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

Waiter, Get Your Hands Off Me!

Bruce Buschel is opening a restaurant. And he has some ideas about what he’d like his staff to do and not do. So many ideas, in fact, that he was able to supply the New York Times with a list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do.” Buschel is on the ball; witness some of the picks of his list:

“8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.”

“20. Never refuse to substitute one vegetable for another.”

“32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.”

Buschel was on NPR a few days later, and he had more to say. Here he is on servers touching customers:

“I think it’s not a polite thing to do. I think a lot of people can take it the wrong way. The study that’s being quoted doesn’t mention genders. I’m sure a lot of women think that if they touch a customer on the shoulder, their tip goes up. It may or may not be true. I just think that, again, you’re invading somebody’s space. I know recently, I was standing in a restaurant waiting at the bar and somebody came over from behind and actually physically moved me, grabbed my two shoulders and moved me. And I turned around and he said, the waiter has to get past. So there are all degrees of touching. And some people may get excited and some people may be offended. So I think the best thing is just to not do it.”

Yeah, keep your paws off me!

Better Béchamel

Béchamel, the white sauce that’s a building block in many casseroles and creamed vegetable dishes, is a simple enough affair: Milk and seasonings are added to a butter-and-flour roux and cooked until thick. A few variables can make for an easier and better result, say hounds.

It’s not necessary to heat the milk before incorporating it, many hounds contend, though using cold milk can lead to lumps if you don’t take care. But others do find using heated milk easier. “I always throw the milk in the microwave to warm it up,” says Janet from Richmond. “No lumps and also makes the sauce thicken much more quickly.” Heated milk creates a glossier, shinier, and much smoother béchamel, adds maria lorraine.

Sooeygun learned to make béchamel by heating the milk with onion, bay leaves, and peppercorns to infuse it with their flavor. “And don’t forget the nutmeg,” another classic addition, says maria lorraine.

Board Link: Sauce-making technique (bechamel)

Snacks and the Modern Gamer

The brutally obvious nature of the picks in Topless Robot’s “10 Most Beloved and Unhealthy Gaming Snacks” doesn’t diminish the fleeting-if-all-too-real vicarious pleasure a casual reader picks up from hearing the analysis of total crap ranging from Oreos to Slim Jims to that ghastly World of Warcraft Mountain Dew.

On the topic of doughnuts, Topless Robot notes:

“It is one of the few foods you can buy a box of, bring it to a friend’s house and only your most picky of bitch friends will not find something they like.”

Not Pulitzer-caliber stuff, but, to be fair, Combos aren’t winning any James Beard Awards anytime soon.

Winter 2009 Gift Guide

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Overheard on the General Topics Boards

“Meat is not a homogeneous mass. Depending where on the animal it came from and what its function in life was, the flavor will vary tremendously.”
-KaimukiMan

“In honour of Big Bird & the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street (today according to Google), what are some of your favourite dishes and recipes from the show. And especially for Big Bird. What are some of your favourite poultry recipes or dishes?”

-bigfellow

“If you like the fried cheese edges of pizza, you can just fry some other cheeses in a fry pan until crispy and eat.”
-scuzzo

Mussels for the Novice

In flavor, mussels are comparable to other bivalves (clams, oysters), “but maybe taste a little more of the sea,” says dmd_kc. thew agrees: Mussels are “soft, briny, creamier in flavor than other bivalves, and perhaps slightly fishier.” Unlike other bivalves, mussels are pretty much always served cooked, says gordeaux. One thing about mussels: Freezing completely ruins them, says gordeaux. “They are one bivalve that turn into garbage once frozen. I can spot a frozen mussel after one bite. They get really firm, almost rigid. I just can’t do frozen mussels. Not worth it in my book,” he says.

How to try them? The classic preparation is the exquisitely simple moules marinière, mussels steamed or simmered in white wine and garlic. Using a simple marinara sauce for a simmer will work well—especially “with a good french bread to sop up the yummy sauce with,” says gordeaux. And “if you want to drift away from all these tomato/wine sauce advocates, if you want to run at the edge of the pack, then lightly batter, coat with a few bread crumbs and deep fry,” suggests Paulustrious. “Drizzle with a little garlic butter. The sea washes all the calories away.”

Board Link: What are mussels like?

10 Mail-Order Gifts for 2009

10 Mail-Order Gifts for 2009

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What Makes Great Seaweed Salad

Eating prepared seaweed salad is, unfortunately, “so often like eating sweetened strands of plastic,” says tatamagouche. What makes seaweed salad great? It’s a balance of flavors, and the right texture. “It’s gotta be just the right balance of sour (rice vinegar), sweet (sugar) and salty (dashi),” says soypower. “To me, it has to have a good mix of different kinds of seaweed, plenty of sesame seeds, the bite of chili pepper, and that great saltiness you get with good seaweed,” says kubasd. “And it must be tender.”

“Good seaweed salad needs to have sweet and savory, and have a nice smokiness from the sesame oil and seeds,” says ipsedixit. “And the seaweed needs to be a bit chewy, but soft and never rubbery.” ipsedixit’s recipe includes garlic, chile flakes, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. The seaweed is marinated overnight and garnished with toasted sesame seeds just before eating.

Board Link: Define really good seaweed salad.

Don’t Drink Bad Eggnog

Eggnog’s not local. It’s not organic. It has high-fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, and guar gum in it. “Maybe it’s bad, but it tastes OH SO GOOD,” says kattyeyes.

Hood is the best brand, says foodsnob14. “Thankfully we cannot get it year round, I would be 20 lbs heavier!” alkapal particularly appreciates Hood’s pumpkin eggnog: “This stuff is phenomenal. Just the right amount of pumpkin-y goodness, and only a hint of spices.” And it makes killer French toast, says HillJ. Just dip and pan-fry. It’s also delicious processed through an ice cream maker. Cherylptw likes cooking with eggnog; “think crème brûlée, cheesecake, bread pudding, ice cream, pancakes, etc.,” she says.

For Chowhounds in the Los Angeles area, Broguiere’s eggnog is the stuff, says monku. It’s the one that comes in old-fashioned glass bottles. Truly divine, says latindancer.

Of course, dedicated hounds can always make their own.

Board Link: What brand of eggnog is your favorite?

The Last Good Job in Food Media

We’ve got a plum proposition for one very specific food journalist: Come and work for CHOW.com. We’ve got a food editor position open. Old media is crumbling around us, have you heard? And while you’re cleaning your hands of that sticky paste-up goo and worrying about filling the front of the book, or whatever it is print editors do these days, we’re entertaining readers and teaching people how to cook. Which is why you got into food media in the first place, right?

As we say in the job posting, the best candidate for this job will make us laugh. He or she will manage a kitchen, lead a team, and want to perform in front of the camera but not clown around or be superearnest. The food editor will, above all, convey information clearly and directly. He or she will think creatively about food and online media and techniques. Will love to eat and love to learn about food, yet will be skeptical about the old ways of doing things. The food editor will have ideas about bok choy and user engagement and online communities. But won’t use words like decadent and yummy.

We have other criteria; see the job listing on mediabistro.com or CBS Interactive.