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

Getting More B in Your BLT

To make your next BLT a bit more divine, try frying the bread in bacon fat instead of just toasting it. You don’t want it laden with grease–you just want enough for a little layer of bacon-y flavor. PBSF coats a large skillet with a thin film of bacon fat and toasts the bread over medium heat, covering the bread (just the slices, not the whole skillet) with a lid, then turning the bread when the underside is brown, adding a bit more fat if need be, and then letting the second side brown, uncovered. Alternatively, you could simply brush your bread lightly with bacon fat and toast in a skillet.

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Different ways to toast –bread toasted in bacon grease?

A New Spin on Salad Spinners

KitchenAid has good-looking new salad (and fruit) spinner. The spinner body is divided up with inserts, so you can spin lots of different stuff at the same time. It’s plunger operated, and the plunger locks down for storage. It holds 6 quarts, and makes a nice bowl, too.

OXO is the perennial favorite salad spinner. Almost everyone loves their basic large spinners. If space is a consideration, they have a mini-spinner that works well for smaller portions, and for drying herbs.

Tips for spinning your salad: to get most of the water spun out of the contents, Malik says to get it spinning fast, and then stop it, and then repeat a few times. Spinning and stopping shifts the greens around, and gets rid of more water. cheryl h suggests emptying the water from the bowl midway through the process, tossing the greens to reposition them, and spinning once more. She says this gets every bit of water off the greens.

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Oxo Salad Spinner or Herb Spinner

Heated Plates in a Jiffy

Need warm plates for dinner? There’s no need to heat up the oven. The easiest way to warm up plates is with the microwave. StevieBCanyon puts a teaspoon of water in a plate and zaps for 60 seconds. A swipe with a paper towel dries it. This would work great, too, for serving bowls.

Board Links
Why does some restaurant food come out/stay hotter than my home cooking? Technique? Pans?

Holy Grail with Curly Tail

An ambitious chef is setting out to breed the über-pig, according to a post today on the new New York magazine blog Grub Street. Cesare Casella, chef of the madcap-Tuscan restaurant Maremma and experienced steer breeder, is crossing the rare Large Black pig with a Yorkshire-Duroc cross to produce a breed that is at once succulently marbled (thanks to the Large Black blood) and quick-growing (courtesy of the fast-to-fatten Duroc), with a high yield of delicious meat (due to the genes of the x-tra long, ribtastic Yorkshire).

What the Grub Street post doesn’t mention is that crossing these heritage breeds isn’t such a hot idea, because there are very few of each kind in existence these days. Heritage (or heirloom) pigs are pure breeds that have been raised on small-scale farms in the U.S. since being brought over from Europe more than a century ago; in the past 60 or so years they’ve been driven to the edge of extinction by industrial livestock production. Heritage Foods USA, the online sales and marketing arm of Slow Food USA, reports that there are fewer than 200 registered purebred Large Blacks in the States today, which lands the hogs on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s most-endangered list. Today’s crossbred, mass-produced pigs—selected for leanness, high yield, and fast growth, usually at the expense of the animals’ health, and certainly at the expense of deliciousness—are raised and slaughtered at the rate of more than 100 million per year, according to a piece on heritage meats I edited for Plenty magazine last year (November/December 2005). The Bitter Greens Journal also makes a great case that industrial hog farming has ruined North Carolina barbecue.

High yield, fast growth … sound familiar? Casella wants to select for the same qualities, to create a pig that he can whisk from farm to table posthaste—potentially reducing the numbers of an ultrarare breed in the process. All of this is at least a little disconcerting; even more disturbing is this description of the Duroc from the Iowa Purebred Swine Council (which Grub Street links to but does not discuss specifically):

The red breed of hogs known as Duroc is a major contributor to almost every successful hog operation. This breed has long been known for its ability to grow faster on less feed. The Duroc’s ability to display a rapid growth rate, coinciding with efficient conversion of pound of feed to pounds of red meat, is unequaled by any other breed. Through the use of purebred Duroc boars in commercial operations, the producer can maximize the heterosis that is generated by crossbreeding pure genetic lines. Duroc’s skeletal structure, which stands up in all kinds of environments, combined with natural leanness, produce a fast growing, efficient product that is acceptable to the packer and the consumer.

The whole idea of heirloom breeding is to protect these animals from extinction and to create meat that’s much more than just “acceptable” and an “efficient product.” As is happening with organic farming, it seems like industrial principles are creeping into heritage agriculture, too.

Palate Tease

Amuse-bouches from top chefs

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The little freebie brought to you before the start of a meal at a great restaurant, the amuse-bouche is a vehicle for pro cooks to get creative. Our slideshow documents recent amuses from some of our favorite restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. Find out what inspired some of them by listening to our podcast.

Have you got favorite amuse-bouche snapshots of your own? Send them to userphotos@chow.com, and we’ll add them to the mix.

Batali, High and Low

Batali, High and Low

Mario Batali's new cookbook, "Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style," targets a different audience altogether. READ MORE

Bouncing the Brisket

L’Shana Tova, everyone. Will you be preparing Sephardic or Ashkenazic treats for your New Year celebration this weekend? Forward-thinking foodies have been moving away from heavy Northern European Ashkenazic dishes and gravitating to the Sephardic foods of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Africa for a while, and the week’s newspaper food coverage seems to back this up. Is it all Joyce Goldstein’s fault?

I’m all for replacing gut-bombing brisket with lighter fare (requires registration) like roasted fish and lentils. And eggplant is welcome to elbow its way onto the holiday table. Heck, going Sephardic certainly makes for an easier dinner for vegetarians.

But whatever you do, don’t take away my honey cake.

Gastropubs: Hot or Not?

While Americans are going gaga for gastropubs, back in the UK (where the eateries originated) some Britons are tiring of the concept.

The gastropub phenomenon first emerged in early-1990s London with restaurateurs pairing contemporary cuisine—rather than traditional pub grub —with rustic tavern decor. The movement finally crossed the Atlantic in 2004 with the opening of New York’s first installment of the new idiom, The Spotted Pig, which has been squeezing in huge crowds of eager diners since it first opened. A new crop of similar restaurants quickly followed, and joining the fray soon is the unfortunately named Spotted Dick. The gastropub juggernaut made its way further west this past spring with Ford’s Filling Station, L.A.’s first official gastropub.

While the trend can’t be stopped in the States, Laura Barton writes in The Guardian of her fatigue with London’s gastropubs, which she finds have become a culinary cliché:

Gastropub. Three syllables that instill an oily dread into my heart. It is not the word itself, of course, more the fact that, were there such a thing as a linguistic gastropub menu, it would probably find itself described as a duo of pub and gastronomy served on a bed of wild roquette with a plum confit and red wine reduction.

And what does Barton think of the news that superchef Gordon Ramsay plans to open a chain of gastropubs in the UK?

More gastropubs? This seems to me a bleak, bleak future, for as the years have rolled by I have rather had my fill of herbed polenta and parmesan shavings, and after considerable rumination I have reached this conclusion: I loathe gastropubs and all who sail in them.

Pancakes and Lobster Omelettes on Long Island

Breakfast hounds have fallen hard for the pancakes at Maureen’s Kitchen in Smithtown. CornflakeGirl is hooked on the ones with orange and blueberry but says banana-nut, orange-chocolate chip, and other combinations also rock. Also recommended: uncommon breakfast choices like an excellent lobster-chive omelette.

In Northport, Letseat likes breakfast at Sweet Mama’s but recommends its omelettes and oatmeal over its pancakes and French toast, which are nothing special.

Maureen’s Kitchen [Suffolk County]
1 Larson Ave., at Hallock Ave., Smithtown, NY
631-360-9227
Map

Sweet Mama’s [Suffolk County]
9 Alsace Pl., between Fort Salonga Rd. and Wheeler Pl., Northport, NY
631-757-2095
Locater

Board Links
Melville, LI & environs
Weekend in Commack, LI (beaching at Robert Moses)

Princess Cake at Schubert’s

The princess cake at Schubert’s Bakery is a real winner, with layers of fluffy white Genoise cake, raspberry jam, and a smooth custard that isn’t excessively sweet, all covered in tender, green-tinted marzipan. Pei says it’s one of the best in the city. Schubert’s is a great value–places with just slightly better cakes will easily cost twice as much. Guys will love that princess cakes too–just tell them it’s a Manly Green Avenger cake.

Schubert’s Bakery [Richmond]
521 Clement St., San Francisco
415-752-1580
Locater

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Schubert’s Bakery on Clement–Specific Cake Recs