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

Black and White and Red All Over

New York magazine restaurant reviewer Adam Platt adds a few choice words to the anti–Michelin Guide backlash on the magazine’s blog, Grub Street. To wit: It’s dull, “not Gallic enough,” and badly organized. Instead of the “haughty, definitive” tone of France’s classic Red Guides, the New York City edition “reads like a mishmash of received wisdom from Fodor’s.” While Platt stops short of praising the strung-together sound bites of competitor Zagat, he does sniff that

... [Michelin’s] write-ups appear to have been composed by garden gnomes with English as a second language.

In fact, while the arrival of the little red book in San Francisco caused much outrage over the book’s outdated information and factual errors (not to mention the one-star snubbing of several of the city’s top French restaurants), the reaction in NYC has been, at most, a very Gallic shrug. As Platt writes, ”... in the end, who really cares about this stuff?”

Hack-Flack Smackdown

Self-promoters are getting a serious schooling on Chowhound and Mouthfuls, reports Gothamist. Several recent posts on the two foodie boards have been undisguised and thinly veiled attempts to push one website in particular, and some are even wholesale repostings of content from that site. The message-board users aren’t having any of it. When Shiftdrink posted a request for Gordon Ramsay’s contact info on Mouthfuls, user Nuxvomica had some choice bits of advice for the promo-happy poster:

enough with the push for the website, ok? if you want help, don’t just use this board–get to know it, contribute, ask your questions nicely and go easy on self-promotion

When the promoter decides to play dumb (“I don’t understand why is everybody so upset”), user Hollywood responds, “when you’ve been around a while longer, you will realize that you have not seen ‘upset’—yet.”

Shiftdrink’s posts led one ‘Hounder to raise the issue of self-promotion with the top dogs, who responded with this interesting take:

As long as posters are not violating copyrights by reprinting material from blogs/sites, we permit such reproduction as long as the post is adding chow information of value to chowhounds.

I agree with the spirit of the CH team’s policy—allowing republished content that’s of value to the community—but part of me worries this is the start of a slippery slope toward horrible Myspaceiness, where every third message is from some promoter trying to get “u” to go to his stupid club. Granted, more professional PR types would probably avoid these promo methods once it became clear they were pissing off the targeted online community (and Shiftdrink does seem pretty unprofessional, not to mention schizophrenic—it’s a social-networking and restaurant-reviewing site for people in food service and also a place for “artists promoting their work”). But with all the food media startups out there these days (ahem, yes, including us), wouldn’t it only take a few hacky ones to ruin things for legit message-board users?

I’ll Stop the World and Melt with Numerous Types of Cheese

Just in time for fondue season, January’s edition of Fine Cooking goes surprisingly in-depth on the topic of how to melt cheese. And this is no minor matter.

As anyone who’s tried to improvise a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, only to discover that fresh mozzarella does more of a “stretchy and stringy” thing than a “smooth and flowing” thing, knows all too well, the penalty we pay when we bungle our cheese facts is an awesome one indeed.

Fine Cooking has you covered. In this no-nonsense feature, the magazine busts out the Three Rules of Melting Cheese, the Melting Categories of Cheese (plus the Parmigiano exception!), and—in penetrating detail—the science of melting cheese.

When cheese is heated, the butterfat starts to melt at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the cheese softens. Then, as the temperature enters the 105 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit range, the cheese’s protein structure changes, and depending on what kind of cheese it is, it may begin to flow slowly like lava (think of the oozing Jack cheese in a quesadilla), or it might become stringy and elastic (think of the stretchy mozzarella on a pizza …).

Never before has so much cheese-melting knowledge been concentrated in one place with such awesome clarity. Would-be cheese masters, take note.

Overachievement, in Chocolate Form

Remember those students in school who couldn’t be content with simply completing the assignment—they had to outshine everyone else? Well, this month’s food-blogger event, Sugar High Fridays, has a crop of them.

The assignment is simple. Johanna, of The Passionate Cook, announced the theme, truffles, and suggested that everyone head down to their local chocolatier to sample a few before whipping up a batch of their favorite.

But a few bloggers couldn’t restrain themselves to one type of truffle. Some of them went all-out. Whether this is the result of a serious love of truffles or they were just angling for extra credit, I don’t know, but check out these über trufflers.

• Winning top honors in the category of booze-infused truffles is Ulrike of Küchenlatein, with rum truffles rolled in pistachio, Bailey’s truffles in coconut, and Cointreau truffles with cocoa.

• Lara of Cook & Eat did a truffle a day (keeps the doctor away?), coming up with lemon and dark chocolate, espresso and dark chocolate, hazelnut, espresso and milk chocolate, pumpkin and dark chocolate, and pomegranate, oolong and dark chocolate truffles.

• Getting creative with flavors is Hande of Food Vagabond. How would you like truffles flavored with Barbera d’Asti, Sauternes vinegar, apple balsamic vinegar, or Turkish smoky red pepper?

• Helen of Tartelette pulled out the chocolate molds—and all the stops—for six different kinds of truffles: dark chocolate, dark chocolate and candied ginger, pecan praline, pumpkin, dulce de leche, and coffee buttercream.

• Really trying to be teacher’s pet was Stephanie, of Dispensing Happiness, who showed up with eight different kinds of truffles: sweet smoked paprika, cashew-topped vanilla, orange, hazelnut, fleur de sel–topped tea, amaretto, pecan-topped, and mint.

• But perhaps the real extra credit should go to Christina of Vegan Vanguard, who not only created three varieties of truffles, but did it without cream. She offers vegan versions of hazelnut-macadamia truffles, peppermint truffles, and pomegranate truffles.

Back in school I would have called these bloggers insufferable showoffs. But since we’re talking chocolate, I’ll just say thank you.

Truffles, anyone? The full roundup is here.

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And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor

Whenever I complain to my mom about all the candy and junk food ads on TV, she says, “You watched TV when you were a kid and you turned out OK.”

Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But what is for certain is that the bulk of my childhood TV watching came before the 1980s—when deregulation of the airwaves helped advertisers blur the line between programming and commercials and brought a flood of advertising to kids’ programming. Over the intervening years, the government has tried to get the genie back in the bottle with various measures, most of them pretty toothless.

But the growing hysteria over childhood obesity has, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News, led Congress to ask the Federal Trade Commission to require fast-food restaurants, as well as food and beverage manufacturers, to provide details on how they market to children and how much they spend on targeting kids.

Will information be power? After all, we already can guess a lot about marketing to kids (choose a popular character or movie and tie your high-sugar product to it) and how much companies spend on kid-directed marketing (a buttload).

Food and beverage manufacturers, perhaps sensing a change in which way the wind is blowing, pledged last week to promote healthier foods or lifestyles in at least half their ads. Emphasis (and cynical LOL-ing), mine.

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New Eritrean in Santa Rosa

Injera cravings in Sonoma County should be immediately directed to Café Santa Trata, a new Eritrean restaurant in Santa Rosa. Combination plates are available for about $12, and come with two or three dishes, salad, and a wedge of wonderful injera. jeanlass especially likes their spicy stewed beef, yellow lentils, and a mysterious but tasty spinach dish.

The place is so new, they haven’t printed an Eritrean menu yet, so you order by by pointing to a platter of food on display near the register. No matter–the food is good, and the café is a welcome addition to the area.

Cafe Santa Trata
711 Stony Point Rd., Santa Rosa 95407

Why Don’t We Eat Here More Often?

If you’re too early or too late for the outstanding rice-stuffed chicken at Ming’s Diner, you should check out one of the lunch specials–specials so tasty they come with the Melanie Wong Parents’ Seal of Approval, and cost like $3.25.

One of the best things is the beef with tender greens. The seared beef is redolent with garlic and wok breath, served over tender, juicy choi sum and bathed in a deliciously complex pan gravy. The house soup that comes free with lunch is a nice brew of pork bones and black mushroom, and it’s warming, if not terribly intense.

Lunch for three, which often entails a heavy bag of leftovers, will set you back about $12. “My mother asked me why we didn’t eat here more often, and I have to say it beats me too,” says Melanie Wong.

Ming’s Diner [Parkside]
2129 Taraval St., San Francisco 94116

Board Links
Beefy Lunch Specials @ Ming’s Diner, SF

El Cocotero: Well-Stuffed Corn Cakes, Venezuelan Style

The pabellon is one of the best of the arepas at El Cocotero. It’s highly seasoned shredded steak, white cheese, black beans, and fried sweet plantain stuffed into a fresh corn cake. “A perfect little sandwich,” marvels Skillet Licker, who recommends a side of guasacaca (Venezuelan-style guacamole). Another great choice is a cold arepa sandwich called the Chiquinquira, filled with a refreshingly light combination of tomato, avocado, and guayanes cheese.

Also on the menu at this rustic, informal eatery: plantain “crostini” (tostones with meat, cheese, or vegetable toppings) and a popular lineup of entrees including roast pork, baked chicken, and stewed or grilled beef.

El Cocotero [Chelsea]
228 W. 18th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan 10011

Board Links
El Cocotero–Arepas