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

Friendly Animals and Dew-Kissed Vegetables

An amusing article in Wednesday’s New York Times (registration required) discusses the phenomenon of greenwashing in food-package design. As writer Kim Severson defines it:

[Greenwashing] is not just a fake environmental ethos. Greenwashing, it seems to me, can also describe a pervasive genre of food packaging designed to make sure that manufacturers grab their slice of the $25 billion that American shoppers spend each year on natural or organic food … it’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Crunch shows up in a hemp jacket, raising money to save the manatees.

She goes on to describe how “greenwashed” design makes use of several specific clichés: First, “a gentle image of a field or a farm to suggest an ample harvest gathered by an honest, hard-working family,” which can include “strangely oversize vegetables or fruits” (and “if they are dew-kissed and nestled in a basket, all the better”); then there’s the image of “an animal displaying special skills or great emotional range,” like the “sax-playing, environmentally friendly earthworm” on certain Organic Valley packaging; and finally, a good greenwashed product needs “family history” coupled with a promise to give some proceeds to a good cause.

It’s good to see someone calling out wannabe-green food manufacturers on their infantilizing package design, which has always seemed like one of the most embarrassing things about buying slightly-less-environmentally-destructive snack foods. But it just seems wrong to lump “natural” Cheetos together with genuine (if excessively crunchy) do-gooder companies like Nature’s Path and Barbara’s Bakery.

If you read the text of the packaging—the “family history” stuff—on a box of My Family Farm cookies, for example, you’ll learn that the company’s founders are social workers and donate a portion of sales to children’s charities. I haven’t seen Entenmann’s making that kind of claim (yet). And while it can be moderately annoying to wade through blocks of text about farming practices and philanthropy when all you want is a fricking box of sugary treats, those claims are probably still the best way to separate the real-deal stuff from the cleverly repackaged crapola.

Texas Tofu

Blue-state residents may have been eating (and loving) tofu forever, but apparently folks in the most cattle-infested regions are taking a bit longer to come around.

They’d better get ready, because according to an article in the Houston Chronicle:

You are going to be eating tofu—and liking it—within a decade.

A decade, huh? Well, I guess there’s no use rushing into things. With tasty recipes, sidebars galore, and even a pictorial on tofu-making, Peggy Grodinsky’s article may inspire some folks to beat that ten-year deadline.

Apparently not all Texans are soy-phobic, since the article also takes an in-depth look at Houston’s soybean scene, where multiple artisan tofu makers tempt customers with creations ranging from fried lemongrass tofu to tofu tamales.

Blue-staters should be so lucky.

Dogs Who Drink

Given that the food some of us choose to eat is rapidly reaching yet untold heights of purity, freshness, and quality, it comes as no surprise that our precious pets are reaping some of these culinary rewards. At Prather Ranch’s Ferry Building outpost in San Francisco, you can load up on superior flank steak for you and cryo-vac packets of dog food for your best friend. Check out Trader Joe’s for their special cans of Tuna For Cats. Just don’t mix it up with your favorite albacore white.

Of course, if you put a platter of Certified Organic Prather Ranch–raised meat before Asta, he’s going to look at you with those big soft eyes that clearly suggest, “And now, my good man, how about a wine list?” Not wine, but what about beer?

Non-alcoholic and non-carbonated, our Happy Tail Ale is the ultimate liquid refreshment for your best friend. Our beer is made in a real brewery and starts with artesian water and choice malted barley. Brewed in 500-gallon copper kettles, Happy Tail Ale also features all-natural beef drippings (no by-products or chemicals!). Plus, it’s fortified with Glucosamine and Vitamin E! Every ingredient in Happy Tail Ale is human grade, as Dog Star Brewing Company does not believe in giving our canine family members less than superior food and beverages.

If your pups are on the wagon, you can always spoil them with special bottled water made by K9 Water Co. in Los Angeles. K9 Water comes in four delectable flavors with names that are sure to make Asta drool. More than usual. There’s Toilet Water, which is chicken-flavored, Gutter Water (beef), Puddle Water (liver), and Hose Water (lamb).

Says K9 of their product:

The world’s first vitamin fortified bottled water specifically formulated to provide your dog with essential vitamins that contribute to overall good health and provide the hydration your dog needs.

This is why we only use purified water and human grade ingredients in every bottle of our vitamin fortified water. Of course, there are no artificial colors or preservatives.

We are dog lovers and pooch parents ourselves, so we had our formula tested in an independent lab by a veterinary nutritionist to make sure it is healthy for your dog.

I’m not sure why a large part of the pet population is being overlooked, but I’ll tell you what, the day they make tuna-flavored Pinot Noir is the day my cats take over my wine cellar.

“Top Chef” Brûlées Bubblegum Betty

“Top Chef” Brûlées Bubblegum Betty

Ousted Top Chef Betty Fraser talks with Joyce Slaton about why her flutes failed, how Marisa’s cupcakes got creamed, and Marcel's abuse of gelée in his cooking ... and his hair. READ MORE

Roe Lovers Rejoice!

Been pining for that special Central Asian pop in your mouth ever since imports of caviar from the Caspian Sea were restricted in 2005? Well, the international regulating body that sets caviar export quotas has decided that sevruga and osetra can be sold this year.

As reported by Florence Fabricant in The New York Times (requires registration), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, believes that the Caspian’s sturgeon stocks are being managed sufficiently to allow harvesting this year by companies in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

But the cream of the crop—satiny-salty beluga—is still on the forbidden list, since years of overfishing and pollution have damaged the beluga sturgeon most of all. And don’t fire up the toast points yet: Caviar from the 2007 catch won’t be available for at least two more months.

Roe Is Me

When you have a deep need for a solid hit of roe, but don’t require the delicate aesthetic heights of fine caviar, dip into some Greek cod roe–it’s cheap and tasty in the best way, says Robert Lauriston, at about $4 for an 8-ounce jar. Try Hellenic American Imports in San Francisco or Greek Imports in Daly City.

Salmon roe is also excellent–European market sells it by the half-pint and full pint for between $12 and $20 a pound, with price depending on the degree of intactness of the eggs. And 99 Ranch Market in Richmond usually carries bulk salmon eggs, tobiko, and other roe.

Hellenic American Imports [Mission]
2365 Mission St., between 19th and 20th Sts., San Francisco

Greek Imports [Peninsula]
6524 Mission St., Daly City

European Market [Richmond]
3038 Clement Street, at 35th Street, San Francisco

99 Ranch Market [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., in Pacific East Mall, Richmond

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Caviar and Roe

Xiaolong Bao and Chinese Cioppino

Even if you just got off the plane from Shanghai, the xiaolong bao at Shanghai House will not disappoint, says Gary Soup. They’re almost, but not quite, the equal of the dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King or Shanghai Restaurant, but at $4.95 for 10 dumplings, he’s willing to cut them some slack.

Some other dishes are a little weird, like a tofu and seafood hot pot that seems overwhelmed by too many ingredients. All of it’s fresh, though, and cooked just the right amount. Think of it as Chinese cioppino.

Don’t miss the savory soy milk (yan doujiang), some of the best in San Francisco. It even has proper Shanghainese brine shrimp with their proper teeny little eyes sticking out.

Shanghai House
3641 Balboa Street, San Francisco

Shanghai Dumpling House/Dumpling King [Richmond]
3319 Balboa St., San Francisco

Shanghai Restaurant/Shanghai Xiao Chi [Chinatown]
930 Webster St., Oakland

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A quick take on Shanghai House

Malaysian Street Food and Island Fare

“We Malaysian transplants are hard pressed to find a suitable L.A. eatery that serves authentic fare,” says copacetic. Little Malaysiam however, is true to its name.

Some favorite dishes:

Char kway teow, the classic street food of stir-fried flat noodles. Get it hawker style by asking for it extra spicy, and get some chopped chile in soy sauce on the side.

Satay beef is a knockout, skewered on bamboo sticks and accompanied by chopped red onions swimming in a syrupy sweet sauce.

Seafood in garlic sauce is just plain delicious…and healthy.

Clear soup with fish balls is a reminder of the simple food from the island provinces.

Kankung belacan is vegetables with fermented shrimp paste–this one can be an acquired taste.

Beef rendang, complete with cloves, isn’t quite as good as that at Penang but still damn tasty.

Little Malaysia Restaurant [East LA-ish]
3944 Peck Rd. # 8, at Forest Grove, El Monte

Penang Malaysian Cuisine [Inland of LA]
987 S. Glendora Ave., at Vine, West Covina

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Little Malaysia Review

Two Foods Become One: Pastrami Pizza

One thing may bring you out to Downey Pizza Co: pastrami pizza. It’s like a pastrami sandwich on a pizza–pickles, mustard and all. Amazing, say russkar. Well, as long as you like pastrami. Everything else is more like Chef Boyardee, says ipse dixit.

Downey Pizza Co. [South LA]
9026 Florence Ave., at Lakewood, Downey

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Pastrami Pizza

Bowled Over by Smitty’s Burger

Never a fan of Smitty’s, The Oracle was surprised to find the burger can be described as a mound of heavenly goodness. The smokehouse burger has meaty slices of applewood bacon, a thick hunk of beef, the bread is delicious, and the cheese melts in perfectly overall. Fries are lightly seasoned, really nice.

Smitty’s Grill [Pasadena-ish]
110 S. Lake St., at Green, Pasadena

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Smitty’s Grill (Pasadena)–review —great burger!