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

No Crisco in the Kitchen

In the wake of last week’s NYC trans fat ban, The New York Times reports on a genteel fry-and-bake-off (registration required) by chef Michael S. Schwartz at the Institute of Culinary Education. On the menu: french fries, fried chicken, and, in keeping with the school’s highbrow mien, tarte Tatin. The challenge? See how the old, soon-to-be-dumped Crisco versions stack up against those made with other fats—in this case, coconut oil, canola oil, peanut oil, butter, and lard.

Crisco in the tarte Tatin? Quelle horreur! But Schwartz promises that the Crisco crust would be the best, and according to reporter Thomas J. Lueck, it was “light, flaky, and beckoning,” where the butter crust was flat and the coconut-oil one lumpy and crumbly. Crisco also made the crispest french fries. The only winner? Fried chicken, which came out uniformly crisp and golden no matter which fat or oil it was fried in.

But while the New York State Restaurant Association fights to keep trans fats in the kitchen and under the radar, Slate offers a smart and pithy take on the whole issue. As William Saletan writes of the Big-Bloomberg-Knows-Best law,

Still, Americans draw the line at food. You stamped out our cigarettes, you made us wear seat belts, but you’ll get our burgers when you pry them from our cold, dead hands. But that’s the funny thing about trans fats: They aren’t exactly food. A century ago, they hardly existed. Nature didn’t mass-produce them; we did.

Saleten also points out that, for all the big fast-food companies’ whining, plenty of them are already using trans-fat-free recipes in Europe, where the man-made fats are banned in several countries.

A Worthy Tamale

Of all the tamales available on the Peninsula, yimster enthusiastically recommends those sold by the lady with the tamale cart who is usually found outside a produce shop called El Mercadito Latino. Her masa is the best around. Go early, because they sell out.

Tamales come in several flavors, including mild and spicy versions of chicken and pork that are spectacular. At $1 each, they’re a bargain, and they’re so good, it’s easy to get carried away. “My brother-in-law once purchase two dozen and ate fourteen of them at one sitting,” says yimster. “I believe he was sick for a couple of days, not from the tamales themselves but from the amount he ate.” You’ve been warned.

Lady with Tamale Cart [Peninsula]

ouside El Mercadito Latino

1726 El Camino Real, Redwood City



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Tamales in the Peninsula

Le Soleil

For delicious Vietnamese with nice ambience, Le Soleil is a perfect choice. Bodegadawg thinks the mango salad topped with fried shallots is exceptional, and loves the barbecued pork rolls and clams with black beans. makaroon likes the tasty, succulent BBQ chicken, and many hounds recommend the five-spice chicken. Le Soleil is more expensive than your average Vietnamese dive in the area, but it has attractive decor and nice service to make up for it, if you’re into that sort of thing. And the food is actually really good. Even the seafood curry–a dish that sounds like bad imitation Thai–tastes delicious, says Windy.

Le Soleil Authentic Vietnamese [Richmond]

133 Clement St., San Francisco



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Dinner at Le Soleil on Clement

Cider with Character from Connecticut’s Applebrook Farm

So what kind of apples does Applebrook Farm press into its Grampa Tony’s Cider? Depends on when you ask, but the season’s delicious second batch was made of Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Cortland, Macoun, Ginger Gold, Honey Crisp, Roxbury Russet, Jonamac, Jonagold, Liberty, Paulared, Empire, Jonathan, Summer Rambeau, and Spartan. That’s right, 17 varieties, and the result is an uncommonly complex cider–sweet, tart, and refreshing, with a beautiful finish, reports gordon wing.

They do around 18 pressings a season, and the mix changes each time. “They know what they’re doing, so it will continue to be a well-balanced cider,” gordon adds. It’s unpasteurized, so bring a cooler to keep it cold on the way home.

Applebrook also sells doughnuts, made from its cider by Donut Dip in West Springfield, Mass. They’re first-rate, says Jestner–crunchy outside, moist inside.

Applebrook Farm [Hartford County]

216 East Rd., between Reservoir Ave. and Chamberlain Rd., Broad Brook, CT



Donut Dip [Hampden County]

1305 Riverdale St., between Ashley and Wayside Aves., West Springfield, MA



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Grandpa Tony’s Unpasteurized Apple Cider–Applebrook Farms, Broad Brook, CT

In Hell’s Kitchen, a Heavenly Blueberry Cupcake

At Burgers and Cupcakes, the cafe from Mitchel London Foods, blueberry-vanilla cupcakes are “oh my god amazing!” effuses haleyjen.

Burgers and Cupcakes [Clinton]

formerly Mitchel London Foods

458 9th Ave., between W. 35th and 36th Sts., Manhattan



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How are the cupcakes at Hamburgers & Cupcakes?

Change Is in the Air in Pasadena

Pasadena fans of the delicious Malaysian fare at Kuala Lumpur, take note: It’s being sold, and will be replaced by a Green Street Tavern in the new year.

Meanwhile, Central Park has opened in the space that was formerly Soda Jerks. It hardly looks like the same place, with black-and-white photos of movie stars everywhere and a sun room near the front of the restaurant.

Strangely, near the hostess station are menus for aggressively mediocre places like Wild Thyme, Shakers, and Diner on Main in Alhambra.

kotatsu reports having a very nice lunch, though, with tuna nicoise salad (baby greens, potatoes, tomatoes, in a good dressing) and chicken caprese sandwich (on focaccia bread with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar) and broccoli salad, which is more exciting than it sounds. The one quibble is that the tomatoes in the salad taste like they’d been refrigerated (a little mealy).

There’s a good variety of stuff on the menu: pasta, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and so on, and at lunch nothing is more than $10.

Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]

69 W. Green St., Pasadena



Central Park Cafe [Pasadena-ish]

219 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena



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Kuala Lumpur in Pasadena being sold

nice lunch at Central Park in Pasadena!

Dining Is Bittersweet at Camden House

The French chef at Camden House definitely knows his business, says RicRios. Heirloom tomato and burrata salad, and foie gras with pineapple, are wonderful starters. Seared ahi tuna and osso buco with spaetzle are very good. For dessert, the apple tart is nice, but the crepes are to die for.

The beautiful bar and main room, though, are mostly empty on a Friday night.

“Like Le Dome, like Norman’s, Camden House is a place that leaves you very satisfied food-wise and at the same time with a sad note, the feeling that demise is imminent, due to some kind of act of God you can’t do much about.”

Burrata salad, $12; foie gras, $16; ahi $27; osso buco $32; apple tarte $9; crepes $8.

Camden House [Beverly Hills]

430 N. Camden Dr., at Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills



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Camden House

“Fattening Up” Milk

What’s a hound to do when there’s only skim milk and heavy cream on hand, and the cake calls for half and half? Or the family rice pudding recipe calls for whole milk and you’ve only got 2%? Faced with the rice pudding conundrum, Lisa M added a tablespoon of butter to her quart of milk, and was happy with the results. Here are some other suggestions:

It’s possible to enrich milk by reducing it, says PDXpat; removing some of the water will increase the butterfat content by volume, but will also increase the protein content, which may affect the way milk behaves in certain recipes.

Keeping cream or half and half on hand can also help. Karl S shares this formula, which shows how to “fatten up” skim milk to equal higher-fat dairy products:

To approximate 1 cup of higher-fat dairy, add the following to 1 cup of skim milk:

1% milk: 1.5 tsp. heavy cream, 1 Tbsp. light cream, or 2 Tbsp. half and half
2% milk: 1 Tbsp. heavy cream, 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. light cream, or 3 Tbsp. half and half
whole milk: 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, 3 Tbsp. light cream, or 4 Tbsp. half and half
half and half: 5 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. heavy cream or 5 oz. light cream
light cream: 9 Tbsp. heavy cream

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Weird question: Can I ‘fatten up’ milk?

Best Pie Pans for Browned Bottom Crusts

Overwhelmingly, chowhounds agree that clear Pyrex pie plates are your best choice for achieving a well-browned bottom crust. Since it is clear tempered glass, you can easily see the color of your crust, unlike with a solid metal pan. “A pie is not done until you can see a deep brown bottom,” states Becca Porter. You may need to cover the top crust or edges of your pie crust with foil or a pie crust shield to keep it from overbrowning before the bottom is done. Pyrex pie plates are ubiquitous–they’re available in almost any kitchenware department and many supermarkets–and inexpensive, at around $4 for a 9-inch pan.

Karl S says that an old-fashioned mid-century metal pie pan with a mesh bottom was the best ever for browning. The modern equivalent are Chicago Metallic perforated pie pans, which have holes in the bottom that allow the oven’s heat to flow freely around the bottom crust. Procrastibaker notes that Gourmet magazine chose these pans as best for browning.

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Best type of pie pan for browned crust

A Good Cup o’ Joe

Luwak has coffee brewing down to a science. He says there are two main factors that determine the outcome, “dilution” and “extraction.” The strength of the coffee relies on the coffee-to-water ratio–the dilution. The quality of flavor depends on extraction, which is determined by how fine the coffee is ground, how long it steeps, and by the quality of the water itself.

Start with good, fresh coffee beans. For drip coffee makers, grind them to a consistency that allows the water to run through in about 4 minutes. Less than 3 minutes and the coffee is liable to be weak, more than 5 minutes and it may become bitter tasting.

The method:

Measure 2 tablespoons per 6 fluid ounces of brewing water. Calculate how long it takes for the brew to finish dripping through the filter. (The last few drops taste awful; don’t wait for those.) If it takes much more than the 4 minutes, try a coarser grind. Less than 3 minutes, grind it finer. Adjust the grind setting, or count the seconds you’re grinding, to get it just right.

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The grind of coffee beans