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

James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Announced

The James Beard Foundation announced its nominations for restaurant and chef semifinalists this morning. The list will be whittled down to finalists on March 22 and winners announced on May 3. Until then, enjoy sifting through the massive list, which includes accolades for Deanie Fox and Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu, even though recent reports indicate they're no longer working there.
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Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I keep all my schmaltz (fat) from chicken, roasts, hamburger, even gravy fat, and cook roast potatoes in it from time to time, then I keep that fat too and reuse. Haven't killed anybody yet!" - smartie

"I use Trader Joe's wasabi mayo to coat fish before baking on a rack in a pan. Season with S&P, allow to sit at room temp. for about an hour, then coat and bake @350° for 20-25 minutes. Pork chops and lamb chops are also good this way, with longer cooking times." - Will Owen

"It's wonderful with sour cream—better than mayonnaise, in fact. Just on its own, that's a nice dip for vegetables. Crumble some bacon and squeeze lemon into it for a better version of that nasty fake glop in the plastic tubs. This is magnificent on baked potatoes, too." - dmd_kc, on prepared horseradish

All Hail the Alfajor!

Brace yourself: Now that cupcakes are yesterday's news and the macaron craze is losing steam, we are, argues writer Eric Steinman of Delish.com, poised for the meteoric rise of alfajores.

Steinman summarizes the construction and appeal of the cookie: "The alfajor is a Spanish/Latin-American confection in origin, consisting of two round shortbread cookies with a dulce de leche (caramel) center. Most often, the cookie is dipped in chocolate, sealing the two cookies into a delicious union, and approximating a very sophisticated and upmarket version of the chocolate-dipped Oreo (all apologies to the alfajores bakers out there)."

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Hamburger Wrap for Snacking

Hamburger Wrap for Snacking

This week's mission: Big Mac undercover in a tortilla. READ MORE

Bacon Peanut Brittle: “Pure Evil”

Sir Francis Bacon Peanut Brittle is "pure evil," says ipsedixit. "Will make you want to give up your first born ... Go, get some now." The ingredients, says ipsedixit, are: "Smoked bacon, sugar, peanuts, corn syrup, butter, baking soda, vanilla, salt." That's right: bacon is the first ingredient, and therefore the most plentiful by volume. "Why do you think it's called 'Bacon Peanut Butter Brittle' and not 'Peanut Butter Bacon Brittle?'" reasons ipsedixit.

Another favorite bacon peanut brittle is from The Redhead. LNG212's husband prefers it to Sir Francis. But the two brittles are very different, catering to different tastes.

"When I think of brittle, I think of something more like Sir Francis," says Miss Needle. "To me, Redhead serves candied peanuts with bacon bits. It's fine but I miss the biting into a 'bark.’”

LNG212 agrees with that assessment, but adds, "I think that's exactly why DH likes it so much—it doesn't have the sugar/syrup/candy chunk part. It's more like roasted nuts with bacon and some maple sugar." For the record, smokeandapancake is NOT a fan of The Redhead brittle. "It's just candied peanuts with candied bacon bits on it," laments smokeandapancake.

"I just ordered some. Never go on Chowhound when you're hungry. Thanks for the recommendation," says LA Buckeye Fan.

Discuss: Best Fvck!ng Peanut Brittle ever is ...

Best Picture Cocktails

Best Picture Cocktails

In the 2010 Oscar race, there can be ten cocktails but only one winner. READ MORE

Chocolate Cheerios Not Groundbreaking

Chocolate Cheerios Not Groundbreaking

This week's mission: Can an austere-but-fun breakfast cereal stay balanced after it goes chocolate? READ MORE

Make Your Own Italian Sodas

Cola from a can is not the only way to drink soda. Carbonated water can be customized with the flavor of your choice—and you can use as much or as little as you like, to control sweetness. For this purpose, soypower likes Nature's Flavors concentrates, especially the peach and grapefruit varieties. Florida Hound's favorites are Monin's mandarin and tangerine syrups, ordered directly from the Monin company. "I like Monin syrups," agrees LadyCook61. "I have 15 different flavors , which I used not just for Italian sodas but also for lemonade, ice cream, coffee, milk, even in cakes." And "you have to get yourself some Monin Key Lime Pie!!" says Kater.

Beyond syrups, there's the ever-popular egg cream: a mixture of milk, soda water, "just the right amount of Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup and just the right wrist action in the stirring," says Florida Hound. Mix-ins don't have to be sweet at all; WhatThePho says, "when we open a bottle of red wine that fails to live up to our expectations, I do spritzers! I'm not a huge sweet fiend, so these taste great to me."

Discuss: Favorite syrup for Italian sodas?

Chef Ungar Wants You to Come Home with Him

globalgourmand has been putting off reviewing the chef's table dinners at The Dining Alternative because words can't do them justice. "This is a holistic experience. It is the museum, the theatre, the restaurant, the church, and the bedroom all at once."

The chef's table events are held monthly at Chef Peter Ungár's own home in Somerville (thus the address is not public until diners make reservations, $125 per person, which includes a wine pairing with each of five courses). The December chef's table blew globalgourmand's mind. "Shall I talk about the lighting? The silverware? Being able to watch Chef Peter Ungár and his team work in seemingly perfect harmony—the silent dance that occurs in his well organized little corner of a kitchen? Shall I talk about the fine company at my table? Where DOES one begin on an experience that lingers (months later) like a glowing dream?"

One could talk about the food, and globalgourmand does. The first course made him weak in the knees: olive oil confit pork belly with marrons glacés, quince with vanilla bean and thyme, and kumquat-glazed foie gras. "Yes, imagine sweet, silky, unctious pork fat layered with moist confit pork meat, brightened by piquant kumquat and grounded by creamy, earthy-sweet chestnut purée, foie, and tender quince. Yes, you can die and go to heaven now," says globalgourmand.

The romance continued with the second course: Nova Scotia lobster and maitake tortelloni in lobster cognac: "It was a orgy of ocean and earth, with homemade pasta just toothsome enough to not get lost in the tryst."

Next was white miso branzino (sea bass) steamed in sake, served on a plate garnished with squid ink and turnip coulis. "Everything more subtle and delicate here," says globalgourmand. "You have to reach for each of the flavors, but they're all there, and they all work. Perfectly."

And so it went swooningly, through the persimmon sorbet, and the sous-vide bavette steak with fig molasses and ancho chile, and the kabocha squash and chèvre tartlet for dessert, followed by cheese, lavender chocolate truffles, rosewater meringue, and black cherry crisp. "No hesitation, and certainly no regrets. We'll do it again soon. We might just do it every month if I can shift some dollars around in our budget," says the wowed globalgourmet. "Make a reservation before this opportunity goes away. Things this good don't last forever."

The Dining Alternative
Address available upon making reservations
617-666-6989

Discuss: Chef's Table: The Dining Alternative

Peking Duck: A Lost Cause in Boston?

When Pegmeister posted in search of decent Peking duck, the same advice was handed down repeatedly: Don't bother trying to get it in Boston. queeny's dad used to work at (now closed) Weylu and told her that most Chinese restaurants in Boston cheap out by buying roasted duck from the delis and serving it with the Peking duck accoutrements: scallions, hoisin, and pancakes.

There is one place that still does it up right: King Fung Garden II in Brookline. You have to order it a day in advance, a good sign of authenticity. It's $34.50 for the classic three courses: duck with pancakes, stir-fried, and in soup. And it's good. "The only bad thing is that this place is set up as a typical take out joint and they don't serve alcohol. Definitely not a romantic dinner type place but, honestly, the best Chinese food always comes out of the sketchiest places," says cavaluv.

Note that the Brookline King Fung Garden is not the same as the Boston branch; the owner sold the Chinatown restaurant and moved to Brookline. The Chinatown King Fung Garden isn't as good.

King Fung Garden II [South Shore]
370 Boylston Street, Brookline
617-739-8560

Discuss: Peking Duck -- Educate me please!