The CHOW Blog rss

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

Bowled Over by Smitty’s Burger

Never a fan of Smitty’s, The Oracle was surprised to find the burger can be described as a mound of heavenly goodness. The smokehouse burger has meaty slices of applewood bacon, a thick hunk of beef, the bread is delicious, and the cheese melts in perfectly overall. Fries are lightly seasoned, really nice.

Smitty’s Grill [Pasadena-ish]
110 S. Lake St., at Green, Pasadena
626-792-9999
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Smitty’s Grill (Pasadena)–review —great burger!

Desi Deli: Punjabi Standout in Hell’s Kitchen

Among Manhattan’s South Asian cabbie hangouts, Desi Deli is one of the newer entries. Skillet Licker, who’s made the rounds, says it’s also one of the best, a cut above Cuisine of Pakistan, Haandi, and Pakistan Tea House. He reports a surprisingly fine meal highlighted by soulfully delicious chickpeas. Other standouts: eggplant with green peas, malai kofta, and even a decent, fresh version of the usual throwaway salad. Saag, however, can be lackluster and over-pureed.

Also on the menu at this 24/7 Punjabi spot: goat and chicken curries, paratha and other griddled breads, tandoori chicken, a couple of chaat. Fiery green chiles grace every table, seating is serviceable, and the TV shows all Bollywood all the time.


Desi Deli [Clinton]
724 10th Ave., between W. 49th and 50th Sts., Manhattan
212-399-9007
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Desi Deli

Comforts of Home, Egyptian Style, at Astoria’s Al-Omda

There’s solid, homey Egyptian food at Astoria’s Al-Omda. Recent standouts include rich, garlicky, herbaceous green soup and juicy, tender, spice-rubbed rabbit, Brian S reports. Also good: rice pilaf, fresh pita, and pickled or spice-macerated vegetables (olives, peppers, carrots). “This place is awesome,” Brian adds. Beyond the chow, expect a bright, pleasant room and a friendly owner fluent in English.


Al-Omda [Astoria]
33-10 28th Ave., between 33rd and 34th Sts., Astoria, Queens
718-204-9393
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Al-Omda Restaurant —in Astoria, a little Egypt

Pecan Pie without Corn Syrup

Candy says this pecan pie is a nice change from those made with corn syrup-based fillings, but warns that using brown sugar made from beet sugar will lead to a gluey filling:

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
unbaked 9-inch pie shell
3 eggs
1 lb. light brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. bourbon or 1 tsp. vanilla
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Scatter pecans in bottom of pie shell. Stir together remaining ingredients (do not beat) and pour over pecans. Bake 40 minutes, then reduce heat to 225F and bake 15 minutes longer, until pie is set.

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Pecan Tassies and no corn syrup Pecan Pie

Snazzy Sugar Cookie Decoration Technique

Colored egg yolk glazes (also called egg tempera) are a great way to decorate sugar cookies. They’re made by mixing small amounts of beaten egg yolk with food coloring, and you paint them on the cookies before they are baked. The colors after baking are bright and true, says kittyfood. The glaze doesn’t add any sweetness, but you can sprinkle decorative sugars over the glaze before baking the cookies, or outline the designs with icing after baking. Be sure to have plenty of inexpensive paint brushes, or even Q-tips, for applying the glaze. It’s an excellent cookie-decorating medium for children, who become absorbed in creative cookie painting, notes Rhee.

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Help with Decorating Christmas Cookies

Foie Gras on the Half Shell

Yes, foie gras is occasionally served “cru,” i.e., raw. One such French preparation, “foie gras cru au gros sel”, is foie sliced thin like prosciutto, and sprinkled with coarse salt. Interesting, says Robert Lauriston, but the flavor and texture are better when it’s cooked.

Soaking the foie in milk and curing with some salt before the raw presentation, changes the texture and character from truly raw, adds JudyAU.

In most French recipes for raw foie, you just keep the liver in the fridge until the last minute, and then slice it with a knife that’s been dipped in warm water. The foie gras is garnished with coarse salt, crushed peppercorns and served with toasty country bread. Only the finest liver is used, says Carswell.

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Fois gras..Cru??

Spiral Sliced Hams

For a party buffet or a family meal, spriral sliced hams are a real convenience. There are some good ones out there.

Harrington’s of Vermont has good piggy products. Emilief says their spiral hams are delicious, and there’s no need even to warm them up (though you can).

Chinowayne is awaiting the arrival of a Burger’s Smokehouse semi-boneless, spiral sliced city ham. Dhedges53 says their smoked ham hocks are something special, as well.

Nueskes is another good company, with great ham and bacon. GretchenS ordered a whole, bone-in ham (“best we’ve ever eaten!”), and they offer spiral sliced too.

DanaB is a fan of Honeybaked Hams. They’re wonderfully convenient for impromptu get-togethers. They’re at their best at room temperature. Dana has never NOT been able to get the size she wanted. “It may not be the best ‘ham’ but I think they are the best ‘spiral-sliced ham’.”

Don’t forget Costco’s spiral sliced ham! Jen Kalb agrees they’re definitely not the best, but very cost effective and very good. Tip: don’t use the sweet glaze that comes with it; make your own with mustard and brown sugar, then stud the ham with cloves.

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Spiral Sliced Hams. What is the best? Honeybaked? Harry & David?

The Emperor’s New Chocolates

Fancy chocolate doesn’t come cheap, as anyone who’s swooned from sticker shock inside La Maison du Chocolat or Teuscher Chocolates knows. But at least the flown-over stuff comes with built-in import chic—and longtime chocolate-making know-how from some of the best truffle makers in the business.

But those dainty French and Swiss nibbles are priced like a Whitman’s Sampler compared to those sold by Noka Chocolates of Plano, Texas. Packed in one of their signature stainless steel boxes, 12 of Noka’s quarter-sized, bittersweet squares will set you back a stunning $99 ($39 if you skip the metal and opt for black cardboard instead). Oh, you wanted truffles? You can get eight truffles for $139 (in steel) or $70 (in cardboard). It’s hardly a surprise that Noka was founded by two accountants.

But is their chocolate really worth the price? And what’s so special about it, anyway? That’s what Texas blogger Dallas Food set out to discover, in an exhaustive nine-part expose. What starts with mild amazement at Noka’s pricing turns into an obsession with the source of chocolate for Noka’s simple confections, since (contrary to what’s implied in much of their press) the company doesn’t do their own bean-to-bar processing, but buys finished European couverture ready for molding. He narrows it down to one unconfirmed (but named) French company—a company whose own chocolate bars are readily available in many specialty shops at a comfortably reasonable price.

Interestingly enough, the Chowhound reaction focuses less on the audacity of Noka’s pricing (after all, anyone can try to kick their product into the stupid-luxury niche by charging ridiculous amounts of money; just ask the smart marketers at Grey Goose) and more on the journalistic ethics of telling only one side of the story. Not his fault, counters Dallas Food blogger Scott; when he tried to get info from the company, they “blew him off,” while his interactions with the French folks on the other end may become part of another piece.

New Wine in Old Bottles

Serious wine collectors must have a high tolerance for risk. Otherwise how could they pay thousands of dollars for a beverage that could be the nectar of the gods—or just a very expensive vinegar?

Now they have yet another thing to worry about: Experts say 5 percent of the world’s most expensive wines could be counterfeits.

There are no definite numbers on how many counterfeits are changing hands, but Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s international wine director, had a sobering assessment for investors at a London meeting. The number of 1945 vintage wines being sold exceeds 1945’s output, she said.

Of course, no one is switching the Two-Buck Chuck for One-Buck Chuck, as evidenced by the fact that this news was reported in the Palm Beach Post rather than the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But just in case we’re lucky enough to be drinking a wine of spectacular vintage, Sutcliffe tells us how to tell the difference between the real and the faux:

‘The vast majority of counterfeits are drunk with enormous pleasure,’ Sutcliffe told Decanter magazine. In fact, that is one way to ferret out a fake: Very old wines are seldom drinkable; fakes tend to be consistently good.

New Food from the New EU

There’s no question that the ever-shrinking world brings with it a host of problems: new vectors for pandemics, global terrorism, monotonous rave compilations, and so on. But the shrinking globe (and growing EU, specifically) offers some exciting new culinary opportunities, or so writes the BBC.

In a brief but nicely illustrated story posted on its website, the Beeb introduces us to Bulgarian and Romanian favorites such as ciorba de perisoare (soup with meatballs), mititei (sausage-shaped hamburgers), and lyutenitsa (a roasted red pepper relish).

Although the story sheds some welcome light on the region’s folk favorites, it lacks recipes, which is sort of a shame. Those who traveled to Eastern Europe in days of yore and sampled the hotel fare (think: discs of gray mystery meat embalmed in clear gelatin) might enjoy a chance to redeem the cuisine without having to schlep back to Warsaw.