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How to avoid dry chicken breast?

I think for on the stove/in the oven, the matter can be pretty simple. The most important thing by far is to POUND THE THICK PART OF THE BREAST a bit to flatten it some and make the overall thickness much more uniform (max .75"). The fact is that really nice chicken breasts are just too plump! I sometimes remove the "tender" as well.

I then flour and S&P the outside lightly, and pan fry the breasts in a mixture of olive oil and butter for about 5 min per side. Meanwhile I have heated the oven to something between 220 and 250 depending on how low your oven will go.

When the breasts are browned nicely I remove to an oven proof plate inside the hot oven. Then I make the pan sauce (which is partly what the browning is about), which can be anything from just garlic, lemon and capers and a bit of wine to something more elaborate.

After about 30 minutes the breast should be at the proper internal temperature (140-50 with time after to come up to safety). You can remove them, pouring whatever juices there are into your sauce, finish that, and then serve together with whatever matrix/starch you prefer.

I think the advice here about not overcooking, brining, etc. pretty much takes care of all BBQ issues.

My problem are not these; my problem is how to prevent dry BRAISED chicken breasts. Any ideas?

NEW: Umami Burger, SF (Marina/Cow Hollow) - anyone try it yet?

Interesting concept and passable implementation, but this is an experience as much or more about location and pretense than it is about the food, based on our experience there this evening. We had the Hatch Burger and the Truffle Burger and an order of the Thin Fries and the Japanese Caprese Salad.

The burgers were bland and greasy even though mine (the Hatch, with four kinds of green chillies, was supposed to "spice up my life" while my partner's might have been expected to be redolent with the earthy fragrance of truffles. Ultimately, the most satisfactory items were the fries (very tasty and perfectly cooked, and well complemented by the umami ketchup) and the salad with its lovely tiny peeled chilled pear tomatoes and burrata laced with miso(?) and sesame(?). And the bun, a too often often overlooked element in burger quality was VERY good. At $50 for two (including two draft beers and tax, but plus tip), this was an experience we will not be hurrying to repeat.... For a place so intent on framing one's meal in terms of the umami concept and the proud touting of house-ground meat, and house-made cheese and condiments, it was surprisingly disappointing.

Umami Burger
2184 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

Thorough Bread & Pastry (Castro), SF report w/ pics

It is so great to have a proper bakery in the neighborhood, and very righteous that it is in the space vacated by Just Desserts whose notoriously bad service finally got them theirs...

As Melanie notes, the almond croissant here are a different take on this classic, and much less sweet and overblown than those at the nearby Cafe Le Soleil serving the Boulange d'Whatever chain version. The other thing Thorough Bread has over Le Soleil is congenial staff and very good value. Not to mention GREAT bread. The multi-grain loaf is really top of this category and the sesame semolina bread is very fragrant with a perfect crust. As others have noted, their $1.50 baguette can hardly be improved upon.

I haven't tried EVERYTHING yet, but give me time....the only thing I would suggest for now is that they move all the tables to the right or left of the front of the morning pastry cabinet so that there is no table directly in front of it. That way, when there is someone (and there always is) looking at stuff, others can get around it (and thus avoid the "Arizmendi Syndrome" of absolutely horrific human traffic jambs in a small space...)

Just Desserts
101 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Cafe Le
1531 Webster St, Alameda, CA

Soleil Restaurant
625 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301

ISO restaurant 1) walking distance from Civic Center 2) extensive vegetarian option

Definitely try the newish Burmese Kitchen at 452 Larkin Street, which is very near Civic Center. This is closer to real Burmese food than you can get at any of the other Burmese places in the City, even though it, like the others, is operated by Burmese-Chinese folks. Excellent meat and vegetarian dishes (be sure to try the yellow peas, but it is ALL good.) Very friendly and attentive operators. Enjoy!

Chowdown at Larkin Express Deli / Burmese Kitchen

I lived and worked (in the hotel business) in Rangoon for two years in the early 90s. At that time there was really only one "Burmese" restaurant in the city, called "Hla" ("come" as in "come and eat") located just west of Shwedagon Pagoda. It was a small homey place where you ate with your hands and there were just a couple of tables.

Burmese food is what people ate at home; when they went out they wanted either Chinese or Indian (though later a Thai place did open up). Later the Inya Lake Hotel, where I lived and which we managed) did start to serve a Burmese menu but the food remained mostly home cooking.

Here in the City we have several well known restaurants claiming to offer Burmese food, most notably Burma Superstar on Clement, Rangoon on California, and (at a very different end of the fancy spectrum, Yamo in the Mission on 18th. The former two are really Chinese-Burmese restaurants (though Superstar was once mostly Burmese), while Yamo serves a bbq-based menu that bares little resemblance to anything I remember from Rangoon, though it ain't bad and it sure is cheap.

I don't go to Rangoon Restaurant anymore because it is pretty undistinquished on any level, but I do like the menu at Superstar, as long as you get there early and don't have to wait.

But for the last year or so Burmese Kitchen on Larkin at Turk (where I ate last might) pretty much recreates has been recreating Burmese home cooking in a restaurant setting here in San Francisco, and with all these other folks, I highly recommend it. The tea leaf salad (which in the Burmese context is actually not intended as an appetizer at all, but rather is eaten as a digestive, and is never mixed together but served in a special laquer box which keeps all the ingredients separate so you can combine the bits you want in a small spoon...) was very tasty, and as some here have said, even better than that at either Burma Superstar or Rangoon).

The pork "curry" (not at all like the Indian version) was as good as any I had in Burma (though the quality of the pork - and fish - there was much better than here, while the chicken, unfortunately, could be guaranteed to have a thousand flying miles on it, and the law forbade slaughtering any but the most aged water buffalo...).

A very homely and VERY tasty dish was the "Yellow Peas and Onions" and the "Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup" (actually a Karen rather than Burmese dish) was delicious though not as rich as I have had.

I know the setting is rather down-market (in fact you have to pay attention because the signage may lead you to think that the actual restaurant is closed as you walk past the door itself), but I really can't understand why this place is not full all the time. The food is authentic, excellent, and cheap, and Dennis, the proprietor, and his wait staff have the guest's interests at heart.

Try it; you'll like it.

3406 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

Can't miss places in Portland, Oregon

In the same position (visiting Portland from SF), I looked here and tried to take the advice found, but over all found it rather contradictory. In any case, over a Friday night to Sunday morning we had EXCELLENT food and EXEMPLARY service.

Dinner Friday: South Park. Went to the wine bar entrance before our res was due and were seated at an opening up four-top (even though we were only two) but an extremely friendly and natural waiter. We ordered cocktails (can strongly recommend the Salmon Street Soda or whatever it was called; Arianciata, pomegranate, vodka) and some excellent calamari and a surprising fried chickpea dish.

The waiter had said he would tell the maitre' that we were in the bar and as 8 rolled around I got to worrying whether he had actually done so but sat still anyway (I have had bad experiences with this sort of thing elsewhere, certainly). But after a little bit a hostess from the restaurant came through the heavy velvet curtains and approached us and said our table was ready. I confess I was gobsmacked by the efficiency AND politeness of the whole operation.

We were led to our very nice table for two where we ordered a carafe of Nebbiolo and mains of sturgeon and the thyme chicken with a starter of bouillabaisse. (Because we had the concierge at the hotel make the reservation we were also treated to a free starter of very tasty crab cakes, too.) The sturgeon was perfect, on a bed of well prepared squash and topped with frisee. The chicken was a bit dry (the best I have had was actually at Magnolia in SF, Masonic @ Haight), but otherwise I could not have asked for better and the service, again, was really excellent. Dessert consisted of a vanilla creme brulee and a chocolate ganache-filled crostini with amaretto gelato. Superb, really.

The next day we went to Powells and ended up having a late-ish lunch at a nearby noodle joint, Noodles and Co. Quite servicable, though the sort of noodles they were using really need to be served immediately to avoid becoming gummy. Still, the service was, again, impeccable for the sort of establishment it was.

Dinner that night involved walking into the bar entrance of Higgins without a res. The place was mostly full up but the very polite and friendly waiter suggested we wait a few minutes for seats at the bar. Indeed, within five minutes or so a couple got up and we sat down. They serve the whole restaurant menue there at the bar and we chose burgers (a ritual wherever we go, to try the burgers in a new city to see what is what, and these were recommended on several online boards, though not without competition or controversy.)

Anyway, the burgers were excellent; house-ground (with exemplary texture and fat content) on a tasty bun with very good texture, accompanied by a good-sized salad including plump hazelnuts and a suitable vinaigrette, and a bit of house pickle. We had beers to accompany though I also ordered a glass of grappa as a digestive together with a soda chaser. AGAIN, the food was very good, but the SERVICE and servers were without compare.

Finally, on Sunday morning we went to Heathman's Hotel for breakfast. This place is clearly a classic location for locals and their guests as well as tourists. Wonderful menu, old school service. We had some "breads" including currant scone, a sticky bun, and a croissant, all of which were extraordinarily light, followed by a plate of eggs benedict with salmon instead of ham/bacon and a dish of smoked salmon hash topped with poached eggs. My lord; as perfect as breakfast gets.

BUT AGAIN, the service was something special.

And apart from the very good food we had I think the thing that really impressed us was how VERY TERRIBLE THE SERVICE IS IN SAN FRANCISCO based on the simple baseline service we got at every single venue we visited here. The folks in Portland get what I was trained to provide, and therefore expect, as SERVICE. Polite, without obsequiousness or attention-calling; friendly as in AUTHENTIC, utterly without pretence; and bloody-well near universal.

We crave this in "The City" but it is almost unknown, except perhaps in one's "own" neighborhood restuarant where you are known and a regular. Perhaps it is because our restaurants (good, bad, and indifferent) are incredibly crowded of a weekend night even though we have something like 2500 restaurants here and a higher ratio of them than most cities in this country. Perhaps it is because the levels of pretension in SF are completely disproportionate to the quality of the food and service.

In any case, Portland gets our votes as one of the best places to eat in this country.

Inner Sunset

Regrettably, Dragonfly, which we last visited perhaps two years ago or so, has declined radically in the interim. Went there last Friday evening and had only one dish out of four that was not plagued by some grievous fault, while the service, though not lacking servers, was indifferent at best.

The fresh spring rolls with shrimp were fine, and the sauce served with them was excellent, but aside from this everything else was tragic. The green papaya salad (admittedly a Thai dish) was heavy, bizarrely festooned with sweetened dried beef, and drenched in a too sweet dressing. The "beef carpaccio" was also too sweet (though the meat itself was quite nice) and buried under onions as if the dish was onions and beef were the garnish. The coconut pork was worst of all, with no coconut flavor to speak of and so sweet as to be almost inedible. Since the restaurant is not at all a bargain, these shortcomings were, in our opinion, fatal and we don't believe we will be going back for more. Really unfortunate given that it used to be an excellent choice.

Has Ebisu reopened?

Ebisu HAS reopened. The remodel is really beautiful; the outside door is a work of art, the frosted glass divider with the bamboo in between the panels at the entrance is very tasteful from inside and out, and there are many attractive design details throughout.

They have eliminated what used to be the traditional tatami room where you could sit on the floor and have replaced that space with two large bathrooms. They also put a cashier station and draft beer tap where the sushi bar used to curve around up front, so, as far as I can figure, even given the the fact that they have dramatically reduced the space between tables, they must have lost seats over all.

The menu has been reprinted and has lost all of its colorful pictures so you need to know your sushi a bit better than you did with the old menu. They also dropped the blackboard by the kitchen with the specials on it. Nonetheless, the menu seems to contain all the stuff that has made this one of the best sushi restaurants in the City.

And the food is just as good as it always was, in general. And the prices have remained more or less what they were. What has noticeably changed is the SIZE of the portions. All the nigiri and the rolls are still made with the same marvelously fresh ingredients and lovely presentation but they are all easily 20% smaller all around. This is an interesting and not entirely unsatisfactory solution to the problem of how to cover their renovation costs and is maybe even preferable to raising the prices by 20%, at least for the time being.

We had edamame (which is now served as a trio of flavored beans; ours were garlic, wasabi, and plain), unagi, maguro, and tako nigiri, a dragon roll, a caterpillar roll (yes, we like unagi), kobe beef sushi (which they do have even though it is not on the regular menu), a dish of natto and squid (also not on the menu, but they did have it when asked), and a couple of inari zushi, all washed down with some Kirin and tea. The cost was $75 plus tip.

Some of the old sushi-making crew are still there but there are some new faces (including a very rare woman) behind the bar as well. The entire wait staff seems to have been replaced....

I would still heartily recommend this as a superb sushi restaurant, one of the best in the City, and I do like the new look of the place, but I guess I am one of those diehards who think sometimes its better to leave (way, way) good enough alone. One always has to wonder what they were thinking....

Farina: Where Are We? And Do We Want to Be Here?

My VSO invited me to Farina last Thursday night for an early dinner. She is from Piemonte (Como) and we have tried many (not all) of the City's Italian offerings.

Farina was really very good despite some service issues and NOISE. The tablle bread augured well for the rest of the meal, with perfect crust.

We had the prosciutto San Daniele and burrata (which they had) starter and it was excellent, with a very crisp and tasty foccacia and tender, stringy burrata. We also had the mixed salad which had a balanced vinaigrette and some flavorful small tomatoes.

For mains my partner had the seared tuna in mozzarella lees. I had the duck breast on an apple and fennel puree. Both dishes were very well prepared and presented and the portions were adequate for our appetites, though not gigantic.

At this point the service started to become vague and it continued in that vein until we left. Even though the restaurant was only 2/3 full at most the waiter took quite a while to clear our plates, longer still to return with the dessert menu, and then about the same time to come back for the order by which time we had lost interest. This is the perfect way to take the fine edge off an otherwise sharp evening. The bloody NOISE, which no attempt had been made to ameliorate through skillful use of materials in the decor, was out of proportion to the crowd.

NONETHELESS, we would go back anytime to explore the menu further, for the solidly satisfying food, and truly remarkable bread....

Newbie 'Hound requesting specific recs in SF

I have lived a block a way from Thep Phanom for 15 years. For the first 10 years or so that I lived here I went there a lot; perhaps once in 6 weeks or so. Then it started alling off of its standard and I started going there less. In the last year I have perhaps been there twice (before tonight) and the meal we had there the last time made me think I might not go back again.

However, tonight a friend of mine from Santa Barbara, who has been going there on and off with me over there years, joined me for a meal in the newly renovated Thep, and it was well up to their best standard which earned them the "Best of the Bay" for a number of years in the mid 90s. They have reduced the number of tables and even though it was packed when we left at 8, it was not nearly as noisy as it used to be.

I readily acknowledge that over the years I have had to wait despite a reseveration a few times, bur having eaten Thai all over the City I would once again rate Thep as the best around. It is not Thailand (where the food is anyway completely different from any Thai food I have ever had in the states - not necessarily better, but different ) but is is darn good...

Fry Oil Disposal in an Apartment

Years and years ago someone I knew who was flogging Amway products had a plastic container with a lid and foil-lined paper bags with sealer ties that perfectly fit into it to take care of this problem.

I thought it was hopeless to find them since my friend no longer had anything to do with Amway and I never saw them anywhere else. But a couple of years ago I trolled the web for them and after considerable effort found them. Fat Trapper. I bought the container and a bunch of the bags and have been very satisfied since then. I cannot now locate the vendor I found (which I think was also the manufacturer) but if you search for "Fat Trapper" you will find the container and bags widely available online.

Thing sits near the stove, has an easy to remove top but is stable enough not to worry about it falling over, has a big enough opening to be able to pour off pan grease into it one-handed, and the bags hold perhaps 4 cups of oil, though you have to avoid overfilling them so you can close them well enough to put in your trash. If you are regularly deep-frying, this is not the item for you, but it you need, as I did, something to handle the pour-off from browning, rendering, etc., this is perfect. My only complaint is that the wire ties do not always stay attached to the bags, but that is minor. Cheers.

Mission or nearby this weekend - creative, fresh, filling and inexpensive

Vietnamese? Could try Will's:

Best Vietnamese Around 16th & Val/Mission and Church & Market?

Went to Will's (14th @ Church/Market) last night with the VSO. We had the fresh "imperial" rolls, an appetizer of "deep-fried grilled" calamari, the bo luc lac, and a green curry with eggplant, snow peas, and dofu.

The rolls were perfectly standard and served with a nice sauce with a bit of chili to it. The calamari was without question the star of the meal. I don't think it had been grilled at all, but was absolutely perfectly done; tender, flavorful, and accompanied by a nice lemon juice and salt/pepper dip. Quite similar to your classic salt/pepper version in some Chinese restaurants (the wait staff spoke only Cantonese, not Vietnamese it seemed). Truly excellent. The filet mignon was very nicely done, with asparagus and carmelized onion over some undistinguished but otherwise edible noodles. The only disappointment was the curry, which was really in Thai style and with quite greasy tasting eggplant although the sauce and other bits were quite ok.

Service was attentive if rather lackluster. The place was less than a quarter full. It was about 7:30 on a Friday night so perhaps if they are not pulling in more than that it might not last so long, but all around, for what we ordered, it deserves more custom. I would prefer it to Sunflower (which is anyway a much longer walk for us). The interior is undistinguished, but friendly enough. About $57 for two including rice, two 33 beers, tax and tip. Cheers.

Best Place in the Bay Area to buy Spices?

I have to say that SF Herb Co. is an excellent source of very good quality spices of all kinds. In some cases the smallest package may be more than you bargain for, but I have always managed by sharing around with friends. Bay leaves, pepper, granulated garlic, chili powders, etc. etc. etc. Never been disappointed in the quality. Certainly Rainbow has some interesting stuff too, but the prices at SF Herb cannot be beat. It used to be possible to get a good variety of bulk spices at Bombay Bazaar on Valencia, but they have since reduced their bins to a much smaller selection of pre-packaged spices. Many good things can still be gotten at Haig's on Clement around 8th, and across the street New May Wah has good prices on many standard and exotic Asian and as well as common spices.

Duck's Eggs

How about in San Francisco? I have seen them once or twice at New Mei Wa on Clement, but anywhere else? A friend sometimes brings them for me from somewhere in Marin, but they seem devilishly hard to find...

Marie Callender's Snit

I would be inclined to completely agree with your points, but my point was certainly not that ConAg or any other such company would be mucking about with the daily details of an outlet such that it would be directly culpable for anything that happened in the story. Instead I would indict the culture of corporate ownership which drives virtually everything that goes on there. Without naming any particular thing we all know what the sum total of this culture is because it is precisely what makes chains the sorts of places they are. Having worked in hotel personnel and training for years I can tell you that the reason that much of this stuff happens is because essentially it is trained to happen; that is, the manager/worker and worker/customer relationship that is created by corporate-style training produces nonsensical and often anti-customer behavior as we can see not just in this tale of woe, but in experiences we have all had in any number of service situations. REAL restaurants (where training and behavior are unlikely to come out of a manual issued by a distant homogenizing headquarters) are characterized by REAL service (or at least they ought to be; as I mentioned, there are more than a few real establishments that inexplicably find things to admire, even to imitate in the behavior of the chains.) Real service is characterized by authentic and spontaneous interactions between the customer and service provider. I don't see much, if any. of that here. Cheers.

Feb 07, 2007
Boythefoodtalksto in Chains

I am SO broke in S.F.

Second Yamo, cheap Vietnamese, and Naan and Curry in their several locations.

And excuse me, but is Grishnackh an Orc name? What is Orc food like?

Marie Callender's Snit

Two words on this fascinating little "slice" of life story: [1] CORPORATE - if one is curious about the source of the overall decline in service in this country, and not just in the food service business, one need look little further than the corporation (and its imitators) that turns the human and humane experience of eating out into a pre-packaged, pre-scripted, and (largely) predictably unpleasant experience. MC is a large, relatively efficient chain of stores turning out a "dining commodity" as part of the vertically integrated "food" leviathan ConAgra (over $10B in sales last year) whose brands also include Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Orville Redenbacher's, Reddi-wip, ACT II, PAM, and Swiss Miss.

While the humans you talk to and interact with in their outlets deserve not only your common courtesy and even an amount of sympathy and respect, the corporate culture they work in is what produces the experience cited here. With respect to the Chef and others above who see the OP as a potentially litigious, trouble-making whiner, they should not confuse either the operator's or the customer's experience in a private family- or partner-owned restaurant with the industrial pathologies that produce the travesty being described here. Defending the idiotic and possibly felonious practices of giant food operators by appealing to our natural Chowhound sympathies for the people that operate the REAL restaurants we patronize is neither accurate nor sensible; and [2] SIGN - TAKE THE BLOODY SIGN DOWN WHEN THE PIES ARE GONE. No one has to consult a dessert seer or pastry psychic to know exactly how many pies will be sold on any given day; just take down the sign when they are gone (or within a reasonable time thereafter). If you insist on keeping the sign up hours after the pies are gone, then you are engaging in, at the very least, false advertising.

AND if you really want that pie, after the third try, DO try and get there a bit earlier.

And please, would someone PLEASE get that person a utensil to open the "fresh" shrink-wrapped pies with....?!

Feb 06, 2007
Boythefoodtalksto in Chains

did i eat mohinga?

Mohingha is almost exclusively eaten as breakfast food in Burma. You would not expect to find actual fish chunks in it at all; it is really a full-flavored fish broth which is likely to have some thick slices of palm heart and some chickpeas in it before garnished, served over cooked noodles and then dressed up with various toppings. Shouldn't taste like it has been thickened with anything more than the cooked down ingredients, though it could have chickpea flour (besan) or semolina ( soojee) in it as well. The pea fritters, sliced boiled eggs, fried shallots, and a bit of chili flakes, are all it takes, though there are lots of other things possible. Never tried it here in a restaurant, but no reason why it couldn't be lovely.

ISO Great Chili Recipe

A straightforward, no nonsense recipe that depends almost entirely on the quality of the chili powder used (and a bit on the beer and tomatoes as well) is the following:

1 lb good beef, cut into 1" cubes and marinated with 2T olive oil and 1T good (Hatch) chili powder of the desired heat

.5 lb pork (I use chorizo, but have used pork chops, shoulder meat, or, indeed, ground pork)

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (further) T good chili powder
1 t cumin powder
1.5 t dried oregano leaves
1 t salt
.5 t pepper

Brown beef in heavy pot; remove. Add 1 or 2 T oil and brown pork or chirozo; remove. Saute onions. Add garlic and saute briefly. Add spices and cook for a couple of minutes until very fragrant. Return beef and pork to the pot. Add:

1 2lb can of tomatoes (I like the fire roasted ones)
1 12-oz bottle of your beer of choice (stout is good)
.5 small can of tomato paste

Bring to a boil. Cover and turn down to lowest setting. Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours. At the end add:

1 T wine vinegar.

Depending on your taste or what you want to do with the finished chili you can add canned or home-cooked pinto beans. (I do this when I want to take it to work for lunch the following week.) Yum.

I'm hosting a Chili Cook Off and want to have other dishes - HELP!!

As an alternative to cornbread that nonetheless goes very well with chili, may I suggest my sister's Sage and Cumin Bread (with Cheese Filling)

3 C flour
1 t salt
2 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 C chopped Italian parsley
1/4 t dried sage leaf (not ground)
1/2 t whole cumin seeds
1 large egg
2 C buttermilk
6 oz jack cheese cut into thin slices
1/2 C diced canned (or home roasted) green chilis
4 T butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in upper third. Butter a 10" pie plate, even better if it is glass or earthenware, but not necessary.

Place first 7 ingredients in food processor. Blend for 1-2 seconds.

Add egg and buttermilk and blend for 4 seconds more. DO NOT OVERMIX.

Spread half of dough in an even layer in pie dish. and layer with cheese. Be careful not to put cheese all the way to edge so it leaks out. Dot cheese with green chilis.

Drop rest of dough over the filling with a big spoon.

Dot with 2 T butter.

BAKE for 40-45 minutes. Loaf will be raised and hollow to the tap and slightly brown. Serve hot or very warm.

Pastrami in San Francisco

Definitely Miller's, though again not exactly in your line of fire. Miller's portions are generous, price is right, and excellent skinny fries, to boot.

Perfect Hashbrowns

A propos of our topic here, an entire other thread tackles the thorny problem of just what a potato pancake is vs. hashbrowns. Perhaps you have seen it:

Perfect Hashbrowns

I guess that in my family "potato pancakes" were something made from mashed potatoes that were made into patties and fried, while "hash browns" were made from raw potatoes. That is probably a whole thread in itself: "What is a hash brown?"

Perfect Hashbrowns

Having tried a number of the techniques mentioned here as well as some others, I have surrendered to freshly shredded russets, rinsing the shredded spuds in water, drying them off, and then frying them in as thin a layer as I can given the size of the pan and the amount I am trying to make. Goose fat DOES work wonders for the reasons stated, but you can use olive oil and a more reasonable temperature if you use a non-stick pan and resist the temptation to turn the potatoes before they get good and brown, and then turn them as much as possible as a whole (I have even flipped them like a pancake); if the layer of potatoes is thin enough you can get away with just cooking them well on each side with one turn....

Szechuan Peppercorns

Sichuan (or Szechuan or Szechwan) peppercorns (Chinese: huajiao 花椒) are the fruit of a bush in the Rutaceae family (kaffir lime is in the same family.) They were banned for import for a few years because they were believed to spread a citrus disease which endangered US fruit. Chinese exporters apparently changed their processing to help lift the ban.

I agree with jerry_i_h that the message on the package makes one wonder if what you have is really Sichuan peppercorns. They do not need to be soaked before using. They certainly can be pan roasted, like other spices, before use. They are the essential ingredient in Sichuan many many dishes of cuisine.

They do need to be used with caution, however. They are numbing rather than burning "peppers" and using too much can positively ruin a dish unless you are used to them. They are great ground to a powder and sprinkled on some kinds of salad in VERY SMALL quantity. In very large quantities they form the basis for a whole class of Sichuan soup/stew called paomu; your mouth goes completely numb while enjoying this dish.

Butter fleeing a cookie dough...

My VSO is from Como in northern Italy and among the things I have learned to make that please her mightily are krumiri, lovely buttery and lemony cornmeal cookies. I have always used the recipe from "A Passion for Piedmont" by Matt Kramer. When I first tried this recipe about five years ago it worked perfect even if the batter was the devil to push out of the pastry bag through the half-inch star tip.

Anyway, out of the numerous times I have made thus dough perhaps 60% of the time the cookies have immediately flattened out in the oven and lost their shallow-v-shaped log shape. Taste is fine, but the look is all wrong. I have tried numerous things, from chilling the dough before piping it out, to using or not using a silpat or parchment paper, and for the life of me I cannot figure out what causes the problem.

Yesterday I tried making a batch again and the result was a total meltdown - literally. After I put the erstwhile cookies in the oven I started washing the bowl out and then thought to turn the oven light on so I could watch the progress and I was surprised and dismayed to see that not only had the dough completely flattened out but all of the butter had fled the dough and now I had this little flat boomerang shapes boiling in a sea of butter. Luckily I used a sheet pan that had real sides to it!

So, the question is, what is going on and how do I avoid this? The ingredients are: butter (1.5 sticks), sugar, lemon zest, 1 egg plus an egg yolk, flour and cornmeal.

Any ideas? Thanks.

Rules on tipping - Do you ALWAYS tip 20% ?

Bravo, bravo. I worked in hotel training and personnel management for years (in China and Southeast Asia) and we were always trying to chase (and not just in F&B) this standard of professionalism and to instill it in our staffs. "Seamless and invisible" is the only service standard worth pursuing in a quality operation (though obviously it doesn't suit ALL establishments.) That transition from waiter (or whatever) to true professional is something to behold. When someone achieves that level of real service, as you clearly have, (especially when matched by the kitchen, the menu, and the ambience), it is worth not just a generous tip, but loyalty and great word-of-mouth. Congratulations.

what's the diff between dried beans and which are good for what?

Beans, beans...what's not to like? Homemade refries (yes, with a bit of lard); canellini bean salad with fresh sage, olive oil, and black pepper; proper baked beans; or my favorite bean dish which is Jota, a borlotti bean, pork, and saurkraut stew from the Trieste/Friuli area - really superb comfort food. Borlotti (cranberry) beans have the best flavor on their own of any bean I can think of. The recipe that brings out that flavor the best is the "Baked Fresh Borlotti Beans" in the YELLOW River Cafe cookbook - it is just fresh shelled beans, water, a tomato, a head of garlic, and olive oil, baked to perfection. Super yummy.

Name that bean paste!

That is to say 豆瓣醬. It is an essential staple in kitchens in Taiwan and parts of the Mainland. (The Chinese characters will appear correctly if you set your browser encoding to "UTF-8".)