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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Onera Dresses Down; and Other New York News

The upscale Greek restaurant Onera earned critical acclaim and hound love, but that by itself doesn’t pay the rent. So chef Michael Psilakis has dropped prices, traded his ambitious modern fare for more casual, family-style dishes, and rechristened the place Kefi. Our first report suggests that the newly downscaled menu is accessible and delicious.

americanafan reports a satisfying meal highlighted by terrific moussaka, unusually light yet also hearty and filling. Traditional spreads–tzatziki, taramasalata, melitzanosalata, fava bean–get a slightly nontraditional tweaking, but they’re still comforting and familiar, served with tasty, warm pita slices. Main courses (which now top out at just $16) include a couple of holdovers from Onera, including the hound-endorsed helopites (a wide egg noodle with braised rabbit and grated cheese). The wine list is modest and nicely priced, with bottles for as little as $18. “It looks as if chef Psilakis has accomplished exactly what he set out to do,” americanafan adds. “I was a big fan of Onera and was disappointed to see it close. But Kefi should be a very popular neighborhood restaurant.”

Across town, Upper East Side hounds have one fewer dessert option. Martha Frances Mississippi Cheesecake, beloved for pecan, sweet potato, and Key lime pies, as well as its signature cheesecake, closed abruptly late last year.

Kefi [Upper West Side]
formerly Onera
222 W. 79th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave., Manhattan

Martha Frances Mississippi Cheesecake [Upper East Side]
1707 2nd Ave., between E. 88th and 89th Sts., Manhattan

Board Links

Kefi–first look
martha frances cheesecake…what happened?

Lookin’ for Snap and Spice (in a Hot Dog)

It’s almost too easy to overlook Wolfe Burger, and especially their hot dogs, says WildSwede. Dogs are split and grilled, and if you go for the chili–spicy or mild–they really pile it on. Make sure to get some onion rings, the rock. Drop a buck into the tip jar, advises Chino Wayne, and you’ll probably get extra.

Burgers are good too–they have mushroom, fish and very tasty turkey burgers in additional to the usual beef.

Speaking of hot dogs, the #1 plain old dog in town is at Carneys, says Steve Doggie-Dogg. “It snaps, squirts, perfect spice… couldn’t be better.” Chili dogs and fries are great too, adds Bruin2.

Wiener Factory has some of the best dogs in town, say a couple of other hounds. B Minus goes for the slaw and cheese dog, while Simihound prefers mild or spicy Polish.

The Hound Dog is an excellent hot dog place with a classic vibe, says dmax. Snappy dogs with tasty chili and mustard on the side if you like. Vintage celebrity photos lining the walls give it some ambience.

Some hot dog spots stand out because of the details.

Skooby’s, a tiny Hollywood joint that serves little more than dogs, does them well, along with some surprisingly high-minded fries (freshly cut from whole, skin-on potatoes) with aioli.

The Stand, kind of an upscale diner, has a slew of top-notch hot dogs and toppings, beer on tap and wine by the glass. Don’t forget Dollar Dog Mondays.

Chronis has killer chili for its dogs, says nrique.

One of the best dogs elmomonster ever had was at Jerry’s, where they fire ‘em over wood. They’ve also got great sausages and homemade potato chips.

jackattack likes the snappy dogs at Larry’s.

QT’s, Taste Chicago and Portillo’s have good Chicago-style hot dogs, says chowchi1, although Steve Doggie-Dogg has reported on his blog that QT’s is capable of producing juicy, tasty, natural-casing dogs, but you can’t count on their actually being in stock.

Wolfe Burgers [Pasadena-ish]
46 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena

Carneys [Hollywood]
8351 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Carneys [East San Fernando Valley]
12601 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Wiener Factory [West San Fernando Valley]
14917 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks

Hound Dog Hot Dog Shop [West San Fernando Valley]
8749 Glenoaks Blvd., Sun Valley

Skooby’s [Hollywood]
6654 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

Skooby’s [South Bay]
502 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach


The Stand [West San Fernando Valley]
17000 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Chronis [East LA]
5825 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles

Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs [Inland of LA]
1360 S. Beach Blvd., La Habra

Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs [Inland of LA]
2276 E. 17th St., Santa Ana

Larry’s Chili Dog [East San Fernando Valley]
3122 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank
818 842-0244

QT’s Chicago Dogs [West San Fernando Valley]
4344 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks

Taste Chicago [East San Fernando Valley]
603 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

Portillo’s [Inland of LA]
8390 La Palma Ave, Buena Park

Board Links

The hound who cried Wolfe
Know any hot dog places?
Hot dogs for real people, not giants
Best natural casing dogs

Plenty of Popcorn Topping Ideas

The only limitations to what goes on top of your popcorn are your imagination and what actually tastes good. Chowhounds have done lots of legwork already. Garlic butter is a favorite topping, and tossing popcorn with grated Parmesan is equally popular. Either or both are often used with favorite spices and spice combinations:

Ground coriander, salt, cayenne, and sumac
curry powder or chili powder
Barbecue rubs
Old Bay seasoning
Celery salt and black pepper
Dill weed and sea salt
Ranch or Italian dressing mix

Sesame oil
Tabasco (especially with garlic butter)

Here are some more ideas to try:

Make “pizza” popcorn: Saute minced garlic in butter; add dried oregano and paprika, mix with the popped corn, then toss with Parmesan.

Go the luxe route, like lunchbox: pop your corn in duck fat (dash of chili oil optional), and season with truffle butter and Parmesan.

La Dolce Vita tosses popped corn with kosher salt, pours on maple syrup, and sprinkles with smoked ancho chile powder, saying the smoky/spicy/salty/maple-y flavor combo is intriguing.

Board Links

Flavoured Stovetop Popcorn

Variations on a Theme: Hummus

Chowhounds add a variety of things to their basic hummus recipes to change up the flavors. Some popular blend-ins are roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, green onions, parsley, and hot peppers. (Not all at once, of course!)

HillJ likes a really lemony hummus (she uses 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup zest to 2 cups garbanzos) with a bit of parsley pureed in, and a dash of paprika and a handful of toasted pinenuts sprinkled on top.

2m8ohed makes hummus using edamame in place of garbanzos.

Board Links

What hummus flavors do you create?

Dealing With Cheese Mold

Cheese getting moldy in the fridge, even in a plastic bag? Try the following tactics:

Wrap the cheese in tin foil, wax paper or very tightly in plastic wrap, instead of a plastic bag.

MMRuth wraps her cheese tightly in plastic wrap, and surrounds with foil. She then places it into the meat drawer of her fridge, which she lines with paper towels. The result: no mold, ever.

If the cheese does get moldy with green or white fuzzy mold, trim off the mold as soon as possible. The stuff lives only on the surface. If it gets moldy with red, pink, or orange mold, toss the whole thing. That’s a sign that there’s something nasty lurking inside the cheese. Goat cheese is particularly susceptible to the nasty stuff.

And last: if you really want to prevent cheese mold, don’t touch the cheese you’ll be storing directly with your fingers. Handle the cheese through paper or plastic wrap. Most molds get onto cheese via our fingers. Washing your hands thoroughly isn’t enough.

How to keep cheese in refrig from being moldy?

That Bizarre Norwegian Egg Coffee

The traditional Norwegian method for making coffee includes an egg. Simply break up a single egg and mix it with half a cup of water in a warmed saucepan. Add one cup of medium-grind coffee, and six cups of boiling water, and boil slowly for exactly three minutes, covered. Then add another half a cup of cold water, and let it steep for ten minutes, then serve.

What you get is slightly rich, mysteriously clear coffee. Why? Not only does the egg add a little richness, but the egg proteins bind with and settle the grounds. This happens when you add that last half a cup of cold water.

Some people use the whole egg broken up–that includes the shell. Some use the egg without the shell, others use only the egg whites. In all cases, the result is the same–mysteriously rich, and miraculously clear coffee.

Board Links

Norwegian Egg Coffee-How does this work?
‘Pioneer’ Coffee Brewing

Dancing Mudbugs and Voodoo Beer

The debauchery of Mardi Gras may have subsided, but New Orleans is still in the news. NOLA newspaper Gambit Weekly has an encouraging series of articles on its Best of New Orleans website about the resurgence of southern Louisiana products, from crawfish to Dixie beer to oysters.

After a scanty hurricane-ravaged season in 2006 that found prices high, local processing plants still closed, and supplies low to nonexistent, this year’s Louisiana crawfish hauls are hoppin’ so far, much to the delight of everyone from backyard bayou boilers to high-end chefs.

The comeback of Dixie beer, the last beer to be commercially bottled in the city, is a little more tenuous. Dixie’s massive brick brewery on Tulane Avenue was flooded by Katrina, then stripped by looters, and since then local bars have been hoarding their supplies of Dixie and Blackened Voodoo. Now, just in time for the company’s 100th birthday, the beer will again be produced, this time at Heiner Brau, a small German-style brewery in Covington, Louisiana. Batches will remain small for the time being, until Dixie’s owners can set up other brewing operations around the country for the national market.

And as for oysters, the Louisiana Oyster Task Force (which sounds like a pistol-packing, tough-shucking quasi-governmental ATF spin-off but is actually an oyster-industry trade group) is sponsoring shucking and eating contests at a Bourbon Street park this Thursday as part of their Oyster Jubilee event promoting the local bivalve.

Mmm, mmm … Dahmerlicious!

Dairy Queen’s got a relatively new commercial out on the market touting its new popcorn shrimp. Perhaps you’ve seen it? It features two anthropomorphic computer-animated shrimp who have been joined in the holy union of matrimony.

SHRIMP WIFE: Hey, honey! Whaddya got there?

SHRIMP HUSBAND: Popcorn from Dairy Queen! Wanna try?

SHRIMP WIFE: Sure! Mmm! Hey … wait a second … this isn’t popcorn, you idiot … IT’S POPCORN SHRIMP!

SHRIMP HUSBAND: You know, I knew there was something familiar about it.

SHRIMP WIFE: Hold on. Where are the kids?


Underlying assumption #1: Cannibalistic crustaceans really move product.

Underlying assumption #2: America wants to buy its seafood from a maker of third-rate ice cream products. Granted, America already buys its seafood from Red Lobster, but at least it’s got a relevant name.

Underlying assumption #3: You want to eat anthropomorphic shrimp babies and children, ensuring that they never attend another day of shrimp preschool or go back to Camp Arthopowanna, the tiny shrimp summer camp under the sea.

Congratulations to Dairy Queen on their wonderful new ad campaign!

Want Some Beer with Your Breakfast?

Timed to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, 300,000 jars of limited-edition Guinness Marmite are being released this week in the UK.

Marmite, a savory spread beloved by Brits but which may be an acquired taste to those who first encounter it as an adult, is made from yeast extract. This version uses authentic Guinness yeast to achieve a Guinness-y flavor to the mixture. The black jar with a white lid is meant to mimic the appearance of a pint of Ireland’s dark tipple.

According to the Guinness blog, the spread will be available for only a few weeks and is proving to be hard to come by—would-be customers are reporting empty supermarket shelves. There are several tubs listed on eBay UK, with prices up to £9.99 ($19.54) for the Buy it Now option.

With Marmite being a love-it-or-hate-it sort of proposition, this is not bad news for everyone. As blogger Arbroath observes, “I bet it tastes as awful as the original.”

Oh, and there’s no alcohol involved here—just the same yeast as the beer.

Well, then, forget it.

Is it Really That Hard to Make Salad Dressing?

We’re all busy all the time—email, voicemail, work, gym, friends, family. But you gotta eat, right? Have we simply become too busy to cook?

That’s what some people are saying. It stems from a conversation sparked by Anthony Bourdain’s smackdown of the Food Network on Michael Ruhlman’s blog (545 comments and counting—is that a food-blog record?) and was taken up by Elise Bauer in a post on food blog Simply Recipes. Next, David Lebovitz got into the action when he asked his readers, “How many seconds does one save by opening a bottle of premade salad dressing as opposed to mixing together a few spoonfuls of olive oil and vinegar?”

The debate revolves around the interest or need for such shows as Rachael Ray’s super-speedy dinner prep, or Sandra Lee’s if-you-don’t-want-to-make-it-fake-it approach to cooking. At the root of it all lies the question, are we simply too busy to cook? Are prepared meals, takeout, and processed frozen foods all we have time for after a long day of climbing the capitalist ladder?

As David asks:

I wonder what people are doing where they don’t have time to eat anymore. When I moved to France, they practically had to nail me in my chair to get me to sit down and have a decent meal. I was so used to eating on the run (in my car, in the shower, etc.). But cooking and eating are two of the most fundamental things that human beings do, but what’s happened to us if we can’t do them anymore?

His questions have kicked up a furious debate that has gotten a bit down and dirty, as those who feel unable to regularly prepare homemade meals square off against those who think it’s wrong or ridiculous to claim that you can’t.

The complaints seem to fall into a few camps. There are those who don’t feel they have the time:

If you get off work at 5:00, stop by the market for fresh food (where the parking lot is crowded with the rest of the after-work crowd), and cook it, the kids will have about 15 minutes to eat it before they need to be in bed by 8:00. If you need to help with homework, make calls for the PTA, do some laundry, and reconnect with a spouse while the chicken roasts and you chop the vegetables, you may opt to save a few minutes with a prepared rice pilaf mix and some bottled dressing.

There are those who are skeptic of this claim:

People simply don’t want to take the chance that cooking will bleed into their TV watching is best I can figure.

Time to harangue David L. on his blog, but no time to put a chicken in the oven, cook some pasta, or saute a piece of fish to feed the kids. Puzzling.

There are those who believe that lack of cooking knowledge is the culprit:

Suppose I want something like Italian dressing. Here are some of the ways that ignorance, as well as other factors, keep me from doing it myself on the spur of the moment:

• What proportion do the oil and the vinegar need [to be] in?

• I’m comfortable that olive oil is okay. But what kind of vinegar should I use? Is my rice vinegar okay? Will the flavored vinegars I have make things taste funny?

• I don’t tend to keep fresh herbs around, because I don’t really know how to use them. Will dried herbs do? Will just throwing my dried herbs into the vinaigrette work, or will I wind up with just bits of dry, too-strongly-flavored bits of gunk in my oil and vinegar?

• If I do use fresh herbs, how much is too much? Will my minimal knife skills get the herbs small enough?

My point is simply this: making your own dressing for the first time is NOT as quick as it is for an experienced cook with skills, a repertoire of recipes that need no book, and a pantry that’s well-matched to the way that person cooks.

Some blame advertising and the processed-food industry:

Madison Avenue has successfully convinced us that we are too tired and too pressured to cook honest meals. They have huge motivation ($$$) to convince us of this and their message seems to be getting through to the last generation or two. I don’t honestly believe that MOST of us are indeed too tired or too busy to cook, but we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we are. We think we need some kitchen shortcut. We think it’s cheaper to buy pre-packaged food.

The fact is, before there was the option of takeout and the supermarket deli section, people did manage to prepare almost all their meals (imagine that).

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that my friends who complain of being too busy to cook manage to watch a significant amount of prime-time TV (are we too busy to cook or too tired to cook?). We all succumb to the occasional takeout shortcut, but too busy or too lacking in skills to be able to cook dinner from scratch? I have a hard time believing that.

Perhaps it is Madison Avenue’s fault after all.