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

Food Shopping 101: Buying Garlic

You needn’t be a garlic purist to prefer whole bulb garlic to the pre-peeled, pre-packaged cloves found in the supermarket vegetable department. Garlic you peel fresh for yourself is better and more potent in flavor. Yet there’s a time and place for the convenience of the pre-peeled product!

Buy peeled garlic at a market you trust to have good turnover. If you find the flavor a little weak, just add a few more cloves. They last a long time in the fridge, sealed in Tupperware-type container.

Board Links: Buying garlic: peeled cloves vs. whole bulbs?

Tabasco

Who knew there were so many Tabasco flavors? Here’s a round-up:

The familiar bottle of Pepper sauce

Garlic (nice to add to sauces for heat plus garlicky flavor)

Chipotle (with a smoky note, perfect for BBQ)

Green (jalapeno, mildest of the lot)

Habanero (really, really hot)

The newest: Sweet and Spicy (Asian influence; makes a good dipping sauce)

All but Sweet and Spicy are currently available in gallon jugs (for the fearless!).

Stores may not carry all the options (or, for that matter, the spicy mayo, catsup, or mustard), but you can purchase online, at Pepper Fest.

Board Links: What happened to Smoked Tabasco?

Baba Ghanouj

Baba ghanouj is a spread made from eggplant and tahini (sesame paste), spiked with lemon and garlic. An important component of its flavor is the smokiness of the eggplant, which is cooked until it collapses, preferably on a charcoal or wood grill.

Nyleve offers a traditional recipe (adjust tahini, lemon, and garlic to your taste).

1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Prick eggplant all over with a fork, and either roast at 450F (230C) for about 1 hour or broil, until blackened and soft. Or, place eggplant on a grill and cook, turning once or twice, until charred and soft. (The grilling method will produce a smokier taste.)

Cut a slit down the length of the eggplant, scoop the insides into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, mixing well with a fork. Drizzle olive oil over the top, if you’d like, and serve with pita bread.

sbp has a tip: scoop the cooked eggplant out of its skin and into a colander to let any bitter juices drain off before proceeding with the recipe.

Anne H adds a little cumin and a pinch of cayenne to her baba ghanouj.

Board Links: Sauces #3: baba ganoush/baba ghanouj

Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs

There are a few tricks to cooking easy-peeling hard-boiled eggs, but chowhounds note that there’s no guarantee you won’t get a toughie once in a while. As fauchon puts it, “some eggs are just recalcitrant!”

Most important: DON’T use fresh eggs. Age them in the fridge for a couple of weeks before boiling (don’t worry, they’ll be just fine for eating; eggs last a long time uncooked). The whites will evaporate a little, leaving a bit of air between them and the shell when they’re boiled, so you can get the shell off easier.

Once you’ve cooked your eggs, drain off the hot water, fill the pot with ice cubes and cold water, put the lid on, and shake the pot around to crack the eggshells all over. Let the eggs sit in the ice water for 10 minutes or so, then peel under running water.

Board Links: Hard-Boiled Eggs… Getting On My Nerves!

Soup Dumplings and More in Flushing’s Chinatown

Nan Shan Xiao Long Bao, leading from strength, touts its soup dumplings right in its name. Those who have tried them aren’t disappointed. Soup is plentiful, filling tasty, and skins thin and delicate, says HLing.

This Flushing newcomer specializes in Shanghai and northern Chinese breakfast and snack fare. Wheat flour pastries like shaobing (sesame cakes) and red bean pancakes are standouts–light and flaky outside, flavorful and tender inside. ZenFoodist reports outstanding turnip buns, pan-fried rice cakes, Shanghai-style thick wheat noodles, and steamed vegetable dumplings with pungent mustard greens. Sweet douhua (soft tofu) boasts nice soy fragrance and superior texture–meltingly soft, yet it holds its shape, observes HLing. She faults only a sweet and overly “polite” quality in some of the dumpling fillings.

Also on the menu: soy milk and youtiao (crullers); drunken chicken, smoked fish, spicy beef and tripe, and other cold plates; chicken, pork rib, and hot-and-sour soups; and chef’s specialties including fish head casserole and braised fish tail. Look for a red awning with “Nan Shan (or Nanxiang) Xiao Long Bao” in Chinese and “Noodle House” in English.

A couple blocks south, PeteDelfino recommends White Bear, an eight-seat hole-in-the-wall whose Chinese sign promises Shanghai and Shandong bites. Fresh-made wonton are great, in soup or with hot sauce. Assorted dumplings and rice plates, rice cake or bean curd dishes, and noodles (with pork, brown sauce beef, preserved vegetable, etc.) round out the menu.

Nan Shan Crab Soup Bun, a.k.a. Noodle House [Flushing]
38-12 Prince St., between 38th and 39th Aves., Flushing, Queens
718-321-3838
Map

White Bear [Flushing]
135-02 Roosevelt Ave. #5, entrance on Prince St. between Roosevelt and 40th Rd., Flushing, Queens
718-961-2322
Map (approximate)

Board Links: Noodle House–Nanxiang Xiaolong Bao in Flushing
New York City restaurants serving top notch dim sum.
NanXiang XiaoLongBao, Canton Gourmet, Pho, Green Papaya, Mekong and Octopus Man
New Flushing Place….Nan Shan Crab Soup Bun

Coffee Break: Aroma Wafts into Soho, and Other News

The Israeli coffee chain Aroma has planted its flag in Soho, and early reports from its first U.S. location are encouraging. “Real coffee beautifully presented,” sums up Blumie, who enjoyed a nearly flawless cappuccino. “So beautiful I didn’t want to drink it. But most people do not go to a coffee bar to look, so I had to. It was wonderful.”

Salads are delicious and huge, says alwm. No reports yet on the dozen or so sandwiches, a lineup heavy on vegetarian choices like mozzarella-tomato, avocado-onion, feta-olive, and the Oriental (eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, egg, tahini). This bright, sleek shop, open 24/7, also serves a heaping $8.50 “Power Breakfast”–two eggs, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, toast and cream cheese.

Other java hounds have Think Coffee on their minds. This Village newcomer, open since spring, is serious about its ingredients–organic, fair-trade, shade-grown beans, milk from an organic Hudson Valley dairy, etc. Iced coffee, cold-brewed over four or five hours, is exceptional, says bml. And the expansive, comfortable space is “one of the biggest and coolest shops I’ve seen in New York,” says billyeats.

Jack’s in the Village also goes the organic, fair-trade, shade-grown route, and uses a unique stir-brewing contraption to produce uncommonly smooth coffee, says billyeats. They pull a great espresso, too.

In Chelsea, coffee lovers left homeless by the closure of neighborhood fixture Big Cup have discovered a new hangout in Java Boy, which may be the city’s only coffeehouse with a disco ball. Open since September in the front room of View Bar, it serves espresso drinks, smoothies, panini, and scones, muffins, and other baked treats. Brewed coffee is strong, deep-flavored and terrific on ice, says dimples.

Finally, an unexpected bright spot in Midtown: ING Direct Cafe, which brews first-rate coffee from Peet’s beans. “I would have never guessed that a place run by a bank could make a quality cup,” writes DirtyMartini, “but this one is a cut above the typical Starbucks and overpriced deli options in the area.”

Aroma Espresso Bar [Soho]
145 Greene St. (entrance at Greene and Houston, SW. corner), Manhattan
212-533-1094
Map

Think Coffee [Greenwich Village]
248 Mercer St., between W. 3rd and 4th Sts., Manhattan
212-228-6226
Map

Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee [Greenwich Village]
138 W. 10th St., between Waverly Pl. and Greenwich Ave., Manhattan
Map

Java Boy [Chelsea]
232 8th Ave., near W. 22nd St., in View Bar, Manhattan
Map

ING Direct Cafe [Midtown East]
45 E. 49th St., between Madison and Park Aves., Manhattan
Map

Board Links: Lunch in Soho?
Fantastic coffee
Aroma Coffee Bar

Forget Patty, Here’s Susiecakes

Calling itself an “all-American home-style bake shop,” Susiecakes has finally opened its doors in Brentwood. First impression: Locals are looking forward to eating their way through the menu. A major feature is their special frosting-filled cupcakes–bocarw reports that orange creamsicle cupcake is rich and creamy, and the orange flavor stands up and asserts itself. Mocha cupcake is also intensely flavored.

Banana pudding is the best in town, raves Lipps, who also loved the moon pie and coconut cupcake. (The menu lists whoopee pie, but not moon pie.) Butterscotch-toffee pudding is delicious, though maybe not for purists.

There’s also a variety of traditional layer cakes, ice box cakes, cheesecakes, pies, and cookies.

Susiecakes [Wealthy Westlands]
11708 San Vicente, at Barrington, Los Angeles
310-442-2253 (CAKE)
Map

Board Links: SUSIE CAKES IS OPEN
Susie Cakes in Brentwood open

Chino’s Hidden Gem

“Owen’s Bistro is the first, real, professional, grown-up restaurant we have found in Chino, and is a standout of the Inland Empire,” declares ChinoWayne, whose stomping grounds are notably lacking in good restaurants.

You can start with the likes of spinach salad with goat cheese and pine nuts, or mixed field greens with wasabi dressing, and tuna tartare in a fried wonton “cup.” The flavors here tend to be subtle to a fault, though–the wasabi is pretty much undetectable.

Rack of lamb is impressively presented, charred outside and perfectly medium rare, tender and juicy inside. A truffle oil-infused pan sauce lies under the meat. Vegetables are done really well here, cooked till crisp-tender and no more. The rack comes with French green beans and risotto, while beef filet comes with asparagus and mashed potatoes. Portions aren’t huge–you won’t be stuffed, but you’ll be satisfied.

Service is helpful and professional. The wife of chef James Kelly, Denise, runs the front of the house and puts folks at ease. The restaurant is in a century-old brick building in the heart of Chino’s original downtown, which the city has made efforts to redevelop in the last few years.

Three-course dinner for two runs $135 before tip.

Owens American Bistro [Inland of LA]
5210 D St., at 6th St., Chino
909-628-0452
Map

Board Links: Owen’s Bistro: The Hidden Gem Of Chino (Photos)

Brand New Source for Fine Shanghai Xiao Long Bao

Shanghai Delight is brand spankin’ new restaurant, just opened in June. There’s a huge menu, but the highlight of hhc’s initial foray was xiao long bao, a.k.a. juicy soup dumplings. They are listed merely as “dumplings”; one order comes with eight good-sized dumplings, filled with pork and soupiness, with a nicely thin wrapper. They are very juicy, and very tasty.

The other items he tried–fish filet in spicy red sauce, curry chicken lunch special–were only OK. Many other patrons seemed to be getting noodle soup dishes. The menu includes Shanghai chicken, lion’s head meatball in claypot, Shanghai noodles, and seafood. Supposedly their Shanghai wontons are very good.

Get there early for lunch. It’s packed by 11:50 a.m. on weekdays.

Cash only, open from 10:30 a.m.

Shanghai Delight [South Bay]
218 Barber Ct., in Milpitas Square, Milpitas
408-434-6888
Map

Board Links: Shanghai Delight, Milpitas Grand Opening, good xlb

Grass Fed Lamb, $5 a Pound

Queen of Sheba has excellent grass-fed halal lamb, for the unheard of price of $4.99 a pound. Meatball took some home, rubbed it in spices and seared it, and found it utterly delicious–very full of flavor, to the point some folks might deem gamy.

Queen Of Sheba [Van Ness Corridor]
1100 Sutter St., near Pho Kien Giang, San Francisco
415-567-4322
Map

Board Links: Delicious grass-fed lamb at Queen of Sheba market.