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

Oreo and Cream Cheese “Truffles”

These easy-to-make treats, made simply of ground-up Oreos and cream cheese dipped in chocolate may be low-brow as confections go, but they’re universally popular. Lissar experimented with peanut butter sandwich cookies and a combo of cream cheese and peanut butter, and they came out beautifully. momjamin varies the dipping chocolates and drizzles to make a variety of looks.

Here’s the recipe:

1 pound Oreos
8 oz. cream cheese
1 pound milk or dark chocolate
1/2 pound white chocolate

Grind Oreos to find powder in food processor. With a mixer, blend cookie powder and cream cheese until thoroughly mixed (there should be no white traces of cream cheese). Roll into small balls and place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Chill 45 minutes. Line two cookie sheets with wax paper. In double-boiler, melt milk or dark chocolate. Dip balls and coat thoroughly. With slotted spoon or fork, lift balls out of chocolate and let excess chocolate drip off. Place on wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. In separate double boiler, melt white chocolate. Using a fork, drizzle white chocolate over balls. Allow chocolate to set up at cool room temperature or in refrigerator. Store in airtight container, refrigerated.

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Oreo ‘truffles’

Blackberry-Sage Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies

These cookies stand out on a dessert plate: there’s the sage-in-a-dessert aspect, they’re not real sweet, and they have a slightly savory texture due to the cornmeal, says Funwithfood–yet they were voted best in show at a cookie exchange by a bunch of traditional, Family Circle types.

Blackberry-Sage Cornmeal Thumbprints

2 cups flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 tsp. fresh sage, minced

3/4 cup blackberry preserves, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar and beat until combined. Beat in the egg yolks, lemon peel, vanilla, and sage until combined. Add the flour in 3 increments, beating until all is incorporated. Cover and refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using the end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation in the center of each ball of dough. Drop about 1/4 teaspoon of blackberry preserves into each indentation. Place prepared cookies into freezer for 15 minutes prior to baking for best results. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool.

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For Katie Nell & Snackish…Blackberry-Sage Cornmeal Thumbprints Recipe

The Useful Meat Thermometer

If you grew up testing food for doneness by touch, a meat thermometer may seem superfluous. But many good, largely intuitive cooks swear by their meat thermometers. They really eliminate the guesswork.

A probe thermometer can be inserted, set for the temperature you want, and the alarm will go off when the meat reaches that temperature, with no poking or pressing the meat by you. You can do other things around the house, with no worries.

Das Ubergeek likes the probe for pound cake, which can take anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the weather.

Poultry is tricky to get just right. Karl S. places the thermometer on the inside of the thigh near the breast meat.

An instant read thermometer is great for a quick test of temperature. With the probe type thermometer, on the other hand, you insert the probe in the meat or poultry at the beginning and you never have to open the oven until your food is perfectly done. The temperature display remains outside the oven. Here’s an example

SanseiDesigns says to be sure to calibrate a new thermometer so the temperature is true. This website offers more info, and at the bottom (in the sidebar) are instructions on calibrating, if it’s necessary.

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The use of a meat thermometer?

This Coffee is for the Birds

Shade-grown coffee is grown under the canopy of trees in Latin America, providing an environment that is friendly to bird life. “Bird Friendly”-labeled coffee is always shade grown and guaranteed organic. The beans are said to ripen more slowly out of the sun, resulting in a rich flavor.

Locate a place to buy here

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Coffee for a good cause.

Friendly Animals and Dew-Kissed Vegetables

An amusing article in Wednesday’s New York Times (registration required) discusses the phenomenon of greenwashing in food-package design. As writer Kim Severson defines it:

[Greenwashing] is not just a fake environmental ethos. Greenwashing, it seems to me, can also describe a pervasive genre of food packaging designed to make sure that manufacturers grab their slice of the $25 billion that American shoppers spend each year on natural or organic food … it’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Crunch shows up in a hemp jacket, raising money to save the manatees.

She goes on to describe how “greenwashed” design makes use of several specific clichés: First, “a gentle image of a field or a farm to suggest an ample harvest gathered by an honest, hard-working family,” which can include “strangely oversize vegetables or fruits” (and “if they are dew-kissed and nestled in a basket, all the better”); then there’s the image of “an animal displaying special skills or great emotional range,” like the “sax-playing, environmentally friendly earthworm” on certain Organic Valley packaging; and finally, a good greenwashed product needs “family history” coupled with a promise to give some proceeds to a good cause.

It’s good to see someone calling out wannabe-green food manufacturers on their infantilizing package design, which has always seemed like one of the most embarrassing things about buying slightly-less-environmentally-destructive snack foods. But it just seems wrong to lump “natural” Cheetos together with genuine (if excessively crunchy) do-gooder companies like Nature’s Path and Barbara’s Bakery.

If you read the text of the packaging—the “family history” stuff—on a box of My Family Farm cookies, for example, you’ll learn that the company’s founders are social workers and donate a portion of sales to children’s charities. I haven’t seen Entenmann’s making that kind of claim (yet). And while it can be moderately annoying to wade through blocks of text about farming practices and philanthropy when all you want is a fricking box of sugary treats, those claims are probably still the best way to separate the real-deal stuff from the cleverly repackaged crapola.

Texas Tofu

Blue-state residents may have been eating (and loving) tofu forever, but apparently folks in the most cattle-infested regions are taking a bit longer to come around.

They’d better get ready, because according to an article in the Houston Chronicle:

You are going to be eating tofu—and liking it—within a decade.

A decade, huh? Well, I guess there’s no use rushing into things. With tasty recipes, sidebars galore, and even a pictorial on tofu-making, Peggy Grodinsky’s article may inspire some folks to beat that ten-year deadline.

Apparently not all Texans are soy-phobic, since the article also takes an in-depth look at Houston’s soybean scene, where multiple artisan tofu makers tempt customers with creations ranging from fried lemongrass tofu to tofu tamales.

Blue-staters should be so lucky.

Dogs Who Drink

Given that the food some of us choose to eat is rapidly reaching yet untold heights of purity, freshness, and quality, it comes as no surprise that our precious pets are reaping some of these culinary rewards. At Prather Ranch’s Ferry Building outpost in San Francisco, you can load up on superior flank steak for you and cryo-vac packets of dog food for your best friend. Check out Trader Joe’s for their special cans of Tuna For Cats. Just don’t mix it up with your favorite albacore white.

Of course, if you put a platter of Certified Organic Prather Ranch–raised meat before Asta, he’s going to look at you with those big soft eyes that clearly suggest, “And now, my good man, how about a wine list?” Not wine, but what about beer?

Non-alcoholic and non-carbonated, our Happy Tail Ale is the ultimate liquid refreshment for your best friend. Our beer is made in a real brewery and starts with artesian water and choice malted barley. Brewed in 500-gallon copper kettles, Happy Tail Ale also features all-natural beef drippings (no by-products or chemicals!). Plus, it’s fortified with Glucosamine and Vitamin E! Every ingredient in Happy Tail Ale is human grade, as Dog Star Brewing Company does not believe in giving our canine family members less than superior food and beverages.

If your pups are on the wagon, you can always spoil them with special bottled water made by K9 Water Co. in Los Angeles. K9 Water comes in four delectable flavors with names that are sure to make Asta drool. More than usual. There’s Toilet Water, which is chicken-flavored, Gutter Water (beef), Puddle Water (liver), and Hose Water (lamb).

Says K9 of their product:

The world’s first vitamin fortified bottled water specifically formulated to provide your dog with essential vitamins that contribute to overall good health and provide the hydration your dog needs.

This is why we only use purified water and human grade ingredients in every bottle of our vitamin fortified water. Of course, there are no artificial colors or preservatives.

We are dog lovers and pooch parents ourselves, so we had our formula tested in an independent lab by a veterinary nutritionist to make sure it is healthy for your dog.

I’m not sure why a large part of the pet population is being overlooked, but I’ll tell you what, the day they make tuna-flavored Pinot Noir is the day my cats take over my wine cellar.

“Top Chef” Brûlées Bubblegum Betty

“Top Chef” Brûlées Bubblegum Betty

Ousted Top Chef Betty Fraser talks with Joyce Slaton about why her flutes failed, how Marisa’s cupcakes got creamed, and Marcel's abuse of gelée in his cooking ... and his hair. READ MORE

Roe Lovers Rejoice!

Been pining for that special Central Asian pop in your mouth ever since imports of caviar from the Caspian Sea were restricted in 2005? Well, the international regulating body that sets caviar export quotas has decided that sevruga and osetra can be sold this year.

As reported by Florence Fabricant in The New York Times (requires registration), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, believes that the Caspian’s sturgeon stocks are being managed sufficiently to allow harvesting this year by companies in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

But the cream of the crop—satiny-salty beluga—is still on the forbidden list, since years of overfishing and pollution have damaged the beluga sturgeon most of all. And don’t fire up the toast points yet: Caviar from the 2007 catch won’t be available for at least two more months.

Roe Is Me

When you have a deep need for a solid hit of roe, but don’t require the delicate aesthetic heights of fine caviar, dip into some Greek cod roe–it’s cheap and tasty in the best way, says Robert Lauriston, at about $4 for an 8-ounce jar. Try Hellenic American Imports in San Francisco or Greek Imports in Daly City.

Salmon roe is also excellent–European market sells it by the half-pint and full pint for between $12 and $20 a pound, with price depending on the degree of intactness of the eggs. And 99 Ranch Market in Richmond usually carries bulk salmon eggs, tobiko, and other roe.

Hellenic American Imports [Mission]
2365 Mission St., between 19th and 20th Sts., San Francisco

Greek Imports [Peninsula]
6524 Mission St., Daly City

European Market [Richmond]
3038 Clement Street, at 35th Street, San Francisco

99 Ranch Market [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., in Pacific East Mall, Richmond

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Caviar and Roe