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

Best Oil for Chinese Cooking

Peanut oil is used frequently in high-heat Chinese stir-frying. It has a high smoke point, so it won’t scorch in the intense heat of proper wok cooking, and it imparts a characteristic flavor. If you don’t like peanut oil’s flavor (some find it “too peanutty”) or have a peanut allergy, use an oil with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, like grapeseed or safflower.

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Chinese food cooking question…what kind of oil?

Fried Clams 101

“Big bellies,” “piss clams,” “Ipswich,” “steamers,” “soft shells”–these are all names for the same type of clam, says our resident marine biologist, FlyFish. The species is Mya arenaria; they’re the ones most often used for frying. They’re almost always what you’re eating when you’re eating whole fried clams. Typically, the only other kind of clam that gets fried is surf clam, which gets cut up and sold as “fried clam strips.”

The best soft shell clams are the ones with the biggest bellies. Luckily, says FlyFish, a lot of better claim joints will select only the bigger-bellied clams. (They’re wonderful simply steamed too.)

Here’s a clammy web site.

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Big belly fried clams

Savory Cheesecakes

Savory Secrets cheesecakes make a delicious and different hors d’oeuvre. They arrive frozen, so it’ll take a little longer to prepare them, but it’s basically just heat and serve. Jfields bought two: a red Pepper with feta cheese and pine nuts, and a gorgonzola/pear, and says they were a big hit. There are seven flavors available.

Savory Secrets also makes wonderful crackers to go with the cheesecake.

Order them here.

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Savory Secret Cheesecake

In Which Both Jim’s Credo and Upstate New York Are Unveiled

Many people think Kingston, New York, is a scrubby, scruffy place. Aw, contraire! There’s a charming part of town, with some good things to eat. I was hoping to hit Armadillo Bar & Grill (97 Abeel Street, 845-339-1550), which I’d heard boasts a Jewish owner, a Chinese chef, and a menu stocked with Oaxacan moles, rabbit posole, and awesome hamburgers.

Eartha, my GPS navigating assistant, had trouble getting her bearings, so it was a major ordeal to find the place. And it was, alas, closed (at lunchtime on a Friday?). Down the block, the Bridgewater Bar & Grill (50 Abeel Street, Kingston, New York; 845-340-4272), in a weather-worn antique brick building, looked intriguing. And it, too, was closed for Friday lunch. At this point, my friend Jan and I decided to opt for the touristic pleasure of a “fun” clam bar and margarita joint with outdoor patio perched picturesquely on a creek under a bridge. At Mariner’s Harbor (1 Broadway, Kingston, New York), the crab cakes were unfocused, the mussels slightly funky, and I bet the menu includes a bunch of other must-avoids. But the shrimp scampi was wonderful, and lobster salad was quite good. A local microbrew was available in stout, IPA, and pilsner flavors, and was fresh and creamy-delicious. Plus the staff was super-nice. We basked in the sunshine and sucked down beer and were happy. And happiness counts for a lot.

But we came away with different assessments. Jan averaged the peaks and troughs and offered a firm opinion of “so-so.” But I weight the peaks. A restaurant where everything is horrendous but one item is fantastic is, to me, a great restaurant. Jan deems that overly lenient, but consider your favorite restaurant. Its menu surely includes a few losers, and if one were to hit several on first visit, it might overly tarnish one’s opinion.

The restaurant critic’s fallacy is to underrate places where poor dishes were encountered early and good ones later. One must focus on the deliciousness. In fact, that’s a credo for life itself!

Just up the block, nice, sweetly charming, unfancy cookies and such are available at Alternative Bakery (35 Broadway, Kingston, New York; 845-331-5517). Also, quietly, a full stock of frozen Brazilian hors d’oeuvres.

Walton, New York

I’m such a sucker for rural county fairs. I drive hundreds of miles, seduced by dreams of cherry pie competitions, serious soulful fried chicken, jams, jellies, and all the other things America once prided itself on cooking and eating. I hope to find a window to simpler, better times before modern marketing convinced the masses that highly processed soulless crap is the normal, comfortable thing to eat.

The Delaware County Fair

Not even the Delaware County Fair—a relatively small, remote event at the northern edge of the Catskills mountains in upstate New York—has escaped the marketing juggernaut. Nearly all of the fair’s food offerings came from the same carnie concessions you’d find in Staten Island or any suburban sprawl. Funnel cakes, pizza, bloomin’ onions, fried dough, and the like were all slung by grizzled folks in shiny booths. Feelingless food with no sense of place.

I was exultant, though, at coming upon the Treadwell Franklin Walton United Methodist Church Pancake Griddle.

This was entirely a family operation, and the pancakes were light, airy, tangy, and ever so lively tasting. They were perfect. Of course, breakfast was not what I’d been hoping for at 6 p.m. after a long, hungry drive, but chowhounding means availing oneself of greatness when it arises, regardless of personal preference. So pancakes I had.

My waitress, a bright-eyed young teen, was an electronics whiz who required 15 seconds to decode all the controls on my new camera and have me fluently working the thing as I awaited my flapjacks. I wolfed down a plate of delightful pancakes, alone on a picnic table hours from home, with the stench of cow manure heavy in the air. The cashier, a feisty older woman, smiled and looked me in the eye as she handed me my change. I felt a chowhoundish bittersweetness—wishing I could be Methodist and part of the swell gang giving rise to these superb pancakes, but also a feeling of gratitude for being welcomed into the fold for just a moment. In the end, this brief encounter was worth the ride.

Amid the carnie dreck was one item of interest: potato ribbons. This is apparently a new carnival invention, but it’s spreading fast (I saw numerous booths making it). It looks like a vat of freshly fried potato chips, but as you hoist one chip, all the others hoist along with it, like a greasy tuberous string. Topped with (real) bacon bits, chives, and/or cheese, it’s irresistible—albeit trashy. No soul was applied, but the great thing about fried potatoes is that they are so inherently soulful that they make their own spiritual gravy.

Potato ribbons made a fine accompaniment to the plumes of dust and wafts of carbon monoxide fumes at the fair’s demolition derby.

Naughty noshery

Guides to the best romantic restaurants abound, but where should couples engaged in an illicit affair share a meal before bedding down? Taking a page from Choire Sicha’s recent New York Observer article surveying Manhattan’s dining scene for the “quintessential Affair Restaurant,” Britain’s Observer Food Monthly has published its recommendations for where to “lunch your lover” across the pond. Selecting a restaurant with high-wall leather booths is suggested (for “padded privacy” “[o]r even an under-the-table fumble”), while eating lettuce and spinach (“green tooth curse”) is not. And then there’s this bit of advice for adulterous diners to keep their appetites (sexual and gustatory) in line:

Have a discreet snack before the meal to dampen the ravening appetite. You want it to be evident that you’re more interested in her than the food. In Las Vegas, the police recommend that (male) punters masturbate before going out on the town. Think about it–you want to appear cool and collected, not hot and sweaty. Just a suggestion.

Navel grazing

In our experience, plowing through a box of chocolate truffles gets our kundalini energy whipped up just fine. But a Kansas City blogger out there turned us onto Vosges Chocolates’ new Yoga + Chocolate Chakra Box: seven handmade truffles in flavors like curry and balsamic vinegar, each with an assigned yoga pose and a description of its chakra-aligning (or opening, or whatever’s supposed to be happening to your chakras when you’re lying on the couch eating truffles) possibilities.

This is the same Chicago-based company that once offered a chocolate collection inspired by skankmeister actor Vincent Gallo, and filled its “Rooster” truffle with taleggio cheese. But you’ll have to hit the Vegas store for freebies; after sampling giveaways from the “mystery box” of seconds in Sin City, a poster on user-review site Yelp lamented, ” The staff [in the New York store] looked at me as if I was insane when I asked if they gave out samples.” Not enough? The company also runs chocolate-and-yoga workshops around the country, as well as week-long deluxe retreats in Oaxaca, Mexico—conveniently, also the home of the famous chocolate-based mole sauce.

Make mine a double

Celeb pastry chef David Lebovitz has just invented Shallot, Beer, Prune, and Cocoa Nib Jam, a recipe articulated in delicious detail. I couldn’t agree more with his glowing assessment of the beer-chocolate flavor combo, which has been a favorite of mine since I had my first beer milkshake circa 2004.

Among other useful jam-making tips, Lebovitz offers this word of caution: “In general, don’t double recipes. Better to make two small batches, since each will take less time to cook, preserving the appealing flavors of your ingredients.” Makes sense, but also makes me remember the times I was led astray by doubling, producing soggy-in-the-middle loaves of bread or texturally schizophrenic quiches. So what kinds of recipes were meant to stay single or hang out in batches?

For starters, some things that need to reduce or set, like your jams and your jellies, plus various kinds of candy and some sauces. But it gets more complicated: Beware doubling the salt when you double a recipe.

In dough recipes, getting the amount of yeast right can be tricky. And sometimes doubling the amount of liquids like milk in a doubled-up recipe will get you into trouble. And, though savvy cooks can double many recipes using a few simple guidelines messing with most cake recipes guarantees a dud.

Do you have any tips on doubling?

The Great Chorizo Caper

The great, noble rworange is still eating her way through every chorizo she can find from Richmond to Pinole. She’s finding hidden artisans–folks without PR, without hype, putting their souls into excellent chorizo. Each market typically makes at least two types of chorizo–dry and fresh–in-house. The best time to hit most of these places is the weekend, when there are all sorts of extra goodies available.

Her very favorite chorizo so far is at Carneceria en Valle, inside Valley Produce. Their chorizo maker is truly an artisan, turning out lots of different and unique sausages, including jalapeno, Central American, all-beef, mild, and hot chorizo. The chorizo is medium grind, with very little fat. There’s fresh chorizo only.

In second place, a tie between La Guarecita and Carnecieria Mi Tierra. La Guarecita makes beautiful fresh chorizo–an elegant, delicate brick-red, fine-grind chorizo in a micro-casing, with just enough spice to give it flavor and color. Carnecieria Mi Tierra has gorgeous chorizo. Their fresh chorizo is fat, juicy, and mouth-tinglingly spicy. It’s medium grind, and it oozes half an inch of red oil while frying. Their dry chorizo is medium grind, and packed with porky pleasure. It’s deep red with a respectable level of heat, a touch of cinnamon, and some pepper seeds. It’s not as oily as their fresh chorizo, but it’s just oily enough to fry an egg. Carneceria Mi Terria also has top-notch meat, lovingly cut to your specification.

El Porvenir is in third place. Their fresh chorizo is majorly hot–habanero hot. It’s a very fine grind with a strong vinegar taste. It’s not too oily, with a nice dark brick-red color. Their dry chorizo is fine grind, with a texture like dry sawdust. There’s no complex spicing, just heat and a strong vinegar flavor.

Carneceria en Valle [East Bay]
in Valley Produce Market
1588 San Pablo Ave., Pinole
510-724-2787
Locater
Amazon Locater

La Guarecita [East Bay]
1848 23rd St., San Pablo
510-236-1644
Locater

Carniceria Mi Tierra [East Bay]
516 23rd St., Richmond
510-232-0333
Locater

El Porvenir Produce Market [East Bay]
1537 Rumrill Blvd., San Pablo
510-234-4524
Locater

Board Links
Chorizo Crawl Recap – What’s your favorite chorizo?
Chorizo crawl–Mi Tierra Supermercado (Richmond)
Chorizo crawl–La Guarecita (San Pablo) & homage to a chile verde burrito
Chorizo Crawl–Valley Produce (Pinole) – jalepeno, Central American, all-beef, mild & hot chorizo
Chorizo Crawl–El Porvenir Produce Market, Carniceria & Panedria

Cannelloni Di Orsi

Ristorante Orsi, formerly located in Novato, is reborn after a two year hiatus in Santa Rosa, reports Melanie Wong. She enjoys the cannelloni di Orsi, the signature dish of the restaurant ($13.50). The proprietor’s father is credited with introducing cannelloni to San Francisco nearly 50 years ago. The tender crepe, fresh tomato sauce, and light besciamella are true to the glory of the old Orsi. The filling is coarser than the old Orsi’s, but that could be a batch difference. It’s still heavy on the nutmeg, though.

Also delicious is braised rabbit with olives and shiitake mushrooms over grilled polenta. Tender, meaty pieces of rabbit are simmered in a soulful yet light wine sauce; despite the mediocre olives and mushrooms, the stew’s gestalt is rustically beautiful.

The atmosphere is warm and intimate; customers visit with other patrons at neighboring tables. Prices are low; most entrees are in the $14 to $16 range.

Ristorante Orsi [Sonoma County]
formerly Caf

Chocopologie: Sweet and Savory Bites in Norwalk, CT

Chocopologie is a newish cafe and sweet shop from master chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt, so, naturally, the chocolate is quite fine. Try it four ways in their Chocolate Love, a delicious dessert sampler. Rich hot chocolate and a chocolate fondue with fruit and sponge cake–a lavish treat for two–are also standouts.

But savory food is no afterthought at this European-style hangout, which opened late last year. Breakfast (served all day) is a highlight, says Food for thought. Choices include omelettes, French toast, and poached eggs on cornbread. Sandwiches and salads are also good bets, suggests Elizzie. Also on the menu: quiches, buckwheat crepes, flat iron steak and other meat entrees, and daily specials that include coq au vin, wiener schnitzel, and bouillabaisse.

Chocopologie [Fairfield County]
12 S. Main St., between Washington and Haviland, South Norwalk, CT
203-838-3131
Map

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chocolate restaurant in Norwalk or SoNo??