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

Kick Back with a Rummy-Herby-Fruity Cocktail, and Pretend it’s Summer

These cocktails are flavored with simple syrups infused with fresh herbs, mixed with ingredients that seem summery, but can feel just right even on a cold night. To make the simple syrups, bring equal parts sugar and water to a simmer for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add the herbs and flavorings and allow to steep for 15 minutes or more, checking the flavor until it tastes right. Strain the syrup into a jar, cool, and store in refrigerator.

meg944 infuses simple syrup with fresh ginger, mint, and basil, and mixes up a tropical drink with rum, ginger ale, and coconut milk:

4 oz. fresh lime juice
4 oz. white rum
2 oz. ginger/mint/basil-infused simple syrup
2 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
4 dashes orange bitters
a couple of fresh mint leaves

Crush the mint leaves and rub them around the rims of 4 tall glasses. Shake remaining ingredients and pour over ice.

kelvin8r uses simple syrup infused with mint and orange zest in a slushy rum drink he’s dubbed Mango Madness that he says is in demand year-round: Blend a ripe mango with fresh orange juice, lime juice, and mint/orange zest-infused simple syrup. Strain and blend with ice and rum to taste. If it’s too thick, add sparkling water, then pour over ice. Proportions depend upon the ripeness and flavor of the mango. If it’s sweet, add less syrup and lime juice. If it’s not, increase the syrup and perk it up with more lime.

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a tasty rum drink with herbal simple syrup

Jazzing Up Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

Here are some ways hounds work wonders with that ubiquitous and cheap box of Jiffy corn muffin mix:

prunefeet adds cottage cheese to the batter; it makes a moister bread, and the curds break down while it bakes.

If you bake it in a cast iron skillet, sprinkle some sesame seeds in the bottom before pouring the batter in, suggests rosielucchesini; after it’s cooled a few minutes, invert the pan. The toasted sesame seeds provide a pleasant nuttiness.

If you want to make your cornbread or muffins into a sweet treat, HillJ suggests swirling half a jar of high-quality seedless raspberry jam into the batter. Michele4466 adds dried fruit or chopped fresh apples or peaches, mashed bananas, and/or chopped nuts.

Tee shares his wife’s recipe for gussied-up Jiffy cornbread:

3 eggs
2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup corn oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 17-oz. can creamed corn
1 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup chopped jalapenos, fresh or jarred

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; add remaining ingredients and mix. Pour into a greased 9×13-inch baking pan and bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes, until the top is light brown. Also works well as muffins (reduce baking time).

Diane in Bexley uses similar ingredients to make a corn souffle that’s like spoonbread: Mix 1 pkg. Jiffy mix, 2 eggs, 1 can whole-kernel corn, 1 can creamed corn, 1/2 cup sour cream, chopped green chiles, chopped sweet red pepper, 2 Tbsp. dried onions. Pour into greased 9X13 casserole, bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

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What do you add to JIFFY Corn Bread mix? Creative uses? (rop)

Cabot Cheese

Cabot Cheese of Vermont makes a cheddar that’s extra special, according to gordon wing. Be on the lookout for their Vintage Choice Extra Sharp; it’s sharp and complex, with a clean finish that’s free of harshness. It’s aged for two years and sells for about $10 a pound (find in the “Specialty Cheddars” sction on Cabot’s site).

A brand new flavored cheese is the Harpoon Cheddar, a creamy, textured cheddar combined with Harpoon beer. Injun Joe says this one may not be in stores yet, but it is available online.

Costco carries 2 pound blocks of Cabot Private Stock cheddar, as well as their extra sharp, at $6-7, which are also very good.

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Cabot Vintage Choice Extra Sharp Cheddar

Guiltless Hot Chocolate Mix

Need hot chocolate without all the calories? These recommendations go a long way toward cutting down on the sugar or fat, without sacrificing good chocolaty flavor.

Swiss Miss Sugar-Free with Calcium, sweetened with Splenda, is good stuff, says tenacity, and only 25 calories a packet.

Katielp highly recommends Cadbury’s Highlights hot chocolate. It has the richness amd milkiness of a full-fat Cadbury chocolate bar, but only 40 calories a packet. Order here.

Maestra mixes up her own using a good unsweetened cocoa like Droste, a dash of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla, and sweetens with about 1/3 sugar and 2/3 Stevia. (Stevia is a plant that is about 20 times sweeter than sugar. You can buy it at Trader Joe’s in a shaker bottle. It’ll last you a very long time and really cuts down on calories.)

Yogi Tea’s cocoa spice tea has a nice chocolaty flavor, says rose water.

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Best sugar free hot chocolate mix

Rachael’s Husband Can’t Swallow Story

Oh poor, poor Ray-Ray. As you’ve no doubt seen emblazoned across The National Enquirer if you’ve been to the grocery store this week, a very convincingly detailed report has it that her new hubby, John Cusimano, has been paying another woman for kinky trysts for five years. According to The Enquirer, Cusimano regularly pays a women named Jeannine Walz up to $500 for sessions in which she spits in and rubs her feet on his face. Cusimano has denied it, of course, but there’s a pic of Walz and him together, so it doesn’t look good.

Internet snarks are buzzing over the report, to be sure. “Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to take more than some E.V.O.O. to solve this problem,” says one wag at recipe-related blog CopyKat Chat. Anonymous commenters at gossip blog Janet Charlton’s Hollywood theorize that Ray’s cool with her husband’s fetish and participates in it. If that’s not true, maybe it should be. After all, if Cusimano has a thing for feet, what’s wrong with Ray’s size 8s?

Pumpkin: It’s Not Just for Pie Anymore

Apparently, that slippery, sticky, smelly stuff that we kids so cavalierly referred to as “pumpkin guts” is the gateway to beautiful skin. Alabama’s Times Daily notes:

As a food, pumpkins are full of antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. Pumpkin also is good for your outside, as well—experts say it moisturizes, exfoliates, conditions, cleanses and repairs the skin.

While it may come as news to me and my dull, dried-out, and rapidly aging dermal layer, the fact that pumpkin contains beta carotene and vitamin A, among other great cosmetic properties, is not new to skin-care professionals. Aloette Costmetics offers a Warming Pumpkin Energizing Mask, and Bath and Body Works has a Pumpkin Skin Renewal Body Butter, which uses “pumpkin’s natural enzymatic action” and “effectively retexturizes and renews skin to reveal the more hydrated, softer skin beneath.”

San Jose–based alt-mag The Wave details a bunch of food-based spa treatments, many of which included pumpkin-y goodness.

So, to keep myself from gaining any more holiday weight, I’ll just take any leftover pie and smear it all over my face.

The Day After

The Day After

What to do with the turkey leftovers? READ MORE

All Cracked Out

Wondering about that moaning sound drifting over the cracker aisle? The keening and wailing can only be a result of Nabisco’s recent decision to stop production of the Royal Lunch Milk Cracker. Born in 1902, the sturdy round biscuit in the big purple box was a longtime staple of the New England pantry, where it often shared shelf space (and chowder bowls) with the equally plain but nostalgically rich Crown Pilot cracker.

In fact, Royal Lunch lovers are already wondering if they can bring the same pressure to bear on Nabisco that Crown Pilot fans did in 1996, when consumer outcry after the cracker’s discontinuation got the product back on the shelves in just a few months.

Over at Chowhound and Amazon, disconsolate devotees are lamenting the untimely disappearance of the cracker just before prime turkey-stuffing season. Writes one Chowhound,

This is a catastrophe! Making stuffing with Royal Lunch has been a tradition in my family for generations. Nothing else seems to work as well. Please don’t wreck the holidays for those of us that grew up on this product!

And an outraged Amazon reviewer thinks only drastic measures will do:

How dare they just take these traditional crackers off the shelf without even a warning!!! Nabisco knows very well that folks use them for traditional stuffing recipes. The boycott has begun!! Here I come Keebler!!

Is it time for a grassroots campaign to bring back the Royal Lunch? Lovers of the purple box can write to Nabisco’s parent company, Kraft Foods, at Kraft Foods Global, Inc., 1 Kraft Court, Glenview, IL 60025, or call 1-800-323-0768.

Fun in Bethel, Serious Scores in New Haven

Bethel, Connecticut

Kristie and April, troublemakers in the idyllic (and oh-so-chowy) little town of Bethel, Connecticut, wanted to take me for my first clam chowder as I headed north.

The Putnam House Restaurant (12 Depot Place, Bethel, Connecticut; 203-791-1852) has tons of antique charm and extremely well-poured tap beer. The chowder was fine, but other stuff was just OK—a bit disappointing for a town with such high food standards.

My Casio Exilim camera is out of control—it made those calamari look great. I fret that it may no longer be my trusted agent of truth.

April was all atwitter about the new fried-in-house potato chips at Stew Leonard’s (99 Federal Road, Danbury, Connecticut; 203-790-8030), the world’s largest dairy store, so we rode over to investigate.

They’re certainly pushing those chips.

They’re even offering free samples.

This is Pablo. His full-time job is to fry the chips. And he is so totally into it:

Hear April and me making our way—against the traffic flow—through this enormous shticky store, filled with animatronic mooing cows and such (and also meet Pedro) in this podcast of rambunctious shopping fun: MP3.

The potato chips were delicious and, of course, extraordinarily fresh. But the kettle corn was killer. We ravaged it in the parking lot. Hear our ebullient crunching and giddy exegesis in this podcast: MP3.

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Then it was on to New Haven, where I was to meet my buddy Jim for a bite. On my way into town, I passed a sensational-looking sidewalk smoker, spewing lovely aromas of Jamaican jerk.

I braked hard and screamed into my cellphone for Jim to come meet me immediately, as I suspected the chicken was about to emerge from the smoker.

Caribbean Connection (370 Whalley Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut; 203-777-9080) makes very serious old-fashioned jerk chicken, and, unlike many Jamaican jerk places, they also serve terrific sides (I really liked my plantains, collard greens, and even the rice and peas). Really nice folks, too. And though I’m restraining my praise because I know a couple of slightly better places in the outskirts of New York City, this jerk chicken is grand-slam great for New Haven, and worth a trip for anyone driving through (as many do on their way to or from Boston).

Jim dutifully joined in for some takeout Jamaican (it passed the drizzle test, by the way—we ate sitting on a bench, it drizzled, and we kept eating), but we were both saving room for the meal we’d planned on, at L’Orcio (806 State Street, New Haven, Connecticut; 203-777-6670), a newish Italian place that Jim wanted me to try.

What a gem. It’s intimate but with a non-smarmy atmosphere, personal service, and a terrific, well-priced wine list; and the food—at least the two things we tried—is killer, and as authentically Italian as one could ask for (chef-owner Francesco d’Amuri is from right off the boat).

Gnocchi al Gorgonzola are astounding. The gnocchi are as refined—subtle, light—as one could imagine, yet they also have full-fledged soulful/satisfying peasant-fare credentials: by far the best gnocchi I’ve ever had. I was particularly impressed by the bleachy white Gorgonzola sauce—not just for its lush deliciousness, but for the chef’s assurance in declining to gussy it up.

Farfalle strascicate is wailingly delicious homemade bow-tie pasta tossed in a creamy meat sauce with peas. Once again, the chef accomplished a whore/madonna integration—a precise equilibrium between subtle refinedness and unaffectedly lusty good eating. I’ve seldom found cooking so evenly bridging the two extremes with such confidence.

Even in an era when high-end restaurants take particular pride in their cellars and compete to hire the most informed sommeliers, it can still be a strain to get the house to take back a corked bottle, even if your party’s established its wine-geek credentials. We dined at the bar, served by a smashingly beautiful and preternaturally composed young woman whom I’d figured was simply part of the handsome décor. She opened our bottle, took a careful whiff, pronounced it corked, and invited us to reorder.

The problem was fairly mild and by no means easily detected. This server is smart as a whip. For the umpteenth time on this trip, I was reminded that appearances can deceive.

Addendum: Central Connecticut Barbecue Cluster

En route to New Haven, rushing to meet Jim, I asked Eartha (my GPS navigator) to show me names of all nearby restaurants. The result was a stunning barbecue conjunction, god-knows-where in rural Connecticut, that I, alas, had no time to check out. Hear a podcast where I note this remarkable node and read off the names of the barbecue joints: MP3.

Time to Make the Doughnuts

Most of us are content to head down to the nearest doughnut shop for our (weekly? monthly? yearly?) fix. But not LiveJournal-ist Derrick. His mouth-watering post is an in-depth exploration of how he went all Homer Price and bought himself a Belshaw Donut Robot 42, capable of making 6.5 doughnuts per minute.

As much of a modern wonder as the machine is, it isn’t foolproof, as Derrick learned after cramming it with 35 pounds of shortening that promptly caught fire. Other problems erupted in the attempt to get the consistency right:

The instructions tell you how much mix and water to use by weight, not volume. The reason they do this is because industrial food manufacturers are communists who hate America. The best scale I had in the house was the bathroom scale, which is some balky digital thing that measured you to the half-pound. My first batch of mix was far too thin, causing the hopper to dump batter like it was blowing its nose, giving me a 41 inch doughnut that came out the other end in a wadded gooey mess.

But practice eventually makes perfect, and Derrick now has more doughnuts than he can shake a coffee stirrer at. Which brings up yet another problem …