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

A Solid Shanghai Choice

Among the not-so-interesting picks of New York Times writer Mark Bittman, who passed through our town recently, was Chang’s Garden, a Shanghainese spot near the Arcadia Supermarket. The discovery of the century it’s not, but it’s a solid recommendation for Shanghai-style food, says Hailyn.

Preserved pork with leeks is a goodly mound of chewy salted pork belly slices and sliced leeks, stir-fried with strips of moderately hot red pepper. There’s a nice whiff of five-spice, a tang of lemongrass and a shred of licorice root, all of which add up to a delicious and satisfying dish, says Will Owen.

Sauteed eel is actually baby eel–a bunch of them…kind of like spaghetti of the sea. Tons of shredded young ginger and fresh cilantro come on the side and get mixed in. The whole thing comes in a sauce that’s deep, rich, and rather sweet. The eels are pleasantly chewy, not fishy at all.

Dry pork ribs are really good, says ipsedixit, who cautions against the steamed ones–they’re OK, but not as good as the dry ones.

Hot and sour soup isn’t a Shanghai specialty (the real thing is from Sichuan), but it’s better than most, with some actual flavor and not too goopy.

What is Shanghai style is starting a meal with cold appetizers, says Hailyn. Smoked fish, drunken chicken, braised celery, sliced beef and kao fu are all good to try.

If you’re really set on kao fu (braised wheat gluten), a Buddhist temple in Downey makes some of the best around, says ipsedixit. It’s only offered on select Sundays when there are festivities. But the good news is, it’s free.

Chang’s Garden [Pasadena-ish]
627 W. Duarte Rd., at Baldwin, Arcadia
626-445-0606
Map

Buddist Fa Kwang Temple [South LA]
12110 Pomering Rd., at Rundell, Downey
562-927-3945
Locater

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Chang’s Garden–thanks, Mr. Bittman!

Alert for Southland Southern Bakers

Southern bakers take note, at least one 99 Cent store carries Martha White self-rising cornmeal–THE standard ingredient in cornbread in Tennessee and most of the Southeast, says Will Owen. And if you want good cornbread, pretty much the only way to get it around here is to make it yourself. A 5-lb bag is…99 cents.

99 Cents Only Stores [Pasadena-ish]
140 E. Duarte Rd., at Santa Anita, Arcadia
626-294-1999
Locater

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Martha White SR Cornmeal at 99¢ Only

Homemade Irish Cream

It’s easy to replicate the popular flavor of Bailey’s Irish Cream at home for a fraction of the cost. Susan627 uses Jameson whiskey in this recipe, which she gives as gifts:

1 cup light cream
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey
2 Tbsp. Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Bottle in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate. Will keep for up to 2 months. Shake before using.

blue room notes that it’s important to serve this very cold, as pouring it over ice makes it watery.

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Homemade Baileys

Russian Tea with Vodka and Hot Rum Cows for Cold Winter Nights

kittyfood learned this recipe from a Russian instructor several decades ago:

3 1/2 quarts water
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
12 tea bags
1 quart unsweetened orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
vodka

Place cloves in water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags; let stand until tea is strong, then remove tea bags. Add orange and lemon juices and sugar, and stir to dissolve sugar. Add vodka to taste, and serve hot. Better if made in advance and aged 24 hours, then reheated (add vodka just before serving).

JK Grence the Cosmic Jester says the Hot Rum Cow is “perfect for when you’re cold and wet, and all you want to do is curl up in a big thick blanket and fall asleep”: It’s an ounce of rum, a cup of milk, a couple teaspoons of sugar, and a dash or two of Angostura bitters, heated.

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Hot alcoholic beverage

Salt Caramels

A hit of good salt will round out the buttery sweetness of caramel; hence, the genius of salt caramels!

Mnosyne recommends Little Flower sea salt caramels. They have a buttery flavor that lingers on your tongue. Mildly salty, and good.

Recchiuti makes a Fleur De Sel caramel that’s covered in dark chocolate.

Fran’s Chocolates uses the grey salt from the coast of Brittany in their caramels, and they’re also chocolate dipped. Check at a Whole Foods markets for these, or order online.

French Roast recommends Trader Joe’s salt caramels; they’re making their own this year. The price is good, too!

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Best Salt Caramels…..

Buttermilk

In the “old days”, buttermilk was the liquid left over from churning the butter. Lovely stuff it was, with flecks of butter floating around in it–a tart thirst quencher when served icy cold.

Today’s buttermilk is made by adding a culture to non-fat or low-fat milk to give it a little tang and thicken the texture. It still makes a good beverage, and is especially nice for cooking. Try it for pancakes, and cornbread. Biscuits will get a nice rise from the acidity in buttermilk.

Buttermilk has quite a long shelf life in the fridge. For those of you who just guzzle it straight, you’ll want it freshly opened. But you can cook with the stuff well past the expiration date. Even though it’s “sour”, you’ll know when it’s gone bad —it’ll get watery, separate, and acquire unsavory chunks of gunk.

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How can you tell when buttermilk is bad?

The Clone Wars

In yet another development that moves the American food supply away from the pastoral and toward the techno-industrial, the FDA has (tentatively) declared that eating meat and dairy from cloned animals is safe.

Sneaking their report in during the nobody’s-looking-week-between-Xmas-and-New-Year, the FDA says that “milk and meat from cloned cows, pigs and goats, and from their offspring, are as safe to eat as the food we eat every day.”

And according to The New York Times, some of us may have already been eating them:

Some experts say that some products from clones or their offspring have probably nonetheless made their way into the food supply.

Maybe I’m just being alarmist, but the thought of eating cloned meat reminds me of that scene in David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly in which Geena Davis takes a bite of steak that’s been teleported and immediately spits it out, noting that something about it just tastes wrong.

I’m not alone. The Times notes that 64 percent of us are “uncomfortable” with eating cloned meat, 46 percent “strongly uncomfortable.” In fact, 14 percent of women would stop buying all dairy products if cloning was introduced to the food supply.

All of which means that true approval, which has to wait for a (probably quite pitched) period of public comment, is probably a long shot. That will be sad for some famous chefs.

‘Nighty Nightmare

I’ve heard tell that when you watch Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America, you see a more human side to the foul-mouthed celebrity chef as he helps various chefs and restaurateurs get their shiitake together. However, I revel in every crazy insult Ramsay cooks up (“That looks like a dog’s dinner, that does!”) and find sick satisfaction in how he consistently traumatizes the cheftestants and customers on Hell’s Kitchen (“You fat useless sack of yankee-dankee doo-doo!”).

Well, based on a few television-oriented blogs, it sounds as if Ramsay might be gearing up for an American version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. TV with MeeVee encourages any interested be-kitchened parties to apply for the show:

Look no further—Fox TV and Chef Gordon Ramsay are now casting a new reality show, Kitchen Nightmares. The award-winning chef, culinary expert, and television personality is searching for restaurants in need of resuscitation. Chef Ramsay is offering his world-famous techniques and management secrets to help turn your business into a profitable and lasting success!

Another blog, TV Food Fan, thinks the news of the new show is a bit confusing and isn’t quite sure if Fox is going for a brand-new show or what. Referencing the above piece on MeeVee, TV Food Fan notes:

The piece is a bit vague, but I’m assuming it is an American version since it refers to it as a ‘new reality show.’ Also, it’s a bit weird because they include a link to an e-mail address of the ‘producers,’ but the address is actually owned by a company that helps people get cast on reality shows and their site has no mention of KN (although they do have a call for Hell’s Kitchen 3 applicants).

Scouring news sources and The Futon Critic has turned up nothing, so, like TV Food Fan, we’ll just have to wait for enlightenment.

Cutting the Cheese, Gourmet Style

Never let it be said that Gourmet is overly in touch with the sensible world of the proletariat. This month’s issue features what may be the most outrageous cooking-related knickknack in the history of cooking-related knickknacks.

Let’s explore the words as they were written.

Coltellerie Berti’s professional cheese knives are no affectation.

Allow me to repeat: “No affectation.” Certainly not a “pose,” or “artificiality,” or “the act of taking on or displaying an attitude or mode of behavior not natural to oneself or not genuinely felt.”

Each individual blade in the boxed set of seven is designed to cut a specific type of Italian cheese.

Yes. Because, lord knows, if you use a paddle-shaped knife to cut paglietta, instead of a bow-shaped wire-style knife, the fabric of space-time will unravel and boiling uranium will pour from the skies.

($950 at unicahome.com.)

That’s … $135 a knife. You read that right. You could have a knife that looks like a putty spreader … or two weeks’ worth of groceries from Whole Foods. You could have three knives, or a Nintendo Wii and a very good bottle of single-malt Scotch. You could have the set of cheese knives, or a 14-piece All-Clad cooking set.

What is this, Gourmet or Sophie’s Choice?

Riddle Me This, Batman

Many are those aspiring souls who have “champagne taste on a beer budget.” But Oregon’s Golden Valley Brewery has come up with a quaff especially for the obverse kind of people: those with beer tastes on a champagne budget.

The brewery’s seasonal beer, IPA VS Brut, is a hoppy IPA that is treated like a sparkling wine. It’s barrel aged, bottled using Champagne yeast, and even riddled (stored neck down so that yeasts form a plug at the bottle’s top) while it undergoes a secondary fermentation.

But how does it taste? Brewmaster Mark Vickery notes in The Oregonian that

the beer pours like a deep golden Champagne with a rich head and smells of summer fruit with toasty malt. The hop aroma pretty much goes away during refermentation, but hop bitterness is still present and melds nicely with a wine-y tang.

Yum! But at around $20 for a 750 ml bottle, it ain’t PBR. Still, it’s a fine New Year’s Eve beverage for those who’d rather say “Beer me!” than “Salud.”