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

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"Nut crusts are wonderful with fish since they add flavor as well as texture. Almonds are a classic, but pecans and hazelnuts are good, too. You just need to dip a fillet in a bit of egg white and dip in ground nuts." - JoanN

"For me the best falafel is made with fava beans, or a mix of fava beans and chickpeas. Never precook, and never, never use canned unless you want something that tastes like a fried dumpling with a mushy interior. I tried it once, and that was one too many times." - Zeldog

"I usually use a cast iron pan and once the steak is resting, I save the fat and cook the Brussels sprouts in the fat instead of bacon or butter. It's really quite good, especially if your steak leaves you with yummy fatty goodness." - gourmet wife

Inspired by Starbucks? Yeah, Right!

Gigantic, controversial corporations like McDonald's and Starbucks are forever tweaking themselves to try to appeal to a younger, hipper audience. Usually their attempts are pretty lame. But last Sunday's New York Times mgaazine article about three new Starbucks in Seattle struck uncomfortably close to home.

One of the new Starbucks is all eco-chic with recycled redwood and "a prominent community table (of rough-cut ash) that extends outdoors." Another looks like a cross between two of San Francisco's most popular coffee geek hangs: Four Barrel Coffee, and Ritual (and no doubt a bunch of similarly groovy places in Seattle.) In the Times' photo of the latter, a line of porcelain single-serve drip coffee makers are set on a groovy, industrial-looking rack, with some kind of neo-hippy bird nest art in the background. Apparently this joint doesn't even have a Starbucks sign out front, but rather one that reads "15th Ave. Coffee & Tea" and then in smaller letters, "Inspired by Starbucks." Right.

The funny thing is that this isn't the first time Starbucks tried to go undercover and unStarbucksify itself. Back in the late 1990s, the chain launched a few pilot versions of a kind of coffeehouse lounge thing called Circadia. There was one in San Francisco. It had no mention of Starbucks in any of its signage, had a full bar (?!) and was sort of trying to be a singles meet-up spot for dot-commers in a warehousey part of the Mission that was crawling with them. Check out this hilarious blast-from-the-past article about it from Fortune. (I had to google "Tiazzi Juice" too, WTF?) You ask: What happened to Circadia? Well, word got out immediately that it was actually Starbucks, nobody went there because of that, and then it seemed like in a matter of months it just morphed into a normal Starbucks, which is how it remains today. It's right by my apartment, and I can attest that it's quite popular now. Probably because people know what they're getting with Starbucks. If they want "interesting" or "innovative" or "fashionable" they can walk one more block to the independent Coffee Bar.

The mastermind of these new Starbucks, according to the Times, is president of global development Arthur Rubinfeld, who was at the helm on the Circadia project too. I wonder what he learned? Obviously not that you can't fake real style or a cultural movement from the bowels of the boardroom. People can smell that as sure as a freshly-ground cup of Yirgacheffe.

Image source: Flickr member D3 San Francisco under Creative Commons

Don’t Get Suckered on Valentine’s Day

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How to Braise

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Winter Braising

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This Year’s Beercast

It looks like 2010 is going to be another great year for beer, full of interesting collaborations, a big anniversary for Sierra Nevada, and whatever else brewers decide to throw in their kettles and serve. Here's some of the stuff we're looking to try in the coming year.

READ MORE

Grits, Haleem, and Khichri

Porridge is universal comfort food; every culture seems to have some variety of it.

"Haleem is one of the most perfect foods I can imagine," says JungMann of the version found across a large area of Asia stretching from Iran to Bangladesh. "Wheat and lamb are cooked together with spices until their flavor and texture mingle in one soft union. It can be a very rich dish when laden with ghee, and was one of my favorite wintertime dishes growing up."

LauraGrace's favorite porridge is grits: "Cheese grits topped with poached eggs is a favorite weekend breakfast," she says. "Shrimp and grits is probably in my top ten favorite foods of all time. Creamy grits with fried apples is a tasty dessert and a filling breakfast."

luckyfatima loves chao, which is Vietnamese rice porridge. "Very, very delicious. I still have chao when I am sick as my chicken soup substitute," she says, before adding that Indian khichri (rice and lentils cooked together until soft) is also delicious and comforting.

"Seasoned North American–style oatmeal with cinnamon, sugar, and a touch of maple syrup plus lots of butter" is universally appealing, says luckyfatima. But some folks, including joonjoon, like their oatmeal savory. "I had a piece of Italian sausage lying around, so I chopped it up and browned it, threw in just a touch of tomato sauce, and sweated some chopped garlic with it," says joonjoon. "Add oatmeal and water. Finish with parm."

Discuss: All About Porridge (aka congee, polenta, shugo, okayu, uji, nasi lemak, dalia, chao bo, lugaw, mush, farina, etc)

What’s the Difference Between Parchment Paper and Waxed Paper?

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Zingerman’s Bread

chocolate thinks the best mail-order bread around is from Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The breads are amazing, says chocolate, who ordered several loaves as (very successful) gifts for Christmas. "One neighbor just told me that she called the place to have a catalog mailed so she could order more," says chocolate. "Said the breads were so fresh and perfect when they arrived and couldn't get over the packaging." If you do place an order, make sure to get the pecan-raisin bread, says chocolate. "It's delicious. I can eat a whole loaf myself. It's that good!"

Discuss: Best Mail-Order Bread?

Pickled Pink

Cucumbers pickled with dill are not the only pickle, says Paulustrious. Julienned carrots and radishes are particularly good pickled in a vinegar solution with some sugar, herbs, and "a few dollops of some fish sauce," says Paulustrious.

corneygirl likes to pickle hot peppers in cider vinegar and brine, and adds that green beans are great pickled with dried red pepper, garlic, and fresh dill. LNG212 makes pickled grape tomatoes in white wine vinegar with garlic and rosemary.

Paulustrious also pickles certain vegetables by fermenting: "Put them in a brine solution and leave them to ferment and acidify. Cabbage would be the prime ingredient. Carrots and daikon another."

Check out CHOW's Make Your Own Preserves story for more pickling ideas and tips.

Discuss: Home made pickles