Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Foodie’s Greatest Hits

As I work to get my blogging mojo back, I’m taking a look at the posts that have the greatest number of hits in the hope of answering a simple question: What are readers looking for, when they come to The Family Foodie? You might be surprised, as I was, to discover than some of my simplest recipes are the most popular. I guess that might be because many people don’t cook at all these days, which means that even the most basic things–those we make most often–are a learning opportunity.

Hands down, the most popular recipe on this blog (with nearly 500 re-pins on Pinterest) is gluten-free Buttermilk Bread.

003

It’s a bread machine recipe, which makes it pretty easy, and that might be part of its appeal. But I’m confident that a big part of the draw for this recipe is the fact that gluten-free bread is both very expensive and often, sadly, almost inedible. The thing I like most about this bread is that it’s soft and moist, not gritty and crumbly like so many gluten-free baked goods.  However, that means it doesn’t keep well; one or two days is the absolute maximum, even if it’s wrapped. But if you’re trying to follow a gluten-free diet (or know someone who is), this is a terrific staple item to add to your baking repertoire.

In second place–and this was a huge surprise to me–is Super Simple Butterscotch Sauce.

002

I can only assume that the words “super simple” are a big part of what tempts people to click through to this post. (Or perhaps butterscotch has a cult following that I’m just unaware of.)  It really is super simple–just five ingredients and about 10 minutes–and once you’re done, you can take credit for making something most people glob from a jar. The homemade version of this sauce tastes so much better than the store-bought variety that it’s almost ridiculous to call them by the same name. Best of all, you can customize the ratio of sweet to salty that gives butterscotch its distinctive flavor.

Rounding out the top three: Gluten-Free Blondies.

005

I’ll confess that I prefer Maple Cinnamon Blondies myself, but this was one of the first recipes I tried to adapt in gluten-free form when I stopped eating wheat a few years ago. That means it will always have a special place in my heart. On top of that, The Boy loves chocolate chip cookies, and baking a pan of blondies is much easier that shepherding batch after batch of cookies into and out of the oven.  He also loves the maple cinnamon version of this recipe, but I think chocolate chips will always be the key to his heart.

If you’re looking for a particular recipe, or inspiration for using a particular ingredient, leave me a note in the comments section and I’ll work on coming up with something just for you.  In the meantime, look forward to more gluten-free recipes–and, as the year rolls on and The Boy graduates from high school, meal ideas for couples who find themselves having quiet dinners on their own.

Share! It's the right thing to do.
Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rosemary Chicken and Red Potatoes

It’s been almost six months since my last post.  What’s been going on, you ask? A lot. And I had pretty much decided that I had too much life going on to add blogging to the mix.  But then, two things happened:

1.  Over Christmas break, The Boy said “I just realized that I haven’t heard you talk about your blog in awhile.” The fact that a teenage boy would even notice this said something about how much of a presence The Family Foodie has been in our lives. When I said I’d just been too busy to blog, The Boy gave me The Eye–that would be the same Eye that I give him when he’s making excuses–and said “If it’s important, you make time for it.”  Which is, of course, correct.

2.  On Christmas morning, I unwrapped this:

2014-12-25 09.42.40

That’s a custom-made cutting board, a gift from The Girl.  Suffice it to say that I didn’t need another sign to tell me that it was high time to get back to the blog.

And here we are.

One of the things I’m going to focus on, as I ease my way back into a blogging routine, are the simple recipes I gravitate toward when I’m making dinner during the busy weeks of the school year.  This is just one such recipe: Rosemary Chicken and Red Potatoes.

20150107_180232

What makes it simple? A small number of ingredients and an easy, hands-off preparation.  You could make it even easier by buying pre-cut boneless, skinless chicken breast chunks–they cost a little more, but they’re a convenience–and fingerling potatoes, which are small enough to roast whole.  (You may note that there are a few Dutch yellow potatoes mixed in with the reds in the photo above. That’s because I had a handful of yellow potatoes left and, at the last minute, decided to toss them in.) But even if you’re cutting up your own potatoes, it will take you all of twenty minutes to put this dinner together.

I kept this very basic last night: chicken, potatoes, oil, spices.  If you like, you can cut an onion into chunks and toss that in with the potatoes. The Boy is not a fan of onions, though, and since yesterday was his first day back to school, I decided to leave them out.  Even so, we wound up with a warm and comforting welcome back to the dinner table.

Print

Rosemary Chicken and Red Potatoes

Ingredients:

10-12 red potatoes, cut in halves or quarters
2 T. olive oil, divided use
2 tsp. dry rosemary, divided use
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with one tablespoon of the olive oil until coated. Sprinkle the potatoes with one teaspoon of the rosemary (crush it between your fingers as you sprinkle, to release the flavor), salt,and pepper; toss again to coat. Turn the potatoes into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to brown the potatoes evenly.

While the potatoes are roasting, toss the chicken breast chunks with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with the last teaspoon of rosemary (again, crushed between your fingers as you sprinkle), salt, and pepper. Toss again to coat.

After the potatoes have roasted for 45 minutes and browned around the edges, set the chicken pieces on top of them. Return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

 

 

Share! It's the right thing to do.
Monday, August 11, 2014

What Not to Say

Bubble Apron StringsLast August, preparing to send The Girl off to college for her first year, I found myself caught up in ridiculous conversations every time I bumped into someone who knows our family.  Everyone I encountered, it seemed, had the exact same things to say. None of those things were very helpful.  Many of them, in fact, were pretty hurtful.  And while I knew in my heart that no one meant to be anything other than supportive of me and the Foodie family, that didn’t change the fact that I often felt insulted for daring to have an honest response to the fact of my daughter’s departure.

So I thought I’d share some of the more common Things People Say at this moment, explain why I found those things unhelpful, and offer some alternatives.  If you have friends who are preparing to send a kid off to college, they’ll appreciate hearing anything other than:

 

It’s time to cut the apron strings!

First of all, although I do cook, I rarely wear an apron.   And I have the stains to prove it.

Second: the practice of tying a kid to one’s apron strings was a method of keeping small children close by while a mother was occupied with cooking, which was a time- and labor-intensive activity for many years.  Having small children underfoot didn’t make that process easier, I’m sure, which means a mother would simply not attach a child to herself in the first place if she believed that child was old enough to roam free.  A rebellious child, not a mother, would be the one taking the scissors to the strings.

So before you think about saying this to a mom (because, let’s face it, no one says this to a dad), remind yourself that it makes no sense and think again.

 

Aren’t you proud she’s going to college?

I assume that no one really believed my answer to this question would be “No, actually, I’m not proud at all.  I’m really pissed off.  How dare she leave home and get an education?  What does she think she’s doing, preparing for the future or something?”

The fact that I missed my daughter had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not I was pleased and proud that she had earned herself a terrific scholarship at an excellent university where she’s getting a top-notch education.  I was, and am, incredibly proud of her.  But if your best friend gets a terrific job offer in a different city, it’s possible to miss your friend terribly while wishing her well, right?  In the same respect, it’s possible for parents to miss seeing their child every day while still taking great pride in their accomplishments.

 

Eventually, you have to let them go.

Let’s be clear about something: the process of “letting go” begins when a child is born, when you have to trust that child to breathe with her own two lungs all night long and then wake up in the morning.  (Believe me when I say that it’s really hard to trust this will happen when you’re the post-partum first-time mother of a newborn.)  That process continues the first time you let your child climb a ladder and go down a slide by him or herself, and when you leave your child with a babysitter, a day care provider, a kindergarten teacher, etc., etc., etc.

By the time your kid is old enough to go to the movies with a group of friends, but without an adult chaperon—around the age of twelve or so—you have long since let go of the idea that you will be holding on to your child forever.  Their entire lives are devoted to becoming independent of you.  As a parent, your job is to stand there and watch it happen.  That’s a painful process, and it did not begin when my kid left home for college.  It began on the day she was born.

 

Everybody goes through this at some point.

This one is just not true.  I’m the only mother of my particular child.  She is my only daughter. She is my only oldest child.  I will go through sending my first child off to college exactly one time.  Other people from other families will be sending off their children as well, and I’m sure there are common elements in our experience—but they are not me, and I am not them.  Our families are different.  Our children are different.  I am the only mom who knows how it feels to lose this particular member of my home team.

Also: please keep in mind that some parents aren’t lucky enough to have their children long enough to send them off to college.  Some parents lose their kids too young.  Some kids run away from home before they graduate from high school.  Some kids simply don’t finish high school, for one reason or another.  Some parents encourage their kids to live at home while going to college, to save on the cost of university housing.  Everybody goes through this?  What an insensitive thing to say.

 

On the flip side, here are some things you might say to express your support of the parents and their college-bound kid:

 

Is s/he excited?

This is a great question because 1.) it allows the parent to focus on the departing kid, which is all the parent really wants to talk about, and 2.) it allows that parent to be honest—to talk about both the hopes and fears involved with making a big transition.  It’s perfectly okay to answer this questions by saying “Yes and no.”

 

This is such an exciting time—there are so many adventures ahead!

It is!  There are!  That’s what keeps this from being a total sobfest.

 

You’re starting a whole new chapter of your life.

We are. All of us.  And even though this beginning part is a little sad, we’re very excited to find out what’s next.

 

Share! It's the right thing to do.
Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cherry-Nectarine Cobbler

I’m not sure how it’s possible that this summer is nearly over.  The Girl heads back to her college campus this weekend, for RA training in advance of her residents’ gradual return.  The Boy has gone through Prep Day at his high school, which means he’s all set for his senior year.  And The Hubs and I have already been called back to our respective campuses for meetings; classes start in just few weeks.  All signs point to the fact that The Summer of Travel is coming to a close.

It’s enough to make a Foodie eat her feelings.

20140807_105337

It’s fortunate that I had both cherries and nectarines on hand when I found myself overcome by the urge to make something sweet and comforting.  I love fruit-based desserts–cobbler, crisp, crumble, pie. Whatever you have, I’ll eat it.  With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, thanks.  I love both cherries and nectarines on their own, but combining them leads to something very special, a sweet-tart taste sensation that’s perfect for the bittersweet end of summer.

20140807_094808

Start the cobbler-making process by tossing together fruit, sugar, and your choice of thickener.  I usually prefer tapioca to corn starch or flour–you can see the tapioca pearls in the photos above–because I think it gives the filling a less pasty texture.  As you can also see, I used two types of nectarines (white and yellow) because that’s what I had on hand.  Then I tossed in two cups of pitted cherries.  If you have peaches instead of nectarines, or more cherries and fewer nectarines, that’s fine.  Cobbler is a very forgiving dessert.  (Just be sure to peel your peaches before you cut them up–one of the reasons I prefer nectarines to peaches is that you can eat them skin and all.)  You’ll need about 5 cups of chopped fruit, in whatever combination you come up with.

The topping created by this recipe is a little more custardy than what you’ll find in most cobblers.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are many opinions about what a cobbler topping should be.  This is most definitely a Group 3 cobbler, but the cakey topping is very, very soft.  In fact, I think it’s closer to bread pudding than cake.  I really love that texture in this cobbler, as does the rest of the Foodie family, but if it’s not your cup of tea, there’s no law against combining these fruits with something a little more firm–for instance, the topping I use when I make Blackberry Cobbler.  I used a gluten-free flour blend (Namaste Foods’ Perfect Flour Blend) which includes xanthan gum, but regular AP wheat flour will work just as well.  If you use a gluten-free blend without xanthan gum, add half a teaspoon to the dry ingredients listed below.

Give this cobbler 10 or 15 minutes to cool once you take it out of the oven, because the fruit filling will be way too hot to eat anytime sooner–and it will melt the vanilla ice cream that is, as far as I’m concerned, a required part of the cobbler experience.

Print

Cherry-Nectarine Cobbler

Ingredients:

3 cups nectarines, sliced or chopped
2 cups cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
3 T. minute tapioca
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup gluten-free flour blend (or AP wheat flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 T. (half a stick) butter, in small pieces
1 egg, beaten

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch deep dish pie pan (or a 9-inch square pan) with non-stick spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, cherries, sugar, tapioca, and almond extract. Toss to coat the fruit with sugar and tapioca. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, so the tapioca has time to soften.

While the tapioca softens, measure the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl. Stir to combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter and toss to coat the pieces with flour. Then use a pastry cutter (or two sharp knives) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until the butter is in pea-size crumbs and the mixture looks sandy. Gently stir in the egg, just until the dry ingredients are moist.

Turn the fruit into the prepared baking dish. Use a spoon to distribute dollops of cake batter over the fruit. If you like, sprinkle the top of the batter with sugar, to create a crunchy surface as it bakes. It's always a good idea to set your baking dish on top of a cookie sheet, when you're making fruit-based desserts, to catch any drips of fruit filling that might make it over the edge and burn on the bottom of the oven.

Bake the cobbler for 50 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

 

Share! It's the right thing to do.
Sunday, July 6, 2014

Home Again, Home Again

20140618_151931

Well, I’m back from the first round of this summer’s travels–a trip to England, followed by a trip to Idaho (which is, trust me, almost as exotic a locale.)  It’s taken me awhile to readjust my internal clock and get to the point where I can sleep when I’m supposed to and stay awake when I want to,  but for the moment everything seems to be in balance.  Until the next round of travels, that is.

I spent the first three days of my visit to English in a small town called Grantham, about an hour north of London, exploring the mysteries of the old manor house pictured above.  Harlaxton Manor is the home of Harlaxton College, with which my university is a partner–that’s how I ended up making the trip.  If you click through that link, you’ll see some lovely photos of the manor.   I didn’t take as many foodie photos as I’d hoped to on this trip, mostly because all my meals happened within the context of meetings with host colleagues–so styling my food or whipping out my camera just never felt like the right thing to do.   I can, however, point you to some recipes for the delicious things I ate:

Poached Salmon

Sea Bass in Oyster Sauce

Summer Pudding

Lemon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

By far, my favorite item on that list was the lemon panna cotta, which was nicely tart without being too sour.  That’s a precarious balance to maintain, and it requires a lot of taste-testing while you’re making anything with lemons.

Once I got back to London, after the conference, I spent a day and a half sightseeing and exploring parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before.  That included a visit to the south bank of the Thames River, where I wandered through the Borough Market and enjoyed this for lunch:

Grilled Cheese London

This is reputedly the best toasted cheese sandwich in London, and I would not be surprised if it were found to be the best grilled cheese in the world.  I got it at the Kappacasein Dairy booth, where I waited patiently in line with half of the other people at the market.  The people at Kappacasein also sell a dish called Raclette, which involves scraping melted Ogleshield cheese right from the block over a plate of roasted potatoes, and if that line hadn’t been twice as long I might have tried it out–although this sandwich was, I have to say, unbelievably good.  I had no idea grilled cheese could be this tasty.  The sandwich includes a mixture of Montgomery cheddar, Ogleshield and Comte cheeses, along with five types of onions, all sandwiched between two slices of buttered sourdough bread.  (I should probably mention that I gave myself a break from strict adherence to my gluten-free diet while I was in London, but only when I saw something I really wanted to try.  Otherwise I tried to stay on the wagon, knowing I’d be sorry later if I didn’t.)

As if that weren’t enough gluteny gluttony, I also enjoyed the best muffin of my life in London. I have yet to find a recipe that’s anything like it, so I’ll have to come up with my own gluten-free version at some point.  Called an Orange and Lemon muffin, it featured candied orange peel and a sticky orange glaze on top, a moist and citrusy muffin below–and then, as if that weren’t enough, lemon curd in the middle.  I was very happy with my muffin purchase even before I made that discovery, but when I bit into a zingy bite of lemon curd, I was absolutely in heaven.

So, in a nutshell, that was London.  A few days later, The Hubs and I headed out for Boise, my hometown, where we spent some time with my mom–she’s recently moved into assisted living and put her home up for sale,which has been a difficult process. Cleaning out the house where she and my father lived for 45 years was a difficult project for my siblings, to say the least, but the house sold quickly once that was done.  Still, it was important to my mom that we pick the last of my dad’s raspberries before the new owners took possession of the house, so that’s what we did one morning.  We picked raspberries.  Lots and lots of raspberries.

Raspberries

We could have picked twice as many, but after a few hours of work, we figured we had all anyone was going to use or eat.  (As my dad liked to say, you have to leave some for the birds.)  I was sad to see that his rhubarb had finished for the season, and sadder still to see that the garden was so overrun with weeds.  The new owners are very excited about having a large garden space, though, as well as a big yard for their young daughters to play in, and it makes my mom happy to know they’ll take good care of the house we called our home for so many years.

No trip to Boise is complete without a visit to my favorite drive-in restaurant, Fanci Freez.  It’s just a few blocks from my old high school, and it’s one of my favorite places to feel like a kid again–the crazy selection of shake and sundae flavors still makes me feel a little giddy, even though I have my favorites and rarely deviate from them.  The Hubs and I met a friend there (oddly enough, a friend from graduate school in Kansas who now lives in my hometown–go figure) and enjoyed Boston shakes.

Fanci Freez Boston Shakes

A Boston shake is a regular milkshake, with one exception:  it’s topped with a sundae.  That’s right, you get both a shake and a sundae in one cup, and you can mix and match your flavors.  In the days of my youth, the Boston came in only one size–ginormous–so it was the sort of thing you ate only rarely.  Now, Fanci Freez makes it available to everyone, every day, by offering it in sizes mini through large.  I had a mini coconut shake with a marshmallow sundae on top; The Hubs had a small white chocolate shake with a huckleberry sundae on top.  Just enough ice cream to give us a nice sugar buzz.

I’ll be wriing another post about my mom’s china, which was part of the load we drove back from Boise, as well as a couple of kitchen implements I snagged from storage.  Even though our visit to Boise was only a few days long, it was good to bring back some pieces of my family’s legacy and think about how to make them part of a new generation.

 

Share! It's the right thing to do.