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

The Art of Bitching About Everything

The Art of Eating 20th-anniversary double issue is out, and it’s fat-packed with exactly what you’d expect: creator Edward Behr fussing about the advent of big-box stores while contributors file 4,000-word dispatches on California olive oil and the continuing existence of mead.

Behr’s opening essay is a cantankerous self-authored Q & A that sounds off against ads in food magazines, all things digital, and the decline of proper English. It lacks only an announcement that the neighborhood children should immediately get the hell off his lawn.

That said, it’s far more compelling than the cut-and-paste banalities that make up the editors’ columns in the food-as-lifestyle-porn magazines, or the New England yuppie romps that are Christopher Kimball’s columns in Cook’s Illustrated.

He writes about old friends (now deceased) who raised and butchered their own chickens and made their own wine. He writes about why his magazine doesn’t have ads, and his dual ideas of “the perfect meal.” He writes about why stories in the magazine sometimes top out at around 13,000 words.

It’s a beautiful read. And at one point, he answers a question (posed by himself) about his ideal reader. He writes that his ideal reader is, in essence, himself. You can’t accuse the dude of being too modest. These days, that’s a refreshing thing. As is The Art of Eating.

Mmmmmm. More Mannix, Please.

Looking for a hunky charmer to flirt with in the kitchen? The search is over with Mannix, a highly charismatic Australian gourmet. We’d be happy to stay home and steam things with this looker.

On his website, The Love Bite, Mannix promotes “dating in”—skipping the overpriced restaurants and snobby attitudes in favor of a night at home with some “cheeky little taste sensations” that you whip up yourself. His menus are organized into “dates,” such as the Dirty Weekend, Breakfast in Bed, Thai Them Up, and Fromage Foreplay. All dates include shopping lists, notes on setting the mood, and fuss factor.

But it is on the website The Whole 9 that Mannix really comes into his own. The site itself is a social network for creatives who can date and check out each other’s portfolios (is that code, or are we really talking artwork here?). In their Stay In section, however, there is a series of cooking videos with Mannix where his charm is undeniable. He makes pumpkin and kaffir lime potstickers, a molten chocolate cake, a limoncello tiramisu (yum), and a grilled chicken and bell pepper frittata, among others.

Who can resist the wit and charm of a guy who, whilst arranging a cheese platter, describes Prosecco as “the flirty Italian cousin that champagne didn’t know she had?”

A note to the Food Network: Snap up this one fast! We want more Mannix.

Santa Claws

Your three-pound Maine lobster has been caught, tried, and found delicious. Sitting on death row in your fridge, fearing its last meal might be a few rubbery carrots accented by that dried-out piece of cheese you left half-wrapped in wax paper, the lobster’s last thoughts might be about family, a cozy sea kelp bed, and the soothing crash of waves at home. However, as judge, jury, and executioner, you are thinking only, “How am I gonna kill the bastard?”

Jasper White showed Julia Child how he favored the draw-and-quartering method. Beheading the big red bug requires a special ax or a Charles Addams-esque doll guillotine. Hanging is difficult, time-consuming, and more than just a bit creepy. And let’s face it, a lethal injection is not the healthiest marinade for you. Luckily, Simon Buckhaven, a British barrister, came to the conclusion that electrocution is the way to go and developed the CrustaStun. Spell it “Crust-a-Stun” and you’d swear you saw Dan Aykroyd hawking it on Saturday Night Live 30 years ago, but this is a very real invention.

Here’s how it works:

The application of a stun (110 Volts–2-5 amps) causes an immediate interruption in the functioning of the nervous system of the shellfish. By interrupting the nerve function, the shellfish (be it Crab. Lobster or other) is unable to receive stimuli and thus by definition, cannot feel pain or suffer distress.

Why would you want it? (I mean, other than the fact that you get to electrocute things in the privacy of your own home.)

To many, present methods of killing (chopping, drowning in freshwater, boiling, frying & basting–alive) are barbaric and the recommended methods (cooling in ice-slurry or spiking the several nerve centres) unproven, difficult and impractical. The CrustaStun applies an instant current which anaesthatises the Crab, Lobster or other shellfish within a fraction of a second and kills within seconds.

It reduces stress & osmotic dilution (effected in freshwater drowning) and thereby enhances texture and flavour.

It applies the humane slaughter principles currently applied to higher food animals such as cows, sheep and pigs to shellfish, and anticipates legislation currently being considered throughout Europe. It is also wholly endorsed by Animal Welfare Organisations throughout the world.

Not just for lobsters, the CrustaStun can also be used for crayfish and Dun-dun-DUNgeness! Time named the CrustaStun one of 2006’s best inventions, and, although it was initially developed for seafood wholesalers, a compact home version is now available for $4,740. It’s a Trumpian stocking stuffer!

I hope it comes with a black hood.

Gotta Go Walk the Dog

Gotta Go Walk the Dog

Is it OK to leave a dinner party early? READ MORE

Deck the Halls with Beer

Deck the Halls with Beer

Holiday brews cheer the American beer market. READ MORE

Making a List, Checking It Twice

List making is not my strong point. This makes a trip to the market somewhat annoying to me and anyone who is with me, as I repeatedly approach the checkout line only to veer away at the last second to grab yet another item that comes into my addled pate. Inevitably, I forget a crucial ingredient.

Professionals cannot afford to be so loosey-goosey. And if you happen to be a caterer, the high-wire-without-a-net branch of the gustatory world, it doubly pays to get yourself organized.

Jalapeño Girl, a San Francisco chef and blogger whose feats of spice eating are renowned, shares her pre-event to-do list. It offers a tantalizing peek behind the scenes with reminders about equipment, clothing, and, of course, snacks. But it’s when she gets visceral that things get interesting:

Clean up equals being around and exposed to: slush buckets, garbage bags, recycling containers, dirty platters and dishes. It’s distracting, revolting and ugly to have food and gunk encrusted under nails, so I always keep them super short.

(Not a Particularly) Good Burger

Adam Kuban, writing over at Serious Eats, takes on the mostly thankless task of choking down a sampler of cheeseburgers from various “casual dining” restaurants.

This is why blogs exist. Gourmet and Food & Wine writers have better things to do than hang out at Houlihan’s debating how much better its fresh Angus offering was than the over-salted piece of boot they call a hamburger over at Applebee’s.

Kuban tackles his task with an implausible amount of gusto, gamely presenting the highs (T.G.I. Friday’s: “Here was still some juiciness left in the beefy-tasting patty”) and the lows (Applebee’s: “It came out very well done and so over salted as to be almost inedible”) with equally heartfelt deadpan sincerity.

Coming down the pike: reviews of cheeseburgers at Ruby Tuesday, Bennigan’s, and Chili’s.

There’s a question hidden within the editorial folds of this masochistic blog quest—why are good fast-food burgers (In-N-Out, Culver’s, Fatburger) so much better than their midrange competitors?

Pa Rum Pa Pom Pom

An article in The Boston Globe on Monday holds forth on the national fruitnomenon that is the pomegranate.

According to the Globe, last year saw 450 new pomegranate products on the market, which, when added to products accumulating since 2003, brings the pommy product list to 961. As prolific as they seem to be, I know that POM Wonderful can’t be responsible for all of them.

Although one market-research representative in the article is quoted as saying the pomegranate craze seems to have come from nowhere, the piece also notes that the tough-skinned fruit with the edible seeds has been around since ancient Egyptian and Grecian times. The article explains that while recent American rabidness for the ruby fruit might have something to do with the many health benefits it offers, pomegranate-product pushers are now trying to interest the public in other facts about the storied fruit.

But the pomegranate’s appeal has spread far beyond the bounds of other health foods. Savvy companies played up the fruit’s history, revered for centuries as a symbol of fertility, royalty, hope, and abundance in various cultures. Some scholars even suggest that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, eaten in the biblical Garden of Eden.

Last week, San Jose’s Mercury News sang the praises of SheerBliss, “the only nationally available pomegranate ice cream on the market” and called it “rapturously delicious.”

The Boston Globe also passes along a forecast:

Some market researchers predict that pomegranates will continue to be on the radar but will taper off in popularity with the discovery of the next superfood. One candidate: acai, a dark purple berry grown in the Amazon rainforest that apparently is loaded with antioxidants.

Given that Oprah featured acai as one of her “Ten Superfoods for Age-Defying Beauty,” I’d say they might be right. Maybe her guests will find bottles of acai juice under their chairs one of these days.

Full of Hope and Help

Food bloggers around the world are working to give to those in need this season, raising money by raffling off a staggering array of meals, culinary experiences (coffee with Thomas Keller!), cookbooks, and more.

The program, A Menu for Hope, is now in its third year. Originated by Pim, of Chez Pim, last year’s event raised more than $17,000 to help victims of the Kashmir earthquake. This year the hopes are even higher, and all proceeds will go to the UN World Food Programme to help fight hunger in countries around the world.

Pim explains it best on her blog:

To us Food Bloggers, food is a joy. On our blogs, we celebrate food as a delight or even an indulgence. Unfortunately, many others who share our world do not share that privilege. For them, food is a matter of survival. This “Menu for Hope” is our small way to help.

And the prizes—donated, assembled and solicited by bloggers around the globe—are quite a haul. There are vouchers for meals in fantastic restaurants, including Manresa, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and Tetsuya’s (airfare not included).

There are also opportunities for face time with famous foodies—like Thomas Keller, Harold McGee, and David Lebovitz—and the famous of the food-blog world: photography lessons with Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, dinner in Seattle with the Gluten-free Girl, a cooking date in New York with the Wednesday Chef.

Beyond the experiential prizes, there is just plain loot: Cookbooks (many of them signed), cooking gear (knives, pasta maker, KitchenAid mixer), and food and wine items from near and far. It’s enough to make any foodie’s heart go pitter-patter with hope.

The campaign is ongoing until December 22, with each $10 donation getting you one raffle ticket for the item of your choice. Individual prizes are listed on the website of the sponsoring blogger, but the whole roundup can be found at Chez Pim.

Those of you angling for a coffee date with Mr. Keller had better hop to it.

Cambodian Karaoke, Cider Doughnuts, and a Trampling by Stallions

Topsfield, Massachusetts; Revere, Massachusetts

I was invited to a Cambodian lunch at Floating Rock Restaurant (144 Shirley Ave, Revere, Massachusetts; 781-286-2554), by my friend Chris, whom I cajoled into trying a durian milkshake. For those who don’t know, durian is a hyper-stinky sulphurous fruit, but it’s nicer in milk shakes … a little:

The food was authentic but undelicious. This isn’t a crack Cambodian chef cooking his heart out, it’s just a foothold where immigrants crank out sustenance, sans flair.

At least they make the beef salad (a.k.a. “tiger tears”) with lots of toasted rice flour, which is how I like it:

French bread with beef stew was enjoyable home cooking:

Here’s the menu:

The owner was impressed by our prowess with Cambodian karaoke (which was admittedly wretched, yet also, paradoxically, kind of hard to beat, considering): MP3.

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Topsfield Fair, in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is “America’s Oldest Agricultural Fair (Established 1818).”

The cool, hyperrealistic model railroad was a nice touch:

As always, food choices were dominated by the generic festival shlock that’s dogged me for thousands of miles on this trip. But I felt a good vibe from a certain cider doughnut concession (the woman in charge radiated sincerity and the oil smelled fresh):

Sure enough, her doughnuts were wonderful. So crisp, so creamy/melting. Great doughnuts are logarithmically more delicious than pretty good doughnuts, and it’s been ages since I had truly great ones:

View, if you dare, Ron Wallace’s obscenely overgrown 1,345.5-pound pumpkin:

These cucumbers, for reasons neither you nor I nor anyone we know could ever pretend to fathom, are blue ribbon cucumbers:

I got a charge out of this cool little all-produce racetrack:

Now, about the cow …

The sign reads, “Please do not pet me … I do not play well with others!”

In my opinion, this is a woefully misunderstood cow. I spent a bunch of time with her and had no problems whatsoever.

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This is phenomenally non-food-related, but go ahead and experience the oh-so-kitsch Royal Canadian Mounted Police equestrian team at Topsfield Fair, complete with trampling (which, I admit, I amply deserved), in this video. (Note: You need to watch all the way through to catch the trampling.)