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

Grazing in the Garden

Using fresh flowers as a garnish is a very effective (and delicious!) way to gussy up a dish. Some flowers, like violets, can be candied and used to decorate baked goods. This web site has lots of good tips on edible flowers and how to use them:

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help! ate some delicious flowers, don’t know their names…

Those Cephalopods

Octopus, squid, and cuttlefish get a bum rap from a lot of folks, but that’s only because a lot of folks don’t know how to cook ‘em. They should never be tough like “rubber bands.” The rule to follow when cooking cephalopods is to cook them very, very quickly (grilling works well), or over a long time in a braising liquid. Anything in between will yield those rubber bands.

Their flavor is mild and sweet. The body of the squid is a perfect shape for stuffing, too.

Buy the freshest you can find; they should smell good, and as with buying any fish, their eyes should be clear.

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Is there any real reason to eat squid or octopus?

Out of the Crate

Recently, we wrote about the controversy brewing in Sonoma County, California, over the use of gestation crates for pregnant and nursing sows. The rectangular cages, which are so narrow that the sows can’t turn around, have been dubbed inhumane by many animal-rights groups. They’ve already been banned in Florida and Arizona (two states, it must be noted, with very little actual pig farming within their boundaries), and will be outlawed in the European Union by 2013.

Now, according to The Washington Post, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has promised to phase out the use of the crates during the next ten years. With a company as huge as Smithfield, only another corporate supergiant can make a difference. In this case, it was McDonald’s that leaned on the Virginia-based pork producer to make their farming practice—and thus the PR for the buyers of their ham and bacon—a little sweeter.

Maybe Smithfield is finally stepping up its corporate responsibility, after being dogged over the past few years with million-dollar lawsuits from environmental groups and governmental agencies for, among other things, violating the Clean Water Act by dumping hog waste into nearby waterways.

In a press release issued the same day as the Smithfield declaration, the Humane Society of the United States praised the decision and pushed for the rest of the pork industry to follow suit over the next five years.


In a post that launched some interesting discussion on Serious Eats, Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet asks, “Does Cooking Make You Gay?”

The basis for this question is Roberts’s observation that Easy-Bake Ovens weren’t marketed to boys when he was growing up (though now it’s a different story, as one commenter points out). “A little boy watching a commercial for an Easy-Bake Oven should roll his eyes or make a fart noise with his mouth to assert his masculinity,” Roberts muses. He describes how it wasn’t until he came out of the closet in college that he felt able to express his “newfound enthusiasm for artisanal cheese, cold-pressed olive oil, and Niçoise olives,” but accurately notes that the testosterone-driven world of professional chefs is a different story. The distinction, he says, is between men who cook at home and those who wield their knives in restaurant kitchens.

But many male commenters take issue with this breakdown, and some of their responses are ultimately more thoughtful than Roberts’s original post. As one asks,

Why do you relate ‘gay’ with being effeminate? Your headline should read ‘Does Cooking Make Men Feminine?’ That’s the real subject here…. What is wrong with being feminine? Historically, we as society treat women as inferior to men. Sexism. It exists in the kitchen because it exists in society. Even with all the celebrity female chefs (who are oftentimes exploited for their ‘sex appeal’), there exists a ‘stainless steel’ ceiling for women in the restaurant world. That would be a more apropos topic.

Roberts does raise the good point that there is probably only one openly gay man among the legions of Food Network and Bravo chefs (Ted Allen). And in other media outlets, gay male chefs like Pichet Ong of NYC’s Spice Market have discussed the prejudice that still exists in the kitchen. But another commenter points out that there are many more “out” lesbian chefs than gay men in the food world—or, in the joking parlance of some foodophiles, the “Dyke Food Mafia” (whose members include big-name chefs Cat Cora, Traci Des Jardins, Elizabeth Falkner, and Gabrielle Hamilton).

I haven’t read any profiles or reports of openly lesbian chefs discussing how their sexuality has changed their experience in the restaurant world—though many say that their sex (female) certainly is a rarity among chefs. What role do you think gender and sexual orientation plays in kitchens, both at home and in restaurants?

Top Spoiler

Oh dear, oh dear! We’re at the bitter end of a Top Chef season that has already been dogged by assaults, allegations of conspiracy, and general bad behavior, and now it would appear that Food & Wine is the next one to make damn sure that the second season of Top Chef will live in infamy.

Some sort of glitch—carelessness? subconscious desire to screw the viewers out of the incredibly dubious pleasure of watching the final episode of the season?—caused an article revealing the winner of the show to be posted on Food & Wine’s website.

Of course, when you go to the link now, you get a 404 error. However, it was too little, too late for spoiler seekers and probably a few innocent bystanders. It’s not totally clear how long the premature piece was allowed to languish in full glory on Food & Wine’s site—anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours—but after the link was posted at Television Without Pity, the piece was yanked swiftly. It would be remiss of me not to remind you (or tell you for the first time) that Gail Simmons, one of the Top Chef judges, holds a position at Food & Wine.

Since it was already gone by the time I made my usual rounds on those discussion boards, helpful TWoPpers emailed me the full story and, yeah, Food & Wine made a boo-boo.

Of course, since I have no desire to drag you wonderful people out there in the dark down the destructive path to Spoilerdom, I am not going to tell you what the piece said. However, Eater will. Click through at your own risk.

The Zagat Facade

Slate’s Bryan Curtis went out to dinner with Tim and Nina Zagat, and—brace yourself—it was awesome! It turns out that producing one of the most influential restaurant guidebooks in the country gives you all kinds of crazy access to delicious food, and you get treated like the major commercial factors that you are. (Or, as Curtis so eloquently puts it, surveying New York restaurants with the Zagats “is a bit like sailing the coast of South America with Ferdinand Magellan.”)

The problem with the story is that it’s a pretty poor value. After reading through it, you don’t really feel as though you know the Zagats any better than you did at the outset, nor do you know more about New York restaurants, how the Zagat guide really works, or just about anything else. Tim and Nina begin—and remain—opaquely pleasant throughout.

Very little light is shed upon their personal feelings or palettes, both of which were much more thoroughly explored in a controversial old episode of Iron Chef. Fans might remember the episode where the Zagats popped up as guest judges—they seemed to be viscerally and inappropriately craving a hamburger (or at least a good old-fashioned flank steak) instead of the wacky delicacies cooked up by chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Bobby Flay during their Rock Crab Battle.

The fascinating point about the Zagat guide, however, is how irrelevant the Zagats’ personal palettes are to the guides’ success. In fact, this wisdom-of-the-mob thing is a point that Curtis makes near the back end of his story, if rather quietly. Because it suggests that a more interesting article would have dining out with some of the multitudes of faceless diners whose clipped little comments (the “hearty vegetarian fare” will fill you up but “won’t empty your wallet”) actually make the Zagat empire thrive.

Virtual Vacations, Food-Blogging Style

For those of us chained to our desks this month and longing for a midwinter escape, the Internet has provided the second-best thing: Travel vicariously with your favorite food bloggers as they nibble their way around the world, sampling the wares in foreign markets, tasting the goods at cafés and street stalls. It’s not quite the same, I’ll grant you that, but in the midst of a rainy January day, it may be the next-best thing.

Fancy a trip to Vietnam? Two bloggers are reporting back from Asian travels. Amy, of Cooking with Amy, writes about markets, lotus tea, and the national dish of pho. Jen, from Life Begins at 30, is also in Vietnam, and her photos are not to be missed. They are a visual treat for the desk-bound and might just make you start planning your next trip.

On the other side of the world, Ivonne, of Creampuffs in Venice, has been telling stories of her tour of Berlin, Prague, and Vienna last month—along with recipes from each city. Those craving a dose of Christmas markets, glühwein, and vánocka, a delicious braided egg bread studded with dried fruit, should look no further.

Or, for the spontaneous, join Kate, of Pie in the Sky, as she tosses all worldly belongings into a storage unit and sets off for a tour of Europe. First stop is Paris, with a continuation through the south of France, Spain, and Ireland.

Someone, anyone—sign me up!

Gated Community: Will someone shut these celebrities up?

I apologize in advance for the crassness of some of these repeated epithets.

Mel Gibson had his anti-Semitic I-Own-Half-of-Malibu-Gate; Michael Richards had Something-That-Rhymes-with-Tigger-Gate; Isaiah Washington had ChokeGate, which unfortunately turned into FaggotGate in the flush of Grey’s Anatomy’s Golden Globes win; and now Rachael Ray might have OprahGate.

In a story titled “Racial Ray,” TMZ reports that their sources told them about a 2005 dinner Rachael Ray had at Houston’s Restaurant in the Century City mall, during which Ray acted quite unlike her shiny, happy self.

Not only does the TMZ story claim that Ray drank “a minimum of four glasses” of red wine and that she was rude about the food, but it also claims that Ray attacked Oprah (and other celebrities) to her friends. While there’s probably not much out of the ordinary with someone on Team Aniston calling Brad Pitt a “pussy boy” and Angelina Jolie a “skanky, backdoor, c*nt,” it was a stupid move to start insulting Oprah. Especially since at the time of the dinner, Ray was in the process of selling her daytime talk show to Harpo Productions.

TMZ says:

We’re told Ray became ‘extremely loud and aggressive,’ and began dissing Oprah. Sources say she told the group about a portrait of Oprah that sits in the lobby of Harpo Productions in Chicago. It’s from the movie ‘Beloved’ and shows Winfrey’s back, enhanced with scars. She’s also wearing a skirt from the slavery era.

Back at the table, sources say Ray launched into attack mode: ‘Why is she wearing slave drag? She obviously has problems being black.’

Rachael Ray’s director of publicity admits the dinner took place but denies that Ray said anything of that sort about Oprah or “a celebrity couple she has never even met.” The director of publicity went on to say that other people sitting at the table with Ray—without prompting, apparently —also denied hearing Ray say any such things about her future sugar mommy.

I’ve watched enough of Rachael Ray’s Inside Dish on the Food Network to see that Rachael likes her wine and that she can get quite loud and obnoxious when she’s really liking it. However, I can’t help but wonder why these witnesses to Rachael’s in vino veristupid are just coming forward now. Why not in December 2005 when the dinner originally took place? Why not when the deal between Ray and Harpo was announced? It’s curious.

Not Just Rioja

Not Just Rioja

Wines from the Spanish region of Priorat are the new cult find. READ MORE

A Classy Drunk

A Classy Drunk

Decades-old cocktails get resurrected-- with a twist-- in the country's most fashionable bars. READ MORE