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

Coq au Vin for the Cold Months

Braised dishes are comforting during the cold months, and while chicken stewed in a bottle of wine may sound indulgent, its roots are rustic and practical. "Coq au vin is an ancient dish that used up tough old fowl," notes hotoynoodle. "It's not a recipe that needs overthinking. Good/decent quality wine and dark meat chicken."

bear had great results with Alton Brown's recipe, which she made with a whole chicken in pieces, plus extra thighs. The dark meat was superior, but white meat lovers were pleased with their portions. erica says it may not be for everyone, but she has had great success with Mark Bittman's coq au vin with prunes.

Discuss: truly great coq au vin recipe?

DIY Sea Salt

"I've never heard of anyone with access to salt water making their own salt. Could I just keep a slow simmer pot going for a few days to get salt?" wonders Goldendog. It's absolutely doable, say hounds. "The traditional method is to isolate sea water and let it evaporate naturally. No point in running the stove or the oven," says alanbarnes. "Get a cookie sheet or a hotel pan or a kiddie pool full of ocean water and let the subtropical heat do its thing."

However, DIY salt-making is a project that should only be motivated by the joy of the process, not for quality of the salt or economic considerations. danieljdwyer figures a gallon of sea water would yield around a third of a pound of salt, or "about $0.35 worth," he says. And good, expensive sea salt usually comes from deep, cold water far away from human habitation (and consequential disgusting pollution). You're not going to get high-quality, pure sea salt from beach water in Florida, unfortunately. "I wouldn't use any water that isn't from way out in the Gulf, frankly," says alkapal.

Discuss: Making your own sea salt?

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I used to think this was totally pretentious until I rented a furnished apartment with a kitchen scale. It is super convenient and my baking results have never been better!" - ChristinaMason

"I just discovered Newtown pippins. Great for baking AND eating. It's a firm apple so I wouldn't recommend for applesauce or apple butter. But my god the flavor is delightful." - Dcfoodblog

"I made the marmalade on Sunday morning and baked bread on Sunday afternoon. If you could capture that combined smell in an aerosol, you'd be rich." - mandycat

What to Drink in 2010

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All Hail the iPhone-Cheese Cyborg

Just in time for the holidays: an iPhone with a picture of a sexy Santa Claus on it, docking on a block of pepperjack cheese residing on a cheese plate. Gaze upon the glory. Happy Chriskwahkkah.

Image source: Flickr member Photo Giddy under Creative Commons

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"Yes! I definitely eat the same thing: grilled cheese sandwiches with Kraft Singles. It's just not the same with real cheese. Also, I always have to cut the sandwiches into quarters, arrange in a ring around the outside of a plate and put a huge pile of ketchup in the middle for dipping." - dooflaer

"Try using less. When one uses too much saffron in a dish, it can easily taste medicinal or plastic-y. Use less and the citrus brightness and tanginess really comes through." - maria lorraine

"Cinnamon pancetta, I would think, would be an acquired taste." - fourunder

Up at the Break of Dawn

Break of Dawn "is one of the few places we willingly drive to after church on Sundays," says jacknhedy. "From Chino Hills to Break of Dawn is a good 40 miles. Absolutely worth it." It serves "breakfast food done well and creatively," says OCAnn.

Chef Dee has "wizard level chef skills," according to woojink. "You've GOT to go," urges Das Ubergeek.

Breakfasts are rather light, like the eggs benedict–style smoked salmon dish with potato bread, perfectly poached eggs, and pesto, favored by OCAnn, or the pancakes that groover808 says are the fluffiest around.

Lunches are heartier. I got nothin paid a mere $17 for a prix fixe lunch of a pleasant squash bisque, a deeply comforting chicken stew, and chocolate crème brûleé that was "out-fricking-standing ... I'm not usually a big fan of crème brûleé, but their chocolate version had me licking the plate clean."

The Break of Dawn [Orange County]
24351 Avenida De La Carlota Suite N6, Laguna Hills
949-587-9418

Discuss: Break of Dawn - Laguna Hills

Real-Deal Pizza

Il Dolce Pizzeria is a real-deal, unpretentious, artisanal pizza maker, in the Italian instead of the New York mold, says cdmedici. It's run by a couple from Argentina and Roberto, the male half of the couple, was trained at the Verace Pizza Napoletana.

Il Dolce imports flour from Naples, makes mozzarella every day, and produces pizzas that are utterly delicious. "The crust was not the afterthought like so many other places," says cdmedici. "It has nice texture and flavor." You can get pizzas like the poletto: pesto, mozzarella, meatballs, and fresh basil. Then there's patata, with chile oil, mozzarella, Gruyère, pancetta, and fingerling potatoes. Or, try the salciccia: garlic sauce, pancetta, fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, caramelized onion, and rapini.

There are also some non-Italian touches, like empanadas that were the best cdmedici has ever had.

Il Dolce Pizzeria [Orange County]
1902 Harbor Boulevard, Costa Mesa
949-200-9107

Discuss: Il Dolce Pizzeria- Costa Mesa....finally a real deal unpretentious artisanal pizzeria

Addictive, Spicy Chinese Food

"There’s something about spicy Chinese food that keeps people coming back for more," says Pandan Express. For your next hit, go to Yunnan 168, the newest purveyor of San Gabriel Valley heat.

The house special Yunnan rice noodles have a wonderful broth with green onions rounding out the richness of chicken, says Pandan Express. The slices of meat, textured like a more delicate char siu pork, are perfectly seasoned. And the slices of chicken leg are "flavorful, juicy, and perfectly tender," says Pandan Express. "I hadn’t had chicken cooked so well in a long time."

Home-style tofu has strong wok qi: It's fried on the outside, still custardy on the inside. "The dish had that lingering taste which I associate as a precursor to a spicy bite, but the bite just never hit," says Pandan Express.

Yunnan 168 [San Gabriel Valley]
1530 San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-280-7688

Discuss: Yunnan 168 -- another player in the spicy Chinese game

Water That’s Less Boring

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