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

Vadouvan Is In

Vadouvan or "French curry," a sultry blend of Indian spices with shallots and garlic, is showing up on menus everywhere. Jeremy Fox, the executive chef at Ubuntu in Napa, says any dish on his menu that has it sells well. His house-made blend contains "30 toasted spices, lots of shallot and garlic, orange peel, brown butter, and spices. I don't want to give them all away, but there's turmeric and fenugreek."

Spotted at: Ubuntu, with clay-roasted pumpkin, dates, almonds, baby cilantro, and preserved lemon; Providence in Los Angeles, flavoring a dish of turbot, cauliflower, tomato, and marcona almonds; Le Bernardin in New York City, spicing a broth served with crab and zucchini panna cotta; the American Restaurant in Kansas City, with poached walu fish, kabocha squash, Granny Smith apples, and pepita succotash; and Philadelphia's Supper, in deviled eggs (full recipe here).

Try your hand at making it with this recipe from Epicurious, or order Le Sanctuaire's fancy made-to-order mix (pictured).

Gordon Ramsay’s Live Nightmare

Billed as "the biggest cooking event America has ever seen," Gordon Ramsay's Cookalong Live on Fox last night was certainly an exciting televisual challenge. But the toughest part wasn't keeping up with the pace of the onscreen culinary endeavours (as we were encouraged to do at home), but to endure Ramsay's weirdly uncomfortable agitation for more than a few minutes. What was wrong with the man: Hasn't he ever cooked and talked at the same time before?

Granted, he was juggling a stack of studio guests and multiple live satellite/Internet feeds from around the country while simultaneously demonstrating how to knock together a three-course dinner in less than 60 minutes. But he's also a Michelin-starred chef who has (presumably) endured far more stressful cooking environments than this. The nonexpert guest participants seemed positively laidback next to Ramsay's bouncing bundle of nerves.

You could put it down to first-time jitters, except El Gordo has already done a whole series of similar shows for Channel 4 in the UK. Maybe it was just the strain of making it through a live broadcast on American TV without losing his temper and dropping the F-bomb. Or perhaps Ramsay just needed to pee really, really badly. Regardless, his performance was possibly the most uncomfortable thing to appear on TV since Glenn Beck went public with his experiences of hemorrhoid surgery.

Watch a clip from last night's show, featuring guest LeAnn Rimes:

Shrimp Season

Maine shrimp exploded into season last week, and they're looking bigger than usual this year, according to rlh. Buy them heads-on, if possible, as the heads offer clues about freshness. Blue roe attached to the shrimp is another good indication. Here's where to find them:

• New Deal has shrimp with roe, $4.99 a pound or $3.99 a pound for over 11 pounds.
• Fresh Pond Whole Foods has shrimp for $5.99 a pound.
• The Chelsea Market Basket has the heads-off variety ("markets prefer them for presentation and to keep longer," says itaunas) going for $3.99 at the seafood counter.

ScubaSteve has the most useful advice of all: When you find the Maine shrimp, "steam them and eat them. The head, the tail, the whole damn thing."

New Deal Fish Market [Cambridge]
622 Cambridge Street, Cambridge
617-876-8227

Whole Foods Market [Cambridge]
200 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge
617-491-0040

Market Basket [North Shore]
170 Everett Avenue, Chelsea
617-884-0646

Discuss: First of the Season Maine Shrimp are In!

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"In the smaller dinner parties I've been to in Addis Abbaba, the diners signal that they've had enough by stuffing hands full of food into their fellow diners' mouths." - teleme

"There is no 'us', there is only the food." - Aramek

"Resorts that are part of international chains that have systematized and made more 'efficient' the process of food purveyance. Assumptions (perhaps based on truth) that clientele don't want to have their taste buds challenged." - Cachetes

Coppa Hits a Sweet Spot

After several months of missed opening dates, Coppa is in business at last in the South End, leading to boards posts speckled with visible drool. The restaurant is a joint venture between Ken Oringer (Clio) and Jamie Bissonnette (Toro), and it's making a big impression.

The kitchen rarely hits a sour note. Highlights among the pastas include cavatelli with chicken sausage ("perfectly executed," says barleywino), calves' brain ravioli and brown butter ("ultra rich melt-in-your-mouth"), and the spaghetti carbonara with uni and farm egg ("with firm toothsome noodles, not gluey like some places").

Fish is also strong, with several hounds lauding pesce al mattone (literally "fish under a brick"), which is seared fresh local cod with capers. Vegetables like Brussels sprouts are worthy sides: "I love it when a chef pays attention to vegetables and makes you sit up and enjoy them," says BostonZest.

Prices are very reasonable, particularly for the area, with generous portions and no dishes over $15.

Coppa [South End]
253 Shawmut Avenue, Boston
617-391-0902

Discuss: Coppa

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"Annnnnnd there's the death knell for the entire gourmet cupcake trend. Time of death: 6:54 p.m. EST, December 8, 2009. See you next time for the official end of short ribs."
-BarmyFotheringayPhipps

"The buns were potato rolls which, while flavorful, were overwhelmingly dense. Every bite felt like one more lead weight dropping down."
-bikey

"Sulmona butcher shop in the North End (on Parmenter St., near the corner of Salem St.) makes excellent cotechino. Very spicy, and with plenty of gelatinous bands of skin running through them."

-Salognese

Licorice, Molasses, Imperial Stout

The wax-topped "Reserve Series" of beers by the Deschutes Brewery in Oregon tend to be really good, and the latest release of "The Abyss" is unsurprisingly delicious. Though it sounds overly fancified—brewed with molasses and licorice, barrel-aged, high alcohol content at 11 percent—the beer is surprisingly restrained and balanced. There's no black licorice slapping you in the face. The finish is dry and, unlike other "imperial" versions of beers that can be way over the top in booziness, this one is scarily easy to drink for a high-ABV beer. It's best sipped solo, but it does taste pretty good paired with chocolate coins.

Deschutes' The Abyss, $12.99

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

Big, bulging bags of nuts are an important part of the holiday season for some hounds. Where can the best be found now that Dairy Fresh Candies is a thing of the past? itaunas says that "many Italian grocers carry good quality nuts in the shell. Usually around the holidays that extends to pecans, but walnuts are more common, and pistachios are a given. They have good turnover and I have always found them fresh."

Velda Mae points out that "Trader Joe's prices can't be beat" for nuts to bake with. For out-of-hand eating, several hounds praise the pistachios at Fastachi, while Sevan Bakery right across the street also has a good nut selection. jogo7375 wonders over the "epicenter of quality nuts in that little corner of Watertown."

Fastachi [MetroWest]
598 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown
617-924-8787

Sevan Bakery [MetroWest]
599 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown
617-924-3243

Discuss: High Quality Nuts

Comfort Food for Breakfast

Grub is an oasis of culinary charm in the middle of Hollywood's grimy postproduction district, says wesleywong. The place is best known for its superb breakfasts, "comfort food inside a comfortable environment," says wesleywong.

The brunch menu is huge. Appetizers are busy plates like a spicy crab and artichoke dip with a pepper jack cheese crust, and lime- and coriander-dusted tortilla chips to attack the stuff with. The dip has a generous amount of crab and just enough jalapeños to get your morning started, says wesleywong.

Egg scrambles are excellent, like the chicken pesto sausage, roasted onion, red pepper, and mozzarella, which has "a meaty heart of deliciously seasoned chicken," says wesleywong. And it comes with potatoes that are "crispy on the outside and so soft and warm on the inside."

Grub [Mid-City]
911 Seward Street, Los Angeles
323-461-3663

Discuss: Betty Fraser's Grub: Grub'bin In a Hollywood Oasis [Breakfast review w/ pics!]

Bus Stop Coffee Tease

This new bus shelter ad for McDonald's uses a steam machine that, when released, reveals the otherwise hidden text. While it's quite smart and probably effective for someone who's frantically moving his body around to keep warm, I could also easily see how this could be mistaken for a homeland security issue.

Via Direct Daily