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

Decadent Country Ham Spread

Country ham, a bit of bourbon, and a lot of butter. That’s all there is in this rich spread pikawicca calls addictive. A southern specialty, country ham can be hard to find outside the south except via mail order, but coconutz notes that many Chinese markets carry Smithfield country ham. It’s often possible to buy slices of country ham, cooked or uncooked, so you don’t have to commit to a whole one.

If your ham is already cooked, skip the initial part of the recipe, courtesy of Candy:

12 oz. raw cured country ham
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp. good bourbon
1/4 cup water
pepper
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350F. Soak ham in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain ham and place in baking dish; add 1/4 cup bourbon, water, and some pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Discard liquid and set ham aside until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove any fat and chop the ham roughly; put in a food processor and grind. Add butter and remaining bourbon, and process until well combined. Pack into containers and refrigerate; let warm slightly before serving. Serve with warm toast points, biscuits, or crackers.

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Country Ham Spread, make this!

Themed Dinner Parties

Chowhounds like to feed their friends at dinner parties, and what’s cooler than hosting a dinner party with a theme? Okay, it’s not that cool, but it could be fun.

cackalackie suggests a Bollywood theme–serve curries, dosas, and pani poori, play Bollywood movie soundtracks, and provide bindis and henna tattoos for guests to wear.

atheorist proposes Russian zakuski as a theme–the Russian appetizer course, including blini and ice-cold vodka. Make the buckwheat pancakes and serve smoked fish, pickles, sour cream, and honey.

ML8000 likes the idea of serving school cafeteria food. Or, says chowser, how about “Balls Around the World”–ball-shaped food from every culture?

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Theme Dinner Party Ideas?

Battle Pie Crust

It takes a lot of hubris to declare that you’ve found the recipe for “the perfect crust.” Of course, The New York Times, being the paper of record and all, has enough cred to do it.

In a piece sure to be almost as popular as last week’s Bittman bread fest, Melissa Clark bakes a few dozen pie crusts to render (ha!) a verdict on the best fat to use for shattering flakiness combined with melting tenderness.

Butter, shortening, suet, lard, duck fat, peanut butter, olive oil, and more. Her choice? Leaf lard, the fat that surrounds a hog’s kidneys. But it isn’t easy to prepare:

Step one: pick out any bloody bits and sinews, chop the fat into pieces, and render it slowly in a double boiler for eight hours.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the L.A. Times also thinks it has the ultimate crust. Betty Hallock visits City Bakery’s Maury Rubin to get the skinny on his rich tart dough. Like the aforementioned bread recipe, the “miracle crust from the master” promises to take away the guesswork and simplify a complicated process:

You don’t need a food processor or even a mixer. You’re not scrutinizing your dough, hoping to see what looks like snowy peas or barley or the Infant Jesus of Prague. You don’t have to worry about overworking the dough because even if you knead it and slap it and press into it to patch up some torn spots, it turns out great.

Which crust will win the day? We’ll just have to bake them both! Or maybe this one. And ooh, the legendary cider pie sounds like it should go on my list as well. So many pies, so little time.

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Wonder Breads

The saga of the no-knead bread continues. A week after Mark Bittman waxed rhapsodic over a slow-rise method of foolproof bread-making touted by Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey, the blogosphere is still buzzing over the results.

This simple little four-ingredient recipe has become a must try, with bloggers around the world posting their results—which are almost uniformly fabulous, much to even their posters’ surprise. And even if the bread’s not speedy, blogging is: Bread Bible expert Rose Levy Bernbaum got a long post, complete with bread-geek commentary about hydration percentages, up on her site just three days after the Times piece ran (no small feat, given that one loaf takes a good 22 hours or so from start to finish). Like many of the amateur bakers, she noted the small but crucial differences between the paper’s printed recipe and the how-to video.

So far, the video version, which uses slightly less water, is winning. Other evolutions including upping the salt by half a teaspoon, which definitely boosts the flavor of the finished loaf, as does subbing in one cup of whole wheat or other whole-grain flour. Other smart ideas: using rice flour (which won’t get gummy and sticky like wheat flour) on the towel for the final rise, and skipping the final 15- to 30-minute lid-off bake, since too much time in such a hot oven can lead to a burned bottom crust.

Overall, though, it seems like Bittman’s claim that this bread can’t be screwed up is true. (When the suggestions above were followed, a second batch came out much better than the first for this reporter.) As Lindy at food blog Toast writes,

This bread is ridiculously great. I’m floored. The crust is truly thin and crackling, the crumb is all wheaty tasty and just slightly chewy. And it is soooosimple. I may be making this bread every weekend—like, forever?