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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Habanero Salsa in the ‘Hood

Dommy passed a hot spot for outdoor al pastor pits, on Central north of Jefferson. On her return, though, she couldn’t find them and instead stumbled upon a taco table on MLK Boulevard that a guy had set up in front of his house.

There’s a grill, and a braising “hubcap” where the juices collect and infuse the meat and braised onions. Chorizos are obviously homemade, and are perfect in a mulita–you get two tortillas to soak up all the juice, and cheese to heighten the flavors. Lengua, in a taco, is melty and flavorful. Salsas include habanero salsa (unusual for an outdoor, non-Yucatecan operation).

It’s definitely a neighborhood operation, with most of the customers being neighbors–even the non-Latino kids are hooked on cabeza (although Dommy says her portion was a little gristly).


Taco table
Martin Luther King Boulevard, west of Central
Locater of intersection

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South L.A. taco table

Preserving Fresh Herbs for the Long Haul

It’s possible to freeze some fresh herbs and maintain good flavor, when you have an overabundance of such green glory. Plan on using frozen herbs for cooking; you won’t be able to use them in applications that call for raw fresh herbs. Thyme, rosemary, and sage can be rinsed, dried well, and stored in zipper-top freezer bags as is. It’s a snap to strip the leaves from the still-frozen stems, says MakingSense. Parsley leaves can be washed, dried, chopped, and frozen loose in freezer bags. Just grab the amount you need to throw into your dish.
There’s no satisfactory way to freeze whole basil leaves, but they can be minced finely, mixed with a little bit of olive oil and frozen in ice cube trays. Pop the cubes into a freezer bag and add them directly to sauces, etc., as they cook.

SeaSide Tomato makes herbed salts with end-of-season herbs, which can be enjoyed year ‘round and make great gifts. Wash, dry, and tear the leaves of fresh herbs in small pieces, and combine with kosher or sea salt in a ratio of 2/3 salt to 1/3 herbs or half and half. Use a combination of herbs or a single type, depending on your preference. The salt can be stored in tightly sealed bags for months (it will be damp at first, from the fresh herbs, but will dry out over time). Transfer the salt to pretty jars for gift giving or to keep in your spice rack.

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Freezing herbs —which ones work?

Different Takes on Baked Ziti

JaneRI finds that sharp cheddar cheese nicely offsets the sweetness of roasted butternut squash and onions. She combines the roasted vegetables with 1 lb. cooked ziti, a drained can of diced tomatoes, and plenty of grated sharp cheddar. If the mixture doesn’t seem moist enough, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream. Turn into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake until bubbly and heated through.

greenstate’s baked ziti with chicken is easy and comforting: Saute 1 lb. cubed boneless, skinless, chicken in olive oil. Add a chopped onion, a can of roasted tomatoes, and two cups of tomato sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and basil. Toss with a pound of cooked ziti and a mixture of fresh mozzarella, fontina, and Parmesan cheeses. Top with a generous layer of mozzarella and bake for 45 minutes at 375F.

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Give me your best baked ziti recipe—no meat, please.

No More Drippy Wine Bottles

The DropStop pouring disk is a nifty little gadget that fits inside the neck of wine bottles bottle and stops them from dripping. RicRios calls it the best invention ever! A great solution for avoiding those red wine stains on the tablecloth.

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I hate bottle circumcision

Rao’s Marinara Sauce

Mere mortals can’t get into Rao’s Italian restaurant in New York City. The closest most of us will get to the experience is to buy a jar of their famous marinara sauce. It’s excellent, but pricey.

About ten dollars a jar isn’t unusual; Atomica has seen it as high as $12. Most agree that it’s worth it. Sometimes you can find it on sale. (Use a Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, for 20% off.)

It’s simple, pure, not sweet , not too thick, and seasoned just right, says Jesdamala.

Rao’s Cookbook has the recipe.

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Rao’s maranara sauce @ $10–What gives?

Venti Nonfat G-String Latte

According to a piece in The Seattle Times, the “sex sells” idea is running rampant through the suburban Seattle coffee trade, where you might get confused if you went to buy caffeine or a new push-up bra.

Taking a page from Hooters’ sound business plan, Seattle-area coffee pushers are putting the “ta-tas” in baristas by embracing a very un-Peets-ian uniform.

At Port Orchard’s Natté Latté, baristas sport hot-pink hot pants and tight white tank tops. Day-of-the-week theme outfits ranging from racy lingerie to ‘fetish’ ensembles are the dress code at Moka Girls Espresso in Auburn and at several Cowgirls Espresso stands in the area. Bikini tops are the special at Café Lorraine on Highway 9 in Woodinville, and the women of the Sweet Spot in Shoreline pose provocatively in Playmate-style profiles on the stand’s Web site.

‘In this area, we all know how to make good coffee,’ said Barbara Record, who opened Bikini Espresso in Renton last month. The trick is to set your business apart, she said, and sex is one surefire way to do that.

My first thought is, why is the Victoria’s Secret coffee shop dressing just for men? What about some Chippendale-esque dancer (more along the lines of Patrick Swayze, not Chris Farley) playfully asking if I want cream or a stir stick?

At Best Friend Espresso in Kenmore, baristas go thigh-high. An elevated service window offers customers a nearly full-length view of pretty, young baristas—some of them high school students—in short skirts, tank tops and high heels.

High school students? Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. But hey, even some of these coffee-shop owners and managers have their limits.

Bowden said law requires that employees cover their breasts and buttocks, so there will be no ‘thong Thursday,’ as some customers have requested.

Well, sure, because that would be tacky.

Modern Potluck

Modern Potluck

Feed a crowd with recipes from some of CHOW's favorite chefs. READ MORE

K-Fed: Bring Tha Noize!

Recording artist Kevin Federline has landed himself in the middle of a food fight by starring in a controversial new commercial that is part of Nationwide’s “Life Comes at You Fast” campaign.

The ad, which will debut during the Super Bowl, features the rising artist paradoxically falling from stardom, going from appearing in a “rap” video to working in a fast-food restaurant.

The CNN story on the ad distills the controversy:

The National Restaurant Association, in a letter to Jerry Jurgensen, the CEO of Nationwide, said the ad ‘would give the impression that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant.’

The NRA makes a great point. It sounds as though the people at Nationwide have never even eaten at a fast-food (or, as the NRA likes to say, “quickservice”) restaurant, let alone worked at one. After all, quickservice restaurant workers enjoy the following:

1. High wages. Even putting aside lucrative tips for a moment, most big chain quickservice restaurants guarantee a living wage and health benefits.

2. The respect of relatives and peers. You hear about kids leaving high-ranking positions in gangs to work in quickservice restaurants all the time, but never the opposite. Why? Because it’s cool to heat up a hamburger and hand it to somebody in a small paper box.

3. Good eats. Whether it’s low-grade meat, greasy potato slices, or shakes that contain little or no actual milk, quickservice joints provide the kind of meals necessary to keep their workers happy and healthy for many years to come.

4. Great working conditions. Among the many things never found in a quickservice environment: buckets of super-hot grease, mentally unbalanced supervisors, and jittery, disorganized customers who probably can’t even button their pants in the morning without help, let alone order and pay for the particular combo meal that suits their illogical whim of the moment.

Respected rapper Kevin Federline may be known for “keeping it real,” but by contrast, Nationwide’s take on the fast-food industry is clearly “wack”!

UPDATE: The K-Fed video has hit the Web.

One Double No-Fat, Almond-Flavored, Hold-the-rBGH Latte, Please

In a case of the murmuring masses shifting the strides of giants, Starbucks is poised to embrace milk free of the bovine growth hormone rBGH. Only when you consider the number of lattes that America’s 5,668 Starbucks must run through on an average Monday morning do you begin to grasp the scope of the decision’s impact.

Starbucks has dropped rBGH-laden products in the West and New England, and stores in the rest of the country may follow shortly.

Poised to capitalize on this pivot: another corporate giant, Dean Foods. The company’s Alta Dena division sells non-rBGH milk in 47 states.

But is rBGH actually harmful to consumers? That’s no longer the issue. Although the health effects of the hormone are under contention, enough latte-slurpers have weighed in with an opinion that the slippery details are more or less irrelevant at this point.

Grimace Unbound

Man, the Internet is fun! Thank you, A Hamburger Today, for pointing the way to Confession of a Pop Culture Addict’s fun history of Grimace, a character prominent in early McDonald’s advertising. Remember him? Purple? Blobby?

In his earliest appearances in McDonald’s advertisements, Grimace was depicted as a four-armed cave-dwelling beast who emerged into McDonaldland only to steal milk shakes, like some kind of fearsome Chupacabra. Later, he morphed into a lovable bumbler, always trying to save Ronald from the Hamburglar’s predations. But these days he’s all from absent from the McDonald’s universe. In this Super Size Me era, does the fast-food giant want to distance itself from porky blobs? Or is the company just embarrassed by Grimace’s felonious past?