Vittles: Food Techniques from the Pros


Sean: Today we are doing a panel on food techniques from the pros. We're going to dive right in to everything that we have to cover in our short time. Kathy will start and talk about how to get useful feedback from recipe testers.

Sean Timberlake
Hank Shaw
Jennifer Perillo
Kathy Strahs
Sara Tetreault

Sean: Today we are doing a panel on food techniques from the pros. We're going to dive right in to everything that we have to cover in our short time. Kathy will start and talk about how to get useful feedback from recipe testers.

Kathy: I have 6 tips on getting useful feedback from recipe testers.

Choose wisely. It's not hard to find people to test your recipes. People want to help you. Its more a matter of getting the right people. You want testers that are in your target readership. Make sure your recipes are accessible to the type of people that will be testing your food. You may want to limit how many people you use as testers. It depends on your own
comfort level. More testers mean more feedback but also more time to go through data.

Give Clear Instructions. Don't assume that people will know what you want them to do. Be very clear. I give a choice of three recipes and let them choose what they want to make. I also tell people to follow the recipe as closely as possible. Lay expectations out front. Professional recipe testers will take detailed notes. This may be a lot to ask of volunteers. I give them a quick survey and have them fill it out. Finally, I ask people to take a photo and send in with their survey.

Create a simple survey. I use a Google docs survey. When people hit submit, it automatically gets dumped into a spreadsheet.To create you can open Google docs and there is a pull down menu to create a survey. It's a great option. My survey is general, but I've talked to other authors that have done a specialized survey for each recipe. I recommend limiting the amount of questions that you use.

Do you have any advice for readers to help make this sandwich. /dish come out well gets me a lot of feedback. People will have fun with your survey.

Observe the action. If you have the ability to watch people make your recipes, it's a great thing to do. You can get comments from cookers, or also get great notes for the recipe by watching end users prepare the recipe. In the absence of being able to watch people, a simple cell phone pick is great. This can let you see their process and give you feedback on what to change

Take it with a grain of salt. If people report problems in the recipe, it's great to follow up with them. They may have used a ingredient swap or different type of tool.

Show gratitude. Even if someone tests just one recipe, they deserve a ton of thanks. You can give them a shout in the book acknowledgements, you can give them a copy of the book. You can raffle off prizes to people.

Every time someone tests one of my recipes I get something out of it. I definitely recommend it.

Question: Did you ask for your testers through your blog or another avenue?

Kathy: Initially I used friends and family, but lately I've gotten more blog readers as testers.

View more presentations from BlogHer.

Sara: I initially was here to talk about the basics of preserving, but want to get into more of the advanced stuff. When you have any sort of food the first thing you need to think about preserving is how to do it. Freezing is great with fruits and vegetables, because it can preserve them in their perfect ripe state. If you freeze quickly enough, you can preserve their textures.

Dehydrating is great for mushrooms, or if you are a meat eater, you can make jerky.

Canning is probably one of the most common ways. Waterback canning is the most popular. When canning, you have to have a ph level of 4.6 or lower, which will cancel the spores that cause botulism. Make sure your recipe has been tested before canning. is a good website for safe recipes.

If you are at all interested in canning, the first thing you should do is purchase a pressure canner. The pressure canner is a wonderful and handy tool. Modern pressure canners are safe and easy to use. If you follow the instructions, nothing will go wrong. Pressure canners, are great, because you raise the temp of the boiling water, and it will kill residual spores of botulism. You can use a pressure canner to can soups, meats, beans. Don't put in noodles or cream soups. Tomatoes can have better flavor and be safer if you can them.

Once you get the rhythm of canning, it's a great practical tool to have on hand.

Question: What's the cost of a pressure canner and how much space does it take up?

Sara, Answer: Couple varieties out there. They can be expensive $150-$500. The price and size are the down size with these. You can also find some lesser priced ones around $80. It's a long term investment, and a one time investment.

Sara: We have chickens. Two hens and two pullets -- basically teenage chickens. Once they start laying eggs they will be hens. Backyard chickens have several considerations.

City and County Ordinances: Can you keep in your backyard? Most cities don't allow roosters. Roosters crow at morning and evening.

Living Space(coop) requirement: minimum 2+ square feet/chicken. Raising chicks are done in a brooder. Keeping chicks is in a coop. Recommend getting chicks that have been given their shots. You need a brooder to raise the chicks. You can give them pine shavings on the bottom and need a screen on top so that they don't escape. Requirements for a coop: Chickens need to be warm/cool, safe and dry. They need plenty of shade in the summer. Keep chickens in run/coop area, and keep other critters out. Chicken wire will not keep raccoons out of a chicken coop. Make sure that you use hardward cloth, not chicken wire.

How much work are backyard chickens? 10 minutes daily to collect the eggs, let chickens out, check food and water. Our chickens don't lay from about Nov-January. They go back to laying regularly in the fall. I let my chickens come out daily, but don't let them in my garden. They love to dig in dirt and eat grass. Weekly I have my kids clean the coop. It's very easy. Twice a year, especially after the winter, you need to muck out the run area. It's smelly, but doesn't take that long.

Supplies and Materials: We built our own coop, but their are lots of designs online. They don't have to be fancy. You can build one yourself or purchase a ready made coop. Ongoing costs include chicken feed, oyster shell is what chickens need to help form eggs. Pine shavings are needed for bedding. Don't let chicken eat egg shells, or chickens can peck and eat the eggs that they lay. Don't use cedar shavings for the chickens it can be toxic to them.

Good and Bad of Backyard Chickens:

Easy pets
More interesting than TV
They eat slugs in the garden
Waste is good for composts
Chicks are cute
Fresh eggs.

Vulnerable to illness
Exit strategy-re home "going to the farm"
Eat everything in garden.
Muck out run area=smell
chicks=possibility of a rooster
Need a chicken sitter.

It's cheaper to buy eggs at the farmer's market. You're not going to break even in the first couple of years. Like blogging, you won't earn any money until you've been doing it
for awhile.

View more presentations from BlogHer.

Jennifer: I decided to change my entire presentation. I am self taught and teaching myself out of cookbooks. I have a lot of gadgets and gizmos that I use at home, but sometimes people don't have knife skills. If you have solid knife skills and a good knife you can make anything. I use a chef knife. I've had mine for about 14 years. I remember my first knife set. It was 14 years ago when I was just starting out after college. As time went on, I realized that knives were not created equal and my knife didn't work for me.

When buying a knife, as appealing as the department store sales, can be, if you are serious about buying a knife, go to a cooking store. You need to use a couple of knives to see which ones feel good in your hands. You want to test drive a knife before you use. There are certain knives that serve a certain purpose, but chef's knives are pretty all purpose.

Taking care of your knives is important. Knives are getting cheaper and more accessible for getting your foot in the door. You need to take care of your knife. I use my honing bone multiple times a day. Certain knives will need to be professionally sharpened. This depends on how often you use and how well you take care of it. It's important to take care of your steel. If you don't this takes away from the longevity of the knife.

Knife honing demonstration. Just work on the edge of your blade and just do it a couple of times.

Chopping demo
Citrus slicing demo

Hank: Even if you don't fish it's great to know how to filet a fish. I suggest you buy fish that's full but drawn-meaning the guts are gone. Buying the whole fish is much cheaper than buying the fillets. Salmon, steel heads, built the same. Walleye and bass built the same.

I like to use the non filet items on a salmon. I like the racks, collars and head. I also like to buy a whole fish, because you can tell how good it is. You can hide a bad fillet, but you can't hide a bad fish. Look at his eyes, his gills, his coloring. If you're in the market, ask the fishmonger to see the gills and if they don't look good, don't get it.
A fillet knife is necessary for filleting a fish. You can get a filet knife at many places. You don't need to spend a lot of money on an expensive fillet knife. Don't cut fish with a chef's knife. Slightly bendy is good. If it's too bendy or stiff you can have issues with cutting a fish.

If you want to do a great job, you should also have a pair of needle nose pliers. You scale fish by grabbing the fish by the tail and you go towards the head. You don't want to scale a fish in a nice area. Kitchen shears are important for a couple of reasons. You use kitchen shears to get rid of the gills and also when you are gutting a fish. Shears are also good for taking fins off.

Filet knife should be the sharpest knife in your house.
Fish filetting demo.

The session has gone over time, but the video and recording will be available later. I had to head out to catch another session.


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.