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

“Top Chef” Chaos

This week’s episode of Top Chef takes a step away from the food to focus more fully on mega-drama and frat-house antics—and has apparently lost some viewers in the process.

In a scandal that Television Without Pity has dubbed “Clippergate,” two of the five remaining cheftestants—whiz kid Ilan and pastry queen Elia—decide one drunken night to shave their heads; then, seemingly in collusion with Ilan, the brawny Cliff awakens the reviled Marcel and holds him down for a shearing (which, let’s be honest, he could use). But when Marcel struggles violently, whoever is holding the clippers (it seems to be Elia) decides not to carry out the prank, and front-runner Sam sits laughing at the scene while refusing to take part.

The awkward, painful-looking wrestling match continues for what seems like way too long before Cliff sets Marcel free. The next day, Cliff is dismissed from the show, and the others are given a stern talking-to for their roles in the joke-turned-assault.

Ironically, the judges rave more about the cheftestants’ dishes in this episode, which are deemed good to excellent across the board, than they have in any other. But flavor, creativity, plating, and all the rest don’t ultimately count for much in this episode’s elimination—and that’s disappointing to a food-oriented fan base that normally eschews reality shows. Is it simply impossible for reality TV to transcend its drama-mongering roots? For those of you who watch the show, did this or any of the previous episodes cause you to question your loyalty?

You’re Supposed to Burn It

You’re Supposed to Burn It

Tools for creating aromatic smoke, à la the molecular gastronomists READ MORE

Dashing Up to New Brunswick

My logistical skills have been falling well short of Prussian military standard. Assigned to, essentially, meander for weeks on end, I’ve lost my organizational chops.

The drive from Maine to Saint John, New Brunswick—a three-hour yawner—was followed by a dull five-hour slog to Nova Scotia. These eight hours of boredom served as penance for my having missed, by a mere one day, the last ferry of the season from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia.

It’s not that I was aiming to miss New Brunswick. The point of this tour—of life itself—is that great food can be found everywhere if you look for it skillfully and persistently. So I knew there was treasure in New Brunswick, despite its culinary disreputation. But I have a radio date coming up in Halifax, plus I’m eager to check out Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, and, especially, the Magdalen Islands, where I hear that people eat seal meat. So I was forced to sprint the 500 miles through New Brunswick.

I made one stop en route today, for a random dish of poutine (french fries in gloppy brown gravy with squeaky cheese curds) from a fast-food outfit called Deluxe French Fries (103 Albion Street South, Amherst, Nova Scotia; 902-660-7000):

Good-quality french fries made this relatively high-class poutine. The brown sauce was, as it must be, straight from a can, and the cheese curds were–as they, too, must be—vulgar and trashy. Such is poutine. If you clean it up too much, it’s not really poutine anymore. If I were 20 years younger and four beers drunker, this would have been pure heaven.

Also in Amherst, I tried to track down a tantalizing clue, courtesy of Eartha (my GPS navigation concierge). Suffering a cookie jones, I’d asked her to list nearby bakeries, and she offered “Shirley’s Baking and Catering.”

Even with Eartha’s help, though, I could not find it. Perhaps Shirley works out of her house, but there’s no commercial business at 2812 Brownell Ave. Hmmm … as I stare at the photo, I’m wondering whether the address might actually have been 28 1/2 Brownell. Groan.

Other than that, I just blazed through, and only the last hour or two (in the thick of Nova Scotia) was any kind of picturesque. Well, a surfeit of picturesqueness was in store for me in Lunenburg.

I stayed at Greybeard’s Bed and Breakfast (201 Pelham Street, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 888-532-9696), run by Bob Higgins, an affable gray-bearded fellow, and his good-humored wife, Rosanna. They take particular pride in their breakfasts, and with good reason. It all tasted as good as it looks:

Cantaloupe mousse!

Blueberry banana bread.

The following dish was made with smoked salmon. Very good old-time maritime cooking—with evident design flair:

Bob and Rosanna introduced me to rooibos (“ROY-buss”) tea, a noncaffeinated herbal brew made from a South African red bush. Early adopters, Bob and Rosanna used to have seafaring friends bring back rooibos from Africa, but suddenly you can find the stuff across Canada. It left me a little cold—it tasted a bit like weak chamomile—but I’m going to try to acquire a taste for this stuff.

Bob recommended Magnolia’s Grill (128 Montague Street, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 902-634-3287), a funky little local legend cooking both Nova Scotian and Cajun food (fortunately, they don’t attempt to fuse the two). I stuck with the Nova Scotian end of the menu, and was entirely impressed.

This is the annex, next door to the cozy dining room.

Fish cakes, a staple up here, are a delight. They’re mostly spuds—think of them as potato cakes “plus.”

So soft, so carefully fried. Not fishy at all.

Mussels were merely good—a great disappointment given the proximity to Prince Edward Island.

Magnolia’s crunchy, perfectly balanced Caesar salad was nearly as good as George Sape’s (see report #39), and the key lime pie was stupendous. Its crust (Deep South style, per the chef’s Cajun/Creole association) was crumbly and melting—exactly what you dream of when you dream of key lime pie crust. As you can see, the filling’s a bit runny, but that’s OK:

I love places like this, run by strong-willed mavericks. Magnolia isn’t a member of the chamber of commerce, and you won’t find it listed in any of the town materials. The chef/owner is known to be cranky and difficult. But she respects the local cuisine, opting not to ostentatiously update it, but instead to prepare it with an uncommonly deft and caring touch.

+ + +

Knot Pub (4 Dufferin, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; 902-634-3334) is an old fishermen’s pub straight out of The Hobbit, an insider’s place where the insider order is superb peanut butter pie:

It’s all about that dense, hard layer of chocolate and the crumbly graham cracker crust. This pie is thoroughly unrefined, in stark contrast to the dessert meticulousness of Magnolia’s Grill. But it’s primo for its type.

Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is picture perfect ... but self-consciously so. I like the food, and the Greybeard Inn, too, but I prefer locales less self-aware of their own charm. Tomorrow I’ll hit the road again.

Don’t Stare, Dear, You’ll Only Encourage Them

Who needs Hannibal Lecter? Artist Marco Evaristti’s latest project is called Polpette al grasso di Marco, which translates as “meatballs in the fat of Marco,” and that’s just what they are. Using fat suctioned out of his abdomen, Evaristti first sealed the excess flab in cans, then made and devoured a plate of meatballs made with the stuff—all on camera, of course.

Going to physical extremes for art has been done before, of course, from Orlan’s plastic-surgery projects to Chris Burden’s staging of his own shooting, way back in 1971.

But somehow, the yuck factor of eating one’s fat seems way higher. What do you think—commentary on consumption and celebrity culture, or gross-out stunt?

From Scarface to Key Lime Pie

From Scarface to Key Lime Pie

A culinary tour of seedy-but-cool Red Hook, Brooklyn READ MORE

Tears in My Beer

Now that the holidays are over and we are all in the icy grip of winter, a bit of seasonal affective sadness is beginning to creep into our lives. And there’s nothing more effective at chasing the blues away than seeing other people who are sadder than you. That’s why it’s a good time to check out a site that’s an oldie but a goodie.

Crying While Eating was originally posted in 2005 as part of a contest to create viral media. It got a lot of notice but was ultimately beaten by a site about panties (go figure). Anyway, like a lot of sites unleashed upon the world and then forgotten, this simple little site still exists to give us pleasure.

It consists of nothing more than videos of people having a nice cry while consuming some tasty food. The best part is the captions, which descibe what is being eaten and why the person is crying. Hank and Earl are eating pudding, peaches, and whiskey and crying because NASCAR was preempted. Alina is eating a boiled egg and water and crying because she is surrounded by tempation. Archimedes is eating birdseed and crying because no one visits his website. If you go, make sure to check out Anne and Sydney and their very special reason for tearing up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat some soup and weep because the schools are closed for a snow day again.

The Cupcake Courier

Not only don’t I bake, but I absolutely don’t spend time thinking about how I would effectively transfer said baked goods, were they to be miraculously made by me and considered suitable for human consumption. HOWEVER …

Catching up on Rachael Ray’s talk show (the initial sickness is quickly spreading out of control), I saw something that actually sent me thumbing through my dusty baking cookbooks looking for cupcake recipes.

On the Rachael Ray show in question, Jenna Fischer—the actress behind cute and complicated Pam Beasely on the insanely hysterical television show The Office—was Rachael’s honored guest, and she presented La Ray with the Cupcake Courier! Go ahead, click through. I’ll wait.

Invented by Fischer’s friend Jennifer Gunn (mother of two and apparent cupcake machine), this ingenious device allows you to safely transport not one, not two, but THREE DOZEN CUPCAKES! Lest you think I’ve been brainwashed by Rachael Ray’s hypnotically maniacal laugh, check out what a few others in the blogosphere are saying about the Cupcake Courier:

Olivia Wagner Photography exclaims:

How genius! I’m a total baker and this would be an awesome thing to have. Up until now, I put cupcakes in a cake pan with a lid to transport them but they always end up getting smushed into each other.

Just My Cup of Tea blog thinks it’s “super cool,” and BitterSweet blog announces:

... the largest (Not to mention prettiest) cupcake carrier to be found, online or real life. Brand new and straight out of the box, this baby practically glowed before my very eyes, convincing me that it was imperative to whip up three dozen cupcakes as soon as possible to give it a little test run.

Even The Washington Post got in on the drool.

Taiwanese Deli 2.0

When it comes to Taiwanese street food, Won Won Kitchen is where it’s at, says ipsedixit. After selling the formerly formidable QQ Kitchen last year, its ex-owner opened Won Won in the adjacent strip mall, with pretty much the same menu: oyster and egg, pork chop rice, rice stick noodles, and “Taiwanese tamales” (sticky rice dumplings in bamboo leaves–zhongzi). It’s all just as good as in the old QQ days. (The original QQ has gone downhill under the new ownership.) Unfortunately, QQ’s delicious black pepper chicken rice and stinky tofu aren’t on the menu, but you can still get them if you ask nicely.

Although Won Won has the edge with simple soup noodle dishes and rice plates, Ay-Chung is a good place for Taiwanese eats too. The menu is bigger than WW’s, but as condiment points out, it’s essentially a one-dish restaurant: if you haven’t had the thin noodles in gravy with bits of beef intestine, you haven’t eaten at Ay-Chung.

My Way Deli is also a good Taiwanese spot, adds ipsedixit.

Won Won Kitchen [San Gabriel Valley]
9461 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City

Ay-Chung Rice Noodle [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Blvd., #208, San Gabriel

Ay-Chung Rice Noodle [Inland of LA]
1015 Nogales St., Rowland Heights

My Way Deli [San Gabriel Valley]
735 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park

Board Links

Taiwanese street food

Persian Bakery Treats

In the Little Persia south of Santa Monica Boulevard, a couple of places stand out for ZoeZ: Rose Market, with its wonderful rose petal ice cream and other great flavors, and Orchid Bakery.

Run by Persian Armenians, Orchid has great gelato, fresh fruit drinks, coffee, and top-notch sandwiches (chicken potato salad with tomato and lettuce on a crusty roll is good).

And true to its name, their pastries are outstanding and cheap–a strawberry napoleon is just $1. Macaroons (coconut or almond) are great for a party. They’re generous with samples, too.

Rose Market [Wealthy Westlands]
1922 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles



Orchid Bakery [Wealthy Westlands]
1927 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles

Board Links

Dirt-cheap pastries

Egg Sponge Cake at Golden Gate Bakery

shnigglebob loves the gai don go, or egg sponge cake, at Golden Gate Bakery. It’s a vaguely cone-shaped yellow cake wrapped in parchment, light and soft and almost sticky. If you’re not in the mood for the textural orgasm produced by a warm, fresh, meltingly soft Golden Gate Bakery egg custard tart just out of the oven (uh, never?), try a lovely gai don go instead. Or in addition.

Golden Gate Bakery [Chinatown]
1029 Grant Ave., San Francisco

Board Links

Golden Gate Bakery Mystery Puff- HELP!