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

A Case of Pear Hyperbole

Pity the poor bastards who have to write the Harry & David holiday catalog every year. How many different ways can there possibly be to describe a basket containing some combination of pumpkin spice cake, Chocolate Moose Munch popcorn, lemon shortbread cookies, and buttery toffees?

This year, the copywriters crapped out on page 2. Describing the catalog’s signature Royal
Riviera Pears
, the copy claims that

... their timeless quality can help make the connections and strengthen the emotions you value most.

But … but what if you’re an international cocaine trafficker and the connection you value most is Bogota to Miami?

Or if you’re a demon lord, and your primary emotion is pure satanic hatred?

Quick, somebody—tell Harry! Or possibly David!

Pears this powerful shouldn’t exist!

Nigella Opens Wide

Finally, finally, FINALLY! After a few years being shunted to the Style Network for some unfathomable reason, sexy Brit cheftress Nigella “Food Orgasm” Lawson is coming on, erm, to the Food Network.

The stunningly beautiful and realistically curvaceous brunette has long been a popular food icon both in the United Kingdom and in the United States (I think she takes in even more territory than that) with four cookbooks and three cooking shows under her belt. At long last the Food Network has managed to strike a deal (or come to their sluggish senses) and will be carrying the new show, Nigella Feasts, in the fall. Described by The Palm Beach Post as a “[h]ottie food expert” who makes “cuisine that will blow away our taste buds,” Nigella’s displaying her media savvy as well by releasing her newest cookbook at the same time her show premieres. This could mean only one thing: Hold on to your pesto, Giada—there’s a new fooductress in town.

Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks there could be a cleavage challenge between Nigella and Giada, the current reigning food porn queen on the Food Network. The blog Food TV and Me, comments, “She also looks like she actually eats what she cooks. With Giada, I sometimes feel that the only bites of the food she actually eats are the ones that we see on camera.” Blog Food Network Addict adds that there’s been some “chitter chatter on these blogs about her competing with [Giada De Laurentiis]. Is this going to be a competition for best cook, best show, or best cleavage?”

I think a lot of people will be tuning in specifically to settle that décolletage debate and hoping for a banana deep throat-off.

Nigella Feasts premieres on the Food Network on October 1st.

How to Seat Your Dinner Guests

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Food Network: The Blog

Is it all glamour, glitz, casual chats with Alton Brown, and free-flowing baskets of brioche backstage at the Food Network? According to the channel’s new blog, not so much. Written by the people who make the magic happen—the cooks, the stylists, the culinary purchasing managers—the new blog instead gives a surprisingly workmanlike view of what goes on behind the camera’s gaze.

Don’t expect anyone to dish the dirt on what Rachael, Emeril, or Bobby is really like to work with. Behind the Scenes is extremely tame, but interesting nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered where all the leftover food goes, or how many loaf pans it takes to shoot a mushroom loaf dish, or where they go to find the “secret ingredient” on Iron Chef, you can find your answers here.

The best thing about the blog is that it’s written by a group, so you get insight into the different roles involved; the worst thing is that it’s pretty lightweight—the entries are all two to three paragraphs long and never delve deeply into any topic. As with many corporate blogs, it’s post and run: Questions in the comments are never answered, and there is no follow-up.

But no doubt the legions of Food Network fans will be delighted at this new addition. “I watch Food Network like my husband watches the golf channel,” one avid viewer confesses in her comments. Well, better brioche than bogeys, I suppose.

Fly Me to the Moon

The “Food Miles” theory of sustainability just seems to make intuitive sense. The farther your food has to travel to get to your table, the more energy is consumed. According to a UK Guardian article that listed the foods that travel farthest to get to Great Britain:

Lettuce: From Spain, a journey of 958 miles. It takes 127 calories of energy (in the form of aviation fuel) to import one calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic, according the research group Sustain, yet we import lettuce out of season from California or from southern Europe.


Food producers in New Zealand, which sends a third of its produce halfway around the world to the EU, would like to differ. And now they have a study to prove it. Food blog Slashfood today links to news of a New Zealand study that finds that the number of miles a food had traveled was not a reliable indicator of its environmental impact. Reasons to be skeptical: While the study wasn’t actually done by the New Zealand Agricultural and Trade ministries, they are enthusiastically endorsing it. “The concept of food miles is both flawed and too often promoted by those motivated by self-serving objectives rather than genuine environmental concerns,” New Zealand agriculture minister Jim Anderton said. “It is being used in Europe by self-interested parties trying to justify protectionism in another guise.”

Lethal Leaves

An E. coli outbreak traced to prewashed, bagged spinach has caused federal health officials to recommend that consumers stay away from the bagged greens.

The New York Times reports that while the exact source of the outbreak cannot be identified, the deadly bacteria has killed 1 person and infected 49 others in eight states.

Although authorities recommend avoiding bagged spinach, they don’t recommend engaging in any leafy profiling. When asked if consumers should avoid bagged salads entirely, Dr. David Acheson of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA said: “At this point, there is nothing to implicate bagged salad.”

Talking Pizza in Poughkeepsie: Solid Square Pie at Aloy’s

Aloy’s, open since 1929, has had a few years to perfect its pizza sauce. It’s long simmered, rich and intense, with a pleasing hint of caramelized onion–terrific atop thin, crisp square pies with mozzarella, grated Parmesan, or both, says NewYorkDave. Another option: pizza Lina, a grandma-esque pie topped with crushed tomato, chunks of garlic, and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. “Their pie is semi-legendary locally and definitely a cut above the slop that usually passes for pizza across most of Dutchess County,” Dave adds.

Other choices on the menu of Italian-American standards: pastas (including daily-changing house-made ravioli), salads and antipasti, hot hero sandwiches, and chicken and veal entrees in parmigiana, marsala and francese treatments, among others.

Aloy’s Italian Restaurant [Dutchess County]
157 Garden St., between Brookside and Parker Aves., Poughkeepsie, NY
845-473-8400
Locater

Board Links
Aloy’s in Poughkeepsie (Pizza/Italian)

What’s Cooking in the Kitchen

The Kitchen nails traditional dishes, like crisp gai lan in garlic sauce and chow fun with a delicious, eggy sauce. But be sure to check out the chef’s more unusual, creative dishes, like duck and fish with peppercorns, says alfairfax. The roasting spices on the duck’s skin, the melting duck fat, the chewy, salty funkiness of the fish, and the prickly, sour spice of the Sichuan peppercorns meld perfectly. It’s not a traditional dish, but perhaps it should be.

The Kitchen [Peninsula]
formerly Seafood Harbor
279 El Camino Real, Millbrae
650-692-9688
Locater

Board Links
Question about The Kitchen, Millbrae

Three Chinese Favorites (and Why Hounds Love Them)

Congee Village is a perennial hound haunt for satisfying Cantonese chow. Pan (who has eaten a wide swath through the menu) and other devotees offer a few reasons:

- Noodles: chow fun with sliced beef and rich black bean sauce; crispy chow mein with beef and Chinese broccoli, or “Chinese vegetables” on the menu (“the answer to all the mediocre beef with broccoli dishes you’ve had elsewhere.”)

- Congees are a good bet, as you’d expect. Recommended accompaniments include fresh squid with ginger sauce, chicken with black mushroom, sliced fish and lettuce, roast duck and meat ball, sliced beef and fish. Avoid boring, under-flavored “Healthy Vegetarian Porridge.” mnk suggests ordering Chinese greens with garlic, then pouring some of the garlic sauce into the congee.

- Chicken: house special chicken, fried and sauced with an addictively good garlic-scallion mixture, is special indeed. Also great: steamed chicken with black mushroom, a many-splendored but harmonious dish that also contains Chinese sausage, lily buds, ginger, scallions and jujubes.

- Vegetables: simple, flavorful winners include Chinese greens with garlic, sauteed lotus root with special bean paste sauce, assorted vegetables Buddhist style (includes ginkgo nuts and bamboo pith), and eggplant and other vegetables with bean curd.

- Lamb chops are made with onions or black bean sauce, both terrific.

- Rice baked in bamboo: two standout flavors are chicken-black mushroom and two kinds of Chinese sausage.

- Seafood: shrimp with fish sauce, crabs with delicate black bean sauce, sweet/spicy/sour “Thai-style” clams, and sea clams and sweet pea pods with XO sauce. The latter dish is “wonderful–one of the best things I’ve had at Congee Village,” marvels Pan.

A few blocks away in Chinatown, Oriental Garden remains a fine, if sometimes overlooked, spot for dim sum. Shu mai (steamed pork dumplings) and cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), to mention just two, are tops. “Wow–that’s all I can say,” raves wingman, who has been making the rounds of Chinatown’s yum cha contenders. He says the relatively small Oriental Garden beats Golden Bridge and Jing Fong in quality and Golden Unicorn and Dim Sum Go Go in selection. Others praise the user-friendly illustrated menu and accommodating service, not so common at Chinatown’s larger dim sum halls.

Two blocks west, outside the orbit of many Chinatown diners, Chanoodle continues to serve houndworthy Cantonese. “Easy to forget about this place,” notes Chandavkl, but it’s worth remembering for dishes like its flounder and tofu casserole, a chef’s special. Deb Van D is a fan of its crisp-fried soft shell crabs. Past records have singled out salt-baked squid, powerfully flavored with fresh chiles, raw shallots, and fried garlic.

Congee Village [Lower East Side]
100 Allen St., between Broome and Delancey, Manhattan
212-941-1818
Locater

Oriental Garden Restaurant [Chinatown]
14 Elizabeth St., between Canal and Bayard Sts., Manhattan
212-619-0085
Locater

Chanoodle [Chinatown]
79 Mulberry St., between Bayard and Canal Sts., Manhattan
212-349-1495
Locater

Board Links
Boston Hound Loved Congee Village
Chanoodle…any good?
Congee Village
Oriental Garden Dim Sum!

Where the Coctele Glass Runneth Over

After months of searching for a kick-ass Mexican seafood cocktail, Ollie reports finding the best campechana outside Mexico yet. At El Rinconcito, $9.50 gets you a cocktail glass brimming with seafood, tomatoes, diced cucumber, onions, and cilantro in a clamato broth.

El Rinconcito Del Mar [East LA-ish]
2908 E. 1st St., Los Angeles
323-269-8723
Locater

Board Links
Craving a Great Seafood Cocktail/Campechana!