The CHOW Blog rss

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

The Great Spinach Debate

As federal investigators narrow their search for the source of the deadly E. coli–tainted spinach, bloggers begin to dig more deeply into the question of whether—and where—to get your greens.

At Chez Pim, the guest blogger for the day, Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm, gives his insight into the fiasco. Andy helped pioneer the organic-bagged-greens trend as owner of Riverside Farms (later sold and now part of Natural Selections, thought to be the source of the tainted spinach). His insider take on the situation: It’s the processing, not the spinach, that is to blame.

Kim O’Donnel, writing for The Washington Post’s food blog, makes the point that supermarket bagged spinach isn’t the only game in town. She interviews several supporters of local and sustainable agriculture who are happy to continue eating their farmers’-market or homegrown spinach. One local eater makes the observation that, for your own safety, it is “more critical than ever to eat closer to the source.”

And on Eat Local Challenge, a blog devoted to the movement to eat produce that is locally and sustainably produced, a fascinating post looks at the story behind those perky bags of greens at the store. From the chemical treatments the greens undergo to extend their shelf life, to the perchlorate (a component in rocket fuel) that may contaminate the water sources for some of the growing areas, there is more at stake than the convenience of salad in a bag.

It’s not the spinach’s fault, but it seems E. coli may be just the tip of the iceberg here.

King of Chaat

King of Chaat

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The New Kitchen Staples

The New Kitchen Staples

Your pantry is bare unless these 10 items sit on its shelves. They've achieved post-food-fad status. READ MORE

Hello Mr. (Fish and) Chips

At least in the press and online, school lunch continues to be a battleground in the war against obesity. But some people may be confused about which side they’re on. In the U.S., healthy school lunches are still treated with reverence, while junk foods are roundly condemned.

But in Great Britain, a couple of mums who are fed up with Jamie Oliver’s healthy lunch hegemony have taking to shoving (presumably) greasy fish and chips through the local school’s chain link fence at lunchtime.

They’re not trying to fatten their kids like steers to the slaughter, however. Instead, they’re protesting the school lunch prices (as much as twice what a “takeaway” can cost) and lack of kid appeal. Oliver, who’s been an activist for healthy school lunches in Great Britain (and possibly here in the future) for more than a year, may have brought some of this on himself.

Spinach Solution: Eat Grass?

Author, entrepreneur, and farm-to-table provocateur Nina Planck has a solution to the E. coli outbreak linked to raw spinach: Eat grass.

Her recommendation is not for humans, but for cows.

Writing in the op-ed page of The New York Times, Planck argues that the deadly strain of E. coli (E. coli O157:H7, to be exact) which has infected more than 100 people, thrives in cows which are fed grain rather than grass:

Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

Planck cites a study that showed that when grain-fed cows—which make up 80 percent of the dairy and cattle industries—were switched to a diet of hay for as little as 5 days, E. coli O157 declined a thousand-fold:

This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants. Such a measure might have prevented the E. coli outbreak that plagued the Jack in the Box fast food chain in 1993.

While moving the cattle and dairy industry from grain to grass—which would be a seismic shift in the current state of commercial agriculture—may be the only long-term solution to outbreaks like the one we’re currently experiencing, Planck acknowledges that in the short-term, the transformation won’t reduce the amount of already existing bacteria-infected waste contaminating ground water and irrigation sources.

Party Planner: New York’s Best Middle Eastern Takeout

Spreads, breads, and other bites from the Middle East are perfect for feeding hungry guests. Party central, for hounds in the know, is the Bay Ridge standout Tanoreen. “Really amazing, home cooked-style Middle Eastern food. The cook makes even the basics very special,” says lovein2046. And the carryout and catering selection ranges well beyond meze–babaganoush, hummus, kibbeh, salads, etc.–to include baked whole fish, lamb entrees, and more. “I had them cater a party in Manhattan and they delivered,” reports aleppopepper. “It was very reasonable and the food was fantastic.”

A block down 3rd Avenue is Sally and George’s, another rewarding spot for Middle Eastern takeout. “The closest I have found to real Lebanese cuisine in New York,” writes bebe, who recommends their hummus, tabouleh, falafel, kibbeh, cheese pies, and grape leaves (the cold vegetarian version with olive oil). “In general,” she adds, “I think you will get better Middle Eastern food in Bay Ridge than either Astoria or Atlantic Avenue.”

But Atlantic Avenue has its fans, too. Damascus Bakery can come through with delicious pastries, fresh-baked pitas, and–if you order ahead–hors d’oeuvre-size meat or spinach-cheese pies, reports bobjbkln. bebe recommends their breads, especially the ones with cheese or zaatar.

Across the street, Oriental Pastry turns out wonderful spinach pies and stuffed grape leaves in garlicky tomato sauce, among other things, says dimples.

At Waterfalls Cafe satisfying takeout noshes include carrot salad, green beans, babaganoush (smokiest on the Atlantic Avenue strip, says mary shaposhnik), muhammara (pepper-walnut-pomegranate dip), and bulgur-stuffed cabbage in lemony sauce.

Some like Sahadi, a hound hangout for groceries from all over, for its hummus, bean salads, stuffed grape leaves and the like–but others recommend looking elsewhere for Middle Eastern prepared foods.

In Queens, Egyptian favorite Kabab Cafe can whip up large orders of babaganoush, foul, hummus, or terrific artichoke and beet salads. “More expensive than Sahadi’s or the equivalent,” says Dave Feldman, “but I think it’s worth it.”

For sweets, check out Laziza, the Palestinian-run bakery just down Steinway. As Ramadan draws near, they may be making the seasonal treat ‘ataif bil ‘ishta, a sort of Arabic cream horn. “I served these at a party during Ramadan last fall,” says lovein2046, “and they were swoon-inducing. Outside of Ramadan, you can always get regular ‘ataif, but the Ramadan variety with fresh cream is really something special.”

In Manhattan, rose water recommends hummus and tabouleh from Moustache, which has restaurants in the East and West Village. Also: excellent lentil puree that’s served with chicken kebabs–not on the menu by itself, but they might sell you some to go.

Tanoreen [Bay Ridge]
7704 3rd Ave., at 77th St., Brooklyn
718-748-5600
Locater

Sally and George’s Place [Bay Ridge]
7809 3rd Ave., between 78th and 79th Sts.. Brooklyn
718-680-4615
Locater

Damascus Bakery [Brooklyn Heights]
195 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Court Sts., Brooklyn
718-625-7070
Locater

Oriental Pastry and Grocery [Brooklyn Heights]
170 Atlantic Ave., between Court and Clinton Sts., Brooklyn
718-875-7687
Locater

Waterfalls Cafe [Cobble Hill]
144 Atlantic Ave., between Henry and Clinton Sts., Brooklyn
718-488-8886
Locater

Sahadi Importing Co. [Brooklyn Heights]
187 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Court Sts., Brooklyn
718-624-4550
Locater

Kabab Cafe [Astoria]
25-12 Steinway St., between 25th and 28th Aves., Astoria, Queens
718-728-9858
Locater

Laziza of New York Pastry [Astoria]
23-78 Steinway St., between 25th and 28th Aves., Astoria, Queens
718-777-7676
Locater

Moustache [West Village]
90 Bedford St., at Grove, Manhattan
212-229-2220
Locater

Moustache [East Village]
265 E. 10th St., between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, Manhattan
212-228-2022
Locater

Board Links
Middle Eastern Catering/Take Out
Middle Eastern Takeout/Catering

Tomato, Tomato, Tomato – and Haute Cuisine S’mores

SoupNoodles thinks Zin is underrated. And great. Their take on the all-but-compulsory heirloom tomato salad is called “Tomato, tomato, tomato.” It consists of two thick, seasoned slices of tomato–one deep red and one yellow–topped with a salad of frisee greens, tiny pear-shaped tomatoes, and caramelized bacon bits. And then on top of that is…a slice of fried green tomato.

Duck breast is served actually, genuinely rare, upon request. It comes with blackberry-brandy sauce and seasoned grits. And the chocolate pie is stunning.

Chocolate pie is gross normally, right? A glop of pudding in a pastry shell, topped with canned whipped topping? Nope, not here. This pie is full of smooth chocolate and topped with lightly charred marshmallow, in a graham cracker-crumb crust. It’s haute cuisine s’mores.

Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar [Sonoma County]
344 Center St., Healdsburg
707-473-0946
Locater

Board Links
Praise for Zin, Healdsburg

Brown Cafe: Simple Pleasures on the Lower East Side

Brown has quietly won a neighborhood following on the Lower East Side with simple, satisfying chow made from first-rate ingredients. The five-year-old cafe is part of a color-coded family of businesses, all clustered on the same block of Hester Street, that also comprises a catering outfit called Green, an upscale deli called Orange and (opening soon) a wine store called Pink. “I love this place,” declares tamasha. “The food is delicious and fresh, and the service is attentive.”

Smart orders on the often-changing menu include quiches, charcuterie and cheese, brunch dishes like baked eggs, and sandwiches (typical choice: prosciutto di Parma, roasted tomato, fontina and arugula on baguette). Dinner entrees might include leg of lamb; pan-roasted chicken breast stuffed with onion and robiola; roast striped bass with basil mashed potatoes and vegetable compote; and other simple, hearty combinations. The wine list is promising, desserts are worth a look, and gelato comes from nearby hound hangout Il Laboratorio del Gelato.

Brown Cafe [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-477-2427
Locater

Orange Epicerie [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-254-9825
Locater

Green Catering [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-254-9825
Locater

Board Links
Brown Cafe, Hester Street
Green, Brown, Orange?

Dorsey’s Locker

Dorsey’s Locker may not look so good from outside, but once you’re inside, it’s clean and tidy as can be, with sun streaming in the windows. And the Southern-style food served here is awesome, says berkeleypie. Boneless short ribs are cooked fork-tender and served with a meaty brown gravy. Collard greens are tender (though somewhat acrid), and their pot liquor is satisfying, especially with dense, savory corn muffins to dunk into it. Black eyed peas laced with shreds of ham, cinnamony sweet potatoes, and fantastic sweet tea round out the meal. They serve made-to-order fried chicken daily, and they always have a few specials, including oxtails on Tuesdays (call to check, though). $10-11 gets you a generous main course, three sides, and cornbread.

Dorsey’s Locker [East Bay]
5817 Shattuck Ave., near 58th St., Oakland
510-428-1935
Locater

Board Links
Dorsey’s Locker- don’t be scared

From Central America with Love

It’s pretty easy to drive past El Gallo Pinto; it’s a treasure, hidden away in yet another Azusa strip mall. It’s not a fancy place, but it’s cheerily decorated and welcoming. Nicaraguan food in general isn’t very greasy, and the home-cooked flavors here are great, says pleasurepalate.

Fried green plantains and fried cheese make a nice starter–it’s hard to stop eating them with the sweet and tangy Nicaraguan “salsa” of sour orange juice, onions and green peppers. This salsa tastes great over anything.

A dish of pork and yuca comes topped with cabbage and tomatoes–the meat is tender and flavorful, and there’s a good contrast going on with the crunchy cabbage and slight acidity of the tomatoes. Even better is vigaron–the same preparation as above, but with chicharron instead of pork.

Gallo pinto, a staple dish, is a mixture of fried rice with onion, bell pepper and beans boiled with garlic. The boiled garlic really puts it over the top, while the beans keep the rice nice and moist.

Another Nicaraguan classic is nactamal, a kind of tamal filled with pork or chicken, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, and bell pepper, wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled for five hours. This is definitely oilier than the other dishes and than regular Mexican tamales, but the buttery taste makes it all forgivable.

They have a cacao drink that’s basically like a chocolate horchata, with cinnamon and vanilla–very refreshing.

For dessert, definitely get bu