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

Making Lean Beef into Juicy Burgers

Most agree the juiciest burgers are made from ground chuck with about 20% fat. But if all you’ve got is lean ground beef, some prudent additions can add moisture, and flavor to boot.

Finely minced or grated raw onions will release their juices as the burgers cook, helping to keep the burger interior moist. Finely chopped bell peppers and mushrooms have a similar effect, and all add to the burgers’ flavor. Fresh breadcrumbs soaked in milk and mixed into the ground beef also helps add some juiciness, as can a simple dash of cream.

Akatonbo uses lean ground beef to make a French take on hamburgers called “bitoque” that’s served with a sour cream sauce. Crumble a slice of white bread into small bits, and add enough milk to make it soggy. Add it to 1 lb. ground beef and mix well. Form into patties and dredge each one in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, shaking off extra. Heat 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs oil in a heavy
skillet and add burgers to the pan. Cook, turning once or twice, until done. Remove them to a foil-covered plate. For the sauce, add 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup beef broth to the skillet and stir, scraping all the bits off the bottom. Stir until somewhat thickened, adjusting proportions to taste.Adjust seasoning and pour over the burgers.

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Freezing Peaches

Freezing ripe summer peaches is easy. Start by peeling them: blanch the whole peaches in boiling water for 1 minute, then dip in cold water. The skins will slip off easily. Then pit and slice the peaches.

If you tend to use a good amount at once, fill freezer bags (squeezing out all the air before sealing) or containers with peach slices and freeze. You can defrost the whole package in the refrigerator. Or, for more flexibility, lay the slices out on a sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper and place in the freezer until frozen solid, then pack them in freezer bags. That way you won’t get one gigantic peach lump, and you’ll be able to get as little or as much frozen peach as you need. You can thaw these in the fridge or at room temperature.

For a refreshing frozen peach snack (courtesy of Infomaniac), put a chunk of peach in each section of an ice cube tray and stick a toothpick in it. Fill with citrus soda, freeze, and you’ve got peachy mini-popsicles.

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Mother Vinegar

If you spot some UFO’s (unidentified floating objects) in your bottle of vinegar, or perhaps a little cloudiness, you’ve probably got a vinegar mother on your hands. If you leave it alone, the natural bacteria in the vinegar will continue to work, and the mother will get bigger. Think of the mother as a sourdough starter, but for vinegar. You can use this hunk of gunk to make yourself more vinegar. Or you can just chuck it: strain it out with a coffee filter, and your vinegar will be no worse for wear.

To make more vinegar, follow Sherri’s advice: “Put the mother in a clean jar. Add leftover wine and pretty soon you’ll have wine vinegar developing. I have a jar beside my kitchen sink and religiously add the last inch from my glass. Let it age for a bit and enjoy!” Non Cognomina adds that once the mother has done its work and the wine is pure vinegar, the mother will sink to the bottom of the jar. It’s still alive; you can rescue it and used it to make another batch.

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Unidentified floating objects in vinegar

Own Your Own Bento Box

Laptop Lunches makes American bento boxes. The insulated carrying case holds various containers, eating utensils, and a bottle for a drink. Everything comes out for washing, and it’s all dishwasher safe.

Amazon has a nice variety of bento boxes, including the “lunch jar,” with the food containers layered into a thermos-like jug. See their bento boxes here.

Korin has a lot of different choices, and good prices, too.

Flickr has a fun bento box group.

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How to Cut a Chicken into Eight Serving Pieces

How to Cut a Chicken into Eight Serving Pieces

Associate food editor Regan Burns demonstrates how to joint a chicken. READ MORE

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Diet for a small tumor

The relationship between food and health has been examined ad nauseum. But over on MSNBC.com, writer Mike Stuckey offers a personal take on the connection, with a bi-weekly series inspired by his recent medical diagnosis: prostate cancer.

This week’s installment of “Low Blow” (“A chowhound takes charge of cancer with food”) looks at the total overhaul that Stuckey made to his diet. Among the things he must surrender are: “The mellifluous harmonies of meat, cheese, salt, hydrogenated oil and MSG that make taste buds sing like Oliver Twist in the workhouse. Fried chicken and New York steaks! Gorgonzola and camembert! Pizza! Prime rib! Biscuits and gravy! Nacho cheese chips! And downfall of all downfalls: sausage!”

The story, unfortunately, is better at elaborating what Stuckey is giving up than the joys of organic healthy eating; a convincingly delicious recipe or two would have gone a long way on this front. Regardless, the piece manages to be both sobering and entertaining, a balance that’s hard to strike even under the best of circumstances.

Pâté poopers

Carl Sandburg famously celebrated Chicago as: “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” We can now add another line: Foie Gras-Hater.

The city’s ban on pate made from fattened goose or duck liver goes into effect this week. But the first day of new regulation was marked more by jeering defiance than meek compliance. The New York Times reported Wednesday that saucy restaurateurs staged a veritable foie gras orgy in response to the ban, slapping the stuff on everything from scallops to pizza.

Grant DePorter of Harry Caray’s Restaurant summed up the opposition neatly, saying “We really don’t think the City Council should decide what Chicagoans eat. What’s next? Some other city outlaws brussels sprouts?”

The Chicago Tribune features Mayor Daley zestily calling the ban (requires registration) the city’s “silliest law.” Tribune editors also allowed their writers to use the stomach-churningly cute phrase “foie gras faux pas,” which you may or may not enjoy reading in context.

As any serious chowhound can attest, deciding what not to eat isn’t an easy choice; it’s a complicated ladder of moral decisions. Ban supporters cite the cruelty involved in producing foie gras; ban opponents cite a fear of a nanny state.

Does the fact that the stuff’s delicious count for anything? Anybody?

Aw, shucks

What to do with all those cast-off husks (requires registration) from your freshly shucked bounty of summer corn? Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Regina Schrambling has a culinary solution that redeems corn husks from a rapid route to the garbage can: Save them and use them to encase delicate green corn tamales or, better yet, turn them into a natural wrapper for grilling fish, such as halibut. It’s a technique that resonates with Florence Fabricant’s fish-grilling tips in the New York Times, which include wrapping whole fish in fennel fronds, rosemary branches, or grape leaves to enhance flavor and prevent sticking to the grill.

Save us a drumstick

Got time and a staple gun? The Southern Foodways Alliance wants you. One of New Orleans’ best fried-chicken joints, devastated by Katrina, will be rehabbed this weekend by an all-vol crew that needs a few more nail-pounders.

The SFA will be rebuilding Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a 54-year-old, 30-seat soul food spot honored as an “American Classic” at the 2005 James Beard Awards. More help is sought, since every bit of donated labor puts 89-year-old owner Willie Mae Seaton one step closer to battering up what insatiable NYC foodie Ed Levine calls “the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life.” While the hours are long, the chow’s good: feeding the volunteer teams (and writing plenty of checks for concrete and lumber) is chef John Currance of Oxford, Mississippi’s City Grocery, known for his suave updates of trad Southern dishes.

Ironically, hotshot native son Emeril—who was notoriously absent while the city’s eateries were losing their crawfish and clientele in the aftermath of Katrina last year—is doing New Orleans-themed shows on the Food Network. Anyone suppose he’ll show up at the Scotch House, hammer in hand?