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

The Yucatecan Tamal Variations

Day of the Dead is coming up, and La Flor de Yucatan is taking special orders on mucbil pollos, the traditional food of the Mayan Day of the Dead, says Dommy. These are big, flat tamal cakes filled which chicken and pork and baked pibil-style. It’s a fabulous way to have a tamal!

Flor makes the most authentic Yucatecan tamales around, including an amazing banana leaf tamal and the tamal colado, made with strained masa–it’s sort of like a cross between corn dough and jello. It’s made with a slice of tomato and a chaya leaf on top, so it has an herby, tomatoey flavor similar to brazo de reina, a Yucatecan specialty.

Chichen Itza is the only place in town that has brazo de reina (arm of the queen) on its regular menu. What is this? It’s an extra-long tamal that has chopped chaya leaf in its dough, and is stuffed with hard-boiled egg and toasted calabaza seeds.

Unfortunately, says Dommy, it’s not the greatest version–it tastes mostly of masa rather than the chaya or calabaza seeds. And Chichen’s tomato sauce, which should cover the tamal, tends to be pretty weak. Still, it’s a pretty good representation of this regional specialty.

La Flor De Yucatan Bakery [Downtown]
1800 S. Hoover St., Washington, Los Angeles

Chichen Itza [South LA]
in Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave. # C6, Los Angeles

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For kare_raisu: Yucatan Tamale Variations

Brunch Watch: Choice Eye-Openers from Prune and Marseille

Prune, which first seduced downtown brunchers by eschewing the same old midday grub, continues to surprise and please–and draw crowds that only early birds or very late risers can avoid. Recent reports praise eggy, peppery spaghetti carbonara, Malpeque oysters with grilled house-made lamb sausage, and a spectacular Monte Cristo sandwich, a triple-decker stuffed with ham, turkey and Swiss, battered, fried, and served with fried eggs and currant jelly.

The cake-like Dutch-style pancake, baked with seasonal fruit and paired with Canadian bacon, is another crowd-pleaser, as is just about any egg dish. Eggs Benedict and coddled egg with chicken are delicious and cooked to stopwatch precision, but why order anything so ordinary here, wonders kathryn. From the bar, best bets include killer bloody Marys and the pricey but refreshing Prune Juice, an alluring blend of fresh-squeezed lime, orange, grapefruit, and Meyer lemon juices (no actual prunes are harmed in the making of this beverage).

A few miles uptown, Marseille comes through with a more conventional but richly satisfying brunch. kimie reports best-of-type eggs Benedict with smoked salmon–faultlessly cooked eggs, spot-on hollandaise, delicious fish–served with mesclun in lemon vinaigrette and pan-fried potatoes tossed in basil oil. Also noteworthy: near-perfect steak frites, a flaky-buttery croissant with Nutella, and a memorable dessert: caramel apple ravioli with almond frozen custard. Two winners from the bar: Le Pamplemousse (a well-crafted grapefruit martini) and the Ruby Red Sunrise (grapefruit vodka, orange and grapefruit juices), each a bracing way to start the day–or finish it off early.

Prune [East Village]
54 E. 1st St., between 1st and 2nd Aves., Manhattan

Marseille Restaurant and Bar [Clinton]
630 9th Ave., at 44th St., Manhattan

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Prune’s Brunch
Brunch at Marseille—great rec!

Portuguese Doughnuts at Kilohana Grill

Malasadas, sometimes called Portuguese doughnuts, are fried to order every morning until 10:30 at Kilohana Grill. They resemble light, thick, fluffy pancakes, rolled in sugar, slightly crispy around the edges. rworange likes them more than any other malasada in the area; they remind her of Polish punski. Three of them are $2.50.

The (newly opened) restaurant is promising, too–they source their sausage and beer from Hawaii, and they offer exciting daily specials like Spam Katsu and Hawaiian-Style Chili.

Kilohana Grill [East Bay]
4115 San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville

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Emeryville & San Ramon–Kilohana Grill – “Onolicious” fried-to-order MALSADAS … beer & linguisa from Hawaii

Tidings of Great Joy Regarding Cheese Scones

The scone situation in the United States is pretty sorry, says Havalinah. When they exist, they’re huge, hard monstrosities that would be better for recreating certain large, stone Druid landmarks than for eating. At its best, a cheese scone should be a delicate, round, light little thing, a delicious treat, especially warmed (preferably toasted) and spread with whatever unnecessary fat you please.

The tidings of great joy mentioned in the heading are simply that the cheese scones at Destination Baking are actually inspired. The gruyere and spring onion scones are made fresh every day, and they’re excellent. “To taste one warmed and suitably greased up is to know heaven on earth,” says Havalinah.

Destination Baking Co [Glen Park]
598 Chenery St., at Castro, San Francisco

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the urgent matter of cheese scones (florid)

Noo Na: Relief for Korean-Challenged Prospect Heights

Month-old Noo Na isn’t the most authentic Korean restaurant in town, but Prospect Heights hounds are mostly happy to have it given the long-standing scarcity of kimchi in Brooklyn. Seasoning is muted and panchan servings are sparse, but flavors are bright and clean.

“It’s pretty good–and a GREAT addition to the neighborhood,” writes pitu, who recommends haemul soondubu jigae (soft tofu-seafood stew), slightly short on seafood but delicious, and respectable haemul pajun (seafood pancake) and bibim bap, available with spicy squid or beef. Barbecue is done not at tableside but in the kitchen; scratch reports tasty, fresh bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), served with a fistful of nicely sauteed onion and mushroom. jason carey likes dumpling soup in mild, tasty broth but finds a pork-kimchi-tofu saute lacking in meat and chile kick. “Americanized despicified Korean food,” he concludes, “but clean- and healthy-tasting, and a good neighborhood alternative.”

Critics are holding out for something better. “I wanted to like Noo Na, I really did,” swears giveitsomeseoul, a long-deprived Korean food lover who went with high hopes but left disappointed. She complains of sweetish bulgogi, cold rice and mandu (dumplings), and clueless service.

Noo Na [Prospect Heights]
formerly Nalani’s
565 Vanderbilt Ave., at Pacific St., Brooklyn

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Noo Na?
Noo Na report.. Vanderbuilt Korean.. prospect hts.

Mussels in White Wine Sauce

A classic dish that’s quick to make, mussels steamed in white wine with a couple of aromatics is much more than the sum of its parts; the wine and mussel liquor combine to create a heady sauce. Make sure to have a loaf of good bread on hand to sop up every drop! carswell shares a recipe to serve 2: Scrub and beard 2 pounds mussels. Put in a big pot with 1 large onion and 1 small stalk celery, both finely minced, some fresh or dried thyme and 1 cup dry white wine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Steam just until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley.

ali patts’s method is similar, but he begins by sauteing chopped onion and garlic in butter, then adds mussels and wine and steams and finishes as above.

Here’s a tip that JoanN says is definitely worth the extra effort: after the mussels have opened, remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon and boil down the liquid in the pan until reduced by about a third. It helps concentrate the mussel juices in the sauce and makes for a far more flavorful one than you get without the reduction.

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Mussels w/white wine sauce?

Diving for Gyros at Panos

Gyro lover BearCity has settled on a favorite: Panos Char Broiler, a drab dive in the Valley. A huge amount of well-seasoned beef and lamb with some fresh tomatoes, slathered in cucumber-yogurt tzatziki and wrapped in a grill-toasted pita, explodes with flavor. You can get it to go, but it’s more practical to stay and eat at a table because of the delicious drippage.

Gyros are $5.25. They also make a mean char-broiled burger.

Panos Char Broiler [East San Fernando Valley]
16045 Victory Blvd., Woodley, Van Nuys

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Panos Charbroiler-Best Gyros

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