Wednesday, December 31, 2008

See's Candies -- Just What's in That Box?

I've noticed that Blog Appetit is being searched a lot this holiday season for information on See's Candies. I imagine holiday guests and sweet-toothed Santas have left a lot of See's boxes without, horrors, leaving a guide for what's inside.

Good news. Each candy is distinctively marked. Recently I've been to some See's stores and seen a full color handout as to which piece is which. Also, most of See's individual pieces are also lovingly portrayed on the See's website. Click here to see that.

Prepackaged assortments do come with nutritional information, but if someone created a custom mix for you or if you just went to the shop and bought a few pieces for yourself (one of the delights of shopping See's), that information might not be available. Here's the info on calories, carbs, fat, sugar, etc.

I spent a year tasting and evaulating See's Candies for Sugar Savvy. You can see what I wrote there here (and maybe see if you really want to bite into that apple pie truffle or mincemeat candy). To see what else I've written on Blog Appetit about See's, including a See's trivia quiz, click here.

Update: 12/14/10 -- Unfortunately the links for my Sugar Savvy posts are broken since the Well Fed Network is no more.  Read this post for more info and on how to find Sugar Savvy posts using the Wayback Machine site.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dine Around Is Back -- Plus Some SF Foodie Info Links to Click

Get ready for two weeks of gourmet lunches and dinners from January 15-31. A three-course lunch is just $21.95 and a dinner is just $34.95.

For all the details and more information, click here. There are oodles of restaurants to pick from, including Absinthe, which I write about here.

The Dine Around Town site is part of Taste SF, sponsored by the vistor's bureau. Check out the other features of the Only in San Francisco Taste SF website including chef profiles, info on farmers' markets and Foodie 411 , a blog all about the SF restaurant scene.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mix It Up New Year's Eve with a Luxe, Chocolate Treat

Just in time for holdiay parties, I posted about Bellatrix Chocolates and owner Anya Wayne's amazing chocolate party mix. You can read about it here on Sugar Savvy. I think this luxe (and easy) party mix would complement New Year's gatherings as well. (I might even make a batch today to celebrate my birthday -- let them have cake, I'll have this mix!)

You can read all about Anya's suggestions for how to make this the best party mix treat ever over at Sugar Savvy. Here's the recipe to get you started.

Bellatrix’s Luxe Party Mix

4 ounces of high quality chocolate. Use large chocolate round or oval drops or “pallets” or chop bar chocolate into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks. (I used organic Dagoba 73 percent cacao content dark chocolate drops I found in the Whole Foods baking supply section.)

2.5 ounces of sultana raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots or figs. (I used dried cranberries.)

3.5 ounces of roasted almonds, walnuts or cashews or small cubes of crystallized ginger. You can use caramelized nuts, but since they can be sticky, mix them in later. (I used roasted pistachio nut meats.)

Scant 1/4 teaspoon nut (such as almond, walnut or hazelnut), neutral (such as canola) or the very best extra-virgin olive oil (The oil helps make the salt stick.)

1/4 teaspoon or to taste, finely ground sea salt. (I used my best fleur de sal, which worked perfectly)

In a mixing bowl, combine the first three ingredients (except if using caramelized nuts), drizzle the oil over the mix. Toss well until the ingredients show an even sheen. Sprinkle in the salt and toss again. If using caramelized nuts, add them now and stir gently until mixed through. Serve in a bowl worthy of such a mix. (Or maybe put in individual champagne or martini glasses around the room for that New Year's Eve effect.)

Update: All Sugar Savvy/Well Fed Network links are broken -- however you can see the referenced post courtesy of the Way Back Machine here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bright Lights, Fun Nights and Gravlax -- It Must Be the Holiday Season

Things have been festive here in Blog Appetit land.

We've attended several swell Chanukah parties -- annual affairs hosted by friends who are like family with not so much dreidel to play, but lots of latkes (potato pancakes) to eat. Still to come are birthday celebrations (for me!) and New Year's Eve festivities with catering by a private chef.

Jody, the hostess of the first party, is a good friend and an amazing cook. I felt honored when she asked if I could bring an appetizer and a vegetable side dish to complement her homemade chopped liver, prime rib, latkes with homemade applesauce, and more dinner. The side dish was easy -- Brussels sprouts. They are in season, very reasonable, my husband and Jody love them and I have a good recipe for them (more in another post). But the appetizer, that was harder to decide on.

I wanted something that was special and not too heavy (after all there was chopped liver), something that if not traditionally Jewish felt right. I did my usual crawl through the cookbooks when it suddenly came to me -- gravlax (cold cured salmon) would be perfect. It wasn't lox, a traditional Jewish brine-cured salmon or smoked salmon, but it had a definite gravitas and flavor that would work well at a Chanukah feast. (FYI -- Did you know the word lox comes from the same root word for salmon in German and Yiddish that is related to the Swedish word for salmon -- lax?)

Back to the cookbooks for more research. I decided on a Marcus Samuelsson recipe which I adapted. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Sweden and became noted for his Scandinavian cooking at Aquavit in New York.

His recipe calls for kosher salt. As if I needed a sign that gravlax was "Jewish" enough for what I wanted, there is was. On the back of my decade-old box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt was a recipe for gravlax and an accompanying mustard-dill sauce.

Making gravlax is relatively straight forward, you just need to allow enough time for the salt, sugar and pepper cure to do its work. Like many homemade versions of foods people are used to buying (such as pickles and ice cream), people assume making your own is much more complicated than the process really is, adding to the wow factor. Plus the cured salmon is delicious.

I've served it several ways, once as a starter for a Jewish holiday meal with an Italian green sauce with parsley, green olives and garlic (recipe here) as a first course and last Sunday as an appetizer sprinkled with chopped dill with mustard sauce on small squares of pumpernickel cocktail bread. This article has other serving suggestions and recipes, including one for a mustard-dill sauce. (I used Trader Joe's mustard aoli sauce, which I thought complemented the fish nicely.)

Holiday Gravlax

This version is very peppery, which I think cuts through the sweetness provided by the sugar in the curing mixture. The dill taste is there, but is not prevalent.

Makes about 3 pounds of gravlax or about 24 appetizer-sized servings

(Recipe adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's Gravlax with Mustard Sauce as it appeared in Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss Cookbook.)

1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground white pepper
2 tablespoons cracked (very coarsely ground) peppercorns -- I used a mix of five types, but all black or all white would work fine
3 pounds of salmon filets
3 bunches of fresh dill, divided
1 lemon, cut in thin slices or wedges

Toss together the salt, sugar and peppers. Mix thoroughly. Take about a half cup and rub it on both sides of the filet. Place the salmon in a non-reactive pan or dish that will accommodate it (my three pounds of filet were in two pieces and fit nicely in a large glass baking dish), skin side down if your filet still has its skin attached. Scatter the rest of salt, sugar and pepper mixture on top of the filet(s). Scatter the individual branches of dill from two of the bunches over the top. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for about six hours. Move to the refrigerator. The salmon will exude liquids, refrigerate for 1-3 days, making sure the filet(s) stay evenly covered by the liquid. The fish should be nicely finished throughout and have a cured taste. (The longer you allow it to cure, the stronger the flavor. Very thin filets will cure faster than thicker ones.)

Remove from the brine, discard dill and brush off any remaining salt or peppercorns. (Remove the skin from the bottom of the salmon if necessary.) Slice thinly on the bias in short strips for appetizer portions to be served on bread or crackers or larger ones to serve as a starter. Serve with chopped dill from the remaining bunch and the lemon slices. (Note: If you are using the Italian green sauce, I'd opt to not to sprinkle the fresh, chopped dill over the gravlax.)

For step-by-step photos and a slightly different technique, click here.

Bonus: Here's Samuelsson's recipe for mustard sauce in case you need it: Mix 1 tablespoon honey mustard, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in 3/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil "while you pour it in a steady stream." When the sauce has thicken to a "mayonnaise-like consistency" stir in a 1/4 cup of chopped fresh dill. (If you use this sauce, you may want to skip using the fresh dill on the platter of finished gravlax, unless you REALLY like dill.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

(C)hanuk(k)ah Starts Sunday Night -- Read All About It Here and Here and Here ...

Happy Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hanukah!

Looking for information on the holiday's history? Check out this "blast from the past" post. 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.)

Watch for more Chanukah (how I grew up spelling the word in English) here on Blog Appetit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peppermint Bashing Yields Big Fun for Little Candy Maker

Little Leo and his grandmother, a friend of mine, put my peppermint bark recipe to the test. They used the recipe here. What's not to like -- first you bash the candies, then you get to eat chocolate.

Update: 12/14/10
Unfortunately the link to the post with the recipe has 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.

Today -- Help the San Francisco Food Bank by Getting a Bite to Eat

From the SF Food Bank:

13 Top Restaurants Will Donate a Portion of Proceeds to the San Francisco Food Bank

Restaurants have seen a real slump in business lately, but the folks at Maverick realized some people are facing worse circumstances – the 150,000 San Franciscans at risk of going hungry this holiday season. So Scott Youkilis and Michael Pierce created Dine Out Against Hunger, and organized some of the city’s top venues to donate up to 10% of today’s [December 18th] dinner sales to the San Francisco Food Bank, which supplies over 600 food programs throughout the city.

Participating Dine Out Against Hunger restaurants are: Maverick, Slow Club, Serpentine, Foreign Cinema, Magnolia, Sociale, Slanted Door, Kuleto's, Delfina, Americano, A16, Incanto and SPQR. Maverick will also take 10% off the tab for any customers making an additional donation to the Food Bank.

The focus is on raising cash, because for every $1 donated, the Food Bank can distribute $9 worth of food into the community – thanks to its relationships with retailers, growers and distributors. San Francisco Food Bank’s goal is to distribute 66,000 holiday meals this season.

For reservations, contact the individual restaurants; for more information, visit

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Menu for Hope V -- Extended

UPDATE: The donation period for Menu for Hope V has beene extended through December 31st -- so you still can participate in this worthwhile event and maybe even win a prize!

First, some background on Menu for Hope V from organizer Chez Pim. To quote Pim:

"Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by me and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Five years ago, the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia inspired me to find a way to help, and the very first Menu for Hope was born. The campaign has since become a yearly affair, raising funds to support worthy causes worldwide. In 2007, Menu for Hope raised nearly $100K to help the UN World Food Programme feed the hungry.

"Each December, food bloggers from all over the world join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related prizes for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too - can buy raffle tickets to bid on these prizes. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on a prize of their choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim."

To see the master list of prizes, go here.

Blog Appetit will be offering the following donation as a prize (Prize Code Number UW17):

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.

To see other prizes donated by western U.S. food bloggers, go here.

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle:
1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from the master prize link
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 EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could 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.

Menu for Hope V donations are being accepted now until December 31. Raffle winners will be announced on January 12 on Chez Pim.

Want to learn more about past Menu for Hope efforts by the food blogging community to support efforts to vanquish hunger in the world? Click here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tis the Season For Peppermint Bark

It's that time of year when the speciality food catalogs are charging $26 a pound for peppermint bark. You can make it yourself for about half or even less depending on what chocolates and candies you choose and if you find a sale.
Here's the recipe I posted in Kid Cuisine (with some pix) a few years ago and the one my teen-aged son made a few nights ago. For more on peppermint bark, peppermint cookies and other related goodies in Blog Appetit, click here.

Peppermint Bark

Taste test your peppermint candy options before you begin. We found that some brands didn’t have as strong a peppermint taste as we would like. We ended up using round peppermint hard candies. If you want your younger children to have fun in the bashing, pick the easy-to-break thin, mini candy canes. Another thing to keep in mind, your candy will only taste as good as the chocolate you use. We used better quality chocolate which resulted in a really luscious treat.

12 red and white candy canes, or about 20 mini candy canes or about 3-4 ounces of peppermint candy
1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces (good quality chips okay)
12 ounces white chocolate (NOT chips, they will not melt well and the taste is not the same), chopped or broken into small pieces

Line an approximately 10 inch 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 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). Whack the bag with 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.

About the photo -- Noah's latest batch made in a half sheet pan.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Technical Difficulties Cancel Thanksgiving Special -- But Here's a Cranberry Sauce to Give Thanks For

Blog Appetit had planned (through FJK's inventive writing, incredible imagination and the use of You Tube and Photo Bucket) to present it's first ever Blog Appetit Thanksgiving Special and Variety Show, complete with guest stars, family members, entertainment, maybe a little singing and dancing (although not mine) and, of course, appropriate seasonal remembrances and recipes.

Technical difficulties made that impossible, since usually I can only operate my computer in safe mode right now. While I am relatively pure and practice fairly high ethical standards it appears my computer does not and it seems to have gotten rather corrupt.

So while I ponder the advisability of turning the BATSAVS into the first ever Blog Appetit After Thanksgiving Special, the Chanukah Cavalcade or the Just Name Your Own Winter Holiday Extravaganza, I move aside from the figurative raspberry I appear to be getting from Windows and on to cranberries. (And maybe on to an Apple -- but that is a different post.)

I have been making (and adapting) this sauce for years. I love it year round. Fresh cranberries in the bag freeze well and there is no need to defrost them before using them in this recipe.
Bag a few bags after Thanksgiving when the price goes down and you'll be giving thanks all year round.

Baked Cranberry Sauce

This is more of a flexible guideline than an actual recipe since I probably make it different every time I prepare it. It is easy to do and can be made well in advance so it doesn’t tie up the oven on the big day. This version calls for it to be baked in the oven, but I have also made it on the stove top and in the microwave (be sure the dish has a microwave-safe cover to prevent splatters). You can use more or less cranberries; just adjust the sugar and other seasonings appropriately. We like our cranberry sauce tart, so we use the lesser amount of sugar.

4 cups of cranberries, rinsed (frozen and not defrosted okay, but you may need extra baking time, see directions below)
1 to 2 cups sugar (see note above)
¼ cup orange juice (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
Zest of 1 orange (orange part only), finely minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the cranberries in one layer in a baking dish. (Use two dishes and divide ingredients if you can’t get all the cranberries in a single layer.) Add the sugar and any or all of the optional seasonings. Mix well, making sure the cranberries end up in a single layer. Cover the baking dish with foil. Bake for about a quarter of an hour, uncover and stir, spreading the cranberries back out as before. Put the foil back on and bake for another 15 minutes. If the sauce is too liquid, uncover and bake for a few minutes more as needed. (The sauce will also thicken up a bit when standing or cold.)

When the sauce has cooled a bit, taste. If it is too tart mix in sugar to taste and stir well.

This can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Serve warm or at room temperature.
About the image: From RStamp -- online rubber stamp store, where stamps "are made fresh daily."

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Jews of Italy (and What They Ate) in San Francisco -- Plus a Recipe for Green Sauce for Fish

A new exhibit at the Museo ItaloAmericano in San Francisco takes a look at the lives of Jews in Italy. From ancient Jewish envoys sent by Judah Maccabee to the creation of the first ghetto (in Venice in 1516) to the dismantling of the last (Rome in 1870), the exhibition covers a wide swath of history focusing on the development of an Italian Jewish identity and studying how regional and cultural differences and restrictions shaped the lives of the Jews.

One topic covered in Il Ghetto: Forging Italian Jewish Identities 1516 - 1870 is an overview of what the Jews’ daily life in the ghetto was like including, of course, food. The legacy of Jewish Italian cooking is a rich one imbued with adaptations of dishes brought from the Jews original homelands in Germany, the Iberian Peninsula, France and the Levantine. It was also influenced by local ingredients and the regional tastes and resources of the Italian city states the Jews made their homes. New World foods such as tomatoes and corn and exotic spices also flavored their meals thanks to the rise of Jewish maritime trade and merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The exhibit is at Fort Mason, Building C, until February 15th and Bay area Jewish and other institutions will be sponsoring coordinating films, lectures, and displays. For more information, please go to the musuem's website or call (415) 673-2200.

For more about the historic food ways of Italy’s Jews, perhaps one of the best known cookbooks on the topic is Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen (Chronicle Books). Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Smarkand to New York (Knopf) is also a good source.

Here is an Italian green sauce for cold fish, adapted from the Roden book. I like it over poached salmon or milder white fish such as halibut. I’ve also served it over salt-cured salmon such as lox or gravlax instead of gefilte fish as a starter for holiday dinners.

Salsa Verde per Pesce
Serves 8

Note: Do not substitute dill or sour pickles for the gherkins which are smaller and sweeter.

2 cups of flat leaf (Italian) parsley
½ cup unseasoned bread crumbs (toast sturdy white bread and chop in a blender or food processor until fine) OR ½ cup pine nuts
5 small pickled gherkins (also called cornichons)
8 pitted green olives
3 crushed garlic cloves
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup very light, good quality extra virgin olive oil

Remove stems from the parsley and discard. Put parsley leaves, bread crumbs or pine nuts, pickles, olives, garlic, vinegar and salt and pepper in a food processor. Blend until finely chopped. Slowly pour the oil in with the blade running and blend until incorporated and fairly smooth.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat -- Halloween Pumpkin Recipe -- Moroccan Chicken, Chickpeas and Pumpkin over Couscous

Every Halloween, I like to present a recipe or two that uses pumpkin as my special holiday treat. To read a wrap up of previous pumpkin links including how to select and prepare pumpkins for cooking as well as recipes for pumpkin tarlets and pumpkin chili, click here. Since that wrap up appeared, I posted a recipe for a sweet-and-sour squash and cabbage soup that could easily be made with pumpkin and would be perfect for the season. I hope you'll try some of these oldies and goodies as well as try this new pumpkin treat. (Another treat is how economical this meal is, I estimate it at about $2 a serving.)

Moroccan Chicken, Chickpeas and Pumpkin over Couscous
Makes 4 – 6 Servings

You can replace the one pound of raw pumpkin cubes with acorn or butternut squash, sweet potatoes, turnips or some combination of the above.

To cut the onions and carrots into half moons, slice in half horizontally and then slice into thin half rounds.

If you'd like a spicer stew, use more red pepper flakes. To learn more about the Moroccan seasoning known as raz el hanout, click here.

2 tablespoons olive, grape seed or other vegetable oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into strips about 2” long and ½ inch wide
1 cup thinly sliced onion into half moons (see note)
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 carrots, thinly sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into large dice
1 lb of uncooked, peeled pumpkin, cut into ¾’ or so cubes OR any of the other choices mentioned in the note above
½ tsp raz el hanout OR a mixture of ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp dried ground ginger and 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
4 cups (about 2 cans, drained and rinsed) cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
2 cups chicken OR vegetable broth OR water
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
4 cups of cooked couscous

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, deep sauté pan or other pot. Brown the chicken strips (working in batches if need be). Remove to a plate and set aside.

Saute the onions until lightly brown and beginning to soften. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until garlic begins to brown. Add in carrots and red bell pepper pieces, stir and let cook until the carrots have begun to soften a bit. Add the pumpkin and raz el hanout or spice mixture. Saute a few minutes, then add the cooked chickpeas and broth. Stir well. Lower heat to medium low, cover and cook (stirring occasionally) until pumpkin cubes are almost softened. Add in reserved, browned chicken strips and any accumulated juices. Stir well. Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid has reduced down to a thick sauce and chicken is cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired. Serve atop couscous.

Part of Sweetnick's $7 Dinner Challenge Roundup

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Aside about Braless Liberation and 10-Minute Side Dishes

Yesterday I went to that weight watching place I go to and at weigh in the "weigher" handed me a sample package of a new branded, 10 minute side dish (something with chicken and rice and vegetables). I looked at this over processed, over packaged and probably overly salted convenience food and said "no thanks."

Now, I rarely turn down a sample. I'll walk the aisles of Costco and actively seek out those little samples of foods I never buy. At Trader Joe's, I head right for the sample area in back for a little cup of whatever they are dishing up and a free cup of coffee. I know which local stores have free coffee and or cookies. (And the one that gives you a free chocolate truffle if you buy a cup of coffee.) You probably get the picture and also understand why I need to go to that weight watching place.

But somehow, having just done the Hunger Challenge and having been a member of the weight watching place for so long with its tenets on fresh, whole and unprocessed foods (despite the side of the company that hawks frozen and processed goodies), something in me just said "no."

It was a private protest of sorts until the free samples and the glories of quickies on the side became part of the meeting. One father of young children said he did all the cooking and he had a closet full of such shortcuts.

The cook, the food activist, the parent and the weight watcher in me was aghast. I raised my hand, acknowledged that for some products like this were important, but stressed that this was a commercial product, with all kinds of additives, with extra costs for packaging and processing and that there were lots of other options for 10-minute side dishes.

I was polite, but resistant. It reminded me of the one time I decided to demonstrate my feminist views in my high school in the 70s. That day I didn't wear a bra, but did wear a work shirt with pockets on both sides of my chest and a zipped up sweatshirt. I'm not sure, but I think I also wore a sweater vest. I was liberated, but covered and my gesture didn't really mean anything to anyone but me.

The weight watching meeting went on. In my usual way I hoped I hadn't hurt the man's feelings or anyone else's. I began to think I should have just kept quiet. What did it matter to anyone but me anyway?

On my way out, a woman stopped me.

"I want to talk to you about what you said," she said.

"Oh, no," I thought.

"I'm so glad you said that. I was thinking the same thing. I'm glad someone spoke up."

I relaxed and smiled.

"I'm glad I did, too."

Maybe it did matter what I wore (or didn't wear) that day back in high school so long ago. Even if the only person that is affected is you, your voice is still important. And you might have an impact on someone else. You never know.

Some Ideas for 10-Minute Sides

Some of these might actually take more than 10 minutes, but are still convenient.

Make extra rice, pasta, potatoes, grains, or beans and reheat in the microwave or saute with add ins. Try cooking them in chicken, beef or vegetable stock for extra taste.
Chop extra garlic, onions and vegetables store in plastic bags and add in to left overs when reheating
If fresh vegetables are problematic, buy a big bag of chopped frozen vegetables (without added sauces) and a cup or two of those as an add in
Try couscous (cooks in five minutes once the water has boiled) or orzo pasta (small rice shaped pasta that also cooks quickly). Both are available in whole grains, too.

I'll be adding more ideas as I think of them in the next few days.

If you have ones to add, please leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cottage Cheese Sighs and a French Country Cheese Pie or the Quiche Pretender

I like cottage cheese – the slight pop and squeak when you bite into the curds, the tang of the whey, the ease of opening up a carton and just plopping a healthy snack into a bowl.

I might mix it with jam, I might sprinkle it with chopped green onions and herbs, I might make it into pancakes or blintzes, or I might gussy it up some and turn it into French Country Cheese Pie. If you have some cottage cheese in the house (non-fat, low-fat or regular), I recommend you give this quiche pretender a try. I’ve made this forever for lunches, brunches and light dinners, but took another look at it because of my work with Hunger Challenge. San Francisco Food Bank recipients often receive donations of cottage cheese and I wanted to develop a recipe for their use.

My version below is true to its “French” roots, however it is open to interpretation. Try it with grated cheddar instead of parmesan, substitute the seasonings, add in a cup or two of cooked diced vegetables and/or meat and make it your own.

I use low-fat cottage cheese and make it without a crust, but if you would like it more “pie”-like, see the pie shell variation below.

French Country Cheese Pie

Serves 3-4 as brunch, lunch or light dinner
Serves 8 as appetizer

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Carol Cutler which appeared in the Six Minute Soufflé. (You can read more about that cookbook here.) If the coriander and nutmeg are unavailable, substitute a half teaspoon of dried basil or Italian seasoning or just leave them out.

1 pound cottage cheese
6 tablespoons yogurt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 whole green onion, trimmed and minced (whites and greens)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, divided
3 eggs, beaten
Paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the cheese, yogurt, coriander, nutmeg, minced green onion and sugar. Mix until fairly smooth. Taste and then add salt and pepper. Add in half of the cheese and the eggs. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9-10” pie plate or baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Sprinkle paprika on top if using. Bake until the top is browned and puffy and the egg mixture has set. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.


In a Pie Shell: Partially bake a pie shell, pour mixture in that and bake as directed.

Mexican Country Cheese Pie: Substitute cheddar cheese for the parmesan cheese. Leave out the coriander and nutmeg. Add in one 4 ounce can of drained, chopped Mexican green chile peppers when you add in the green onion.

Microwave: To be honest I haven't tried this but it should work. Use the crustless version and a microwave safe dish. Use the optional paprika. Cook on medium heat until eggs are set and the mixture has puffed up a bit. (I'll do it this way next time and update the post with more specifics.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hunger Challenge -- Not Quite a Wrap Up

I'm still not quite finished with my Hunger Challenge posts but I thought I would start to try to wrap up and bring some closure. Yet to come is a post with recipe about the uses of cottage cheese (which the organizer of the challenge asked we tackle since so often cottage cheese is available to San Francisco Food Bank clients) and perhaps some more cabbage recipes (ditto).

Also, Gayle Keck, the Hunger Challenge participant and SFFB organizer of the event), is holding an information sharing meeting with the challenge bloggers and food bank staff, and I'm likely to report back on that.

I'll be sharing some of my experiences and some of my conclusions about the experience. I'll also be including the thoughts of those who left comments on the various Hunger Challenge posts. If you would like to make sure the San Francisco Food Bank gets your thoughts about the challenge, about what's needed locally to help combat hunger or to help food bank clients, please leave a comment on this post (or email me through my profile) and I'll be sure to pass your thoughts along.

If you would like to volunteer at or donate to the SFFB or your local food bank, you can find info here. If you would like to see what else I've written about my experience -- including menus, recipes, shopping lists, etc., please click here.

The key to the Hunger Challenge was to eat for a week and/or create menus and recipes for a week as if all you had to eat was what a food stamp recipient had: $1 a meal a person. I planned and cooked meals for a family of 4 so I had $84 available to me. I spent $83.98.

Here are my concerns and suggestions/ideas based on my experience.


What worked well for me was planning a menu based on what I saw in the stores and advertised and even online at a supermarket chain that delivered. That really helped me know my prices and choices. Would a food stamp client have access to this info? Well, I used for research and that is certainly available if someone has internet access, but that is hardly a given. Libraries do have free internet access, but I don't know if that is doable for most.

Since I cook, plan menus, create recipes and sometimes cater, I have a good sense of quantities and amounts and the like. Someone without that experience may have had a harder time putting together a menu and being so flexible with choices and using up leftovers. It was also time consuming since I was continually reworking it and it was mentally tiring.

I ended up shopping in three or four types of store to get the best deals. I don't know if others have the time or means to do this.

While I wanted to keep meals healthy, I also wanted to make them filling. I found there was a huge trade off between quantity and other concerns. I could not afford as much fresh fruit, whole grains and other such items as I liked. I tried to make my week's recipes varied and remake familiar foods to make them appealing to a family's tastes and interest. Since I tried to focus on avoiding pre-prepared foods and overly packaged foods, I did save money (and sodium, sugar, chemicals, etc.) there, but even with my menu planning calling for cooking once and eating the results for two or three meals, I really don't know if most food bank clients have time, expertise or equipment to do so. (On a another Hunger Challenge site, one commenter pointed out about the expense of plastic storage containers, for example.) Accordingly, my recipes were designed for kitchen with two stove top burners, a microwave, and four pots and pans -- a large and small fry pan and a sauce pan and a large pot big enough to boil spaghetti.


Explore ways to reach and educate food bank end-use clients since usually it's the agencies that serve those folks who deal with the food banks directly. Ideas include flyers in weekly grocery boxes with education, preparation and other tips, materials to go to schools to go home with children receiving free or reduced costs breakfasts and lunches, outreach through the agencies as well as outreach through cultural, religious and other associations and groups that would come in contact with end use client. Ultimately I like to see workshops offered on cooking skills, recipe alternatives, menu making, nutrition and even political activism.

Perform a cooking skills and cooking equipment survey with end-use clients (I have a number of thoughts on ways to do this). Based on this survey, reach out to retailers and manufacturers and create programs to decrease the reliance on less-than-healthy food options. I'd love to be able to have a program to provide basic cooking equipment to those who need it at no charge. To be honest, I'm not sure how many folks have access to a real kitchen at all. Just like groups sponsor community gardens, I'd love to see community kitchens with a paid staff (jobs could go to participants) to clean up and manage them. In my Utopian ideal, recipes and basics (such as flour, oil and spices) would be available and participants could come in a cook up a big batch of chili or soup or whatever and then package it up in (free) reusable containers they can take home and put in their fridges for healthy, low-cost meals during the week.

Make food shopping easier and "level out the playing field." -- Some ideas -- increase internet access to online resources, distribute info on weekly specials (supplied by supermarkets ahead of time, highlights of which to be put in weekly outreach flyers mentioned above), taxi vouchers to enable larger or farther afield shopping trips, agency-centered van shopping trips). I'm not sure if food stamps are accepted at farmers' markets so I don't know how to work that in, but if it could that would be a good addition. I know of at least one Whole Foods that has a tour of its store focused on "budget" cooking. Perhaps similar tours could be developed for other, more mainstream and/or accessible markets.

Develop a system for the clients themselves to share information, challenges and successes. In the end, I lived the Hunger Challenge for just a week. These are the people that must do it day in and day out. What works for them, what doesn't. What would they like to learn or have access to? How would they like to be communicated to? What would they like to say to others also facing the same challenges and to those of us who want to help? In the end, they are the experts. I am humbled by their hard-won expertise and their daily experience on the frontlines of hunger.

About the photo: Boxes waiting to be filled with food donations for clients of the Alameda Food Bank. You can read about my experience here.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes or a Promise Kept

The title of this post should be promises kept, since I'm always promising my son I'll make this dish as well I've promised the recipe as part of my Hunger Challenge menu. Sorry, no photo and no exact directions, it's more of a concept than a recipe. Next time I make it I'll try to codify it and update the post.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

4 medium size baking potatoes, about 1.5 lbs. Use an Idaho or Russet or similar potato.
1/2 pound chopped vegetables such as broccoli, spinach (cooked or frozen)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk (any kind will work, but fat free will take longer to thicken.)
4 to 8 ounces of chopped or grated cheese, divided in half. (quantity depends on how cheesy you'd like the sauce. For the Hunger Challenge I made it with a sharp cheddar and the lesser amount. Almost any kind of cheese will work well from Swiss to jack to blue, but generally the stronger flavored the cheese the less you can use and still have a good punch of cheese flavor.)
Salt, pepper
Optional seasonings (such as 1/4 tsp of nutmeg and/or a pinch of red pepper flakes OR a tablespoon of curry powder)

Wash and bake the potatoes in a microwave or conventional oven.

If using frozen vegetables, cook them now and drain well. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked, let cool a bit until they can be handled (you may want to hold them in a dish towel). Cut each in half horizontally so you have two long "boats" from each potato. Scoop out flesh, mash it with a fork and set aside.

In a dry saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat and then stir the flour with a fork or whisk. Stir continuously until the flour and butter are fully incorporated and somewhat smooth. Add the milk to the flour and butter mixture slowly, stirring with the fork or whisk continuously, trying to get the mixture as smooth as possible. Once all the milk has been added, raise the heat to medium and cook the flour-butter-milk sauce stirring continuously until the mixture thickens (it should coat the back of a tablespoon instead of dripping off immediately at this put it will be about half of its original volume). The sauce should have reached a bubbling, gentle boil, but be careful it doesn't burn. The constant stirring will help this. Add half of the cheese, the set aside mashed potatoes and the vegetables. Mix well. Taste and add salt and pepper and optional seasonings if using. Stir well. Take off pan in the heat.

Spoon mixture equally in the eight potato halves. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Reheat in microwave before serving if desired. Makes 4 servings, 2 halves each.

Variation: Double-Baked Stuffed Potatoes -- If using a conventional (not microwave oven), sprinkle the tops of the potatoes with paprika (optional) and put the potatoes in hot oven until the potatoes have reheated, the stuffing top is a bit crusty and the cheese on top has melted.

Note: You have just made a basic white sauce. You can use this technique to make your own cheese sauce for homemade mac and cheese, nachos, etc. Also, the stuffed potato recipe can be varied almost infinitely to suit available ingredients and your family tastes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Click to Feed the Hungry

Thanks to all of you who left a comment on the Tyson site -- the company received more than enough comments and will be donating 200,000 lbs of chicken to Bay area food banks.

Uncle Ben's Rice is donating money to programs that feed hungry children. They are pledging up to $250,000, or a $1 for each signature in their "journal." For more info click here.

If you know of other such promotions, let me know by emailing me through my profile or leaving a comment and I'll update this post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Asian Sauté and Food Bank Fried Rice -- Part of the Hunger Challenge

As part of my participation in the Hunger Challenge I tried to add variety and convenience into a budget that only allowed for $1 a day per meal per person.

I’m told some of the basics San Francisco Food Bank customers often receive are onions, carrots, rice and cabbage. I’ve put them to work in this recipe, however, even if you had to pay for those ingredients, the recipes still cost out at a $1 per serving or less. You can see my shopping list, my other recipes, how this fits into my week’s menu, how to donate to your local food bank, and more by clicking here.

First up, make the sauté and rice. Leftover rice and sauté will be used with some other basic ingredients to make the Food Bank Fried Rice.

This is family dinner fare with an Asian flare; the techniques and seasonings are simplified to keep costs and prep time down a bit. If you have some Chinese or Japanese chili or sesame oil handy, you could mix in a teaspoon or to taste a minute or so before the sauté finishes cooking. Another nice addition would be a sprinkle of freshly minced cilantro or green onions on top the finished sauté and fried rice dishes. A good add-on to the stir fried veggies would be a chopped red bell pepper. I couldn’t “afford” any of these additions on my Hunger Challenge “budget” however. Even without the extras my 17-year-old son couldn’t believe these dishes were part of the Hunger Challenge because, according to him, they looked and tasted like something I would “normally” serve.

Some other suggestions: You could substitute a few packs of the soy sauce that comes with takeout Chinese food (if you have some) and save buying the soy sauce. For the lowest cost soy sauce, look in Asian grocery stores. These grocery stores often have very reasonably priced produce and meats. If you have access to one it might be a way to save a bit on food costs when you shop.

Asian Sauté

Note: Use whatever green vegetable you have on hand. My menu had a half pound of frozen chopped broccoli left so I would use that. I’ve also made it with snap peas and green beans. Use what is cost effective and tasty for you.

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes,
½ cup chopped onion,
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 small hot red jalapeno or Serrano chili peppers (seeded if you prefer milder), chopped
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons peeled, minced ginger (you’ll need a piece of ginger approx. 1” long and 2 inches wide)
2 medium carrots, shredded or chopped into small pieces (larger ones will take too long to cook)
About a third of a pound of green cabbage, shredded or chopped
½ pound green vegetables, fresh or frozen, chopped. If using frozen, do not defrost (see note)
1 package (14 to 16 ounces) firm or extra firm tofu, rinsed, drained and cut into 1” cubes
16 ounces of chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or more to taste

Heat the oil in a large fry or sauté pan or a wok until a bit of onion sizzles when it is dropped in. Working in batches if necessary so as not to overcrowd the pan, brown the chicken pieces. When browned on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.

Add in onion and sauté or stir fry until it begins to turn golden brown and soften. Add the garlic, peppers and ginger and fry, stirring often, until garlic begins to color. Add carrots and cook, stirring often for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add cabbage and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften and wilt. Add the chopped green vegetable, and mix well to combine, stirring often as the mixture cooks.

Add in tofu and the browned chicken with any juices the chicken may have exuded. Cook for a minute or two, stirring often so tofu doesn’t stick but picks up a little color. (Add some of the broth or water if you need to prevent the tofu from sticking.) Add chicken broth and the soy sauce, cook, stirring often, until chicken is cooked through and the liquid has cooked down to make a sauce that just covers the bottom of the pan. Taste and add more soy sauce if needed.

The recipe makes about six cups. Reserve two cups of the sauté mixture for the fried rice recipe. Makes 4 servings, 1 cup each of the sauté. Serve on top of rice. (Note: you’ll need at least four cups of leftover rice for the fried rice recipe, so make plenty. Generally 1 ½ cups of raw rice will make about 4 cups of cooked rice, but check your package for specific quantities.)

Next, make the Food Bank Fried Rice. (One tip -- I made it the same night after dinner. The rice had cooled and the pan was dirty already, anyway. The fried rice reheated just fine in the microwave the next night. Or you can reheat in a large fry pan with a bit of oil or water.)

Food Bank Fried Rice

Note: To prep the leftover rice for this recipe, spread it out on plates or in a baking dish so the grains don’t stick together as much as it cools. Once it has cooled to room temperature you can go ahead and make the fried rice or store the rice in a container or storage bag in the refrigerator. Let the chilled rice come to room temperature before using.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red jalapeno or serrano chili pepper, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 eggs
2 cups leftover Asian Sauté
4-5 cups, leftover cooled rice
3 tablespoons of soy sauce or more to taste

Heat the oil in a large fry or sauté pan or a wok until a bit of onion sizzles when it is dropped in. Add in onion and sauté or stir fry until it begins to turn golden brown and soften. Add the garlic and peppers and fry, stirring often, until garlic begins to color. Add celery and cook, stirring often for a few minutes until they begin to soften.

Break the eggs into a small bowl or cup and beat well. Drizzle the beaten egg slowly into the vegetable mixture, letting the eggs rest about 20 seconds until they just begin to set, then quickly stirring hard and thoroughly until the eggs resemble strands of cooked scrambled eggs mixed throughout.

Add leftover sauté and cook, stirring often, until chicken is beginning to warm through. Add a few tablespoons of water if need to prevent the mixture from sticking. Stir in the rice, breaking up any clumps and incorporating into chicken and vegetables. Stir in the soy sauce, mix well. Heat until dish is heated through. Makes 4 servings about 1 ½ cups each (using 4 cups of leftover rice).

Three Years Old - My Blogoversary

This past Monday Blog Appetit hit three years old.
The first post put my aims and aspirations so eloquently.
It read simply "testing testing."

That's what having a blog is in the end for me -- testing my limits, my knowledge and my skills. From the testing I have grown as a writer, photographer, cook, public citizen and more. (Not to mention the testing I've received from the technological end from the occassional frustrations of using Blogger.)

Thanks for making this all possible by reading and using Blog Appetit.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

How to Make Cabbage Soup

Note: The below started as a letter to a friend who wanted to know my cabbage soup recipe. It became a two-page dissertation. I offer it here in it's original format for the education of others.

Faith’s Cabbage Soup -- The Opus

I don’t have a set recipe for my cabbage soup. It is generally sweet and sour. One common theme in my soup is what looks good in the store or what is beginning to look a bit past its prime in the fridge.

The key to my soups is the layers of flavors I get by mixing cooking techniques and how I add ingredients. This is very important since the flavor of the soup is dependent on the vegetables and not fat.

Start with your aromatics. I generally use chopped onions (usually a whole small yellow onion), leeks (if available) and garlic (at least two cloves). I spray the bottom of my soup pot with an olive oil spray or drizzle a little olive or grape seed oil on the bottom, swirling the warmed pan around so it coats the bottom.

Add onions and leeks and sauté a few minutes to soften, then add the garlic. If I am using a little chopped fresh ginger I’ll add it now as well as red pepper flakes. If I am going with a smoky hot flavor, I’ll add some chopped chipolte pepper and bit of the sauce they are packed in.

Continue sautéing until lightly browned. If the vegetables begin to stick add a bit of water, stock or wine. Stirring often will help prevent sticking and burning.

Now add your harder vegetables cut into a smallish dice or thin rounds. Here is where I’ll add my carrots (the more you add the sweeter the soup), celery or fennel bulb, potato, turnip (adds a nice peppery taste to the pot), kohlrabi or whatever I have in the house. (Again add a bit of water or stock if it sticks or starts to burn. Periodically scrape up all the little brown bits on the bottom of the pan. It is those bits and the browned vegetables that help give this virtually fat-free soup its deep taste.)

After that has browned and softened a bit I add bell peppers, again cut into a soup spoon friendly size. I like to use red and yellow. I find the taste of the green ones a bit grassy, but they’ll work, too. Cut-up green beans go into the pot now, too. If I’m using eggplant, that goes in now as well. I don’t bother peeling or salting the eggplant; I just cut it into small cubes and toss in. Also good are chopped mushrooms. I like the cremini (small brown) ones. Portobello are good, too, but I slice off the dark gills before I cut them up. Those gills will turn any broth very dark brown and muddy looking and your soup will lose a lot of its visual appeal. Try shitake mushrooms for Asian-influenced soups. Add zucchini after the other vegetables have softened since it needs less time to cook.

I brown that a bit then add in any spices I might be using. Some suggested mixtures:

• French provencal seasoning (my favorite all purpose mix with dried basil, rosemary, lavender and fennel)
• Cumin seed, caraway seed, fennel seed, ground ginger
• Curry seasoning, ground ginger, ground cumin, cumin seed

Italian seasoning mixes also work well.
I can’t really tell you quantities. Be bold, the soup will dilute the intensity as you add stock. You’ll get a chance to correct the seasonings later when you taste your creation.

Let the spices heat up a bit to release the maximum flavor. Next add your tomatoes (if using – pretty typical for sweet and sour style). I usually use a large can of diced tomatoes. I’ve also used dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes softened in hot water and chopped. It adds a complex note to the tomato taste.

Now comes the stock. For stock you can use plain water, water with a bouillon cube (I like the expensive European veggie ones best), vegetable, chicken or beef stock. How much to put in? I can’t say, it should be about double the amount of the veggies you use in total, but you can always cook down or add more later.

I recommend you don’t use plain water. Any form of broth will add to your depth of flavor. Look for low sodium and fat free boullion cubes or stock.

Next come the cabbage and other greens. I usually use about half-to-a-whole of a medium head of green cabbage. You could use more or less or try some of the other types of cabbage (Napa, Savoy, etc.) Especially if I am making the curry variation, I’ll use spinach or Swiss chard instead or in addition. Try some of the exotic Asian greens or perhaps escarole or frisee.

Chop or chiffonade the greens into bite size pieces or silvers and add to the pot.

After those have softened a bit you could add cooked beans. White beans are nice with the more European seasonings; chickpeas are nice with the more Asian. You could also add cooked barley, rice, small pasta or bite-sized bits of smoked sausage, cooked chicken or meat at this stage. (Because I try to keep my soups low in fat and calories, I will often keep these additions on the side and add them to the soup bowl as wanted/needed rather than the pot.) If you want to use raw meat products, you'll need to make sure they are cooked through.

Keep cooking until vegetables are cooked through and it tastes like soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as need be (salt, pepper, hot sauce, curry powder, ground ginger, soy sauce, etc.) If you used a prepared broth or bouillon cube, taste carefully since these ingredients add a lot of salt to begin with.

Now is the time to adjust the seasonings you put in earlier. If you’ve over seasoned, add a bit more stock. If you’ve under seasoned add a bit more of your earlier spice mixture. (If the soup is too salty it can be remedied by putting half of a peeled potato in the soup and cooking it. Remove it before serving. It will have absorbed the excess salt.) If the soup is a bit thin or you’d like more of a tomato taste, add in some tomato paste.

If you intend to make a sweet and sour soup, add about a quarter cup of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar (my favorite) or Chinese rice vinegar. (I like the Chinese black rice vinegar for the Asian soups.) Taste. Want more punch? Add more and taste again. Need to soften the acidity? Add a teaspoon of brown sugar. Taste and adjust to your palette.

If you are going for a smoky flavor instead of sweet and sour, besides the chipolte pepper, you could sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika in when you correct the seasonings toward the end or you could add a bit of liquid smoke or even a tablespoon or two of a smoky barbecue sauce. Smoked sausage, tempeh or tofu would make nice add ins to complement this flavor. Again, taste and adjust to your palette.

Add your minced fresh herbs --- such as basil, Italian parsley, fennel leaves, cilantro (only if not using basil and fennel!) and green onions (especially good for Asian variations).

To really add punch to the soup, just before finishing and serving, swirl in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (for the Asian variation, try sesame oil and for a curry soup try Indian mustard oil.)

I know this is a lot of information. It really is easy to make this soup as simple or complex as you like. I hope this inspires you to create your own cabbage soup tradition. To see my recipes for cabbage and other types of soup, click here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hunger Challenge Chili

More Budget Cuisine.

Here's the recipe I created for the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge. It features a pound of dried pinto beans, two pounds of ground meat and 12 servings.

For more about the Hunger Challenge, my participation, and how to donate, click here.
To see how the chili fits into the overall menu for the week, click here.

The recipe can, of course, be halved, if you don't need 12 servings. Feel free to substitute other types of beans and ground turkey or chicken for the beef. Up the jalapenos, garlic cloves and/or chili powder for more of a bite.

12-Serving Chili

This makes a mild, flavorful chili that reheats beautifully. Look for low-cost chili powder in ethnic food sections of supermarkets, at grocery discount outlets and dollar stores, or buy just as much spice as you need by the ounce at stores that carry bulk spices.

1 pound of dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, water drained and then cooked with fresh water. (Approximately six cups of cooked beans)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 jalapenos (I used red ones), seeded for milder kick if desired, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 can (28-32 ounces) of diced, peeled tomatoes with juices
2 plus cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the pinto beans. Set aside.

In a large pot, add the oil and heat over medium high heat. Saute the beef, using spoon or spatula to break up any clumps. Cook until browned but not cooked through. (Work in batches if all the meat doesn't fit or if it doesn't seem to be browning. If the pan is too crowded the meat will steam rather than brown.) Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of drippings out of pan. Heat on medium high, when a bit of onion sizzles immediately on contact with the oil, add the chopped onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion are beginning to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and the jalapenos, cook, stirring often, until the garlic is beginning to turn golden. Add the carrots and celery pieces, cook for a minute or two, stirring often. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add diced tomato with juices and 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cover and let come to simmer (not quite boiling). Add meat with any liquids it may have exuded, stir well. Cover and return to simmer. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes until meat is cooked through and flavors well combined. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste and additional chili powder if desired. Add additional water if needed. With cover off, return to simmer and let cook a few more minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

I served the chili with rice, with a bit of grated cheese on top. I also used it as a topping for baked potatoes. It would also be good with tortillas or pasta. Or use a half portion and scramble with eggs and tortilla chips for a kind of chilaquiles. Or try it with cornmeal to make a tamale casserole.

The chili reheats well, but will probably thicken a bit, so add some water to it when reheating. For the sake of the photo, I sprinkled some chopped cilantro on top of the chili. It adds a nice flavor and if I had had room in my weekly food budget under the Hunger Challenge I would have made it part of the recipe.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

12-Serving Soup Helps Stretch Food Stamp Dollars

(Note: See the comments for my vegetable soup secret!)

This may have been the least expensive meal/dish for my week of menus for the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge.

Developed mainly to provide a quick, nourishing, light lunch, this 12-serving pot of vegetable soup goes a long way into stretching the $21 per person per week food stamp allowance. To make it a heartier meal, trying serving with a slice of bread or adding a half cup of cooked rice or beans to a bowl before ladling in the hot soup. One idea I had since I had a few extra eggs in my food allowance was to serve the soup hot with a poached or fried egg on top of it sprinkled with lots of black pepper. (I’ve had some French-style vegetable soups served this way and have always enjoyed them.) I used all of my pound of two-percent cheddar cheese, otherwise I would have served the soup with a bit of grated cheese on top. My husband enjoyed his soup with a splash of hot sauce. Since this recipe makes 12 servings, it formed the basis of three meals for my family, so a little variety in how it was served was very much appreciated.

To see how this soup fits in my Hunger Challenge menu, click here. For about my participation in this event, including how to donate, click here.

Of course, if you don't need 12 servings of vegetable soup, the recipe can be easily divided in half or even thirds.

12-Serving Vegetable Soup

Feel free to vary your soup to reflect what you have on hand and your family’s taste. You may want to double the garlic and/or jalapeno if your family likes bolder flavors. Using the seasoned tomatoes and the optional spices will also add some more zip.

1 tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 red jalapeno, minced. I used red since that's what I had, but green works, too. (Seed it if you prefer a milder soup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cups (1 quart) of chicken or vegetable broth or water (using the broth will add a lot more flavor, but you can use plain water or water with chicken or vegetarian boullion cubes if you prefer)
8 cups (2 quarts) of water
1 ½ pounds of russet (baking) potato (about 4 small), chopped into ¾ to 1” cubes
1 lb of green cabbage, chopped (this was a bit less than half of my 2.36 pound specimen)
1-14-16 ounce can of stewed or diced tomatoes with juice (preferably the kind with Italian or Mexican seasoning)
½ lb of frozen (no need to defrost) or cooked fresh chopped spinach or other greens
1 teaspoon of either Italian seasoning OR oregano OR 1 tablespoon curry powder, (optional)
2-3 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, fry, stirring occasionally until just lightly golden brown. Add the minced pepper and the garlic. Fry, stirring often until garlic is golden. (Add a few tablespoons of water if the vegetables begin to stick or burn.) Add carrots and celery, and continue to fry stirring occasionally for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and the 8 cups of water. Stir well, being sure to loosen and stir into the mixture any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and spinach. (If using stewed tomatoes, break them into small pieces in the pan with your cooking spoon or spatula.) Mix well, bring mixture to a simmer, lower heat to medium low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes have softened but are not falling apart (about 30-40 minutes but the time will vary greatly, so you'll need to keep checking). Add 2-3 cups of water to the pot as needed and return to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer a few more minutes. (Please don’t add the salt before. The broth or the boullion can be salty and the potatoes can really absorb seasonings so you won’t know how much salt you need until towards the end of the cooking.) Can be made ahead and reheated, although the soup may have thickened and you may need to add some more water when reheating. Makes 12 servings, 1½ cups each.

Variation: For a thicker, more potage-like soup, puree about half in a blender or food processor in batches once the soup has cooled.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Block Appetit -- Keeping it Local -- Neighborhood Cookbook

My Oakland, California, neighborhood is planning to create it's own cookbook and I'm writing this post to have a "central" place to list the instructions and overview. Click here to see the latest news and updates about this project.

Right now planning is just beginning. Our first step is to collect recipes and volunteers.

If you are a Forestland Hills neighbor, and you know who you are, you are invited to participate.

We need recipes that have played an important role in your family, ones that you have shared at our block parties or local potlucks (remembr Susan's Easter parties?) Maybe ones you've fed neighbors or ones you are just proud of. We are especially interested in recipes using any of our local bounty (fruit trees, vegetable gardens, chickens, etc.) or involve a local food resource such as the Montclair Farmers' Market. When in doubt, let us know about it.

We need the stories behind your recipes. Please share them as well.

We'll be needing volunteers to solict, test and compile the recipes into a cookbook to share with all.

If you are interested in participating, please contact me through my new neighborhood cookbook email -- blockappetitATgmailDOTcom.

Thanks. I look forward to answering your questions and trying your recipes!

About the photo: Donut eating competition at the September 28, 2008 block party. The version here doesn't do it justice. Take a second and click on the photo above to see the larger version. Fun day, fun event.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chicken Stew Takes the Hunger Challenge and I Get All Spicy about Seasonings

This recipe is part of the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. It was created for a menu of meals for a family of four costing $21 a person for the week (how much a food stamp recipient would receive.) Ingredients in the stew depended on what sales and values I could find primarily at a local chain supermarket and an independent grocery discount outlet. For about my participation in the Hunger Challenge, my shopping list, other bloggers participating in the challenge and how to support the San Francisco or your local food bank, please click here.

Since didn’t figure out the cost per serving of every meal I cooked since I knew overall for the week I was on budget, but I do estimate that this stew cost about 85 cents a serving. (I have to say that this stew didn't know it was on a budget, it tasted full-flavored and was very satisfying.)
I paid $1.99 for fresh, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If those are not a good value in your area, feel free to substitute other cuts or meats. One tip, check the freezer case. Sometimes frozen chicken and meat can be a much better value than fresh.

A word about seasoning. Many dried spices and herbs are relatively expensive, so with the exception of chili powder for my chili (more about that in another post), I made them optional. Use them if you already own them. If you want the punch and flavor of a seasoning, for the best value, skip your supermarket spice aisle and look in the ethnic food section, were there are significant savings. Or buy just a tablespoon or two from stores (such as some Whole Foods) that sell bulk spices and herbs. The spices are usually cheaper to begin with, they are often fresher and since you can buy just the little bit you need, they are much easier on the budget. The discount grocery outlet was a great resource for most common seasonings, having small bottles of spices, herbs and seasoning mixtures for about 50 cents. (I did assume families had salt and pepper, though.) Adding flavor and seasoning helps make the food more enjoyable and add some variety into what is by the very constraints of the food stamp program not a very variable diet. I wanted the food I made on the challenge to not only be filling and nutritious but also as tasty and satifsfying as I could make it.

I couldn’t find a way to work fresh parsley, cilantro, basil and/or mint into the weekly food budget, however, and missed the dash of color, texture and taste they add to a dish. I compensated by using fresh onion, garlic and red jalapeno peppers, all relatively inexpensive and big flavor boosters. For example, the peppers cost me 20 cents for 10 of them.

In this dish I choose tomatoes that already had Italian seasoning such as basil added to help pump up the taste. You could also use Mexican, traditional (with bell pepper) or plain in the recipe.
If eight servings is way too much for you, the recipe works well the amounts cut in half.

Chicken Stew on a Budget
Makes Eight Servings

While this was good the first night, the second night it tasted even better. You can pump up the flavor by using more garlic and/or jalapeno peppers. I served it over rice. Other serving options are listed below.

Kitchen Note: Peeling is optional. I generally don’t peel vegetables I’m going to cook, I just wash them well. So I didn’t peel the carrots or potatoes. And I also didn’t core the cabbage; I just made sure the denser core pieces were thoroughly chopped.

2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ¾” to 1” cubes
½ cup of chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red jalapeno pepper, minced (seed the pepper for a milder flavor)
2 large carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
16 ounces of chicken stock (store bought) or water
1 teaspoon of dried, ground herbs, spice or seasoning mix, optional. (Try Italian seasoning or maybe oregano.)
1 lb baking potatoes (about 3 small), cut into cubes about ¾”
¾ of a pound of green cabbage, chopped (That’s a little less than a third of a medium large head of cabbage.)
1-14.5 ounce can of Italian, Mexican, traditional or plain stewed tomatoes with juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, add the oil and heat over medium high. Brown the chicken cubes, working in batches if necessary so they brown, not steam. Stir them so they don’t burn or stick to the pan. When browned but still raw on the inside, remove chicken from pot and set aside on a plate.

Add onions to the pot, stir in the onions and fry, stirring frequent until they begin to turn a light golden brown. Add the minced garlic and jalapeno and continue to stir and fry until the garlic as turned a light golden brown. Add the carrots and celery pieces, and continue to fry for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the broth or water, stir well, being sure to scrape up and incorporate any little browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the optional seasoning, the potato cubes and the chopped cabbage. Stir well. Once the mixture returns to a simmer or very low boil, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Stir the mixture frequently. Once the potatoes have begun to soften (about 20-40 minutes), add the stewed tomatoes with their juices. Using your cooking spoon or spatula, break up the stewed tomatoes into smaller pieces. Stir to combine and then add the brown chicken pieces with any liquid they may have released on the plate. Stir well. Cover, return to a simmer, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture doesn't reach a full boil, until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the stew has gotten too thick or if you would just like it soupier, add some water, stir well and return to a simmer once more before serving.

Makes eight, one-cup servings. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, polenta or noodles.
About the photo: Every house should have a chicken (stew) in a pot. Boy, did I miss that green bling parsley would have brought to this photo!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What the Hunger Challenge Means to Me and Menus for Lunch and Dinner and More

“I’m hungry.”

When one of my kids whines that he needs to eat, maybe I grumble about having to deal with it, but I can turn to my stocked fridge, overflowing fruit bowl, full extra freezer or packed pantry and get him something to snack on or make him a meal. My only thought is what to serve and if it will spoil his dinner.

When a family is on food stamps it’s just not that easy. Very often the cupboard may be bare; whatever food is available needs to portioned out to make it through the month and to be honest, you hope there’s enough for dinner. And based on my experience this week, I bet there aren’t a whole lot of snacks, treats or even fruit in the house when all you can count on for food is $21 a person a week in food stamps. And portions will be smaller than you are probably use to.

I decided to join the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge because I feel those of us that are food obsessed need to use our talents for good, not evil. And helping to spread awareness and educate others about the issues and realities felt right. To be honest, while many of the meals I ate met the guidelines this week and all my planning did I did not stay on the program continuously, but even so my part-time experience made quite an impact. (The rules, such as they are, of the challenge allow for such “fudging.”)

Since I have two sons, I kept them in mind when I designed the week’s menu. Hearty breakfasts to fill them up and to keep their energy up in school and a variety of dinners and foods I know they would like, soup, stew, chili, meatballs and an Asian sauté. We aren’t much of a sandwich family, so only one lunch features sandwiches. We tend to eat leftovers from dinner at lunch when we are home, so I just planned 56 servings for a family of 4 for a weeks worth of lunches and dinners and figured they could be divided up any way you liked. I aimed for accessible variety -- flavor profiles I knew they liked and enough variety to keep it from getting boring. I simplified the recipes wherever possible to keep the KP duty down to a minimum.

My new best friend is green cabbage. It truly was a magic vegetable. The 2.36 pound cabbage I bought seemed to always be there when I wanted to add nutrition, fiber and bulk to any dish I was making. It made its first appearance in the chicken stew, appeared in a walk-on part in a salad, helped bulk up my Asian entrée and played a commanding role in its final performance in vegetable soup. From week start to end it stayed fresh, crisp and tasty. When I put the last scrap in the soup I couldn’t believe it was all gone.

I was also thrilled when I was able to work in a four-pound bag of rice, which meant I could add lots of rice to my meals and make them more filling.

For more about the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge, check out the food bank’s website and the Hunger Challenge blog. Click on one of the links below to read what other bloggers are writing about their experience planning, shopping, cooking and eating on $1 a meal a person.

Cooking with Amy
The Inadvertent Gardener
Vanessa Barrington
Been There Ate That
Petit Appetit Newsletter

See what else I’ve written about on the challenge here (including how to donate).

FYI – I spent $83.98 for the week’s food, just two cents below the cap. You can view my shopping list here. From what I thought I would be able to offer to what I ended up being able to buy was a huge gap. Vegetable after vegetable was crossed off my list, fruit after fruit. Whole grains went next; I just couldn’t afford them without literally taking food out of my family’s mouth. Plans and recipes changed and changed and changed as my shopping list shrunk and morphed depending on the realities of the marketplace and my ability to find sales and values. In a future post I’ll do something about the philosophy I tried to keep in mind for cooking for the week.

For my breakfast menus and recipes (well more of assembly instructions), click here.

Below is my menu with serving suggestions for 56 lunches and dinners (14 meals for 4 people). Watch Blog Appétit. I will be posting the different recipes in the next few days.

Chicken Vegetable Stew: 8 servings, 1 cup each – featuring two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, carrots, celery, cabbage, potatoes, onions and garlic.
Serve over rice. (Recipe to come, I’m still working on a dumpling option.)

Turkey Meatballs, Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti – 12 servings. (Reserve 8 meatballs and 1/3rd cup of sauce for Meatball Sandwiches) Eight servings of two meatballs each, 1/8 sauce, 1/8 pasta. Served with green salad made with a few ounces of shredded cabbage, fresh tomato, ½ sliced carrot and ½ sliced celery stalk. Dressed with oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. (Reserve 2 large lettuce leaves 4 slices of tomato for sandwiches.) Four servings Meatball Sandwiches. Toast 8 slices of bread. Slice meatballs in half. Spread sauce on top of a bread slice, layer 1/4th of sliced meatballs on top, add lettuce and tomato, top with more sauce and second piece of bread.

This was one of my only “convenience” meals. I had planned on making the meatballs, but the price of the frozen ones was great – 2 pounds for $5. I was glad to work in a meal that didn’t require as much time in the kitchen.

Asian-Flavor Sauté – 4 servings, 1 cup each. Not really a stir fry but almost a one-pot dinner with chicken, tofu, vegetables and Asian flavors. Serve over rice. Make extra rice, because leftovers will be turned into the next meal. (Recipe to come.)

Food Bank Fried Rice -- 4 servings, 1 ½ cups each (or more depending on the amount of leftover rice you use). This dish (recipe to come) combines the leftover sauté with additional veggies, eggs and leftover rice.

Vegetable Soup – 12 servings, 1 ½ cups each. A hearty, tasty soup featuring potatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, tomatoes, onion, garlic and more. If needed, make it a heartier meal by serving with a slice of bread and/or a poached or fried egg on top (optional, note that will affect your egg count for other uses). Or put some leftover rice in a bowl before ladling in the soup. (Recipe to come)

Beef and Bean Chili – 12 servings. I’m still working out this recipe, so more detail when I’m done. Serve with a bit of grated cheese over rice (for 8 servings) and over baked potatoes (4 servings).

Stuffed Potatoes – 4 servings. The innards of four baked potatoes get mixed with chopped broccoli, cheese and a white sauce and get stuffed back into their shells. (Recipe to come.)

A word about beverages – Drink tap water. It’s healthy, it’s there and it’s cheap. (It’s even trendy now.) Gussy it up with ice or maybe a bit of juice for flavor. My budget did allow for two cans of frozen orange juice. I mostly worked it into breakfasts, but leftovers could certainly be drunk anytime. I also had two gallons of low-fat milk. While some is used in cooking, the rest is available to drink. One of my early shopping list revisions was getting rid of coffee, herbal or black tea, cocoa or chocolate syrup. With my emphasis on “real” food I just couldn’t afford it.

Speaking of snacks, I thought it might be good to save the milk for snack time instead of drinking it with meals. Also, I was able to provide 16 pieces of fresh fruit in my budget that are available for snacks or as meal add-ons (12 apples and 4 nectarines) enough for four servings for four people. There are also about 20 slices of bread unaccounted for. Even if some slices might be used to accompany the soup, there should still be some available for use with butter, left over peanut butter, and left over jam. Also there is a celery stalk or two extra and a carrot or two extra. They could be cut into sticks and eaten with a meal or as a snack. Any leftover eggs can be hardboiled and eaten as a snack. Or set aside two and turn into rice pudding with leftover rice, some sugar, some milk and a dot or two of butter. Some of the orange juice could be made into homemade juice pops. Pour into ice cube tray, stick in toothpicks and freeze. There are also two whole grain waffles left from breakfast. Toast, sandwich with peanut butter and jam, and cut into sticks or cubes for a snack.
About the photo: My cutting board right after I used the last scrap of my magic green cabbage.