Meet Jen, from Juanita’s Cocina
Jen tells us about how cooking is her outlet. After browsing through different food blogs for new ideas, she decided to take a chance at starting her own food blog. Check out some of her favorite recipes and her top cooking tips for moms!
Tell us more about yourself, your family, and why you decided to start your blog. How did you come up with the name “Juanita’s Cocina”? Why do you refer to yourself as “Juanita?”
My name is Jen, and I live in Central Texas. For my day job, I work as a Speech Therapist for the public schools. But once the school day ends, my real enjoyment begins when I get to enter the kitchen and get my hands dirty!
Cooking not only allows me an outlet (and a way to de-stress), but it allows me to feed my family. My family includes my wife of a year, Linda, who is my biggest champion; my son, Jon, who is 16-years-old and a sophomore in high school; and my brother-in-law, Craig, who is an adult thriving and surviving with Autism.
This group of people is the main reason why I began Juanita’s Cocina. In cooking for my family, I found myself constantly searching the internet and (especially) food blogs for new recipes to try at home to keep them and myself fat and happy. As I became more enthralled with everything “food blog”, I decided to take a stab (a little foodie humor there!) at it myself. I felt that I had a voice that could contribute something, even amongst the throngs of food blogs already out there. Juanita’s Cocina has become my way of journaling my love of cooking, my experiments with new tastes and foods, and a way to document the fun I have in the kitchen.
The name “Juanita’s Cocina” actually stems from a few places. I am of Mexican heritage, and while growing up, I wanted a Spanish translation for my given name (Jennifer). My father told me there was no direct translation, but that the closest word to Jennifer in Spanish was “Juanita”. I hated the name “Juanita”. I thought it was ugly. And my brothers used to tease me that Juanita rhymed with fajita. But, my wife absolutely adores the name and thinks it’s beautiful. After deciding to start the food blog and while deep in the planning phases, I awoke from a dream one morning from where the name “Juanita’s Cocina” was born. I literally dreamed my blog to fruition. From that day forward, I have embraced and grown to love “Juanita”. Plus, Juanita rhymes with fajita.
What is your absolute favorite dish to make and why?
My favorite dish to make is homemade pasta. For Christmas, I received all of the pasta-making attachments for my KitchenAid mixer from my wife. And since then, I have really enjoyed learning to make pasta at home.
I love that homemade pasta requires work and babysitting. You need to be exact in your measurements but allow enough room to wiggle with. I love that pasta is nothing but flour, eggs, and a bit of salt. To me this says, “Simple is best!” And there is absolutely no comparison between store-bought and homemade pasta! It was a light-bulb moment when I tasted my first batch of homemade pasta! What had I been missing all of these years before homemade pasta?
My homemade pasta was one of the very first recipes on my blog, so you’ll have to excuse the picture quality. But, I’m including the link anyway, because just like cooking, photography and food blogging is about learning and improving all of the time!
Your son is 16. Is he a picky eater? Does he have a favorite recipe of yours?
Jon is 16-years-old. He is not a picky eater…no way, no how, not at all! That kid will eat anything I plunk down in front of him. He’s willing to try anything once! The only food he claims not to like is tomatoes. TOMATOES! Tomatoes are my favorite thing in the world! I can’t believe he doesn’t like tomatoes.
Jon has multiple health and developmental issues. Although as he’s gotten older, his health hasn’t been as much of a concern. But, due to his neurologic, developmental, and overall health status, it has always been important to me to create a healthy home environment, and that includes feeding him a healthy balance of foods. Home cooking is the only way to ensure that we know what we are feeding our families. The benefit of all of MY home cooking is that I can blog about it too!
I asked Jon what his favorite meal was and he thought very briefly before saying, “Carnitas, mom! Carnitas!”
Carnitas are bits of pork, which are stewed in their own rendered fat, until the meat literally shreds apart. It’s like a Mexican pulled pork, only better! For those that have never had carnitas, don’t be fearful of the cooking method. Carnitas are not greasy if prepared correctly. They are, however, richly divine, and altogether mouth-watering.
You say that you belong to a group of friends on the internet that share recipes, food pictures, and favorite restaurants. How did that friendship begin?
My online food journey really started on a Disney website. That’s right…I said a Disney website.
My family and I are all professed Disney freaks. (And I’m speaking in terms of Disney World!) After multiple trips to Disney World in Florida, I joined a group of home-cooks on a Disney message board. These ladies all photographed their at-home food ventures (and their fabulous restaurant finds) and posted recipes online to share with one another, but more than anything, they developed and maintained a friendship through a shared love of food.
It’s a friendship that began online, but it has spilled over into my everyday life. These “What’s For Dinner” ladies (“What’s for Dinner” is the name of the topic thread where we all discussed what we were cooking) have become friends in REAL life, even if we haven’t met in person. We share things, we support one another, but we still all maintain a healthy relationship through our love of delicious things!
What are a few ingredients that you think all moms should keep in their house?
As busy moms, there are always a few things you can make on a busy night. Too often, we rely on unhealthy fast food or restaurant food, when in reality many things can be made both easily and quickly at home.
For easy meals, I always keep pasta and rice on hand, because both are so versatile. I also always keep canned tomatoes on hand. I seem to power through dozens of cans of tomatoes every month! There are lots of proteins that can be prepared quickly as well, from chicken breasts (we go through at least 5 pounds every month), to lean ground beef, to shrimp…these ingredients can be adapted for multiple meals and can be prepared quickly.
However, none of those are the MOST important ingredients to keep on hand for the at-home cook. That honor falls to a well-stocked spice cabinet! No dish is complete without some form of spice from the spice rack or cabinet, whether that be basic salt and pepper, or chili powder, garlic or onion powder, or the multiple dried herbs that offer a great enhancement to almost any dish! Without a well-stocked spice cabinet, your cooking is naked and tasteless! And we don’t want naked and tasteless food!
What are your favorite cooking utensils? Can you share where you like to shop for them?
I would be absolutely lost in my kitchen without my KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Vitamix Blender, and my Magimix by Robot-Coupe Food Processor. These are my three go-to kitchen gadgets that I use (at least one of) almost every day.
For smaller kitchen utensils, I can be caught staring longingly quite often at my cookie sheets, my stock pot, my Dutch oven, my large sauté pan, my whisks and rubber spatulas, and my roll of parchment paper. With these few things, you can make practically anything in the kitchen.
When I shop for kitchen gadgets, I can be caught at home, in a chair, in front of the computer. I do lots of brand research and usually order straight from the source…but not because I’m a brand-name addict. Rather, I find that you can find great deals for kitchen gadgets/utensils if you do a little research! You won’t catch me paying full-price for anything!
What are 5 tips that you can give moms when cooking in the kitchen?
- Don’t be afraid to use spices! (and that doesn’t always translate to “spicy”, it translates to flavor!)
- We have a rule in our family: “You can’t say you don’t like something until you try it.” After that, if you still don’t like it, I won’t make it again.
- There are lots of low-fat options that make great substitutes in cooking. Some things do NOT make great substitutions. In my opinion, it’s important to be selective when substituting a low-fat or fat-free option in your cooking. If you taste a lower-fat ingredient and it tastes awful, that taste cannot be hidden in your cooking and baking. Sometimes, it’s important to go full-fat, my friends!
- We make it a goal to try something new once a week! If you make this a joint venture with your family and children and they become a part of the planning, they are more apt to be willing to try new foods!
- Have fun! If food is a chore for a mom, your family will pick up on that. Food not only feeds the stomach, it feeds the heart. It’s an experience to share with your loved ones, it’s time around the family table, and it’s bonding. Have fun in your kitchen!