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

Know Your Cheese

A glossary of cheese terms. READ MORE

Popeyes Fried Turkey

The popular Popeyes Fried Chicken franchise has a deep-friend Cajun turkey that can be ordered online. It costs about $50 for a 10-12 pound bird, fully cooked, ready to heat and eat.

Details here.

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Deep Fried Turkey

Fall-Perfect Butternut Squash Gratin

Here’s a great dish for Thanksgiving or any autumn meal, courtesy of opiniatedchef:

2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup half and half
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/8 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. ground mace
1 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. Butter
1 medium yellow onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Slice squash in 1/4” slices. In large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the squash, cream, half and half, bay leaves, thyme, mace, 1 tsp. of salt, and 1/4 tsp. of pepper. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring lightly to distribute the liquid, until squash is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, approximately 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the onions 3/8” thick. Melt half the butter in large skillet and saute onions until they turn deep golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Season with the remaining salt and pepper. In an oiled medium gratin dish or other shallow oven-proof dish, layer the squash mixture and onions. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with the remaining butter. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serves 6-8.

You can be make this dish in advance and reheat, or keep it uncooked in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before baking. It also freezes very well after baking.

Leftovers make a great soup, pureed and thinned with chicken or veggie stock.

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Butternut Squash Gratin: Great Fall/ Thanksgiving Dish

Two Special Crabs from Two Different Coasts

Picking meat from cooked crabs can be a messy, slow process. It’s a fun meal with a group of friends, but you’ll need a lot of napkins.

The Pacific Coast boasts the big, meat-filled, Dungeness crab. To cook them, just boil up a pot of salted water, and serve them hot or chilled, with melted butter to dip the sweet meat into. The meat makes a fine crabcake, too.

The blue crab, from the Chesapeake Bay area and the Gulf coast, can be boiled or steamed, usually with the addition of Old Bay seasoning or a spice combination of your own. For a dipping sauce, some folks like cider vinegar. The meat from the blue crab makes great crabcakes.

When a blue crab molts, the new shell is paper thin. These are known as soft shell crabs. At this stage, the crab can be cooked and eaten shell and all.

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dungeness vs. blue crab

Leave the Gun, Take the Prosciutto

The Los Angeles Times reported (requires registration) this week on a deadly serious game of “hide the salami” at Mozza, Mario Batali’s much-anticipated Los Angeles pizzeria.

A thief—described as “some yuppie” clad in khakis and sporting a receding hairline—biked away from the restaurant with $700 worth of handcrafted cured meats made by Batali’s father, Armandino. The 40-pound haul included guanciale (cured hog jowl), lamb prosciutto, and culatello.

Also missing were a bar blender and a construction worker’s tool kit. Left behind, though, was a giant wheel of aged provolone cheese. ‘I’ve been telling people we’re looking for a yuppie guy on a bike who’s lactose-intolerant,’ [co-owner Nancy] Silverton says.

Stinky to Mild

Stinky to Mild

How to build a cheese plate. READ MORE

How to Eat a Cheese Plate

How to Eat a Cheese Plate

Getting the most flavor from those little wedges READ MORE

Eating Rachael Ray

Having conquered the book world, the magazine world, and the television world, Rachael Ray is setting out to conquer the fast-food world with a chain of burger joints.

Set to open in New York, the currently nameless joint will make burgers based on the many burger recipes Ray has cranked out over the years.

‘We’ll rotate them,’ she said. ‘Tuna burgers, swordfish burgers, turkey burgers,’ Ray said, ‘I like anything you can pick up with your hands— portable food.’ Ray said she also plans to open fast-food versions of the flagship.

However, if you don’t want to wait for Ray’s contribution to the In-N-Out oeuvre, you can find her burger recipes spattered all over the Web on her own site, at Reader’s Digest, or at the new YahFood.

Can you just see her big smiling mug replacing Wendy’s red pigtails? Or, better yet, a larger-than-life statue of Ray Ray instead of Bob’s Big Boy? Maybe the doors of Ray’s burger palace will scream “YUM-O!” as you walk through them. The possibilities seem freakishly endless.

Interestingly, Rachael Ray’s not the only magazine mogul to get into the restaurant business. Men’s magazine Maxim has recently announced its intention to open a chain of steakhouses. I know the first thing I crave when I see one of those scantily dressed chicks is a big fatty steak.

Brooklyn Pizza at Domino’s? Fuggedaboutit!

New York Times writer Kim Severson takes on a dangerous mission in this week’s Dining section: walking into Totonno’s, the Mecca of Coney Island pizza parlors, armed with a box from Domino’s.

Luckily, her journalist’s cred trumps the insult, and the owners (and patrons) of Totonno’s weigh in, volubly, on what they think of Domino’s new “Brooklyn Style” pie. This being Brooklyn, they don’t mince words: The sauce is too sweet, the pepperoni slices are “freakishly large,” and the crust “blends the characteristics of cotton and rubber.”

Still, it might play among those not lucky enough to live within subway distance, says Totonno’s owner Louise Ciminieri. “In Utah, they’re going to love it because they use ketchup and American cheese on their pizzas.”

Surprisingly, the usually discerning New York City pizza blog SliceNY doesn’t give the new pie a total smackdown, calling it “good for a Domino’s pie,” thanks mostly to a crust that’s thinner and chewier than the chain’s typical dough mattresses.

As for getting the message across, Domino’s spokeswoman Dana Harville says, “We’re really having a lot of fun with the culture,” which, from the company’s perspective in Ann Arbor, Michigan, means TV ads featuring an Italian-American grandma, a cabdriver of indeterminate accent, and an African American dude who can’t be heard over the rap blasting from his car stereo. (Check out the YouTube link—and more local disgust—at metro blog Gowanus Lounge). Even borough prez/shameless promoter Marty Markowitz isn’t appreciating the attention, calling the ads the product of “a multinational right-wing company mass marketing the Brooklyn attitude with obsolete ethnic stereotypes, not to mention flimsy crusts.”

Claims Markowitz, “Domino’s is about as Brooklyn as Sara Lee Cheesecake is Junior’s.” Or, as SliceNY taster Adam says, “I eat this stuff so you don’t have to.”

So Where’s the Bourbon?

Frustration in Bardstown

After the dramatic balloon glow, I set out to do what I thought would be an easy thing: find a place to sip a good bourbon in Bardstown, Kentucky, the hometown of Kentucky bourbon, on the eve of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

There is one and only one likely venue in Bardstown: the historic Old Talbott Tavern. The woody, atmospheric bar was closed for a private party, but I was directed by a hostess to try their annex, a hellish noisy teen pick-up nightmare. I declined. Around Bardstown I drove, at 9 p.m., searching, like Diogenes, for an honest bar. I might as well have been in Long Island or Phoenix. There’s nowhere to drink beyond a handful of lousy generic watering holes. Where are the bourbon-loving festival attendees? WHERE’S THE FREAKIN’ BOURBON??

I stumbled into a moldering joint down a dark alley, which only served beer—probably a wise choice, given the scary clientele. The denizens directed me to a sports bar on the edge of town where the bartender—a hardened dye-job blonde in a belly shirt—muttered and mumbled her short list of bourbon holdings, bringing me my $2 shot in what appeared to be a plastic urine sample cup. Having spent years dreaming of attending this bourbon festival, I was determined to make the most of it, and remained perky and engaged amid deafening gangsta rap music and hostile gazes from plastered rednecks who’d never before seen anyone ask a bartender to list the bourbons.

That was last night. This morning, my bourbon-drinking buddy JB arrived on a red-eye flight from California. JB is a busy ice cream executive with two young kids. He’s the last person in the world you’d expect to be able to get away, but he’s managed, via months of coercion and planning, to convince wife and coworkers to allow this trip. It will take him years to pay back the favors asked and chits cashed, and all he expects is a few days relaxing in a bourbon-saturated wonderland.

After much soul-searching, I decided to give him the bad news right off the bat, figuring low expectations are always the best policy. JB’s a pretty cool dude, and he handled the news pretty well. Watch along in this video: Movie file

We spent the day chowhounding the area. First we hit Kurtz’s for excellent pie and cobbler, and weirdly latke-like cornbread (this area makes “hot water” cornbread, which appears to be little pancakes).

Believe it or not, this is cornbread!

Then we hit Tom Pig’s restaurant, mostly just because I liked the name. As with nearly every other restaurant in Kentucky, service is “all you can eat.” In Kentucky restaurants, it’s generally not possible to eat less than all one can eat. Unfortunately, JB couldn’t eat more than a bite of his roast beef sandwich in catastrophic brown gravy:

Tom Pig’s fried chicken was quite satisfying, however:

On an impulse, I order grilled cheese, and it was GREAT:

One of my side missions was to check out fried chicken in gas stations, but greatness evaded me. Even this Citgo (the second Citgo station I’ve eaten at during this trip—see report #16 for the previous one), with an awesome rooster in front, disappointed:

Look at this weird bug we found on the wall:

The Old Talbott Tavern was closed for the afternoon, but we finally found a non-awful alternative for bourbon drinking: Kreso’s, an upscale Bosnian restaurant. They’re not overtly Bosnian, but that’s where the folks are from, and there are some Bosnian gestures on the menu— though, being too stuffed with fried chicken, we didn’t try anything.

Kudos to JB, who made a major, major score here, noticing (via a mirror reflection) a bottle even the staff didn’t know about. Watch a video explaining this find: Movie file

Then we attended our first official, ticketed festival event: a “cooking with bourbon” demonstration. We ate some uninspired food, hoping against hope that the chef/speaker would liven things up by setting the joint on fire with his flambé:

The drippy crowd was non-revelrous, but at least they assured us we weren’t the only ones lured into this supposed festival.

We once again missed the chance to drink at the historic, woody Old Talbott Tavern, which closed at 10 p.m.—during a bourbon festival! So we headed over to an ongoing little bourbon tasting at the Chapeze House ...

... where we paid a healthy sum of money for a trayful of micro-splashes in little plastic cups …

...from a dizzying number of bottles:









Sip along with JB and me, on a languorous summer night in small-town Kentucky, via this podcast: MP3

It was a good learning experience, and we found a few new brands to love (Noah’s Mill, Old Fitzgerald 1849, and Vintage Rye 23-Year-Old Whiskey), but it was all a bit overwhelming. Lesson learned: Bourbon is not much fun when you’re quaffing microsplashes of multiple brands in plastic cups. Very little drinking satisfaction. This is, after all, not chardonnay. This is bourbon, and we want to expansively sip good stuff, cavorting with other aficionados. We remain, alas, frustrated in this ambition.

See how discontent poor JB, all duded out in his “party” shirt, is, despite his brave Game Face:

Here are the bourbon price lists mentioned in the podcast:

LeNell’s, a bourbon-specialist liquor store in Brooklyn, New York

1-877-Spirits.com

Vintage Wine & Spirits of Mill Valley, California

Virginia state liquor stores

New Hampshire state liquor stores

This was obviously not the greatest of days. But if hell is the absolute absence of divine love, we’ve certainly not been damned. Because every few hours in Bardstown, the wind shifts and angels puff into your nose. An unearthly aroma of luscious caramel and vanilla sneaks up on you in an undulating wave of divine consolation.

It took a while before I realized this was a worldly scent rather than a religious awakening. It’s the smell of bourbon aging in barrels, which no poet alive could capture in words. This is, quite simply, what your nose always craved. Sporadically and unexpectedly throughout each and every day, no matter where you are (even if there’s no distillery for miles around), you suddenly feel utterly enraptured.

A ghostly bourbon-storage facility.