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

Secret Ingredient: Pickle Juice

The juice from the pickle jar is a secret ingredient in many chowhounds’ pantries. Here are some favorite uses:

A little kosher dill pickle juice is great in potato salad. Pickle juice also enhances tuna salad and deviled eggs.

Adding pickle juice to braised short ribs or pot roast gives a nice deep taste to the gravy.

Pickle juice is great for marinating carrot sticks and sliced cucumbers. You can also use it to pickle sliced onions. Leave them in for a few days, then toss them on some burgers.

pdxGK even recommends a recipe for dill pickle soup!

Board Links
Do You Re-Use Pickle Juice or the Liquid from Canned Veg.?

Flour Matters

Will Owens finds that Gold Medal and other generic supermarket flour brands seem gritty; that’s because they’re made from hard wheat. The generic stuff is fine as a thickening agent, or for dusting, but mediocre for serious baking.

For baked goods that require strong gluten content–like bread and some pastas–the hands-down favorite is King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour. It has the highest level of gluten protein of any name brand, says Nancy Berry. You can get it online, at Costco, and in some supermarkets. Here’s a list of stores that carry it.

When you want light and tender biscuits, cakes, and pie crusts, a lower gluten content is desirable, advises Nancy Berry. She recommends White Lily all purpose flour. The difference in your biscuits will be amazing. Be careful not to pick up their self-rising flour by mistake! The sacks look almost identical. It’s not available everywhere, but you can order by phone or online.

Most of the time, bleached flour is not recommended, but Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “The Cake Bible,” takes different tack. She says, “The reason that it is essential to use bleached flour is that unbleached has particles that are smooth and round and the butter slips right through them and lands in a gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to fall in the center while cooling. The bleaching process, however, roughens these flour particles enabling them to hold the butter in even suspension.”

Here’s an article on choosing the best flour for the job.

Board Links
Any notable differences in All-Purpose Flour brands?

Coffee: Highly Beneficial?

This week, at least, they’re saying that coffee is good for us. Coffee, apparently, contains chlorogenic acid, which affects blood glucose levels in a happy way. Chlorogenic acid is equally present in regular and decaf. The NY Times writes that “a typical serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than typical servings of grape juice, blueberries, raspberries and oranges.” This is supposed to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and liver cirrhosis.

There are still plenty of studies about how coffee is bad for you; one such study says that more than two cups decreases blood flow to the heart, especially during exercise at high altitude.

Read more at the NY Times.

Board Links
Coffee–the next health drink

Down-Home Prosciutto

Down-Home Prosciutto

The country ham is our native prosciutto or serrano, though most Southerners wouldn’t dream of throwing an uncooked leg on a deli slicer and shaving some to go with the asparagus. Most Northerners, meanwhile, have never heard of it. READ MORE

The Night Before

Note from CHOW managing editor Davina Baum: Many of you know that Jim Leff is on the road, traveling the country in search of “edible treasure.” Here’s his first post—not quite from the road, but pre-road.

We’ll be building a bigger CHOWTour area shortly, so check back for more action. Take a look at the CHOWTour board and get the discussion going. Now, on to Jim …

I’m sitting in my living room in Queens, New York, gnawing celery sticks and sipping diet soda in anticipation of the gastronomic punishment to come.

Here’s the plan: Armed with a camera, a recorder, a notebook, and endless joie de manger, I will spend two months on the road, following my intuition and putting years of chowhounding experience to the test. My goal is to find edible treasure cooked with heart and soul, prepared by the holdouts, kooks, and geniuses who aim for much more than maximal profit from minimal effort.

As a dedicated chowhound, I have an insatiable desire to soak up experiences outside the slick bubble. I refuse to be distracted by the shiny bauble of hype. Even in this plastic era of pandemic soul-stifling chains, there are still compellingly unique destinations. It’s just a matter of drilling down to find the local gems. I will Photoshop out the Applebee’s and Denny’s from my chowscape.

There’s no cheating allowed. I won’t call local food critics for tips, I’ll carry no guidebooks, and I won’t even scour through the Chowhound message boards (reliable though they are for excavating under-radar deliciousness).

There are risks, of course, in dropping in to strange places and expecting to eat superbly. That’s why the crashes might be the most interesting parts. There may be stretches where I fail to score, perhaps even resorting—in moments of extreme deprivation—to victuals that are merely adequate. But don’t bet against me. You see, I’m on quite a streak. (I’ll podcast about that shortly … keep following along!)

The trip won’t all be pure chowhounding. There are people to meet—I can’t wait to introduce you to my friend Rob, a Navy SEAL commander/wine expert who gushes in floridly poetical terms on food and drink—and there are some specific events and venues I plan to check out. But mostly, I’ll aim to get lost.

Right now, though, I’ve got gear to pack and about two thousand sit-ups to do.

Which One of These Is Fake?

When you buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, you expect it to be bottled at a Coca-Cola distributor and not be a rinsed-out “genuine Coca-Cola bottle” filled with a “cola-like carbonated beverage." READ MORE

There oughta be a law

Jack in the Box has joined the modern fast-food trend of vast, caloric “ultimate burgers,” with the introduction of the Outlaw Burger and Outlaw Spicy Chicken Sandwich line.

Though Jack hasn’t responded yet to a request for nutritional info from watchdog blog Fast Food News, with Outlaw toppings including bacon, onion rings, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce and two slices of cheese, these calorie bombs look to be junior members of the new devil-may-care burger crowd, which includes Hardee’s 1400-calorie Monster Thickburger and Carl’s Jr.’s Pastrami Burger, which the company touts as “the original meat-as-a-condiment hamburger.”

Okay, so the Outlaw is supposedly so named because of its “Western” flavor, not because of any inherent sinfulness in the combination of so many fatty elements. But does KC Masterpiece (that’s Kansas City, yo) really even evoke Westernness? Tasters for Consumer Reports gave KCM the top ranking in a recent test, and it has long been one of the top-selling sauces in the States. But the geographic inspiration for most commercial barbecue sauces these days is pretty much indistinguishable.

While aficionados know that Texas barbecue is as different from North Carolina ‘cue as a monkey is from a desk lamp (or something)—not to mention all the regional differences within each state, which are subjects of heated debate—the stuff in grocery stores usually contains some combo of tomato puree/paste, molasses/corn syrup, and liquid smoke, the lowest common denominators of backyard grilling. Maybe if J in the B slapped some mesquite flavoring on the Outlaw, the Western theme would be more immediately evident… Any ‘cue-hounds want to weigh in?

The Big Easy still eats

A year after the levees failed in New Orleans, questions remain. Will the Ninth Ward ever be rebuilt? Is the city ready for the next storm? And can you still grab a good meal in NOLA?

Food and Wine clocks in with “The New Normal in New Orleans,” a great take that weaves together the stories of a Times-Picayune restaurant critic, a local vegetable and poultry farmer, and a pair of restaurateurs who were two days away from opening a lakeshore restaurant when the storm hit.

Houston Chronicle has a stack of reviews of fledgling New Orleans restaurants that had the tremendous stones to open up their doors after Katrina. And the Associated Press reports that while the city’s eateries are largely back on their feet, they’re lacking one crucial ingredient: customers.

So, maybe it’s time for all good Americans to book an exploratory post-Katrina eating vacation in New Orleans, heading for Arnaud’s and Cafe Du Monde and Antoine’s. Not only for the chefs and servers, but for the farmers and fisherpeople. And, of course, our own gullets. That’s good eats in the moral as well as the gustatory sense.

Strip show

Cook’s Illustrated is out with its late summer (i.e. “September and October”) issue and recipes for “flavor-packed fresh tomato sauces.” I thought I’d take a whack at the rosemary-and-bacon version (rejecting the salami, pepperoncini, and mozzarella/fennel and orange variations).

The test kitchen blithely advises peeling, seeding and chopping tomatoes before starting on the sauce. The only problem: I’ve never peeled a tomato. An Internet consultation quickly revealed these instructions. Tomatoes, the page advises, are traditionally skinned by quick immersion in boiling water. But “even better is a quick scorching of the skins over a gas flame, the tomato stuck on the tines of a fork.”

Who doesn’t relish the chance to hold food over an open flame?

Twenty minutes and much open flaming later, I was still working on the last few tomatoes. The skin, even-post toasting, peeled off in a zillion annoying little strips. Out of frustration, I double flame-treated the remaining few tomatoes, and, to my surprise and relief, found that the double application did a lot of good. Big flaps of skin peeled off easily.

My initial goal of “have dinner on the table by the time the fiance returns from work” was grudgingly revised to “have tomatoes peeled and chopped by the time the fiance returns from work, or, say, 5-10 minutes after that.” It was a goal met only with some difficulty and good deal of inspired cursing.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe, incidentally, is terrific. The marriage of zesty, acidic fresh tomatoes, the comforting warmth of bacon and the piquant, buttery flavor of fresh parmesan mixed in with spaghetti was absolutely heavenly.

Mario eats out

I’m not here to pass judgment, just to pass on information: The food world is buzzing over whether or not chef Mario Batali is late-night snacking with (or on) crazy Courtney Love.

Gawker.com, one of my favorite blogging bitches, commented with great disgust, “Also, thank God the guy doesn’t do the actual cooking at any of his restaurants anymore; we don’t think we could ever eat anything he’s touched again.”

After mentioning that calls to reps for both parties were unsuccessful in unearthing much concrete comment, New York Daily News’ Gatecrasher suggested in their news-breaking tidbit, “Maybe they go picking mushrooms together?”

If I try to top that, this blog will become X-rated, so I’ll just stop right here.