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

“Fattening Up” Milk

What’s a hound to do when there’s only skim milk and heavy cream on hand, and the cake calls for half and half? Or the family rice pudding recipe calls for whole milk and you’ve only got 2%? Faced with the rice pudding conundrum, Lisa M added a tablespoon of butter to her quart of milk, and was happy with the results. Here are some other suggestions:

It’s possible to enrich milk by reducing it, says PDXpat; removing some of the water will increase the butterfat content by volume, but will also increase the protein content, which may affect the way milk behaves in certain recipes.

Keeping cream or half and half on hand can also help. Karl S shares this formula, which shows how to “fatten up” skim milk to equal higher-fat dairy products:

To approximate 1 cup of higher-fat dairy, add the following to 1 cup of skim milk:

1% milk: 1.5 tsp. heavy cream, 1 Tbsp. light cream, or 2 Tbsp. half and half
2% milk: 1 Tbsp. heavy cream, 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. light cream, or 3 Tbsp. half and half
whole milk: 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, 3 Tbsp. light cream, or 4 Tbsp. half and half
half and half: 5 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. heavy cream or 5 oz. light cream
light cream: 9 Tbsp. heavy cream

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Weird question: Can I ‘fatten up’ milk?

Best Pie Pans for Browned Bottom Crusts

Overwhelmingly, chowhounds agree that clear Pyrex pie plates are your best choice for achieving a well-browned bottom crust. Since it is clear tempered glass, you can easily see the color of your crust, unlike with a solid metal pan. “A pie is not done until you can see a deep brown bottom,” states Becca Porter. You may need to cover the top crust or edges of your pie crust with foil or a pie crust shield to keep it from overbrowning before the bottom is done. Pyrex pie plates are ubiquitous–they’re available in almost any kitchenware department and many supermarkets–and inexpensive, at around $4 for a 9-inch pan.

Karl S says that an old-fashioned mid-century metal pie pan with a mesh bottom was the best ever for browning. The modern equivalent are Chicago Metallic perforated pie pans, which have holes in the bottom that allow the oven’s heat to flow freely around the bottom crust. Procrastibaker notes that Gourmet magazine chose these pans as best for browning.

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Best type of pie pan for browned crust

A Good Cup o’ Joe

Luwak has coffee brewing down to a science. He says there are two main factors that determine the outcome, “dilution” and “extraction.” The strength of the coffee relies on the coffee-to-water ratio–the dilution. The quality of flavor depends on extraction, which is determined by how fine the coffee is ground, how long it steeps, and by the quality of the water itself.

Start with good, fresh coffee beans. For drip coffee makers, grind them to a consistency that allows the water to run through in about 4 minutes. Less than 3 minutes and the coffee is liable to be weak, more than 5 minutes and it may become bitter tasting.

The method:

Measure 2 tablespoons per 6 fluid ounces of brewing water. Calculate how long it takes for the brew to finish dripping through the filter. (The last few drops taste awful; don’t wait for those.) If it takes much more than the 4 minutes, try a coarser grind. Less than 3 minutes, grind it finer. Adjust the grind setting, or count the seconds you’re grinding, to get it just right.

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The grind of coffee beans

Wickles

Wickles are called wickles because, supposedly, they are “wickedly delicious pickles.” They’re sort of dilly, garlicky and sweet, all at the same time. ipsedixit says they really punch up a sandwich of pulled pork, or even a banh mi. The company is based in the south, but Wickles have been spotted in Ohio and upstate New York, so they’re out there.

They can be ordered online. It took about 3 weeks for Pegmeister to receive hers, but they did arrive, and with a complimentary jar of relish as compensation for the wait.

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Wickles?

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Lingering Yeast Infection

As if it weren’t bad enough having to read blog entry after blog entry about the Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe published last month in The New York Times, Mark Bittman is back, telling us even more about it (registration required).

The saturation of this recipe is deep and wide. According to Bittman, “In the last few weeks Jim Lahey’s recipe has been translated into German, baked in Togo, discussed on more than 200 blogs and written about in other newspapers. It has changed the lives (their words, not mine) of veteran and novice bakers.”

It’s such a simple recipe, he needs to come back and explain it again?

His pointers this time around are practically remedial:

SALT Many people, me included, felt Mr. Lahey’s bread was not salty enough. Yes, you can use more salt and it won’t significantly affect the rising time.

YEAST Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like.

As Bittman claimed in the original article (registration required), Lahey’s technique may be the best thing since sliced bread, but please, its 15 minutes are done. We’re over it, we’re bored with it, now we’re just getting annoyed by it.

And now I can’t even go knead some bread to let off steam!

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The Chocolate Wars

A century ago, Big Chocolate was a nest of corporate espionage, counterespionage, betrayal, and other intrigue. Yes, kids, Mr. Slugworth would definitely have paid Charlie to steal one of Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers.

With a brand-spanking-new M&M’s World retail store opening in New York’s Times Square, the chocolate wars may be heating up again. The problem? The new 25,000-square-foot M&M’s superstore squats menacingly across the street from an existing (smaller) Hershey’s store. Newsweek has a piece that looks at the corporate rivalry between Hershey’s and M&M’s parent company, Mars.

Was the decision to put the store across the street from Hershey’s a malicious one?

‘We wanted to be in New York, we wanted to be in Times Square, and then we wanted to be in the best location we could find,’ John Haugh, president of the Mars retail group, says. ‘Coincidentally, that happened to be across the street from another chocolate brand.’

Well then, I guess not.

Followers of the Foam

You’ve seen them around—waiting for the elusive email from El Bulli, snatching up tableware designed for Alinea, and ordering food-grade sodium alginate. They’re the fans of molecular gastronomy—mad scientists in the kitchen.

Food blogger Rob, of Hungry in Hogtown, is one of the faithful. When he’s not putting his sodium alginate to work re-creating El Bulli’s famous liquid ravioli (for the uninitiated, that’s ravioli without pasta to keep it together), he’s mixing white chocolate and sturgeon caviar, caramelizing trout roe, gilding a quail egg, and smuggling the El Bulli 1994–1997 cookbook, not yet available in North America, back from Europe.

Rob even credits early incidents of food experimentation (throwing disliked vegetables back onto his plate as a child) as attempts at culinary experimentation. “Grandma, do you remember that time I ‘made’ deconstructed spinach?”

This month, Rob is deconstructing Homaro Cantu and a meal at Moto. He imagines Cantu as the class nerd in school, president of the chess club. “Marginalized by many, poor Homaro … overcompensates for his nerdiness by being the biggest, baddest nerd he can be. In the kitchen … this makes Homaro Cantu a molecular gastronomy chef who thinks too much about the ‘molecular,’ and not enough about the ‘gastronomy.’”

While a comparison between Alinea’s Grant Achatz (whose innovative cuisine Rob recently sampled) and Moto’s Cantu leaves Moto in second place, Rob pays homage to Cantu as well. “A dinner conceived and executed by Cantu is not to be missed; to be debated, loved, and reviled, yes, but never dismissed.”

His notes from the dinner include:

Does anything say good eats quite like a notice that the cracker cum menu you’re about to eat is made using patent-pending technology? The menu is a neat trick, but the cracker itself is nothing special, being only marginally more savory than the paper it replaces.

The ‘plate’ for this dish resembles an overdone, hyper-modern Battleship board that has spent too much time on a fetish porn set…. Shame about the overdone presentation and the underdone beans, because the bison itself is succulent.

Goat cheese snow and balsamic—According to our server, goat cheese snow is made using a paint sprayer. I guess that means I need a paint sprayer for Christmas, because it’s wonderful.

And for those of you with an aspiring molecular gastronomist on your holiday shopping list, a paint sprayer is only one of the options for your gift-buying consideration. Wired News has released its list of “Gifts for the Nanogastronome”, which includes an industrial dehydrator (all the better to make your pineapple powder with), an immersion circulator to monitor the temperature of your sous-vide, and the Cuisine Technology Anti-Griddle, “a minus-30-degree ‘cooking’ surface that freezes foods on contact.”

All of which should make the Robs on your list very happy. But not nearly as much as a pair of those desperately desired El Bulli reservations would.