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

Stand-Ins for Panko

Panko, the Japanese breadcrumbs that make super-crispy breading, are made with special dough and an electromagnetic cooking process–not something recreatable at home. Chowhounds offer a couple of alternatives if you’re stuck panko-less and crave crispiness:

chameleonz approximates panko’s texture by trimming the crusts from good whole-loaf white bread, slicing it, letting the slices sit uncovered for an hour, and running them through the shredding disc on a food processor. Then he spreads the crumbs on a baking sheet and put in the oven with the heat off until they dry out.

shanagain gives Rice Krispies a whirl in the food processor. Seriously, she says, they do the trick.

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How can I make Panko?

Bean Soup with Bacon

Katie Nell set out to recreate her childhood favorite, Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, but better–and says it’s the best soup she’s ever made. Even better served with garlic bread!

Here’s the recipe:

1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small red onion, in small dice
1/2 small red pepper, in small dice
1 large carrot, in small dice
3 small cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken stock

1 can white beans
Parmesan cheese

Fry the bacon in a saucepan until crispy, then drain and set aside, reserving the bacon fat in the pan. Add butter to pan and saute red onion, red pepper, and carrot until they just start to caramelize; add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add thyme; cook for 1 minute. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add flour and cook 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add white beans and bacon, and heat until warmed through. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top.

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...my Bean w/ Bacon Soup Recipe!

Get Your Red Hot Kielbasa Right Here

New Poland is a terrific resource for Polish food products, listed by state.

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Polish sausage from central IL–any available online?

Western-Inspired Chinese Food

Hong Kong-style cafes and restaurants serve western food for an Asian clientele. The offerings are reasonably priced and the resulting dishes can be surprising. Some of these places will span Chinese, American, French, and Russian influences, yielding French-style onion soup, clam chowder, borsht, as well as congee-type porridge. The borsht will often be made with tomatoes, instead of beets.

Sometimes the dish is named after the country that inspired it:

“Russian style” = A red sauce with some vegetables
“Mexican style” = “Russian style” with kidney beans
“German style salted ham hock” = based on schweinhaxe

Cities that have large Hong Kong immigrant populations will have these eclectic places. Peanut butter porky bun, anyone?

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Hong Kong-style Western food–$6 entree w/ soup (borscht) ,salad, spaghetti, dessert, ginger coke & $4 breakfast
Prince Cafe–19th and Geary, SF–Report

Mystery Chicken Part

After much anatomical discussion, the mystery of this chicken part seems to be solved. You won’t find it in the baggie containing giblets.

In the cavity of some commercially dressed chickens there are two reddish-brown blobs that rest next to the lower spine. They ‘re leftover bits of the kidneys.

Karl S recommends checking for them and removing them. If left alone, they’ll add a slightly acrid note to the pan juices.

All you ever wanted to know about chicken innards

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in the chicken cavity–kidney? liver?

Kid in a Candy Store

Kid in a Candy Store

Fresh from Madrid Fusión, a peek into Heston's goodies. READ MORE

No Squirrel for You

Squirrels are scarier than ever.

There once was a time—long before it became famous as a haven for mobsters and a mecca for ziti—when New Jersey was known mainly for its toxic-waste dumps.

Sadly, that time may be returning. The Trentonian reports that New Jersey officials are warning residents in the Ringwood area not to consume too many squirrels after a lead-contaminated bushy-tailed critter was found.

A letter sent Tuesday to Ringwood residents advised them that children should not eat squirrel more than once a month, pregnant women should limit their intake to twice a month, and adults should not eat squirrel more than twice a week.

The area is home to the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe, who often hunt, fish, and forage for their food, as well as a toxic-waste dump that has been on the list of Superfund sites for years.

Even small amounts of ingested lead can create a host of problems, including nervous-system damage and problems with brain development in children.

Maybe the government should clean up that site so that mesquite squirrel can come back to the northern New Jersey table.

Someone’s Got to Play with the Chocolate

In the realm of dream job, how does spending a month playing with chocolate sound? Sarah Copeland of the Food Network has done just that. Hey—someone’s got to make sure your chocolate soufflés don’t “expire.”

The project was in preparation for the Food Network’s guide Chocolate 101, which includes tips, history, buying and tasting notes, how-to pointers, and recipes. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the sweet dark stuff. As she reports on the Food Network Kitchen blog, Sarah and colleague Mory Thomas spent a month working on the recipes for the features—and, most important, the photos.

In order to get a great photograph of a soufflé just when it is at its highest, we had to have plenty of mise en place ready to account for the fact that a soufflé will exhale (or fall, if you must) before it makes it on film. Next, we baked off a dozen soufflés at intervals to shoot as we adjusted lighting, a composition until we came up with two shots that we loved.

While baking—and subsequently devouring—soufflé after soufflé may sound like a rough job, Sarah claims that it is all for “the greater good of chocolate lovers everywhere.”

Hmm, now where can I get a job like that? I’m ready to martyr myself for chocolate.

Until then, I’ll just have to content myself with reading up on the Food Network’s Chocolate 101.

Testing Those Table Manners

Worried that students may be losing their culture to the onslaught of hamburgers and spaghetti, a high school in Nagasaki, Japan, has added a new test to its entrance exams—chopsticks skills.

According to an article from international news resource Agence France-Presse titled “Japanese Students Face Chopstick Test,” applicants to the Hisata Gakuen Girls’ High School in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, must demonstrate proficient use of chopsticks by gracefully transferring marbles, beads, and beans from one plate to another. “This is simply one factor to assess whether these girls can handle chopsticks correctly, which is really the most basic element in education,” said Katushi Hisata, vice principal of the school. He says that only 20 percent of Japanese students use chopsticks correctly.

The increasing popularity of non-Japanese food such as pizza and fried chicken is partly to blame for faulty chopsticks skills. In addition, more women in the work force means that more children eat meals alone these days. “It’s surprising to see how many children don’t know how to hold chopsticks correctly, which is a part of the Japanese culture’s beauty,” said Hisata.

What’s next: after school tutoring sessions for remedial chopstick users?

Halifax: Faux Turks and Primordial Corned Beef Hash

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Island is shut tight for the season, so I’ll be hunkering down in Halifax for the next few days. If I’d arrived just a week or two earlier, there’d have been many more Maritime options, but the prospect of eating seal meat in the Magdalen Islands, et al., will have to wait for another trip.

But I’m not suffering. Halifax is a dynamite town, just large enough for urban culture and edge, but small enough to feel personal. And you’re still in Nova Scotia, so there’s a certain softness in the air.

I’ve never heard anyone describe the Canadian Maritimes as a culinary hotbed, so I was stunned by the chowhounding savvy of callers in to the Maritime Noon show, which had me on as a guest. By kind permission of the folks at the CBC (and the show’s host, Costas Halavrezos—who, as you’ll hear, really groks the ethos), here’s the entire program: MP3.

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I spent the day running around sampling quick bites. The following is an overview of the chowconnaisance:

The Ardmore Tea Room (6499 Quinpool, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-423-7523), a no-nonsense old-time diner, serves the primordial corned beef hash. A frequent theme of my trip has been discovering local traditions that inspired ubiquitous mass-market foods, and this is clearly the sort of hash that inspired canned corned beef hash.

I don’t mean Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s grabbed the recipe from this very kitchen. But the Ardmore opened in 1958, and their hash is an amazing trip back in time. Nobody in New York City (or anywhere else I’ve been) makes hash like this anymore. What does this legacy hash taste like? Like canned corned beef hash, only soulful. Just like Chattanooga fried chicken tastes like Banquet fried chicken, only soulful. And Memphis ribs taste like barbecue potato chips, only soulful. And so on …

These folks all surely ate lots and lots of hash in their day:

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Donair shops are everywhere, serving what I’m used to seeing spelled “Döner”: compressed meat on a spit. But despite the similar spelling, this is a whole different compressed meat on a spit. It’s Halifax Donair, made by guys as Turkish as Doug McKenzie. Brace yourself as I explain what they use for sauce on these babies: vinegar, sugar, and evaporated milk. The result at least visually resembles the yogurt sauce used on Turkish döner, though the taste is, er, quite distinctive. My theory is that a visiting Turk once accidentally dropped a photo of döner on the streets of Halifax, and the relic went viral (and oh so wrong).

My stomach went a little viral after just a few bites of this sandwich from one of the downtown branches of King of Donair:


The swarthy King of Donair proudly displays his royal accouterments.

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I was endlessly fascinated by Tom’s Little Havana Café (5428 Doyle Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-423-TOM’S). This is a super-popular gin mill/cigar bar, where the thick cigar smoke adds yet more cinematic ambiance to a scene already straight out of a European movie. Despite its dramatic high ceilings, the room is warm and intimate, comfortably hosting a clientele spanning oddball loners to coiffed scenesters.

There’s a wide selection of local beers, and a kitchen the size of a closet turns out an ambitiously long list of dishes cooked with equal parts irony and naiveté. The terse dish names do little to describe what’s actually served, so ordering here is like making a wish to one of those tricky genies who never conjure up quite what you’d expected. The pace is too bustling to engage much with servers, and there are no menus beyond the terse chalkboard, so your only hope is to seek the counsel of a regular with experience in this place’s wacky oeuvre:

Local beer and wine guru Jeff Pinney suggested Havana rolls, sort of deconstructed chickeny egg rolls refashioned as wraps … or chicken stir-fry wrapped in a flour tortilla and baked. Whatever they are, they’re defined by their utter non-Cuban-ness. This place is no more Havana than the donair joints are Turkish. But they’re not aiming for Cuban. The name’s just a point of departure for whatever twisted genius (I visualize a wise-ass 11-year-old with a toaster oven and hot plate) whips this stuff up in the nano-kitchen.

The rolls are served with herbacious dipping sauce and tequila salsa, and, speaking of departure, they taste like they were made on another planet—which is not to say they’re not tasty. They are, and I pretty much inhaled them:

Just as the Havana rolls are the antithesis of Cuba, beef-chipotle quesadillas here contain no cheese:

Jeff had never tried them before, but I insisted on ordering potato pancakes, which tasted like deconstructed Indian pakoras (complete with cardamom) refashioned as latkes, with a dipping sauce of chutney refashioned as ketchup:

The food is primitive, even amateurish, yet supremely confident and intriguing as can be. It’s like a distinct cuisine, with its own internal flavor logic. One yens to work through the entire menu, preferably with a guidebook to the cuisine in hand (The Lonely Planet Guide to Tom’s Little Havana Café?). It’s all very trippy, very Alice in Wonderland … with cigars! (Note: By the time you read this, anti-smoking legislation will have cut in. Let’s hope they’re still in business …)

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Charming, obscure Mrs. P’s Bakery (336 Herring Cove Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-479-1293) makes real good oat cakes and other everyday baked goods. They’re quietly witty, nice folks, too.

Oat cakes are a blurry, homely sort of treat. The camera resists all attempts at focus.

You can taste each of the 600 miles from New York City in those highly Canadian black-and-white cookies.

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Tarek’s Café (3045 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-454-8723) is a shopping-strip Lebanese restaurant with great potential. Their toom (garlic mayonnaise) is sharp, pungent, just right. Tzatziki is lush; kibbe is authentic, down to the pignoli. Buf falafel’s nuked—everything seems to be nuked, robbing the food of its soul. My guess is that the trick is to arrive early when the food’s warm and fresh, and get to know Mama, cooking in the back, so that she’ll make you special dishes (I get the feeling she’d take requests). This is a restaurant that requires effort and strategy.