The CHOW Blog rss

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

Brooklyn in the Pizza House

Valentino’s in Manhattan Beach may offer the closest thing to Brooklyn pizza in Los Angeles, says young chower. Try getting it underbaked and finish it at home on a pizza stone–Morris Malken tried it this way and says he almost fell off his chair, it was so good. Sausage rolls are insanely tasty. Note that the Valentino’s at Sepulveda and El Segundo is not as good.

Valentino’s Pizza [Beaches]
975 N. Aviation Blvd., Manhattan Beach
310-318-5959
Locater

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Donde esta great pizza?

George Foreman Grills: Yay or Nay?

Some dismiss George Foreman grills, saying it’s just as easy to cook something up in a pan, or complaining that they’re difficult to clean. But plenty of hounds love them for speedy cooking of certain kinds of foods, and have strategies for making cleanup easier.

They’re great for quick cooking of burgers, chicken breasts, salmon steaks, sausages, and marinated vegetables. They’re also perfect for panini (or any grilled sandwich) and quesadillas. Bone-in meats don’t work well, as they don’t cook evenly. Since Foreman grills are angled so that fat and juices will run off as meats cook, leaner cuts work best unless your aim is to lose some of the fat. And while some like Foreman grills for cooking chops, others feel they’re not good for red meat beyond burgers, since they don’t get hot enough to produce a good sear.

The basic, entry-level Foreman grill has permanently attached grill plates, and can be difficult to clean. But many say that cleaning is no problem so long as you do it while the plates are still warm. Some simply use a damp sponge, while others find that sticking a few layers of dampened paper towels in the closed grill after it’s been turned off makes cleaning easy later on. Jacquilynne shares this tip: putting a sheet of parchment paper on either side of the food you’re cooking has minimal effect on its browning, but leaves almost no mess behind to clean up.

A larger, newer version has removable grill plates that are immersible and dishwasher safe.

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Are George Foreman grills worth it?

Teriyaki Shack’s Great Pastrami

Barnaby’s, a little teriyaki and burger shack, turns out a modestly sized but delicious pastrami sandwich, says kiwi. Pastrami is not too lean, not too fatty, with crispy edges–like a cross between itself and bacon. It comes on a toasted roll with caramelized onions, Thousand Island dressing and mustard. Bacon cheeseburger is fab, but skip the greasy, soggy chili cheese fries.

Barnaby’s [East San Fernando Valley]
4389 Tujunga Ave., Studio City
818-761-0311
Locater

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Barnaby’s in Studio City- EXCELLENT pastrami sandwich

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms can make an elegant appetizer, or even a main dish, and stuffing options are nearly unlimited. To make them, use medium or large white or brown mushrooms. Remove the stems (many like to peel, chop, and saute these as part of the stuffing), pile on the stuffing, and broil or bake. Here are some ideas:

cbauer browns sausage, drains, then mixes with bread crumbs and cubed mozzarella, stuffs, and broils.

ida sautees torn baby spinach and diced garlic in extra virgin olive oil and stuffs mushrooms, then tops with a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and broils. macca makes a similar stuffing, but includes the diced mushroom stems and onion, and tops it all with panko breadcrumbs.

HillJ adds 2 Tbsp. each shredded zucchini, shredded Monterey jack, and diced sun dried tomatoes to 1 cup of small croutons, folds in enough light cream to bind, and stuffs 10-12 medium mushrooms. Bake in an 8×8-inch pan covered in foil for 20 minutes.

Jackie de uses whatever she has on hand–ham, sausage, chicken, bacon, crab–it’s all good, she says. She sautees the chopped stems in butter with onions, and adds goat or cream cheese, fresh bread crumbs, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, and the pre-cooked meat, then stuffs, drizzles with olive oil, and bakes.

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stuffed mushrooms

The Vegemite Flap

An interesting confusion has developed around Vegemite, the salty, yeasty extract that’s wildly popular in Australia and New Zealand. It has its fans here too, as a spread for buttered toast. It’s high in B vitamins and contains folate. It seems the FDA allows folate to be added only to breads and cereal products, and there’s the rub.

Kraft makes it and isn’t importing it until the position of the FDA is clear. The FDA says they haven’t banned it.

The bottom line is that Vegemite is very scarce in the States these days. Stay tuned.

Scroll down for two interesting entries on the matter in Gourmet’s food blog.

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THIS is why I can’t find Vegemite anymore?!

Roti

Roti is a flatbread that originated in India, but has taken on a life of its own in cuisines around the world, from Southeast Asia to the Caribbean. And just as Los Angeles has its beloved taco trucks, some lucky places have roti trucks or carts. They serve the roti bread stuffed with curries, hot sauce, chutneys, Jamaican patties, or whatever you like. It’s kind of like a West Indies burrito, but the roti bread is much more central and important than the tortilla.

Goat curry, a common and delicious filling, is a good measure of a roti place, says pinstripeprincess–if you were to go on a roti crawl, say. Roti is also served in many restaurants–look for it anywhere that has a good concentration of Caribbean ex-pats.

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Can you explain roti to me?

Frozen Favorites

As a food blog reader, I especially enjoy discovering communities of reviewers who are incredibly analytical about esoteric, “low-end” types of cuisine. Take diet-food-review blog IateApie, for example. On Tuesday, it posted the results of an informal reader poll on favorite frozen-food brands. The clear winner? Quarter-century-old stalwart Lean Cuisine, garnering almost 36 percent of the 844 votes, about 12.5 percentage points ahead of the more foodie-sanctioned, organ-i-licious brand Amy’s Kitchen (which came on the scene six years later).

The critics at HeatEatReview—a blog dedicated entirely to picking and panning frozen meals—aren’t as keen on Lean, as editor Abi’s snarky, funny review of the brand’s Sesame Chicken attests:

I learned [on the company website] that this is Lean Cuisine’s number one seller. I attribute this fact to the meal’s amazing imitation of take-out chinese food in a diet form. Also, it contains breading, which makes women on diets a little insane, even if the breading is soggy. Reading about 30 of the 193 reviews on Lean Cuisine’s website had me thinking that the eaters of these meals are not nearly as discriminating as the writers here on HeatEatReview.com. I would post some of their comments, but the egregious misuse of apostrophes had me twitching after a few pages.

Pa-pow! Clearly there’s a certain hierarchy of taste in this community, just as there is in the fine-dining and farm-fresh-cuisine worlds; Abi and her crew just happen to be dedicated to value as well as deliciousness. (Ousted Top Chef contestant Emily Sprissler might have done well to think about these things in last night’s episode and ditch her snobbery about cooking a dish for the TGI Friday’s menu.)

What about you—does frozen or “diet” food ever show up on your plate?

Satsuma Season

Now that the holiday with the big orange orbs is over, it’s time to focus on the small ones—it’s satsuma season again. Tangy-sweet and easy to peel, satsumas are a reason to love winter.

eGullet co-founder Jason Perlow, on his blog Off the Broiler, pays homage to satsumas—the first citrus fruit to reach market each fall. His preference is for satsumas from Louisiana, where the “climate is ideal for these fruits, which have a highly aromatic peel that is literally almost falling off in the first place and are absolutely brimming with sweet and tangy juice.”

As Jason points out, the Louisiana citrus industry was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, sustaining a loss of $6.3 million. Many citrus groves had to be plowed under, after being submerged in 14 feet of water during the worst of the storm. But there still are Louisiana satsumas to be had from areas northwest of New Orleans, which managed to escape the worst of the storm and devastation.

California has satsuma woes as well, stemming from challenging weather this past spring. Light harvest caused the Tri-L Mandarin Ranch to suspend their shipping operation, keeping what fruit they do have for customers who make it out to the ranch. “We pride ourselves as being good stewards of the orchards and are working diligently to bring holiday fruit to everyone next year,” they report on their website.

Which should only make you savor these delicious, tangy fruits all the more this year—perhaps, as Jason suggests, incorporated into a version of Nigella Lawson’s flourless Clementine Cake.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch 99 …

You certainly would never find a box of Hamburger Helper or Shake ‘N Bake lurking on my pantry shelves. But it’s not because I’m a from-scratch purist. Open my freezer and behold a bounty of veggie potstickers, custard buns, and edamame all ready to steam up for dinner. Open my cupboards and you’re likely to find packages of Patak’s palak paneer or a jar of Indonesian “simmer sauce.”

While food enthusiasts like myself may scoff at packaged “American” foods, somehow packaged foods from other countries and cultures seem just all around more acceptable.

That mindset is helping ethnic grocers to grow. An Associated Press article picked up by the Modesto Bee, among others, looks at the growth of Asian, Mexican, Indian, and other ethnic markets across the country.

But you don’t have to be a sociologist or business analyst to notice that ethnic grocery stores are hot—just drop over to your local 99 Ranch Market on a Saturday and try to find a space in the parking lot.

Ode to Joy

The rerelease of a 75th-anniversary edition of classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking has sparked a lot of food-writer musing. First of all, purists should note that the new book’s a complete turnabout from the 1997 edition, a tome so up-to-the-minute that it sparked rancorous criticism from cooks. The 1997 is held in almost universal contempt.

As Nancy Stohs
wrote
in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ”’Joy’ is once again a comforting friend in the kitchen,” noting that the food experts who rewrote the book for the ‘97 version (causing readers to detect “a tone of snobbery, a yuppifying of what for so long was the bible of mainstream home cooking”) have been replaced by writers who favor a more homespun, instructive approach.

Some cooks will be delighted to find that the new edition includes vintage recipes (old-fashioned pickles, one-pot casseroles), as well as those calculated to appeal to modern tastes. Others find the approach a bit schizo, as is evidenced by this quote from an Associated Press story:

... Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl wonders if the new Joy isn’t trying to do too much.

Retro recipes like “mystery cake” (a ’50s classic made with canned tomato soup) sit uneasily alongside directions for making tofu from scratch. “Do the same people really want all these things? I don’t think so,” says Reichl, who recently edited her magazine’s own comprehensive cookbook. Better, she thinks, to “let (cookbooks) live in their own time.”

Me, I’m just happy to have a substitute for the 1951 copy I have worn to a nub.

Meanwhile, The New York Times finds Joy still on its must list (registration required), along with out-of-print cookbooks that remain hot items, like Pillsbury’s Best 1000 Recipes: Best of the Bake-Off Collection and A Treasury of Great Recipes, first published in 1965 by horror movie icon Vincent Price and his wife, Mary.