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A winning blogger

(article, Liz Crain)

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Karen Tedesco’s food history reads like a roller coaster — it's quite a ride. Her culinary obsessions progressed from avidly reading cookbooks to cookbook-buying professionally for an independent bookstore, and from wide-eyed dreaming of culinary school to barging untrained into the back-of-the-house world of prep and pastry cooking. 

[%image karen width=250 float=left caption="Karen Tedesco's recipes are winners."]

Now that Tedesco is the mother of two, she continues to develop her culinary pursuits, albeit at home. Her year-old blog, FamilyStyle Food, is an ode to food shared around the family table with recipes that shine from the polish of a seasoned cook. 

p(blue). Blog: FamilyStyle Food
Average posts per month: 6
Blogger: Karen Tedesco
Age: 42
Blog place of origin: Webster Groves, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis)

Tedesco harnesses her competitive culinary streak by participating in cooking contests across the country — several of which she’s won — and reporting back via her blog. This fall she plans to launch a personal-chef business that will focus on fresh, homemade foods for busy families.

What's your culinary background?
My grandfather was a first-generation immigrant from southern Italy, and he ran a little shop where he sold homemade sausages, and my grandmother was a wonderful cook. She'd prepare Sunday dinners for dozens of people when I was growing up. My passion for food and eating definitely starts with them.


h1. Liz's favorite posts


1. Lime in the Coconut and the Crab
2. Suckling Spring Lamb on a Spit
3. Letter to Monsanto — Lay off my Milk
4. Homemade Vanilla Extract
5. Friday Night Home Date


Back in the 1980s, I waited on tables in a small seafood restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where my palate was awakened to what fresh, simple food could taste like. The chef/owner had a little garden on the rooftop where she'd grow all the herbs and lettuces for the restaurant. She was dedicated to serving the best of what was in season. Plus, her husband was a total oenophile and cultivated a mind-boggling wine cellar. My interest and education about wine was born at that restaurant.

After college, I missed the restaurant culture and starting reading cookbooks like an addict, teaching myself to cook. Shortly after I became the cookbook buyer at an independent bookstore. Eventually I decided I needed to think about attending culinary school, but balked at the cost of tuition at places like the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). So I talked my way into jobs in restaurant kitchens in Miami, where I was living at the time. I worked as both prep and pastry cooks and kept my eyes open.

I went on to work as a wine sales consultant and cheesemonger for a large chain of stores in South Florida before having my first kid and choosing to stay home with her.

How do you carve out time for blogging? 
Time is probably the most challenging aspect of blogging for me. With two young children and all the busyness that comes with it, finding time to write a post can seem almost impossible. 

I basically try to keep documents of what I'm eating and cooking, which means having my camera set up on a tripod in the kitchen and also writing down ideas for future post-worthy fodder. I'll steal an hour or so in the morning or after the kids are in bed to write and put it all together. I've been shooting for three posts weekly, and sometimes I actually do it! 

When did you first discover food blogs?
I started taking a serious look at food blogs about two years ago. I'd been thinking about getting into food writing and had an idea for a column that I wanted to name FamilyStyle. Then it occurred to me that I could start a blog and satisfy my urge immediately. 

How did you first become interested in cooking contests?
When my daughter was a toddler, I read about a contest in one of my food magazines, and I guess I was craving a creative outlet. I'm always experimenting in the kitchen anyway, so why not enter some recipes and see what happens? After winning a couple of times, I was hooked on the hobby. 

[%image "promo-image" width=350 float=left caption='Tedesco blogged about her frustration with Monsanto in a post subtitled "Lay off my milk."']

Any cooking contests coming up?
I've been a finalist twice in the Build a Better Burger contest, which takes place in Napa Valley in the fall, and I'm hoping I'll be chosen again. I'm cooking up a lot of burgers for that one.

Which contests have you won and with what recipes?
I've been to about a dozen national cook-offs as a finalist, including the Pillsbury Bake-Off and National Beef Cook-Off. I've also won recipe contests for Bays English Muffins (Primavera Pizzas), Aunt Nellie's Beets (Moroccan Orange Beet Salad), and Better Homes and Gardens (Tarragon Tuna Melts).

I recently won first place and $2,000 in a Quaker Oats contest for Italian Orange-Almond Oat Crunch Muffins.

My biggest win was $10,000 and a vacation for four as the grand prize in Cooking Light's Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest for Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce.

[%image springveg float=right width=400 caption="Ready to cook."]

How old are your kids and what do they think of your blog?
My daughter, Annabel, is nine, and my son, Jacob, is six. Annabel loves to read it and write comments. Jacob doesn't pay much attention. They do get impatient sometimes when I start taking pictures just as we sit down to dinner. I can't blame them!

What are some of their favorite new foods?
Annabel tasted salami from Armadino Batali's Salumi. She demands some in her lunchbox now. She also likes the chicken recipe I made in the National Chicken Contest last month, Chicken Tagliata. Jacob is still finding his way to food, and he tends to be careful about avoiding green things (poisonous!). 

What's one of your favorite recipes that you've come up with?
I really like my Coconut Basil Chicken Burgers. I made them last year for the Build a Better Burger contest. I also love the Olive Oil Poached Shrimp recipe on my blog. 

What are your fallback recipes for when time and energy is on empty?
Any kind of pasta with olive oil, chile pepper, and garlic; or canned chickpeas tossed with pesto and feta cheese.

[%image lamb float=left width=350 caption="A lamb in the kitchen."]

Name five of your favorite staples currently in the pantry.
1. Kewpie Mayonnaise from Japan 
2. Barcelona Bars from Vosges Chocolate
3. Harissa paste
4. Fregola pasta from Sardinia
5. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, always

What foods will never be featured on FamilyStyle Food?
Hmmm, that's hard to say. "Never" is so final! That said, some foods I dislike intensely include licorice candy, sweetened coconut flakes, borscht, and overcooked green bell peppers.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

karen, l

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lamb, l

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