Saturday, July 7, 2012
For a long time, Friday night has been Pizza Night in the Foodie family. And for a long time, that was perfectly okay with me. Pizza is The Boy’s very favorite food, and having a designated pizza night allowed me to tell him that if we made different choices on the other six nights of the week, pizza would be returning to the menu very soon. (When he was younger, and very rigid about what he would and would not eat, that was a powerful bargaining chip.) Pizza Night was a good opportunity to decompress at the end of a long week, hang out as a family, watch a movie, and slide into the weekend.
But, as always, things change. The Girl is now a member of the working class, which means she spends some Friday evenings behind her cash register at Six Flags. The Boy is in the middle of his teen years, which means that he’s growing at a sometimes alarming rate–and eating large quantities of food to fuel that growth. He can eat most of a pizza on his own and save the few leftover slices for lunch the next day. And that, in turn, means that The Hubs and I don’t have to eat pizza on Friday nights anymore, unless we want to.
I confess, there are days when I want to. But yesterday wasn’t one of them. I was in the mood for something lighter, something new. We rarely eat fish, since the Foodie children insist that fish is only edible when it’s breaded and fried (which defeats the whole purpose of eating fish, as far as I’m concerned), so while I was at the grocery store yesterday I picked up two tilapia fillets.
If you don’t think of yourself as a fish person, tilapia fillets are an excellent place to start changing that. They’re inexpensive, low in fat, and very mild in flavor, as fish go–they’re easy to flavor with herbs or sauces. If you’ve ever had fish tacos, chances are they were filled with tilapia. I decided to bake the fish and flavor them with a simple lemon-garlic sauce. (Yes, it’s summer, and yes, it’s hot–but this recipe requires that you heat up the oven for all of about 20 minutes, including the time to pre-heat.)
Tilapia fillets are usually very thin, so they don’t require much time in the oven–10 minutes should do it. (I saw a recipe once that called for baking tilapia for 30 minutes. If you do that, you’ll end up with a puddle of fish mush. 10 minutes. Trust me.) Pouring the sauce over the fish before baking keeps them nice and moist, in addition to giving them a delicious citrus flavor. You can use the remaining sauce to flavor the rice I suggest serving on the side.
One tilapia fillet and a cup of rice makes a light but surprisingly filling summer meal. The Boy was perfectly happy to let his father and I enjoy that meal while he went about preparing his traditional pizza. Perhaps the day will come when he tires of pizza, too. (Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.) But for now, The Hubs and I will make the most of our changing family dynamic.
Lemon Garlic Tilapia for Two
2 tilapia fillets
2 T. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 cup quick-cooking rice
1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots
Fresh chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat it with cooking spray.
Rinse the tilapia fillets in cool water and pat them dry with paper towels. Set them on the prepared baking sheet; season on both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the minced garlic, lemon juice, and dried parsley; let this sauce bubble, but not boil, for two or three minutes. (You don't want the butter to brown; you do want the garlic to flavor it.) Spoon one tablespoon of the sauce over each of the tilapia fillets. Put the baking sheet in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a cup of water to a boil. Add the dry rice and the frozen vegetables. Put the lid on the pot and let the rice absorb the water. Just before serving, add the remaining lemon garlic sauce to the pot and stir to flavor the rice, then season with salt and pepper.
Serve the tilapia on a bed of rice. Sprinkle fish and rice with fresh chopped parsley.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Well, we knew it was coming. Hello, triple digits. Goodbye, all hope of an unusually cool summer.
For the past week, the hard-working people who provide us with electricity in south Texas have been sending out dire warnings that go something like this: Turn off the lights! Turn off the fans unless you’re sitting right in front of them! Don’t use the dryer! And for heaven’s sake, not the oven! (To be fair, they ask this of us only during the afternoon hours and until 7 p.m. They’re not completely unreasonable people.) And, truth be told, it’s not as if I’m dying to heat up the oven on days like these. Though I determined that I wouldn’t mind a cookie to nibble on in the late afternoon, when my energy is flagging.
I’m not, in general, a fan of no-bake cookies. For one thing, they don’t taste like cookies. For another, they’re almost always too sweet, in my humble opinion. But the more recipes I looked at, the easier it was to see the necessary ratio of sticky ingredients (which hold things together) to dry ingredients (which give the cookies a little body.) Once I’d figured that out, the only question was which ingredients to use in each category.
I love Nutella (as well as many of its imitators–Pralinutta, the World Market brand chocolate-hazelnut spread, etc. Feel free to use whichever one you prefer.) I decided to boost the flavor of the hazelnuts in the spread by toasting some chopped hazelnuts and adding them to these cookies. That gave them a little crunch, in addition to the chewy texture they get from the oats, and it cut back on the sweetness of the cookies just ever so slightly.
The Girl is a big fan of Nutella, so I knew these would be a hit with her. The Hubs likes the fact that they have to be kept in the refrigerator, which means they’re always nice and cold. And me? I like the fact that they lose nothing by being gluten-free–just use a certified gluten-free brand of oats and you’re good to go.
Nutella No-Bake Cookies
Yield: About 2 dozen
3 T. butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1 cup Nutella (or another brand of chocolate-hazelnut spread)
1 T. vanilla
2 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
Before you begin to make the cookies, toast the chopped hazelnuts on the stove top, in a dry saucepan over low heat. Stir the nuts every few minutes, to prevent burning. After about 10 minutes, the nuts will be light brown and fragrant. Spread them on a plate to cool.
In the same saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, cocoa powder, and milk. Bring this mixture to a low boil and allow it to continue bubbling for 2 minutes. While the sauce is thickening, cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the sauce from the heat. Stir in the Nutella; continue stirring until the spread has melted. Stir in the vanilla, oats, and hazelnuts. Keep stirring until all the dry ingredients are covered in the sauce.
Working quickly, use a cookie scoop or large spoon to create mounds of the chocolate-oat mixture. Flatten the mounds slightly with the back of the scoop or spoon.
Transfer the cookie sheets to a refrigerator or freezer until the cookies are set, about 30 minutes. Then peel the cookies off the parchment paper and transfer them to a covered storage container. Store the cookies in the refrigerator.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Photo credit: Stirling Noyes
The Foodie men took a road trip last weekend, heading to Kansas to visit The Hubs’ grandmother–she’s been in poor health for quite awhile, and he wanted to make sure they spent some time together while she was still able (some of the time, anyway) to know he was there. I’m teaching summer school, and The Girl is working at a local amusement park this year, so the two of us stayed home to hold down fort while The Boy kept his dad company on the drive. When I asked him, Sunday afternoon, whether the two of them were having a good time, The Boy said, “No. We’re having a fantastic time.” Which leads me to think this road trip turned out to be a good a memory that the boys will look back on years from now.
They got home late yesterday, too late for a nice dinner–and The Boy is always perfectly content with a pizza, anyway–but this morning, I made something a little special to welcome The Hubs back home: a frozen mocha. He likes iced coffee by itself, but the frozen mocha takes iced coffee to another level. It’s thick and cold, like a milkshake (which is a plus any time of day, during a south Texas summer), but it carries the caffeine punch you need to get yourself going in the morning, plus a little burst of sugar to start the day off right.
When it comes to frozen coffee drinks, many recipes tell you to begin by making a batch of double-strength coffee and pouring it over ice. I’m not a fan of any recipe that instructs me to do something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, like make my coffee extra-strong. Instead, all you need to do is make a pot of coffee exactly the way you’d normally drink it–or, as I do, use the coffee you have left over after you’ve had your fill in the morning. (In these hot summer months, one or two cups of hot coffee is all I can take. Still, I can’t start the day without it.) Allow the coffee to cool, pour it into ice cube trays, and let them freeze solid. After that, you can pop them out of the ice cube tray and store them in a zip-top bag in the freezer, so you’re ready to make a frozen coffee drink anytime the mood strikes.
This is an easily customizable recipe. If you aren’t a fan of mocha, leave out the chocolate syrup and use something else–caramel, dulce de leche, whatever you’d prefer. Or use a flavored coffee creamer in place of the fat-free half and half, and skip the syrup altogether. Or use plain milk, skim or 1% or whatever you have on hand, which will give you a plain frozen latte. Or use whole milk, or real half and half, if that’s how you roll. The recipe below is for one serving, and it’s best to make these drinks one at a time, since a large quantity of ice cubes in the blender requires a lot of blending–and that, in turn, results in a drink that’s more melted than frozen.
The Hubs and I spent some quality time on the living room couch this morning, watching the birds at our feeder and sipping our mochas while he related the highlights of his long weekend away. And sitting there with him, I realized that nothing does a better job of reminding you to appreciate an ordinary day than having the people you love the most gone, even if just for a little while.
1 1/2 cups frozen coffee ice cubes (about 10 cubes, depending on their size)
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
Chocolate syrup to taste
Place the coffee ice cubes in a blender. Pour the half and half over the ice cubes; add the chocolate syrup last. (Just squirt in the amount you think you'd like; you can always add more later, if you need to.) Pulse to combine, continuing to blend the ingredients just until you can no longer hear large chunks of ice hitting the blades. Taste to be sure you have the right amount of chocolate, and add more if necessary. You can also add another ice cube, at this point, if you'd like a stronger coffee flavor; just blend again, until that cube has been incorporated.
The mixture will be very thick, but don't be tempted to add more milk. Keep in mind that it will start to melt as soon as the drink is in your hand.
Pour the mixture into a large glass. Add a straw. Sip away.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
This year marks the first Father’s Day on which I don’t have a father to whom I can send a card, which makes it a sad occasion. But rather than dwell in the Land of Lost Fathers–a place where I have spent far too much time in the past year–this post is going to focus on the other father in my life: The Hubs. When I asked him what he wanted me to make him for Father’s Day this year, he thought about it for awhile before saying “A peach pie.” And when I offered up some options (peach crumble pie, peach cream pie, peach custard pie, etc.) he said, “No, nothing fancy. Just the old-fashioned kind with peaches and crust.”
This in itself tells you much of what you need to know about The Hubs. He’s a no-fuss kind of guy.
The Hubs and I always knew we wanted to have a family–one of our very first serious conversations included a discussion of how many children we wanted to have. Still, we were married for almost six years before we were ready to take that step, mostly because we enjoyed the life we’d made with just the two of us. (What did we do with ourselves all day? Why didn’t I write six novels with all that free time on my hands?)
Now, of course, it’s hard to remember a time when the Foodie children weren’t around. And it’s impossible for me to think of The Hubs without thinking of him as a dad, because that piece of his identity is so integral to the person I love. A short list of things The Hubs has done to earn his Great Dad cred:
1. He sat through six years of summer swim meets, in the Texas heat, to watch The Girl swim for approximately five minutes total at each one. (In case you’ve never been to a swim meet, I’ll just mention that they’re long. Very long. Like, four or five hours long.)
2. He drove The Boy to Dallas–about a five hour drive from our home in San Antonio–so he could participate in a Pokemon tournament. He did this as an incentive to get The Boy to bring up his grades in school, and when The Boy followed through, so did his dad.
3. The Hubs later drove The Boy to Dallas again, after he’d earned a chance to audition for Kids’ Jeopardy. They made a vacation weekend of it and saw the traveling King Tut museum exhibit while they were in the city. The Boy still talks about this.
4. He taught The Girl to drive. Enough said.
The list could go on, but you get the idea: The Hubs is a really terrific dad. So when he asked for a peach pie, I made him one.
As with any pie, whether you make your own crust or buy something prepared is completely up to you. I’m not above taking a shortcut once in awhile myself. And I’m not a big fan of using flour to thicken fruit pies, so I used tapioca as a thickener in this one. Most fruit pie recipes call for using a little butter in the filling, and you could certainly dot the peaches with a couple tablespoons of butter before you add the top crust; I forgot the butter when I was making this one, and I actually prefer the clean taste of the sweetened peaches, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I sprinkled the top crust with a little turbinado sugar, for extra color and crunch, but white sugar will give you a similar (if somewhat lighter) result.
After church this morning, we came home and had pie for brunch. And before you can question the logic of that decision, consider this: is there really much difference between a stack of IHOP pancakes with peaches and whipped cream and a peach pie topped with ice cream? I think not. Except for the the fact that this peach pie was made with lots of love.
Pie crust (prepared or home made)
7 cups sliced peaches (about 8 medium peaches)
1 cup sugar
2 T. tapioca pearls
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
Before you start assembling the pie, blanch the peaches by dipping them into boiling water for about one minute, then submerging them in a bowl of ice water. The peach skin should slide off easily. If it doesn't, repeat the process until the skin is loose. Then slice the peeled peaches into a large mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Gently stir together the peach slices, sugar, tapioca, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
Line the bottom of a 1-inch deep pie place with a layer of pie crust. Trim the overhang so it's even with edge of the plate. Pile in the peaches, making sure they're evenly distributed across the crust. Center the top crust over the fruit. Fold the top crust over the edge of the bottom crust and pinch tightly to seal. Crimp the edges of the crust all the way around.
Cut two or three one-inch vents into the top of the pie crust, to allow steam to escape while the pie is baking. Sprinkle the top crust with sugar, if you like.
Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil, to prevent over-browning, and bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the top of the pie has browned and some juice is bubbling up through the vents.
Allow the pie to cool for at least an hour before serving. Otherwise, your filling will be runny.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
I got home from BlogHer Food in Seattle a couple of days ago, and I think I’ve finally caught up on enough sleep to tell you all about it. I was excited about going to Seattle, since it’s one of my favorite cities, but I have to confess that I wasn’t completely excited about the conference. Last time around, I remembered feeling kind of marginalized and overwhelmed–and while there are people who will claim that conferences like this are what you make of them, I think there is something to be said for making newcomers feel welcome. Last year’s BlogHer didn’t do such a good job of that. But this year’s conference experience was miles above last year’s–because of the location, the people, and of course the food. That photo to the left? That’s the breakfast spread provided by the Fairmont Olympic Hotel on the first day of the conference. This pretty much set the bar for everything else we’d enjoy while we were in town.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I arrived in Seattle last Thursday afternoon and took a shuttle from SeaTac to the hotel. Right from the start, I was very impressed with the Fairmont. It’s a gorgeous old building, filled with ornate woodwork, staircases, and chandeliers. It’s the kind of hotel you see in old movies, but not so often in the modern world of sleek and efficient business hotels. My room was equally beautiful–spacious, clean, and luxurious in a tasteful way. In fact, if I had to use just one word to describe the Fairmont, tasteful is the one I’d choose. The hotel staff was attentive without being obsequious, and every room I set foot in was spotlessly clean. That in itself goes a long way with me. (Add to this the fact of actual hand towels in the public restrooms–along with nail care kits and mouthwash–and you’ll understand why the Fairmont franchise has a customer for life here.)
I hadn’t had a chance to eat between San Antonio and Seattle, so I was starving by the time I arrived. (I should mention ahead of time that I’d decided to skirt gluten on this trip, but to give myself some flexibility in enjoying the occasional gluteny treat, especially when it was hard to find alternatives. Basically, I followed my gut and turned away from the gluten when it was practical to do that.) The Fairmont Olympic is right downtown in Seattle, so I had a lot of options nearby–but it was a rainy afternoon, and I was exhausted from the trip. That combination of factors led me to Belle Epicurean, a lovely little bakery connected to the hotel on the ground level. I had the Warm Peppered Turkey Sandwich, featuring a delicious herbed chevre and served with a pickle. I was so hungry that I basically inhaled the sandwich before I could photograph it, which should tell you how tasty it was.
This would be the last time I felt actual hunger for the next two days.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown and reacquainting myself with Seattle. I hadn’t been there in 20 years, but I have fond memories of the place–and the landscape, of course, reminds me of my hometown in the state next door. Seeing the Pike Place Market sign lifted me up on a little wave of nostalgia, and seeing the wooded islands across Puget Sound broke my heart, but in a good way.
After that little excursion, I went back to the hotel and settled in for the evening. I wound up ordering room service (grilled salmon and the best french fries on earth, which should have prepared me for the terrific food that would follow) and snuggling underneath the thick comforter while I watched TV and caught up on the sleep I’d missed by getting to the airport at 5:30 that morning.
Day 1 of BlogHer Food dawned not-so-bright (we were in Seattle, after all) but plenty early. Bloggers wandered through the breakfast spread I mentioned above, then found their way into the ballroom where the opening keynote was scheduled to happen. We were lucky enough to hear from Diane Cu and Todd Porter (also known as White on Rice Couple) about their work and philosophy. Before the end of their presentation, we were all weeping over a video of their beautiful dog, Dante, who died shortly after that film was shot. Diane shared the video because she hadn’t liked it at first, but after Dante’s death couldn’t imagine anything doing a better job of capturing his personality. “Your eyes are the lens. Your heart is the shutter.” Those are the words I took away from the presentation, and I’m sure they’ll stick with me for a long while.
From there I moved on to presentations about finding your photographic style and using various social networking platforms to drive traffic to your blog. At the latter session, I realized that I need to be doing much more work with Pinterest, which has become a huge source of readers for many people who write food blogs. (I love Pinterest, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to do much in the way of connecting it to this blog. That will be changing in the next few weeks, so I hope you’ll follow me on Pinterest and keep up with the Foodie that way.) I ducked out of the conference after that, to freshen up before the evening reception and, afterward, one of the highlights of my conference experience: a dinner hosted by Chobani at Canlis Restaurant.
I met with a lively group of bloggers and Chobani Yogurt representatives in the lobby of the hotel, then took a short van ride to the restaurant. We were shown to a private dining room that had a gorgeous view of Lake Union and a fireplace to keep us cozy. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres followed, including miniature forest mushroom quiche and spicy bites of lamb tenderloin with a cool yogurt sauce (an item that quickly answered my mental question as to whether or not I liked lamb.) All the food at Canlis was so beautiful that I almost couldn’t bring myself to eat it. Almost.
(Not included in these photos: my main course, filet mignon with carrot puree. Unfortunately, large chunks of unbelievably tender and delicious beef aren’t particularly photogenic.) We also sampled a different wine with each course. By the time we were set to head back to the hotel in our van, I was sleepy and–well, full doesn’t even begin to describe it. The evening also included wonderful conversation with Karlynn of The Kitchen Magpie, Kathy of Panini Happy, and many, many other people. My thanks to Lindsay, Emily, Jackie, and everyone else at Chobani for making that dinner possible. (And hey! Chobani is just about to open a new production facility in Twin Falls, Idaho–which means I’ll have yet another connection to the company. Aside from my daily cup of yogurt, I mean.)
The conference didn’t start up again until 9:oo on Saturday, although that still felt plenty early. The opening session focused on some general guidelines for working with brands, with one blogger welcoming the opportunity and another turning away from it completely. Cassidy Stockton from Bob’s Red Mill (with whom I’ve exchanged an email or two over the last year) suggested thinking about working with brands as developing a relationship, not receiving a one-time gift. Alicia McGlamory from Masterbuilt echoed that sentiment. I found it interesting that bloggers are so deeply divided on the question of whether or not to work directly with brands, but as I thought about it, I realized that it makes sense for some people to want more control over their content and for others to welcome suggestions.
I attended two photography sessions on Saturday,the first one offered by Taylor Mathis and focused on photographing food outdoors. I found this session really helpful–Taylor has a knack for explaining photography to newbies in a way that doesn’t insult the listener. (That’s less common than you might think, in my experience.) This session was intended as a prelude to our field trip to Pike Place Market, which I’d visited on my first afternoon in town. I wandered back down to the marketplace, though, this time with my camera in hand–only to discover that it was absolutely swarming with people. Between a cruise ship that was in port, our conference, and the fact that it was Saturday, there was very little room to manuever. I did, though, manage to get a few pictures of gorgeous produce–my favorite photography subject.
After I’d taken some photos and wriggled my way through part of the crowd, I decided to eat something portable–a gyro sandwich, to celebrate my newfound appreciation of lamb–and topped off my lunch with a Mexican chocolate truffle from The Confectional. After browsing through a jewelry shop (where I picked out a very cool bracelet for The Girl) and a sports apparel shop (where I found a Mariners cap for The Boy), I was ready to get out of the crowd and head back to the relative quiet of the hotel.
The second session of the day focused on various post-processing programs for making your photographs all they can be. I’d heard a lot of people talking about Lightroom, but this session convinced me that there are free programs out there–specifically, Gimp–that can help me do what I need to do. I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t aspire to be, but of course I’d like the photos on my blog to represent my food in the best possible light. So I’ll be downloading Gimp this week and teaching myself how to use it.
Saturday evening, the conference wound down with a gathering at Sodo Park, a repurposed factory with gorgeous exposed beams and high windows. (I didn’t take along my big camera, and phone pictures just didn’t do it justice–click through to the webpage to see Sodo in all its glory.) The featured guest at the party was Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman, who was being really good-natured about the fact that dozens of people actually lined up to have a picture taken with her. I enjoyed a final glass of wine and a chat with Susie Kauck, who I’d met at BlogHer in Atlanta last year–she’d brought her daughter Dana along with her to Seattle, since Dana contributes to the blog once in awhile. (I know I’ve become a woman of a certain age because the first thing that came to mind as I spoke to Dana was “What a lovely young lady. Her mom must be so proud.”) I also had a chance to re-connect with some people I’d met earlier, including Amanda of Maroc Mama and Kim of Camping for Foodies. Kim is just getting started on her blogging adventure, and I encouraged her to set aside her misgivings and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? No one reads your blog. And then you’re no worse off than you were before starting it. In fact, you’re better off, because you can actually claim to be the author of a blog. Whether or not anyone reads it is a secondary question.
After the party, I caught a shuttle back to the hotel, packed up the ten pounds of swag I’d received during the conference–I’m not exaggerating, my suitcase was ten pounds heavier for the return trip–and set my alarm for 5 a.m.. I was ready to get back home to the Foodie family, but full of new ideas and great food. (I’m sure my suitcase wasn’t the only thing that gained weight over the weekend.)
All in all, I had a great time at BlogHer Food. I had my first experience of being recognized from my blog–and my second, and my third–which was an unexpected treat. I also had the experience of thinking “Well, even I know that much” a few times during various sessions, and this is definitely not something that happened last year. I guess that means I’m learning. My feet are most decidedly wet. I might even be knee-deep in this blogging thing.
And the best news is: BlogHer Food will be coming to Austin in 2013! It’s so exciting to think of all my foodie friends converging in my own backyard.