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

Quinces

It’s quince season right now. Quinces have a gorgeous, spicy fragrance, but must be cooked before they can be eaten; they’re rock hard and unpleasantly astringent when raw.

dixieday2 likes to poach them, and she says that, once poached, they have many uses both sweet and savory. Here’s her method: Halve and core them (or core after cooking, which is easier), cover halfway with water, add about 1/3 cup sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a couple of cloves and/or allspice berries. Bring to a boil on the stovetop, cover, and put in the oven at 300F for an hour or so; they should be very soft and pinkish in color. Let cool in syrup and refrigerate. Some uses: Chop or puree and mix with applesauce (excellent with pork); use as a topping for or blend into mashed sweet potato or butternut squash; serve the poached halves with greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey; use poached halves or slices as an accompaniment to fresh gingerbread.

Procrastibaker makes a sophisticated appetizer of chunks of quince cooked down with port, placed on pan-fried polenta rounds topped with blue cheese. She also bakes quince muffins using a basic muffin recipe and folding in chopped, quince saying it’s a nice alternative to apples.

cristina suggests finding recipes for ate de membrillo, quince paste, which is traditionally eaten with manchego cheese. It takes a long time to cook down, but is simple to make, she promises.

As with pomegranates and cranberries, the quince season is short, and they are available for only a limited time. They will last a month or so in the fridge, however, says Candy.

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Quince ideas!

Chicken Fried Steak

Chicken fried steak is a glorious thing of meat, juice, and crunchy energy. A cut of round steak is perfect for this Texas favorite.

The meat is well floured and seasoned; the flour gets embedded in the beef as you tenderize it with a mallet, or, as Will Owen recalls, the edge of a sturdy plate. The flour will almost disappear into the meat.

It’s then fried up in some fat. The flour gives it a nice crunchy crust. A cream gravy is made in the same pan with the meat drippings. The addition of cracked pepper is a must, adds Candy.

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Chicken Fried Steak–Closet eater

Chicken Cracklings

These chicken cracklings are not just bits of chicken skin crisped in rendered chicken fat. It’s actually the name of delicious Dominican dish of deep-fried chicken that’s been marinated in a combo of lemon, soy, and ginger. opinionatedchef shares the recipe:

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. soy sauce, pref. Kikkoman
1-2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, skin-on, sliced into coins, flattened with side of knife
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
whole wheat flour
salt and pepper
sweet paprika
vegetable oil for frying

Marinate chicken in lemon juice, soy sauce, ginger, and kosher salt for at least 2 hours. Drain, reserving ginger with chicken. Season flour to taste with salt, pepper, and paprika, and place in a ziplock bag or plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Place chicken and ginger in flour two handfuls at a time and shake to coat (adding any more will cause the chicken to get too moist and prevent the coating from adhering properly). Heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil to very hot but not smoking (about 365 degrees). Fry chicken, turning once, for only a few minutes, or it will overcook.

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Rubee: EasyEasy : Chicken Adobo and Chicken Cracklings

Plantains

Plantains, a.k.a. “the cooking banana,” are a savory tropical treat. They’re starchy and only mildly sweet when they’re fully ripe. A properly ripe plantain will look ready for the trash, because it’ll be completely black.

Unlike bananas, plantains can be used from the greenest green to fully ripe. Green plantain chips are delicious, sliced thin and fried. Puerto Rican tostones green plantain slices slices that are mashed and then fried twice, like a good french fry. They’re wonderful served with breakfast, as a starchy side dish, or just on their own, with a sprinkling of salt.

You don’t have to like bananas to enjoy plantains.

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Why do I despise bananas, but love plantains??

The Opposite of Tampopo

If you’re still digesting your Thanksgiving leftovers and vowing never to feast again, check out the list of anti-gourmand documentaries on the cinema blog Cinematical. Some are as familiar as the Golden Arches (Hi, Mr. Spurlock). Others are more obscure, like the doc on Calvin Trillin’s beloved Shopsin’s, I Like Killing Flies, or the world’s first eating-contest documentary, Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating.

Dim the lights and bring on the Pepto!

Survivorchef

Word on the street (OK, on eGullet) has it that the Food Network is readying a new show to be rolled out in January 24, 2007. The new outing is a kind of Iron Chef/Survivor mashup, with chefs dropped off in remote or ill-equipped locations and asked to prepare fancy-schmancy meals, stat.

One ep was filmed on teensy Little Cranberry Island, Maine, where star Robert Irvine (I’ve never heard of the dude, but he’s got a wicked widow’s peak and used to cook for Dubya, the British royal fam, and Donald Trump) had a tall order:

Though it was not yet over, Saturday already had been a long day for Irvine and his two sous chefs, George Gatali and George Krelle, who until that morning had never heard of Little Cranberry Island or of the local village of Islesford. When they met up with [Dinner Impossible’s executive producer Marc] Summers at 7 a.m. at the town pier in Northeast Harbor to find out where they were headed, all they had was their chef’s knives and $3,500 to spend on food.

They had no idea what food they would prepare, where they would get their ingredients, how many people they would be cooking for, what kind of pots and pans would be at their disposal, or what kind of cooking facilities they would have access to. And, with the help of a handful of local residents the Food Network had lined up ahead of time, they had only 12 hours to figure it all out and make it happen.

My first thought is: $3,500? That’s $17.50 a person! If these guys can’t whip out some four-star plates on that budget, they’re not worth their clogs. Of course, not having a kitchen is a tougher hurdle. Reportedly, in the Little Cranberry outing, Irvine and company bought out all the poultry in the small supermarket and scrounged lettuces from a gardener.

Rumor has it that another episode was filmed at Colonial Williamsburg. Rabbit soup and mead, anyone?

Stay Trendy in 2006

Rainforest-juice swillers? Hale-and-hearty boomers? Products tweaked to tempt teens into brand loyalty? Consumer research group Mintel predicts all this and more in a roundup of product previews summarized by Slashfood.

It looks like sustainability isn’t going to be as hot an issue as the local food movement would like it to be—not yet, anyway. It will still gain ground with mainstream consumers, but by and large the focus is not yet on production. People are more focused on personal wellness, getting more specific than last year’s general interest in ‘superfoods.’ Mintel predicts that Amazonian foods—including açaí and other rainforest botanicals that promise over-the-top health benefits—will really hit the mainstream through companies that are known for healthy products, like Odwalla. Other trends that they are forecasting for food processing and sales include an increased targeting of baby boomers and teens; revitalizing interest in traditional, quality (not on-the-go) breakfast foods; more Web-based marketing, including more contests and giveaways; and a simplification of marketing slogans and packaging.

The Mintel report specifically mentions only one product as a forerunner of those to come: Glade PlugIns Scented Oil Light Show, directed toward teens who want a psychedelic light show and for their rooms to reek of spring garden or apples ‘n’ cinnamon. But I’m going to keep an eye out for açaí juice; that doesn’t sound half bad.

Hunkering Down with a Bit of Comfort

December is drawing near, and most of us are watching the temperatures drop. The time is right for cozy, warming dishes, and two bloggers have got it covered. This month they hosted a recipe roundup of Comfort Foods.

These two should know a bit about staying warm and well fed in the winter. Ivonne, of Cream Puffs in Venice, hails from Toronto. Orchidea, of Viaggi e Sapori, is Italian, but these days she cooks her comfort food in Stockholm. Together they’ve rustled up an impressive collection of recipes from fellow food bloggers, all dishes that are bound to make you feel like hunkering down in your kitchen on a long winter’s night.

The recipes range from classic Americana comfort such as mac and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, and chicken pot pie to Asian noodles—Thai Rad Nah, Iron Lady’s Rice Noodles, and Chinese Vegetable Noodles. There are favorite family recipes like Mom’s Roasted Chicken and Grandma’s Meatballs. Then there are the desserts (‘cause what else comforts like chocolate?), including New York Style Cheesecake, delicious-looking Millionaire’s Shortbread, and Walnut Chocolate Cake. There’s even a collection of pudding-like dishes—Tapioca Pudding, Chocolate Mousse (en français), and Baked Rice Pudding.

If this collection of cold-weather comfort food fails to hit the spot, head on over to Matt Bites for a collection of hot cocktail recipes (‘cause when carbs and chocolate fail to comfort, there’s always booze).

See, aren’t you liking winter now?

Turkey Trauma

I’ve found my new dream job: Butterball Turkey Hotline phone operator. The simple act of picking up a phone seems to be more rife with hysterical moments than a wedding planner’s entire June, and you’re actually helping these poor desperate people.

Last week, NPR was running example catastrophes between show segments, and the best one was a call from a guy who decided to brine his turkey in his front-loading washer. All was well until his roommate decided to do laundry in the middle of the night and dumped bleach and dirty clothes all over the brining bird. The briner wanted to know if the turkey would still be OK if they washed all the bleach off. If you don’t know the operator’s answer to that, you might want to keep that hotline phone number on you speed dial tomorrow (1-800-BUTTERBALL).

The November issue of Saveur relates a few more choice stories from Mary Clingman, a “turkey talker.” She related:

One lady was bragging that she kept her turkey in a snowbank, but it dawned on her that it had snowed again the night before and she had no clue where her turkey was. She hung up on us.

Do you think the hotline operators have a “laugh” button the way radio shows have a “cough” button?

I had my own Butterball Hotline moment the first time I made Thanksgiving dinner for my new husband and some of his displaced graduate school friends. At the time, my hotline was my mother, so my shame was confined to my family. Until I wrote about it publicly. It’s embarrassing to think about now that I’m a culinary-school grad, but the memory keeps me humble.

What turkey or Thanksgiving disasters have you experienced?

Eat Local? In Cleveland? In Winter? Ha!

Eat local? Easy for a Californian to say. Michael Ruhlman responds to Kim Severson’s New York Times piece (registration required) about the increasing demand for locally grown food. “Kim! No one tells me what I’m supposed to do in Cleveland in December.”

While Ruhlman acknowledges that “eating locally is nevertheless important for numerous reasons—from the quality of the food to broader issues such as a sustainable food supply,” he wonders how feasible it is for those outside of California’s balmy climes. “Am I supposed to live on root vegetables and pork confit ALL winter? ... How does the Eat Local mandate work in the wintertime heartland?”

Not surprisingly, his blog post has elicited a good amount of feedback—from those in favor of local eating and from those who think the idea is a nonstarter, at least in the winter. “I think it’s telling that the movement to promote the consumption of local in-season foods got its start in a state with a 365 day/year growing season,” observed one reader. “If it had started in Lapland I’d say shoot, I need to take this seriously. But dude, the ground’s frozen here in the winter.”

And there are those who are a bit more (ahem) pointed in their criticism of the ideals. “It’s only a small and vocal minority of unbalanced nuts and shameless panderers to the confused, who fret about where their food comes from while refusing to acknowledge that what most people need, and deserve, is something affordable and good to eat every day,” writes another reader.

Others had suggestions for how to navigate the Midwestern winter question. “How does the Eat Local mandate work in the wintertime heartland? One word: Canning.” This suggestion, however, met with resistance from some readers. “I live in a 750 square foot apartment with a very small freezer … there’s no place for anything else, literally.”

But those who support the Eat Local mandate recommend moderation over full rejection. “Please don’t toss the eat-local baby out with the short-growing-season bathwater!” one of them pleads. Proponents point out that everyone can make some effort without hardship. “Luckily it’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” writes one reader. “Buying locally when you can (during the growing season) and then going to the supermarket when you can’t is a lot better than shopping at the megamart all year long.”

“It is fine to eat oranges in winter,” another reader explains. “For me the idea is to make sure I’m not buying something from afar that is being produced locally—this means in winter (and year round) I buy most of my dairy and meat locally. Prosciutto and French cheeses and other specialty things that aren’t produced locally I buy from independent, locally-owned retailers.”

Perhaps the final word comes from an intrepid Local Eater in Maine, not a state known for a long growing season. “My personal motto is ‘do the best you can’ …. Support local farmers during the growing season, buy storage crops (like potatoes, winter squash, onions, carrots, etc.) in the fall to take you through at least part of the winter … buy local meat and dairy…. If we can source at least some of our vegetables year-round in Maine, I truly don’t understand how the rest of the country finds it such a hardship.”