Road Food: Where We’re Eating in November

bombay bread bar
                                 via Bombay Bread Bar

During the Holidays we often finding ourselves spending more time eating out rather than cooking. And because this time of year is always a great excuse to try a new restaurant or a few with our loved ones, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite places to eat this month.

mcconnell's ice cream
                                via Los Angeles Magazine

I spent a chunk of time in Connecticut when I was working at Fine Cooking magazine, and for this Angeleno, two things took me completely by surprise: It almost always snows on April Fool’s Day, and the ice cream shops close in October. I’m a year-round ice cream eater (nightly isn’t unusual), and relish a trip to our local McConnell’s, even in November. I think I’ve tried them all, and it just doesn’t get any better than their Sea Salt Cream and Cookies. –Laurie, CEO + Founder 

coperta denver
                                               via 5280

Now that winter is practically upon us in Denver, I’m craving comfort food all day, every day. Enter: Coperta. This Southern Italian restaurant is cozy, unpretentious, and wonderfully authentic. They even import their sun-dried tomatoes from Italy! The pumpkin ravioli gives me all the fall feels, but the eggplant parmigiana is equally delicious. –Edie, Account Manager 

Bombay Bread Bar
                                          via Eater NY

It’s gotten downright chilly here in NYC, and I’m constantly craving curry. One of my favorite Indian curries is at Bombay Bread Bar. Their halibut, cauliflower and turmeric curry is just the thing to warm me up. –Netanya, Social Media Manager 

Noodle Village
                                         via Blackboard Eats

One of my favorite things to do in NYC when it’s cold outside is get soup dumplings and noodle soup. A spot in Chinatown I absolutely love is Noodle Village. Their menu is extensive, but every dish feels like a warm hug. Get the soup dumplings, house fried rice, noodle soup, and congee! -Anna, Brand Strategist 

 

Cooking the Books: Books to Give

cookbooks

 

When the malls are getting you down, and you’ve still got a few hard-to-shop-for folks on your list, take our advice and turn to cookbooks. Who doesn’t love a cookbook?

Here are three of our favorites, from influencers who hold a special place in our hearts— and kitchens!

smitten kitchen everyday cookbook

Smitten Kitchen

We are die-hard fans of Deb Perelman and have enjoyed her blog for years, so when she came out with a new cookbook called Smitten Kitchen Every Day, we were first in line. It’s filled with delicious and easy recipes for a date night in, a Sunday supper with friends, or a busy weeknight meal.

not without salt

Not without Salt

When Ashley Rodriguez turned her weekly dinner date with her husband into a cookbook titled “Date Night In,” we couldn’t get enough of the fun ideas. And now, her  latest cookbook, Let’s Stay In, expands on the concept with recipes to cook for the family. We can’t wait to get our hands on a copy.

kale and caramel cookbook

Kale and Caramel

Lily Diamond from Kale & Caramel has turned her blog in to a beautiful cookbook filled with wonderful recipes and do-it-yourself beauty products. Her book isn’t just recipes, though, it’s a kind of guide to all the ways we can connect to nature through food.

What’s your favorite cookbook to give away during the Holidays?

5 Things You Didn’t Know About…

michelle lopez

Michelle Lopez began baking to cope with the stress of college and eventually launched her blog, Hummingbird High in 2011 Now she’s a two time Saveur Magazine “Best Baking Blog” winner and continues to wow us with the most incredible desserts. And today, we’re so excited to include her in our 5 Things series. So without further ado, here’s 5 Things you might not know about Michelle…

  1. I moved around a lot throughout my childhood and my 20s. I’ve lived in 4 countries, 5 states, and 8 cities total. Now I’m happy to call Portland, Oregon, home forever — at least, that’s what I say, but who knows if that’ll end up being true. 🙂
  2. I only have one food allergy: pumpkin seeds. I can eat the rest of the pumpkin just fine though!
  3. I don’t own a car. I commute everywhere by foot or bicycle, rain or shine! I once even biked from the East Coast to the West Coast (I started in Portland, Maine, and ended up in Vancouver, Canada).
  4. Before I became a full-time blogger, I worked in tech for 5+ years as an engineer. My new cookbook is all about how I balanced my job and my blog, focusing on dessert recipes you can make quickly on a weeknight!
  5. My college degree wasn’t food-related, art-related, or even tech-related; I actually majored in economics, and I wrote a thesis that argued that taxing airlines could decrease flight delays.
  6. I’m a big Harry Potter nerd and according to JK Rowling’s official website, my house is Ravenclaw.
  7. One of my bucket list items is to cycle the entire length of the Ring Road in Iceland.

Brand Biz: Redesigning? Here’s what you need to know from an SEO pro

At CookIt, we help bloggers think outside the blog format—we help them think bigger! Often, this means that the blogger needs to redesign her blog in order to build a “house” big enough for all her ideas. But what about all the traffic and links she’s built up over the years? What if she wants to change the name and domain of her brand?

We went to Arsen Rabinovich, founder of Top Hat Rank, a digital marketing agency with expertise in SEO, for the answers to these and other questions.

How risky is it to change your domain/url if you want to change the name of your blog?

Arsen: We try to avoid changing URLs as much as possible. However, sometimes you just can’t, like when changing your domain name during a re-brand.  For this specific reason, Google provided us a “change of address” procedure and submission through Google’s Search Console (http://bit.ly/2zV16Fd). When doing this, both sites need to be up at the same time. You’ll need to validate the new domain via Search Console and update the old domain with redirects (301) from the old domain to new domain.

What about a blogger’s links — can she take them with her?

Arsen: Yes, if the migration was implemented properly, the redirects will continue to pass “authority” from external backlinks to your new site. Accurately handled redirects are vital!

Does SEO play a role in the redesign process? If so, when? How?

Arsen: Not so much in the design process. We tell our clients to go through the design process without getting us (SEOs) involved. You want to design for the user, for the conversion, NOT for SEO. Once the site is wire framed/designed, we come in and mark it up with proper HTML and schema before it goes into production (coding the design into a theme).

Any tips on plug-ins bloggers should be using in their redesigns?

Arsen: The premium version of Yoast SEO is probably the best SEO plugin for WordPress. However, if you are using another plugin and it’s working, I would not recommend swapping it out. Always make sure your plugins are up to date. Not paying attention to this will create many issues and in some case get your website hacked.  So keep them updated.

We know SEO is a long game, but how long until a blogger begins to see results after the redesign?

Arsen: Again, when handled correctly, your redesign should not only retain rankings but help the site grow further. Post-launch, keep an eye on your Search Console to make sure that the daily pages crawled by Google (http://bit.ly/2zT9JjO)  are always trending upwards. This is a good indicator of a successful migration.  

Road Food: Where We’re Eating

 

via 5280 magazine

Since we’re not only foodies here at CookIt, but also travelers, we are always discovering new and delicious places in our hometowns and when we travel. Here are some of the places we’ve been lately and can’t help raving about!

via Westside Today

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weekends in Palm Springs recently, the perfect antidote to LA sometimes! There was plenty of pool time and vintage shopping, but also a couple of great meals: Workshop Kitchen + Bar and Mister Parker’s were the standouts! Workshop has one of the town’s prettiest patios, and offers creative, seasonal dishes that really deliver. Mister Parker’s, located in the Parker hotel, is a crazy mix of dark wood, flea market art, loud classic rock and traditional French favorites, like steak au poivre. Only Jonathan Adler could pull it off! Laurie, CEO + Founder

via The Village Alliance

I didn’t think I was a frozen yogurt fan until I tried Culture: An American Yogurt Company in the West Village.  Now I want to go every week! They rotate their flavors each week and my favorite combo lately is the dark chocolate with balsamic strawberries. Netanya, Social Media Manager

via Morgan Lone Photography

It feels like we’ve had a slew of visitors lately, giving us an excuse to go to some of our fave and impressive spots. La Esquina’s Brasserie is definitely one of our top picks to impress out-of-towners. When you walk up, it looks like a small diner-like taco spot (which is also very good), but once you go through a door and down some stairs, you’ll come across a massive hidden restaurant. Order a bunch of appetizers, tacos, and cocktails and you’ll be set. Don’t forget about the Elotes Callejeros too! Anna, Brand Strategist

via Star Chefs

We rarely go out for Chinese food, but Denver’s Hop Alley has been a recent game-changer. This modern (yet unpretentious) Chinese restaurant features spicy shared plates and creative cocktails. I’m all about their veggie fried rice, but my husband swears by the Beijing duck roll. Edie, Account Manager

Brand Biz: Tell Me a Story

olena

“Laurie’s big on creating story, which was completely new to me. She said, ‘Olena, you need your story, and you do have your story, like a very unique story. But you have to tell it. Like, you have to say it.’ ”

–Olena Osipov, iFoodReal

Well, you got that right, Olena! We ARE big on story over here.

We loved listening to Olena tell us her story on Food Blogger Pro, from immigrating from Kiev, Ukraine to a small town in Canada when she was 19 (with $100 in her pocket!) to dreaming big and buying her new waterfront home on Vancouver Island with its own studio. That’s what you call making it!

We also loved working with Olena to help her find her brand story, the one that ultimately helped her find her way, better understand her audience, reshape her content strategy and rebuild her website. She’s a graduate of our Brand Bootcamp, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

What is Brand Bootcamp?

The CookIt Brand Bootcamp is an immersive, one-on-one course in how to shape, position and build your brand. Working with you to understand your goals and vision, we build a blueprint for your growth, ensuring you have all the tools and resources you need to take the next steps and become the influential, successful brand you are meant to be!

How does it work?

We start with your story (of course we do!). Getting there is a process, one that begins with a conversation/interview (as we try to get to the heart of what you believe in, and love to do). From there we go on to research your competition and evaluate your marketplace opportunity, summing up our work in a Positioning Statement that details the “what, who and why” behind your brand story. And that’s just session one!

A deep dive into your current audience sets us up to identify your Target Audience—those new readers who will be key to your growth and expansion. Once we know who we’re talking to, we can work on your Brand Voice, which comprises your personal voice, the brand itself and any team members you work with. How your brand talks to your readers is a defining element of who you are.

Content Strategy and Site Structure are up next. In these two sessions, we build out your plan for growth, helping you transition from blog to a larger, more impactful online resource, more like a magazine. Working with your story, we help you think bigger, and apply that thinking to your content, site design and user experience. By the time we’re done, you’ll have a plan that easily translates to wireframes and a site refresh.

Our last session covers content Production, as well as Growth Strategy. We help you better understand how to create a process for planning and producing content for your new site. (Spoiler alert: We’re big on monthly content themes and planning six months to a year out!) As for your growth, we’ll consider multiple ways to take your story “on the road,” from a podcast to a cookbook to a newsletter series.

Is It Right for You?

Brand Bootcamp is work! It requires guts, determination and a willingness to let go of some things and see others from a new perspective. You’ll come away from the experience with a refreshed way of thinking about what you do, why you do it, and who you do it for. We’ll find your story—the one you will go on to tell the world!

To listen to others who’ve graduated from Brand Bootcamp, head over to Food Blogger Pro and tune into Bjork’s interviews with Meggan Hill and Jessica Gavin. And to hear my chat with Bjork about perfecting your story, listen here.

What’s Cooking: October

It’s hard to let go of the Summer season but we’re trying to embrace it with some delicious summer-into-fall dishes. Here’s a few recipes we’ll be cooking up this month.

tomato salad

Since I’m representing the West Coast side of the #cookitcrew, I’m still all about tomatoes. That said, I know the end is near. This is one heck of a way to celebrate that hard fact. Laurie, CEO + Founder

cinnamon rolls

As soon as the weather changes from Summer to Fall, I start craving warm spices like cinnamon and oh, lots of butter. And when I think about those two things, I instantly think of these sweet and fluffy cinnamon rollsNetanya, Social Media Manager

Now that it’s officially October, I’m welcoming all-things pumpkin spice with open arms. This pumpkin pie cookie dough looks insanely delicious, but I’m also eyeing a slice of Natalie’s vegan pumpkin cake. One can never have too many pumpkin desserts, right? Edie, Account Manager

I’ve never met a squash I didn’t like, but I’m particularly fond of delicata squash (you don’t have to peel it!!). Now that it’s at the market, I’ll be making this recipe from Athena Calderone’s Eye Swoon. It’s simple, but the flavor combination packs a punch. Renae, Senior Brand Strategist

With the cooler weather sweeping through Denver, we’ve been craving a good ol’ bowl of chili! I found a recipe from one of our very own influencers— Oh, Sweet Basil — and it was delicious! The bacon is everything. Jackie, Senior Account Manager

Lately, I’ve been incorporating meatless meals into our weekly rotation, and I’ve honestly felt a lot more energized. I feel like my body is a fan. I try to vary up the recipes, but I’m really fond of this Caramelized Onion Mushroom and Spinach Pizza recipe, even if it is pizza!  Anna, Brand Strategist

Brand Biz: What to Know Now About IGTV

Are you posting content on IGTV yet? Are you watching IGTV? Is IGTV important to your content strategy?

For answers to these and many other questions, we went to lifestyle personality, successful YouTube brand and video authority, Theodore Leaf.

Q: Should influencers be in a hurry to start posting on IGTV if they aren’t there yet?

A: I would recommend only posting content that makes sense versus just putting things up to “be there first”. People say all the time that they are “too late” to a specific social channel. But we’ve all seen newcomers from out of nowhere come in and amass a loyal following in a social instant.

Q: What’s the trick to thinking in a vertical format vs. horizontal?

A: Make sure the journey you take the viewer on is all about that “phone” perspective-—more casual.  Vertical can be more rough around the edges, and that is part of what makes it work. Try a mix of “produced” content and more “on the fly” type things.

Q: Can we edit existing video content?

A: Editing existing content is a great idea, just make sure the edits are clean and the subject remains inside the vertical frame. I’ve  been seeing some poorly repurposed content that leaves the viewer frustrated because things are missing or “off.”

Q: Can we repost content from our channel or IG Stories to IGTV?

A: You can certainly edit Stories content and post it to IGTV; however, I think the better move is more about true long form versus the jumpy short cuts we expect from Stories.

Q: Other than length, what’s the main difference between IG Stories and IGTV video?

A: The difference between Stories and IGTV is really more about watch time than anything else. With Stories you go in expecting to see several snippets that bring movement to the day, everything from behind the scenes to entire dinners being made. The IGTV platform gives you the opportunity to create longer content that has more of a service intention than simply entertainment. For example, as a viewer, would you really want to learn how to make a macaroon on IG Stories with so many cuts and back and forth? Or would you prefer one smooth 10-minute segment?

Q: How do we know how long our videos should be?

A: Time will tell how long viewers want IGTV content to be. My rule of thumb is keep a steady pace in your videos and don’t obsess over the length.

Q: How do you see IGTV changing the video landscape?

A: IGTV will change the video landscape by pushing creators who were not doing any video to finally jump in. YouTube as a platform is not the easiest to understand, so with Instagram creating this platform, it has broken down a lot of the barriers to entry for video.

Q: Any tips on how to lure our followers to our IGTV channel?

A: Promoting your IGTV channel via Stories is a great way to bring viewers over—think of Stories as a trailer to the feature that is housed on IGTV. Also something I am thinking about is creating regular series that the audience can count on seeing every week.

Q: Is it true that 78% of all mobile traffic will be video in less than 3 years?

A: I am unsure of the likelihood of those numbers being accurate but I can say that video in all of its forms is a highly engaging way to communicate your message, and has the potential to build you an incredibly loyal audience.

The Brand Biz: What’s Your Story?

brand biz

At CookIt, we talk about “story” all the time. As consultants working to help you define your brand, crafting your story is our first step. Without that key piece, you are rudderless in a vast ocean of competition.

The good news is that, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, you always had the answer. Finding your story is the process of seeing that it was there all along.

Crazy talk, right? Don’t just take our word for it, try it. Follow this road, and let us know how it goes.

Picture your readers.

Who are they? What’s important to them? What’s really hard for them? What keeps them up at night? Once you feel like you know these things about your audience, go to the next step.

How can you help them?

Within your area of expertise, how can you help them? How can you solve a problem for them? What do you have to offer them that others don’t? Answer those questions, and go to the next step.

Why you?

What is it about you that qualifies you to be the authority your reader needs? Is it education? Life experiences? Values? Find that answer, and you will better understand your role in the story we’re writing. And then…

What’s so important?

Once you have a better understanding of who you’re talking to, how you’re helping them, and what it is about you that they trust and value, it’s much easier to grasp the importance of what you do. It may sound simple — it may be that they look to you for inspiration, for the motivation they need to stick to their goals. But that’s big for them. And that’s where you’ll find your story, and your opportunity!

The Brand Biz: Meet Your Reader

gathering
Photo by Ditte Isager

When it comes right down to it, there’s really only one thing you need to know about creating a successful brand: You need to know who you’re doing it for. We like to call this your Target Audience.

Without a strong sense of who your reader is, and what their problems (or “pain points”) are, it’s hard to know who you are. The trick is to understand your value through the lens of your reader, delivering content that both informs and inspires them.

But how do you find your Target Audience? Here’s how we like to do it!

4 TIPS FOR FINDING YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE

1. Check out your competitive set

Get to know the brands and blogs that share content similar to yours. Who are their readers, and how are they helping those individuals solve their problems?

  1. Determine what makes you unique

How are you different from the brands in your competitive set? Can you create a niche for yourself and envision an audience that needs you and your unique skills/perspective?

  1. Get to know your current readers

Study, stalk and talk to your loyal fans, the ones who subscribe to your emails and follow you on your social networks. What do they love about you? What do they ask you for more of?

  1. Create a persona

Combining characteristics of your loyal fans with those of your potential readers (those who will appreciate you for what makes you unique!), draw up a profile of your target reader, including the kinds of details that help you identify why she needs you!