Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Isn’t that a gorgeous color? I confess, that’s what drew me to these honeydew nectarines at the grocery store this morning. I was in the process of picking out some regular nectarines when I noticed these in the bin next door–a little pricey, but so beautiful that I couldn’t resist.
The color explains the name, but the tag on the bin told me they would actually taste like a cross between a mango and a nectarine. The price sticker, when I printed it off after weighing the fruit, actually called these mango nectarines. So if you see either name on a tag at your own grocery store, you’ll know you’re dealing with the same piece of fruit.
I don’t know what I expected these nectarines to look like on the inside, but I definitely didn’t expect the sliced fruit to look like a green apple. And yet it did.
The texture of the fruit was more firm and less juicy than a typical nectarine. Maybe that means it’s not quite ripe, so I’ll keep the second one for a few more days and see if it softens up. In spite of the unexpected texture, though, the flavor was delightful: the first thing I tasted was nectarine, followed by just a suggestion of something else. I might not have called it mango if I hadn’t been pointed in that direction. In fact, I think the flavor might be closer to papaya. It was definitely unusual, but in a good way.
The Girl loves nectarines, so I gave her a slice to try. She took one dubious bite, then finished off the piece and said “It tastes like a nectarine, but not as squishy. It’s a little more fruity than an apple, even though it has that same basic texture.”
For something different, this is definitely worth a little splurge. (The nectarines wound up costing slightly more than a dollar each, so they won’t be part of our regular fruit selection.) Chunks of these nectarines would be very pretty in a fruit salad, alongside some peaches or mangoes and berries, where that beautiful green color can really stand out.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
The Girl has been out of town for the last few days, partying it up in New Orleans. Lest you should question my parenting skills, I’ll add that she’s there with a group of teenagers from our church, all of whom are attending the National Youth Gathering of the ELCA. From what I can piece together from Facebook updates and text messages, she’s having non-stop fun and a foodie adventure all her own. Muffalettas! Beignets! It makes me proud that she’s not the sort of kid to turn up her nose at something new.
Of course, were she at home, I suspect she might have turned up her nose at the prospect of tilapia on tonight’s menu. The Boy had quietly made himself a grilled cheese sandwich by the time the dinner hour rolled around tonight, declining to join us in partaking of fish. I wanted to try something new–I enjoyed the Lemon Garlic Tilapia I made a few weeks ago, and I always enjoy a crispy piece of Panko-Crusted Tilapia, but the point of introducing more fish into our diet is to try different things with it. So this time, inspired by the idea of Trout Almondine, I decided to take a shot at Almond-Crusted Tilapia.
The coating is very basic: almond meal, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. I used gluten-free breadcrumbs in the coating, but you can certainly use whatever kind you have on hand. If you don’t have almond meal available at your favorite grocery store, you can always make almond meal from whole or sliced almonds in a coffee grinder, spice mill, or food processor. (Or, you can just chop almonds very fine with a knife–you’ll end up with a slightly crunchier coating, but I don’t see how that can be a bad thing.) The almond-crusted fish is delicious on its own, but I added a drizzle of melted butter, flavored with garlic, thyme, and lemon zest. Tilapia is a very mild-tasting type of fish, which means it’s hard to over-season and very easy to under-season.
The Hubs went wild for this preparation and said it was the best fish he’d ever eaten. I was in such a hurry to taste it myself that I almost forgot to take photos. And, I have to admit, it was pretty darn tasty: light and flaky inside, crisp and slightly salty outside, with the added richness of a buttery drizzle to round things out. If you’re watching calories, feel free to leave out the buttery drizzle. Or just use less of it. Or, throw caution to the wind and live on the edge. You’re eating baked fish for dinner, after all–that’s virtuous enough to get you through the day.
Almond Crusted Tilapia
2 tilapia fillets
2 T. almond meal
2 T. bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat it with cooking spray. Set the baking sheet aside.
Rinse and pat dry the tilapia fillets. Season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.
In a wide, shallow bowl, stir together the almond meal, bread crumbs, and salt. Set one tilapia fillet on top of the almond meal mixture and press down lightly, to help the coating stick to the fish. Turn over the fillet and press down lightly to coat the other side. If necessary, sprinkle some of the coating mixture on top of the fish, to cover any bare patches, and press down lightly again. Transfer the coated fish to the prepared baking sheet and repeat this process with the second fillet. Put the baking sheet in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes.
While the fish bakes, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over low heat. Add the garlic, dried thyme, and lemon zest. Stir occasionally, to prevent burning. Your goal is just to flavor the butter with the oils from the other ingredients, so don't worry about the appearance of the sauce
When the fish is done, set the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Immediately drizzle the flavored butter over the baked fish, then transfer to serving plates.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Yesterday was The Hubs’ birthday, so of course we celebrated with The Birthday Cake–topped with Happy Birthday Frosting. It’s a family tradition that has made its way from my family of origin into the Foodie family, and I hope it sticks around, because I really love that frosting. It’s basically just a marshmallow cloud in which to wrap your favorite cake–and, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with a marshmallow cloud.
You can, however, go wrong when it comes to separating eggs, beating egg whites into a meringue, and creating said marshmallow cloud. Egg whites are finicky. But I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that can make your experience with eggs a little easier. For instance:
- Buy your eggs a few days in advance of when you want to make a meringue. Slightly older egg whites are thinner and more easily whipped than the thicker whites of very fresh eggs.
- Chances are, you learned to crack an egg against the side of a bowl or counter. Doing this, however, is a bad idea–it forces small pieces of eggshell into the egg, and it separates those small pieces from the egg’s internal membrane (which looks like a piece of plastic wrap.) This isn’t a tragedy, of course, because you can always fish out the eggshells with a spoon–if you notice them. But a better technique is to rap the egg lightly against a flat surface, like a counter top. This will produce a horizontal crack in the shell. Use your fingers to separate the egg along this line. Notice that the shell will remain in two large pieces, without the risk of smaller shards that might end up in your food.
- Separate the egg white from the egg yolk by cracking the egg into your hand and holding the yolk gently, letting the white drip through your (very clean) fingers. Yes, it’s a little icky–but, thank goodness, your hands are washable. Tossing the egg yolk between the two halves of the shell invites disaster, because the sharp edge of the egg shell can easily puncture the yolk–and, if you’re making a meringue, one tiny drop of fat from an egg yolk can keep the egg whites from foaming up to their full potential. (Or: watch this video for an innovative way to separate eggs. Genius!)
- Let the egg whites come to room temperature–about 30 minutes should do the trick. Whole eggs will take much longer to warm up, and it’s not safe to let them sit out that long. Room temperature egg whites are looser, which allows them to whip faster and collect more air, which gives you a fuller meringue.
- While the whites are warming up, wash your bowl and beaters. Even if they’re clean, wash them again–and avoid plastic mixing bowls, which can hang on to the residue of oils and fats you’ve used in the past. Then dry everything completely.
- Most recipes will tell you not to add sugar to a meringue until the egg whites have been whipped to soft peaks. That’s excellent advice, 99% of the time. With Happy Birthday Frosting, however, you really need to add the sugar early on, to denature the egg whites before adding the boiling water to the mixture. Otherwise, you’ll end up with poached egg whites rather than a marshmallow cloud.
Every single time I make Happy Birthday Frosting, I think I’ve messed it up. The egg whites always look too watery. That will never turn into a meringue, I tell myself. But it almost always does, these days. It isn’t difficult, but it’s really delicious. In addition to making a great topping for a birthday cake, it also makes an excellent filling for sandwich cookies or whoopie pies–as long as you’re sure they’ll be eaten quickly, since this frosting doesn’t hold up for more than about 36 hours. And remember, since it contains an egg white, the frosting (and anything it’s on top of or in between) needs to be stored in the refrigerator, not on a counter top.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Sometimes, even a Foodie finds herself lacking inspiration, worn down by summer (which is supposed to be relaxing, but come on–with trips to coordinate, children home from school and, this year, college campus visits thrown into the mix, it’s anything but relaxing.) So when the dinner hour rolled around this evening, I decided to go with something delicious but easy–a homemade version of fast food. I knew that would please everybody because, as luck would have it, I’ve finally mastered the art of making oven fries.
If you Google “oven fries,” you’ll discover that there are a multitude of methods for making these crispy delights. Some recipes call for coating the potatoes in beaten egg white–I find that a little too fussy for something as rustic and basic as a baked potato. Other recipes call for coating the potatoes with bread crumbs. I’m sure that’s perfectly delicious, but it doesn’t sound like any fry I’ve ever enjoyed. My recipe takes the easy route, as I am wont to do, calling for only three ingredients: potatoes, olive oil, and salt. Figure half a potato for each person you’re serving (unless you have a fry fanatic in your household, as I do–in that case, figure a whole potato for him or her.)
Through a lengthy process of trial and error, I’ve discovered the following tricks to making perfect oven fries:
- High heat. Nothing lower than 400 degrees is going to give you that crispy exterior, no matter how long you bake the potatoes. I sometimes go with 425, if I’m in a bit of a hurry. But . . .
- Time is really the key ingredient in making oven fries. You’re not trying to cook the potatoes; you can do that in 10 or 15 minutes with potatoes sliced this thin. You’re actually trying to overcook them a little, so the outside starts to crisp and burn (just slightly, and in the most delicious way, of course.) Oven fries take a minimum of 40 minutes. If you’re making a big batch, plan on an hour.
- Positioning. The fries need to have room to sit flat on a cookie sheet. It’s all right if they touch each other here and there–especially after they’ve started to brown on a couple of sides–but but they can’t be crowded or piled up on the cookie sheet. Otherwise, they’ll just make each other soggy. If you have a small oven, like I do, and you want to make a large batch, split it in half. Eat one batch while the second is baking. If your family is like mine, they’ll be happy to have more fries to munch on after dinner.
- Movement. Oven fries aren’t a fix-it-and-forget-it project. Every 10 minutes or so, you need to open the oven door, pull the cookie sheet forward, and use a spatula to move things around. The fries will brown on the side that’s touching the cookie sheet, which means you have to rotate them in order to allow more than one side to crisp up. I’m not meticulous about this–I rarely end up with fries that are perfectly browned on all four sides. Two or three sides are enough to give the fries a nice, crisp texture.
This same basic recipe works for herb-roasted potatoes, but for those I use red-skinned potatoes rather than russets, which are long and therefore perfect for slicing into fries. If you’re making the herb-roasted variety, just quarter or halve the potatoes (depending on their size) and toss in an assortment of fresh or dried herbs along with the olive oil–parsley and rosemary work particularly well. As I mentioned before, I keep it simple with the oven fries: a little sea salt, nothing more. You, however, may get as fancy as you like. Grated Parmesan cheese? Go for it. Ground black pepper? Sounds good. Lemon juice? Oh yes. Just keep the four tricks in mind and you can’t go wrong.
2 russet potatoes
1 T. olive oil (plus more for oiling the pan)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Moisten a paper towel withe olive oil and lightly coat a cookie sheet, just as you'd prepare a cake pan for baking. Set aside.
Peel a potato and slice it in half lengthwise. Place each half flat on the cutting board and slice it lengthwise, into four sections, or "planks". Turn each plank on its side and slice it, lengthwise, into fries. Repeat this process with the second potato. Transfer all the fries into a large bowl.
Toss the fries with the olive oil until they're all lightly coated. (If you need to add a little more oil to get a coating you're happy with, that won't hurt anything.) Transfer the fries to the prepared cookie sheet and arrange them in a single layer. It's all right if they're touching each other in some spots, but they shouldn't be crowded up against each other or piled on top. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake the fries for at least 40 minutes, using a spatula to turn and stir them every 10 minutes. The fries are done when they're golden brown and crisp on at least two of three sides.
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.