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

Pumpkins Making Whoopie

While you’re at Russo’s picking up pound after pound of cranberries, don’t forget to save room for a delicious bakery treat: pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling. “I often think Russo’s baked goods and pastries are fine, but not particularly special or anything,” says Spenbald. But the whoopie pies are different: “Good LORD these were tasty!” They’re “huge and delicious,” sighs rlh. Cheap, too: $3.29 for two, each of which can easily feed two people.

Russo’s [MetroWest]
560 Pleasant Street, Watertown

Board Link: While you’re at Russo’s: Pumpkin Whoopie Pie!

Steak Done the Way You Want It

rworange shares a hilarious suggestion for how to get your steak or burger done exactly right: Carry a picture in your wallet—laminated for frequent use, perhaps—so you can show the server exactly the degree of red, pink, or sear that you prefer. You can then ask what they call that degree of doneness at that establishment. It’s like getting a haircut: Pointing to a picture is going to be a whole lot more effective than trying to describe the hairstyle you’re after.

“Even better,” says rworange, “you could load the photo onto your phone.”

Board Link: A brilliant idea for always getting restaurants to cook steaks and burgers perfectly

Living La Vida Local

thunderbug84 wants to eat more local food, and is on the hunt for some fresh local cranberries. They’re tough to find at farmstands and the like because of the complications of harvest: Most cranberry crops are harvested by flooding the fields so that the berries float and can be skimmed off. “It takes a fair amount of land and the ability to flood the fields for harvesting,” says BobB.

Nonetheless, cranberries-by-the-pound have been spotted at Verrill Farm and Russo’s, and they can be ordered online from Cranberry Hill Farm in Plymouth.

Meanwhile, cassoulady is looking for some locally made candy to hand out on Halloween. Tootsie Roll Industries acquired local confectionery company Cambridge Brands years ago, but Junior Mints, Tootsie Rolls, Sugar Daddy, Charms, and Tootsie Pops are still made in Cambridge, and Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie still makes Black Jacks molasses sticks in Salem.

Verrill Farm [MetroWest]
11 Wheeler Road, Concord

Russo’s [MetroWest]
560 Pleasant Street, Watertown

Cranberry Hill Farm [South Shore]
103 Haskell Road, Plymouth

Cambridge Brands [Cambridge]
810 Main Street, Cambridge

Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie [North Shore]
122 Derby Street, Salem

Board Links: Local fresh cranberries?
Local Candy

New Finds: Parker’s Guide to Cheap Wine

Yet another sign of the times. Hot on the heels of Michelin FINALLY reviewing moderately priced food in New York, along comes Parker’s Wine Bargains, a book from wine expert Robert Parker that covers the best wines costing less than $25. The book is organized by country and has tasting notes for more than 3,000 wines.

Parker’s Wine Bargains, $12.14

Red Lentil’s Mighty Meatless Menu

Fancy vegetarian options are rare in the Boston area, so the no-meat-please crowd is super excited about the opening of Red Lentil in Watertown. Despite an interior Taralli calls “high-gloss, deep, screaming lime green,” the food is interestingly spicy and imaginative.

What you should order:

• Sesame-encrusted seitan strips, which Science Chick says are “AMAZING.” They have caramelized, crispy edges, and come served with a wasabi-mustard dipping sauce.
• Pistachio- and herb-encrusted tofu with corn cakes, which are “nicely spicy” according to Science Chick. They’re served with a jalapeño relish ringing the plate and sautéed spinach on top. The corn cakes were “bursting with fresh sweet corn and made with sweet peppers that balanced out the spiciness nicely.”
• Butternut polenta triangles with asparagus, cilantro-walnut pesto, and a tomato salsa.
• Seitan with teff crêpe, which Pia says tastes like a “nutty dosa,” and comes with a variety of sauces, including a black bean/pineapple salsa; all the flavors “work together surprisingly well.”
• Gobi Manchurian, with chickpea-battered, deep-fried cauliflower, bell peppers, tomato sauce, onions, and cilantro.

Red Lentil [MetroWest]
600 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown

Board Links: Red Lentil Vegetarian - A pleasant surprise!
The Red Lentil
Red Lentil Vegan and Vegetarian open in Watertown

Business Cards You Can Eat

You want a new business card, but you’re just not sure your design is memorable enough. So, instead of ordering yet another humdrum average card, why not try Meat Cards on for size?

Meat Cards are made using real beef jerky, with the information burned on to the meat with a 150-watt carbon dioxide laser.

Bordeaux’s Annus Mirabilis

“Perfect weather” means that 2009 is likely to be a great vintage for the wines of Bordeaux. The Telegraph reports:

“‘Nature has been extremely generous, it is sumptuous,’ said Denis Dubourdieu, director of the Bordeaux Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences and a renowned winemaker. ‘It’s difficult to find comparisons, you have to go back to the climatology of the [19]40s to find, perhaps, comparable conditions,’ he added.”

A mix of fine days and cool, dry nights in the final days before grape picking began last month has topped off a season marred only by violent hailstorms in May that wiped out about 15 percent of the year’s crop.

Image source: Flickr member tobiastoft under Creative Commons

The Great Gelato Tour

sku got into a major gelato jones and ending up trying a big swath of the major gelato places in the greater Los Angeles area in short order. First, a definition. Gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream, so it has less fat. Traditionally, gelato doesn’t have eggs in the custard base, unlike ice cream. It’s also churned at a slower rate than ice cream, so it has less air whipped into it, explains sku.

His very favorite gelato: Bulgarini. “I’m happy to report that the hype surrounding this Altadena gelato shop is well deserved,” says sku. “The best flavors here were transcendent in both flavor and texture, particularly the olive oil yogurt, a fluffy, light as air tart frozen yogurt with a smooth olive oil taste topped with olive oil. It reminded me of some sort of olive oil foam you might get at Bazaar.” The day he visited, there was also a beautiful sheep’s milk and parsley gelato with Madeira, and excellent chocolate gelato and lemon cream gelato.

Gelato Bar is owned by Gail Silverton, sister of Nancy Silverton. It was the big surprise in sku’s tour: unsung, but glorious. Gelato Bar offers interesting, though not overly bizarre, flavors that are bold and lightly sweetened. “Their gelato is a perfect textural specimen, rich and creamy with a dissolve in your mouth quality.” It’s not quite as innovative or transcendent as Bulgarini’s, but it’s sku’s second-favorite local gelato.

And then there’s affogato. “The beauty of the affogato is that the rich espresso melds with the gelato and forms a heavenly coffee ice cream float,” says sku. “When done well, it is a beautiful gestalt of flavors, halfway between a solid and liquid but filled with flavor. When done poorly, it’s a scoop of ice cream sitting in a cold puddle of coffee, a sad affair to say the least.”

The affogato at Gelato Bar is the absolute best in town, says sku. “Made with a perfectly pulled Ecco Caffe espresso, whipped cream and Valrhona cacao nibs, the Gelato Bar affogato shows the importance of proper espresso preparation in the dish’s composition. ... Why this place hasn’t entered the pantheon of great LA gelatos is beyond me.”

Bulgarini Gelato [San Gabriel Valley]
749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena

Gelato Bar [San Fernando Valley–East]
4342 1/2 Tujunga Avenue, Studio City

Board Link: My LA Gelato Tour

Soft, Brown German Pretzels

torta basilica has a thing for big, soft German pretzels; where to find them? Chalet Edelweiss has a wonderful large pretzel on the menu, says Mattapoisett in LA. “It’s SOOO good!!” croons Dommy. JacksonCrack loves it too, and especially loves the spicy mustard that it comes with, and the fact that the pretzel is “HUGE!”

“As an old krauthead who has spent lots of time in Bavaria and love the soft pretzels that come with the bread in most good restaurants I can assure you that there are no better than the ones made by Hans Röckenwagner,” says trimtab. “These are lightly salted with a nice dark brown crust and wonderful crumbly dough inside. Not like those godawful wet, stretchy horrors you buy at movie theaters.”

Röckenwagner’s wares are available at the main Röckenwagner Bakery, and its 3 Square Café in Venice, as well as various local farmers’ markets; see the Röckenwagner site for a list.

Chalet Edelweiss [San Fernando Valley East]
8740 S. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles

Röckenwagner Bakery [Culver City]
12835 W. Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles

3 Square Café [Westside–Beaches]
1121 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice

Board Link: Big Soft German Pretzels on a Sunday morning?

Really Scary Halloween Cooking Videos

I’m wasting a lot of time right now scouring the Internet for the best food-related Halloween videos I can find. My criteria? They have to make me laugh or scratch my head, and they need to involve costumes and/or fake blood. Bonus points are awarded if there is any actual cooking involved. The humor isn’t always intentional, but sometimes that’s the best kind. Here are a few:

Awesome song, and I love the sped-up, stop-motion feel. This is my kind of Halloween cooking video! I’m putting this one first to give you a false sense of hope that what follows will actually be instructional.

Nonverbal cavewomen cooking a dish in real time is only tenuously Halloween-related (and barely instructional), but they do have nice knife skills and an excellent dreamy dance sequence.

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, Korean Quiche–Crazy Korean CookingClick here for more home videos

This video proves that the Internet really is the Great Democratizer of Information: Where else could you watch someone place gummy worms into chocolate pudding for over a minute, all the while believing he’s actually teaching you a skill you need to have? (But kudos on the addition of the spiders—major creative points there.)

This might be the most haunting video of the lot. The woman’s eyes are glazed over, her face barely moves, and yet somehow her inflection dramatically rises and falls. It really reminds me of pretty much every zombie movie I’ve ever seen.

I feel like this collection would be incomplete without at least one Sandra Lee video.

Two more for extra credit:

I know it’s not part of his costume, but this guy’s facial hair is really scary—and the cupcake looks pretty horrifying as well.

And this Halloween recipe montage is like getting transported back to a video game from 1988, MIDI-synth music and all.