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

Sacrilegious Yet Surprisingly Top-Notch Tortilla Soups

Some of the best tortilla soups in town might be lurking right under your nose…

Loteria in the farmers’ market servers up huge bowls of amazing tortilla soup, Foodie5 reports.

Of all unlikely suspects, the Horseless Carriage at Galpin Motors makes one of the best chicken tortilla soups on Wednesdays, says veggietales.

Mijares in Pasadena and 17th Caf

What to Do with Apple Butter?

There’s no butter in apple butter–it’s just apples cooked way, way down with some sugar or cider to a concentrated form of the apple’s goodness. It’s delicious spooned right out of the jar, or slathered on biscuits or toast. Or, try these inventive options:

A swirl of apple butter makes oatmeal or cottage cheese super delicious. It’s also great for topping French toast or pancakes. It’s great on a grilled ham and cheddar sandwich, says Glencora; or try this recipe for a grilled turkey, brie, and apple butter sandwich.

Apple butter’s also a great condiment for pork chops or pork loin; in fact, take any cut of pork that can be served with a sweet sauce, and throw on some apple butter.

Apple butter also makes a great addition to barbecue sauce, says dantheculinaryman; you may want to adjust the amount of sweetening in your recipe to compensate for the apple butter’s sweetness.

To make a lower-fat carrot cake, replace some of the volume of oil called for with apple butter, suggests saraeanderson.

And one last quick snack note: Infomaniac melts apple butter and pours it over pecans that have been warmed in the oven, then sprinkles with a little salt and serves while warm. Midnight snack heaven.

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What do I do with apple butter?

Peachy Peaches

It’s maddening to buy beautiful-looking peaches, only to find they never soften enough to be considered ripe. Peaches should be picked when ripe or on the verge of ripeness; but, for various reasons involving the economics of tranporting soft fruit, supermarket peaches are rarely properly picked. Here are some tips to get ‘em ripe:

When buying peaches, choose ones that have a little “give” at the stem end. Avoid peaches that have any green color. MollyGee says the exception is if the farmer is standing right there and says, “This is an heirloom peach and it will indeed ripen and lose that green color.”

Don’t refrigerate your peaches; leave them out on the counter.

Store hard peaches in a paper bag with an apple (the apple gives off ethylene gas, which will often soften the peach).

If you get peaches that refuse to soften, cook them; grilling works nicely.

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Got Any Peach Ripening Secrets?

Cooking with Dried Lavender

Dried lavender is nice in potpourri, but it’s even better in the kitchen, where it can be put to both sweet and savory uses.

One classic use is as a central component in the blend, Herbes de Provence. To make your own, combine crumbled dried lavender with dried rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and savory, and crushed fennel seeds. Herbes de Provence makes a terrific counterpoint to both eggs and poultry. Try using it as a rub for beer can chicken.

In fact, lavender makes many great herb rubs and marinades. LindaWhit mixes dried lavender with lemon zest, minced garlic, salt, and pepper and rubs into a chicken before roasting. Or, use it with dried oregano and dehydrated garlic to make a rub for lamb or pork, suggests Das Ubergeek. bolivianita marinates venison in lavender and red wine before grilling.

You can steep dried lavender in milk, and make creme brulee, rice pudding, tapioca, or ice cream. Here’s a recipe for honey lavender ice cream.

Lavender is good in buttery shortbread cookies, especially with lemon zest in the dough or a lemon glaze on top to offset its floral notes, says Carb Lover. A little goes a long way, though; add too much, and it’ll seem like you’re “eating a bar of soap.”

Make lavender sugar by tossing whole blossoms with granulated sugar and allowing it to sit for a few weeks. Use in tea or sprinkle on cookies or muffins. Or steep dried lavender in simple syrup and use as a flavoring for lemonade or iced tea. AnneInMpls uses it to make a fabulous lavender cocktail with a pretty pale-purple hue: combine vodka, a splash of Cointreau, several splashes of lavender syrup, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, shake, and strain into a cocktail glass.

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Uses for Dried Lavender

Tricks of the Cookie Trade

Nonpareils are the teeny sugar balls used to decorate cookies. Here are some pictures of rainbow nonpareils (you can find small jars or tubs of them in the baking aisle of the supermarket).

To get them to adhere to a cookie, make an icing of confectioners sugar and water, spread it on the fully cooled cookie and add the nonpareils. Leave the cookies out so the icing can dry. The nonpareils will stay put!

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Name the Cookie

What’s for Dinner?

CHOW's man on the street goes deep and finds out what is on the menu tonight. READ MORE

The Best Sticky Buns Ever (and ‘Cue in a Citgo)

Boone, North Carolina

This northwest corner isn’t the chowiest part of N.C., but two terrific places are quite near Maverick Farms.

Citgo Market, a.k.a. Foscoe Country Corner (8937 Highway 105 South, Boone, North Carolina; 828-963-6409), makes the best barbecue (hickory-smoked!) in this part of the state (the mountains are not known for good barbecue). The meat itself is very well smoked, but most North Carolinians would quibble with the sauce, which is too sweet.



This joint makes pretty good cheeseburgers too.

MoonPies and RC Cola are a classic combination, sort of sweetness squared.

Johnson’s Bakery, a.k.a Kersh’s Old World Bakery (106-1 Clubhouse Drive, Highway 105, Foscoe, North Carolina; 828-963-5668), makes these:

... the best sticky buns I’ve ever eaten

Excellent scone and brownie

Real good muffins (here we see their wistful side, headin’ down that lonesome highway …)

I made my way down to Charlotte, where I ate some fairly pedestrian fried chicken in a few places but went ga-ga over the lardy-crusted coconut custard pie at United House of Prayer for All People (2321 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte, North Carolina; 704-394-3884). The measure of its quality can be gauged by my failure to shoot the photo before having scarfed most of it.

As at all United House of Prayer cafeterias, quality is quite variable, according to which church ladies cook on a given day.

Shelby, near Charlotte, is a mecca for barbecue, and
Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge (2000 E. Dixon Boulevard/Highway 74, Shelby, North Carolina; 704-482-8567) is a local legend. I found their ‘cue dismayingly blah. Perhaps I arrived at the wrong time of day. Pretty good hush puppies, though.



Tomorrow I head east into prime barbecue territory, and I’m really hoping for some ‘cue that blows my doors off.

I’m Vegetarian but I Eat Bacon

I’m Vegetarian but I Eat Bacon

I'm no more a carnivore than a straight woman who occasionally makes out with other girls is a lesbian. READ MORE

Little Ray of Loudness

While the show has been met with rave and not-so-rave reviews, Rachael Ray debuted with “the highest ratings for a daytime show since Dr. Phil in 2002,” and even Martha Stewart is worried.

Reportedly, some staffers from the Queen of Quiches’ camp tried to secretly infiltrate the show using aliases but were thwarted by an eagle-eyed security guard who also works on Martha’s show. Now, do we really think the Duchess of Doughnuts seriously felt the need to do some recon when she could just watch the show herself? Maybe those staffers were wondering if a better life on another show existed in Rachael Ray’s loud, loud world.

Speaking of loud, that is the primary impression I took away from Rachael’s new show. Seriously, I’m convinced she needs to mainline Ricola in order to avoid completely losing her voice after the first 30 minutes. Other impressions I got? Well, the pre-credits sequence had Ray Ray laughing manically in the exact same way two different times. It was rather creepy, but by the third show, they had removed one of the laughs. The unfortunate thing is that whenever I hear the sole guffaw, I still hear the other one IN MY HEAD.

In all seriousness, as long as I’ve railed against Rachael Ray in my living room, online, and to my mother-in-law, I can’t believe I’ve possibly, maybe become addicted to her new talk show. It’s not so much that I want to pick up tips for shoe shopping, or watch her play “big sister” to her audience members and cure them of what scares them by jumping out of planes or whathaveyou, I think it’s more that I want to see just how crazy she gets. And while Rachael Ray doesn’t commit the food atrocities that regularly drag Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade ass in front of the Television Without Pity Tribunal, I’m still not that into her food ideas.

Pretzel/Potato Chip Tasting, and Jim Meets Chickens

Banner Elk, North Carolina

Maverick Farms
Maverick Farms (410 Justus Road, Banner Elk, North Carolina; 828-963-4656) has become one of my favorite getaways. I can’t write about the place objectively anymore because I’ve become friends with the proprietors, but my original article about them, written several years ago, still delivers the gist. So, before I update, let me replay that piece:

The Enigma of Maverick Farms

Maverick Farms is hard to describe. It’s an organic, politically aware nonprofit small farm run by super-foodie hipsters who bring a dot-com sensibility to their work. Remember all those Internet upstarts back in 1998 where nobody outside—or even inside—the company understood what the company actually did, and everything rolled forward via sheer exuberance? That’s Maverick Farms. They claim to grow things, and I actually did see some salad greens growing plus a few chickens, but … I don’t know. I suspect Maverick Farms is more of a state of mind than an actual farming operation. To be fair, though, I did arrive late in the season. The badminton court may brim with soybeans and corn in the summer, who knows?

It’s a beautiful big farmhouse on a beautiful creek in a beautiful hollow, though, and that’s all that matters, from the viewpoint of an agritourist (their term for guests). They rent out (short or long term) some rooms, e.g. a beautiful downstairs corner space with awesome view and veranda and private bathroom for just $65/night, or a little monastic bedroom for a mere $25/night—a steal in this increasingly boutiquey area. Speaking of the area, I was strongly corrected that western North Carolina is NOT the South—it’s Appalachia. People hereabouts fought on the Union side.

For an extra $13/day, you can be served dinner, which is excellent and very California-style, very much about letting the goodness of the ingredients sing out. And the ingredients are up to the task. Those salad greens, for example, are hallucinogenic in their intensity and persistence of flavor; coated with a dab of oil and vinegar, they steal every meal they accompany. Portions are modest; a typical dinner consists of a shallow bowl of squash soup, and some of those psychedelic salad greens with freshly baked bread and well-chosen olive oil, all top-drawer.

The Mavericks have channels to get unpasturized farm milk (they’re all about channels; their forte seems more in provisioning rather than in actual growing). It comes in enormous jars from which you scoop out rich, extra vivid life-affirming milk. Cereal will never taste the same again.

I attended one of Maverick Farms’ occasional $35 farm dinners. It could be described in two ways: 1. a way to divest the local gentry of some of their lucre in order to support the operation, or 2. an outpouring of culinary expressionism from exuberant cooks using ingredients grown or procured with a great deal of care and who love an excuse to blow out a serious dinner.

The menu will give you the idea:

  • Cornmeal Flatbread with Garlic and Parsley Confit, Olive Tapenade, and Homemade Ricotta-Chipotle Spread

  • Springhouse Farm Fresh Salad
  • Candy Roaster Squash Soup Garnished with Spicy Cilantro Pesto
  • Cider Glazed Pork Roast with Homemade Pear Chutney and Root-Vegetable Puree or (for vegetarians) Homemade Ricotta and Sage Gnocchi
  • Both Entrees Garnished with Braised Greens
  • Sweet Potato Flan with Sesame Tuilles

Long tables are set up in the farmhouse, and the aforementioned gentry (professors at a local college, landowners, yuppie gentrifiers) get their status buttons pushed via several courses of fancy gourmet cooking described with a rich cavalcade of adjectives. For my part, I enjoyed some top-notch flavors as well as some (charming) near misses. Guests bring their own wine, and nobody shares.

These infrequent dinners aside, if you’re looking for a rustic getaway at very reasonable price, and want to immerse yourself in some very high level rural-yet-sophisticated foods and foodways, Maverick Farms is a smart choice. Note: I actually split wood.

This time I arrived earlier in the season and saw some actual farming going on. Not at any vast scale, but certainly some interesting—even weirdo—foods. I’ll let Leo Gaev of Maverick Farms take you on four video tours.

Video 1: Wild volunteer tomatoes, husk cherries, and purple Osaka

Video 2: Hops … and a major greenhouse initiative

Video 3: Meet Leo’s bees

Video 4: Surrealistically fastidious chickens

I risked my life to bring you this report.

This is not actually food. Look closely.

Typical Maverick Farms salad (all homegrown, of course)

Let the pretzel tasting begin …

Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzel and Potato Chip Tasting Notes

Way back in installment #8, I went a bit overboard at Yoder’s Market in New Holland, Pennsylvania, filling my shopping cart compulsively with bag after bag of lardy potato chips and hand-pulled pretzels. At Maverick Farms, a tasting panel was organized to evaulate them. The following are my conclusions, with input from the panel.

Pretzels

Old Fashioned Hammond’s Hand Made
Pretzels
(”... taste the difference”)
Very malty, almost like malted milk. Uninteresting texture.

Unique Pretzels Splits
A clean, simple, pure pretzel. Good for an extended pretzel bender.

Martin’s Special Handmade Pretzels —Akron, Pennsylvania
Shattery texture. Each pretzel is unique, varying in darkness, saltiness, thinness, everything. Very interesting and delicious.

Martin’s Hand Twisted Hearth Pretzels
Light color. Crumbly/crunchy rather than shattery. Funky flavors —I taste onion and pork, but the ingredients list reveals nothing unusual.

Uncle Henry’s Handmade Pretzels
I can taste the wood oven they’re baked in, but it’s subtle. Check out the ashes on the salt! Fine crunch.

The following three brands tasted soapy/perfumy because they’d apparently been poorly stored at the grocery.

Wege of Hanover Broken Sourdough Hard Pretzels

King’s Broken Hard Pretzels

Dieffenbach’s Sourdough Broken Pretzels

Lard-Fried Potato Chips

Dieffenbach’s
I hardly taste potato. It’s all pig. There are chips where you have to point out the fact that they’re lard-fried to people. Dieffenbach’s are not among those chips. Good texture, and they’re thick-cut.

Good’s Blue Bag
Also very lardy, but the potato flavor shines through (unlike in Dieffenbach’s!). Texture is more shattery than crisp.

Good’s Red Bag
Lard is very nicely integrated; more potato-y than Lewis Good’s or Dieffenbach’s.

Nibble with Gibble’s
This chip does it all. Texture is full-out crisp, not flaky. This is the first one where I find my hand reaching for more.

Family Owned Markets Kettle Cooked
A generic chip I’d never spotted before. We think they’re Dieffenbach’s.

Other Snacks

Utz Classic Russets Gourmet Dark potato chips
Not lard-fried, but I love ‘em. My favorite dark chips since Cape Cod went downhill.

Kettle Krisp All Natural Caramel Corn
Ingredients: brown sugar, popcorn, corn syrup, salt.
Without butter, it tastes overly simple, like Cracker Jacks sans prize.