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

Positively Degenerate Flourless Chocolate Cake

When it comes to flourless chocolate cake, there are two main types: dense and intensely chocolaty versus lighter-textured and -flavored. The dense type is made with whole eggs, while the lighter type calls for separated eggs, with the whites whipped and folded in. “I guess it comes down to whether you want a truffle-like experience, in which case you’d go with the whole egg recipe, or something a little more subtle like the ones with beaten whites,” says bear.

Among the rich and dense types, bear is a fan of David Lebovitz’s “lusciously smooth” chocolate idiot cake. “It’s incredibly easy,” she says. BobB loves Lora Brody’s bête noir, which is also easy (it’s made in a food processor) and “so rich that a one-inch slice is plenty.”

fern makes a different dense flourless chocolate cake, also called la bête noir. Lynndsey Rigberg tried it, and says it was almost too intense: “The Beast is indeed, the Beast. It had a wondrously smooth texture…it was almost like a chocolate pot de creme.”

Lynndsey Rigberg prefers the texture that comes from incorporating beaten egg whites. Martha Stewart’s recipe has “a light, but surprisingly chocolaty and rich texture,” she says. Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cloud cake is also fabulous, says bear.

Board Link: best flourless chocolate cake recipe?

Don’t Toss Your Fennel Tops

Don’t throw out fennel fronds and stalks once you’ve trimmed them from the bulb. Fennel fronds can be used like an herb to add a punch of fresh flavor to salads, or to finish dishes. “I sprinkled the chopped fronds over a sweet potato bisque and it made a huge difference in flavor,” says danna.

coll uses fennel stalks and fronds to stuff chicken or turkey cavities before roasting, and suggests adding an orange or lemon, too. ChristinaMason uses fennel trimmings to stuff whole fish before roasting, or lays them under fillets before cooking. goodhealthgourmet adds the stalks to the liquid when poaching fish.

Board Link: How do you use fresh fennel trimmings? Or do you?

A No-Strings Celery Romance

Raw celery can be tough and stringy, but there’s an easy fix. Many hounds peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler or paring knife before eating the celery raw. Or simply pull off the strings: alkapal breaks off the bottom end of a stalk, leaving the strings attached, then pulls the broken-off end upward, leaving the stalk “de-stringed in one fell swoop.” If you’re going to cut the celery in several pieces for stuffing or crudités, don’t cut quite all the way through, recommends RGC1982. “Bend the celery back for a final crack while peeling the toughest, longest strings from the outside layer of the celery.”

Favorite fillings for stuffed celery are cheese spreads like pimento cheese, and tuna, egg, and chicken salads.

Board Link: Cheese/spread in celery ribs: celery’s too tough, too large; what to do?

Whither the Pawpaw

Ari Weinzweig, cofounder of Zingerman’s (home of great food affordable enough for kings and queens), shares some information on the marvelous pawpaw, a native American fruit that was recorded as George Washington’s favorite dessert. Passion fruit–esque in flavor and often puréed into custard or pie, the pawpaw has a profound novelty factor, and is worth a bit of meditation. And, hey! For a mere $75, you can have 12 ounces of your own Zingerman’s pawpaw gelato by mail, along with five other flavors of frozen Thanksgiving-compliant yumminess.

Image source: Flickr member sarahemcc under Creative Commons

Quick Homemade Indian Food

Spice mixes, wet and dry, are what make Indian dishes special—but they take time to make fresh. Store-bought sauces and spice mixes are ho-hum. Is there any middle ground? One approach is to make your favorite spice mix or paste fresh in bulk, portion it out ,and freeze it, suggests LauraGrace. Then, weekday after happy weekday, you’re only minutes away from fresh, special, homemade Indian food. It works well with any sauce that doesn’t have dairy, she says. “I’ve done it with korma too — just make the sauce up to the ‘add vegetables’ point and before the ‘add cream’ point, then freeze in Ziploc bags or ice cube trays,” says LauraGrace.

If you do use a packaged mix, doctoring it up with fresh ingredients can give it more of a homemade feel. “Whenever I use the dry mix, it’s just as a flavor enhancer, not following the recipe completely on the packet,” says foodwich. “Play around with it to suit your taste and that will be the best way to use them.”

Board Link: Indian cooking/simmer sauces

Nuts Are Not Shelf-Stable

Is your all-natural organic granola rancid? How about your nuts? “Rancidity is a huge problem all over, especially with natural foods containing no preservatives,” says Jim Leff. “And, worse, there’s so much rancidity out there that consumers don’t perceive mild rancidity as an ‘off’ flavor; it’s one they’re used to.” comestible agrees, and has seen the problem in his local health food stores. Any product containing nuts is vulnerable to rancidity, since nut oils degrade rapidly when they’re not vacuum-packed, irradiated, or otherwise preserved. Nuts just aren’t shelf-stable.

“I taste/smell rancidity all over,” says Jim Leff. “I think most consumers are actually well-acquainted with that aroma, but just don’t identify it correctly (same with skunky beer….for many people, that’s ‘the great imported taste’ of Heineken, in those green bottles that let in the frequency of light that interacts badly with the hops).”

Board Link: Really Great Granolas?

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A Postcard from Africa

The African Cuisine in Hyde Park has gotten polarizing reviews on the boards: Some stoutly champion the place; others advise giving it a wide berth. Nab and yumyum grok the disparity, because a recent meal there veered from fantastic to eh.

On the wonderful side, from the West African and Jamaican menu: meat patties that were “crisp, flaky, soft, and snuggly,” says Nab. The patties’ black-eyed pea brethren, known as moi-moi, were tamalelike, with a grainy texture and little bits of meat. The goat pepper soup had “an upfront pepper hit and then a lingering burn,” says yumyum. And the palm wine was a treat.

Not so good: the mains, with jolloff rice with meat bones (“flat,” says Nab), and red-red, which is a stew from Ghana made with black-eyed peas, palm oil, and red pepper; you choose your meat. It was served with fried fish that had so many bones yumyum couldn’t find any meat on them, and the whole thing was too bland. Stick to the fantastic starters and enjoy the atmosphere with friendly owner Roy, who plays African movies from his collection for tables of lingering regulars.

The African Cuisine [Hyde Park]
1248 Hyde Park Avenue, Boston

Board Links: The African Cuisine Hyde Park
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Soul Fire Gives Blue Ribbon Some Competition

StriperGuy has found Soul Fire BBQ a bit “spotty” in the past but had a meal this week that laid him out cold. Pork ribs, his test for barbecue, were “large, meaty, with a good bark, and just the right amount of juicy fat remaining. Literally could not be improved upon.” Baked beans had “just the right sweetness with some good smokey baconey char to them,” and the coleslaw and cornbread were up to snuff. His only beef? The collards were too sweet, and tasted kinda weird.

FoonFan likes the collards—“yes, a bit sweet, but very smoky too with big chunks of burnt ends mixed in”—and speaks up for the fried chicken, which is cooked to order. It takes about 20 minutes per order, but FoonFan says it’s delicious with a “good crunch factor.” celeriac loves the brisket (“firm enough to be toothsome without being tough in the slightest” and a “nice almost bacon-like rim of fat”) as well as the pulled pork, reputedly smoky and toothsome as well.

Several hounds even say the ’cue and sides are better than the local standard, Blue Ribbon. And Soul Fire sells beer. “Sorry, Blue Ribbon, but selling beer is a big PLUS,” says StriperGuy.

Soul Fire BBQ [Allston]
182 Harvard Avenue, Allston

Board Link: Surprised–Soulfire Delivers, Particularly the Baked Beans