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

Cheese Rinds

Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert develop a white bloom or rind as they mature. It’s not only edible, it’s delicious.

There’ll be a layer of cheesey paste just beneath the rind. Galleygirl makes the most of it by slicing off the rind and placing it, rind side up, on a slice of baguette, then broiling. “The rind will caramelize, and the cheese underneath becomes gooey. Add a dab of fig paste, or put it on a salad like a giant crouton.”

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Do You eat the SOFT Rind on Goat’s Cheese?

The Water Caltrop

The water caltrop (a.k.a. bull’s head, bull nut, buffalo nut, and bat nut) is an aquatic plant, native to Asia, that produces a starchy, hard fruit, with a distinctive shape, like a bull with horns. rworange says each side has a different little face.

Pei* loves them, and describes them as sort of a combination of chestnut and peanut. They have to be cooked–raw, they’re toxic. Boil them for about half an hour or more, with a few pieces of star anise. It’s actually quite hard to overcook these. They’re done when soft all the way through. Break them open, like roasted chestnuts, and consume.

More about the “bat nut”.

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Water Caltrop
Bat nuts roasting on an open fire (aka devil pod, bull’s head, bull nut, buffalo nut, water caltrop, trapa natans, Ling Jiao)

Grim Reaper in a Rice Krispies Box

Already depressed over the Wal-Martization of organic food, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford sees portends of doom in a new industrial-scale organic cereal line:

Kellogg’s Organic Rice Krispies. It’s sort of like saying ‘Lockheed Martin Granola Bars’ or ‘Exxon Bottled Spring Water.’


As he elaborates later in the piece, these Krispies are “industrial to the hilt.” That is, they are:

not the slightest bit locally grown, not the slightest bit sustainable, from the same company that poisons your kid with Pop-Tarts and Froot Loops and Scooby-Doo Berry Bones and cares about as much for the health of the planet as Dick Cheney cares about pheasants. And of course, they ship the crap all over the country in planes and trucks that burn enough oil to make Bush leer and the oil CEOs grin and it’s all just one big happy joke. On you.

Morford also raises the excellent point that the modern “organics” movement has become fixated on just one part of what the philosophy was originally about: “local, sustainable, ethical, connected to source, pesticide- and hormone-free.” These days, he writes, “the vast majority of organic product now flooding the market only gloms on to that last aspect,” the pesticide- and hormone-free part.

It’s interesting to think about it in those terms; big companies took the part of the organic concept that was easiest to commodify and ran with it. What if, instead, they had focused on the ethics and the connection to the source? Might we now have fresh local produce and minimally processed foods in Wal-Marts and cheap supermarkets nationwide, with a unique set of products at every store—and would that be a good thing, if big chain stores were still involved?

Stay Clear of the Spittoon

Tasting wine for a living sounds like a dream job, right? Wine writer Victoria Moore shares some of the occupational hazards.

Moore writes in the UK newspaper The Guardian that there are times when she “might need to swirl, spit and make a judgment on as many as 460 wines in a week.”

At this rate, there’s a serious risk of getting smashed while tasting, so she recommends eating a big breakfast. And, she always wears black for fear of wine spills, or worse, getting spat on:

This precaution is necessary not just because a glass repeatedly filled and emptied of red wine inevitably becomes sticky and drippy, or because when you get tired it’s not unusual to begin to dribble down your own top. A grave danger is posed by other tasters; more than once my body has intercepted a gargled plume of red wine as it left someone’s mouth en route for a sawdust-filled bin. Warning to men wearing beige slacks: my own aim isn’t too great either, so don’t think you’re safe loitering by the spittoons.

According to Moore, one of the more serious effects of swirling and spitting so much wine is the damage it does to one’s teeth—from leaving stains to destroying precious enamel: “This also explains why wine tasters, despite having one of the most envied jobs in existence, rarely smile.”

Great Beer, So-So Antelope, and the ParkingHounds’ Big Debut

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

I’d strafed Winston-Salem while heading eastward from the mountains a few days earlier (see installment #17), just hitting the town’s southern fringe. Now, heading west toward Tennessee, I stayed downtown to plumb what I’d heard described as a chowhounding desert.

Needless to say, top priority was another visit to Family Diner (7911 NC Highway 68 N, Stokesdale, North Carolina; 336-643-8853), about a half-hour from Winston-Salem. It wasn’t quite as transcendent this time, and I’m not sure if it’s because I ordered other stuff (i.e., chicken and dumplings is their sole masterpiece), or because a different chef (they have many) was on duty. I still loved it, though. Meatloaf was full of personality, turnip greens were as soulful as ever, and they managed to cram more flavor into lowly canned green beans than one would imagine possible. Ribs were baked (not smoked) but extremely tender—as you’d expect in this bastion of texturelessness. Fried okra had sat around for a while, but cornbread was fresher this time, and it packed depths of nuance beneath its ordinary exterior. Family Diner is all about the hidden depths of nuance.

I’m still trying to figure this place out. The servers sit around swapping bawdy jokes, and the restaurant is open all night on weekends … yet there’s that hovering “No Profanity” sign, which I find incredibly intimidating (not to mention impossible to obey, given the God’s-name-in-vain-invoking quality of much of the food). Perhaps the sign is nothing more than a campy goof, and I’m just not hip enough to get the joke. But gosh darn it to heck, I’d never dare test the issue.

Foothills Brewing (638 West Fourth Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-777-3348) is a standard brewpub, with a variable lineup of beers, a number of them poorly crafted. Best are the lighter lager styles. Salem Gold—what beer geeks refer to as a “girlfriend beer”—has a nice snap and assertive bitterness. Torch Pils is drinkable, as well, with an admirably long finish. But the IPA, ESP, and Stout were flatline beers, made with little skill or care.

Double IPA is their featured special brew, with no free samples allowed. Dismayed by the rest of the lineup, I nearly skipped it. Thank goodness I didn’t. This is a great beer, with an aroma of stone fruit and mango, full body, and a complex, beautiful flavor. The sweetness perfectly counterbalances the searing bitterness and stratospheric alcohol level.

Here’s what blew my mind: This double IPA is actually one of Foothills’ most popular beers. Given that other brewpubs despair of selling the masses on anything but the lightest and most insipid styles, it’s dumbfounding that a beer this heavy, this flavorful, this weird, this … unbeery could be a hit in a football town with no craft-beer culture at all.

The food menu is equally surprising. Among all the usual pub-fare suspects were a number of game meats.

I found myself enjoying a plate of boar chops (12 o’clock in the photo), sliced antelope (3 o’clock), and venison (6 o’clock). None were prepared with great skill (potatoes and vegetables were downright icky), but it was certainly a more interesting dinner than I’d expected. The boar chops were more lamby than porcine, and not nearly as intense as the wild boar I had once in Spain. Antelope was my favorite, rich but not terribly gamey. Venison is more familiar, but this wasn’t a very good example. Not bad either, though.

Foothills had been recommended by the parking guys at my hotel, whom I invited for a late-night beer and who turned out to be so bright, articulate, and insightful that someone just has to give them their own radio show. Take it away, Daniel and Jonathan:

MP3 file:
1. Tales of eating antelope, aardvark, monkey brains, elephant, and rhinoceros.

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2. Exotic eating in the South (possum, squirrel, asiago bagels, etc.).

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3. Chitlins and dumplings (and the mysterious “sea loaf”).

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4. Daniel’s chow faves in St. Louis (tips to file away!).

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5. Jonathan’s trip to Alaska.

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6. What’s “hot-water cornbread”? And why do you never see spoonbread on menus in NC? Mystery solved!

MP3 file:
7. Daniel’s intriguing and unusual recipe for garlic soup.

MP3 file:
8. Your quest, son, is to find catfish in Tennessee.

There’s not much great barbecue right here, as Lexington, North Carolina, is such a mecca so nearby (in fact, the best places in Winston-Salem all advertise themselves as “Lexington Barbecue,” much like pizzerias anywhere near New Haven tend to market their product as “New Haven-Style”).

The purist choice for those put off by the kooky sauces at Hill’s and at Short Sugar’s (see installment #17) is Little Richard’s Lexington BBQ (best location: 4885 Country Club Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-760-3457). Daniel and Jonathan urged me there.

It’s unexceptional, but only in the sense that it didn’t awe me after I had visited the towering giants of North Carolina barbecuedom. If Little Richard’s were to be magically transported to my block in Queens, New York, I’d swoon with joy.

The picture tells the story: nice coarse by-hand chop, and that’s outside brown you’re seeing mixed in there, son. Which leads to the next photo:

Check out the notation “some osb.” God, I love that. I told the waitress I wanted “some outside brown,” a subtle statement rife with meaning. And she faithfully transmitted my wishes. Sure enough, my plate was mostly regular barbecue, but studded with some brown crunchy highlights. Nice.

The hush puppies were real good. But the hush puppies are always real good. It’s like beer in Belgium: Grandeur is assumed.

That bottom sign’s a hoot.

Daniel and Jonathan also like Jimmy the Greek’s (2806 University Parkway, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-722-0184) for Southern breakfast. My order was decent. Those guys insisted you can find hot-water cornbread (a.k.a. spoonbread) there, but I’m dubious.

A friend said, in an earlier podcast, that there were no good late-night music clubs in Winston-Salem. Nope, there’s a real good one, with a pretty good beer list, too. RubberSoul Bar (1148 Burke Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-721-0570) is a fun joint for listening to live groups. I caught a great local party band called Solos, with a NYC-caliber bassist and frontmen who sing and rap with equal aplomb.

Coffee at Cocaine Prices

Coffee at Cocaine Prices

Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee shelled out $33,000 for five bags of coffee. What was so good about it? READ MORE

“I’m not Alice Waters”

Cook’s Illustrated magazine’s Christopher Kimball tells The Washington Post that the gourmet movement is just a thing of the past.

The bespectacled and (always) bow-tied icon of unpretentious cooking says that if you can’t find traditional ingredients at your local supermarket to make, let’s say, an “authentic enchilada,” then you might as well make an Americanized version:

Because if that means you can’t make them at home, what’s the point? I mean, I’m not Alice Waters. I’m not telling people to grow arugula behind the schoolyard. I’m perfectly happy teaching people how to make a well-done hamburger or mashed potatoes. I think the gourmet cooking thing is over. That happened in the ‘70s.

And, speaking of recipes, Kimball says you’d better follow his directions:

Make the damn recipe my way. [He laughs.] I had someone write in a long time ago and say, ‘Lidia [Bastianich] cooks with her heart.’ And I wrote back and said, ‘Well, yeah, that’s the wrong organ. You should use your brain.’ Until you know that recipe inside out and you really get it and you can make it without looking at the recipe, don’t play with it. It’s sort of like saying: ‘I’m going to play a Bach sonata. But I’m going to change the key.’ No. You play it the way he wrote it.

Knockout Pierogi at Little Poland in the East Village

Among the several pierogi options at Little Poland is one dubbed Very Special Pierogi. Pan says it deserves the accolade. They’re filled with potato, cheese, and a touch of sauerkraut, and topped with creamy sauce with scallion tips. A full order is eight for $6.50, a half order four for $4.50. This is rich, heavy chow, so half might fill the bill.

This modest East Village diner (whose menu immodestly boasts, “The Food We Serve Is as Good as Music of Chopin”) also dishes up goulash, blintzes, schnitzel, sausages, soups (bean, borscht, potato-lamb, etc.), bigos (meat-sauerkraut stew), and other sturdy fare, gently priced.

Little Poland Restaurant [East Village]
200 2nd Ave., between E. 12th and 13th Sts., Manhattan
212-777-9728
Locater

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Best Pierogie (sp?)–Polish Dumpling–NYC

El Iman: Soul-Satisfying Peruvian Chow in Elizabeth, NJ

Peruvian expats around Elizabeth, NJ, are flocking to El Iman, where the beef fried rice kills, says Peter Cuce. He suggests ordering extra green hot sauce on the side. This homey place, run by a Japanese Peruvian family, also has terrific pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken), bistec encebollano (steak with onion and tomato), and mariscos picante (seafood in spicy sauce). Past reports praise ceviches, jalea (fried seafood), and yuca with cheese sauce. Noodles and pork dishes are skippable.

El Iman Restaurant [Union County]
945 Elizabeth Ave., near Reid St., Elizabeth, NJ
908-351-8668
Locater

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Peruvian Food–chupe and pollo a la brasa

Best-Ever Tacos in…Gilroy?

poulet roti thinks the tacos at Del Sol Market in Gilroy are stunningly good–similar to what you’d get at a taco truck, if it was the best taco truck EVER. They cost $1 and come with a generous handful of meat, topped with cilantro and onions. Del Sol has four fresh salsas, too. Lengua, carnitas, al pastor–they’re all the best ever, here. If you find yourself in Gilroy, give it a try.

Del Sol Market [Santa Clara County]
435 1st St., Gilroy
408-846-9494
Locater

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In praise of tacos at Del Sol Market–Gilroy