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

Cheese School

The Cheese School of San Francisco describes itself as “the only institution of its kind in the San Francisco Bay area wholly devoted to helping people maximize their enjoyment of cheese.” mchan02 enthusiastically recommends their wine and cheese class–you get to try some fascinating combinations, and some out-of-this-world cheeses. They run farmstead cheese workshops and several other classes, and next year they’re apparently running a mozzarella workshop.

The Cheese School of San Francisco [Polk Gulch]
1555 Pacific Avenue 2nd Floor, San Francisco
415-346-7530
Map

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Cheese School SF

On the Trail of Wild Boar: Four Italian Contenders

It’s the season for wild boar, when hungry hounds track their prey at New York’s Italian restaurants. Assenzio, a Sardinian place in the East Village, makes a couple of excellent boar dishes, says Peter Cherches–in ragu with gnocchetti or braised in Cannonau wine sauce with juniper berries.

Tuscans also love their cinghiale. At La Cantina Toscana, wild boar appears in sausage with cannellini, ragu with pici senisi pasta, and long-marinated in a hearty stew.

On the Lower East Side, Basso Est serves a nice wild boar ragu, Abruzzi style, with house-made pappardelle.

And at Piccolo Angolo, roasted wild boar might turn up as a special. It’s divine, promises jungirl.

Assenzio [East Village]
205 E. 4th St., between Aves. A and B, Manhattan
212-677-9466
Locater

La Cantina Toscana [Upper East Side]
1109 1st Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts., Manhattan
212-754-5454
Locater

Basso Est [Lower East Side]
198 Orchard St., near Houston, Manhattan
212-358-9469
Locater

Piccolo Angolo [Greenwich Village]
621 Hudson St., at Jane, Manhattan
212-229-9177
Locater

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seeking chingale aka wild boar

Das Ubergeek Eats ‘Cue With a Side of Crow

Having trashed Smokin’ Jack’s in Burbank after a disastrous visit shortly after it opened, Das Ubergeek wasn’t at all psyched to go again. But an (unwilling) second visit turned out to be a totally different experience.

Cole slaw isn’t creamy, but comes with a spice powder on top. Squeeze a lemon on top and you have your dressing–and it’s fantastic. “Grandma Penny’s polk and beans” (yes, spelled like that) are really, really good and porky, while tri-tip sandwich has just the right proportion of soft fat to juicy meat. It comes dry, with a six-pack of sauce bottles. The fries, though, are overseasoned and come with “Jack’s ketchup,” whose secret ingredient seems to be BBQ sauce. Lunch plates are a deal, but a helluva lot of food for $11.

Smokin’ Jack’s KC BBQ [East San Fernando Valley]
220 N. San Fernando Rd., at Orange Grove, Burbank
818-842-RIBS (7427)
Map

Smokin’ Jack’s KC BBQ [Inland of LA]
130 E. Bonita Ave., San Dimas
909-599-9227
Locater

Smokin’ Jack’s KC BBQ [Santa Barbara County]
3807 Santa Claus Ln., Carpinteria
805-566-6602
Locater

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REVIEW AND CHANGE OF HEART: Smokin’ Jack’s KC BBQ, Burbank

Killer Sourdough. Try it at the Liquor Store

Stone Ground Bakery’s sourdough is the best Paul F has tasted in his lengthy memory–great tangy flavor and an almost crunchy crust. Two loaves are $6. They’ve also got other kinds of breads, cakes, and desserts–apparently they make the high-end macaroons sold at Trader Joe’s.

Try the sourdough on a sandwich at the deli in the liquor store next door, where they also sell cream soda by the keg.

Stone Ground Bakery [Conejo Valley]
5005 Kanan Rd., Agoura Hills
818-597-8774
Locater

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Stoneground Bakery in Agoura

Kick Back with a Rummy-Herby-Fruity Cocktail, and Pretend it’s Summer

These cocktails are flavored with simple syrups infused with fresh herbs, mixed with ingredients that seem summery, but can feel just right even on a cold night. To make the simple syrups, bring equal parts sugar and water to a simmer for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add the herbs and flavorings and allow to steep for 15 minutes or more, checking the flavor until it tastes right. Strain the syrup into a jar, cool, and store in refrigerator.

meg944 infuses simple syrup with fresh ginger, mint, and basil, and mixes up a tropical drink with rum, ginger ale, and coconut milk:

4 oz. fresh lime juice
4 oz. white rum
2 oz. ginger/mint/basil-infused simple syrup
2 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
4 dashes orange bitters
a couple of fresh mint leaves

Crush the mint leaves and rub them around the rims of 4 tall glasses. Shake remaining ingredients and pour over ice.

kelvin8r uses simple syrup infused with mint and orange zest in a slushy rum drink he’s dubbed Mango Madness that he says is in demand year-round: Blend a ripe mango with fresh orange juice, lime juice, and mint/orange zest-infused simple syrup. Strain and blend with ice and rum to taste. If it’s too thick, add sparkling water, then pour over ice. Proportions depend upon the ripeness and flavor of the mango. If it’s sweet, add less syrup and lime juice. If it’s not, increase the syrup and perk it up with more lime.

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a tasty rum drink with herbal simple syrup

Jazzing Up Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

Here are some ways hounds work wonders with that ubiquitous and cheap box of Jiffy corn muffin mix:

prunefeet adds cottage cheese to the batter; it makes a moister bread, and the curds break down while it bakes.

If you bake it in a cast iron skillet, sprinkle some sesame seeds in the bottom before pouring the batter in, suggests rosielucchesini; after it’s cooled a few minutes, invert the pan. The toasted sesame seeds provide a pleasant nuttiness.

If you want to make your cornbread or muffins into a sweet treat, HillJ suggests swirling half a jar of high-quality seedless raspberry jam into the batter. Michele4466 adds dried fruit or chopped fresh apples or peaches, mashed bananas, and/or chopped nuts.

Tee shares his wife’s recipe for gussied-up Jiffy cornbread:

3 eggs
2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup corn oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 17-oz. can creamed corn
1 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup chopped jalapenos, fresh or jarred

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; add remaining ingredients and mix. Pour into a greased 9×13-inch baking pan and bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes, until the top is light brown. Also works well as muffins (reduce baking time).

Diane in Bexley uses similar ingredients to make a corn souffle that’s like spoonbread: Mix 1 pkg. Jiffy mix, 2 eggs, 1 can whole-kernel corn, 1 can creamed corn, 1/2 cup sour cream, chopped green chiles, chopped sweet red pepper, 2 Tbsp. dried onions. Pour into greased 9X13 casserole, bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

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What do you add to JIFFY Corn Bread mix? Creative uses? (rop)

Cabot Cheese

Cabot Cheese of Vermont makes a cheddar that’s extra special, according to gordon wing. Be on the lookout for their Vintage Choice Extra Sharp; it’s sharp and complex, with a clean finish that’s free of harshness. It’s aged for two years and sells for about $10 a pound (find in the “Specialty Cheddars” sction on Cabot’s site).

A brand new flavored cheese is the Harpoon Cheddar, a creamy, textured cheddar combined with Harpoon beer. Injun Joe says this one may not be in stores yet, but it is available online.

Costco carries 2 pound blocks of Cabot Private Stock cheddar, as well as their extra sharp, at $6-7, which are also very good.

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Cabot Vintage Choice Extra Sharp Cheddar

Guiltless Hot Chocolate Mix

Need hot chocolate without all the calories? These recommendations go a long way toward cutting down on the sugar or fat, without sacrificing good chocolaty flavor.

Swiss Miss Sugar-Free with Calcium, sweetened with Splenda, is good stuff, says tenacity, and only 25 calories a packet.

Katielp highly recommends Cadbury’s Highlights hot chocolate. It has the richness amd milkiness of a full-fat Cadbury chocolate bar, but only 40 calories a packet. Order here.

Maestra mixes up her own using a good unsweetened cocoa like Droste, a dash of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla, and sweetens with about 1/3 sugar and 2/3 Stevia. (Stevia is a plant that is about 20 times sweeter than sugar. You can buy it at Trader Joe’s in a shaker bottle. It’ll last you a very long time and really cuts down on calories.)

Yogi Tea’s cocoa spice tea has a nice chocolaty flavor, says rose water.

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Best sugar free hot chocolate mix

Rachael’s Husband Can’t Swallow Story

Oh poor, poor Ray-Ray. As you’ve no doubt seen emblazoned across The National Enquirer if you’ve been to the grocery store this week, a very convincingly detailed report has it that her new hubby, John Cusimano, has been paying another woman for kinky trysts for five years. According to The Enquirer, Cusimano regularly pays a women named Jeannine Walz up to $500 for sessions in which she spits in and rubs her feet on his face. Cusimano has denied it, of course, but there’s a pic of Walz and him together, so it doesn’t look good.

Internet snarks are buzzing over the report, to be sure. “Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to take more than some E.V.O.O. to solve this problem,” says one wag at recipe-related blog CopyKat Chat. Anonymous commenters at gossip blog Janet Charlton’s Hollywood theorize that Ray’s cool with her husband’s fetish and participates in it. If that’s not true, maybe it should be. After all, if Cusimano has a thing for feet, what’s wrong with Ray’s size 8s?

Pumpkin: It’s Not Just for Pie Anymore

Apparently, that slippery, sticky, smelly stuff that we kids so cavalierly referred to as “pumpkin guts” is the gateway to beautiful skin. Alabama’s Times Daily notes:

As a food, pumpkins are full of antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. Pumpkin also is good for your outside, as well—experts say it moisturizes, exfoliates, conditions, cleanses and repairs the skin.

While it may come as news to me and my dull, dried-out, and rapidly aging dermal layer, the fact that pumpkin contains beta carotene and vitamin A, among other great cosmetic properties, is not new to skin-care professionals. Aloette Costmetics offers a Warming Pumpkin Energizing Mask, and Bath and Body Works has a Pumpkin Skin Renewal Body Butter, which uses “pumpkin’s natural enzymatic action” and “effectively retexturizes and renews skin to reveal the more hydrated, softer skin beneath.”

San Jose–based alt-mag The Wave details a bunch of food-based spa treatments, many of which included pumpkin-y goodness.

So, to keep myself from gaining any more holiday weight, I’ll just take any leftover pie and smear it all over my face.