Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Photo de Tour Eiffel aux Chocolate

Chocolate. The Eiffel Tower. A grand ball for a good cause. It all came together recently for our friend Alona, who helped coordinate the 55th annual Bal de Paris for the Egliese et Ecole Notre Dame des Victoires in San Francisco. Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates created the tower for the fundraiser. I heard about it and begged Alona to provide Blog Appetit with a photo for all our enjoyment.
Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pumpkin Weight Posted

Did you take a guess at the pumpkin's weight (see posting below)? If so, the answer is posted under the comments section.

Haven't guessed it's weight yet? Take a guess before you click on the comments and see how close you came.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Road Trip -- Down the Pacific Coast to Santa Cruz

Friends of ours from the Midwest were visiting and Gary and I took them sightseeing for the day. These friends know the San Francisco area well and have already seen many of the traditional sights and sites, so Gary decided a road trip down the coast in search of sea otters, seals and sea lions was in order.

As we headed from downtown to the Great Highway, our first detour was to view the tasteful renovation of the Cliff House overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Seal Rock. There were no seals there, however. We gave our friends a history lesson about the long-gone Sutro Baths and Playland, instead. It was a good thing the bar wasn’t open yet, or I think Catherine and I would have voted to stay and try out the cocktail menu and drink in the view.

We didn’t get far. Just down the Great Highway is the Beach Chalet with its magnificent WPA murals. We chose to ignore the brew pub that now occupies the top floor of the building and concentrate on art, culture and history.

Our odyssey continued as we loaded back up in Gary’s van and wended our way down the spectacular Northern California coast line, stopping at a few of the rugged beaches to admire the pounding surf, wind blown trees and craggy coastline and looking in vain for our marine mammal friends.

Just above Half Moon Bay we stopped at the harbor at Princeton by the Sea. The majority of boats here are working fishing vessels of one sort or another and there are several fish related businesses on the pier. We poked around a bit and decided that since we didn’t have a cooler buying raw fish was not a souvenir we should consider when I declared I was hungry and I wanted fish. Now. We tried a colorful café overlooking the harbor. Barbara’s Fish Trap had fresh fish from rockfish (which Ferrol craved) to calamari. Preparations were simple, portions were huge. The four of us gorged ourselves on broiled fish with coleslaw, fish and chips (the fried fish was perfect, the chips less so), fried calamari rings (incredibly tender and moist with just the right crisp from the fryer) and the largest shrimp and crab louie that I have ever encountered. (The copious amounts of seafood were fresh and steamed until cooked through and not a second more, with a clean taste and a good texture, but I am sorry to say the sauce was a glop of sweet thousand island dressing and the lettuce was rough chunks of iceberg. I ate every bite, however.)

Satiated for now, we shoved off, continuing to explore the twists and turns of Highway One, past fields of Brussels sprouts growing on their stalks, looking like they would be harvested just in time for the nation’s Thanksgiving feasts. We stopped at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and from the wind-whipped deck at land’s end we finally saw our marine friends frolicking in the waves – a sea otter and a harbor seal.

Mission accomplished, the decision was made to turn inland and head back via a faster (and straighter) highway. We had barely turned onto Pine Flat Road when Catherine, Ferrol (a big wine enthusiast) and I all yelled at Gary to stop. We had spotted the Bonnie Doon Vineyard Tasting Room. Luckily, Gary decided to be our designated driver, so we could imbibe to our hearts’ content. I’ll post more about our wine tasting experience in the future, but let’s just say after a full flight of wines that included a raspberry desert wine in a dark Belgian chocolate cup, I was ready for a nap or a mug of something caffeinated.

Now our route took us through the redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains and when we popped out we were in the little town of Felton, which reminded me very much of a rustic Berkeley. We stopped at the White Raven Café, where they take their chai seriously. Their chai deserves a post of its own and will get one soon.

Then, somehow to our surprise, we were back on a major highway and on our way back to San Francisco. We’ve promised to visit them in Minnesota. They have a friend who keeps them supplied with fresh white fish and a friend who owns a Vietnamese restaurant. Sounds like it will be a great trip!
Barbara's Fish Trap, 650. 728.7049, no web or email, 281 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
Beach Chalet – http://www.beachchalet.com/
Bonnie Doon Vineyard Tasting Room: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/tasting/bonnydoon
Cliff House -- http://www.cliffhouse.com/

Pigeon Point Lighthouse – http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=533

White Raven -- http://www.awhiteraven.com/

Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Contest

Can you guess the weight of Big Bertha over there?

Leave your best guess in the comment section below.

Answer will be posted on November 28th.

I suspect that it is not a great eating pumpkin, but bonus points for figuring out approximately how many pumpkin pies this behemoth would make.

(If you are a food or other blogger and have a related link you would like to share, such as one to pumpkin recipes, pie crust tips, thanksgiving thoughts, etc., please include it in your comment.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hot Stuff at the Farm Stand

Just what the world needs, another hot sauce.
When we were driving back from a family vacation in Yosemite National Park, we stopped at Fisher Farms, in Ripon, California, absolutely one of the best farm stands in the world.

The owners of FF only sell seasonal produce they grow themselves at prices that make us city slickers drop our jaws. Their season starts in May with three different kinds of cherries, and continues through September with five kinds of apricots, 11 types of plums, 28 of peaches, 19 kinds of nectarines, as well as plentiful varieties of pluots, almonds, walnuts, grapes, apples, Asian pears, heirloom tomatoes and vegetables.

Since we were coming through in late October, the pickings were a little thin, but there were piles of tempting little baby bell peppers, supple looking jalapenos and cheery little red lantern-like peppers I’ve never seen before.

The red peppers turned out to be Caribbean reds, supposedly twice as hot as their incendiary orange cousin the habanero. (One source quoted 450,000 scovilles for the Caribbean red, 250,000 for the habanero. Burpees’ seed catalog just lists them as 12-alarm chiles.) We pirated away a big handful of these red devils and some of their (relatively) tamer cousins and drove away, already speculating what to do with our plunder.

Eventually, we decided on a hot sauce. So one night when Gary was out of town, Noah and I sterilized a few glass bottles (we had visions of our creation eating through the plastic Tupperware) and got to work.

First, I took out my Mexican griddle and charred the outside of the jalapeños for a smoky flavor. Then I seeded the baby bells (which packed a bit of heat with their sweet), the jalapeños and the Caribbean red. (I wore rubber gloves.) I can’t give exact quantities, since we were experimenting, but maybe two of the small baby bells, five to six of the smoky, blistered jalapeños and about the same number of the Caribbean reds. Once cut the Caribbean reds had a fruity smell, which I decided to balance out with some citrus.

We pureed the peppers with a few garlic cloves, put them in a pan with about a cup and a half of white vinegar and the juice of a lime and cooked them until the little bits of pepper were softened and our eyes were watering from the fumes despite my industrial strength hood fan. We then cooled, decanted and refrigerated. Then we waited for Gary to come home to try the stuff, we sure weren’t going to.

Noah and I also had fun naming our creation. Our winner: “Below the Belt Hot Sauce.”

The tasting report was that the sauce had moderate heat (I was a bit disappointed, I really wanted that baby to burn, but honestly Gary can really take it hot so our moderate could be your forest fire) and full, balanced flavor (which was exactly what I was aiming for). I used it in a vegetable recipe a few days and found it added a nice flavor but needed to use a good slug of it to add the heat. Next time, more Caribbean red, less bell! I’ll name that one Aargh, because it will make you walk the plank.

Resource:Fisher Farm – no web or email, 17747 E. Highway 120, Ripon, CA 95366, (209) 982-4184
From Labor Day to Memorial Day, hours vary, call in advance. During the season Monday –Thursday and Saturday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Sunday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Update: 8.26.10 -- The sauce aged well and definitely got hotter the longer we kept it (we refrigerated the bottles) until it was quite hot. FYI - New post on Fisher Farm here.

It's My Blog and I'll Post a Photo of My Cat if I Want To

Noche the Cat Sends Get Well Wishes to Clare of www.eatstuff.blogspot.com.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What Did I Learn at Food Writing School Today?

Well, I learned a lot of people have a lot of really good ideas for food articles and that many of them are more motivated to get published than I am.

Of yeah, I talk a good talk (write a good write?) about being busy with the kids, the business, the volunteer work and the messy details of life (remind me to tell you of the Kafkaesque run-ins I have had with several bureaucracies this past week), but are they just excuses? Am I afraid to confront my dream?

Will I fail? Do I not want to work that hard? Will it cause conflict with the other demands on my time and attention? It is not just am I good enough, but am I smart enough to figure out what will sell and where and I am persistent enough to get through to the decision makers and convincing enough for them to buy what I want to write?

Hey, that sounds a lot like sales. I thought I wanted to be a food writer! Starting this blog has been so fulfilling -- I am actually writing more and getting more ideas. I had thought Blog Appetit would be enough, but now I am not so sure.

Wouldn't it be great, if some editor spotted my blog and said, "get me her email address, I want that blogger?" Yeah, and my dishes will start washing themselves.

Anyway, I invite you along for FJK's wild ride as a wannabe food writer. Follow my adventures in the new blog (see the links section): I Wanna Be a Food Writer. Click on over to www.iwannabeafoodwriter.blogspot.com to check it out. I'll have some posts from Blog Appetit, but I will also be chronicling my efforts to crack the world of publication for pay. Maybe I'll change the names to protect the guilty. The innocent can use the press.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Pressing Need

What would you get if you were a food blog writer in a Williams-Sonoma store?

That’s the question that was put out there by Jennifer from Taste Everything Once www.tasteeverythingonce.blogspot.com who is the lucky recipient of a generous W-S gift certificate. Well, when I was recently confronted with the same problem, I bought myself a fancy scale to weigh ingredients, or if I overdo the baking, portion sizes for Weight Watchers!

Jennifer, however, is looking for “entertainment must haves.” While I entertain quite a lot, I would call my style rustic at best or family style at my most accurate, so beyond a pretty and practical really big casserole dish (and a few nice trivets to put it on) I’m out of ideas.

But I thought of my current favorite kitchen gadget, and thought if Jennifer is willing to expand her concept a bit, I could heartily recommend a nice size panini press/grill.

I resisted one as long as I could, but when I finally succumbed it was love at first grill mark. Not only can you make yourself fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches when you just need that comfort hit, you can use it to grill all kinds of bits and bites of carbs, proteins and vegetables for yourself and company.

If you need to justify it for “entertaining,” I do find no one can resist a properly grilled panini. Make some minis for appetizers, or use it to grill bread for bruschettas. Plus you can use it to make the main course, too.

My recommendation is to get one with removable plates (much easier to clean) and one that has a slight slant so that the grease and juices drain into a reservoir (preferably removable for easy cleaning.)

I’d also check into the hinge and see if it floats a bit to accommodate thicker ingredients.

Those are the basics I’d recommend. My grill also came with waffle plates (which I didn’t need) and quesadilla plates (which I believe no one needs). I’ve seen more expensive ones that convert into open grills and have other features. I do admit, heat control might be nice.

Now, here’s the true confession part – I got mine for $30 at Costco. It’s made by VillaWare, a company that also makes much bigger and more elaborate grills. Plastic bits and pieces have already broken off. A few springs mysteriously fell out with no apparent place to replace them. It is a little small for entertaining; I have to make sandwiches in batches. But it works well and I’ve learned its idiosyncrasies and it has earned its right to counter space. I had wanted one of the fancy presses from Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table, but I couldn’t justify the expense until I knew if I’d use it. So I bought the cheapie and now can’t justify replacing it with a more expensive one.

Pass the grilled Portobello mushroom and red pepper, goat cheese and pesto sauce, I feel a panini coming on!


My grill is no longer offered by Costco.
Williams-Sonoma offers a nice range of panini presses and grills at:

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Channeling Julia Child?

In a recent post I wrote about the tart experience. Part of that was teaching my friends how to make lemon curd. Now lemon curd can be a wondrous thing to eat, but an intimidating or even tortuous experience to make. Since my friends were curd neophytes, I thought I needed a simpler recipe than the one I had been using which I thought could sour them on the whole process since it involved roughly 15 separate steps, two separate strainings and a huge chunk of time.

After a bit of research, I picked a recipe from Baking with Julia (see below) which seemed very straightforward but still classic.

I knew I had picked the right resource when I made a mistake in completing the recipe (I had my friends add the butter too early) and the recipe turned out just fine.

A bit embarrassed in front of my friends (after all I was playing teacher), I started to get flustered but then I flashed back on to those old French Chef shows where the chicken would go flying and Julia would pick it up with aplomb and just carry on.

You know what, that’s what I did, just carry on. We all laughed and my friends learned an important truth about cooking. Most recipes don’t include perfection as an ingredient.

Thanks, Julia.

Lemon Curd ala Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (you are going to all this effort, don’t cheat now)
Grated zest of a lemon
½ stick of unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into eighths.

Put water in the bottom of a double boiler or large pan and bring to a simmer. In the top pan of the double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl that will fit on top of your pan for an improvised double boiler, beat eggs and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. With the mixer running, add in the lemon juice and zest. Put pan with mixture on top of pan with simmering water. (There should be no contact between the bottom of the top pan and the water.)

Whisk the mixture by hand. Constantly. Sing songs to your self. Take a mental inventory of your spices. Keep whisking. The curd WILL thicken and be so delicious it will be worth all this time.

Once it has thickened, use oven mitts and transfer top pan/bowl to the counter and whisk in the butter piece by piece. Then, press plastic wrap directly on top of the curd and refrigerate until well chilled and set.

Hocus Focus -- Food Writing

I had a blog entry all written to post for today (see above), but I just got back from a class sponsored by the Writing Salon for people who love food and would like to learn food writing and I felt the need to “blog” about it. It is a small class with a good mix of writers and food enthusiasts taught by my friend, Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food, an excellent handbook for aspiring food writers.

We were working on the concepts of first person essay and memoir and Dianne was coaching us to write about the usual that people can relate to but to add context and meaning to make it unusual.

That got me to thinking about blogging and the food blogs I enjoy. The ones I like best are blogs whose creators offer points of view that give a special focus or context to what they are writing about. Which makes me wonder, what is my focus, how do I filter things differently or give the mundane context that you, the reader, find insightful and valuable? If I am writing for myself, should these issues matter?

But am I indeed writing this blog for myself? As more of my friends know about this site, they ask me why I am doing it. My sister-in-law (an excellent writer herself) called it “will write for praise.” Maybe not praise, but to take advantage of technology to be heard in a direct way unfiltered by the vagaries, filters and delays of query letters, book proposals, publishing contracts and marketing concerns. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound? If I write for others and no one ever reads it, how can I have an impact? What obligation to I have to myself and what do I have to my “readers” (who at this point probably number in the 10s)?

I don’t really have an answer for this, but I have been more than subliminally aware that Blog Appetit is a bit of a generalist food blog, kind of more like a Fanny Farmer cookbook rather than one of those slim books focused on lemons or olives or the like. Maybe that will be okay, maybe it will need to change. Right now I guess my blog has a dual emphasis – one is to help me find my voice, my context, my focus as a writer, the other is to help me find a readership who finds value in what I write.

Bringing Up Blog – I’ve figured out how to create special interest links to keep some Blog Appetit favorites at your finger tips. Watch for the tentatively named “Blue Plate Special” section coming to a Blog Appetit near you soon (or as soon as I can find time to finesse the coding).


Dianne Jacob and Will Write for Food

Writing Salon

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Can You Bake a Berry Pie? (Or, Oh, You French Tart!)

What happens when you get four friends and one hot recipe together?

You get a lesson in pie crusts, almond cream filling, lemon curd, new cars, teenagers and semi-precious jewelry.

Maureen, Laurie and Teresa envied me my easy, no fuss pie crust, which I learned in Paris last May at the cooking school of Paule Caillat.
(See http://www.promenadesgourmandes.com/ for more information.)
I debuted my latest Paris fashion at a mutual friend's Memorial Day barbecue. Laurie, in particular, has been anxious to mix it up since then.

So after much schedule juggling, we finally got together the other day at my house. I supplied the nine-inch tart pans, the imported French butter, the French roast coffee and the pastry treats. They brought a lot of enthusiasm and a new cookbook as a pre-thank you present.

After discussing the new car, husbands, kids and the jewelry, we finally got down to business by starting with lemon curd. Personally, I agree with Laurie, a good lemon pie is even better than (dare I say it) the ch-word. I don't believe such goodness can come out of a can, bottle or pudding box, and my friends would have to feel the burn of hand whisking the lemon nectar over an improvised double boiler until it turned into custardy bliss.

While the lemon curd cooled and congealed in the fridge under its plastic wrap skin, we went to work on the uncursed crusts. These require no rolling, no crumbling of butter and flour between your fingers while you try to convince yourself pea size really means the size of an overgrown edamame.

We went to work on the almond cream filling after our crusts were patted into place in the tart pans. One of our three crusts was sacrificed to the lemon pie so one crust was fully baked until golden with edges just beginning to brown. After it cooled the lemon curd was ladled on, smoothed out and zealously guarded from eager tasters to be topped at home by the lucky baker with red, ripe strawberries.

After a 14 minute bake in the old Viking, the other two crusts were ready to pull out of the oven to be filled with the almond, butter, egg, sugar and rum filling. They baked for about 25 minutes more until the filling was set and puffy. After oohing and aahing and a discussion about our general sense of self-satisfaction, sliced strawberries were inserted on top of these open-faced wonders, completing their transformation into true berry tarts.

The berry tarts were loaded in the back of a cherry red roadster, the lemon pie went home in its less colorful but equally able conveyance and plans were made for the next cooking session. Something about spring rolls. I think I said yes.

Almond Tart with Berries
A special thanks to Paule Caillat, who gave me permission to use her recipes.

This is a very adult tasting tart, not too sweet, with lots of flavor. You can also use the tart shell with other fillings. I have used it with a lemon curd filling and Paule, whose family originated this tart, spoke of having made it with a chocolate ganache filling as well. For 6-8 servings

8 1/2 inch to 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom


Please note: your butter must be French or European style and unsalted. These butters are available at specialty supermarkets and sometimes at Trader Joe's. Regular American butters such as Land of Lakes or Challenge (although I haven't tried Challenge's European style) have too high a water content and the crust shrinks and cracks too much when baked.

80 grams (about 3 ounces) unsalted European-style butter
1 tablespoon of a neutral tasting oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of water
Good quality white flour, preferably unbleached, unsifted.

Pre-heat oven to 410 degrees.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl combine the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt. Melt together in a microwave until the ingredients are well melted and mixture is close to a boil. I recommend covering the bowl with waxed paper or a vented top to avoid splatter. If the butter is cold or frozen it would take longer. (I have used frozen butter, but I cut it up into smaller pieces.)

Remove bowl from microwave. Be very careful, the ingredients will be very hot.

Add flour by tablespoons to the butter mixture and stir with a fork. Keep adding and stirring until the mixture forms a ball. Keep adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. It should not look wet or slick or greasy and have some resistance to your touch, almost like squeezing your earlobe, but still keep together and not crumble.
Press the dough into the ungreased tart pan. Make sure you cover the bottom and sides evenly. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork and press the back of the fork tines against the sides of the tart. Place the tart pan on a baking tray.

Bake at 410 degrees for 10 or 15 minutes. The crust should look lightly browned and show fine cracks.) If you are making a recipe that needs a completely baked crust, bake for additional time until golden overall and the edges have begun to brown.

Almond Cream Filling

100 grams of unsalted butter, softened. (That's about a half cup of butter. American style will work here, but I find that European butter is conveniently sold in sticks of 199 grams, so there is enough for both crust and filling and a small pat leftover.)
Half cup (100 grams) sugar
Half cup (100 grams) almond meal (also known as powdered almonds. If you try to make your own, used blanched almonds and grind it very fine and powdery without turning the mixture to nut butter.)
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon rum

In a bowl, mix the sugar with the powered almonds. Add the butter and thoroughly blend using fork, pastry blender or fingers until the mixture is evenly combined.
Add the egg, flour and the rum. Mix well.

Assembling the Tart

Pre-baked crust
One recipe of almond cream
Approx. 1 pound of strawberries (or other berry)
Confectioners' sugar (optional)

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees if you are making right after baking the tart, or preheat to 350 degrees if starting fresh.

Spread the almond cream evenly in the pre-baked tart shell.
Bake in the oven on baking tray for 20 minutes. The filling should be set and have risen up a bit. Cool a bit on a rack.
Wash, drain and remove stems on 1 pound of strawberries. If they are large, you may need to slice them in half or even quarters. Arrange berries on top of baked tart when it is just out of the oven, slightly sinking each berry piece into the almond filling
Let cool a few moments. Sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar (if using).
Remove outer tart ring and serve.