The CHOW Blog rss

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

This Year I Will …

This Year I Will …

Resolutions that are attainable, fun, even educational-- and all available right here. READ MORE

Good Luck with That

Good Luck with That

May you live a long, healthy, prosperous, loving life. READ MORE

Behind the Swinging Doors

Behind the Swinging Doors

A day in the life of a restaurant kitchen. READ MORE

Old Beer Is New Again

Old Beer Is New Again

Aging suds in oak casks comes back in style. READ MORE

Faking It

You’d think that after helping to direct a few Williams-Sonoma cookbook shoots, I’d be up on all the food fake-outs. Actually, we tried really hard not to pull from the same bag of tricks some food stylists and photographers trot out on a regular basis, so I never watched a side of beef get shined up with spray-on lacquer or set up a bowl of Cheerios with Crisco masquerading as milk.

That said, I get rather discouraged when my culinary creations come out looking not so much like porn as they do a really bad movie on Skinemax. However, Gael over at Pop Culture Junk Mail alerted me to this entertaining piece by Carin Moonin in the Willamette Week.

Moonin writes:

But we have a strange relationship, cookbooks and I. They lure me with shiny pages, happy lists and lush photographs. Deviled eggs are perkily piped. Lamb gleams, wantonly, under a balsamic reduction. Lasagna bubbles off the page.

But cookbooks, tragically, lead me to a place I can’t go. I’m a writer, not an artist. I’ve taken knife-skills classes, sushi-rolling tutorials and cake-decorating seminars, and I’m still at the same level of artistic aptitude as when I made macaroni necklaces. While the stuff I make tastes good, it never, ever, looks like the picture.

She then proceeds to make a handful of recipes in an attempt to re-create their accompanying tempting images in the cookbooks, and has Carol Ladd and Ellen Ladd, two food stylists, critique her results with such comments as, “Seriously? Are you actually trying to replicate the plate as it’s composed in the book?” and “Sometimes a perfect drip—or the sensation of gooey-ness that you get from pulling the cupcake apart—can be achieved with candle wax, strategically placed and covered with the actual foodstuff …”

I now feel so much better about all my holiday entertaining. If anyone comments on my presentation, I’m going to ask them if they’d rather eat my candles.

Spiritual Hunger

The Los Angeles Times has a fun piece that explores why images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary keep popping up in people’s baked goods. While I personally think the answer may have something to do with the Maillard reaction, the piece doesn’t go into the chemistry; unsurprisingly, the reason is psychological—a phenomenon called pareidolia, in which people perceive patterns where none are intended.

The exciting thing about the article is the specifics, a great summary of the last three decades of holy sightings in food and people’s reaction to them. There’s the candy-factory worker who found the Madonna in a stray blob of chocolate: “I can’t describe the feeling; the emotions make me cry,” she said. And then there’s the “famous Jesus tortilla of New Mexico,” which is said to have set “the world standard for claims of miracle sightings”—it received so many visitors that its owner “quit her job as a maid to become full-time attendant to the shrine of the tortilla built in her home.”

How do religious officials react to these sightings, you may ask?

‘The church encourages Christians to see the face of Christ in the homeless, the poor, the destitute and the immigrant—not in a plate of pasta,’ said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. ‘Imagine showing up on your judgment day in front of God, and he says, “Where did you see me? Did you see me in the poor and the immigrant and the homeless?” And you say, “Well, no, but I did see you in a piece of chocolate once.” Doesn’t sound so good, does it?’

Touché, Mr. Tamberg, touché. On the other hand, the fact that some of the highest-profile sightings lately have been in food rather than in other objects—and that, as the LAT reports, “followers of Islam have said they’ve seen the Arabic script for ‘Allah’ or ‘Muhammad’ on fish scales, chicken eggs, lambs and beans”—is really fascinating. Do humans just have a natural tendency toward deifying food?

Death by Chocolate Robot

The current Doctor Who sci-fi series, starring David Tennant as the Doctor, is going strong both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It’s one of the most popular shows at Television Without Pity and can trace its hearty roots back to 1963, when the first series aired in the UK.

Every Doctor Who fan—even those of us who were fans during the curly-headed Tom Baker years—is familiar with the evil robot race, the Daleks. Bent on ultimate domination of the universe, Daleks are ruthless, merciless, and deadly. According to their Wikipedia entry:

[The Daleks] have become synonymous with Doctor Who and their behaviour and catchphrases are part of British popular culture. ‘Hiding behind the sofa whenever the Daleks appear’ has even been cited as an essential element of British cultural identity, along with Bovril and afternoon tea.

Furthermore, the Daleks are particularly famous for repeating their stilted catchword, “Ex-ter-min-ate!” until you are chilled to your human core. So, are you with me so far? Daleks: evil, robotic, killers. But also? Tasty.

Chocablog presents us with a fabulous Dalek chocolate cake recipe called “Extermination by Chocolate.” Would you believe there’s even an entire Flickr group solely devoted to Dalek Cakes? It’s true.

Who knew that eventual robot world domination could be so decadent?

Mapping the Mustache

Mapping the Mustache

CHOW's milk taste test. READ MORE

Springtime for Hitler and Gingerbread

Just in time for Hanukkah, an Ohio artist has created an art exhibit composed of Nazi gingerbread men. Not surprisingly, the exhibit was booted out of its hardware-store-window display area after passersby observed that it was more conducive to Kristallnacht than good old-fashioned American holiday spirit.

As someone whose mother’s grandparents were literally driven out of Odessa by rampaging Cossacks (who reportedly chased Great Aunt Fanny through the garden on horseback on more than one occasion), I’m squarely in the demographic that should be offended.

However, the problem with the exhibit isn’t that its shocking content provokes outrage and passionate discourse. The problem is that virtually everything invoking Nazis at this point is a cultural and artistic nonstarter. This sort of phone-it-in controversy is why they invented Godwin’s Law.

Now, when somebody gets around to making gay far-right wing evangelical pastor gingerbread men, shoot me an email.

New York’s Got Nothin’

In an engaging review of the new pizza place that has New York City food writers all agush, Gothamist’s Hungry Cabbie laments the sorry state of New York pizza. It’s not that he doesn’t like the pies at white-hot Lucali as much as the next guy—he does. “It is undeniably tasty pizza,” the HC writes. The problem, he says, is what all this love for Lucali says about the city’s ‘za scene:

A brand new place opens and within hours, there is a long wait just to get through the door. And every food writer in the city jumps on the story. This shouldn’t be a story. Lucali’s is good—very good—but I wish it had gotten a little lost in a crowd of great pizza places. However, there just isn’t much of a crowd of great pizza places.

He argues that “New York pizza” as a legendary foodstuff has gone way downhill, to the point that it has nothing on other cities’ best-known specialties:

Go to Grenada and every falafel you find will be absolutely amazing. Go to Chicago and every hot dog you eat will make your heart skip a beat (or stop beating entirely). Go to Napoli and every pizza will be perfect.

Is he right? Do these kinds of well-worn cliches about cities and their food really hold true? I live in New York and definitely understand where the HC is coming from on the pizza front, but I don’t know if I believe that the legendary foods in any city are uniformly good (my one hot dog experience in Chicago wasn’t very memorable, anyway). Where there’s legend there are tourists, and where there are tourists there’s a breeding ground for mediocre food at exorbitant prices, no?