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

It Could Happen to U.S.

Australia, host of the recent G20 summit and home to one of the world’s chowhoundiest cities, is on the brink of a food crisis. Analysts say that the country’s five-year-long drought is its worst in 1,000 years and is expected to cut staple-crop production by more than 60 percent this year. After an initial drop in the price of some livestock (like sheep, which I’m told are selling for $1 AUS apiece these days), food prices are expected to spike nationwide in the months ahead. And the drought is having a psychological impact on growers and ranchers as well: Faced with dying crops and livestock, farmers are committing suicide at the rate of one every four days.

Sure, the continent-cum-country is halfway around the world for most of us—but as South Australian Labor premier Mike Rann put it recently, “what we’re seeing with this drought is a frightening glimpse of the future with global warming.”

One bright side of this sad affair is that it may push agriculture in Australia to a more sustainable level—and perhaps it will also give the rest of the world some ideas. While farmers of water-intensive crops like rice and cotton are taking a lot of heat for their irrigation practices, those growers have become mega–water efficient by necessity and could potentially export some of their know-how to help other nations conserve water. Even better, some farmers are switching their land over to more efficient crops, creating strong local-food movements in the process. “We’re really going to have to start rethinking the crops we do in Australia,” says Doug May, a vintner whose family farm used to produce only super-thirsty plants and animals like potatoes and cattle, but now grows greens, fruits, and legumes for the local CSA.

Eat and Get Out

Eat and Get Out

The manipulative techniques of casual-dining establishments READ MORE

Hog Heaven

You might think that a bottle of tequila and a bag of pork rinds would be anyone’s recipe for a good time. But taking the high-low fusion to new, um, heights, The New York Times reports on a Brooklyn bistro’s latest entry into the meatini sweepstakes. At Porchetta, aspiring molecular gastronomist Jason Neroni ditches the margarita’s ho-hum salt rim for a dusting of crushed pork rinds zapped with arbol chiles. Inside the glass, a smoky añejo tequila is swirled with fresh lime and tangerine juices and a jolt of Cointreau.

Somehow, the Style-section article missed the Vegas bacon martini described on CHOW, although they did give plenty of space to a description of a homemade hot dog–infused vodka dubbed “weeniecello” by its maker, one Andrew Fenton. For those without the patience for the months-long infusing process, cocktail site Liquor Snob provides a convenient DIY bacotini recipe, with the priceless instructions to “rim the glass with bacon grease.”

Of course, you don’t have to drink your meat products to stay ahead of the curve. Just in time for holiday indulgence, Slashfood has a how-to for bacon caramel. And the star of last year’s Southern Foodways Alliance conference was the pig candy, shards of sweet-salty porky delight made from country-smoked bacon rubbed in brown sugar and roasted with pecans.

Three Giblets in the Fountain

For a long time now, my family has joked about buying ourselves a chocolate fountain and breaking it out for dessert each night. But then we agree that it would lead to eating too much sugar.

Well, poster Turkey Tek at the DIY blog Instructables has a solution. Instead of fountaining some pedestrian melted chocolate, he rigged up a recirculating gravy fountain that “provided a gushing torrent of delicious, piping hot gravy.”

Originally created for Thanksgiving “2K5,” this is the kind of idea that will never go out of style! Like waterfalls in the wild that put off negative ions, an ever-flowing gravy fountain can generate mysterious feelings of well-being.

Greedy Gobbler

Greedy Gobbler

Are you entitled to Thanksgiving leftovers? And other Turkey Day conundrums. READ MORE

Going Pear-Shaped

Going Pear-Shaped

Why do pears seem to have missed the heirloom train? READ MORE

Quimbaya: Colombian Eye-Openers in Ossining, NY

Quimbaya calls it just “cheese bread,” but don’t be deterred by the prosaic name. It’s sensational, says Lisa M, a highlight of a strong lineup of house-baked treats at this Colombian cafe. Crusty on the outside, soft and springy on the inside, it’s not unlike Brazil’s pao de queijo. Empanadas are a popular order, and vinouspleasure can see why–stuffed with meat and potato and topped with fresh salsa, they’re delicious, comforting and a little spicy. Also recommended: sweet arepas with butter and cheese.

Hot chocolate is a specialty. A variety dubbed El Presidente is long on flavor (panela, clove, cinnamon) but on the thin side, though Lisa notes that it’s one of the few flavors made with milk, not cream. Overall, she adds, this is a great spot for a morning bite for under $4: “Who needs Starbucks?!”

Quimbaya [Westchester County]
193 Main St., near Church, Ossining, NY
914-941-0810
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Quimbaya–Colombian coffee shop in Ossining
Quimbaya Ossining–Homemade Sweet Corn Cakes, Empanada and Hot Chocolate

Alfajores

Everybody likes Taqueria La Bamba, but have you had their alfajores? These are Argentine cookies made up of two rounds of shortbread, glued together with a thin layer of dulce de leche or caramel. They are simple and bloody divine–highly recommended by Ken Hoffman. Eat them.

Taqueria La Bamba [East Bay]
12345 San Pablo Ave., Richmond 94805
510-235-2288
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Alfajores at La Bamba

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
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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
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La Cantina Toscana [Upper East Side]
1109 1st Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts., Manhattan
212-754-5454
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Basso Est [Lower East Side]
198 Orchard St., near Houston, Manhattan
212-358-9469
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Piccolo Angolo [Greenwich Village]
621 Hudson St., at Jane, Manhattan
212-229-9177
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seeking chingale aka wild boar