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

Excellent Chinese Off the Beaten Path

Though it's no secret in the Cantonese community for quality and value, Yum's Bistro is under the radar for most other folks, says K K. Chef Bosum Yum has an impressive resume, with serious crustacean skills: A crab or lobster dish is a must.

"The deep-fried salt & pepper crab is excellent," says foodlover, "close to the gold standard of R & G Lounge in San Francisco."

Salted egg yolk crab has a perfect, lightly salted thin layer of batter that sank into the shell, making the outside a savory contrast with the sweet crab meat within, K K says. Other highlights are "under the bridge" spicy crab, a Hong Kong classic, stir-fried with a ton of garlic flakes, red chiles, and possibly a hint of black bean sauce; it's less spicy than the menu advertises. Similarly, Jakarta-style crab is listed as spicy but had a mild curry flavor. And there's a tasty steamed pork hash with salted fish that's quite light and fluffy.

On the meatier side, hhc liked the flavorful dry braised string beans w/ spicy meat sauce (pork). And word is that Chef Yum makes a killer Hong Kong-style curry beef brisket clay pot. Advance ordering is required, as this is a slow-cooked dish, K K adds.

Yum's Bistro [East Bay]
4906 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont
510-745-8866

Discuss: Excellent off the beaten path affordable Cantonese at Yum's Bistro in Fremont

On Basque Night, It’s All In the Family

"This is my restaurant find of my life. I doubt I will ever equal it," says rworange at the end of a review of Vineyards Inn, an "unknown, unsung place, oozing charm where the food is top-notch, plentiful, inexpensive and served by a warm, welcoming staff."

The second Thursday of each month brings a six-course Basque dinner, served family-style with unlimited wine for $40.

The menu draws from Chef Steve's family recipes, and the deceptively simple descriptions don't do justice to their deliciousness. The ingredients are all organic and many of them are grown by the restaurant. "Steve talked about each dish as someone who really enjoyed the whole process from growing the produce, selecting top-notch vendors and cooking the meals," rworange says.

Garlicky chard with chopped egg whites. Roasted chicken with rich jus. Tender lamb shanks with greaseless French fries that had roasted-potato flavor. Basque chicken soup with chicken from the farm, elevated by some just-picked rosemary. "I love simple, rustic food that relies on top-notch flavorful ingredients. This meal was one of the best examples of that," rworange says.

The chef's mother-in-law contributed a buttery pound cake drizzled with chocolate sauce, served with a rich, deep coffee from Tom and Dave's, a San Rafael roaster.

While not high-profile, these dinners are really popular and booked months in advance. Parties of 12 or more can book their own Basque dinners at other times. But the communal dinners are great fun and very welcoming.

Vineyards Inn [Sonoma County]
8445 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood
707-833-4500

Discuss: Kenwood: Vineyards Inn All-Organic Basque dinner – One of the ten best meals of my life … good for the planet, palate and soul

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"The food is still among the best we've had on Bernal, and we both appreciated the mellow vibe." - Absonot

"Last night we tried the arancini (very flavorful), the burrata (crazy good and melted in your mouth), the salumi (amazing - housemade boar was the best) and octopus (very tender and had some great pancetta with it)." - teejaymoore

"I think at least half a pound of meat was piled on two griddled tortillas and it was delicious!" - Kmanlove

Nagging Unsanitary Cooks

Nagging Unsanitary Cooks

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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?