For #SundaySupper, Family Foodie mom tweets before she eats

DUNEDIN

The Laessig home is a lot like other busy households on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

There's a baseball game on the TV. Kids are doing their thing: reading, lazing around on comfy chairs, hanging with friends in bedrooms. Dad's watching the game in between other duties. The dog is flitting from place to place, looking for a chuck under the chin and possibly a treat.

Mom is at the kitchen table with her laptop and iPhone. She's answering tweets and monitoring comments on Facebook. And pinning food photos on Pinterest. And sharing trendy Instagram pictures on various social media websites, all while keeping an eye on the clock. She's got to start dinner soon and gather the troops at the table. On this night, a live online chat with a cookbook author starts at 7 p.m.

Yes, the Laessig home is a lot like other busy households, especially those in which Mom is a food blogger with a growing following.

Birth of a blog

A year ago, Isabel Laessig's oldest child, Alexandra, was preparing to head off to the University of Florida. What would she miss most about life at home, her mother asked her. Family dinners featuring food from her mother's native Portugal and table talk, she replied.

After wiping away the tears, Isabel, now 44, got thinking about the importance of the family dinner, plus she was feeling pretty good that her daughter recognized the benefits of home-cooked food and good conversation. So Isabel did what so many women do when they like to cook and share recipes and have a little time on their hands. She started a blog. Familyfoodie.com was born, and you could call it Isabel's fifth child.

So now, every Sunday, besides having dinner with her four flesh-and-blood children and husband Ron, she breaks bread with people all over the world. She knows this because she's monitoring the activity throughout dinner on several social media websites. In fact, she's the only one allowed to have a phone at the dinner table.

"Look where this person is from," she says on a recent Sunday evening, pointing to the screen. VintageKitchen1 has joined the conversation from Buenos Aires. "Can you believe that?"

There's a buzz about #SundaySupper (that's the tagline that allows people to find the Family Foodie conversation on Twitter and other places) on this night because Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook (Workman, 2012), will join the conversation live from New York.

By the end of the evening, #SundaySupper has become a "trending" topic on Twitter, meaning it was among one of the nation's most commented-on topics for at least a few hours. Reports the next day revealed that the conversation reached about 1.1 million people on Twitter alone. It's a bit like the telephone game, or perhaps more aptly, ripples on a pond.

Isabel never expected much to happen when she launched familyfoodie.com last summer, but much has, and fairly quickly.

She remembers the exact date when she knew she was on to something.

On Dec. 5, 2011, Mario Batali tweeted live using the #SundaySupper tag. With something like 320,000 followers for Batali, that's no small thing. It was quite a public relations coup and helped her grow her fan base. Comparatively, she has almost 14,000 Twitter followers.

Since then, major corporations have come calling. General Electric flew her to its Kentucky headquarters to check out its new high-end line of appliances. Land O'Lakes sent samples of flavored butters for her to cook with and hopefully Tweet about (please!). Last Sunday, Merrell Shoes provided giveaway products. Former fashion model and cookbook author Christina Ferrare hooked up with the group earlier this summer for a chat, and Isabel featured one of her recipes.

They all want to reach the Family Foodie audience.

A social worker

Food blogs have exploded in the past decade, covering every kitchen and cooking topic imaginable, from gluten-free meals to all-bacon manifestos. There's a guy in California who blogs about eating and cooking only what he can grow, forage, catch and hunt (honestfood.net). There's a mom of three in New England who loves to tell the world about what she bakes (bakedbyrachel.com). A University of South Florida student shares his dining experiences all over the Tampa Bay area (carloseats.com).

There are so many food blogs that there are now blogs about them, including foodblogsearch.com. Magazines give awards for top food blogs, and many websites rank their favorites, among them Babble.com, which recently named the top 100 "mom food blogs."

Hosting sites like Wordpress.com and Blogspot.com make it easy for beginners to share their thoughts on Grandma's cacciatore or their devotion to homemade dog food. Besides tips and recipes, droolworthy photos of food have become a mainstay and have fostered their own sites such as foodgawker.com and foodspotting.com.

It's not enough anymore to simply spew your deep thoughts about food in the middle of the night and expect an audience to come. Bloggers must be masters of social media, a time-consuming prospect that can turn a hobby into a full-time job.

How much time does Isabel, who has a background in marketing, spend on Family Foodie? Easily 40 hours a week, she says. Is she pulling down a 40-hour a week salary? Not hardly, but potential sponsors are calling.

For now, it's still a labor of love with a few fringe benefits.

Heart to heart

Renee Dobbs, blogger at MagnoliaDays.com in Stockbridge, Ga., is one of Isabel's new Internet pals.

"She's one of my closest friends and we've never met," Isabel says. Well, never met in person anyway.

Part of the reason for Isabel's success, Renee says by phone, is her authenticity. The Internet audience has a way of ferreting out phonies and tossing them aside like burned toast.

"This is something she is doing from her heart," Renee says. "She has always embraced people, and people can see it's an authentic thing with her."

As an example, Isabel's son, Reis, 12, a budding foodie with thoughts of his own site, says it's not really a big deal that mom is working on Sunday because they have a home-cooked dinner as a family nearly every night. The Laessigs truly live family dinner night.

It's the desire to stay true to her beliefs, though, that gives Isabel pause about sponsorship. Sure, she wants to make money, but bristles at cooking with ingredients that she doesn't normally use or really even like. She knows that her devotees will move on to another blogger if they feel she's become a vehicle for product placement.

For now, though, she's more concerned with NicoleHCook, BigBearsWife and VintageKitchen1 in Buenos Aires. They are hungry to know how her One-Pot Arroz Con Pollo, Portuguese-Style, turned out.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

MODERATE

One-Pot Arroz con Pollo, Portuguese-Style

3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs (see note)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 cups short grain rice

1 cooked pork kielbasa (14 to 16 ounces), diced (see note)

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their juice

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)

1 cup sliced roasted red peppers (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (optional)

Cut the chicken into chunks about 2 by 2 inches. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a very large skillet with lid with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add as much chicken as will fit in the pan without crowding. Cook the chicken until it is golden brown on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook until the other side is browned, 3 to 4 minutes longer; the chicken will still be pink inside. Transfer the chicken to a large plate. Repeat until all of the chicken is browned, adding another tablespoon of olive oil as needed.

Don't worry if the bottom of the skillet gets little bits of the chicken stuck to it; but if the skillet starts to get too dark, lower the heat a bit. Pour off the fat and pan juices from each batch of chicken into a heatproof bowl or pitcher.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shallot, carrots, and bell pepper and cook until the vegetables start to become tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until you can really smell the garlic, about 1 minute.

Add the rice and the kielbasa and stir until the rice starts to turn slightly translucent and is nicely coated with all of the vegetables and the fat, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with their juice and the chicken broth, bay leaves, paprika, and saffron. Stir well. Cover the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, let the liquid come to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium, and let simmer until the rice has begun to absorb the liquid, about 8 minutes.

Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice and drizzle any juices that have accumulated on the plate over the chicken. Pour off any fat that has separated from the reserved pan juices, and add the darker liquid from the bottom of the bowl or pitcher to the skillet. Cover the skillet again and let simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, the rice is tender, and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, sprinkle the peas on top, and drape the roasted pepper (if using) attractively over the top. Cover the skillet and cook until the peas (and peppers) are heated through, about 2 minutes.

Note: Isabel Laessig uses chicken thighs and legs, with skin and bones, instead of boneless, skinless chicken. She follows the same cooking instructions, browning them before adding additional ingredients. She also substitutes chorizo for the kielbasa.

Serves 8.

Source: The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman (Workman, 2012)

Join the conversation

Isabel Laessig of Dunedin blogs at familyfoodie.com.

Each Sunday beginning at about 3 p.m., she is live on

Twitter, talking with a wide community of people using the tag #SundaySupper. They share cooking tips and recipes, plus photos of meals they have made during the week.

This Sunday, the conversation and recipe will revolve around Julia Child, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday Aug. 15.

Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook,

joins the group for a third and final chat on Aug. 12.

For recipes and more information about Isabel,

go to familyfoodie.com.

>>MODERATE

One-Pot Arroz Con Pollo, Portuguese-Style

3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs (see note)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 ½ cups short-grain rice

1 cooked pork kielbasa (14 to 16 ounces), diced (see note)

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their juice

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon saffron threads

1 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)

1 cup sliced roasted red peppers (optional)

¼ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (optional)

Cut the chicken into chunks about 2 by 2 inches. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a very large skillet with lid with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add as much chicken as will fit in the pan without crowding. Cook the chicken until it is golden brown on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook until the other side is browned, 3 to 4 minutes longer; the chicken will still be pink inside. Transfer the chicken to a large plate. Repeat until all of the chicken is browned, adding another tablespoon of olive oil as needed.

Don't worry if the bottom of the skillet gets little bits of the chicken stuck to it; but if the skillet starts to get too dark, lower the heat a bit. Pour off the fat and pan juices from each batch of chicken into a heatproof bowl or pitcher.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shallot, carrots, and bell pepper and cook until the vegetables start to become tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until you can really smell the garlic, about 1 minute.

Add the rice and the kielbasa and stir until the rice starts to turn slightly translucent and is nicely coated with all of the vegetables and the fat, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with their juice and the chicken broth, bay leaves, paprika, and saffron. Stir well. Cover the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, let the liquid come to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium, and let simmer until the rice has begun to absorb the liquid, about 8 minutes.

Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice and drizzle any juices that have accumulated on the plate over the chicken. Pour off any fat that has separated from the reserved pan juices, and add the darker liquid from the bottom of the bowl or pitcher to the skillet. Cover the skillet again and let simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, the rice is tender, and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, sprinkle the peas on top, and drape the roasted pepper (if using) attractively over the top. Cover the skillet and cook until the peas (and peppers) are heated through, about 2 minutes.

Note: Isabel Laessig uses chicken thighs and legs, with skin and bones, instead of boneless, skinless chicken. She follows the same cooking instructions, browning them before adding additional ingredients. She also substitutes chorizo for the kielbasa.

Serves 8.

Source: The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman (Workman, 2012)

For #SundaySupper, Family Foodie mom tweets before she eats 07/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 5:30am]

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