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

Brazilian Buffetification (but Great Bacon)

Framingham, Massachusetts

Back to the center of the universe, Magic Oven. I need to explain that Brazilian bakeries don’t just make sweets. They do plenty of pastries, cakes, breads, and puddings, but also salgadinhos (little salty hors d’oeuvres), sandwiches, and juices.

First, here are some dramatic photos of a pao de queijo (cheese roll), as promised in report 42:

It’s important to arrive early, when things are fresh. I wish you could taste this crisp risole de frango, filled with gobs of cheesy creamy chickeny goodness:

Nice discovery: a bright yellow pudding called mingau de milho verde, made from green corn. It’s irresistible, but that’s true of most Brazilian puddings.

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I had such a great experience in the Cheese Shop of Wellesley (61 Central Street, Wellesley, Massachusetts; 781-237-0916), a.k.a. Wasik’s Cheese Shop, a short ride from Framingham. Stupendous selection; true-believing, generous-taste-offering, raucously funny counter people; and lots of cool non-cheese food items.

They gave me, as a virgin customer, a jar of their luxurious, cheese-friendly Yankee Chutney, which contains sugar, peaches, vinegar, raisins, red pepper, apples, lemon juice, spices, onion, and salt.

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I had to return to Sichuan Gourmet (see last report) and try more things. This time I brought along a friend who’s a native Mandarin speaker. Hear his patient but futile attempts to improve my pronunciation as we await our dishes: MP3.

Here’s what we had:


Chengdu spicy dumpling.


Steamed bacon with fresh garlic spicy sauce.


Bacon detail.


Cold spicy diced rabbit (on the bone).


Gangou dry fish fillet (a special).

The dumpling was primo, and the bacon was beyond primo, showing exquisite knifework.

The deal here is that there is one master chef (also co-owner, I believe) dividing his time between two locations (the other one is at (502 Boston Road, Billerica, Massachusetts; 978-670-7339). His touch is unmistakable—he did the knifework on the bacon, he preps the Szechuan made-ahead cold items, like beef tendon. His touch is also palpable in simple items produced according to formula, like dan dan noodles. But if you order dishes made in the moment with lots of on-the-fly decision making, you are at the mercy of a busy kitchen full of chefs of varying quality. The rabbit was a bit dull, and the fish fillet was downright icky. I ordered the cumin lamb a second time tonight, and it lacked je ne sais quoi.

So the thing to do is stick with cold Szechuan items and simpler prepared stuff, and work to develop enough of a relationship with the restaurant that you can find out where the top chef is at any given time … and try to persuade him to cook your meal. This is a difficult thing to achieve, but possible. It’s the work one does to get the best from any good Chinese restaurant, where each order can be like a round of wok roulette.

I’ve looked up the place on Chowhound, and see that opinions vary wildly. It’s clearly a result of chef roulette (plus some folks who are unaccustomed to the wildly oily/spicy nature of real Szechuan food).

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Meanwhile, nothing but disappointment on the Brazil front. In previous visits, just about every Brazilian eatery in town looked, smelled, and/or tasted really good. This time, it’s all changed. There are no more little homey places. Everything’s turning to shiny buffets. Which, come to think of it, is a progression I’ve noticed before in Brazilian immigrant communities. Talented, caring chefs struggle to make a living putting out quality, but the average Brazilian immigrant seems most interested in filling up cheaply. Sadly, this seems the case in Framingham, which is all of a sudden rife with buffets churning out flairless food.

I kept asking around, walking around, driving around, trying to uncover a holdout or two. But really, this is all it’s about now: a bunch of very similar buffets. Typical was the last one I hit, Casa Brasil:

As usual with buffets, eating here was a highly impersonal experience, with diners moping slowly from tray to tray, drab worker bees replenishing, and a gruff counterman taking the money. There’s little warmth, and the Brazilians (both customers and workers) seem withered like old hothouse flowers. Disconnected from their beautiful home, they file, zombielike, through plastic buffets, which are quite busy three meals per day.

Preparing to leave town, I rail against the downturn in Brazilian food quality in this podcast: MP3.

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For the Baby Gourmet on Your Gift List

Looking for a gift for that aspiring foodie toddler in your life? Forget building blocks. Give a wooden sushi slicing set in its own bento box—ginger, wasabi, and shoyu included!

That’s what McAuliflower, the blogger behind Brownie Points, is doing. She’s found an adorable sushi set, featuring chopsticks tipped in Velcro to help Baby pick up those tempting pices of nigiri. Reader comments on her blog post seem to point to a lot of grown-up foodies who wouldn’t mind receiving a gift like this (click over to see it; it’s beyond cute).

The set is available at online store Oliebollen (fittingly named after the Dutch holiday donut), which offers “essentials for perfectly childish living.” In addition to the sushi set, they have a Bistro Cooking Utensils Set, a Cupcake Baking Set, and—my favorite—the Deluxe Pastry Chef Set, which includes a wooden pastry board, rolling pin, porcelain pie plate, pastry cutter, and pastry brush. It’s for all those Pierre Hermés of the kindergarten set.

For the bookish foodie, there is a series of board books called A World of Snacks. Let’s Nosh introduces Jewish comfort foods—bagles, knishes, and latkes. The First Book of Sushi lays down the basics of nigiri, oshi, and maki. Yum Yum Dim Sum is a buffet of pork buns and dumplings. A Little Bit of Soul Food serves up fried chicken, collards, and mac and cheese.

But for the true child gourmet, there is the Truffle Snuffle Game. Here the players don a pig nose and go sniffing for truffles. Each turn is timed, and there is a prize for sniffing out the golden truffle.

Clearly Candy Land is passé these days.

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Don’t Lose Your Whey

If you strain yogurt to make it thicker and richer, don’t throw out the liquid that drains out as the yogurt thickens. This is whey, the byproduct of straining yogurt or making fresh cheese. It might not be very appetizing on its own, but it’s a very nutritious ingredient. It can be used as a substitute for milk in baking, notes Candy. Sherri says she has always used whey in sourdough starter and for bread baking, in place of water, with fantastic results; the whey adds a pleasant tang.

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draining yogurt. What is that stuff??

Fun with Fuyu Persimmons

Late fall means persimmon season. There are two types commonly found in the U.S., and they’re used and eaten in distinct ways. Hachiyas are deep orange in color, with a pointed end, and must be allowed to ripen until extremely soft in texture, or they are too astringent to eat; they are usually used in cooking, and must always be peeled. Fuyus are lighter in color with a flatter shape similar to that of a tomato. Fuyus are eaten firm or just slightly soft, and whether to peel is a personal choice, though most people don’t. They’re great simply eaten out of hand like an apple, but they can also be incorporated into lots of dishes.

rworange says persimmons are delicious with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of chile powder, as in the Mexican treatment for mangoes. They also make great dippers for chocolate fondue.

Glencora makes a pureed curried persimmon soup that begins with sauteing diced, peeled persimmons, onions, ginger, and spices.

They’re also a great addition to salad, whether a simple green salad, or one designed around them. Carb Lover likes them with thinly shaved fennel, apple, and toasted walnuts dressed witth just enough lemon-mayo dressing to moisten it. rworange says this autumn salad with persimmons and pecans is one of the most successful things she’s ever made.

singleguychef shares his recipe for chicken salad with persimmons, great in sandwiches or served on greens:

1.5 lbs. chicken breasts with skin and bones
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 persimmons, peeled and diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup roasted unsalted walnuts
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Salt and pepper chicken breasts on both sides and under the skin and coat with olive oil. Place on roasting pan and bake for about 25 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool. In large bowl, tear strips of the chicken meat. Add persimmons, celery, and walnuts. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, salt, lemon juice and zest. Fold mixture into chicken and other ingredients, adding as much of the mayonnaise mixture as you like. Add pepper to taste and chill for about an hour.

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what do you do with persimmons?

Frozen Sushi

If you’re so inclined, Sam’s Club stores sell frozen sushi made by Ajinomoto. Good as a quick snack or in the lunchbox.

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Frozen sushi anyone?

Milk Frothers

To create a froth of steamed milk for a perfect cappuccino, hot chocolate, or other hot drink, you don’t need an espresso machine.

Nespresso’s Aeroccino (about $90) is completely automatic. Add milk, push a button, and voila! Steamed, frothy milk, in under a minute. btnfood says it’s effortless and makes the best foam he’s ever tasted.

Here’s the website; if you click on “demo” you’ll see it in action.

The Bodum wand frother works beautifully for Procrastibaker, who likes a lot of foam. It’s like a tiny hand blender; it froths right in your cup of warmed milk. The price is very reasonable, under $15.

Back to Basics smoothie makers make good smoothies, grind ice, and, according to EclecticEater, if you pour in milk (hot or cold), will whiz it into a terrific froth. They work especially well with non-fat milk. At the bottom, there’s a handy dispenser valve to dispense the froth.

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Steamed milk without an espresso machine?