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

When Life Gives You Sour Grapes…

If you’re faced with a bunch of grapes that turn out to be too sour for eating out of hand, here are some ideas for using them:

Freeze them and eat frozen for a tart snack.

Add them to a green salad, or to a fruit salad tossed with orange juice to sweeten it up.

Toss them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them to bring out their sugar; drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.

Saute them with onions or shallots, add a little rosemary, and serve with sausages on soft polenta.

Add them to an Indian curry.

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Sour Grapes

Keys to Great French Onion Soup

The most important step in making an excellent French onion soup is to thoroughly, patiently caramelize your onions. Keep the heat medium-low and keep stirring them until they become a deep golden color; this can easily take 30 minutes or more. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat; slow caramelization brings out the onions’ sweetness and their ultimate oniony essence, the very basis of French onion soup. If your recipe has you slicing what looks to be a mountain of onions, you’re on the right track: they’ll cook down as their water is released and they caramelize.

Use the best quality stock you can get your hands on (preferably homemade). Many hounds like some fresh thyme leaves in their French onion soup, and some add wine–red or white–to deglaze the onions before adding stock. It’s classic to finish the soup with a dash or two of cognac, but sherry and port also add wonderful nuance to the flavor. Gruyere is the preferred cheese for topping a crouton of toasted bread and browning in the oven until it’s molten and bubbly, though MMRuth likes to add a little fontina for its meltability.

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What makes a good french onion soup?


Fugu, a.k.a. blowfish, a.k.a. puffer fish, a.k.a. the-fish-that-can-kill, is known for containing a deadly neurotoxin. It’s found in the Pacific and the Atlantic. The meat is a delicacy in Japan, where only qualified masters deal with it.

Yamada3 says there’s a non-poisonus variety called kawa-fugu that comes from the Boston area. It doesn’t taste as good, though.

In some parts of the U.S. it’s not legal to prepare fugu, so much of what we have arrives pre-cut. Masa, in New York City, is licensed and is probably the best bet for getting the real deal, according to K K.

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Where can I find fugu in san francisco?

Varietal Grape Juice

Navarro Vineyards in Philo, Ca., produces grape juice from wine grape varieties. They’re incredible juices, says Pei. Their web site lists Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir grape juices and a non-alcoholic Chardonnay Verjus.

A delicious alternative for the designated driver!

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Varietal grape juices?

Tapatio – A Hot Sauce for All Seasons

Tapatio has lots of fans. It has plenty of heat and flavor and a nice acidic tang. It’s made without sugar or gluten. A 5-ounce bottle is usually under a dollar!

Favorite uses:

Season hot, buttered corn on the cob
Add to chicken ramen noodle soup
Season stuffed peppers or meatloaf
Great on eggs and in guacamole
Just the ticket in creamy soups
Sprinkle on pizza
Use on beans and rice (or any Mexican food!)


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The Road to the Oscar Mayers

For the first time ever, the Food Network will hold its own special awards show in Miami during the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

According to the aforementioned Yahoo story, the awards ceremony will be “entertaining” and “off-beat” and will feature Food Network personalities Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Tyler Florence, Sandra Lee, Alton Brown, Dan & Steve, Michael Chiarello, George Duran, Dave Lieberman, Robin Miller, Ingrid Hoffman, and Marc Summers as presenters. In addition to that cavalcade of food stars, other yet-unnamed celebrities will be attending, including “acclaimed musician” G. Love, who will be performing and who will, I am certain, not be allowed to leave the stage until he plays “Special Sauce.”

The 90-minute awards show will air on the Food Network on April 15 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, and interested parties can go to the Food Network website to vote for contestants in any and all “Viewers’ Choice” categories.

Subject to change, the announced award categories will include the following:

• Favorite Comfort Food Combo (Viewers’ Choice)
• Most Delicious Destination, highlighting a rising locale not to be
• Best Ball Park Eats (Viewers’ Choice)
• Play With Your Food: Artwork With an Edible Twist, recognizing one remarkable artist who incorporates food into their work
• Icy Innovations, awarded to innovators in the world of frozen treats
• Tasty Technology, new kitchen appliances that will change the way we cook
• “Professional Grade” Kitchen Appliance You Can’t Live Without (Viewers’ Choice)
• “Hot” Chocolate List, recognizing the hottest chocolatier in the country
• Food Hall of Fame: Tribute to Julia Child, television and food pioneer
• Share Our Strength Food Humanitarian Award, a person who makes the world a better place through food
• Culinary Dreams Can Come True: Culinary Institute of America Scholarship and Food Network Mentorship of a Lifetime
• Favorite Childhood Classics (Viewers’ Choice), awarded to the favorite children’s book about food
• Not Your Grandmother’s Food of the Month Club, given to the most unique food-of-the-month club
• SUPER Market, presented to the grocery chain that has changed the way we shop
• Best Better Burger, recognizing a burger company with a mindful approach to their product and operation
• Favorite Coolest Cocktail (Viewers’ Choice), celebrating Food Network viewers’ favorite classic drink
• Edible Entrepreneurs, acknowledging individuals with a passion for food and an entrepreneurial spirit
• Funniest Food Festival, honoring the wackiest food festival in the country

Eater brings up a valid point: “Somewhat confusing is the extent to which the show seems completely devoid of excitement. There is not a ‘Chef of the Year,’ ‘Food of the Year,’ ‘Food Entertainer of the Year’ or the like in sight.”

I think I’m going to have to start calling this new awards show “The Oscar Mayers.” Now, what wines will go best with bologna sandwiches and wieners?

“Top Chef” Chaos

This week’s episode of Top Chef takes a step away from the food to focus more fully on mega-drama and frat-house antics—and has apparently lost some viewers in the process.

In a scandal that Television Without Pity has dubbed “Clippergate,” two of the five remaining cheftestants—whiz kid Ilan and pastry queen Elia—decide one drunken night to shave their heads; then, seemingly in collusion with Ilan, the brawny Cliff awakens the reviled Marcel and holds him down for a shearing (which, let’s be honest, he could use). But when Marcel struggles violently, whoever is holding the clippers (it seems to be Elia) decides not to carry out the prank, and front-runner Sam sits laughing at the scene while refusing to take part.

The awkward, painful-looking wrestling match continues for what seems like way too long before Cliff sets Marcel free. The next day, Cliff is dismissed from the show, and the others are given a stern talking-to for their roles in the joke-turned-assault.

Ironically, the judges rave more about the cheftestants’ dishes in this episode, which are deemed good to excellent across the board, than they have in any other. But flavor, creativity, plating, and all the rest don’t ultimately count for much in this episode’s elimination—and that’s disappointing to a food-oriented fan base that normally eschews reality shows. Is it simply impossible for reality TV to transcend its drama-mongering roots? For those of you who watch the show, did this or any of the previous episodes cause you to question your loyalty?

You’re Supposed to Burn It

You’re Supposed to Burn It

Tools for creating aromatic smoke, à la the molecular gastronomists READ MORE

Dashing Up to New Brunswick

My logistical skills have been falling well short of Prussian military standard. Assigned to, essentially, meander for weeks on end, I’ve lost my organizational chops.

The drive from Maine to Saint John, New Brunswick—a three-hour yawner—was followed by a dull five-hour slog to Nova Scotia. These eight hours of boredom served as penance for my having missed, by a mere one day, the last ferry of the season from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia.

It’s not that I was aiming to miss New Brunswick. The point of this tour—of life itself—is that great food can be found everywhere if you look for it skillfully and persistently. So I knew there was treasure in New Brunswick, despite its culinary disreputation. But I have a radio date coming up in Halifax, plus I’m eager to check out Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, and, especially, the Magdalen Islands, where I hear that people eat seal meat. So I was forced to sprint the 500 miles through New Brunswick.

I made one stop en route today, for a random dish of poutine (french fries in gloppy brown gravy with squeaky cheese curds) from a fast-food outfit called Deluxe French Fries (103 Albion Street South, Amherst, Nova Scotia; 902-660-7000):

Good-quality french fries made this relatively high-class poutine. The brown sauce was, as it must be, straight from a can, and the cheese curds were–as they, too, must be—vulgar and trashy. Such is poutine. If you clean it up too much, it’s not really poutine anymore. If I were 20 years younger and four beers drunker, this would have been pure heaven.

Also in Amherst, I tried to track down a tantalizing clue, courtesy of Eartha (my GPS navigation concierge). Suffering a cookie jones, I’d asked her to list nearby bakeries, and she offered “Shirley’s Baking and Catering.”

Even with Eartha’s help, though, I could not find it. Perhaps Shirley works out of her house, but there’s no commercial business at 2812 Brownell Ave. Hmmm … as I stare at the photo, I’m wondering whether the address might actually have been 28 1/2 Brownell. Groan.

Other than that, I just blazed through, and only the last hour or two (in the thick of Nova Scotia) was any kind of picturesque. Well, a surfeit of picturesqueness was in store for me in Lunenburg.

I stayed at Greybeard’s Bed and Breakfast (201 Pelham Street, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 888-532-9696), run by Bob Higgins, an affable gray-bearded fellow, and his good-humored wife, Rosanna. They take particular pride in their breakfasts, and with good reason. It all tasted as good as it looks:

Cantaloupe mousse!

Blueberry banana bread.

The following dish was made with smoked salmon. Very good old-time maritime cooking—with evident design flair:

Bob and Rosanna introduced me to rooibos (“ROY-buss”) tea, a noncaffeinated herbal brew made from a South African red bush. Early adopters, Bob and Rosanna used to have seafaring friends bring back rooibos from Africa, but suddenly you can find the stuff across Canada. It left me a little cold—it tasted a bit like weak chamomile—but I’m going to try to acquire a taste for this stuff.

Bob recommended Magnolia’s Grill (128 Montague Street, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 902-634-3287), a funky little local legend cooking both Nova Scotian and Cajun food (fortunately, they don’t attempt to fuse the two). I stuck with the Nova Scotian end of the menu, and was entirely impressed.

This is the annex, next door to the cozy dining room.

Fish cakes, a staple up here, are a delight. They’re mostly spuds—think of them as potato cakes “plus.”

So soft, so carefully fried. Not fishy at all.

Mussels were merely good—a great disappointment given the proximity to Prince Edward Island.

Magnolia’s crunchy, perfectly balanced Caesar salad was nearly as good as George Sape’s (see report #39), and the key lime pie was stupendous. Its crust (Deep South style, per the chef’s Cajun/Creole association) was crumbly and melting—exactly what you dream of when you dream of key lime pie crust. As you can see, the filling’s a bit runny, but that’s OK:

I love places like this, run by strong-willed mavericks. Magnolia isn’t a member of the chamber of commerce, and you won’t find it listed in any of the town materials. The chef/owner is known to be cranky and difficult. But she respects the local cuisine, opting not to ostentatiously update it, but instead to prepare it with an uncommonly deft and caring touch.

+ + +

Knot Pub (4 Dufferin, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 902-634-3334) is an old fishermen’s pub straight out of The Hobbit, an insider’s place where the insider order is superb peanut butter pie:

It’s all about that dense, hard layer of chocolate and the crumbly graham cracker crust. This pie is thoroughly unrefined, in stark contrast to the dessert meticulousness of Magnolia’s Grill. But it’s primo for its type.

Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is picture perfect ... but self-consciously so. I like the food, and the Greybeard Inn, too, but I prefer locales less self-aware of their own charm. Tomorrow I’ll hit the road again.

Don’t Stare, Dear, You’ll Only Encourage Them

Who needs Hannibal Lecter? Artist Marco Evaristti’s latest project is called Polpette al grasso di Marco, which translates as “meatballs in the fat of Marco,” and that’s just what they are. Using fat suctioned out of his abdomen, Evaristti first sealed the excess flab in cans, then made and devoured a plate of meatballs made with the stuff—all on camera, of course.

Going to physical extremes for art has been done before, of course, from Orlan’s plastic-surgery projects to Chris Burden’s staging of his own shooting, way back in 1971.

But somehow, the yuck factor of eating one’s fat seems way higher. What do you think—commentary on consumption and celebrity culture, or gross-out stunt?