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

New Finds: Porcelain Nuts

These little fake nuts from the Curiosity Shoppe would look gorgeous on a dark surface, perhaps displayed in a shallow, shiny, black dish. They'd be a nice side dish for a bowl of fake fruit as well. Maybe you can have a fake dinner party with fake friends, and serve the whole shebang with a bottle of air.

Porcelain Nuts, $50

Low-Cost, High-Flavor Meats

Canny home cooks know that many inexpensive cuts of meat have deep flavor. Depending on the cut, it might need long braising or only a quick sear to bring out its best qualities.

"Day in and day out," says fourunder, "pork cuts, in my opinion, are always the most flavorful value protein for my money." Pork shoulder "is tasty and very tender when treated to slow and moist cooking methods," says stilton, who adds, "It's often the least expensive cut of pork around in my neck of the woods." c oliver grinds it to make homemade pork sausage. Zeldog says pork cheeks work well in recipes calling for belly.

It is more difficult to find bargain cuts of beef, but they can be had. wallyz likes to grill chuck and 7-bone steaks to medium rare: "A little tougher," he says, "but lots of flavor." Flank and blade steaks take well to the same treatment, when sliced thin across the grain, and are also good for stir-frying. Chuck roasts are great for braising whole as pot roast or for stews; beef shin costs even less and is also good for braising. Oxtails aren't as inexpensive as they once were, but can often be found at a good price at ethnic markets, and make a good stand-in for beef short ribs.

Lamb neck is a bargain. emmee likes this 10-hour braised lamb neck. "The meat falls off the bone and is rich, flavorful, and delicious," she says.

EricMM buys well-priced duck legs at an Asian market and makes faux Peking duck by glazing them with soy sauce, sugar, and five-spice powder, and roasting them; he then shreds them and eats them with the traditional pancakes, scallions, and hoisin sauce. I use duck legs in this stovetop Chinese "roast" duck (as a bonus, it yields lots of rendered duck fat ).

And, of course, most offal is bargain priced. Many hounds are fans of chicken livers, hearts, and gizzards. cimui likes them grilled, yakitori style, or braised in soy sauce, five-spice, ginger, and sugar. ipsedixit soaks gizzards in buttermilk for 12 hours to tenderize, and then cooks them in a cast iron skillet with bacon fat, onions, garlic, and diced tomatoes.

For more clever ways to use underrated cuts like brisket and heart meat, see CHOW's Beyond the Porterhouse.

Discuss: Cheap yet good cuts of meat
Chicken Gizzards- How To Prepare And Your Favorite Recipes Please

A (Delicious) Chicken in Every Pot

Chicken, whether cooked whole or in serving pieces, is the star of many affordable one-pot meals, both homey and elegant.

thew describes a basic technique for a braised one-pot chicken dish that he notes is endlessly adaptable, depending on the combination of ingredients you use: "Cut the chicken into parts, brown, set aside. Sauté aromatics of choice. Return chicken to pan. Add vegetable matter. Add spices. Add liquid to halfway up the chicken, or all the way if you prefer. Simmer." cheesecake17 follows these steps using onion, garlic, red and green bell peppers, and button mushrooms, seasoning with thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes; add a can or two of stewed or diced tomatoes and their juices for the braising liquid and finish with capers and green olives.

ptwasheater is a fan of Marcella Hazan's chicken fricassees. "Her cacciatore [scroll down] is TOTALLY different than an American version," says ptwasheater. "It's divine." toveggiegirl thinks Hazan's chicken fricassee with red cabbage is excellent, too.

joonjoon loves Cook's Illustrated's French chicken in a pot. "The amount of chicken flavor you get out of chicken in a pot is incredible," joonjoon says. "When I bit into that chicken it was like ... wow, now that tastes like chicken!" Other French-inflected hound favorites include chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and chicken bouillabaisse from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

For a French-country-style braise, try CHOW's Chicken Basquaise.

Discuss: Looking for yummy, inexpensive, and delicious recipe for a one-pot meal with chicken

Low-Fat Kicks Atkins’ Ass

A lot of us are suffering from pinched-pants syndrome after holiday indulgences. In the spirit of New Year's service journalism, the Hungry Beast rates 10 popular diets for effectiveness. Hungry Beast staff combed through studies and scientific journals for data, and then reported on a number of factors: the percentage of people who dumped the diet before a year was up, percentage of BMI lost, and mean weight loss over a year.

It's an interesting comparison, because even the diet rated most effective by the Hungry Beast, Volumetrics, resulted in an average weight loss of 17.4 pounds in a year. Seventeen lousy pounds, after a year of eating soup instead of cookies? Oy.

Next most effective were the American Heart Association's low-fat diet, Atkins, the Mediterranean diet, and Weight Watchers. Hmm, I notice the Hollywood Cookie diet isn't on here.

Can You Take Leftovers Home from a Party?

Can You Take Leftovers Home from a Party?

Advice on dinner-party doggy bags, "roadie" beers, and digestif dibs. READ MORE

A Light Macrobrew with Soul?

A Light Macrobrew with Soul?

This week's mission: Bud Light labors to change its image, but only slightly. READ MORE

Salmon, Simple but Super

It's easy to make flat-out delicious salmon main dishes with a few flavorful ingredients and the right cooking technique.

Sam Fujisaka mixes soy sauce, finely grated ginger, and toasted sesame oil and sprinkles this on salmon, then microwaves for a couple of minutes. iahebert makes a marinade from soy sauce, olive oil, brown sugar, lime juice, garlic, ginger, sriracha, and a few dashes of Angostura bitters, marinates salmon for a couple of hours, and grills.

"I always think serving salmon en papillote seems impressive," says The Dairy Queen, "even though it's super simple." pcdarnell says salmon with vermouth sauce, with ingredients inspired by a martini, is "easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but makes a really terrific meal and presentation."

todao counsels a minimalist approach: "There are several varieties of salmon (five Pacific varieties alone)," he says, "and each deserves to be respected in any recipe for its individuality. Additionally, I hate to see salmon prepared with a lot of 'stuff' that does little more than cover up the natural flavors." He steams skinned sockeye fillets with a bit of shredded ginger and green onion, and serves with a squeeze of lemon.

For an easy but special occasion-worthy approach, check out CHOW's Salmon en Croûte.

Discuss: Salmon .. take it to the next level

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I don't know what it was, the freshness and quality of the ingredients or the fact that I could cook shoes in the fireplace and they would be sublime, but it was fantastic." - mendogurl

"There was a lot of air space between the flesh and skin, so the latter was very crisp. [Yukon Golds] are thinner-skinned than russets, so the skin tasted like potato chips." - greygarious

"It sounded so odd but perfect for New Year's, I tried it a couple of weeks ago as a test. Wow. This is one of the best dishes I have made in a long time ... and it is ridiculously easy." - Tom P

Take One Down, Pass It Around …

If you'd like to see what it looks like to drink 1,000 beers in a year, Minnesota blogger James "The Opie" Lindsay lays it all out in a sophisticated spreadsheet-esque format that is as elegant as it is free of any moralizing or tortured self-analysis. His dream was to drink 1,000 beers in 2009. His methodology was to track each beer as he drank it, religiously logging type, time, and quantity consumed via an iPhone app. His crowning success occurred on New Year's Eve.

His top five brews:

1. Pabst Blue Ribbon (107)
2. Grain Belt Premium (106)
3. Miller Lite (78)
4. Bell's Two Hearted Ale (63)
5. Surly CynicAle (39)

(For those who don't live in the Upper Midwest, the quality rating on those beers is: 1. self-evident; 2. bad, but beloved; 3. self-evident; 4. really good; 5. also really good.)

Food Terms That Should Die

Serious Eats has a gripe list of food terms it wants axed in 2010. The biggest offenders among its readers are abbreviated terms such as "sammie" and "rezzie." MattTalksTacos bags on "toothsome," "artisan," and "sourced." Scotter is planning on "pimp-slapping the next person that says 'flavor profile.'" "Flexitarian" is dismissed as a cop-out by arjava: "WTF is that, other than someone who claims to be a vegetarian, but really isn't. I guess it's more PC than saying 'I'd like to seem all trendy and hip, but give me a hamburger and I'm a meat-whore like all the rest of you.'"

One of my favorite Chowhound threads, "Cringe-worthy words in restaurant reviews," deals with this same topic. The highlight, courtesy of BostonCookieMonster:

"Eatery," "boite," and all other smarmy attempts to avoid the word "restaurant."

"Victuals," "viands," "comestibles," and all other smarmy attempts to avoid the word "food."

"Bivalves, "crustaceans," and all other smarmy attempts to avoid the words "mussels," "clams," "shrimp," etc.


To add some fuel to the fire, here are a few more from the CHOW No List: "vittles," "foodie," "decadent," "sandos," "mouthwatering," "notes of," "whip up," and "luscious." Got any more?