Friday, December 22, 2006

Thai Curry in Hurry

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Menu for Hope Update

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Report:

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2006

Menu for Hope Prize Highlight: A Gastro Tour of Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chanukah or Hanukkah Part 2 -- Come Fry the Latkes

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

This recipe makes about 30 3-inch potato pancakes.

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

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

Photo Credit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Top Chef Quickie -- Mia Sends Herself Packing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's Menu for Hope III Raffle Prize Highlight

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

Today's Highlighted Raffle Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III to Benefit UN World Food Programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pomegranates Again (Yes!)

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

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

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

Derrick did this roundup on pomegranates for sfist.

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

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

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

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