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

Mascarpone Makes Everything Better

Mascarpone, the rich Italian cream cheese, is handy for both sweet and savory dishes. “Marscapone makes everything better,” enthuses normalheightsfoodie.

TorontoJo mixes mascarpone with homemade or jarred caramel and uses it to fill a baked pastry shell, then tops with sliced bananas. “One of my easiest, yummiest desserts,” she says. Paula76 recommends mascarpone cheesecake with candied pecans and dulce de leche sauce.

jeniyo likes these sesame-mascarpone cookie and lemon-ginger ice cream sandwiches. “The cookies are very tasty, even without the ice cream,” she says, and they keep for a long time. Full tummy loves room-temperature mascarpone on scones with jam. “Please don’t anyone accuse me of sacrilege,” she begs, “but the flavour of mascarpone reminds me somewhat of Devon cream.”

4Snisl makes a pasta sauce by combining mascarpone with some pasta cooking water, lemon juice and zest, and blanched broccoli rabe or spinach. Occasionally, she tops the whole shebang with a poached egg.

More ideas for mascarpone:
• Add it to cooked polenta or mashed potatoes.
• Mix it with herbs and goat or blue cheese and use as a spread.
• Use it to fill the cavities of halved poached pears.
• Stir it into scrambled eggs.

CHOW.com’s Chocolate Icebox Cake with Mascarpone and Blackberries gives a sophisticated spin to a classic.

Board Link: leftover mascarpone–what to do?

How to Keep Tortillas Hot for the Table

Tortillas, whether used to make tacos or as an accompaniment to an entrée, should be served hot. Chowhounds have some creative solutions for keeping them hot on a buffet table or taco bar.

hoosfoos likes the La Tortilla Loca Microwave Tortilla Warmer, which holds up to a dozen and keeps them warm for at least an hour. Bryan Pepperseed wraps tortillas in a damp cloth and puts the whole bundle in a slow cooker on the low setting.

HillJ has developed a technique that she says keeps tortillas “moist and warm for hours”: Wrap an electric heating pad in a bath towel, place it on the serving table, and plug it in. Park a platter of tortillas on the towel-wrapped heating pad, keeping the tortillas covered with a paper towel or napkin. HillJ uses the same setup for brunch buffets, and says it works equally well for waffles, French toast, and pancakes.

Board Link: Keeping tortillas warm

Waiter, Get Your Hands Off Me!

Bruce Buschel is opening a restaurant. And he has some ideas about what he’d like his staff to do and not do. So many ideas, in fact, that he was able to supply the New York Times with a list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do.” Buschel is on the ball; witness some of the picks of his list:

“8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.”

“20. Never refuse to substitute one vegetable for another.”

“32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.”

Buschel was on NPR a few days later, and he had more to say. Here he is on servers touching customers:

“I think it’s not a polite thing to do. I think a lot of people can take it the wrong way. The study that’s being quoted doesn’t mention genders. I’m sure a lot of women think that if they touch a customer on the shoulder, their tip goes up. It may or may not be true. I just think that, again, you’re invading somebody’s space. I know recently, I was standing in a restaurant waiting at the bar and somebody came over from behind and actually physically moved me, grabbed my two shoulders and moved me. And I turned around and he said, the waiter has to get past. So there are all degrees of touching. And some people may get excited and some people may be offended. So I think the best thing is just to not do it.”

Yeah, keep your paws off me!

Better Béchamel

Béchamel, the white sauce that’s a building block in many casseroles and creamed vegetable dishes, is a simple enough affair: Milk and seasonings are added to a butter-and-flour roux and cooked until thick. A few variables can make for an easier and better result, say hounds.

It’s not necessary to heat the milk before incorporating it, many hounds contend, though using cold milk can lead to lumps if you don’t take care. But others do find using heated milk easier. “I always throw the milk in the microwave to warm it up,” says Janet from Richmond. “No lumps and also makes the sauce thicken much more quickly.” Heated milk creates a glossier, shinier, and much smoother béchamel, adds maria lorraine.

Sooeygun learned to make béchamel by heating the milk with onion, bay leaves, and peppercorns to infuse it with their flavor. “And don’t forget the nutmeg,” another classic addition, says maria lorraine.

Board Link: Sauce-making technique (bechamel)

Snacks and the Modern Gamer

The brutally obvious nature of the picks in Topless Robot’s “10 Most Beloved and Unhealthy Gaming Snacks” doesn’t diminish the fleeting-if-all-too-real vicarious pleasure a casual reader picks up from hearing the analysis of total crap ranging from Oreos to Slim Jims to that ghastly World of Warcraft Mountain Dew.

On the topic of doughnuts, Topless Robot notes:

“It is one of the few foods you can buy a box of, bring it to a friend’s house and only your most picky of bitch friends will not find something they like.”

Not Pulitzer-caliber stuff, but, to be fair, Combos aren’t winning any James Beard Awards anytime soon.

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Overheard on the General Topics Boards

“Meat is not a homogeneous mass. Depending where on the animal it came from and what its function in life was, the flavor will vary tremendously.”
-KaimukiMan

“In honour of Big Bird & the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street (today according to Google), what are some of your favourite dishes and recipes from the show. And especially for Big Bird. What are some of your favourite poultry recipes or dishes?”

-bigfellow

“If you like the fried cheese edges of pizza, you can just fry some other cheeses in a fry pan until crispy and eat.”
-scuzzo

Mussels for the Novice

In flavor, mussels are comparable to other bivalves (clams, oysters), “but maybe taste a little more of the sea,” says dmd_kc. thew agrees: Mussels are “soft, briny, creamier in flavor than other bivalves, and perhaps slightly fishier.” Unlike other bivalves, mussels are pretty much always served cooked, says gordeaux. One thing about mussels: Freezing completely ruins them, says gordeaux. “They are one bivalve that turn into garbage once frozen. I can spot a frozen mussel after one bite. They get really firm, almost rigid. I just can’t do frozen mussels. Not worth it in my book,” he says.

How to try them? The classic preparation is the exquisitely simple moules marinière, mussels steamed or simmered in white wine and garlic. Using a simple marinara sauce for a simmer will work well—especially “with a good french bread to sop up the yummy sauce with,” says gordeaux. And “if you want to drift away from all these tomato/wine sauce advocates, if you want to run at the edge of the pack, then lightly batter, coat with a few bread crumbs and deep fry,” suggests Paulustrious. “Drizzle with a little garlic butter. The sea washes all the calories away.”

Board Link: What are mussels like?

10 Mail-Order Gifts for 2009

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What Makes Great Seaweed Salad

Eating prepared seaweed salad is, unfortunately, “so often like eating sweetened strands of plastic,” says tatamagouche. What makes seaweed salad great? It’s a balance of flavors, and the right texture. “It’s gotta be just the right balance of sour (rice vinegar), sweet (sugar) and salty (dashi),” says soypower. “To me, it has to have a good mix of different kinds of seaweed, plenty of sesame seeds, the bite of chili pepper, and that great saltiness you get with good seaweed,” says kubasd. “And it must be tender.”

“Good seaweed salad needs to have sweet and savory, and have a nice smokiness from the sesame oil and seeds,” says ipsedixit. “And the seaweed needs to be a bit chewy, but soft and never rubbery.” ipsedixit’s recipe includes garlic, chile flakes, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. The seaweed is marinated overnight and garnished with toasted sesame seeds just before eating.

Board Link: Define really good seaweed salad.