More than 370,000 people follow Dallas blogger, recipe developer, and food stylist Alex Snodgrass’s Instagram account, the Defined Dish. While she offers plenty of recipes and accompanying pretty pictures, many of her most popular posts come and go as Instagram Stories—the popular mini-platform for photos and videos, with effects and layers, that Instagram launched in 2016.
“Before Stories, I was just sharing pictures of food, and I wasn’t the type of person that was going to have my husband shoot pictures of me surrounded by food,” says Snodgrass, who specializes in recipes that use clean ingredients but lean toward the heartier side. “But with Stories, it was easier to connect me with the recipes and tell the story of the food. My Instagram Stories are mini cooking shows, but they’re not pretty or perfect. My kids are yelling in the background. People relate to the imperfection of it.”
This month, the community Snodgrass built online helped propel her cookbook, The Defined Dish: Whole30 Endorsed, Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes, onto the New York Times best-seller list. The book features a foreword by Whole30 cofounder Melissa Urban, and many of the recipes are Whole30 and paleo diet compliant. On the latest episode of the National Podcast of Texas, Snodgrass outlines how her struggle with postpartum anxiety led to the the Defined Dish, the expectations that come with transitioning from casual blogger to full-time influencer, and the difficulties of designing an easy-to-replicate recipe.
Three takeaways from our conversation:
1. Despite her success, Snodgrass needs to remind herself not to be overly concerned with negative feedback in social media comment sections.
“I keep reminding myself that this is my first book. I’m totally an amateur. And that’s something that almost held me back. There’s so many people who want to start a blog, and they’re wanting to be perfect from the start. And the truth is that you have to just put yourself out there and start sharing what you want to share and figure out as you go what works for you. You have to find your voice along the way and how you like sharing the recipes that you like to share. I didn’t go to culinary school. And I don’t want the joy of cooking taken away from me because people tell me it’s not good enough. So I’ve definitely been intimidated. But it’s like Brené Brown and her teachings about the power of vulnerability—you have to put yourself out there, learn as you go, know there will be critics, and that you just have to just keep pushing through.”
2. Swapping healthier ingredients without sacrificing taste is the cornerstone of Snodgrass’s approach, but she says there are certain Texas-centric recipes that take more research and development than others.
“For the book, I was trying to re-create a healthier King Ranch casserole, a Texas staple. And whenever you’re trying clean recipes for the kind of dishes that we’re used to making with condensed soups in the South, the healthier swaps can make things really watery really easily. So instead of putting it in a whole casserole dish, I did it in little ramekins. This way each person gets their own mini portion, and it’s not a watery, soupy mess. But that took me more than a few attempts to get that right and make sure it worked for the average home cook.”
3. Since Snodgrass’s site and her cookbook are geared to at home cooks with varying levels of experience in the kitchen, she’s found that being specific in the recipe’s shopping list goes a long way to leveling the playing field.
“I like to pan-fry halibut and really get a sear on it. But I know most average home cooks are probably going to overcook or undercook it, and they’re going to be disappointed. And they’ve spent a lot of money on the fish. But there’s six-ounce filets and eight-ounce filets, and it just depends on what they bought. So how can I eliminate failure in the kitchen for the average home cook but still make it so no matter what level of cook you are you’re really happy with the end result and the flavor is there? In the Italian section of my book, I have a sheet-pan halibut with asparagus and a salsa verde—kind of like an Italian chimichurri—that goes over the top. And I know that if I specifically tell them to get six-ounce halibut filet and put on a sheet pan, it’s going to bake at 375 for this long, and you’re going to have success. And while that cooks, you’re going to make this concoction of a sauce that’s going to make you feel like you’re a rock star in the kitchen, even though it’s super simple. It’s psychology and science.”