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

Easy Hammy Soup

Here’s a simple Galician soup recipe that makes a great showcase for ham, or a delicious way to use up holiday leftovers, courtesy of coolbean98:

Cook cubed ham (even better if you add a ham bone), diced onions, cloves, thyme, and bay leaf in water at a low boil for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or simmer for a shorter time in stock). Then add cooked cannellini beans and chopped collard greens and simmer until the greens are tender and the soup is thickened.

oakjoan finds toasted bread brushed with olive oil and mashed garlic and sprinkled with good Parmesan is perfect with this rustic potage.

Board Links
Big Niman Ham Steak —Ideas for Tonight??

Shackle Your Sherbet

After ingesting several Rachael Ray Show episodes this week, I came away with a few things. Surprisingly, indigestion wasn’t one of them. I learned that Richard Nixon is Rachael’s favorite president, and that she ran over a cat during her driving test, and fans of hers defend themselves against housebreakers by announcing that they are “armed with Rachael Ray knives.”

However, the most interesting thing I learned this week was during a segment called “Stump the Rach.” Let’s forget for a moment that the segment name sounds like a medieval ritual performed by Morris dancers at a Whitsun Ale festival and concentrate on the wonder of technology she introduced to my consciousness. Behold, the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Pint Lock! Sheer genius, the Euphori-Lock keeps prying spoons out of your secret stash of Sweet Cream and Cookies.

Industrial design blog Cool Hunting has another suggestion for the Euphori-Lock: “On a diet? Buy a pint and a lock and lock it up without knowing your own combo.” Always hysterical enough to make me wish I’d gone to the bathroom before I sat down with one of their issues, Bay Area alterna-newspaper The Wave Magazine calls the contraption “the chastity belt for ice cream” and comments:

At last, your psychotic “friends” who would find this thing useful can sleep at night, knowing that their Chunky Monkey ice cream will be waiting for them safely in the morning. And this is a perfect opportunity, by the way, to duct tape them to their bed.

Just as people went gangbusters for any knife, pot, or book Rachael slapped her name on, I’m sure Ben and Jerry will be slammed with orders for the Euphori-Lock in the next few weeks.

Bloggers Hit the Books

Julie Powell may have blazed the food blog-to-book trail when she signed a contract to write her memoir Julie & Julia, but the path is quickly becoming well tread as more and more bloggers are signing book contracts.

Up in Seattle, gluten-free blogger Shauna is celebrating the sale of her manuscript, Gluten-Free Girl: A Life Beyond Wonder Bread. The cookbook and memoir about embracing a gluten-free life was announced this week in industry newsletter Publishers Lunch. Last month, when the anonymous waiter/author of Waiter Rant announced his deal for a book titled Waiter Rant: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Front Lines of Dining Out, 469 readers chimed in with congratulations and promises to buy a copy.

But what happens once the champagne and congratulations of a book deal wear off? What is the journey from blogger to book author like?

Media darling Clotilde, of Chocolate & Zucchini, delivered the completed manuscript of her cookbook to the publisher earlier this summer and reports on the steps that follow—copyediting, cover design, and marketing issues. She has been tracking her experience of writing the book in a series on her blog.

Sara Kate, at Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen, has also been slaving over a book this summer, and a hot stove, as she baked her way through recipe testing in record-setting heat. Oh, and she’s pregnant as well. And renovating. The book manuscript was due September 5, the baby September 19, and we hope the kitchen gets finished in time.

On the opposite side of publication, Mrs. B of Eating Suburbia is planning the West Coast publicity tour for The World Is a Kitchen, a collection of food stories and recipes that she edited. After enlisting the help of fellow food bloggers to test the recipes, she is off to promote the finished product, with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A.

The blog-to-book phenomenon (also called blook) has even been graced with its own award—the Lulu Blooker Prize, sponsored by print-on-demand publisher Lulu. Last year’s nonfiction award went to Julie Powell, for Julie & Julia. The author returns this year to serve as a judge for the 2007 awards, along with Arianna Huffington and others.

Awards aside, the jury is still out on the success of the blook. Some blogs will make the transition more smoothly than others. Perhaps about-to-be author Sara Kate said it best in her own review of Julie & Julia last year. “The question is: is a blogger an author? Can the spirit and voice of a blog translate gracefully into a book, to either read and re-read again and again, or to collect dust on a high shelf?”

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

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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

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

Damascus Bakery [Brooklyn Heights]
195 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Court Sts., Brooklyn

Oriental Pastry and Grocery [Brooklyn Heights]
170 Atlantic Ave., between Court and Clinton Sts., Brooklyn

Waterfalls Cafe [Cobble Hill]
144 Atlantic Ave., between Henry and Clinton Sts., Brooklyn

Sahadi Importing Co. [Brooklyn Heights]
187 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Court Sts., Brooklyn

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

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

Moustache [West Village]
90 Bedford St., at Grove, Manhattan

Moustache [East Village]
265 E. 10th St., between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, Manhattan

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

Board Links
Praise for Zin, Healdsburg