The CHOW Blog rss

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

Overheard on the Home Cooking Board

"I do chicken regularly. I do it sous vide because it requires less fat. It's one of my favorite ways to use legs along with extra fat I remove from the carcass before making stock or demiglace. You can also add a little bit of lard (like a tablespoon or two) just to get the leg well-encased in fat to start with." – cowboyardee on confit

"Non-technically, I think of a dash as one or two big shakes if I'm not crazy about the spice, several if I like it." – chowser

"Drinking and cooking are a bad, bad combination. I'm sure a glass or two is fine, but your reaction/response time and hand/eye coordination become affected. Include fire, boiling oils and liquids, hot dishes, cans, and sharp knives in the scenario, and it's one step away from a serious injury." – link_930

Secret Ingredient for Brownies and Cake

Pylon recently made brownies from brownie mix—but with an extra-special secret ingredient: a can of black beans. "They are great, and a huge hit at the office as well," says Pylon. "No, they don't taste like beans. Not that they taste exactly like 'regular' brownies, but still pretty darn good." elieli has made a gluten-free version of black bean cake, and loved the result: "Even after the blending of the beans, eggs, sugar, and salt, the flavor of the beans was barely perceptible. The resultant batter had even less hint of bean. The end result was a mildly coconutty, moist cake that smelled exceptional." plantainchips has made a related version of flourless chocolate cake with black beans. "It was surprisingly light and chocolatey, I would not have guessed it contained beans," says plantainchips. "The website [Judy in Her Natural Habitat] mentioned that most people seem to prefer kidney instead of black beans, so that's what I used."

poppet has had less encouraging results with black bean brownies. "A friend who cannot have gluten ADORED them. I thought they were barely adequate as brownies," says poppet. And natewrites has tried a sugarless version that he found "hideous"—"flat, dry, and the weird chemical-taste of Splenda after it's been baked," he says. "They are fine, though, if you're gluten-free, or really dying for something sweet and cannot have sugar. But otherwise, yuck."

Discuss: Has anyone ever made those black bean brownies or chocolate cake?

Eat Your Flowers

rworange loves edible flowers like lavender, marigolds, nasturtiums, roses, pansies, violets, and squash blossoms for the taste—not just the pretty color. "I particularly love nasturtiums, which have a wonderful 'horseradishy' zip to them," says SmartCookie. "They are particularly good with a smoked salmon/cream cheese filling." JMF thinks red clover tempura is tasty, and Passadumkeg loves red clover and/or rose petal wine. "My favorite way to cook Brussels sprouts is with lavender," says Caroline1, who also says, "I used to use a lot of candied violets when I lived in California, but had difficulty finding them when I moved to Texas. They add a lovely touch of elegance to a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and they're fabulous sprinkled over a delicate white cake mounded with pale pink boiled icing served at tea!"

"When I was a child, I used to suck the sweet nectar from nasturtiums growing in our backyard; now I am fond of their peppery flavor in green salads," says Caitlin McGrath. "My mother used to grow nasturtiums specifically to serve the leaves in thin bread-and-butter sandwiches for tea (we were living in a country where afternoon tea was a daily meal)," says Querencia. "The leaves are peppery and make a nice contrast with the bland bread and butter."

Discuss: Please eat the daisies: 13 edible flowers you should eat but probably don't

Have Your Tastes Matured?

"I'm just over 40—and all my life I've hated bleu cheese," says librarianjen. "Then, a few years ago, I started liking bleu cheese dressing with my hot wings. Now, all of a sudden, I want bleu cheese dressing on my salads. And I don't mean just the dressing—I want huge hunks of bleu cheese in it as well. It just seemed like this happened overnight!"

"I avoided cilantro and ginger for years, and they've become near-staples in my kitchen," says onceadaylily. "And I just don't crave sweets like I used to. I can't remember the last time I made a dessert that didn't rely on fruit and/or cream. My stash of 'emergency chocolate' has gone unreplenished for the last year."

Tastes do change as we age, says Karl S. "Your senses of smell and taste start to get less subtle as you age. Things change. It's one reason why many people crave more seasoning as they get older," he says. Sweet stuff is less satisfying, and strong flavors become more delicious. "I recently saw a story about the sale of hot sauces in the U.S.," says jhopp217. "Many people thought it was the influx of people from South America but the real reason is the median age is rising in the country and like you say, older people need more seasoning." "Here I thought I was getting more adventurous—now I just feel old," says Cookiefiend.

Discuss: Wow – my tastes are really changing as I get older…anyone else?

Blended Drinks and Great Chips at Papagayo

cbw_chowfan is from Southern California, and knows good Mexican food when she tries it. So she was thrilled when she heard about South Boston's new Mexican spot, Papagayo, but cautiously so: "I know what I'm up against in Boston (i.e. mostly terrible Mexican food)." With that in mind, she rates Papagayo a yes: good prices, a nice space, great drinks, low prices, and food that is mostly great.

Both of the appetizers that cbw and her husband ordered were hits, particularly the queso fundido: "Do not think 'orange' and 'from a jar,'" orders cbw. The dense cheese is studded with chorizo and served in a cast iron pot with tortillas. Guacamole is made to order, and the chips and salsa are above par. hotoynoodle went to the soft opening and agrees: "killer tortilla chips."

There is a whole section of blended drinks on the menu, not the most telling sign of an authentic Mexican spot, but cbw was thrilled with the flavor of her pomegranate margarita, if not the temperature: She'd ordered it frozen, yet it arrived melted, with floating ice cubes. But it sure tasted a lot better than her entrée, the beef enchiladas, which seemed stale and canned, accompanied by dreadful rice. cbw's husband was much happier with his fish tacos.

The service was a bit weird, with jumps and pauses, but cbw is willing to give the place another shot: "There's enough to love already and enough potential that I'm going to go back a few more times (after they settle in) and wish them good luck."

Papagayo [South Boston]
283 Summer Street, Boston
617-423-1000

Discuss: Papagayo – who else has been?

Overheard on the General Topics Board

"Yesterday I put on a pot of chicken-rice soup to heat for lunch, and while it was heating I jumped onto a certain site which shall remain nameless. Well, I boiled the broth clean out of it, although it didn't burn, so I let it cool and set it aside in the fridge. This morning I shredded some cabbage and tossed it into the rice, and beat an egg and a tsp. of soy sauce into it, and fried it into a big crispy patty. This is really, really good! I may have to do this again on purpose!" – mamachef

"I adore caviar, even pressed caviar. But really fresh sevruga, with its tiny salty delicately popping wee pearls....oh, man. I wish that I had a can of it in front of me right now. No eggs or toast or any of that nonsense, just a spoon." – SherBel

"About 10 years ago, I decided to make the green bean casserole from scratch for a couple of dozen family and friends....a very large batch...probably at least 7-8 pounds of fresh green beans that needed to be French cut, 3-4 pounds of fresh sliced crimini mushrooms and a gallon [of] Béchamel sauce....and of course 4 pounds of fresh made deep fried onions. Everyone said they liked it....but without any emotion or smiles......unlike the last 9-10 years when I returned to the old recipe of frozen french cut green beans, Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and French's/Durkee fried onions." – fourunder

Serve Yourself Great Piles of Fro-Yo at Mixx

It's no news to anyone that national fro-yo chains like Pinkberry are booming, and local knockoff BerryLine does all right for itself. But folks on the board claim that Mixx Frozen Yogurt is where it's really at. Toppings, particularly the fruit, are of surpassing quality, and since you serve yourself and pay by weight, you can load on as much as you like. "I never have to have a bite without at least one mochi. Awesome," crows mochi fan Dave MP.

The yogurt flavors run the gamut from wonderful to "spit it out." "Tart raspberry was excellent," Dave says. "Lychee was disgusting, banana was even more disgusting, and watermelon tasted like Bubblicious watermelon gum, which was just weird."

Jenny Ondioline is a big fan of the plain yogurt, nice and tart. And both Jenny and Dave enjoyed the taro: "on-par with the best soft-serve taro yogurt I've had in the Bay Area. And it is indeed purple," says Dave.

Mixx Frozen Yogurt [Allston]
66 Brighton Avenue, Boston
617-208-8050

Discuss: Mixx – Frozen Yogurt – Allston – Report

Lotus Root Pies and Other Asian Sweets

We've written before on what to order at Asian bakeries, but if you just stick to pineapple buns and moon cakes, you may be missing out on more esoteric, yet utterly delicious, treats.

Sesame balls are, of course, a classic on dim sum menus, but it's rare that you get a good one. nsenada had "amazing" balls at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, while other hounds recommend the sesame balls at China Pearl Restaurant, right across the street.

While you're at Winsor, barleywino suggests an order of the steamed buns filled with egg custard, available only on weekends. A few blocks over in Chinatown, Eldo Cake House has terrific sweet rice dumplings. And as the final stop in your Chinatown dessert crawl, Kenji recommends the lotus root pie at Hing Shing Pastry: "It is usually visible in the window. It goes beautifully with strong coffee (which I usually get at one of the Vietnamese places)."

Winsor Dim Sum Cafe [Chinatown]
10 Tyler Street, Boston
617-338-1688

China Pearl Restaurant [Chinatown]
9 Tyler Street, Boston
617-426-4338

Eldo Cake House [Chinatown]
36 Harrison Avenue, Boston
617-350-7977

Hing Shing Pastry [Chinatown]
67 Beach Street, Boston
617-451-1162

Discuss: Sesame Balls

Overheard on the Boston Board

"I had the eggplant Parmesan with cheese ravioli. Huge, huge lunch easily split with someone else and only $8.95. The eggplant was prepared perfectly and was the best eggplant parm I can remember having in a very long time. The marinara was so good and even the very basic cheese ravioli was delicious." – Bri on lunch at Francesca's Kitchen

"A friend who is Armenian and buys pita regularly told me that Helen's is excellent pita bread." – emilief on a brand of pita from Rhode Island that is sold locally

"Long story short, it's been 2 days since our lunch at Kyotoya and I'm trying to figure out how soon we can go back." – gimlis1mum

The Turkey Cake Inspires, Awes, and Nauseates the Masses

The recipe we posted for Thanksgiving Turkey Cake seems to be inspiring some other great versions. Here are a couple of good ones that we've seen so far. Got your own? Send it to editorial@chow.com and we'll keep posting them as they come in! READ MORE