat anything which has even brushed up against a gluten. One day she was commenting on how much she missed bread and I decided I was going to figure something out. These days we swap ideas and she is happily enjoying herself with the GF scones!

Question: Why are some of your post titled and some not?
Titles like "HOW TO" appear across my blog for a various number of reasons. First it is actually for me, it is easier to search if I have already done something by having a key word or phrase.

Second it is done for my readers for the same reason. Want to know if I talked about how to make something-you can just search.

Third new readers stumble across the blog daily and often because they are looking to learn a particular type of recipe or dish. This allows an easy way to find similar recipes.

Questions: Follow-up okay, then what are all the sections?
"HOW TO" is a way to learn a new skill-these are geared towards beginner or novice cooks who may need a little guidance in the kitchen. For example how to steam an artichoke or how to cut tofu.

"MAKE IT" is a way to learn how to make traditionally packaged items in your own kitchen. I tend to make these ahead and use them as if they were store bought. This includes onion soup mix, brownie mix, taco seasoning, ect.

"BAKE IT" okay this is a tricky one I do post baking recipes not titled. The recipes that appear under bake it are generally more complex, are bakery inspired, or a copycats of a name brand. Examples include bagels, Twinkies, and English muffins. All other baked goods are just posted as recipes.

"TABLE FOR TWO" highlights dishes that feed two people.

"MUG IT" is newer, these are all single serve dishes, made in a mug, made in a microwave. I did edit old posts to include the title.

Other titles include Product reviews and craft kitchen. But I have not posted craft kitchen in a few years and product reviews are infrequent.

Question: Does your family enjoy your cooking and baking experiments?
Most of the time I tend to stick to what I know will be a success with taste buds. I usually taste anything I have questions about and sometimes they go horribly wrong. But with growing taste buds, the window is slowly opening to what I can and cannot try. These days I tend to do more experimenting with flavors on the whole family then just my other half.

I actually like the reviews and feedback. Having three other sets of taste buds really helps with fine tuning the outcome. I am always amazing when something unexpected makes it to the "family favorites" box. To this day I am still in awe of how much Baked Cheddar Chicken can be eaten in a single meal. ( and still is)

Although, to be honest I think my work place loves the baking experiments more, who does not love walking into baked goods in the break room?

Question: What is most the requested thing you make? 
Depends on what it is for. For breakfast around here it is my cafe style chocolate chocolate chip muffins. For dinner it is my Baked cheddar chicken or Honey Lime Chicken. For a quick meal buffalo pizza. For work my fudge brownies or anything in cupcake form. For gathering and parties my oreo stuffed brownies.

Question: Homemade verse store bought, how often do you substitute one for the other?
If I can make it and it is cost effective we use it. Barbecue sauce, frosting, cake batter, sour cream, ricotta cheese, and butter tend to be what I make mostly. I also make mixes ahead of time cookies, brownies, Bisquick, doing those and keeping them stored helps out a lot.

Things like condensed milk, evaporated milk, sliced bread, bagels and English muffins are easy but not always time friendly. So I will usually use store bought. If my recipe calls for "store bought or homemade" chances are I am using homemade. These days I have cut back on my crazy "it has to be 100% from scratch" and have found a way to use certain store bought items as a time saver. I still prefer home made, but if it can be made with store bought, I tend to note it in the blog.

Also there have been a few time that honestly store bought was better for a recipe-I am honest not all things home made are better.

Question: How often do you grocery shop? How much do you spend?
Usually, once a month I do the "big shop", which will load up our pantry shelves, freezer, and refrigerator. I tend to only buy proteins once a month. I freeze most of them, buying the big packs and breaking it down really saves on money and time. Having a vacuum sealer really helps. It took a while but, once I figured out the family "most often consumed" I came up with the list, which very rarely changes. Once a week I will grab milk, bread, cereal, produce. Nothing major.

As for cost, well that can range. Figure family of four and include everything from groceries to laundry detergent to toilet paper, probably $600-800 a month. Rough estimate off the top if my head. You would think with a growing family it would have gone up over the years, but I discovered Amazon Prime has subscriptions for household items and Prime Pantry is great for staple shelf goods, this has saved a lot of money and actually expanded our staples. I bookmark $50 a month for fun or interesting ingredients. Everything else is done from the everyday ingredients you can find in any grocery store. 

Question: Is there anything you cannot cook?
Microwave popcorn. Let's just say if microwave popcorn was on Facebook we would not be friends. I do not like it, it does not like me. We are not going to ever be happily ever after together. I used to give it a try once a year but not anymore. I will admit defeat. I just cannot do it. 

I know microwave popcorn has a button, listen for the slow down, but nope I am all set with it.

What was the worst kitchen incident you had?
Well, it was not actually a kitchen disaster. It was a grill disaster, I actually set the whole grill on fire.

Oh, and I mean on fire! Flames shooting everywhere thought the house was going to go up. Still not sure what I did, to this day the other half makes fun if it and his recent Father day new grill, let us just say I bought it, but I will not be using it.

Question: Where do your plates come from?
Pier 1 Imports. Most of my plates, glasses, and serve ware come from Pier 1. Why? 

Two reasons-First, I love their style, color, seasonal look, and you can always find something new. Second, I work there. I have been shopping there since I was in collage and now I work there, love it! I raid the clearance section every few months for great platters, serving plates, bowls, ect.

Question: Cast Iron, why do you use it so often? Is it better than regular pans?
I love cast iron. Seriously, just love it. I like the ease of use, cleaning, stove top or oven, grill or camp fire. I just love it. Dutch ovens are my close second favorite, but if you can invest in cast iron, do it.

Are they better then regular pans? Not sure, I really prefer them. I have a nice set if sauté pans that were bought at a fancy chef store so those are pretty nice, but I really just like cast iron.

Question: Shallots verse onions, why do you use them when you do?
I tend to use shallots a lot. I prefer the sweet and subtle flavor when eating them whole. Most dishes which call for onions can be substituted, but I really only do this if they will be eaten whole. Dishes which need a base or the robust onion flavor should really be cooked with onions instead.

I also love using dried minced onions, I find they are a great thing to have in a pantry. They add texture and tang when you want just a little something extra.

Question: Dried verse fresh herbs, when and how do you choose which to use?
Most of the time I would love to use fresh, I say most. I really tend to use dried only because that is what I have on hand. Some recipes absolutely need fresh but, most times dried can be used. I have a small variety of fresh on hand most days and will use them accordingly. 

Also, drying your own herbs allows you to have a nice fresh bold flavor in the convenience of dried herbs.

Question: Do you have a garden? Do you grow your own herbs?
Yes and yes. I have a small family vegetable garden I plant every year. Filled with the basics tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squashes, and hot peppers.

I have an indoor herb garden which has basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary, and mint. I also grow self-sustaining green onions and lettuce inside by my windows. Do not forget my aloe plant though, my other half's favorite thing.

Question: Sifting, why do you not sift?
I hate sifting, it is boring, tedious, bothers my hand, and...I just hate it. Do I sift, nope, very rarely have I come across a recipe where I thought sifting was an absolute. So if I have told you to sift-trust me do it. If not nope I do not sift, do not plan on ever really making part of my process either. 

I have never once been told anything was to dense or firm, no one has ever said "hey this flour does not seam sifted for your cupcakes", never saw the difference. Yes, air and flour changes volume, but hey have not had a problem yet.

Question: Trends in food, I notice you tend to post recipes in groups, are you following food trends?
Nope. I do not follow food trends, clothes trends, shoe trends, or any trends for that matter. If I have talked about something trendy, it's because I was asked. My recipes get published in groups because, that it how they were cooked. As I have mentioned in the past I tend to have one day a week that I will write all the recipes for the blog. These days I seam a tad more trendy, because I continue to get asked to do certain recipes. For example-when this blog first started I made a Potato Soup for one recipe, which was done in a mug in a microwave. Four years later mug recipes are in and now I have a whole section devoted to them. Did I follow the trend, a little, but most are recipes I already had.

Most of the time I am writing a month a head and will do everything at once, which is why the posts appear connected. I try to mix it up when posting, but sometimes it does not work that way.

Question: Who takes the photos for the recipes?
Me. I take them as I go. I have a great camera I was given two years ago, it is a SONY cyber shot. I can take the photos as I go and they sync straight to my Cromebook. No fancy editing materials or programs, just click and go. I still publish from my iPhone which really helps when I am due to post but, not at home! But most of the work is done at my kitchen counter these days.

Question: I noticed you talk less about the recipes and do not post non recipes often anymore.
Honestly, I noticed that too. I do less non recipes these days, because they are not as popular and figured I would rather deliver what readers like. As for the talking less at beginning of posts, I think I got a tad lazy, I will be trying to talk a tad more-but still really want the recipes to be the stars of the show.

If you have a question you want answered email me: maybe you will see your question added here!