Tell-All Tuesday: What Does a Blogger Do?

Today, I am sitting here drinking day-old coffee, reheated, and munching on ginger cookies. The coffee is still better than anything I can get at most restaurants. The ginger cookies are part of my baking marathon from Sunday and Monday.

That doesn’t answer what a blogger does. Mainly because every blogger is a little bit different. It’s the same as in the news business. Every reporter has his or her own routine. I knew one reporter who had to wipe off his desk, line all his pens and pencils up in order, and then begin to write. Another kept apples lined up on his desk, and ate his way through them during the day. I used to smoke. It would take at least 1 cigarette before I could start a story, and then I would smoke my way through half a pack to finish it. When smoking was banned, I was afraid I’d never be able to write a story again.

I could. And I did. I developed other writing tics. I would walk around a lot. Sometimes I played loud dance music in my earbuds, while bouncing on a chair ball at my desk. I had a drawer filled with chocolates.

When I left the corporate world, I set up a desk at home. It’s a dedicated writing space. I live in a two-bedroom condo with a teen daughter, so there’s not a lot of spare room. I could have put my spot in the basement, but I need natural light and a window to work. My desk is a lot neater now, mainly because it is visible from just about every part of the condo, except the bedrooms. I still like to walk around a lot. I try not to have the TV on, but sometimes I like the company.

Even though I write about food and travel, I don’t watch the Food Network or the Travel channel. I used to love the Food Network, but the transformation into competitive cooking doesn’t feed my soul. I will sometimes tune into Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) because I would like to be her. Although not really. Marriage and I don’t agree. I’m not a Hamptons kind of girl. I could never figure out the coded language of the super wealthy, whether it was cocktail conversation or wearing the right sandals. I’ve been called refreshing, which I did figure out was code for she doesn’t fit in.

But I do like her recipes. They work, unlike Martha Stewart’s, which I always have trouble with. I’m working my way through a fourth revision of a muffin recipe of hers that I SOOOO want to work. It will. Although I will be sporting a muffin top until I get it right and can stop eating the rejects.

But I’m still not answering what a blogger does.

We share. Sometimes we share personal stories of parenting, recipes, dating, vacations, fashion, beauty, etc. These are like online diaries. Some write for money, blogging about products or services. Some mix the two, ideally telling you that they are writing about this particular mascara or retirement planning community because they are compensated for it. That’s usually when you see the “sponsored” label.

For those who aren’t paid to push a product, like me, blogging is like “Living Out Loud,” to borrow from a book title by Anna Quindlen. In the ancient pre-Internet days, newspapers picked certain people to write about particular topics. They are columnists. And their audience was the typical newspaper reader. Women were assigned, primarily, to the LifeStyle sections until Quindlen came around.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992 for her New York Times column, Public and Private.

The difference is bloggers have no built-in audience, like a newspaper has with its subscribers. So we sit at our desks, or on our couches, or in our beds, and write into space. Then we push publish. Sometimes we get comments. Sometimes not.

So, to answer the question of what is a blogger, the answer is we are writers. Like most writers, we fall into different categories: cooking, self-help, memoir, sports, etc. Some of us are more successful than others financially. Some of us are better than others.

But none of us have to rely on a white middle-aged guy in a corner office deciding whether we have something to say. Anyone with an e-mail account and some basic Web skills can become a blogger. Ultimately, it’s the readers/followers who decide if we have something to say.

I joined a group recently of women entrepreneurs. We meet every week in small groups, and twice a month in a larger group. We are the Black Diamond Divas, part of the Coffee Club Divas started and run by Heidi Parr-Kerner. I have accountability partners now – women to talk to. I asked them to give me some feedback. One of the suggestions was to try adding themes to my writing. So Sunday is Sunday Suppers now. Tuesday will be a Tell-All day, to give you more about the person and motivation behind this blog. I am working on an idea for the third blog of the week, but don’t have it down yet. All will have a recipe.

Today’s is about ginger. (Writer trick – tying this back to the lede paragraph). I’m a ginger fiend. I like it in teas, cookies, kombucha, cookies, and cake. The pickled ginger that comes with sushi is among the many reasons I order it. If you don’t eat yours, I might not be polite enough to ask before nabbing it with my chopsticks.

I love this time of year when I have every reason to make gingerbread cakes. My daughter isn’t as big a fan, but she does love cream cheese frosting. So I combined the two, along with some spiced pears   that I had in the fridge from another blog post last month.

I’ve included the recipe I made for ginger cake from Fine Cooking.  But, in all honesty, I love the King Arthur Flour Gingerbread Cake and Cookie mix, which is on sale right now. Plus, spend there is a promotion if you spend $50 , you get shipping for $3.95 (normally $10 or more).

Happy baking

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Ginger Cake Trifle
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch square cake pan, or line with aluminum foil or parchment (have a small overhang) that is coated in cooking spray. If you line the pan, then you can just pull the cake out once it is baked and cooled.
  2. Whisk flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed using an electric mixer (hand or stand) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add both sugars and beat on medium speed until well combined. With mixer on low speed, add molasses. Slowly add one-third of dry ingredients and combine until just mixed. Add one-third of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Repeat until you have used all the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. Do not over beat. Scape into baking pan.
  4. Bake in center of oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Remove from pan and cut into small cubes.
  5. In the meantime make the Cream Cheese Whipped Cream by whipping the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and fluffy.
  6. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer (stand or hand) to whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Scrape in the cream cheese and continue whipping on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. I had some spiced pears, http://meadballs.com/recipe/fall-pairs-well-with-pears/, in the fridge and used these as well. Or you can add some leftover cranberry sauce.
  8. To assemble, put a cube of cake in the bottom of a glass or cover the bottom of a trifle dish with gingerbread cubes. Put a dollop or two of Cream Cheese Whipped Cream in the glass, or cover cake with dollops in trifle dish. If you desire, add a layer of spiced pear or some cranberry, then repeat until you are at the top of your glass serving dish.
  9. This will make 4 to 8 servings, depending on the size of your glass. I used very large red wine glasses, so it made 4, with leftovers.
Recipe Notes

NOTE: I used 1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mixture instead of the ginger, cinnamon, cloves.

Adapted from theKitchn.com and FineCooking.com

To make the spiced pears, peel pears, cut in half and core. Place into a pot that has come to a simmer with:

Cook for about 10 minutes, or until soft but not falling apart. Remove from syrup, reserving it. Slice or dice pears you are using. Any you are not can be stored in a glass jar with the syrup.

 

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Sunday Suppers: Beef Tenderloin in Chianti

tree2I’ll fess up to being downright grumpy most of Saturday. I shoveled the walk three times. The wind howled on my dog walk, chilling through my Barbour jacket, down jacket, snow pants, knit hat with ear flaps, and my shearling mittens. And my nose was running, but I didn’t want to take the mittens off the get to the tissues that stocked in every coat I own.

I will stop complaining now. It’s not even officially winter. My home is warm. My daughter is delightful. I had a Friday night alone (beaux out of town and daughter at an overnight), so I could watch what I wanted. I updated software on my printer and cursed out loud and didn’t have to apologize to anyone. When that was over, I turned on the tree, made a cup of tea, and plopped onto the couch, where the dog joined me.

By Saturday night, I kicked the Grinch out of the house. I made the batter for four batches of Christmas cookies, which I will bake today. I am not sure why, since I don’t have an office to take them to. One of the drawbacks of working from home, and a situation I am working to remedy.

snowshoeThis morning, before the dog even begged, I dug my snowshoes and poles out of the container in the garage, loaded them and the dog into the car, and headed to Pleasant Ridge Park before 8 a.m. Halfway through our trek, my hat came off, my mittens off, both coats unzipped, and my mood was greatly improved. I made a pot of real coffee in the Chemex, took a shower, and figured out dinner.

I shop at McDonald’s Meats in Girard about once a month. When I’m buying whatever cut of meat took me there, I stock up on emergency dinner supplies. The meat is vacuum packed and frozen, which preserves its freshness. It also saves me from having to buy in bulk and then repackaging and freezing. Last month, I bought a couple of small beef tenderloin steaks to grill. I never got around to it, so these are the protein component for tonight’s dinner.

You typically grill or roast beef tenderloin, or wrap it in pastry (a laWellington). Since the grill is under about a foot of snow and Wellington is just too involved, I wondered about turning it into a stew. While this seems an expensive cut of meat to “stew,” is usually reserved for very tough meats that need tenderizing. But using tenderloin has a couple of advantages, as long as you don’t overcook it. First, it takes less time to cook the dish (less than an hour compared to about 3). Second, it is such a lean cut, that it benefits from being immersed in a richly flavored wine sauce.

So after a day divided between the outdoors and the oven, I’ll be glad to settle into a big bowl of Beef in Chianti tonight.

When Mother Nature gives you snow, you’ve got to strap on the snowshoes. (And dig the tenderloin out of the freezer).

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Beef Tenderloin in Chianti
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, French, Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, French, Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Mix together 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of thyme in a large bowl or zip-top baggie. Add beef and toss to coat. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat, cook bacon until browned and crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Add beef in batches and cook until browned on the outside and very rare inside, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside on a platter. You may need to add oil for the second batch of the beef.
  2. Remove beef from the pan and set aside. If there is any oil/fat left, add garlic. If not, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and then the garlic. Cook until fragrant, but do not brown it. This takes about 30 seconds.
  3. Add red wine and cook on high, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Reduce for about 3 minutes, then add the beef stock, sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  4. In the same pan, saute the bacon on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until browned and crisp. Remove the bacon and set it aside. Drain all the fat, except 2 tablespoons, from the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook on high heat for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock, tomato paste, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Remove thyme sprig and bay leaf from the sauce. Add the onions and carrots and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the sauce is reduced and the vegetables are cooked.
  6. Mix together 1 tablespoon flour and butter. Stir into the sauce and simmer for about 2 minutes, so the flour is cooked through.
  7. In the meantime, if using the mushrooms, saute them in a separate pan in 1 tablespoon of oil until browned and tender, about 10 minutes.
  8. Add beef, bacon, and mushrooms to the sauce. Heat for about 5 minutes together. Turn off heat. You do not want to overcook the beef (this is not stew meat that benefits from longer cooking). This can sit for about 20 minutes before serving. The flavors will develop.
  9. Serve alone, with noodles, over mashed potatoes, or riced cauliflower.
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Bake Ahead for the Holidays

Trimming the tree. Holiday parties. Crazy schedules. All of these combine to make the month of December a blur and a challenge to get anything on the table for dinner.

I’ve always been a fan of having lasagna on hand. This is a trick I learned when babysitting for Ted and Denise Padden and their four children. She would have me come over and bake a big lasagna while watching the kids, and that would be dinner for at least two nights.

I don’t tend to make the big heavy meat lasagna anymore. Most of the time there aren’t enough people in my home to consume it. I could make and freeze half, but something about lasagna calls for lots of people around a table, a big salad, and some warm bread.

A few years ago I discovered how the Italians pair squash with pasta, including in lasagna. I enjoy the slightly sweet flavor of the roasted squash against the richness of the ricotta, especially when infused with sage or rosemary. Adding spinach to the basic bechamel sauce, adds color and another vegetable.

I made this recipe first for an early Thanksgiving feast and have made it again to try it with zucchini noodles instead of pasta. While I think the pasta version was better, the zucchini one has the benefit of being gluten free. To make the zucchini noodles, slice a zucchini length-wise in about 1/8-inch strips. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-7 minutes to remove the extra moisture and increase the sweetness of the zuke. If it is still a bit slippery (like a wet noodle), roast for another couple of minutes until it is slightly brown in areas. Then use just like the pasta. The number of noodles with depend on the size of your zucchini. If they are small, you might need one zucchini per layer, or six (6) in total.

Feel free to play with the squash. Butternut is slightly dry when roasted and sweet. Acorn squash has less flavor and is a bit damper. Hubbard or any of the slightly sweet and very orange varieties will do well. I tried it with acorn squash, because I have heaps of them in the garage, and can’t say it’s a favorite. It will do in a pinch.  But even better is just a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, which eliminates the whole roasting step. Plus it is just the right flavor. Just don’t use the pie filling!

You can freeze this dish and bring it out later in the holidays, either for a planned event or a family emergency.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
There are a lot of steps here, but if done ahead, the whole project comes together quickly. Like any lasagna, once you master the recipe, it will be much easier in the future. You are essentially roasting butternut squash and pureeing it for one layer. Making a standard bechamel, but adding spinach, for another. And finally having a ricotta filling. So it's not terribly different than the standard lasagna process. I would make some extra bechamel sauce, or a tomato sauce, to serve alongside. Mine got a little dry.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To prepare the butternut squash, heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Rub inside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for about 1 hour, or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Scoop out insides into a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated for two days.
  2. Caramelize the onions by placing in a hot saute pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the two sprigs of thyme. Stir to coat in oil and cook until onions are soft and slightly brown, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. This can be made two days ahead of time and refrigerated. Remove thyme before adding to the lasagna.
  3. To make the ricotta filling, mix cheese, chopped rosemary, eggs, half the grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. This can be done 1 day ahead of time.
  4. To prepare the spinach, melt butter in a saucepan, add flour and stir. Cook until flour is no longer raw and the two have come together into a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Add milk or half-and-half and stir until it comes to a boil. Add the rest of the grated Parmesan, nutmeg, and defrosted and drained spinach. Season with salt and pepper. This can be made one day ahead.
  5. To assemble, coat a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Lay down about 1 cup of the spinach cream sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread to coat. Top with noodles.
  6. Spread half of the roasted butternut squash on top of the pasta. Top with another layer of pasta.
  7. Spread ricotta cheese mixture on top of pasta, and top with caramelized onion. Cover with layer of pasta.
  8. Top with remaining butternut squash, and another layer of pasta.
  9. Finish with remaining spinach cream sauce. Cover with foil.
  10. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour (60 minutes). Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
  12. Can be frozen.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from the New York Times

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Feeling a lot like Christmas

gingerbread-houses2
The Florida gingerbread villiage.

The Christmas spirit visited me early this year. Sometimes it is more elusive; I have to go searching to find the spirit. One year, I found the spirit in August, which is just a tad to early since we still had plenty of summer and fall to appreciate.

My daughter and I head to Florida for Thanksgiving to visit my parents. With 70-degree days, and a beach in the front yard, you might think the Christmas spirit would be hard to find. But that was not the case. For several years now, we decorate gingerbread houses over the Thanksgiving break. It’s a great project with kids because it takes care of those witching hours: before you can get to the beach, or after the beach and before bed.

The houses stay in Florida. We give them away. This year, I bought several kits at TJ Maxx to make once we returned to Erie. It seemed a shame not to enjoy a project once we are home. By we, though, I mainly mean me. My daughter loses interest. She says it’s because I’m too intense when it comes to decorating. Whatever the reason, she finished her roof and went off to the high school play last night. This left me elbow deep in frosting and candies. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I finished hers.

She was a huge help earlier in the day putting the tree up. I measured our ceiling this year. No more shrimpy tree. I had at least 11 feet to work with (although the highest point is more like 14). The helpful folks at Mason Farms  sent us to the back lot where the church trees were. With help, we picked one, and had them tie it to the top of the car.

Once home, I realized 11 feet is 5 feet more of tree than we usually have. So I needed her help to get it up. We managed, without any significant swear words, to right the tree in the living room. It needs about 24 hours to settle down, so the gingerbread project kept me from obsessing about decorating the tree.

After that, she got a pass on Mom’s Christmas projects for the day. Today, we decorate the tree.

Hope this post find you in the Christmas spirit.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Feeling a lot like Christmas
This is a very easy and very impressive dessert to serve. It can be made a day ahead of time and decorated at the last minute. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving, so the chill comes off the chocolate.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make small tarts, unroll the pie crusts and run a rolling pin over them until they are smoothed out. Take your tart pan and place on top of the crust. Use a small knife to cut around the outside.. Repeat. I got about 3 tarts per pie crust.
  2. You can also make a shortbread cookie recipe. Roll into a log and chill. Cut out 1 1/5 inch to 2-inch rounds and press into the bottom of the tart pans. Or use the prepared sugar cookie tubes from the refrigerated section.
  3. Press crust into the bottom and slightly up the side of the tart pan. You don't want it to go all the way to the top like a pie crust.
  4. Use a fork to piece the bottoms of the pie crust. Bake in a 350-degree oven until light brown. Bake for 15 minutes, check to see if brown. If not, bake another 10 minutes. You don't want soft and gooey here.
  5. Remove from oven.
  6. In the meantime, pour heavy cream into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until it starts to boil (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in my microwave). Remove from microwave and stir in sugar, butter, and chocolate pieces. Stir until melted. If all the chocolate doesn't melt, return to microwave for about 30 seconds. Remove and stir.
  7. Stir in milk. The chocolate should be shiny.
  8. I used a soup ladle to evenly distribute the chocolate onto the crust in the tart pans. This works best if the tart pans are on a baking sheet. Because now you need to refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the chocolate to set.
  9. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt (trust me on this). It shouldn't cover the whole top. Just a little bit of flaky sea salt so you get a taste with each bite of chocolate. Either serve that way or add sprinkles, crushed peppermint, or crushed nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios would be nice here).
Recipe Notes

This is adapted from Jamie Oliver.

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