This year is proving to be a big one for Jaden Hair. The popular blogger is releasing her second cookbook, Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites, and she also has big plans for her family’s Florida homestead (aquaponics garden, anyone?).
I caught up with Jaden last week to find out all about her new cookbook, get a few food photography tips, and ask her how she figured out how to microwave rice. Read on to see what else Jaden is up to, and be sure to leave her some questions in the comments! For a sneak peek at the book, here is Jaden's recipe for Korean Beef Bites.
Images: Courtesy of Ten Speed Press
Jane Tunks Demel: You describe the book’s recipes as “healthy Asian favorites outside the takeout box.” What kind of recipes should your readers expect to find?
Jaden Hair: So many Asian-American restaurants feature the same ol' dishes, kung pao this, sweet and sour that...and everything is deep-fried or drowning in goopy sauces.
But, in fact, real Asian cooking is light, healthy, and incredibly flavorful without the fat. These are the recipes I wanted to highlight in my book. Also, the recipes are designed to be flexible, whether or not you eat gluten-free, vegetarian, or a meat-eater who needs to cut back a little. Every recipe has options for substitutions.
Dishes like crowd favorite Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Grilled Tofu; light, clean Cantonese-Style Poached Fish; and Lemon Chicken with a light sauce and crunchy vegetables are examples.
JTD: You talk about your first favorite food memories in the introduction to the book, which is of eating with your Gong Gong (maternal grandpa). As a mom, what do you hope your sons’ first memories of food include?
JH: My older son, Andrew, learned how to make bread from scratch when he was four years old. Sometimes the bread would be in a shape of a strange three-legged dinosaur! We'd sit on the steps and eat the entire loaf together.
My younger son, Nathan, loves to be on television. He always wanted to be on the set every time I taped a cooking segment! One time, we had to stack five giant blocks just so he could stand and help me with the cooking segment. His job was to mix and stir. He’s so good on TV. I think he'll always remember giant television camera robots surrounding us while we cook.
JTD: What are your sons’ favorite recipes in the book? Do they help out in the kitchen? What about your husband?
JH: That's an easy one: We all love Korean barbecue! I have an entire chapter in my book called “Share,” which involves cooking and eating together at the table. It's kind of like fondue, Asian style.
Korean barbecue features a tabletop grill set up in the middle of the table. All around the table are little plates and bowls of vegetables, meats, seafood, and dipping sauces. Each person cooks their own food on the grill...and then you wrap it up in a lettuce cup with a little bit of rice. I throw on a bit of kimchi, too.
This kind of communal eating is just so much fun. Other recipes in the "Share" section include Sushi Party, Chinese Hot Pot, Japanese Hot Pot, and Vietnamese Summer Rolls.
JTD: You devoted a whole chapter to pickles and sauces--including three recipes for kimchi and sriracha hot sauce. What inspired you to do this chapter?
JH: The easiest way to add TONS of flavor and very little calories or fat is with pickles and light sauces. All of the recipes are so simple to make, the quick pickles take just minutes!
Homemade sriracha hot chile sauce is the best. Using fresh chiles, garlic, and ginger to make your own hot sauce makes such a big difference in flavor. I make my chile sauces with medium to mild peppers--so that you can really taste each individual ingredient--instead of just having your mouth burn!
JTD: I am so intrigued by your instructions for cooking rice in the microwave. How did you figure that out?
JH: One afternoon, alone in the house, I was hungry. Curiously, a lot of my food experiments begin that way.
I wanted to eat rice, but didn't want to drag out the big rice cooker just to make rice for myself. Then I remembered seeing a late-night infomercial for the microwave pasta cooker. Aha! Try cooking rice in the microwave!
JTD: You shot all the photographs for both of your books. How has your photography evolved over time? Any tips for bloggers and photographers who want to shoot for print?
JH: Food photography is actually pretty easy. The affordable dSLR cameras out there these days allow almost anyone to take fantastic photos with just a simple formula: Automatic settings + natural light + good focus.
Now, if you want to take the food photography to the next level, then you'll need some food styling skills. This is the area where I've improved the most. The trick is to make the food look delicious (eat me now!) but effortless (easy to make!)
I have a collection of close to 3,000 different plates, bowls, cups, platters, forks, goblets, et cetera. In fact, I don't think I can ever walk out of HomeGoods, Marshalls, or Ross without picking up a prop!
My advice to others is to study food magazines: What makes that dish so enticing? How many different textures do you see? What direction is the light coming from?
JTD: How do you decide which recipes go on the blog and which go in the book?
JH: The recipes for the book were planned out in advance as I was designing the concept of the book and writing the proposal. This way, the recipe list is thought-out and cohesive, versus just thrown together.
For the blog, it's just what I feel like cooking for the week. My assistant, Cheri, comes on Mondays to help test recipes, then on Friday to help shoot video and edit video.
JTD: For this book, you worked with Ten Speed Books, which is known for its spectacular cookbooks. How was it different from working on your first book?
JH: My first book was with Tuttle Publishing, a very small and focused publisher (they do mostly Asian books)--which was really nice, because the publisher was very hands-off and let me do my thing.
Ten Speed has an entire team to support the development, design, and marketing of the book. They make it so easy to go from start to finish.
JTD: You and your family now live on a five-acre homestead. How has the transition been for the family?
JH: Oh, we LOVE it. In the morning, the kids go out and gather eggs for breakfast. In the afternoon, I'll pick some salad greens for lunch. When the kids come home from school, they'll pick broccoli or other leafy greens for dinner.
My husband has just started an aquaponics garden.
We've just planted eight fruit trees and our two ponds provide us with bluegill, big mouth bass, and tilapia fish.
It's peaceful here. There's no traffic, my neighbors are 10 acres away and yet we're only 10 minutes from the supermarket and school.
JTD: What’s your next big project for the homestead?
JH: The next big project is to digitize our homestead. Internet cam in the henhouse. Automatic watering of the garden based on moisture levels. Computer-monitored aquaponics to measure pH and nutrient levels.
Oh, and perhaps start experimenting in “duckaponics” with a family of ducklings!
Do you have a question for Jaden about her new cookbook? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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