Friday, December 28, 2007

It's My Birthday I Can Post if I Want To

Yes, it is my b-day today and to celebrate I've launched a new blog -- Blog Appetite Does San Francisco. It's my attempt to provide some Here for those who live Elsewhere. The first real post is gives some trip planning links including the best place to see a sunset and how to pay less for a cable car ride. I am also looking for good links, so if you write about the SF Bay Area or know of a good resource, please let me know.

Eventually I hope to write up some more personal experiences and insights, but right now I am focused on providing basic (and not-so-basic) info on food, sights and sites.

Other b-day bits:

My friend Dianne took me out to lunch at Cafe Madrid in downtown Oakland. Specializing in bocadillos (sandwiches) and some tapas, the cafe's offering were flavorable and authentically Spanish. Servings were large, prices were low and the owner, Maurice, incredibly friendly. It is near the 19th street BART station and the Paramount theater. No website yet, but you can read more about it here. Cafe Madrid, 2001 Broadway (at 20th Street), Oakland; (510) 271-0001.


I just read that the author of Joy of Cooking published her first cookbook (the first edition of that erstwhile cooking tome) when she was my (new) age. I take it as a sign!

About the photo: Flowers from my husband

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Weight Watcher Zero Points Recipes

Veggie Venture, one of my favorite blogs and bloggers, offers a number of Weight Watcher zero and low point vegetable based recipes.

Recovering from holiday excess or trying to limit calories in advance of your New Year's splurges? Check out those recipes here.

Blog Appetit knows how to watch its calories, too. Most of my soup recipes are low or fairly low in Weight Watcher points and calories. Click here to pursue them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Don't Call It Cassoulet -- French Savory Bean Stew

Don’t call it cassoulet.
Much like I try to avoid the “what is a true bouillabaisse” question, I similarly avoid the “what makes a true cassoulet” debate.

Not having a ready supply of duck confit nor the desire to make it, I have almost always made less than classic versions. For many years my favorite was a version with lamb shanks.

I have seem some abominable adaptations that were co-opting the name of this famous southwestern French dish for pretty much a dish of hearty stewed beans. I have had what was touted as an authentic version in Paris in a café in Montmartre renown for the dish. There it was served stuffed full of duck confit and pork sausages and with piles of freshly made potato chips on top instead of the bread crumb topping I expected. It was truly gilding the lily.

For the uninitiated, I guess I should back up and define a cassoulet. According to Herbst’s Food Lover’s Companion, it is “a classic dish from France’s Languedoc region consisting of white beans and various meats (such as sausages, pork and preserved duck or goose). The combination varies according to region. A cassoulet is covered and cooked very slowly to harmonize the flavors (page 106, third edition).”

It is the ultimate winter comfort food and pretty much defines the phrase “sticks to your ribs.” Serve it with plenty of crusty bread and follow it with a green salad. Don’t plan on too heavy a dessert; no one will have room or the fortitude for it!

While I’m sure my version would horrify a purist, I’m hoping Kate Hill of the blog of the same name and French Kitchen Adventures would find it an acceptable variation, since it was her donation to Menu for Hope 4 (a handmade cassole, or cassoulet pot, with beans and recipes) and her passion for the food of southwest France that made me hunger for some kind of cassoulet. Here is a recipe she published in her blog. Please check out her sites for more on making authentic cassoulets, including Camp Cassoulet and other classes.

Usually, I use small white beans (French ones if I have them on hand) and start with soaking and cooking them. The “quickie” version below relies on canned white kidney beans (also known as cannellini beans), but you certainly could replace them with fresh cooked beans or even with the small white navy or pea beans if you have them. I based this version on what I had in the pantry, fridge and freezer since I didn’t feel like making a trip to the store. That and my natural inclination for adding a bit more spice and seasoning and including more vegetables make this more of a California-inspired dish than a French one, perhaps. I used a North African-style sausage I happened to have in the house. I have had this sausage in French bistros here and there and enjoy the bite of heat and exoticness it adds to this dish and others. Substitutions are listed in the recipe. The result is a hearty dish with a melt-in-the-mouth texture and a real depth of flavors.

While I am calling this a stew, it is much drier in texture than that, it shouldn’t even be barely liquid and the stock and wine should be completely absorbed. If you make in it in advance (which I advise, the flavors will really meld and deepen) you’ll have to add more water or chicken stock to thin it out as it reheats. (FYI - If you are using an oven-proof pot, once the meats are browned and the vegetables sauteed you could make this in the oven instead of the stovetop.)

Don’t Call it Cassoulet – Savory French Bean Stew
Serves Six

For the stew:
6 chicken legs OR thighs
½ pound lamb merguez sausage OR mild Italian sausage OR smoked sausage
Grape seed or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch or more of red pepper flakes
2 carrots, cut into large dice
2 stalks of celery, cut into large dice
1 medium red or yellow pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes
3-15 ounce cans of white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
32 ounces chicken stock
1/3 cup slivered dried tomatoes (drained if packed in oil)
2 tsp herbes de Provence seasoning
2 tbs tomato paste
8 ounces of red wine
½ pound small fingeringly or new potatoes, sliced into ½ inch rounds
Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:
2 thick slices (about 1 1/2 inches total) of fresh artisan or other crusty bread, enough to make about a cup of bread crumbs (I used a sweet French batard).
1 clove garlic
2 tbs fresh basil OR parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large, oven proof sauté pan, Dutch oven or similar, brown chicken, remove from pan. Brown sausage, remove from pan. Set aside. Add oil to pan if needed. Sauté onions over medium high heat until beginning to soften. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, sauté until beginning to color. Add carrots, celery and red or yellow pepper. Add beans, dried tomatoes, stock and Provencal seasonings. Mix well to combine. Add the tomato paste and red wine, stir well and bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes. Stir well. Lower heat to medium low and let cook covered until the mixture is thickened and the potatoes are almost soft. Slice the sausage into thick rounds and add the slices and any juices to the stew. Add the chicken pieces. Stir and cook covered until meat is cooked through. (If the mixture is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water or stock. If it is too liquid, finish cooking with the lid off.) Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can add the pepper earlier if you like, but be careful with the salt -- the sausage, the stock and the beans are all potential sources of salt.)

For the topping:
Note: If making ahead, reheat and make topping right before serving.
Preheat broiler. Toast the bread pieces until golden brown and let cool a bit. Rip into small pieces. In a food processor or blender, mince garlic with the basil. Add bread pieces and salt and pepper and process until the mixture is like that of bread crumbs about a quarter the size of a pea. Sprinkle on top of the cassoulet and put under broiling for a few minutes, watching carefully that the crust does not burn. Remove when the crumb topping is golden brown and serve.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Menu for Hope 4 Reminder -- Event Ends Dec. 21

Menu for Hope 4, the food blogging world's fundraising project to help combat hunger, has already raised more than $51,000. You can help. Please click here for more info on how and where to participate.

From the event organizer, Chez Pim here's why:

"The amount we raise will go to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. We chose this particular program in Lesotho because the WFP (U.N. Worrld Food Programme) is pushing an initiative to supply the program by buying directly from local farmers who practice conservation farming methods. We help feed the kids (which keep them in school) and support their parents and community farming. This sustainable approach to aid is something we believe in and strongly support."

Pim also has lots of info on the event and Lesotho itself on her site.

(Please note, the event ends on the 21st, but I can't find the cut off time, so if you are planning on donating do it now!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Very Minty Christmas to All

It’s true we are not “Christmas, we are Chanukah” to quote something a Blog Appetit kid said years ago, but that doesn’t mean we don’t selectively enjoy some of the trimmings and treats of the holiday.

Peppermint plays a role in holiday treats which we especially like. Red and white candy canes look so festive and the frosty, clean, sweet zing of the mint is always appealing. Below are directions for peppermint brownies and one of my children’s all time (and still) favorite cookies – Peppermint Candy Crisps.

The peppermint brownies are easy and fast. I usually bake from scratch, but one of the few mixes I do use is for a fat-free brownie called No Pudge. (I use the original brownie flavor.) The brownies come out dark and not very sweet, the perfect foil for the Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips I stir into the batter (about a cup or more or less to your taste.) I also scatter some across the top of the batter once it is in the pan and before it goes in the oven. You can use a mix or your own recipe, but be sure to pick one that has plenty of dark chocolate and not too sweet.

The Andes bits are peppermint flavored little chunks of white chocolate with slashes of candy cane red. They hold their own in the batter, retaining shape and flavor. (In fact they taste better in baked goods than they do right out of the bag. There’s a bit of Christmas baking magic for you.) If you can’t find the baking chips, substitute some chopped up Andes Pepper Crunch candies. Here’s info on the chips and recipes from the manufacturer.

The peppermint cookies have a long history in my family. I used to keep my kids entertained even before they could read by having them look through an old illustrated cookie cookbook while I made dinner. As I chopped onions and sautéed the chicken they would have visions of the cookies they wanted to make with me dance in their heads. This was an early favorite which I adapted from Sunset Cookies: Step-by-Step Techniques, which I bought used. It is a first edition and is now considered a collectible of all things. (I paid $2.88 in the late 1980s or early 90s, the list price had been $6.95, which is about what it is selling on eBay now, so it’s not that much of a collectible!)

Depending on kids age and ability they can help unwrap and smash the candies, mix the dough, shape the cookies and sprinkle candy bits about with abandon. Kids of all ages will enjoy eating them.

Peppermint Candy Crisps
You can make these with any wrapped peppermint hard candy. The original recipe called for candy canes which I find tedious to unwrap. I prefer to use red and white colored peppermint starlight mints which also makes this cookie a year round treat. The original recipe calls for ¾ of a cup of crushed candies which is about one six ounce bag of starlight mints. I found that I only used about half that amount, but I made larger cookies than the original recipe called for and perhaps sprinkled less on top of each cookie. Keep any left over peppermint “dust” to flavor other baked goods, mix into toppings, cocoa or ice cream or to make a sugar rim for a sweet cocktail drink after the kiddies have gone to bed. Or use it to make my peppermint bark rounds.

1 cup butter
About 1½ cups of powdered sugar
1½ tsp vanilla
1½ cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
½ tsp salt
About 4-6 ounces of peppermint candies, crushed (I use starlight mints and pulverize them in the food processor. Note, tiny bits are better than larger chunks, see below.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and 1 cup of sugar in a large bowl of an electric mixer until creamy and then beat in vanilla. In another bowl, stir together flour, oats and salt, gradually adding to butter and sugar mixture. Blend thoroughly. Add ¼ cup of the crushed candy and combine well. (Note: Batter will be very stiff.) Roll into 1 inch balls, then roll in powdered sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on greased and floured baking sheets. Flatten cookies with the tines of a fork, creating a crisscross pattern on the top (like for peanut butter cookies). Sprinkle each cookie with about ½ tsp of the crushed candy.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes then transfer to racks and let cool completely. Makes 2-3 dozen depending on the size of your cookies and how much dough you taste to see if you got it “right” while you bake!

Note: Larger bits of the peppermint candy will sink right through the cookie as it bakes leaving a hole in the cookie and pretty firmly adhering the cookie to your baking sheet. So go with smaller crushed bits.

Bonus – My regular peppermint bark recipe to make with the kids from Well Fed Network’s Kids Cuisine

12.16.10 update:  Unfortunately Well Fed's links have not been maintained..  Try this link from the wonderful wayback machine site to see what I wrote. Below is my recipe for the peppermint bark from that post.

Peppermint Bark

• 10-12 red and white candy canes, or about 6-7 ounces of mini candy canes or other peppermint candies
• 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces (good quality chips okay)
• 12 ounces white chocolate (NOT chips, they will not melt well), chopped or broken into small pieces

Line an approximately 10 by 15 inch rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Make sure the foil lining extends beyond the sides of the pan. Unwrap your peppermint candies of choice and put them inside doubled heavy-duty plastic zipper-lock bags. Make sure you get the air out when you seal the bags. Place on a cutting board on a steady, durable surface that won’t be damaged by some candy bashing (we used the floor). Hit and bash the the candies with a rolling pin, meat tenderizer, or even a hammer until the candies are broken into approximately ¼-inch pieces.

Melt the semisweet chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the prepared, rimmed cookie sheet. Place pan with chocolate in the refrigerator while you make the next layer.

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Take pan with semisweet layer out of refrigerator and spread melted white chocolate on top. Working quickly, evenly scatter peppermint candy pieces (but discard or find another use of those teeny tiny bits of peppermint dust you might have created when you were candy bashing) on top, pressing down slightly on larger chunks to make sure they adhere.

Place confection back in the refrigerator until totally firm, about a half hour. Using the foil lining, lift the bark out of the pan. Peel off the foil and break into irregularly shaped pieces.

Makes about 1 ¾ pounds of candy. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed storage bag or container.

Buffaloed Chicken Won't You Come Out To Dinner Tonight?

I must have been living under a rock or something, because I had Buffalo chicken wings for the first time just a few weeks ago. In my defense, I don’t often eat in the style of restaurant that is well known for the snack and I try to eat lower on the fatty scale (unless it involves chocolate or paté or …).

Whatever the reason, I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Once I had bitten into the dish I was smitten with it and its astounding contrasts of tastes, textures and temperatures. I love blue cheese and I love hot sauce. How could I have missed this???

Now that I am a Buffalo wings virgin no more, I set out to make a version I could actually eat on a regular basis. The result was Buffaloed Chicken. No, it is not the same, but it offers the same taste profile without a visit to the cardiologist. This was devised as a dinner dish, but you certainly could make it with chicken tenders and skip the spinach and serve it as an appetizer.

Buffaloed Chicken
Serves 4

1/2 cup of plain yogurt OR ¼ Greek-style plain yogurt, preferably non-fat
1-2 tbs of butter, do not substitute margarine
½ tsp to 1 tbs of hot sauce
4 half skinless and boneless chicken breasts
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced, optional
½ cup to 1 cup of chicken broth
salt, pepper and paprika
¼ cup crumbled good quality blue cheese
24 ounces (or more or less) fresh spinach
8 celery stalks

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter. Put the plain yogurt in it and allow to drain over a bowl until the yogurt has thickened. (You can skip this step if you use the thicker Greek-style yogurt.) Melt the butter (use more for a more buttery taste, less if you are trying to watch calories, etc.), mix with the hot sauce. Paint both sides of the chicken breasts with the mixture. (For a deeper flavor, place in a bowl or dish and let marinate for an hour or two.) Place in an oiled (or use cooking spray) baking dish. Pour any remaining mixture over top of chicken breasts. Add half cup of chicken broth and the minced garlic if using. Sprinkle tops of chicken with salt, pepper and paprika to taste. Put in the oven until baked just through and still juicy, basting with pan juices if needed. If the pan gets too dry as the chicken cooks, add some more of the chicken broth.

While the chicken cooks, mix the drained or Greek-style yogurt with the blue cheese bits. (Or make this in advance, it gets better from being made a day ahead.) Steam the spinach and cut the celery stalks into 2-3-inch pieces.

Optional: Slice the chicken breasts into strips before serving

To serve: Place a bed of spinach on a plate, top with the chicken. Serve with the celery and blue cheese dressing. Have hot sauce available on the side. I like to serve it with some of the leftover roasting pan liquid drizzled on top and available on the side for some extra zip and flavor.
Try it with your own homemade hot sauce. Click here for directions for my "Below the Belt Hot Sauce"
This post is part of Sweetnicks "ARF" roundup number 102.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Back, Did You Miss Me?

A section of phone cable near my house self destructed (although I blame the road paving work done very poorly near by. They had to come by and dig out the man hole covers and I defy you to actually follow the very wobbly yellow line).

Anyway, some of my phone lines and my DSL line were down for the count and were out for several days. Ironically, I since I was taking my sweet time checking out the Food Blog Award nominees I hadn't yet voted (although I had narrowed the field). Oh well. They are all winners in my book.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Live Links for the Food Blog Awards

Once again, as a public service, I'm taking time to make the links to the nominees for the Food Blog Awards "live." Please note, you can only vote at the Well Fed site. If you'd like to see the nominees for last year's awards, please click here. Voting ends on Friday, December 14th.

Best Food Blog - Chef category:

David Lebovitz
Dorie Greenspan
Ideas in Food

Best Food Blog - City category:

Becks and Posh -
Blissful Glutton -
Eating Asia -
Krista in London -
Grab Your Fork -

Best Blog Covering Drinks category:

Cocktail Chronicles -
Dr. Vino -
Jeffrey Morgenthaler -
Lenndevours -
Married with Dinner -

Best Food Blog - Family/Kids category:

Daily Tiffin -
Dine and Dish -
Food on the Food -
Lunch In A Box -
The Great Big Vegetable Challenge -

Best Food Blog - Group category:

Cook Think -
Ethicurean -
Ideas in Food -
Serious Eats -
Slash Food -

Best Food Blog - Humor category:

Amateur Gourmet -
Food Network Addict -
Food on the Food -
French Laundry at Home -
The Girl Who Ate Everything -

Best Food Blog - Industry category:

Eggbeater -
The Food Whore -
Ruhlman -
US Food Policy Blog -
Word of Mouth/Guardian -

Best Food Blog - New category:

French Laundry at Home -
Hogwash -
Jaden's Steamy Kitchen -
ZOMG, Candy! -

Best Food Blog - Photography category:

Becks Posh Nosh -
Jaden's Steamy Kitchen -
La Tartine Gourmande -
Matt Bites -
What's for Lunch, Honey? -

Best Food Blog - Post category:

Bonappegeek -
Eggbeater -
FoodBlogga -
Gluten-Free Girl -
Orangette -

Best Food Blog - Rural category:

Farmgirl Fare -
Garlic Breath -
Lucullian -
Nami-Nami -

Best Food Blog - Theme category:

Candy Blog -
Eat Local Challenge -
Fat- Free Vegan -
Lunch In A Box -
Meathenge -

Best Food Blog - Writing category:

Wednesday Chef -
Jaden's Steamy Kitchen -
Bittersweet Blog -
Cook Sister -
Gluten-Free Girl -

And last but certainly not least:

Best Food Blog of the Year category:
101 Cookbooks -
Eat Local Challenge -
Gluten-Free Girl -
La Tartine Gourmande -
Lucullian Delights -

SHAMELESS PLUG: Once you've checked out the Food Blog Award nominees, I hope you'll check out the prizes and consider donating to Menu for Hope 4. Help support the UN World Food Programme by buying virtual raffle tickets until December 21 to win prizes donated by food bloggers around the world. Read more about it here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Menu for Hope 4

Food bloggers across the world will be joining together to raise funds for the hungry again this year.

Last year food bloggers and their readers raised more than $60,000 for the United Nation's World Food Programme. This year we aim to do it again with your assistance and support. To learn more about the UN World Food Programme and Menu for Hope's involvement, please click here.

This year all the funds raised by the event the funds raised by Menu for Hope 4 will be earmarked for the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa.

Menu for Hope raises money by "raffling off" prizes donated by bloggers. Each $10 donation entitles you to a chance on the prize of your choice. Here is what eventually be a full listing of the prizes from event coordinator and originator Chez Pim.

The West Coast prize coordinator is Rasa Malaysia. That site will have a full listing of goodies from West Coast bloggers and is a good source to check on the in-person classes, tours and meetings some bloggers are offering. Here's Bee's post with all the info.

Blog Appetit is donating three books I'm calling "The 'I Wanna Be a Food Writer' Package." It is 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. The prize code for this package is UW33.

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle
(adapted from Chez Pim)

Here's what you need to do:

1. Choose my prize or one of the many prizes from Pim's Menu for Hope prize post. Take note of the prize number(s) you are interested in.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW33 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xUW33, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

You can donate beginning today until December 21. Check back on Chez Pim on Wednesday, January 9 for the results of the virtual raffle.

Watch for this post to be updated and for future posts about about some of the prizes and other details.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hanukkah Happenings and Thanksgiving Leftovers

Happy Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hanukah!

Looking for information on the holiday's history? Check out this "blast from the past" post from last December. The history of Hanukah might not be just as you thought.

Want a tried-and-true recipe and technique for making potato latkes? Click here.

Do you light the candles left to right or right to left? For a hanukkiah (menorah) how to, go here.

Feeling guilty about not knowing about gelt and how to play dreidel? Got you covered on that, too. Read all about it here (including a resource for a paper pattern to make your own spinning top.)

You may have read my thoughts about stuffing more thanks into Thanksgiving. Did Blog Appetit practice what it preached? Well, yes, kind of. Plus Blog Appetit (well, really it was I) learned a valuable lesson.

At my family Thanksgiving (which featured my sisters' bronzed and moist turkey and two kinds of sweet potatoes with yummy toppings), I tried to start a discussion about the issues raised in the post. To say my tablemates were resistant to connect on a more meaningful level as decided by me during the meal would be politer then they were. However, once the dishes were cleared, my very excellent husband proposed we play some games. Uno cards were produced. And wouldn't you know it without trying so hard, without alienating anyone, we all bonded and related and shared. Just what Thanksgiving should be all about, without anyone being a turkey about it.

(Just for the record I still think one can successfully integrate a discussion of meaning and experience into the Thanksgiving feast, but it can't be imposed from the outside or sprung as a surprise. I'll try to advance the cause next year.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm a Book (Well, Part of One)

There was a surprise by my doorstep yesterday -- my very own copy of Greenwood Press' spanking new reference book The Business of Food.

I was one of many contributors to this encyclopedia to the food and drink industries. I wrote entries on pickles, Tabasco sauce, diners, cooking schools, Frieda's Produce, Trader Joe's, cafeterias, diet foods and the business of food on the web. The choice of topics was based on what was still available when I joined the project and my own rather wide range of interest. In all I estimate I wrote about 12,000 words. (Actually, I probably wrote more than that. The first drafts of all the entries were longer than their allotted word counts and had to be edited down, sometimes drastically.)

It was a great experience starting with the research, which I truly enjoyed; walking around with the different themes, organizational approaches and the like percolating in my head; coming to clarity to what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it to this particular audience, and then finally the writing, which was an involving and rewarding process.

One very pleasant surprise to me was the author of the foreword -- Marion Nestle, the author of Food Politics and What to Eat. (She is also a professor at my alma mater, New York University.)

My thanks to the publisher and to the book's editors, Gary Allen and Ken Albala, for including me in the project. Gary is a professor at State University College of New York, Empire State College. He is also the author the Resource Guide for Food Writers, among other books. Ken is a professor in food history at the University of Pacific. He has written and edited many books. His newest is Beans: A History.
Photo Credit: Greenwood Press

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Give Thanksgiving More Than the Bird ....

.... or maybe "Put the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving" or perhaps "The Most Important Ingredient"

I had a lot of alternate titles for this post so of course I had to pick the one I thought was the funniest .....

Seriously, so much is made of the food on Thanksgiving that I sometimes feel compelled to be a glutton or feel overly virtuous if I just eat normally. While my motto sometimes seems to be to leave no meal unexamined, in Thanksgiving's case it should refer to the event not (just) the food.

So while you plan the perfect menu (or diss your in-laws choices), shop and chop til you drop and debate if it really can be Thanksgiving with salmon instead of turkey or apple instead of pumpkin pie, spend a few minutes thinking about the feelings, meanings and lessons behind Thanksgiving.

I don't mean to get political, but if that is your bent, go for it. Don't make your guests uncomfortable (unless that is your bent, too, and you are trying to whittle down the guest list for next year), but think of something special to say for the day. Or maybe ask a guest to bring some discussion questions or thoughts or a special prayer or blessing (suitable for all the religious or non-religious traditions of the guests please) instead of a cranberry mold salad. Or ask every guest to be prepared to say a bit on why they are thankful or what their families' immigration experiences were or about random acts of kindness they either participated in or witnessed in the last year. Or focus on how far we have yet to come, ask them to bring one example or anecdote of what still needs to change for America to be a better place for all. Give them some guidelines or let them decide, but if you are looking for meaningful guest participation, let them know in advance.

Or make up a Thanksgiving trivia contest on the holiday, the Pilgrims, the Native Americans, etc., and focus on the real, not commercial, history of the day. (Winner gets the wishbone?)

I have been struck that how Thanksgiving is this big meal and celebration at home, much like the Jewish Passover. But unlike Passover, there are no scripts or readings designed to touch on the history, the symbols and the meaning of the day. A few days ago I heard an ad on radio from the American Jewish Committee. The ad tied the Pilgrim's celebration of Thanksgiving to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. The organization also offered a (non-religious) "Thanksgiving reader" for Americans to share as they celebrate the holiday. The reader, called "America's Table: A Thanksgiving Reader Celebrating Our Diverse Roots and Shared Values" is available for free as a pdf download through the committee's website. Readers from past years are also available.

This year's version tells the stories of seven individuals of very different backgrounds and relates their American experiences. It is one way to tell the Thanksgiving story. Whether you use it or not, I hope you will be inspired to say more at Thanksgiving this year than "pass the gravy."

May you have a happy, meaningful (and, of course, tasty) Thanksgiving.

Blog Appetit hits the road tomorrow for its own Thanksgiving trek. More when I return.
Happy Thanksgiving.
About the photo: "Waiting for the Turkey," Thanksgiving table at my sister Laura's, 2005

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Special Request Beef Stew Cuts the Mustard*

There are some recipes and techniques that are just down in one’s bones. For me it is making pot roast and by extension beef stew. Now I have pot roast memories and stories that would take about as long to tell as it takes the dish to simmer. I have a pretty good story about lamb stew, too. The only anecdote I have for beef stew, though, is straight forward and quick. I once saw a television show on France and French cooking that highlighted the dishes of Dijon. Not surprisingly folks there use mustard to thicken their beef stews. Next time I made a stew I tried it, liked it and made it part of the process.

This recipe is called Special Request Beef Stew because a friend who had it requested the recipe. I hadn’t intended to blog about the dish so I “just” made it without recording steps, ingredients and amounts, so this is an approximation based on my usual technique.

The recipe takes some time, but it really is relatively easy and produces a superlative beef stew. I do advise making it ahead (see A Note about the Beef below).

A Note about the Beef: I tried some beef stew meat from Niman Ranch in this recipe. The beef was lean, grass fed, antibiotic-free and took almost five hours to become truly tender and soft, a good two-three hours longer than regular commercial beef does. I think it was because it was so lean. The first night the beef tasted fine, the sauce was great but the beef did not meld with the sauce. The next day the stew was terrific, even outstanding, the flavors and textures marrying well. It was not at all greasy. All in all, I would really recommend using such a natural product, but only if you can prepare it ahead of time so the dish has a chance to pull itself together and be the best beef stew it can be.

Special Request Beef Stew
Serves 6-8

2 Tbs. grape seed or other vegetable oil
2 pounds of lean, natural beef for stew (chuck roast or steak), cut in 1" cubes (see note above)
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Red pepper flakes
2 medium carrots, cut into ¾” pieces
1 large red pepper, seeded and cored, cut into ¾ inch chunks
2 stalks of celery, cut into ½” pieces
1 pound of crimini (brown) or white mushrooms, stemmed and cut into halves or quarters depending on size
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon ground or crushed Herbes de Provence (use a mix of fennel, basil, rosemary, thyme if you don’t have this French Provencal seasoning on hand, but you really should have it, it is very versatile and I use it as a quick base seasoning for many dishes from fish soup to pizza. Here is a link to the brand of Herbes de Provence I prefer.)
4 cups of beef broth or stock
8 oz of red wine
1-6 oz can of tomato paste
1 pound small or new potatoes, cut into halves or quarters to make approx. 1” chunks
1 ½ Tbsp of prepared Dijon mustard (the better the brand and the closer to Dijon it is produced the better)

Heat oil over medium high heat in a large, deep pot. Brown beef cubes on all sides, working in batches if needed so as not to crowd them. Remove and set aside. Sauté onions until beginning to soften, add garlic, sauté until just beginning to color, add a pinch or more of red pepper flakes to taste. Sauté a minute and add carrots, red peppers and celery. Sauté vegetable mixture for five to 10 minutes, until onions are beginning to brown. Add mushrooms and sauté until just beginning to soften. Add beef stock and red wine. Stir well, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom on the pot. Bring liquid to a simmer. Add tomato paste, stirring well until mixed in. Bring liquid back to simmer. Taste the liquid. If needed, add in ½ teaspoon of salt or to taste. (Note: Some commercial stocks and broths can be salty, so be sure to check.) Add in ½ teaspoon of the ground or crushed Provencal herbs, about ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and the beef cubes.

Cover and bring to simmer and cook over low heat for an hour. Add in mustard. Stir well to combine with the rest of the ingredients. Replace cover and return to simmer over a low heat for a half hour. Add in the potatoes, stirring well to make sure the beef and potatoes are covered in the sauce.

Simmer, covered, until the potatoes are cooked through and the meat is so soft you could cut it with a fork. (The potatoes will probably be ready before the meat, but that’s okay.) The timing will depend on the meat, it may take one or several more hours before the meat is truly, wonderfully tender. Don’t give up hope, just keep simmering away, as long as I start with the right cut of meat (chuck in this case) I’ve never had stew I couldn’t simmer into submission. When the meat practically melts in your mouth, uncover the pot. Taste and correct the seasonings. Leave the cover off the pot, increase heat to medium and let the stew cook a bit longer to thicken the sauce. (The sauce will continue to thicken as the stew sits overnight.) Transfer the stew to a container suitable for the refrigerator. Reheat the next day and serve topped with chopped fresh parsley if desired.
*Want to know more about the phrase "cut the mustard" or its variant "doesn't cut the mustard"? Click here.

Don't Call it Frisco

Blog Appetit is based out of the San Francisco Bay area but I have not really given the blog a real sense of place. I'd like to begin doing that. I've created a new category called "SF Bay Area" for people to click on to see every post on Blog Appetit on the subject. As I write more on the Bay area I may make a separate blog that links to Blog Appetit so I can give all the SF area posts more categorization.

I am looking to provide information for those searching the internet for news and tips about the Bay area, especially focused on food and food resources. I also would like to provide "news you can use" to those who live here on dishes, restaurants, people, places and resources they might not already know about.

I would also like to create a list of links for those who want to know more about the Bay area to use. I am looking for the quirky, the interesting, the only in the Bay area blogs or websites that really offer up solid info and recommendations and/or an interesting point of view. They need not be about food. If you have a recommendation for a link for this feature, please leave a comment below or email me through my profile.

More on this as I refine it.
About the photo: View of the Bay Bridge from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Plethora of Peppers Oven Frittata

Say: "Can you cook a peck of peppers" three times fast?

Well a recent over abundance of bell peppers (red, yellow, orange and purple) had me feeling all twisted up. I used some in my Fajita Soup, but I still had a lot left over. What to do? Why, make an oven frittata and "clean out" the fridge of not just the peppers but some other vegetable odds and ends.

I made mine in a 9" x13" pan to serve at room temperature as an appetizer at a friend's birthday party. This is all completely adaptable, so feel free to experiment at will. (Warning if you do use purple bell peppers, taste them first, they can be a bit bitter -- I added a pinch of sugar to my egg mixture to compensate for it.)

This is a dish I turn to all the time when I need to entertain or I am looking for an easy supper dish. I can't remember the first time I made it, but I know it was on the menu at my younger son's bris (a Jewish ceremony celebrating the birth of a son). If I could make this with a toddler, a new baby and no help in the home a week after giving birth, anyone can make it after a busy day.

I can't find my recipe notes, so I'll just give the general outline for the dish and update the post later when and if the notes turn up.

The Incredibly Versatile Egg Oven Frittata -- Plethora of Peppers Version

Serves 6-8 for a meal, about double that as appetizers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute 1/2 medium onion, chopped, and 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic in 2 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil until softened and slightly caramelized. Add in chopped peppers ( used about 3-4 small peppers, cored and seeded), saute until almost soft. Add in chopped chard, kale, spinach or other greens. (I used about half a bunch of Swiss chard, chopping up the hard red stems and adding them with the peppers.) Saute until cooked through. Taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (If using bitter greens or purple peppers, add a pinch of sugar.) Saute a minute and set aside and let cool a bit.

In a large bowl, beat 10 eggs, add salt, pepper and other seasoning. (I used about 1 tsp ground French Provencal herbs and a 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes, feel free to adapt to your taste or use fresh herbs if you have.) Mix in grated cheese (I used a combination of sharp white cheddar and Parmesan -- maybe a cup -- but amount is up to you --use none or as much as two cups) and stir well.

Start by stirring a tablespoon of the vegetable mixture into the eggs and add more slowly being careful to stir well between each addition and to not scramble the eggs. Pour the egg-vegetable mixture into a greased 9"x 13" pan. Sprinkle top with paprika. (Try the Spanish smoked kind for an extra taste kick.) Bake for about 20 minutes or until eggs are just cooked through. (Notes: I like glass for eggs because it is easier to see when they have set. Using more eggs or a larger pan will change the thickness and means you will need to adjust the cooking time.) Remove from oven, garnish with chopped parsley and/or basil if desired. Cut into squares (small for appetizers or larger for brunch, lunch or dinner portions). Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Foiled Again Again: Vacation Condo Steamed Fish

I was away this weekend and made a variant on the Vietnamese Steamed Fish baked in foil packets for my girlfriends. This is such an easy, low-calorie, low-fat and tasty technique and is so adaptable. (Plus it is easy to clean up and leaves no fish-cooking smell in the kitchen.) As with my Vacation Condo Soup , techniques and ingredients were driven by purchasing the minimal amount I could in the market and maximizing the limited kitchen resources available to me. (Please read the soup post to learn more tips for vacation condo cooking.) We did have to buy the foil (the smallest, $1.78 package, had just more than enough for us). The only seasonings at the condo were salt and pepper, so we tried to pack the flavor in with the vegetables and aromatics rather than buying expensive sauces or spices. We had the fish with bread, salad and microwaved butternut squash with watermelon for dessert. Our total cost for a fresh fish dinner for five was about $35, not bad considering how much it would have cost to go to a restaurant plus we got to be as rowdy and silly as we wanted to.

Vacation Condo Steamed Fish
Serves 5

2 pounds of fresh red snapper
salt and pepper
1 medium chopped leek, white and light green part only
2 cloves of garlic, finally minced
peel from 1/2 of a lemon either grated or finely minced
1 small red or yellow pepper, seeded and cored, chopped into 1/4 cubes
1/4 cup fennel bulb, chopped into 1/4 cubes
6 plum tomatoes, each tomato chopped into about 12-pieces each
1 tbsp of fresh fennel greens (fronds), minced
2 tbsp fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, minced.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (Please see the foiled again post for specific directions on how to make foil packets and cooking instructions.) In the center of a double thickness of foil, place a small handful of spinach leaves down and then place fish on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter one fifth of leek, garlic and lemon peel on top of fish. Then scatter red pepper, fennel and tomato. Sprinkle a fifth of minced fresh fennel greens and parsley. Add a bit more salt and pepper if desired. Fold packet to seal in juices. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake in oven for 1bout 15 minutes or until fish is cooked through.

Notes: My filets were very long and on the thin side. I cut each in half and laid them side by side on the foil. If you are serving another vegetable dish or lots of sides, this could serve six, in that case cut the filets accordingly and make up six foil packets. You might want to increase the total amount of each a bit before dividing intos sixths
It was amusing to me that the last time (see the Vietnamese Steamed Fish link above) I made fish this way I had a whole pantry of seasoning and sauces to choose from, but this time I was so limited. This is one versatile technique.
About the photo: It's from my first download from my new Panasonic Lumix TZ3. It's the view from our villa at Seascape Resorts in Aptos, CA.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Foiled Again: Vietnamese Steamed Fish

What inspired this dish? I’m not exactly sure. I had bought the fish to make a recipe for my son who decided not to eat at home that night, so I had it in the house. I had lots of odds and ends of vegetables and I have a pantry stocked with all sorts of ethnic ingredients so I can cook pretty much any style of cuisine on a whim. All day at work I started to build this recipe in my mind. I started with wanting to steam the fish in the packet, which is one of my favorite ways to cook fresh fish since you get clean, bright flavors and not much clean up, and with not having to go to the store for anything. Then I started playing with flavor profiles and imagining the contents of my fridge and pantry. The result was:

Vietnamese Steamed Fish over Rice Noodles
Serves 4

¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp Vietnamese or Thai Fish Sauce (see notes below)
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used grape seed)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced and then cut into thin strips plus 1 clove minced
4 leaves Swiss or other chard without hard stems, torn into large shreds
1.5 pounds of fresh white fish filets without skin, portioned into 4 pieces (I used mahi-mahi, about ¾ of an inch thick)
½ medium-sized leek, white part only, cut into 1” long very fine strips
2 tsp finely minced ginger
About 1” long piece of fresh lemongrass, outer hard layer discarded, minced, OR 1 tsp of finely grated lemon peel, yellow part only
4 tbsp grated or shredded peeled white turnip or daikon radish
4 tbsp grated or shredded carrots
4 tbsp grated or shredded green papaya (optional, see notes)
Small red bell pepper, cored and seeded and cut into 1” long shreds
Salt and pepper
About 8 ounces of rice stick noodles, about ¼” wide, OR fettuccine noodles

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put soy sauce in a measuring cup, add 2 tbsp of fish sauce. Add water to make ½ cup. Add in oil and 3 cloves of sliced garlic. Stir well and set aside.

Take 8 long strips of aluminum foil. Double up. In the middle of each double strip, place a fourth of the torn chard leaves. Place a fish filet on top of that. Scatter one fourth each of the leek, ginger, lemongrass and minced garlic on each piece. Scatter one fourth of the turnip, carrot, green papaya (if using) and red bell pepper on top. Stir the soy sauce mixture. Sprinkle each vegetable-topped filet with 1 tsp of the soy sauce mixture and ¼ tsp of fish sauce. Scatter a bit of salt (careful the soy and fish sauces are salty, too) and grind a bit of fresh black pepper on top and seal each packet so cooking juices can’t escape (see notes). Place the four foil packets on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes (see notes) or until fish is cooked.

While the fish is cooking, prepare the noodles according to package instructions. Drain. Stir the soy sauce mixture. Toss the noodles with just enough of the soy mixture to lightly coat (you might have dressing left over, use any leftover as a stir fry sauce for vegetables.)

Place noodles on plate, open foil packet and slide fish and vegetables on top of noodles and pour any cooking juices over fish and noodles.


Here are some tips on making foil packets. You could also use parchment paper for the steaming packets.

The timing of cooking the fish depends on the thickness of your filets. My ¾” filets took about 20 minutes. Adjust according to the thickness of your fish and be prepared to open one of the packets to check on the fish at some point. The fish will continue cooking in the foil packages until unwrapped, so if you are making them in advance of serving or holding them awhile before serving, slightly undercook the fish.

I had a leftover fish packet over noodles and greens drizzled with a few drops of the leftover soy mixture as a salad the next day for lunch. It was good, too.

I opted for the garlic and ginger taste to dominate. You could certainly add some spice to the dish by adding a ¼ tsp or so of Asian hot chili paste to the soy sauce mixture.

Fish sauce is widely available in some supermarkets, on line and in Asian grocers. Here is some background on it.

A green papaya is NOT an unripe regular papaya. It is available in Asian markets. My local Vietnamese market even carries it pre-shredded.
On a personal note, so far this week I've made this dish, lamb tandori with vegetable korma (Indian) and Korean bbq beef ribs and stirfry broccoli (made with the leftover soy dressing from the fish recipe) -- see where a well-stocked pantry can take you!
I made a similar but simpler variation of this here.
This post is part of Sweetnick's weekly ARF roundup. I can't believe it is the 96th such roundup she's hosted. Here's the link.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trader Joe's Fajita Soup

I hadn’t planned to make tonight’s soup a tribute to Oakland getting two new Trader Joe’s markets but it ended up that way.

Originally I planned a soup to use up a plethora of peppers I had in the fridge but it kind of morphed after my inaugural trip to one of the new TJ’s. The Future Pastry Chef loved this soup so I’ll revise it in the near future without the TJ ingredients so it can be made without any special trips to the store.

Some notes: I used frozen roasted corn kernels ( a freezer favorite of mine, try it in this smoky corn soup, too), you could sub regular frozen corn and/or add a can of drained, rinsed beans. (I would have used both the roasted corn and the beans except that the FPC is not a big fan of bean soups.) If you can’t get the chicken in pollo asado marinade, use any grilled chicken and add more seasoning to the soup when you add the chicken stock, such as a few dashes of hot sauce and a dash each of cumin and oregano. You can use regular plain yogurt or sour cream to replace the TJ Greek yogurt.

Trader Joe's Fajita Soup
Serves 4-6

2 tbs grape seed or other vegetable oil
½ medium onion, sliced into thin slivers about 1 and 1/2 inches long
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
2 medium red and/or yellow bell peppers, cored and seeded and sliced into thin strips about 1 and ½ inches long
1-29 ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 quart of chicken stock
1 ½ cups of Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn kernels
1-15 oz. can of black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 to 1 ½ pounds of Trader Joe’s boneless and skinless chicken breasts in asado marinade (labeled Pollo Asado), grilled, cooled and then hand shredded into large chunks or strips
Salt and Pepper
Toppings: Trader Joe’s Non-Fat Greek Yogurt, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion, salsa

Tortilla chips and/or tortillas

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened, add garlic and sauté until just beginning to color. Add carrots and let cook a bit, stirring frequently. Add pepper strips and sauté until beginning to soften. Add tomatoes and juices, breaking tomatoes into large chunks with a cooking spoon. Add corn and beans (if using) and chicken stock, stir well. Cover and let cook until the soup comes to a simmer, then add in chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked through and the chicken is thoroughly heated. Taste and correct seasonings. This recipe is on the mild side, you might want to spice it up with some hot sauce to taste as well. Ladle into bowls and serve with choice of toppings and accompaniments. If using the chips, try putting some on the bottom of the bowl and ladling the soup over them.

I still had a plentiful number of peppers I needed to use up, so click here to see what I did with them.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkin Tricks and Treats for the Cook

It's not quite as bad as Thanksgiving, when a turkey has to get a presidential pardon to protect him or her from the dinner table, but it does seem to be a trend of cooks preparing pumpkin (or other winter squash) for starter, main course and/or dessert at Halloween.

Blog Appetit yields it's love of orange winter squash to no one and I have very happily served pumpkin dishes for dinner at Halloween since I graduated college and from a hot plate to a real stove.

Here is a kind of pumpkin boot camp, complete with recipes to help you prepare for your Halloween feast.

Here's some tips for cooking with pumpkin:
  • Don't choose a big field or jack-o-lantern pumpkin for cooking, the flesh is too watery. See the post on the first link above for what to buy and how to choose.
  • If I am starting with cooked pumpkin, I prefer to bake my pumpkin and then scoop the flesh away from the peel. It concentrates the squash's flavor and makes peeling it a much easier job.

  • If you need or chose to use canned pumpkin puree, start with the kind that is NOT labled pumpkin pie filling. That type is already spiced to the manufacturer's taste not yours.

  • Be careful whacking into any hard winter squash with a sharp object. Make sure the squash is stablized on your cutting board (slice a bit from the bottom or side if need to be to help it stay in place) and make sure you are focused and your cutting board is placed on a solid enough surface. I use my heaviest Chinese cleaver, but a strong, full-size chef's knife would work well. Focus on where you want to cleave the squash, take a few practice swings, raise your arm up high, check your fingers and children are safe and then, bam! If the knife doesn't go all the way through, don't worry. With the knife still "engaged" in the body of the squash, whack the knife and pumpkin down on the cutting board a time or two and the vegetable should split cleanly in half. More prep info is in that first link.
I have an idea for mac and cheese with winter squash, but I don't have the kinks worked out yet. I'll post after I test it. (Update 9.30.12 - it took awhile but here it is!)
Please add your own pumpkin tips, tricks, treats and links in the comments below.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors in San Diego

The haze, as one would expect, hangs over San Diego from the fires. The weather,the wind, and the air are all gradually improving and soon the news story will move on. My family and friends here are fine, some evacuated, others just inconvenienced, but life is going on. The newspaper is filled with the local horrors and miracles which I can not ignore, having had the experience of the 1991 Oakland wildfire.

I logged in to write about a few meals I've had here while visiting my in-laws. But that seems frivolous with the loss of life, livelihood and property that I know is all around although not at all visible in the areas I've been in.

The plane down was only two-thirds full, a rarity. The freeway seems almost empty. The atmosphere seems subdued down here. The restaurant I had planned to write about that we went to in the Hillcrest neighborhood was only half full last night and although it was still early (only 9 p.m.) the Halloween revels that were just down the block seemed quiet and uncrowded. Maybe it revved up later. Maybe after the horrors of the last week, people didn't find skeleton masks and devils that frightening or a fantasy world that appealing. Maybe they've had enough with face masks, what with having to use them to cover their noses and mouths from the smoke and pollution from the fires. Also, it could have just been way too early for revelers. I don't know. I do know that ever since the 1991 fire (we were evacuated but okay, our best friends lost their house), I don't take having a home for granted and I am always aware of what would need to be taken or left behind in an emergency.

Please donate to the American Red Cross for all they do to help the victims of natural disasters here and abroad.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Spice of Life -- Berkeley CA

I love neighborhood and city festivals, but to be truthful many are starting to seem interchangeable. The Cherry Festival could be the Zucchini Festival except for the color scheme and the graphics. The same food vendors, often selling reheated or fried food, the same craft imports for sale, the same insurance, bank, wireless, real estate and roofing company giveaways and come ons. I miss a sense of place.

That's why when I hit a festival that has a there there, I am a sucker for it. No midways with games offering prizes of doubtful quality blow-up guitars or overstuffed bears for me. I take a chance on the ethnic and local food booths. The higher the quality and the more localized the food choices, the happier I am.

One of the best local festivals for this is the annual Berkeley, CA., Spice of Life Festival based on Shattuck Street, literally right in the heart of the famed "Gourmet Ghetto." I wasn't so much taking notes or taking note as I was just going from sizzle (barbecued oysters) to sizzle (grilled chicken sates and teriyakis ranging from the organic to the gigantic) and munching on every good thing that came my way from El Salvadorean pupusas to potato spinach knishes. From Italian peppers to burritos to corned beef sandwiches this festival had it all, even a mini-organic farmer's market.

Besides the food, the festival offered all the gritty, quirky, political correct Berkeley attitude you could hope for. The real estate agents gave out reusable grocery bags, there were homeless just out side the festival area looking for handouts of leftover food or change, people were recruiting for volunteers and signatures to run Al Gore for president, massage therapists were doing a brisk business as were natural healers. Festival goers had a wide range of art, jewelry and other crafts to choose from. There was music, too, and cooking demonstrations. The one thing there wasn't was parking. Maybe the plan was for people to take transit, but instead the surrounding neighborhood filled up with cars. But perhaps that was okay if all those drivers circling and circling picked up a reusable grocery bag to help save the environment once they finally found a spot and walked to the fair.

Don't get me wrong, but a well-signed remote parking lot with a shuttle might have been a more realistic approach.
About the photos. These came from the borrowed Olympus. I still don't have the ones from the Sony I also borrowed. I really like the Olympus except for its capturing anything with an intense red, it just isn't doing it for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Apple Cider Vinegar Chicken

Here's the recipe I mentioned in the Cooking Marathon post, which has more details on the meal. The chicken was tender, tasty and had a bit of a zing. The apple cider vinegar and the smoked flavor really complemented each other.

I think I have a photo in the borrowed camera, when I get it I'll post it.


Apple Cider Vinegar Chicken
Makes a lot because I had a lot of people to feed that night!
Serves 6-8

Grape seed or other vegetable oil
3-4 strips of turkey bacon (I like Willie Bird all thigh meat)
4 pounds chicken parts (I used breasts, drumsticks and thighs), bone in, skin on
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 small (or 1 medium) leeks, white part only, chopped
¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp lemon pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into quarters
2-3 cups of chicken stock
Dash each of dried ground rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, mustard and mint (I use an Italian seasoning mix called Queen Victoria Giusti Aromi per Pollo by Drogheria & Alimentari, which if you can find it I highly recommend – and if you can find it, let me know I’m almost out and I can’t find it anywhere. This mix of seasonings along with the lemon pepper approximates the mix.)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, divided
Black Pepper
2 tbsp butter
Chopped parsley

Heat a very large fry pan or dutch oven over medium high heat and add 1 tbsp of grape seed or other vegetable oil. Add turkey bacon and fry until crisp. Remove bacon strips and reserve. Working in batches if need be, brown chicken pieces. Remove and reserve. Add 1 tbsp of oil if needed and add onions, sautéing until just softened. Add leeks, red pepper flakes, ¼ tsp of black pepper and garlic, sautéing until garlic just begins to color. Toss in carrots and celery and sauté a few minutes more, then add the tomato pieces. Add chicken parts back to pan, mixing well. Add chicken stock until the chicken pieces are about ¾ of the way submerged in the liquid. Sprinkle in Italian seasoning mix. Chop the reserved bacon into ½ inch pieces and add to pan. Stir well. Add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. Cover and simmer over medium heat, turning chicken pieces occasionally, until chicken is just cooked through. Remove chicken and vegetables from the pan and keep warm. Raise heat to high and keep lid off, reducing pan juices and stirring any browned bits up from the bottom, and adding additional 1 tbsp of vinegar. Cook until liquid is reduced to about half, taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. Turn heat to low and stir in butter until sauce has thickened. Remove skin from chicken pieces if desired and return chicken and vegetables to pan and mix well with sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cooking Marathon

For reasons I no longer remember after washing the sixth (or was it the seventh) sinkful of dishes, pots and pans in four days, I had arranged to have dinner guests Saturday and Sunday nights and told my husband I really felt like cooking and eating in on Friday. To top it off on Monday night I tested a recipe destined to be published in a food magazine to be named later (more on that when it happens).

Friday night was whole wheat pasta with feta cheese, garlic, red onions, kale, rapini (a green), carrots. It felt wholesome and was yummy and provided quick lunch sustenance for the cooking marathon ahead of me.

Saturday night I served cider vinegar chicken (a recipe I came up with based on the taste I had a taste for, click on the link for the recipe), mashed potatoes (made with olive oil and chicken stock), asparagus, green salad, fresh bread (which I didn't bake) and homemade pumpkin pie (which I did, even the crust).

Sunday night I used recipes from The New Spanish Table Cookbook which I basically liked but had some quibbles. The Roasted Vegetable Soup was very similar in taste to the one I made from Super Natural Cooking, but was a lot more work. Because I didn't know if my guests were anchovy lovers, I skipped the anchovy paste topping for the croutons served with the soup and substituted olive tapenade, which worked well. The main course was a paella that I adapted. I am a fairly experienced paella maker and I thought the recipe had a lot of extra steps that didn't particularly add to the flavor or impact of the dish. It was fine and was enjoyed by all, even me, but I wouldn't make it again. I've used this cookbook before and have been very happy with the results, so my most recent experience with the cookbook is not typical of the results I've gotten with it. Oh, and we had pumpkin pie for desert (I made two on Saturday.)

Tonight, well, I made (censored).

What's on the menu for the rest of the week? Leftovers.

In other news, pop on over to Sugar Savvy and read my post about the most incredible rose sorbet.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tea and Me

Several years ago the now no-longer published Veggie Life magazine asked its readers what childhood books inspired their imaginations, particularly if there was a connection to food. It seems I was the only reader that responded and they excerpted a large chunk of my letter and created some recipes to go with my remembrances.

I received pride of quasi-authorship and a few copies of the magazine. Not much, but I was out of the closet with my passion for teas.

Earlier today, I was channel surfing when I caught a bit of the 1994 movie version of A Little Princess and it reminded me of my letter to Veggie Life and I thought I would share it with you.

If you have a tea memory (or a recipe using tea or to accompany tea, please feel free to leave a comment below with the info and/or links).

Edited excerpts from my letter:

Thanks to an English cousin, I developed quite a thirst for English literature and tea, both the beverage and the meal. One birthday she gave me copies of Jane Eyre and A Little Princess. The books were different than any others I had read and the people in them different than those in my suburban experience. My fascination began with the simple, nourishing teas of Jane Eyre and the tea and suppers that appeared as if by magic in the attic of Sara, the Little Princess.

The affection for and restorative powers of tea intrigued me and as I read more of English literature and contemporary British novels, I began to be fixate on what the characters had at tea. I felt let down if it was just beans on toast, which, if you ask me, the characters wouldn’t want either, if you could ask them.

I have to admit in the beginning I didn’t quite “get” tea. One memorable teen-age attempt at sophistication ended up with me curdling my own tea after adding both lemon and cream. Unfortunately there were witnesses.

But tea soon became a way of life for me. At college in New York City I discovered “loose” teas and a world of tea flavors other than Lipton’s. With a tea ball, mug and an illegal heating coil to boil the water in my dorm room I felt quite the sophisticate and discovered the delights of Russian caravan, fine oolongs and herbal blends.

My mother and I also began a tradition of having teas wherever we traveled. With her I had some memorable “cream teas” at Harrods and other British institutions as well as throughout America. Tea became another way to bond with my mother and later my mother-in-law.

Return visitors to my house know better than to ask what kind of tea I have. They just go to the cupboard and make their own selection -- caffeinated to the right and herbal to the left.

I’ve also begun to use tea as an ingredient in other recipes. Some favorites: Moroccan Mint sorbet, herbal tea spritzers, tea “gelee” and recipes using an infusion of tea for flavoring.

I even celebrated more than one important birthday with tea at local cafes. I’ve been trying my best to interest my two sons in my passion for the beverage. The older one seems immune, but younger one has on more than one occasion asked me to buy him his own tin of a favorite tea. Now if I can only get him to read Charlotte Bronte and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Note: To read Jane Eyre or A Little Princess on line for free from the wonderful non-profit Project Gutenberg, please click on the links.

About the photo: At the last Fancy Food Show in San Francisco I met the owners of TeaSpot, a tea distributor and manufacturer of this nifty tea brewing cup. No bag needed, put your loose tea in the ceramic basket and brew. When the tea is ready, you can rest the basket on top of the upside down lid to prevent a dripping mess. Or use the lid to help keep the tea warm. TeaSpot gave me one on the spot and I use it all the time. The company refers to this product line as "steepware" and also offers covered mugs and teapots. I especially liked their Meditative Mind tea (white tea with rosebuds and green jasmine pearls). The company donates a percentage of its profits to various causes and buyers can select where the money is to be donated.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Super Natural Tomato Soup

I recently reviewed 101 Cookbooks food blogger Heidi Swanson's new cookbook Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking (published by the Celestial Arts imprint of Ten Speed Press.)

My overall impression in my Paper Palate review was very favorable although as is my way I had a few quibbles. I also discuss some of the non-recipe attributes of the cookbook (including the wonderful photos by Heidi). Here's a link to the review itself.

I really enjoyed the recipe I tried, Roasted Tomato and Paprika Soup.

Roasted Tomato and Paprika Soup
(Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson)

Olive oil
5 tomatoes, cored and quartered (I used a medium-sized ripe heirloom, beefsteak/slicing variety. If using plum tomatoes, use about 8-10 depending on size)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
3 yellow onions (I used medium sized onions), peeled, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Fine-grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock or water (I used a very light vegetable stock.)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease two baking sheets with rims with some of the olive oil. On one sheet put the quartered tomatoes, skin side down. Coat the bell pepper, onion and garlic with olive oil and place on second baking sheet. Sprinkle both baking pans with salt and pepper.

Have two oven racks positioned in center of oven. Place one pan on each rack. Cook until tomatoes are softened and onions have become golden brown (about 45 minutes). Turn onions if they start to get very brown on the bottom. Pull garlic if it looks like it will burn. When the vegetables are roasted, remove from oven. Peel garlic and then put garlic and the other vegetables in a tall pot. Add a bit of your stock and use a hand blender to puree to the desired consistency. (If you don't have a hand blender, process in batches in your food processor of blender and then return to the pot.) Add the rest of the stock and the paprika. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Heat if desired. Can be served cold, room temperature or hot. (Note, seasonings lose a bit of their punch if served cold and you'll need to add more than if you serve the soup hot, so correct the seasonings at the temperature you plan to serve it at. If you are like me and serve it both hot and cold, correct for hot. You can always add more seasonings by the bowl when you serve it cold.)

I think the soup would be great with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and/or with a bit of very dry Spanish sherry swirled in and maybe a bit of chopped parsley, fennel frond or cilantro sprinkled on top. A cheese-topped crouton would be a nice way to dress it up as well. One wonderful lunch was half of a grilled brie sandwich with a bowl of the soup. My husband enjoyed pouring some cold into a small glass and slurping it as a kind of tapas or starter.

This recipe was a hit in my house and I plan on making it again soon. I love to make tomato soup, I often use roasted vegetables as a base for other dishes and smoked paprika is one of my favorite seasonings, but I never thought to combine them all, so for me this dish was perfect. I did have some quibbles. For example, the recipe was not originally written with enough direction as to the size of some of the ingredients and directions were not given for those who might not own a hand blender. I have to say if these were complaints I had about a recipe written for a blog I wouldn't have even commented, but somehow when a recipe is printed in a cookbook, I look for a different standard. But in the end, it does come down to how a dish tastes, and this recipe came out just wonderful, so these are just nitpicks on my part and I look forward to using this cookbook often, especially for everyday family meals, and as a resource for natural/superfood ingredients.

Update: Jumbo Empandas wrote about her experience with Heidi's Espresso Banana Muffins here.