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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Full of Hope and Help

Food bloggers around the world are working to give to those in need this season, raising money by raffling off a staggering array of meals, culinary experiences (coffee with Thomas Keller!), cookbooks, and more.

The program, A Menu for Hope, is now in its third year. Originated by Pim, of Chez Pim, last year’s event raised more than $17,000 to help victims of the Kashmir earthquake. This year the hopes are even higher, and all proceeds will go to the UN World Food Programme to help fight hunger in countries around the world.

Pim explains it best on her blog:

To us Food Bloggers, food is a joy. On our blogs, we celebrate food as a delight or even an indulgence. Unfortunately, many others who share our world do not share that privilege. For them, food is a matter of survival. This “Menu for Hope” is our small way to help.

And the prizes—donated, assembled and solicited by bloggers around the globe—are quite a haul. There are vouchers for meals in fantastic restaurants, including Manresa, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and Tetsuya’s (airfare not included).

There are also opportunities for face time with famous foodies—like Thomas Keller, Harold McGee, and David Lebovitz—and the famous of the food-blog world: photography lessons with Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, dinner in Seattle with the Gluten-free Girl, a cooking date in New York with the Wednesday Chef.

Beyond the experiential prizes, there is just plain loot: Cookbooks (many of them signed), cooking gear (knives, pasta maker, KitchenAid mixer), and food and wine items from near and far. It’s enough to make any foodie’s heart go pitter-patter with hope.

The campaign is ongoing until December 22, with each $10 donation getting you one raffle ticket for the item of your choice. Individual prizes are listed on the website of the sponsoring blogger, but the whole roundup can be found at Chez Pim.

Those of you angling for a coffee date with Mr. Keller had better hop to it.

Cambodian Karaoke, Cider Doughnuts, and a Trampling by Stallions

Topsfield, Massachusetts; Revere, Massachusetts

I was invited to a Cambodian lunch at Floating Rock Restaurant (144 Shirley Ave, Revere, Massachusetts; 781-286-2554), by my friend Chris, whom I cajoled into trying a durian milkshake. For those who don’t know, durian is a hyper-stinky sulphurous fruit, but it’s nicer in milk shakes … a little:

The food was authentic but undelicious. This isn’t a crack Cambodian chef cooking his heart out, it’s just a foothold where immigrants crank out sustenance, sans flair.

At least they make the beef salad (a.k.a. “tiger tears”) with lots of toasted rice flour, which is how I like it:

French bread with beef stew was enjoyable home cooking:

Here’s the menu:

The owner was impressed by our prowess with Cambodian karaoke (which was admittedly wretched, yet also, paradoxically, kind of hard to beat, considering): MP3.

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Topsfield Fair, in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is “America’s Oldest Agricultural Fair (Established 1818).”

The cool, hyperrealistic model railroad was a nice touch:

As always, food choices were dominated by the generic festival shlock that’s dogged me for thousands of miles on this trip. But I felt a good vibe from a certain cider doughnut concession (the woman in charge radiated sincerity and the oil smelled fresh):

Sure enough, her doughnuts were wonderful. So crisp, so creamy/melting. Great doughnuts are logarithmically more delicious than pretty good doughnuts, and it’s been ages since I had truly great ones:

View, if you dare, Ron Wallace’s obscenely overgrown 1,345.5-pound pumpkin:

These cucumbers, for reasons neither you nor I nor anyone we know could ever pretend to fathom, are blue ribbon cucumbers:

I got a charge out of this cool little all-produce racetrack:

Now, about the cow …

The sign reads, “Please do not pet me … I do not play well with others!”

In my opinion, this is a woefully misunderstood cow. I spent a bunch of time with her and had no problems whatsoever.

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This is phenomenally non-food-related, but go ahead and experience the oh-so-kitsch Royal Canadian Mounted Police equestrian team at Topsfield Fair, complete with trampling (which, I admit, I amply deserved), in this video. (Note: You need to watch all the way through to catch the trampling.)

The Secret’s in the Spice Mix

The Secret’s in the Spice Mix

National heritages hinge on these exact blends. READ MORE

No Crisco in the Kitchen

In the wake of last week’s NYC trans fat ban, The New York Times reports on a genteel fry-and-bake-off (registration required) by chef Michael S. Schwartz at the Institute of Culinary Education. On the menu: french fries, fried chicken, and, in keeping with the school’s highbrow mien, tarte Tatin. The challenge? See how the old, soon-to-be-dumped Crisco versions stack up against those made with other fats—in this case, coconut oil, canola oil, peanut oil, butter, and lard.

Crisco in the tarte Tatin? Quelle horreur! But Schwartz promises that the Crisco crust would be the best, and according to reporter Thomas J. Lueck, it was “light, flaky, and beckoning,” where the butter crust was flat and the coconut-oil one lumpy and crumbly. Crisco also made the crispest french fries. The only winner? Fried chicken, which came out uniformly crisp and golden no matter which fat or oil it was fried in.

But while the New York State Restaurant Association fights to keep trans fats in the kitchen and under the radar, Slate offers a smart and pithy take on the whole issue. As William Saletan writes of the Big-Bloomberg-Knows-Best law,

Still, Americans draw the line at food. You stamped out our cigarettes, you made us wear seat belts, but you’ll get our burgers when you pry them from our cold, dead hands. But that’s the funny thing about trans fats: They aren’t exactly food. A century ago, they hardly existed. Nature didn’t mass-produce them; we did.

Saleten also points out that, for all the big fast-food companies’ whining, plenty of them are already using trans-fat-free recipes in Europe, where the man-made fats are banned in several countries.

A Worthy Tamale

Of all the tamales available on the Peninsula, yimster enthusiastically recommends those sold by the lady with the tamale cart who is usually found outside a produce shop called El Mercadito Latino. Her masa is the best around. Go early, because they sell out.

Tamales come in several flavors, including mild and spicy versions of chicken and pork that are spectacular. At $1 each, they’re a bargain, and they’re so good, it’s easy to get carried away. “My brother-in-law once purchase two dozen and ate fourteen of them at one sitting,” says yimster. “I believe he was sick for a couple of days, not from the tamales themselves but from the amount he ate.” You’ve been warned.

Lady with Tamale Cart [Peninsula]

ouside El Mercadito Latino

1726 El Camino Real, Redwood City



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Tamales in the Peninsula

Le Soleil

For delicious Vietnamese with nice ambience, Le Soleil is a perfect choice. Bodegadawg thinks the mango salad topped with fried shallots is exceptional, and loves the barbecued pork rolls and clams with black beans. makaroon likes the tasty, succulent BBQ chicken, and many hounds recommend the five-spice chicken. Le Soleil is more expensive than your average Vietnamese dive in the area, but it has attractive decor and nice service to make up for it, if you’re into that sort of thing. And the food is actually really good. Even the seafood curry–a dish that sounds like bad imitation Thai–tastes delicious, says Windy.

Le Soleil Authentic Vietnamese [Richmond]

133 Clement St., San Francisco



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Dinner at Le Soleil on Clement

Cider with Character from Connecticut’s Applebrook Farm

So what kind of apples does Applebrook Farm press into its Grampa Tony’s Cider? Depends on when you ask, but the season’s delicious second batch was made of Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Cortland, Macoun, Ginger Gold, Honey Crisp, Roxbury Russet, Jonamac, Jonagold, Liberty, Paulared, Empire, Jonathan, Summer Rambeau, and Spartan. That’s right, 17 varieties, and the result is an uncommonly complex cider–sweet, tart, and refreshing, with a beautiful finish, reports gordon wing.

They do around 18 pressings a season, and the mix changes each time. “They know what they’re doing, so it will continue to be a well-balanced cider,” gordon adds. It’s unpasteurized, so bring a cooler to keep it cold on the way home.

Applebrook also sells doughnuts, made from its cider by Donut Dip in West Springfield, Mass. They’re first-rate, says Jestner–crunchy outside, moist inside.

Applebrook Farm [Hartford County]

216 East Rd., between Reservoir Ave. and Chamberlain Rd., Broad Brook, CT



Donut Dip [Hampden County]

1305 Riverdale St., between Ashley and Wayside Aves., West Springfield, MA



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Grandpa Tony’s Unpasteurized Apple Cider–Applebrook Farms, Broad Brook, CT

In Hell’s Kitchen, a Heavenly Blueberry Cupcake

At Burgers and Cupcakes, the cafe from Mitchel London Foods, blueberry-vanilla cupcakes are “oh my god amazing!” effuses haleyjen.

Burgers and Cupcakes [Clinton]

formerly Mitchel London Foods

458 9th Ave., between W. 35th and 36th Sts., Manhattan



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How are the cupcakes at Hamburgers & Cupcakes?

Change Is in the Air in Pasadena

Pasadena fans of the delicious Malaysian fare at Kuala Lumpur, take note: It’s being sold, and will be replaced by a Green Street Tavern in the new year.

Meanwhile, Central Park has opened in the space that was formerly Soda Jerks. It hardly looks like the same place, with black-and-white photos of movie stars everywhere and a sun room near the front of the restaurant.

Strangely, near the hostess station are menus for aggressively mediocre places like Wild Thyme, Shakers, and Diner on Main in Alhambra.

kotatsu reports having a very nice lunch, though, with tuna nicoise salad (baby greens, potatoes, tomatoes, in a good dressing) and chicken caprese sandwich (on focaccia bread with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar) and broccoli salad, which is more exciting than it sounds. The one quibble is that the tomatoes in the salad taste like they’d been refrigerated (a little mealy).

There’s a good variety of stuff on the menu: pasta, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and so on, and at lunch nothing is more than $10.

Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]

69 W. Green St., Pasadena



Central Park Cafe [Pasadena-ish]

219 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena



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Kuala Lumpur in Pasadena being sold

nice lunch at Central Park in Pasadena!

Dining Is Bittersweet at Camden House

The French chef at Camden House definitely knows his business, says RicRios. Heirloom tomato and burrata salad, and foie gras with pineapple, are wonderful starters. Seared ahi tuna and osso buco with spaetzle are very good. For dessert, the apple tart is nice, but the crepes are to die for.

The beautiful bar and main room, though, are mostly empty on a Friday night.

“Like Le Dome, like Norman’s, Camden House is a place that leaves you very satisfied food-wise and at the same time with a sad note, the feeling that demise is imminent, due to some kind of act of God you can’t do much about.”

Burrata salad, $12; foie gras, $16; ahi $27; osso buco $32; apple tarte $9; crepes $8.

Camden House [Beverly Hills]

430 N. Camden Dr., at Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills



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Camden House