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

Counter Burger

Hounds are digging the newly opened Palo Alto branch of Counter Burger, an upscale, high-quality burger joint known for its wide variety of burger topping options. The toppings range from the traditional to the eyebrow-raising (dried cranberries, horseradish cheddar, and peanut sauce, anyone?). The beef is excellent and burgers are cooked medium, with lovely deep pink in the middle, says katya, who likes her burger loaded with lettuce, green chiles, tomatoes, dill pickle chips, and sweet onion marmalade. Chipotle orders cheddar, grilled onion, roasted chile, baby greens, and garlic aioli on a honey wheat bun. The bun tends to get gradually soaked with burger juice, but that’s hardly a drawback. doc finds the straight-up burger with nothing but Bermuda red onions decent and solid. And ChewChew likes the beef burger on a toasted bun with nutty melted gruyere, grilled onions, bacon cooked just shy of crispy, and garlicky aioli. Everything tastes fresh and robust. Overall, it’s a great burger, but the fries are greeted with a resounding “meh”–even the sweet potato fries are just okay. Burgers (there are turkey and veggie as well as beef) and soft drinks for two will run you about $25.

Counter Burger [Peninsula]
369 California Avenue, Palo Alto
650-321-3900
Map

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Review–Counter Burger Palo Alto
The Counter (burgers, Palo Alto)

Chinese Vegetarian Tip-Off

Chinese vegetarian food lovers can rejoice. From the mobs of hungry veg lovers at Happy Veggie Garden, this place is all that. The menu leans toward fake meats, rounded out by a good selection of tofu, vegetables, and noodle dishes. Unlike other local versions of crispy bean curd, Happy’s has a filling of fruit and sunflower seeds; it’s very good, says Chandavkl.

Happy Veggie Garden [Inland of LA]
in 99 Ranch Market mall
1015 S. Nogales St. Ste. 127A, Colima, Rowland Heights
626-810-2298
Map

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Fantastic New Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant

East L.A. Classics

The original La Serenata definitely has street cred, being right across the street from Mariachi Plaza in East L.A., but also gourmet cachet as one of the few, and probably the oldest, upscale Mexican restaurants in town. If you’re afraid of East L.A., get over it, advises Das Ubergeek–this place is worth it. The Westside branches are but poor imitations.

Seafood is their specialty, and the specials are a good bet–they’re always perfectly cooked. Halibut in salsa de huitlacoche (corn fungus, a funky delicacy) has a slow burn; it’s also got lots of huitlacoche and gobs of deliciousness. Salmon in salsa de molcajete is really, really spicy, and really, really good. The dishes all come with sides of yellow rice, handmade corn tortillas, and outrageously tasty beans cooked with a ton of the zingy Mexican herb epazote.

For dessert, skip the leaden flourless chocolate cake and head straight for the flan. It’s creamy and impossibly rich, with a caramel that’s practically dulce de leche. When they have it, coconut flan is divine.

Serenata only has a beer and wine license, so margaritas are made with wine/soju rather than tequila, and are rather too sweet. The wine list has some cheap and very good wines from L.A. Cetto in Mexico, and nothing over $45.

Service is fantastic, excited about the food, and ready to lend guidance on pairing fish with sauce.

Dinner for six, with drinks, shared desserts, and no appetizers, is about $260 with tax and tip–about $43 per person. Note that with the construction of the Gold Line, getting there can be tricky these days. Call the restaurant for directions.

Nearby at El Tepeyac, a chicken Hollenbeck burrito is a colossal thing of beauty–bursting with stewed white meat, peppers, rice, beans and a bit of guacamole, says David Kahn. Chicken taquitos are also huge and fresh, and not at all greasy. A combo plate with two taquitos comes with a pile of guacamole, rice, beans and salad. The enchiladas rancheras are also delish, says godvls, who prefers them to the burritos.

Unfortunately, this place is so popular that some resort to getting their burrito fix at 9 or 10 in the morning to avoid the lunchtime crowd. LAPD employees get preferred treatment, but the rest of us might need to call in advance. If you can get a seat, the vibe is very homey. You can also eat outside, where there usually isn’t a wait, says monku.

There’s another El Tepeyac in Monterey Park, run by the son of the original’s owners. It’s more comfortable than the East L.A. restaurant, and the food is just as good, but without that nostalgic atmosphere.

Half a block away is Ciro’s, another East L.A. institution–in fact, folks here disdain El Tepeyac as L.A. Mexican food. Everyone raves about the chunky avocado salsa and the flautas at Ciro’s. Milanesa and steak picado are also good.

La Serenata di Garibaldi [East LA-ish]
1842 E. 1st St., Los Angeles
323-265-2887
Locater

El Tepeyac [East LA-ish]
812 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles
323-267-8668
Locater

El Tepeyac Cafe [San Gabriel Valley]
1965 Potrero Grande Dr. # A, Monterey Park
626-573-4607
Locater

Ciro’s Cafe [East LA-ish]
705 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles
323-267-8637
Locater

Board Links
Review: La Serenata di Garibaldi, Boyle Heights
El Tepeyac Cafe

Universal Nonstick Silicone Lids

The Universal Nonstick Silicone Lid deserves its impressive sounding name; it’s really nifty! These lids are heat proof up to 675F, and can serve as a trivet for hot pots and plates. They can seal themselves to pots, pans, or bowls–even some irregularly shaped containers, so long as the lid is large enough. For a good seal, the lip of the container should be smooth.

You can use it as a splatter guard, too; just place it upside-down on the container. Use it the same way in the microwave. *Pickawicca” explains that the lid is ridged on top, so when you invert it, the ridges provide venting.

You can order them from Sur la Table.

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Silicone Easy Lid

Sliders 101

White Castle not only created a new term for burgers; they created a new burger concept. We’re talking here about sliders, White Castle’s tiny burgers. You’ll have to adjust your aesthetic when approaching your slider; this is no juicy, thick burger. White Castle’s version involves a thin, well-pressed patty, sprinkled with specks of onion.

They’re easily managed, and you can enjoy a variety, says Porkchop Express, get bacon and cheese on one, and lettuce and tomato on another. They’re just a few bites each, leaving room for fries and a milkshake.

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Sliders

Butterscotch Chip Cookies

For a straight-up butterscotch chip cookie, you can use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and substitute butterscotch chips (or mix chocolate and butterscotch, if you like). bolletje uses the standard Toll House cookie recipe in this way, and suggests using all brown sugar if you really want to emphasize the butterscotch flavor.

pamd shares her favorite recipe for oatmeal butterscotch chip cookies:

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 2/3 cups butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the butter and both sugars together. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until blended. Stir in the oats and the butterscotch chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.

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Butterscotch chip cookie recipe

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.

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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.