Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now, Fresh News on Blog Appetit

News Flash! The Newsroom.com is now offering news feeds to websites at no charge. To take advantage of the service, I'll post a Fresh News update whenever I find something that either relates to food, blogging or my world view.

Look to the side bar to the right to catch your fresh news. (Note, I might move the news feed to the bottom of the page in the future.)

Let me know if it causes the page to go berserk in your browser, give me feedback on the feed or tell me anything else about the items by commenting below or emailing me through my profile.

Want to get some fresh news on your site? Go to The Newsroom to sign up and you can get free use of AP, Reuters and other syndicated or wire news services. The feed will include an ad (the first to appear in Blog Appetit which I honestly would prefer not to have) which includes a percentage back to you.

Update: Some with Firefox weren't able to properly see this feature in the sidebar, so I moved it to under the footer. Let me know what you think. I still don't like having the ads and I don't have much control over the layout, which looks sloppy to me, but being able to post news stories gives me another way to be topical, offer interesting content and fulfill my inner need to play publisher. Update on the Update: The news items are back on the side bar, but as a LINK. No more messy layout or annoying ads on Blog Appetit itself. I save all that for the blog I created to host items such as this. (March 2 07)
Update: They are gone, not worth the trouble.
About the photo: Fresh fish in the Lisbon public market. The connection -- the "unofficial" motto of my college newspaper (NYU's Washington Square News): Today's News, Tomorrow's Fish Wrap.

Blog Appetit Goes New Blogger -- My Trek into the Unknown or How I Switched

I have to admit I am not the most sophisticated, knowledgeable or fussy user of Blogger. I appreciate the (free) service, the fairly stress-free way it makes my words appear on the internet and feel pretty lucky to have found a template that looks something like one I would design for myself if I could design a template for myself. (That's a big if.) However, even a straight forward user like me has a few customizations and changes and, shall we say, eccentricities that converting an existing blog to new Blogger can jeopardize.

I won't say I couldn't sleep tossing and turning all that I needed to do, but I did go to bed late a few nights after researching my options and practicing for the big conversion. Here is a recap of my experience with a list of steps I recommend before your own C-Day. Included is a list of sources I found helpful. Please keep in mind two things:

I 'm no expert, so I might not have done things the elegant way, the best way or any other way that made sense, but it worked for me, so that's the way I did it.

I'm no expert, so if you have some suggestions for me, please don't hesitate to email me through my profile or leave a comment or link below.

Taking Baby Steps

Everything I tried, I did on my test blog first. Hopefully you have one in Blogger original that you can play with. If not create one in New Blogger with the same template you hope to use after the big switch and play with that as appropriate below.

4Tip #1 -- Back up your template every time you change it

First thing I did was back up my template. I did this while still in Ye Olde Blogger by exposing my html code and then copying it and pasting it as a text document. I know Blogger says they'll save your old template, but I felt better having direct access to it and it proved handy to have later.

Next, I just switched my current template to New Blogger without changing to the layout design. That kept all my boxes, links, bits and pieces just like I had before. The big change? I could now add labels. I knew I wouldn't be able to display a separate list of my labels without making a commitment to New Blogger layouts but it caught me unawares that clicking on a label title would only show a maximum of 20 posts with that label. Also, the label name shows up at the bottom of your post in a way some Blogger users have found to be unattractive.

4Tip #2 -- Have a Test Blog and Practice on It

I worked with my classic template in New Blogger for a bit, felt that my world hadn't caved in and went for the next step. I backed up my template yet again and converted my test blog to the same design as a layout in New Blogger. I waited nervously for the computer screen to update. And then I saw it, my updated, new look, New Blogger layout. I took one look at the revised header and practically screamed. It was ugly. The Blogger Team that had adapted Rounders4 had not done a good job of sizing the graphic or something and had added a dark green margin around the photo but only on the top. It wasn't the end of the world, most viewers might not even notice, but I wasn't about to let Blog Appetit go out in public wearing that!

The Obsession Begins

I began to try to find a fix from the difficult to a non-expert like me (download the blogger url for the graphic, attempt to change the size and then get it rehosted somewhere) to the pitiful (randomly changing header code in html based on what I thought was the right code in my original template). I got rid of the margin on top but lost the curved "rounders," I created four rounded sides but had a thin slice of dark green margin sitting on top like a squished beret, I somehow lost all four rounded corners and had a nice rectangle and almost settled for that, but it just wasn't what I wanted.

I hunted and linked and searched all through Blogger help, tried in vain to email Blogger about it, actually searched for and found a way to email the template's original designer to plead for help and to let him know how they had ruined his vision and art (he never replied), contemplated changing templates, changing photos, and the list goes on and on. Finally I did what I should have done from the start -- I went to the Google Blogger Help Group and searched for "rounders header" and got my answer.

4Tip #3 -- Look to your fellow sufferers for help -- Use User Groups

Here's the link to the Blogger Help Group. I also used tricks and tips from several dedicated Blogger enthusiasts. Sometimes they didn't have the exact fix I needed, but they started me thinking in the right direction. Here are some of those links:

Beta Blogger Resources
Blogger Tips and Tricks
Beta Blogger for Dummies
The Real Blogger Status

I can't find the link to the Blogger Group User who solved my rounders4 template issues, but when I do, I'll update this list to include his post. (If you need help with your rounders4 header, check out my source code to see how I've swapped the header and the header wrapper and try that or email me or leave a comment below and I'll send you instructions.)

The Last (But Not Least) Steps

With the success of my header fix in my test blog, I thought I was good to go so I made the big switch for Blog Appetit and threw up a post about the blog being worked on to excuse any little peculiarities until I could fix them.

Did it go smoothly? Well, let's just say I hit a few speed bumps. Some of my content (links and blue plate specials from the sidebar) which transferred without a glitch in my practice blog didn't in my "real blog." Only three of my links survived the big migration and the blue plate specials were MIA.

Here's my fixes: I went to page elements, selected a new element, picked HTML/Java for the kind I wanted, copied and pasted in what was missing from my old, saved template. Worked like a charm and saved me from having to retype each individual link on my blog roll. (I may eventually do that anyway so I can use the easy-to-use link adder function in the links box, but for now my links are back in action!) I repeated the steps to get the "Blue Plate Specials" back on the menu.

My blog stat counter I did similarly, but as a footer.

I had one "color" issue. I didn't care for the color the Blogger team selected for the footer and the footer seemed to be the only page element color you could not change from the handy-dandy color and font device. I got around that by selecting the color I wanted on the gizmo, writing down the color code (a six digit number) finding the html code that referred to the footer color number and switching it out with my new choice.

(I also played with font size and choice on my header through the fonts and colors selector, which was nice and easy.)

In addition to my dealing with the links page element in the future, I am still grumbling and ruminating over a few other changes that were made to Blog Appetit or that I would like to make, but they are mere quibbles and I'm hoping that future forays into the user group will pop up with suggestions or that Blogger will come out with fixes or new features, but in the meantime, I am fairly satisfied, which brings me to my last tip:

4Tip# 4 -- Know When to Give It a Rest

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogger Face Lift

Blog Appetit is receiving a face lift with new Blogger.

Since new Blogger is more of a sledge hammer than a scapel you may notice the site isn't quite as attractive and organized as it should be.

When the swelling goes down and all the lost code is restored, Blog Appetit should look better than ever with category labels and all its links, blue plate specials and other goodies back where they belong.

Thanks for your patience while we remodel!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tortilla Lasagna and February Vegetarian Times on Paper Palate

Over on the Well Fed Paper Palate site, I've got a post on the February issue of Vegetarian Times with my adaption of a VT's lasagna recipe that uses corn tortillas instead of pasta. (Also posted there is a much tastier photo of a slice of the lasagna.)

I hope you'll check out the post as well as try the recipe. I adapted it for microwave cooking and it was easy, healthy and fairly quick. I did saute the vegetables in a regular fry pan, but if you are inclined you could do that cooking in the microwave as well.

For the post and recipe, please click here.

A few notes:
  • I used white corn tortillas, which I thought worked particularly well in terms of adding that taste of corn, but keeping it subdued.
  • Leftovers were even better the next day. The flavors of the chard, corn and sauce really continued to mesh.
  • I used a prepared spaghetti sauce that featured a spicy red pepper note. I highly recommend using something similar and spicing up the sauce you do use. It played well off the corn notes and helped cut through the richness of the dairy.
I also think the flavor profile in this recipe/technique could be adapted to give you more of a Mexican, Spanish or Latin dish.
Update: March 4 07 -- Vegetarian Times posted this as its recipe of the week, so if you'd like to see the recipe as it originally appeared, click here. For my adaptation, see the Paper Palate post.
Note: 9.09 -- the wellfed.net link to paperpalate.net seems to be broken. Use this one or see the variation here. (posted as part of Hunger Challenge 2009)
10.26.11 - All the Well Fed links are gone.  The wonderful Way Back Machine archived the post, though. You can see the recipe and write up  here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Read. Think. Eat.

Astute observers may notice I've changed my blog description above from "Guaranteed Fresh Food News, Muse and Views with Recipes" to "Read. Think. Eat." which I think describes the more observational/thoughtful direction I am inspired by right now.

(Coincidentally, a recent, post-change stroll around the blog-a-sphere turned up some other bloggers with some similar you-understood, command driven descriptions in their headers. I swear, I was unaware of those when I came up with mine!)

Update: A few months ago, I changed it to Cooking Local. Eating Global. which I think sums up my approach to what I put on my plate, in my mouth and on this blog! (10/09)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Food Bloggers at the Food Bank

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being able to help give back to the San Francisco area community by joining other Bay Area food bloggers at a volunteer shift at the San Francisco food bank.

Thanks to Amy and Sam for organizing and for all 35+ bloggers and friends who turned out to help. You can read more about our adventures on Cooking with Amy and Becks and Posh.

It was a very different experience than my shifts at the Alameda County food bank. (You can read about that here.) We were packing boxes of raw food -- apples, oranges and frozen corn on the cob. We worked well together, mixing and matching in groups, chatting while our hands flew packing the produce. The volunteer coordinator was impressed by the amount of food we were able to put away. (There is a joke here somewhere about food bloggers putting away food, but I'm not feeling that funny this a.m.)

Afterwards, we all retired to the Yield Wine Bar, a wonderful wine bar in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Some treats were donated by food provider friends including spicy chocolate from Poco Dolce, unbelievable meats from Fatted Calf and Fra Mani, some tasty chutneys and good cheeses (donated by Amy and Sam, as if they hadn't already done enough).

Please consider donating your time and your funds to your local food bank. To find your local food bank or other ways to help feed America's hungry, please contact Second Harvest.

Monday, February 19, 2007

That Was Then --- Featuring Posts from February 2006

Last February, Blog Appetit featured some recipes that were healthy, hardy and warming.

Try the "Let Them East Bread with Their Soup Soup" which featured rustic bread, chicken, winter squash and greens.

Or try the results of a chilly Sunday morning trip to my local farmer's market in my "Winter Farmer's Market Saute."

You can check out all of Blog Appetit's offerings for the month that was by scrolling through the February 2006 archives. Highlights include tips for saving energy in the kitchen and a discussion of the state of food blogging.

This concludes for this month's Blast from the Past.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

See's Candies Trivia Questions and Answers

A few weeks ago I posted a trivia contest in my regular See's Piece by Piece post on Sugar Savvy. Well, we have a winner!

Here's the link with the name of the winner, the five things I learned from doing 52 See's Piece-by-Piece posts and the top candies in my taste testing. I've since thought of a sixth thing I've learned from writing these pieces: Everything looks more appealing in brown fills and/or a white box.

Here are the 10 contest questions, see if you know your See's Candies' trivia. If you need help, all the answers can be found by searching Sugar Savvy and the previous See's Piece by Piece posts. You can find them by searching on See's on the site or clicking on The Chocolate Box category and reading through them that way.

If you want the answers without the work, click on the comments below. I'll post them there. No peeking now.

Here are the 10 questions from the Sugar Savvy quiz:

1. What year did Charles See start See’s Candies and begin selling his products in Los Angeles, CA?

2. What was the name of Charles’ mother, who provided the company’s first recipes?

3. What brand of chocolate does See’s Candies use in its confections?

4. What popular TV show featured a scene based on the See’s Candies’ production line?

5. What is the name of the newest milk chocolate candy introduced by See’s? (Hint: It is a name used for men, women and places.)

6. How many calories in a serving (two pieces) of See’s Candies’ candy?

7. Name of the author of the book See’s Famous Old-Time Candies: A Sweet Story.

8. Name See’s three flavors of fudge.

9. What brand of sugar does See’s Candies use?

10. Name the See’s Candies’ confection that has beef as an ingredient.

A Visit to Paris (The Casino)

On my recent trip to Las Vegas, I spent a few hours in Paris. I didn't bother paying to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower since somehow I knew when I got to the top there would be no view of the Seine and I didn't want to spoil whatever illusions the place was capable of creating.

Unfortunately most of my photos didn't come out thanks to the perpetual twilight of casino lighting but the place had its charms with lots of Napoleonic, Haussman, Art Nouveau and Art Deco touches and a beautifully painted "sky" to help one pretend. I was enthralled with the five cent slot signs for some reason. The juxtaposition of my beloved Paris iconography and the Vegas mentality just made me giggle.

We did eat at Le Village, Paris' (indoor) outdoor buffet. In an ersatz courtyard under an ersatz sky surrounded by food stations each modeled after an area of France and offering a version of food celebrated by that region, we set up camp near the dessert station (I needed to keep an eye on the assorted tarts, brulees and other goodies so I could pace my consumption of everything else) and began our gastronomical tour of a Vegas buffet French style.

Over near the Provencal section I found an assortment of perfectly grilled vegetables and sauces, including aoili, pistou and black olive tapenade. Gary found the king crab legs (this is a Vegas buffet, after all). There was a lovely roast duck in honey lavender sauce, a surprisingly good coq au vin and lots more. Pretty much anything with a sauce was a winner, especially since most hot food was being made in small batches and replenished often. Of course there were the carving stations with acres of roasted animals, but we decided to focus on the more specialized offerings.

My one disappointment? No cassoulet. And, when I asked about the availability of this famous French dish, one of the chefs had absolutely NO idea what I was talking about, and after I described the dish to him, he still had no clue. Oh well, there was bouillabaisse at least.

This buffet was probably worth it just for the desserts ranging from American brownies (I am always surprised when I am in Europe how much the rest of the world has come to love this humble treat) and apple pies to cups of chocolate mousse, creme brulees, eclairs and other pastries, fruit tarts, clafoutis, cakes and much, much more. There were even sugar-free goodies, but why?

I return to Las Vegas in July (again for business) and I'd love to know about your buffet and restaurant experiences. If you have any recommendations (or must avoids), please leave me a comment below or email me through my profile.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Taking a Gamble on Cauliflower -- Recipe a Winner Thanks to Mesa Grill

One of the more renowned restaurants I ate at in Las Vegas was Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. The grill was recommended to me by food-loving friends who had eaten their way around the strip and assured me the food was very special there.

Rose and Jerry were right. Gary and I loved the grouper and shrimp cerviche (at right), the vegetarian chile rellano stuffed with acorn squash, cheese and fig jam served in a sweet-hot sauce (above) and the grilled mahi mahi with a salsa and yet another fruity sweet hot sauce. (Warning, if you don’t like fruit-flavored hot pepper sauces, this is not the restaurant for you.) The dessert, a cajeta cheese tart, was so amazing we ate the whole thing before I remembered to take a photo.

One of the dishes the restaurant, located in the Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino, that wowed us was baked cauliflower and green pepper, served to us in an adorable, minature Staub casserole dish. The mixture was wonderful with the occasional punch of the pepper smoothed by the creamy sauce and the cauliflower adding a the slightest hint of crunch and earthiness.

That creamy dish was the inspiration for a cauliflower gratin I made just a few days after we returned home. My version is heartier with much less cheese and cream and, by using fresh roasted poblano peppers, packs a bit more heat and spice. I also baked mine in a gratin dish instead of a covered casserole so there were lots of nice browned bits to provide textural contrast to the cauliflower. (The photo on the left is of my version of the dish)

Cauliflower and Poblano Chile “Jackpot” Gratin
Oil or spray for pan
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 poblano or Anaheim chile, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into strips about ¼ inch by ½ inch
About 1 ½ cups of white sauce made with butter, flour and milk (I used whole wheat flour and skim milk) and with 1/3 to ½ cup of grated white strong cheddar and ¼ grated parmesan cheese stirred in.
¼ to ½ cup bread crumbs (homemade or panko-style)
¼ grated parmesan cheese
Paprika to taste
1 teaspoon butter (optional), cut into little pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or oil gratin pan or other approximately 9”x11” pan and set aside. Steam cauliflower florets until just tender. While cauliflower is cooking, heat oil or butter in a sauté pan and sauté diced onion until wilted, add garlic and sauté until almost brown. Add in red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté another minute or so. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is tender, drain well and combine in the gratin pan with sautéed mixture and roasted chile strips. Stir in cheese and white sauce and mix until well combined. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top, followed by the parmesan cheese and paprika. Dot with butter pieces, if desired. Bake 30-45 minutes until top is browned and the sauce is bubbling. Serves 2-3 as a main course with a grain or 4-5 as a side dish.

Notes: I served it on top of rough and hearty buckwheat grouts (known as kasha),which were a good foil to the dish’s flavors and texture. Please leave me a comment if you need directions on how to make a white sauce or roast peppers and I’ll add directions for those steps. You can substitute canned green chiles for the fresh, but the dish will lose the roasted flavor. Feel free to add more or less cheese or white sauce. I was aiming for a version that cut back a bit on the fat and creaminess of the original while adding more textural and flavor elements.

Update:  Here is a link to Flay's version of this recipe.
This post is part of Sweetnicks weekly Antioxidant Rich Foods Round up. Click here to view.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kumquat Confessions

One fruit I associate with this time of year and the approach of the Lunar New Year is the kumquat. The kumquat is an orange-gold oval about the size of my thumb with a sweetish interior and a tender, tart skin. As much as the cherry blossom and plum blossom blooms we begin to see most years around this time I connect the citrus with the promise of spring and renewal. The lively tang as I crunch through the whole fruit revives my palate and my spirit.

I tend to just eat my kumquats raw either whole as a snack or sliced to garnish other dishes. I'll try to do some research and find a few recipes using this fruit. In the meantime, if you have one of your own, feel free to post the link to it in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Top Chef Fizzles Out

Okay, I finally saw my recorded Top Chef finale. It wasn't as squirm inducing as I thought it would be and Ilan (who early on I thought could be the next Harold until I discovered Sam) took the prize.

Since this is kind of old news, I won't spend a lot of time picking the show apart, I will say that Sam was under appreciated and maligned by Marcel (although it could have been the editing) and what was Marcel thinking picking Michael to help him out and then being disappointed in his work ethic?

Ilan had stalwarts Betty and Elia helping him. Elia's strong skills were responsible for the perfectly cooked fish the judges raved about.

Seeing Elia and Sam in action made me wonder what went so wrong that we we ended up seeing Ilan, talented but staying in his zone (or should I say zona) and Marcel, the boy wonder relying on his chemical arsenal. I do think Marcel's concepts rose to the challenge (cook the best meal you can possibly create) and were riskier and more adventurous, a fact the judges seemed to appreciate.

But once again, the judges talk risk but award safe and Ilan takes home the prize.

Perhaps it finally was a decision on kitchen management and personality. Who knows? I am also tempted to say "who cares?" All the merchandising and sponsorships made this contest seem stilted. The quasi-cheating and other issues sucked some of the fun out. The lack of focus on the food made the whole thing personality and conflict driven and the whole thing just seemed long and drawn out, especially without a juicy reunion show to see behind the scenes tidbits.

Will I be there for Top Chef 3? Well, I keep swearing off Project Runway and coming back for more, so it's a possibility. But I want more Chef Tom in each episode.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Long Time No Post

If you've been avidly checking back at Blog Appetit and wondering where all the new posts have gone, here's your answer: I've been out of town on business.

While that has temporarily interrupted Blog Appetit's normal programming, the good news is that where I was out of town was Las Vegas and I have lots of photos to upload and a few meals to report on. Watch this space for an update (probably by this weekend).

Also, if you are looking for my take on the Top Chef finale, I haven't seen it yet and have carefully avoided finding out who won or any of the hopefully juicy details of the final episode of season two. If the episode doesn't totally exasperate me I hope to post my reaction (better late than never) after I watch it. (The future pastry chef and Kramer Techno Czar recorded it for me on the DVR while I was away.) Look for this, too, by the weekend.

Baited and Switched

Because of my occasional techno fears, I had been approaching converting to "new" Blogger with an attitude reminiscent of a childhood TV ad (back when cigarettes could advertise on TV): "I'd rather fight than switch."

Blogger kept tempting me with goodies -- categories, no more coding to change templates and other features -- but I kept thinking of the pitfalls. Finally, a team blog I belong to, Food Blog Sc'ool, made the jump, so I decided if that blog with its more than 900 posts could convert successfully, who was I to hold on to the old-time, out-dated blogging programming? So just a few minutes ago Blog Appetit made the switch.

I haven't begun to play with the templates or categorize the various posts (referred to in Blogger-speak as "labels") but I hope to soon. So watch this space and please let me know if anything goes haywire and needs a fix.
Update: My son, ever clever, thought I should have titled this post: Beta'd and Switched. Wish I had thought of it first!