Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reflections on 75,000+ Page Views

It’s taken me a while to figure out what my food blogging niche could be. I always knew that I was writing to share what I’ve experienced and learned and I wasn’t so much concerned with pigeon holing my interests, which, to be honest, are probably too diverse for my own good. Perhaps my lack of a narrower focus has cost me. Certainly blogs that tend to be more definable than mine sometimes have a larger, more regular group of readers than I do. (Although, please know I appreciate everyone who finds his or her way to Blog Appetit.) I was not, and am not now, looking to define myself that way, however. So it has been only in retrospect, going back and looking at what I’ve written, recipes I’ve created and the food I’ve eaten that I finally got it – I’m an ethnic eater and my blog reflects that. From French to Portuguese to Vietnamese to Chinese to Jewish, my food circles the globe. While I try to focus on local ingredients, I am willing to reach across the nation or the world for an occasional ingredient or seasoning to make my food if not authentic, true to the taste and cultural palate of the cuisine I’m working with.

I’m not looking to relaunch Blog Appetit as an ethnic food blog. While much of what is archived here is ethnic food, there is also plenty about California farm stands, local food festivals and whatever else catches my eye, engages my mind and/or tempts my taste buds.

Thanks for reading Blog Appetit and helping push it well past 75,000 page views since January 2006.

6/2 -- Just had another thought Blog Appetit is also very much about soups and stews. Especially ethnic soups and stews, so I guess that's another way to categorize myself I'm ignoring.

6/7 -- More thoughts -- I'm going to freshen up the old blog after all. Watch for a new look, a new description (I'm toying with All the World's a Plate or maybe the Wide, Wide World of Food instead of Read. Think. Eat., but I'm open to suggestion), some new features and more of the diverse recipes and writings that make Blog Appetit, well, Blog Appetit.

6/11 -- I found this post from Delicious Days helpful as I deal with my blogging angst and decide how to make Blog Appetit as relevant as I can within the (wide) boundaries of what interests me. my limited time to learn new tech stuff and my work, family, volunteer, etc. time constraints.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Ubiquitous" Chinese Soup -- With Greens and Chicken Meatballs

Since returning home from China, I’ve been busy trying to replicate some of the “taste memories” I made on my trip. In some cases I’m just happy replicating them. In other cases I wanted to play with them to make them more “mine.”

Since I was on a lot of tours, many of my meals were predetermined menus at local restaurants. I had been worried that these meals could be bland, uninteresting and down right not tasty and “wasted” food opportunities. Almost always, I had nothing to worry about. The food was plentiful, varied, somewhat tied to local food specialties and very tasty. A few dishes I had put in front of me from place to place and I’m not sure if they were that pervasive in the parts of China I was visiting, just popular dishes or something that the guides and travel agents identified as “western” friendly.

One of the most ubiquitous of these dishes was a kind of egg drop soup with greens or cabbage and sometimes tomatoes or wood ear mushrooms. A big steaming bowlful seemed to await me no matter where we stopped. I always took a small ladleful to give it a taste and it usually was fine, even exceptional if the greens were fresh and the chicken broth tasty. I never wanted more because I didn’t want to fill up on what I saw as an uninspired soup, and I certainly never thought I would take the time to create my own version until I imagined a soup combining fragrant chicken stock, fresh greens and a Chinese “meatball” dish I had tried. The end result was a light and bright-tasting soup that was also filling. I would happily slurp and fill up on this version of the soup. It was popular with my dinner guests too, some of which went back for thirds.

Chinese Greens and Chicken Meatball Soup
Serves 6-8 as part of a multi-course Chinese meal
Serves 4 as a main course

While you could certainly serve this as a first course, it is hardy enough to stand alone as a main course or as part of a multi-dish Chinese style meal. The key is good chicken stock. If you are making your own, add a little garlic and a few slices of ginger to the stock as it simmers to add a more Asian taste. If you are use a good quality commercial stock, heat it first with some garlic and ginger slices and allow it to simmer until the flavors are infused, strain the stock and discard the solids. Do not try to make this soup with water or bullion cubes.

Poaching the chicken meatballs in the soup results in very tender and light meatballs. The egg whites in the meatball mix will give the soup an “egg drop” look.
Feel free to substitute other greens for the spinach.

Chicken Meatballs

1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 1 lb ground chicken (not white meat)
2 egg whites
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp finely minced green onion
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Vegetable oil


8 cups of Asian-style chicken stock (see note above)
8-10 ounces of chopped, fresh spinach
4 ounces of fresh or reconstituted dried shitake mushroom caps, cleaned and sliced into thin strips
3 Tbsp chopped Sichuan (Szechuan) preserved cabbage or vegetable (found in cans or bottles at Asian grocers and specialty food stores), optional. There are many types based on different vegetables and greens, but any of them will work here. It adds some seasoning to the dish and a bit more greens. If you skip it, you might need to add a bit more salt and want to use the larger quantity of spinach.
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Salt to taste (if needed)

Optional serving suggestions: Sesame Oil, Chile Paste, Soy Sauce

Make the chicken meatballs. If using boneless thighs, mince chicken fine (or grind in a food processor) and mix well in a large bowl with egg whites, ginger, green onion and wine. If using ground chicken, mix well with other meatball ingredients. Oil hands and spray or oil a baking sheet. Form 1 to 11/2 inch meatballs, handling gently but compacting into a ball. The mixture will be loose and a little gloppy. Place shaped meatballs on oiled tray. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat stock. When it begins to simmer, carefully place each meatball in the stock. (Note: If the meatballs have lost some of their shape, gently reform before plopping in the hot broth.) Add in mushroom strips. When the meatballs have all floated up to the top of the pot, add in spinach, the optional preserved cabbage and rice wine. Stir gently to minimize breaking apart the meatballs. Simmer until meatballs are cooked through and spinach is tender. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Serve, passing optional condiments for diners to add to their own portions if so desired.

Here is a picture of a meatball-less version of the “ubiquitous” soup I had in Shanghai. Unfortunately, I spaced out when I made this version. I hope to make the dish again soon and I'll put a nice, mouthwatering photo of this stupendous soup right up at the top.

This photo does give me an idea, though. You could add in 2 chopped, seeded tomatoes when you add in the spinach for a bit more color. You could also garnish each serving with some chopped green onion.


Watching your weight? I estimate that this soup has 6 points figuring 4 servings or 4 points based on 6 servings.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In the Raw -- Cool Mint Soup

Back when we were having a heat wave, I went to a local produce/gourmet store and looked for something cool to make. A bunch of mint caught my eye and I decided a cold mint and something soup would be the refresher I needed. I also picked up some cucumbers and zucchini and figured I would figure out exactly how to create my cool soup as I went along.

The line at Farmer Joe's was moving slowly so I started talking to the man behind me in line. The contents of his cart would make any vegan nutritionist proud. Turns out my linemate was Chef Reggie, a "fresh food evangelist," caterer, teacher and chef specializing in raw foods. We chatted for awhile and he encouraged me to keep the heat turned off and make it a raw soup.

I like the idea but wondered what to replace the stock with. His suggestions were orange juice or fresh coconut water. Good ideas, but not the flavors I was trying for.

Once I got home, I concocted this soup. It was cool and refreshing with the snap of mint and a bit of bite from my veggie "stock." You need to start it a bit in advance and make it a day or two before serving for the flavors to meld properly.

Cool Mint Soup
Serves 2-4

Vegetable "Stock"

1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves
1 chopped clove of garlic
1/3 cup of coarsely chopped carrots

Put all ingredients in a bowl. Add 4 cups of tap water. Cover and allow to steep until vegetable flavors are infused from four hours to overnight. (The longer you allow it to infuse, the more pronounced the onion flavor will be. I steeped mine overnight.) Drain, reserving liquid for soup and saving solids for other use if desired.


1/3 to 1/2 cup of mint leaves (depending on strength of mint and how "minty fresh" you'd like your soup)
1 large cucumber, peeled
1 large zucchini
1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop mint leaves by hand or in a food processor. Finely grate or chop cucumber and zucchini by hand or food processor. Add vegetables and mint to "stock." Add tomato if using. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.

Cover soup and store in fridge 24 hours before serving.* Options include serving with a dollop of yogurt and a scattering of chopped almonds. (Or you could stir yogurt into the soup to make it a mellower, mint, creamy cool soup.)

*I tasted my soup right away and found the flavors were all distinct and it was not as satisfying as I had hoped. I stored it in the fridge and tried it again a few days later and was blown away how great it tasted. Twenty-four hours is my approximation of how long it takes this alchemy to take place. You may want to sample your soup periodically to find when your batch reaches this magic moment.

Based on my experience with Weight Watchers, I think this soup, without the optional serving suggestions, would be a zero point soup.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dine Around Town Is Back

If you missed it in January, Dine Around Town San Francisco is back from June 1 to June 15. Check this site to find a participating restaurant. Score a three-course lunch for $21.95 or dinner for $31.95 from some of SF's finest.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How Hot Is It?

The San Francisco Bay area is HOT HOT HOT. Temperatures in our "naturally air conditioned" setting are in the 90s. The further you are from the Bay, the hotter (in the 100s) it gets.

Now, I know other places regularly get this hot or hotter, but we really don't and sometimes, well sometimes, it seems like it makes us cranky.

Here's a link to some cooling, cold or chill (no cook) recipes on Blog Appetit. If you have some of your own you'd like to share, please add them to the comments below.

Try my adaptation of Chocolate and Zucchini's zucchini appetizer here.
My ever popular Vietnamese spring or summer rolls are here.
My nice cold New York Style Chocolate Egg Cream drink is here.
Look through this for my sorbet recipes including herbal tea, tangerine and lychee.

One solution to beating the heat is to grill. If you do, try my grilled salad.

Stay cool.

In Memory's Kitchen

Note: The following is adapted from an article I wrote for the Temple Beth Abraham newsletter.

It is amazing how often we don’t write or pass down the stories of our personal heritage. Records of our own family histories, traditions and food ways are in danger of being lost.

For example, my son recently interviewed his grandmother about what she did on the home front during WWII. Grandpa’s exploits in the Army were well known by the family, but Grandma’s participation in the Manhattan Project came as a surprise to him.

My grandfather, Poppa, was a magical story teller. He made his adventures of escaping from Russia and making a living during the Roaring Twenties come alive. Certainly my sisters and I knew his stories as well as we knew the plot of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It was a shock to realize my own children couldn’t hear the echoes of his presence in my life in their memories and recall these stories, despite my very carefully telling each of them about Poppa when they were young. I was grateful for the school assignment that prompted my teen-aged son’s questioning and a chance to tell him once again about our past.

But it is in the kitchen that many of us now wish we had taken the time to ask questions, jot down some notes or even just pay attention to what was going on. Most of our grandmothers cooked without written recipes what they had learned from their mothers or mothers-in-law, dishes of their homelands tempered by local availability, the fashions of their time, religious observances and economic situations as much as family likes and dislikes. For many it seems that somehow that cycle was broken in our generation or our mothers and these dishes remain memories too elusive to taste again.

To be honest, Anna, my mother’s mother, was not one of those cooks whose cooking would elicit Proust-like reveries. But Grandma had her specialties. My sisters and I, all accomplished cooks, still are trying to figure out what made Anna’s stuffed cabbage, cheese blintzes and a few of her other dishes that were the constants of our childhood so tasty.

My grandmother passed away before I realized I was running out of time to record her recipes, but I was lucky, I inherited the recipe cards of another Jewish grandma, my husband’s Aunt Lee. Aunt Lee was married to my mother-in-law’s older brother, so she seemed to bridge a generational gap for me. She was knowledgeable about food, having worked in her father-in-law’s fish store, and was deservedly well-known for her cooking. She also seemed to write everything down. She passed away a few days short of her 90th birthday.

Here is a recipe for her chopped herring she gave me a few years before she died. It is an old-fashioned recipe and I wondered if it would still have any appeal. I served it at a Jewish holiday dinner and was amazed how much praise and attention it received, especially from those who had grown up in East Coast or Midwest Jewish households. The herring, they said, tasted just like something their own grandmother had made.

Aunt Lee’s Chopped Herring Salad
Serves 4 as a first course or 8 as an appetizer

1 12-ounce jar of herring in wine sauce (Sometimes called marinated or pickled herring. Do not substitute herring in cream sauce.)
6 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
2 medium-sized, tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled and cored
2 small onions, peeled
2-3 tablespoons vinegar or to taste
1-2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
3 tablespoons of unseasoned bread crumbs or matzo meal, more or less, as needed

Drain herring, reserving liquid.
Chop herring in to very small pieces, being careful not to reduce to a pulp. Set aside.
Chop eggs in to very small pieces being careful not to reduce to a paste. Set aside.
Chop or grate apples and onions. Set aside.
Combine herring, eggs, apples and onions in a bowl. Mix well. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved herring liquid. Add the lesser amounts of vinegar and sugar. Taste and adjust, adding more herring liquid, vinegar and sugar as needed.
Stir in the bread or matzo crumbs, adding more if needed to bind the salad. Serve on top of lettuce as a first course or with crackers or matzo as an appetizer or snack.

Variation: Using a food processor, process all ingredients to a smooth paste before adding reserved liquid, vinegar, sugar and bread crumbs. Serve as a spread rather than a salad.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Celebrate Hominy on Cinco de Mayo

I can tell by the arrival of beer-themed piñatas in my supermarket that Cinco de Mayo is upon us. I am a big fan of our local Cinco de Mayo street festivals here in Oakland and elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay area. I am also a fan of U.S. style (Tex-Mex) and regional Mexican food.

Since I made fajitas the other day, I was going to post about that in honor of the outnumbered Mexicans fighting back the French troops in the Battle of Puebla on the fifth of May in 1862, but fajitas, somehow, seemed too American.

(By the way – try my “margarita” marinade for chicken fajitas – a healthy slug of tequila and equal amount of lemon or lime juice, vegetable oil equal to the total amount of tequila plus juice and a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper and minced garlic.)

I settled on Beef Posole. Posole (sometimes spelled pozole) was known in pre-Columbian times. It is made from dried hominy, which is dried corn treated with lime (the mineral not the juice) or other alkali substance to remove the germ and hard outer hull of kernel. The process also makes the substance’s amino acids more available. Hominy grits, popular in the south, are also made from this treated grain.

Most posole recipes I’ve seen call for pork. Many are fussy and seem kind of daunting. This one, adapted from the back of the label from a bag of Los Chileros de Nueva Mexico’s White Corn Posole was easy to make, incredibly tasty and soul warming. Its flavor will depend somewhat on the kind of chiles used. I used guajillo chilies, which give the dish a reddish color and some real bite, which nicely offsets the richness of the meat and the cornmeal tang of the hominy. You could try dried chipotle chiles which would give you a smoky flavor or a milder chile. Of course you can use any other posole in the recipe. It is widely available as a bulk good in Mexican-American markets.

Beef Posole
Serves 8

12 ounces of dried posole
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds of cubed, trimmed beef (chuck steak or roast works well)
6-8 guajillo chile pods
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Garnishes (chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes, chopped onion, chopped avocado, lime juice)

Put posole in a glass or stainless steel pot or container. Add water to cover. Soak overnight. Drain. In a large pot, cover posole with water and then add salt. Bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for two hours. Add meat, chiles, garlic, oregano and cumin. Cover, simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or more until meat and posole are tender.
Serve in bowls with garnishes as desired.

Info for those of us who are weight watchers: This recipe has no added oil. My estimate for 1 serving is about 9 points. Skip the tortillas and just have a salad for an incredibly satisfying and filling meal.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

China: Sweet and Sour

Sweet and sour describes my attitude towards China right now as well as the sauce for a Cantonese style dish I learned to make from Chef Jing at the National Vocational School in Shanghai. (Click here to read more about this experience and for my recipe for Ma Po Tofu.)

Sweet, of course, describes the many, many positive experiences I had in China. The people, the places and the sights were incredible. Many of these good experiences were food related. In Shanghai there was a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, the name of which translated to Godly. One walked into it from the bustling shopping street through the busy takeout counter and into a seating area that could only be described as a sanctuary for the senses and with food to match. Another special meal was experiencing the tasting menu at a famed restaurant in the Bund. In Xi An it was discovering the Moslem quarter and its lamb and mutton based cuisine. In Beijing it was exploring tea houses, Chinese home cooking and Beijing duck. Everywhere there were snack streets and night markets to sample. And every morning the hotel breakfast buffets brought a world of Asian food to our plates and palates. A morning bowl of rice congee (jook) or gruel topped with everything from fish flakes to peanuts became my breakfast staple.

The sour, well that’s a bit harder to digest. There is the complicated political situation and the world wide concern about the Olympics. There was the pollution, the traffic and other concerns. Of course, sour plays a component in Chinese cooking as well. A Chinese meal is balanced with many tastes playing against each other, including the sour. Often the sour is a simple pickled vegetable. Other times it might be a component of the sauce for a more elaborate dish. And of course it is balanced out by the sweet. Perhaps life isn’t a bowl of cherries but a dish of sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and Sour Fish
Serves 4 or 6 as part of a multi-course Chinese-style meal

At the cooking school in Shanghai, this was made with cubes of pork (see variations below). I thought the fish would be lighter and it worked very well. You could also try chunks of chicken or perhaps firm tofu. The version below is based on my experience at the cooking school and recipes I brought back from China. The main difference is that the directions below result in the protein (fish in this case) being less dense with a puffier, eggier crust. In Shanghai we were instructed to dredge chunks of pork into cornstarch and then compact them until they resembled oversized marbles instead of the approach below.

The ketchup in the recipe is totally authentic, much to my surprise. I haven’t done the research so I don’t know if sweet and sour pork began life in this country (perhaps as an adaption of a traditional dish or a unique one based on Western food availability) and migrated there or a traditional one that was adapted as Western ingredients made their way to China. (The whole concept of ketchup began life as Asian fish sauce to begin with, but that’s another post.)

Note: I used a combination of regular white distilled vinegar and Chinese black rice vinegar (I used one third black rice vinegar), which gave the dish a nice taste and toned tone the bright red sweet and sour color (as does the soy sauce). You could also try apple cider vinegar instead of the Chinese black rice vinegar or just using all white distilled vinegar. Avoid the Japanese rice vinegars; they are too mild to give the zing we associate with sweet and sour sauce.

41/2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons vinegar (see note above)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ pounds thickish filets of rock cod, cod, halibut, pretty much any non-oily white fish
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons of cornstarch
Canola or other vegetable oil for deep frying

Stir Fry
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (about a heaping tablespoon)
2 green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 medium bell peppers (I used one green and one red), cut into 1” or so pieces
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
8 ounces of pineapple cut in 1” cubes, (fresh or drained canned)

Make the sauce first in either the wok or another pan.
Combine all the sauce ingredients in the pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is well combined. Taste and correct the seasoning, adding more vinegar, ketchup and/or salt until you have the preferred balance of sweet vs. sour. Set aside off the heat. (If you have used the wok for the sauce, thoroughly clean and dry it before frying fish.)

Prepare fish. Rinse and pat fish dry. Sprinkle fish with salt. Cut into approximately 1 ½ inch cubes or chunks. In a large enough bowl to hold all the fish cubes, combine eggs and cornstarch until well mixed. Add the fish cubes and toss to coat thoroughly.

Heat oil for deep frying in the wok or another deep, large pan, such as a chicken fryer or sauté pan. Heat oil until is medium to very hot (about 375 degrees F). (To see if the oil is ready, drop a bit of batter if it immediately sizzles and begins to brown, the oil is ready.) Add a few fish cubes at a time, frying until golden brown and cooked through and removing to drain on a plate. Continue until all the fish cubes are fried. Set aside.

Properly dispose of the oil, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the wok or pan. Strain out any left over fried bits with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Heat oil until very hot. Add the garlic and stir fry, being careful not to burn it. Add the scallions and the pepper cubes and stir fry until the pepper pieces begin to soften. Add in reserved sauce and bring to a boil. Slowly drizzle in the cornstarch mixture, stirring until it is well combined and the sauce is thickened. It should still be liquid, but not runny or thick and should coat the back of the spoon. Stir in pineapple chunks and the pork. Mix to evenly distribute sauce.
Serve with rice.


Spicy, Sweet and Sour

You could certainly add some crushed red pepper flakes or chilies to the stir fry if you wanted to make an untraditional, spicy, sweet and sour dish. Or add some ground Sichuan brown peppercorns to the sauce.

Chef Jing’s Cantonese-Style Sweet and Sour Pork

To make a version similar to the one I made at the cooking school, make the sauce by mixing in a bowl 4 tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons vinegar and 2 tablespoons sugar. Add pineapple, set aside. Use pork cut into 1 inch or so long rectangles. Dredge in cornstarch and compress by squeezing each piece in your hand until it resembles a small, hard-packed meatball. If the cornstarch has been absorbed or come off the pork ball, roll it in cornstarch again. (Chef Jing explained that this compression helps keep the pork from drying out and getting hard when it is fried.) Fry in oil as directed above until cooked through. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons oil from the wok. Heat the oil (omit the garlic, green onions and peppers). Add the ketchup mixture, stir until it begins to liquefy and add just a teaspoon of the cornstarch mixture at the time, stirring in it until you get the consistency of the sauce you want. Add in the pork cubes, stir to coat in the sauce.

About the photo: A just prepared wokful of Chef Jing's Cantonese-Style Sweet and Sour Pork at the National Vocational School, Shanghai.