Five reasons why I’m killing my blog

If blog neglect were a crime, I’d be guilty. I confess it’s been almost a year since my last post. In three years I published over 100 posts and today I trashed many of them.

I'm (mostly) killing my blog

I’m killing my blog—most of it. Here’s why:

  1. Posts were all over the place. When I started blogging four years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing and, worse, I didn’t have a goal in mind. An avid cook, a new parent, a bookworm, and a crafter, I blogged about any subject I knew well. Within weeks, I was regularly posting recipes, sharing baby pictures, and writing about crafts and baby products. My blog didn’t have a clear focus. Eventually, I found a niche as a food blogger. Then I’d ruin my flow by inserting a DIY tutu-dress tutorial post between recipes. It was a mish-mash, like the junk drawer in my kitchen.
  2. The photography sucked. In the beginning, I didn’t understand the importance of illustrating posts and recipes with images. I learned quickly that adding a photo would boost clicks and comments. Plus, in the early days I discovered the magic of easy Wordless Wednesday photo posts. But not all photographs are created equal and my pictures varied between mediocre to dreadful. A picture doesn’t say 1,000 words if it’s overexposed or blurry. It didn’t take me long to realize that words are my forte, not pictures.
  3. Blogging is hard. Keeping a blog updated, focused, and relevant to followers is a major commitment. Hats off to the bloggers who can maintain a steady stream of topics, find time to post, write compelling content, take decent pictures, watermark the pictures, troubleshoot any glitches, and promote the content on social channels. If you add contests, giveaways, and chats on top of that you’re talking serious effort and a significant chunk of time.
  4. Food blogging is harder. So take a typical blog and then add in time, talent, and energy to chef up original recipes. I discovered early on that food blogging isn’t merely recipe sharing—it’s critically important to give proper credit to recipes adapted from or inspired by other published authors. Content scraping in general isn’t cool, and that’s true in food blogging too. The Food Blog Alliance summarizes the landmines of recipe attribution well. So, at a basic level, keeping a food blog on the up and up is challenging. Then you have to invent, test, cook, photograph, and write up your creations. Great food bloggers take time to photograph the ingredients, each major step, and the finished dish—extra points for adding flair, like an artfully arranged napkin and a distressed table as a backdrop. Don’t forget to add time for cleanup and photo editing. So many food bloggers make it look easy. I think it’s hard as hell. Be sure to give your favorite food bloggers high praise for repeatedly serving up killer content.
  5. My blog clashed with my family. When I blog, there’s literally a very long laundry list of things I’m not getting done. For starters, there’s the dirty laundry. And, the house doesn’t clean itself. But most importantly, my favorite people were getting a raw deal. I felt personal pride in publishing a cool post, but it meant nothing when I realized I was missing moments I could have been cherishing. Occasionally sitting on a couch and blogging while my kids play—fine. Regularly paying more attention to my laptop than my daughters was not acceptable. I calculated that the time it would take me to take my mediocre blog to a much better level would be time I wouldn’t get back with my family.

There you have it—five excellent reasons to kill my blog. Except, I’m not ready to pull the plug. Over the last year, it occurred to me that I could delete the pathetic posts, refocus the content, and keep Amy On The Prairie going. Essentially, I’m giving my blog makeover. For all the reasons why my blog sucked, I can think of four reasons why I need to keep the blog going.

  1. It’s mine. Blogging is my time to myself. Of all the demands on my time as a wife, mother, copywriter, daughter, friend, and even Sunday school teacher, blogging is just for me.
  2. I owe my blog a lot. Blogging helped me build a writing portfolio that ultimately helped me prove my ability to write for a living as a copywriter. And, my fledgling blog taught me how to find my voice and the importance of building a blogging network. The bloggers I met on Twitter and in real life at blogger events turned into friends and a richer professional network.
  3. There’s still more to learn. From headline writing, to social media promotion and engagement, to learning WordPress and SEO, blogging was an excellent practical teacher. I write benefit-driven copy every day for work, but unfettered writing is a rich source of creativity and sometimes loosens up any writer’s block when the muse forgets to visit my keyboard.
  4. I finally have a clear focus. Over the past year of not blogging at all, I had time to think about my strengths and a good reason to keep the blog alive. It occurred to me that my passions of reading books and cookbooks (yes, I read cookbooks and sometimes I cook from them) will be a tidy, purposeful niche for my blog. Soon, you should see posts from me on how to pick books for your book club, must-have cookbooks, and so on.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll be hearing more from me—of cooks and books—very soon.

 

Pecan Sage Corn Bread Stuffing

I grew up eating Stove Top stuffing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Stove Top. It is easy to prepare and very tasty. But 10 years ago I wanted to try a new stuffing recipe. I found a corn bread stuffing recipe attached to a Cornish game hen recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (page 411 of the 1996 version).  Whoa. Seriously, I crave this corn bread stuffing more than turkey, more than mashed potatoes. This dish is my favorite part of the meal. I make my version of this recipe every holiday since. It’s a family favorite.

Pecan Sage Corn Bread Stuffing

Pecan Sage Corn Bread Stuffing

The original recipe calls for chopped sweet green pepper and dried currants or raisins. I omit those, but you can certainly add them back in. I also (roughly) triple the ingredients. I love this recipe because it’s easy to make a day or two before the big meal and the flavors are heavenly paired with roasted turkey. I mean, really—toasted pecans, green onions, and fresh sage—unbelievably packed with flavor. The picture shows the stuffing before baking. It browns up a little more after baking. Here is my adapted version.

Pecan Sage Corn Bread Stuffing

Ingredients

-          About 6-8 cups crumbled corn bread. (I use three boxes of the classic Jiffy corn bread mix. If you use that mix, make sure you have a cup of milk and 3 eggs on hand. You can use any corn bread mix, but I like the Jiffy mix because it’s fairly dry and easy to crumble for the stuffing.)

-          1 ½ cups chopped, toasted pecans (I toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 375° oven for 10 minutes)

-          ½ cup fresh chopped sage (you have to use fresh, you really do)

-          1 cup sliced green onions (roughly 2 bunches of green onions)

-          ¼ cup melted butter

-          1 can (14.5 ounces of chicken broth) [I use Swanson’s low sodium version]

Directions

-          Bake corn bread according to package directions. Set aside and cool. (For 3 Jiffy mixes, I divide the corn bread batter and pour 2/3 into a 9×13 pan and the remaining batter in a 9×9 pan. Spray both baking dishes with cooking spray. I use PAM.)

-          Toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 375° oven for 10 minutes. Set aside and cool.

-          Slice the green onions and snip the fresh sage.

-          In a large bowl, combine the corn bread, pecans, onions, and sage. Pour the chicken broth over the dry ingredients.

-          Melt the butter and drizzle the butter over the mixture. Mix well and spoon into a 9×13 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover the dish and chill overnight. You can make the dish at least a day in advance.

-          When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°. Bake covered for about 35 minutes.

I serve the stuffing with a traditional turkey dinner. But I’ll be honest with you. I would eat this as a main dish any day of the week. I am hosting Thanksgiving this year and here is our menu for 5 adults and two children:

-          Turkey seasoned with fresh rosemary under the skin, and rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper. I use my mom’s trick of stuffing the cavity with sliced onions, lemons, and oranges.

-          Mashed potatoes

-          Dinner rolls (I make Rhodes white dinner rolls)

-          Cranberry sauce (the jellied, sugary kind where you can still see the can indentations)

-          Sweet potatoes (this year I’m trying the whipped bourbon bacon sweet potatoes from How Sweet It Is. So excited!!!)

-          Pumpkin pie (I use Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust and Moosewood Cookbook’s no-fault pumpkin pie recipe on pg 203)

-          Green bean casserole with the crunchy fried onions on top

-          Relish tray (pickles, olives, red and green pepper slices, and carrot sticks)

 

What’s on your holiday menu? Enjoy your time with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving!

Hard Cider White Chicken Chili

Do you ever start cooking, but you don’t really have a plan? I knew I wanted to make chili, but not much beyond that. I started with onions and chicken simmering in olive oil, added some Angry Orchard hard cider and a jar of salsa verde, threw in pinto beans and let it simmer. I’m really happy with how it turned out. The sweetness of the cider pairs nicely with the tangy salsa. This recipe is a winner. We served it with loaded baked potatoes, and more hard cider, of course.

chiliIngredients

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (chopped roughly in 2-3 inch pieces)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup hard cider

2 cans of pinto beans (total of 16 ounces)

1 jar of salsa verde (8-10 ounces)

2 cups of water

Toppings: shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream for a garnish

Directions:

In a large saucepan heat olive oil. Add onion and chicken. Simmer about 3 minutes and add hard cider. Simmer another 5 minutes until chicken cooked thoroughly. Add remaining ingredients and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.

Top chili with shredded cheese and sour cream. We served it with baked potatoes loaded with more cheese, sour cream, and bacon.

I will make this again, and next time I’m tempted to put bacon in the soup. Yes, that will take this great chili over the top.

Simple Stacked Sugar Cookies for Valentine’s Day

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I secretly have a thing for Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s because my husband proposed to me on Valentine’s Day. In fact, that’s probably it. It could explain why I love baking heart-shaped desserts.

Today was definitely a baking day. I made cheeseburger pie, a spinach quiche, and these Valentine’s Day sugar cookies. Digging around in the pantry, I found a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix and decided to whip up some cookies for my daughters. These are really easy because they look pretty and you don’t have to mess with icing.

To make these, you’ll need a sugar cookie mix, 1/3 cup of butter, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 egg, red food coloring, and heart-shaped fondant or cookie cutters.

Valentine's Day Stacked Sugar Cookie Tutorial

Valentine’s Day Stacked Sugar Cookie Tutorial

Follow the sugar cookie mix directions. (Or, if you want to be healthier, you can try this whole wheat flour sugar cookie recipe.) Split the dough in half and place in two separate bowls. In one bowl, add several drops of red food coloring (use your best judgement–I lost count of the number of drops) and mix well. Roll out both colors of sugar cookie dough out on a pastry mat or clean surface. (Don’t forget to lightly coat the rolling pin with flour.) Use the cookie cutters to cut several different sizes of hearts and stack them however you please. I tried several variations. My favorite are the plain sugar cookies with a medium-size red heart stacked on top. Bake according to the directions, but you might want to add 1 more minute because the stacked cookies are a little thicker.

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I love the way these look. We didn’t miss the icing or sprinkles at all. You know, there’s something special about a simple sugar cookie.

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Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!

~Amy

Chocolate Raspberry Tart

I grew up in Colorado (among other places) and I collected several cookbooks from the Junior League of Denver. My favorite cookbook is Colorado Collage. I believe it’s still in print, so look for it online and snap up a copy. You can find this recipe, Chocolate Raspberry Tart, in the cookbook on page 350, but I tweak it a bit. I use the crust recipe from my other favorite dessert recipe, Almond Tart, on page 348. I don’t like to roll out and chill pie crust, so this crust recipe is actually fairly simple.

I love this dessert because it is delicious, not overly complicated, and perfect for a special occasion. But buckle up, because you’re going to need 2 sticks of butter and a special tart pan with a removable bottom. It’s worth it!

Chocolate Raspberry Tart

(inspired by Colorado Collage cookbook)

Crust:

1 cup flour

1 T sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 T vanilla

1 1/2 tsp water

Filling:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup half and half

Topping:

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 cup fresh raspberries, rinse and pat dry

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. You’ll need a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Lightly grease the pan. (I use cooking spray). In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt, and butter. Mix or pulse until it is crumbly. In a separate small bowl, combine the vanilla and water. Slowly add this vanilla mixture to the flour mixture while the processor is running. Process the dough until it forms a ball.  [Note: you can make the crust without a food processor, but I find it takes significantly longer.]

Press the dough into the tart pan. Pat the crust until it covers the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes. It will be light brown. Cool the crust on a rack and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. When melted, add the sugar, eggs, yolk, and vanilla. Stir until smooth, remove from heat, and stir in the half and half. Pour into the prepared crust. Bake for 25 minutes until set. Cool on a rack.

In a small saucepan, melt the raspberry jam over low heat. Carefully spoon half the melted jam over the tart. Decorate with the fresh raspberries and drizzle the remaining jam over the fruit.

You can serve the tart at room temperature or chilled.

Let me know if you make it. It really is divine, but with two sticks of butter, chocolate, and fresh raspberries it has to be amazing. Enjoy!

Swedish Wishing Cookies

Swedish wishing cookies with icing

Swedish Wishing Cookies

My friend, Gladys, gave me a recipe for Swedish wishing cookies several years ago. Gladys knows a thing or two about cookies. Gladys and her husband owned two bakeries in the area in the 1930s through 1960 something. She will be 104 in January and she’s still living in the South Minneapolis home where she raised her family.

Why did it take me 5 years to try her recipe? I don’t really know. Oh, except that the past few years I’ve been knee-deep in child wrangling and have not had endless hours to devote to making cookies from scratch.

I finally tried her recipe, and I’m glad I did. It’s like a cross between a sugar cookie and gingerbread. It took me all day to make these cookies–the recipe makes 100 cookies–and it was so worth it.

The story behind Swedish wishing cookies is very sweet. Once baked and cooled, place your finger in the center of the cookie to break it. If it breaks into three pieces, make a wish, eat all three pieces without saying a word, and your wish will come true.

Swedish Wishing Cookies

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

2 T molasses

3 T water

1/2 tsp grated lemon peel

For icing

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

3 T skim milk

Directions

  • In a medium bowl, stir dry ingredients–flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
  • Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, beat butter until soft. Keep mixer running and add sugar and mix on low-speed until fluffy. Add egg, molasses, and lemon peel. Once mixed add water one tablespoon at a time until dough forms a ball. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters. Star cookie cutters work especially well for this recipe. Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Cool.
  • Mix icing ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk until it is desired consistency. Pipe lacy designs on the cooled cookies. I used a round #3 tip and a pastry bag to pipe the designs.

I love these cookies. They are spicy, fragrant, and crisp. My daughters loved trying to break the cookies into three pieces and keep quiet to earn their wish. Make your holiday special, think of Gladys, and make Swedish wishing cookies.

Slow Cooker Wild Rice Chicken Soup

Wild rice soup is one of my favorite fall meals. It’s the quintessential Minnesota soup—wild rice is very abundant in Minnesota—and I would even go so far as to name it the Minnesota State Soup.

Don’t you love it?

It’s so creamy, hearty, and fragrant. I make a decent wild rice soup from scratch when I have the time, but I haven’t had a lot of free time lately. I’m back to working full-time out of the home and I live by my slow cooker for easy meals. I finally devised a pretty good wild rice chicken soup for the slow cooker. It was easy and very flavorful. We devoured it. I hope you like it too!

Slow Cooker Wild Rice Chicken Soup

Slow Cooker Wild Rice Chicken Soup

Ingredients

- 1/2 cup dry wild rice

- 1 cup chopped onion

- 1 cup sliced or chopped carrots

- 1/2 tsp black pepper

- 4 cups chicken broth

- 1 cup whole milk

- 1 12.5 oz can of chopped chicken (Kirkland brand from Costco is pretty good)

- 1/4 cup flour

- 1 cup frozen peas

Directions:

- In a large slow cooker, add the wild rice, onion, carrots, pepper, and chicken broth. Stir and cook on LOW for 9 hours.

- After 9 hours, stir in the milk, chicken, flour, and frozen peas. Turn the heat to HIGH and cook for another 10-20 minutes. It’s ready to serve and enjoy!

A couple notes:

- I used baby carrots and canned chopped chicken to save time, but you could easily use fresh carrots and leftover roasted chicken.

- I’m not sure the peas were necessary. I think I will omit them next time.

- Next time I plan to garnish with slivered almonds, or maybe popcorn, just to live on the edge.

If you make it, let me know how it turns out  for you and if you add any of your twists to improve it.