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

Cooking with Duck Fat

Chowhounds agree that duck fat is one of the tastiest things you can cook with. Here are some favorite ways to use it:

Potatoes fried or roasted in duck fat are just about perfect. Duck fat is also great for cooking grilled cheese, frying eggs, and sauteing spinach or chard.

Rub duck fat over a whole chicken or turkey before roasting. It gives a richer flavor than butter, with more depth, says Kishari.

Caramelize onions very slowly in duck fat and you are in for a sublime treat, promises Sean Dell. Use the onions in a tart, or mixed with some potatoes.

Slow poach high-fat fish such as salmon in duck fat at a low temperature, for one of the richest, most succulent pieces of fish you’ll ever have, recommends HeelsSoxHound.

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Duck Fat–the gift that keeps on giving?
Duck Fat

Just Keep Telling Yourself It’s Make Believe …

Sometimes the combination of sweet and savory can be divine. Some people love to enrobe their salty snacks in chocolate, while I am partial to the bacon maple bar from Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut.

But the Photoshop contest at photo display site Worth 1000 just goes too far. The challenge was to “create an all new meal by adding the dessert to the main dish.” The results, while technologically flawless, are the opposite of food porn. Savor a Sausage Split, a baked ham and yam pie, or my favorite, Stew ala-Mode.

Freezing Cooked Pasta

You can make your own pasta TV dinners, by freezing leftovers. Cooked, sauced pasta freezes well. A large pan of lasagna almost always yields leftover portions.

Let the pasta thaw completely before reheating, to avoid overcooking. If you make a pasta dish specifically for freezing, you can undercook the pasta a bit.

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Freezing Pasta

XO Sauce

XO Sauce, also called Hong Kong sauce, is a Cantonese sauce/condiment. It’s very pungent and is made with dried fish, scallops or shrimp and spices. Like anchovies, it will add depth of flavor to all sorts of dishes, from stir fries to BBQ sauce.

You can find it in Chinese markets. It tends to be expensive. It’s <a href=”
”>$14 at Amazon.

Asian Food Grocer is another source for XO. SU says their XO sauce is amazing, and made almost entirely of dried scallops. You can choose spicy, or not.

Or, try making it for yourself with <a href=”
”>this recipe.

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XO Sauce: Where to Buy?

Picking on the Little Guy

If seven friends and family members haven’t already emailed you the great piece by Michael Pollan in this week’s New York Times Magazine, check it out here pronto (requires registration). In the article, Pollan—one of the most vocal and thoughtful commentators these days on food policy and politics—outlines the “hardheaded, pragmatic” reasons for buying locally produced food. He also gives a riveting account of how federal response to the recent E. coli scares will probably hurt small farmers.

Since cow manure from nearby farms is the likely source of the contamination, Pollan explains, the FDA could easily decide that animals and vegetables don’t belong on the same farm. But to an old-school, preindustrial farmer, that rule would seem bizarre; “to think of animal manure as pollution rather than fertility is a relatively new (and industrial) idea,” Pollan writes. And that new concept creates some new and industrial problems:

Wendell Berry once wrote that when we took animals off farms and put them onto feedlots, we had, in effect, taken an old solution—the one where crops feed animals and animals’ waste feeds crops—and neatly divided it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm, and a pollution problem on the feedlot. Rather than return to that elegant solution, however, industrial agriculture came up with a technological fix for the first problem—chemical fertilizers on the farm. As yet, there is no good fix for the second problem, unless you count irradiation and [hazard analysis] plans and overcooking your burgers and, now, staying away from spinach. All of these solutions treat E. coli 0157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture.

Pollan also touches on the issue of mandatory federal inspections, which pose a potential disaster for small farms. “Already, hundreds of regional meat-processing plants—the ones that local meat producers depend on—are closing because they can’t afford to comply with the regulatory requirements the USDA rightly imposes on giant slaughterhouses that process 400 head of cattle an hour,” Pollan writes. But these across-the-board requirements aren’t geared solely toward consumer safety:

If the U.S.D.A. demands that huge plants have, say, a bathroom, a shower and an office for the exclusive use of its inspectors, then a small processing plant that slaughters local farmers’ livestock will have to install these facilities, too. This is one of the principal reasons that meat at the farmers’ market is more expensive than meat at the supermarket: farmers are seldom allowed to process their own meat, and small processing plants have become very expensive to operate, when the U.S.D.A. is willing to let them operate at all.

By the way, the declining number of small processing plants may also be why some meats don’t taste as good as they should. Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill once told me that the reputation of grass-fed beef for being tough has more to do with industrial slaughterhouse processing than with the meat’s low fat content. The big places process so many animals, Barber says, that the still-warm meat gets stuck immediately into a giant fridge, which toughens it up. Regional slaughterhouses (in addition to being more humane) send the meat through various cool-down rooms before refrigerating it, preserving its tenderness. But because there are so few small regional plants left, some grass-fed cows meet their end in the same kinds of facilities as all the rest—making both their meat and their last few moments on earth a whole lot worse.

Up to Mom’s Standards: Alejandro’s Filipino Cuisine

Being Filipino, pleasurepalate is super picky when it comes to Filipino food. Magic Wok came close to her mom’s high standard of cooking, but Alejandro’s has blown that right out of the water.

Spicy goat stew features tender meat that’s not a bit gamey, perked up by olives. Shrimp hipon comes in a creamy coconut sauce that’s good enough to eat by itself. For hard-core lovers of fried pork, the crispy pata–crunchy golden skin with moist meat underneath–will not disappoint.

There’s a variety of unusual smoothies, like pandan and green mango (with a hint of tartness and maybe some pistachio) and yellow corn milkshake (oddly likable).

For dessert, go for suman–sweetened rice wrapped in banana leaves, topped with fried coconut and a piece of flan.

Alejandro’s [Eagle Rock]
4126 Verdugo Rd., York, Los Angeles

Magic Wok Enterprises [Artesia-ish]
11869 Artesia Blvd., Artesia

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Alejandro’s Filipino Restaurant in Glassell Park (review & photo link)

A Different Take on Tiramisu and Cannoli

Frank_Santa_Monica was knocked out by cake and cannoli from the unassuming Vienna Pastry in his ‘hood. Tiramisu cake is delicate, rich, and not too sweet. At $22, it feeds up to 20 people. Their cannoli, unlike the traditional kind, has a chocolate buttercream filling that’s truly amazing.

Xericx, whose office often gets cakes from here, notes that other selections aren’t that impressive.

Vienna Pastry [Beaches]
1215 Wilshire Blvd., 12th St., Santa Monica

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Vienna Pastry

Legit Vietnamese at Nha Toi

The pho ga is flavorful, the eel is delicious, the salted fish fried rice is dangerously addictive, and it you’re looking for real Vietnamese food that can hang with the home cooking of people’s grandmothers from the Old Country, you NEED this place. Alice Patis and Carb Lover are both pleasantly reminded of childhood and Mom’s home cooking when they eat here.

The menu offers so many choices that it’s hard to pick just a few things to order. Salads are full of interesting textures and fresh, herbal flavors. Crispy “burnt” rice (com chay, $4.50) makes a perfect foil to pungent, salty, oily minced pork (mam ruoc hue xao xa ot thit heo, $8.95). And the fried rice (com chien ca man, $7.95) is humble in appearance but transcendent in flavor and texture. The rice is amazingly tender, and the “dried salted fish reminded me of the transformative power of anchovies,” says Carb Lover. Luon xao lan (stir-fried eel, $9.95) is a very tasty dish–the eel is served in chunks, bone-in, stir-fried with mild, sweet onions and glass noodles, and sauced with a very fine blend of yellow curry, coconut juice, lemongrass, and hot pepper.

Have a refreshing avocado smoothie if you like ($3). And if you’re not sure what to order, ask the staff–they’re very nice, helpful, and friendly.

Nha Toi Restaurant [South Bay]
480 E. William St., btwn. 10th and 11th Streets, San Jose 95112

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San Jose Viet Lunch Group goes to Nha Toi
San Jose Viet Lunch Group Repeats Nha Toi
Lunch for two at Nha Toi (San Jose)

Holy Gelato

Holy Gelato sells gelato from Latest Scoop, Classico, and Maggie Mudd. It’s pretty expensive–a mini-size is just under $3–but it’s excellent, particularly for the selection of soy- and coconut milk-based vegan gelati. Maggie Mudd’s Dubliner, for instance, is a coconut milk-based vegan concoction, coffee-flavored with chocolate cookie crumbs and a slug of Irish whiskey. The whiskey leaves a long, alcoholic tingle on the tongue and there’s so much going on, you don’t even miss the butterfat or dairy, says Melanie Wong.

Holy Gelato [Sunset]
1392 9th Ave., at Judah St., San Francisco

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Holy Gelato, San Francisco

The First Rule of Meat Club Is, You Must Eat Meat

Meat-lovin’ Tuscan fanciers should be booking their Alitalia flights now, after S. Irene Virbila’s Los Angeles Times ode to a five-course, all-meat dinner she recently enjoyed in the heart of Chianti. We picked up the story from Shuna on Eggbeater, who, while salivating herself, gave a cautionary shout-out to the sensitive dispositions of her Bay Area readers, warning that the article was “for meat-eating audiences only.”

And how. Virbila’s meal is served up by Dario Cecchini, the gruff, opinionated butcher made famous in Bill Buford’s book Heat. In Buford’s quest to become (or at least emulate) SuperMario, the New Yorker writer turned Babbo apprentice is subjected to maestro Cecchini’s operatic declarations about everything from the superiority of true Tuscan Chianina beef to the right—and only—way to hold a knife, butcher a steer, and grind sausage. Cecchini is no less dogmatic in his dealings with Virbila and the rest of the diners at Solociccio, the family-style restaurant attached to his butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

His rules? Five courses of meat, no choices, plus two vegetables. Bring your own wine. No turning up your nose at the dicey bits, like cow’s knee and pig’s trotters. Respect the animal.

While Virbila’s piece does rely rather heavily on the joyful-Italian cliche—you get the impression that a rousing, roomwide Puccini chorus was just a third glass of grappa away—the cooking does sound dreamy, from the burro di Chianti (lardo, or fresh pork fat, mixed with garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper) to brasato al midollo, a boned beef shank braised for hours with shallots and beef marrow.