Monday, January 2, 2012

More Questions, More Answers

Photo credit: Move At Light Speed

Now that I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half, I’ve come to be known among my friends and colleagues as a person who knows a little something about food.  This may or may not be true, depending on your definition of “a little something.”  I don’t know the difference between a gastrique and a coulis, for instance.  But I do know why it’s important to remove your cream sauce from a hot burner before you stir in the grated cheese, and I do understand the compromise you’re making in flavor when you place chunks of beef in a slow cooker without browning them first.  Like I said, how much you know really depends on who’s doing the questioning.

I answered some of the questions I’m asked most often in this post, but since then I’ve been asked new questions–some by friends, some by family members, some by blog readers, and some by random strangers at the grocery store.  (I guess I exude a knowledgeable Foodie mystique, because this happens on a fairly regular basis, which amuses The Hubs to no end.  “That never happens to me,” he says.)   Here’s just a sampling:

How many times a week do you go to the grocery store?  That completely depends on the time of year.  During the school year, when I’m teaching, I try to make one big trip to the grocery store each week.  If I have to make a small trip for perishables at mid-week, I will–but I try to work with what I have at home, so that won’t be necessary.  (I love grocery shopping, but not when I’m in a rush, as I often am during the week.)  During the summer, when I’m not teaching and the extreme heat of south Texas makes everything highly perishable, I tend to buy only what I’ll need for the next few days.

How do you come up with so many different ideas?  I read the food section of my local newspaper every Sunday.  I subscribe to three different food magazines:  Cooking Light, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit.  (Those last two subscriptions were free “rewards” I received as part of a customer loyalty program, and I probably won’t re-subscribe when they lapse–I don’t find them particularly useful.)  I look at the free magazine produced by my local grocery retailer, HEB.  I read other food blogs.  I watch Food Network once in awhile.  I think about things I like to eat, and I think about different ways to put them together.  (There’s no end of things you can stuff into a tortilla.)  Basically, I’m obsessed with food.  Coming up with new ideas is never a problem; deciding what to make is.

What do you do when your family doesn’t like what you’ve made?  I ask questions.  Is it too spicy?  Too bland?  Too squishy?  Too crunchy?  Is there a particular ingredient or flavor you don’t care for?  The Hubs is very easy to please, but turning dinnertime into an opportunity for critique gives the Foodie children some control over what they’re eating.  As a result, they’re more willing to try new things.  If they don’t like it, they know it’s unlikely they’ll see the same dish again.  And they know their feedback helps me with this blog, which makes them proud.

Do people tell you when they try your recipes?  Sometimes.  And I love it when they do.  Making people feel competent in the kitchen is one of my main goals with this blog–so the knowledge that one of my recipes inspired someone to get in the kitchen and cook makes me very, very happy.

How do you thicken up a runny sauce?  If it’s a savory sauce or gravy, use a beurre manie.  Sounds fancy, I know, but it’s just equal parts of butter and flour.  Use a fork to cut them together, and make sure every speck of flour is stuck to a piece of butter, no matter how small.  Then just stir it into your sauce until it thickens up.  If it’s a sweet sauce, boiling is almost always the solution.  Even if your sauce is cold, put it back on the stove (or in the microwave) and see if letting it boil for a few minutes makes a difference.   If not, let it cool again, fold it into whipped cream and call it mousse.

What’s the difference between all the kinds of apples?  This question came to me via an older gentleman at the grocery store–I’m pretty certain he hadn’t set food in a grocery store for a very long time, because he seemed completely baffled by the selection.  And I can understand this, because when I was a kid I’m pretty sure the apple choices were limited to Red and Green.  But, generally speaking, apples differ in terms of moisture content and degree of tartness: firmer apples (like Granny Smiths) are at the tart end of the spectrum; softer apples (like Red Delicious) are on the sweeter end.  Firm apples are better for baking because they hold up against heat.   I told my fellow shopper that his best bet was to try a few different kinds and see what he liked, but I pointed him toward the mid-spectrum Gala and Fuji apples.

Is organic produce really worth the extra money?  It’s awfully expensive.  This question came to me via a woman with a shopping cart full of small children.  I told her that I worry less about produce that’s going to be peeled (like bananas or squash) or produce that’s easily washed (like apples or pears.)  I worry more about produce with a permeable skin or exposed surface: berries, greens, leafy herbs, etc.  The truth of the matter is, organics are more expensive because it’s more difficult to raise produce that looks marketable if you can’t rely on chemical pesticides–those products have given us very high standards, when it comes to the visual appeal of our produce–and because farmers who use organic practices tend to grow smaller crops, due to their labor-intensive nature.  So, really, you’re voting for farming methods with your grocery dollars: if more people vote organic, prices will go down and organic produce will become more accessible to everyone.  Because I can afford to buy organic once in awhile, I think it’s my responsibility to vote for those who can’t.

My wife just had surgery and she sent me out to do the shopping.  She put “diet ice cream” on this shopping list.  Do you know what that means?  Maybe low-fat ice cream.  Maybe fat-free.  Maybe frozen yogurt.  Maybe sugar-free ice cream, but probably not.  (The gentleman who asked this question wound up buying one carton of low-fat and one of sugar-free, just to make sure he could demonstrate that he’d made an effort to get it right.)

What do you make for dinner when you feel like you’re just too tired to cook?  Usually, pasta in some variation.  Top that with a basic marinara sauce, or a pesto sauce with spinach (and chicken, if you like) or a cheese sauce with broccoli.  Baked, especially with some cheese or bread crumbs on top–or which cheese between layers–or both–pasta is the basis of a really simple dinner.

If you have food-related questions of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments.  I’m happy to take a shot at putting my Foodie knowledge to use for you.

 

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One Response to “More Questions, More Answers”

  1. 1

    Cyn Huddleston — January 2, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    I don’t get the food questions, but something even stranger happens. I get outcries about new diagnoses of disease, recent bad news, and even the occasional confiding of secrets from strangers–especially in the grocery store. This has always happened. I don’t know what vibe I give off that says, “Please unburden yourself.”

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