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Chocolate Conundrum

Department of bubble bursting: Hershey’s chocolate is the lowest common denominator of chocolate. Too sweet by far, with an insipid flavor and beans of questionable provenance.

Scharffen Berger produces a limited range of super-high-quality chocolate; sourcing, roasting, and conching their own beans. The company was in the vanguard of the new wave of artisan chocolatiers.

Dagoba crafts enticingly whimsical chocolate bars while practicing “Full Circle Sustainability that blends quality, ecology, equity & community.”

But as Wired’s Chris Anderson reports, the apparent differences between these chocolatiers may be only skin deep, because, as he reports in his blog, a few years ago, Hershey bought Scharffen Berger. Last year it acquired Dagoba.

Anderson, whose “Long Tail” theory of business has captured the nation’s imagination, posits that while big companies used to buy smaller ones and fold the smaller company’s products into their own, these days consumers are looking for “the authenticity and quality of niche products.”

It is a testament to the inversion of power in the marketplace that for the influentials Hershey is trying to reach, an artisanal Berkeley chocolatier such as John Scharffenberger apparently has more brand power than America’s largest candy company.

The only catch? Hershey’s doesn’t really want people to notice that now, apparently, all chocolate, even artisan chocolate, is Hershey’s.

Catering to Kids Ruins Them for Life

Does catering to a child’s food issues create a finicky eater? Will cutting the crusts off sandwiches lead to weight issues and an unadventurous palate? Some think so.

A recent post titled “Kid Foods Breed Fat, Picky Children,” on the anonymous blog Violent Acres, has sparked a discussion over whether or not to cater to a finicky child’s palate.

The author falls into the tough-love camp—kids should learn to eat normal food (and by this she means brussels sprouts) or go hungry. It is how she was raised.

My mother never served me a plate of plain white rice … while the rest of the family ate meatloaf. I ate the meatloaf and I complimented the chef afterwards or I felt the pain of starvation … my parents never gave in when I cried, pursed my lips, or tasted a little only to fake gag and hysterically insist that cottage cheese would make me vomit. Instead, they would calmly inform me that I was not permitted to leave the table until my meal was finished. Period.

She rails against “kid foods,” such as sugar cereals with toys in the package and SpaghettiO’s. “There is no reason that children can’t eat the same thing as adults and feeding your child the processed garbage designed especially to appeal to him only reinforces the idea that anything not covered in sprinkles will kill him.”

And there’s no love lost on the sort of parents who run around catering to junior’s finicky palate.

Mothers that cut pancakes into hearts for their little dears and never serve them a piece of chicken that isn’t dinosaur shaped. These are the Mothers that frantically thumb through kid magazines looking for ‘fun’ ways to prepare healthy foods and desperately refer to broccoli as ‘little trees.’ When none of that crap works, these are the Mothers that insist that their child is more stubborn and intense than the average child in a sad attempt to justify letting the little bastard live on Pop-Tarts and twizzlers.

But perhaps the very best line of the entire post—the very best line I’ve read in a while—is this one:

Parents that lack the ability to convince a kid to voluntarily eat a plate of green beans aren’t cut out for parenthood. If you can’t outsmart a 3-year-old, then what the fuck are you doing raising one?

I’m not sure I agree with her completely. I was required to eat some things as a child that I then swore off for years (it’s taken me two decades to come back ‘round to chard and kale). But dang, she makes some good and entertaining points.

Down the Hatch

Competitive eating may get a lot of media attention these days for its negative health implications and general weirdness, but another esophagus-busting sport has become the first to attract scholarly study. As Scientific American reports, the paper “Sword-swallowing and its side effects” gives a detailed medical analysis of the practice.

And if competitive eaters risk diminishing their joy in eating, sword-swallowers have it even worse. There’s the constant threat of perforating the esophagus or puncturing the stomach, of course, but the common condition known as “sword throat” can make it hard to eat for several days. Some performers use butter to lubricate their weapons for a smoother journey, the study says; other authoritative sources talk of cooking oil, olive oil, and Kurobara camellia oil (a nontoxic variety that’s often used in cleaning cutlery).

The study doesn’t get into some of the more fascinating minutiae of the art, but Swordswallow.com sure does. What does it taste like to swallow a sword, you may ask?

In some cases, depending on the type of metal used in the blade, it can sometimes taste a bit metallic. Lady Sandra Reed commented on the taste of metal and Red Stuart often says that your mouth and throat need to learn to overcome the metallic taste so that your throat does not rebel against the strange taste going down your throat.

However, many of the newer swords nowadays have little to no flavor at all—much like the taste of a fork—except as the sword is being removed, at which time there may be the unpleasant taste of the stomach acids.

Kids these days have it so easy. No metallic taste to reckon with … next thing you know, they’ll be lubing up their swords with ice cream.

Do Lobsters Really Scream When You Put Them in Boiling Water?

Do Lobsters Really Scream When You Put Them in Boiling Water?

Or is it a myth? READ MORE

The Best Liverwurst In a Long Time

You can get a heart attack on a plate at Agoura Deli–and that’s a good thing, says Will Owen.

We’re talking about liverwurst, friends–not the disgustingly fatty, oversalted stuff you often get. It’s excellent, and there’s about half a pound of it in a single sandwich. The bread is almost an afterthought, but rye is flavorful and chewy. Coleslaw is lightly dressed, just sweet and rich enough.


Agoura Deli [West San Fernando Valley]e
5915 Kanan Rd., Agoura Hillse
818-889-9113e
Locater

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A monster of a sandwich

Between the Clorox and the Kitty Litter

Between the Clorox and the Kitty Litter

Can you find drinkable wine at the local convenience store? READ MORE

Old-School Egg Foo Young

Egg foo young is one of those dishes that was largely popularized in a bygone time, but is still comforting. Countless American housewives through the ages have tried their hand at it, only to have it dubbed “egg foo yuck” by their culinarily backward children. But for tasty, old-school egg foo young, you need to find a tasty, old-school Chinese American restaurant, like Gim’s. Gim’s is definitely old school, says Ruth Lafler, who gets her egg foo young fix there–three thick, heavy patties are served smothered in brown gravy with a side of rice. In fact, she hesitates to recommend the place to someone who likes real Chinese food–it is what it is: cheap, old-fashioned, gloppy Chinese-American comfort food. Enjoy.


Gim’s Chinese Kitchen [East Bay]
2322 Lincoln Ave., Alameda
510-523-2400
Map

Board Links

Egg Foo Young

On Roosevelt Avenue, a Mexican Metamorphosis

There’s something in the air on the streets of Jackson Heights. One of the best of the latest wave of food vendors hawks superb gorditas and quesadillas in the afternoons on Roosevelt Avenue. “This woman is excellent,” declares Jim Leff. “The success of this vendor and Tacos Guicho a few blocks west has changed the tenor of local street food.” For one thing, more of the new vendors are female; for another, they’re moving beyond tacos and offering a more diverse menu of Mexican street bites.

Guicho’s tacos, made with store-bought tortillas, are not the don’t-miss order–though justinjh reports scoring some fine ones, filled with carnitas and served with arrestingly fresh garnishes and salsas. Instead, check out sopes and gorditas, handmade to order by the two women who run the cart and feed ever-growing queues of hungry neighbors. The other surprise here is that chicken–often forgettable at local Mexican street stands–is actually one of the best fillings. “That’s increasingly true,” Jim observes, “at least among cart people. Chicken’s the new pork.”

Farther west, another cart works a spot at Roosevelt and 75th from early morning through evening. scarey reports a good gordita (with bits of crunchy pork, cotija cheese, and medium-spicy green salsa) and a decent chicken and green chile tamale.

The renaissance in street eats is the best news in years for local chowhounds. “The state of food on Roos Ave has never been worse,” Jim laments. “The old bastions are coasting, and new places are fast-buck imitative crap. But the street food people have been keeping deliciousness alive for some time in this nabe (that’s why the restaurant owners are pushing so strongly to get rid of them). And they’re now in a quantum leap.”


Mexican street vendor [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. (north side), between 85th and 86th Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens
Map

Tacos Guicho cart [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. (south side), at Baxter Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens
Map

Mexican street vendor [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. near 75th St., Jackson Heights, Queens
Map

Board Links

gorditas on roosevelt
NYT Real Estate Section Article: Author Moves to Jackson Heights for the Food

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
212-873-0200
Locater

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

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
626-792-7292
Locater

Carneys [Hollywood]
8351 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
323-654-8300
Locater

Carneys [East San Fernando Valley]
12601 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
818-761-8300
Locater

Wiener Factory [West San Fernando Valley]
14917 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks
818-789-2676
Locater

Hound Dog Hot Dog Shop [West San Fernando Valley]
8749 Glenoaks Blvd., Sun Valley
818-768-9712
Locater

Skooby’s [Hollywood]
6654 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
323-HOT-DOGS
Locater

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

310-376-1292
Map

The Stand [West San Fernando Valley]
17000 Ventura Blvd., Encino
818-788-2700
Map

Chronis [East LA]
5825 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles
323-728-7806
Locater

Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs [Inland of LA]
1360 S. Beach Blvd., La Habra
562-697-4644
Locater

Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs [Inland of LA]
2276 E. 17th St., Santa Ana
714-245-0200
Locater

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

QT’s Chicago Dogs [West San Fernando Valley]
4344 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks
818-386-0111
Map

Taste Chicago [East San Fernando Valley]
603 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank
818-563-2800
Locater

Portillo’s [Inland of LA]
8390 La Palma Ave, Buena Park
714-220-6400
Locater

Board Links

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