Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Not Quite Spring Rolls

Somehow the winter weather has made me long for a taste of spring. What better way than with a fresh Vietnamese-style spring or salad roll, filled with healthy greens, fragrant herbs, crunchy vegetables and moist tofu, shrimp and/or fruit. Since these rolls are mostly vegetable and eaten fresh without frying they are naturally low in fat and calories.

Forming the rolls is not that hard after you practice with one or two, and even if your handiwork is a bit messy, all the tastes still combine wonderfully in your mouth. Hey, you deserve a spring break, even if it is winter.

Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients. I’ve given you a lot of options and you aren’t supposed to make them all. Here in the San Francisco Bay area we have lots of Asian markets so everything is pretty easy to get, but most of the ingredients can be bought at a good supermarket or gourmet store. I suggest alternatives to anything that might be truly exotic or hard-to-find and list web resources at the end of the post. Most of the work for this dish is in the shopping, especially if you serve them as we do. We tend to put out piles of the ingredients and either encourage everyone to wrap his or her own or my husband, Gary, assembles them to order. It’s a great dish for entertaining. The photo above was taken at a recent dinner with friends and shows the ingredients ready to wrap and roll.

While we ate spring rolls throughout our recent trip to Vietnam, we never quite had any like this, but the ingredients did vary. The fresh ones were very refreshing in the hot, steamy weather of Hanoi. Some spring rolls we saw or ate had cooked pork, chicken or mushrooms in them. Often they are fried. (One memorable version in Hue was filled with meat, fried, sliced into small pieces on the diagonal, speared with toothpicks and stuck decoratively in a pineapple in a way that resembled a peacock’s tail. It was quite spectacular and made me truly sorry that my camera battery was dead. The fact that it appeared that the pineapple itself was reused in the display for the next customer did not dim its charm.)

Not Quite Spring Rolls
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 2 rolls a piece

Part A – the Main Filling - Choose One or More of the Following:

16 medium to large shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined, sliced in half vertically, so you have 32 flat halves. Drain well and pat dry.

4 ounces of firm tofu, cut into matchstick-size pieces, patted dry and sautéed or stir fried in a tablespoon of oil until just golden. Splash with a teaspoon or two of soy sauce and stir until the tofu pieces are coated with the soy sauce. Remove from the pan and drain well. Mix cooked tofu pieces with 1 teaspoon very finely minced lemon or lime zest.

4 ounces fresh, ripe, peeled and seeded (but still firm) mango or papaya, cut into matchstick-size pieces and drained.

Peeled, seeded, cucumber cut into matchstick-size pieces. Place on paper towels and allow to drain. Pat dry before using.

Part B – Rice Stick Noodles and Other Shredded Things -- Offer the Rice Stick Noodles and One or More of the Following for a Total of Four Cups or More

Prepared rice stick noodles or “bun,” rinsed in water, drained well, cooled. (These are dried, very thin rice noodles that are available in Asian markets and some supermarkets. Sometimes called rice vermicelli. Be sure to buy the very thin noodles made from rice or rice flour and not mung beans or wheat flour. Careful not to get the thin “banh pho” rice stick noodles, which are flat noodles for soups and look like linguini.) To prepare, cook about 4 ounces in boiling water for about five minutes.

Rinsed, cleaned fresh mung bean or other sprouts, well drained

Cooked, cooled, spaghetti squash, separated into noodle-like strands (very untraditional but adds a nice flavor, crunch and nutrient boost)

Finely shredded green papaya. Green papaya is not unripe regular papaya. It is a separate variety of the fruit that is eaten like a vegetable. It is available in many Asian specialty markets. It adds a bit of taste and a lot of texture to the spring rolls.

Finely shredded carrots

Finely shredded daikon radish or jicama. Daikon radish is long and white and on the mild side. Jicama works fine if the radish isn’t available. Or try finely shredded turnip for a more peppery taste.

(Note: Some Asian markets sell fresh pre-shredded green papaya and a mix of pre-shredded carrots and radishes in the produce section.)

Part C- Herbs and Greens – Use One Cup of FRESH Herbs to Go with the Lettuce for a Total of Two Cups Herbs and Greens

One cup shredded red or other soft, leaf lettuce (should be bite size pieces)
Plus One Cup of a Combination of the following:
Asian or Thai basil, chopped or shredded without stems. Sometimes called anise basil. (Do not substitute Italian style basil)
Mint, chopped or shredded without stems
Cilantro, chopped or shredded with harder stems removed
Vietnamese herbs (available in some Asian stores) such as “ngo gai,” saw-leaf herb (a member of the cilantro family), “rau ram” (Vietnamese coriander), and many others. Chopped or shredded with harder stems removed

Part D – Sauce -- Pick One or Both, You’ll Need a Little More than a ¼ Cup Total

Prepared Hoisin Sauce (buy a good quality one)
Peanut - Hoisin Sauce mixed one part hoisin sauce, one part good quality smooth peanut butter. Stir. Add hot water by the teaspoonful and keep stirring until mixture is smooth and well combined. Optional, add a splash of Vietnamese or Thai Fish Sauce (see note below in dipping sauce segment) or soy sauce.

Part E – Wrappers -- Pick One or Do Some of Both

16 (plus extras for the learning curve) Vietnamese dried round rice paper wrappers for spring or salad rolls (“banh trang”). Be sure you get wrappers made from rice not wheat flour. The size of these round wrappers seems to be very consistent between brands.

16 red lettuce, butter lettuce or other soft leaf lettuce leaves, washed, drained and patted dry (plus extras for the learning curve)

Use the lettuce leaves if you can’t get the wrappers. Wrapping ingredients like this in a lettuce leaf is not uncommon in Vietnam and is usually referred to as a salad roll. Obviously, if you are making some of each, you'll need only need 16+ total for both.

Part F – Dipping Sauce & Garnish

Nuoc Cham – Spicy Dipping Sauce

1 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
2-3 small hot red fresh Thai (bird) or Serrano chiles. (Remove seeds if you want a less hot sauce), very finely minced. (If it’s all you can get, use fresh jalapenos)
1 tablespoon plain, unseasoned rice vinegar
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup water
Tablespoon of mixed finely shredded carrot and daikon, chopped
One tablespoon Vietnamese or Thai Fish Sauce (See Note.)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Put out in small bowls for dipping.

Note: In the photo at left are different kinds of Vietnamese fish sauces (“nuoc mam”) on display at the kitchen of a hotel in Hanoi. The nuoc mam that is imported to the U.S. is most often made with anchovies. The sauce adds an indefinable boost to many Vietnamese foods and sauces. Thai fish sauce (‘nam pla”) is an acceptable substitute. If neither is available or if you are making strictly vegetarian food, substitute a combination of unseasoned white rice vinegar and soy sauce, maybe even mushroom soy sauce. I have seen Thai fish sauce in many supermarkets and both are available in Asian markets.

For a mouth watering discussion on why fish sauce seems funky but can be addictive, please read Orangette's musings.

Garnish -- ¼ cup roasted peanuts (not salted), chopped.


At last, after all that shopping and chopping and shredding – here’s the pay off, you get to eat these rolls and customize them to your specifications.

Set out all of your choices from Parts A through D plus the peanuts. Put dipping sauce into conveniently placed bowls.

Prep rice paper wrappers. Have a flat, open container for some hot water, big enough to submerge a wrapper in without folding or bending. Submerge wrapper long enough for it to soften. Timing will depend on brand, temperature of the water and atmospheric conditions. Wrapper will emerge very soft and pliable. Place wrapper on a lint-free kitchen or tea cotton towel. It is ready to fill and roll.

If your softening of the wrappers gets ahead of the rolling, cover softened wrappers with a damp cotton towel. Don’t let wrappers sit too long.

To fill, place wrapper round in front of you. All the action is going to happen on the bottom third of the round. Start by dabbing a half teaspoon to teaspoon of either the hoisin or peanut-hoisin sauce in the middle of that bottom third section. Select your greens, herbs, shredded vegetables, shrimp, etc and place in that bottom third, leaving about an inch margin on both sides and the bottom. Top off with a sprinkling of the chopped peanuts.

Fold up 1” margin from the bottom over filling and then fold 1” margin on the sides of wrapper towards the middle over filling. Roll bottom third over towards middle and then roll again, using your fingers to help compress the roll. It is like rolling a burrito. (For another take on a Spring Roll Recipe and for step by step photos of how to wrap, click here from this article from Digs Magazine.)

If you are using lettuce leaves, fill and roll them in a similar manner.

Don’t worry if your first rolls are loose or messy. They will taste just as good.

Dip the finished roll into the dipping sauce and eat.

Leftovers? -- Cut the rice noodles into 2 inch lengths and combine ingredients from Parts A, B and C and chopped roasted peanuts into a salad, adding more lettuce if needed. Thin dipping sauce out with a bit more vinegar and some grapeseed or other vegetable oil if desired and toss with the salad.

Some resources:
Mai Pham's growing empire of things Vietnamese is a great informational resource.

There are many resources for buying Vietnamese ingredients on the web. For research purposes I checked availability from Ethnic Grocer, which also provided the spring roll wrapper photo.

While it is more of a supermarket than a charming specialty store and many of their Vietnamese selections are limited, the Ranch 99 chain of markets has all the Asian ingredients needed for this recipe, although it does not offer mail order. Ranch 99 has locations on the West Coast and Arizona.

Thai basil, bird chiles and other fresh produce are available from Import Food by mail order.

This write up is part of Sweetnicks Tuesday round up of antioxidant rich food recipes (ARF). Please check out her complete list of participants. Sweetnicks also hosts the popular Weekend Dog Blogging Photo event. This should be her year since this is the Year of the Dog.

Yep, we are in the middle of celebrating the Lunar New Year and these spring rolls are also my way of honoring the event. For more information on the traditions and meanings of the Lunar New Year, check out The Hungry Rose.

6/8/08 -- update -- this remains one of Blog Appetit's most popular posts. I recently came across this version with shrimp and steak and with step by step photos. Check it out.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #2 -- Chicken Stewed in Fragrant Sauce

When it is cold and blustery, I like something stewed and saucy with a bit of spice. That's why I chose to make Chicken Stewed in Fragrant Tomato Sauce with Thick Pasta (or Kotopoulo Pastitsatha Apo Tin Kerkyra) from the Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas for this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, which invites us to share "comfort food" recipes from our favorite cookbooks.

I've made this dish at least once a year, and, judging from the dates I've jotted in the margins, only in the winter months. My recipe notes have the title word "fragrant" underlined (twice), have comments on how it would be easy to make low-fat and still keep the flavor and that it worked well in the pressure cooker, and a note how very tasty it is. Note: When I can't find the pasta called for I've used penne or rigatoni. Drain the pasta well before using so no extra water gets in the sauce.

Kochilas says this dish was a traditional Sunday meal of the Island of Corfu and was made with free-range chicken or turkey. It's the nine spices -- allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper -- that give it an authentic flavor.

Don't let the long list of ingredients fool you, this is a dish that maximizes taste and minimizes effort. It's great for homey family meals and company meals when you need to please, not impress.

Chicken Stewed in Fragrant Tomato Sauce with Thick Pasta
page 92, The Glorious Foods of Greece
Diane Kochilas
Copyright 2001
William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
One 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into stewing pieces (fat trimmed and skin removed, if desired. I have also made this with a little less than 3 pounds of boneless, skinless parts. The chicken cooks down a bit more into the sauce, but it is still delicious.)
3 cups coarsely cut red onions
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (canned ok)
1 cinnamon stick
4 to 6 allspice berries, to taste
Salt to taste
Water to cover (see below)
2 tablespoons tomato paste diluted with 2 tablespoons water
2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar
1 pound of tubular spaghetti, like bucatini
Grated kefalotryri or any hard yellow cheese (Parmesan worked fine, too.)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Do this in batches if need be not to crowd and steam the pieces. Remove from the pot and drain well on paper towels.

Add the onion, reduce heat to medium low and saute until wilted. Add the garlic, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, cloves and cayenne and stir for a minute, just until they become fragrant. Add the chicken back to the pot and add the tomatoes, cinnamon stick, allspice, salt and enough water to cover the chicken. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is tender, about 40 minutes. (About 20 minutes before the chicken should be done, start the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well when done.) Stir in the diluted tomato paste and add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and the black pepper. Taste the sauce. If it is not tart enough, add a bit more vinegar. If it is too pungent, add a bit of sugar.

Remove the cinammon stick before serving. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta. Garnish with minced parsley and/or some kalmata olives. Pass the grated cheese.

To check out what other food bloggers have reached into their cookbook shelves for this month's topic, click on over to Weekend Cookbook Challenge. The round up is due to be posted on February 3rd.

V-Day Minus 16

What do the "Love Shack" and the "Kissing Game" have in common?
They are both offered as Valentine's Day Sweets by Jacques Torres Chocolate.

For more on chocolate as the language of love, lust or at least luscious calories, please see my post today on Sugar Savvy.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chili for When You Need a Slow Cooker Meal and It's Been a Pressure Cooker Day

You may wonder, what did the Blog Appetits have to eat while Mom was eating her way through the Fancy Food Show? They had chili. I made a huge batch on Saturday night and it kept us well fed for the duration.

This chili started life as a photo on the cover of the January/February issue of Cooking Light. Gary saw it and immediately began requesting chili. I didn’t use the magazine’s recipe, but I borrowed generously from its spicing. This makes a chili that’s somewhere between mild and medium. If you like it hotter, goose up the hot stuff.

Because my man wanted a slow meal with lots of different kinds of beans on a busy day, I used canned beans and made this in the pressure cooker. You can adapt it for regular cooking by making it in a large skillet and simmering until the mixture was cooked through and thickened. (You might need to add a bit more liquid.) You could probably adapt it to a slow cooker as well. Proceed through browning the meat, reduce the liquid to 1 ½ cups each of water and stock, put all ingredients but the corn meal in a slow cooker and cook on low or medium for 6-8 hours. About a half hour before serving, switch to high, uncover and add in the corn meal, giving it a good stir every now and then.

Turkey Chili with Four Types of Beans
Serves 6 - 8

1 ½ pounds ground turkey (I used 7 percent fat, labeled "lean.")
1 ½ tablespoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons grape seed or other vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 canned chipotle chiles, chopped
1 -15 ounce can of black beans
1-15 ounce can of small white beans, rinsed and drained
1-15 ounce can of adzuki beans (or pinto or kidney if adzuki are unavailable), rinsed and drained (The adzuki beans add a slight nuttiness to the dish.)
1-15 ounce can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken stock, homemade or purchase low-sodium
2 cups water
1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
¼ cup of corn meal

Toppings: plain yogurt or sour cream, chopped cilantro, lemon wedges, avocado slices, shredded cheese, fresh salsa, etc.

In a large bowl, mix paprika, garlic, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, 1 tsp of cumin, ½ teaspoon of dried oregano, black pepper and salt with ground turkey. Combine well.

Heat oil in a large pressure cooker. Working in batches if need be, brown the seasoned ground turkey mixture, breaking up the meat into clumps as it browns. Add the onion, 1 tablespoon cumin, 2 teaspoons oregano, 1 tablespoon chili powder, and chopped chipotles. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened. Add in drained beans, diced tomatoes with their juices, water and chicken stock. Stir well.

Place and lock lid on pressure cooker. Bring up to pressure and cook at high pressure for about five minutes. Open vent and allow steam to escape until all pressure is released. Take off lid.

Over medium heat, stir in the corn meal and cook until the chili is slightly thickened.

Serve with toppings as desired.

Blogger Bites Ginger, Ginger Bites Back

A new piece of See's candy is in The Chocolate Box at Sugar Savvy as part of my regular See's tasting column.

This week I explore the complexities of See's glaced ginger. Please check Sugar Savvy every Friday for my column.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

It's Hard to Keep My Matronly Figure ...

... After three days of attending the Fancy Food Show and eating every chocolate truffle, black truffle and other goodie I could. Today was the last day. I only went for a few hours to wrap up a few things I didn't have a chance to do the other days. I tasted something like eight different hot chocolates, reshot some photos that didn't come out right, did a "focused tasting" of chocolates and kept bumping into other Bay area bloggers.

Once Amy, Elise and Heidi (among others) have posted their reports, I'll be sure to provide the links so you can see what they saw, tasted, experienced and thought as well as me. It was such a huge show and everyone brings something different to it (and expects something different) that I thought it would be fun to share our perspectives.

I need time to digest what I saw and did, so give me a little time to cogitate and I'll be posting lots of tasty bits.


In other news, please click on over to
Sweetnicks to check out her popular Antioxidant Rich Food recipe roundup.

Also, click on over to Sugar Savvy to see my "teaser" post about chocolate at the Fancy Food Show.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Glutton for Punishment

Dear Blog,

Well, I went back to the Fancy Food Show today. Even though I promised myself I really would be more in control, I still just sampled and sampled. Part of it was my overwhelming desire to taste and report, but most of it was gluttony.

Did I really NEED to taste three (no, actually four) kinds of caviar? No. But it was there. And it was free (well, except for the time lost from work and the killer parking fee.)

If I was keeping a Weight Watchers style food journal (yeah, right, I just gave up my diet for the duration) and writing down every bite I would either be put away for my very bizarre eating combinations (following up an artichoke garlic dip with a chipolte caramel immediately before trying a kosher wine from Spain) or for the sheer idiocy of attempting to eat the equivalent of perhaps half of the world's supply of chocolate in one day.

Needless to say, I am going back for more tomorrow. I still haven't gotten to the focused chocolate tasting (a must on my list) and there are still hot chocolates to sample. I also must go back for more of the Persian ice cream.

Another trend I spotted today -- antioxidants in teas and some other foods. It did seem that every booth that didn't have chocolate had tea, but that is most likely an exaggeration caused by fatigue due walking around all day and my sugar high finally crashing after hours of non-stop chocolate eating.

I have lots more to report and loads of photos and some recommendations. I'll also do a few mini-profiles on some interesting food artisans and manufacturers I met.



P.S. -- Yes, I am drinking my water. Today I had (among others) water fortified with calcium, flavored with peppermint, infused with wild berries, and somehow magically transformed by aromatherapy techniques (cinnamon rose flavor.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Your Reporter at the Fancy Food Show

Spent the day at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, tasting, looking, occasionally sniffing (and once or twice spitting out, discretely and into a napkin) and asking lots and lots of questions of the people who are coming up with new or better and improved or in some cases just different food products.

I'll share lots of this info with you in the posts to come. I'll also be posting round ups in the next weeks on Sugar Savvy especially about the hot chocolates I tried and loved (to be honest, so far all of them) and candies for Valentine's Day.

One observation. There was not one exhibit on low-fat OR low-carb food or health food options. There was coffee with roasted soy (bleech), organic gin, sugar-free chocolate (tend not to eat it 'cause the sweeteners they use don't agree with me) and lots and lots of granola, but there wasn't a whiff of health concerns in the air (which smelled like chocolate, Thai noodles or Spanish ham, depending where you were standing in the Moscone Convention Center). Full fat, full carbs and full taste seemed to be the order of the day. I ate it up (yes, literally.)

I'm going back in for more tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Are You Sugar Savvy?

Today marks the debut of my new column -- The Chocolate Box -- at the Well Fed Network blog Sugar Savvy

You can read all about at The Chocolate Box -- See's Piece by Piece #1 . This week's tastes are the milk and dark Bordeaux.

My job (hey, someone has to do it) is to taste a different piece of See's Candy every week and report on it. But you regular readers know that I do like to digress, so you'll get plenty more of Blog Appetit's news, views and muse in every posting.

Please check out the Well Fed network of blogs for the latest and greatest on chocolate, candy and sugar (Sugar Savvy), food production and distribution (Growers and Grocers), The Spirit World, and food journalism and publications (Paper Palate)

Oh, one more thing. I owe my obsession to my sister-in-law, Karel, who not only introduced me to her brother (my husband), but took me in hand when I first arrived in San Francisco and taught me how to buy See's Candy by the piece. I haven't decided if I should thank her or blame her, but I do owe it all her!

Update: Sadly, Sugar Savvy and Well Fed are no more.  Many links are available through the Wayback Machine archives at www.web.archive.org

Here's a list of many of the posts I wrote for Sugar Savvy on the Wayback machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20081006065035/http://sugarsavvy.net/author/faithk/
Clicking on any of those should result in the archived version of the post.
Warning: not every post is archived.  I've learned from this and no longer just post links to what I write elsewhere - I update the blog with the post as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I Yam What I Yam

Sweet potatoes, yams, I don't care what you call them, as long as you call me to dinner when you serve 'em.

The other night I made a savory side dish to a spontaneous meal (you know, the kind of cooking where somehow you kind of forgot you were going to have to make dinner that night and it catches you by surprise and you sure hope there is something in the fridge/freezer/pantry your family will actually eat).

I served these very savory sweet potato sticks (or batons to be fancy) with grilled chicken with a pureed red pepper sauce and a leafy green salad with spinach. Colorful, healthy and delicious.

Caramelized Sweet Potato Batons

Makes about four side servings

glug ( one to two tablespoons) of grapeseed, canola or other vegetable oil
1/2 med. red onion, very thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound of sweet potato or yam, peeled, cut into 2 inch sticks, about 1/4 inch wide
approx 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 tsp cumin (or you could use curry powder or other seasoning)
dash of red pepper flakes
freshly ground pepper
sea salt
splash of a good quality extra virgin olive oil OR balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in large saute or fry pan.
Lower heat to med-low. Add sliced onions, saute slowly and stirring frequently until softened and slightly caramelized and browned.
Return heat to med-high.
Add garlic, saute until just beginning to color.
Add sweet potato sticks, stir to coat and saute for until the sweet potato begins to brown in spots.
Add in cumin (or curry powder) and red pepper flakes. Mix and saute to release spices' scents.
Add chicken stock, stir well and then reduce heat to medium. Let sweet potatoes cook until stock is almost totally reduced down and the sweet potatoes sticks are cooked through. (Add more stock as needed if necessary.)
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add splash of oil or vinegar. Stir and serve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Just some odds and ends to bring Blog Appetit up to date ---

1. I bought a grill -- A Cusiniart Griddler. I'll let you know how it goes.

2. Polls are still open for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. Vote for your favorite or find a new one at Accidental Hedonist . You have through January 18th.

If Blog Appetit happens to be your favorite, thank you very much, but unfortunately we are not nominated this year.

3. The counter (see graphic in footer) seems to be working out very well. It is so gratifying to see how many visitors are (hopefully) enjoying Blog Appetit. I've had more than 535 clicks since January 3rd. Thanks so much for coming by!

4. Check out the Well Fed Network which has correspondents from around the globe posting on a collection of blogs on food, wine, the food press and more. I am particularly sweet on Sugar Savvy which covers chocolate, sugars, candies and confections. That's probably because I (1.) adore sweets and (2.) will be contributing posts to them.

I'll be sure to alert you when my highly caloric photos and writings appear. Yes you CAN gain weight by reading this blog!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Feast Your Eyes on These Blooms

Man nor blogger can not live by food alone. No, we need flowers, too. I had bought but not yet arranged some flowers when my weekly housekeeper came. She asked if I'd mind if she arranged them for me. No I didn't mind.

In fact, I plan on asking her if it would be okay if I left flowers out for her every week from now on.

Confession -- I had only bought $20-$25 of supermarket flowers, nothing special. Raquel added cuttings from my yard and mixed in some of the uhm, decorative, ah, not natural, blooms I had around my house.

I have been enjoying these since Wednesday and thought you should enjoy them too. Every time I see them, they just make me happy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fun with Appliances

I Need a New Grill to Thrill -- We here at Blog Appetit fully embrace the technological age, but my enduring love affair with my panini grill is just about over. It's not that I don't love the sandwiches or the grilled goodies, it's just that it is now flaking teflon over everything I cook. Add that to the broken latch and sprung springs and I think I now know why it only cost $30.

Anyway, do you have a panini grill? Would you recommend it? Why or why not? Please help me get a new grill that won't break my heart!

I Don't Knead a New Breadmaker -- but I thought I did. Whenever my youngest tried to make bread in my antique breadmaker (it must be about seven years old), there were problems. Lopsided loaves. Unkneaded but not unneeded dough left clumped in corners. I was ready to replace it but thought I should give it one more try. Since all of his attempts had been with smaller 1 pound or 1.5 pound loaves, I made a whopping 2 pound loaf of "French" bread. It came out perfect and the boys (admittedly with help from their parents) finished all of it within 24 hours and are asking when we'll have more fresh bread. So I don't have to replace it, as long as I am willing to make 2 pounds of bread at a time!

Esstentially my appliance karma came out even, but I still have to go shopping.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Soup -- Thai Chicken Curry Transformed

That Pim.
Thoughtful, dedicated, talented, well-traveled and a good Samaritan to boot. Oh, did I mention she can really cook? And blog? Check out Chez Pim for yourself.

I was one of her raffle helpers a few weeks ago for Menu for Hope II and she served us a wickedly good Thai curry noodle dish that has haunted me ever since. Thanks to Brett of In Praise of Sardines I now know we had khao soi, a northern Thai curry chicken and noodle dish. (The photo above shows the accompaniments Pim served with the curry.)

That dish inspired my own, much less authentic version of a Thai Chicken Curry. I very loosely adapted a recipe from Thai Table. I used Thai red curry paste, some chopped onions, bite-size pieces of chicken breast, fresh green beans sliced into thirds, small, round eggplants cut into chunks, cubes of tofu, a combination of light and regular coconut milk, and water to make a very spicy and soupy stew which I served over rice and later noodles. (Dear Reader, I confess I made a LOT of the Thai chicken curry.) It was good. It got better (and hotter) each day. After a few days, I wanted to change the taste profile, so I added a 28-ounce can of diced organic tomatoes with their juice, reheated the stew/soup and ladled into my soup bowl. I served whole grain flatbreads warmed on a griddle to eat alongside the my newly christened Thai Chicken Curry and Tomato Soup.

It was great. But it was not nearly as wonderful as Pim's.

ARF ARF and a Bow Wow

Sweetnicks of the blog of the same name is one busy blogger. She does the weekend dog blogging feature (lots of cute pix of a blogger's best friend), participates in many blogging events and does good deeds, as well as sharing with us her love of food and eating. Oh, and she's a busy mom.

One of her newest features is a Tuesday night round up of recipes featuring antioxidants, veggies and fruits, with she calls ARF (for Antioxidant Rich Food) 5-a day-roundup.

This is the second of her ARF/5-a-Day roundups and Blog Appetit leads off the delicious pack with Vacation Condo Soup.

I hope you will check out her weekly roundups as well as pay regular visits to her site. I know I do. You'll find Sweenicks listed under "Links."

Monday, January 09, 2006

What a Crock -- Safeway Creme Brulee - Yum!

It's a basic fact that no one dislikes creme brulee and that a great many people swoon at just the thought of their spoons cracking through the hardened crackly sugar crust to the smooth custard underneath.

It is also a basic fact that this relatively simple dessert intimidates many cooks. Maybe it's the whole custard thing or maybe it is the fire thing -- kitchen torch, broiler or old-fashioned salamander -- needed to create the sugar crust.

For me it was the time thing -- I was making a complex meal in just a few hours and needed a showstoppingly easy dessert. This is what I found -- frozen creme brulees in wonderful earthenware crocks in my local supermarket. The desserts came boxed two to a package for $5.79 each. Did I mention they came in wonderful, reusable earthernware dishes?

They were incredibly easy to defrost and serve and were creamy and delicious. I couldn't believe I found these in my relatively small Safeway supermarket. The product is made in France and the first ingredient is creme fraiche. Trust me, this is a wonderful product and an official Blog Appetit recommendation. My only qualm is that it was so good and the amount of product in each crock was such a sensible portion that I was left wanting more.

I served them after a Vietnamese meal with small scoops of light-purple taro ice cream on top. The creme brulees would also compliment a Spanish menu in addition to any French meal.

Safeway Select Creme Brulees, 8.76 ounces per package, two servings per package. $5.79. Also available on-line at Safeway's website in areas with delivery service.

I have seen a similar product at Trader Joe's, but I haven't tried it. If you have, let me know.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Another Link

I had the good fortune to meet Brett, creator of In Praise of Sardines, a few weeks ago. I've long been impressed with his blog, and not just because I (and hence Blog Appetit) belong to that coven of closet sardine lovers.

His blog continually impresses with its depth of coverage of San Francisco Bay Area ethnic cuisines as well as his travelogues which have taken him in the six short months he's been a blogger to New York, Los Angeles and Spain. He's entertaining, the blog is well written and there are recipes, too. I hope you will click on over and check out In Praise of Sardines

To celebrate his inclusion in my links, I thought I would toss in this photograph of the sardine catch at Half Moon Bay, California, last summer.

How do I praise sardines? Let me count the ways, starting with grilled, fresh, eaten beachside on the Costa Brava. Wish you could have been there. Wish I was back there.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Vacation Condo Soup -- Tomato and Veggies with Sausage and Chicken

When the weather outside is frightful, a good soup can be delightful.

Never did that statement ring truer than over New Year’s weekend here in rainy California. To counteract the damp weather and to fill my in-laws’ freezer with something easy and good to eat during our recent visit, I made a batch of Vacation Condo Soup.

Vacation Condo Soup is what I make when I don’t have access to a full pantry, a stocked refrigerator and the batterie de cuisine is well, battered, or at best minimal. I have made versions of this in rental condos and “suite” hotel rooms with kitchens across the country. Since my in-laws don’t scratch cook much any more, this recipe was called for.

The soup is satisfying and really plays off the sweet fennel taste of the turkey sausage. It is rich tasting and crammed with vegetables, potatoes, chicken and the sausage. It is a meal in a bowl. My taste testers say this soup is too good just to have when you are on vacation.

Vacation Condo Soup Commando

It is always best if you can scope out your kitchen equipment before you have to shop, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Usually, you’ll have a big dull and/ or serrated knife, a paring knife, a small plastic cutting board, an assortment of pots and pans (including one big enough for a modest amount of soup or half package of spaghetti) and enough other equipment to get by if you keep it simple.

A few condos (usually those owned by individuals and not corporations or timeshares) have had small supplies of cooking oil and spices. More, but not all, have had salt and pepper.

So the plan is to limit knife work, boost flavors without having to spend a lot of money on herbs and spices and keep it easy (after all you are on vacation).

One tip: You can store your soup in the fridge in the pot it was made in with the lid on it. But if you think you might need the pot some other time during your stay, pick up some of those disposable plastic food storage containers during your supermarket foray.

Vacation Condo Soup or, Vegetable Soup with Sausage and Chicken

Makes about six one-and-a-half cup servings.

2 tablespoons of olive or other oil (or 4-6 pats of butter or margarine stolen from the breakfast buffet)
16-19 ounces of sweet Italian-style turkey sausage, sliced into ½ inch rounds, amount depends on package size. (Can’t find it in the market? Regular pork sweet Italian sausage will work, too. Want a spicy soup? Use hot Italian sausage instead.)
1 small or ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or chopped fine
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled (use that paring knife if there is no potato peeler) and cut into ¼ cubes
2- 14 to 16 ounce packages of frozen Italian vegetable assortment. (I recommend C&W’s seasoned Ultimate Tuscan with artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, yellow zucchini, soybeans, Italian green beans and spinach) Yes, of course you can use fresh veggies, that’s what I do at home, just figure on about 4 or more cups of trimmed, chopped vegetables.
2-14.5 ounce cans of diced Italian-style tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic (I used DelMonte. If you can’t find the seasoned diced tomatoes, use the seasoned stewed.)
1-32 ounce box or can of chicken stock, preferably lower sodium
4-6 ounces of shredded, roasted or grilled chicken (I had leftover roast chicken from a restaurant meal the night before. No doggie bag? Look in the market’s prepared foods section for pre-cooked chicken breast. Or use 6-8 ounces of boneless, skinless raw chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces.)
Salt and pepper to taste (bring home some packets from a fast food restaurant or the breakfast buffet if your condo is bare).

Heat the oil or other fat in a three quart pot or larger. When the oil is hot, add the sliced turkey sausage. Sauté until browned on both sides. Remove the browned slices from pot (leaving the oil and drippings in the pot) and let drain on a paper towel-lined bowl or plate. (You may need to do this in batches if your pot is very narrow. Don’t crowd the pot or the slices will steam not brown.)

Add the chopped onions and sauté until softened and a bit golden, stirring up any sausage bits that might be stuck to the bottom on pan. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so until just colored. Add potato cubes and mix thoroughly. Add frozen vegetables and sauté for a minute or two. Add the diced or stewed tomatoes with their juice. Stir well to combine.

Let simmer for a few minutes for tastes to combine. Add chicken stock. Stir to combine.
Return to simmer. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. If using RAW chicken, add the bite size pieces now. Simmer an additional 10 minutes (20 minutes total), check potato cubes, if almost soft enough to eat, return browned sausage slices to pot and add in pre-cooked, shredded chicken. If the potato cubes have not yet softened sufficiently, cover and simmer, checking periodically until they are and then add sausage and pre-cooked chicken.

Cover pot and continue to simmer until potatoes, sausage and raw chicken (if using) are cooked through.

Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. (Because of the pre-seasoned ingredients and the commercial chicken stock you may not need to add much, if any, salt.)

This soup is my first submission to Sweetnicks’ weekly antioxidant rich foods cooking round up. For flavorful recipes that are good for you, too, posted every Tuesday, check it out at Sweetnicks. I posted too late for this week’s ARF5-A-Day Roundup, but Sweetnicks assures me I’ll be in the wrap up next Tuesday.

Vacation Condo Soup is brought to you by the following Top 20 antioxidants – cooked artichoke hearts and russet potatoes. Honorable mention to the tomatoes, beans and other vegetables.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Counter Intelligence

With a push from my technophile sons, I have installed a counter on Blog Appetit. (Check out the little addition to the footer at the very bottom of this page.)

If it causes you pop ups or other troubles let me know by emailing me through my profile. I test drove this one a bit and it seemed inoffensive, but you never know.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Top 10 TV Chefs

Just off the plane and hot off the press -- January's Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine rated the cooking divas in a process the author compared to a Miss America pageant. Points were awarded for causal ingredients (casual wear), provocative recipes (swimsuit), poise and presence on air (evening wear) , instructional talent (talent) and cookability of recipes (private interview). No Miss (or Mr.) Congeniality was named, and Joseph Guinto, the author, declined to list the names and vital stats of those who were not in the top 10.

Since that magazine's website doesn't have the article posted, here's a quick recap. Remember, Blog Appetit is just reporting the results, not determining them (or even agreeing with them)!

The Top 10 TV Chefs as Selected by Spirit Magazine

Number 10 was Rachael Ray, score 91.62. Yea: Casual ingredients and poise and presence. Nay: Less than provocative recipes; frozen spinach (Rachael was on the cover of the issue identified as a "multimedia mogul.")

Number 9: Ming Tsai, 99.5. Yea: Nice, nice guy. Nay: Too nice.

Number 8: Alton Brown, 99.68. Yea: Never dull on air. Nay: His recipes are, though.

Number 7: Mario Batali, 101.25 Yea: Passionate and provocative. Nay: Cured hog's jowls.

Number 6: Tina Nordstrom, 102. Not as well known as many the magazine rated. She is Swedish and cooks outdoors for PBS. Possible extra points for being a blonde (you should read her write up), plus the recipe tested was an Apple Drink with Vanilla Vodka. Yea: Provocative recipes. Nay: Hard-to-find ingredients

Number 5: Wolfgang Puck, 103.56 Yea: compelling and his emphasis on basic techniques.

Number 4: Lidia Bastianich, 104.93 Yea: Like cooking with your immigrant grandma in her kitchen. Nay: Like cooking with your immigrant grandma in her kitchen.

Number 3: G. Garvin, 109. Yea: TV One chef "pops with personality." Nay: Less than provocative recipes

Number 2: Emeril Lagasse, 112.93, Yea: Poise and Presence

And the number one TV chef according to Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine: Jacques Pepin, 113.5 Yea: Everything, plus his accent.