Welcome to another edition of Burning Down The Kitchen. This is a weekly series where I get the privilege of interviewing a fellow blogger. The series began when I realized I had bookmarked quite a few recipes from other bloggers but had not been making them. So this was a fun way to make their recipes and get to know them better in the process. It is one of my favourite series. I have to admit I love learning more about the people behind the blogs. Hope you enjoy it too!
BURNING DOWN THE KITCHEN WITH JEN FROM JUANITA'S COCINA:
I bet so many of you reading know who Jen is. She is the mastermind and genius behind Juanita's Cocina. Jen is a kind-hearted, sincere lady who I've come to adore so much. She is witty and creative. She is talented and intelligent. She is sweet and kind. I could go on like this all day. She is an amazing woman with limitless talent and I am pleased as punch to call her a friend. I love everything she cooks up for her blog. She has a really adventurous foodie spirit which I think is fabulous. She is varied in her choices and everything she makes calls out my name. I swear I can hear the voices when I try to sleep. " Try me, make me". I am thrilled to not only be making one of her recipes but getting the chance to know her better. There's some bloggers you meet virtually that you just know you'll be friends for life with. Jen is definitely one of those people. I'm thankful I have the fortune to have found her blog and made such an inspiring friend.
When I think of Jen's blog I think of spice, sass and just the right amount of sweet. She makes things like Tamale Bites, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Huevos Rancheros, Mongolian Beef, Arroz Con Pollo, Chilaquiles, Spicy Thai Noodles, Homemade Chorizo, Spanish Style Tilapia with a Spicy Tomato Sauce, and Hawaiian Coleslaw. That was just her meals. There's also her desserts. Things like Meyer Lemon Drop Muffins, Coconut Infused Carrot Cake with Coconut Milk Frosting, Tres Leches Cake, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Red Velvet Whoopie Pies, Biscoff Ice Cream Cupcakes, Peach Curd, Baked Lemon Yogurt Donuts. Sweet & Spicy Hand Pies, and Biscoff Ice Cream Pie. I know right, and that`s just a small sampling of what Jen has to offer on her blog. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of deliciousness she has going on there. You will spend hours poking around her site, and love every minute of it. You will also fall in love with Jen.
Rapidfire Q & A with Jen of Juanita's Cocina:
1. How did you get started blogging?
I live in the sticks. If you’re unfamiliar with “the sticks”...that’s code for in the middle of nowhere. The town that I live near has less than 2,000 friendly folks. And the restaurant availability is next to nothing.
I started reading food blogs to get ideas for new meals to make at home to keep us fat and happy.
One day, I woke up and decided to do it myself. But, I needed a blog name. And I had no idea what that would be. Until I dreamed it, that is.
I woke up from a dream where I had a food blog named, “Juanita’s Cocina”. I immediately turned to my wife and said, “What do you think of Juanita’s Cocina?” And she said, “Ohhh. That’s it. That’s your blog name!”
The funny thing is that I hate the name Juanita, which is the closest Spanish translation to my given name of Jennifer. My brothers used to tease me when I was younger about my name being “Juanita”.
Well, ha! Now “Juanita” is my creative extension of myself...my self that I get to share with others. And I love her.
2. Where do you find your inspiration from?
All of my inspiration...whether that be for blogging, in my professional life, and in everything that I do, comes from my family.
I live with my wife of just over one year, Linda; my 16 year-old son, Jon; and my super-hero brother-in-law, Craig, who I like to say is thriving and surviving with Autism.
These three people are the reason I do anything...because their smiles and company is all I need in life.
Okay, I also love fabulous food. And THAT can be inspirational as well.
3. What is your fave part about blogging? Least fave?
My favorite part of blogging isn’t the food. It’s the friendships and camaraderie amongst food bloggers.
I didn’t realize how tight-knit and small the food blogging community is. You learn very quickly that food bloggers are fiercely loyal and incredibly supportive. You need only ask for help and before you turn around, there’s a line a mile long of people willing to step up. If the day ever comes where I stop this crazy blogging thing, I’m taking my friends with me.
My least favorite part of food blogging is the time commitment it takes. I didn’t realize how much time and dedication it takes to really put one of these babies out. It’s difficult to balance at times, and I’m sure I don’t always succeed at balancing it all, but I try as hard as I can!
4. How do you balance it all...work, family, blogging? Any tips for the rest of us?
I don’t always balance it all. At least not well, anyways.
I work for the public school system, so during the summer, I have been afforded extra time to blog and actually keep my house clean while I do so. Since the summer is almost over, that’s about to get much more difficult.
I am incredibly organized...I almost believe that in food bloggers it’s a requirement to have a bit of OCD. I have lists for my lists of lists. I keep a calendar with a schedule of blogs that need to be written and recipes that need to be written-up. I have at least 5 different lists of blog thingamabobs that need to be handled...all dated and categorized by level of priority.
I have learned recently that at the top of every list needs to be, “Have you taken care of you and your family today?” If the answer is “no”, then I shut off the computer.
5. Can you tell us a little about your wife and how you met?
Yes, I’m totally serious. Linda and I met through Disney. Not the man himself, but through a Disney message board.
Linda and I were both members of a Disney vacation message board. We bonded over our shared love of Disney and an interest in politics. We eventually met in person and the rest, as they say, is history.
Linda is my everything. She’s my perfect match and my very best friend. She’s my biggest champion, my biggest fan, and my biggest supporter. She makes me laugh every day.
Aaaaand, she LOVES my cooking.
We married just over a year ago on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC. We celebrated (immediately) by going out to eat.
6. Is your son a good eater? My son is fearless with food so he is my guinea pig most days.
Jon is a fabulous eater. He loves EVERYTHING, and he has from the time that he was a young child. He can be caught eating salad over cookies. Except he hates tomatoes, which makes my heart hurt because I love tomatoes more than anything.
Jon loves veggies (especially brussel sprouts), adores sushi, and will eat hummus with a spoon.
I fully credit his love of all foods and his willingness to try new food to our household rule: You have to try it before you can say you don’t like it.
I think kids are often fearful of foods and parents give in to that fear, not encouraging children to experiment because we’re hesitant to push since kids are just supposed to be picky. (NOT) Oftentimes, kids are only as picky as we make them.
7. Are you a social cook or the type who likes to cook alone?
It depends. If I’m frying, I like to cook alone. My family all knows... “Ohhhh, Jen’s frying. We have to get out of the kitchen!”
But, both my son and brother-in-law love to get in the kitchen and help. And my wife and I share cooking duties...and I never mind her company (that’s why I married her).
Unless I’m frying, and then get the heck out!
8. What kind of camera do you use? Any photography tips for fellow bloggers?
I have a Nikon D3000, and just purchased my second lens. Okay, I didn’t purchase it...I asked for it for my birthday (which hasn’t even happened yet). It arrived early and I begged for approximately 3 hours nonstop to open it early...and SCORE! She handed it over and I’m currently testing it on all of my new shoots.
I’m a VERY new food blogger and food photographer. My first blog photos were taken with my cell phone camera. Then, I upgraded to a small little point and shoot Kodak. And finally, I upgraded to the Nikon I’m using now.
I’m still learning how to shoot, style, and work a camera.
My advice to anyone who’s in my same boat is to take your time and study. Practice and play! Find out what works. I’m having fun and I’m improving every day, but I have a long way to go!
9. What are three things you think every home cook should know how to make?
Oooohhhh...this is a hard one.
I don’t think there are three things that everyone should know how to make. Rather, I think that you should challenge yourself to branch out of your comfort zone and try new recipes.
When I made homemade bagels, I danced around for days like I solved the issue of world peace. And then I made homemade pasta and I fished for compliments from my family for weeks. And then there was that one time that we decided to make homemade sausage...and it was fabulous. (just let me tell you how strange it is to order pig intestines over the internet)
I have a foodie bucket list that I really need to write down. There are certain things I want to accomplish...certain things that I need to dare myself to make.
So, rather than thinking that everyone’s “must know how to make” list be the same, I’d rather encourage people to try new and challenging recipes. I like to think I’m pretty fearless in the kitchen...but I still have things that I’m fearful of and things that I am afraid to try. I hope that I start crossing all of those foods off of my bucket list very soon!
10. What are three tools, or toys as I like to call them, that every home cook should have in their kitchen?
You can do a lot in your kitchen with an iron skillet, a cookie sheet, and a roll of parchment paper.
I know that I rely heavily on a lot of my larger kitchen appliances. But, there’s something to be said for mixing things by hand, taking a whisk to a batter, or kneading a ball of dough without the use of a stand mixer.
If I’m REALLY in need of some relaxation or self-imposed therapy, I go straight to my kitchen and I bake. The monotony of it is calming to my person. I love it. Who needs a beer when you can make cupcakes?
11. Pepsi or Coke? Sorry, I ask everyone!
Does Diet Coke count as an answer? Because if so, it’s Diet Coke. It’s my crack. I’m known for my love of Diet Coke. My students know about my love of Diet Coke, my co-workers know it, my family knows it, and when Sonic Drive-In sees me pull up, they get my Diet Coke ready.
Is it bad that when I take a sip of Diet Crack I can feel my body relax?
I don’t drink any other type of soda. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to Diet Coke.
12. Fruits or veggies?
Veggies. I eat tomatoes like apples and fully believe that salad can be a meal rather than a side. I have a new addiction to brussel sprouts, and corn makes me swoon. I may or may not crave green beans over bananas, and squash over an apple.
But, I won’t turn down anything with lemon. Lemon trumps veggies.
13. Sweet or salty snacks?
I am NOT a salty person. I can barely eat a french fry without feeling like my organs are shriveling up from sodium intake.
If I need something to snack on, I go straight for the sour candy.
I can be bought off cheaply for a pack of Sour Patch Kids or Sour Punch Straws.
Yes, I’m 9 years old. But, I love them!
14. Biscoff, Nutella or Peanut Butter?
I’m anti-nut. I don’t care for nuts (although I’ll occasionally eat them) because I think they taste like dirt.
So, Biscoff all the way. With a spoon. All by myself. In the corner...*ahem*
15. Habanero, jalapeno, serrano, or chile peppers?
That’s a rude question and I refuse to answer!
Okay, okay, it’s like you’re asking me to choose my favorite child, but if I must, it’s Hatch Green Chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. (Yay for my home state!)
I am never without fresh peppers in my crisper. Ever. Because everything is better with chile.
16. Apron or no apron?
No apron. Although I own several. I feel like a stained shirt is the sign of a good cook.
17. If you were on a deserted island what one kitchen item would you be hoping to wash up on shore?
A knife. In my mind, I could spear a fish, open a coconut, and whittle a bowl with my trusty knife.
In reality, I’d probably die of starvation because I’m afraid of fishing, I’m not strong enough to crack a coconut, and I wouldn’t even begin to know how to whittle.
18. If you could do a cooking smackdown with one celebrity chef who would you choose and why? Would you go easy on them or bring them to their knees?
Hands down, Bobby Flay. He cooks the kind of food that I like to eat.
And whenever I watch him on his throwdown show, you can tell he hates to lose. And I love to win.
I once won a chili cook-off at work, and I danced around with my trophy for days. Literally.
19. If money was no object, tell us what foodie dream/fantasy you would want to experience? Opening a restaurant, travelling, what floats your boat?
I would love to take a culinary tour of Italy with my wife. Culinary classes included, please.
At least 2 weeks...nothing but me, my wife, some tomatoes and fresh pasta. And cheese. Please.
20. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Is blogging still a big part of the picture?
Before my food blog, I blogged about politics. I’ve been blogging for years. I cannot see myself without this sort of outlet, whether that be a food blog or some other type of online journal of my life.
I hope that life affords me the opportunity to continue food blogging, because I love it. But, if it doesn’t, I know I’ll still be cooking.
I’ve never said this out loud (or on the internet), but I really wish I could go to culinary school.
Of course, I also want to win the lottery.
Dare Portion of Burning Down The Kitchen:
Show us your spice collection.
Okay I'm a total spice girl myself but Jen puts my collection to shame. This is amazing. I want to come cook with you one day Jen. This is such an impressive array of spice to whip up fabulous meals. I need to up my game. I'm feeling slightly spice-inadequate right now. I particularly love the first shot of the little bottles. You know me and jars. It's a love affair like no other.
I chose to make Jen's Black Forest Ice Cream. I would lay money that most of you laid money that would be my choice. How could I not? It was calling to me...in the middle of the night... "try me, make me". So I listened. And I tried. And I made. And I ate.
- In a stand mixer combine chocolate milk, brown sugar, cocoa and salt. Whisk until sugar dissolves.
- Add the heavy cream and vanilla and mix until creamy.
- Cover and set in fridge for about an hour, or overnight.
- Transfer liquid to your frozen ice cream maker bowl, place on machine and turn on for about 10 to 15 minutes until it starts to thicken.
- Add your cherries and chocolate chips and turn on just long enough to mix them in.
- You can serve immediately or place in the freezer until you want it.
- Serve with a big old black forest smile!
Dang, this stuff is good. Like wicked good. Like wake you up in the middle of the night good. Like you will be hearing it call you in the middle of the night, "try me, make me" until you'll just have to give in and whip some up. Then you might wake up every night for the next 5 days to eat some. That's just a guess though. Not like I know anything about that or anything.
I'd like to thank Jen for allowing me the honour of interviewing her for this series. It was a pleasure getting to know even more about you. I look forward to *crosses fingers* meeting you at Blogher Food next year.
I'd like to encourage all my readers to head over to Jen's blog, Juanita's Cocina and spend some time there. Poke around her blog a bit. Make sure you sign up for her RSS feed or email subscriptions so you can get all her fabulous food delivered to your email. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. I suggest you follow her everyone. She's worth the stalking time, trust me.
Toodles and smoochies! xx