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

A Challenging Assignment

Be careful when bringing your baked goods to work. That’s what got food blogger and high school literacy consultant Julie assigned to teach an elective cooking class at her school—30 minutes, four times a week, without a stove, oven, or even hot plate.

Julie’s gamely rising to the occasion, writing on her blog that she hopes her 17 students “learn a bit, just a bit about chemistry, geography, history, foreign languages, math, literature, and all the other domains that are also ingredients in the culinary world.”

She’s also asking for suggestions of recipes that can be made in less than 30 minutes, without a proper kitchen.

In planning this class, Julie is up against more than just the limitations of her facilities:

Our kids, for the most part, are not exactly brave tasters. Many of them eat chips and soda for breakfast, shunning healthier options. Lunch, as I’ve said, is almost always frozen pizza or hamburgers…. I don’t know how many of them actually sit down to a home-cooked family dinner each night, but I doubt the numbers are large.

Yet she has high hopes for what this class might accomplish:

This will be an opportunity to have them expand their horizons, begin to figure out their own predilections, develop an adventurous palate. I want them to try new things, venture into new disciplines, learn about places and times outside their experience—all through a bit of minimal ‘cold cooking.’ I want them to learn to love fruits and vegetables as much as they love candy.

Classes are now under way, and Julie has been posting updates. One student confesses she is taking the class because her grandparents think she needs to be able to cook for a future husband, while a male student says, “I hear cooking is a good way to get girls!”

There are other revelations as well—the fresh raspberries Julie brings to class are the first fresh raspberries any of the students have ever tasted. “I can’t describe to you the sheer pleasure of providing kids with experiences they’ve never had,” Julie writes, ”even something as tiny as a raspberry.”

The adventures continue, so stay tuned. “Tuesday I’ll bring in the blender,” Julie reports. “Let’s just hope the walls are not Jackson Pollacked with smoothie ingredients by the time we’re finished.”

Walking While Eating

Today I happened across this new-to-me food tourism guide to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, posted on Bunrabs, a fun Bay Area food blog and restaurant-review site. This latest “Metro-Menu” is full of colorful yet down-to-earth food pics and puntastic quips (“What kind of small fry doesn’t like semi-fast food?”), and gives three days’ worth of delicious itineraries, broken down into seven courses each. Clearly there’s a good deal of thought put into each day’s listings: Usually meals and sweets alternate, light fare follows heavier foods, and there’s good critical discussion of what to order.

Of course, in practice it would probably be impossible to complete these itineraries without feeling stuffed and losing your taste for food midway through, given that none of them require you to leave the Ferry Building. Bunrab’s other Metro-Menu, which gives food agendas for three days in New York (and includes an ample amount of walking), seems much more doable.

The New York menu also includes plenty of full-fledged sit-down establishments peppered in with the street food, which I appreciate. There are lots of professional culinary walking tours out there, from the highfalutin to the touristy (and some food bloggers are partial to bakery and chocolate-shop hops), but those often revolve around ultra-casual establishments and lack the more formal dining experience.

Recently I organized my own four-course restaurant hop, inspired in part by last year’s New York magazine roundup of dream meals (and perhaps by the spirit of the late R. W. “Three Lunches” Apple). While it was incredibly fun, I discovered one reason why people don’t do it more often: the guilt factor. Even those hip small-plate spots that ostensibly cater to folks who come just for appetizers, salads, or mini-entrées don’t take kindly to diners who order just one or two tiny dishes to share and then go on their merry way. Raised eyebrows and mildly annoyed is-that-alls at two of the places resulted in our tacking on unwanted alcohol and unusually large tips.

Has anyone else out there tried restaurant-hopping? Any advice on dealing with the pressure to power-purchase (or is it bad form in the first place not to stay for a full meal)?

Hold the Cream of Mushroom Soup

Hold the Cream of Mushroom Soup

From Bismarck to St. Paul to Madison, new high-end restaurants are embracing such local cuisine as fried walleye and wild-rice porridge. Call it the birth of northwoods chic. READ MORE

Worth the Search

Worth the Search

Apricots from Turkey, beef from Japan -- are the harder-to-track-down, usually imported ingredients any better than the more widely available versions? READ MORE

Giving Organics the Business

As Michael Pollan so elegantly revealed in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the organics movement has been profoundly changed by its own success. No longer the provenance of the groovy little farm down the street, lots of organic food comes from large, multinational corporations.

In this week’s BusinessWeek, Diane Brady looks at organic dairy producers and how consumer demand has forced companies like Stonyfield and Horizon to get bigger—and abandon some of their original ideals.

There’s no question that organics are profitable:

For Big Food, consumers’ love affair with everything organic has seemed like a gift from the gods. Food is generally a commoditized, sluggish business, especially in basic supermarket staples. Sales of organic groceries, on the other hand, have been surging by up to 20% in recent years. Organic milk is so profitable, with wholesale prices more than double that of conventional milk, that Lyle ‘Spud’ Edwards of Westfield, Vt., was able to halve his herd, to 25 cows, this summer and still make a living … .

But there are perils in this growth, and one of them is that supplies of organically grown ingredients can be inconsistent.

What to do? If you’re [Stonyfield Farm’s] Hirshberg, you weigh the pros and cons of importing organic milk powder from New Zealand. Stonyfield already gets strawberries from China, apple purée from Turkey, blueberries from Canada, and bananas from Ecuador. It’s the only way to keep the business growing. Besides, Hirshberg argues, supporting a family farmer in Madagascar or reducing chemical use in Costa Rica is just as important as doing the same at home.

As Wal-Mart, Heinz, and General Foods enter the organic food fray, it’s worth remembering that, for sustainablity and health, eating locally always trumps eating (big) organically.

U-Pick Chestnuts: Go Now!

Chestnuts are rich, tasty, and ridiculously hard to locate fresh. Why? During the twentieth century, almost all the chestnut orchards in the United States were wiped out by chestnut blight, leaving us dependent on foreign chestnut suppliers. And some of the only chestnut orchards left are right here in the Bay Area.

You can pick your own chestnuts at Green Valley Chestnut Ranch, says miss louella, or they will ship to your home. They’re having special open house events during the totally real “National Chestnut Week,” including tours, u-pick, and tastings of chestnut specialty products.

Skyline Chestnut Orchard also allows u-pick during the chestnut season (mid-October through November). The small American chestnuts are $5 a pound, but they’re the freshest, sweetest chestnuts you’re likely to encounter anywhere, says chilihead2006. Get them fresh while you can.

Skyline Chestnut Orchard is a bit hard to reach, so here are directions:

From the north: Take Woodside Road (Hwy. 84) west, Turn left (south) on Skyline Blvd (Hwy. 35), pass Page Mill and continue for 3 miles; the farm is on the right side of the road.

From the south: Take Hwy. 9 west, turn right on Skyline Blvd (Hwy. 35), and continue north about 5 miles; the farm is on the left side of the road.

Green Valley Chestnut Ranch [Sonoma County]
11100 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol
707-829-3304
Map

Skyline Chestnuts Orchard [Peninsula]
22322 Skyline Blvd. (Hwy. 35), Palo Alto
408-395-0337
Map

Board Links
Chestnut Picking?

Brazil-splosion

The Brazilian-owned Richmond branch of Mr. Pizza Man has been lauded for their doughy, awesomely weird pizza, like the sweet pizza with cheese, white chocolate, raisins, peaches, plums, and condensed milk. But they also have a great thing called Marmitex, says rworange–a Brazilian boxed lunch, named for the sort of container it’s traditionally served in. It’s made by a lady named Rosa, and it consists of whatever she feels like cooking that day–things like rice and delicious, bacon-y beans too good to adulterate with pepper sauce, subtly spiced beef cubes, and deliciously buttery cooked yucca. It costs $9, including Brazilian soda or juice.

Other excellent Brazilian pizza options include Cybelle’s Pizza in Daly City, which also serves awesome, massive $8 full Brazilian meals, like homey picana na chupa (cowboy steak) served with tons of side dishes, like a bowl of great soupy red beans with a touch of bacon, and farofa (nutty-tasting yucca flour puree). Manor Room Pizza gets the nod from a local Brazilian grocer. Check them both out.

Feijoada is a sort of hearty Brazilian bean goulash, featuring every part of the pig–sausage, snout, ears, tail, everything. Sabor Brazil market is selling fresh feijoada kits for home cooking, featuring locally made Brazilian sausage and all the goodies. Call to check for availability.

Mr Pizza Man [East Bay]
353 24th St, near McDonald’s, Richmond
510-234-9900
Locater

Cybelle’s Pizza [Peninsula]
2985 Junipero Serra Blvd., Daly City
650-755-6070
Locater

Manor Room Pizza Factory [Peninsula]
442 Manor Plz., Pacifica
650-355-2000
Locater

Sabor Brazil [South Bay]
4820 Bissel, Richmond
Map

Board Links
Info about Brazilian Marmitex (da rosa) and … sure … Salgadinhos?
Richmond–Sabor Brazil Market–feijoada kits with locally made Brazilian sausage
Daly City–Cybelle’s Pizza – $8 Brazilian dinners – Picana na chupa (cowboy steak)
Richmond–Mr Pizza Man’s Brazilian marmitex redux … sort of

Acasa: Hearty, Homey Romanian in Sunnyside

Acasa, a newish Romanian restaurant in Sunnyside, sounds like a winner. “Everything we tried was very good,” reports RedVelvet, who on several visits has enjoyed tripe and bean soups, grilled sweetbreads, eggplant and Greek salads, mici (small, casing-less sausages) and, especially, first-rate saramura (pickled fish in vegetable stew). mickyme loves homey cabbage with smoked hocks. Stews, schnitzel, grilled meats and offal, and fish dishes round out the menu.

Acasa’s chef (and a co-owner) is a fellow named Mitica who worked the grill at nearby Romanian Garden. Local Romanians seem clued in to the new place, drawn by the chow plus live music and satellite TV from the old country, so the smallish dining room promises to become a lively hangout for expats.

Acasa [Sunnyside]
48-06 Skillman Ave., between 48th and 49th Sts., Sunnyside, Queens
718-651-1364
Map

Romanian Garden [Sunnyside]
46-04 Skillman Ave., at 46th St., Sunnyside, Queens
718-786-7894
Locater

Board Links
Acasa, in Sunnyside
Woodside/Sunnyside suggestions? (eating out AND delivery)

Ramsay’s Revelations

With the publication of Gordon Ramsay’s new autobiography, Humble Pie, a spate of revelations about the celebrity chef have recently emerged. Maybe too many.

In the book, Ramsay reveals that he paid for heroin for his drug-addicted brother and contemplates the source of his infamous kitchen rage. What’s more, following Humble Pie’s publication, a secret sister has come out of the woodwork (she has a temper, too, by the way).

But now comes another revelation, which may just surpass the T.M.I. tipping point. London’s Daily Mirror reports that Ramsay’s first restaurant, Aubergine, was named not for the vegetable, but for, well, the angle of his dangle:

Quaffing champagne in London’s Claridge’s Hotel, Gord, 39, told us: “It’s because my nether regions always hang to the left, like an aubergine.”

Chinese Fake Beef Noodle Soup That’s the Real Deal

Despite its vegetarian pedigree, beef flavor noodle soup at Bean Sprouts looks and tastes as real as anything you’d get at any beef noodle place in the San Gabriel Valley, says Chandavkl. It’s studded with tiny chunky of mock beef, and even some mock gristle, but without that oily beef flavor. Crispy soy chicken with white pepper is almost a dead ringer for the pressed almond duck of Paul’s Kitchen. This is a small caf