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

Witches’ Fingers and Near-Perfect Cannoli

Romolo’s Ice Cream, Cannoli & Spumoni Factory is going ghoulish for Halloween, with “witches’ fingers” that are actually mildly sweet, almond-flavored cookies with red-dyed almonds as the fingernails.

Still, the main game is the cannoli, filled to order (they can give you a squeeze bag to fill the pastries yourself if you’re on the go). “The pastry part was the best I’ve had so far in this part of the world—fragile crispness, bubbly and well-browned, rich in flavor,” says Melanie Wong. But the creamy richness of the filling wasn’t quite to her taste, which runs more to “the rustic graininess of ricotta.”

ssfire dings Romolo’s cannoli filling for being way too sweet but agrees that “the shell is heavenly; it’s very flavorful, and super light.” In comparison, cannoli at the Prolific Oven have a better filling but not as good a shell; the cannoli at La Biscotteria have a flavorful shell that’s not as light and a heavy, crumbly filling that’s more like ricotta cheesecake. And A Slice of New York for some reason imports cannoli shells from Long Island that are tough. The filling, though, is smooth, creamy, and not too sweet—with a shell from Romolo’s, it would be perfection.

Romolo’s Ice Cream, Cannoli & Spumoni Factory [Peninsula]
81 37th Avenue, San Mateo

The Prolific Oven [East Bay]
43337 Boscell Road, Fremont

La Biscotteria [Peninsula]
2747 El Camino Real, Redwood City

A Slice of New York [South Bay]
3443 Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Jose

Board Link: Ghoulish Halloween Treats from Romolo’s in San Mateo

Burgers, Humble or Fancy

“Has the KK Cafe really never been mentioned here?” asks vulber. The place is incredibly uninviting from the outside, but the owners are superfriendly and the burger, vulber says, is “one of the best burgers I’ve found.” It’s not organic, or ground in-house, but it is certainly delicious, with a touch of what tastes like cumin. Otherwise, it’s pretty traditional. A cheeseburger and fries is $5.95. Also check out the house-made peanut milk, which vulber describes as “definitely a unique experience.” For the meatless, the veggie burger is homemade also and very, very fine.

Foodnut8 had been psyched for the opening of Chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar San Francisco after trying the Las Vegas location. It’s a build-your-own burger concept, with primo ingredients: The Prime-quality meat is ground and hand-mixed daily, and you can get Kobe beef, foie gras, and truffle butter.

But on an early visit, it was an alterna-burger that was the winner: the hulking Atlantic salmon sandwich on a ciabatta bun with oyster mushrooms, asparagus, and a side of aioli. “Simple, tender, juicy, healthy and delicious,” Foodnut8 says.

A more traditional Black Angus burger is a huge hunk o’ beef with American cheese, bacon, and a tasty heap of onions and portobello mushrooms. The meat ended up on the well-done side, and thus not very juicy, but it did come on an excellent fresh sesame bun.

Buttermilk zucchini fries are fresh and crisp, while the ice cream shakes are velvety and not too sweet. The intense chocolate one is a must for chocoholics.

KK Cafe [Lower Haight]
252 Divisadero Street, San Francisco

Burger Bar [Union Square]
Inside Macy’s, Sixth Floor
251 Geary Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Has the KK Cafe really never been mentioned here?
Burger Bar San Francisco now open

Chicken-and-Egg Delivery

“Soul Food Farm, which raises the best eggs I’ve found as well as first-rate chicken, just started a CSA,” reports Robert Lauriston. On the menu: whole chickens, eggs by the dozen, giblets, and livers. Pickup locations and more info can be found on the website.

Soul Food Farm [Solano County]
6046 Pleasants Valley Road, Vacaville

Board Link: Soul Food Farm CSA—eggs & chickens

Candy Corn Riffs for Grannies and Stoners

After you’re done making your homemade fake blood capsules for Halloween, try your hand at homemade candy corn. Thank you, Serious Eats, for figuring out how to produce this wickedly nonartisanal sweet the old-fashioned way. Apparently it’s very time-consuming, involving fondant and so forth. But I bet you’re up for the challenge.

And bless your heart,
Chicago Tribune, for some hot tips on how to use the little buggers. Put them in your sugar bowl if you’re serving coffee at a festive coffee klatsch, because they dissolve in hot liquid! (I just know my granny would appreciate that one.) Or, if you’re really stoned, try slicing up an apple (the Trib says you can substitute a pear—though the paper doesn’t make reference to being stoned …) and baking it in the oven with melted candy corn all over it, which creates a “flavorful sauce.”

But hey, maybe you just want to get drunk and eat massive amounts of the stuff. What does one pair with candy corn booze-wise? Watch this video to find out.

Image source: Flickr member Muffet under Creative Commons

New Finds: Irresistible Peppermint Patties

Recchiuti Confections recently sent over some samples of its holiday chocolate lineup to the CHOW office, and though the truffles were good, printing some Christmas-related crap on top of the same old dark-chocolate ganache doesn’t really seem all that new or exciting. What was new, however, was the appearance of peppermint thins. They’re bite-sized, extremely minty, and coated with dark, intense chocolate. Now Recchiuti just needs to start making them the same size as those big York Peppermint Patties.

Recchiuti Peppermint Thins, $18 for a box of 24

WhiskyFest Recap, San Francisco

Last week WhiskyFest blew through SF, leaving behind a trail of dead. Joking aside (though seriously, the stuff will slay you after a few hours if you don’t force yourself to dump after tasting), there were more than 200 whiskeys to sample from all over the world, many master distillers on hand to talk about their products, and, well, a lot of those profusely sweating guys who always seem to show up to beer and spirits festivals. I concentrated on the domestic offerings, leaving the many great Scotches and other imports for next time.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Death’s Door Spirits: Out of Wisconsin, this small-batch distiller is named after the passage between Washington Island and the Door County Peninsula. It uses organic grains, and makes a “white” whiskey. The perfectly clear spirit is made by double distilling, resting the booze for three weeks, then popping it in oak barrels for less than 72 hours. It picks up some whiskey flavors, and even has a sweet suggestion of reposado tequila. Would be fun to experiment with in cocktails that call for gin, or to make something odd like a white Manhattan. They were also pouring a very good, creamy, almost buttery gin, with lots of botanicals but no overwhelming juniper bitterness.

High West Distillery: First off, you have to give some props to these people for not only starting a distillery in Utah, but also starting a ski-in distillery and pub. More importantly, they are selling some very good ryes. Since the company is only a few years old, High West’s own stuff is still aging. In the meantime, it’s been blending other distilleries’ booze to great success. I liked the Rendezvous Rye, a blend of a 6-year-old, 95 percent rye and a 16-year-old, 80 percent rye. It’s strong and spicy, with some vanilla in there. It’s not chill-filtered—a process many distillers put their whiskeys through to remove oils that will make the whiskey appear cloudy when it’s cold. Skipping the step leaves a little more texture in the Rendezvous and flavor in the finish.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey: Stranahan’s is a great microdistillery in Denver. Its Colorado Whiskey is aged in charred American white oak whiskey barrels, and contains both floral Scotch qualities and some of the brown-sugary spiciness of bourbon, with some hints of smoky, leathery, earthy funk in there too from, well, who knows. Like High West’s Rendezvous Rye, this is not chill-filtered. Don’t be scared off by the 94 proofage—it’s fiery to be sure, but still totally sippable.

Pork Shoulder Ecstasy

Pork shoulder is a fatty cut with lots of connective tissue. Long, slow cooking melts the fat and breaks down the connective tissue, leaving the meat moist and very tender. “Because of its high fat content and marbling, pork shoulder is the classic cut for pulled pork barbecue,” notes Tom Armitage. “The general advice I’d give is to braise the heck out of it and just choose the sort of flavor you want,” says katecm. “It can fit into so many sorts of dishes.”

Crispy pork, a stovetop version of carnitas, is TorontoJo’s favorite way to cook pork shoulder (she uses chicken broth in place of the water called for). “It looks gray and unappetizing for about 90 percent of the cooking time,” she says, “then at the very end it suddenly transforms into this golden brown, crispy, savory wonder.”

This chile verde from Bay Area Bites is “foolproof and delicious,” according to Dcfoodblog. JungMann recommends cider-braised pork shoulder with caramelized onions.

Caroline1 loves this simple prep: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a pork shoulder in a deep, covered pan not much bigger than it is. Sprinkle the top of the pork liberally with Worcestershire sauce, then pack a fairly thick layer of brown sugar over it. Pour enough apple juice in the pan to come at least halfway up the pork, avoiding the brown sugar. Cover, place in the oven, and reduce the heat to 200 degrees. Bake for six to eight hours, until it’s falling-apart tender. “It just vanishes before your eyes,” says Caroline1, “and it tastes far more complex and sophisticated than it sounds. Don’t tell your guests how easy it is.”

CHOW’s Chinese-style Red-Cooked Pork is made with shoulder.

Board Link: What is your favorite recipe for pork shoulder?

Nudging Zucchini into Deliciousness

Zucchini can be watery and tasteless, or it can be delectable. The first step is choosing the right zucchini. Buy small ones, advises mbfant, who adds, “The larger it gets, the more water, more seeds, and less flavor it has.”

If you sauté zucchini, it’s best to cook it quickly over high heat, so it browns, say several hounds. “I find browning zukes to add a ton of great flavor!” exclaims scuzzo. Or marinate it, then grill. Hounds like to sauté zucchini with onions and/or garlic (add garlic at the end, so it doesn’t burn), and top it with crumbled blue cheese, or Parmesan and lemon juice, or cilantro and lime juice. karykat likes this quick sauté of zucchini with toasted almonds.

It’s also easy to make flavorful dishes incorporating grated zucchini. linguafood makes kolokithokeftedes, Greek zucchini fritters, by mixing grated zucchini with fresh mint, feta, a bit of flour and panko, and an egg. Drop into oil and fry until golden brown. “Dip into tsatsiki, and it’s heaven,” she says. LauraGrace makes an even simpler fritter: “A huge pile of grated zucchini with an egg and just enough flour to hold it together, salt and pepper, and maybe a bit of cayenne. Fry until very crispy and serve hot.”

linguafood also likes it raw, sliced carpaccio-style, with feta and pine nuts. (Try CHOW’s recipe.) paulj arranges the zucchini slices, along with sliced bell pepper and tomato, in a pool of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, saying, “It’s an easy way to create a visually pleasing salad.”

Board Link: Is zucchini worth eating? ;-)

The Fresser Fades Out

The mile-high pastrami, the overstuffed Reuben, the pile of rare roast beef on rye: They’re all on the way out, according to author David Sax, whose Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen sounds the death knell of the classic Jewish deli. The reasons for its demise, as listed in the Hungry Beast:

“[H]igh rents that many delis face in cities, low margins on items like pastrami and brisket, limited alcohol sales, a perception among regular eaters that delis should be cheap, dieting trends that have made anything high-fat or carb-loaded non-starters for decades at a time. The rush to the suburbs has allowed fewer delis to cater to larger numbers of people, and the deli owners who built these businesses would rather see their sons and grandsons in law school than in aprons behind the counter.”

Want to see what your kids will be missing? The Hungry Beast has a gallery of images from the best delis in North America. Mmm, meat mounds.

Goat Cheese at Every Meal

Goat cheese is a natural on pizza, on crostini, and crumbled over salad, but hounds also incorporate it into dishes from breakfast to dessert.

shanagain mixes goat cheese with butter, salt, and chives or flat-leaf parsley and uses it on finger sandwiches, and Phurstluv makes it into mousse by blending it with some heavy cream and folding in finely chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. This “can be put on or in just about anything,” she says.

Goat cheese can be used in cheesecake, as well as other desserts. goodhealthgourmet calls these goat cheese custards wonderful, and bluemoon4515 recommends goat cheese ice cream.

More ideas for goat cheese:
Bread it and pan-fry it in rounds, then serve it on green salad.
Add it to mashed potatoes.
Add it to scrambled eggs, frittatas, or quiches.
Mix it with garlic and herbs and use it to stuff mushrooms.

CHOW’s Corn with Chèvre and Red Peppers is a twist on classic creamed corn.

Board Link: What to do with LOTS of goat cheese?