Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.
Fennel pollen is delicious, says bigmackdaddy, who thinks it tastes like anise, but much smoother. He adds it to coffee grounds in his French press. kobetobiko thinks it goes well with seafood and game, and is great in pork and fennel sausage. It’s a traditional Tuscan ingredient, according to Rubee, who recommends using it in a rub for pork or chicken.
gatorfoodie mixes a little fennel pollen with cornmeal and dusts this on a peel before sliding bread and pizza onto a baking stone. “It really adds another dimension to the breads,” says gatorfoodie. nicholeati sprinkles it on scrambled eggs, and on popcorn with sea salt. Emily Adamson suggests dusting fennel pollen on pizza, pasta, and risotto.
Fennel pollen is used in Chinese medicine too, says Melanie Wong, who notes that it can be purchased from Chinese herbalists fresher and at lower cost than from specialty grocers.
Board Link: Fennel Pollen
For a moist, deeply chocolaty cake with a light texture, pitu recommends this very good chocolate cake, originally from a Southern cookbook by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, saying it’s light and moist, with a very fine crumb. middydd likes this double chocolate layer cake. And several hounds recommend Hershey’s black magic cake, though chowser thinks it’s dense, rather than light in texture.
Other hounds point to specific ingredients that make for a moist cake, including coffee (as in the double chocolate cake) and applesauce (as in the “very good chocolate cake”). ipsedixit recommends adding puréed canned beets to a typical chocolate butter cake recipe. He says you can’t see or taste the beets, but they add incredible moisture without making the cake dense.
Board Link: Moist but not dense chocolate cake recipe?
If you’re lucky enough to get hold of fresh sardines, prepare them simply, either whole or in fillets, for an exquisite treat say Chowhounds. Gio dredges them in seasoned flour and pan-fries them in olive oil, then serves with a squeeze of lemon, while Joebob breads and deep fries them. Others grill them for a few moments before sprinkling on salt, pepper, and olive oil, which can be enlivened with a bit of smashed garlic.
alanbarnes “cooks” fresh sardines or anchovies in vinegar: Cover the fish in white wine vinegar and let stand for 4 hours or so. Rinse, sprinkle with garlic, parsley, and chile flakes, cover with olive oil, and let stand for another 2 hours or so. Serve on crusty bread.
Fresh sardines can be hard to find, but are sometimes available in Greek, Portuguese, or Spanish fish shops, according to porker.
Board Link: Fresh sardine, herring, other sustainable small fish. Recipes needed.
The key to keeping hot food piping hot while serving and throughout the meal is preheating serving dishes and plates. A few minutes in a 200°F oven will do it, says zamorski, who also offers some tips for serving plated courses: Plate the food quickly. If you are serving more than six, or if your plating is at all elaborate, have someone help you. Plate the things that cool fastest, or for which serving temperature is most crucial, last. Vegetables cool more quickly than denser proteins.
For larger, longer meals, such as Thanksgiving dinner, Will Owen likes to use a Salton warming tray, which is an electrically heated surface you can park your serving dishes or pans on. He prefers vintage models bought at garage sales or antique malls to new versions, but the new ones will still do the trick.
Board Link: Best way to keep food warm on the table
You can’t beat eggnog laced with spirits for a festive and seasonal libation. Hounds like their eggnog spiked with rum, bourbon, or brandy, or a combination thereof. And a grating of fresh nutmeg makes a big difference, says MC Slim JB.
Homemade eggnog is a whole different animal from the store-bought variety. This recipe, from bartending blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler, is “good and easy,” according to sku. ShadowedOne likes Alton Brown’s recipe. And davis_sq_pro had success with CHOW’s aged Best Eggnog, which keeps up to a year in the fridge due to a high level of alcohol (it’s “just a touch on the fiery side,” says davis_sq_pro).
Board Link: Eggnog
Turnips are underrated but wonderful winter gems, contend Chowhound fans. A good turnip’s flavor is “amazing,” sweet, earthy, just the teeniest bit bitter, but juicy and tender through and through, says cimui, who slices them and eats them raw with a sprinkle of sea salt. Here are some other ideas for turnips.
Many like to roast or mash turnips with other root vegetables, such as parsnips, rutabagas, and carrots. Phoo_d loves them in a creamy purée with pears (here’s CHOW’s Turnip and Pear Purée recipe). cheesecake17 slices turnips into thin rounds and pan-fries them, then sprinkles with salt. mwright grates them and adds them to brothy soups, where they disappear, “but a nice, rich flavor will remain.”
rozz01 likes turnips in a veggie shepherd’s pie with cremini mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. “The mushrooms and turnips play great together,” she says. Scargod raves about turnips braised in chicken stock with caramelized onions and bacon bits. Pat Hammond’s sister makes a turnip salad by combining a few raw turnips (peeled and sliced very thin), up to 1/4 cup minced shallots, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper, then mixing in a few tablespoons of sour cream.
Board Link: Ode to Turnips
Once you’ve spent good money on vanilla beans, you want them to stay nice and fresh. This is especially true if you buy in quantity, and hounds who buy in bulk to save money have storage tips. Several store vanilla beans in vacuum-sealed bags, resealing the bags after they remove beans for use. morwen uses the inexpensive Reynolds Handi-Vac, and says her beans are “still soft, sticky, and fragrant after nearly a year.” Candy keeps hers in a French canning jar with a rubber gasket and says the beans stay soft indefinitely.
Vanilla beans can add nuance to common sweeteners. HaagenDazs sticks a bean or two in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar; scubadoo97 makes vanilla sugar with the empty pods after they’ve been scraped. morwen makes vanilla-flavored honey by slightly warming some honey, pouring it in a jar, and adding split vanilla beans.
Board Link: Storage of vanilla beans?
Pumpkin, butternut squash, and other winter squashes star in cold-weather dishes all over the world. Butternut squash is the main ingredient in many hearty Italian dishes; Vshu calls “Giada de Laurentiis’s butternut squash lasagne “divine,” and Missyme recommends Ina Garten’s butternut squash risotto. lollya concurs, saying, “Ohhh it’s sooooo damn good.”
bertie says this Thai pumpkin soup always receives compliments. Jack_ makes greens with roasted butternut squash and ricotta salata regularly. And goodhealthgourmet wins raves for this roasted acorn squash with chile vinaigrette.
Ruth Lafler shares this recipe for the Afghan dish kaddo bourani (candied pumpkin with yogurt sauce and meat sauce) from San Francisco’s Helmand Palace restaurant. It’s one of the sweeter versions she’s had, but “the sweetness of the pumpkin makes a wonderful contrast to the tangy sauce.”
chez cherie roasts cubed winter squash and sliced red onion seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika or dried sage until tender, throwing in a handful of pecans or other nuts for the last few minutes, then tosses in dried cherries and crumbled blue cheese. “I could eat this every day,” she says.
Board Link: Favorite savory butternut squash/pumpkin/winter squash recipe?
Shrimp cook so quickly that they make preparing fast home-cooked meals a snap. Here are some of Chowhounds’ favorite shrimp dishes.
mojoeater loves this quick indulgence: Peel all but the tail end of the shrimp and make a deep incision in each. Mix together diced jalapeños and cream cheese, then stuff the shrimp with the mixture. Wrap with bacon and secure with toothpicks. Throw on a grill or in a cast iron pan until the bacon is crispy and the shrimp is pink. “Damned good and easy,” she says.
whatsfordinner has a “ridiculously easy and absolutely delicious” recipe for grilled shrimp. Melt some butter and add minced garlic and soy sauce to taste. Brush some of this mixture onto shell-on shrimp and grill, serving the rest of the butter on the side for dipping.
jmullen1251 roasts tomatoes and whole garlic cloves, sautées shrimp in olive oil, and adds the tomato-garlic mixture, feta, and Israeli couscous. Marge makes Spanish shrimp with garlic: Cook shrimp in olive oil with lots of chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, a splash of tomato sauce, a bit of sherry, and a squeeze of lemon juice; garnish with chopped parsley.
Miss Needle recommends Shrimp Uggie from Uglesich’s in New Orleans (she cuts down on the oil), and BerkshireTsarina likes New Orleans–style barbecue shrimp, cooked in butter sauce and “made with the speed of lightning.”
Board Link: Need Something New for Shrimp