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Photos courtesy of Angelina Papanikolaou
Photos courtesy of Angelina Papanikolaou
Astoria resident Angelina Papanikolaou is behind the food blog Baked Ambrosia.

Family — and SEO skills — are the secret ingredients to the success of Angelina Papanikolaou, whose nearly two-year-old food blog, Baked Ambrosia, garners about 60,000 visitors a month.

Astoria resident Papanikolaou says she grew up around food, learning to cook by watching her Greek and Cypriot family members.

“My family was literally always in the kitchen,” Papanikolaou said. “My family revolves around food.”

Angelina Papanikolaou 3

The ingredients used in her family’s Greek cooking, such as olive oil, lemon and oregano, and potent spices used in Cypriot dishes — think cumin, cilantro and coriander — appear in Papanikolaou’s recipes on her blog.

Healthy Cypriot Keftedes with Bulgur

The name, “Baked Ambrosia,” is a nod to Papanikolaou’s Greek heritage and her training as a baker. “Ambrosia” means food of the gods in Greek. Her tagline is “healthy recipes, nostalgic comfort food, and decadent desserts,” and Papanikolaou posts recipes inspired by her heritage.

Breakfast Egg and Goat Cheese Spelt Tarts 3

Readers will find instructions, for example, for making Lebanese mahalepi (milk pudding) with orange blossom syrup and figs; kolokotes (Cypriot pumpkin pies); and traditional hummus five ways. Other recipes are driven by health trends, such as vegan s’mores, chia pudding parfait, fall harvest tabouli power bowls and tropical steel-cut oats with date “caramel” sauce.

Smores Chia Pudding Parfait

This modest baker and home cook made her foray into the blogging sphere by learning how to code her WordPress site, use SEO, put ads on her website and use Photoshop and Lightroom — all of which she learned by watching videos on YouTube and reading eBooks by other bloggers. She also taught herself to photograph her creations, setting up a makeshift studio with a lighting kit, various lenses and staging accessories.

Photo by Danielle Brody

Photo by Danielle Brody

Papanikolaou attended Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati and studied nutrition at Miami University in Ohio. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in nutrition at Hunter College.

On a Saturday afternoon, I came to her apartment, where she chatted with me while calmly placing the finishing touches on a colorfully garnished bowl of chili, a perfect-looking paleo pumpkin pie and a tray of mouthwatering chocolate chip cookies, half with a sea salt topping. I was her willing taste-tester; her usual guinea pigs are her sister, who is also her roommate, and her boyfriend.

Thanksgiving Photos

While Papanikolaou has built her brand online, her cooking method is a little more low-tech: she develops her recipes in a simple, food-stained notebook filled with pages of ingredients and measurements. As she cooks, she’ll edit the recipe on paper.

Pumpkin Pie

Recipes come from foods she grew up with, trends and seasonal or holiday themes, such as her adorable Halloween Rice Krispies treats. She finds that paleo, vegan and gluten-free posts garner the most interest. Her posts about healthy, gluten-free seed and nut bread, for example, is neck and neck for most popular blog post with her paleo and gluten-free vegan blackberry oat crumb bars, according to Google Analytics.

Blackberry Oat Crumb Bars

A baker at heart, she believes in having an indulgent dessert every so often. The pumpkin pie she made for us had no sugar but was instead made with coconut oil, maple syrup, dates, pumpkin and a pecan crust.

Photo by Danielle Brody

Photo by Danielle Brody

Papanikolaou also looks to magazines, other food bloggers and Instagram for inspiration. Some of her favorite personalities are food blogger Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats and Greek chef Akis Petretzikis. She said when Petretzikis followed her back on Instagram, she was so excited, she called her mom.

pecan pie

“He is only following 200 people,” she said.

Papanikolaou is a social media success in her own right. She has secured sponsorships with illy, Frank’s RedHot and SkinnyPop Popcorn, who send her food and ask that she create a recipe with the ingredient for a blog post. Recently she was invited to create recipes for a Brooklyn popup by feedfeed.

Roasted Beet Spinach and Goat Cheese Quiche

She said she doesn’t say yes to everything so she can remain authentic. “If it’s something I don’t eat, I’ll turn it down,” she said. For example, she won’t make a recipe with an ingredient that has corn syrup.

Raspberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Papanikolaou said she tries to keep recipes simple, because she understands cooking can be challenging, especially with limited space. She also includes tips she picks up while she’s making the dish.

Orange Olive Oil Cookies

After meeting Papanikolaou and stalking her internet presence, I had to experiment with one of her recipes. I made her chocolate tahini bars. They were much easier to make than I expected, delicious and complex in flavor and texture. In her post, she joked that she almost ate the whole pan, and I could have done the same. My only qualm was that almond flour was very expensive, but it is the key to making the recipe gluten free.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Papanikolaou’s goal is to continue to grow the site and turn her blog into a full-time job. A cookbook is also in the works. Plus, she developed a snack/energy bar and is collaborating with her sister, who is doing the marketing and graphic design, to bring it to the shelves.

Pumpkin Pie Layer Brownies

Pumpkin Muffins

Healthy Chicken Gyro Bowl

Healthier Spaghetti and Meatballs

Healthy Turkey Sweet Potato Chili

Blackberry Margarita

Chocolate Tahini Layer Cake

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