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Highlights from the General Topics and Cookware boards. Food trends, food products, and burning questions.

Overheard on the General Topics Board

"I've had Cafe Brulot many times in New Orleans. It's a pretty basic recipe. The Post/Scott recipe with the mention of aloes is unique in that regard. Otherwise it is a sweetened orange and clove/cinnamon/allspice spiced coffee with brandy. The 'Diabolique' comes in with ladling flaming coffee down a long spiral of clove studded orange zest. Great presentation." - JMF

"Basically add enough salt to kill all the other guys and only the salt-loving halophytes remain to happily chomp away at the dead fish. And just like different yeasts will give different characteristics to beer, different bacteria will give different characteristics to fish sauce and different regions will have their own unique local blend of bacterial strains. Bacteria. . .where would we be without them!?! So many delicious foods they help produce!" - seamunky on the production of fish sauce

"Better is my custom grind made from over ten kinds of hot chili peppers affecting different parts of the tongue, some smoked dry. I add it to almost everything and especially pickles. Unlike fresh ground black pepper, chili pepper grinds do not cause pain in moderation [but] instead are a flavor enhancer that opens taste buds. Making a perfect custom chili grind has been a hobby for decades. Is great sprinkled on food everywhere [I] would use salt. Enhances pickles, olives, and capers." - smaki on enhancing store-bought (or homemade) pickles

Braving Bird’s Nest Soup

Bird's nest soup is a Chinese delicacy made from the fragile nests of swifts. "The main ingredient is bird saliva," says gourmaniac, and the nests are very expensive, in part because they must be hand-collected from nesting sites and picked over to remove impurities. kobuta has seen unappetizing bits of feather, twigs, and "lord knows what else" in bird's nests, which is why they must be soaked and washed before being used in soup or other dishes. READ MORE

How to Cook Kamut

Kamut is an ancient grain: an early, large-grained form of wheat. Number loves it in whole-grain form, saying it's "filling and texturally exciting." magiesmom is a fan of kamut as well. "It is a really large grain, beautiful and tasty," she says.

What do you do with it? magiesmom recommends using it as you would wheat berries or barley; it's great in a pilaf or salad, she says. Number likes to boil kamut grains until they're tender (important note: Don't add salt to the boiling water, or the grains will never soften) and then toss them with vegetables that have been roasted until caramelized and sweet, along with olive oil and lemon juice. You might also try making some dried apricot and kamut granola or kamut with mushrooms and blue cheese for whole-grain variety.

Ground into flour, kamut is very similar to wheat, but sweeter, says ipsedixit, so if you're baking with it, adjust your sweeteners down a notch.

Discuss: What to do with kamut?

Photograph of CHOW's Dried Apricot and Kamut Granola by Christopher Rochelle /

Chinese Salt and Pepper Dishes Aren’t Dull

In Chinese and Chinese-influenced cuisines, menus commonly feature boring-sounding dishes like "salt and pepper chicken" or "salt and pepper squid." porker remembers making fun of the pedestrian connotations of "salt and pepper crab" at a Chinese restaurant, and then finding the actual dish to be "utterly delicious."

What's in this salt and pepper preparation? Often, the "pepper" refers to Sichuan peppercorn. In many Cantonese restaurants in San Francisco, the chefs make a proprietary blend of aromatic spices, including salt and Sichuan peppercorns, Melanie Wong says. The spice mix is added to more salt and cornstarch and used to dust the protein before cooking. The peppercorns are "not used in quantities large enough to cause noticeable numbing," Melanie Wong says. "But if you ask for a bit of powder on the side and give it a sniff, the floral qualities of Sichuan peppercorn are apparent."

Other times, the "pepper" might be black or white pepper, huiray says. "In my experience and expectation it would be literally black or white pepper (piper nigrum) and salt (sodium chloride) as the predominant condiments in these dishes, augmented with chile peppers, ginger, spring onions, sliced onions, etc. depending on the chef or dish," huiray says.

And in many American Chinese restaurants, the "pepper" is fresh chile pepper, JMF says. Food is dusted in cornstarch, then stir-fried in a wok on high heat. "Add hot pepper, usually jalapeño, and fry for 30 seconds, then add cornstarch dusted food and fry in the hot pepper flavored oil until just barely cooked," says JMF.

Discuss: Indo-Chinese "Salt and Pepper" Dishes?
Chinese salt and pepper dishes: Sichuan peppercorns??

Pu-erh: The Perfect Tea for Dim Sum?

At many dim sum establishments, diners can choose what type of tea is served. While jasmine tea is often provided as a default, the traditional tea of choice to pair with dim sum is pu-erh (po lei in Cantonese), says huiray. gourmaniac likes the clean feel of drinking pu-erh; it "helps with the greasiness of dim sum," he says. Pu-erh tea has a strong, distinctive, earthy flavor that's a challenge for those who didn't grow up drinking it. Chrysanthemum flowers are often added to pu-erh to offset the harsh, bitter taste with a floral note; but even so, the flavors are "probably most unusual and most difficult to get used to by a beginner from a Western culture background," says Chemicalkinetics.

If you're the kind of Chowhound who's intrigued by harsh, earthy flavors, you owe it to yourself to taste pu-erh. Like wine, pu-erh tea comes in a variety of grades and ages. The "raw" product is untreated and young, and the "cooked" or "ripe" tea has been aged and fermented to develop the flavor, says will47. "Basically, the tea is composted in a controlled way," he says. "Bad ripe tea can have a 'fishy' or 'pondy' type flavor (which will tend to lessen over time), but a good quality ripe pu'er shouldn't have those flavors."

For high-quality pu-erh at a low price point, you'll almost always get better tea from a tea shop than from a grocery store, says will47. And ipsedixit recommends pairing less fancy tea with dim sum, and saving the really good stuff for drinking on its own; it would be wasted if paired with dim sum, as your palate will be affected by all those greasy, delicious chicken feet!

Discuss: Best tea for Dim Sum?

Overheard on the General Topics Board

"Ramps have a very distinct taste. Sharp and garlicky, not at all like scallions or spring onion." - chefj

"I'd probably eat white truffle paste off of a flip flop." - ladooShoppe on this "dangerously delicious" delicacy

"Interesting point—many recipes for pasta fresca/all'uova, like tagliatelle, suggest only a brief cooking, when the point to me of these wonderful fresh pastas is their soft silkiness. Need to make sure they're fully there. Dried tagliatelle or pappardelle, usually made without egg, is another thing altogether." - bob96

Acid-Free Mystery Citrus

jumpingmonk is smitten with a mysterious citrus fruit labeled "Buck Farms" that he just sampled for the first time. On the outside, the fruit looks like a nondescript round orange. But inside, the pith and flesh are pinkish, like a pink grapefruit. And the flavor is "like no citrus I have ever had," says jumpingmonk. For one thing, the taste is completely without acid tartness, like a sweet lemon. But it has another flavor aspect, similar to the raspberry taste a blood orange can sometimes have. "Normally I find this the main detractor to the sweet lemon (I find it flat tasting without the acid)," says jumpingmonk. But with the blood-orange-reminiscent flavor, it works perfectly, he says. "This thing defies description. I just hope they have more when I go back next week!"

Melanie Wong guesses that the mystery fruit is a mango orange, a low-acid North African orange that's still rarely grown in North America. "Buck Brand citrus grown by Lisle Babcock at Deer Creek Heights Ranch is some of the finest available anywhere," she says. Hail citrus variety!

Discuss: New Mystery Citrus; I am in Heaven

Hot and Spicy Chex Mix

Chowhound Soup thought there would never be a better packaged snack food than habanero Doritos. "I was wrong," says Soup: Packaged Hot 'n Spicy Chex Mix wins, hands down. "I wish they would make this stuff with just the Chex Mix," says Soup. "No crackers or pretzels." chocolatetartguy agrees about the cereal being the best part: "The cereal is more porous and soaks up more of the marinade," he says.

Making a spicy, savory snack mix from cereal keeps alive the grand American tradition of preparing snack foods out of other prepared foods. "That stuff is crack for the munchies set, innit?" says mamachef. You don't have to make it completely from scratch to make it your own, she says. "Been known to give it a little blast of extra Crystal sauce and then re-bake it, with an extra drizzle of butter, if I haven't made my own batch."

Perilagu Khan makes it at home, and "it's absolutely killer," he says. goodhealthgourmet longs for a ranch-flavored version (using powdered buttermilk) and a spicy curried version. "The delectable possibilities are endless, and that's the genius of Chex Mix," says Perilagu Khan.

Discuss: chex mix - hot and spicy

Ancho or Pasilla? Navigating Chile Pepper Chaos

Most peppers are a variety of a single species (Capsicum annuum), but like dogs, chile peppers exhibit amazing variety within the species. That's great for Chowhounds, who enjoy experiencing the subtle differences in flavor and heat among the many varieties. Peppers develop local variation very easily, says paulj, and they then hybridize to form even more variety. But that variability can lead to confusion. "In traditional parts of Mexico (e.g. Oaxaca, Chiapas), local chiles could vary from village to village, along with names and linguistic dialects," says paulj.

Dried chiles for use in Mexican cuisine can be particularly hard to tell apart, especially for people just learning the cuisine. There are two dried chiles that look particularly alike: the ancho (the dried version of the poblano pepper) and the pasilla (the dried version of the chilaca pepper). To add to the confusion, both dried peppers are frequently mislabeled, with the names used interchangeably by producers, says JuniorBalloon.

The best way to tell the difference, regardless of the label, is that the ancho pepper has a subtle reddish tinge to it, and the pasilla is more brown to black, says neoredpill. They are both mild, but the ancho has a sweeter flavor distinct from that of the pasilla. "Ancho chiles are certainly more common and widely used in this country, but pasilla is used for authentic mole sauce," says neoredpill. "Truthfully, most people would never know the difference, which is why marketers get away with the mislabeling of ancho chiles as pasilla."

qbnboy90 agrees with the color and flavor characterization. The color difference is barely noticeable unless you're looking for it, he says, but the black/red difference becomes especially pronounced when the chiles are cooked in a sauce. For those new to Mexican cooking, try making two dishes: "one with just ancho, and another with just pasilla using the same recipe as a base and compare, you'll see the difference," qbnboy90 recommends.

Discuss: What's the real difference between ancho and pasilla chile peppers?

Overheard on the General Topics Board

"Many people don't like a monochromatic plate of food, even if all the food is delicious. But in Italy there is a tradition called 'mangiare in bianco' (eating white). Think side dishes of sautéed cabbage, potato salad, and a main of roasted halibut..." - Gio

"So far my fave is the first one purchased and the cheapest of all the brands, the La-Ida (99 cents)... a very natural-tasting lemon flavour with a nice texture. The Milano come in second with a neutral flavour but a lovely, spongy texture." - Moimoi on ladyfingers

"[S]omeone asked about pasteles, a Puerto Rican tamale. It is made with a banana rather than corn masa and is fairly popular in Hawaii, although not easy to find these days." - KaimukiMan