Archive for October, 2011

Mediterranean-style Tilapia and Quinoa

There is a long-running debate in my head about the wisdom and responsibilities of eating fish, since it’s both good for me and potentially bad for me and the earth. I haven’t landed on an ideology, so I’m just trying to eat the best fish I can find for a few meals per month. I had a simple and healthy recipe based around Tilapia, found “Tilapia” that Costco claimed to be responsibly acquired, and bought enough for 2 family meals. The first meal I made follows. Tilapia was heartily consumed by the 3 adults at this meal, and generally rejected by the kids, but they had extenuating circumstances (don’t they always?). I really liked the quinoa, but one man at the table had never heard of it and only reluctantly tried a bite (similar to what happens with my kids on a regular basis). I served it with steamed green beans. I’ll make it again.

Tilapia and Quinoa with Feta and Cucumber

Great for: Quick family dinner

Prep: 5 minutes

Quinoa: 20 Minutes

Fish: 8-10 minutes

Serve:  immediately


1C Quinoa

Coarse salt

Ground pepper

1.5t EVOO

1# boneless, skinless tilapia fillets, divided into 8 pieces

¾ t paprika

1C English cucumber (6oz), peeled and diced

1/3 C feta (1.5oz), crumbled

1/3 C roughly chopped, fresh dill (optional, as I don’t like dill)

2t fresh lemon juice


In a small saucepan, bring quinoa, 2C water and 1t salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium simmer and cook until water evaporates, about 15 minutes.

Transfer Quinoa to a medium bowl and let stand 5 minutes

Ina large, non-stick skillet, heat 1.5toil over medium-high. Pat fish dry and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Cook fillets until opaque throughout, about 4 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Stir cucumber and feta (and dill), 1t oil, and lemon juice into quinoa. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve plated, or family –style (as I did).

What are your favorite fish meals? Have a fish-eating quandary or resolution to share? Let me know in the comments.


The Gift of Food

After the Energizer Bunny was born, I was lucky enough to have wonderful friends, neighbors and fellow AustinMamas bring dinners for our family for 6-8 weeks. I’d learned a few lessons from receiving meals after the birth of the Spitfire, and I had insight into the process after delivering many a meal to a family who had just welcomed a new baby.

The Energizer Bunny will lull you into a dream state with his cuteness, allowing you to momentarily forget that he was up partying all night

For these gifts of food, my rules were thus:

  1. Thou shalt not schedule more than 3 meals per week. People bring over too much food, more often than not, and  we’d need space in our week for leftovers. Plus, sometimes I just want to eat cereal for dinner.
  2. Thou shalt not freeze food from unknown origins. I have a no re-freezing policy. If the meat was thawed and then cooked, the end product will not go back into the freezer no matter how tempting it is to save leftovers for a future date.  Certain members of my family do not have iron stomachs and re-freezing previously frozen meat is just asking for trouble that no new mama needs. And, asking someone if they used frozen meat is, in my opinion, ill-advised. I don’t want to make anyone who brings me food feel awkward about what they have brought, and House says that everybody lies (also: It’s never Lupus). Sometimes people brought store-bought items like rotisserie chicken or Rudy’s BBQ, and those were treated like anything we bought ourselves.
  3. Thou shalt not be picky. I don’t like raw tomato, for example, but I’ll eat a Caprese Salad if someone is nice enough to bring it to me. Because the rest of my life is going to be figuring out what’s for dinner.
  4. Thou shalt not attempt to lose the baby weight until the free meals stop. See above.
  5. Thou shalt ask for the recipe post-haste. Some of my family’s favorite meals came from these gifts, and I enjoy thinking of those days home with a newborn and the person who thoughtfully brought me the meal whenever I look at or cook from those recipes.

One such favorite items was a dessert from a friend whose daughter is a close friend of the Spitfire. She warned me that they were fattening, and I let her know about my 4th rule. These Peanut Butter Bars are AMAZING. Bring them to a friend sometime! I’m posting the recipe the exact way she emailed it to me, below. And, now that I’m re-reading the recipe, I plan to make them again this weekend!

Margaret’s Peanut Butter Bars

Blend to creamy- 1 C Brown sugar, 4 eggs, 1C peanut butter 1/2 stick butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Add 1 1/2 C flour, 2 C oats 1 teaspoon baking soda- Grease square baking pan- bake 25-40- mins at 350. Not a low fat food item.

Blood & Chocolate

This is not a post on how to make a creepy chocolate bar gag gift for Halloween. It’s about how the fair trade movement can make you distrust the longest, most faithful and comforting boyfriend you’ve ever had: chocolate.

Did you know October is Fair Trade Month? Because I did not. I innocently thought I’d check into it and then…oh no, my eyes! I can’t now not know ¾ of the world’s cocoa is supplied by Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where child labor and even child slavery—through a trade with the child’s relative or kidnapping — is employed. These are not just teenagers doing this manual labor for little or no pay, but also children under 10 years of age. Food is Power has a detailed and substantiated article on this practice.

I read through quite a few blogs on the subject and grew more and more resigned to the fact that this practice is not something Jane Consumer can turn around, and also: Halloween is going to be a bummer. Am I going to prevent my kids from eating their chocolate in the interest of fare trade? Is there any chocolate I can buy for Halloween, guilt-free?  Every blog, it seemed, fell back on the same familiar saw: buy fair trade chocolate. Here are my issues with this tactic:

  1. You can buy bars at Whole Foods and other specialty stores, but if you want to buy small chocolates, you probably need to buy them online.
  2. Fair Trade chocolate is pricey. So, only those who can afford to buy it can eat chocolate without supporting child labor? Because NOT eating chocolate? Off the table.
  3.  I am skeptical that it tastes awesome.

I wanted to write a post about it, but I didn’t feel like I could offer up any ideas that I can really get behind. To my great relief, Forbes published an article this week that asks, “Is Your Candy the Product of Child Labor?”  E.D. Cain, bless his heart, voiced some of my own concerns and followed up with ideas for old-fashioned citizen action: pester the companies.

The answer to this from many quarters has been fair trade – but is fair trade a viable solution? I suspect not. If prices for fair trade goods are higher than prices for non-fair trade goods, all this will do is lead consumers with more purchasing power to buy the fair trade goods while most consumers stick to cheaper brands

If consumers can’t exactly vote with their feet, and free trade itself is a net good for the developing world, than what can we do about things like slave labor in Africa being used to provide cocoa to candy manufacturers in the Western world? Consumers can and should pressure corporations to adopt more ethical business practices and labor standards. Activists and journalists can write about injustices across the developing world.

Here are links to the contact pages for the top chocolate producers in the U.S.—Mars, Hershey, Ghirardelli, Nestle,  Kraft Foods and the Curtiss Candy Company  if you want to encourage them to support fair trade chocolate. Meanwhile, I’ll think about switching my secret chocolate drawer contents to fair trade chocolates. But only if it tastes awesome. I’ll do a taste test and report back.

Do you have a fair trade chocolate you can recommend to me? What other steps can I take to support/encourage fair trade practices in chocolate manufacturing?

Brunch Staples: Santa Fe Egg Bake

We host our share of dinners with friends, but with young, tired kids and early bedtimes, evening isn’t always optimal for entertaining. We’re a lot more likely to have a successful meal with guests if it’s a weekend brunch.  Even in the heat of a Texas summer we can eat on our back deck before noon, and the kids can play in the backyard and subsist on bagels alone if necessary.

I have a few staples in my brunch repertoire, all borrowed from family or friends. Today’s recipe is an egg bake that is incredibly easy, can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance (and can then be frozen, to be thawed and baked at a later date with no harm—just prep it in a dish lined with wax paper, freeze it, lift the “bake” out, wrap it in wax paper and then foil before deep freezing. When ready, thaw slightly, remove wax paper, pop back into the original dish and bake). Best of all, it is almost idiot-proof.

 I acquired this recipe after brunch a dozen years ago at our friend Scott’s house, and I am asked for a copy of it almost every time some has brunch at our house (I have never NOT served it for brunch). Turns out, it’s originally from Betty Crocker!

This image shows up on at least a half-dozen pages from a search for "Santa Fe Egg Bake"

Santa Fe Egg Bake (serves eight)


4 C frozen southern-style hash brown potatoes

1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 C fresh or frozen whole kernel corn

1 C frozen stir-fry bell peppers and onions

2 C shredded Colby-Jack cheese (8 ounces)

2 T chopped fresh cilantro (I never include this, though)

8 eggs (or Eggbeaters)

1 ¼ C milk

¼ t salt

¼ t ground red pepper


  1. Coat a rectangular 11×7 baking dish with cooking spray or similar. Mix first 5 ingredients together in the dish. Sprinkle half the cheese (and cilantro, if using).
  2. Mix last 4 ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Pour evenly over mixture in dish. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Cover and refrigerate 2-24 hours.
  3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 55-60 minutes or until fork/knife/toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Really, you can probably eyeball it. Cover with foil if cheese starts to burn before it’s done. Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting.  

If you serve this with a number of other items buffet-style, it’ll feed a lot more people. It naturally slices into 8 servings, but those pieces are really big and a lot of your guests will cut them in half.

I place a bowl of fresh salsa on the side for topping, which is the best way to eat it, but that’s the Texan talking.

What are your go-to menu items for brunch?

Healthy, easy appetizer: White Bean Dip

My big 40 is on the horizon and I am going to be eating non-stop that weekend. In the meantime, I’m trying to eat well, but light. So, when friends kindly invited several families over for an early birthday dinner, I had some concerns about what might be in my food “range” that night. The hostess is a vegetarian, so I knew we’d have veggies. The problem is that she is also a Tex-Mex addict and her usual appetizers are chips and queso. As insurance, I decided to bring an appetizer I knew to be tasty and healthy: white bean dip.

I was far from the only “dipper” at the dinner party, and several people swore they could taste lemon. But, as you can see below, it’s not “in” there. This takes minutes to prepare, and works in a variety of settings. You can pair it with  any crisp veggie, and it’s also great with pita or crispy crackers.

White Bean Dip

Great for: informal dinner appetizer; potluck meals

Time: 8 minutes


2  15.5-oz cans Canellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/4C water

1-2T Red-wine Vinegar

3T extra-virgin olive oil

1-2t fresh rosemary, finely minced

Coarse salt and ground pepper, to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients except rosemary in food processor and puree until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add rosemary, salt and pepper; pulse to combine
  3. Serve with crisp, cut vegetables, crackers, pita or sliced baguettes.

Panko-crusted Thai Chicken

Very often, I’ll eat a sample at the grocery store. Very rarely, I will buy the product and cook it up as directed. Last week was the exception. The cooking section at the grocery store was making and sampling chicken made from a jar of Thai Panang Curry, panko bread crumbs and a pork rub. When I tried it, it was the curry flavor I wanted, so I bought the jar, intending to cook it without the breading. When I go home, I discovered seasoned panko breadcrumbs I had previously forgotten about and since they were seasoned, I figured that was enough and I could scrub adding a rub.

This is not the most low-fat recipe, for sure, but the ingredients themselves and prep work are so simple, I can make it after work in 20 minutes.

Panang Chicken with Peas

Great for: quick family dinner

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 15-20 minutes


1 Jar Thai Panang Curry(Global Palate or similar)

2-3# Boneless, skinless breasts, split and trimmed (optional: flattened)

1 pack frozen peas (petite preferred, but your choice)

1C Panko bread crumbs (seasoned, or plain. If plain, consider using an Thai rub on the chicken)

1/2C olive oil


  1.  Rub chicken with some of the olive oil and a coat in bread crumbs—I use a pie plate for the bed of crumbs.
  2. Add about 1/4 C oil to fry pan and heat until hot, on medium high.
  3. Add each chicken breast as you go and add remaining oil when all breasts are coated.
  4. Brown chick on on both sides until done (about 5 minutes each side).
  5. Add Panang Curry and peas.
  6. Simmer until heated through.


Serve with brown rice.

First Annual Food Day on October 24

Food seems to be on everyone’s mind these days in ways it wasn’t before. The spread of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and malnutrition in the U.S. has caught the attention of the press, the White House and the entertainment industry. The support for sustainable, affordable and healthy foods is one of the few progressively political movements that has, literally, grass roots. As homeowners or even renters, we can plant a garden or participate in a community garden. As parents, we have the opportunity to educate our children about healthy, sustainable foods. As school volunteers, we have the opportunity to educate all of our neighborhood children. As member of networks, we can spread the word to our friends. But, there has not been one single day dedicated to pushing for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Until now.

The nonprofit watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest is sponsoring the first annual Food Day on October 24.

Anyone can participate, in any manner of ways. You can host a potluck with sustainable foods as the required ingredients. Volunteer to speak at your child’s school about the relationship between diet and learning. Take your kids to the garden and talk about where food comes from, and how processed foods and whole foods differ. Sponsor your child’s preschool class for a field trip to a farmer’s market or whole foods, or a working farm. Contact your representative to let them know that supporting healthy, sustainable and affordable foods is important to you (you can take this step on the home page of

I bet you have are other, more creative ideas for honoring this day. Tell us about them in the comments section.