Friday, June 30, 2006

Fennel and Chicken Make for One Dish Wonder

Like everyone else, us food bloggers have meals we need to get on the table with a minimum of fuss and muss but that we still want to taste fresh and appealing.

A few days ago, we had friends visiting and it was a busy day at the old home office, so I adapted a Copeland Marks recipe from the The Great Book of Couscous (Primus Cookbooks, published by Penguin Books. )

The result was an easy to make dish which was delicious with moist chicken and a nice anise edge. The aroma as it baked literally made our mouths water. It is a gentle dish without a lot of strong seasoning, so use the freshest ingredients you can for best flavor.

Chicken with Fennel and Potatoes

Serves six

Vegetable oil for baking dish
1 medium white onion, cut in half and each half cut in thin slices
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half and each half cut into thin slices
3-4 pounds of chicken parts on the bone, skin on (the taste of the chicken is important here, use fresh and get good quality chicken. I used half breasts and full legs and then cut them into smaller serving pieces after they were cooked.)
1 pound of potatoes (I used yellow finn) cut into large bite size pieces
2 tablespoons fresh chopped fennel fronds (the green feathery leaves that grow on the stalks)
2 large roma or other meaty tomatoes cut into eighths
1 cup of water or chicken stock
red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Use the oil to grease a large baking dish. Put the onion, garlic and fennel bulb slices in the oiled dish. Nestle in the chicken parts. Arrange potatoes around chicken and scatter chopped fennel leaves and tomato pieces on top.

Add water or stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Put baking dish in hot oven and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until chicken is virtually done. (If need be baste chicken and potatoes with cooking liquid. Cover with foil if chicken skin begins to burn.) Uncover if covered and sprinkle nutmeg on top of dish. Finish cooking uncovered until chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are soft.

Serve with salad and bread.

(About the photo -- I didn't take a picture of dinner -- we were too hungry -- but I had this picture from my trip to Vietnam. These chickens were waiting to be made into dinner at Hanoi's "wet" market.)

Oh Say Can You See's the Apple Pie Truffle?

Click on over to Sugar Savvy for a looksee at my latest creation -- a write up of the All-American taste in a truffle, See's Apple Pie Truffle.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nutty for See's Nougat

I review three See's Candies chocolate covered nougats and share a sweet piece of my childhood over at Sugar Savvy today. You can read my write up here.

Pictured at left from the top are the Rum Nougat (which is actually oozing some of its filling), the Peanut Nougat and the Dark Nougat.

(By the way, this is the 23rd See's piece I've written for Sugar Savvy. If you want to catch up on the ones you may have missed, click on The Chocolate Box Category at Sugar Savvy and you can view them all.)

I always wanted to give a plug to Bravenet. So, oddly, I'll do it now when I am having a small problem. Bravenet provides the free counter for this blog and many others. It is a good reliable service with unbelievably responsive customer service, which makes yesterday's loss of visitor statistics a bit easier to take. Engineers at Bravenet are working on it, but Blog Appetit was one of many websites whose June 22nd data went AWOL. I know I am not the biggest blog on the block, but I do like to know that people are stopping by. So thanks for giving Blog Appetit a look-see and helping make me Technorati's 82,000 most popular blog on the web (improved from 750,000th most popular blog).

Update: With Sugar Savvy (and its links) long gone, thanks to the Way Back Machine for this link to this post:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hot Time in Hell's Kitchen

Having gone through Top Chef withdrawal, I didn't know if I could (or should) devote time to another reality-based cooking competition. But I've been intrigued about the rough and tough reputation of British chef Gordon Ramsay so I thought I'd give the series a look see.

I watched episodes two and three. Here are my impressions, whines, what ifs and other comments on Hell's Kitchen.

1. I was impressed how these chef wannabes had to really work the line. That's the reality of being a chef. Having said that, I am also surprised how little experience the 12 finalists have in actually working in commercial kitchen. Did I miss much in episode one? How did they come to pick these unimpressive 12. Beyond Heather I am not sure there is any one I would root for.

2. Maybe it is the editing, but most of the candidates seem to lack a certain inner sense of self, introspection, thoughtfulness, intellectual curiosity or even a love of creating new and delicious food. Of course that might not be a fair assessment, but not one of the chef wannabes is being presented this way. The only vibes I'm getting are cockiness, greed and competitiveness -- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the kind spirit of Charlie and with Ramsay as a cruder, ruder Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder version). These contestants seem only interested in the process as a golden ticket.

2. Once again pastries and baking seem to be the neglected art in these shows.

3. Have you ever seen better dressed and made up restaurant "customers"? Maybe I missed something, but these diners seem more like invited guests there for the Hell's Kitchen experience and encouraged to speak up for the camera. They ring false to me.

4. I know Ramsay has a show in England called Kitchen Nightmare or somesuch, but I only know him from his articles for BBC Good Food magazine where he seems like a pussycat and a nice man, so the show is a bit of a disconnect for me on that, although he certainly got press last season for his foul mouth/temper/demanding ways.

5. Speaking of foul mouths, I can't believe the language on this show! I'm no prude, but sometimes it is more like a symphony of bleeps than a conversation. By the way, this is some of the best bleeping I've ever seen or heard. You can still get the gist of the 4+ letter words, while the actual words are bleeped and the lip motions required to make said words are totally blurred. The technicians involved should qualify for a special Emmy.

Bonus Comment: Great "hell" and "pitchfork" graphics throughout the show. A little too much into the flames burning up things for my taste, but nothing cheesy about these production values.

Will I watch it again? I honestly don't know. All I can say is tune in next week.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Daddy's Day and Other Dilemmas

I know it is no substitute for my own ramblings and recipes on this blog, but I do have a short post on a perfect Father's Day gift on Food Bound. You can read about what I recommend for dads who get their thrill from the grill or who need to get cooking here.

Why is the cupboard so bare here at Blog Appetit? Well, I'm running the business by myself since hubby and older son are at the World Cup and my free time to write has shrunk accordingly. I do have a vegetarian paella recipe I hope to share this week.

Don't give up, there will be more guaranteed fresh food news, muse and views with recipes soon.

Oh Say Can You See's My Top 11?

Freshly harvested from over at Sugar Savvy, my Top 11 Round Up of my favorite See's Candies pieces so far. Why 11? You'll have to read this to find out.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Eat My Words -- Magnetic Attraction

Ran across two "foodie" sayings written on magnets in a local gift store:

Ever notice "stressed" spelled backwards is desserts?


Good cooks always have a lot of friends

Friday, June 09, 2006

Noah in the Kitchen and Other News

Yes, my son Noah finally made his peach pastry. He browsed through my cookbooks and decided on his own to make the Fanny Farmer Baking Book peach cobbler. Except for having me show him (much to his gadget-o-phile chagrin) how to put the beaters into the stand mixer, he did it all himself.

The crust topping was lightly brown, crisp and flaky. I was awed. The kid no longer has crust issues.

The peach filling was a bit soupy. I later realized he hadn't defrosted his frozen peaches or added some flour or other binder. The sweet peach flavored syrup that resulted didn't bother me. I ate two helpings, generously anointing each with an extra spoonful of syrup on top. (You can see my write up of his apple pie adventure here.)

Elsewhere at the Kramers: The reason he had no help in the kitchen is that I was slaving over my computer writing the praises of See's Candies Chocolate Buttercreams for Sugar Savvy. Click on over to see how I liked them.

Why no pix? My camera went to the World Cup in Germany with my husband. I hope to snag Noah's and use it for the two weeks, but it's not the same.

Sunday June 11 Update: Busy weekend. My older son graduated high school and leaves today to go to the World Cup. Noah made apple pie again and conquered his excess liquid problem with fruit fillings.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Top Chef Tidbit

It hardly seems like Wednesday with out a new episode of Top Chef to look forward to. (Well, actually it does seem like Wednesday, what with our garbage being picked up as usual, some things don't change, but I digress.)

The point is that without our weekly dose of Top Chef (or even the Next Food Network Star), life isn't quite as, shall we say, vicariously melodramatic.

So I perked up this morning when I read a brief mention in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle about round two Top Chef tryouts in San Francisco. Five hundred (yes, 500) hopefuls showed up. They were each given a two minute interview (about the time you need to make a soft boiled egg), but no actual cooking was involved. So, yes it is true, no taste is required for reality shows. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

(To read what else I've written about Top Chef, enter those words in the Search This Blog bar above to the left.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Eat My Words -- About Love and Cooking

I've been wanting to feature a quote or saying about food, love and life (not necessarily in that order or with all three components) periodically. Some might be my own creation. Some might be written by, inspired by or adapted from others. What they'll have in common is that I liked them enough to share.

Here's the first, which I believe was adapted from the teachings of the Dalai Lama:

Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Callalo Soup, or Don't be a Foo-Foo Fighter -- Flavors of the Caribbean - Part Two

Continuing my culinary journey to the Caribbean (see this jerk chicken write up for Part One), one of the many highlights of the evening was with soup of greens, okra and crab. This soup was amazing, even people who swore they don't like or were scared of okra had seconds. The okra thickened the soup and gave it a full, deep flavor and a pleasant, intriguing taste. The coconut milk sweetened the greens and the smokiness of the paprika really played well against the crab meat. It can be easily adapted for those who don't eat shellfish or who want a vegetarian version.

What are foo-foos you ask? They are plantain "dumplings," easy to make and perfect for the soup. You can skip this step, but why?

While some of the ingredients are exotic, the recipes themselves are fairly simple and not overly time consuming, and the flavors will wow you. Many of the ingredients can be found in large supermarkets or in Caribbean, Asian or Latin specialty markets.

The following recipes were adapted from my guidebook to the foods of the Caribbean -- The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. (Ortiz is one of my favorite cookbook authors. I hope to write more about her and her amazingly authentic cookbooks sometime soon.)

Callalo Soup (Caribbean Greens Soup)
Serves 6-8

This soup is best the same day it is prepared. Leftovers are fine, but lack some of the zing of the first day's bowl.

1 pound Swiss chard, cleaned, hard stems cut off and discarded and leafy greens cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups chicken or vegetarian stock
1 finely chopped onion
3 chopped garlic cloves
3 green onions (scallions), rinsed, roots cut off and chopped. Use white and pale green parts.
1/4 tsp dried ground thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (for a discussion of smoked paprika and where to buy it, please see the corn soup recipe here) or 1 teaspoon paprika and a few drops of liquid smoke. (See note below.)
1/2 pound cooked crabmeat (or about the same amount of tofu cubes or poached, shredded chicken breast)
1/2 cup coconut milk
10-12 ounces sliced frozen okra
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper sauce (such as Pickapeppa, Tabasco or Blog Appetit's own Below the Belt Hot Sauce
One recipe of foo-foo (see below)

Combine the Swiss chard with the stock, onion, garlic, green onions, thyme, vegetable oil and smoked paprika (or paprika and liquid seasoning). Cover and cook over a medium-low heat, keeping contents to a slow simmer until the greens are tender. Add the crab meat (or chicken or tofu), coconut milk and okras and cook about 10 minutes until the okras are taste done. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put two or three foo-foos in each bowl, ladle hot soup over the dumplings and serve with hot sauce on the side.

Soup Note: If the smoked paprika or liquid smoke are not available, it is okay to leave them out, but you will lose a bit of smoky complexity to the soup. If you are making the soup without the crab, you might use cubes of smoked tofu or tempeh to add that flavor back in.

Serves about 6-8

Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, modern technology has cut down on the effort needed to make these delicious dumplings. Keep your hands well oiled when forming them so the starchy plantain mixture doesn't stick to your hands. Form them while the soup is cooking. I oiled a baking dish and put each finished dumpling into the dish as it was formed. When done, I covered with foil and kept warm in a low oven until the soup was ready to serve.

3 green plantains (do not substitute bananas), unpeeled
about 2-3 tablespoons of water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt

Put the plantains in a large pot with water to cover. Cook until the plantains are tender, about a half hour. (You can check this by poking them with a fork). When the fruit inside the peel is soft, drain and carefully peel. Cut each plantain into three or four large chunks and put into a food processor. Puree, adding the water as needed to keep the mixture smooth but still very thick. It should form a ball around the blade. Adding a bit at a time, add salt and process to mix in. Taste a bit of the puree. It should have a nice balance but not be highly salted, since the soup is already flavored.

Oil hands (and keep oil or PAM spray handy) and pinch off about a walnut-size amount of the puree. Roll in your hands until rounded into a ball and put into prepared dish. Continue with rest of puree, re-oiling hands as necessary.

Keep foo-foos warm and serve with Callalo Soup.

Update: This post is part of Sweetnick's Antioxidant Rich Food Roundup, which can be viewed here
Photo Credit: Amazon

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Favorites of the Caribbean -- Part One -- When Jerk is a Good Thing (for Chickens)

Last weekend friends came over for an impromptu dinner party with foods based on a Caribbean theme. The impetus for the party was a bottle of Jamaican jerk seasoning I found in my pantry. I had bought it a few years ago during a cruise stop over in Jamaica.

The ingredients of the Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning were enticing: scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, sugar and thyme (plus citric acid which was honestly at least not a turn off). The consistency was a bit liquid and it was more of a spice paste rather than a dry rub. It smelled delightful. My bottle was labeled "hot & spicy" at the bottom.

I bought a family-size package of chicken breasts and another of thighs (both bone in, skin on), rubbed the chicken parts with lime juice, salt and then several tablespoons of the jerk seasoning and let that sit for a few hours. The chicken was grilled and came out succulent with a strong, herbal almost fruity note and with a pleasant hot tingle.

At this point, I could have kept things easy and just whipped together a salad, a veggie and some rice and called it dinner, but nooo, I was out to travel the world through my stomach again. I made "tostones de platano," "callalo soup with foofoo," Jamaican peas and rice, homemade corn bread, a fancy salad, tropical fruit salad and mango bars, too. Oh and we served Jamaican Red Stripe Beer, fancy tropical drinks and lots of fresh fruit juices for the kids. I whipped this all together (with some help from my husband, Gary, in the fruit salad and drinks department) within maybe six hours including shopping. While everything got on the table on time, I was a bit jet-lagged and pretty much forgot to take photos. I could have wept, everything had looked so great and colorful. I'll definitely be making some of these recipes again, so I'll post the photos then.

In the meantime, here's a recipe from from a Jamaican cook for jerk seasoning you can make at home. (Note: For some reason the link annoyingly sometimes doesn't go directly to the recipe. If that happens to you, put the word jerk in the search box of the page that comes up, press go and a listing for the recipe will appear.) It looked pretty similar to the Walkerswood ingredients, except for the soy sauce. I would probably leave that out and replace with lime juice to recreate my experience. Unfortunately, the site for Walkerswood is under construction, but it promises recipes, too. It might be worth checking on in the future. You can purchase Walkerswood seasoning at many online gourmet stores, including Amazon as well as this little corner of the Caribbean online -- the Caribbean Connoisseur.

Update: I found Walkerswood's own jerk chicken recipe on Food Network. You still need your own jerk seasoning recipe. Curious? Click here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Easy as Apple Pie

For his dad's birthday last month, Noah decided to make him an apple pie. (A favorite of both Noah's and Gary's.) He used a frozen crust (he is 15 and still working on his crust making), picked out some granny smith apples and leafed through a few cookbooks before deciding what recipe to use as a guideline.

He bought himself one of those apple corer, peeler, slicer contraptions a few months back, so making an apple pie qualifies as one of those teen-boy friendly gadget projects much like reprogramming my screen saver. (It now says "Hi Mother.")

After his apples were peeled, cored and sliced he cut the slices into thirds or so, tossed them with some lemon juice, sugar, lots of cinammon and a grating of nutmeg. He also added in a few tablespoons of flour.

The result was juicy and spicy and tasted great. Unfortunately it was very juicy, almost too much liquid. Next time more thickener. This time I'm pretty proud of my guy.

(Next up? Noah's planning a peach pie. I can't wait.)

See's Peppermint Pattie

Is it Friday?

Do I have another piece of See's Candy to rave or rant about?

You bet!

This week's selection is the Peppermint Pattie, available in both dark and milk chocolate.

Did I add it to my chocolate box? You'll have to click over to Sugar Savvy's See's Piece by Piece #20 to read my write up and find out.

First hint: With these patties, you can stop at one.

Second hint: You probably won't want to.

Update: with Sugar Savvy extinct - thanks to the Way Back Machine for preserving my efforts. To read more click the link at or continue reading: