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Blogger Spotlight: Persnickety Plates

Blogger Spotlight: Persnickety Plates

Allow us to introduce a new weekly column: Blogger Spotlight. We look to this group of talented food writers for inspiration and participation in The Daily Meal whether for restaurant recommendations or new recipes to try out for dinner. Our editorial team covers All Things Food and Drink and we tap the CCN to help keep these folks up to speed on what is happening around the country and the world whether that means eating out or just in their kitchens.

Melissa Williams is the Culinary Content Network blogger and creator of Persnickety Plates. Her transition to blogging came about in 2009 when she was trying to document all of her favorite recipes in a notebook, along with planning her wedding. Food blogs were an up-and-coming thing in the Internet world and Williams wanted to share her recipes. She focuses on simplicity and cooking with ingredients accessible that are easy to find in most grocery stores.

Name: Melissa Williams
Blog: Persnickety Plates
Location (city, state): Metro Detroit, Michigan

Mission: My mission is to share delicious recipes that are fairly simple with easy-to-find ingredients.

How did you get started with your blog?
Once I got married and the wedding planning that had consumed me for months was over, I had a void to fill. I was already cooking and baking and keeping track of favorite recipes in a notebook — moving it online to a blog was the next logical step for me. Food blogs, and blogs in general, were still pretty new then and I had no idea other people would read it.

What foods can you not live without?
I love carbs: potatoes, rice, and sourdough bread. But I also love fresh veggies, especially tossed together into a salad with a lemon and oil dressing. Oh, and cookies! Can't forget my love of baked goods.

What foods can't you stand?
Not really a food, but gum makes me nauseous. Seeing someone chew it makes me squirm.

What is your proudest post?
Before I switched to my hyperlink format, my Buffalo Cauliflower had been pinned over 300,000 times! That still blows my mind. It really is a great recipe and I'm so glad it reached so many people.

What is your biggest blog blunder?
My early posts have terrible old school, dark and grainy cellphone pictures. They're great recipes, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the pictures! Now, I try to spend more time taking appealing photos and am in the process of remaking and shooting photos for older recipes.

What is your most memorable comment from a reader?
Comments, in general, make my heart happy. I love hearing when readers try a recipe and enjoy it.

What is your cooking playlist?
Lately, the sounds of my daughter chasing our cat!

What food blogs do you love?
Oh, man. I follow hundreds in my reader, but some standouts are Wine & Glue, I Am Baker, and Skinnytaste. I could go on and on.

Any favorite food apps?
Yummly and Pinterest.

What is the best thing about blogging?
Spreading food love all over the world. I occasionally do a roll call on my Facebook page and there are people from literally all across the world reading my blog. That is crazy to me.

What are the worst things about blogging?
I never feel like I'm doing enough! The Internet doesn't sleep, but I only have so many hours to work my full-time day job/be a good wife and mom/cook and bake/photograph/write up posts/use social media, etc. It is never-ending, but I enjoy it. Oh, and Internet trolls. There are a lot of people that never learned, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Do you have a recipe you're currently obsessed with?
Of mine, these Zucchini Boat Turkey Tacos. I can't wait for zucchini from my garden to be ready to make them. From a blog friend: The other day, I pinned this Slow Cooker Caramel Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Cake from Crazy for Crust and I keep thinking about it. I've never tried a slow-cooker dessert before but it looks amazing.

What would even your most loyal followers be surprised to learn about you?
Maybe that I can't smell? I'm sure I've mentioned it over the years, but due to allergies, I can hardly smell anything. Luckily, I don't often burn things because I'm oblivious until I see smoke!

Five of your all-time favorite posts:
Buffalo Cauliflower

Pistachio Poke Cake

This Pistachio Poke Cake starts with a cake mix so it’s super easy and always a crowd-pleaser. While I love my Pistachio Cake that’s made in a bundt, this baking pan version is deliciously different. I’ve never made this cake without being asked for the recipe! Topped with pecans and filled with delicious pistachio pudding, this cake is simple yet irresistible!

Make Chocolate Cake Mix Better

One of the favorites around here (3 Boys and a Dog) is this Chocolate Mint Oreo Cupcake recipe. Mixing mint and chocolate together is always a good idea. You may find that this recipe becomes a family favorite.

Have you ever had chocolate flan? No? Well, this Chocolate Flan Recipe from Living Sweet Moments is going to blow every other flan recipe out of the water. Plus, this one has a video tutorial, which is wonderful when you&rsquore learning all about a new recipe.

When you&rsquore making a chocolate cake recipe, sometimes you just need to do it fast! You can easily make chocolate cake mix better with this Fast Fixin&rsquo Chocolate Chip Cake from A Savory Feast is one of the best chocolate cake recipes out there.

The holidays are quickly approaching and everyone is putting peppermint on everything. Well, you&rsquove met your peppermint match thanks to this Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Peppermint Frosting from Mom Advice. Everyone in your family is going to lick their fingers with this recipe.

I have always been a huge fan of buttercream frosting. Persnickety Plates has this amazing Chocolate Milk Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting that everyone needs to try!

Halloween is almost here, so this Spooky Spider Cake from 3 Boys and a Dog will help bring your chocolate cake to life. Go ahead and see how fun and spooky this cake is!

Poke cakes are the best cakes! Just imagine yourself digging into this Hot Chocolate Poke Cake from Persnickety Plates.

You can&rsquot go wrong making this Incredible Chocolate Cake from Moore or Less Cooking. Chocolate cake always hits the spot in this house, this cake will for sure do the trick.

Make Chocolate Cake Mix Better

What&rsquos better than a one layer or double layer chocolate cake? This Triple Chocolate Cake from The Hungry Blue Bird.

Your kids will love this M&M Candy Bar Cupcake Recipe from 3 Boys and a Dog. Any cake recipe that involves candy is a good one.

Craving cupcakes? You&rsquoll want to make these Semi Homemade Chocolate Cupcakes straight from the kitchen of Cooking with Carlee.

Who&rsquos looking for a new cookie dough recipe? I&rsquove found your new favorite with this Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake recipe from Sugar and Soul. Can you say &ldquoyum&rdquo 10 times fast? YES!

The boys in my household love this Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cake from Mom Advice. It&rsquos amazing!

You know you&rsquore craving this delicious Chocolate Cheery Fudge Bundt Cake from Cooking with Carlee. She hits it out of the ballpark with this delicious cake recipe.

Hey, with these Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes from Stetted, you can have your peppermint, mocha, and cake at the same time.

More Ways to Make Chocolate Cake Mix Better

It can&rsquot be holiday time without a proper Cake Mix Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. This recipe from Simple Nourished Living just simply rocks!

Black and White Cake Mix Cookies from Ann&rsquos Entitled Life are what you&rsquove been craving, you just didn&rsquot know it. She has found a way to make chocolate cake mix better. Yum!

The more you make this Impossible 5 Ingredient Chocolate Cake from South Your Mouth, the more possible it becomes. This one will be a favorite of mine to make in the kitchen, I can tell already. I love simplicity.

For the gluten free cake lovers, these Gluten Free Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from 3 Boys and a Dog are amazing, if we do say so!

Mommy Kat and Kids has outdone herself on this awesome Easy Gluten Free Cake Mix Cookies Recipe. Seriously, go try it.

We&rsquore loving these Skinny Chocolate Coconut Cake Mix Cookie Bars from Simple Nourished Living. She&rsquos given a nice healthy spin on the chocolate cake we all love.

Life is too short to not enjoy this yummy White Chocolate Almond Joy Trifle from Blessed Beyond Crazy.

If you have a birthday party coming up for someone and need an awesome construction cake, Finding Zest has created this Easy Construction Birthday Cake. She took chocolate cake mix to the next level.

Have a can of Coke in your fridge? Create a new type of chocolate cake by making this Coca Cola Cupcake Recipe from 3 Boys and a Dog (that&rsquos us)!

About Kelli Miller

My husband (Ricky) of 20 years, our three wild and wonderfully different boys, five totally spoiled little dogs, a plethora of wild cats, and I live at Miller Manor! It is a 100 year old Colonial Style Farmhouse that is surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland, in a small town on the coast of Southern Alabama.

Expert Tips & FAQs

  • Do not remove the cream centers from the cookies. Use regular Oreos, not Double Stuff. 36 cookies = 3 cups of crumbs.
  • Use 2 boxes of instant pudding, do not use Cook n Serve.
  • For a fancier presentation, substitute shaved chocolate for the chocolate chips. Use a vegetable peeler to shave a bar of bittersweet chocolate, creating short or long ribbons to sprinkle on top. There’s less sugar in a bittersweet bar, it simply shaves better creating prettier chocolate shavings.
  • If you have extra time, I highly recommend popping the dessert into the freezer after each step. It makes it easier to spread each layer.
  • If you prefer, you can use an equal amount of homemade whipped topping instead of Cool Whip. To substitute whisk 3 cups of heavy whipping cream until medium peaks form.
  • You can make this dessert up to 3 days ahead, keep refrigerated.

If you love chocolate then this is the layered dessert for you. It’s full of creamy, dreamy flavors and textures that make your taste buds happy. Be sure to print extra copies, because everyone will want the recipe!


As much as I’m ready to get out the pumpkins and apples, hoodies and boots, summer isn’t quite over. Schools just went back this week and kids are going to need breakfast. Make these really simple baked donuts quickly during the week or as a weekend treat to win points with your kids or just make yourself happy!

For this baked donut recipe you will need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (buttermilk hack below if you don’t have any on hand!)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2.5 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • Sprinkles!

Kitchen Tools You May Find Useful:

Kitchen Tips

  • If you don’t have buttermilk, which I often don’t, you can easily make some with this hack – to a measuring cup, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar then finish filling to 1 cup with milk. Let stand for 5-10 minutes to let milk curdle. Voila – buttermilk.
  • Grocery stores also carry powdered buttermilk that you reconstitute by adding water!

How to Make Baked Cake Donuts

Voila! Bake shop chocolate donuts! Other topping ideas include maple glaze, powdered sugar, and cinnamon sugar! You can also use regular granulated sugar for that delicious sugar coated donut taste!

Enjoy your homemade baked cake donuts. Once you make them the first time, you’ll be making them over and over again!

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6 Things You’d Never Think to Make on a Salt Plate

When it comes to preparing perfectly seasoned food, a Himalayan Salt Plate can be your kitchen’s secret weapon. These salt blocks—slabs made of naturally pink salt deposits found in the Himalayas—are often a popular way of grilling meat and seafood, from sirloin steak to shrimp skewers. But did you know that salt planks are also great for serving beef tartare, or baking chocolate chip cookies? Read on for six recipes you might never think to make on a salt plate.

A salt block is often used for grilling, but a lesser-known fact is that it can also be placed in the refrigerator for chilled food preparations such as tartare. For this beef tartare recipe, the water released from the beef naturally pulls the salt out of the plate.

The Japanese specialty known as teppanyaki typically requires an iron plate for grilling. Instead, let a salt plate work double duty as both seasoning and grilling vehicle.

Aside from not using peak season ingredients, the biggest mistake people make when it comes to preparing Caprese salads is not seasoning them sufficiently, but a salt block takes care of that problem for you. Serve the tomato salad as a finger food using toothpicks as skewers.

What’s even better than chocolate chip cookies? Salted chocolate chip cookies. Follow in chef Jason French’s footsteps using our recipe for The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies , and baking them in the oven on a salt plate. (Pro tip: Be sure to pre-heat your salt block before putting your cookies in the oven.)

For even more salt plate recipes, check out The Salt Plate Cookbook , by the cooks of the Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen.


Draniki is a Belarusian-style potato pancake stuffed with chicken. I originally developed this for The Inherited Plate recipe blog.

  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup (2 1/2 to 4 oz./75 to 125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 lb. (250 g) ground chicken
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Sunflower oil, as needed
  • For serving:
  • Applesauce or preserves
  • Russian sour cream
  • Sliced fresh chives

Cut the potatoes and onion into chunks and grind through the smallest holes of a meat grinder into a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, lightly beat 4 of the eggs and add to the potato mixture along with 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g) of the flour. Mix gently until blended.

If the mixture appears to have too much liquid, drain slightly until it resembles a lumpy, thick batter. As the mixture sits, the salt may extract more liquid from the potatoes, so add more flour as needed to keep that thick, lumpy texture.

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, garlic, parsley and remaining egg. Season well with salt and pepper and mix well.

Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line a second baking sheet with paper towels.

In a nonstick fry pan, pour in enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan for a shallow fry. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is hot and appears thinner.

Add 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture to the pan. Reduce the heat slightly if needed to prevent burning. Gently bring any runaway bits of potato back to the pancake with a spoon or spatula.

Make a small divot or nest in the center of the pancake, making sure not to break through the batter. Add a spoonful of the chicken mixture and press down gently with your fingers. Add some additional batter over the chicken just to coat. Cook until the pancake is fluffy and dark golden brown, then gently flip over and cook the second side until golden, gathering up the bits as you did on the first side.

Transfer the pancake to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue cooking pancakes with the remaining batter. You can use up any additional batter or chicken to fry up little katleti, or chicken patties, or vegetarian potato pancakes.

Bake the pancakes for 8 to 10 minutes, then transfer them to the paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain.

Serve with applesauce or preserves, sour cream and chives. Makes 8 to 10 draniki.

Harvest Monday May 24, 2021

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. The harvests this time of year are still limited to salad greens and asparagus, but at least we have plenty of both of them. We’ve harvested seven pounds of asparagus so far, which is plenty to keep the two of us happy. It’s my wife’s turn to cook (we take two week rotations) and she made Asparagus Mimosa yesterday for our lunch using some of the haul. Steamed asparagus topped with grated hard boiled egg, capers and olive oil makes for a filling but light seasonal lunch.

The spring planting of greenhouse lettuce is winding down, and hopefully the ones I have planted in a bed outside will join the harvests next. I do like the oakleaf types, and Panisse is one of my favorite green varieties with leaves that have a buttery texture and mild flavor. I also made a cutting of red and green Salanova oakleaf last week.

Salanova red and green oakleaf lettuce

One newcomer to our salad plates was a red butterhead called Teodore. It did well here this spring, and I will try it again this fall and winter.

Salads are on the menu frequently these days, and one creation we enjoyed last week was topped with fresh fruit and candied pecans while another was a Cheeseburger salad with ground beef and cheese for protein. I made a dressing for that one from buttermilk, pickle relish and homemade ketchup.

I’ve been busy lately working in the vegetables garden getting things planted and mulched. I got tomatoes and squashes planted last week, and hope to get peppers and eggplant in the ground soon. The weather has turned hot and dry, and I have been working before breakfast to try and beat the heat. After I’m done outside, I sometimes enjoy a frozen fruit smoothie and a glass of green tea for my late breakfast on the screened porch.

fruit smoothie on the porch

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!

Dish Spotlight: Vigorón in Nicaragua

It was a sunny day, and the breeze off Lake Nicaragua floated past Granada’s colorful colonial houses. We were on the hunt for a specific dish, one whose name we’d heard murmured by Nicas everywhere: vigorón, Nicaragua’s favorite street food, which is said to have been invented here in Granada, the oldest colonial city in Central America. Where better to try a dish that pays homage to the country’s rural roots than in the shadow of centuries-old Spanish cathedrals? The more we asked, though, the more fingers pointed down the coast—a leisurely lakeside walk just outside the center of town. Colorful buggies and the clopping of horse hooves reminded us that there was a faster way to arrive at “the vigorón ladies,” but the breeze was so pleasant, and with each inquiry we learned something new about the dish.

“It’s best in the morning—it’ll keep you satisfied!” an old man claimed, while another informed us it was best eaten in the madrugada, after the bars had closed. “Que rico!” exclaimed one woman approvingly the next inquired if we were sensitive to the local water, fanning the flicker of caution that’s always a part of sampling street food. We weren’t too concerned, though, and soon enough, no more questions were needed.

We didn’t know many details of what we were seeking—we’d heard just that it was a meal in a dish, typically served atop banana leaves—but one look at the happy crowd before us told us we’d arrived at the right place. In the center was a robust elderly woman calling, “Vigorón, vigoróooooon!” She looked us in the eye and asked for the only input needed: Single meat or double?

With one hand and a leaf working to keep the sun and insects at bay, she began building our meal on a plate. First on top of the banana leaves was a generous serving of pale yellow yuca stalks, softened and seasoned for more than 30 minutes in salted boiling water. Then came a heap of sweet, tangy cabbage slaw studded with shaved vegetables and pickled starfruit, awash in its own brine. The third and final topping? Chicharrones, large golden strips of fried pork skin dripping with fat, still crackling from the hot oil. Much like bacon, the edges fry up super-crispy with hundreds of golden bubbles, while the meat and creamy fat inside stays tender, a wonderful textural contrast.

Taken together, the acidity of the cabbage salad cuts through the pork’s grease, and the yuca soaks up all the juices that pool in the bowl, one final treat just when you think you’re finished. We’d gone with double meat, so we also received a kebab of grilled, marinated pork, spice-rubbed red and surprisingly tender—all for less than three dollars a pop.

Leaf-covered bowl in hand, I felt like we’d found the prize at the end of a scavenger hunt—one designed by locals so that only the most inquisitive travelers could savor it. The layers of flavor piled into the bowl were Nicaragua’s most traditional, far heartier than any we’d tasted in a restaurant here. And for once, we were the only foreigners stopping in for a bite. We might have traded white tablecloths and silverware for that park bench and plastic fork, but there was no doubt about it: We had found the best “fast food” in Granada.