Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oldie But Goodie Alert -- Peppermint Bark Rounds

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

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

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

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

Blog Appetit!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Back with a Top Chef Blast

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Gobble This: Happy Almost Turkey Day

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

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

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

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

Read all about my experience on Sugar Savvy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tangerines on Ice

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

Once again I was called on to make tangerine sorbet.

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

A Late Fall Night's Dream

Alas poor blog, I have no time for you.

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2006

See's The Chips and Pass the Vegetarian Times

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

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

Here's the link to my taste test report.

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trying Absinthe --The Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absinthe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 09, 2006

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

I don't know what to think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Yoshi's Chef Jazzes Up Japanese Restaurant Menu

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

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

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

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

Among the many highlights were:


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

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

Main Dishes:

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Was Top Chef Episode Three "Craveable?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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