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Highlights from the General Topics and Cookware boards. Food trends, food products, and burning questions.

Wild and Farmed Salmon

There’s no question that wild salmon tastes better and contains fewer contaminants (industrial chemicals) than farmed. “Consumer Reports” magazine recently produced an article revealing that it’s difficult to know which you’re buying, regardless of labeling. And you can’t tell by the color, because the farmed fish are fed food that gives them a “real” salmon color.

Mislabeling is said to be most common during the off season for wild fish. So buy wild salmon during the season (May through September), when their labeling is most likely to be accurate.

Board Links: Consumer Reports on wild salmon [Moved from Home Cooking]

No-Cook Pasta Sauce

Summer is the time for hot pasta with an uncooked, room-temperature sauce made from excellent tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. It’s not the sort of thing you need a formal recipe for; ingredients and ratios depend on personal taste. Here are some pointers.

The basic drill is: chop tomatoes, mix with olive oil, chopped fresh basil, mint, or parsley, season with salt and pepper and a bit of chopped garlic (or a bruised garlic clove or two–remove before serving). Let sit at room temperature for a half hour or so to let flavors meld. Cook pasta in well-salted water, drain (do not rinse!), combine with sauce, and toss well. Add cheese (most common: Parmesan or Pecorino Romano). Toss again, and check seasoning. It’s best served on warm (not hot) plates.

Other ingredients chowhounds like to add for variation: kalamata olives, capers, arugula, scallions, fresh fennel, toasted pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, brie, goat or feta cheese. Softer cheeses melt into the hot pasta, making for a luxurious texture.

Board Links: HOT PASTA with COLD SAUCE

Cooking Less Bilious Beans

Here are some tricks for cooking beans that hounds say will minimize unpleasant intestinal effects.

Put beans in rapidly boiling water and let them boil for two minutes; take off heat and let them sit for an hour. Discard the water and continue cooking with fresh water (rworange).

Add a tablespoon of baking powder to your pot of beans and water; bring to a boil; rinse, cover with fresh water and simmer (*Candy).

Add a strip of kombu (a thick seaweed sold at Japanese markets) to the cooking liquid (it leaves no discernible flavor).

Add a tiny pinch of the Indian spice asafoetida (“heeng” in Hindi), a pungent tree resin in powdered form (careful–a little goes a long way!). It aids in digestion.

Board Links: How to “de-gas” beans?

Vern’s Toffee

Vern’s toffee, out of Ft. Collins, Co., is a new name to us! Low humidity makes Colorado an excellent place for making toffee, says dml. These folks use no preservatives or chemicals.

Board Links: vosges toffee…huh?

Catalogue Your Wines, and Lots More

Manageyourcellar.com and CellarTracker.com will help you catalogue your wine collection, with wines listed by country and region. You can check ratings and values, and find out when your wine is ready to drink. All are free to try, though registration is required to fully participate.

Board Links: FREE ONLINE WINE CATALOGUING

Hot Sauce with Flavor

El Yucateco is a hot sauce with plenty of habanero heat, but it’s flavorful and aromatic, as well. Try the red and green, both made from habanero chiles. This sauce is produced in the Yucatan, where it’s a big favorite.

Board Links: Great Hot Sauce: El Yucateco

Marvelous Silicone Baking Mats

A silicone baking mat–commonly referred to as a Silpat (the name of the best-known brand)–is one of a baker’s best friends in the kitchen, hounds agree. They are stick-resistant even where parchment paper fails, help cookies and other baked goods brown evenly without burning on the bottom, can withstand high oven temperatures, and are dishwasher safe. Beyond lining cookie sheets, they’re also great for roasting vegetables, rolling out and kneading dough without sticking or using too much extra flour, and making candies such as nut brittle.

There are, however, a few baking tasks they’re not well suited for–like achieving the correct texture on the bottom of delicate ladyfingers and high-volume holiday baking where you’re churning out many dozens of cookies simultaneously.

Silpat is, again, the best-known brand, but a number of companies now make mats that perform equally well and vary in price. They can often be found at good discounts via Amazon.com’s Friday-only sales, or using Bed Bath & Beyond’s frequently mailed 20% off merchandise coupons.

Order a standard half sheet pan-size silicone mat online.

Board Links: Silpat Baking Mat

Fruit-Flavored Syrups

Fruit-flavored syrups are good for making flavored drinks or tea. Monin and Da Vinci brands use natural ingredients (including sugar–no high fructose corn syrup here). Both offer a variety of sugar-free flavors, as well.

Board Links: Iced Tea

Bubble Tea

Bubble tea, pearl tea, or boba tea are a few of the names for a refreshing drink made with fruity tea or milk (tea made from real fruit, naturally, tastes a lot better than drinks made from flavored powders). A good boba shop offers lots of flavors.

The “bubbles” are big, slippery tapioca balls that sink to the bottom. A fat straw let’s you suck ‘em right up. It’s a beverage you both drink and chew!

Pei has discovered that you can buy vacuum packed tapioca that’s been partially cooked, so it requires only 5 minutes of boiling. Look for it in Asian markets.

Board Links: What exactly is Bubble Tea?

Apriums and Pluots

Apriums and pluots are the Labradoodles and Cockapoos of the stone fruit world: they are, in other words, culinary crossbreeds.

They’re both plum/apricot hybrids. Apriums are more like apricots than plums; pluots are more like plums than apricots.

Pinstripeprincess says that if the fruit looks more like a plum on the outside with a deeper purple skin, it will taste more like an apricot inside! The reverse is also true: lighter colored skin means more plummy flavor.

Read about Floyd Zaiger, the “father” of apriums and pluots.

Board Links: Aprium vs Pluot