Food Blogger Spotlight: Debbie Koenig

The first interview in the Food Blogger Spotlight series is Debbie Koenig from Words to Eat By. Debbie writes about food as it relates to parenting, and as she so aptly puts it, her blog is a great place to find “tons of recipes and tips that’ll help you get a tasty, healthy, satisfying meal on the table while there’s a baby attached to your body.”

Debbie has a long history in the publishing world, though lately she’s made her way as a successful freelance writer. You’ll find her name in many major health glossies – Fitness, Natural Health and American Baby, to name a few.

So without further ado, here’s Debbie to kick off the inaugural interview for this series!

We all have staples that we couldn’t live without. What three ingredients do you always have in your kitchen and why? I’m not talking snacks like chips and hummus, but rather ingredients you use all the time in your cooking.

My three choices are humble, borderline boring ingredients, but I can’t imagine cooking without them. First would have to be olive oil–next to the stove, I keep a refillable bottle with a liquor bottle pourer. That one’s got regular ol’ olive oil, which I buy in big cans and use for cooking every single day. I love picking up the bottle and swirling the oil around a pan–that particular movement fills me with kitchen confidence. And in the pantry I’ve got the good stuff, extra-virgin that I selected after tasting several varieties. I use it on salads and to finish dishes, where the flavor is really key.

Next, canned tomatoes in several different iterations: chopped, sauce, whole, and paste. I toss tomatoes into soups, stews, sauces, vegetable dishes–almost anything you can imagine benefits from some tomatoey goodness. And the paste, which I buy in tubes so I can use just a squirt at a time, is fantastic for adding depth of flavor without overwhelming a dish (plus it’s a handy thickener).

And finally, beans, both canned and dried. When it’s 7:00 and I haven’t given a thought to dinner (which happens surprisingly often, given the whole food blogger/writer thing), I turn to canned beans. They’re perfect for a quick veggie chili or pasta dish, and white beans mixed with tuna, lemon, and whatever herb I have is a tried-and-true standby around here. Dried beans require a little more planning, but I love the texture (and the fact that I can control the seasoning). I’ve been experimenting with the no-soak cooking method from eGullet, and it’s pretty mind-blowing how simple it is to make a pot of beans now.

Not necessarily an ingredient, but something I use every day (where “use” means “eat”): Dark chocolate. Life would be so empty without it.

Imagine you moved to the smallest apartment possible – a shoebox, really – and you only had room for a single cookbook. Of all your cookbooks, which one would you keep? Why do you love it so?

That one’s easy: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Ina Garten inadvertently gave me my start in food–I was running the advertising & promotion department at her publisher, stressed and miserable, when she came in to meet with us. She told her story, how she’d bought her shop practically on a whim while working in the Nixon White House, and I found myself thinking, Yes, I want that. Eventually I took a brief foray into the food world, while I worked with my mentor and learned the business–six months there convinced me I’d be much happier writing about food than working 24/7 for the foreseeable future.

As for the cookbook itself, well, its pages are more food-spattered than any other cookbook I own (and I’ve got more than 200). The Gazpacho, the Roasted Eggplant Spread, the Turkey Meatloaf, the Barbecue Sauce–they all make regular appearances on my table, often with my own spin. Ina’s recipes have never let me down.

When you’re looking for new recipes (or creating one of your own), what is your number one priority? What makes you pick one recipe over another?

The food snob in me says that my first priority is taste. When I’m reading a recipe or working on my own, I focus on how the various flavors will work together and complement each other. Most of the time I can tell by reading a recipe whether or not I’ll like it, and that’s a question of the ingredients list and the techniques used. But if I’m being 100% honest, my first priority is generally whether or not I’ve got the ingredients on hand, or a close enough replica. Far too often these days, I’m trolling the internet for inspiration as the sun’s going down, trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. Life as a work-at-home mother of a preschooler is just too hectic–my opportunities to drool over food magazines are few and far between.

Blogs have the potential to be so many things, from personal journals to outrageous adventure reports. What is the most important thing you put into your blog, and what is the most important thing you get out of it?

The most important thing I put in? That’s a toughie, but I suppose it would be my honesty, my approach to cooking as something that’s fun and exciting, but also necessary and sometimes a chore. I don’t pretend that I’m super-organized or a genius when it comes to technique, and I improvise as much out of necessity (whoops, I don’t have any chicken broth!) as a desire to be creative. 

As for what I get out of it, the answer’s much simpler: Conversation and a sense of community. I read other food blogs regularly and many of those bloggers read mine, so there’s a constant sense of connection, of inspiration and influence. Words to Eat By was redesigned earlier this year, and in the process I lost nearly 5 years’ worth of comments–a blow from which I’m still recovering. When I look at my older posts now they seem so lonely, like I’ve been writing into a vacuum, and it makes me sad. If you stop by the blog and you’re afraid to comment because nobody else has: Don’t be! I’ll respond, even on my old posts. I love to know what works and what doesn’t in my recipes, and I find that out from my readers.

Thanks for sharing, Debbie!

Click here for more Food Bloggers Spotlight interviews.

Here are a few of my favorite posts from Words to Eat By:

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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. Alexandra says

    Thanks for this great interview. I liked the way Debbie describes her adventurous approach to cooking. I also swear by olive oil and canned tomatoes!

  2. Melanie McMinn says

    I love the fact that Debbie doesn’t try to hide that sometimes things in the kitchen aren’t picture perfect. Not in my life anyway!

  3. Susan Johnston says

    Stephanie, this is a great idea for cross-promotion. Looking forward to reading more interviews with food bloggers.

  4. Jennifer Margulis says

    I’ve never heard of that cookbook. I can’t wait to check it out. Great interview! Thanks Debbie and Stephanie!

  5. Kerry Dexter says

    enjoyed hearing how Debbie took inspiration from Ina Garten and then found her own way to create with food. thanks, Stephanie and Debbie.

  6. Meredith Resnick says

    I learned so much from this interview, your questions and Debbie’s answers. I know how to “cook” but here I read about the art of preparing a meal with heart and mind. It’s like learning a new language. I am looking forward to this series, Stephanie. Very very nice.

  7. Kristen J. Gough says

    Yum…you’re making me hungry. I love white beans too. I’m also a big fan of just regular old olive oil–the large bottle from Costco. Although, recently I’ve discovered basil infused olive oil and it adds such a great flavor to any pasta dish.

    • steph says

      Thanks! We’ve got lots more in store. :)

      (how come people always refer to themselves in the third person plural when talking about stuff like this?)


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