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

From Lemons to Apples at Corona’s Ice King

When the temperature drops in fall, so does demand for Italian ices, sending some purveyors into hibernation. But not Corona’s Lemon Ice King, which shifts into autumnal mode and starts making caramel apples. They come in five flavors: cherry, coconut, sprinkles, caramel, and butterscotch, reports Linda. The shop’s hours shorten with the days–to 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in October and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. after that.

For caramel apples with the emphasis on the apple, go to the farm. Williams’ Fruit Farm in Ulster County sets up shop on Saturdays at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, peddling apples and apple treats. The quality and freshness of the fruit set their product apart, says bolletje, but the homemade-tasting caramel also shines. Look for Williams’ stand on the Prospect Park West side of the market.

On Coney Island, you’ll find terrific caramel apples at William’s Candy Shoppe, a Surf Avenue landmark. Fresh soft caramel covers good crisp apples, reports JessicaSophia. Also available: red candy apples and–only for those with a serious sweet tooth–marshmallows dipped in caramel and peanuts.

The Lemon Ice King [Corona]
52-02 108th St., at 52nd Ave., Corona, Queens
718-699-5133
Locater

Williams’ Fruit Farm stand [Park Slope]
at Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket
Grand Army Plaza, north entrance to Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Map

William’s Candy Shoppe [Coney Island]
1318 Surf Ave., between Stillwell Ave. and W. 15th St., Brooklyn
718-372-0302
Locater

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Fall must! Caramel apples with peanuts

Majestic Fried Pork from the Queen of Chicharron

Uptown hounds kneel happily before the queen of pork rinds, a.k.a. Elsa La Reina del Chicharron. Best chicharron ever, says Jeremy Osner, who describes hefty hunks of fried pork with ample meat attached to the rinds–sold by weight, $10 a pound. Crispy outside, tender inside, they’re even better with a squeeze of lemon or lime, advises nobody special.

The daily-changing menu at this Dominican mini-chain ranges way beyond fried pork to include soups, stews, roasts, and more. Chicharron de pollo (fried chicken) and mofongo (plantain mash with chunks of chicharron, spiked with garlicky-vinegary sauce) are also excellent.

Speaking of fried chicken, they do it really well at El Mundo in Washington Heights–“a crispy, garlicky masterpiece of a bird. Trace of vinegar in there, too,” reports Polecat. This Dominican lunch joint also lays out a steam-table spread including longaniza, mofongo, bistec, rice, beans, and sancocho (meat stew).

Elsa La Reina Del Chicharron [Inwood]
4840 Broadway, at Academy St., Manhattan
212-304-1070
Map

Elsa La Reina Del Chicharron [Washington Heights]
1249 St. Nicholas Ave., between 172nd and 173rd Sts., Manhattan
212-795-3667
Locater

Elsa La Reina Del Chicharron [Bronx]
1A E. 183rd St., at Jerome, Bronx
718-295-7383
MapY

El Mundo Fried Chicken [Washington Heights]
4456 Broadway, at Fairview Ave., Manhattan
212-567-9302
Map

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Dominican??
Best-ever chicharrones

Smart Cookies: Handmade Treats from Nana’s in Chelsea

Dense, handmade, slightly irregular cookies are the signature treat at Nana’s, a cozy basement cafe tucked under a small hotel in Chelsea. Chocolate chip is a favorite; the rotation also includes M&M, oatmeal-butterscotch, and peanut butter cookies–all $1 apiece. Sometimes, the peanut butter cookies have jelly, too. “I have never had homemade cookies as good,” swears MatthewB.

Nana’s also serves coffee and pastries, danishes, croissants, and other baked stuff. Go early–it’s open only till 5 p.m. during the week, and only in the morning on weekends.

Nana’s Treats [Chelsea]
46 W. 17th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-647-1610
Locater

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Cookies that look and taste like homemade.

On the Importance of Not Rinsing Pasta

Don’t rinse drained pasta unless you plan to use it in a cold pasta salad. The starch that clings to unrinsed hot pasta helps sauce stick to the pasta. In fact, the now-starchy pasta cooking water itself can help marry sauce and pasta more effectively.

Karl S explains how: Before you drain the pasta, scoop out a cupful of its cooking water. Drain the pasta before it’s entirely done, and add it your sauce, along with some of the pasta cooking water, and let the sauce reduce down until it’s at its previous consistency and the pasta is finished cooking. FlavoursGal notes that when you do this, the pasta is actually absorbing some of the sauce as it finishes cooking, making it not just pasta and sauce, but one cohesive dish.

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Rinse Pasta after Cooking?

Give Me a Glug of Glogg, or Make it Gluhwein

Glogg is a heady Swedish variation on mulled wine, laced with plenty of booze and traditionally containing fruit and almonds. And gluhwein (‘glow wine”) is the German version of mulled wine.

newJJD shares a recipe for gluhwein:

1 bottle medium-bodied red wine (Beaujolais and Spatburgunder work best)
4 ounces brandy
1/3 cup extra-fine granulated sugar
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
6 cinnamon sticks, or to taste
12 whole cloves, or to taste

Simmer all ingredients for 1-2 minutes, strain and serve. When making it for a party, newJJD likes to double the recipe, and keep it warm in a slow cooker with the fruit and spices tied up in cheesecloth.

Cynsa got this party-size recipe for glogg from Swedish friends who serve it every Christmas:

4 whole cardamom pods
1/4 cup broken cinnamon sticks
25 whole cloves
peel of one orange
8 cups port
8 cups Burgundy
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup whole blanched almonds
2 cups sugar cubes
1 bottle brandy

Open cardamom pods and remove seeds. Tie seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel up in a cheesecloth bag. In a large saucepan, combine 4 cups of port, 4 cups of Burgundy, raisins, and cheesecloth bag. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add remaining port and Burgundy and almonds; keep warm. Place the sugar cubes in a separate saucepan. Warm 1/3 of the bottle of brandy, pour over the sugar cubes and carefully ignite. When sugar melts, extinguish flame by pouring in the remaining brandy. Add this mixture to the wine mixture and serve warm, floating a halved orange slice studded with whole cloves in each cup. Makes 20 8-oz. servings.

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Gluhwein recipe

Barbecue Sides

Eat_Nopal objects to the universally sweet dishes that seem to get paired with barbecue. Baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, sweet barbecue sauce, sweet tea–all full of sweet flavors, with little else going on.

Chowhounds point out that the aforementioned dishes don’t need to be sweet. Beans can be spiced and brothy rather than sweet, coleslaw and potato salad can be vinegary or mustardy, and barbecue sauce can be spicy rather than sweet. (Sweet tea is what it is, though.)

But there are other options. In place of starchy Wonder bread, you could serve biscuits, cornbread, roasted potatoes, polenta, or good flour tortillas. South Carolina barbecue often comes with a hash made from whatever is left of the pig–usually organ meats–chopped, spiced up, and served over rice. To cut the richness, kimchee, pickles, or big slabs of tomatoes work nicely. Fried okra, collard greens, and corn on the cob work as veggie sides, and how about wheatberry salad or bean salad?

Sweet is an important flavor in barbecue and Southern cooking in general, though, so don’t forget the freshly churned ice cream, watermelon ice, chess pie, fall fruit crisp, honey pecans, and coconut cake.

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Barbecue… what are the best accompaniments / plating?

Squid Guts

The gelatinous stuff inside a squid–it might be clear, or it might be murky with half-digested squid prey–won’t hurt you. It’s technically edible, and the Japanese make a shiokara (salted, fermented marine animal viscera) out of squid innards. However, most chowhounds–and, apparently, even most Japanese–find it repulsive. kare_raisu describes squid shiokara as the “only thing I will not eat again,” though Ed Dibble finds it strongly flavored but tasty.

If for some reason you have a whole squid, and you’re not a Japanese shiokara master, you should probably just throw out the guts.

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Squid- The insides of the squid

This Just In: American Arteries to Remain McClogged

More evidence that this is just not America’s century: McDonald’s is cutting the trans fat out of its food—but only in Europe.

The New York Daily News reports that all 6,300 of the firm’s European locations will switch over to canola or sunflower oil by mid-2008.

This comes on the heels of a proposed ban on trans fats in New York City, and the surprisingly enlightened dumping of trans fats by KFC after a secret trial switch proved that customers can’t tell the difference.

In defense of McDonald’s: Any change to the subtle taste of a Big Mac or the restaurant’s distinctive Chicken McNuggets would likely touch off an explosion of civil unrest that would kill far more Americans than a trans-fat switch could possibly save.

Carry on, McDonald’s. Carry on!

No Thanks, I’m Trying to Cut Back

Donald Trump, who doesn’t drink alcohol, recently launched a super-premium vodka. As The New York Times asks in its coverage of the launch (registration required),

Why would a notorious teetotaler—a man who once publicly yearned for ‘the lawyers that went after the tobacco companies’ to ‘go after the alcohol companies’—affix his name to a … vodka? ‘If I don’t do it,’ Mr. Trump said, ‘someone else will.’

OK, so say someone else launches another high-end vodka brand instead of The Donald—who cares?! As David Kiley notes in his BusinessWeek blog, Trump doesn’t REEEally need the cash from vodka royalties, and “throwing around his name brand haphazardly” like this will probably do a lot more damage to his reputation in the long run. Plus, let me add that while vodka is the most popular alcohol in the U.S. (and probably the easiest to produce), it certainly doesn’t scream “luxe” to me. Why not do a Trump cognac or single-malt Trumpscotch instead?

This news also got me thinking about how food and drink producers with dietary restrictions—whether moral or health-related—balance their personal needs with their culinary duties. Granted, Trump has pretty much nothing to do with the actual crafting of “his” vodka (though he admits to having tasted it); but I remember talking with a Bay Area café owner a few years ago who was vegan but still served meat and dairy to meet customer demand. And people like Sam from Top Chef, the “hot diabetic,” often have to prepare and taste food that doesn’t fly on their diet. (The fact that Sam’s low-sugar dessert smoothie in this week’s episode was totally off-balance, while his low-calorie meatballs were, in judge Tom Colicchio’s estimation, “leaden orbs of ground meat on a stick,” shows that perhaps even he is more comfortable cooking without restrictions.)

On a personal note, I may soon get tested for celiac disease; the treatment if I have it would be giving up all products containing wheat, barley, oats, and rye, which would mean never again being able to try or write about most pizza, breads, baked goods, and pastas (better get to Babbo while I still can).

Do any readers have experiences working in the food world while on a special diet? How did you manage it?

Well, It’s Sorta Like Restaurant Food

On Monday, Slashfood ran a trend post of sorts about the recent explosion of “make-and-take” restaurant/shops, including two new stores near writer Jonathan Forester’s upstate New York home. Basically these stores—like Let’s Dish!, the franchise operation that Forester is considering buying into—provide recipes, kitchen space, equipment, and pre-prepped ingredients. The customer just shows up, throws a bunch of chopped-up food and a few spices together in a disposable aluminum pan, does some minimal precooking, then wraps her finished pile of meals and takes them home to freeze or refrigerate for later use. Oh, and it’s always “her” pile in these places, apparently—there’s nary a man in sight in any of the promo material.

There is something incredibly appealing about the idea of having your own prep cook and not having a mess to clean up after a few hours in the kitchen. But how worth it is the whole thing when the “pre-prepped” ingredients include baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, and what appears to be cold-cut meat (all of which are sold in those exact same states of “preppedness” at any supermarket)? As Slashfood commenter Kate points out, it’s likely to be a passing fad:

I would think the people who loves[sic] these clubs the most—are groups of girlfriends who are eager to try something new for awhile[sic], hoot it up on Lasagne Making Night, but seldom become long-term customers.

I’d give one of these places a try for novelty’s sake, though I have a feeling my girlfriends and I already get a much bigger hoot out of our monthly sessions cooking at one of our apartments with ingredients we’ve bought together. Also, the idea that customers are cycling through the same kitchen all day long, pulling their ingredients from the same bins, grosses me out a little bit, and I’m not even much of a germaphobe. I’m sure they have some fairly strict cleanliness rules in place at these stores, but there’s at least as much of a chance that somebody snotted in the olive bin as there is at any salad bar—and I feel like if I’m eating a “home-cooked” meal, I want to know that any hair I find in my food belongs to me or someone I love. Maybe that’s just me?