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

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Welcome! Bienvenidos! Chào mung! Isten hozta! (and a Cioppino Recipe)

I'm so excited that the Foodie Blog Roll made Blog Appetit one of the random blogs on it's daily list. Since there are something like 5,400 blogs that belong, it is a nice surprise. (Don't know what foodie blog roll is? Check out the widget in my right hand column or click here.)

If you are here to check us out, welcome. Blog Appetit features local San Francisco Bay area foods and resources, a wide array of international and American regional recipes and more. Plus lots of stories, photos and recipes from my visits to Argentina, China, Portugal, Spain, Eastern Europe, France, Vietnam and more. Because of my freelance writing, I also have a lot of recipes for Jewish food from around the world.

I hope you will take a stroll through the categories and see all the recipes and stories Blog Appetit has to offer.

Please take a minute and leave a comment below with the name and link of your blog and perhaps a link to a favorite post of yours.

Watch for my upcoming event: Eating on a Jet Plane -- recipes, tips and tricks for bringing your own meals when you travel. If you would like to be notified when the event is scheduled, leave a comment or send me an email through my profile.

Thanks for stopping by. By the way, can you guess what languages my welcome is written in in the post title? (answer in comments)

Here's the latest adaption of my recipe for cioppino -- the real San Francisco treat. This recipe was supposedly developed by immigrant Italian fishermen early in the 20th century using what they had caught that day. It remains a popular offering at Fisherman's Wharf restaurants and food stalls.

Not-Just-for-Tourists Cioppino

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp. olive oil
Small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 large carrots, sliced into 1/8" thick rounds
1/2 small fennel, bulb only, chopped
3 quarts fish stock homemade from white fish bones OR homemade light vegetable stock OR water (or more as needed)
2 cups white wine
1-28-to-32 ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes with juices
2 Tbs. tomato paste
12 small yellow finn or creamer potatoes, scrubbed and cut into halves or quarters depending on size
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. oregano, dried
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 pounds clams in their shells, cleaned
1 and 1/2 pounds halibut OR cod filet, cut into 1 and 1/2" chunks
2 pounds Dungeness crab, cooked, cleaned, cracked and rinsed
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbs. fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tsp. fennel fronds, finely chopped

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add onions, saute until beginning to wilt. Add garlic, saute until slightly golden, add celery, carrots and fennel. Saute until beginning to soften. Stir well. Roughly chop tomatoes and add into the pot with their juices and the tomato paste. Stir well to combine and then add wine, stock and potatoes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally. When potatoes are almost soft, taste and add salt, black pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes. About 10 minutes before serving, add clams to pot, adding more fish broth if needed. Cover. Three minutes later add the halibut chunks. Cover. Two minutes later add the crab and shrimp, mixing well. Add some fish broth if the mixture needs thinning. Cover. Raise the heat if needed to keep at a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the clams open and the shrimp and fish cook. Taste to correct seasoning if needed. Serve immediately in bowls with chopped basil and fennel fronds to garnish.

About the photos: A collage of my photos of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (the second most popular tourist destination in the state of California) and a bowl of my cioppino.

San Francisco Cioppino on Foodista