Monthly Archives: August 2013

8 Things They Don’t Tell You When You Start a Food Blog

Apologies to those who came in search of recipes today.  I promise new calorie-laden foods will be available next week!

8 Things They Don't Tell You When You Start a Food Blog | JensFavoriteCookies.com

I’m not really sure who the “they” is.  After all, there’s no international board of blogging experts that you consult when you start blogging.

Unfortunately.

After a few years of blogging, and nearly two years of blogging seriously, I thought it was time I cleared the air about a few things.  Set the record straight.  Pull back the curtains of the glamorous world of food blogging.

{Sidebar: Is it glamorous?  I doubt anyone thinks it is.  I just like to pretend it is to build my fragile ego.  It’s probably why I started the blog in the first place… all the glamour.}

“Talent is cheaper than table salt.  What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” -Stephen King

Drumroll please…

1. You can’t do it for free. Yes, I realize they said you could blog for free, and you can. But what they did not say is that you cannot blog seriously for free. You just can’t. Sorry, friends.

See, you can start yourself a free Blogger or WordPress blog (I have a free one. A few free ones. Okay, I’m an addict.) but if you want to be serious, to have a business, to make money… you can’t do it with a free blog. You need hosting. You need your own domain name. You need to look and act like a professional.  Now there are lots of options when it comes to hosting. You might even be able to score some cheap hosting for $20/year, but if you’re expecting traffic, please don’t buy the cheap hosting. You’ll regret it. {Ask me how I know that.} I’m currently paying $20/month with Media Temple. They’re not the cheapest guy on the block, but you won’t regret using them. Click here to check them out for yourself.

You’ll also need a camera, with a lens, and a tripod. Maybe some lighting. Props. Backdrops. I use an old Canon Rebel that I bought used from a friend who gave me a screaming deal at $140. I use the kit lens. Lenses are crazy expensive, and I’m going to have to save up for a lens that will make me happier. My parents gave me a tripod as a gift, and it was super lucky they did, because decent tripods ain’t cheap either. This is the tripod I use. I developed an addiction to buying food photo props. Everything in the entire world looks like a food photo to me. It’s a blessing and a curse. Not to mention, you may find that photography is harder than you thought (I did) and you may want to take some classes.

Also, ingredients are rarely, if ever, free. If you’re blogging for real, you’re going to need a budget.

2. You’re going to spend half your life on social media. Y’all, I literally have accounts at all of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, StumbleUpon, Google+, Tumblr, Foursquare, Vine, and probably a couple others that I have quite literally forgotten about. On Facebook, besides my page that I run, I’m also a member of dozens of blogging groups, some of which I moderate. You can’t build a following without social media, and you can’t have effective social media without spending TIME.

It’s addictive. You can lose hours doing this. You have to show up, say something, engage. Join groups, make friends, make enemies, pin stuff, tag people, ask questions, disagree, share, and most of all, know how each social media platform works. Get good at it. Be an expert. There’s no short path, you gotta do the work.

And, P.S., that also goes for SEO.  {Search Engine Optimization}  SEO is hard to understand, a lot of work to get right, and ever changing.  I’ve been using this 21 Day SEO Challenge to learn what I’m doing, and it’s been hugely helpful.  Of course, I’ll probably never be an expert.

3. You need to become an excellent photographer. This is not optional. You don’t have to be great at all photography, just your particular style of food photography. Photographs spark the imagination. They are the hook that brings people to your food blog. They get you attention on Pinterest and other social media. They can bring you traffic courtesy of food photo submission sites. Basically nothing will kill a blog faster than really bad photography.

Disclaimer: I’m not an amazing photographer, but I have worked hard to acquire the skills I have. I literally have dozens and dozens of blog posts about food photography pinned and bookmarked. {Check out my food photography Pinterest board, if you want.} I bought e-books. (Click here to see my favorite food photography ebook.) I copied other photographers. I’ve shot the food, looked through the pics, and then screamed and yelled and started all over with a new photo shoot. I’ve remade old recipes, just so I could take new pictures and re-write old posts.

P.S., You have to get good at editing pics, too. This is it’s own kind of skill, completely separate from the photographing, and every bit as important.

4. You cannot ignore the technical stuff. When I first started blogging, I figured that if I ran into technical problems I didn’t understand, my husband, the IT administrator, would take care of that for me. The real problem was that when I needed him, his reply was, “I’m not a web guy.” You don’t have to know everything about the technical side of your blog, but problems will crop up, and if you don’t want to spend your life savings paying web guys to handle it for you, you’ll need to learn a few basics yourself.

Some basics that helped me: html: For reals. I hate html, I can’t write code to save my soul, but I can figure out enough to put my most pinned posts in my sidebar, install ads, and fix some weirdo glitches that periodically happen in my posts. Plugins: You basically can’t run a blog without them. You need at least a general idea of how they work, and know how to turn them off if they start to not play nice with one another. Settings: Understanding what my blog can do and how to do it gave me a ton more freedom.

Of course, knowing what you can’t do is valuable information as well. There are some really reputable tech guys out there who specialize in wordpress blogs. You might need the number or email address of one or two on file, just in case.
8 Things They Don't Tell You When You Start a Food Blog | JensFavoriteCookies.com

5. Food Blogging is competitive.  Estimates range all over the place, but sufficeth to say, most days it feels like a good 40% of the world’s population run food blogs.  Everyone does it.  The market is completely saturated.  If you’re going to stand out, you need to be unique, you need to WORK.  Some days it will feel like every food blog out there is better than yours, and that there is no place in the internet-world for you, but trust me.  You have a voice, and someone will like you.

And persistence beats talent every time.

6. If you build it, they may not come.  If your stuff is outrageously useful, super high quality, and downright amazing, the people will come.  They will come in droves.  But just because you wrote down some witty thoughts about your last family vacation or you found a new way to customize a cake mix, it doesn’t mean people will flock to your amazing new blog.  Just because you know that you spent 25 hours designing your new theme, and that it’s way better than your old theme, it doesn’t mean anyone else knows it.  Or cares.

Even if your stuff is of life-changing quality, you will probably still go have to find the people and tell them to come.  You will need to self-promote.  Self-promoting is uncomfortable, especially at first.  It’s hard to get a Facebook page started.  You have to ask people you know to like your page.  You have to put yourself out there and risk rejection.  You have to pin your own stuff a dozen times, hoping someone with a million followers will see it and be impressed.

Yes, build it.  Build it like your life depended on it.  Be a perfectionist and make it something you will be proud of.  And then?  GO find the the people and ask them to come.  Some of them will.

7. Food blogs are not gold mines.  I’ve spent too much of my life chasing gold mines.  Blogs are not get-rich-quick-schemes.  Building a good, reliable following takes time.  Finding advertisers that are decent and pay a fair amount takes persistence.  Growing an e-mail list, and learning to sell as an affiliate, and working with brands, these things all take practice, work, and time.  Neglect them, and they will whither like an unwatered garden.

My first experience with Google AdSense was a disaster.  My first ad network paid me far less than average.  My first private advertiser stopped talking to me after one month.  My first sponsored post was offered by a third party media group.  You can make money blogging, and there is nothing wrong with it.  I will never tell you that you shouldn’t blog for money.  I believe money is a good thing which encourages people do become something better, serve other people, and work hard.  I am saying that you won’t make a liveable wage, especially not in the beginning.  You’ll need another reason or two to keep you going.

8. Your blog friends might replace your real friends.  I feel like I have this big group of close friends who understand me… and who live all over the world and whom I’ve never met.  I am in several food blogging groups on Facebook, and one in particular has been perhaps the most valuable thing to my blog ever.  There are over 100 people in this group who freely share, give opinions, offer help and encourage.  Some of them even offered to mentor me, which is a priceless gift, in my opinion.  I could not have done it without them.

I have other blog friends I talk to very frequently, sometimes about blogging, sometimes about other things.  Sometimes we even talk about renting a house in some central location for a week, so we can all get together and have a big party.

Making blog friends I care about this much was not something I was expecting.  It might be my favorite thing about blogging.  Blogging is a very creative process.  It requires parts of you that you don’t show the whole world.  Your food blog friends will get that.  Your non-food-blog friends MAY just think you are really nerdy.

 

I should sum this up by telling you that I mostly wrote this post for myself, to remind myself where I have been and where I am going.  To tell myself what I wish I had known in the beginning.  To prepare you in some small way for the amazing journey you might go through.

You can do it, food blogging friends.  I’m in your corner.  And if you need a pep talk, e-mail me!

Peanut Butter Blondies

Peanut butter brownies; this blondies recipe uses peanut butter and chocolate chips.  These peanut butter brownies are a family favorite.

peanut butter browniesI’ve been having this problem recently.  All my pans are disappearing.

My trusty 9×9?  Gone.  My 11×7 that I use when the 9×9 is busy?  Gone.  My glass pie plate?  Gone.

I swear there are bakeware gremlins on the loose in the area.

Not to mention, I lost my favorite bread knife, and the dog ate one of my wooden spoons.  True story.  He ate it.  Ripped it to shreds.  We were finding splinters for days.

So, I guess you know what I’ll be hoping to receive as birthday gifts.  (*wink wink*)

I’m telling you all this, because you’ve already looked at the pictures, and probably wondered why these brownies are round.    And now you know that this is what happens when you make your kids do the dishes.  The pans disappear and the dog eats the utensils.

I ended up using a 9-inch round cake pan for these blondies.  I didn’t mind, because they still baked up lovely and delicious, with yummy crusty edges, and they came out of the pan quite easily.  Plus, they look cool round.

peanut-butter-brownies

If anyone asks, that’s why they’re round.  Because they look cool.  Sleek.  Stylish.  It’s the next thing in blondies.

I’m a trendsetter, y’all.  Continue reading “Peanut Butter Blondies” »

Banana Bread Cookies

Banana cookies!  These cookies taste just like chocolate chip banana bread, in cookie form!  Try this recipe for banana cookies.

banana-cookiesTwo ripe bananas sat on the counter, like a challenge.  “What will you make of us?” they screamed at me.

I had ideas.  Lots of ideas.  My first thought, always, is to make a batch of my very favorite muffin of all time, and perhaps the recipe I am most proud of, the Banana Chocolate Chunk Muffins.

I also considered a recipe I’ve been drooling over from Averie’s peanut butter cookbook, this Peanut Butter Banana Bread Cake.  Lawdy, it sound good.

Then a friend told me about the chocolate banana bread with peanut butter and honey someone had shared with her during an excruciatingly long bike ride.  She’s nuts about the bike riding, but has good taste in snacks!

The Fruitarian had his own ideas.  At 15, he has outgrown most of the imagination games he played as a child, but I doubt he will ever outgrow his love of bananas.  It will take a special woman to earn more of this kid’s love than bananas already have.  Most of his ideas centered around the most memorable dessert on this blog for him, the Chocolate Banana Parfait.  He asks me almost weekly to recreate it.  (And considering how embarrassingly bad the photos are, I probably should.)

Buuuuuttt… this is a cookie blog, and it’s been a while since we had a good creative cookie on here.  Decision made.

chocolate chip banana bread cookies

I really can’t bring myself to eat a banana plain.  They’re all soft and mushy and taste strongly of bananas.  (Who knew?) Continue reading “Banana Bread Cookies” »

Baked Coconut Almond Oatmeal Cups

Recipe for baked oatmeal;  This delicious baked oatmeal recipe makes 12 individual cups, and uses almonds and coconut.  Coconut baked oatmeal is the best!

Baked-coconut-almond-oatmeal-8I’ve been feeling a touch stressed about the coming school year.  All three of my kids will be going to brand new schools this year, and I don’t exactly know what to expect.  I’m one of those people who prefers to know what I’m getting into, so it’s making me really uncomfortable.

I’m also realizing that like it or not, this family will need to be morning people.  The kids and Robb all need to be out the door by 7:00, and for a woman who prefers to get up around 8:00 or 8:30, this is a real problem.

I’ve been preparing everyone by telling them that breakfast will be served at 6:30, and they are to be dressed and at the table by that time.  Whether or not that will actually happen is up for debate.

I realize that this means I will need to be up by 6:00 at the latest, and depending on what I’m serving for breakfast, maybe even sooner.  This idea does NOT thrill me.  I can do it… I just don’t want to.

In the meantime, I am auditioning new recipes for our early morning breakfast line up, and I think I found a winner in this one.

Baked-coconut-almond-oatmeal-1

Can I make a confession?  I don’t like oatmeal.  Never have. Continue reading “Baked Coconut Almond Oatmeal Cups” »

Why I Make My Kids Eat After-School Snacks

Healthy and unhealthy snacks for kids; These after school snacks are a must have!

Why I make my kids eat after-school snacks | JensFavoriteCookies.comThe house is quieter when the kids are at school.  And the fridge is emptier.

I swear the kids are hungrier during the school year than the summer.  They come home from school, and the first word out of their mouths is not “Hi, Mom!”, it’s “What’s there to eat?”

I’ve just started planning on having an after school snack available, so they can start saying “Hi, Mom!” again.

Here are my rules for after school snacks:

  • It must not require much time.  In other words, no baking cookies.  If I can’t make them in less than 20 minutes, I probably won’t do it.
  • There must be a variety.  I like when the kids feel excited to come home and see what snack I planned for them.  Some days it’s just fresh fruit.  Some days it’s a chocolate shake.  You just never know.
  • It must require them to sit in the kitchen for a few minutes, not a granola bar or something like that that they can walk away with.  I want them to sit and tell me about their day while its fresh in their minds.  I’ll use paper plates if I’m worried about dishes, I just want them to talk to me for 5-10 minutes.
  • It must taste good.  I guess this goes without saying.  After all, good food = love.

I have this friend who is a Marriage and Family Therapist and also blogs about these things.  He has a series called The Five Connections where he talks about 5 things parents can do to prevent addictions.  If you do all five of these things, you have an 85% chance of keeping your kids addiction free.  The Second Connection is to check in daily with each child.

These daily check-ins are not meant to be unpleasant or an excuse to lecture, just to gather information about their lives and strengthen your connections.  Since teens tend to be busy and out of the home a lot, I try to use any opportunity I can to sit eye-to-eye with them for 5 or 10 minutes.

And more often than not, that opportunity is the after school snack.

Why I make my kids eat after-school snacks | JensFavoriteCookies.com

I’ve collected 10 great options for you.  All of them follow these rules.  I hope you will find them useful and delicious.

Since I have this belief that snack time = chat time, I’d love to hear from you what you are doing to get your kids talking about their lives away from home.  Leave a comment below!

  1. No Bake Cookies – these are classic.  You can whip them up in 10 minutes or less, and throw them in the fridge, or even the freezer if you’re in a hurry.  I like to put them in a mini-muffin pan, partly because it’s easy, and partly because the kids have to stand in the kitchen and dig the cookies out with a spoon.
  2. Oreo White Chocolate Popcorn – because we love popcorn and we love Oreos.  Plain old Oreos they can walk away with, but a single big bowl of popcorn to share requires everyone to be in the same place.
  3. Mango Salsa – I love this salsa because it uses my kids love of fruit to develop their taste for avocados.  Again, I use one bowl of salsa and one bag of corn chips to share.
  4. Grilled PB Chocolate Sandwiches – Depending on the size of your griddle, you can make several of these at a time.  I like to have them really close to ready when the kids walk in the door, so they will sit in the kitchen and wait for them to be done.  More than 2-3 minutes, and they will wait somewhere else; less than 2-3 minutes, you may not have time to get them talking.
  5. Orange Juice Smoothie – this Orange Julius knockoff can be mixed up in just a minute or two, and the kids can even do it themselves.  Since it’s served in a glass, they can technically walk away with it, but if you get the kids doing the blending, they’ll still have a few minutes together.
  6. Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites – Okay, these are just crazy delicious.  I make them up ahead of time, and keep them in the fridge.  What will happen is the kids will eat a couple, then within a few minutes, they will return to the fridge for a couple more.
  7. Garlic Parmesan Home Fries – These may stretch the 20 minute rule, but sometimes you want something warm and comforting.  If you’re experiencing a particularly cold winter day, and you don’t mind turning on the oven for a bit, these are your babies.
  8. Funfetti Oreo Stacks – This is another one that is more hands on for the kids.  I like to put some frosting in a piping bag, and let the kids make their own stacks.  You can vary this by using different flavored frosting.
  9. Chocolate Waffle Iron Cookies – This is one of my favorites.  Each batch of cookies cooks in the waffle iron for about 3-4 minutes.  I do the cooking, and the kids stand in the kitchen and frost their cookies.
  10. 9 Minute Microwave Cake – the easiest cake of all time.  This one is perfect for the days the kids bring friends home with them, because it makes plenty and is best eaten fresh.  This recipe uses both chocolate cake and chocolate frosting, but you can use any cake and frosting combination you like.

If you enjoy this post, you might also enjoy:

no bake20 No-Bake Desserts lemon crinkles cookies6 Lunchbox Cookies

 

 

unhealthy snacks for kids

after school snacks

Chocolate Lovers Bark

Chocolate Lovers Chocolate Bark recipe;  This krispie-treat like bark uses Cocoa Pebbles and chocolate cookies, a chocolate lovers dream come true!

chocolate bark recipe

What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?  If you’re anything like me, there’s the diplomatic, grown-up, adult answer, and then there’s the real answer.

If anyone asks, my favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats.  It’s not as adult as Grape Nuts or Shredded Wheat, but it’s also not geared toward children, it’s suitably respectable, a safe answer.

But the real answer is Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch.  There’s just no way to sit in a room of adults and say the words “Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch is my favorite!” without sounding like a 5 year old.  I should really just have these conversations with 5 year olds, to make myself look better.

But I digress.

I also love chocolate cereals, mostly because they turn your milk to chocolate milk.  Did I mention I’m not a fan of milk?  Chocolate milk is okay, though.  In fact, chocolate cereal milk is the only acceptable cereal milk.

Chocolate-Lovers-chocolate-bark-recipe

So, here’s what you need to do.  Step One: Head over to your local Walgreens to purchase some Pebbles.  You can choose Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles, it’s really up to you.  Get one of each if you want.

Or do what I did and stock up on the chocolate variety so you can look forward to eating like a 5 year old for days.

Chocolate-bark-recipe

Step Two: You’re going to need a few more things, namely wafer cookies, chocolate chips, white chocolate, and some chocolate Oreos. Continue reading “Chocolate Lovers Bark” »

Lemon Cream Sodas and a Big Announcement!

This delicious lemon drink is a homemade Italian cream soda recipes; Try this lemon drink and many others in the Summer Mocktail Book!

Lemon Cream Sodas from JensFavoriteCookies.com -  find lots more summer mocktail recipes here too!I love a fancy beverage.  I even love the word “beverage.”  It just sounds cool.

Say it… Beeev-rage.  Beeeeeh-vrage.  See what I mean?  Groovy.

It can’t be denied that when you think of fancy beverages, you think of summer and summer fruits.  Summer is the perfect time for a fancy fruity beverage.

{Do you think I can work the word “beverage” into the post a few more times?  Beverage.  Beverage.  BEEEH-vrage.}

I was introduced to cream sodas a couple years ago, when my daughter ordered one at a restaurant.  I honestly had never had one before, so I did what any self-respecting mother would do…  I shouted “Mom tax!” and swiped a sip of her fun vanilla cream soda.

And, yum, it was good.  I knew in that moment I would need to learn to make homemade cream sodas.  And learn, I did.

Lemon Cream Sodas from JensFavoriteCookies.com  -  These Italian cream sodas are fun to make!  Find lots more mocktail recipes here too.

I used one of my favorite tricks and made some lemon-infused simple syrup.  It’s crazy easy… just cut the peel off a lemon in big ugly chunks, and throw it in a pot with 1 cup each of sugar and water.  Boil for a couple minutes.

Mix this syrup with club soda and half-and-half, top with some whipped cream, and voila!  Homemade Lemon Cream Sodas.  A perfect little summer refresher.

And speaking of refreshers… I have a big announcement to share with you.  {drumroll}

My very first e-book, entitled “10 Summer Mocktails” is now available!  In case you didn’t know it already, our home is full of kids and devoid of alcohol, so a collection of non-alcoholic fruity summer beverages seemed natural, and let’s face it, kind of fun.

10 Summer Mocktails from JensFavoriteCookies.com

A few of the recipes in this book are also found on the blog, and a few are brand new, only to be found in the book.

By the way, let me just tell you, my favorite drink in this book was kind of a surprise to me… it was the Watermelon Cucumber Punch.  I don’t even like watermelon.  My first attempt at that punch was a total flop, but I had a sense that it would taste really delish and refreshing, so I kept at it until I got it right.  Now my kids and I are addicted to the stuff.  The Fruitarian can drink 2 liters of it all by himself.

Lemon Cream Sodas from JensFavoriteCookies.com  -  These Italian cream sodas are fun to make!  Find lots more mocktail recipes here too.

To purchase this book for a mere two dollars, go to one of the links below.  If you leave a review on any of these sites or on this post, please let me know and I will send you a secret bonus recipe, one that is perfect for a hot summer day!

Purchase from Waldron Publishing

Purchase from Amazon

Purchase from Barnes & Noble

Purchase from iBooks

 

grapefruit soda thumbGrapefruit Soda sangria thumbSangria Mocktail subscribeSubscribe by e-mail

Continue reading “Lemon Cream Sodas and a Big Announcement!” »

Twix Cheesecake Bars

One of the best cheesecake ideas I have seen, these use candy bars!  With a shortbread crust and Twix and Rolo candies, this is a fun twist on cheesecake bars recipes.

Twix Cheesecake Bars from JensFavoriteCookies.comI think I spent like $25 on candy and junk at the grocery store, just to have an excuse to make these cheesecake bars.

It seems like cheesecake bars are like the cool kid on the block these days.  Everyone is making them.  Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars, Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars, Turtle Cheesecake Bars, Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars, Pumpkin Nutmeg Cheesecake Bars… you name it, you can make it into a cheesecake bar.

And weirdly, even though I really enjoy a good cheesecake, and I post practically nothing but dessert recipes on this site, the cheesecake recipes are few and far between here.  It was time this situation came to an end.

Pinterest and I became good friends.  I put “cheesecake bars” in the search bar and oohed and aahed for, well, probably hours.  There really are an amazing number of cheesecake bar recipes out there.

Twix Cheesecake Bars from JensFavoriteCookies.com

I ended up forming my very own creation.  For this amazing creation, I started with a shortbread crust.  I wanted the bar to bear a passing resemblance to a Twix bar, and Continue reading “Twix Cheesecake Bars” »

Pizza Bites

This homemade pizza recipe comes in little bite-size pieces; A pizza recipe for bread filled with pepperoni and cheese.  Homemade pizza recipe.

homemade-pizza-recipeI’ve been trying to reduce my intake of carbs.  No white bread, I said.  No cheese, I said.

Aaaaand then I went and made this.

My BFF saw my picture on Instagram and asked me why I was making bread.  As if I had an answer.  “Torture!” she said.  “No doubt,” said I.

I’m kind of a sucker for cheesy bread, especially when it involves garlic.  Garlic might be my kryptonite.  Who can resist something like that?  When the cheese is all stringy and you can pull it for miles before it breaks?  It’s completely irresistible.  Admit it.

The other inexplicable thing about my making these pizza bites was my timing.  Normally we’re an eat-dinner-late kind of family, but Robb came home early, and needed to leave again, and I figured we had better get while the gettin’ was good.  So the pizza bites came out of the oven about the same time the veggies went onto the stove.  The kids thought the pizza bites were dinner.

They wish!

pizza-bites

I’ll tell you the truth… I’m not a big fan of making bread.  All the kneading and waiting for it to rise and hoping your yeast is still good is just too much for me. Continue reading “Pizza Bites” »