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

America’s Next Top Snack Chip

America’s Next Top Snack Chip

This week's mission: delicious and gluten-free Risotto Chips. READ MORE

More Reasons Not to Eat Random Burgers

The other day, my friend was bragging about this awesomely cheap piece of meat he bought at the already bargain-basement grocery store in our neighborhood. The one that he then let sit out on his counter for four days at room temperature, “marinating” so it “got real funky.” Concerned that he might be dead next time I tried to hang out with him, I pulled a lecture-lite on him, about how "meat is probably not where you should be looking for deals." He countered that he would "cook the meat thoroughly," and next time he saw me, bragged again that he had eaten the meat, even served it to his date, and they’d both found it "awesome."


Cornmeal Versus Masa Harina

Cornbread is made from cornmeal, but what are corn tortillas made from? That would be masa harina, a finely ground preparation of corn flour, or "dough flour," says Uncle Bob. "Field corn (not sweet) is dried and then treated/soaked in a solution of lime and water," says Uncle Bob. "This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. The soaked corn is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough, called masa. It is this fresh masa (dough), when dried and powdered, that becomes masa harina (dough flour)." This is what's used in making tortillas and tamales; the treatment of the corn gives the final dish its characteristic flavor. paulj notes that there are several "grinds" of masa harina. The stuff for tortillas is a much finer grind than the stuff used in tamales.

In addition, to make matters even more confusing, there's a flour made from cooked corn that is used in arepas, a type of corn cake made in Colombia and Venezuela, says paulj. "Goya brand Masarepa is what you want for arepas," says bushwickgirl. "It's a precooked corn flour and it has a unique taste. I'm sure there are other brands available, but this is the one I can find most readily and use."

Discuss: corn meal vs. semolina vs. masa harina

Store-Bought Pesto You’d Actually Want to Eat

Let's get this out of the way: Homemade pesto is better than store-bought pesto. But it's labor-intensive, especially if you're going to turn your basil to a paste with a mortar and pestle instead of a food processor. Is there any pesto you can buy at the store that's worth eating? harryharry likes the fresh pesto made by Sauces ’n Love, in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods. The same company makes a shelf-stable product called Scarpetta, and Lenox637 is a fan.

Costco pesto gets high marks from Chowhounds. "I like to keep a jar of the Costco pesto on hand. It works quite well when basil is out of season and I've run out of my own homemade frozen pesto," says decolady. Big Sal likes the pesto Gustiamo sells on its website. "Fresh pesto is best when you can get fresh basil, but this was marvelous in the middle of winter. The taste and aroma is wonderful. It is quite expensive, but a little goes a long way," says Big Sal. And Karl S suggests looking for pesto made from basil from Liguria, such as Roland brand. "American basil tends to be BIGGER! BOLDER! in flavor (in the form of menthol flavors), and that is a not a good thing for pesto, which is meant to be more delicate," he says.

Discuss: best store bought pesto?

Gooey Ducks?

Geoduck clams (pronounced "gooey duck") are delicious bivalves, especially considering that they look like horrifying alien beasts. celeryroot loves them, finding them similar to abalone and razor clams, but warns that they are an aesthetic challenge to prepare. Each giant bivalve can be two pounds or more.

"The shell does not close and this ugly protruding almost black thick thing protrudes; it pulsates," says celeryroot, shuddering. Despite looking like scary aliens, and despite the fact that they cost around $20 per pound fresh (and around half the weight is lost in cleaning), geoduck clams have many fans. These creatures are what is often sold as mirugai, or "giant clam nigiri," says Veggo. "The sweet flavor and firm but not rubbery texture are compelling," says Veggo. And many Chinese restaurants, especially in the Vancouver area, serve them in dim sum or as a braised dish for dinner, says ipsedixit.

Discuss: Geoduck Clams

Savor the Fuzz

Fresh, fuzzy unripe almonds are a sure sign of spring at Middle Eastern and Indian markets, and nsenada recently spotted them: "They look like a bunch of twigs with green pods hanging off of them."

So what do they taste like? Kinda bitter, kinda sour, very interesting, particularly the fuzz: "When they are very young, the almond still watery, you eat them (lemony tasting) velvet and all. When they get a little more mature, you crack them open and just eat the young white almond," says StriperGuy. Bob Dobalina notes that "there are not nearly enough velvety foods in the world."

The almonds can be found at Arax, among other locations.

Arax Market [MetroWest]
585 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown

Discuss: Fresh Almonds at Haymarket

Lovin’ from the Oven

Davis Square's Pizzeria Posto's atmosphere draws comparisons to Zuni Cafe in San Francisco (big windows, "bricks and candles," as penny says), the food to Gran Gusto.

Pizza is wood-oven-charred and made from quality ingredients. The bianca, roast pork, and white anchovy pizzas are getting compliments, as is the Margherita: "crisp and smoky on the outside, chewy on the inside crust. And with 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fior di latte, it was everything I hoped for," says pocketgarden.

Tagliatelle with braised rabbit, peas, and favas was "savory and delicious," says pocketgarden; the tuna and chickpea salad, with seared tuna and a lemon-garlic dressing, was another favorite. penny liked the crispy pigs' ears, which were "wonderfully crisp and salty," and the braised lamb with polenta ("the lamb just melted in your mouth").

The wine list is large, with by-the-glass prices ranging from $5 to $20.

Pizzeria Posto [North of Boston]
167 Elm Street, Somerville

Discuss: Pizzeria Posto

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"I have a Kryptonite issue with Safeway cake icing—I make an utter fool of myself whenever one of the basic white sheet cakes with the Ty-D-Bowl-blue dyed icing flowers piled high in one corner appears at parties—I go for the corner piece with a mountain of that lardy, teeth itching goodness ..." – maracuya61

"Generally speaking I'd say people's tastes are getting weaker. Strong food smells are more and more rejected by the consumer. Suffice it to mention garlic, which nowadays seems to be one causing social rejection, even though garlicky dishes tend to be delicious. Next down the line: kidneys, cabbage, cauliflower, even broccoli ( a modern version of the former). Poor people's smells?" – RicRios

"Serrano is excellent, but Iberico is transforming." – maria lorraine, on varieties of Spanish jamon

The Sweet Taste of Denial

The Sweet Taste of Denial

This week's mission: searching for the perfect tiny bucket of diet ice cream. READ MORE

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 4: Where Old Ice Cream Trucks Go to Die

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri struggle to find the truck of their dreams.

After we realized there was no way we could afford a storefront, we were back to thinking about an ice cream truck. The main problem with the truck scenario, though, was that we wouldn't have the space to do a lot of flavors. Soft-serve machines only allow for two flavors apiece, plus the twirl when you swirl both flavors together. Per the name of our business, we were going to be all about twirls, and wanted to be able to offer more than one at a time. Chocolate/mint twirl. Honey blueberry/peach elderflower. We're all about pairings.