My 10 tips to improve a food blog and Featured Blogger at Food Bloggers of Canada

I received an email that made me blush the other day. I was actually quite honored. I am part of an organization called the Food Bloggers of Canada and every week they chose a Canadian blogger to showcase as the Featured Blogger of the week. This week I am that Featured Blogger. Please take a moment to head of to the FBC and check out the post featuring Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Thank you FBC!

It is always flattering when we get a little bit of recognition for our work, even if we do it purely because it is our passion. This blog is far from perfect but I am proud and have worked hard at it. The first two years this blog sort just gathered internet dust. My topic was too local (short Montreal restaurant reviews) and I did not know how to share more effectively. The last 3 years have been a huge growing experience. I did my research, applied many ideas, put myself more out there, etc. There is always more to learn, ways to improve and keep it fun. Here are my tried and true 10 tips that have helped me take my blog a little bit further.

1. Join a topic related community
The first community I joined was Foodbuzz and my stats skyrocketed instantly because I had a large new audience of peers.

2. Make contact with other bloggers
Leaving comments gets you connected with people who share a mutual interest. This is the #1 networking tool. I have met tons of wonderful people and a few have become friends. The best is meeting up over a meal when the opportunity arises.

3. Review your blog’s goal periodically
My first posts were exclusively short restaurant reviews or anecdotes of the dinner group I ran. My audience was very small. I realized quickly that popular food blogs were focused on recipes. So I took my blog into the kitchen and posted recipes I prepared. I try to keep the majority of my recipes on them: cuisine from around the world. This is also a perfect opportunity to work on a great About page – I just redid mine, comments are very welcomed please!

4. Participate in online group activities
The first group I joined was The Daring Kitchen. The formula varies but the idea is basically the same: a theme, an ingredient or a recipe is suggested and everyone posts at the same time their result. Today I am part of the Secret recipe Club, the 5 Stars Makeover and the Love Bloghop. Join as many groups as you like as long as you can respect the schedule impositions.

5.  A picture is worth a 1,000 words
I once read women are more likely to read a long article whereas men are more likely to just look at the pictures. I think we all do a bit of both but eye candy does go a long way. I could write a whole other post about food photography. Taking a great picture of a dish can be a very intimidating. Learn from food bloggers with a photography knack. Write to them and ask for advice or find photography tutorials. People love to share their knowledge. With practice your skills will improve. Getting a DSLR camera makes a huge impact. Here are some of my favorite food photography resources:

6. Social, social, social networks
Get an account for all of them: Twitter, a Facebook page, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon and Digg are some of the biggest. Once your accounts are set up follow people. Post new blog articles on every social network. It’s viral marketing.

7. Guest blog or write articles
I wrote an article 2 years ago on exotic ice cream recipes for The Daring Kitchen. I took a look at my last referrers today and 10 of them came from that article. Why? Because it is summer and everyone loves ice cream. A pertinent and well written article posted on another related site can get you new readers for years to come. A fun guest post I did was with Foodiva remaking a recipe we loved from the others blog.

8. Read advice blogs or websites about social media and SEO
One of the best reliable sites is Mashable. They can give you great tips and inspire you. I fell on a site that offered a program called 31 Days to Building a Better Blog. You can find it without cost online. I am doing it at my own pace, not in 31 days. This very post is actually one of the daily tasks: write s list post.

9. Praise and say thank you
This can take many forms. Someone leaves you a touching comment…email them directly saying how much you appreciated it. You fell in love with a recipe on a blog, made it and are posting about it…mention and link back t the post you got the recipe from. In this post I have linked directly to a few bloggers and sites I admire. That is a form of praise. Pay it forward!

10. If you are not having fun, stop blogging
Every effort you make will have a positive impact on your blog. But if you are not having fun then what is the point? If you keep comparing yourself to more successful blogs you are just discouraging yourself. I kept this point for last but it is the most important point on this list. Have fun. Blogging should be a passion, not an effort.

Foodalogue’s Open Letter to FoodBuzz re Project Food Blog

My dear friend Claudia, who was one of my (many) chief supporters during the Project Food Blog contest, sent me a link to a post that was written by Joan over at Foodalogue. Joan wrote a phenomenal open letter to Foodbuzz about her wonderful experience but also very constructive criticism about the contest which is still going on.

Everything she wrote, very diplomatically I might add, I agree with 100%. Joan has given me permission to reprint this letter. If we want things to change we have to speak up. I recommend we all write letters to Foodbuzz so they hear us and bring forth the appropriate tweaks for next year. I will! And I cannot wait till the 2011 Project Food Blog Challenge.

Here is Joan’s Open Letter

______________

To FoodBuzz:

Project Food Blog was a great idea! I recognize it was a huge organizational undertaking and you’re really pulling it off seamlessly…so kudos to you and thanks! But since it’s a ‘first’ and we can always learn and improve, I thought I’d offer my personal feedback at this halfway point. Now that the crowd has thinned, it’s really becoming a challenge of pros.

The Pluses
1. Fun!
2. Invigorating!
3. Everyone benefits.
4. Great learning experience. People get in ruts. It pushes challengers to stretch and up their ante.
5. Fascinating to see some of the imaginative entries.
6. Good bonding experience to meet so many talented bloggers through their entries.
7. Increased readership. I’ve gotten quite a few new followers and have started following others.

But there were some hitches. These are my personal observations and wishlist for 2011 which I hope you find sincere and helpful.

3 Minuses/Suggestions for 2011
The first two are intertwined and inseparable: non-compliance and voting. The Project Food Blog challenges as you set them out for us in the challenge directives should have been taken literally. The subsequent voting for non-compliant entries in the second and third rounds eliminated many worthy challengers who followed the directives.

Blogging is communication. It is staying on theme. It is visual and narrative. The ‘best food blog’ should be about the quality of work, not the number of votes you can stuff into a ballot box.

Specific suggestions:

1. Compliance. Bloggers who do not follow the challenge directive should be automatically eliminated before the vote opens. If this cannot be done at your end for some reason, then voters/judges should be clearly, strongly (and repeatedly) prompted to take ‘compliance’ into consideration.

• For example, in the second round the challenge clearly stated ‘no Italian or French’ and yet there were blogs that chose to ignore that directive. And voters advanced them to the third round.

• In the third round, the directive was a ‘luxurious dinner party with new tastes and exotic flavors’. I was stunned by how many bloggers chose to go with a non-exotic and not-new fall harvest menu, or childrens’ parties, or other clearly non-compliant themes. Again, votes were wasted and another group who deserved to move forward for at least one more challenge was dropped.

2. Voting. I think challengers should be advanced – only and totally – by merit. Therefore, I’d love to see judging solely by an impartial panel of industry professionals. This panel could be a trio like this year’s with the addition perhaps of any or all of the following: a noted food photographer, food writer, project sponsor representatives or even foodbuzz staff members.

Otherwise, left to us, it really becomes a numbers game — even within our featured publisher community. Many votes are cast on a loyalty/blogging friend basis. It’s human nature. And then there are the ‘quid pro quo’ votes. We all left ‘voting for you’ comments with the hope of  reciprocal votes and those that use the tweet link to announce votes seem to be employing just another strategy to garner votes. The more one tweets their votes, the more likely they are to get a return vote. These type votes enabled some entries to advance without true merit or compliance.

Interestingly, early on and when we had the PFB tweet-up, I saw people commenting negatively about not entering because it would be a popularity contest. I thought those comments were rude and that they just didn’t get what a personal growth opportunity the challenge offered. It turns out we were both right. It is a growth opportunity if one chooses to take it — and, as structured, it is a popularity contest with some negative connotations.

3. Timing. Lastly, it would be great for both sides (you/us) if this were done earlier in the year so as not to interfere with the Festival news, sponsor challenges and event planning. Perhaps during the summer.

I hope my comments are taken in the spirit given and that you find them helpful in planning PFB 2011.

Sugar Sponge, coulda been a contender

Wow, been a while since I posted by my standards! But it has been a whirlwind past few days. Alas I found out on Friday 2pm that I did not get picked to move on to round 4 of Project Food Blog. I am (more or less) over it, I was actually pretty shocked, saddened, and hurt a little. But it is a competition and that is part of the game. I did still beat out over 90% of the participants. Being top 10% is AWESOME.

This past weekend was the Canadian Thanks Giving so I give thanks. I made it that far because of YOU. So Thank YOU so much for everyone that voted and commented and cheered me on, whether a close personal friend and family (you guys I love you all) or my blogosphere wonderful friends and fans. BIG HUG!

And I support and will vote for my favorite remaining competitors till the very end. I hope this contest takes place next year too. I have learned so much. And since I was heading out of town till Tuesday morning I had prepared my 4th entry which was along the theme of creating a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial. I actually was so torn between two recipes I did them both. So I am presenting you with the first of my would been contender recipes…

Sugar Sponge by Christine Cushing

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons baking soda

Directions

Liberally grease a 10-inch round spring form cake pan with vegetable oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Line the sides of the pan with a parchment paper so that the parchment paper creates a collar that sits 1 to 2-inches above the pan. Liberally grease the parchment paper.

In a deep medium saucepan add sugar, corn syrup, water, and vanilla. Over medium-high heat bring the mixture to a boil (without stirring) and cook until hard crack stage, i.e. until temperature reads 300 degrees F. on a candy thermometer. This should take about 10 minutes. During the cooking process, if there are any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan, brush the sides of the pan with a clean pastry brush dipped in water.

Remove the sugar mixture from the heat. Working quickly, add the baking soda and whisk to incorporate the soda into the sugar mixture, about 5 seconds. Note the mixture will bubble up when you add the baking soda so be very careful not to touch the hot toffee.

Immediately pour the hot toffee into the prepared pan. Seriously DO IT QUICK! I did not and had my photo shoot set up in the living room. Good to know: it peels right off ceramic tiles and carpet but needs a nudge on parquet floors. Bet you never thought you would learn that here today.

Let cool and set completely before touching.

Cheese !! ???

Break into pieces and serve as is or store at room temperature in an airtight container. Keep the ‘dust’ for dessert or ice cream toppings.

Better yet, how about a little chocolate dip? Just melt some chocolate slowly and dip all of or part of a piece of sugar sponge. Let cool in the fridge.

I was surprised at how light and easy this sugar sponge was to bite into. The store bought stuff is hard and compact normally. But if you keep it air tight and away from humidity this one stay surprisingly light.

Project Food Blog 2010: Butsi with Ube Halaya

Who would have though it! Yes I am still here and standing tall as a contestant in the Project Food Blog and ready to roll up my sleeves for round 2. But first I want to send a warm and adoring thank you to everyone who commented, supported and voted for me so far. Mouah !!!

Now the challenge for the 2nd round is as follow: Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with.  Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal, and document your experience through a compelling post. Voting will begin Monday, September 27th, I hope I can count on YOU to vote here for me.

Yes, my dessert actually matches my wall color!

This was a particularly difficult challenge for me because, well look at the title of my blog, I do ethnic recipes all the time. I am always cooking outside of my comfort zone. It’s really hard for me to come across foods that are unusual to my standards because I have tasted so many varied cuisines already. Funny enough the more I focused on my dilemma a clear vision started taking shape. My stream of thoughts and ideas eventually landed me in the Philippines.

Why the Philippines? It all stared with a care package I received from the Foodie Exchange. Mhe-Lhanee of Pens, Pans, and Puns and I decided to have an exchange together. She is from the Philippines. This would be my first exchange with someone in Asia and I was super excited. We actually had quite a few to and fro emails and in no time I had taken quite a liking to her.  Mhe-Lhanee is just so sweet and nice. And she is funny! At one point she said she did not want to send things to exotic to scare me. My answer was simple: Bring it on! And boy did she. There are a couple of really unusual items in this package: sauteed shrimp paste, banana catsup, mussel chips, dilis, honey glazed pilinut and durian candies.  Even one of my cats, Mickey, was terribly excited to sniff out the new arrivals.

Mhe-Lhanee succeeded in pulling the carpet from under me as an ethnic foodie. Trust me it is no small feat. So I am dedication this challenge and the recipes below to her. Thank you my friend half way across the world. I hope one day we meet.

I really think Filipino cooking is full of mystery and the unknown for a North American. The tastes, colors and textures are very exotic. I was particularly fascinated with the desserts.They seem to consist mainly of flans or custards like sweets that can be very starchy. They also use an ingredient a lot which I only started playing around with: glutinous rice flour. I chose to make Butsi with Ube Halaya, or sesame balls with purple yam paste. I am actually going to show you two desserts.

Ube Halaya (adapted from here) is a very popular dessert in the Philippines and it is normally eaten as is but it is also use for halo-halo and filling for pies and tarts. I saw some at a local ethnic grocery store…never had seen these yams before. The flesh is actually a dark purple. Here is the recipe for this dish….

Ingredients:
1 1/2  cups mashed cooked purple yam
1 cup coconut milk
1 14oz can condensed milk
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon butter

Preparation:
1. Peel and slice the yams into medium pieces and boil until tender. Drain and mash.
2. In a deep saucepan combine all the ingredients except the butter. On medium high heat stir non stop while the mixture cooks. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, it can take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
3. When it looks like the middle picture add the butter and mix it in well.
4. When it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and when a lifted spoon full doesn’t fall it is ready.
5. Keep 100gr aside for the Butsi and poor the rest into a well-buttered dish and level the surface and smooth the purple yam. A traditional topping is toasted coconut. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

I know it looks funny but it is really very good.

OK are you still with me? We are halfway done….still have to make the Butsi.

Butsi (adapted from here) to the Philippines is what Sesame Seed Balls are to China. Essentially it is a deep-fried glutinous rice dough rolled into a ball and filled with a sweet paste. It has a crisp outside and a chewy inside. Here is the recipe for this dish….

Ingredients:
3/4 cup Ube Halaya
240g glutinous rice flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
60ml water

Preparation:
1. Mix glutinous rice flour with 2 tbsp sugar, salt, and water, and knead just enough to form a ball.
2. Divide dough into small pieces and form small balls, about 12.
3.Roll each dough ball into a flat disc then place a tbsp of Ube Halaya in the middle.
4.Wrap Ube Halaya with the dough and pinch shut. Roll the ball in sesame seeds. Repeat with the rest.
5. Deep fry in hot oil (about 350 F) until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. Cool a bit before serving.

Sesame balls are usually serve with dim sum. To cut open like in the picture take a pair of scissors. Very rich and addictive! Please take a moment to go vote for me.

Voting will begin Monday, September 27th, I hope I can count on YOU to vote here for me.

Organized by Foodbuzz, “the Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance and a shot at the ultimate prize: $10,000 and a special feature on Foodbuzz.com for one year”.

Project Food Blog: Going to Round 2

Omg…Omg…Omg…

Guess who is one of 400 bloggers to make it to round 2? Yes it’s me! I am so excited! Thank you so much for everyone who sent me their good wishes, their support and their votes. Thank you Foodbuzz too!

My entry for round 2 will be up here in a couple of days. The theme is The Classics…but it is not what you think. Stay tuned to find out!

Project Food Blog 2010. Voting Starts

Remember my competition entry post?

Well it is time for you to vote now! Just click this link to my official entry and vote for me please. I hope I can count on you, my readers, to vote for me. I would so appreciate it.

A Food Blog Star Menu

All participants have been fussing over their contest profiles for few weeks now and we have all been reading up on the rules and the 10 challenges coming ahead. Today we can submit our very first challenge entry: #1 Ready, Set, Blog! No recipes to prepare yet, no meal to host. No, our first challenge is a very simple one…..read more

And if you have a twitter account would you be so kind as to tweet the following…
Vote for me #pfb2010 Project Food Blog 2010: 1 of hopefully 10 future posts http://cultureatz.com/project-food-blog-2010-1-of-hopefully-10-future-posts/

VOTING IS OPEN TILL SEPT 24th…vote here for me

Organized by Foodbuzz, “the Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance and a shot at the ultimate prize: $10,000 and a special feature on Foodbuzz.com for one year”.

Project Food Blog 2010: 1 of hopefully 10 future posts

VOTING IS OPEN TILL SEPT 23th 6pm PST…vote here for me

I am so very excited! For what you ask? Why today is officially Day 1 of the Project Food Blog 2010. And what is this challenge you ask? Organized by Foodbuzz, “the Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges…”.

Participants have been fussing over their contest profiles (you can see mine here) for some weeks. But today we can submit our very first of ten challenge entries: #1 Ready, Set, Blog! No recipes to prepare yet, no meal to host. No, our first challenge is a very simple yet a so daunting one: sell ourselves in words…or as we say in Quebec ‘vendre sa salade‘. I have to tell you, my reader, why I think I am Food Blog Star material.

Not only is this going to be an hard personal exercise but only 400 out of about 1800 participants will move on to round 2. Think about it: 80% of the participants will be eliminated in round #1. I am going to give it my best shot…here is my (not so) humble submission for you dear readers, voters, bloggers, Dana, Nancy and Pim.

Foie Gras Pizza, Pho Soup, Nepalese Momos

Voting will begin Monday, September 20th, I hope I can count on YOU to vote for me.

A Food Blog Star Menu

Exquisite menus, just like food blog stars, are the result of a delicate balance of taste, timing, experience, exotism, small portions, comfort and surprise!

Hors d’Oeuvre

I have been eating since the day I was born for one thing. And my parents made sure I was exposed to as many tastes and smells as possible. At 3 my main meal in restaurants was garlic snails. My dad loves telling the story of one of his biggest mistakes with me: taking me for lobster a second time: the first summer I hated it but the second summer I loved it. To my mother’s surprise – and a bit of fear – I made muffins one Saturday morning as my parents were sleeping…oh I must have been 8. By the age of 14 I was inviting friends over for 4 course meals. Cooking and eating for pleasure is in my blood.

Appetizer

Although food has played an important part my entire life it really took a precedent about 3 years ago when I started a dinner group called Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Now with over 250 members, for the past 3 year I have organized bi-monthly dinner outings to reasonably priced restaurants. It has been a wonderful experience turning strangers into friends over a wonderful ethnic meal. This dinner group was a perfect channel to mingle my love of food with imparting my knowledge to others.

Homemade Mascarpone, Peach Salsa, Ice Cream Petit Four

Main course

Soon followed the Cheap Ethnic Eatz blog where at first I would review the restaurants we visited during these organized group outings. Over the years the blog has greatly expanded and now includes recipes, food challenge entries, exotic food discoveries, contests, articles and kitchen gadget reviews. I have also written several articles on food related websites. As the name of the blog suggests I lean greatly towards ethnic recipes and foods. I am of, and also have always had friends, of very a diverse ethnic background. Lately I love going to ethnic grocery stores  to buy an item or two I am not familiar with and I run home to research my discovery. I love sharing my new treasures on my blog and I hope I can inspire others to go out and eat outside their boundaries.

Granita

It is wonderful to introduce new foods to people…but it is just as important to give back to my inspirations. For the past 2 holiday seasons I have run a fund raising campaign in the name of the dinner group and donated the money to an organization called Kiva. Third world entrepreneurs apply for loans with Kiva so they can start a business. Once the money gets paid back I just reinvest it in a new applicant. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Salad

I am no stranger to food challenges and socializing with other foodies. In fact I partake in a few monthly online friendly food challenge groups. I participate in both the baking and cooking challenges from The Daring Kitchen. I even co-hosted one challenge. Another fun monthly challenge is the International Incident Party where we can run wild with our imaginations as long as we stay within the month’s theme.   Online is fun but I wanted to meet the local Food bloggers. I searched them out online and sent out a brunch invitation. Twelve people showed up at the first outing and we have been meeting up about once a month for the last year now. Other local food bloggers have joined our secret group since then. We all instantly bonded and can talk about food for hours.

Playing with the unknow: Black Horn Nut, Palm Sugar, Sesame Leaves

Cheese platter

Through a simple food swap and a blog post another project saw light: the Foodie Exchange. This group is for foodies from around the planet who wish to exchange their local food specialties as a care package with other foodies. I built and manage a forum website facilitating foodies to find a fellow partner with whom to have a care package exchange. This has been a truly rewarding project.

Dessert

Never ask the cook before the meal even begins what the dessert will be. Dessert should always be a surprise. I like to tease a lot and leave things in suspense. And I love making little jokes and keeping the mood light. This is a perfect recipe for leaving them wanting more. I hope my personal dissertation has shown you how passionate I am about food, teaching and sharing with others. In other words I think it makes for a perfect recipe for a Food Blog Star. So what is the dessert? Hopefully being in the top 400 and having the opportunity to complete challenge #2.

Citrus Mezcal Sherbet, Homemade Bread, Orzo & Pomegranate Salad

VOTING IS OPEN TILL SEPT 23th 6pm PSTvote here for me

Click the box below to see my progress and official participant profile

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