Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review -- With Lots of Recipes and No Angst

This round up is all about the flavor, honey. No explanations or analysis here. You want to read about Blog Appetit's growth and development? We've got that here. Scroll to the bottom to see my favorite of 2009.

These recipes are the ones that stand out in my mind and make my mouth water just thinking about them.

January: These Spanish Stuffed Peppers with Smoked Paprika Tomato Sauce were the first recipe I tweeted. I was all atwitter about the combination of tastes and textures. I couldn't wait to have the leftovers the next day for lunch. While this recipe was made with turkey, I also gave vegetarian options.

February: I love gremolata, that raw garlic, parsley and lemon zest topping traditional for osso bucco. Here I use it on top of an earthy root vegetable stew with gremolata. The meal stands out in my mind not just for its taste but because my husband and I shopped the farmer's market for its ingredients and it was our Valentine's Day dinner.

March: A new pot inspired a new soup: Sweet and Sour Onion Soup, which combined two of my favorite soup concepts into one. The story behind the pot and the soup began begins with my husband snagging a well-loved, used five-quart red enameled cast iron French (i.e. Dutch) oven at a local estate sale for just $18.

April: I wrote a lot about my trip to Buenos Aires. The submarino was a drink I had there. Unbelievably easy, unbelievably good. Take a glass of warm, frothy milk. Submerge a few ounces of good quality chocolate in it. Stir. Drink.

May: Thy of Wandering Spoon taught a class at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in the famed Vietnamese sizzling crepes called Banh Xeo with loads of fresh seasonal greens and dipping sauce. The results were delicious. I post her recipe here. You can see a slide show of the class here.

June: I'm torn between the wonderful Not Your Grandmother's Beet Borscht and Gary's Granola, but I'm going with my husband's granola recipe, it is truly the best. His recipe is constantly evolving. Don't tell him, but I sometimes swipe a handful for a snack.

July: I began writing my Jewish food column and kicked it off with some recipes for Israeli-styled grilled food. While the chicken and lamb kabob recipes were great, it was the pomegranate molasses bbq sauce that made me, and several others, swoon. So easy, so delicious, so versatile.

August: August was a lazy month. I really didn't write a recipe for this but gave more of a how to, but BBQ Chicken Salad with BBQ vinaigrette was finger licking good, anyway. I also didn't take a photo. Bad Blog Appetit.

September: I probably got more positive feedback from my Cranberried Chicken recipe than any other I've written for the blog or for my Jewish cooking column. It's easy, tasty and very festive. Unfortunately, I don't have the recipe on my blog, you'll have to click the link to it's home on the j. Jewish newsweekly. Luckily, another recipe I wrote that month also pushes my flavor buttons. My Hunger Challenge Cassoulet (which costs about $1-$1.50 a serving) was part of my week's worth of menus for eating on $4 a day or less in support of San Francisco Food Bank's Hunger Challenge.

October: This pumpkin pie with dates in filo crust was all treat and no trick this Halloween.

November: The hands down favorite from this month is my Balkan-inspired Lemon and Egg Sauce Moussaka. The zing of the citrus, the richness of the lamb, the creaminess of the egg sauce and the earthiness of the eggplant combine to make an unforgettable dish.

December: No contest -- from the moment I thought of the concept of a Jewish-Mexican tamale all I wanted to eat was tzimmes tamales. And once you've tried them, I think you'll be similarly obsessed. It's a rich beef and dried fruit stew with a chipolte kick wrapped in a schmaltz (chicken-fat) -based tamale dough. Bring on Christmukkah.

My personal favorite best recipe for 2009, that's a tough one, since I only post recipes I really like. The finalists are the moussaka, the tamales and the pomegranate molasses bbq sauce. The bbq sauce also wins Miss Congeniality for its simplicity. If I had to pick I guess it would be the tamales, but I could change my mind, that moussaka was awfully good ...

2009 in Review -- With Lots of Angst and Explanation but without Recipes

This has been an interesting year for Blog Appetit and myself as a food writer and blogger and recipe developer.
First, I stopped "lurking" on my own site and felt comfortable enough to share actual photos of myself on Blog Appetit, but more importantly I worked hard to develop a voice and a vision for Blog Appetit as kind of an "urban ethnic" resource. The blog focus became "cooking local, eating global" and I strived to have my posts reflect that when I could. I also began refining the voice the blog has into one that is part reportorial and part commentator.

Good examples of my developing this are the posts on my visit to Tombstone, AZ, and my piece on the sociologist studying Jewish delis (both with recipes, of course). I have more posts like that planned. They are more time consuming to write so for now they remain the "blue plate specials" of Blog Appetit.

I've also been working on my photography. I am using larger photos with most posts and I'm trying hard to not have posts without photos. I like to use one or two photos that have some narrative to them and really tell the story. I am taking more time composing and planning the photos and feel like overall the quality of the photos has improved. This is something I am continuing to improve. My vow is no more glop in a pot shot from on top (if I can help it)!
My participation in BlogHerFood 09 was a turning point in making these changes.

Several forces have shaped my blog posts and recipes this year. I began writing a twice-a-month cooking column for the j., a Jewish newsweekly in the San Francisco Bay area. This has been an immensely satisfying experience. Because of this commitment, I've been exploring more facets of "Jewish" food and the blog reflects that. I've also been exploring a lot of Asian food through my work with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and the classes I've taken there, and I think you see some of the flavors and techniques I've been exploring there. Another factor has been my participation in the San Francisco Food Bank's Hunger Challenge. The experience of eating on about $4 a day was a powerful one.

On a personal level, I became an empty nester, which meant I could cook with mushrooms with abandon. (We had a strong anti-mushroom force at the dinner table.) Not having children at home also influenced the kinds of food I made, resulting in much less baking and more complex flavors. I thought I would find additional time to develop recipes and post, but found that I just worked more hours instead.

Well, enough reflection, on to the recipes. Click here to see the list of my favorite Blog Appetit recipes for 2009.
Photo of me by Bonnie Burt, filmmaker, artist, jewlery designer and good friend

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tzimmes Tamales -- New World Meets Old -- Merging Holiday Food Traditions

For a recent cooking column in the j. , the Jewish newsweekly of the Bay area, I highlighted how intermarried families also merge their holiday food traditions and wrote about Building Jewish Bridges, a program for Jewish intermarried in the San Francisco area headed by Dawn Kepler. BJB offers a variety of programming and workshops to help couples navigate the differences and compromises in a two-religion household. The site also has a wealth of clear explanations of Jewish holidays and traditions for anyone, intermarried or not, who needs a brush up on Judaism.

Dawn was able to give me some examples of families that had successfully merged food traditions and I was enthralled by the idea of a Mexican grandmother making "non-pork" tamales ( a Christmas eve staple) for her Jewish grandchildren for Chanukah. That inspired my tzimmes tamales. Replacing the lard with the chicken fat gave the tamale dough a lot of flavor and helped give the finished tamale a lighter taste. Beef tzimmes (sometimes spelled tsimmes) is a traditional Eastern European stewed dish. Adding the peppers also gives it a bit of a twist as well. To read my full article, click here. Below are the recipes.

Beef Tzimmes with a Kick
Serves 6, or 4 if also making tamales

The chipotle pepper gives the stew a nice tingle without much burn. Remove the seeds if you want the taste without much heat.

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 pounds of chuck steak or roast cut into 2” cubes
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots sliced into ½ inch rounds
1 large sweet potato cut into 1” cubes, divided
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 chopped chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce (from a can, reserve remainder for another use)
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup pitted, dried prunes
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs. tomato paste

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown the meat and set aside. Add onions and sauté until light brown. Add garlic and carrots, sauté for a few minutes. Add half of the sweet potatoes, the salt and pepper and the chipotle pepper. Sauté until vegetables have begun to color. Add the meat, apricots, prunes, chicken stock and tomato paste. Stir up any brown bits that may be on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer. Cover, lower heat and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add remaining sweet potatoes. Continue simmering, covered, and stirring occasionally for another two to three hours or until the meat is falling apart tender. Taste and correct seasoning if needed. (Note: Sometimes the meat needs less time to be truly tender, sometimes it needs much more.)

Tzimmes Tamales
Makes 12 Tamales

Tamale making is often a time to have friends or families over to help stuff and wrap the tamales. While extra hands help, the recipe below can be managed by one person without much trouble. I adapted the tamale-making process from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen cookbook.

8 ounce package dried corn husks
1 ¾ cups masa harina (look for the type labeled for tamales)
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. of hot water
5 ounces chilled schmaltz (chicken fat) or vegetable shortening
1 tsp. baking powder
About 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
¾ tsp. salt
2 cups chopped solids from Beef Tzimmes with a Kick recipe above
Salsa, for serving

Put the corn husks in a large pot. Add water to cover. Bring to boil. Let stand for about an hour, keeping the husks submerged by putting a plate on top of them. Separate out 12 unbroken husks to wrap the tamales in. Tear one of the remaining husks into 12 long ¼” “strings” to tie the tamales. Separate and keep the rest to line the steamer.

Make the batter by mixing the masa harina and hot water together. Set aside to let cool. Beat the schmaltz or shortening and baking powder in the bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the prepared masa mixture in three batches, mixing well with each one. With the mixer going, add in a ½ cup of the chicken broth until combined and then add ¼ cup of chicken broth at a time as needed until the masa mixture is soft but still holds its shape. Mix in the salt, tasting and adding more if necessary.

Spread a corn husk open in front of you with the pointed, narrow side at the bottom. Wipe dry with a paper towel. Place ¼ cup of the masa mixture about ¾ of an inch from the top of the husk. Spread it into about a 4” square, being sure to leave a ¾” margin on each side and at least 1 ½ inches from the bottom point. Place 2 Tbs. of the chopped tzimmes filling down the center of the masa. Next pick up the two long sides and push them together, making the batter enclose the meat filling. Roll both flaps in the same direction around the tamale. Flip the stuffed husk so the seam side faces you and fold the pointy end of the husk up to close off the bottom. Secure it by using a torn husk strip to tie it together. Repeat to make remaining tamales.

Prepare or improvise a steamer at least 4” deep. Put several inches of water in the pan underneath. Line the steamer with 2/3 of the remaining corn husks. Place tamales inside the steamer with open (top) sides up. They should be packed in so they are standing up. Place a bowl or some crumpled foil to the steamer basket to help the tamales stay upright if needed. Top with remaining corn husks and cover. Bring to and keep water at boiling. Add water as needed and steam for about 1 ¼ hours or until the husk peels away easily. Let tamales firm up for a few minutes before serving with salsa.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Bulbs ...

or maybe Christmas lillies since onions and garlic are in the lilly family.

More Followers

I just wanted to acknowledge some new and relatively new followers.
Thanks for choosing to spend time with Blog Appetit!

The Flowering Cactus
Sherdian Shu
Miss Melanie

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One More Night to Light the Lights

Chanukah Curious -- Read all about how to play dreidel, make latkes and some history on my annual (C)Hanuk(k)ah wrapup here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Menu for Hope VI -- Help the World Food Programme and a Chance to Publish Your Own Cookbook

Update: Menu for Hope extended to December 31.

Every year, Food Bloggers from all over the world join together for a fundraising campaign. We call it 'Menu for Hope'. For the past three years, we've raised nearly $250K in support of the UN World Food Programme. (As of 12/27, we've raised more than $53,000 for the programme this year and there is still time to participate. )

From Pim the Menu for Hope organizer: "This year, Menu for Hope ... is highlighting the new initiative Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation, helping farmers improves their practices and putting more cash directly into their pockets in return for their crops."

The way this fundraiser works is that you make a donation and get to choose a bid item for every $10 donated. At the end of the drive, a "winner" is selected from those who have selected that particular bid item and the offering is yours.

The bid item Blog Appetit will be offering is a $50 gift certificate to At you can create you own cookbook (or photo or other book) with the site's free software. Depending on the number of photos, size, binding, cover and paper, the gift certificate should be enough for you to buy one or more copies of your own book. Then you can direct others to so they can purchase copies of your new book! (Alternatively, you can use the gift certificate to buy others books from the site.)

As an added bonus, I will be glad to help copy edit your new book. I'm an ex-newspaper copy editor and have taken classes in copyediting cookbooks. That's something the winner of this bid item can work out with me.

The bid item number for this donation is UW10. You'll need this number when you go to the donation site (see below).

Here's the list of bid items from West of the Mississippi food bloggers at Gluten-Free Girl, the West Coast coordinator. Here is the master list of bid items from Chez Pim, the founder and organizer of Menu for Hope.

Here's the rules from Pim:

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle, here's what you need to do:
1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list. (Note: background on all this is at The bid list is here.)
2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.
3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.
Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item 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.
Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle.

Please be sure to come back later tonight for the updated post.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What's Cooking

I've been in the kitchen cooking up beef tzimmes (a veggie and dried fruit-based stew), tzimmes tamales and planning on making a new version of my apple cider vinegar chicken and trying some new recipes including a samosa pie and sweet potato torte. Watch for the various postings.
I've also had some things published in the j. and elsewhere I'll post links, to. Just have been busy this time of year.

More later plus some Chanukah (Hanukkah) info.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm on my way to a Tibetan cooking class this morning!
Oh, and I'll post today or tomorrow with info on my Menu for Hope prize.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Asian Cooking Classes in Oakland Chinatown

The wonderful Oakland Asian Cultural Center is once again sponsoring a series of workshops on Asian cooking. Sign up for Tibetan, Filipino and/or Mongolian workshops on Dec. 12, 13 and 19 by calling OACC program director April Kim at 510.637.0462. Class size is limited to 15 participants.

The workshops go from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. are completely hands on and include lunch. You learn a recipe or two and get exposed to a culture and immigrant experience. Classes are affordable, just $5to $30 each (sliding scale).

For more information, please go to the OACC website.

The December 12 Tibetan workshop will be focused on a traditional fermented cheese soup, churu. The December 13 Filipino workshop focuses on arroz caldo, a traditional comfort food.
The December 19th Mongolian food class centers on buuz, wheat dumplings. That class is already sold out, but you can be put on the waiting list by calling April.

To see some of the slide shows, recipes and other info I've posted about the OACC's series of Asian food workshops, please click here. I will be attending all three workshops. Hope to see you there.
About the photo: Tools of the trade from a previous class on Vietnamese crepes

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sea U II -- A Tale of the Deep Sea, Big Fish, Sisters and a Deconstructed Seared Tuna Cassoulet

In the video, my brother-in-law John looks determined and weary but gleeful. A 260-pound big-eye tuna was on the other end of his fishing rod line. For two hours or so he and the fish had battled until they were both were exhausted. When John and his buddies were finally able to haul the creature through the fish door of his boat, the tuna was so spent that it lay on the deck almost still awaiting its fate without the usual flipping and struggling about. In the video you can see the respect the men of the Sea U II had for their prey as well as their delight in catching the big one that did not get away.

If your idea of a tuna comes in a can or as a clean slab of pale flesh from a fish counter it can be a shock to come face to fins with your dinner. Most Americans have become pretty squeamish about the fact our proteins of choice come from living creatures. I know the first time lobsters under my control went from live to formerly live I pretended a blitheness I didn’t really feel. But now I’ve come to accept that if I eat meat or fish or chicken my meal once had a face and it died for my dinner. In my opinion it is an acceptance anyone who decides to be an omnivore should have and we should have the same respect for those animals as the sport fishermen did for that tuna.

The tuna itself was no trophy. It ended up feeding untold many. It did earn Captain John a trophy, though, the prize for the largest tuna caught during a local marina’s fishing contest – a large fiberglass fish.

While this tuna was large, it is not the largest John and his friends have caught, that one was over 500 pounds. While the catch is shared by all those who crew the boat, that still means my sister, Beth, ends up with a lot of fish to cook. She has created almost a whole cookbook of recipes for the fish John has caught off the coast of Long Island, New York. She also always carefully freezes some of the choicest specimens for me to take home after my yearly visits. With the correct packaging and no unexpected flight delays, a few pounds of tuna steaks stay frozen from New York to San Francisco.

The tuna I receive from Beth and John always inspires me to create the best dish I can to honor both the fish and the gift. The recipe below came to me simultaneously as a title – Seared Tuna and Deconstructed Cassoulet – and a taste – peppery seared tuna with saffron broth and vegetables. The rest came together out of what I had in my pantry and refrigerator. To see another recipe I created for tuna caught by John, please see the limoncello-marinated tuna over couscous salad recipe here.

Seared Tuna and Deconstructed Cassoulet
Serves 4

I’m always wary of calling something a cassoulet when it is not classically so, but this is what my unconscious instincts called the dish as it leapt practically fully formed in my mind so I’m going with it. It is a light dish with lots of satisfying flavors brightened by the lemon zest and peppery finish of the fish and the crunch of the seasoned croutons. The bean and vegetable mixture with the croutons works well as a side dish or vegetarian main course (when made with the vegetable broth) without the fish.

About 1 ½ pounds of fresh tuna sliced into 4 steaks
Fresh cracked pepper
2 Tbs. grape seed or other oil for high temperature heating
2 Tbs. + ¼ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped baby or regular bok choy stems
¼ tsp. + pinch of salt
¼ tsp. + pinch of ground pepper
¼ tsp. + pinch of red pepper flakes
¾ tsp. + pinch of French Herbs de Provence seasoning
8 oz. chicken or vegetable stock
¼ tsp. saffron threads
2 cups cooked navy or white kidney beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup (packed) chopped baby or regular bok choy greens
Zest of 1 lemon, divided
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups of cubed (1”) stale or toasted bread

Spread the cracked pepper on a plate and press both sides of the tuna steaks into it. Heat the grape seed oil in a 12” sauté pan or deep skillet over high heat until the oil is smoking. Sear the tuna steaks on both sides until the outside is crusty and brown being careful not to cook the insides. Set the tuna steaks aside and wipe out the oil and any debris with some paper towels.

Add the 2 Tbs. olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Sauté onion until beginning to soften and golden, add garlic and sauté a moment. Add carrots and sauté a few minutes and then add red bell pepper. Sauté for a minute and add celery and bok choy stems. Sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the ¼ tsp. of salt, ¼ tsp. of ground pepper, ¼ tsp. of red pepper flakes and the ¾ tsp. of the Herbs de Provence seasoning. Stir well and sauté for a moment to release aroma of the seasonings. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and add the saffron threads. Simmer gently until the vegetables are somewhat softened. Add the cooked beans, tomatoes and the bok choy greens. Allow to simmer until the vegetables are tender but still a bit crisp to the bite. Add the lemon juice and scatter ¾ of the lemon zest over the top of the vegetables and combine. Taste and correct the seasoning. Place the tuna steaks on top of the mixture and let them gently reheat in the simmering stew. Check tuna for desired doneness and remove. (For true seared tuna, the fish should still be mostly raw in the center.) Put vegetable mixture in serving dish. Place tuna steaks on top. Scatter prepared croutons over all. Garnish with remaining lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To make the croutons (can be made ahead): Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss bread cubes in a bowl with ¼ cup of olive oil, remaining salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and Herbs de Provence.
Spread coated bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake in oven until toasted and brown, turning as needed.

Here's info on tuna choices and sustainability in the U.S. from the Monterey Bay Aquariam.
About the photo: Commercial fishing boats at the Hampton Bays, Long Island, marina by sister and brother-in-law keep their sport fishing, 52-foot Sea U II.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tamale-Stuffed Pumpkin for the Holidays

I can't say the idea to use tamales as a stuffing is unique to me. I first saw the concept as a stuffing for Cornish hens and after I created the recipe I saw it as a stuffing for a boneless turkey roll in the local newspaper. Neither was exactly like mine, but I just wanted to be sure everyone understood I wasn't taking credit for being the first one to think of it!

My tamale stuffing goes inside a pumpkin. It makes a lovely vegetarian holiday main course or a great vegetable side dish this time of year. We enjoyed it with some vegetarian bulgur chili (watch for that post.) I used some of Primavera's wonderful gourmet tamales, but you could use any kind of cheese or, better yet, cheese and chile, tamale. Just add in some chopped vegetables of your choice to the initial saute. Truly a great way to celebrate a harvest festival!

Here's a quick recap of how to make the recipe

Tamale-Stuffed Pumpkin
Serves 4-5

One good size kabocha (Japanese green) pumpkin, top removed, strings and seeds removed
1/2 cup of milk
4 cheese tamales (I used Primavera's white corn and zucchini tamales in roasted tomato chipotle salsa with jack cheese)
2 Tbs. olive or other oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
If needed (depending on tamales) -- salsa, chopped chiles, 1/4 cup corn kernels, 1/4 chopped zucchini or other ingredients to taste.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Regular or Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pumpkin in roasting pan. Put milk inside pumpkin. Cook for about 20 minutes until pumpkin flesh is just starting to get soft. Steam tamales, unwrap from husks, set aside. Saute onion and garlic in oil until onion is browned. If using additional ingredients, add them to the onions and garlic and saute until softened. Crumble tamales into saute, breaking up and combining with other ingredients. Add salt and pepper as desired. Pack into pumpkin, stirring any milk remaining on the bottom into the mixture. Sprinkle paprika on top. Return to oven and bake another 45-60 minutes until the pumpkin flesh is soft and the stuffing heated through. When serving be sure to scoop out some of the pumpkin with the filling.

Eastern European Stuffed Cabbage in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce for National Vegan Month

This is the second vegan cabbage roll recipe I developed for National Vegan Month. (For the Asian-inspired recipe and more on November being National Vegan Month, click here.) Since I was writing this for a Jewish audience (the Temple Beth Abraham Omer), I thought I would tweak a traditional Ashkenazi style stuffed cabbage taste profile. It is still filling, still hearty, and still a great main course or perhaps an accompaniment to some Chanukah potato latkes.

The kasha (buckwheat groats) in the filling gives these cabbage rolls their hearty taste; a bit of ginger and a sweet and sour tomato sauce give them a lively, bright taste. I always found prepping the cabbage leaves for stuffing a bit intimidating. Some recipes have you whacking out the cabbage core and/or submerging and boiling a whole cabbage. I’ve developed a fairly fuss free way to prep the cabbage leaves that makes it relatively easy to prepare them for the stuffing (see recipe directions below). Give it a try.

East European Style Cabbage Rolls in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce
Serves 4

Large Savoy or green cabbage
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
½ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 carrot, chopped
½ cup of sliced mushrooms
½ tsp. salt, divided
1 cup uncooked kasha (buckwheat groats)
3 cups vegetable stock
¼ cup chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
1 cup chopped tomatoes, divided
16 ounces plain tomato sauce
¼ tsp. ground dried ginger
1 Tbs. sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

First prep the cabbage leaves. Score the bottom of the cabbage all the way around stem with a knife to detach the leaves from the stem. Pull off 10 of the outer leaves, making additional cuts at the stem if needed. Place the leaves in boiling water in a large pot. (You may want to prepare a few additional leaves in case of rips and tears or if you have some leftover stuffing.) Make sure the leaves are submerged. Cover and simmer for four to five minutes or until tender and pliable. Drain and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large frying or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté 1 minute, add garlic, ginger, ¼ tsp. of black pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté for a minute. Add carrots, sauté for 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Sauté for 1 minute and add the kasha, stirring well. Add the stock, bring to a low simmer. Cover and lower heat, simmering until the stock is absorbed and the kasha is cooked through (about 8 to 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Taste and add more black pepper if needed and ¼ tsp. of salt or as needed. Mix in ½ cup of chopped tomato and ¼ cup parsley.

In a small sauce pan over medium low heat, mix the tomato sauce, ground ginger, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. of ground pepper, sugar and remaining tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have begun to soften. Take off the heat. Add the vinegar. Stir well and taste. Adjust by adding more sugar or vinegar as needed and more salt and pepper as desired. Ladle a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking pan.

Spread a cabbage leaf on a cutting board. Cut off hard end of stem. Place ¼ cup of filling in the middle of the leaf. Fold over the two shorter sides of the leaf. Fold over one of the longer sides, then the other. Place folded side down in the baking pan. Repeat with other leaves. Spread sauce evenly over top of cabbage rolls. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the rolls are cooked through, approximately 45-50 minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Laotian Food in Oakland

I've been remiss about writing about my experiences with the Laotian food resources and restaurants here in Oakland, but Andrew Simmons of Bay Area Bites hasn't. He's written a wonderful article about the food and the people who create it here.

He mentions the classes at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center taught by Sokham Senthavilay. (That a photo of her to the left teaching a cooking class at the OACC.) I've taken two classes with her and was very impressed with the flavors, textures and tastes of Laotian food. You can read what I've written about the OACC classes and Sokham here. (True confession, I have several other posts with photos planned from the classes and haven't written them yet.)

See what the OACC has posted about the workshops here (including links to recipes).

The OACC may be planning more Asian culinary workshops in the near future. I'll be sure to post about them when more info becomes available.

A special thank you goes out to the Alliance for California Traditional Arts which has funded the OACC workshops.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Vegan Month and an Asian-Inspired Stuffed Cabbage

The back story to this recipe is that I met an editor of VegNews at the BlogHer Food conference. We got to talking and she told me November was National Vegan Month. I was inspired to develop several vegan recipes to celebrate the month and to help me reduce the animal fats in my own diet. This Asian-inspired stuffed cabbage is stuffed with a veggie-packed stir-fried rice and features a zippy sesame soy sauce. (Use a wheat free soy or tamari sauce to make it gluten free.) The recipe was developed for my twice-a-month food column at the j. You can see the complete article here.

What is this Asian-ish dish doing in a Jewish newsweekly? Well, my wonderful editors really give me free reign on what I choose to write, but stuffed cabbages of all sorts are traditional Eastern European dishes. (Plus other Jewish communities stuff cabbage and grape leaves as well as vegetables with all kinds of rice pilafs and mixtures.) And there are Jewish communities throughout Central Asia and the East, where traditional dishes have been adapted to local ingredients, so just think of it as a Far East Eastern European speciality!

Asian-Style Cabbage Rolls with Sesame-Soy Sauce
Serves 3 to 4

Large Savoy or green cabbage
4 Tbs. vegetable oil, divided, plus oil for baking pan
¼ cup chopped onions
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped, peeled jicama
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped fresh shitake mushrooms
½ cup chopped cabbage
2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced into thin rounds
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. of Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 cups of cold, cooked long grain rice
¼ cup chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
3 Tbs. soy or tamari sauce
2 tsp. of chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. Japanese or Chinese-style sesame oil

First prep the cabbage leaves. Score the bottom of the cabbage all the way around stem with a knife to detach the leaves from the stem. Pull off 10 of the outer leaves, making additional cuts at the stem if needed. Place the leaves in boiling water in a large pot. (You may want to prepare a few additional leaves in case of rips and tears or if you have some leftover stuffing.) Cover and simmer for four to five minutes or until tender and pliable. Drain and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x12-inch baking pan with oil.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat 2 Tbs. oil over high heat. Add onions, stir fry 1 minute. Add in garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, stir fry for a minute. Add jicama, red bell pepper and carrots. Stir fry 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, stir fry 2 minutes. Add the cabbage. Stir fry 1 minute. Add the green onions, salt and wine and mix well. Add cold rice, mix well and stir fry for 2 minutes, breaking up any clumps. Take off the heat. Stir in ¼ cup cilantro.

Spread a cabbage leaf on a cutting board. Cut off hard end of stem. Place ¼ cup of filling in the middle of the leaf. Fold over the two shorter sides of the leaf over the filling. Fold over one of the longer sides, then the other. Place folded side down in the prepared baking pan. Repeat with other leaves until you have 10 stuffed rolls. Bake, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes or until the rolls are heated through.

While the rolls heat, mix 2 Tbs. vegetable oil with the soy sauce, chili paste, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil in a bowl. Mix well. Stir again and drizzle half over the cabbage rolls and garnish with cilantro before serving. Pass remaining sauce on the side.

Update: I've posted a second vegan cabbage roll recipe -- Eastern European style with a sweet and sour tomato sauce. You can check it out here.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Taste 10, Looks 2 -- Balkan Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb

Over at the j weekly, I've had an article on the wonderful photo exhibit at the BJE Community Library in San Francisco on Balkan Sephardic Jews. Called "Images of a Lost World" it documents the lives of a population killed during WWII or dispersed afterwards. The photos and accompanying interviews document these communities in Bulgaria, Greece, Bosnia, Turkey and more. You can read my article here. The exhibit continues on display through the end of January.

Many of the folks who were interviewed mentioned the food their mothers and grandmothers had cooked, but without naming any specific dishes. I started to think about the Greek and Turkish influences on the cuisine in that part of the world and developed this recipe in response to the exhibit. Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb is lovely to eat, with rich, bright flavors, but only so-so to look at. So make this in your prettiest casserole dish and garnish with some chopped parsley and maybe a handful of fresh diced tomatoes on top to doll it up. Once you taste it, I think you'll agree, looks aren't everything. (Plus the leftovers were great, even cold.) There is no milk or cream in this moussaka, so it might work well for lactose-intolerant guests.

Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb
Serves 4

The finished casserole may look a bit homey, but the taste is decadent and complex. The dish’s citrusy zing works well with the richness of the sauce and lamb, both of which help mellow the assertiveness of the eggplant. Use the full cup of juice for a stronger lemon flavor. Try serving with rice or potatoes to soak up the creamy (but definitely not dairy) sauce.

Olive oil
1 large globe eggplant, peeled and sliced into ¼” rounds
½ small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
¼ tsp. salt or to taste
¼ tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
½ tsp. dried ground oregano
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 Tbs. flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
¾ to 1 cup lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. paprika
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prepare the Eggplant

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking tray and place eggplant slices in single layer (use two trays if necessary). Brush tops of slices with a light coating of olive oil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, turning and brushing tops with additional oil occasionally until the eggplant slices are soft throughout and golden brown. Set aside.

Cook the Lamb Filling

Over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. of oil and sauté onion until beginning to turn golden. Add garlic, sauté until the onions are beginning to brown. Add lamb, stirring to break up meat. Sauté until the outside of the lamb is just browned. (Drain if desired, discarding fat). Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and oregano. Sauté until lamb is cooked through and tomatoes have begun to soften. Taste and correct seasoning. Add lemon zest, mix well. Set aside.

Make the Lemon-Egg Sauce

Have all ingredients for the sauce ready. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. oil. Quickly stir in the flour until it is just incorporated. Be careful not to scorch the flour-oil paste. Add in half of the chicken broth. Stir or whisk constantly until the flour mixture and the stock are smooth. Add remainder of the chicken stock and the lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Remove a half cup of the hot chicken stock mixture and stir into the beaten eggs until well combined. Now slowly drizzle the egg and stock mixture back into the pot stirring the sauce in the pot the whole time until the egg mixture is fully incorporated. Stirring occasionally, bring the sauce back to a low boil. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to about half. Taste and add salt if necessary. (Makes about 1 ½ cups of sauce.)

Assemble and Bake the Moussaka

Preheat (or turn oven down to) 350 degrees. Grease an 8 to 9” round casserole. Cover the bottom with half of the baked eggplant slices. Layer with half of the lamb filling. Pour half of the egg-lemon sauce over the lamb. Repeat. Sprinkle top with paprika.
Bake uncovered for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is browned and the sauce is set (it will still be a bit loose when served). Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes before garnishing with chopped parsley and serving.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Day After Halloween -- The Day of the Dead

Hope you had a happy Halloween.
November 1st is traditionally the Day of the Dead in Mexican and other cultures.
Here in Oakland it is celebrated with a street fair full of color, music and spectacle on International Blvd. It's also celebrated with lots of food. The area is filled with delicious Mexican and other Hispanic foods anyway, but there's also lots of street vendors out especially for the fair.

For information on this year's Day of the Dead celebration Sunday, November 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on International Blvd. between Fruitvale and 35th Ave. , click here. (One tip, take BART to the Fruitvale station and you are there).
One of my favorite parts of the Day of the Dead fair in Oakland are the altars set up to honor deceased family members or mentors. They are always emotionally involving, touching and quite beautiful. I also like all the handicrafts and artwork. The skeletons above are oversized versions of traditional Day of the Dead figurines.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Apple Battle -- Which Do You Prefer -- Caramel or Candied? The Halloween Countdown Continues

Vote for your favorite -- candied (jellied) apple vs. caramel apple. For a recipe for cinnamon candied apples, click here.

The caramel apple on the right was made from Kraft brand caramels with the recipe on the package. Here's the directions from the Kraft website (although I'd skip the Ritz cracker crumbs the on-line recipe recommends).

Take the poll (poll closes on 11/5/09) and leave a comment below about your favorite caramel and/or candied apple experiences, add ons, recipes or posts.

UPDATE -- Poll is closed -- 42 readers voted (thank you!), the winner at 78 percent was caramel apples. My favorite, candied apples, scored just 9 percent. Four percent liked both equally and 3 percent are not fans of either.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Countdown -- H Minus 4 -- Low Fat Pumpkin Pie

There are so many scrumptious things going on in a pumpkin pie that if you can trim the fat a bit no one will notice.

Last year I did just that, adapting my mini-pumpkin tart recipe to make a larger pie. One recipe of the pie filling here should fill one pie crust. Use your own unbaked crust or buy a store bought one for convenience. (Or do what I sometimes do, buy a premade crust from your local bakery.)

Fill the unbaked crust with the pumpkin mixture and put into a preheated 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes and then lower the heat to 350 degrees . Bake for about 40-50 minutes until a knife inserted in the filling comes out clean.

Another variation is to make a graham cracker crust, perhaps subbing out ginger snaps for the graham crackers. To make a cookie crust, please check the directions here. (Do not bake.) Only follow the directions for the crust otherwise you might surprise your guests with a S'More Pie instead of pumpkin.

If you really want to keep calories down, try making the pie without a crust as a custard. Directions for individual pumpkin pie custards are here.

To see what other pumpkin tricks and treats Blog Appetit has to offer, please go here.
About the photo: One of last year's pies all wrapped up for the freezer. The pies freeze well, so I often make a double batch and freeze one for later.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Countdown Continues

Life intervened, so I wasn't able to post countdown goodies H-7 (Halloween minus 7) and H-6 so I'll do a three for one post today, H-5.

1. I like to celebrate Halloween with pumpkin-based main courses and/or desserts. Since I posted a dessert the other day (pumpkin date tart), I'll encourage you to check out this recipe for Moroccan Chicken Couscous with Chickpeas and Pumpkin.

2. Try this sweet and sour cabbage soup with winter squash. The recipe is written for butternut squash, but pumpkin works just as well.

3. Here's a guide on how to select and cook with pumpkins. Think of it as a pumpkin boot camp. It has links to other pumpkin based posts and recipes on Blog Appetit as well.

About the photo: A u-pick pumpkin patch in Bolinas, CA, in October 2008. Each pumpkin on the back of the trailer is representative of a size and is marked with the price.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Halloween Countdown -- Pumpkin and Date Filo Tart

Since pumpkin is one of my favorite ingredients and Halloween was a great Blog Appetit family favorite when the BA boys were growing up, I have lots of tricks and treats to share for the holiday. I thought I would try to put up a daily post with recipes and information to help celebrate what has become a frightfully good time for all (despite it's original underpinnings in religion and more.)
Today's the kick off at H (for Halloween) minus 8

Pumpkin and Date Filo Tart
Serves 8

Not your typical pumpkin pie (and probably a lot fewer calories, too).

The tart reflects its Middle Eastern inspiration with its spicing and use of dates and nuts. It is rich and full tasting with a true pumpkin flavor.

2 cups cooked pumpkin puree
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup orange juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
1/3 cup pitted, roughly chopped Medjool dates (about 8 large chopped into about a ¼” dice)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
7 sheets of filo dough
¼ cup or more of vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First make the pumpkin filling. In a large bowl combine the pumpkin puree, the eggs, juice, sugars, cinnamon and ginger. Mix well. Add the dates and walnuts and stir until evenly dispersed through filling. Set aside.

Make the filo crust. Have ready a package of defrosted filo leaves. Set seven aside covered with a damp paper towel. Repackage and refreeze remainder of package. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9” round cake pan with vegetable oil. Take out one filo sheet (leaving others covered). Center in the cake pan and brush surface with oil. Take out another sheet, rotate it so the overhanging edges are offset with the first sheet. Brush with the oil. Repeat with four of the remaining sheets. Shred the seventh sheet and scatter across the bottom of the crust.
Fill the crust with the pumpkin mixture. Fold the overhanging edges of the filo back over themselves and tuck into the tart. They should cover the edge of the cake pan and create a bit of an edge. Brush exposed filo with oil.

Place in center rack in center of oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until exposed filo crust has turned golden brown. Cover exposed crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake tart for about 50 minutes more or until center is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Remove foil strips and let cool to room temperature before serving.
Want to make a pumpkin pie like your mom probably made, check out Cooking for Engineers post here for step-by-step instructions.
For something more adventurous, try this pumpkin pie with hazelnuts, freshly ground spices and coconut milk from 101 Cookbooks. Heidi also gives an easy "pat in the pan" graham crust option.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Buffalo Grill Won’t You Come Out Tonight -- Gunfight at the OK Corral and a Buffalo Burger Recipe

BANG. The sudden, loud boom of a shotgun and resulting acrid smell of gunpowder startled the crowd. We looked up and a man, dressed all in black with a long black coat and wide-brimmed black hat commanded our attention. He looked smug even without twirling the waxed ends of his handlebar mustache. He lowered his gun. He knew he had our attention. As the smoke cleared, Sheriff Virgil Earp informed the fanny-pack and flip-flop wearing tourists packed into rows of bleachers that for their own safety they were not to step beyond the paved walkway once the shootout at the OK Corral commenced.

Earlier, as I had walked the wooden sidewalks of Tombstone Arizona, gawking at the costumed shopkeepers and stagecoach drivers, the smell of grilling buffalo burgers focused my attention almost as suddenly and sharply as the sound of Earp’s weapon would later that day. I resisted their fast food allure at places such as Helldorado (home of a comedy gunfight and a silver-miner themed miniature golf course) and pretty much every other café this side of Toughnut Street. The smell of the grilled meat seemed to find me wherever I was in the town (which was equal parts private history museum and tourist trap). The scent was rich and inviting and reminiscent of campfires and cookouts. I was hungry and finally gave into temptation and ordered a grilled buffalo burger from a little outdoor vendor tucked between two of Tombstone’s innumerable former brothels and saloons.

As I waited the wafting smell conjured thoughts of cattle drives and chuck wagons as well as images of buffaloes home on the range (not to mention the thought of my patty grilling a few feet away from where I was sitting) and just made my burger lust stronger.

Six minutes after I ordered I had a perfectly cooked, medium rare buffalo burger on a nondescript bun on a thin paper plate. The burger was so perfectly formed it looked suspiciously like the frozen beef patties that come stacked in plastic bags at the warehouse stores. The bun was airy and tasteless. I took a nibble of just a bit of the unadorned burger before I ladled the condiments on. The buffalo burger itself was juicy without being fatty. It tasted like beef but not like beef at the same time. A rich, meaty taste but different. Buffalo meat has been described as a little sweeter than beef and while I don’t know if that’s how I’d describe the difference, there is one. The taste and texture reminded me very much of grass-feed beef. I liked it very much. Soon I had piled on onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, ketchup and barbecue sauce. Less than six minutes later, my buffalo burger was extinct.

On the drive back to our hotel in Tucson that day I already began to plan how I would make buffalo burgers when we got back to Oakland. Fresh meat, hand formed with maybe a secret ingredient or two on either a really good bun or on some thick sliced sourdough bread. I’d serve the burgers with sliced tomatoes and some avocado wedges. One the side I’d have some of my oven-roasted potato fries. Once I got home and corralled myself some ground buffalo (which I found in packages at my supermarket's meat counter) that's just what I did.

Buffalo Burgers with Chipolte Adobo Sauce
3-4 servings

The Chipolte Adobo Sauce has a warm, smoky flavor that works well with the meat. I ended up drizzling it on my oven-roasted fries as well. Use it wherever you need a creamy, spicy sauce.

Be sure to warn dinners they are not biting into a beef burger. The buffalo meat does taste different and expecting beef and getting buffalo could be an issue for some. Buffalo meat does well in the medium rare to medium range. I don't recommend grilling the burgers any rarer or more well done. Watch your timing, buffalo meat is said to cook quicker than beef. Also, you may want to experiment with different brands. Whether your buffalo meat was grass or grain fed will make a difference to the flavor and texture. Grass fed is generally leaner.

2 tsps of adobo sauce from a can of chipolte peppers packed in adobo sauce (reserve rest of sauce and the peppers for another use)
1 tsp lime juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 pound ground buffalo meat
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
Sourdough rolls or other sturdy rolls or buns
Tomato slices, avocado wedges and other garnishes for serving

First make the sauce. In a small bowl mix the adobo sauce, lime juice and mayonnaise. Stir well and set aside.
Using your hands and being careful not to over handle, mix the meat with the salt, pepper and chili powder. Gently shape into three or four patties. Grill or broil until medium rare to medium throughout, turning occassionally. Let rest a few minutes and then put on buns slathered with the Chipolte Adobo Sauce and add garnishes of your choice.

About the photo: That's Wyatt Earp after the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ. Doc Holiday, Morgan Earp and Virgil Earp had been wounded and exited stage left. The stage area is actually a few hundred feet away from the actual site of the corral, where life-size mechanical figures re-enact the shootout every few minutes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Welcome to a New Follower and a Pumpkin Photo (Plus How to Feed Your Feeder)

"No Submission," author of the new blog Adventures of a Tree-Hugging Vegan, is Blog Appetit's latest follower.

It is a coincidence that this morning when I logged on I saw No Submission had elected to follow me since just last night I worked out some vegan variations on traditional Jewish foods for my j. weekly (local Jewish newsweekly) columns. Also, after the Hunger Challenge my husband and I decided to eat more meals "lower down the food chain." I'm not sure how that will translate to more vegan or even vegetarian recipes here, but I'm sure it will be reflected since generally what I cook you eventually see here on the blog.

I also met some wonderful people at VegNews, a vegan-oriented publication, at the BlogHer Food conference and hope to work with them on getting more educated on this healthful eating option.

Anyway, welcome No Submission. If you want to become a follower of Blog Appetit, too, you can do so through your Blogger dashboard and adding Blog Appetit ( to your Blogger Reader, by using Google Friend Connect or by looking to the sidebar to the right to do the same. (Essentially that means you get the latest posts right into your feed reader on the Blogger dashboard or Goggle Friend Connect page.) Check the sidebar for other feed options. New to the concept of what a feed or RSS (which some say stands for Really Symple Syndication and others say means Rich Site Summary) is? Click here for an overview. Here at Blog Appetit we want to make sure your reader options are fed right! (A little RSS humor.)
About the photo: Last October at Star Route Farms outside Bolinas Bay in Marin, California. (Get it? It's a tractor pulling a cart, which is following it. Plus the pumpkins fit the season.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blogging Her Food Since 2005

To show you how MY mind works, I totally missed yesterday's fourth anniversary of the debut of Blog Appetit since I was so focused on my cat's "estimated" birthday tomorrow. (Not that we were going to have presents or parties or anything, maybe just a bit more kibble in the old dish.)

That means the cat is turning nine and Blog Appetit is closing in on its 135,000 page view.

To celebrate, I'm posting my family's favorite homemade ice cream birthday cake.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing these four years of words, images, recipes and opinions with me.

Ice Cream Birthday Cake
Serves 8-10

This is more of a process and one that the kids can participate in as well.
This recipe is adapted from one my mother-in-law, Joan Kramer, first made as a banana split cake. See the variation at the end.

Each birthday child (or grown up) gets to pick their favorite flavors for the ice cream. Noah’s last cake was chocolate and coffee fudge. Seth usually sticks to cookie dough and cookies and creams. Gary likes Rocky Road and Vanilla. I like them all, but I’m especially fond of the ones with my homemade fruit sorbet, homemade angel food cake and homemade dark chocolate sauce. But usually we just use store bought ingredients. Just make sure your ice cream flavors are compatible or complimentary. I like to buy the ice cream in half gallon sizes so I know I'll have plenty to pack into the cake. Leftover cake, if you have any, freezes well and make a nice dessert or treat. You can use a tube pan if you don't have a spring form, but you will get the metal tube in the middle of your cake and the sides will not be as neat.

About 1 quart of ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor of your choice, softened for scooping
About 1 quart of a second ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor of your choice, softened for scooping
One 9-10” angel food cake, torn into 1 to 2 inch chunks
Chocolate syrup
Caramel syrup
Whipped cream (for decoration, optional)

Wrap a 9 to 10 inch spring form pan bottom and up the sides with aluminum foil. Scatter a handful or two of the cake chunks inside the pan. Alternate scoops of the two flavor ice creams around them. Drizzle the chocolate and caramel syrup in ribbons around the cake and ice cream. Press down with the back of the ice cream scoop until the cake and ice creams form a fairly level layer without air spaces. Repeat until you run out of ice cream and/or cake or reach within a ¼” of the top of the pan. Smooth out the top layer with the back of the scoop. (If desired you can write birthday messages in chocolate syrup on the top. Wrap well with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least two hours or preferably fours hours or overnight. (Can be made well ahead). Bring out about 20 minutes before serving. Just before serving remove foil and wrap, release the catch on the side of the spring form pan and remove cake (leaving the cake on the bottom section of the pan). Decorate with whipped cream, add candles, turn off the lights and sing “Happy Birthday.” Serve to admiring crowds, but don’t let them know how easy it all was.

Banana Split Variation: Leave out the caramel syrup, scatter in small bits of banana and chopped nuts and chopped maraschino cherries (optional).

Other Variations: Use any of your favorite sundaes for inspiration and add in pretty much any dessert topping or ice cream mix-in. From malt powder to marshmallow topping they’ll all work. Just be careful of items that could freeze hard enough to chip a tooth. I’d be careful with M&Ms, for example.
About the photo, Seth's cake from last year had to be made in a tube pan because the spring form was missing in action. A spring form cake pan's sides come off much easier, making for a much neater cake.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Candy Apples with a Kick and Dates with a Twist Offer Sweet Tastes for All this Fall

My latest column in the j. has published and it is full of fall treats.

Try the Cinnamon Candied Apples for Simchat Torah or even Halloween or just for fun. The Dates with Marscarpone are stuffed with an orange-flower water and marscarpone cheese mixture, drizzed with caramel (or date) syrup and accented with pistachios and pomegranate seeds. They make a wonderful accompaniment to tea or a nice dessert to a rich meal.

See my column and the recipes here.

Check back to see if I update this with stories of candied apples past (which we called jellied apples growing up.)

Looking for other fall treats -- check out all my recipes including pumpkin (chili, couscous, mini-tarts) plus lots of advice on how to select and cook the hobgoblin of winter squashes here.

Want to make caramel apples instead of candied? Follow the recipe on the back of the Kraft caramel's package, or check 101 Cookbooks' all-natural version here.
About the photos: Top candied apples with cinammon decors. Side, the dates on a marble plate from Vietnam. Click on the photo to make it bigger. I really liked it full size but it's hard to tell the dish from the dish in the small photo.

Here's the recipes for your convenience

Cinnamon Candied Apples
Makes 4 to 5 apples

4 or 5 small Fuji or Gala apples

six-inch skewers or craft sticks

parchment paper

vegetable oil or spray

2 Tbs. cinnamon red hot candies or cake decors

1 cup sugar

3⁄4 cup boiling water

1⁄16 tsp. cream of tartar

Wash and dry the apples. Skewer them securely through the stem end. Set aside. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, grease with oil or spray. Set aside. Fill bottom pan of double boiler (or improvised double boiler) with water, set top pan inside, making sure it does not actually touch the water below it. Put the double boiler on high heat. Once the water boils, lower and keep at a simmer.

Put the candies in a heavy-duty plastic food storage bag and seal. Crush the candies into fine bits with a rolling pin. Put the crushed candies into a saucepan. Add the sugar, boiling water and cream of tartar. Put on a low heat and allow to boil, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook until the sugar mixture reaches “hard crack” stage, about 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. (Hard crack is when a bit of the hot sugar mixture is dropped into ice water and it separates into hard, brittle threads.)

Carefully transfer the syrup to the top of the double boiler. Working quickly before the sugar mixture cools, dip the apples one at a time in the sugar mixture. Swirl them in the syrup or spoon the sugar mixture over them until they are completely coated. Place on the greased parchment paper until the glaze hardens.

The number of apples you can candy will depend on their size, how quickly you can work and how rapidly the syrup hardens in the top of the double boiler. Store the candied apples in a cool place.

Dates with Mascarpone
Makes 16

1 tsp. orange flower water (optional)

1⁄2 cup mascarpone cheese

16 large Medjool dates (about 1⁄2 lb.)

2 Tbs. caramel sauce or date syrup

1⁄4 cup pistachio halves or pieces

1⁄4 cup pomegranate seeds

Orange flower water, which adds a delicate citrus note, can be found in some liquor and gourmet stores, as well as in Middle Eastern markets. If using, beat it with the cheese using a fork in a small bowl until combined. Slit each date lengthwise to remove pit. Stuff each date with a generous teaspoon of the cheese mixture (or plain cheese).

Refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving. Just prior to serving, place on serving platter, drizzle with the caramel sauce or date syrup (found in stores specializing in Middle Eastern food products) and scatter nuts and pomegranate seeds on top.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Potluck Wonders with a Little Cheesecake (and a Tamale Pie Recipe)

First a confession. Well, two. The first is that I love potlucks. Nothing strengthens my sense of belonging than the joyful eating of each other’s food, plus there is the satisfaction of feeding others and the delight of discovering how others make a similar dish or one unfamiliar to me. (Be sure to scroll past the recipe at the bottom of the post to see my digression about the meaning of potluck and more.)

The second confession is that I really don't have a photo of the recipe this post is featuring, a bean and vegetable tamale pie. While that really shouldn't matter, I've made a vow to try and avoid posts without photos. What could I do but do what newspapers and tabloids have done for years to get your attention -- throw in a little cheesecake. Or in this case little cheesecakes, since one of my favorite dessert offerings for potlucks, communal dinners, block parties, etc., are these cheesecake cups. These little beauties have lemon flavoring and are topped with mascarpone cream and fresh blueberries. You can find instructions and variations for them here.

The recipe below was featured in my column in the October issue of the Omer, the newsletter for Oakland's Temple Beth Abraham. It is a vegetarian tamale pie recipe that has evolved over the years and was inspired by a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites by the Moosewood Collective (Random House, 1996).

I first made the tamale casserole in 1999 for one of my sons’ religious school events. I have made it innumerable times over the years. My version makes a large “potluck” size, which means lots of leftovers if you are making it for a family dinner, or you can just cut quantities in half and bake in a smaller pan. Feel free to change out the vegetables, use pinto or kidney beans instead of black or leave out the cheese and/or avocado. Any way I’ve made it it’s always been delicious.

Potluck Tamale Pie
Makes 12 “full-size” portions

Bean and Vegetable Mixture
2 Tbs. olive oil, plus additional for baking dish
2 cups chopped onions
4 Tbs. minced garlic
3 Tbs. chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups finely chopped carrots
2 cups finely chopped bell pepper
2 cups finely chopped zucchini
1 pound of chard, kale or other greens, chopped
2 cups of corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 fresh jalapeno, minced (remove seeds for less heat)
2-15 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes with juice
2-15 ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ tsp. salt (or to taste)
½ tsp. ground black pepper (or to taste)

Cornmeal Topping
2 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal
3 Tbs. flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
¾ tsp. of baking soda
6 egg whites, beaten
1 ½ cups of non-fat milk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil

To Assemble
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
8 ounces grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese (low fat okay)

Serving Options
Chopped green onions
Chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream or plain yogurt

First make the vegetable and bean mixture. Add the oil to a large, deep sauté pan or a wide saucepan. Over medium heat, add the onions sauté until beginning to turn brown and soften. Add garlic and sauté until lightly golden. Add chili powder and oregano and the carrots, stir well. Add a tablespoon or two of water or vegetable stock if the pan is dry and the carrots are sticking. Cover and let cook for five minutes or until the carrots have begun to soften. Remove cover. Add the bell peppers, zucchini, greens, corn and jalapeno. Sauté until greens and vegetables are almost cooked through. Mix in the tomatoes (with liquid), beans and cilantro. Stir well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste. Add salt and pepper and more chili powder if needed. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking or lasagna pan or casserole dish. Evenly spread the vegetable mixture in the pan. Scatter avocado pieces on top and then layer the grated cheese. Set aside.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a second bowl mix the egg whites, milk and oil. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture, gently stirring together until just mixed. Pour on top of the contents in the prepared pan. Use a spatula to spread and even out the batter. Bake 35 minutes or until top is golden. To test if done, insert a knife into the cornbread topping. If it comes out clean, the tamale pie is done. Serve with the green onions, cilantro, sour cream, salsa and guacamole on the side
My digression .... A bit on potluck -- the word is thought to derive from the English (first reference in 1592) concept of sharing food from the cooking pot with guests, although there are other etymologists who trace the word back to the Chinook word potlach, which was a Native American festival in the Pacific Northwest where hosts would redistribute their wealth, a practice that was later banned by the U.S. government at least until they began bailing out banks.

In usage today potluck refers to a meal where all participants bring something to share. There are four separate categories of potluck contributors to my mind.

The first is those who cook as if their life and reputation depend on it. They are the ones who bring platters of home-made, mahogany-brown fried chicken, elaborate lasagnas, or maybe paellas (block party 2008, parents meeting 2006) or oddities such as Cincinnati Chili (friend's birthday, May 2009). I usually find myself in this category -- competitive cooking

Usually, but not exclusively, the second category is made up of single men who are told to bring such esoterica as chips, napkins or bread. This group includes bachelors as well as married men who are attending events without their wives. I've also seen some women end up in this category, so I'm trying not to be sexist. I'm not sure what happens if a men-only group organizes a potluck, but a women's only group tends to end up with a lot of salads, which brings us to the next category whose members are famous for the phrase "I thought I would bring something healthy."

These potluck reformers can be counted on for the green salads, fruit salads, baby carrots and dips and similar offerings. (Of course, if they are presented with dressing, the healthy aspect does decline a bit.) Many potluck devotees (myself included) appreciate something starch-free and fiber-packed, others spurn these offerings for something with more cheese.

The remaining category of participant is the cooking and/or time challenged who might bring in a pizza to the delight of any children in attendance. Category One types have been known to not so silently fume over the popularity of the purchased contribution. Others accept them without prejudice and with great equanimity. As long as the food tastes good, anyway.

Around the blogosphere: Here's a recipe that would work well for a potluck -- Chinese Chicken Salad from Jaden of Steamy Kitchen. This is a fabulous salad that would qualify for both category one and three potluck participants. Elise of Simply Recipes has lots of recipes that work well for potluck. Try pretty much anything in her casserole category.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Jewish Deli -- It Wasn't Just for the Food and That Ain't Just Chopped Liver (Although the Recipe Is)

The professor had come to talk about the history of the American Jewish delicatessen as a cultural gathering place for second and third generation Jews. The crowd had come to talk corned beef, pastrami and maybe a little smoked whitefish. It was an uneasy mix, kind of like pastrami with mayo.

Ted Merwin, who teaches religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, spoke about the research behind his upcoming book Homeland of the Jewish Soul: A History of the Jewish Deli last week at San Francisco's BJE Jewish Community Library. (Merwin is also the author of In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture.)

Merwin served up the history of delis from their German antecedents through the modern survivors from gourmet shop to famed restaurants. He talked of the meaning behind the overstuffed sandwiches while the audience was clearly fondly remembering sandwiches past and wishing they could find a deli worthy of the word that could equal the delights of their New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, Toronto and even Argentinean youth.

According to Merwin, and echoed by the deli devotees who came to hear him, deli food "really nurtured Jewish people in America. Something about the deli meats was at the heart of the Jewish experience."

Merwin says that our remembrances of delis past has less to do about the food than they do about what the place and experience meant for us. He says we are nostalgic for delis because they are part of the American Jewish identity (you could practically hear the crowd say "amen"). He quoted a patron of the (recently resurrected -- on Third Avenue) Second Avenue Deli in New York as saying as walking in, taking a whiff of the pungent mix of dill pickles and smoked meat and saying " 'Ah, I smell Judaism.' "

Jewish delis have become "almost sacred" as a "substitute" for not just religious identity but "on par with the synagogue as a communal experience."

The foods we associate with the Jewish delis -- lavish, meat-filled sandwiches, mountains of chopped liver, giant bowls of boiled chickens glistening in broth and all the rest are uniquely American, not Eastern European. Our Jewish forefathers and mothers could simply not afford to eat like this in their old countries.

The first Jewish delis in America probably started about 1880s in the Lower East Side and were basically purveyors of German-Jewish brined and smoked foods. They were strictly take out. A census of the 10th ward of the Lower East Side with a population of 75,000 Jews revealed that the residents of the district could select from only 10 delicatessens, but had 131 kosher butcher shops to select from. Jews who could afford to eat out ate in cafes, saloons and, probably most often, at very inexpensive lunch counters in candy stores.

The delis gain importance, according to Merwin, in the next generation, about the same time they began to gain tables and chairs and eating in at a deli became part of the Jewish landscape. This was in the 1920s and 1930s, which also accounts for the Art Deco style frequently associated with delis. Delis also spread and thrived away from the inner cities were the local Jews first arrived to the outer boroughs and other areas where the next generation moved.

As delis became part of the Jewish-American scene, they became a favored "third place" to many Jews, the place outside of home and work where you could feed your hunger for casual community. It is Merwin's thesis that the assimilated sons and daughters (and grandsons and granddaughters) of immigrants felt more at home with these culturally Jewish institutions than they did in synagogue sanctuaries or social halls.

"The food is less important to them then the context of community," Merwin says while his listeners' stomachs began to growl after all this talk of deli food. One could sense that they disagreed. The food seemed to be just as important to them. Merwin admitted the food was important, but it was the association of the food with the experience that created the nostalgia and longing they felt. To hear the gossip, to be insulted by the waiter (who may have been a veteran Yiddish theater or vaudeville actor), to have a sense of mastery and sense of place gave Jewish deli customers a sense of acceptance and belonging.

Merwin makes a distinction between kosher delis (following the kasruth laws of food preparation including the separation of meat and milk) and those that were kosher-style (where you could have pastrami AND cheesecake). Kosher-style delis were for the most part the glitzy stars of the deli scene with sandwiches named after famous patrons and public figures (think Stage and Carnegie delis in New York). Truly kosher delis were found less frequently and played an important role in the life of the observant but did not function as frequently as this "third place" since religious observance and synagogue life retained its importance among many of their patrons.

The importance of delis began to decline in many communities by the 1950s and 1960s as the food was seen as "too ethnic" and as Jewish food (such as deli meats, kosher hot dogs and rye bread) began to be mass marketed through supermarkets.

As Merwin wrapped up his talk about the cultural context of delis and opened up the discussion for questions, the crowd could no longer hold back their longing for the deli meats and other treats he had discussed for the previous hour. Animated listeners demanded time to discuss their favorite delis, foods and what, to them, made the perfect Jewish deli. A disagreement broke out among several in the audience if smoked fish (whitefish and sturgeon) and lox (cured salmon) were proper deli foods. I'm glad we didn't have a show of hands of pastrami versus corned beef fans. It could have gotten ugly.

See the notes below for more resources about Jewish delis. Once there is a website for Merwin's book, I'll update this post with it.

All this talk of Jewish deli food made me hungry, too. I went out and bought some good bread, pastrami and the makings for chopped liver like my grandma used to make. Serve the chopped liver as an appetizer on Tam-Tams, pieces of matzoh or cocktail rye slices. Or use it to make my favorite deli sandwich, pastrami on rye with a thick shmear of chopped liver and a few ribbons of sharp deli-style mustard. Need a pickle to go with it? Try making your own. Directions are here.

Grandma's Chopped Chicken Liver
Serves 6-12 depending on diners'cholesterol levels and if there are witnesses

Grandma was kosher and therefore had to cook the livers under the broiler in order to obey the religious restrictions to remove the blood. (Other cuts of meat could be salted to accomplish the same thing.) Broiling the chicken livers gives the dish that authentic taste.

This recipe makes a lot, but the chopped liver will last a few days well covered in the fridge. Feel free to halve the recipe if you'd like. A note about chicken schmaltz. It is rendered chicken fat and is available in some supermarkets, butcher stores and Jewish markets. Look in the freezer section. You can also render your own or substitute vegetable oil or shortening.

2 pounds of chicken livers
4 tablespoons chicken schmaltz (see note above) or vegetable oil or shortening
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled
2 or more tablespoons of kosher concord grape wine (such as Kedem or Manischewitz)
1/2 tsp. salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, or more to taste

Preheat the broiler and line a large baking pan with aluminium foil. Place the chicken livers in a single layer and broil (do in batches if necessary), turning once until the livers are cooked through and are a rosy brown inside. Sprinkle the cooked livers with a bit of salt. Remove the livers from the pan and put into a large bowl. Set aside.

Heat schmaltz (or substitute) in a large fry pan over medium heat. Scatter the onion slices and saute until beginning to color. Add garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized. They should have a deep, rich bronze color, be very soft and have a slightly sweet taste. Set aside.

Place the eggs in the bowl with the livers. Use a potato masher or fork and break them into large chunks or pieces. Add in the onions and garlic and all the schmaltz they were cooked with as well as the remaining salt and the pepper and 2 tablespoons of the wine. Mix well. Chop in batches by hand using a wooden bowl and a half-moon shaped mezzaluna chopping knife or in a food processor. Be careful not to over chop, the mixture should have a rough, slightly crumbly texture, it should not be pureed. Return chopped liver mixture to bowl and combine the batches. Taste and add more salt and pepper as necessary (I probably use quite a bit more, I like it just a bit too salty so it compensates for the blander cracker or matzo.) If the mixture is too dry, you could add a bit more of the wine. Then, essen min kinder (Yiddish for dig in).

More background on the history and future of the Jewish deli can be found here on Serious Eats.
Author David Sax is trying to save delis one sandwich at a time. You can find out more about his efforts and book on Save the Deli.

For a list of commendable Jewish delis worth the calories in NY (and in the comments section elsewhere), click here.
About the photos: Top, freshly chopped chicken liver like Grandma used to make. The other photo is of Ted Merwin during his lecture at the Bureau of Jewish Education on 9/30/09 in San Francisco.

Update: More on delis from around the web: Bitten blog and Joan Nathan in the New York Times.

Update 6/11: See a discussion on the recent Deli Summit about the future of the food and the institution on Zester.

Chopped Liver, 2nd Avenue Deli on Foodista