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

Iron Chef Goes Collegiate

The rivalry between Stanford and UC Berkeley, well known to football fans, is taking a culinary turn. This week, students will face off in an Iron Chef–style cooking competition.

San Francisco Chronicle blog Nwzchik reports that the cooking competition, scheduled for Sunday, will pit teams from each school against each other and up against the challenge of preparing three dishes all featuring a secret ingredient (said to be bread, eggs, tomatoes, apple sauce, or tofu). Each five-member team will have one hour to complete its dishes, which will then be judged by a panel that includes the mayors of Berkeley and Palo Alto.

The competition is being sponsored by the year-old Cal Cooking Club and is open to the public, with tickets at $5 ($3 for students).

Will the home-court advantage favor the Cal team (not to mention the proximity to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto)? It remains to be seen. One thing is certain: The marching band will not be in attendance. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some wave action happening in Kitchen Stadium.

Bogged Down in Manhattan

New York magazine has a brief item on superchef Ming Tsai’s visit this week to Rockefeller Center. Awaiting him, courtesy of Ocean Spray, is a massive artificial cranberry bog.

As a regular commuter through the bogs of Wisconsin, I’ve found it’s easy to forget that most people don’t get the opportunity to see cranberries in a natural—or, in this case, a simulated natural—state. It’s therefore exciting to imagine several hundred thousand Food Network viewers from Iowa pushing blindly through a scrum of Ecko windbreakers to get the opportunity to see (if for one fleeting, glorious moment) a giant swimming pool inhabited by what appears to be a dwarf in rubber waders.

And, of course, the berries, bobbing majestically like a fleet of tiny red basketballs on a stagnant sea of frigid water.

Some advice for tourists: bring a large thermos and cart off as many as you can steal. No amount is too large. My fiancée’s parents, no strangers to good eats, buy roughly 50 pounds of berries a year while they’re in season and then freeze whatever they don’t rapidly convert into delicious cranberry sauce. The rest crop up periodically in cobblers and apple pies, lending a zippy tartness to desserts that might otherwise wilt under their own insipid sweetness.

Load up, and let the two-month holiday cooking season begin!

Tips on Deep-Frying a Turkey

Tips on Deep-Frying a Turkey

What sort of oil to use, and what to do with it when you're done. READ MORE

Get Your Greek On

When it comes to Greek food in L.A., the first name that springs to mind is Papa Cristo’s. For take-out or eating in, Greek grocery items and Thursday family dinners, the place is perpetually popular. Grilled octopus is charred lovingly and incredibly tender, and the tzatziki is better than anywhere else, says Mr Taster. Taramasalata is good too.

George’s Greek has delicious, no-nonsense Greek/Cypriot food, including saganaki and a stellar kleftiko, raves rjw_lgb_ca. It’s in Long Beach (where the Pine St. location is reckoned a bit better than Belmont Shore) and downtown L.A. (lunch only).

The Firehouse in Reseda isn’t strictly Greek (you can also get burgers, or fish and chips), but they have tasty food, made to order. If you don’t usually like stuffed grape leaves, try their vegetarian version. It’s longer and more loosely packed than most other grape leaves, with a tomato and rice filling. There are sampler plates, and most combos include Greek salad, pita and rice/fries for $10. It’s all delicious, says LisaN.

Petros is the antithesis of the Greek restaurant stereotype: sleek and stylish, with young, hot waiters. But the food is really good, though somewhat California-sized (we mean smaller).

Ulysses at the Grove may have better grilled octopus than Papa Cristo’s, and very tasty spanakopita. Okra and boiled dandelion greens are great, and they do a succulent, delicious lamb shank.

Papadakis is more on the fine-dining side, but it’s a family-run place with really good food, says diningdivala.

Athena’s, a Greek/Italian hole in the wall, has tasty moussaka, lamb shank, and lentil soup, says mushky.

Mykonos is Long Beach’s best kept secret for Greek food, says Eat_Nopal, who recommends saganaki, baby octopus, and rack of lamb.

And cheesy though it might be, the Great Greek has really yummy roast spring lamb and can be fun for groups, what with the dancing waiters, flaming cheese and all. Get the Greek Feast.

C & K Importing/Papa Cristo’s [Koreatown]
2771 W. Pico Blvd., at Normandie, Los Angeles

George’s Greek Cafe [South Bay]
formerly Malvasia Mediterranean Taverna
5316 E. 2nd St., Long Beach

Georges Greek Deli [South Bay]
318 Pine Ave., Long Beach

George’s Greek Cafe [Downtown]
735 S. Figueroa St. #131, Los Angeles

Firehouse Restaurant [West San Fernando Valley]
18450 Victory Blvd, Tarzana, CA

Petros Greek Cuisine [Beaches]
451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., at Ardmore, Manhattan Beach

Ulysses Voyage [Fairfax Village]
6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

Papadakis Taverna [South Bay]
301 W. 6th St., San Pedro

Athena’s Rotisserie & Pizzeria [Santa Clarita]
18853 Soledad Canyon Rd., Canyon Country 91351

Mykonos [South Bay]
5374 E. 2nd St., Long Beach

Great Greek Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
13362 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks

Board Links
Firehouse Restaurant, Reseda Review
Where to go for Greek food in L.A?.

Comfort Me with Email

Ruth Reichl and the Gourmet gang have just launched a new weekly email newsletter to clutter up your food-related inbox.

Although I (slightly) mock, I found a grain of information in the first one that made me sit up and take notice:

Lodge is quietly phasing out its original finish in favor of pre-seasoned cast iron–- so devotees who prefer to season their own cookware need to stock up.

Eek. Although most of my cast iron pieces were already seasoned when I got them (because I do a lot of shopping at garage sales), somehow a factory finish on my cast iron just isn’t appealing.

Brunch at O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

San Francisco’s other Irish bars don’t come close to competing with O’Reilly’s, says waterboy. Try the smoked trout on a potato pancake–the potato pancake is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, the way it’s supposed to be but rarely is. And the trout is like smoked love. Rich coffee and great mimosas round out a great brunch experience.

And as for dinner, the peat-smoked pork shank “puts almost any piece of meat to shame after you eat it,” says Doodleboomer.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail [Van Ness Corridor]
1233 Polk St., San Francisco

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O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

Talking Pizza in Nanuet: a Superior Mushroom Pie

Martio’s bakes a superior thin-crust fresh mushroom pizza–“the best anywhere I’ve been,” swears Deven Black, who has been around. Also worth a sniff: their shrimp Parmesan hero.

Martio’s Pizza [Rockland County]
171 S. Middletown Rd. (Main St.), between Orchard and Prospect, Nanuet, NY

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Lunch in Nanuet

A Hound Walks Into a Bar…and Finds Killer Wings

At McKenna’s, a dingy watering hole on West 14th, there’s a bright spot for Chowhounds: improbably good chicken wings. Piping hot and robed in a sweet, sticky, liquorish glaze, they come with blue cheese dressing and a heap of crispy, salty fries. Simply divine, sighs sweetpickle.

McKenna’s Pub [West Village]
245 W. 14th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links
Where are the best wings in NYC

Great Mexican Supermarket Grub

Vallarta Supermarket, a Latino chain with a cluster of branches in the San Fernando Valley, has been expanding like a pack of Gremlins. Dirt cheap but scrupulously clean, they’re smart enough to branch out a little bit from the “Latino grocery store” stereotype, so that gabachos can do normal grocery shopping there too, says Das Ubergeek.

Hounds in the know have long headed to Vallarta for awesome aguas frescas, fresh tortillas and cheap produce, but the newer stores (like the NoHo one, having its grand opening) have counter service restaurants, too.

The prepared foods at Vallarta put other supermarket fare to shame. It’s easy to put together dinner for home with luscious carnitas by the pound, corn tortillas freshly made on the spot, tasty frijoles and fresh salsa. Chile rellenos, caldo de pollo and albondigas soup are excellent–all are freshly made and very inexpensive.

You can also get carne asada to grill at home–they’ll squeeze an orange over the meat before wrapping it up–and chicken milanesa.

Make sure to get some tres leches cake for dessert–it’s light and springy, soaked in milky deliciousness and topped with fresh strawberries. Bread pudding is another sure thing. Chongos and arroz con leche are supposed to be good too, but pan dulces are dry, dry, dry–with the exception of the guayaba (squares with guava jelly in the middle).

Serious sweet tooths should try some fresh dulces (Mexican candies).

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
13051 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
6807 Woodman Ave., Van Nuys

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
16107 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
10950 Sherman Way, Vineland, Burbank

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Vallarta Market–Everything AND MORE!
Dinner at Vallarta

Storing Apples

Apples like it cool, so don’t store them on the kitchen counter. Not many of us have root cellars these days, but that’s about the climate you want: cool and dark. A garage or basement would do, so long as the temperature doesn’t get below freezing.

The crisper drawer of the fridge will keep apples fresh quite a long time, if the drawer contains some humidity. Don’t store them with the onions, though; they’ll pick up off flavors.

You’ll get good results by putting the apples into a plastic bag with a few holes poked into it. Refrigerate.

Buy the freshest apples you can find. Before storing, check each apple for any damage. It’s true that one bad apple will spoil the lot.

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what’s the best way to store apples?