Meagan Micozzi of Scarletta Bakes on the Evolution of Southwest Cuisine

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This week, we're chatting with Meagan Micozzi. You might be more familiar with her blogging pseudonym, Scarletta Bakes. The Scottsdale-based food blogger has been sharing her culinary adventures online for several years and just released her first cookbook, The New Southwest, which she describes as a primer on modern southwestern cuisine with an Americana twist. On Monday, we found out how she got started in the blogosphere, and today we're back to find out how she avoids burning out and what else she's got in the works.

See also: Meagan Micozzi's Perfect Food Day Though her blog didn't exactly take off over night, it didn't take long for Micozzi to realize that though there were thousands of other food blogs, none (or next to none) we're talking about the evolution of Southwest cooking. And as she fell deeper and deeper in love with the cuisine and culture of her new desert home, she gained more and more followers who began to look at her as a self-taught expert on the topic.

In addition to the bright beautiful photography and approachable recipes, Micozzi's blog continues to draw readers, old and new, with its casual tone and the fact that she consciously strives to "keep things fun."

"The truth is that I just really love geeking out and talking about southwestern food," she says. "I'm really passionate about that subject matter -- but I also really believe in having fun."

And after hundreds of posts and one cookbook, Micozzi says she's nowhere near done. Blogging, particularly when you're talking about such a focused subject, can easily lead to burn out she says.

"But the good news is, I don't see that anywhere on my horizon."

In part that's because blogging was never about gaining fans or fame or even a book deal for Micozzi. It was, and always will be, about perpetuating the conversation about the food of the Southwest. It's a cuisine that she says is still evolving and deeply misunderstood by many.

As part of her mission to continue pushing the limits of southwestern food, Micozzi says one of her focuses is finding acceptable substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients. She knows that for her readers on the East Coast, finding ingredients isn't as easy as heading to Pro's Ranch Market (one of her favorite places for grocery shopping). So she invests a lot of time in finding and testing suitable replacements that won't sacrifice flavor, convenience, or authenticity.

And when it comes to spreading her knowledge about this stuff, she's not going to limit herself to any single medium.

"I would love to write another cookbook," Micozzi says. "But there are a lot of other ways to keep the dialogue going."

For example, you can find Micozzi doing cooking demonstrations and book-signing around Arizona and the Southwest. You can check out Scarletta Bakes and her Facebook page for updates on events and other appearances. Her book, The New Southwest, is available now at bookstores including Changing Hands in Tempe.

One thing you miss most about the East Coast:

  • From Washington, D.C.: cherry blossom season.
  • From New York: the pizza.
  • From New England: the seafood.

Your ideal comfort food (and a recipe for it if you have one): Frito Pie. Recipe below, excerpted from The New Southwest.

Three local places you like to go for groceries/supplies:

  • Pro's Ranch Market.
  • Farmers markets, specifically Phoenix Public and Prescott's Farmers' Market.
  • For fresh-picked: Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek.

One local ingredient you love the most: It's a tie (I can't pick just one!):

  • Hatch chiles (local in a larger sense).
  • Arizona peaches.
  • Arizona honey.

The most surprising thing that's happened since you started your blog: How much interest there is in southwestern food. I knew I loved it and I knew why, but I can't tell you how many times people have stumbled across my blog or the cookbook and will write to tell me how excited they are to find a resource for recipes highlighting the flavors of the southwest. It's surprising, but it's the best kind of surprise.

What's the hardest part about writing a book?: Focusing on the same collection of recipes, paragraphs, and pages for months and months at a time. There were days when I read and re-read the same sentences so many times that I felt like my eyes were going to cross. Or I tested a recipe for the 10th time and just couldn't bring myself to eat another bite. The repetition is tough, but it's all worth it in the end.

Your best advice for aspiring food bloggers: 1. Pick a topic and force yourself to focus. There are so many food blogs out there that focus on a very specific subject will help your blog to stand out.

2. Pay attention to your photography. At the end of the day, the visual counts. It just does. And taking the time to style and create mouthwatering visuals will win you an appreciative audience.

3. Ask questions! I have been lucky to make friends with a number of successful food bloggers who have been doing the work for much longer than I have; mentors from whom you can get information about SEO, photography, social media, whatever, are absolutely invaluable.

What's next: 1. A quick nap. 2. A couple of enormous and delicious holiday spreads. 3. Lots more blogging and, hopefully, even more opportunities and platforms from which I can continue talking about southwestern cuisine! Stay tuned!

Fancy Pants Frito Pie

Ah, Frito Pie ... so kitschy ... so guilt-inducing ... so completely and totally irresistible. Frito Pie represents classic Americana casserole art at its best: crunchy corn chips, hearty chili, and toppings a go-go, each serving personalized to suit each person at the table; meals just don't get any better than that. I've reinvented traditional Lone Star Frito Pie here, pressing the crushed corn chips into a fluted tart form to create an elegant shell. Finish your 'pie' with some of the best chili around and a healthy dose of melted cheese, and no one will think twice about digging in to this comely casserole.

For the crust: 5 cups corn chips ¼ cup all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 2 large eggs

For the chili: 2 pounds ground beef 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in their juices 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon onion powder 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 tablespoon ground ancho chile 1½ teaspoons ground white pepper 1 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons masa harina 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained 1½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for serving (optional) sour cream for serving (optional) pickled jalapeños for serving (optional) chopped fresh tomatoes for serving (optional)

special equipment: You will need a 10-inch nonstick fluted tart pan with a removable bottom to form the crust for this pie.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare the crust, place the corn chips in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process to a coarse meal. Remove to a large bowl and whisk in the flour. Stir in the melted butter and eggs. Press the corn chip mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch nonstick fluted tart pan, working to create as even a crust as possible. Bake for 30 minutes. (Because you are not working with a traditional pastry dough here, there is no need to blind bake this crust.) Remove the baked crust from the oven and set aside to cool and set.

Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay

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