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

Nagging Unsanitary Cooks

Nagging Unsanitary Cooks

How to handle hygiene issues in the kitchen. READ MORE

Food for Getting Warm and Cozy

What do you eat or drink to get the most enjoyment out of cold, stormy weather? Some foods seem to maximize coziness, like brooklynkoshereater's favorite "thick beef stew or mushroom barley soup—a big pot, simmering on the stove for hours." dagwood likes "homemade eggnog with bourbon, and lots of freshly ground nutmeg and whipped cream." Comfort foods from childhood are especially welcome during a dark, cold blizzard. KayceeK has some favorites from this category: "Grilled cheese sandwiches. Hot chocolate with marshmallows. Oatmeal with cream and brown sugar. Pita bread stuffed with banana, peanut butter, and honey and baked in the oven."

"I make stock on snowy days," says shaogo. "Oxtail stock makes the house smell good all day. Then I make 'French Onion Soup' with plenty of cheese (yeah, I know, 'French Onion Soup' is a cheesy, old-fashioned idea but we love it!)." Indeed, warm and cozy nights are no time to be a food snob. This is the time for macaroni and cheese, creamed chipped beef on toast, and fudge. amanda3571 wants "Fondue! From a box! Yeah I said it ..."

Snow can also be a great excuse for time-consuming cooking. "When snowbound, I like to bake things like sticky buns—the kinds of baking that requires three rises to be good," says dct. Or get out your tiny marrow spoons and make osso buco with a gremolata like DallasDude. aces551 likes anything in a crock pot. "I like to fill the house with cooking smells all day long. It's so welcoming and comforting to do so. You can do a hearty beef stew, a chili, any stew or soup, and top it off with a crunchy crusted roll or french bread."

Cold weather food is all about the emotional context. soupkitten most wants "a baked potato or hand-pie slipped into a coat pocket, a mug of split peas and just-baked bread after shoveling," and "buttered popcorn and roast tree nuts, hearth and fire."

Discuss: Favorite Snow-bound foods?
favorite cozy snowstorm food

Don’t Be Afraid of Mussels

Cooking mussels may seem intimidating if you've never done it, but a few simple steps guarantee good results. "Mussels are awesome," says andytee, "very affordable and easy to cook."

Mussels are commonly sold in two-pound bags in the US (often mesh bags, which allow them to breathe). "Check the attached tag to see the harvest and ship date," advises EricMM. "It should have been within the previous week. Most will be open a crack ... that's OK. Sniff the bag—this is the most important step of all in purchasing mussels! There should only be a faint briny smell. Anything stronger, do not buy!"

When you place the mussels in cold water, they should start to close, EricMM says. If one doesn't close, set it aside; if it hasn't closed in five minutes, it is dead and should be thrown away. Farmed mussels often don't have beards, but removing mussels' beards and cleaning them is straightforward; here are illustrated instructions.

Mussels cook quickly, notes hotoynoodle: "As soon as they open they're finished." If any don't open during cooking, discard them. EricMM thinks the most flavor can be extracted from mussels by putting them in a dry pan, covering it, and letting them steam in their own juices.

Many like them steamed in white wine, butter, and garlic. Harters also likes them cooked in tomato sauce with garlic and onion. "Simple is best," he says. bushwickgirl makes a rich dish by cooking them with shallots, heavy cream with a bit of saffron bloomed in it, and a shot of Pernod, with basil chiffonade for garnish. She also likes steamed mussels in lemongrass-coconut curry.

Discuss: cooking mussels?

Meet the Burgundy Truffle

White truffles are pungently fragrant and fantastically expensive: upwards of $200 an ounce, notes celeryroot. Their cousin, black truffles, are somewhat less expensive, but still a significant outlay of cash. (See Fresh Truffles Under the Tree in last week's General Topics Digest.) But meet the humble Burgundy truffle, says eldenwine, "reporting" from Burgundy. "What we call here the Burgundy truffle is Tuber uncinatum or Tuber aestivum, the summer truffle, sometimes called the gray truffle (and known in Italy as scorzone)," explains eldenwine. "These truffles are in season now (and will be in until the first hard frost)."

Shaving fresh Burgundy truffles over pasta is a great use for them, but cooking them will destroy much of the flavor. "The summer truffle is nowhere nearly as pungent as its more well-know cousins from the Piedmont and Périgord, but because they are less expensive, you can use more!" says eldenwine. "And remember: your don't really taste truffle, you smell it ... it invades your sinuses."

mpb4f has seen Burgundy truffles for sale this season for around $36 an ounce. A final word: beware counterfeit truffles.

Discuss: Burgundy (autumn) truffles from Italy

Chocolate Chip Cookies to Die For

Chowhounds are choosy about their chocolate chip cookie recipes, and which they prefer depends in part on the texture they like in the cookie: crisp, chewy, or a bit of both.

Mandymac can't say enough about these chocolate chunk cookies, which are both crunchy and chewy. "Follow all of her instructions to the letter," Mandymac counsels. "Yes, yes, yes," concurs TorontoJo. "These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies—they are amazing! Small batch, great results.

foiegras' standby is Maida Heatter's "positively the absolute best" chocolate chip cookies, which are a variation of the Toll House recipe where the baking soda is dissolved in hot water and beaten in after half the flour is added. "I find that adding it at the end yields a cookie that is flatter, like the ones I remember from childhood," says foiegras, who likes them best made with equal parts white and whole wheat flour, Ghirardelli 60 percent cocoa chocolate chips, and 11 ounces of pecans broken by hand.

chowser's favorite when she wants a crisp exterior and chewy interior is this New York Times adaptation of a Jacques Torres' recipe. Or, for crunchy, crisp cookies with an adult flavor, she likes this Neiman Marcus recipe. (chowser points out that this is the store's true recipe, found on its website, not the recipe that circulates with the urban myth that Neiman Marcus charges an arm and a leg for its recipe.)

If thin, crisp cookies are your desire, try CHOW's Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Discuss: The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Coq au Vin for the Cold Months

Braised dishes are comforting during the cold months, and while chicken stewed in a bottle of wine may sound indulgent, its roots are rustic and practical. "Coq au vin is an ancient dish that used up tough old fowl," notes hotoynoodle. "It's not a recipe that needs overthinking. Good/decent quality wine and dark meat chicken."

bear had great results with Alton Brown's recipe, which she made with a whole chicken in pieces, plus extra thighs. The dark meat was superior, but white meat lovers were pleased with their portions. erica says it may not be for everyone, but she has had great success with Mark Bittman's coq au vin with prunes.

Discuss: truly great coq au vin recipe?

DIY Sea Salt

"I've never heard of anyone with access to salt water making their own salt. Could I just keep a slow simmer pot going for a few days to get salt?" wonders Goldendog. It's absolutely doable, say hounds. "The traditional method is to isolate sea water and let it evaporate naturally. No point in running the stove or the oven," says alanbarnes. "Get a cookie sheet or a hotel pan or a kiddie pool full of ocean water and let the subtropical heat do its thing."

However, DIY salt-making is a project that should only be motivated by the joy of the process, not for quality of the salt or economic considerations. danieljdwyer figures a gallon of sea water would yield around a third of a pound of salt, or "about $0.35 worth," he says. And good, expensive sea salt usually comes from deep, cold water far away from human habitation (and consequential disgusting pollution). You're not going to get high-quality, pure sea salt from beach water in Florida, unfortunately. "I wouldn't use any water that isn't from way out in the Gulf, frankly," says alkapal.

Discuss: Making your own sea salt?

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I used to think this was totally pretentious until I rented a furnished apartment with a kitchen scale. It is super convenient and my baking results have never been better!" - ChristinaMason

"I just discovered Newtown pippins. Great for baking AND eating. It's a firm apple so I wouldn't recommend for applesauce or apple butter. But my god the flavor is delightful." - Dcfoodblog

"I made the marmalade on Sunday morning and baked bread on Sunday afternoon. If you could capture that combined smell in an aerosol, you'd be rich." - mandycat

What to Drink in 2010

What to Drink in 2010

A wine, beer, and cocktail forecast. READ MORE

All Hail the iPhone-Cheese Cyborg

Just in time for the holidays: an iPhone with a picture of a sexy Santa Claus on it, docking on a block of pepperjack cheese residing on a cheese plate. Gaze upon the glory. Happy Chriskwahkkah.

Image source: Flickr member Photo Giddy under Creative Commons