Why I Cook, with Julie Tran Deily

Florida food blogger Julie Tran Deily might have a little kitchen, but her original recipes boast big flavor. Find out why she cooks and get her Fried Banana Milkshakes recipe.

Julie Tran Deily, a veteran food blogger, has been sharing her dishes online for more than a decade. Equipped with the knowledge from her previous career as a software engineer, an acute sense of taste (she’s a confirmed supertaster!) and her mighty DSLR camera, she’s grown her website, thelittlekitchen.net, into a collection of nearly 400 craveworthy recipes.

Taste of Home: Where are you from, and who or what inspired you to get started in the kitchen?

Julie Tran Deily: Both my parents are Vietnam War refugees, so my family is of Vietnamese descent. I was born in Southern California, but I grew up in Florida.

There are two people who inspired me to get in the kitchen, actually. I cooked with my mom when I was a kid, and I feel like everyone says that, but I watched her cook a lot. She would make Vietnamese pho and egg rolls. When I was a kid, we didn’t eat American food at home; we ate Vietnamese food.

And later, my older sister started teaching herself how to cook and would cook for us when my mom was at work. I remember watching her make French toast and crepes.

dipped matcha cookiescourtesy Julie Tran Deily

TOH: A lot of readers can relate to having a little kitchen. How do you organize your space?

JTD: Store stuff that you don’t use every day in different places in your house. I have a tub in a closet that has all of my serving ware for parties and things that I don’t use often. I really try to use the space efficiently. Something doesn’t take up space on my counter unless I use it every day.

(Check out these kitchen organizational tools under $10!)

TOH: We’re in love with your rescue dogs, Angel and Clone. What special treats do you whip up just for them?

JTD: I’ve made peanut butter treats for them, I’ve done beef bouillon treats for them—I’ve made all different kinds of treats. I make chicken fries in the pressure cooker and beef stew with potatoes, too, so it’s not just treats I make for them, either. I swear we’re spoiling them, but Angel did have cancer this year, so it’s OK that we’re spoiling her.

(Psst! You pooch will loves these homemade dog treats.)

TOH: What ingredients do you always have on hand?

JTD: Garlic is my No. 1. I have a memory of my mom that’s seared in my brain of her smashing garlic with the side of her knife, then peeling and cutting it. I can’t even buy a garlic press because I have to do it all by hand. Garlic is good with everything, and it’s the cheapest thing on my grocery list.

(Discover the scientific reason why minced garlic tastes best.)

TOH: Do you and your husband, Curtis, have a dish you like to cook together?

JTD: We always loved having cheesesteaks at restaurants, and we  challenged ourselves to make really good cheesesteaks at home. We worked on the recipe for years.

One day, one of my co-workers who grew up in south Jersey, which is very close to Philly, goes, “You know, Philly cheesesteaks—those restaurants use ribeye steaks.” So we went and started experimenting using ribeyes, and it makes the best cheesesteaks.

Then my husband had this idea: “Why don’t we wrap it in foil and drop it in the oven?” Whenever you saw the sandwiches on TV, they always had them wrapped up, so that’s what we did. It’s so good—it’s one of our favorites.

(Try our tasty Pat’s King of Steaks Philly Cheesesteak recipe.)

TOH: What’s your favorite recipe you’ve created?

ham fried ricecourtesy Julie Tran Deily

JTD: My favorite recipe is my Ham Fried Rice. Because I love greasy fried rice—takeout fried rice, for example—I wanted to make something indulgent that tasted just like it. I figured it out—it’s butter. So, before I add in the egg and green onions, I stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. I know that’s probably not authentic at all, but it’s so good.

(Cook up these Chinese takeout fake-out recipes.)

TOH: What advice would you give to an aspiring food blogger?

JTD: My advice is to just start it. People always have an idea, then they sit on it. So just start it. You’re going to learn as you go, and that’s OK. My only regret is not starting my blog when I first wanted to, which was about six or seven months before I actually did.

TOH: Tell us the “why” of why you cook.

JTD: Someone once told me her kids always hated her cooking, then she made one of my recipes, and her kids loved it. And she was like, “You made me the hero!” So, I like sharing food with people and sharing recipes but also helping people learn how to cook. It’s so exhilarating, and it’s so fun.

Try One of Julie’s Favorite Recipes!

fried banana milkshakecourtesy Julie Tran Deily

Fried Banana Milkshakes

In a skillet, melt 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter over medium heat. Heat until golden brown, 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 2 sliced ripe medium bananas and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar; cook and stir until bananas are tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely. Using a slotted spoon, place bananas in a blender. Reserve butter mixture. And 1/2 cup milk and 4 scoops vanilla ice cream to blender; pulse until mixed. Pour into glasses; drizzle with reserved butter mixture. Makes 2 servings.

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.
Laurie Dixon
Having a passion for writing her whole life, Laurie joined the Taste of Home team to bring together her two favorite things—creative writing and food. She spends most of her time playing with her dog, drafting up short stories and, of course, trying out new recipes.