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Tampa food blogger celebrates the year's food holidays

TAMPA

Jennifer Buggica has embarked on a curious campaign this year.

She's a food blogger, and every food blogger worth her weight in recipes, has to have a shtick, a theme if you will, to separate her from the other 16,000-plus people like her sprinkling the Internet with their culinary adventures. That's about how many food blogs there are out there.

Buggica is observing the year's daily "food holidays," putting her own twist on the honored dish or featured ingredient and posting the results with photos and recipes on her blog, the Foodie Patootie (TheFoodiePatootie.com). Food holidays? You know, National Coffee Cake Day (April 7), National Turkey Neck Soup Day (March 30) and National Sticky Bun Day (Feb. 21). For those days she featured recipes for Coffee Cake Muffins, Kale, Bean and Orzo Soup, and Sticky Bun Monkey Bread, respectively.

About those Coffee Cake Muffins, Buggica blogged, "With breakfast being the most important meal of the day, I love those things I can make that I can just grab and go with, and that I don't get too sick of. I have food ADD in that I need something new all the time. For me to find something that I can eat every morning for several days is rare. But, these muffins are it. I eat one for breakfast and another for snack on the long days at work."

As blogger shticks go, Buggica, 29, came up with a good one. Since late last year, traffic to the Foodie Patootie has grown 200 percent and she's getting about 5,500 views a week. Room for growth, for sure, but a good start. On Jan. 1, Bloody Mary Day, she got going in earnest on her new plan.

We hung out with Buggica on a recent Friday at her mother's apartment in Citrus Park where she likes to cook a few times a month because the kitchen is a bit more spacious than her own in Temple Terrace. She was preparing Thyme Buttermilk Cornbread for National Buttermilk Biscuit Day (May 14) and Butterscotch Blondies for National Butterscotch Blondies Day May 9).

On the stove, a big pot of red sauce bubbled away. Whereas the blog project represents the modern intersection of food writing and technology, the chipped, white enamel pot connects her to the past. The recipe for the red sauce, and the pot, are family hand-me-downs, reminders of where her passion for cooking comes from.

"I'll never give away that recipe," she says of the aromatic sauce that's the specialty of her grandfather, Robert Buggica. "And I'll never be able to make it like him." A deep whiff reveals lots of green peppers, but the magical mix of spices would be difficult to figure out. She uses the sauce for spaghetti, lasagna, "whatever," she says.

Her grandfather is the "cook of the family," she says. Someday, she hopes to have that title.

Buggica is a lot like many Tampa natives. Her heritage is Italian, Cuban and Spanish, and along with that ethnic heritage comes many family food traditions, not the least of which are big get-togethers for the holidays. Her love of food and cooking was born around those tables.

She's clever about coming up with the recipes for the blog, working them into meals for her extended family, friends or husband, Mike Gutierrez. She made sure that when she tested crown roast of pork (for the first time) for, um, Crown Roast of Pork Day on March 7 that she paired it with a dessert destined for the blog. Since March 8 was National Peanut Cluster Day, they ate homemade PayDay bars after the roasted pork.

When she isn't cooking for her blog, Buggica is a social media specialist, most recently for Publix and now at Grow Financial Federal Credit Union. She leans on her knowledge of social media marketing to drive traffic to the Foodie Patootie. She has been blogging since she was 14 and says she hopes no one is reading that early effort. She knows that nothing dies on the Internet. Buggia turned her efforts toward food writing last fall, mostly critiquing Tampa restaurants, which she is still doing.

Food holiday bonanza

With the number of days set aside to celebrate things such as oatmeal cookies, New England clam chowder and pistachios, it's hard to believe that any food has been left out.

In recent years, the food holidays list has grown so much that some days mark two celebrations. For instance, crown roast of pork day slams head-on into cereal day.

So what gives with all these food holidays?

Mostly, they are industry campaigns to promote certain foods. Somebody has to make sure bittersweet chocolate and apple turnovers get their due. For example, the Walnut Marketing Board makes a case for setting aside a day to celebrate its favorite nut. Then press releases are sent out to the media, and other interested parties, with recipes and information extolling the virtues of said walnuts. Stories are written, recipes are shared and the marketing machine has done its job.

The case is made to groups who approve these petitions for the right to call July 10 Pina Colada Day, among 364 others. Even the president can get involved. President Dwight Eisenhower put his stamp of approval on National Walnut Day, May 17, which is now Cherry Cobbler Day, too.

It's a crowded field.

So what's next?

Come Dec. 31 — no surprise, that's National Champagne Day — Buggica thinks she'll be ready to hang up her food-of-the-day crusade. By then, she hopes more people will have found her site, using it as reference not just for food holidays but as a recipe repository.

"Ultimately, I want to start conversations about cooking," she says.

And for 2015? Buggica will keep blogging, but she's thinking about taking her readers on a seasonal journey, Tampa-style.

That means strawberries in February and watermelon when the snow is still flying up North.

But first things first. Today is Roast Leg of Lamb Day.

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

>>MODERATE

Beef Empanadas

For National Empanada Day, April 8

Frozen empanada dough, thawed (see note)

1 pound ground beef (we used organic lean)

1 medium onion, chopped

½ green pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

10 green olives, sliced

Egg white

Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brown beef and drain. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Add salt and pepper, cooking through until vegetables are completely sauteed. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. If the mixture is a little dry, add some oil.

Add cumin and cilantro to the mixture. Let this cook for 20 minutes. When you are ready to put empanadas together, add chopped eggs and olives.

Place the empanada discs on a floured surface. Spoon some of the meat mixture onto the center, then fold into half-moon shapes. Seal edges by pressing with your fingers. You can also crimp with a fork for a decorative edge.

Bake on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet for 20 minutes, or until empanada crust is golden brown.

Note: Look for frozen empanada dough, already formed into discs, in the ethnic section of your store's frozen food aisle. One brand to look for is Goya. The label will read "Discos Grandes."

Serves 8.

Source: TheFoodiePatootie.com

>>EASY

Coffee Cake Muffins

For National Coffee Cake Day, April 7

For the topping:

⅓ cup sugar

⅓ cup light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For the muffins:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup light-brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup milk

⅓ cup canola oil

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.

To make the crumb topping, combine sugars, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in melted butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Spread out mixture on parchment paper to dry until ready to use.

To make muffins, combine flour, light-brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, canola oil and eggs. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist.

Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumb topping, using your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12.

Source: TheFoodiePatootie.com

>>Easy

Lemon Chiffon Cake Cocktail

For National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day, March 29

Ice cubes

3 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ ounces tonic water

1 ½ ounces simple syrup

1 (50-ml) miniature bottle of cake-flavored vodka

Lemon slice, for garnish

Fill cocktail shaker with a handful of ice cubes. Pour in all ingredients, except garnish. Shake about 5 seconds.

Strain the shaker contents into a cocktail glass, or stemless wine glass (what I used).

Garnish with a lemon slice.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Source: TheFoodiePatootie.com

>>EASY

Thyme Buttermilk Cornbread

For National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, May 14

1 cup yellow cornmeal

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup whole milk

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ cup shortening plus 2 tablespoons, both melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and thyme in a large bowl. Stir.

In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, whole milk, egg and vanilla extract. Whisk together. Add baking soda and whisk again.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and whisk again to thoroughly combine.

Add ¼ cup melted shortening to batter. Add 2 tablespoons shortening to cast-iron skillet to grease pan. Pour batter in skillet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: TheFoodiePatootie.com

Tampa food blogger celebrates the year's food holidays 05/05/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 7:39pm]

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