Zach Patton and Clay Dunn are the couple behind The Bitten Word — a popular cooking blog that chronicles their experience with recipes. The concept is simple — Clay & Zach subscribe to a number of cooking and recipe magazines and since 2008 they’ve been trying atleast one recipe from every issue and sharing the results — spectacular or sad — with their readers. They cook and blog from their home in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Here’s what that they had to say:
TheBittenWord is a great concept — cooking recipes found in popular food magazines — how would you describe your passion for cooking and how do you stay inspired to blog?
We love discovering new recipes and creative ways to combine flavors and ingredients that we might never have dreamed up on our own. For example, in July we made a Kohlrabi, Fennel and Blueberry Salad that was featured in Food & Wine. Reading the recipe for the first time, we were like, “What?!” But it was actually really delicious!
We are constantly inspired by the great feedback we get from readers. People really seem to enjoy following our cooking adventures. Whether a recipe is a big success or an epic fail, it’s great to have our readers following along. It’s like an extended family hanging out in the kitchen.
How much does food imagery affect your recipe choices and what you feature on the blog?
Our first thought is always about the food and the ingredients: Will this taste good? (Or sometimes the question is: Does this sound so crazy that we’ve just got to try it?) But we’ve definitely been known to try out a recipe based on the photo.
A good example of a photo that caught our eye is the recipe for Broccoli with Cheetos that we saw in Saveur. It looked and sounded wild, and we had to go for it.
As for images we’ve featured on the blog, we try to stay really honest about publishing the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. So even if a dish turns out looking not so hot, we’ll post it anyway. A while back, we wrote about a Beet Risotto that looked frightfully disgusting on the plate, but it actually tasted okay.
How has your blog evolved since 2008? What are your favorite kinds of posts?
When we first started the blog, we vowed to track down every ingredient in a given recipe, no matter how obscure or hard-to-find it was. In fact, our very first post involved an epic hunt for hog jowl. Since then, we’ve gotten much more comfortable substituting ingredients, although we still love hunting down exotic food items that a recipe may call for, be it Korean gojujang or orange-flower water.
Perversely enough, our favorite posts tend to be the ones where we make a major error, or when the recipe itself just isn’t very good. (And these are always our readers’ favorites, too!) Whether it’s a Chocolate Cake that literally disintegrated before our eyes, or Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers that tasted like sadness, we love writing about the times in the kitchen when things don’t go so well.
What are your favorite tools for cooking?
We try to limit the number of special gizmos and gadgets in our kitchen. But we couldn’t live without our Microplane — we use it almost every time we cook, to zest, mince or grate something. And we think a cast iron skillet is just about indispensable. And our food processor is a life-saver. We also got a pressure cooker fairly recently, and we’re really enjoying learning how to cook with it.
What are your favorite tools for blogging?
We’ve really gotten into the photography aspect of blogging, and can see real progress in our photos from when we first started to now. We use a basic Canon SLR, and some of our favorite accessories are a tripod and a light bounce. Both are indispensable when trying to take good food photos.
Also, over the years, we’ve also collected a variety of different plates and pieces of fabric. It’s always fun to go digging through those props to select something to use in a photo.
What recipe that you discovered through your mission do you come back to again and again?
Easily the two recipes we’ve cooked for the blog and then made the most times since are Cold Brewed Iced Coffee, which makes the absolute best iced coffee at home, and Shortcut Steel Cut Oatmeal, which allows you to cook steel cut oats in less than 10 minutes. Both are staples in our house.
Surprising Post: Could you give an example of a Bitten Word post that surprised you — either by being crazy-popular, crazy polarizing or surprisingly lame?
One of our all-time most popular posts is for something called Buffalo Chicken Dip. We heard about it from our friend Whitney. There’s not much actual cooking involved — all the ingredients are just stirred together and then heated in the oven — but it is consistently one of our top posts. It’s surprising because it’s a little gross and the photos in the post are definitely not our best. But it is a fun dish.
One of our other most popular posts is for Pickled Watermelon Rind. We love trying to can and preserve new things and we love that so many people have discovered this post on our site.
One of the exciting things about blogging is getting reader feedback in the form of comments and email — do you have a favorite example of some of the feedback you receive?
We’ve tried our hand at a backyard garden this past summer and the previous one, and we’ve periodically written about our experience. Some of our veggies have produced well, and some have been major disappointments. We’ve gotten lots of terrific emails from readers sharing tips and ideas — or commiserating with us on our lack of success. It makes us feel better!
Some of our other favorite comments were in response to our post about Tipsy Affogato. We thought the dish sounded like a drag queen name, so readers posted their “drag names” (you know, your first pet’s name plus the street you grew up on) in the comments and on our Facebook page. They’re hysterical!
Obviously magazines are at the heart of your inspiration — but what are your other sources of inspiration? Blogs, books, artists, chefs, etc.
Oh yes — while we’re mostly focused on food magazines — we get ideas from tons of different sources. We devour cookbooks. Our favorite in recent months is A Southerly Course by Martha Hall Foose (the food stylist for “The Help”). We also really loved Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry, which was published last year.
We get lots of great recipe ideas from readers, too, like a positively epic Beef Roast Braised with Onions that our friend Bobby sent us. We’re also inspired by old family recipes, like Clay’s Mom’s Fried Chicken or Zach’s Granny’s Apple Stack Cake.
Dream Project: What recipe have you wanted to prepare but continue to put off?
Every New Year, we make a set of Culinary Resolutions, which has helped us tackle some of the big recipes we’d kept putting off, like cooking a whole fish or making Beef Wellington. Right now, the biggest recipe we keep postponing is making an aspic. We’re intrigued by the idea, but we just can’t seem to get up the energy for it.
Also — and obviously this isn’t a recipe — but our biggest blog-related wish right now is to visit a food magazine test kitchen. It was one of our Culinary Resolutions for 2011, and we may not get to it this year. But we’d really love to make it happen!
You can see updates from Clay & Zach on The Bitten Word.