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.)