Friday, December 22, 2006

Thai Curry in Hurry

It was cold (for us) in northern California today. I wanted something hot in temperature and spice. I was thinking a lot about the wonderful Pim of Chez Pim. The first time I met her she had made a group of us Menu for Hope II volunteers a pot of steaming Thai chicken curry.

Suddenly, that's all I wanted for dinner. Since I refuse to go to the market before major holidays (partly because of parking and lines, partly because I always seem to be the one behind the person asking the meat counterman or woman "can you recommend a cut of beef for pot roast that will cook quickly?"), I had to make the curry with whatever I had on hand.

Luckily, I've done that before. Read my ingredients and technique list here . This time, I cut up an onion, softened it in some vegetable oil over medium heat (I was using an earthenware casserole), added six cloves minced garlic, about a pound and half of boneless, skinless thighs and breasts, cut into pieces, two tablespoons of Thai red curry paste, 1 can (approx 12-13 ounces) light coconut milk, about 12 ounces chicken broth, and five-to-six ounces of regular coconut milk. I also added two sliced carrots, about a pound of Chinese long beans (you could use green beans) trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces, a red bell pepper, cut into a large dice, and a one-pound bag of Trader Joe's peeled and cubed butternut squash. When the chicken was about cooked through, I added a half pound of cubed firm tofu. There were lime wedges to squirt over individual portions of the lip tingling (but not overpoweringly hot) soupy stew (or stewy soup?). I served the curry in bowls over jasmine rice, but you could also use Asian wheat or rice noodles.

Of course, curry in a hurry works best if you consider Thai curry paste and coconut milk pantry staples. If you don't already, I highly recommend them. The paste (I used red for this recipe) is available in many Asian and specialty markets. Coconut milk (not the coconut cream used to make pina coladas or other drinks) is available in Asian and Latin speciality stores. Light (which doesn't have the thicker, fatty part of the milk) is available from some manufacturers. Feel free to just use all regular if you can't find the light version.

This website offers red curry paste, coconut milk and a wide range of other Thai foods by mail if you don't have access to local Asian stores. It also has a lots of recipes on how to use the various ingredients.
Photo credit:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Menu for Hope Update

The food bloggers' efforts on behalf of the UN World Food Programme have now raised more than $45,000. For more details on the fundraising effort and how to donate, please click on the Menu for Hope icon on the Blog Appetit side bar.

Act fast -- deadline for donations is Friday, December 22 at 6 p.m. PST.

If you have already donated. Thanks so much.
If you haven't, please get clicking!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Spend the Day and Dinner at Alinea: Menu for Hope 3 Prize Spotlight

Some things can just be once in a lifetime experiences. Here's a chance to have one at a famous restaurant and do some good at the same time.

Get a complete behind the scenes look and dinner at the famed Alinea in Chicago by donating to the Menu for Hope III fundraising campaign for the UN World Food Program and selecting prize number UC10 for your raffle chances.

Here's the write up direct from Chez Pim's post (aka Menu for Hope Central), for the prize she was able to arrange:

"This prize came personally from the Chef/Owner Grant Achatz and the Owner Nick Kokonas of the restaurant Gourmet Magazine named The Best Restaurant in America this year, Alinea. This is a great opportunity for anyone who's a fan of Grant, Nick, and/or Alinea. The stage program there is NOT open for the general public, so this may very well be your only chance to see all the action up close and personal. The winner of this raffle prize will get to spend the entire day observing all the workings of Alinea, from prep to service and ending with a huge big bang with a treat to The Tour menu with all the trimmings. "

For more on Menu for Hope, click here. So far the food blogging community has raised more than $25,000. The last day to participate is December 22. So get clicking!

Lights, Action, Hanukkah -- Chanukah or Hanukkah Guide Part 4

Just some quick links for those of you who are interested in lighting Hanukkah candles to celebrate the holiday.

It doesn’t count toward the “mitzvah” of lighting your own Hanukkah candles, but this site has an on-line example of the candle lighting with prayers and audio to help you learn how to pronounce the Hebrew. has good information on the customs and traditions involved in lighting a menorah here.

Some things to pay attention to before you "light up":

The candle holder used at Hanukkah to be "official" must have eight candle holders (one for each night) on the same level in a straight line. The ninth, shamash or servant or helper, candleholder should be raised or lowered above those eight.

The word menorah just refers to the traditional seven-branched candleholder used throughout the year. It has been adopted by the general public to refer to the Hanukkah candleholder which others call a hanukkiah (or hanukkiyah.)

The first candle is placed at the right (as you stand facing the menorah). On following nights the new candles are added from right to left but are lit from left to right, so the "newest" candle is always lit first.

The candles should be allowed to burn at least 30 minutes. It is traditional to stop the household bustle and reflect or mediate on the candles. The light should only be used to reflect on the story of Hanukkah and can not be used for any other purpose (such as illumination.)

In the Eastern European Jewish tradition, it is the custom for each family member to light his or her own menorah. In other Jewish traditions, however, it is the custom to have only one menorah for the entire family.

To read more of my Chronicles of Chanukah, please click here for the history and here for a recipe for latkes (potato pancakes). For instructions on how to play dreidel, click here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Play a Little Dreidel -- Chanukah or Hanukkah Guide Part 3

After you come light my menorah and eat my latkes and hear my Hanukkah stories, it is traditional you play a little dreidel.

Dreidel (or savion in Hebrew) is a spinning top game. Each player starts by putting a token (usually gold-foil covered chocolate coins called gelt -- See my story on gelt and See's Candies over at Sugar Savvy -- but some use pennies, M&M candies or Hershey kisses, toothpicks or even poker chips) in the pot.

Then players take turns spinning the four-sided top and, depending on what symbol they land on, either taking half the pot, taking it all, taking none or putting in a token.

For complete rules and an explantion and depiction of the symbols "Nun" (which looks like a left-facing bracket and means you get nothing), "Gimel" (which looks a bit like a nun with a leg on the right side and means you take all), "Shin" (something like a "W" and means you'll have to pun one into the pot) and "Hay" (kind of looks like a lower case "n" and means you'll get half the pot) check out this post from on the game. If you don't have a dreidel and have no way to buy or borrow one, you can make your own. It's not exactly a little dreidel made out of clay, put this paper pattern will do the trick. Click here.

To read more of my Chronicles of Chanukah, please click here for the history and here for a recipe for latkes (potato pancakes). More on menorahs next.
Update: 12/10/12 -- The Sugar Savvy link is gone and the url has been taken over by another entity.
Below is the article I posted on Sugar Savvy about the See's gelt. It was originally posted 12/16/06.

To some Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom, a festival of lights, a time to light the menorah and share a special holiday with friends and family.  To The Chocolate Box, however, this ancient Jewish festival is all about the chocolate coins.

Coin-shaped chocolates, wrapped in gold or silver foil, and called gelt (Yiddish for money) and usually packed in little net bags are the traditional tokens for gambling with when you play driedel, a top game.  Win none, win all, win half or put one in, depending on what you spin.  The idea is not to eat your stash before the game is over.

Not everyone plays with gelt, of course. Some use pennies, toothpicks or other candies.  But to me, it just wouldn’t be Hanukkah with the golden gelt.  The only problem?  The chocolate always tastes terrible.

I’ve had versions made by American, Israeli and European manufacturers.  I’ve bought them by the pound in fancy candy stores and by the two-pound bag in the drug store.  I’ve had dark chocolate and milk chocolate.  I’ve played with gelt in foil wrappings that mimicked poker chips, American coins and Euros. It didn’t matter what I bought, they all tasted stale and metallic and were so brittle they broke as soon as you unwrapped them. (Except for the year I made my own and wrapped them in aluminum foil.  Tasted great but didn’t much look like gelt.)

So when I walked into my local See’s Candies store and saw a stash of glistening gold-foil chocolate coins, I was ecstatic.  For Hanukkah this year, we would have gelt without guilt. 

Tasting Report:

Description:  I bought my gelt in the See’s Candies store where it was sold by the four-ounce yellow net bag.  It contained candy coins in two sizes, one coin about an inch and half in diameter, the other an inch, nicely wrapped in gold foil embossed with American coin images. The embossed image could be seen on the unwrapped candy, which was a rich milk chocolate color.  On the website, See’s sells the candy in a one-half pound box. 

Taste:  In See’s We Trust?  Maybe not.  Perhaps, my expectations too high, but this gelt was not that good.  It had a rich and creamy taste like See’s other milk chocolate products, but it also had a very stale and metallic after note.  Maybe it has something to do with being wrapped in foil. It could also have something to do with how thin the chocolate has to be molded to make the coins.  It is better than any other chocolate gelt I can recall (except my homemade), but it still wasn’t that good.
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin, vanillin. It is a certified kosher product.
Well Fed Network Rating: On a scale of one to 10 as compared to other See’s Candies’ products, I would rate this gelt a four.  At first I was going to rate it even lower, but I think that was a reaction to my disappointment.  I tried the candy again a few hours later and found it was not quite as bad as I had first thought.  However, since most gelt is being bought for the concept and probably not being critically evaluated when it is being consumed, maybe what it tastes like is not that important. 

Friday, December 15, 2006

Menu for Hope Prize Highlight: A Gastro Tour of Barcelona

In 2000 I fell in love with a city and its cuisine -- Barcelona. I spent an incredible 10 days there eating up the history, scenery, sights, sites, museums, shopping, architecture, and of course, the food. Now it could be your turn.

Silly Disciple is offering a personalized day-long gastro tour (including a tapas lunch) of the city as a raffle prize for Menu for Hope III, so if you are planning or even thinking of planning a trip to Spain anytime in 2007, I hope you'll take a chance and donate some money to the UN World Food Programme and select prize number EU35.

For more about Silly Disciple's magical, mystery eating tour, please click on the post here. For more about the Menu for Hope fundraiser, please check out my write up here.

It's Time to Name Your Favorite Blogs and Posts of the Year

They are the blogs that have inspired you, made you laugh, informed you, entertained you and maybe given you a recipe or two that have led you to culinary greatness. Now is your chance to acknowledge the impact these blogs and their creators have had on you (or at least the time you spend every day reading them). But HURRY, you have only until midnight EST tonight, December 15th, to submit your nominations for Well Fed Network's Food Blogs of the Year Awards.

For all the details, please go to Well Fed's post on the topic here. The top five nominations in each category will be posted for voting on December 23 and voting continues until the end of the month.

So click on over to Well Fed or use the links below and let the judges know what food bloggers and blogs are nomination-worthy in the following categories:

Best Food Blog - City
Best Food Blog - Rural
Best Food Blog - Writing
Best Food Blog - Humor
Best Food Blog - Photography
Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews
Best Food Blog - Family/Kids
Best New Food Blog
Best Non-Blogging Food Site
Best Food Blog - Original Recipes (More than 75%)
Best Food Blog - Recipes
Best Food Blog - Group
Best Blog Covering the Food Industry
Best Food Blog - Post
Best Food Blog by a Chef
Best Food Blog - Theme
Best Food Blog Covering Drinks (Alcohol/Non-Alcohol)
Best Overall Food Blog

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chanukah or Hanukkah Part 2 -- Come Fry the Latkes

If Hanukkah has a smell it must be of latkes frying in more oil than most of us use for the rest of the year combined. My range has a commercial fan venting hood, but even so I smell like oil after frying up just a (relatively) small batch. (No one seems to really make just a few latkes.)

If my ancestors decided to choose foods cooked in oil as symbolic of Hanukkah, my foremothers found a winner in the potato pancake or latke (which is Yiddish for the delicacy). As much as I and many others enjoy them, though, they tend to be a seasonal treat due to their fat, carb and calorie content. Since we eat them so rarely, I have no desire to try those avant-garde recipes for sweet potato or zucchini or sunchoke or even low-fat cabbage latkes that pop up in food sections and magazines this time of year. The original is as good as it gets here at Blog Appetit and we like it that way.

My latkes are just a bit of the heretic. My family likes the taste and texture of the potato peel, so my spuds are unpeeled. I alternate shredding onion and potatoes in batches in the food processor to help prevent the shredded potatoes from browning. (Although the darkened raw potatoes seem to make little difference in the final taste and appearance.) I prefer matzo cake meal to bind my batter. The latkes are fried in plenty of oil until the lacy edges are crisp and brown. And I follow my mother-in-law's advice and always drain the freshly fried pancakes on brown paper bags instead of on the more usual paper towels.

The result? Crisp, delicious latkes and only a little bit of heartburn.


For those of you without a latke recipe to call your own, here is mine, an adaptation of one that appeared in The Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

2 1/2 pounds of baking potatoes,
1 large or 2 small onions,
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
About 1/4 cup matzoh cake meal (or 2 to 3 tbsp flour)
Vegetable oil

Peel the potatoes if you prefer. Shred or grate the potatoes with the onions. Larger shreds produce lacier latkes with rougher edges. Fine shreds or grated potatoes produce more "pancake"-like latkes. Squeeze out excess moisture from the mixture. Mix in eggs, seasoning and matzoh meal or flour. Let sit for five minutes so mixture can absorb the meal or flour. Add more if it still seems wet.

In a very large skillet (the heavier the better) over medium-high heat, heat oil that is about 1/4-inch deep until it is very hot. (I drop a bit of batter in to see if it sizzles with bubbles all around.) Spoon latke mix into the oil or press the batter into a large serving spoon and then carefully slide it off the spoon into the hot oil. Do not over crowd the pancakes in the pan. Fry them until browned on both sides and crisp on the edges. Drain on brown paper bags. Repeat until all latkes are fried.

This recipe makes about 30 3-inch potato pancakes.

Serving suggestions: Latkes go great with homemade applesauce and pot roast or roast chicken. Or serve them by themselves with the applesauce and sour cream.

(More about The Jewish Holiday Cookbook here. Part 1 of the Chronicles of Chanukah explaining some of the holiday's history can be found here.)

Photo Credit:

Get a Taste of the Bay Area with Today's Menu for Hope Prize Highlight

Jealous that Blog Appetit's idea of eating local is to graze the San Francisco Bay area?

We'll you can join in the fun and share in the calories if you are the winner of Married With Dinner's prize package.

Armchair Food Tour of the San Francisco Bay Area” includes taste-tempting treats from four Northern California counties. To quote from the post:

"The first stop on our tour is San Francisco, where we pick up:
- a copy of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market cookbook
- a 4.25-oz holiday ornament filled with assorted Ghirardelli chocolates
We cross the bay to Berkeley, and sample:
- a 3/4-pound bag of Peet’s Coffee limited-edition Holiday Blend
- a 13.5-oz. jar of Scharffen Berger Pure Dark Ganache Chocolate Sauce
- an 8-oz. pot of June Taylor Blackberry Conserve
Then over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Wine Country, where we find:
- a 1-pound bag of Rancho Gordo “Ojo de Tigre” heirloom beans
- a 12.5-oz. bottle of Sonoma Syrup Company’s Eureka Lemon simple syrup"

The total value is more than $75. Plus free shipping to any address in the continental US. [If you live beyond the 48 states, they’ll pay for shipping up to $25. This raffle prize is CODE UW-34.

Don't forget Blog Appetit's "I Wanna Be a Food Writer" book package, code UW04. Read more about that and how to donate here or just click on the Menu to Hope logo on the sidebar.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Top Chef Quickie -- Mia Sends Herself Packing

Mia threw herself under the bus tonight to save the talented and idiosyncratic Elia, but it was a dysfunctional team effort that brought her to that point.

As edited, Mia made her dramatic announcement before the judges' announced who would be packing his or her knives. Mia, frustrated her recommendations had been ignored and perhaps upset she had not fought more for them, had concluded that Elia would be axed and volunteered to leave. She may have been right. Michael had played it safe, staying out of the way, Cliff had immunity and Elia had been the leader of a team that had produced four menu items to the winning team's 13 for an L.A. "holiday" bash and still couldn't keep their platters stocked.

(An aside, one of Michael's suggestions ended up not being used. Not surprisingly it involved potatoes, this time with lobster. It's successor idea was steak also with lobster. His lack of creativity and skills was commented on by the judges, especially tonight's guest judge.)

While not much time was spent on the cooking or the food, but the chefs seemed to enjoy their freedom to use quality ingredients and have access to real kitchen equipment (as opposed to last week's firepits.)

Now there are seven -- Michael, Cliff, Marcel, Betty, Elia, Ilan and Sam (who as captain of the winning team was proclaimed the elimination challenge winner).

You can read more about Mia Gaines-Alt and her Feed the People Restaurant in Oakdale, CA, in this article from the Modesto Bee.

Dear Top Chef Fan,
Please consider donating to Menu for Hope III, an effort by food bloggers to support the UN World Food Program. Read more about it
FJK of Blog Appetit

Today's Menu for Hope III Raffle Prize Highlight

Have you supported the UN World Food Programme through the Menu for Hope yet? Need the info on how to do it? Check out this post or click on the Menu for Hope logo on the Blog Appetit side bar.

Today's Highlighted Raffle Prize

Your Personal Sommelier is MFH prize number WB09. The Italian Wine Guy is your sommelier for a night when The Italian Wine Guy at your private dinner party for up to six people in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas Area for an evening (or farther if someone wants to pay transportation costs). You choose the menu to cook for your friends (or the restaurant to eat at) and he will bring the wine, including some from his cellar to match the cuisine and tell people about them. Approximate value: $200. Want to know more about his prize? Click here for his write up.

Whatever Way You Spell It -- A Chanukah, or is it Hanukkah, Guide: Part One -- Defeating the Elephants and Lighting Up

Looking for Blog Appetit's write up on the Menu of Hope and raffle prizes? Click here. (Come to think of it, a raffle ticket for each night of Hanukkah would make a dandy present for someone.)

Note: Today's Chronicles of Chanukah will cover the history and meaning of the holiday. Watch for future posts with directions on celebrating the holiday including lighting candles, playing dreidel (the spinning top gambling game), making latkes (potato pancakes) and more. I was going to include it all in one post, but I just started writing about the history, and, well, the post just kept getting longer and longer, so I split it up. One more note before we begin -- this is my synthesis of many sources and Jewish traditions and my beliefs. It does not represent any one Jewish outlook.

Shedding Some Light
First, the full background of Chanukah (how I usually spell it if no one is checking) or Hanukkah, the more modern transliteration of the word, is probably not the one you know.

Most of you probably already know the story of the Maccabees' successful rout of the Syrian Greek forces, despite their weapons of mass destruction -- the elephant troops. The temple was ruined and there was only enough oil for the eternal light to stay lit for one night. Miraculously that tiny bit of oil lasted eight nights until the supply could be replenished. So goes the story of Hanukkah and a legacy of oil-fried holiday goodies was born in remembrance of the event that some have called the world's first religious war.

But befitting a holiday whose name has so many possible spellings, there is more than one story behind Hanukkah.

A more scholarly interpretation doesn't detract from the Maccabees' win over the religious and physically oppressive Hellenic forces which conquered Judea, but it does point out that it was a form of civil war, with Jews unwilling to assimilate with the conquering and occupying forces not just fighting the invaders but Jews that were willing to cooperate. The actions of the Syrian Greeks were probably destined to cause a revolt. They included taking the Temple over for Zeus, forbidding Jewish worship and observance and, according to some sources, defiling Jewish brides. The revolt began in 167 BCE (some place it at 164 BCE), ending up with many Jews perishing as the rebels began to fight against those who had accepted the Hellenic rule.

Observance of this feat worried religious authorities. As the royal dynasty that arose from the Maccabees developed, they became uncomfortable with its mix of priestly and militaristic aspects and sought to not diminish the Maccabees' accomplishments, but to change the focus. Years after the Maccabees' victory, the story of the long-lasting oil began to be linked to the temple re-dedication (a detail which was not mentioned in earlier tracts), which helped ensure that memories of the event kept a spiritual core separate from the Maccabees.

Various reasons are given for the Maccabees' instituting an eight-day festival. Some sources say the celebration lasted eight days to compensate the people for the inability to celebrate the fall harvest festival because of the war. But that festival, Sukkot, is only seven days, unless you include the one-day holiday that immediately follows it. Other sources point to older religious practices and the holy connections of the number eight in Jewish tradition.

Hanukkah remains a technically minor holiday, one that is not included in the Torah (Bible) and one that is barely mentioned in the Talmud (collection of ancient writings on religious law and authority). It has become a symbol for a religious group's pride and a commercial equivalent of Christmas for some. Interestingly, some scholars think the timing of the holiday has much to do with ancient winter solstice celebrations and human need for light at the darkest points of winter.

Hanukkah is mostly celebrated in the home. Because the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, the dates of the celebration vary. This year, the first night is Friday, December 15th. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III to Benefit UN World Food Programme

It's that time of year again, the time when all of us who spend our days thinking, reading, writing, blogging, photographing and just enjoying playing with our food come together to help those whose days are spent just worrying about getting enough food to eat.

Thanks to Chez Pim, the food blog world has made it easy and fun for you to help by creating a raffle with food-related prizes from around the world. The way it works is you get one electronic raffle ticket or chance for every $10 donation you make. You also get to pick the prize(s) you want to be try for. Last year, the food blogging community raised more than $17,000 to help earthquake victims. This year we are raising money for the United Nations World Food Programme.

Blog Appetit is donating three books I'm calling "The 'I Wanna Be a Food Writer' Package." It is prize code UW04 and contains Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob, The Recipe Writer's Handbook by Ostmann and Baker, and The New Food Lover's Companion by Herbst. These three books will help give you the skills, passion and even some facts to help you really get your food writing career cooking. It's a great package for food bloggers, too. It's available to participants in the U.S., Canada and England. I'll post more about this prize package later this week. If you'd like to bid on this prize, you'll need to use that UW04 code.

Not interested in my prize package? Check out some of the other prizes available to you ranging from once-in-a-lifetime meals and experiences to wonderful cookbooks, kitchen tools and more. The Chez Pim site has a list of all the prizes and regulations. For a list of just the U.S. West Coast based prizes, click on over to West Coast coordinator Sam's Becks&Posh site. Write down the code numbers for the prizes you are interested in, you'll need them when you make your donation.

Here is how you can participate in this worthwhile event: (Note: It is really much easier than this write up makes it seem!)

Got your prize numbers? Click on over to First Giving to make your donation and select your raffle tickets. Each $10 donation buying you the electronic version of a raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the "personal message" section of the donation form when confirming your donation using the prize numbers. Let us know how many tickets per prize and you must use the prize code(s). For example, for a donation of $50, you could specify all five "chances" go to one prize, or a raffle ticket each on five different prizes or you could put three chances on one prize and two on another.

Two other notes for when you are making your donation at First Giving. First, be sure to check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you if you are a winner. Your address will not be shared with anyone. Second, if your company has a matching gift program, please check that option and fill in the information required.

Outside of a small administrative fee from First Giving, all the monies raised in this raffle will go to help the World Food Progamme, which last year aided 96.7 million people in 82 countries and is a leader in the fight to combat hunger throughout the world.

Raffle winners will be announced on January 15th. That's when you can check at Chez Pim to see the list of winners.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pomegranates Again (Yes!)

Last winter when the pomegranate season was about over, I posted an ode to the "seeds of my heart" all about pomegranate lore and wrangling (including how to get the seeds out without much mess).

Then I posted some links to pomegranate recipes elsewhere on the web. You can check those out here.

But I also got some other pomegranate recipes emailed to me. By the time I got around to dealing with them, however, pomegranates had disappeared from the stores. Well, the "Sherman tank" of fruits is back in the produce section and I thought I would share these resources now.

Derrick did this roundup on pomegranates for sfist.

Barbara of Tiger and Strawberries did an Indian stir fry she called "jeweled chicken."

McAuliflower has a treasure trove of pomegranate recipes on her site Brownie Points. Click on over and check out her archives. For something different, try making her "pucker up pomegranate truffles" .

Lynette of Lex Culinara made the most gorgeous baby pavlovas, a perfect balance between sweet meringue and tart pomegranate seeds.

If you'd like to add a link to your favorite pomegranate recipe, please leave it in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oldie But Goodie Alert -- Peppermint Bark Rounds

I just got my Williams Sonoma catalog and was astounded to find peppermint bark selling for $24 a pound (or get two pounds on sale for $39) plus shipping.

Making your own is easy to do by yourself or with the kids and, trust me, tastes as good and costs a lot less than the catalog version.

Want to make it a more luxe? Use a high quality chocolate (maybe the See's semisweet chocolate chips I reviewed).

Here's link to the original post last year and the directions.

Blog Appetit!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Back with a Top Chef Blast

Well, we are back from vacation and I'm full of cruise food and one or two delicious ideas I got from our ports. More on that and a behind-the-scenes look at the ship's kitchen in a later post.

I'm really busy catching up with work and home, so my appetite for my blog writing has to be unfulfilled for the moment.

I did catch the Top Chef episode I missed last week in a repeat. I was unimpressed. I think I finally get it -- it's NOT about the food. It's not a cooking show. It is not about recipes, ingredients or techniques. It is about personalities, creating a narrative and entertainment. I'll still watch, but I no longer expect to learn anything or to be inspired. I do think the first season of Top Chef even with the horror that was Kathy Lee was more about the food than this season.

By the way, I picked Carlos to go this episode, earning myself some high fives from my kid. Also, I'm way tired of Betty being Ms. Comfort Food and bad mouthing Marcel, who does a fair job of being ridiculous all on his own. I know it could just be the editing, but Betty your early wins could count for naught, zip it and whip up something really good before you asked to pack your knives (including that cool one from Chef Ming) and go.

Anyone curious what the trainwreck that (who?) is Michael will do next and how they (the judges/producers/powers that be) will justify keeping him in the competition, which should be easy since it is not about the food?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Gobble This: Happy Almost Turkey Day

The Blog Appetits are off for another adventure and I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again. I hope to share my fresh cranberry sauce recipe with you, but what with packing and wrapping up the office and all, I'm afraid I won't have time. Just in case I don't have an opportunity to say it, I thought I'd wish everyone a happy, healthy and meaningful Thanksgiving, especially my niece, Anna, who created this turkey costume last year. She made a very convincing turkey, complete with gobble.

I hope to have lots to share when we return from our vacation.

Do I Make Mincemeat Out of a See's Mincemeat Candy?

Vegetarian Alert! There is actually BEEF in See's Candies' Dark Chocolate Mincemeat. I didn't know that when I innocently bought and bite into this complex and actually quite good candy. While I am not a vegetarian, I was still turned off by this news. Was I able to keep my bias against meat in candies out of my rating?

Read all about my experience on Sugar Savvy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tangerines on Ice

Once again Gary stopped at a farm stand and was seduced by the pliable skin and sweet-sour taste of the Satsuma tangerine.

Once again I was called on to make tangerine sorbet.

If you'd like to make some with this season's crop of tangerines, here is a link to my directions for making your own tangerine ice. (There are directions on how to make without an ice cream freezer, too.)

A Late Fall Night's Dream

Alas poor blog, I have no time for you.

I would offer you tangerine sorbet and pomegranate dreams if I but had a minute. Sweets would you yours and holiday dishes if I but had my wishes.

Sleep on my poor Blog Appetit and soon once more will Top Chef rants come your way. Slumber my dear blog knowing that you are the one true blog of my heart. Soon my work will be done and together we will post anon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

See's The Chips and Pass the Vegetarian Times

I've had some recent posts on the Well Fed Network.

Over Sugar Savvy I've tested See's Candies wonderful semi sweet chocolate chips. I even give See's recipe for chocolate chip cookies which is only available on the back of the chips bag. Noah, aka The Future Pastry Chef, was kind enough to mix up a batch of his own special chocolate chip cookies so I could taste test this product baked as well as "raw." That's a photo of Noah's cookies above. (Psst! Wanna know Noah's secret ingredient? It's mint extract.)

Here's the link to my taste test report.

Over at Paper Palate, I've reported on the new issue of Vegetarian Times. Here's the link to my write up including a recipe for a potato-fennel soup and ginger pear crumble dessert.

Take a few minutes and click around the newly redesigned Well Fed Network. Lots more visual punch, many new sites and an even more informative and entertaining read.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trying Absinthe --The Restaurant

My swath through local restaurants continues with my recent visit to Absinthe restaurant in San Francisco in Hayes Valley.

I drive by this bistro often on the way to the youngest's high school and have been attracted to its European-looking decor, the stories behind the liqueur the restaurant is named after, the green twinkling lights in the surrounding trees and its reputation.

A visiting cousin from New York provided the impetus for us to finally park the car and try the food. (Well, actually the valet parking attendant had to park the car since this area is packed with restaurants packed with people eating before attending events at San Francisco's symphony and opera.)

Absinthe's menu was French bistro with a California twist. As I've mentioned before I don't pretend to be a restaurant critic, think of me as a commenter, observer, sharer or perhaps a selective reporter. Anyway, some of the highlights of the meal:

The Ginger Roger -- a kind of mojito made with gin instead of rum with homemade ginger and lemon-lime syrup and lots and lots of fresh mint

Spicy Chickpeas -- a small bowl of spiced fried chickpeas that reminded me of mini fafalels and which I found irresistible. In the interest of fairness, I should mention that Gary found them very resistible.

Duck and Duck Confit in Huckleberry Sauce -- Very tasty with the fruity acid of the huckleberries cutting through the nice richness of the duck. This is what Gary ordered so I only had a few bites. He was very taken with the confit and immediately started thinking how could it would be in a kind of gourmet burrito. (How about a wrap made of socca -- chick pea flour-- or a nice baquette with confit, white beans and an eggplant-tomato marmalade with red onion pickles, excuse me, I think I need to go create this!)

Lamb Shank -- My cousin had this and said it was wonderful. The lamb looked tender and it was served with giant white beans, always a favorite of mine.

I had the grilled opah, which was well prepared and tasty but nothing to blog about. I did enjoy the asparagus gratin it was served with.

The best thing about the meal? Getting a relatively quiet table with unobtrusive service so we had a chance to catch up and visit with my cousin.

We enjoyed the food immensely and look forward to going back again. I look forward to sampling selections from both the oyster and cheese menus.

P.S. -- Gary narrowly missed ordering the coq au vin so I surprised him for dinner the next day with my quickie version. Once I work out the recipe kinks, I'll post it on Blog Appetit.

Absinthe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Eliminate Me! Top Chef 2 Episode 4 Leaves a Bad Taste

I don't know what to think.

First Mr. Junk Food (Michael) makes a mockery of the quick fire by creating a disgusting amuse bouche from vending machine foods (Snickers and cheese puffs) that looked more like a product of elimination than food, then the judges decide not to eliminate anyone from the elimination round. (FYI - Carlos won unneeded immunity with his sunflower seed mini cake.)

The only thing that episode four made me want to eliminate was watching this episode.

I don't do recaps, so if you haven't seen the episode go to Bravo's website and check out the capsule episode descriptions, video highlights, recipes and judges' blogs.

I do do opinions, commentary and ranting and raving, so if that's what you want, please continue reading. The only problem is that I don't much feel like spending much time on this worthless episode.

The elimination challenge was four teams creating low-calorie food for a camp for diabetic children. The menus were to include a main, a veg and a dessert. Promisingly enough Betty and Marcel were on the same team, but they played nice.

(Once again, not much on the food, how the flavors were developed, etc. This has become a show about personalities, not the food. Hey, Bravo, how about a show on Top Concierge or Top Men's Room Attendant, it would be almost as much about the food as this series is turning out to be.)

The kick is that each team's menu had to come in under 500 calories as computed by your team's official nutritionist. Once the numbers were done, your recipe was locked down, you were not allowed to change anything. Let the fun begin.

1. Betty, Marcel and Frank won with their "kicking" pizza, meringue cookie, berry lemonade and fruit skewer. Betty's cookies weren't working so she tweaked the recipe the next day, but felt she was still way under the calorie count. Cue the foreshadowing music here. (Think of the music you hear right before the shark appears in "Jaws.")

In addition to the judges' liking the flavors, it was a big hit with the camper kids (hey it's pizza). Thank goodness the team talked Marcel out of proscuitto. I wonder if Marcel even remembers his childhood, or what kind of childhood he had. Wait a minute, maybe I really don't want to know that.

Frank was declared the challenge's winner for his pizza. His amuse bouche also had garnered praise from guest judge Suzanne Goins.

2. Two teams including Sam and Mia were called in to discuss what went wrong. Sam mentioned there was a lot of olive oil where olive didn't belong being squirted around when the teams were cooking sans nutritionists on day two. He declined to name names, but Mia wasn't shy and spoke up about Betty's bloop with the cookie.

The judges seemed aghast, yet again as in the Otto incident not as upset or determined to draw an ethical line in the sand as I would have thought. Much was made of the complaints only coming after the teams were in front of the judges for not doing a good job. The lesson here, don't tattletale if you lose, but do the right thing beforehand. One hopes that was the lesson and not just that the judges and producers just didn't want to lose the talented and entertaining Betty from the competition.

Next episode or if you watch one of Bravo's many reruns of the show, check the credits out after the show. Judging decisions are made with input from the producers. Not that moral ethics were twisted here to have Betty stay or anything, but the amount of editing of what we don't get to see in the discussion is obvious.

Anyway, Tom comes out to talk to everyone, Betty tearily fesses up and says she didn't understand the rules and Tom says everyone pay attention, play by the rules, no more warnings. (Wonder if there is a Top Chef time out room?) Then the bombshell, no elimination this week.

Wow, what does that say to me the viewer? That they didn't want to penalize the lousiest chef that week without letting Betty go, but they didn't want to lose Betty, so hence no elimination.

Let's also talk a minute about understanding the rules. This seems to be a consistent issue. Last week you had contestants making desserts and other non-entrees for the ENTREE contest for TGIFriday. This week you had people making sweets for the amuse bouche (a small bite of a pre-dinner appetizer thingie). I know there is pressure, but please people for $100,000, pay attention. You can't win (but can get eliminated) if you do the wrong thing. (How about season one finale with Dave only making two dishes instead of the required three.)

Is this very different than Otto not reporting the case of lychees? In some ways, yes, other, no. There was no intentional or unintentional theft. Otto was on the losing team and someone was going to go, so he fell on the knife, so to speak. Otto was not as forthcoming as Betty was about the truth. Chefs in the competition in both cases knew about the rule breaking before judging yet waited until it appeared it was a way to save themselves. Both cases are kind of grey (as opposed to black and white), but is Betty's a lighter shade? I think so, but I wonder how I'd feel if it was Michael.

Anyway, I am not thrilled with Betty not having consequences for breaking the rules since I was so adamant about Otto going, on the other hand I am thrilled she wasn't eliminated.

I guess I am morally ready to be a reality show TV producer.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Slice of Life: A Not So Brief History of Jewish Breads

Tonight I am giving a talk (complete with 30 slides) on the history, meaning, rituals and traditions of bread in Jewish life.

I may decide to recap some that material here, but I thought I wouldn't wait to post my recipe "handouts" here on Blog Appetit. This way I save some trees by not copying the recipes and other info on all that paper for those who attend the presentation and I can share these wonderful web resources with a wider audience.

The first link is to an article by cookbook author Gil Marks. He explores the role of baking in ancient Egypt within the context of Joseph's dream. He then gives some wonderful recipes for Sephardic, Near Eastern and East European breads. For his recipes and explanations, please click here.

The second link is to an article about bread baking maven Margaret Glezer. Glezer wrote A Blessing of Bread, a remarkable cookbook surveying the meaning and history of Jewish bread making. This article includes an interview with Glezer and three challah (or hallah as it is sometimes written) recipes. I'd also encourage you to check out the blog Kyle's Kitchen. Kyle is a superb bread baker and has baked many of the breads in the Glezer book and posted great photos of the results. The site also has a number of links to additional baking info.

One other resource for you -- the Israel Museum site which has an informative summary of its exhibit about the role bread plays in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim lifecycle events. You can learn more in either Hebrew or English here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Yoshi's Chef Jazzes Up Japanese Restaurant Menu

Yoshi's Jazz House and Japanese Restaurant in Jack London Square, Oakland, CA, has long been my club of choice. There is not a bad seat in the house, prices are usually reasonable and the performers cover the broad spectrum of jazz and related music.

One highlight for us was when our older boy's high school jazz band performed there several years ago. (He plays the trumpet and French horn.)

The attached Japanese restaurant has never been a favorite of mine. Usually we've eaten there only because it got us reserved seating for the performance or because of other restraints. While the sushi was always fresh and good, the other food was uninspired at best featuring tempura and teriyaki and other Western interpretations of Japanese standards.

But that's all changed thanks to the menu introduced about a month ago by the restaurant's new chef, Shotaro "Sho" Kamio.

Among the many highlights were:


We had a number, including a beautiful and exotic combination called Ocean Sunomono, which was recommended by our server. I do you a disservice by not having taken a photograph of this, for which I am truly sorry. Clean, crisp flavors of cucumber, snow crab and young seaweed in vinegar are combined with other ingredients in a presentation that reminded me of a slices of a sushi roll.

Also enjoyed by everyone at the table were a Tempura Soft Shell Crab with Butter Lettuce served in a lemon chile vinagrette and the "Jewelry Box" Tartare with chopped hamachi, maguro and other fish as well as avocado shaped into a pretty box tied with a chive ribbon and served with endive leaves and simple chips for scooping

Main Dishes:

The kitchen was out of the miso grilled black cod, which was a disappointment. The cracked peppercorn filet mignon with dipping sauce and garlic mousse was good, with a clean pepper flavor, good texture and the creamy, strong but not overpowering mousse, but the rack of lamb was dreamy. Served with the same garlic mousse, it was grilled in a garlic herb soy marinade was voted by the table as the best dish of many great dishes of the evening. It was succulent, flavorful with a balanced flavor that didn't disguise the lamb's natural taste.

We also had a wide variety of sushi and sashimi, all sparkling fresh and tasty.

Yoshi's has a full bar, but most of us made selections from the excellent sake menu.

Chef Kamio was nice enough to come to our table. He said he hoped we liked his new creations. He was sincerely worried that Yoshi's "regulars" would feel abandoned by the new menu and miss the restaurant's "traditional" food. We told him not too worry, that greasy and mediocre would not be missed and that within months Yoshi's would become a destination restaurant for Oakland.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Was Top Chef Episode Three "Craveable?"

Craveable* was the word the judges used to describe the qualities tonight's winning dish need to have in order to make it on the TGIFriday restaurant chain menu. The challenge was to reinvent a childhood comfort food for adult tastes. The judges included a top TGIF chef and tables full of food-savvy firemen. The reward for winning was having your dish featured on the menu at all 500 TGIFriday restaurants.

Betty's grilled cheese with portabello mushrooms and spicy red pepper soup was the judges' top crave, with Sam's reinvention of a summer fruit salad and Cliff's reimagined fish sticks and mac and cheese earning praise. It's Betty second win. The season's barely started and we are already into repeats!

In the loser's circle were Emily (too salty), Frank (too weird) and Michael (too sloppy, too overcooked, too devil-may-care, hey, in the store he put back cheese for his dish so he could spend some of his food shopping money on beer for himself). Emily's overly salty surf 'n' turf was deemed inedible and for this basic mistake she had to pack her knives and go. Personally, I thought she had potential as a chef and that Michael had to go. I did think as shown on the show (remember this stuff is all edited to show us what the producers think is the story) she did show a lack of flexibility, so I don't think she could have made it for the long haul.

Another big surprise was pastry chef Marisa. She is still there. She made a dessert, a fruit crisp, for the challenge. It was received well by the judges and it kept her from being in the bottom three. If I were her would I have made a dessert? No. The concepts behind this challenge were easy enough, it would have been a good time to go with a non-pastry dish to show her range, but I guess she thinks she should go with her relatively strong points. She was one of the bottom three in the quickfire challenge, which was to create a new ice cream flavor, a pastry chef basic. Cliff won that with his first ever attempt at making ice cream. It was his second quickfire win.

Tonight's drama was provided by Betty and Marcel (devil-in-the-hair). She vented her dislike for him at the firehouse when he came back from delivering his dish to the judges. (Each dish was judged separately. Top Chef candidates had 15 minutes of firehouse kitchen prep time before their dish was judged.) He retaliated by being a jerk when she was trying to ready her dishes for the judges and ran into some problems. The tiff was the subject of a viewer call in poll and somthing like 70 percent of viewers who responded felt Betty was "spot on" on her comments to Marcel. Was it appropriate for Betty to dump on Marcel? Seems par for the course for these reality competition shows, and she seems like the kind of person to shoot from the hip, but it was a very personal attack about how she is for anything that would cause him to lose. As a mother I am on the record for being against that. As a viewer it made for good television. I guess Marcel is the guy you love to hate this season. (By the way, he lost the quick fire challenge with avocado bacon ice cream. Tasters, kids and other beach goers in Redondo Beach, CA, were wiping their tongues off after sampling it.)

What else, well as much as I like Betty, I didn't think her dish was so innovative, but of course I couldn't actually taste the flavors, a big drawback until Sony develops taste-o-vision. And, of course, it had to be a dish that could actually be executed and sell at the TGIFriday outlets. If you want to check out the recipes, all 13 of tonight's recipes are posted at on the recipe page on Bravo's website. If you'd like to see my recipe for a roasted garlic and tomato soup with red bell pepper, click here. I served my version with a grilled cheese and avocado sandwich. But I've already won the top chef award on Blog Appetit. Let's see if Betty can take it all on Bravo's Top Chef.

* By the way, there is no such word in the dictionaries I checked as craveable. One can crave (to have a desire for, urgent need for or to beg for) something, have a craving (consuming desire or longing) or even be a craver (the one having the cravings) , but technically nothing is craveable. That word is just something cooked up in the TGIF and Top Chef kitchens. Be careful, though, not to appear too craven (fearful, cowardly).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boo Who?

It's not safe for a black cat out on Halloween, so I thought Noche should show his true stripes! Thanks to a little photoshop, he's in his Pepe LaPew costume.

Please note: No actual animals were harmed during the production of this jpg.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Craving Pumpkins?

Thanks to the Bravenet counter I slapped on this site 10 months ago, I can track back to where some of my visitors come from. Because I use the free version I can only track the last 10 views, so it is an imperfect glance at my audience at best.

(Don't worry, I can't tell who you are, what your email or isp account is or anything devious like that, but I can tell what your search words were or what the referring website was. If you typed in the address or clicked in from your favorites or bookmarks, I can't see you at all.)

The last few days little old Blog Appetit has been seeing lots of visitors who are searching for pumpkin info. Some, like those looking for pumpkin chili or how to cook pumpkin, make sense. Blog Appetit does that all here.

But I've gotten a large number of page views from folks looking for "pumpkin craving." I guess the search engines didn't correct the misspelled craving for carving and since I have a post that contains both the words pumpkin and craving, Google directed you right to my door step.

Well, if you are here because you crave pumpkins, welcome. We all crave pumpkins sometimes, especially around Halloween and Thanksgiving. And sometimes we even carve the pumpkins we crave.

Photos of pumpkins and squash taken at the October 29th farmers market in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA.

Frieda's: A Passion for Produce

My profile of Frieda's, Inc., the well-known specialty produce distributor, is posted on the Well Fed Network. Click here to read about my interview with Karen Caplan, founder Frieda's daughter and current president.

(Frieda's is the produce company that helped to make the kiwifruit a household produce staple in the U.S.)

The company also has a colorful and helpful website loaded with recipes and other information.

Here's a little tidbit just for Blog Appetit readers: Out of the 500+ products Frieda's distributes, Ms. Caplan's favorite is passion fruit. Go to, click on recipes and search for passion fruit recipes. Frieda's recipe for passion fruit daiquiris will be your reward. (Sorry the site doesn't offer permalinks for a direct click experience.)
Photo Credit:

Update: is out of business and the link no longer works.
Here is the text of that post:

Back in 1962 the kiwifruit (then known as the Chinese gooseberry) was a virtual unknown to American consumers, but thanks to the grit, creativity and resourcefulness of produce distributor Frieda Caplan, the brown, furry fruit was renamed, promoted directly to consumers and eventually became a staple of fruit salads and bowls across the land.

Frieda’s, Inc., is now headed by its founder’s daughter, Karen Caplan, who refers to the successful introduction of the kiwifruit as an “18-year overnight success story.”

The Los Alamitos, CA, company’s kiwifruit experience “shifted the paradigm” of how produce is marketed and sold in this country, according to Caplan.   The company is known for not just spotting trends, but nourishing or in some cases creating them with what Caplan called “pull through” marketing, educating produce store produce buyers, media and consumers about the benefits and uses of the fruits and vegetables the company brings to the marketplace.  (Other produce items that Frieda’s helped popularize with American consumers include brown mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, spaghetti squash and jicama.)

The fact that Frieda’s is a women owned and managed produce distribution company is “a really big deal” and a mother-daughter heritage in the industry is virtually unheard of, she said.  Frieda’s openness, education efforts, identifiable branding and recipes result in an impressive stream of hits a day on its website  and gives the company a unique way to bridge the gap between produce buyers, 98 percent of them who are men according to the Caplan, and consumers, about 85 percent of whom are women.

Every day Frieda’s gets email requests from all over the country from potential shoppers requesting specific Frieda’s products be carried by their local markets. The company follows up on every one.  There is a good chance the writers’ supermarkets or produce stores are already Frieda’s customers.  The privately held company, which releases no financial or sales data, distributes to more than 30,000 retail outlets across all 50 states, according to Caplan.  She said the stores typically stock from one to 40 or 50 out of Frieda’s more than 500-item product line.

What Caplan called a “halo affect” and the seeming magic the company has worked with its produce introductions results sometimes in “growers calling us out of desperation because they’ve heard Frieda’s can work magic.”  One example was the distribution of a European-style potato.  Two brothers from Michigan had received the rights to the French tuber and were growing it in Washington. 

“They wanted to speak to us about possibly marketing them. We asked how did you hear about us.  They told us ‘we called 200 different companies and almost everyone referred us to you so we figure maybe we should call you.’”

Frieda’s took on the sale of that potato and it was widely distributed. The company’s success and connections with consumers has changed buyers’ attitudes, too, Caplan said.  “Produce buyers can no longer object” to stocking Frieda’s newest finds.  They worry “if I don’t stock it, my competition will.”

Frieda’s is “typically 10-15 years ahead of time” with its product development. Caplan said the big trends are for “anything ethnic” with more Latin, Hispanic and Asian items becoming available in mainstream supermarkets.  Caplan predicted the next breakout produce item will be the mangosteen, a purple-skinned Asian fruit about the size of an orange and looking somewhat like a squat eggplant. Inside are segments of delicate tasting cream white flesh.  Sometimes called the “queen of fruit,” it has a relatively a short shelf life and has long been resistant to being grown in the states.  Caplan says Frieda’s will soon be stocking stores with mangosteens grown in Hawaii and expects to start importing the delicacy from Thailand next year.  Will it be the next kiwifruit? Who knows, but with Frieda’s marketing it, mangosteens will probably be showing up in produce aisles near you.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Keeping You Up to Date on What I Ate -- Two San Francisco Restaurants

Now, I don't pretend to be a restaurant reviewer. I feel to be a responsible reviewer you have to eat at a place a few times and try a variety of dishes. I am a much more casual restaurant eater and I only tend to order items I want. I'll do a lot for my readers at Blog Appetit, but I'm not going to order the fish when I want the steak. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't have an opinion. I just don't want my opinions to masquerade as formal restaurant reviews. Oh, and the last few times I ate out I kind of forgot to take photos. Well, with that all out of the way, on to my opinions of my experiences with two San Francisco restaurants -- Cafe Kati and Slanted Door.

I've heard about Cafe Kati for years and never quite seemed to get there. But last weekend we were meeting friends and its location was convenient, a reservation was available and parking was easy (validated free parking for the Japantown garages). I felt comfortable suggesting the place to our friends since it received good write ups in San Francisco Magazine and Patricia Unterman's San Francisco's Food Lover Guide.

The place was like traveling back in time, specifically to the late 80s and early 90s. Lots of food with vertical presentations and lots of Asian fusion flavors. Portion sizes varied from huge to sufficient. The tastes were all big, often playing off Asian sweet-sour notes. The filet mignon J had was served with a wasabi butter he mopped up. R's sea bass was fried whole and made a grand presentation and she raved about the taste. Gary had the oxtails which were tender and juicy but I thought the flavor a bit intense and sweet to eat the whole dish. Gary thought it was more balanced than I did. My duck with duck confit had an Asian inspired sweet-sour sauce that was a bit more on the sweet side, but I enjoyed it immensely. (I guess I should disclose that my all time favorite dish as a kid was roast duck with cherry sauce, so that might have influenced my experience just a wee bit.) The only dish that was a big nothing was the meagerly sized fig salad appetizer.

Chef Kirk Webber often popped into the dining room and would sit and chat with his patrons. He was quite charming, open and helpful. When we ordered the carmelized banana split for dessert and were told the kitchen was out of bananas, he suggested using pears and then jumped up and went back to the kitchen to make the change. Webber has had an almost complete staff turnover, but the service was comfortable, the food was fresh, elaborately presented and most importantly, good, and our overall experience positive.

Now come the caveats. This is not the place for you if you are looking for ingredients to speak for themselves, all the dishes we tried were tied to complex tastes and sauces. Everything was fresh, the fusion flavor combinations worked well, but if your palate doesn't do sweet-sour well, you'll need to order carefully.

Would I eat there again? Yes, but I don't eat out in San Francisco that often, so I probably won't go back anytime soon. There are too many restaurants to try and only so many meals to eat.

Now for my slant on the Slanted Door. This Vietnamese restaurant is currently a darling of the San Francisco Food scene. It is as refined and modern as Cafe Kati is retro. Service was knowledgeable and accommodating. The room looks serene and while the room seemed noisy, there was no problem hearing each other at the dinner table. Some tables have a wonderful view of San Francisco Bay.

Our Slanted Door saga has a bit of a tale to it. We couldn't get reservations so showed up to wait for a "no show." As a two our changes were slim, but we joined forces with another couple who were also waiting for a table and snagged a table for four almost immediately. Talking to our new acquaintances was lots of fun and we found that we had a lot of connections. Six degrees of separation at the Slanted Door.

In its own way, Slanted Door is a bit of a fusion restaurant. The menu featured some dishes I don't identify as "traditional" Vietnamese and certainly applied some flavors and techniques to Western dishes. We weren't that interested in those, we were longing for some quality Vietnamese food with the finesse and freshness of the dishes were ate in Vietnam last year.

The winner was a pork clay pot with young coconut juice, chilies and shallot. The little morsels of pork falling off the bone were delectable and the sauce was deeply satisfying. The caramelized tiger prawns with garlic, onions and chili sauce were also very good with a nice heat and taste. The spicy Chinese water spinach with chilies and ferment bean curd was hot, perfectly cooked and delicious. Gary and I had split the Maine blue crab and grilled eggplant salad as an appetizer. The amount of crab was generous, the ingredients impeccable, but the tastes of the individual items did not come together into a satisfying whole. Our spicy squid had a nice sauce but again, the dish didn't meld for us and the squid was tough.

After all that we were full and had to skip dessert. We will definitely be going back to the Slanted Door, we will just have to plan ahead to get reservations. Or maybe we'll be making some new friends again.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

See's Piece by Piece -- Not a Mayfair Lady

My weekly See's Candies taste test has posted at Sugar Savvy. You can read all about the Mayfair candy here. Be grateful you didn't have to eat it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Spooky Cake Reruns

Food Network is re-running last year's spookiest cake challenge. My local baker, Cheryl Lew of Montclair baking, brought home the $10,000 prize on that one. It is airing at various times through October 29th. Click here for the schedule.

If you'd like to read my write up of Cheryl's win, check this out.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Top Chef Confidential

Ever notice Otto is a palindrome -- a word that is spelled the same way front or backwards? That applies here because any way you look at it, the culinary instructor from Las Vegas (who says he has no formal culinary training) crossed a moral line as depicted in tonight's episode.

Was Team Korea over budget at the grocery store and did they all know it? Yes. Did Otto know before he left the store that the clerk forget to charge the team for the case of lychees sitting on the bottom of the shopping cart? Who knows. Did he know by the time the shopping cart was being unloaded into the car at the curb right in front of the store? Definitely. It is all on the tape.

Speaking of the tape, how could he even think of let's say misrepresenting the conversation he had with Marisa when they were before the judges. Didn't he realize the camera crew was there filming and it was all on tape? It boggles the mind.

In the end, he did technically bow out (perhaps before he could be told to pack his knives) and show acceptance of responsibility, but Noah, Blog Appetit's 15 year old future pastry chef, and I wonder what happened off screen with the producers. Was he offered this face saving option?

It did seem that poor Marisa would go for her rubbery panna cotta if not for Otto's lychee issue. That didn't seem fair to me since I think she was the most upset by having to be the whistleblower and I believe the lychees were originally part of her dish, so she may have had to change recipes mid-program. I also think if a pastry chef wants to be Top Chef, she has to focus on excelling in non-pastry areas, so her just taking on the dessert was not politically astute.

Other observations -- It does seem like the producers have cast to replicate some personalities from Season One. Marcel, of course, reminds one of Stephen even down to wearing ties in his post-cooking interviews. Michael has the good-time, junk food appeal of a Miguel, but apparently without the cooking chops (it was his pork that brought down the judges' opinions of Team Vietnam's efforts), and Josie and Emily have the look and assertiveness of Le Ann and Tiffani. At first I thought Ilan might be the new Harold, but now I don't think so, as presented on screen he seems to lack Harold's seeming lack of manipulation and cut throatness. Betty seems a bit like Cynthia in terms of being to the point, older and blond, but her skills and personality are on a whole other level.

Some differences -- Having a pastry chef this time makes the mix different. Also, last time some of the chefs didn't seem to have as strong a kitchen production experience as this crew does, although it seems like some have less all-around experience than others. (Mia's sushi hand rolls, Michael continually saying how he doesn't know how to do this or that). Oh, and the biggest difference --new host Padma Lakshmi doesn't make me cringe every time she speaks.

Want to see a two-and-a-half minute preview of the quick fire challenge in episode three? Click here.

Want to read more about what Lee Ann is calling "Lycheegate" as well as her take on episode two and a comment that she shows up on episode six? Is there a hint at that end that Marisa doesn't go the distance? Check out her blog here.

Some recipe notes: Josie's Vietnamese dish was not what I or many others would consider pho, which is primarily a noodle soup dish. If you'd like to try my "faux pho," please click here. If you would like to try making fresh Vietnamese spring rolls (called summer rolls on the show), check out my version with vegetarian, shrimp, mango and cucumber variations.


Photo credit: Bravo TV

Come Read What I Wrote

I have two postings on Sugar Savvy you might not have seen. One is my weekly See's Candies' taste test where I may or may not sing the praise of the Light Chocolate Truffle. The other is my discussion of the Sweetest Day celebration and tradition.

Also, elsewhere in the blogosphere, click on this link where Sweetnick's includes my Chicken Vegetable Soup in a Hurry in what appears to be a "souper" roundup of antioxidant rich food recipes.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Chicken Vegetable Soup in a Hurry for Immediate Gratification

Sometimes you just don’t have time for a soup to simmer all day. You need soup in a hurry, but you are still crave something fresh and good, you just want it now. Try this recipe for instant soup relief. I came up with it when I faced a similar dilemma. I was looking in my fridge and pantry to see what I could do to soothe that soup craving when I spotted the food processor and thought “aha, I’ll shred the vegetables for speedier cooking.” No food processor? Try chopping the veggies into a really small dice.

Sheer genius. Sheer delicious. Even if I do say so myself.

Do try to use the Moroccan raz el hanout seasoning (sometimes spelled ras el hanout). It adds a mysterious curry-like note with a bit of floral and a bit of heat. I’ve suggested a replacement mixture just in case it’s not right there on your spice shelf. (I got mine in Paris; remind me to tell you about it someday.) Here is a recipe if you would like to make the spice blend up yourself. The lemon zest and juice add a nice, clean tingle to the fresh taste of the vegetables, the earthiness of the chickpeas and the light spiciness.

Chicken Vegetable Soup in a Hurry
Makes about 6 servings

You can make this Vegetable Vegetable Soup by substituting vegetable stock for the chicken. Want it more Chicken Chicken Vegetable Soup? Add in some boneless, skinless cooked chicken when you add the liquid.

Note: Cut vegetables in 1 to 2 inch chunks before shredding, so your shreds are bite site.

2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil or mixed
1 medium onion chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
2 large carrots, shredded
1 medium-large red bell pepper, shredded
2 large zucchinis, shredded
Salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon Moroccan raz el hanout seasoning (recommended if available) OR ¼ teaspoon combined TOTAL of equal parts ground turmeric, ground cinnamon and ground ginger
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 quart good quality chicken broth (homemade or store bought)
1 -15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Chunks of avocado and fresh tomato for garnish (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté until beginning to turn translucent and soften. Add garlic. Sauté until garlic is beginning to brown. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and stir and fry to release the flavors. Add the shredded vegetables and sauté until beginning to soften. Add salt and pepper to taste and the Moroccan or other substitute seasonings, lemon rind, chicken broth and drained chick peas. Bring mixture to a simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, broth is heated through and the tastes have melded. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and correct seasonings if need be. Serve with selected garinsh(es) if desired.

This just occurred to me -- If you are planning in advance to make this soup, you can probably find shredded vegetables at a supermarket salad bar. That will speed things up even more. Still not quick enough? Preheat the chicken or vegetable stock while the other ingredients saute and add the already warmed stock to the sauted vegetable mixture.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Top Chef Tease

Okay, I admit it, I stayed up late to watch the new season of Top Chef. I'll write more later when I have a chance to process it some, but I am pleased with the new host, disappointed that the production left S.F. for L.A., questioning why the producers picked some of the new contenders, and wondering if Marcel is the new Stephen.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Perfect for Fall -- Pistachio Tart with Fresh Figs and Honey Glaze

A while back I was the lucky recipient of a number of samples of Love'n Bake nut products. These are 11-ounce cans of scrumptious nut paste and fillings produced by the American Almond Products Company. In addition to the pistachio nut paste, the line features almond paste, hazelnut paste, marzipan, and poppy seed, prune, cinnamon, almond and chocolate fillings. Click on the website for more info, where to buy their products and recipes.

Pistachio-Fig Tart with Honey Glaze

For a recent fall dinner I decided to make a pistachio-fig tart. I really liked it as did most of those who tried it but it is not your typical tart. It wasn't that sweet. It was rich and had a strong nut flavor. The texture of the filling was thick and almost like a halvah in consistency. You can figure on 10 servings since a small piece is very satisfying.


One 9-inch tart or pie Crust, prebaked for 10 minutes or until just starting to lightly brown.
(I used the crust from my French Tart.)


2 ounces of unsalted butter, softened
Half cup sugar
Half cup almond meal (also known as powdered almonds, or grind your own using blanched almonds)
11 ounce can of Love'n Bake Pistachio Nut Paste
1 egg
2 tablespoons rum
6-8 ripe fresh figs, cut in half (I used black mission and found I need a few extra to allow for discards because of interior color or texture.)
1/8 cup honey
1 tablespoon water
juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix the sugar with the almond meal in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Mix in the can of pistachio nut paste, egg and rum. Combine well.

Spread the almond-pistachio mixture out evenly in the pre-baked crust. Arrange fig halves (cut side up) on top of the filling, nestling each piece firmly into the filling.

In a small saucepan, warm honey with water and lemon juice. Brush warm honey mixture on top of tart.

Bake about 20-25 minutes or until filling is set and has risen up a bit and the fruit has softened.

Greens Link

Click on over to Sweetnicks to check out her weekly antioxidant rich food recipe round up. My Turkish Greens and potatoes recipe with Portobello Mushrooms is included.

A year ago today I was writing about my fascination with British and Australian food magazines.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

See's Halloween Specials

What is orange and chocolate and is all treat, not trick? It's one of See's Candies special Halloween candies. Click on over to Sugar Savvy to check out my round up of See's Candies' Halloween offerings. Check it out here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Year in the Life of Blog Appetit

It was one year ago today I decided to dive in and start a food blog as a way to share my interest in food, work on my food writing and sharpen my point of view.

If you search the October 2005 archives for that first entry, it reads "Testing Testing". Not much content, but it was enough to start a revolution in my life.

Here are just some of the ways having Blog Appetit in my life has changed me.

1. Technical -- Having a blog forced me to deal with technology and expand my envelope. Just learning how to create a proper link took me a few months. I don't claim to be a digital photo expert, but wanting photos that added something to what I was writing for the blog definitely accelerated my learning curve. I look forward to Blogger expanding its new "category" program to more of the existing blogs so I can add that feature to Blog Appetit.

2. Point of View -- My writing background was as a journalist. There was no "I" or personal opinion in my articles. Writing a blog requires a commitment to share your life, your thoughts and your views. There is definitely an "I" in blog, but for a blog to be read, I think you need to search for something about your personal experience that has a good dose of "we," that is finding what in your life is appealing or interesting to others. Finding that audience or niche while being true to my own p.o.v. or voice is an on-going process. (I began posting as FJK as a kind of a self-protection device. Now, I am pretty comfortable letting the world know FJK = Faith J. Kramer.)

3. Community -- As I went from reading food blogs to creating one, I wondered how welcome I would be to participate in the wider community of food bloggers. Locally and nationally (internationally?) I have been made to feel welcome. Other food bloggers are a wonderful resource, a great audience and a warm virtual community. Sam of Beck&Posh and the Food Blog S'cool, which she started and moderates, deserves a lot of credit, but there are a lot of other bloggers out there who I really felt were welcoming. I also enjoy when I get a comment from a reader. I often email readers who comment, letting them know I appreciate them taking a moment to let me know what they think.

4. Biggest Challenge -- Keeping up with all the posts I write in my head that I never have time to actually put on my blog. My vow for the second year of Blog Appetit is that I work on having less of a backlog.

5. It's All About the Food -- Writing the blog has made me even more attuned to the food around me and the world issues surrounding food. It has also meant I do a better job of capturing and writing down my personal food creations so I can share them on the blog in some semblance of recipe form. I did go through a sense of rebellion for a few weeks a couple of months back where I defiantly ate interesting things and refused to take pictures or notes. I was determined to have some "private" food moments. I've always prided myself on living an examined life, so I was kind of surprised by this emotional reaction. I think I just wanted a vacation from being a "working foodie."

6. On Becoming a Food Writer -- It's happening in baby steps since writing is pretty much a hobby, but I get positively giddy when I think about being able to write about what I want when I want on the blog. I am a food writer already, I don't need newspaper bylines to confirm that, I can just look to the 170 or so posts on this blog to know that. The reaction I get from most food industry people reinforces that. The ones I've met or emailed have tended to take me seriously as part of the food media.

7. Highlights of the Year -- Winning Slashfood's Editor's Choice award last October for my pumpkin posts. Participating in Chez Pim's fundraising efforts for earthquake victims. Having my son, Noah, become more involved with food. Becoming a writer at Well Fed and convincing the editors to let me write a piece every week about my obsession with See's Candies. Getting to know the Bay Area food bloggers in person not just on the page. Being able to say to friends, family, acquaintances and the world: "Hey, you can read all about it on my blog."

About the photo: I thought I would give Blog Appetit some flowers for its birthday. I took this photo at the President Wilson market in Paris in May 2005.