Since I had discovered Mary Jane from MJ’s Kitchen, I have been avidly following and reading about her life in her New Mexican kitchen. MJ’s blog is a treasure cove for homemade, healthy and from scratch recipes! Seriously you can find all kinds of recipes on her page, from Black Bean Corn Quesadillas to a flavorful Orange Tarragon Chicken breast Recipe, you will be mesmerized by the different cuisine styles that she has mastered over the years. However, MJ is mainly an expert in southern and southwestern cuisine, so therefore you will recognize some classic gems in her published recipe collection.
MJ grew up in Louisiana, married her high school sweetheart in the 70s and soon enough the two love birds moved on and found their way to New Mexico, the land of enchantment. Both, MJ and her husband Bobby, fell in love with the beauty of the land, the people, the weather and of course the food. She confessed that mostly the green and red chile were to blame, they are just irresistible and completely addictive. Who can blame them?
Before MJ inaugurated her blog, she had been working for over 25 years in a community college as an instructor in a variety of technology programs and in 1995 she started an instructional design business and further MJ has been working on a couple of grants developing educational materials for micro and nanotechnology for the past 8 years. Yes, MJ is a super tech geek lady my friends and this woman can even cook like a goddess!
Mary Jane has been cooking for 30 years, 5 days a week from scratch recipes and you know what, she has been cooking with her own home grown produce for many years. Early on she earned herself the title peach lady. The reason for that is because MJ and her husband owned a whole orchard of fruit trees, including peach, apple, apricot and plum. The trees had a gorgeous climate and life and produced massive amounts of fruits. Of course the first thing one does in this case is to share the bounty with neighbors and friends.
When I asked if her family had influenced her cooking, she explained that she wasn’t so sure. Of course she enjoys food that was influenced by both cultures of Louisiana – fried foods, grits, and biscuits and gravy from the north and Cajun and creole dishes from the south, yet the moment she moved to New Mexico she found the cuisine that she would love forever. What’s MJ’s food style?
I strive to use fresh, seasonal ingredients in my dishes and every week I make at least two vegetarian meals. I call it healthy comfort food!
Over the many years food trends have been introduced and the same had been forgotten quickly or they are still cherished by us foodies. MJ personally thinks that her food habits barely changed in the past 50+ years. She grew up with home grown organic produce and she explains that processed foods have never been part of her diet. However, we do know that processed foods had become a major part of the American diet in time but as MJ explains, she thinks that the people’s food habits are changing and more and more people are moving back to eating whole foods and fresh vegetables as opposed to prepared foods.
Mj’s husband actually talked her into starting a food blog (thank you Bobby!). Before MJ’s kitchen was born, she had been toying around with the idea of a cookbook but her husband, a professional photographer, convinced her to publish her best recipes from her 30 year long food discovery quest and so to write a Food Blog instead.
In addition to sharing my recipes and hopefully helping people learn that cooking is fun and not a chore, it has also allowed me to share some of my family stories and many years of cooking and living. I really believe I am having more fun with the food blog that I could have with writing a cookbook. Of course, it wasn’t after I got started that I realized that I’m the old lady of food bloggers, but that’s o.k., it has been fun!
A food blogger learns one lesson early on, to measure everything that you throw into your dish. Seasoned cooks normally don’t measure every ingredient detailed but when you want others to be able to cook the food you love, then of course measuring exact spoonfuls turns into a requirement and that MJ had to learn for herself as well.
Blog readers might often underestimate the work involved in creating a delicious recipe post, in fact it’s a whole lots of work for a food blogger to develop the recipe, cook it, take the snaps, write and edit the post. I for example sit for hours writing and fixing a post and MJ puts about as much time into her passion for her food blog. MJ takes about 2 to 4 hours to take the pictures and do the post-production. Writing and creating the post usually takes her about an hour or two, depending on the story or the complexity of the recipe. Then of course she will proofread and re-edit it at least 3 times over the next couple of days so to catch mistakes or at times, do a complete rewrite. So that’s a total of about 6 to 8 hours per post! The biggest challenge in all for MJ is the food photography, not the technical aspect but rather the food styling.
Trying to shoot anything bigger than a plate and having a lot of props is just too stressful mentally for me. Props? You mean a fork and a napkin, right? 😉
Her perfect kitchen needs to be welcoming with lots of workspace, it needs to have a quality cooktop, lots of storage and color. “Welcoming” because MJ loves hanging out in the kitchen with friends and family. What are Mj’s favorite tools in her kitchen that survived time? Immersion blender, good knives, bamboo cutting boards, rubber spatulas,a good two burner griddle, quality pots and skillets and her old pressure cooker are her most important kitchen gadgets (and definitely mine as well, just that I don’t own an old pressure cooker!)
MJ’s mother was always making potato salad because potatoes were plentiful and potato salad was easy to make for a family of 7. The recipe below uses many of the same ingredients, but the process of cooking the potatoes and the dressing are different. So that is why Mj called her luscious gorgeous salad her “not my mama’s Potato Salad”. My little Austrian heart skipped a beat when I saw the recipe ingredients and the tempting picture. Mayo, Dill, Tarragon, Celery, pickle…. this is a perfect summer time Barbeque salad and in my case my soon to be Indian Monsoon salad.
- 1 pound of mixed potatoes (sweet potato, russet, red, purple) – scrubbed and cut into ½ inch (1.25 cm) pieces
- 2 Tbsp. oil (chile infused if you have it)
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup onion, diced
- 1 large celery stalk, diced
- 3 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
- 2 hardboiled eggs (separate after cooking. Use the cooked yokes in the dressing.)
- ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp. chile powder (Ancho, sweet paprika or New Mexico red)
- ½ tsp. dried tarragon, crumbled
- ½ tsp. dried dill weed
- Fresh parsley (add before serving)
- 2 cooked egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs
- 1 tsp. Dijon
- 2 heaping Tbsp. mayonnaise
- Juice from ½ lemon
- MJ usually roasts the potatoes on the stovetop, but you can also roast them in the oven.
- Add 1 Tbsp. oil to large skillet over medium low heat.
- When hot, add half of the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
- Spread the potatoes out into one layer. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
- Flip the potatoes over, spread into one layer, cover and cook 5 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium, flip potatoes again, cover and cook another 5 minutes.
- Check one of the larger pieces to see if they are done.
- Cook for another 2 to 5 minutes, uncovered, until done nicely toasted.
- Transfer to mixing bowl and repeat with the other half of the potatoes.
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Place the cut potatoes in a large oven dish. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. oil and salt and pepper. Mix well to coat the pieces.
- Roast in oven about 35 to 40 minutes until tender and brown.
- Mash the yolks with a fork.
- Mix in the other ingredients and whisk until smooth.
- Put all ingredients including the dressing in a large bowl and combine well.
- Taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.
- Right before serving, stir in the parsley.
MJ also suggests for newbie cooks to try out her Red Chile Enchilada recipe. With the red chile sauce around, you can have restaurant style, delicious enchiladas in less than 30 minutes. Of course Mary Jane always encourage one to make the red chile sauce from scratch, especially if they have access to New Mexico dried red chile pods. Also my MJs Kitchen insider tip is her no fail Buttermilk Cornbread recipe. Check it out and you ll know what I mean. 😉