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

Different Takes on Baked Ziti

JaneRI finds that sharp cheddar cheese nicely offsets the sweetness of roasted butternut squash and onions. She combines the roasted vegetables with 1 lb. cooked ziti, a drained can of diced tomatoes, and plenty of grated sharp cheddar. If the mixture doesn’t seem moist enough, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream. Turn into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake until bubbly and heated through.

greenstate’s baked ziti with chicken is easy and comforting: Saute 1 lb. cubed boneless, skinless, chicken in olive oil. Add a chopped onion, a can of roasted tomatoes, and two cups of tomato sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and basil. Toss with a pound of cooked ziti and a mixture of fresh mozzarella, fontina, and Parmesan cheeses. Top with a generous layer of mozzarella and bake for 45 minutes at 375F.

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Give me your best baked ziti recipe—no meat, please.

No More Drippy Wine Bottles

The DropStop pouring disk is a nifty little gadget that fits inside the neck of wine bottles bottle and stops them from dripping. RicRios calls it the best invention ever! A great solution for avoiding those red wine stains on the tablecloth.

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I hate bottle circumcision

Rao’s Marinara Sauce

Mere mortals can’t get into Rao’s Italian restaurant in New York City. The closest most of us will get to the experience is to buy a jar of their famous marinara sauce. It’s excellent, but pricey.

About ten dollars a jar isn’t unusual; Atomica has seen it as high as $12. Most agree that it’s worth it. Sometimes you can find it on sale. (Use a Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, for 20% off.)

It’s simple, pure, not sweet , not too thick, and seasoned just right, says Jesdamala.

Rao’s Cookbook has the recipe.

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Rao’s maranara sauce @ $10–What gives?

Venti Nonfat G-String Latte

According to a piece in The Seattle Times, the “sex sells” idea is running rampant through the suburban Seattle coffee trade, where you might get confused if you went to buy caffeine or a new push-up bra.

Taking a page from Hooters’ sound business plan, Seattle-area coffee pushers are putting the “ta-tas” in baristas by embracing a very un-Peets-ian uniform.

At Port Orchard’s Natté Latté, baristas sport hot-pink hot pants and tight white tank tops. Day-of-the-week theme outfits ranging from racy lingerie to ‘fetish’ ensembles are the dress code at Moka Girls Espresso in Auburn and at several Cowgirls Espresso stands in the area. Bikini tops are the special at Café Lorraine on Highway 9 in Woodinville, and the women of the Sweet Spot in Shoreline pose provocatively in Playmate-style profiles on the stand’s Web site.

‘In this area, we all know how to make good coffee,’ said Barbara Record, who opened Bikini Espresso in Renton last month. The trick is to set your business apart, she said, and sex is one surefire way to do that.

My first thought is, why is the Victoria’s Secret coffee shop dressing just for men? What about some Chippendale-esque dancer (more along the lines of Patrick Swayze, not Chris Farley) playfully asking if I want cream or a stir stick?

At Best Friend Espresso in Kenmore, baristas go thigh-high. An elevated service window offers customers a nearly full-length view of pretty, young baristas—some of them high school students—in short skirts, tank tops and high heels.

High school students? Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. But hey, even some of these coffee-shop owners and managers have their limits.

Bowden said law requires that employees cover their breasts and buttocks, so there will be no ‘thong Thursday,’ as some customers have requested.

Well, sure, because that would be tacky.

Modern Potluck

Modern Potluck

Feed a crowd with recipes from some of CHOW's favorite chefs. READ MORE

K-Fed: Bring Tha Noize!

Recording artist Kevin Federline has landed himself in the middle of a food fight by starring in a controversial new commercial that is part of Nationwide’s “Life Comes at You Fast” campaign.

The ad, which will debut during the Super Bowl, features the rising artist paradoxically falling from stardom, going from appearing in a “rap” video to working in a fast-food restaurant.

The CNN story on the ad distills the controversy:

The National Restaurant Association, in a letter to Jerry Jurgensen, the CEO of Nationwide, said the ad ‘would give the impression that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant.’

The NRA makes a great point. It sounds as though the people at Nationwide have never even eaten at a fast-food (or, as the NRA likes to say, “quickservice”) restaurant, let alone worked at one. After all, quickservice restaurant workers enjoy the following:

1. High wages. Even putting aside lucrative tips for a moment, most big chain quickservice restaurants guarantee a living wage and health benefits.

2. The respect of relatives and peers. You hear about kids leaving high-ranking positions in gangs to work in quickservice restaurants all the time, but never the opposite. Why? Because it’s cool to heat up a hamburger and hand it to somebody in a small paper box.

3. Good eats. Whether it’s low-grade meat, greasy potato slices, or shakes that contain little or no actual milk, quickservice joints provide the kind of meals necessary to keep their workers happy and healthy for many years to come.

4. Great working conditions. Among the many things never found in a quickservice environment: buckets of super-hot grease, mentally unbalanced supervisors, and jittery, disorganized customers who probably can’t even button their pants in the morning without help, let alone order and pay for the particular combo meal that suits their illogical whim of the moment.

Respected rapper Kevin Federline may be known for “keeping it real,” but by contrast, Nationwide’s take on the fast-food industry is clearly “wack”!

UPDATE: The K-Fed video has hit the Web.

One Double No-Fat, Almond-Flavored, Hold-the-rBGH Latte, Please

In a case of the murmuring masses shifting the strides of giants, Starbucks is poised to embrace milk free of the bovine growth hormone rBGH. Only when you consider the number of lattes that America’s 5,668 Starbucks must run through on an average Monday morning do you begin to grasp the scope of the decision’s impact.

Starbucks has dropped rBGH-laden products in the West and New England, and stores in the rest of the country may follow shortly.

Poised to capitalize on this pivot: another corporate giant, Dean Foods. The company’s Alta Dena division sells non-rBGH milk in 47 states.

But is rBGH actually harmful to consumers? That’s no longer the issue. Although the health effects of the hormone are under contention, enough latte-slurpers have weighed in with an opinion that the slippery details are more or less irrelevant at this point.

Grimace Unbound

Man, the Internet is fun! Thank you, A Hamburger Today, for pointing the way to Confession of a Pop Culture Addict’s fun history of Grimace, a character prominent in early McDonald’s advertising. Remember him? Purple? Blobby?

In his earliest appearances in McDonald’s advertisements, Grimace was depicted as a four-armed cave-dwelling beast who emerged into McDonaldland only to steal milk shakes, like some kind of fearsome Chupacabra. Later, he morphed into a lovable bumbler, always trying to save Ronald from the Hamburglar’s predations. But these days he’s all from absent from the McDonald’s universe. In this Super Size Me era, does the fast-food giant want to distance itself from porky blobs? Or is the company just embarrassed by Grimace’s felonious past?

Sweet As Pie

Now is the time for all good bakers to come to the aid of their country. Yes, National Pie Day is just a goofy little promotional tool slapped together by the American Pie Council, but we have to admit that we do like it when our baking pals practice random acts of pieness in our vicinity. And why shouldn’t pie be properly honored at least one day a year?

NPR is celebrating with a lavish banana cream pie recipe from the upcoming Bubby’s Homemade Pies cookbook, a collection of desserts from Bubby’s Pie Company Restaurant in New York City.

And both pro pastry chefs and enthusiastic amateurs can get their eyes on the prize money up for grabs at the Pie Board’s annual National Pie Championship bake-off, happening in Orlando this April. It’s sponsored by Crisco (ick), but there’s no reason to use those nasty trans fats when, as we recently discovered, nothing is better than a pie crust made with fresh lard. Sooooeee!

The Tragedy of a One-Note Chowder

The New York Times has put together one of its brilliant half-tragic, half-fascinating stemwinders (requires registration)—this time about the decline of traditional Maine fish chowder.

Back in the day, a sea-weary captain might have warmed up with something like this:

Cod, haddock, white hake, halibut, cusk and dozens of other groundfish, fish that live near the ocean bottom, mingled with clams, shrimp, lobster and mussels under the creamy surface of the stew, cresting a puddle of yellow butter here, a slick of smoky pork fat there.

Nowadays, in terms of chowdah crittas, you get lobster…and that’s about it. And while there’s a certain elegant luxury to that, the diminished variety reflects a gutted environment. The destruction of the local groundfish stock has knocked much of the resiliance out of the ecosystem.

And, as the story makes clear, that destruction is nothing to be sneezed at. In 1985, seven million pounds of groudfish were landed in Stonington, Maine alone; after ten years of pressure, the fish had disappeared from the bay.

The piece is not merely a downer vis-a-vis the decline of species. It also charts the decline of the independent New England fisherman, a breed waning for decades and certainly threatened if not actively endangered by extinction.

This is the Gray Lady at her finest—thoroughly researched, elegantly written, and disturbingly sobering. Maybe I should stick to Gourmet.