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

Okra Ideas

piccola oven roasts okra pods whole, in two different ways: either sprayed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper; or dipped in egg and coated in breadcrumbs. They’re a great side with sandwiches, or wherever you’d serve fries.

Betty tosses sliced okra in cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooks it in a skillet with just a little hot grease. Lay the little rings flat in a single layer over the bottom of the pan, and as they brown, turn them over individually until they are all crispy. It takes a while, she says, but tastes great, and there’s no slime.

Terrie H. shares an easy stir-fry recipe that she claims will convert anyone into an okra lover: Slice okra about 1/2” thick on a diagonal, and quickly stir fry with garlic, ginger, and sliced fresh hot chiles. When it is just softening, sprinkle with a bit of sugar and a good squeeze of lime juice. The stickiness of the okra will just be coming out at this point in cooking, and combines with the sugar and the lime juice to make a light sauce. Add soy or fish sauce to taste, if you like.

Okra is beautiful! Don’t believe us? Check out Pei’s photos.

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Okra!

Save Those Papaya Seeds!

The seeds of ripe papayas have a peppery flavor, and are nice to toss into a salad dressing. Cheese Boy dries them and mixes them with peppercorns. Fill your pepper grinder with the combo.

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seed and pit edibility: please dispel myths from my childhood…

Ephron Eaten for Breakfast

Users of eGullet had a snarky field day with Nora Ephron’s kvetchy New York Times op-ed (registration required) that ran a few weeks ago. In the piece, Ephron (the auteur of the film Sleepless in Seattle and sometime food writer) gripes about several common tropes of high-end restaurants—no salt or pepper shakers on the table, servers who upsell water, etc.—and she’s not funny. Not to most Gulleteers, anyway: For more than a week straight, they analyzed the piece in a thread that was a curious combo of nitpickiness and spot-on criticism. Yesterday, user Brendan Jackson returned to the thread, providing a link to the S.F. Chronicle’s Sunday style section profile of Ephron and announcing his undying frustration with the woman: “Her rant has spoiled me on her forever, since i was so annoyed with her, i couldn’t finish reading the article.”

Why all the counterkvetching? As Chris Holst, the poster who kicks off the thread, puts it:

Poor Nora is annoyed at sea salt, and at pepper grinders, and at glassware selection for her Pellegrino, and at the size of dessert spoons, and at servers who dare to speak to her and her dining companions. Her ‘problems’ only afflict those fortunate enough to dine regularly at white-tablecloth restaurants, and for more well-adjusted diners, I’d doubt they’re problematic. What possessed the Times to print this drivel? It belongs in her diary, where it will be safely locked away from the rest of the world, so nobody else has to put up with it … or do any of our fellow eGulletiers share her concerns?

Others immediately chime in with comments on Ephron’s self-indulgence and lack of humor. eGullet user Shannon Elise provides a good example of how Ephron might have done it better:

May I please have the 45 seconds it took to read that piece back? I could really use it to apply lip gloss or tie my shoe —both of which are activities I find more enjoyable than that. Does she really want to see the salt shaker, with its rice to keep it from clumping that looks like small bugs, on the table? And could she please insert the word Pellagrino[sic] in her piece one more time? I don’t think the 50 times it was included was enough.


The fact that this commentfest goes on for 54 more posts is perhaps indicative of the fact that Ephron’s piece touched a sore spot for eGullet members. As a recognizable name with a new book out, Ephron is afforded a level of access that most people don’t have, given license to say whatever she wants about food—even if it’s boring and tired (or simply wrong, like her confusion about sea salt versus kosher salt). And of course she blatantly advertises her ability to afford dining at places where there’s nary a salt shaker in sight.

But Fat Guy, eGullet’s head honcho, doubts that the overwhelmingly negative response on the thread will be mirrored in the general populace:

It was a weak and ignorant piece from the standpoint of the food-knowledgeable minority, however I bet it resonated with the majority. I hear all of those complaints, often. If I’m giving a presentation about my book to a live audience at a Barnes & Noble, you can be sure a middle-aged lady’s hand will shoot up and that she’ll gripe about the lack of salt on the table or something along those lines.

And he’s right: Most Times readers had only praise (registration required) for Ephron after the article ran.

Do you think the critics are right, or should people just leave Nora be (she already feels bad enough about her neck, for God’s sake)?

Sounds Like Rachael Ray

Coming soon to a boom box or cell phone near you, RACHAEL RAY! Partnering with Epic Records, the volume 11 talk-show-host-cook-big-sister-screaming-meemie is releasing her own CDs this month. Now calm down —Rachael Ray herself is not doing the singing. No, instead she did the thing that girlfriends all over the world know to be a sign of True Love. She made the world a mix tape.

Releasing on October 10 is her How Cool Is That? Christmas CD, composed of Rachael Ray’s favorite holiday music. Boy, and I thought mall-piped holiday music was annoying. For the younger set, she has a Too Cool for School Mixtape for Kids that is coming to stores on October 31. Not sure what sort of message that’s sending to the little truant tykes, but hey, it’s Rachael Ray!

Also with Epic, Rachael has struck “an exclusive digital deal for which Rachael created unique cellular voicetones. Epic will distribute the voicetones—ringtones featuring messages from Rachael—to all major US carriers.” This is genius, because I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck on the bus, wondering, “What could I combine with vinegar to make a delicious vinaigrette?” E-V-O-O! E-V-O-O! E-V-O-O! “Hello?”

Mocoblog, the Definitive Blog for the Mobile Consumer, admits, “Wow … you’d think Oprah would have been the first daytime talk show host to do something this goofy.”

Seeing Red

We’re sure there are many, many particle physicists blogging furiously over yesterday’s Nobel Prize announcements. Being mere food-obsessed mortals, however, we’re tuning in to the big buzz in San Francisco, where Michelin’s first restaurant guide to the Bay Area was revealed on Monday.

As if getting a reservation at the French Laundry needed to become more difficult, Thomas Keller’s Wine Country restaurant was the only place to earn those coveted three stars—no surprise, especially given the restaurant’s very Gallic and impeccable service and style. (Per Se, Keller’s restaurant in NYC, also earned three stars in last year’s New York Michelin guide). Otherwise, though, we’d agree with San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer that the Euros just didn’t get it. (Could be Bauer’s just feeling persnickety that many of his four-star picks were demoted to one star or less.)

In a town rife with global flavors, Michelin’s European-trained inspectors gave stars almost exclusively to French and French-influenced spots, giving one star apiece to exactly two Japanese places and one high-end Northern Italian. But even some French chefs are bumming, like Fleur de Lys’s Hubert Keller and Roland Passot of La Folie, who saw their polished, Frette-linen-and-Riedel-crystal destinations dumped into a bizarrely mixed one-star category alongside popular but casual storefront eateries like Quince and Range.

Writes Ciaogina on Chowhound, “How did Range get into the mix? It’s like someone said oh yes go here it’s hip or something … it’s just inconsistent.” Over at San Francisco Gourmet, many of the picks are dubbed “completely inexplicable, wholly unjustified and/or plainly wrong,” while Joy at Confessions of a Restaurant Whore gives Range its props but wonders, “Why then no Delfina? Why no Zuni? And how do you put Range and the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton in the same category? The Ritz should have two at least, in my opinion. They are making some bad ass yums over there. ... I can’t help but feel like Michelin really screwed the pooch here.”

Let Them Drink Shiraz

This month’s Food and Wine has a fascinating fly-on-the-wall story about a Shanghai dinner party, called “The Toast of China,” that makes a couple of pungent points about wine, wealth, and Westernization.

Olivia Wu, who writes about food for the San Francisco Chronicle, gives Food & Wine readers a detailed account of an upscale gathering in the Jin Jiang Hotel’s 1930s Art Deco Grosvenor House, spooning out such descriptive nuggets as the vintage 1960s tumblers at each place setting and a recipe for tea-scented pumpkin soup. Throughout the piece, Wu reflects on the increasing popularity of wine (fine and otherwise) in China, weaving in details that create a picture of opulence and sophistication that wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan or Rome.

But the elephant in the room strolls briefly into view during the piece’s “China Wine Index” sidebar.

Price of a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz in a restaurant in China: $30

Price of a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz in a restaurant in the U.S.: $30

Typical weekly wage for a schoolteacher in China: $30


It’s a sassy little detail that’s all the more glaring for its fleeting appearance in the middle of a sidebar; Wu (or her editor) has meticulously avoided bothering readers with even a sidelong glance at the sometimes grim context surrounding the gathering hosted by “pixie-haired fashion designer Han Feng.”

Not Just for Taco Seasoning Anymore

Not Just for Taco Seasoning Anymore

Cumin gets white tablecloth treatment. READ MORE

The Weight of Water

We have oenophiles, tea experts, and coffee aficionados, so it was just a matter of time before someone started sniffing drinking fountains. After all, sometimes the water charge is the highest on your bill (especially if you thoughtlessly started drinking the beaded bottle of Pellegrino that was staring you down from the center of your restaurant table. At least in Vegas they post a big sign on the hotel bottles, telling you to your face how much they plan to rip you off!), so why shouldn’t you sip thoughtfully?

The last nine minutes of Evan Kleiman’s KCRW radio show, Good Food, on September 9, 2006, were devoted to talking to Dr. Michael Mascha, the water connoisseur. After being told by his doctor that he needed to lay off the wine, Dr. Mascha turned his thirst toward water.

On his website, FineWaters, Dr. Mascha profiles still and sparkling waters from all over the world, provides a water vocabulary to use when tasting and discussing water, and even does food pairings. When thinking of Thanksgiving, for example, FineWaters suggests:

Light designated waters have smaller bubble than those of the Bold sparkling waters. Heritage turkeys have a more subtle, cleaner flavor than commercial turkeys. So in order not to overpower the flavor and to match the mouthfeel of the side dishes a Light sparkling water is perfect.

Dr. Mascha’s thirst-quenching expertise is also heavily featured in Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page’s newest book, What to Drink with What You Eat.

While I might not yet be inclined to give up my reds, whites, and rosés, water is pretty important to me. I was so disgusted by the taste of San Diego municipal water when I briefly lived there that we spent an entire summer lugging plastic jugs of water back from the grocery store. I was ridiculously happy and comforted when we returned to San Francisco’s good old Hetch Hetchy water. Suddenly, life made sense again and my hair felt clean.

Is It Wrong to Play with Your Food?

Is It Wrong to Play with Your Food?

It's a matter of respect, for your food and your company. READ MORE

Eating, Bitching

Last week, An Obsession with Food discussed Michael Pollan’s latest post in his ongoing “open conversation” with John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. (In case you haven’t followed the once-contentious, now – apparently civil debate, it all started this spring when Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he criticizes Whole Foods and other large players in the organic and natural-foods industry for hurting small-scale farmers and food purveyors. In response, Mackey wrote an “Open Letter to Michael Pollan” on his blog, and the public convo continued from there.)

For Derrick of OWF, the latest exchange helped change his feelings about the supermarket: “Even I might soften my anti–Whole Foods stance in light of the initiatives they’ve been putting into place,” he says. Those initiatives do sound extensive—including allocating $10 million per year for loans to local farmers, hosting weekly farmers’ markets on many Whole Foods parking lots, and instituting new “animal compassionate standards” that require all livestock to have access to pasture. Pollan is impressed with Mackey’s efforts, too: “You have demonstrated a commitment to a higher form of discourse than public relations,” he writes.

Mackey’s eagerness to engage in this kind of discourse with Pollan is understandable, given the writer’s clout among eco-minded foodies (Whole Foods’ target market); more interesting, perhaps, are the motivations behind this exchange between Sirio Maccioni, owner of New York City’s Le Cirque, and blogger Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet. After Roberts blogged about a bad experience he and his family had at the restaurant, Maccioni sent Roberts’s parents a letter of apology and invited the whole clan to come back for a free meal.

Why the extreme effort to atone for the bad service and ho-hum food? As one commenter on AG theorizes, “It is not because you had a bad experience that they’re writing to you, it’s because you have a well-regarded blog.” True, but how interesting that a restaurant with a reputation for ostentatiousness and bald-faced snobbism, a place “filled with ruddy-cheeked titans of industry” and other high-society types, would so desperately court an unpretentious young blogger like Roberts. Maccioni didn’t even apologize to then–New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl for the shoddy treatment after her famous double review of Le Cirque in 1993; he was angry rather than contrite and boasted that business had only gotten better in the wake of the review.

What has changed since then? Have any other bloggers or Chowhounders out there had similar experiences with chefs after writing negative reviews?