The CHOW Blog rss

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

Best-in-Class Pastries

“Let me propose that Shaadzee’s napoleons are the very best in this universe,” says A.Blinken. “The puff pastry was of an unsurpassed lightness and flakiness and the cream filling was more than ample and just sweet enough.” There are some attractive cannoli as well, two kinds in two sizes, but the coffee “seemed to have lost its will to compete, owing to the Peet’s right across the street.”

Meanwhile, the bold but simply designed chocolate cupcakes at the new Cako Bakery deliver a flavor punch, Pei says. There are at least 10 flavors, plus cookies and coffee cake, but the chocolate cake “balances flavor intensity with fluffiness.” The delicious chocolate frosting might get a ding from purists for falling slightly short of perfect silkiness, though.

Melanie Wong is a fan of the macarons at Feel Good Bakery in Alameda for the “silky, well-flavored buttercream.” The seasonal spicy pumpkin one also features a chewy cookie texture and light spicing. Even better is the pumcho bread, “an oversize pumpkin muffin studded generously with chunks of very good bittersweet chocolate.” It’s also seasonally appropriate, but available all year.

Shaadzee Bakery Bistro [East Bay]
60 Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill
925-687-8200

Cako Bakery [Union Square]
211 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
415-404-7303

Feel Good Bakery [East Bay]
1650 Park Street, Alameda
510-864-2733

Board Links: Napoleons to Die For
Cako Report
Spicy Pumpkin Macaron & Pumcho @ Feel Good Bakery in Alameda

All-in-One Breakfast Delight

The maple bacon breakfast bun at Ironside, a welcome addition to SOMA, is like everything good about breakfast rolled up into one. bobpantzer was a skeptic about the sweet plus savory, but found it delicious.

lovebitessf also enjoyed the regular breakfast bun and the breakfast empanada. At lunch, the pressed Cubano sandwich is “fantastic,” and the pulled chicken “delicious.” The Ironside pizza is unusual and tasty, with arugula, olives, white anchovies, sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella. They also have a wild boar sausage pizza and a ratatouille pizza. A butternut squash soup with cauliflower, honey crème fraîche, and toasted hazelnut is very nice.

They do happy hour weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m., with pizza and pitchers of beer, as well as dinner.

Ironside [SOMA]
680 Second Street, San Francisco
415-896-1127

Board Link: Ironside

How to Host a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving

How to Host a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving

Getting the meat eaters to do without. READ MORE

How to Remove Seeds from Canned Tomatoes

Play Video

Repurposing a common kitchen tool. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Hearty Pasta e Fagioli for Cool Weather

Pasta e fagioli, Italian pasta and bean soup, is a nourishing dish. “What a healthy, hearty, and delicious soup for the fall and winter,” says SaraASR.

smtucker praises Mario Batali’s recipe, which begins with sautéing onion and parsley. “Cooking the parsley for a full 10 minutes was a test of faith the first time I made it,” says smtucker, adding, “But what an amazing amount of flavor.” If the soup is refrigerated, the pasta absorbs the broth and becomes soggy; add pasta only to the amount that will be eaten immediately.

lexpatti likes to purée a cup of broth and beans and return it to the pot before adding the pasta. “Makes it a bit creamy,” she says. cassoulady recommends adding a Parmesan rind to enhance the soup’s flavor. Cheese Boy suggests adding a small pat of lightly salted butter or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to each bowl after serving, saying, “Your pasta e fagioli will suddenly become memorable then because these two lastly added ingredients will put it over the top.”

roxlet makes a nonsoupy pasta e fagioli without tomatoes. She adds cooked pasta to olive oil, beans, garlic, parsley, salt, and red pepper flakes, adding pasta cooking water and tossing with Pecorino Romano. Andrew_Cookbooker likes this version, with spinach, carrot, and potato.

Board Link: Pasta Fagioli

Squash for Dessert

There is more than pumpkin pie when it comes to winter squash desserts. Butternut, acorn, and kabocha squash all translate easily into sweets.

chocoabot likes this citrus squash tart because its flavor is different than the typical warm spices paired with pumpkin. jsaimd loves kabocha squash cheesecake with walnut crust from Pichet Ong (P*ong).

“Squash slices layer up wonderfully with apples in a baked crisp,” says 4Snisl, who uses equal amounts of each. paulj recommends Ecuadoran dulce de zapallo, squash poached in a spiced brown sugar syrup, which is often paired with fresh cheese.

Board Link: Squash-y Dessert??

New Finds: The Grand Central Baking Book

The new cookbook from the minichain of Grand Central bakeries scattered throughout Portland and Seattle is full of simple, classic recipes: clafouti; rustic fruit tarts organized by season; “hand pies” filled with spicy potatoes or steak and onion; homemade graham cracker sandwich cookies filled with vanilla cream … the list goes on. It’s not a book of fancy trendy things, just stuff that is timelessly appealing, presented in a way that feels accessible and nonintimidating. It would be a nice gift for someone just getting interested in baking.

The Grand Central Baking Book, $30

Pesto Without Pine Nuts

While pine nuts are most often called for in basil pesto, Chowhounds use a variety of nuts and herbs in pestos.

Hounds are split in preferring pine nuts or walnuts in their basil pesto, though a few use almonds. ZagChef uses roasted macadamias (he adds only half the amount of nuts called for), and TroyTempest has enjoyed it with pistachios. rozz01 makes a pesto of Italian parsley, cilantro, and cashews that her guests love, and hotoynoodle likes walnuts in parsley pesto.

Pesto freezes well, and is handy portioned in small containers or frozen in an ice cube tray, with the frozen cubes then stored in a freezer bag. Hounds recommend brushing or spraying the ice cube tray with oil before filling to help with release of the frozen pesto.

Board Link: pesto pine nuts or walnuts?

Co-op or Salt Mine? Ask an MFA.

Thesis of a recent New York Times first-person story about the Park Slope Food Coop: It’s really, really difficult to work at a co-op for 2.75 hours every four weeks.

Actual point proven by the New York Times’ first-person story about the Park Slope Food Coop: You kind of get what you pay for when you ask an MFA in poetry to perform manual labor.

Of course, Park Slope Food Coop horror stories are hardly unknown to us here at CHOW.

Image source: Flickr member stevendamron under Creative Commons

It’s Game On at the Food Network

On November 3, the Food Network’s new Wii game, Cook or Be Cooked, is scheduled for release. Though Eat Me Daily says the game appears to be a rejiggered version of Cooking Mama, Tracey John, a self-professed “terrible cook” at Wired, kinda got into it:

“Most of the motion gameplay involved a lot of shaking controllers to mimic the actions you’d do in actual cooking: Waggle the Wii remote to shake out the seasoning and cut vegetables; shake the Nunchuk to retrieve your saucepan or bowl; tilt the remote to oil the saucepan, pour liquids and turn the stove on and off.

“There’s also a timer for how long each item should be cooked, so you have to watch the clock. Thankfully, to speed things up you simply hit the C button. To earn extra points, try multitasking by beginning to cut and cook the potatoes for the potato salad while handling other food-prep chores.”

Hey! Sounds like my kitchen where I grind out a dinner every single night.