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

Take This Out to the Ball Game

Next time you crave Cracker Jack, try this fresher, tastier homemade version instead (courtesy of toodie jane). You’ll have to supply your own prize, though!

3 quarts popped corn
3 cups mixed unsalted nuts of your choice
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Combine popcorn and nuts in heavy large foil roasting pan. Place in a 250 degree oven to keep warm.

Prepare glaze by combining sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a large heavy pot. Stir constantly over medium heat until boiling. Continue to boil 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, then baking soda.

Remove roasting pan from oven and drizzle the glaze evenly over the popcorn mixture. Stir well with a metal spoon to coat evenly. Return to oven and bake, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Cool and break apart. Store tightly covered. Makes about 4 quarts.

Board Links
Homemade Cracker Jacks

Sigiri: Fresh, Fiery Sri Lankan in the East Village

Sigiri showcases the robust spicing and surprising flavors of Sri Lanka in specialties like devilled kingfish, which is cooked on the grill, then tossed in a fiery-sweet sauce of chile, onion, and tomato. Devilled dishes (which are also made with beef, pork, or chicken) go nicely with milder yet flavorful aapa, or hoppers–steamed rice pancakes served with coconut or onion sambol, suggests bennyt.

Manhattan’s only Sri Lankan restaurant, open since late last year, also wins praise for its chicken curry and chicken lamprais (chicken, fish, egg, rice, and plantain baked in a banana leaf), among other things. Also on the menu: fried rice and biryani; fish-potato cutlets, lentil patties, and other appetizers; Sri Lankan curries of beef, pork, or seafood; and special stews such as Ruhuna-style beef and Colombo-style pork.

Over all it’s fantastic and unique, declares heavymeta, who recommends finishing with kiri-peni (yogurt with palm treacle). Another recommended dessert: watalappam, a flanlike pudding flavored with coconut, cashew, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Sigiri is BYOB; you can find a decent selection of beer at a nearby grocery.

Sigiri [East Village]
91 1st Ave., between E. 5th and 6th Sts., Manhattan

Board Links
great find–sigiri on 1st b/t 5th and 6th

For Struggling Kabab Cafe, a Surge of Chowhound Power

July’s ruinous blackout in Queens ended after nine miserable days–but for many restaurants, the misery didn’t lift when the lights came back on. At Astoria’s Kabab Cafe, a board favorite for soulful Egyptian chow, the power failure reportedly fried the refrigerator compressors and fire-suppression system, shutting down the restaurant for more than three weeks and putting chef-owner Ali El Sayed in a deep hole because of repair bills, wasted food, and lost business.

He has finally reopened, though not with a full menu. Among the dishes available post-blackout, meat loaf-like lamb with pomegranate is especially tasty, says babar ganesh. “This would be a good time to come out in support of a chef who has given a lot to the area,” babar adds. “Ali needs the cash to start coming in again, and he’s an artisan and loves to cook,” notes Steve R. “If you can get there, you should.” The same advice applies to any other neighborhood favorites that struggled during the blackout and its aftermath: Drop in, say hello, grab a bite. It’ll be appreciated.

Kabab Cafe [Astoria]
25-12 Steinway St., between 25th and 28th Aves., Astoria, Queens

Board Links
Kebab Cafe on WNYC today
Kebab Cafe status

Torta Nirvana

Nirvana may be closer than you think–torta-wise, estone888 says YaYa’s are truly transcendent. There’s an astounding variety, all fresh and fantastic. Makes Super Tortas (otherwise great, especially the Alvarado location) look like a dump.

Ya Ya’s Burgers [East LA-ish]
3202 E. Gage Ave., at Plaska, Huntington Park

Super Tortas [Downtown]
360 S. Alvarado St., at 3rd, Los Angeles


Super Tortas [Hollywood]
1253 Vine St., Fountain, Los Angeles

Super Tortas [East San Fernando Valley]
7949 Vineland Ave., at Strathern, Sun Valley

Board Links
LA Report —Super Tortas

Checking Out Macau Street

Exploring the traditional Macau dishes (and that’s Chinese-style, not Portuguese) at Macau Street, estone888 says the roast squab–done to perfection, accompanied with a good mixture of pepper and salt and a lemon to squeeze over it–is one of LA’s best. Crispy shrimp is also excellent. Ong choy with spicy bean curd, good; house special crab also good, garlicky and peppery, but not good enough to compare to Fernando’s in Macau.

You don’t have to be a high roller here, either–dinner for three runs $50. No beer.

Macau Street [San Gabriel Valley]
429 W. Garvey, between Atlantic and Garfield, Monterey Park

Board Links: Macau Street, dinner last night

These Pastries, They Are Like Little French Jewels

Alain Pisan makes perfect, jewel-like French pastries. His catering outfit, Le Petit Delice, turns out truly exquisite little bites, says Melanie Wong. His passion fruit tartlet is a buttery, almond-flavored cookie-like crisp topped with a pyramid of sublime passion fruit mousse. His le pistache is even more decadent, with pistachio-flavored cream over chocolate ganache over almond genoise. The chocolate’s bittersweet and earthy.

Pisan has been looking for a retail space, but doesn’t have one yet. So you must call him 48 hours in advance–the goodies are delivered for free. $15.75 a dozen, with 10% off for orders over 15 dozen.

Alain Pisan, Certified Executive Pastry Chef [Sonoma County]
Le Petit Delice
1055 West College Ave. #331, Santa Rosa
Phone/Fax: 707-591-8960

Board Links: Le Petit Delice

Steamed Pork Patties

There are excellent steamed pork patties at West Lake Restaurant, reports vliang. Many varieties of pork patties are available. Favorite: mei tsai–steamed pork patty with water chestnuts, topped with pickled vegetables. Their steamed pork patty with salted egg is great, too; it’s even better than Capital’s version.

There’s a group lunch menu special–three dishes for $16.95–and the mei tsai pork patties are on it. There’s also a neat $2 menu, with things like salt and pepper shrimp (big, head-on shrimp with nicely crispy outsides and juicy insides, and a good amount of heat).

There’s a ton of offerings on their menu at every price point.

West Lake Restaurant [East Bay]
320 Jackson St., Hayward

Board Links: Steamed Pork Patty @ West Lake Restaurant, Hayward

Buying Fish

To be sure you choose the freshest fish, use your eyes and your nose. The flesh or skin should be shiny, the eyes clear, and the gills should be nicely pink. Most good fishmongers will let you smell fresh seafood; if it’s old, you’ll be able to tell.

tbear says some fish varieties hold longer than others. Flat fish like sole and turbot are more perishable. Ask when they were caught, since these fish are often caught and brought to market same day.

Large fish, like tuna and swordfish, last longer if they aren’t cleaned immediately. If they’re caught at a distance from the market, they’ll be flash-frozen on the boat–which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Oysters and mussels hold surprising well, because they’re stored alive. Toss out open ones, which may be dead. A test for determining if they’re dead: tap them on the counter. Good ones will close right up!

Most important: get to know your fishmonger.

Board Links: Buying fish on a Monday at a supermarket

How to Keep Dairy Products Fresh Longer

This trick is so simple, you’ll be slapping your forehead that you haven’t thought of it already!

Store milky products, like milk, cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc., in the back of the fridge, where it’s coldest. This applies too, when you pick them up at the store; choose containers farthest back in the case. You’ll find these items will remain fresh longer.

A tip for cottage cheese from rworange: store it upside down (in the back of the fridge, of course!). This is said to create a vacuum seal that helps keep the cottage cheese fresh.

Board Links: A thank you for a good tip … keeping dairy products fresh
Keeping cottage cheese fresh

Tenderizing Collards

Here’s a nifty tip for tenderizing mature collard greens.

Cut out the tough center ribs, put the collards in a plastic freezer bag, and freeze them for a while (anywhere from a few hours to a week). Freezing helps break down the tough cells in older collards; you’ll still need to simmer for a good while, but the result will be more palatable and require less cooking time.

Board Links: Collards