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 Friedas.com, 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: Foodreference.com

Update: Wellfed.net 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.

Celebrate -- A Pesto-Mushroom Lasagna Recipe

To celebrate a year of your reading and possibly eating (if you made any of the recipes on Blog Appetit) my words, I thought I would post this recipe for a wonderfully complex and delicious pasta dish. Watch later today for my recap of my first year as a blogger.

Pesto Mushroom Lasagna

About 8 to 10 servings

This lasagna which was inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market and a long conversation with the man who grew the mushrooms about which varieties could stand up to the dish’s intense flavors and play off the creaminess. He recommended shitake and matsuke and I do, too. However, when I went to make it again, I was shopping in a supermarket so my mushroom choice was more limited. I used half fresh shitake and half cremini (brown, button-like) mushrooms. You could use all cremini if fresh shitake aren’t available or half brown and half white mushrooms. Experiment with the mushrooms available to you, but try not to use all white mushrooms.

This dish has lots of layers of flavors, with the acid in the tomatoes mellowed by the dairy and complimenting the rich pesto. The mushrooms add an earthy, meaty texture and flavor. It is worth the effort (and the dirty pots). It makes an impressive company dish but is a great family dinner, too, with lots of leftovers. (And of course, like most lasagnas it can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for a few hours before baking or even baked ahead of time. Adjust baking or reheating times accordingly.)

8 ounces whole wheat or regular lasagna noodles (do not use no-boil noodles)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mushroom Filling

2 tablespoons of olive oil
Medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1/8 teaspoon dried ground thyme
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or dash of dried ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon dried ground oregano
16 ounces mixed mushrooms (see note above), stemmed and sliced into approximately ¼ thick slices
28 ounce can of crushed or chopped tomatoes with juice
1 pound of spinach or chard, cut into bite site pieces (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Ricotta Filling

32 ounce carton ricotta (full, part skim, low fat or non-fat)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Dash salt and pepper

Pesto Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (non fat, low fat or whole)
8 ounces prepared pesto sauce


26 ounces of prepared tomato sauce or marina-style spaghetti sauce, divided
Cooked noodles
Prepared mushroom filling
Prepared ricotta filling
6 ounces grated fresh mozzarella cheese (whole or reduced fat), divided
Prepared pesto filling

Preheat oven to 400ºF

In a large pot, begin boiling water for lasagna noodles. Prepare according to package directions. When finished, drain, rinse, toss in tablespoon of oil and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, begin preparing mushroom filling. Add the two tablespoons of oil to a 12” fry or sauté pan on a medium high heat. When oil is hot, add onions and sauté for a minute or two until beginning to soften. Add garlic, sauté until garlic is just beginning to brown. Add in thyme, red pepper flakes and oregano. Stir to release flavors. Add carrots and mushrooms and sauté until the mushroom slices have begun to soften. Add tomatoes with the juices from the can. Stir well. Bring mixture to a simmer (add the optional greens if using) and let cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are softened and the flavors melded. At that point, taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should have a more acidic taste than sweet to balance the richness of the dairy, but if the taste is too acidic, stir in the optional sugar. Set aside.

While the sauce is cooking, make the ricotta filling. Mix the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.

For the pesto sauce, melt the butter over a medium low heat in a sauce pan, add in the flour and stir constantly until the mixture is well combined and forms a paste. Be careful not to brown the butter or the butter-flour mixture. Add in the milk, stirring constantly to incorporate the flour-butter paste and being careful not to bring the mixture to a full boil. Keep stirring and cook until the mixture has thickened and will coat a spoon without running off. It should be the consistency of a medium thick sauce. Take off the heat and add in the prepared pesto sauce. Mix well, set aside.

To assemble the lasagna, spread a half cup of the prepared tomato or spaghetti sauce on the bottom of a baking pan (approximately 9-10 inches by 12-14 inches). Place a layer of lasagna noodles to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with the mushroom filling. Spread half of the ricotta filling over it. Sprinkle with one third of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of lasagna noodles. Spread pesto mixture on top of that, then the remaining ricotta filling. Sprinkle with another third of the shredded mozzarella. Top with another layer of noodles. Spread with the remaining tomato or spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.

Place in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One Year Minus One Day

Tune in (click in?) tomorrow as Blog Appetit celebrates it's first year of food blogdom. I'll share some of my favorite food blogging moments and posts and maybe even post a celebratory recipe and drop some hints about things to come.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pumpkin Redux -- Be A Pumpkin Eater

Here are two posts from last year on pumpkins that deserve a reprieve from the archives. The first is all about pumpkins, the second recipes for a pumpkin treat and a pumpkin chili. The posts won last year's Editor's Choice award in Slashfood's Great Pumpkin Day competition.

PUMPKINS have long had a culinary fascination for me, particularly around Halloween. It started when my father would recycle our jack o’lantern into pumpkin pie complete with a homemade crust. It continued after college with my almost ritual serving of a rich, custard cheese casserole prepared inside a pumpkin shell at Halloween. When my kids were younger, my creativity flourished as I helped to create such pumpkin favorites as surfer dude pumpkin and diaper baby pumpkin (my kids were not that into scary, I guess.) Now, I tend to explore the many high fiber, low calorie variations pumpkins provide.

IN A PUMPKIN SHELL – Weight watchers tend to really be excited about pumpkin’s lack of calories not to mention fat. The thrill could be because of its association with pie and whipped cream. Four pounds of whole pumpkin (with seeds and peel) will equal about two pounds of raw flesh. One pound of raw, peeled pumpkin yields about four cups of chunks or two cups of cooked puree. I’ve cooked with both fresh and canned and there is no question fresh is better, but canned puree is a quick, healthy convenience food. Just look for cans containing only one ingredient – pumpkin – and avoid those labeled “pumpkin pie filling.”

TRICK OR TREAT – The bad news is that most of the pumpkins you see in the market are field pumpkins, great for jack o’lanterns, a bit stringy and watery for eating. Look for “sugar pie” or “cheese” pumpkins or any other variety labeled “cooking pumpkin.” Sugar pie is probably the most readily available. Check with your local produce market or manager for availability. The cheese pumpkin is reputed to be the pumpkin first canned for pumpkin pie. Cooking pumpkins have a denser, sweeter flesh than field pumpkins. No matter what kind of cooking pumpkin you use, select one that is bright orange and seems heavy for its size with its stem attached. Whole pumpkins keep a month or more if stored in a cool room. Raw chunks can be refrigerated for a few days and cooked puree freezes well.

USER’S GUIDE – To prep a pumpkin, start like you are going to make a jack o’lantern. Cut open at the “lid.” If you are going to peel the pumpkin to use raw or to steam, use a sharp knife and trim away the outside peel, then cut the pumpkin shell in half vertically. Leave the skin on if you will be baking the pumpkin. Scoop out the seeds and strings with a tablespoon. To use raw, cut in chunks and add to soups, stews, sautés, curries and chilis. To use as a puree, choose steaming or baking (which I think results in a sweeter, less watery puree). For steaming, cut in 1 ½-inch cubes, place in steamer basket over boiling water and steam for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain well before pureeing. To bake, place pumpkin halves cut side down on an oiled baking tray. Bake at 350 degrees for until the pumpkin flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. Discard peel before using. One advantage of making your own pumpkin puree is that you can make it as fine or chunky as you like. I like a bit of chunk in most recipes for texture. Pump up vegetable soup by adding one to two cups of pumpkin puree along with some fresh minced ginger, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a half teaspoon or so of coconut extract and possibly some leftover, chopped steamed greens and two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter.

THE PAYOFF -- Two favorite recipes that should suit both Jack Spratt and his wife.

PUMPKIN TREATS – Make these as custards or as mini-pies. Either way they satisfy that pumpkin craving. Make them richer by substituting low-fat or regular evaporated milk and serve with a dollop or two of whipped cream. These are not too sweet and depend on the spices to temper the pumpkin’s natural astringency. My inexact calculation puts both versions in at about 100 calories per serving.

Makes 12 mini-pies or four custards

2 large egg whites, 1 whole egg, beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
¾ cup fat-free evaporated milk
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon light maple-flavored syrup
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp. ground ginger; ¼ tsp ground nutmeg; ¼ tsp. ground allspice; 1/8 tsp. salt
Optional -- ½ tsp very finely minced orange peel

For Mini-Pies:
12 ginger snaps

· Combine and mix all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl.
· For the mini-pies, line 12 cupcake tins with FOIL liners (the filling’s moisture will seep through paper liners). Place a gingersnap in the bottom of each tin and fill each about 3/4ths or a bit more with the filling. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven about 25-30 minutes until the center feels firm and not sticky and a knife comes out clean. Serve warm (not hot), room temperature or cold. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 12 treats. Serving size is one mini-pie. Enjoy within a day or so.
· For custards, pour filling in 4 heatproof baking or custard cups. Place cups in a large baking pan, add about one inch of boiling water to the pan to surround the cups (you are making a water bath or bain marie to prevent the custards from cracking.) Place in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 50 - 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. The timing really varied in my test runs, so check at 50 minutes, but be prepared to cook them longer. Remove cups from water. Serve warm or cold. Makes four servings.

PUMPKIN CHILI – This recipe is hearty, filling and is probably what I’ll serve on All Hallows Eve.

2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 minced serrano or jalapeno pepper (seeded if you want a milder chili)
1 pound ground turkey (7 percent fat)
1 ½ to 3 tablespoons chili powder. (I use 3)
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano,
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 cup chopped celery, 1 cup chopped carrots, 1 cup bell pepper, chopped and 2 cups chopped brown (crimini) or white mushrooms
3 cups stock, water or mix of two
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-15 oz cans chopped tomatoes with liquid
4 cups raw, peeled pumpkin, cut into 1” cubes
1-16 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (canned), drained, chopped (Use additional jalapeno or serrano chiles if they are not available)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup chopped cilantro

Heat oil in large, deep pot or dutch oven. Add onion and sauté until softened. Add garlic, jalapeno or serrano chile(s), bell pepper, celery and carrots. Stir often and cook until softened a bit. Add turkey and sauté until brown. Add chili powder, cumin and oregano. Add mushrooms and sauté mixture a minute or two. Add pumpkin chunks, tomatoes and liquid, tomato paste, water and/or stock, and the chipoltes. Cook covered, stirring occasionally until pumpkin begins to soften. Add beans, stir well, replace cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is almost cooked through. Take the cover off and simmer until pumpkin is done and the chili is thickened (about 3 to 5 minutes). Using a fork and without removing the pumpkin from the chili, mash about a half cup of the cooked pumpkin chunks into the chili into a rough puree (this helps give the chili body). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with chili toppings. About eight or more servings.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

All About My Jewish Cookbooks and a Turkish Greens, Potatoes and Mushroom Stew

The Well Fed Network's Paper Palate site has published my roundup of my favorite Jewish cookbooks. (Please see update note below)

I really put those books through their paces this current Jewish holiday season. My menu ended up featuring the foods of the Turkish Sephardic Jewish community. A large reason for that was in remembrance of a friend who was of Turkish Sephardic heritage who was a wonderful cook.

From Olive Trees and Honey I read up on some of the Turkish holiday food traditions. I also made some wonderful pumpkin pastries called borekas from that book. I took a number of ideas from a variety of cookbooks and added my own touches to create a Sephardic chicken soup with vegetables and matzoh-fafalel dumplings. From the Book of Jewish Food I adapted a recipe and created a chicken and black-eyed pea dish for my main course. I also served a vegetarian main dish of greens, potatoes and portobello mushrooms which was inspired from a traditional Turkish recipe. My version was adapted from the book Vegetarian Turkish Cooking by Carol Robertson. My recipe is very different from hers, but she deserves credit for sparking my imagination.

As part of a mezze or appetizer plater I served small hot-sweet pickled cherry peppers stuffed with hummus (chickpea dip). Noah made apple pie for dessert. Now, apple pies aren't traditional Turkish Sephardic food, but apples are a European tradition for the Jewish New Year and Noah does like making apple pies, so that's how that came about.

Here's my greens stew recipe. It is very flavorful and flexible. You can use other types of greens and it can be a main dish or side dish.

Turkish Greens with Potatoes and Portobello Mushrooms
Serves four as a main course, more as a side dish

Olive oil or olive oil spray
2 large potatoes, peeling optional, cut into 1" chunks (I used yellow finn, but regular baking potatoes work well)
1/4 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like your food)
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds of portobello mushrooms, wiped cleaned, stems discarded, black gills cut away (see note) and cut into 1" chunks
2 pounds of fresh mixed greens washed and cut into large, bite size pieces (I used a mixture of chard, collard and turnip, but you could use beet, spinach, mustard or kale as well)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup of vegetable stock or water
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar

First roast the potatoes. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking pan with olive oil or oil spray. Add potatoes. Brush the potatoes with a bit more oil or use spray. Sprinkle with red pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Put in oven and roast until cooked through and browned, turning potatoes occassionally. This should take approximately 45 minutes or so.

While the potatoes are roasting make the stew. Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a large saucepot with a lid. Add the onions and saute for a minute or two until beginning to soften and then add the garlic. Saute to until the garlic is just beginning to brown. Add the mushroom chunks and continue to saute for a few minutes. Add the greens. Mix well with the mushrooms and saute a minute or two. Add the sugar and the vegetable stock or water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and put lid on pot. Cook covered for 20 minutes or until the greens have cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning. (Add more sugar if the greens are too bitter, more salt and pepper if they are too bland.)

Prepare the tomatoes. Toss the tomato chunks with oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When the greens are cooked, assemble the dish. Put the greens and mushroom mixture in a large serving bowl. Add in roasted potatoes and toss until combined. Top with a wide ribbon of the tomato salad mixture as a garnish.

Note: Portobello mushrooms have dark brown-black gills under the cap. These gills darken any stewed mixture they are in. To avoid this, simply slice the gills off the underside the mushroom caps after you remove the stems. This is an optional step, but I do it whenever I want to avoid the coloration issue.

Update: All the Well Fed Network/Paper Palate links are now defunct, however, you can view the Jewish cookbook post via the Way Back Machine. Keep reading for the text from that post:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Chelsea Morning for See's Candies

With (many, many) apologies to Joni Mitchell:

Woke up, it was a Chelsea candy
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk chocolate and pecans
And chocolate buttercream, too.

Click on over to Sugar Savvy to read all about my See's Candies Chelsea experience.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hang This On Your Wall and Cook From It!

Regular Blog Appetit readers may remember that I took a food writing workshop awhile ago. One of my fellow students, a chef, has put together a beautiful calendar featuring her recipes for soups and salads and the fresh ingredients and culinary inspiration of California cooking.

Susan Beach's 2006-2007 California Soups & Salads calendar is on sale at her website for $14. The site also features some of her recipes, although not those included with the calendar. The calendar boasts beautiful food photography by Joyce Oudkerk Pool. I am looking forward to making Susan's spicy sweet potato soup (October's recipe) and June's roasted cauliflower salad, among others.

Susan's given a lot of thought to the calendar's design (large squares on easy to write-on pages) as well as the food. Because the calendar goes from September 2006 through December 2007, there is no need to wait for the New Year to use it.

Photo Credit: iSimmer.com

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Molasses Candies a Chip Off the Old See's?

Click on over to Sugar Savvy to catch my latest episode of See's Piece-by-Piece. Number 37 explores the old-fashioned flavor of See's Candies Molasses Chip candies. Are they a blast from the past or something better left behind? Read it and see.

Also over at Sugar Savvy, check's out episode 36 where your humble Blog Appetit encounters the dark side of chocolate covered raisins and comes out a winner.