The CHOW Blog rss

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

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"The last two courses (beef filet with truffles and mushrom tart, chocolate sponge cake with dark chocolate sphere, orange granita, candied orange, and chocolate chip ice cream) were the best, especially the beef." - dump123456789 on Baumé, a new molecular gastronomy restaurant in Palo Alto

"Sprinkled with sesame seeds and made with some whole wheat flour, the hot bread had a wonderful yeasty aroma mingled with a toasted nutty flavor and satisfying chewiness." - Melanie Wong on sangak, the Persian flatbread that is the specialty of the new Yeganeh Bakery

"I like their pizza better than Pizzaiolo's, I think their pan-regional style gives the kitchen more room to shine than Corso's Tuscan focus gives its cooks, and, while further research may be required to determine whether the cooking really has superseded Oliveto's, Dopo is indubitably more affordable." - Robert Lauriston on why Dopo is now his favorite Italian place in the East Bay

Pistachios Are Everywhere!

Pistachios have been showing up in desserts, encrusting fish, paired with meats, on top of salads, and even in cocktails at restaurants around the country. They make any dish taste meatier, they are pretty and green, and they are packed with vitamins.

Spotted at: Farm 255 restaurant in Athens, Georgia, in a pistachio Manhattan made with Dumante Verdenoce pistachio liqueur; in a pistachio frangipane (a pastry filling typically flavored with almonds) fig tart at New York City's Nougatine restaurant; in pistachio-crusted cod with cauliflower risotto and curry oil at Atlanta, Georgia's Canoe restaurant; and served with pork shoulder with chard, roses, and figs at Boulder, Colorado's Black Cat restaurant.

"The fig-rose combination is straight out of Persian cuisine, however it is a nontraditional use, as it is normally a dessert," says Eric Skokan, the chef at Black Cat. He makes what's known in Middle Eastern cuisine as a tarator sauce out of the pistachios to serve alongside the fruit-laced meat. It's a creamy dippin' sauce, normally made with tahini (not to be confused with tartar sauce).

Try one of's pistachio recipes.

Image source: Flickr member theogeo under Creative Commons

Using Vanilla Extract Versus Vanilla Beans

Play Video

Your candy will be great either way. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Salted Caramel, Smooth or Crunchy?

Play Video

You decide. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

How to Melt Chocolate

Play Video

You can do it in the microwave. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

The Basics: How to Make Oven-Baked Split Pea Soup

The Basics: How to Make Oven-Baked Split Pea Soup

The simplest version. READ MORE

Tasty Teatime Sandwiches

Tiny, delicate tea sandwiches are primarily found at British afternoon tea, but you needn't be putting the kettle on to enjoy them, and hounds have lots of tasty ingredient ideas.

Shrimp salad is a classic filling; making it well is all about getting the details right. Use a medium shrimp, recommends alkapal, who thinks they're sweeter than large ones. Most hounds boil or poach shrimp for salad in the shell in water flavored with some combination of lemon, peppercorns, and herbs.

To your peeled, chopped shrimp, add "a little mayo, minced celery, shallot, S&P, maybe a tiny bit of very finely minced hot pepper, and you're good to go," says pikawicca. "I think the real key in any seafood salad is simply to barely dress it," advises dmd_kc. In addition to using in sandwiches, "try serving in boats made of hollowed-out ripe avocados, suggests pasuga. "Wonderful texture combination."

On the vegetarian front, smartie says classic cucumber sandwiches are made with thinly sliced white sandwich bread spread with salted butter, thinly sliced English cucumbers, and salt and pepper. "It's a great sandwich in amongst the other standards of a classic British afternoon tea," says Harters. But, he adds, "On their own, they're waste of space."

Hounds make cucumber variations that hold greater appeal. wineos uses Boursin cheese in place of butter. Others use mixtures of cream cheese, mayo, and grated onion; or cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon juice. Refrigerate these mixtures overnight so the flavors marry. LaLa says that, in Kentucky, a spread known as Benedictine is made by combining cream cheese, mayo, grated onion, salt, and drained grated cucumber, and tinting it with green food coloring.

Discuss: Shrimp Salad Sandwich
How to make cucumber sandwiches?

Buttermilk, Savory and Sweet

Buttermilk is a tangy cultured dairy product that enhances both savory and sweet dishes.

Several hounds love to use buttermilk in mashed potatoes. soupkitten suggests making buttermilk-herb dressing (here's CHOW's recipe), which you can use on a green salad and then "make the world's best mashed potatoes using the leftovers."

Buttermilk is often used to soak chicken before it's fried; Val likes this spicy oven-fried version. Sharuf's standard gravy uses buttermilk and Wondra flour or cornstarch. Just add them to the pan used for cooking meat. "This gives a sour cream flavor, minus the calories," she says. coll has used buttermilk in curries as a lower-fat alternative to coconut milk.

Buttermilk is a great base for creamy sweets such as panna cotta, smoothies, and mango lassi. "Though most Western recipes use yogurt to make lassi," notes Rasam, "it can be made with buttermilk." Hansel says this pineapple buttermilk sorbet is delicious and refreshing.

Discuss: Surplus of Buttermilk

Standing Up for Young Farmers

A couple of weeks ago, Severine von Tscharner Fleming filed the paperwork to start the National Young Farmers' Coalition, a nonprofit she says will be the first of its kind, aiming to address the needs of the new generation of farmers. Farming has been a huge part of her entire adult life (she's 28), from working on farms for the last eight summers, to starting her own Smithereen Farm last year in New York's Hudson Valley, where she raises rabbits, pigs, chickens, herbs, and vegetables. That's not to mention her work on an organization called the Greenhorns, which has produced a documentary on young farmers in America, as well as a radio show, newsletter, and young farmer mixers. We caught up with her to find out more about the new coalition. READ MORE

Decadent-but-Fluffy Cheesecake

How can you make a cheesecake that's as rich and decadent as the dense, creamy New York style, but with a fluffy texture? another_adam's family recipe achieves this result via folding stiffly beaten egg whites into the batter. Cook's Illustrated's light and airy cheesecake uses the same method.

A friend of ChefJune's served an airy cheesecake "with all the great flavor of the New York cheesecake we know and love" in his restaurant, she says. "They achieved the texture," she explains, "by combining all the cake ingredients and then inserting the whisk attachment on the KitchenAid mixer and letting ’er rip! A few seconds later, the ingredients had a lot of air whipped into it, and when baked was extremely ethereal in texture." She now uses this trick at home.

Discuss: Airy/fluffy cheesecake?