Archive for the 'blog events' Category

foodbloggers at the food bank

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Ever go bobbing for apples in a huge plastic crate? How about filtering out bad oranges, revving up your pitching arm to toss them into a giant composting container? Last Saturday, thirty-odd foodbloggers got together at the San Francisco Food Bank to do just that. The San Francisco Food Bank is an enormous clearing house for food that is distributed to charitable organizations throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area. Huge amounts of food come through the food bank every day, all of which needs to be sorted and packaged into cardboard boxes. These boxes are then stacked on a flat, wrapped in plastic to keep them in place, and finally loaded onto trucks for distribution. The whole operation is run by a combination of employees, part-time volunteers, and sporadic volunteers. It’s remarkable to see such a dedicated, hard-working staff process and sort all those massive crates of food.

Our task last Saturday was to sort and package green apples, oranges, and frozen corn cobs. This involved putting together and taping the boxes, sorting the good fruit from the bad, packaging the fruit, taping the boxes shut, and stacking the boxes neatly on a wodden flat.

We foodbloggers spread around the crates of fruit and went straight to work. Some people taped boxes, others lifted and arranged the boxes. Some were especially adept at picking out the bad fruit and throwing them dodgeball-style into the composting crate—I nearly got nailed three times. Our efficient work paid off: the kind folks at the Food Bank said we managed our task much faster than they had expected.

Afterwards, we headed off to Yield Wine Bar for some great nibbles and wine served by Sam—barmaid for a day—looking cool in her officer’s cap. Organizers Amy and Sam provided delicious cheeses and baguette slices, the Fatted Calf gave fed us thin-sliced ham, and Poco Dolce brought us their little sweet/salty wafers of chocolate. (As both Fatted Calf and Poco Dolce are right down the road from Yield, this was micro-local cuisine, as someone pointed out.)

But the stars of the show were the sunny chutneys and spicy Spanish chorizo courtesy of Alison McQuade and Ore Dagan of Fra’Mani Salumi, respectively. I’m not usually a great fan of chutneys as I tend to find them too sweet. But McQuade’s Celtic chutneys are something else entirely. These are complex chutneys brimming with taste and texture. You can’t pick out any one individual flavor–there’s the zing of vinegar, a ginger kick, and a warm, brown sugar sweetness. But there’s so much more, and damned if you can figure out exactly what else is in that chutney. All you know is it tastes fresh and alive, and goes very well with cheese and bread.

The Spanish chorizo was brought to us from Fra’Mani salumi, by way of Ore Dagan, chef and Responsabile Produzione. I could not get enough of it, but sadly, this particular salumi is not yet available in stores. I’ll wager that a small popular movement will soon begin protesting the absence of this chorizo from local shops. Slogans like “Chorizo now!” and “Fra’Mani, not war!” will become ubiquitous. So please, Ore, bring on the chorizo before you have an angry mob of hungry foodbloggers bearing poultry forks and carving knives.

You can find McQuade’s chutneys at the Cowgirl Creamery retail shop in San Francisco, and other fine shops (how about some East Bay locations, Alison? Market Hall, perhaps?). Fra’Mani salumi is sold at the Berkeley Bowl and the Pasta Shop in the East Bay.

Many, many thanks to Amy Sherman and Sam Breach for having organized this wonderful event. It was great fun getting together with other foodbloggers, particularly for a worthy cause.

all about cholent

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

There’s been a cold spell out here in California. You can see your breath in the morning, and the cars are covered with a thin layer of frost. Lawns gleam and sparkle with frozen dew, and my dog—who goes into fits of ecstatic anticipation at the sight of a leash—is quite eager to shorten her morning walks. It’s cold, perfect weather for a good stew.

One of my favorite stews is cholent, a traditional Jewish stew cooked very slowly in an oven. Cholent is traditionally eaten as a Sabbath meal as it is well suited to the rules regarding Sabbath food preparation. Religious Jews are prohibited from cooking food on the Sabbath. But food may be kept warm on a pre-existing flame. By starting the cooking process on Friday morning or afternoon, the cholent cooks by sundown—the beginning of the Sabbath. The stew continues to simmer on a very low heat overnight. The oven is not quite hot enough to change the state of the food (the Talmudic definition of “cooking”), but the long, slow heat is enough to build layer upon layer of subtle flavors. Deeply caramelized onions soften into gravy, the meat falls off the bone and infuses the beans and grain with its flavor, while chunks of waxy potato take on an almost smoky flavor.

In the old days, Jewish women would bring their cholent to the village bakery where the pots were kept warm for the Sabbath. On Saturday afternoon, they would gather at the bakery to fetch their pots, bringing home a filling and tasty Sabbath lunch to their families.

Jews the world over made their own style of cholent, with ingedients varying from region to region. Typical ingredients of Eastern European cholent are potatoes, barley, beans, and meat on the bone. (More meat if you could afford it, more bone if you couldn’t.) Sephardi cholent is called hamin, and often includes eggs in their shells. Huevos haminados, as they’re called, turn brown and creamy after a long night of cooking. Iraqi and Kurdish Jews make a version with chicken and rice, called t’bit. North African Jews make a stew called dafeena, with copious amounts of North African spices and often featuring garbanzo beans.

The crown jewel of any cholent is the dumpling or homemade sausage that cooks on top of the stew. The North African dumpling is called kokla, a slightly richer and more savory version of a matzah ball. The Eastern European version is called kishkeh, a sort of poor man’s sausage. Instead of meat, Kishkeh is made of whatever a poor family might have in the larder: an onion, a carrot, some chicken fat, some breadcrumbs or matzah meal. These are grated, mixed, and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and a little paprika. The mixture is then stuffed into a clean section of beef intestine, or “kishkeh,” loosely translated as gut. When stuffed into the skin of a chicken neck—sewn shut on each end with a needle and thread—this treat is called helzel, or by its typically Yiddish diminuitive, helzeleh.

To the modern, western palate, kishkeh and helzel might sound, well, unpalatable. We’re not used to consuming offal. For many of us, a filet mignon induces an immediate Pavlovian response while the thought of eating intestine triggers a gag reflex. Historically, however, the less desirable parts of the animal were the only parts most folks could afford to eat. This is particularly true for Jewish culinary traditions that feature such delicacies as chopped liver and jellied calf’s foot. And so they should. Ask any Jew of Eastern European descent what they ate at their grandmother’s house, they’ll likely describe bubby’s ethereal chopped liver—neither creamy, nor chunky, and with just the right amount of carmelized onion—on matzah or a slice of warm, toasted challah.

But the beauty of cholent is you don’t have to make yours the way your bubby did. Cholent is infinitely expandable—use garbanzo beans instead of navy beans, steel cut oats instead of barley, osso bucco instead of a large roast. Or try one of the many ethnic varieties of the dish. And leave the window open after dinner.

This post is part of the Waiter, there’s something in my stew! event hosted by Andy of Spitoon extra. Check out Andy’s site for the roundup of stews.

cholent

I used steel cut oats instead of barley. Barley tends to plump nicely and thicken the gravy somewhat. Oats tend to disappear a bit more into the sauce. Millet might work, although I haven’t tried it. I used a combination of new and old world beans, but just about any beans will do. You might want to try using different sizes of beans to achieve a varied texture.
oil for frying
2-3 large veal osso bucco
3-4 potatoes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1 TBS sweet paprika
1/2 TBS smoked paprika
pepper to taste
1 1/2 c mixed beans, soaked overnight
3/4 c grain, such as barley or oatmeal
4-8 washed raw eggs in their shells

for later:

1 kishkeh (recipe to follow)
1 TBS salt

  • Preheat the oven to 200° F (about 93.33° C).
  • Heat some oil in a large, heavy frying pan and brown the osso bucco on both sides. Meanwhile, slice a potato into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick rounds. Use these slices to cover the bottom of your pot. Double up if you still have slices leftover after covering the bottom of the pot.
  • Remove the osso bucco from the pot and place on top of the potato slices.
  • Add more oil to the pan if necessary, and brown the onions. Season with both paprikas and freshly ground pepper. Press the garlic cloves into the onion mixture and continue frying until the onions are fragrant and have softened.
  • While the onions are cooking, coarsely chop the remaining potatoes into large chunks.
  • Drain the beans and layer the beans with the onion mixture in the pot. Sprinkle over grains. Add the potatoes and pour over water to cover.
  • Carefully nestle the eggs in various nooks and crannies of the uncooked stew.
  • Cover and bake in the oven overnight. Before going to bed, check to make sure the stew has enough water. If not, add some hot water, cover, and put back in the oven.
  • In the morning, see if the stew needs any more water. Add hot water if necessary. Taste a few beans. If they’ve softened, season the cholent with salt. If they haven’t softened, your beans are too old or you added salt at the beginning of cooking. Start over!
  • Place the kishkeh on top of the cholent and continue baking. If the cholent is too liquidy, leave the top off so some of the water can evaporate. Otherwise, cover the cholent.
  • After 18 to 24 hours, remove the cholent from the oven. Serve each diner some potatoes, beans, grains, meat, and a chunk of kishkeh. Peel the eggs and serve as an appetizer with challah, chopped liver, and pickles, or eat with the cholent.

Serves 8-10

kishkeh

Rather than buying pre-made frozen kishkeh, you can pretty easily make your own. I love the sweet, salty taste of kishkeh, and the textural contrast between the soft filling and the crisp edges of the sausage.

1 large onion
1 large carrot, or 3 small ones
1 large potato boiled and peeled
1/2 c bread crumbs or matzah meal
1/4 c schmaltz or rendered goose or duck fat
1 TBS salt
1 TBS paprika
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 ft (61 cm) sausage casing

  • Grate the onion, carrot, and potato into a medium bowl. Alternatively, process the onion and carrot in a food processor.
  • Melt the schmaltz.
  • Add the breadcrumbs or matzah meal, the schmaltz, and the spices. Mix to combine.
  • Cut the casing in half to make it easier to work with. You’ll end up with two kishkehs, one for now, one you can freeze for later. (You could just as well cook them both.)
  • Rinse the casing and tie a knot at one end. Use a sausage funnel, or your fingers, to stuff the casing. (This is a bit messy, but it works.)
  • Use your thumb and forefinger to find the opening of the casing. Insert one finger into the opening, then another. Pull your fingers apart slightly, forming an upside down peace sign. Use this space to force stuffing down the casing with your other hand. When you’ve got a lump of stuffing in the casing, carefully push it down towards the knotted end by wrapping your hand around the tube. If air bubbles form, push the stuffing up a bit to let the air out, then back down.
  • Continue stuffing the casing and letting out air bubbles. Stop when you have an inch or two of empty casing left. Let out any last air bubbles and knot the casing tightly.
  • Repeat with the other casing.
  • To cook kishkeh, do any one of the following:
    • Poke holes in the casing and fry.
    • Poke holes in the casing and fry. Slice into rounds and fry until crisp on both sides.
    • Poke holes in the casing. Cook on top of cholent.

Makes 2 kishkehs

mystery box

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I love getting packages in the mail. Even if I know what I’m getting, I tingle with anticipation—tearing at the masking tape, prying open the box, ripping out the wrapping paper or rummaging around the packaging popcorn, wondering all the while what the contents will look like. Finally wresting my hidden treasure from its cardboard prison, I ooh and ahh, pleased that my new toy has safely found its home.

So it was the other day, when a box arrived, playfully sealed with colorful polka dot masking tape. What could this fun little package contain? I honestly had no idea. The customs declaration sticker gave me a clue: chocolate and a book. Aha! I had completely forgotten about the chocolate shop food destinations blogging event. The package contained the prize for the event, chocolate from Australia and a book about food. This is why I love receiving packages. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

Inside the carefully packaged box was my copy of Digital Dish, a little box of truffles from Melbourne’s Koko Black, and a lovely card from Emily, the event organizer.

The delicate truffles had melded together a bit, forming one large truffle. That’s to be expected though, truffles are so delicate. No matter. The chocolates are smooth, creamy, and delicious. Each bite is different, because it’s composed of a different truffle. I’m trying to make the box last by limiting myself to one luscious bite per day. Except for the day I got them, of course.

Thank you Emily, for the chocolates, the book, and the card, and for hosting this chocolatey event! And thank you for reading!

a sneak peek at my kitchen

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Ilva of Lucullian Delights recently announced a fun little blog event, Show us your kitchen. So here it is, the crown jewel of my tiny, cramped apartment kitchen—my mizuya tansu, or Japanese kitchen chest. The photo doesn’t nearly do it justice, but it’s a beautiful yet functional piece of kitchen history.

My mizuya tansu is around one hundred and thirty years old. It has an ancient grace, yet its lines are clean and modern. I particularly love all its little details, the small sliding cupboard, the tiny, narrow drawer (for chopsticks?), the small, deep cupboard with the pull-out door (for tea? sake?), the decorative iron lock (a cash box for paying home-delivery food vendors?).

I’ve found uses for all the nooks and crannies of my mizuya. The tiny, narrow drawer is perfect for small or narrow items that get lost in larger drawers, such as meat and candy thermometers, a syringe and needle for injecting brine. The wide, shallow drawer holds a shortbread mold, a marble cheese board (good for rolling pie dough), some extra aprons, silicon muffin “tins”, and a madeleine tin. Pots are in the largest cupboard, bowls on the top cupboard, and baking dishes in the lower cupboard. The mysterious pull-out cupboard sometimes stores a bottle or two of olive oil, or loose bags of spices. Come to think of it, that unusual storage space might be a good spot for keeping tea and coffee.

The mizuya tansu is a silent testament to the past. Looking at it, I wonder about its previous owners. Were they rich or poor? Did they live in the city or the country? What did they store in their mizuya tansu? Were they good cooks? Only the tansu knows.

mac and cheese, louise

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Ever get an idea that sounds really interesting in theory but turns out to be, well, a bit strange in practice? I like to expand my ideas about foods that complement each other by trying new combinations, often using whatever fresh produce I have in the fridge. That’s what I tried to do when I prepared my version of macaroni and cheese for the Mac and Cheese Off. The idea was intriguing, the results—less so.

A bag of Italian faro (spelt) penne caught my eye while browsing around my local gourmet shop. The pasta was a light brown color, and one of the store employees said it had a nutty flavor. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be an interesting base for my mac and cheese.” Think bechamel with nutmeg on a nutty pasta. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I bought a half gallon of whole milk and a tub of terrific French butter. My refrigerator was already stocked with an array of cheeses, so I was all set for the mac and cheese challenge.

I cooked a simple bechamel, and grated copious amounts of cheese: grana padana, raw milk cheddar, petite basque, and manchego. As I prefer creamy stovetop mac and cheese, I poured the bechamel over the pre-cooked pasta, letting simmer. I then added washed and drained baby bok choy leaves and the mix of grated cheeses.

The bok choy, pasta, and cheese sauce were tasty. Jut not all together. I rather like the idea of bok choy in a creamy cheese sauce. But the spelt pasta was all wrong. Spelt pasta is indeed nutty, but also very slightly bitter, like the aftertaste you get when you eat wheat germ. This flavor clashes harshly with the cheese sauce, throwing off the entire dish. Each ingredient sings a different tune and the result is like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise, and God Save the Queen at the same time. Worse, the pasta was the wrong size, a factor I should have anticipated. Penne is fine for baking in a cheese sauce, but it doesn’t work very well in a creamy cheese sauce on the stove. I had wanted the cheese sauce to envelope the pasta in its creaminess. This doesn’t happen with penne. The cheese sauce sort of stuck to the penne in an eery looking glaze (see photo).

Oh well. I still think bok choy with mac and cheese is an interesting idea. I’ll have to try again, only this time with actual macaroni.

technorati tag:

food blog awards 2006

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Folks, today is the last day to nominate blogs for the 2006 Food Blog Awards hosted by the Well Fed Network. To nominate a blog, go to Well Fed’s post on the awards and click a category. Then enter the name and URL of the foodblog you’d like to nominate in the comments for that category. Once all the nominations are in, Well Fed will tally them up and select candidates for voting in each category. The polls will open from December 23 to December 31, during which time you can vote for your favorite nominees. The judges will be announced at the beginning of judging.

Here are the categories:

So step up to the plate and make your voices heard!

bits and bobs

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Wandering around the blogosphere, I often run into an interesting little tidbit and make a mental note to talk about it here. Naturally, this happens quite a bit and the little tidbits tend to add up. But my brain can only keep track of so many little morsels. Allow me to present them to you before my grey matter pulls a Control-Alt-Delete.

  • Menu for Hope: The foodblogosphere is abuzz with posts about this year’s third annual Menu for Hope campaign. Menu for Hope is a very successful online campaign organized by Pim to raise money for charity. Last year’s fundraiser benefited Tsunami victims in Asia. This year’s campaign aims to raise funds for the UN World Food Programme, an organization that fights hunger worldwide. Each $10 donation buys a raffle ticket with a chance to win your choice of prizes donated by foodbloggers. Prizes are organized by geographical region, with a fooblogger volunteer organizing each region. Each representative regional foodblogger hosts a writeup of all the foodbloggers offering raffle prizes in their region. Head over to Pim’s for more information.
  • Health care for restaurant workers: A professional chef, Shuna talks about the need for health care and adequate pay in the restaurant industry. I find it shocking that a person who works behind a desk, like me, receives subsidized healthcare benefits from my employer while people who work in a kitchen do not. Check out the article for a thought-provoking insider’s look at employee benefits in the restaurant industry.
  • Eating Around the World: I stumbled across this site while poking around delightfulblogs.com. The tagline is “Who said that models don’t eat?” and the profile reads “I am a fashion model in Paris and New York. I write about my passion for food, gastronomy and restaurants.” But please, don’t hate her because she’s beautiful (and because she eats food cooked by Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon more often than most of us do in a lifetime.) Aiste provides a window into a mouth-watering gastronomical world, complete with photos of beautiful dishes us non-jetsetting non-models dream of eating.
  • Ebay for the home cook: Am I the last person on earth who’s only just discovered eBay? There are some lovely kitchen items up for auction on eBay, some of them reasonably priced. I recently bought a manual wooden spice grinder, a vintage wooden recipe box, and a pizza peel, all for decent prices, including shipping. I’ve got my eye on a heavy old rolling pin, and possibly a pot. If, like me, you prefer good old enamel cast iron over non-stick, eBay is one place to find these items for less than what you’d pay at one of the big chain kitchen stores.
  • Habeas Brulee: This is what my blog wants to be when it grows up. My god, the photos. I obviously need to spend much more of my free time exploring the blogosphere, as this one seems to have slipped right under my radar.

stumbling across the finish line

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

It’s day 30 of NaBloPoMo. Can you believe it? Posting daily has become almost normal. I find myself writing more fluently, no stalling and pondering what exactly I want to say, writing, and deleting, and rewriting. In fact, on the days that followed the three days that I was too knackered to post, I felt a little out of practice. Daily posting seems to turn a spigot in my head that lets the words out. Sometimes, the words link together harmoniously, like a daisy chain coming full circle. Other times, I throw metaphors around like so much confetti after a really boisterous new year’s eve party. Still, this NaBloPoMo thing has inflamed the itch to write, and for that I am grateful.

Another thing I’ve learned is that posting every day is exhausting, though not for lack of ideas. The more frequently I post, the more I think about food, the more I want to share with you. But all the cooking, thinking, writing, editing, and rewriting—and lest we forget: photo snapping, winnowing, grimacing at bad photos, resizing, and uploading—is a lot of work. It’s like talking on the phone with your best friend for three hours. Great fun, but you could so use a nap afterwards.

Mostly, it’s been hard on poor A. November has been a blur of grocery shopping, planning Thanksgiving, cooking, posting, cooking, posting, cooking some more, and dropping in to say hello to my husband between posts. The poor man has forgotten what my face looks like, seeing only the glow of the laptop screen reflected on my forehead. “In December, I’ll have my wife back,” he says. I’m sure A is one of many NaBloPoMo spouses and partners who deserve a prize for their patience this November. Hmm… I’ll have to come up with something good.

documenting all you can eat #7

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Here it is, day 7 of all you can eat. Inspired by Sam, the originator of this foodblogging challenge, I put together a slideshow of the foods I ate on day 7. It’s not nearly as pretty as Sam’s slideshow, but it does the job.

It’s been an interesting ride. I haven’t written down everything I eat in quite some time, and I’ve never shared this information with the blogosphere. Writing about and photographing what I eat has caused me to think about my eating habits, and possibly tweak them somewhat. As a result, this has turned out to be one of those experiments in which the result is directly affected by the mere act of observation. Would I have eaten all the things I did had I not been publishing them? Who knows. Would my diet have included an infinitely smaller proportion of turkey had this challenge taken place in August? Definitely.

Click the photo below to watch the show.

what_i_ate_7

Everything else I ate:

documenting all you can eat: #5 & 6

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

leftover_collage

I am sick to death of leftovers. Sick… to… death. If I never eat another heritage turkey again, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed. No matter how much homemade cranberry sauce you eat it with, turkey gets a little old when you’ve been eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for, oh, I don’t know… four days straight. Of course, by next year I’ll have forgotten all about the horror of leftovers and go through the whole silly ritual all over again.

Note to self: next year make ten pounds of pie instead of turkey. Leftover problem solved.

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