The CHOW Blog rss

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

Orange Flower Water

Orange flower water is an intoxicatingly aromatic infusion of–you guessed it–orange blossoms in water. It’s produced largely in Lebanon and France. Used judiciously, it adds a wonderful je ne sais quois to food and drinks. Here are some ideas for how to use it.

Try adding a little orange blossom water to your favorite iced tea, for a lovely aroma, suggests Jupiter. Jim Leff notes that orange blossoms are an essential ingredient in Moroccan-style mint tea.

Marsha shares her recipe for a version of Ramos Gin Fizz with orange flower water: For 2 drinks, mix 1.5 oz fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp powdered sugar, and 2 tsp bar sugar well in a shaker. Add cracked ice, and the following, in this order: 3 oz gin, 1 egg white, 4 oz milk, and 10-12 drops orange flower water. Shake very thoroughly, and serve in fizz glasses.

Orange flower water goes wonderfully with fresh fruit. Splash a little on a citrus salad (along with some fresh mint), or add to simple syrup for drizzling over fruit.

Orange flower water also lends a subtle, haunting flavor to custards–try adding a couple teaspoons to ice cream, panna cotta, or rice pudding recipes.

In baking, orange flower water is especially good added to the syrup for baklava (Jupiter); and in brownies with orange zest and cinnamon (eaters will never guess the “mystery” ingredient, says Fleur).

Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food,” includes a wonderfully refreshing salad of green lettuce and sliced oranges, simply dressed with olive oil, fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juices, and a bit of orange flower water.

Orange flower water can often be found at specialty and Middle Eastern groceries, or order online.

Board Links: Orange Blossom Water

Alleva Dairy: In Little Italy, An Unsung Hero

For most fans of Alleva, it’s about the cheese. But the venerable Little Italy latticini (established 1892) also makes nice, hefty sandwiches with good cured meats and cheeses (its own and others’) on tasty sesame rolls. They top out at $7 for the Italian combo (prosciutto, soppressata, cheese), plus a buck or so for add-ons like sun-dried tomato or roasted peppers. If your timing is right, you can peer through the window on Mulberry and watch a guy pulling mozzarella by hand.

Alleva’s food and service have won over stuartlafonda, a 20-year devotee of neighboring Italian Food Center. But the other reason he defected was a troubling downhill trend at his onetime favorite across Mulberry Street. For example, stuart reports, peppers are straight from the bottle, not roasted in-house, and the default prosciutto is a cheaper Canadian substitute, not the real prosciutto di Parma (which commands a premium of a couple bucks). If that weren’t enough, he adds, Italian Food Center now advertises that it serves sushi. “That is sad,” he laments.

Alleva Dairy [Little Italy]
188 Grand St., at Mulberry, Manhattan

Italian Food Center [Little Italy]
186 Grand St., at Mulberry, Manhattan

Board Links: Best Italian Heros in Manhattan

Cranberry-Walnut Rapture at New Rochelle’s Bread Factory

New Rochelle’s Bread Factory, already on hound radar for its crusty-chewy onion baguettes, among other things, scores again with its scrumptious cranberry-walnut bread. “The best stuff!” exclaims Pat Hammond, who recommends it in either loaves or baguettes, but favors the latter for its cheese-friendly size. “The whole place has sort of an old-time feel to it. It’s such fun going in there…bread piled up everywhere! And you smell the fragrance as you approach.” Also recommended: croissants (plain or almond) and breadsticks, chewy outside and agreeably soft inside.

The Bread Factory [Westchester County]
30 Grove Ave., near Warren St., New Rochelle

Board Links: The Bread Factory, New Rochelle

New Dumpling Contenders

Having eaten xiao long bau (also known as soup dumplings) all over China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, Eric Stone agrees with the hounds who love those at Din Tai Fung. But the xlb at Q Noodle House, a Taiwanese place in San Gabriel Square, he says, are his new favorite. The key: an excellent balance of dough, filling and juice.

Sadly, other stuff isn’t as good–noodle soup with shredded pork and preserved vegetable is good-not-great, and the potstickers “can’t make up their mind if they want to be gyoza or Shanghainese fried dumplings.” And if you want vegetables with your xlb, nothing compares to Din Tai Fung’s green beans.

A new place inside the San Gabriel Superstore offers excellent chicken potstickers, usually native to the Americanized Chinese restaurants of the Westside or San Fernando Valley. “Up to this point in time the designation of best chicken potstickers and fried dumplings in Los Angeles is akin to winning the title of the tallest midget in the circus,” says Chandavkl. The ones at Yum Cha, though, have super-tasty filling, good wrappers and come four for $1.50.

For regular potstickers (and very good xlb), Mei Long Village is a good spot.

Q Noodle House [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Blvd., in 99 Ranch Market plaza, San Gabriel

Q Noodle House [Inland of LA]
18930 Gale Ave., Rowland Heights

Q Noodle House [Pasadena-ish]
148 E. Duarte Rd., Arcadia

Yum Cha [San Gabriel Valley]
inside San Gabriel Superstore
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel

Mei Long Village Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel
626-284 4769

Board Links: Dumpling Contender
Best Chicken Potstickers

Q Up for Chicken and Kabobs

Inside Q Market are two meat departments, kosher and halal, and a tempting kabob stand. The halal side’s chicken is the best Smiling Ed says he’s found. They’ve also got lamb brains. In general, it’s a Persian market (stock up on saffron from Iran), and worth exploring.

Q Market & Produce Market [East San Fernando Valley]
17259 Vanowen St., between Balboa and White Oak, Van Nuys

Board Links: Q Market

Jumpin’ Fresh Sweet Shrimp

The Hump often pops up on best-sushi-restaurant lists, and The Oracle’s review definitely makes it sound deserving.

Let’s skip over the melt-in-your-mouth nigiri for a sec and go to the live sweet shrimp. Yes, many sushi restaurants have sweet shrimp, and you figure it was alive pretty recently because the sweet white flesh is nice and gooey. But at the Hump, they’re actually pulled, flopping madly, from a tank and their heads whacked off (to be deep-fried separately). It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

For the rest of the sushi, albacore is like butter, yellowtail dabbed with just the right amount of wasabi. Everything is presented strikingly, with just the right accompaniments.

Service is on top of its game, pleasant and efficient, and the airport location can’t be beat. The room itself isn’t the most romantic, but it has nice clean lines and for once you don’t have a glass case to peer over if you’re sitting at the sushi bar.

The prices, though, can kill you. Although two can eat well (non-omakase) for $200 after tax (including $60 of sake), one couple was spotted with a bill of $660. JL says that with four people, $1,000+ meals are all too possible. Caveat emptor…

The Hump [Beaches]
3221 Donald Douglas Loop S., Dewey, Santa Monica

Board Links: The Hump (Santa Monica)–Review (long)

Herb Butters

Herb butters are great for flavoring vegetables, fish, meats, summer corn–anything that might be enhanced by a pat of butter and some fresh herbs or garlic–in other words, most everything!

Preparation is as simple as mixing softened butter with a bit of minced fresh herb leaves and chilling (or forming into a log, wrapping well, and freezing, so you can slice off a pat or two whenever you want). You can use a single herb–tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc., depending on what you’ll be serving it with–or combine two or three. Here are some variations.

Garlic paste is a great addition, but be sure to use a light hand, says rtmonty.

Lemon butter (use the zest and some juice), lemon garlic butter, or lemon garlic parsley butter (julieswan).

Mrs. Dash (an herbal salt-free seasoning) whipped into soft butter. Note: this needs to “age” a bit, says LisaAZ.

Shallots, fresh lemon juice, and parsley make a very traditional combo. If you want to deemphasize the shallot flavor, mince and soak in wine vinegar for 15 minutes, then rinse and let dry on paper towels before incorporating (Karl S).

rtmonty also likes to add few anchovy fillets along with one of the herbs.

Board Links: Herb butters–need your suggestions

Brandied Sour Cherries, for Superior Cocktail Garnishes and More

Homemade brandied sour cherries are a mega-step up from commercial maraschino cherries as a garnish for cocktails. They’re also wonderful in their own right as as topping for ice cream and other desserts. And if you steep with good brandy, you’re left with wonderful cherry brandy (as a byproduct!)

It’s a simple process. Here are some methods:

Use pitted or unpitted sour cherries. If you do pit, retain some pits to add to the brandy (they add a lot of additional flavor). Leave the cherries whole with stems–they’re very pretty for garnishing drinks.

For each pound of sour cherries, use 2 cups of brandy and 3/4 cup of sugar. Mix in quart jar and hold for one month in a cool pantry before using. Store in the refrigerator after the first month (JudiAU).

Some prefer to steep in maraschino liqueur, a not-too-sweet liqueur made from Dalmation marasca cherries (Stock and Luxardo are two widely available brands). Whether using brandy or maraschino, sugar isn’t necessary; just pack a sterilized jar with cherries, cover with brandy or liqueur, and place in a cool, dark place for a month or so. After opening, store in the refrigerator.

While using fresh sour cherries is preferable, their season is short, and they’re not available everywhere. Dried sour cherries plump up nicely in brandy, and still beat chemical-laden commercial maraschino cherries every time (MC Slim JB).

Board Links: Brandied Sour Cherries
Anyone starting any summer time liqueurs and cordials?

Trader Joe’s Canned Smoked Trout

We don’t want to start a run on your TJ’s store, but word has it that this product is being discontinued. The can contains a nice portion for one person. The trout is packed in Canola oil, and very tasty. Some stores still have a supply on the shelves.

Board Links: Trader Joes discountinued its canned smoked trout:(–anyone else sell this?

Jarred Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce is delicious over any pasta. And there are are some decent-tasting jarred brands–which can be made even better by adding crushed red pepper, some crab meat, or sauteed prosciutto. Here are some good brands:

Patsy’s Vodka Sauce.

Rao’s is a popular but pricey choice.

Trader Joe’s Organic Vodka Sauce is a delicious low-cost alternative.

Cento is made with San Marzano tomatoes (very good, plus not as high calorie as some other brands).

Victoria brand, from Brooklyn, costs $6.99 a jar and is better than Rao’s, says emdb. Find it at Big Y stores and Stop & Shops in the northeast.

Board Links: Recommendations…jarred vodka sauce