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

Parchment vs. Silpat in the Cookie-Baking Showdown

Many chowhounds love Silpat silicone sheet pan liners because baked goods release effortlessly from them. But some prefer using parchment paper when baking cookies, because it allows the cookies to bake up with crisper, browner bottoms than Silpat mats. Certain cookie recipes tend to spread more if baked on Silpat, as well, says JoanN. And virtualfrolic notes that if you use air-insulated cookie sheets, parchment results in more even baking. Some hounds use parchment for crispy cookie recipes or ones that need good browning, and Silpat for chewy cookies or things they worry about burning.

Here are some ways to get maximum use from your parchment paper when baking cookies: You can usually reuse the same sheets through a batch of cookies, or up to three oven cycles each, unless they get too brittle to use. If there is oily residue left from the previous panful, just blot it up with a paper towel.

Allstonian uses parchment to speed the whole cookie-baking process. While two pans of cookies are in the oven, she sets up the next pans’ worth on sheets of parchment on the counter; when the hot cookies come out of the oven, she slides the parchment, cookies and all, from the pans to a cooling rack until they can be moved, and moves the parchment with oven-ready cookies onto the pans and straight into the oven.

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Is there a noticeable difference between silpat and parchment for baking cookies?

Layers of Meaning

For too long, the dainty cupcake has had a stranglehold on our culinary imagination. It’s cupcake this, cupcake that. But there’s good news on the horizon for those whose cravings are aimed at bigger things.

The Los Angeles Times has devoted its food section to the return of the layer cake. And not a moment too soon. With components for both those who adore the sights and scents of a bakery (registration required) and those who prefer to whomp up their own treats, it’s a dreamy food section for the lover of all that is chiffon, devil’s food, or tres leches.

The best part? It’s the slide show, of course. Take a few moments from your busy day to ogle, but remember, drool can wreak havoc on your keyboard.

The Hot Toddy: A Warm Libation for Cool Nights

A hot toddy is a warm drink made from hot water, sweetener, spirits, and, usually, lemon. Most basic recipes include honey, whiskey, and lemon juice. But brandy and rum are also popular alternatives; some toddies are sweetened with sugar; and some add a cinnamon stick as stirrer.

To make a basic hot toddy, place a shot of whiskey, brandy, or rum in a mug, add a spoonful of honey or sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice or a lemon slice, and fill with hot water, adjusting proportions to taste.

tdo ca says many Irish pubs serve a variation called Hot Whiskey: stud a lemon slice with cloves; muddle a teaspoon of sugar (or to taste) into a shot of whiskey in a glass and add add the lemon slice; fill glass with hot water and stir.

Hot toddies have a restorative reputation, and many generations have sworn by them for relief of sore throats and other cold symptoms “They cure what ails ya!” proclaims soozycue520. Some make curative hot toddies with brewed tea in place of plain hot water.

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What is a Hot Toddy? How is it made? [moved from Boston board]

Gotta Get Goetta

Goetta is a breakfast sausage, well known to Cincinnatians. It’s very similar to scrapple, but goetta is made with steel cut oats instead of cornmeal. The oats give it a definite heartiness. It’s sliced from a roll, and served fried up alongside eggs.

Goetta doesn’t stray far from Cincinnati, but you can order the real deal here.

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Morningstar Meatless Products

Whether or not you avoid meat, Morningstar makes just plain good tasting products. The veggie dogs have a casing-like covering like regular hot dogs. Scott123 calls them the best veggie dog on the market. The corn dogs are a big favorite and only 150 calories. Baking them is recommended; follow the directions exactly to avoid scorching. They come in mini-size, with no stick, and regular size, with stick. Be careful not to burn the stick.

Other excellent products are the chicken patties, delightfully spicy chicken wings, chicken nuggets, and steak strips.

The products, and a store locator.

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Morningstar corn dogs….yay or nay?

“Top Chef” Check-In

It will come as no surprise to TV-heads and -haters alike that the season-two premiere of Bravo’s Top Chef last night generated plenty of chatter in blogland. If you haven’t had time to waste scouring Technorati for mentions of the show, or if (horror of horrors) you missed it, here’s a look at what bloggers and commenters are saying (and some good catch-up links).

Let’s start at the most superficial level: hotness-focused gushing. Harold, the show’s winner from last season, who now has his own behind-the-scenes blog, comes back to guest-judge the first episode, and the opportunity for discussing his dishiness is not lost on these folks.

This leads directly into the predictions. The early favorite to win is adorable Ilan, a 24-year-old line cook at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono in NYC. In addition to cuteness points, he’s also garnering Harold comparisons in terms of his position at this point in the season. Then again, maybe handsome Sam is really the new Harold, as Television Without Pity predicts. On the villain side, we’re seeing the inevitable pronouncements that Marcel is the next Stephen. The comparison is somewhat apt, as both young men seem to share the same undisguised arrogance and ridiculous coiffure. But to watch Marcel—even more of a caricature than wine-snob Stephen was last season—it’s impossible not to think that the self-styled molecular gastronomist is courting precisely that comparison, or that he’s studied last season’s cast carefully in an attempt to maximize his dramatic appeal.

Bloggers also question whether the new host, Padma Lakshmi, really has the food-world chops to cut it in this job. But Tom Colicchio reassures us (in a slightly odd way) on his judge’s blog that she’s up to the task:

Padma brings an international perspective to the show and a great mix of East and West—she grew up in India and spent years in Italy. She has traveled the world as a cookbook author, actress and television host. She swears she can make a ten course low-fat Indian dinner (sign me up). And while most people know her as a supermodel, let me tell you … this is one model that eats.

Padma’s own blog paints a slightly less intrepid figure, as she discusses her fear of the frogs’ legs and liver in the first elimination challenge; ultimately she soldiered on, though. “I had to taste everything, and I did,” she writes. “It was my job.”

No one seems to have pointed out a couple of particularly interesting things about this cast: For one, the possible conflict of interest in the fact that Ilan is a former cook at Craft, judge Tom Colicchio’s NYC restaurant. And for another, the unusual background of Suyai, the first contestant to be eliminated (who was interviewed by our lovely editor Joyce in this great podcast package). In the show there’s only the briefest mention of the fact that she suffered from bulimia for many years and has used cooking and foodism as part of her road to recovery. I wish we’d heard more about her story, which sounds like it was at once more dramatic, more human, and more genuinely food-focused than a lot of the silly drama it looks like this season has in store. But of course, silly or not, I must watch.

Fishy Findings

I already break out in a cold sweat at the fish counter, so I didn’t exactly need Wednesday’s
New York Times article (registration required) about two recent studies that examine the pros and cons of eating seafood. The studies’ findings diverge so wildly that I’m even stupider about the issue than before I began reading.

The more controversial of the two studies, by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that seafood consumption reduces the risk of fatal heart problems by a whopping 36 percent and decreases the overall likelihood of death by 17 percent. Moreover, the Harvard researchers concluded that the benefits of eating omega-3-rich fish are so great that people should stop worrying about the risks posed by contaminants (like PCBs and dioxin) that routinely show up in our seafood supply:

Calling those risks ‘greatly exaggerated,’ Dr. Darius Mozaffarian, one of the two [Harvard] authors, said, ‘Seafood is likely the single most important food one can consume for good health.’

Wow. The second study, released on the same day by the Institute of Medicine, was less fish-happy: It concluded that seafood consumption “may” reduce the risk of heart disease, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to make any stronger claims. Previous research has indicated that omega-3 fatty acids from fish also “may” help control behavior problems and mood disorders in adults (though maybe not in kids—and don’t go stockpiling cod liver oil just yet, as there probably aren’t enough fish in the sea to sustain large-scale omega-3 demand).

Both the Harvard and IOM studies have come under fire for failing to address the huge sturgeon in the room: mercury contamination in fish. “Once again pregnant women are being told it’s O.K. to eat tuna,” Jane Houlihan, the research director of the Environmental Working Group, told Marian Burros, author of the New York Times article. “The reality is, 90 percent of women would exceed the government’s level for a safe dose of mercury if they ate six ounces of albacore tuna every week as the F.D.A., E.P.A and now I.O.M. recommend,” she said. For kids, mercury levels could be even worse under those guidelines, writes this blogger, who focuses on the link between mercury exposure and autism.

Feeling horrible yet? Why not just go have a tuna sandwich—eating fish has been found to ease depression!

Ctrl-Alt … Chicken?

Taking a break from the Rachael-Ray snarking and Top Chef speculation that occupy most of the folks who bother to post on Chowhound’s Food Media board, Kater seeks fellow fans of her husband’s favorite new cooking show, the low-budget, Web-only videocast Ctrl-Alt-Chicken. Writing of the show’s two stars, Alex Albrecht and Heather Stewart, Kater claims, rightly, “They make that How To Boil Water guy look like Julia Child!”

Alex and Heather (the smart kids in the office, where Heather greatly resembles a younger Nigella, except for the knowing-how-to-cook part) are kind of clueless. Wait, make that very clueless, but snappy with the non sequiturs and one-liners, and completely unfazed by their (frequent) culinary disasters. The show has even inspired an “unofficial” Brit fan site/blog.

But it’s not all bumbling around their tiny suburban-kitchen set; the program also includes visits to “the lab” (Alex and Heather again, wearing lab coats and filmed in old-horror-movie black and white), where Alex uses a Mel-Brooks-in-a-Muppet-movie German accent to speculate on the origins of whatever dish they’re planning to butcher, er, cook.

Writes Kater,

I can’t really think of anyone who might learn from them because ctrl-alt-chicken is more of a cautionary tale. Now I do think that a complete novice might be inspired by their intrepid approach to cooking, and it could get non cooks into the kitchen. But what they do there will probably be disastrous …

Something Smells Like Synergy

Those of us who have been feverishly following Project Runway to its bitter, Jeffrey-filled end can’t help but notice how Bravo is promoting the hell out of Top Chef’s upcoming season. In fact, in order not to risk losing all the eyeballs that Tim Gunn and his stitching bitches bring in, Bravo intends to air Top Chef second season premiere episode right after Project Runway’s third season finale.

That’s just good TV-sense, but in another stroke of delicious synergy, The Powers That Be (TPTB) at Bravo commissioned second-season designer, Nick Verreos, to design an apron for Top Chef. Nick told the Bravo blogs, “I wanted to design a unique apron that wasn’t your mother’s old apron, so no silly sayings like ‘Blame the Cook,’ or cheesy food graphics like a turkey or fruit. I wanted it to be the hip apron. The design is understated and chic.”

The apron says “CHOP!” in big, black letters over colorful, stylized chef’s knives. It’s not immediately clear if the cheftestants themselves will be wearing the aprons, but the Verreos aprons will be available for purchase from Bravo’s online store on October 18th, the same day as the Top Chef premiere.

Can You Microwave a Tea Bag That Has a Staple in It?

Can You Microwave a Tea Bag That Has a Staple in It?

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