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

Special Dishes, Secret Prices

Special Dishes, Secret Prices

Why won't my server tell me how much the special costs? READ MORE

How to Cook Pasta Without Boiling Water

Does pasta really need to be cooked in boiling water? While the conventional wisdom says yes, some hounds contend that it makes sense to cook pasta in a more flavorful liquid, such as stock or even the sauce you plan to serve with the pasta. "By cooking in sauce or stock," says bushwickgirl, "you're enhancing the flavor of a rather bland product."

Many hounds use regular dried noodles in lasagne without pre-cooking, and find it works fine as long as they add a bit more sauce than usual. Cooking pasta in sauce on the stovetop takes a bit more finesse in order to ensure it cooks evenly and the sauce doesn't stick. You'll need to dilute your sauce a bit so it doesn't get too thick as the pasta absorbs liquid, and you must stir often. The method works best with short and small pasta shapes, according to bushwickgirl. cinnamon girl has made skillet lasagne this way with good results.

Another approach is to cook pasta as you would risotto, gradually adding small amounts of liquid and allowing the pasta to absorb it, as in this absorption pasta and Alain Ducasse's olive mill pasta. "You can do it equally well with a tomato-based sauce" as with stock, says rainey. "It's a unique method and works quite well."

Discuss: Why cook pasta in water and not the sauce?

The Smooth Indulgence of Chicken Liver

Chicken liver pâté is a rich, elegant appetizer that's perfect for a cocktail party or celebration meal.

This recipe from BLT Steak restaurant, in which the livers are cooked in duck fat and combined with a port reduction, is "truly decadent," says goodhealthgourmet. Emeril Lagasse's version is "relatively simple and very good," thinks caiatransplant. She suggests adding jarred truffles for an extra touch of luxe.

bizkat recommends Jacques Pépin's recipe, but uses only one stick of butter, which he thinks gives a liver-to-butter ratio that's "just right." nomadchowwoman likes this bourbon chicken liver pâté; she doubles the allspice and adds a bit more salt.

Most pâté recipes call for sautéing the livers before combining them with the other ingredients, but aggiecat prefers to poach them gently in dry white wine, to avoid overcooking. nomadchowwoman notes that, while most pâtés will only last a few days in the fridge, they can be frozen and later thawed with excellent results.

Discuss: favorite chicken liver pate recipes?

Tangerines Brighten Winter Dishes

Tangerines that quite aren't sweet enough to eat out of hand are terrific roasted with duck, chicken, or pork, says chefathome. "Roasted citrus is more flavourful than raw and adds a new dimension," he notes. Slice a tangerine paper thin and place the slices atop the meat before roasting, and "the tangerine cooks down into a lovely mass of flavour." Halve a second tangerine and roast the halves, flesh side down, in the pan with the meat, then squeeze the juice onto the finished meat.

Tangerine peels can be dried and used as an aromatic seasoning. Pare them in large pieces, allow to air dry, and use in Chinese soups and braises, suggests fourunder. Dried tangerine zest mixed with sea salt and dried rosemary makes a blend that's great on many things, but is especially wonderful on delicate white fish, says chefathome.

Ottolenghi's orange polenta cake is delicious made with tangerines, according to jen kalb. Or use them in this flourless clementine cake, made with almonds.

Discuss: what to do with about a pound of tangerines

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"The way to salt a burger is to put about a half teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a preheated cast iron pan and then put the unsalted patty into the pan on top of the salt." - KaimukiMan

"Just for a variation here, add a cup of creamy peanut butter and 1/4 cup butterscotch to any of the finished hot fudge recipes and you'll have an awesome peanut butter fudge sauce for ice cream." - morwen

"The greatest error I'm aware of when using liquid smoke is that it's quite easy to use too much and allow the smoky flavor to overpower the dish. Start with small amounts, add a very little at a time until you achieve the level of smokiness you want." - todao

Dipping While Driving

In the most momentous fast food development since McDonald's debuted an ad campaign featuring a guy who wanted to have sex with his $1 double cheeseburger, Heinz is changing up its game and introducing a brand new style of ketchup packet.

Farewell to the messy, tiny, plastic-y little bags you need to tear with your teeth; hello to a new dunk-friendly model that holds three times as much ketchup (i.e., enough for at least part of an order of fries.)

READ MORE

Jamie Oliver Wants to Change the World

British celebrity chef and roving food campaigner Jamie Oliver is set to reveal his "wish to change the world" tonight, live from the TED2010 conference. He has been chosen as the latest recipient of the prestigious TED Prize, with past winners including the likes of U2's Bono and President Bill Clinton.

The talk is being streamed live on CNN from 8.50 p.m. (EST), and we'd lay a sizable bet on it at least touching on the themes of higher-quality food and ever-expanding waistlines. However, as TED curator Chris Anderson points out in this preview video, Jamie is allowed to wish for anything he wants, even "a hot tub full of models." But clearly that's never going to happen: Everyone knows your first wish should always be for a million more wishes.

What Separates Junk Food from the Real Stuff?

"This is a no-brainer. Junk food has calories, but little or no nutritional value," says pikawicca. "I think we all know it when we see it. Some examples are ice cream, potato chips, pork rinds, you get the idea." It seems obvious at first: Soda and candy bars are junk food, fresh spinach and mangoes are not. But what does it really mean to be junk food? Is it merely unhealthy?

"Take candy bars for example," says ipsedixit. "You might say a Snickers bar is junk, but what about a Snickers Dark, which is made out of dark chocolate? Dark chocolate is supposed to have antioxidant and other healthful benefits. And, aren't peanuts good for you, which all Snickers bars have? Junk?"

Are rice cakes junk food? "They certainly aren't harmful in the sense that they are full of transfats or high in sodium or sugar, but then they are essentially empty calories—offering only simple carbs and very little fiber. Junk?" wonders ipsedixit. "If cardboard had calories, we would just call them rice cakes and make the dictionary one word less voluminous."

For that matter, "is vodka or tequila a 'junk' beverage because its nutrients are minimal?" wonders beevod.

LauraGrace thinks the concept of "junk food" has more to do with the level of factory processing than unhealthiness. A lightly processed food could even be relatively unhealthy—high in fat, say, like heavy cream—and she wouldn't call it junk food. Highly-processed foods, like the aforementioned Snickers bar, would almost always get classified as junk food in LauraGrace's book, though. "Even something low fat, or low carb, or whatever, that bears no resemblance to any ingredient found in nature (fat-free Twinkies, light beer *wink*), I would label as 'junk' in almost every situation," she says. Her definition? "Junk food is anything that, through extensive processing, becomes a product whose component ingredients are unidentifiable."

Discuss: What counts as "junk food"?

Why Do People Always Order Ginger Ale When They Fly?

Why Do People Always Order Ginger Ale When They Fly?

We allow some flight attendants to speculate wildly. READ MORE

The Color of Red Wine

MGZ has a question about wine color: "Why is the $9 Italian we drank tonight so much deeper in color than the $30 Burgundy we had two nights ago?" For that matter, what variables affect the variation in wine color, even between wines made from the same variety of grape?

"Nearly all red wines get their colour from the grape skins, not the flesh (which, with very few exceptions, is white)," says carswell. "The longer the grape juice is in contact with the skins, the more pigments are extracted."

The temperature during extraction, and how long it's extracted, is also important. "Extraction is proportional (roughly) to time of fermentation, temperature of fermentation, and the all important mass of skins to volume of juice ratio," says Cary. But extracting for a long time or at a high temperature, though it creates a lovely dark, inky color, can extract other things along the way, like flavors and smells that many people find unpleasant. "Traditionalists and 'hands off' type wine makers will use (generally) lower temperatures, no water additions (or subtractions ... which increase skin-to-juice ratio), no enzymes, and native yeasts. All these things will, on average, lead to less inky, purple wines," says Cary.

And there's one more reason cheap wine might have better color than the expensive stuff: Some less-expensive wines, and what oolah calls "higher-end fruit bombs" use additives like Mega Purple to boost color. "Yet another reason to seek out wines from non-interventionist producers," says carswell.

Discuss: A question about depth of color?