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

Crocheted Cajun

Writer and "food artist" Clare Crespo has knitted an entire Mardi Gras feast. On display at Heath Ceramics in Los Angeles, her pieces include fabric versions of seafood gumbo, beignets and café au lait, king cake, catfish po' boy, and more. Her oysters are shown here.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, the show's opening party is on February 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Heath. There will be complimentary Abita beer and other Fat Tuesday–friendly treats.

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"The other day I tried a recipe for white bean gratin which was absolutely fantastic. I couldn't believe how tasty it was despite its simplicity. It had an amazing depth of flavour without containing stock, and it was incredibly creamy without containing any dairy." - NickMontreal

"Just miso paste and hot water isn't bad if you're in a hurry and want something hot, but I think miso soup made with dashi is a whole lot more flavorful/complex/etc. and only takes about 5–8 minutes longer." - kilercow

"I like it on roast chicken, with roast pork or in a seasoning mix with cracked coriander for beef. It imparts a spiciness to food and tends to numb the tongue. You can put it on green vegetables, as well." - bushwickgirl, on Sichuan peppercorns

Quaker Candy Boom

Here's the best story about faith-based candymakers you'll read this month: The BBC explains why Quakers were for so long dominant over Britain's candy industry.

The fact that Quaker-founded firms (such as the recently sold Cadbury) had such influence is particularly interesting when you consider the relatively small numbers of the faithful (less than 0.1 percent of the population of 21 million in the UK in 1851). But it seems that an informal fraternity of Quaker candymakers led to business networks that helped all of them get a leg up on their non-Quaker countrymen, and a straightforward "no-haggle" pricing scheme helped solidify relationships with customers.

If you're a business, candy, or labor history buff, this is a story worth reading.

Oh, and Quaker Oats? Totally not Quaker, at any point!

Chicken Nuggets Bring the Heat

Chicken Nuggets Bring the Heat

This week's mission: Can Wendy's successfully spice up the taste of its chicken offerings? READ MORE

Caesar Salads Are Out, Grilled Lettuce Salads Are In

Caesar salads are reappearing on menus, but in cooked form. You don't usually think of grilling or pan-frying lettuce, but doing so magically changes it into something more umami and exciting. Spotted: at Farm 255 in Athens, Georgia, with fried capers and an anchovy vinaigrette; at Savannah's Cha-Bella with seared shrimp and scallops; and at FIG in Santa Monica, where little gem lettuce (rather than romaine) is charred on the stovetop, then dressed with lemon and anchovy juice (you can substitute a bit of fish sauce if you are experimenting at home).

"We make it to order," says FIG chef Ray Garcia. "A big part of the salad is to have contrast of textures and temperatures."

Try making your own by throwing romaine in a hot, hot oiled pan (preferably a cast iron skillet) until it blisters, then dressing it with CHOW's Caesar Dressing, croutons, and shaved Parmesan cheese. CHOW's Grilled Greek Salad recipe is another fun hot lettuce number.

French-Kissing with Nacho Cheese

French-Kissing with Nacho Cheese

This week's mission: Taco Bell puts viscous sauce front and center. READ MORE

Hey, This Cheese Is Coming On to Me

There's a very simple reason why humans enjoy eating washed rind cheese with its "pungent," "gaseous," and "barnyardy" aromas: It activates our "cheese pheromones." So says cheese expert Taylor Cocalis of Murray's Cheese in the Hungry Beast this week. It smells like body odor, and we, a bunch of animals, open wide.

Writer Stacey Slate uncovers a number of other interesting facts about washed rind cheeses, including the bacteria type that creates a washed rind cheese (distinct from a blue cheese), proper wine pairings, and details on the lives of the cheese-making monks who pioneered the washed rind method.

Coffee with a Pinch of Salt

Salt in coffee? ipsedixit thinks that with a dash of salt, "a Starbucks brew is actually bearable, and my coffee brewed at home is fantastic." Auriana agrees. "I tried it in my coffee at work (which is also Starbucks) and it was greatly improved," says Auriana. "I don't bother with salting coffee at home though. Hub roasts our beans and his coffee is always delicious."

But ipsedixit thinks salt improves good home-roasted coffee, too. "I started adding a pinch of salt to my home brew and it improved the complexion of the coffee significantly," he says. "I suppose it's the same principle or rationale for adding salt to things like fruit (e.g. pineapples, melons, etc.) and baked desserts (e.g. chocolate chip cookies). It acts like a flavor enhancer."

Discuss: Coffee + Salt

Should Tripe Smell Like Barn?

Frank G has noticed that sometimes tripe smells like a barn (wet hay and dirt) despite careful rinsing. And boiling doesn't get rid of the smell. "Is there any other cleaning that needs to be done to take care of the odor? Had the tripe gone bad?" he wonders.

"Tripe should be boiled in a few washings to get rid of the smell," says JungMann. "You can add a bit of white vinegar to the pot to mask some of the odor. If done correctly, the final washing should be relatively odorless, whereupon you know the tripe is ready for your menudo." (Sam Fujisaka assures us that tripe won't get soft and mushy from these repeated boilings.) In the Philippines," says sweethaven, "we wash scrub the tripe with rock salt then rinse in cold running water before cooking."

Will Owen takes a philosophical approach. He describes his first experience with menudo: "When the bowl arrived it seemed as though we had just moved next to the Chicago stockyards, and someone had opened a window! At which point I said to myself, 'This is innards I'm about to eat. I like innards, even though the only tripe I've had so far was in Campbell's Pepper Pot soup. I guess this is the grownup version.' And I ate it, and it was awfully good. Since then, I've had a lot of tripe from a lot of cuisines, and chitterlings besides, and sometimes it stank and sometimes it didn't. Just like cheese, or people, or most of what life offers."

Discuss: Question about tripe and its odor

Terroir in Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is not all the same. One difference is depth of flavor, which is also how maple syrup is graded; "Grade B is the most flavorful, and typically the hardest to get in the US outside of the Northeast," says Karl S. "Vermont syrup grading comes from a time when syrup was a substitute for sugar (as it long was, for example, for abolitionist folk who avoided molasses and sugar because they were the product of slave labor), so the highest grades were for the most neutral flavor. Nowadays, where the flavor is largely the point, Grade B is for many the most desirable."

But there are other variations from farm to farm. "Maple syrup production is subject to some of the same factors as wine production, but with the flavor variation being subtler and harder to taste, says danieljdwyer. "To start with, syrup can be made from a few different species of maple tree, with the sugar maple accounting for most maple syrup production. I prefer syrup that has been made with at least some black maple sap as well," he says. "Climate is another factor, which elevation does play a role in. The greater the number of hours in a day with below-freezing temperatures, the more water the tree takes in, and the lighter the syrup will be. Finally, there's the human element. How good is this farm at reducing the sap to syrup? And what methods do they use?"

"If you buy 10 syrups from 10 different farms, you'll be able to taste a difference," says danieljdwyer. "Unless two of them are right next to each other and tap the same proportions of different maples and have identical reduction methods. Your best bet is to try a few different farms and settle on your favorite."

Discuss: Is all Vermont Maple the same