More cooks say 'blog appétit!'

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

It used to be that, when you needed a recipe, you pulled out an index card, a cookbook, or the latest issue of Gourmet magazine. But increasingly, chefs and amateurs alike are turning to a new medium as a culinary resource: the online food blog.

Short for "web log," a blog is a website written like a journal with regularly posted entries. As the Internet continues to lure self-publishers, blogs have proliferated in the past few years. About 9 percent of today's Internet users have created blogs, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Of those, about 10 percent deal with food.

Food blogs allow anyone with time and a computer to cook up and share their unedited thoughts with the online universe. Their number has swelled to at least 3,000 in the past few years, says Paul McCann, a blogger and judge for this year's 2005 Food Blog Awards, a competition that's in its second year.

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"The explosion of food blogs is a result of exploding interest in food and cooking," says Clark Wolf, a food and restaurant consultant in New York. The success of the TV Food Network is an example of Americans' growing interest in culinary arts. "People are more comfortable with online searching, and the natural conduit for information is a blog," Mr. Wolf says.

Food - with its universal appeal and blend of art and chemistry - lends itself to blogging. Just as neighbors share recipes, bloggers can post recipe tips and recommendations, as well as flops behind the stove.

"Food is a topic everyone can connect with," says Derrick Schneider, a computer programmer from Oakland, Calif., who started his own blog, obsessionwithfood.com, in 2003 and is also a judge for the Food Blog Awards. "There's a little bit of a food writer in all of us."

Mr. Schneider launched his blog at the urging of friends who, he says, grew "tired of me clogging up their in-boxes with e-mails about great restaurants." Since then, he's cultivated quite a following, with about 2,700 people visiting his site daily.

But not everyone is ready to put away their cookbooks. Some cooks simply don't want to bother going online, or they question the credibility of blogs, knowing that cookbooks typically endure some editing.

"I want the physical experience of holding a book," says Mr. Wolf, the restaurant consultant. "The style of a blog is such that anyone can just blather on without liability for anything they write - sort of like chatting on the phone."

Still, more people are drawn to food blogs for their conversational style and wide range of topics. Besides recipes, some blogs feature restaurant reviews, tips for dining out in Tokyo, cooking with the kids - or how to forage for wild mushrooms. Someone looking for a carrot soup recipe might stumble upon a blog that not only provides the information they want, but also contains entertaining writing. Before long, they've bookmarked the site.

Take Naomi Baldinger, an American student who lived in Paris. While researching Parisian cafes, she found Clotilde Dusoulier's food blog, "Chocolate & Zucchini," helpful and posted a note praising the site's restaurant reviews. Ms. Dusoulier, who is French and lives in Paris, writes an elegant yet accessible blog in both her native language and English. She has become so popular and influential in the blogging scene that she recently clinched a book deal. But she has no plans to drop her blog anytime soon.

One of the first food bloggers started an online journal as a way to escape from the drudgery of her 9-to-5 job. In 2002, Julie Powell set out to teach herself a new skill by cooking her way through Julia Child's legendary tome, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." She wrote in a witty style about the daily attempts she made in her tiny Queens, N.Y., kitchen to cook Julia's recipes - from soufflé to cassoulet. Soon after, her "Julie/Julia Project" led to a book deal. Powell has since dropped her blog, but her humorous blogging style has generated fast sales of her book, "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen."

Indeed, a good food blog draws readers because it is entertaining, inspiring, and contains recipes that show the writer is knowledgeable about food, says Mr. McCann, whose blog, kiplog.com, is considered among the best of today's crop.

"I am so impressed by the professionalism of today's food blogs," he says. "The writing is good.... And the photos - wow! Not long ago, some people would post pictures of their daily lunch!"

But the ethics involved in blogging are sometimes questioned.

"Some new bloggers think since it's their own site, they can do whatever they want, including reprinting others' recipes without crediting them or writing a bad review of a restaurant after eating there only once," says Schneider. But, he adds, "Most blog writers I interact with are careful about these things, and they'll often ask for advice about ethics from others."

In the end, most food bloggers write simply for enjoyment. "Keeping a blog is a way to record what I've cooked and have fun with cooking," says Owen Linderholm, who recently published a compilation of his food blogs titled "Digital Dish." "I learn something new every day, and, hopefully, I cook a little better, too."

Five food blogs worth a taste test

101 Cookbooks: This site has everything cookbook related - reviews, author profiles, recipes. Can't find what you're looking for? Post a question in the reader forum. Or just ask Heidi Swanson whose engaging blog was born from a passion for cookbook collecting. (www.101cookbooks.com)

Accidental Hedonist: Seattle writer Kate Hopkins is a champion of the food-blogging community. She launched the first Food Blog Awards in 2004 and is hosting them again this year. Her site includes thoughtful commentary on food news and events, as well as posts about her own culinary adventures. (www.accidentalhedonist.com)

Amateur Gourmet: This may be the most humorous blog out there. It features funny food films as well as witty observations about all things culinary. Creator Adam Roberts is a law-school graduate who left law to pursue dramatic writing at New York University. (www.amateurgourmet.com)

Chez Pim: An attractively designed site known for insightful, reliable restaurant reviews. Pim Techamunvint spearheads special events for the food blogging community, such as the current "Menu for Hope," a fundraising raffle for victims of the earthquake in Northern India and Pakistan. (www.chezpim.com)

The Food Section: Josh Friedland's slogan "All the News That's Fit to Eat," sums it up. His site is chock full of information, especially about the New York food scene. For foodies visiting the Big Apple, this site's calendar listings are a must-see. (www.thefoodsection.com)

Perfect Hot Chocolate

1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2-1/2 cups whole milk (or 2 cups milk and 1/2 cup additional cream)
1-1/2 cups water (optional)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sugar, to taste
Freshly whipped cream, sweetened to taste

Chop the chocolate into small pieces, place in a heat-proof bowl, and set aside. In a saucepan, bring the cream and evaporated milk to a boil. Pour the boiling liquid over the chopped chocolate, then let it sit for 1 minute. Stir slowly until well blended. In another saucepan over medium heat, bring the whole milk and optional water to a boil. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate mixture. Let sit for 1 minute, then stir well until velvety smooth. Stir in the vanilla, sweeten with sugar to taste, and serve hot with a spoonful of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Makes 6 cups.

- from the "The Traveler's Lunchbox" food blog by Melissa Kronenthal

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