REXBURG, Idaho — Susan Palmer’s readers know her as the Girl in the Little Red Kitchen, a reference to her former New York apartment, with a tiny stove that couldn’t hold a full baking sheet.
Now a popular food blogger reaching a monthly audience of 30,000, Palmer vows she’ll soon share the story of potato production — from the field to the packing shed — and include more recipes featuring Idaho spuds.
She was among the 11 top food bloggers selected by the Idaho Potato Commission to take an all-expenses-paid trip to eastern Idaho from Sept. 30-Oct. 3, where they witnessed each step in the potato production process. A couple of top U.S. chefs and Los Angeles food stylist Denise Divaldo, who displays dishes for the camera, also attended.
“What I think blogging has done is help everyday people think about food and hopefully cook more of their own food and not be so dependent on eating out,” Divaldo said.
The IPC budgeted about $20,000 for the tour knowing the food bloggers reach large audiences of aspiring cooks who faithfully use the recommended ingredients and relish creative preparation suggestions.
“This is a way to multiply relatively inexpensively the harvest story, the love for potatoes, the chance for somebody to come home and make potatoes from scratch and share that with their family,” said Don Odiorne, IPC vice president for food service.
Palmer, who earns side income from blog advertising but works full time for a Broadway theater company, develops seasonal recipes using produce from farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture. This summer, her blog included a “potato week,” featuring original recipes such as salt-roasted fingerlings to utilize the 30 pounds of Idaho potatoes she won from a Food and Wine Conference competition featuring Instagram photos of IPC mascot Spuddy Buddy.
Palmer believes the recent trend toward gluten-free foods improves the potato’s stock for use in breads and side dishes. During potato week, she also emphasized the nutrition of potatoes.
“I said that everybody keeps looking at potatoes as being a starch, as being bad for you, but the fact is they’re full of nutrients,” Palmer said.
Todd Downs, a corporate chef from Fort Wayne, Ind., who offered potato cooking demonstrations for the group, sees a more decadent trend toward loaded fries, including a recent craze in Canada for poutine — fries buried under cheese curds and gravy.
San Francisco blogger Amy Sherman, who gets 60,000 page views per month but earns no income from her posts, is anxious to share a video with readers demonstrating the technique she learned on the trip for properly fluffing a baked potato. She explained a baked potato should be massaged and then fluffed by making a zig-zag pattern with a fork before smushing it from both ends.
“It absolutely blooms,” said Sherman, a full-time freelance food writer.
Sherman also plans to post spud trivia on her blog.
Stops during the potato tour included: the Idaho Potato Museum, James Hoff Farm, Wilcox Fresh and Potandon Produce. Participants also went on a hot air balloon ride over Victor, Idaho, and a sunset horseback ride at Linn Canyon Ranch in the Teton Valley.