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

Fromage Fort

Fromage fort is an old French creation born of frugality, a means of using up all the odd–and old–bits of cheese that have accumulated in the pantry. It can be made from any mix of hard, semisoft, and soft cheeses, and all mixes seem to work, so long as they’re not too salty. You trim them of their rinds and any moldy spots, and combine them in a food processor with a clove or two of garlic and enough white wine (or cream, or vegetable stock) to make a rough paste, perfect for spreading on bread or toast. It’ll keep about a week in the fridge.

Several recommend Alton Brown’s recipe.

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Fromage Fort

Bagels by Mail

Bagels are serious business in New York. Happily enough, some favored New York delis will deliver their babies by mail. The cost of shipping perishable goods overnight is high, but if you really need a New York bagel:

For Ess-a-Bagel, call the 3rd. Ave. location, 212-980-1010

Janet from Richmond has had great success ordering H & H bagels.

L_W orders from Bagel Boss and says the bagels come fast and fresh.

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Mail order bagels

Things You Never Thought You’d Cook With: Pineapple Rinds

Never again must the thorny hide of the pineapple be relegated straight to the trash can or compost bin. You can make delicious stuff with it, like a fizzy, fermented Mexican beverage called tepache and a spicy-fruity condiment called pineapple vinagre.

Tepache is particularly common along the central west coast of Mexico and in Mexico City, says Eat Nopal, who describes his homemade batch as lightly fizzy like a spritzer, and refreshing, with hints of alcohol, pineapple, and woodsy flavors. It makes an exotic drink all on its own or a good cocktail mixer. Here’s the recipe he uses. Where the recipe says to let the mixture “simmer” for 48 hours, it means let it steep. Eat Nopal adds no ale and lets it steep for 72 hours; it will ferment without a boost, and the carbonation mostly occurs in the last 24 hours. He also says that all the English-language recipes for tepache he’s seen use the whole pineapple, but Mexican recipes tend to use only the rind, which is what he does; his tastes like the tepache he drank in Mexico.

Pineapple vinagre is a condiment made by boiling pineapple rinds to extract their flavor, then combining the boiling liquid with garlic, habanero chiles, herbs, and spices. It’s used for making ceviche, and for sprinkling on kebabs, beans, etc., says oakjoan.

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What to do with leftover pineapple rinds? Tepache

Tofu Skin

Tofu skin (a.k.a. yuba) is wonderful stuff. It’s a thin skin that forms on top of boiled soy milk. The skin is dried in sheets and used for all sorts of applications after it’s been rehydrated. You can occasionally find it frozen, too.

Use yuba like wonton wrappers. Or slice the stuff into noodles, or deep fry it.

Dim sum parlors will sometimes have items using tofu skin; just ask.

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Tofu Skin

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

Much of the world sees horse as a delicacy. Much of the world gets its horsemeat from America. Yet Americans won't touch it. READ MORE

Winter 2006 Gift Guide

Winter 2006 Gift Guide

Give like you've never given before. READ MORE

Bourbon Redux

Bardstown, Kentucky

Bourbon fans may have been disappointed by the lack of serious bourbon talk in these last few reports. The following podcast—long but informative—is for them. JB and I ramble on and on, running down what we’ve drunk and what we’ve learned, while puffing on icky Maker’s Mark cigars (which, apparently, have bourbon in them).

If you’re not a bourbon geek, don’t even think of clicking on podcast #1: MP3

Quick advice on how to drink bourbon … in podcast #2: MP3

Tips for those considering attending next year’s Bourbon Festival, plus a final appreciation of Officer Bill, in podcast #3: MP3

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I ought to be banned from renting cars. I’m not referring to the vehicle I smashed up back in Mt. Vernon—I mean my complete inability to remember to fill the tank before returning. Driving into Louisville Airport, I grimaced, made a hasty U-turn, and went off searching for gas.

And thank goodness for this, because in my meanderings I found exceptional Vietnamese pho at Pho Binh Minh (6709 Strawberry Lane, Louisville, Kentucky; 502-375-9249).

I only had time to gulp down half a bowl of meaty broth—I was in and out of there like a meteor—but this is the sort of serious homey grandma Vietnamese place I’d been looking for for years, and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to really check it out.

I also regret lacking time to plunge into the issue of hot-water cornbread, which confused me greatly. I ate so many startlingly different renditions of cornbread (in general) and hot-water cornbread (specifically) that I feel like I need to sit down somewhere and get seriously calibrated on this food. Little greasy fried corn pancakes are cornbread? Huh?

Here’s a recipe JB found.

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Some bourbon links:

The message boards at BourbonEnthusiast.com are a good place to discuss bourbon with serious enthusiasts. That said, don’t forget that Chowhound, too, has a spirits discussion board!

I haven’t had time to actually read through an issue, but I love just the idea of The Bourbon Country Reader!

The Bourbon Companion: A Connoisseur’s Guide, by Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan, is highly regarded. It’s out of print, but used copies are easily found.

Malt Advocate sometimes covers bourbon.

Bourbon aficionados will want to bookmark the price lists I linked to in report #29 (I keep them all on my PDA so that I have a handy price reference).

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And now, a message from our CEO (who doesn’t know I’m printing this, so I may well be fired) ...

Neil Ashe, CNET’s CEO, has fine taste in obscure bourbon. He hipped me (not that we’re constantly hobnobbing … it’s just that what else am I going to talk to the guy about when I pass him in the hall? Physical-plant depreciation?) to Vintage Wine & Spirits, a great store for bourbon in Mill Valley, California. His recomendations are: A.J. Hirsch 19-year-old (extremely rare, no longer produced) and George T. Stagg unfiltered. I’ve had the Stagg, and it’s great—though, as with any barrel-strength, high-proof spirit, you need to really water that sucker down. I’ve never tried Hirsh, which JB has been stalking for years. Does anyone know where to find a bottle? If so, please leave a comment beneath this article!

+ + +

To close the chapter on Kentucky, JB sent me the following email after returning home:

It took a few days, but I am really appreciating the mashed potatoes at Stephen Foster Restaurant. I’m getting your whole ‘this is where they got the idea for 1000’s of pounds of soulless mashed potatoes’ jive. It’s something I’ll tuck away as part of my chowhound education.

Speaking of soulless, I have to admit that I went to Talbott’s Tavern for lunch Sunday. Dagwood’s sandwich place and the lunch counter place were closed, and I didn’t think my nieces could make it to the taco guy. I could not get served a bourbon with lunch because it was before 2p on Sunday! Had the pot roast—awful potatoes, nice vegetables, soulless pot roast. I ordered corn fritters and pecan/chocolate pie for desert. You would have warned me off the pie, with good reason. It wasn’t awful, after all it’s pecans, sugar & chocolate, but that’s about it. The corn fritters were like corn malasadas (which, I assume you know, is a Hawaiian donut). They were well fried, warm on the inside, not too crispy on the outside, better corn flavor than Berea’s sad little tin of spoonbread. They would have been a lot better without an inch of powdered sugar. Definitely the best thing on the menu, which isn’t saying much. My sister-in-law had the fried catfish, which was a sad cornmeal crusted affair that looked and tasted baked and not fried. My nieces enjoyed the grilled cheese and green beans, and of course the powdered sugar! It was strange sitting down to a meal in a restaurant without a camera and microphone in my face. I may never sit down at a restaurant again without hearing your voice.

I’m drinking Blanton’s because I want to finish the bottle to make room for Elmer T. Lee and the Van Winkle rye. Also, I was wrong, you can get Wathen’s in CA.

Thanks for a great trip!

—JB

PS—I just listened to your podcast about The Streak. You’re right, I wouldn’t believe it if we hadn’t found Derby City Truck Stop. I have gazed at the picture of the fried fish three times, couldn’t help myself.

Switchit Dual Ended Small Spatula

Switchit Dual Ended Small Spatula

Swings both ways. READ MORE

Madly in Love with Maxine’s

Bardstown, Kentucky

Any breakfast that includes mashed potatoes can’t be all bad. And while nothing at Stephen Foster Restaurant (503 W. Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown, Kentucky; 502-348-5076) will light your heart on fire, I did find their buffet charming. JB did not. Per my argument in report #25, I felt JB undervalued the mashed potatoes because he’d had so many crappy renditions—empty, soulless versions of this, the Real Deal.

Watch, as I attempt to force-feed him bite after bite until he acknowledges their aesthetic worth, in this video (complete with weird clicking and perpetual refocusing, which, to my mind, just adds to its cinematic trippiness): Movie file

Later, we tried for the fourth time to have a drink at historic Talbott Tavern, the only really bourbonish hangout here in the epicenter of bourbon.

We waited while they closed the bar for an hour to set up for a musical act, which turned out to be some lame singer/songwriter. The gorgeous, centuries-old, rife-with-ambiance room was jammed with young beer drinkers, and we tried to kibbitz with the bartender—a sullen kid who didn’t give a damn about bourbon. Finally, we walked out, resolved to never return.

JB and I have tried restaurants all over Bardstown, invariably charmless all-you-can-eat buffets. But the bourbon frustration has been worse. We’d attended bourbon tastings, tours, and events, and queued up on lawns by day and by night to tipple bits of booze out of plastic cups. We’d discovered secret bottles at Bosnian bastions, and drunk plenty of wonderful Bulleit on the patio back at the B&B. But after several days, we still hadn’t settled in anywhere and just drunk a glass of great bourbon in a properly relaxed, expansive environment among fellow aficionados. As JB noted, we’d had far more bourbonish experiences sipping in the backyard of his Oakland, California, home.

Then we found Maxine’s (402 Cathedral Manor, Bardstown, Kentucky; 502-348-3459).

Maxine’s is located on the outskirts of Bardstown, right next to one of those bourbon-storage facilities that pumps angelic nectar into the Bardstown air.

Maxine’s is not well known by locals. And those who’ve heard of it seem to shudder at the mention of its name. Maxine’s is an off-the-beaten-track, somewhat-forbidding roadhouse frequented by, we heard, faceless ogres. We were warned to take great care there. The prospect of physical violence was raised.

Of course we ran right over.

I love Maxine’s. And I don’t say that lightly. I mean, I’m literally in love with a bar. Bardstown doesn’t realize what they have there. Trepidation, I suppose, is the natural reaction of those who’ve forsaken the richness of life toward those who have not. Few people deserve Maxine’s (I’m not sure I do), and that’s fine, because Maxine and her husband, Robert, are elderly and couldn’t handle much of a crowd, anyway.

You must fly into the Louisville airport and drive the 45 miles to Bardstown for an evening at Maxine’s, and you must do so quickly. Because here you’ll find a last vestige of the best sort of old-time Southern culture. When Maxine’s closes, as it will any day now, we might as well all move to Norway.

Yes, Maxine’s is dark and lived-in. It’s a time-machine throwback lacking the modern comforts of crap food, crap music, and overall plastic soullessness. Everybody’s a little quirky. But Robert remembers your drink (forever, I’ll bet) and cooks perfect food, and Maxine is a warm, bawdy hoot. Both have hearts as big as the state of Kentucky. Maxine and Robert are not real religious—they like a beer or three once in a while—but their sinner spirituality makes them kinder and wiser than most of the prim, proper folks who’d never set foot in their tavern.

The following photos are bright from the flash and don’t convey the ambiance. Maxine’s is darker and more broody/glowy, like a tavern in an old fable. I wish I were a good enough photographer to really capture it.

We settled in and drank six-year-old Barton bourbon with a single ice cube (everyone else has served us bourbon slurpees, brimming with ice) in the correct glass at the correct bar with the correct knickknacks all afternoon, with Robert talking to us. Not entertaining us by playing the old-timey Southern dude, but really TALKING to us—and frying us up memorable cheeseburgers.

It’s hard to describe the deep joyful relief we were feeling. It was also relieving not to hear, for the thousandth time, “Where y’all FROM?”—the only-semipolite version of “Y’all aren’t from around here, are you?”

We noticed, perched with pride of place on a shelf behind the bar, an ancient, unfamiliar-looking bottle of bourbon. JB is staring longingly at it in the top photo, above. Here’s what he’s focusing on (it’s the bottle to the left of the Knob Creek):

Here’s a close-up of the bottle …

... and a mega-close-up:

This bottle had been there, sealed, forever, and Robert gravely informed us that it would remain that way.

This petty disappointment did nothing to reduce our joy at Maxine’s. Moaning with profound contentment, JB and I made our way out, telling Robert we’d be back later that night, much better dressed.

Then it was on to the Bourbon Festival’s closing gala, a $250/person fete where everyone who’s anyone in bourbon (plus nobodies like us) braved the long queue decked out in black tie.

JB in a tux looks like the very epitome of Bourbon, no? Neat trick for a Jewish ice cream exec from California!

The first hour consisted of a fun tasting of interesting bourbon cocktails, plus most of the major brands.

Best of all was an errant bottle of Family Reserve Rye from the Pappy Van Winkle people.

Other attendees ignored it, but JB and I nearly finished off the bottle single-handedly. It’s great stuff, and rye is increasingly popular, but the company can’t produce enough to keep up with demand (it’s hard to latch on to trends when a product requires the better part of a decade to mature!).

JB’s trip was made by getting to meet his hero, Jim Rutledge, the legendary master distiller of Four Roses (who’s quite an unaffected nice guy, by the way).


Hmm … maybe JB’s not exactly the epitome of Bourbon after all …

After the tasting hour, we headed into the tent for dinner, which turned out to be a catered nightmare that could just as easily have been a Long Island bar mitzvah. After an ugly encounter with the first course, struggling to make conversation with the dull strangers at our large table, we bolted for the car and sped back to Maxine’s. No one batted an eyelash as we entered in our tuxedos, and we spent a life-affirming night deliriously gobbling Robert’s soulful steak and potatoes, sipping good bourbon, and schmoozing with Robert, Maxine, and their diverse clientele (including a Bardstown elder who regaled us with bourbon-industry anecdotes and inside dirt). Robert remembered that I’d mentioned loving fried chicken, and he’d bought some chicken wings between our visits to make up some off-menu fried chicken for us. I don’t think he charged us (I need to note that I work anonymously—neither Robert nor any other food professional in these reports had the slightest idea that I’m a writer).

The dinner crowd (perhaps a dozen customers) eventually cleared out, and Maxine, who walks a bit haltingly and seemed completely exhausted, sighed at the sight of all the dirty dishes. I got up and began clearing plates, but Maxine grabbed my arm and begged me to stop (“Honey, me and Robert can clear that out in 20 minutes, really!”). Having coaxed me back to my chair, she cracked open the ancient bottle that had sat on that shelf for decades.

Rereading that last sentence, it seems unbelievable. Why would a couple of new customers—regardless of how friendly and in love with you and your place they may be—inspire you to do such a thing? It’s because Maxine is wise, and she knew we’d fully appreciate it and she understood that we needed it. She sensed that we were desperately seeking from Kentucky something that was uniquely hers to give. We had her treasure and we had her heart … as she had ours.

The bourbon was sublime (and on the house). The night was sublime. Kentucky was sublime. The trip was sublime.

What Do You Eat in a Week?

Last week, food blogger Sam, of Becks & Posh, bravely posted a weeklong food diary. Now she has challenged other bloggers to track and photograph their weekly food consumption. And she’s getting some takers.

The challenge to bloggers is this: Starting Monday, November 20, ending Sunday, November 26, keep track of everything you consume, take pictures, and post the results to your blog on Monday, November 27 (and that includes the second piece of pumpkin pie you put away at the Thanksgiving dinner table).

A surprising number of bloggers have volunteered to participate. “Better get the fridge stocked up with some non-embarrassing foods,” writes Anita of Married … with Dinner, who plans to take part. “It will be a bit difficult to explain to my family,” confesses Amy of Amy’s Pickles, “but hey, they have to love me even if they think I am horribly bizarre.”

Sam and company are following in the footsteps of some other consumption chroniclers. Writer Tucker Shaw photographed everything he consumed over the course of a year in his 2005 book, Everything I Ate: A Year in the Life of My Mouth. And in the UK, opera singer Chris Gillett chronicled his food intake for a year and displayed the resulting photo collage of 2,550 images in a local gallery.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what these food photogs capture—and consume—in the course of a week. “Sometimes it’s gummy bears and a glass of wine,” admits blogger Cookiecrumb of I’m Mad and I Eat. “Too embarassing.”

But Sean of food blog Hedonia has perhaps the most pertinent question: “Do I have to photograph each glass of wine individually?”