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

Old Poland: Hearty, Homey Chow in Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s Old Poland bakery fired up a steam table a year or so ago, and it’s since become a great option for hearty, cheap Polish takeout, says Silverjay. For $3.50 a pound, you get a choice of entrees, salads, vegetable sides, and usually a couple of soups–plus freshly made breads, pastries, and cakes. Some standouts: meatloaf, bigos (pork and sauerkraut stew), and tender, succulent pork ribs. Recent soups have included dill and tomato-vegetable, both solid. “The clientele seems to be mostly local Poles, laborers, and some of the shop workers on Bedford,” observes silverjay. “I’ve hardly seen a hipster in the place.”

This is the sister shop of a larger, more restaurant-like place in Greenpoint, notes David Sprague, a fan of its borscht, meat jelly, and pierogi, among other things.

Around the corner from Old Poland, another Williamsburg option is Kasia’s, which dishes up tripe soup, borscht, pierogi, and other sturdy Polish fare, says Mike R..

Old Poland Foods [Williamsburg]
149 N. 8th St., between Bedford Ave. and Berry St., Brooklyn

Old Poland Bakery and Restaurant [Greenpoint]
a.k.a. Staropolska Bakery
190 Nassau Ave., at Humboldt St., Brooklyn

Kasia’s Restaurant [Williamsburg]
146 Bedford Ave., between N. 9th and 8th Sts., Brooklyn

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Old Polish Foods- W’Burg
good weekday lunch in Williamsburg?

Red Velvet Showdown

My Little Cupcake opened about a month ago and cvc says the cakes are top-notch in quality, and presented with as much creative flair as at Sprinkles. Reese’s peanut butter and Bugs Bunny chocolate cupcakes are standouts; there are also fresh-fruit specials depending on availability, like blueberry, or fig cupcake with goat cheese frosting.

Hotcakes is a new bakery in West L.A.; it’s run by a Frenchwoman, yet turns out classic American cupcakes, along with French pastries. (Their stuff is also available at the newish Mar Vista farmers’ market.) On a quest for red velvet, Dommy! found theirs to be dense but not dry. You can definitely taste the cocoa that’s supposed to give the cake its color, along with the red food coloring.The cream cheese frosting is finger-lickin’ good.

The red velvet cupcakes at SusieCakes, a relative newcomer, are knockouts–they’re kid-sized but super flavorful and so moist that they practically melt in your mouth. Frosting is scant and not too sweet, but not too flavorful either.

Considering that most of the cupcakes from Sprinkles are way too sweet and short on flavor, red velvet is probably their best kind. Their red velvet has an airy, tender texture.

Doughboys has a red velvet mini-cake. The frosting is the best part, with a distinct cream cheese tang, and the cake is good but not great. It lacks a little something in the flavor department.

Says Pei, “The cupcakes at Buttercake are good: fluffy, not too sweet, and entirely un-fancy. But the red velvet is the only one I buy anymore because it stands out as the best. I love the tangy sourcream frosting, and the chocolate seems more intensely flavored and lighter in texture than the regular chocolate.” And let’s not forget their irresistible chocolate drop cookies–soft and gooey inside, like an underbaked brownie, with a crackly crust and fresh walnuts.

Bluebird’s red velvet cake is heaven, says slacker–so tender it’s quivering, plus a generous amount of appropriately cream-cheesy frosting.

The quality seems to vary, but when Auntie Em’s is on, their red velvet cupcakes are just like a Southern mom’s–huge, moist and beautiful, with heaps of cream cheese frosting. But on their off days, the cakes can be dry and dreary.

Don’t bother with red velvet at Yummy Cupcakes. The margarita cupcakes, on the other hand, are killer, says jackattack, with a slam-bang lime buttercream.

My Little Cupcake [East San Fernando Valley]
11925 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Hotcakes Bakes [Culver City-ish]
formerly Westside Bakery
4119 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles

Mar Vista Farmers Market [Beaches]
Grand View Blvd., between Venice and Pacific, Los Angeles

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

Sprinkles Cupcakes [Beverly Hills]
9635 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills

Doughboys [Fairfax Village]
8136 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

Buttercake Bakery [Wealthy Westlands]
10595 W. Pico Blvd., East of Overland, Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

Blue Bird Bakery [Culver City-ish]
8572 National Blvd., Culver City

Auntie Em’s Kitchen [Eagle Rock]
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

Yummy Cupcakes [East San Fernando Valley]
2918 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

Board Links
New Mar Vista Farmer’s Market!
The Tale of Four Red Velvets: Sprinkles, Doughboys, Hot Cakes and Susie Cakes

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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lean hamburger,,, need tasty burger recipes

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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freezing peaches

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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Bento Box Website?

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, 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?