What is this? Who are you?
Optional Kitchen is a home cooking blog written by me, Mike Bierschenk. I’m always seeking out new flavors, which you’ll see reflected in the recipes I post. A few touchstones keep coming up, though: I’m from Texas and can’t get enough of chiles and cilantro. I spent some time in Louisiana, and have a deep love of gumbo and jambalayas. I have a bit of a rice obsession. I think there’s little better than fresh, in-season vegetables, but I also have a great respect for casseroles and other dishes I lovingly call ‘church basement food’. I’m a happy omnivore, but I cook rather a lot of vegetarian fare.
I mostly post new recipes on Thursdays. When life happens, I sometimes post on Friday, and when a whole lot of life happens, sometimes it just doesn’t happen that week. Sorry!
What’s the deal with this ‘optional’ kitchen? Do I not need a kitchen?
Well… strictly speaking, I guess you don’t. Personally, I’m a collector of kitchen gadgetry, and I’m lucky enough to have a fairly large amount of storage space, so I’m pretty invested in kitchens as such. But by the same token, I’m well-known in my circle of friends for making do with whatever’s around; I’ve made dinner for twelve with little more than a huge saucier and a very sad paring knife, so as long as you have a way to apply heat to some kind of cooking vessel, you’ll be fine.
And really that general spirit — “it’ll be fine” — is what I try to convey throughout this blog. I finally started Optional Kitchen after being badgered by friends for years (literally: years) to write down what I cook. It was a long haul, though, because like many home cooks I cook by the seat of my pants: when I’m not doing recipe development, I just throw in a pinch of something here, a dash of something there. And so for the blog, while I always try to make the recipes foolproof as written, I also don’t want to lose that sense of spontaneity and freedom. Most recipes have some Options after the Directions, where I try to anticipate the sorts of “Can I…” questions that inevitably come up in recipe writing. [Spoiler: the answer is usually ‘yes’, within the bounds of physics. You might end up with a very different dish, but that’s not such a bad thing, really.]
So, your life is food, basically.
Hardly. I spend a lot more timing obsessing over food than most people, but it gets squeezed in around a lot of other things. Beyond cooking, I’m a poet, a choral performer and sometimes actor, a wide and varied reader, a bricoleur of trivia, and an unapologetic consumer of primetime TV melodrama. I live in Columbus, Ohio, with my husband and our two neurotic cats, and I work in program coordination and educational technology at the university level.