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

Barrels, Barrels, Everywhere

Bardstown, Kentucky (continued)

What says “fun” more than a barrel-rolling competition? Consider us your go-to source for up-to-the-minute reports on this burgeoning sport.

The aim isn’t just to hustle around 500-pound water-filled barrels. It’s to ensure that they all wind up with their bungholes facing up (if one is off by even an inch, points are deducted). And since each barrel travels less distance than the one before, the roller must make allowances by spinning these suckers around with incredible precision.

In the following video, watch the logos on the barrels (which correspond to the locations of the bungholes). Ideally, all logos will wind up neatly in the up position. Movie file

Check out this old-time barrel wrangler (bear in mind that these things weigh 500 pounds each): Movie file

Heaven Hill Tour

We toured the Heaven Hill distillery. These guys make Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, and they also quietly produce bourbon on contract for many other companies (contract distilling is a common arrangement; the hundreds of Kentucky bourbons are all produced by Kentucky’s nine remaining distilleries).

Here are the storage facilities where the barrels are aged. Yes, they look eerily like penitentiaries, but the smell is, as I noted in my last report, nothing short of heavenly.

It’s all about those barrels, babe:

Here’s a weird, but weirdly educational, exhibit. The instructions read, “Press button for aroma,” which emerges from the brass horn:

Eager tour participants in guided tasting:

Back to the bourbon festival, which, on the weekend, actually turns into a bourbon festival. Tons of people come and congregate on a fairground, a few of whom cram into a small area where shots of all the usual bourbons are sold. You drink from plastic cups, standing up, outdoors in the heat.

The perimeter was rife with merchandising, none of it very intriguing:

This wasn’t really what we were hoping for. So we turned our sights on food, which was sort of generic fair food, with a couple of exceptions.

Hog Wild BBQ, from Boston, Kentucky, sent a van:

They make fried corn (breaded and deep-fried half ears), certainly a new sensation for me:

Burgoo soup sounds more interesting than it tastes (sweet and tomatoey):

Pulled pork and brisket were OK:

The only thing approaching deliciousness was a truck where a family from Oaxaca prepared gringo-friendly Mexican food. After I talked to them for a while in Spanish and expressed my appreciation for Oaxacan cuisine, they made me a couple of things with some actual chile heat. These guys aren’t serious cooks, just immigrants trying to make a few bucks via their ethnicity. And they lacked any kind of real ingredients. But they put their hearts into their work, and it had a charm. It was a small find, but as with the Treadwell Franklin Walton United Methodist Church Pancake Griddle I found at the otherwise missable Delaware County Fair in upstate New York, anything above/beyond the usual carnival fare is a blessing indeed. Even, alas, if the carnival is as hip-sounding as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

My halfhearted effort to persuade the Mexican wife to bring me real Oaxacan tamales the next day went nowhere.

Worst-Case Scenario Chorizo

rworange has made a project out of tasting the house-made chorizo of Mexican markets in the Bay Area. Overall, her results are positive–the spicy sausages are generally great, with strong notes of vinegar, chile, and herbs, and lots of variation from store to store.

Tasting a commercially-produced chorizo for comparison, however, reveals how bad things can really get. “This is probably the scariest thing I’ve eaten in my life,” says rworange. El Mexicano brand chorizo ($1.49 for a 12-ounce package) lists pork salivary glands, lymph nodes, and fat (cheeks) as the top three ingredients. It has a disturbingly soft texture with plenty of stringy pieces. And it tastes like…saliva, with an awful, soft sliminess to it.

Real chorizo from a carniceria costs only about twice as much and it’s worth every penny.

Board Links
Chorizo crawl–Pork salivary glands, lymph nodes & fat (cheeks)

Tuscan Truffled Pecorino from Pennsylvania Macaroni Company

The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittsburgh makes a pecorino cheese with chunks of both black and white truffles inside. mhoffman loves this cheese–it’s less salty than many pecorinos, and every sliver fills your sinuses with musky goodness. Try it shaved over buttered noodles, in shards drizzled with honey on crusty bread, or straight up. At around $14 a pound, “it’s the best truffle experience for the money I’ve ever had,” says mhoffman. It’s not currently listed on their web site, so call (412-471-8330) to ask about availability.

Board Links
Bosco Tartufo Tuscan Truffled Pecorino

Lithuanian Bacon Buns

How irresistible does a warm globe of dough filled with bits of fried bacon, ham, and onion sound? Bacon buns are a deeply traditional Lithuanian goodie, but they’re easy to whip up for the average American. This recipe may read long, but litchick, swears it’s foolproof, even for an unsteady baker like her:

Dough:

1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 packages dry yeast, regular or rapid rise
2 eggs, well beaten
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour, sifted

Filling:

1 pound lean bacon, cut into small pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound lean ham, diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Egg wash:

1 egg yolk mixed with 2-3 tablespoons milk

Pour scalded milk into a large bowl. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Let mixture cool to lukewarm, 110-115 degrees. Stir in yeast until dissolved. Add beaten eggs and then add flour gradually, mixing until dough is workable.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Put dough into a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

While dough is rising, make the filling: Fry bacon pieces in a heavy skillet until most of the fat is rendered, but the bacon is still soft (you don

Sweet and Savory and Wonderful: Apple Cranberry Chutney

This is apple-cranberry chutney is much more than the sum of it’s parts, says prunefeet. The combination of sweet and savory is really wonderful.

Apple-Cranberry Chutney

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
3 cups cranberries, picked over and coarsely chopped
2 large golden delicious apples (about 1 lb.), peeled, cored, and cut into 3/8-inch cubes
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oil in medium non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture releases moisture and is boiling, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender, 20-25 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving. Can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and refrigerated in airtight container; bring to room temperature before serving. Makes about 4 cups.

Board Links
Apple Cranberry chutney–delish recipe

Next Up: A Robot That Powers Itself by Eating Kittens

Terrified by robots? If so, please don’t read Lore Sjöberg’s post on the Wired blog about robots identifying human flesh as delicious bacon.

Researchers at NEC System technologies and Mie University have designed a cute little ‘bot that can “eat” samples of cheeses, meats, or wines and then identify what it has been fed.

But when some smart aleck reporter placed his hand in the robot’s omnivorous clanking jaw, he was identified as bacon. A cameraman then tried and was identified as prosciutto. Absolutely horrifying.

Apparently, all we need to do is build several thousand copies of this ‘bot, pass around some hedge trimmers and a Skynet-like global hive mind, and we’ll all be living in a cross between The Matrix and Bad Taste.

Hooray for food science!

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Battle Foie Gras Is On

Take two food bloggers, give them each a free hunk of foie gras, and what do you get? An online cooking competition where they try to outdo each other in making the best Thomas Keller-style torchon.

That’s what happened this week when Meg of Megnut and Adam of The Amateur Gourmet received their freebie foie (yes, apparently being a blogger does have its benefits). The Torchon Tournament was on.

Adam, in his post 70 Steps to Foie Gras Torchon, records all the messy details in graphic photos, turning a few readers off the idea of foie gras forever. “I’ve always been interested in trying it” writes a reader. “Until today … it’s just way too obviously organ-y looking to me.”

Meg takes the high road in her post. She admits that deveining is a disgusting process, and writes, “I chose not to photograph this stage … because I want you, if you enjoy foie gras, to continue to enjoy foie gras.” Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

After the foie has been prepared, including four days of hanging in the refrigerator being compressed into a log, dinner was served. Each invited friends to share this carefully prepared delicacy (Meg’s guests even include a former vegan—from tempeh to torchon, that’s a long way to stray).

In the end, Adam conceded victory to Meg. With Thomas Keller presumably too busy to judge this particular cookoff, it got a wee bit messy until Michael Ruhlman stepped in to say that, while Adam’s foie was “very nice,” Meg’s version “appear[ed] to be exquisite.”

Here at CHOW we’ve devised a more thorough judging process:

In the categories of beautiful photos and lyrical prose, the honors must go to Meg.

In the categories of excellent documentation (of all the gory details) and cheeky humor, the honors go to Adam.

As for the foie itself, we cannot say; we weren’t there. But we would be happy to make ourselves available to judge any future cookoff these two may have. Just don’t show us the gory photos until after we’ve had our meal—OK, Adam?

Not Krispy Kreme Christianity

Church picnics. Can’t you just taste the fried chicken, potato salad, homemade cakes, and big glasses of sweet, sweet iced tea? (I can, but maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading a lot of southern novelists these days.)

A study that came out this summer, however, found that traditions like these may be taking a toll on congregations. The study tracked the religious practices of more than 2,500 people from 1986 to 1994, and then correlated that data with the body mass index of each subjects. The result? Those of certain denominations—particularly Baptists and fundamentalist Protestants—are more likely to be obese. The study’s author, Ken Ferraro, decried what he calls “Krispy Kreme Christianity.”

An article in today’s San Mateo County Times outlines an innovative program in Santa Clara County, California, that is helping congregants get healthy. Five years ago, shocked by high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer in the African-American community, county health officials approached church leaders and asked them to help save their parishioners’ bodies as well as their souls.

Now those efforts seem to be paying off:

At Sureway Ministries in Palo Alto, congregants work out together at the gym. Newly slim members of True Vine Baptist Church in San Jose are taking daily walks and serving fruit—not cake—at church meetings. And after each Golden Altar Sunday service, members get their blood pressure and glucose levels checked.

Since support is a key predictor of success in any health-improvement undertaking, this kind of counseling seems to be a great idea. There’s even an umbrella organization to support the supporters!