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

Bringing Gran Classico Bitter Back

It was almost a year ago, on a sticky July evening at the corner of Bienville and Bourbon Streets outside the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans. Boisterous folks working off a few too many Sazeracs (including me) flooded the streets. A friend pulled me toward a well-dressed man wearing a hat and holding an old-style doctor’s bag. The man opened the black leather case and pulled out a bottle. READ MORE

Masa Like You’ve Never Tasted

The newly opened El Molino Central features Blue Bottle coffee, but it's the food that's a real eye-opener, says davina. And no surprise—the place is run by the owner of Primavera, and the corn for the masa is soaked and ground in-house. That means a simple memela (like a jumbo sope) is ultra-fresh and delicious, filled with black beans, sweet onions, a gently spicy salsa, cabbage, and cotija. Tamales are good, and you can grab a dozen to go ($18) from the case. There are also thick, hand-patted tortillas for $3.50 a dozen.

The counter workers pull a great espresso, davina says, but on opening day Sam B got a drip coffee that was weak and not that hot.

El Molino Central
11 Central Avenue, Sonoma
No phone available

Discuss: El Molino Central, Sonoma

Cupcakes for Grown-Ups

American Cupcake takes the cupcake concept several steps further than most, says Pei, into the realm of all-American comfort fare like PB&J (with housemade peanut butter and different types of jam or fresh fruit), mac 'n' cheese, sliders, even popcorn. There's coffee by day and wine, beer, and cocktails by night. Order a cupcake flight, and you'll get a cupcake with a drink in a matching flavor. It'd be interesting to see what would go with the bubblegum cupcake, which was one of Pei's favorites. Lemon and red velvet are really good, too. The cake part is fluffy and moist, the frosting creamy. There are also mini cupcakes, candied apples, cotton candy, and fried Oreos. And the drinks-with-dessert theme continues with the beer float, featuring coconut porter.

American Cupcake
1919 Union Street, San Francisco

Discuss: New Cafe/Cupcakery: American Cupcake

Late-Night Crawfish Boil

With the opening of SJ's Crawfish, you can now get Louisiana-style crawfish, boiled in a bag with spices, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. There are several levels of heat. "Mild plus" gives a slight tingle but is still plenty flavorful, with a touch of cinnamon, says PegS. The crawfish are fresh and good quality.

Eight pounds of crawfish, a pound of clams, three sausages, and three ears of corn came to $124 before tip.

SJ's Crawfish
2335 Irving Street, San Francisco

Discuss: SJ Crawfish on Irving

Overheard on the San Francisco Bay Area Boards

"A ride on the Geary bus to Five Happiness will net you the top Peking duck in San Francisco that we've found to date." – Melanie Wong

"The magician in the kitchen knows how to fry." – casalbore spirit, on the Louisiana cooking at Scend's Restaurant

"Several minutes into savoring, that almost liquid-like interior never dissipated or hardened, the way a molten cheese would." – CarrieWas218, on chickpea fritters at Frances

Darth Vader Pancakes

As soon as I saw that Williams-Sonoma was selling Star Wars pancake molds, I ran over to the store and picked them up. They worked surprisingly well. Thanks to their nonstick finish, it was actually pretty easy to get the molds off and flip the pancakes, revealing Yoda, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper ready to be covered in syrup. My only advice: Make a fairly thin batter so it's easier to pour in.

Star Wars Pancake Molds, $19.95

Cooking, Shown

Why not waste some time at work with this lovely list of the top 100 cooking shows of all time, complete with video clips of almost every show. List compiler Vincent seems to have excellent and wide-ranging taste, roaming through such all-time favorites cooks as the Two Fat Ladies, Alton, Rick Stein, the Frugal Gourmet, even Clara of Great Depression Cooking. He does seem to have an excessive fondness for Emeril, but he also uncovers interesting shows you've probably never heard of, such as Cooking Without Looking, a cooking show for the blind, and the British show Local Food Hero.

Your Rice Cooker Is a Multitasker

Most people use their rice cookers to cook rice, and perhaps other grains, but rice cookers are handy for many other kinds of cooking too, from stewing to steaming.

Several hounds love using the porridge setting on their rice cookers for steel-cut oats. Others use their cookers to steam vegetables and make stews and chili. chowser uses hers to prepare potatoes for mashing. "It holds them at a perfect temperature without overcooking so all you have to do is mash when ready," she says.

Hounds highly recommend The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook: 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risottos, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings and More, from Start to Finish in Your Rice Cooker. "The nonrecipe beginning is definitely worth taking the time to read," says PattiCakes, "even though it's pretty long. Then armed with all of that info, you have the confidence to try anything!" The cookbook has plenty of information on steaming vegetables and dumplings and cooking a variety of grains.

ipsedixit recommends this PDF recipe booklet from Panasonic, which covers everything from braised pork shoulder to bouillabaisse.

Discuss: Other possible uses for rice cooker?

Patience Pays Off in Better Food

It is often said that many stews and other long-cooked dishes are better the day after they are made. This allows the convenience of cooking them ahead of time, which is especially useful if you're entertaining. Querencia takes this a step further by freezing such dishes. "You will enjoy the convenience of having the stuff ready when you want it because you can cook not only for tomorrow but for next month," she says. Her one caveat is that the texture of potatoes suffers when frozen, so avoid freezing dishes that include potatoes.

goodhealthgourmet maintains that dishes such as hummus and bean dips and blended soups, anything puréed that has multiple components and complex seasoning, improve with 12 to 24 hours of rest in the refrigerator. She explains, "Letting it sit for a while allows for a more harmonious flavor—you get a more subtle layering of the overall flavor of the recipe as opposed to tasting numerous separate ingredients that just happen to be in the same dish." Refrigerated dips should come to room temperature before serving.

Discuss: resting

What Is Miner’s Lettuce?

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It's a favorite among foragers. ... WATCH THE VIDEO