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

Bar-Coded Meat

Just when you thought free-range pork couldn’t possibly get more expensive, the government is pushing to tag all U.S. livestock with scannable IDs—a program that could hit small farmers with whopping costs and drive many of them out of business. A recent AlterNet article explains that initially, the USDA set out to make its National Animal Identification System (NAIS) mandatory, announcing last year that it would require all farmers and ranchers to place a bar code on every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep, and horse they owned by 2009. Opposition from small farmers persuaded the federal agency to make the program voluntary, but now many states are deciding to require the ID tags, and sustainable-food advocates are worried.

The ostensible purpose of NAIS is to control animal disease outbreaks and protect consumers by quickly identifying infected livestock. The National Beef Cattlemen’s Association and the National Pork Producers Council are big proponents, arguing that an ID database is the only way they can reassure profitable international buyers that the U.S. meat supply is safe—i.e., not contaminated with mad cow disease or E. coli. As the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture ever-so-subtly put it, “You don’t ever want to put this massive economic system at risk.”

But small and organic ranchers say that NAIS will hit them hardest and won’t actually do anything to prevent animal disease. The ID system is about controlling disease outbreaks that have already happened, instead of cleaning up farming practices in the first place, farmers say. And while large producers can afford to buy the ID tags (three bucks a pop) and have the staff to handle tracking, for smaller farmers it just won’t be practical. “It will be like doing your taxes every week,” one farmer worries.

If you live in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, or Texas, where some of the NAIS requirements are soon to be implemented, now might be the time to stock up on steaks from your favorite local farm. Could be a great opportunity to create that meat-aging room you’ve always wanted …

Point Reyes – Fresh Oysters at The Marshall Store

The clam chowder is nothing special, but the raw oysters at the Marshall Store sing with a pure, sweet freshness. “They were the freshest I have ever tasted since I was on the Chesapeake Bay in 1972. My uncle caught them that time,” says Euonymous. BBQ oysters are wonderful as well; they’re just barely cooked, with just a tiny bit of sauce that doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the oysters.

Oysters Rockefeller are a bit of a train wreck, overwhelmed by too many ingredients–once you get past the Swiss cheese, spinach, yogurt, bread crumbs, and who knows what else, you can hardly perceive any of the perfect oyster flavor. It’s a decent prep if you have crappy oysters, but it’s a waste of seasonal, immaculately fresh oysters. “Next time I’m getting them all raw,” he says.

The Marshall Store [Marin County]
19225 Hwy. 1, Marshall


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The Marshall Store–Report

Hardcore Thai, Despite the Great Wine List

With its yuppie crowd, upscale decor, and respectable wine list, Soi 4 would not exactly set off your chow-dar for great Thai food. But it’s not the lame fusion place it appears to be–hardcore Thai flavors are in evidence in the food, says Robert Lauriston, and the kitchen’s not shy with the fish sauce or chiles. Everyone loves the steamed turnip cakes, served nice and crispy with a great mung bean and herb salad. The grilled eggplant and minced pork salad is delicious, served with a nice, intense dressing. So is the crunchy Chinese broccoli with crisp pork belly. Janet thinks the green papaya salad is a masterpiece.

Armoise likes that the kitchen at Soi 4 will take it easy on the chiles for diners with heat-sensitive palates, without dumbing down the other funky, pungent flavors in the dish to please the gringos. And to top it off, you can get good wines for $6 or $7 a glass.

Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery [Rockridge]
5421 College Avenue, between Manila & Kale, Oakland

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Thai in the East Bay: Soi 4 in Rockridge

Ceol – Sturdy Irish Breakfast in Cobble Hill

At Ceol in Cobble Hill, they lay out a serious Irish breakfast on weekends. It’s two eggs, Irish slab bacon, two link sausages, black pudding (blood sausage), white pudding (pork-oatmeal sausage), grilled tomato, fried potatoes, and soda bread with house-made jam, all for $11. “Everything was very good and fresh,” reports prunefeet, whose only complaint is that Ceol’s Irish breakfast deal, unlike many others, doesn’t include a drink.

Coffee is nothing special and surprisingly expensive (“just like Ireland, actually,” observes IrinaD). But the gracious staff encourages lingering–as does the cozy setting, especially when they stoke up the fireplace.

Ceol [Cobble Hill]
191 Smith St., at Warren, Brooklyn

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Irish breakfast at that place on Smith St.

Uncommonly Fresh Filipino Flavors at Grill 21

Grill 21 does something many of Manhattan’s Filipino eateries do not: It cooks most of its menu to order. “Not a steam table place, which is a welcome change,” notes nyufoodie, who ranks it on par with Elvie’s and a step above Krystal’s and relative newcomer Bayan Cafe. Recommended: crispy pata (fried pork knuckle) and meaty, deftly fried lumpia.

Billed as a grill, this place offers plenty of Filipino barbecue: salmon, tilapia, bangus (milkfish), short ribs, pork belly, chicken, etc. Also on the menu: adobo (with chicken or pork), kare-kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), fish and shrimp (fried or cooked in coconut milk or tamarind broth), rice porridge, and breakfast fare like longsilog (sweet pork sausage, served with egg and fried rice). Lunch specials (curry, adobo, lumpia, etc.) are $6.

Grill 21 [Gramercy]
346 E. 21st St., between 1st and 2nd Aves., Manhattan

Bayan Cafe [Grand Central]
212 E. 45th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

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Best lumpia/Filipino market?

Sfogliatelle Showdown in the Bronx and Beyond

New York chowhounds have been obsessed of late with sfogliatelle, the delicate Italian breakfast pastries with a sweet, creamy, cheesy filling. Among numerous deserving purveyors around town, three emerge as current favorites:

Morrone, the Bronx: “The ultimate in sfogliatelle pleasure,” declares rose water, who describes crisp, fresh pastry enclosing an alluring filling, perfumey and just sweet enough, with a refreshing citrus note. This Morris Park veteran just opened a bright little shop on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy.

Court Pastry Shop, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn: Consistently fresh, with very thin, flaky pastry resembling a clamshell, observes Cheese Boy. “In a word, perfect,” swoons kenito799, who praises its shatteringly crisp pastry and moist, delicious filling, slightly eggy and slightly citrusy. After tasting Court’s sfogliatelle alongside Morrone’s, he throws up his hands and calls it a draw: “Both are absolutely top notch.”

De Lillo’s, the Bronx: rose water likes the buttery shell with its welcome touch of salt. The filling boasts more cheesy richness than Morrone’s, which is stronger on citrus. “Maybe the ideal solution is to have De Lillo’s as a breakfast pastry and Morrone’s as an evening dessert,” muses Striver. “May our lives be filled with such dilemmas!”

Other contenders include Enrico’s in Morris Park, though it doesn’t always have sfogliatelle, and 18th Avenue Bakery in Borough Park.

Morrone Bakery [Bronx]
1946 Williamsbridge Rd., between Neill and Rhinelander Aves., Bronx

Morrone Pastry Shop Cafe [Bronx]
2349 Arthur Ave., between E. 186th St. and Crescent Ave., Bronx

Court Pastry Shop [Carroll Gardens]
298 Court St., between DeGraw and Douglass, Brooklyn

De Lillo’s Pastry Shop [Bronx]
606 E. 187th St., between Arthur and Hughes Aves., Bronx

Enrico’s Pastry Shop [Bronx]
1057 Morris Park Ave., between Hone and Lurting Aves., Bronx

18th Avenue Bakery [Borough Park]
6016 18th Ave., near 60th St., Brooklyn

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The great Bronx sfogliatelle showdown

Elements of Sushi: Wasabi and Rice

In sushi, the best ingredients are key, and not just the fish. Fresh wasabi makes a world of difference, but not a lot of places offer it–and even then, sometimes only to customers having omakase meals.
You can get freshly grated wasabi at Mori, Asanebo, Urasawa, and Tama. Azami uses both the paste and fresh stuff. Yabu uses fresh with sashimi and paste with nigiri sushi. KaGaYa, an upscale shabu shabu place, grates fresh wasabi. So does Hirozen, but it’ll cost you about $15 extra.

And then there’s rice. Mori’s rice is grown specially for the restaurant in Sacramento, and polished in-house daily.

In the school of warm rice, Nozawa and Sasabune have fans, but alexfood says Hiko has better rice than either. HPLsauce likes Sasabune’s rice but says the fish isn’t as good since the move. Nozawa’s rice isn’t always consistent, says zack, but it’s usually spot-on. His nori, an equally important ingredient in rolls, is excellent.

Also good: Echigo, Sushi Tenn, Kiriko, and, of course, Urasawa.

Torafuku isn’t a sushi joint, but it specializes in rice dishes. Zuke-don (marinated tuna bowl) with sushi rice is fantastic, says alexfood.

Mori Sushi [West LA]
11500 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Urasawa [Beverly Hills]
218 N. Rodeo Dr., at Wilshire, Beverly Hills

Tama Sushi [East San Fernando Valley]
11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Azami [Melrose District]
7160 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

Yabu Restaurant [West LA]<br
11820 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Kagaya [Little Tokyo]
418 E Second St., at Central Ave., Los Angeles

Hirozen [Beverly Hills]
8385 Beverly Blvd., at N. Orlando Avenue, Los Angeles

Sushi Nozawa [East San Fernando Valley]
11288 Ventura Blvd. # C, Studio City

Sushi Sasabune [West LA]
formerly Todai Sushi
12400 Wilshire Blvd, # 150, Los Angeles

Hiko Sushi [Sawtelle Strip]
11275 National Blvd., Los Angeles

Echigo [West LA]
12217 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Sushi Tenn [Sawtelle Strip]
2004 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles

Kiriko Sushi [Sawtelle Strip]
11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles

Torafuku [West LA]
10914 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

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Which sushi joints serve fresh wasabi?
Where’s the best sushi rice?

When the Temperature Drops, Go for Hot Pot

Spicy hot pot at Lu Gi tastes the most like the ones in Taiwan, says eileen216. Of course, the pot comes with both regular and spicy broths. You mix up your own dipping sauce–try vinegar and sesame oil with green onion and garlic.

They have all kinds of ingredients for dipping into the boiling broth: lamb, beef, meatball and fishball, intestine and vegetables. King mushrooms are especially good, tender and juicy. Lotus root adds crunch. When you’re done, get some noodles to absorb the flavors of all the food you’ve cooked in the broth–it’s super-tasty.

Lu Gi Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
539 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel

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My favorite Taiwanese-style hot pot

Stand-Ins for Panko

Panko, the Japanese breadcrumbs that make super-crispy breading, are made with special dough and an electromagnetic cooking process–not something recreatable at home. Chowhounds offer a couple of alternatives if you’re stuck panko-less and crave crispiness:

chameleonz approximates panko’s texture by trimming the crusts from good whole-loaf white bread, slicing it, letting the slices sit uncovered for an hour, and running them through the shredding disc on a food processor. Then he spreads the crumbs on a baking sheet and put in the oven with the heat off until they dry out.

shanagain gives Rice Krispies a whirl in the food processor. Seriously, she says, they do the trick.

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How can I make Panko?

Bean Soup with Bacon

Katie Nell set out to recreate her childhood favorite, Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, but better–and says it’s the best soup she’s ever made. Even better served with garlic bread!

Here’s the recipe:

1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small red onion, in small dice
1/2 small red pepper, in small dice
1 large carrot, in small dice
3 small cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken stock

1 can white beans
Parmesan cheese

Fry the bacon in a saucepan until crispy, then drain and set aside, reserving the bacon fat in the pan. Add butter to pan and saute red onion, red pepper, and carrot until they just start to caramelize; add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add thyme; cook for 1 minute. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add flour and cook 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add white beans and bacon, and heat until warmed through. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top.

Board Links Bean w/ Bacon Soup Recipe!