Expert Interview Series: Carole Burkhard of Toot Sweet 4 Two About Easy-To-Make Recipes (And Leftovers!)
Carole Burkhard is the founder, writer, content creator, editor, publisher and photographer of Toot Sweet 4 Two, a lifestyle blog with a heavy emphasis on food and recipes. We caught up with her recently and talked with her about...
Carole Burkhard is the founder, writer, content creator, editor, publisher and photographer of Toot Sweet 4 Two, a lifestyle blog with a heavy emphasis on food and recipes. We caught up with her recently and talked with her about her cooking philosophy, her penchant for leftovers, and her suggestions for food photography.
How did you come to begin writing for Toot Sweet 4 Two? Where did the name come from?
My niece, Tiffany, and I decided to open a business together. During the research phase of our business planning and development, we kept landing on blogs while searching for specific information. After a few months, a light bulb went off in our heads - why not run a blog instead? So, we changed directions and focused on learning about blogging; and about 3 months later, we launched Toot Sweet 4 Two.
Our premise for Toot Sweet 4 Two was about the lives of women from two different generational perspectives with busy lives (toot sweet): me, as an older, childless woman with eldercare issues and her, as a younger mother of 2 young girls - thus the name "Toot Sweet 4 Two". After a year and a half, Tiffany retired from the blog to focus her attention on her family. She and her daughters (my great-nieces) still pop up on the blog from time to time.
After Tiffany's retirement, I thought long and hard about changing the name and starting over. But after much thought, I decided to retain the name and "rebrand" it to reflect the relationship between me and my readers/visitors. Also, by not changing the name and keeping the original concept of Toot Sweet 4 Two intact, it allows me to honor Tiffany's contribution to our blog by keeping all her old posts on the blog in the archives. Tiffany gave me the "gift" of blogging and I'm eternally grateful to her, because I love what I do. And what could be better than loving your job?
Describe your cooking philosophy. Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?
My father, who has been gone now for more than 3 years, inspired me to learn to cook. My mother didn't like to cook, so we ate very simply unless my father was home! An Air Force pilot, he traveled the world bringing new flavors and cuisines into our simple home cooking. He had a unique ability to taste a dish and analyze the spices within the dish, and then turn around and through experimentation come up with his own fabulous version. So, my philosophy is to experiment in the kitchen!
By doing so, I've developed many delicious recipes over the years. On the flip side, as a woman who worked outside the home for 30+ years, I understand that home cooks usually have time constraints because of busy lives. So I try (more often than not) to keep my recipes simple. But every once in a while, I throw in a recipe that takes a little more time and effort to make just to give readers a bit of a challenge - if they want to take it on.
Out of the hundreds of recipes on your blog, many of them appear to utilize common kitchen ingredients or leftovers. What kinds of dinners can you make with things that are probably in a typical kitchen?
We are a small family, so anytime I make a casserole or a slow cooker recipe, we have enough left over for days. Plus, when having large family gatherings during the holidays for our extended family, we seem to have plenty of leftovers, even though I send food home with guests! So I've learned to be creative with leftovers and use them in different ways. I share these recipes on my blog to inspire readers to think outside the box.
As far as dinners made with things that are in a typical kitchen, a good example is my Grilled Balsamic Chicken Breast Tenders. I like to use chicken breast tenders (which I buy in a big bag at the big box store) instead of chicken breasts because they take less time to cook and they lessen your chance of over-cooking, which can make chicken breasts dry and tough. When I make my Grilled Balsamic Chicken Breast Tenders, I make a double batch and refrigerate them. Then, we have grilled chicken ready to make dinner another night, which could be burritos, tacos, sandwiches, salads, casseroles, stir-fries, pizza, etc. Perfect for a busy night or a busy week!
Here's an example: I made them again just the other night. The next night I made a pot of rice and placed the chicken breast tenders over a scoop of rice and covered them with my Firecracker Jalapeno White Sauce, which was a leftover dip recipe from the 4th of July! The next night, I had both leftover chicken and leftover rice in the fridge, so I put them both in a non-stick skillet, added a chopped onion, a cup of frozen corn, a cup of drained and canned kidney beans, a handful of black olives and 2 cups of our favorite jarred salsa and stirred it all together. To serve, I sprinkled on some fresh cilantro leaves; and in under 10 minutes, we had a delicious, Mexican-inspired one-pot meal! Leftovers are a busy family's friend!
For someone who needs to whip up a quick snack or appetizer, what are some suggestions you might have?
An easy snack is cream cheese slathered on a good cracker and topped with a spicy jelly or sauce, like a red pepper jelly or a pineapple habanero sauce (which are both purchased bottled products). I have several versions of this treat on my blog. Obviously, this takes no time to prepare; and if you are having guests over unexpectedly, this is an easy, no-stress snack/appetizer to prepare, as long as you have the ingredients on hand. Also, I throw together an easy party cheeseboard (also the name of one of my posts) from ingredients I have on hand in my pantry and refrigerator.
Do you have a favorite dessert recipe that you'd like to share with us?
White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Brown Butter Rum Sauce is probably my favorite dessert. But, it is NOT an easy recipe. So, I only make it for special occasions. It is definitely worth the effort!
A much simpler dessert recipe, but also delicious, is my Berrylicious Ice Box Cheesecake. While easy, it does require lots of freezer time. For an irresistible cookie recipe, try Gail's (my sister) Potato Chip Cookies. If you make a batch, you won't have any left!
You're also responsible for the photographs that appear on Toot Sweet 4 Two. Although taking pictures of food seems easy, have you learned any tips or tricks for taking better culinary photos?
Natural light is always best, and for a home-based food blogger, it's a constant challenge. Many of my older recipes and other posts on my blog were taken with my iPhone before I upgraded to a DSLR camera. And most of those old food photos were taken in my kitchen with incandescent light (a tragedy!).
So, my advice about culinary photography is to find your best source of natural light by experimenting with different windows in your home that provide a good natural light source for you, and take your food photos there. Also, take your food photos on non-reflective surfaces, i.e., NOT on polished tables or your shiny granite countertop. My motto: distressed is best! There's a reason that so many food bloggers use well-worn surfaces and cookie sheets that look 50 years old.
What kind of comments and feedback have you gotten from your readers about your blog and the recipes on it?
Over the years, I've gotten some wonderful comments from bloggers - some that have actually made me cry! I love it when they've tried one of my recipes, loved it, and taken the time to let me know. Commenting on blogs isn't as common as it once was, and some bloggers have even turned off comments on their blog so that readers can't leave comments. But not me. I love to hear from readers, and any comments I get are always welcomed.
Given how much time you must spend in the kitchen, what kinds of tools and utensils do you use that you can't live without?
Sharp knives are essential for me. Shockingly, I'm not much of a "gadget" person, even though I cook almost every day. I tend to use simple tools and I don't mind chopping - I find it therapeutic! I haven't used my food processor in 2 years!
Other essentials for me are chopping boards, cookie sheets (I use them for things other than cookies), a cast iron skillet, a non-stick skillet with a lid, a non-stick grill pan, a fine mesh sieve, a large stockpot with lid, a saucepan with lid, a large deep mixing bowl, tongs, spatulas, whisks, lots of kitchen towels, and a couple of sets of measuring cups so I don't have to stop and clean one to finish a recipe.
What is your favorite kitchen accessory that you use frequently?
I do have more spices in my pantry than the average home cook. What I'm loving right now are these stacking spice racks with slide out drawers that hold 30 spice jars each. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many spices I have, because while I don't have a lot of "gadgets," I have a boatload of spices!
A tool that I absolutely love is my pizza cutter with rocker blade. Not only do I use it to slice pizza and flatbread, but I use it to cut cookie bars, brownies, icebox cheesecake and Salted Caramel Candy Corn Pretzel Crack!