When I think back on how the power of food has resonated throughout my life, I’m reminded of waking up to the smell of breakfast in the air at my grandparents’ house on summer mornings in York, SC. Between the scent of the country morning dew coming through the open window, the security of being in a loving home, and the aroma of bacon, eggs and grits on the stove, I now realize that in those early moments I experienced a true feeling of peace. Food definitely has power, not only to evoke emotion, but also action. Just think back to the times you might have been denied the freedom to get up from the table until you ate more of your vegetables, or how a meeting or event can draw in a voluntary crowd with the promise of food! And I can’t leave out the incredible power of food to heal. The proper nourishment can prevent and chase away illness.
If food has power, then so does the cook. When we prepare and share our culinary creations with loved ones, we can heal, express love and set the atmosphere (whether for a romantic dinner or a fun-filled party). But where have all the great home cooks gone? True, there are plenty of people who cook and cook well, but I think many would agree that the woman (and I don’t mean your mother or your grandma) who has the skill to whip up a variety of good dishes from scratch is becoming extinct. This is due to many reasons from women’s busy lives in and out of the workplace to the heavy promotion of convenience and packaged foods by food marketers. However, I refuse to let the great home cook die. She’s too important to our own health and the well-being of our families and friends.
Cooking, especially with fresh ingredients, is truly a legacy and a talent to be recaptured. If you already have the skills, great! Keep it up. If you aren’t so fortunate and have let some of the great culinary skills of past generations of Black women fade away, reclaim them. While I’ve always enjoyed cooking, there was a time when you wouldn’t find me in the kitchen except to heat up leftovers from last night’s takeout. However, my desire for true flavor and fresh, whole food called me back into the heart of the home to express my creativity and get back to an art and science that’s too important to let become a thing of the past. I’ve used a combination of cooking classes, cookbooks (I actually read the reference sections), cooking shows, a few tips from family members, and practice to get me on my way. The feedback from my family and friends has been positive. Not only do I cook well, but I also think I have a knack for it. However, with a little patience and practice, cooking is something I think anyone can learn to do well.
And so, I’ve started this blog to share my writing, recipes and culinary journey, as well as to inspire others to reclaim the legacy of the great home cook. In forthcoming posts I’ll share things I’ve learned in the kitchen, reviews of cookbooks and other books on food along with other food related tidbits. I also intend to feature a few guest bloggers on occasion (Flavor Diva friends of mine with great food knowledge) and interviews of other African-American foodies.
For this first post, I’d like to share my recipe for Tilapia en Papillote (tilapia steamed in a parchment paper or foil packet; I prefer parchment paper). This dish is light and easy to make for one person or more. You can substitute a variety of herbs and spices. Experiment with different ones to see what you like or use whatever you have on hand. En papillote recipes from Joy of Cooking  and Mark Bitttman’s How to Cook Everything  inspired this recipe.
Tilapia en Papillote
4 tilapia fillets
16 sprigs of parsley
4 pinches of dried thyme
¼ red bell pepper cut into thin strips (julienne)
¼ green bell pepper cut into thin strips (julienne)
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
4 12” x 12” (approximate) square pieces of parchment paper to make individual packets
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Salt and pepper one of the fillets on both sides. Center the fillet on the bottom half of a 12” x 12” piece of parchment paper. Next, sprinkle a pinch of the dried thyme over the fish. Then, drizzle about ½ tablespoon of olive oil over the fish. Lay a few slices of the red and green bell peppers, and 2 – 4 sprigs of parsley over the fish along with a slice of lemon. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the fish again.
Now fold the top half of the parchment paper over the fish. Beginning on one side, fold the parchment paper repeatedly along the edges (overlapping each fold) to seal the packet (see photo). Prepare the remaining fillet packets as described above. If so desired, you can make one large packet and place all four fillets and toppings in one packet. Place the packet(s) on a cookie sheet and place in the oven.
After 20 minutes, open one of the packets to check for doneness. Fish should be white, moist and flaky. Serve packets individually and directly on the plate, or remove fish from the packets before serving. Remove the steamed parsley sprigs and lemon slice, and garnish with fresh parsley and a fresh slice of lemon.