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

Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

A regional specialty in Iowa and Indiana, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is much beloved by locals, and easy to reproduce at home. The pork is a take on schnitzel: it’s pounded thin, marinated in seasoned buttermilk, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried.

Big Al notes that the tenderloin should be served on a hamburger bun, that “proper” tenderloins are about 2-3 times the size of the bun, and that purists eat them only with onion, pickles, and mustard.

After following this recipe, Rubee says, “YUM–I can see why these are popular–a crispy, porky, guilty pleasure.”

Check out this pictorial ode to the pork tenderloin sandwich to see some more extreme examples of the genre.

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Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

Latke Toppers

Latkes are a traditional Jewish holiday dish, fortunately available year ‘round. They’re fried pancakes made from grated potato, eggs, and often onion. Hot and crisp from the frying pan, they’re great topped with a dollop of sour cream, or a spoonful of apple sauce–or even a bit of both.

Chunky homemade applesauce is perfect during apple season. Leave the peels on! Sour cream should be thick. HillJ likes the two mixed together, with a dash of Kosher salt.

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latke debate: apple sauce v. sour cream

Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron

Lodge claims that Lodge Logic, their pre-seasoned cast iron pan, has an heirloom finish you can use straight out of the box. This is not exactly true; it doesn’t have a completely perfect finish right out of the box, say Chowhounds, but the factory head start on the seasoning process means you can get that wonderful, shiny black surface more quickly, whether you season yourself or just cook fatty foods like bacon in the pan for its first dozen or so uses. Procrastibaker does most of his cooking in cast iron, including vintage pans, and feels that Lodge Logic’s pre-seasoning is particularly durable.

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Preseasoned vs. not—Logic Cast Iron Skillet??

Duck Bones to Go!

Is it incredibly gauche to order Peking duck, and ask to take what’s left of the carcass home with you? It seems to depend on how the duck is served by the restaurant. Robert Lauriston has been served Peking duck, three style, where the crispy skin is served with crepes or buns, the meat is used in another dish with vegetables, and the bones are used for a soup. With this service, nothing of value would be left.

As Melanie Wong says, one can always ask. It may not be an accepted practice at the restaurant, and they can always refuse, or tell you there’ll be an additional charge.

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Peking Duck: Can I Ask For the Carcass?

Sweet Treats for the Festival of Lights

The Hindu/Sikh/Jain festival of lights celebrated in India, Diwali, starts tomorrow, and many bloggers are cooking up special dishes to sweeten the day.

At Mahanandi, blogger Indira needs to overcome her lifelong aversion to pumpkin:

But would the pumpkin accept me? I was skeptical. So I took the help of almonds, milk kova and of course our true friend that would instantly bring joy to any occasion, ‘the sugar.’

The sugar indeed brought joy, allowing her to create a delicious-looking pumpkin halwa.

The Saffron Trail’s Nandita has a massive three-parter devoted to Diwali. She makes “the mother of all Tambram sweets, Teratti Paal, a subtle sweet with just three ingredients: milk, ghee, and sugar. On the savory side, there’s Spicy Khajas, a deep-fried coin-shaped treat flavored with chili and cumin. I could eat a lot of those.

Latha, of Masala Magic, accompanies her recipe for the rich, dense chickpea-flour-based treat besan ladoo with a look back at her childhood Diwali celebrations in India:

I remember many a Diwali at home back in India where we would wake up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, unable to contain the excitement of the festival ahead. Diwali mornings always started at our home in the wee hours of the morning. ... The kids in our street would always compete at who would be the first to burst a set of fireworks!

For many more Diwali blog posts, check in with Past, Present and Me, where Vee is hosting this month’s roundup of Indian food bloggers’ recipes. This month’s topic: Diwali, of course. Vee will post the recipes on October 21.

Healthy Debate, Unhealthy Drinks

Starbucks baristas and imbibers are getting into a healthy debate about the unhealthy drinks served up by the monster coffee chain.

There are 185 comments and counting on a post at the Starbucks Gossip blog that asks, “When will Starbucks get serious about diabetes and obesity?”

It’s a reasonable question, since some of the coffee chain’s sweetest drinks pack as many calories as fast food. As Marian Burros recently reported in The New York Times, a 20-ounce “venti” Caffe Mocha with whipped cream contains 490 calories, which is on a par with a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese. Moreover, the Java Chip Frappuccino with whipped cream bulges at 650 calories.

The heated debate ranges from whether customers ultimately bear the responsibility for their food choices to whether Splenda is an adequate substitute for sugar. Interestingly, some employees, like the commenter who goes by the name of “Chi-towns best/angriest barista,” are working subversively to lighten up their customers’ drinks without their knowledge:

i think starbucks drinks are too unhelathy [sic], and i work there. sometimes i would use the sugar-free syrpus instead of regular, or add a little non-fat milk to a regular drink, and the frapp-lite base? looks a heck of a lot like the normal stuff when you stick whipped cream on it. maybe this is bad (i’m pretty sure it is bad) but i’ll do it anyway because i hate contributing to the growing unhealth of this country. we had this “go venti” slogan for a while, that i absolutely hated and refused to participate in. we were supposed to push venti-sized drinks on people, but i think that’s awful, and as a customer i hate when it’s done to me, so i never did it. you want a grande latte? sure. tall latte? even better. yeah, i’ll sell you a venti if you order it, but i won’t tell you to.
i consider it my tiny little part to make a difference.

I’ll Have a Rhubarbarella, Shaken, Not Stirred

Gourmet feeds the vague consensus that 2006 is the Year of the Cocktail with a nicely written piece on mixed drinks that puts fresh ingredients first.

The story is pegged to the Healdsburg, California, hotspot Cyrus, where an emphasis on seasonal produce and artisanal distillers yields drinks with a vivid acidity and a gorgeously natural visual appeal. The Plum Dandy photographed in the magazine features:

Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka, regular vodka, a wine called Ume Blanc that’s
made from a plumlike Japanese fruit, homemade five-spice honey, lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, peppermint leaves, preserved cherries, jasmine flowers, and a splash of Seltzer Sisters
seltzer …

Two important details were omitted by the story: One, the price tag. Two, the alcoholic wallop. These are both dreadfully gauche details, but when you commit to a drinking experience that includes a double-digit list of ingredients and luxury-branded seltzer, you deserve to have all the facts at hand before committing to your beverage.

That said, this account of a “beautifully obsessed” mixologist and his high-end antics is a delightful little portrait of a man on a mission to bring the ethos of Chez Panisse to the cocktail shaker.

Hey, where did you get that sweet potato shirt?

Food: It’s not just something to eat these days. At the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris last week, produce was turned into pants and sent down the catwalk.

According to a report by Agence France-Presse, more than 60 designers took part in the show, presenting skirts made from pineapple fiber, shirts lacquered with sweet potato paste (a traditional Chinese technique), and jewelry made from fish scales. The show is in its third year and was the largest to date.

Ethical fashion depends on two qualifications—organic materials (not all edible) and humane labor practices. Most products are created by small companies, but according to Eric Olsen, head of consulting group Business and Social Responsibility, ethical fashion is facing issues similar to some in the organic food movement:

Twenty years ago, organic food was made by small alternative companies. Today, health food in America is mainstream. Everyone is reading labels. More health food is made by agro giants than by niche market producers. This is the question for the ethical fashion business: who will be able to reach the mass public?

The other question of course being, is the mass public ready to trade in its denim for pineapple fiber?

South Vietnam, 1963: Three Courses at the Diamond

Renowned author and reporter David Halberstam has a mesmerizing piece in Gourmet titled “The Boys of Saigon.”

The story revolves around the war reporters Halberstam ran with in Vietnam during the war, and an off-the-beaten-path restaurant called the Diamond. There the author and his cronies congregated for three-course meals prepared in a Vietnamese style tailored to American tastes. Here’s Halberstam writing about the meal:

The second course at the Diamond was always the baby pigeon. They looked very elegant, all those wondrous little birds, perfectly done, placed with admirable spacing, equidistant from each other, like 30 or 40 miniaturized turkeys on a platter. They were, I think, roasted; I know they were not grilled. And again, we did not use knives and forks or chopsticks to eat them—rather our fingers flew, plate to mouth and back.

Some of the best food stories are those that serve as bridges between the world of culinary delights and some other place—the entertainment industry, or the criminal underworld, or in the case of Halberstam’s piece, war journalism. Gourmands have a tendency to get lost in their own little self-contained universe of chefs, restaurants, ingredients, and recipes; the stirring thing about “The Boys of Saigon” is that its lushly detailed account of meals from long ago is set against a stark backdrop of daily deadlines, mounting casualties, and political pressure from both Saigon and Washington.

There are certain stories that make an entire magazine worth buying; this piece might justify half a subscription.

Next Issue: A Four-Page Exposé on Wooden Spoons

The new Cook’s Illustrated presents readers with a question so monumentally awesome that it’s remarkable that it was answered in a mere three-page spread.

The question: “Do Manual Knife Sharpeners Work?”

In one intensely detailed article, Cook’s Illustrated has served up a textbook example of the obsessive-compulsive fussiness that makes them the Adrian
of food magazines. Get a load of this hot copy:

Most sharpeners, both electric and manual, start their work with a coarse material and progress through stages of finer material to polish the edge. In general, the hardest material is diamond, followed by tungsten carbide, followed by high-alumina ceramic, followed by steel.

Flanked by inset tables including the make and models of 18 different sharpeners (including price, sharpening material, strokes to sharpen, testers’ comments, and three different star-rating fields), this article is the sine qua non of knife-sharpener-review articles.

The thing is—and I appreciate, like most amateur cooks, that Cook’s Illustrated is out there plugging away to do the hard reporting on boring but important food-related issues—they could’ve just run a one-inch box with “The four best knife sharpeners,” and we would’ve taken their word for it. For the intensely distrustful or
bored-at-work reader, they could’ve posted all the work online.

Make no mistake: When’s Cook’s Illustrated is good, it’s about as good as cooking magazines can get. It’s clear, thoughtful, precise, and admirably clear-headed, and their recipes have a lower failure rate than the Pill. But a little judicious editing of any given issue’s dullest feature would go a long way.