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

“Iron Chef” Goes Cheesy

As a trial run, to make sure the kitchen stadium was ready for battle, the Food Network staff recently held a practice Iron Chef cookoff. The secret ingredient: Cheez Whiz!

As reported on the Food Network blog, two teams of staff chefs got cooking with this odd, bright-orange, cheeselike substance. But the menus they prepared are impressive:

Team 1:

Cheez Whiz ravioli in brodo (broth)

Wild mushroom panini with truffled cheese sauce

Cheese popover with caramelized red onions

Cheese risotto with buttery beef and micro-greens

Cheese-ribbon ice cream with brown-sugar fig sauce

Team 2:

Mini bacon–quail egg and cheese sandwich with coffee

Cheez Whiz soufflé with arugula, apple, and beet salad

Applewood smoked bacon truffled mac and cheese

Jalapeno cheesesteak with chipotle cheese fries

Cheez Whiz cheesecake

There’s no report on which team won this battle, but my money is on Team 2 and their applewood smoked bacon truffled mac and cheese. If you forget about the use of fluorescent pseudocheese, that actually sounds pretty good. Cheez Whiz cheesecake, however, I don’t even want to think about.

Flash-Frozen Hot Chocolate

Flash-Frozen Hot Chocolate

The Anti-Griddle allows you to instantly freeze almost anything, while keeping the center still gooey. READ MORE

Late Night at Momofuku: From Wraps to Little Plates

Momofuku Ssam Bar, trendy Korean-inspired wrap counter by day, recasts itself as a trendy small-plates hangout late at night. Early reports say one of the best bites is the three-terrine sandwich–ham, head cheese, and chicken liver pate on ciabatta, its meaty richness balanced by a lively banh mi-style vegetable slaw.

nycfoodie went with a big group–which seems to be the way to go–and loved just about everything on the short, beer- and sake-friendly menu: oysters raw and fried, spicy honeycomb tripe, Brussels sprouts with bacon, steamed pork-belly buns, and wax bean salad (with pickled beets, candied peanuts, purslane). Some complain about prices–e.g., $3 an oyster or $9 for an eighth of a wheel of Burns Ardrahan cheese.

The late-night menu is served 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Momofuku Ssam Bar [East Village]
207 2nd Ave., at E. 13th St., Manhattan

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late night dining at momofuku ssam?

Polenta Revelation

The Restaurant Pearl’s soft polenta with sauteed seasonal vegetables and roasted tomato sauce is a wonderful thing of vegetable beauty, says Ruby Louise. It’s a shallow bowl of soft, creamy polenta, rich with cheese and butter, topped with savory roasted tomato sauce and perfectly saut

All Mollie Stone’s Are Not Created Equal

All Mollie Stone’s markets are not the same, and the one in Greenbrae is exceptional, says rworange. They carry thirty types of butter and every type of yogurt you’ve ever seen, and some you haven’t. They also have a fantastic selection of Acme fish–including a smooth, luxurious-tasting whitefish salad. “It is the first time anywhere I’ve seen a brand name attached to a whitefish,” says rworange. They also have a great selection of Boar’s Head meats, not to mention Saag’s natural casing sausages and sausages from DiBrova. And the wine and liquor aisle is nothing short of astounding.

Mollie Stone’s [Marin County]
270 Bon Air Shopping Center, Greenbrae

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Greenbrae has a GREAT Mollie Stone which has wonderful Acme whitefish salad
All Mollie Stone’s are not the same … what’s MollieLand like for you?

Sad News for New York Peruvian Lovers; and Other Changes

Queens Chowhounds are bereft over recent changes at La Pollada de Laura, once a destination for ceviches, roast chicken, and other excellent Peruvian chow. It’s still there, but with new ownership and a pared-down menu that ditches the old Peruvian favorites in favor of burgers, cheese fries, pancakes, and “Feed Your Family” combos. JMF says the former owner had spoken in a vague way about moving or shifting his focus to catering, bottled sauces, and other food businesses. So stay tuned.

In Astoria, El Manara has also gone under. Fans miss this Middle Eastern grocery with its lineup of prepared foods including falafel, babaganoush, and sausage sandwiches. “What a tragedy,” mourns E Eto, for whom this was the go-to spot for white garlic sauce.

In happier news, Park Slope’s Kinara, praised for delicious, fresh-tasting Indian food made to order, has branched out and opened a second restaurant in Fort Greene.

And Little Dishes in the South Slope has rechristened itself Little D Eatery after losing a legal tussle over the original name. Its menu of meze-inspired small plates like salads, cheeses, cured meats, and salt cod fritters–plus such entrees as grilled fish and braised lamb shank–remains unchanged.

La Pollada de Laura [East Elmhurst]
102-03 Northern Blvd., at 102nd St., East Elmhurst, Queens

El Manara [Astoria]
25-95 Steinway St., between 28th and 25th Aves., Astoria, Queens

Kinara Indian Restaurant II [Fort Greene]
368 Myrtle Ave., between Adelphi St. and Clermont Ave., Brooklyn

Kinara Indian Restaurant [Park Slope]
473 5th Ave., between 10th and 11th Sts., Brooklyn

Little D Eatery [Park Slope]
formerly Little Dishes
434 7th Ave., between 14th and 15th Sts., Brooklyn

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El Manara…..gone
Little Dishes
La Pollada de Laura No More :(
A branch of Kinara just opened on Myrtle Ave

Go for the Golden: Burmese Chow

Golden Triangle may be the only outpost of Burmese cooking left in L.A. (reports of Romantic Steakhouse, which closed in Rosemead but has reportedly moved, would be appreciated). So skip the iffy Thai fare on the menu and go all Burmese.

First off, go for the ginger salad or tea leaf salad. Ginger salad is basically a pile of shredded ginger tossed with coconut, garlic, yellow peas, ground peanuts and sesame seeds with lemon sauce. The textures, the crunch and the flavors are amazing, says pleasurepalate. You get a little sweet, a little tart, a little nutty, a little spicy in every single bite. It’s actually more like Indian chaat than the Western idea of a salad.

But the tea leaf salad (lap pad dok) is all that and more, contends Moomin. It literally has the same ingredients, plus tea leaves–fermented until they lose their tannic intensity, and instead impart a winey pickled flavor to the salad. You can get both salads as a combo for comparison.

The tofu salad is also out of this world, says pleasurepalate. Yeah, tofu. This stuff is made in-house, creamy and silky, with tons of other textures like crisp cabbage and deep-fried onions.

One of the new menu items seems like an insane idea but actually comes together beautifully. Vegetarian paratha sandwich is listed only on the menus taped to the tables. It’s two pieces of ghee-drenched Burmese paratha, drenched with sweet Thai peanut sauce and stuffed with cucumber, lettuce and tomato. “This one savory, sweet, spicy item is probably going to haunt me until they put me cold and stiff into the ground,” says Moomin. “It’s far from traditional, but it’s the ideal comfort food.”

Also check out the Burmese shrimp, sauteed with tomatoes and onions in a spicy sauce. Lots of flavor layers in this dish, finishing with a good kick.

For dessert, shue gi mok is a cakelike concoction flavored with coconut milk and raisins. It’s a lot like Filipino cassava cake, but softer.

Golden Triangle Restaurant [East LA-ish]
7011 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier

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Fermented Tea Leaf Salad at Golden Triangle (long, with a bit of linguistic and historical interest)
“Burmese Feast” at Golden Triangle (review with pics)

Pineapple Drink with a Punch

Perhaps you read about tepache, the Mexican fermented pineapple drink (from prehispanic times!), in the October issue of Saveur. If not, well…it’s a fermented pineapple drink. With brown sugar. And sometimes beer, if you don’t really have patience for all that fermentation business.

And Huaraches Azteca, among their delicious aguas frescas, sometimes has this tipple of the ancients. It tastes, says sbudick, like… fermented pineapple. Odd, but kinda good. While you’re there, check out what may be the best antojitos in Los Angeles.

Note that while you don’t exactly have to have a beer and wine license to serve this stuff, you don’t want to feed it to the kiddies, either.

You can also sometimes find tepache sold by roving vendors in the northeast Valley, says Das Ubergeek.

Huaraches Aztecas Restaurant [Highland Park]
5225 York Blvd., Los Angeles
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Tepache agua fresca (fermented pineapple) at Huaraches Azteca

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.