Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Year in Food -- My Favorite Posts of 2010

It's been a busy year at Blog Appetit.  My backlog of recipes and posts grew longer as my commitments to other projects grew.  A lot of my recipes reflected my interest in international Jewish cuisine (although you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy them).  Surprisingly for someone who doesn't bake all that much, a lot of my posts had to do with something sweet from the oven.

Here's some of what I thought was the best of 2010 from recipes and photos that did make it to the blog.  I look forward to 2011 and getting to publish some of the wonderful recipes I haven't had time to post yet as well as creating or discovering new ones. 


The winner for January was the wonderful chocolate tart I made for New Year's.  You can read the post and find the link to the recipe for Bittersweet Chocolate Citrus Tart with Jasmine Tea Scented Whipped Cream here.

From the post: "I rang the New Year in with friends and this bittersweet citrus chocolate tart from Alice Medrich's book Pure Desserts. The book should be called 'Perfect Desserts' because that's what this tart was -- the dark bittersweet chocolate offset by the grapefruit and orange zest and the wonderful jasmine-scented whipped cream just adding to the wild party in my mouth."

Other recipes from the month featured a sweet and sour baked fish and a slow-cooked chick pea and lentil soup.


Baby, it was cold outside and my blog featured recipes to warm you up, including some energy efficient baked apples. My favorite for February was a toss up between two noodle dishes -- a sweet noodle pudding and a savory pasta dish.  Far and away though, folks loved the sweet Cinnamon Bun Kugel from this post

This kugel is better as a brunch dish or dessert than a regular entree.  Both it and my Baked Fidellos Tostadas with Sephardic Flavors are in the same post, so if you want to try the savory as well as the sweet, the recipe is there, too.  My friend Karen Bloom also shared some of her never fail kugel-making tips, so check it out.

The sweet kugel recipe was based on one developed by Nina Yellin, Karen's cousin, who has written a series of self-published cookbooks on kugels and similar dishes.


My New Orleans Bread Pudding wins by a nose over the baked chicken and bread casserole I featured in the same post.  Also included is a tasty recipe for a soup with winter squash, greens and bread. Perfect for the cold rainy weather we are having right now.

I end up creating recipes to use up bread all the time. It seems like I always have some extra crusts, slices and frozen hot dog rolls around. My favorite breads to use are challah or other rich egg breads for desserts and french toast or sturdy artisan breads for main courses or soups.

March also brought posts on a gluten-free Passover menu (including pistachio lemon bars) and two other Passover recipes, one for  Italian potato gnocchi, the other for a custard fried matzoh.


April is the month where I seemed to go for monochromatic baking -- black and white cookies AND whoopie pies. I also remember not being able to stop eating my honey butter caramel sauce and my Moroccan eggplant conserves (not together, though), but I think my favorite recipe of the month was my oven-fried chicken.

The chicken, which is oven fried without its skin, is juicy with a crunchy outside and is nicely seasoned with Middle Eastern spices.  I served it with a honey-mustard slaw (that recipe is also posted). The chicken also has one heck of a back story involving suspicions of drug dealing. For more on that and the recipe, click here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oakland Taco Trucks -- A Feast in the Streets

Clockwise from upper left -- El Ojo de Agua, Tacos Los Michocanos,
Tacos El Novillo and Tamales Mi Lupita
If we are talking street food, and we frequently are, and if we are talking tacos, which are also a frequent topic of conversation around here, it's very likely we are already on our way to the Fruitvale section of Oakland where licensing laws and Latino culture merge to create one of the Bay area’s best feeding grounds. 

The number of the highly decorated taco trucks in the area changes, but Oakland has issued permits for 120 loncherias (catering trucks and push carts), half of which are in the Fruitvale area, one of only two neighborhoods in Oakland they are allowed. This concentration makes it easy to go from truck to truck and sample a taco with carnitas here, a tostada with cerviche there as you wend your way through the neighborhood. They are generally open from morning to well after the dinner hour, but be flexible, hours, location, and menu offerings do change. Be prepared for an adventure and bring your appetite.

My Oakland taco truck crawls have all been by car, but it could also be done by bicycle  or even AC Transit.  Amy Sherman, a veteran food blogger, travel writer and taco crawler has put together a tour with all stops convenient walking distance to the Fruitvale BART station.  Thanks to Amy and bloggers Genie Grotto and Shelly Butcher for accompaning me on my appointed taco rounds.

To devise your own crawl, here’s a sampling of some of my favorite taco trucks plus an overview of some typical taco truck menu items. Menus are usually colorful signs mounted on the side of the truck, often in English and Spanish.

While many taco trucks offer the similar fare, the style of cooking, seasoning, regional differences and whims of the chef can make for interesting and tasty variations. These trucks specialize in tacos (usually two stacked small soft corn tortillas topped with a few tablespoons of filling with chopped onions, fresh cilantro and salsa) with a slice of lime. Squeeze the lime on top, fold the taco and eat in a few quick bites over your car hood, the taco truck’s thin ledge of a counter or perhaps a weathered picnic table and try not to drip on your clothes. The accompanying chunks of cucumber, radish or pickled carrots and jalapeno peppers help cut through the rich meat taste. Tacos generally cost $1.25-$2.

Besides the tacos, most trucks offer burritos and some also have quesadillas and tortas (sandwiches). Fillings can include carnitas (shredded, crispy pork), lengua (beef tongue, my favorite), suadero (beef rib meat), cabeza (beef head or cheeks), al pastor (roast pork), chorizo (spicy pork sausage), tripa (chitlins), birria (goat), carne asada (steak), stewed or shredded chicken and more. Trucks specializing in seafood also offer cerviche (raw, marinated fish salad) tostadas and griddled fish tacos (tacos de pescado or tacos de dorado).

Wash it all down with a refresco (soft drink). Or try an agua fresca or atole fresh fruit drink in flavors ranging for horchata (an almondy-cinnamon flavor) to jamaica (hibiscus) to pina (pineapple).

Below are just a few of my favorite Oakland taco trucks. One fan of the area’s loncherias created this Google map to help enthusiasts plan their own taco truck crawls. It includes the taco trucks listed below and many more.

Tacos El Novillo, 1001 Fruitvale Ave. (near E. 12th St.)

This truck offers tacos made with chicarrones (deep fried strips of pork skin.) The chicarrones are delicious, but I liked them better mixed with the al pastor tacos. Get one of each and make your own combination plate.

El Ojo de Agua, 3132 E. 12th Street (at Fruitvale Ave.)

The tacos are great, the tortas are excellent, but they are also known for their drinks, especially their licuados (Mexican milk shakes).

Tacos los Michocanos, 3524 International Blvd. (near 35th St.)

The difference here is the hearty and earthy style of Michoacan style cooking. My last taco there had some of the best lengua I’ve ever eaten. Plus I love the killer salsa. On weekends Los Michocanos offers a homemade tortilla option.

Tacos Sinola (two trucks), 2138 International Blvd. (at 22nd Ave.)

This is more of a two-truck “surf and turf” complex. The truck closest to International Blvd. offers an array of tasty meat-based tacos. The truck further back specializes in seafood, particularly in fish and shrimp tacos. In between are parking, covered seating and a colorful shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

One of my favorite trucks is technically not a taco truck I guess since it specializes in El Salvadorean food. But Tamales Mi Lupita offers sensational cheese and other pupusas (kind of stuffed corn tortillas) served with tangy cabbage slaw, chicken pastilles (little fried pies of deliciousness) and banana empanadas (somewhat like pieces of bananas fried fritter style), among other delights.  It can be found at 34th Ave. and Foothilld Blvd, next the Pupuseria Lupita Restaurant on Foothill Blvd.

For more on taco trucks in Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay area, check out the California Taco Truck blog  or the Chowhound forum discussions on the topic.
Note: A version of this post first appeared on the Poor Taste SF website. Have a taco truck favorite not listed?  Leave a comment and let me know.  I'll try to check it out and include in a future taco truck roundup.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Marshmallow Treat Bars for Grown Ups and Others

Here's a healthier version of the crispy cereal and marshmallow treats that are popular with children and adults alike. I made it (marginally) healthier by using high fiber Kashi cereal and some nuts and dried fruit.  I made them festive with drizzle of chocolate. Easy enough to make with the kids during their winter break, festive enough for the holiday table and tasty all  year round, these cereal bar cookies are delicious. (Or to quote a certain tiger about a certain other cereal --- "They're Grrrrrreat.")

Marshmallow Treat Bars for Grown Ups and Others

Makes about 24-36 bars (depending on how large you cut them)

These are not your mother's Rice Krispies bars. You could replace the Kashi cereal here with granola (see Gary's recipe here) or other ready-to-eat cereal.
1/4 cup butter,plus extra for greasing pan.
4 cups of regular or mini marshmallows (about 7-8 oz).
4 cups Kashi GOLEAN Crunch cereal
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup total raisins and or dried cranberries
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Grease a 9"x12" or 9"x13" pan. Melt 1/4 cup butter over low heat in a large saucepan.  Add marshmallows and stir until completely combined and smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in cereal, pecans, dried fruit and cinnamon until well combined.  Turn out into greased pan.  Cool until firm and not tacky to the touch.  Cut into bars.  Melt chocolate over double boiler or in microwave.  Either drizzle chocolate across top of bars or spoon into large plastic storage bag with "zipper" style closure.  Squeeze air out of bag and seal. Snip off corner of bag and pipe chocolate over top of bars.

Here are other dessert recipes from Kashi using its cereal products.
Interested in other alternatives to the classic rice krispies treat? Check out Smitten Kitten's excellent peanut butter and choclate version  or salted brown butter variation.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Don't You Wish They All Could Be California Kugels?

Tonight's the last night of Chanukah and perhaps you are a wee bit tired of foods fried in oil, chocolate coins and sugary jelly doughnuts.  Then you may want to celebrate with something made with cheese or milk, since eating dairy foods is another holiday tradition.  Or if you don't celebrate Chanukah (aka Hanukkah), maybe you are just looking for a good brunch, lunch or light dinner dish that you can make ahead.  Whenever you serve it, this noodle pudding (kugel) is delicious.

California Kugel
Serves 6-8
Chock full of California fruits and crunch, this kugel is a riff on the popular frosted flakes or cornflake kugels I’ve eaten. It’s got lots of texture, is not overly sweet and has a creamy custard with a hint of spice and lemon. Pick a granola with some dried fruit and nuts for the best results. Store bought is fine, but if you’d like to try making your own, check out my husband’s granola recipe.

Like most noodle kugels, this one is a bit on the rich side. I’ve tried to compensate by using lower-fat dairy products where I could. Also, the large baking pan makes for a little thinner kugel. Use a 9” x 12” pan and bake a bit longer if you prefer a thicker noodle pudding.

Note: If your raisins and dried apricots are not moist, soak in hot water for 30 minutes or until softened and drain before using.

12 oz. package wide egg noodles
3 Tbs. butter, divided, plus extra for greasing pan
5 Tbs. melted butter, cooled, divided
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. minced lemon zest
8 oz. low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz. low-fat sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped dried apricots (cut into ¼ to ½ inch pieces)
1 ½ cups of granola

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and mix hot noodles with 2 Tbs. of butter.

In a large bowl, mix 2 Tbs. of the melted butter with the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest until well combined. Beat in (an electric hand mixer works well) cream cheese, sour cream and milk until the mixture is fairly smooth. Add buttered noodles and mix well.

Add in raisins and chopped apricots; stir until the dried fruit is evenly distributed. Pour mixture into a greased 9” x 14” pan. Toss the granola with the remaining melted butter and spread evenly over the top of the kugel. Chop remaining Tbs. of butter into small bits and scatter across the granola topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the custard is set and the top is browned. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

For  my savory dairy-free kugel and a decadent cinnamon bun kugel, please check out this post.
This recipe appeared in another context in the Temple Beth Abraham newsletter, the Omer.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

8 Ways to Serve Latkes -- Plus a Zippy Cranberry Pot Roast Recipe

Mixed latkes with spiced and regular
applesauce and salad with goat cheese.
We are at the halfway point of Chanukah and I thought some of you out there might need some fresh ideas on how to serve the traditional potato pancakes.  So, check out my ideas to light up latkes for the remaining nights of the holiday and as a special present at the end, my favorite pot roast recipe to go with them.  Don't save this Zippy Cranberry Pot Roast just for Chanukah (or Hanukkah) it's great for any meal and the leftovers are wonderful.

So here are eight ways to enjoy your potato pancakes. (Need a recipe for latkes, check out shortcut latkes here and my traditional recipe here.

1. With spiced applesauce. Warm homemade unsweetened, chunky applesauce and for each 2 cups of sauce, add 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. allspice and a pinch of ground cloves. Add brown sugar to taste if desired. Simmer until spices have blended. Taste and add more of the spices if you want a stronger flavor. Serve warm atop latkes with sour cream or yogurt.

2. With a side of red cabbage and apples. Peel, core and thinly slice a large tart, firm apple. Sauté in butter or oil until softened. Drain a jar of purchased pickled red cabbage and toss with the apples. Heat through. Taste. Add a tsp. of sugar and or a Tbs. of apple cider vinegar if needed to make sweet and sour to your liking. Taste again and adjust as needed.

3. Sprinkled with sugar. While I had not heard about this tradition until recently, I researched it and for many people it wouldn’t be Chanukah without sugar on their potato pancakes.

4. With an egg on top. A recent acquaintance told me how delicious a freshly poached or fried egg is served on top of a crispy latke. Nice for breakfast or a light entrée. Top with a sprinkle of chopped green onions or chives, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Serve on a bed of frisee lettuce for a really gourmet brunch.

5. Crumbled as a soup topping. I like to scatter bits of leftover latkes on top of a sweet potato, butternut squash or red lentil and tomato soup. Combine ½ tsp. curry powder (or more to taste) with a cup of Greek-style yogurt, stir well and garnish the soup with dollops of this as well. (Or skip the soup and try serving the latkes with mango chutney and the curried yogurt topping.)

6. Bite size as a base for appetizer toppings ranging from bits of smoked salmon or a pinch salmon roe atop a dab of sour cream to hummus topped with chopped green olives or bits of preserved lemon (available in jars at some markets).

7. As a foil for a spicy sauce. Try squirting a little Sriracha chili paste sauce or other hot sauce on your latke, serving with some fresh salsa or eating with a sweet and spicy fruit sauce such as this one from “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor (Workman). Combine in a medium sauce pan 1-16 oz. can pitted black cherries (slice first) plus the liquid from the can, ¾ cup of raisins, 1 cup white wine, 2-24 oz. bottles of Heinz or other chili sauce and 1/3 cup of dark brown sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until reduced down and thick, about 20 minutes.

8. As a side dish to my favorite pot roast recipe with cranberries. 
Zippy Cranberry Pot Roast
Serves 8

Adapted from “The Jewish Holiday Cookbook” by Gloria Kaufer Greene (Times Books).

I wish I could take credit for this recipe. It’s easy and delicious and is a perfect partner to crispy fried potato latkes. I’ve made it with all sorts of cuts of meat, prepared it in the pressure cooker, and even cooked it ahead, frozen the sliced meat in the sauce and reheated it and this recipe has never failed to be anything but wonderful. The rich meat, spicy horseradish and tangy cranberries all really complement the latkes. This pot roast is also good over egg noodles. Be sure you keep cooking the meat until it gets really tender. My family likes when it is falling-apart soft.

1-15 oz. can of plain tomato sauce
1-14 to 16 oz. can of whole cranberry sauce
1 Tbs. prepared horseradish
1 tsp. powdered mustard
3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup red wine
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 lbs. boneless chuck roast

Combine tomato sauce, cranberry sauce, horseradish, mustard, vinegar, wine or juice and oil in a large Dutch oven or other pot. Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat. Lower heat until just simmering and cook for 5 minutes. Trim all excess fat from the roast and add to pot. Turn in sauce to cover. Cover pot and simmer over low heat, basting meat and turning occasionally. Cook for 2 to 4 hours or until the meat is very tender and no longer chewy. Remove meat from sauce. Leave pot uncovered and raise heat to medium high and cook down the sauce, stirring occasionally until it is as thick as you’d like. Cut meat into thick slices across the grain. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat on the serving platter and put the rest in a bowl to serve alongside.

How do you like to serve your latkes?  Please leave your ideas and any links in the comments section. Thanks!
About the photo: Latkes, latkes everywhere at a recent latke tasting party.
A version of this article appeared previously in the Temple Beth Abraham Omer.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Oil Vey! Chanukah Foods From Around the World -- Handout Information

A little administrative business:

Did you attended my talk today about Chanukah Foods Around the World and not get a copy of the handout or want to see the online copy?  Please click here for the Google Doc version.

If you weren't able to attend and wanted to see the handout, feel free to click on the link as well.

I will be updating it shortly with additional recipes.

12/9/10 -- I've updated the handout with another recipe and links to others.  Enjoy.

Latkes Get a College Education

My son, the Theater Arts major (i.e., the youngest), is away at college and couldn't be home for Chanukah.  He asked for a copy of the Shortcut Latkes recipe and made the potato pancakes you see in the photo for him and some friends. (I think in the friend's kitchen, I don't recognize it. And since I don't want to be a helicopter parent I'm not going to tell him about the dangers of having a paper towel so close to the flame or ask him about the general state of that stovetop.)

They look so great and I'm so proud of him, he's never made anything like this before or even attempted any major frying.

FYI - Did you know that there are 16 recognized spellings in English for the name of the Jewish winter holiday?

According to the BlogCatalog these are: Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Channukah, Chanukka, Hanukka, Hannuka,Hannukkah, Channuka, Xanuka, Hannukka, Channukka, and Chanuqa.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Take a Gamble on Shortcut Latkes -- Lots of Flavor without the Grating

See the note below for info on photo
 Let me make one thing perfectly clear.  I don't take to quick and easy latkes. No potato pancake mixes here at Blog Appetit.  My favorite recipe for latkes includes grating plenty of spuds.  (You can find that recipe here.)  But, well, sometimes there just isn't time or the ability to grate the potatoes and that's when Shortcut Latkes really shine.  Fried crisp and fresh they are almost as good as the real deal. Perfect for a weeknight Chanukah meal, or as a light entree or side dish any night. So take a gamble and give these quicker potato pancakes a spin (see note below).

Shortcut Latkes
Makes 10-12 potato pancakes

I used the Simply Potatoes brand.  Use them right out of the fridge for best results. (The colder the mixture, the less likely the pancake will fall apart in the fry pan.) For a milder latke, use the lesser amount of onion and leave out the garlic.  My 19-year-old son made a batch for his first-time ever latkes. You can see a photo of that here.

Note: If you can only find the frozen pre-shredded, please thaw and drain before using.

1-20 oz. package of refrigerated pre-shredded potatoes (may be labeled “hash browns”)
2 eggs
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt
1/3 to ½ cup of finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs. matzah cake meal or flour
Canola or corn oil

Beat the eggs in a large bowl with the pepper and salt. Add potatoes, onions and garlic. Mix well. Add cake meal or flour. Mix well. Heat ¼” oil in a large fry pan over medium high heat. Form patties about 3” in diameter and ¼ to ½” thick. When a bit of batter put into the pan sizzles, slide 3-4 patties into hot oil, being careful not to crowd pan. Press down on pancakes with spatula occasionally as they cook. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until brown and crispy. Remove to paper-towel covered plate. Add more oil if necessary and allow to come back to “sizzle” before frying next batch. Repeat as needed. Keep warm in a low (200 degree) oven if desired. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream or plain yogurt.
Note:  Re the photo and gamble/take a spin -- a little pun about the dreidels and gelt in the photograph.  A favorite game of Chanukah (sometimes spelled Hanukkah), it involves spinning a top and seeing where it lands.  Gelt, originally money now usually chocolate coins, is wagered on the outcome.  For more on the game and its rules, please click to this post for directions, suggestions and even a paper template to make your own dreidel.