Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Slow-Cooker Mexican Chicken and Spanish Rice

Have you ever found a recipe that's just so good you have to share it? It's happened to me a few times but, honestly, the phenomenon is rarer than I'd like - so when I tried this simple, five-ingredient recipe for Mexican-isnpired chicken last week, I just couldn't wait to get it on the blog.

Sure, I may have discovered it by accident (after buying salsa, but no chips) and sure I may have only made it twice so far (although that's a lot for one week!) but I just know you're going to love it!

Served with homemade enchilada sauce

This recipe is so simple that you'll wonder why you'd never thought of it before, and so delicious that your husband will start requesting it for dinner every night (if he's anything like mine, that is). It requires less than a handful of ingredients, but the chicken is packed with tangy, Tex-Mex flavor and can be easily transformed for use in enchiladas, fajitas, tacos and chimichangas, to name just a few.

You can dress it up with some roasted bell peppers, a bit of avocado or some sour cream (we paired ours with my favorite homemade enchilada sauce) or just enjoy it with a few spoonfuls of Spanish Rice. And the best part? The hands-on cooking time is about 10-15 minutes, which makes it perfect for busy moms.

I know it may sound like hyperbole, but I haven't had a recipe I've been this excited about for a long time, and it's so easy. But, enough of my rave review - get out your crock pot, thaw out a few chicken breasts and make this meal tonight!

Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (the easy way!)

From Valentine cookies to...spaghetti squash? Well, life is about balance after all, and if you baked, whipped, and frosted along with me last week, you're gonna need some veggies in your life right about now. And where better to start that with a veggie that doesn't feel like a veggie.? I mean, it's all in the name: it looks like spaghetti, it feels like spaghetti, and with a bit of sauce it even tastes like spaghetti...and all for a fraction of the calories.

In my experience, I lot of people are intimidated by spaghetti squash - and that's somewhat understandable; many varieties of squash require hours of oven or stovetop cooking to render them soft enough to be edible, but if you have a microwave, you can prepare a delicious bowl full of spaghetti squash in less that 15 minutes - about the same amount of time it takes to boil a pot of ordinary pasta!

I like to use spaghetti squash as a lower calorie alternative on those nights when Matt comes home craving a vat of starchy noodles. Half a squash will more than fill me - and all for about 40 calories per cup, (versus 200 for pasta!). Just like its namesake, it's a real blank canvas and pairs well with all kinds of meats and sauces. Leftovers will keep for a few days in the fridge or can be frozen.

If you've never tried spaghetti squash before, you're probably pretty excited right now, so let me share some more big news - I actually remembered to take step-by-step photos this time. This may be the first time that's ever happened, so what was going to be a spaghetti squash recipe is now a spaghetti squash tutorial.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pretty-in-Pink Valentine Cookies

Today is the final day of Valentine-themed cookies...for now (I mean, Valentine's Day is still more than two weeks away), and while the other cookies were unusual, cute, or a little bit spicy, today's are the cookie equivalent of the girl-next-door. Fresh, pretty and straightforwardly simple.

These cookies also use my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and we're back to using the mock-whipped-cream, recession-proof, Pioneer-Woman's-favorite, whatever-you-wanna-call-it, amazing frosting. As with the other versions, I added a bit of powdered sugar to help it stiffen up and 'set' on the cookies. However, you could also easily use my Better Than Royal Icing for a smoother, firmer finish. You'll have to decorate as you go, dipping each cookie in sprinkles when the icing is still wet so that they'll stick and give you a nice, even surface.

I absolutely love the colors of these sprinkles for a Valentine or spring-themed treat. Unfortunately, they came from England so I can't tell you where to find a similar version in the States. For the purposes of these cookies, though, you could use any assortment of sprinkles. Just pick one of your sprinkle colors to be the accent color for the un-sprinkled cookies - in this case, I chose the bright, fuchsia pink for a festive pop of color. I saved these cookies for last because I think they're the prettiest - a nice, fresh alternative to the usual reds, hot- and bubblegum-pinks of Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Puppy Love Sugar Cookies

Welcome to Day 3 of my Valentine sugar cookie extravaganza! Monday's Cinnamon Imperial Cookies were sweet and spicy, and yesterday's Strawberry Malt Cookies were a tasty tribute to the soda shops of yesteryear, but today's cookies, well, they're just plain cute.

Of all the Valentine-themed cookies I made for this week, these were the most fun. I even had a great time photographing them - and, of course, eating them was a pleasure, too (although I made Matt eat most of the puppy ones - they were just too adorable!). I hadn't originally intended to make these little pups, but I came across the cookie cutter as I was looking for the heart-shaped one (that I didn't have) and decided he was just too lovely not to use.

These cookies use the same sugar cookie dough (because why mess with perfection?) but this time, the frosting is my favorite Better Than Royal Icing. I love this stuff because it sets like Royal Icing (well, not quite as hard) but it's much, much easier to use, and much tastier, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Strawberry Malt Sugar Cookies

From cinnamon to strawberry, today's post gives you another twist on Valentine sugar cookies!

These sweet treats start off with the same base cookie and icing recipes (in fact, you may recognize these cookies from the frosting photos!) - but they're about as different from yesterday's Red Hot hearts as you can get.

When I first saw Strawberry Milkshake Whoppers in the stores, I just knew I had to bake with them! A generous helping of these crushed candies provides a bit of fruity flavor, an hint of malt, and a gorgeous pink color. The malt isn't overpowering, but it's a nice change-up from traditional sugar cookies and the usual valentine flavors - there's no chocolate, peppermint or cinnamon here!

The red icing on top is my favorite Better Than Royal Icing

Monday, January 23, 2012

Valentine Sugar Cookies with Cinnamon Imperial Frosting

At last, my week of Valentine Cookies has arrived! And to kick it all off, I'm sharing some of my favorites - heart-shaped sugar cookies covered in an ever-so-slightly-spicy Cinnamon Red Hot Frosting.

I've been planning this series for a while, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered, post-cookie-dough-making, that I didn't own a single heart-shaped cookie cutter! I'm not sure how such an important fact got overlooked, but luckily we live within shouting distance of a Wal-Mart, so I was able to pop my mixing bowl into the fridge and come back with a whole array of cookie cutters before the dough was even cold.

Speaking of dough, these tender cut-out cookies are based on the same all-time favorite sugar cookie recipe I shared at Christmastime. In fact, all of the cookies in this series will have the same base dough - so go ahead and make it a double batch, you're gonna need it! I may be an innovator when it comes to most recipes, but I haven't changed a thing since my little sister introduced me to these fool-proof, perfect-every-time sugar cookies.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Best Frosting the Pioneer Woman's Ever Had

In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing a lot of veggie posts lately. It was part of my New Year's resolution for the blog, but also for myself. I so often forget to photograph the less 'exciting' foods I prepare (i.e. anything that's not a dessert!) in my rush to get things on the table, so I'm making a concerted effort to feature a few things won't send you into sugar-shock. But, in case you were worried that this was goodbye to all things carb-laden and delicious, I thought I'd give you a little surprise. I'm sharing a great frosting recipe with you today - but that's just the tip of the iceberg, because next week we'll get to put this frosting to work during an entire week of Valentine-themed cookies!

I'm kicking myself for not have photos of the finished icing before tinting and decorating - but here's a foretaste of what's to come next week!

I know it's still January, but blogland is already decked out in red-and-pink and, really, I don't ever need much of an excuse to make cookies. If you're not feeling cupid's arrow this year, don't worry - I won't tell if you don't use a single drop of red food coloring or make all your cookies heart-shaped. Just make sure you whip up a batch of this frosting and come back next week for some COOKIES!

Now, about the frosting - and its unusual title. I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but this recipe is everywhere and from what I can tell, it was popularized by the Pioneer Woman. I'm going to make an admission (which might get me thrown out of food-blogger-land) and tell you that this is my first ever Pioneer woman recipe! Still, even she found the recipe elsewhere, and it's been around for a lot, lot longer than food blogging. It's usually called a 'roux' frosting, because it's built on a base of hot milk and flour...yes, flour. Don't let that deter you (it's the magic, secret ingredient!) This recipe makes an airy, whipped-cream like frosting which is less sweet than traditional confectioners sugar icings.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Beacon Drive-In, Spartanburg, SC (aka Matt's All-Time Favorite Restaurant)

Everyone knows that the best way to woo a food lover is to ply them with delicious dishes and take them to all the best restaurants: so it should be no surprise that Matt won me over with his 'Smothered Grilled Chicken' (I must get him to do that for the blog!), his baked havarti, and his stories of a magical place called The Beacon Drive-In, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Serving up heaping plates of burgers, fries, and onion rings (with a generous helping of grease) the Beacon is not haute cuisine, but it is home to some of the sweetest tea on the planet and, what's more, it's Matt's favorite restaurant...on earth.* It's only right, then, that we made time during our Christmas visit to make the pilgrimage - and I'm only sorry that it's taken me this long to write it up!

This is the Beacon Burger Plate-a-Plenty

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm A Believer (Roasted) Brussels Sprouts

You don't want to miss this! Today, the world's most maligned vegetable gets a make-over. That's right, I'm talking about brussels sprouts, and today's recipe as is near to fool-proof as these miniature cabbages can get.

I tackled roasted cabbage a couple of weeks ago, and this recipe is very similar. In my opinion, though, it's much better. But then again, I don't take much convincing when it comes to brussels sprouts. Perhaps it's my British upbringing (brussels sprouts are a regular fixture of Sunday Roasts, along with Yorkshire Puddings and England's legendary roast potatoes) or perhaps it's because I don't have a problem with too many veggies (green peppers excepted), but I've always loved these mini cabbage look-alikes. Of course, most brussels sprouts are eaten boiled - and that's the big mistake. Believe it or not, brussels sprouts are my favorite veggie when cooked this way. You may be skeptical, but once you figure out how to roast them, you'll be a believer, too!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Free JIFFY Recipe Book

Have you ever used Jiffy mixes? You know, that ones that come in the cute, 1950s-style, blue-titled boxes? Matt and I use their cornbread mix from time to time because it takes me forever to go through a bag of cornmeal and because, in this instance, I think the box tastes just as good (I can't believe I just said that, but it's true).


Well, today in my online wanderings, I came across an offer for a free Jiffy recipe book. It's true that in these days of food blogs and Google searches, it's usually easier to find a recipe online than to thumb through a cook book. Still, their recipe book is cute (you can see an online version here) and I like having these pocket-size books for camping trips or other situations where the internet isn't at your beck and call (well, at least for those of us who don't have iPhones!) All you have to do is fill out an online form and confirm your order via e-mail. Easy-peasy. Just like using a Jiffy mix!

As usual, I'm not sponsored by Jiffy, nor do I receive any benefits from this post (well, aside from a free recipe book, I hope!). I just like passing on good deals to my readers!

How to Host an Olive Oil Tasting...

Yep. You read it right. This isn't about wine, or cheese, or even chocolate - this is about olive oil. Perhaps you've always loved the idea of a tasting party, but find yourself intimidated by wine or cheese? Or maybe you've been there, done that and are looking for a new edible adventure? We'll, get yourself a loaf of fresh bread and a few bottles of good olive and have yourself a party!

Olive oil has played an important role in food production for thousands of years, but though it may be an ancient ingredient, it's no longer a specialty one: you can find it in almost any kitchen, and anyone who's watched the Food Network a few times can tell you the difference between 'pure' oil and 'extra virgin' (if you're not sure, you can brush up here). Still, it might surprise you to learn that olive oil isn't just for cooking - it even has its own tasting culture! Oils from different sources have different flavors, which are compared and appreciated much like cheese or wine (for a detailed look at the tasting process, go here - ours won't be quite so rigorous!)

Oils are often described as 'fruity' or 'peppery,' some are sweet, white others are spicy.  Extra virgin oil should have a strong flavor, while blended or refined oils may be bland or even almost flavorless. It's a myth that the depth of color corresponds to a depth of flavor. That being said, oils can be almost any shade from pale straw yellow to bottle (or olive!) green, and they will lose flavor the longer they're kept, even if the color doesn't change. For dipping, you should buy the freshest oils you can find - and stick to cold pressed extra virgin.

So what do you need to host a tasting party? Well your spread can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but here are the basics:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Persimmon Pancakes

I love winter fruits. Summer may be the the season of berries and ripe abundance, but the fruits of winter more than make up for their scarcity with bursts of exotic flavor.

Early winter brings a wealth of tough-skined, ruby-red pomegranates, and by Christmas Matt and I are eating tiny, flavor-packed clementines by the box. Then there are the blood oranges, with their unexpectedly deep-hued flesh, and the startling tartness of winter grapefruit. I enjoy most of these on a regular basis, but there's one winter fruit I'd never tried until last week - the persimmon.

My brother is a professor at a university in Japan, and every year he can count on his tiny kitchen being filled with these smooth-skinned, orange fruits. Given as gifts by friends and students, they carpet his countertops, filling the air with their sweet ripeness. He may not have a real oven, or most of the modern conveniences I've come to rely on, but persimmons he has in abundance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Have I told you that my voice is back? Although I'm mostly recovered, my mid-winter bout of laryngitis has made a mess of my start-of-the-year plans. For one thing, it kept me housebound for several days, and meant that I wasn't able to exchange Christmas gifts with my good friend, Ashley, until yesterday.

Ashley was my very first food-blogger friend, though we actually met because we're nearly neighbors and go to the same women's Bible study. She blogs over at Watchu Got Cookin'?, where she's constantly turning out the most delicious-looking recipes - she's even been making her own pasta! She and her husband went home for the holidays and came back with the most thoughtful present: a Traveling Spoon-themed recipe box (made by her husband!).

I love that it's see-through so I don't even have to remove the cards to read them - less chance of stains and spills that way - and I can't wait to start filling it with some of my favorite recipes. I'm also glad that this present gives me an excuse to share all the other kitchen-themed presents I was blessed with this year. From baking pans and cutting boards, to Japanese treats and Cheez-It Scrabble, I guess my family and friends know how much I love food!

Before Christmas, I posted a foodie wish-list, but I could never have imagined so many lovely presents: a tea set, a vintage apron, Williams Sonoma baking pans, cookbooks and a kitchen timer, to name but a few. Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

App Appeal: Ginger Pork Potstickers

It's no secret that I love Asian food. My brother, who lives in Japan, sent Matt and I home with bags full of Japanese treats this Christmas, and every time Matt suggests going out to eat, he knows my first choice will be Asian.

I'm pretty sure this is a factor of the environment I grew up in: my parents shared their first date over Chinese food, and taught us kids to use chopsticks right alongside our knife and fork. When I was a little older, we hosted a Japanese exchange student, Yoko, who taught us how to fold origami flowers, how to make sticky rice, and to eat those little dried fish without grimacing.

I've never actually been to Asia, so I've never tasted real Asian food, but that doesn't stop me talking about it! I hope one day to make the trip, but until then, I'll keep reading books about Asian food, and chasing pork buns and dumplings all over every Chinatown.

Freshly-bolied potstickers
Of course, one of the most Americanized Asian items is the potsticker.  These dumplings originally came from China, but are now found, in various forms, across Asia and the rest of the world. The fact that today's recipe comes from Guy Fieri should offer proof of its widespread popularity!

Of all the appetizers we made on New Year's Eve, these were the most fun. My Aunt Amy, sister Rebecca, and I filled and formed the dumplings together, setting up a little assembly line, while Matt and Uncle Dan directed from the sidelines. Sure, the process is a little time-consuming, but its a fun activity to do with friends or kids (be warned, it could get messy!) and the product is definitely worth the effort.

These potstickers were amazing - and we didn't even change the recipe! We did double it, however, and if you love potstickers as much as we do, you should too!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

App Appeal: Giada's Italian Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups

Another day, another tasty appetizer - and unlike yesterday's delicious-but-admittedly-butter-drenched shrimp, today's recipe is New Year's Resolution- and waistline-friendly. Full of flavor and color, this recipe makes a meal out of shredded chicken, chopped veggies, and cooked pasta, all tucked into fresh lettuce leaves.

The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta cookbook, with a few changes (of course!), and provides a welcome change of pace from the usual bite-sized or fried appetizer offerings. In fact, this recipe may have changed the way I think about appetizers for good! I'm not sure why I never think to serve salads, pasta or otherwise, as appetizers, but I'll certainly try to incorporate them in the future.

The original recipe calls for the salad to be served with a red wine vinaigrette. Although we made the vinaigrette for our New Year's feast, I should note that everyone preferred the salad without it. Between the onions, the peppers, and lots of fresh parsley, this dish has plenty of flavor of its own, so I'd really recommend not making the vinaigrette. Still, I've provided the recipe for those who'd like to give it a try.

Monday, January 9, 2012

App Appeal: Louisiana BBQ Shrimp (a.k.a. Buttery Garlic Shrimp)

After almost three weeks of very sporadic blogging, I have so many great recipes, reviews and travel tips just waiting to be written up and shared. I'm particularly excited about the reviews (which include a Chicago pizzeria and Matt's all-time favorite restaurant) but since this blog has been a little light on recipes lately, I thought I'd share a few of those first.

We're teetering on the trailing edge of a season of holidays, but that doesn't mean you need to put away your champagne cork or trade in your delicate finger foods just yet. In fact, those appealing appetizers are just the thing to keep you in a party mood all year round! I'm always amazed at how a simple appetizer can transform a meal into an event; this year, our New Year's dinner was a tapas-style feast of appetizers at the house of my aunt and uncle in Chicago. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing a few of these appetizer recipes that are just as perfect for everyday as for holidays.

Look at that garlicky goodness!

Today's dish is a rich, buttery serving of shrimp from the Guy Fieri Food cookbook. Now, I've seen a few episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and even eaten at a few of the featured locales, but I'd never made one of Guy's recipes, so I was excited when my aunt and uncle picked this one out. Plump shrimp, oven-cooked to near-translucent doneness, and drenched in a rich sauce of spices, seafood stock and butter is just my kind of thing. The sauce also calls for a large amount of beer, which we reduced, and some Louisiana-style hot sauce, which we omitted (by accident!) - and to be honest, I'd make it exactly the same way again. Okay, so ours may not have been 'Louisiana BBQ,' but it was delicious!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Travel Writers, They're Just Like Us!

Those of you who don't read gossip rags might not get the title reference (was that a confession? okay, maybe...), but today's story is ripped from the pages of the latest issue of Budget Travel.

If you've been with the Traveling Spoon for a while, you know that I love my online Lonely Planet articles and my Budget Travel magazines. I grieved a little when my subscription ended this past fall, but thankfully my sister, Rebecca, stepped in and ordered me up another year as a Christmas gift (it's thanks to her that I got my first subscription!).

I'm a frugal girl, and the only thing I love more than a great travel tip is a great money-saving one. For that reason, the magazine is a goldmine (even though their idea of cheap sometimes differs from mine) and I never fail to find a useful tidbit to share or an article of interest to savor. This issue had me looking no further than the masthead!

Each month, the magazine does mini-interviews with some of its staff members and tags the answers to the names on the masthead. Usually, it's a brief answer to a question like 'What's your favorite foreign phrase?' or 'the strangest food you've ever eaten?'. This month's is, somewhat predictably, about travel resolutions for the new year. Some of them are ambitious and some are entertaining, but what struck me most was just how many of them were ordinary.

I guess I've always just assumed that travel writers live in a magical land where every day is a vacation day, where phrase books actually do help you learn to speak like a local, and where you always get the top score on those where-I've-been Facebook quizzes. But judging from their resolutions, the staff at Budget Travel are just like the rest of us: filled with big dreams about where 2012 will take them - and just as bad about not taking their vacation days! Here are a few tidbits to make you feel a bit better if 2011 didn't quite deliver on the jet-setting adventures you'd hoped for:

What's your travel-related resolution for the new year?
"I'm going to squeeze in as much travel as I can - even if it's in last-minute, three-day installments."
"I'm going to make it up to Canada. I was born in Seattle, but I've never been - and I wore out all my excuses in 2011."
"Mark my words: I will finally take all of my vacation days."
"To take a solo culinary trip to Italy and eat myself silly. No pasta noodle will be safe. Hide the garlic." (sounds like a woman after my own heart!)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Roasted Cabbage with Lemon and Garlic

Remember those resolutions from yesterday? Well, I'm diving into action today with what I hope is only the first of many veggie recipes to come. Of course, I couldn't make it easy on myself with some nice glazed carrots or a green bean casserole. Nope, I had to choose a controversial one - I had to choose cabbage.

Apart from its often-pungent smell, I'm not sure why this veggie gets a bad rap. Its flavor isn't really that strong and its texture can be transformed from crisp and crunchy, to soft and pliable, depending on the method and length of cooking. I may be picky when it comes to peppers and olives, but I've never met a cabbage I didn't like. That being said, some preparations are certainly less palatable than others (sauerkraut, anyone?) and I sort of understand when people say they have trouble getting past the smell.

While this recipe isn't guaranteed to be odor-free, it is guaranteed delicious. Even cabbage-hating friends have been wooed by the crisp, golden inoffensiveness of a roasted cabbage. And the addition of lemon and garlic adds a bit of unexpected flavor. I always think roasted veggies are perfect for winter, and cabbage is a good source of vitamin C - which is a nice bonus for those, like me, fighting off seasonal nasties.

Roasted Cabbage with Lemon and Garlic
1 medium head cabbage, cored and cut into thick wedges
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely minced (optional)
Coarse salt and ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Brush cabbage wedges with olive oil mixture (be careful as they tend to fall apart - if it helps, you can leave a bit of the core in until after cooking!) and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until cabbage is tender and edges are browned (don't be alarmed if some of the edges appear slightly burnt - that's where the flavor is!), about 20-30 minutes. If you're feeling brave, flip your wedges half way through for more even browning. Serve as a side dish or as an unexpected salad alternative.

A few notes: The trickiest part of this whole recipe is getting your cabbage wedges to stay together (and as you can see above, I wasn't entirely successful). You can leave a bit of the core in, as mentioned, but just remember to remove before serving as it may still be tough and inedible! Don't worry too much if your wedges fall apart - they may not look pretty, but they'll still taste good.

Personally, I prefer this recipe without the hint of lemon. But then again, I already love cabbage. If you're not sure, cut the amount of lemon to 1 teaspoon or try half with and half without. Don't worry, this recipe makes a lot of cabbage! For those who like to experiment, I could see this going well with a splash of balsamic vinegar, or maybe even a reduction. Meat eaters may want to sprinkle it with bits of bacon. Cabbage is a great blank canvas, so have some fun with it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Prior Planning.....

It's a new year and at last I return to my poor neglected blog. I had no intention of taking such a long break, but sometimes circumstances conspire and things don't work out quite as planned. For example, I had planned to have a great visit with family, but I didn't plan the ferocious cold and and lingering case of laryngitis that resulted when germs from all across the country (well, really across two countries) got together. I had planned a few retrospective posts and a few predictions for the New Year; I didn't plan spending New Year's Day sleeping fitfully in the front seat of our car while Matt drove us home long into the night.

Apart from the fact that I sound like a Muppet (thankfully, a functioning voice isn't a required component of blogging!), I'm doing fine. Still, I find it a bit ironic that all this unplanned happenstance occurred at a time of year when planning is seen as the greatest virtue. After all, what are New Year's resolutions, if not plans for the year ahead?

You might think my experience over the holidays would turn me off to plans and resolutions forever, but you're not so lucky. In fact, I've even come up with a few for the blog - so if you're interested in what 2012 has in store for The Traveling Spoon, read on!

More vegetable-based recipes: I'm making this resolution as a result of a few requests, but also at the insistence of my own body. Weeks of seasonal baked goods (always my most popular posts) and a few years of marriage to a meat-lover has made me shelve a lot of the vegetable-based recipes I used to enjoy. I've decided that 2012 is the year to dust a few of them off!

A blog redesign: This one is near and dear to my heart, because I feel it's been a long time coming. While several of you have expressed a fondness for the Moroccan tagine theme, The Traveling Spoon is coming up on its one-year birthday and I think it needs a new look - something more modern and clean. Whether I (figure out how to) do it myself or hire in some talent is still up in the air, but you can expect a fresh new look sometime this year (and yes, I'm open to input!).

More Book Bites: My list of great books to review for the blog gets longer by the day - especially with the great crop of food memoirs and cookbooks that have come out in the past couple of years. I intend to step up my delivery of 'Good Reads' this year with a few more reviews. Recommendations are always welcome!

Better photography: This resolution has a few components, the first being to actually read my camera's manual. I've been getting by with my photos so far, but I know there's room for improvement - I already get lots of practice, so it's time to deepen my technical knowledge. At the moment, I do most of my photographing in natural light - which means snapping stills on my windowsill between the hours of 10am and 3pm (it's the only place and time that our little apartment consistently gets light!). Perhaps a white box or some artificial lighting is also in my future......

More travel tips: Believe it or not, the travel tips are one of my favorite parts of this blog! I love collecting and sharing unique tips, and think it's great that the smallest piece of advice can completely revolutionize the way you travel. That I don't share many is partly a function of audience (most of my readers come for the recipes - and that's a great thing!), but also because I'm just forgetful. However, this is The Traveling Spoon, so you can expect some more road-worthy snippets in the months to come!

More balance: If you've noticed, most of my resolutions are about 'more this' or 'more that,' but what it's really all about is balance. I'd like The Traveling Spoon to be a little more well-rounded in 2012 - whether that means featuring more Book Bites, sprinkling in a few more travel tips, or even just evening out the ratio of sweet-to-savory...which means I might have to actually use 'more recipes' for my cooking!

What did you resolve to do this year? What do you think of my resolutions for The Traveling Spoon?