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

Chicago’s (Haute) Soup Kitchen

Three cheers for “Soul-Soothing Soups,” a surprisingly heartwarming story in Food & Wine that details the work of a skilled soup maker with a heart of gold.

Taking care of the needy is a mitzvah, but doing so in a way that affirms their essential human dignity is doubly terrific. Chicago’s Mary Ellen Diaz makes soups that are good enough for the city’s best restaurants but uses them to feed 400 homeless people each week.

Stories about inspiring do-gooders have a tendency to melt down into a goopy mass of platitudes and shopworn clichés, but this particular story elegantly eludes those traps by sticking to the facts … and the food.

‘Last year we made a lot of Cajun food to feed displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. We also get a lot of requests for food with Latin flavors, dishes that might use tortillas. Smothered pork chops are really popular. A pot of greens is definitely a big thing, because most people on the street don’t have access to farm-fresh produce. It’s interesting: A lot of our clientele grew up in rural communities, and they know more about growing fruit and vegetables than I do. They ask really specific questions about the soil and the farming methods.’

It’s easy to say that one person can’t really make a meaningful difference, which discourages taking personal
action. And it’s also easy to so over-celebrate community activists that they ascend to a seemingly unattainable saint-like plateau—which also discourages personal action. “Soul-Soothing Soups” keeps it real, and it’s difficult to read without thinking, “Well, dammit. What can I do?”

The Hunger

Some people like to think about food a lot. We call them foodies, or chowhounds. There are also those who spend a lot of mental energy on food, but not because they are gourmands. Instead they obsess about getting the most nutrition from the smallest amount of calories.

The Calorie Restriction movement posits that we can live an extra 50 years under one condition: We have to rigorously limit the amount of calories we eat.

Journalist Julian Dibbell gonzos it up by joining the CR movement for two months (during which he loses 20 pounds and learns what it’s like to go to bed hungry every night). His report in this week’s New York magazine is a riveting peek into the movement and its practitioners. Built around the meal he shares with some of Calorie Restriction’s most charismatic adherents, the piece does make a startling case for the benefits. But it also shows the warping effects of years of near starvation:

At which point Michael, having finished his helping of asparagus and Quorn, picks up his plate without a word and does what any normal person who has not eaten a truly filling meal in years would do: He holds the plate up to his face and commences licking it clean.

Mutton With Kick, and More at Hunan’s Restaurant

Hunanese food can educate you about what salty really is. The food in Hunan province is known in China for being super salty. Still, if you steer clear of the eggplant and ground pork with pickled vegetables at Hunan’s Restaurant, you’ll probably be fine, says pleasurepalate, who highly recommends toss-fried mutton with cilantro–the mutton is actually tender and although it doesn’t seem very spicy, it has a sneaky kick.

Toss-fried chicken with hot sauce is a perfect marriage of heat, texture, and flavor. Steamed Hunan style spicy fresh fish comes whole, and the sauce complements the moist, delicate flesh rather than overwhelming it.

modernist agrees; everything is really tasty here. The absolute tops is fish head with chiles; also great are lamb with cumin, and winter melon with salty egg.

Shrimp with green beans is bland though, and three-flavored dumplings are beyond bland.

Hunan’s Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
903 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra

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Hunan’s Restaurant in Alhambra (review with photolink)

Giovanni’s Gnocchi Champion

If nothing else, you’ve got to admire Giovanni’s for standing up for gnocchi. Not that it’s gotten a bad rap, exactly; it’s just that the Florentine dish is often overlooked in our pasta- and pizza-focused world, say the folks at Giovanni. Hence, the menu features a “gnocchi bar.”

This place is just a few months old; PattiB reveals that it’s owned by the longtime owner of Vittorio, in Pacific Palisades. The restaurant has a clean, uncluttered look, generous portions and reasonable prices. Risotto with prawns, a special recently, is very good; also delish are zucchini fritti.

Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria [North Beaches]
22235 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu

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Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant–Malibu


The kind of heavy, old-school German food that Schroeder’s specializes in is not something you would want to eat every day, but sometimes your soul needs Schweine Hoxen and goose liver pate. For those times, you are advised to report to Schroeder’s.

KK likes their Schweine Hoxen, or “pig’s knuckles,” basically a whole pig’s foreleg cooked beautifully with all the tendons intact. It’s fun, huge, and meaty, says Robert Lauriston. The sausages are also excellent–the Kielbasa is especially superb, which probably has something to do with the fact that the chef is Polish. They serve Pinkelwurst, a sausage of pork fat, beef fat, onions, oat groats, and spices. Goose liver pate is tasty, as is roast duck. They also pour giant servings of excellent German beer on tap.

Schroeder’s Cafe [Financial District]
240 Front St., San Francisco
415-421 4778

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Schroeder’s Update? Pinkelwurst on Nov 10th

Sweet and Spicy: Caribbean Heat in Amityville, L.I.

Amityville’s Sweet and Spicy nails the robust flavors of the Caribbean in homey dishes like oxtail, curry goat, dumplings, and kingfish escovitch, all good to great, says Wanda_Gorgonzola. If they’re serving coconut shrimp, go for it. This tiny lunch spot has a handful of tables, but it’s mainly takeout.

Sweet and Spicy Caribbean Cafe [Suffolk County]
179 Broadway, between Union Ave. and Avon Pl., Amityville, NY

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Jamaican/West Indian in Nassau/West Suffolk

Lucky Creation

Lucky Creation is a Buddhist vegetarian place with a good vibe for people who are into food. Everyone checks out other tables’ orders as they arrive to see what looks good, says fine wino. Braised bean curd with assorted vegetables hot pot is good–the tofu has a lovely, light texture inside, and the gluten and mushrooms are very flavorful, though the sauce may be a bit bland for some–it’s the kind of thing you want when you’re sick. KK’s all-time favorite here is the stir-fry of mushroom, wheat gluten, and Shanghainese greens ($8 or$9).Joel is a big fan of the pseudo-meats in the refrigerated case in the front–ranging from barbecue “pork” to “duck” to various “innards”. You can get them to take out. Again, there’s no real meat here–killing animals isn’t very Buddhist–and you also won’t find any garlic or onions in any of the dishes on the menu. A waitress once blushingly told Joel that they are too “stimulating.”

Lucky Creation Vegetarian [Chinatown]
854 Washington St., San Francisco

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Lucky Creation

Around New York, Pig’s Feet High and Low

Brasserie LCB J.J. Rachou, successor to the storied La Cote Basque, stuffs pig’s feet with foie gras and apple and serves them in cider jus. guttergourmet has just one word for them: heaven.

In Jackson Heights, Mexican favorite Taqueria Coatzingo trots out delicious pig’s feet in a humbler guise, immersed in a lake of tangy, herbaceous green sauce, reports Brian S. It’s an occasional daily special, well worth watching for.

Brasserie LCB J.J. Rachou [Midtown]
formerly La Cote Basque
60 W. 55th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Taqueria Coatzingo [Jackson Heights]
76-05 Roosevelt Ave., near 76th St., Jackson Heights, Queens

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pig’s trotters

Best Spaeztle-Making Tools

Spaetzle, the small German dumplings, are made by dropping bits of egg dough directly into boiling water. There are several methods for making spaetzle, ranging from quickly cutting the dough off a wooden board with a knife to pushing it through a colander, but Chowhounds who make spaetzle regularly have two favorite tools for the job. A potato ricer, with the largest-holed disc, is easy to use–just fill the cavity with dough and push it through. Dedicated spaetzle makers look a bit like coarse flat cheese graters with a sliding hopper attached. The dough goes in the hopper, and you slide it back and forth across the holed surface, laying the whole across your pot.

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best utensil for making spaetzle

Kabocha Squash

Kabocha is a winter squash with a dense, sweet flesh. Unlike other winter squashes, its peel is edible. You can remove some or all of the peel, but you don’t need to, as once the squash is cooked, the peel is tender enough to eat.

Here are a few great ways to prepare kabocha squash:

torty likes to keep it very simple: Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, cover with parchment or wax paper and microwave until tender. Scoop out the flesh and sprinkle with a good crunchy salt to offset the sweetness.

jjb75 slices it into thin wedges and sautees it with sweet yellow onion and rosemary.

tomaneng makes a hearty, flavorful soup with kabocha that he says is delicious right away, as well as for several days as the flavors intensify over time: Wash the squash and peel off any white bumpy parts. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into chunks. Place the chunks in a pot and pour in water to almost cover. Add a good amount of soy sauce (at least 1/2 cup, depending on size of squash), lots of thickly sliced fresh ginger, and if you like, one cut up onion. Bring it to a boil and simmer it until squash is tender. Take out or leave in the ginger as you like.

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kabocha- what to do?