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

Is Nigella a Feast?

Nigella is gorgeous, her food makes you want to lick the TV, and she uses charmingly British phrases like “bung it in” and “a good scrunch” that give her show a nice foreign flavor not seen since Two Fat Ladies had their wild ride across the Food Network, but what do we think of her new show?

It seems that a lot of people were underwhelmed, sort of in a, “Yeah, isn’t this the same show I saw on the Style Network?” kind of way. Well, it is, because it doesn’t appear that any rejiggering of her original concept took place. All that’s really new is that it’s now on the Food Network. In their review of Nigella Feasts, Mississippi’s Sun Herald notes that the show “looks and flows a lot like ‘Nigella Bites,’ the program E! Entertainment Television picked up from the BBC several years back.”

Another subject of discussion has been about the filming, which the A.P.’s J. M. Hirsch describes as “unusual camera angles that can make viewers feel they are peering around corners.” For me, those “peering around corners” cuts and angles turned her probably very spacious London kitchen into a tight and tiny urban closet kitchen. As the show went on, I became more and more obsessed with the fact that Nigella just didn’t have enough room to work in. Come on, I feel like that every day in my own kitchen —I don’t need to experience kitchen claustrophobia on television.

Posters in the thread at Television Without Pity were downright irritated by the filming. One poster commented:

One close up of the chopped peppers going into the pan was out of focus till the last second—I know he was supposed to be artsy fartsy, but Mr. Camera Man needs to learn to focus the damn thing faster. That wasn’t artsy, it was annoying.

Another added:

The extreme closeups were a bit much, but what really bothered me was that the camera work seemed quite shaky. Hire someone who can hold the damn thing steady!

Some of that jerky, jangled filming made me and a friend feel downright nauseous. That’s not exactly the reaction you’d want from a food show. Unless you were bulemic.

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Marcus Samuelsson’s Excellent Adventure

Fodor’s has an engaging Q&A with chef Marcus Samuelsson of New York City’s Aquavit. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he’s used his world-class cooking credentials and cross-cultural cred to mount a nation-hopping culinary tour of Africa.

In addition to his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson owns two other NYC restaurants: the AQ Cafe and the Japanese-American fusion spot Riingo. (The latter is a reference to an apple, not the least essential Beatle.)

Though the piece is in service of pimping his (rather interesting looking) new book, it covers some interesting ground, exploring the best Ethiopian restaurants in New York, why Cape Town is on par with San Francisco or Stockholm, and the origins of Africa’s sophisticated and hugely varied cooking styles:

In South Africa, you have fiery sambals that were brought by the Malay slaves who created Cape Malay cuisine. In Morocco, you see Arab influence in the spice blends, olives and preserved lemons. And in West Africa, I was surprised to find people using French-style condiments like mayonnaise and mustard.

As it goes in journalism and foreign affairs, so it goes in food writing: Africa is one of the most neglected yet sprawlingly diverse and important topics out there. It’s nice to see Fodor’s at least scratch the surface.

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Eat at Mom’s

It’s tough love, Japanese style, over at Passionate Nonchalance, where Aria’s addicted to the Nintendo game Cooking Mama. Using a pointer on a touch screen, you make dishes under the flaming gaze of Mama’s all-seeing eyes. If your knife slips or your dumplings flop, Mama will fix it, but you’ll lose points, and worse, Mama will be disappointed in you.

And, being a food blogger, Aria’s taking the game to heart.

“I’ve been playing the game so much I’m pretty sure I’m getting subliminally programmed because I’m now craving all the things Mama and I made. Like gyoza, I want those soft juicy little dumplings so bad right now I can’t stand it.”

After a link to a flash cartoon and theme song, Aria posts her own step-by-step gyoza-making adventure, including an imagined biography of the two-dimensional Mama. And whatever Mama says, those finished dumplings sure do look delish.

If the Rice Is Broken, Don’t Fix It

Pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant and pho joint serves com tam (broken rice) dishes, a peasant staple made with the cheapo broken grains of rice not fit for export. But few actually specialize in it, as Com Tam Thuan Kieu does.

The menu has a dizzying array of com tam dishes–64 of them. The house specialties, #7 and #8, offer seven toppings on a generous mound of rice. They’re seriously enough for two. The #7 includes, as elmomonster describes it:

-Bi (shredded pork)–Wispy strands of translucent pork skin and julienned meat tossed with toasted rice powder.

-Cha (baked egg)–A slice of something similar to quiche, with wood ear mushrooms, glass noodles, and pork cooked together with beaten egg.

-Nem (charbroiled meat)–A mixture of pureed pork meat, aggressively seasoned with pepper, formed into racquetball-sized spheres, and cooked to a springy, bouncy firmness.

-Lap Xuong (sausage)–Sweet Chinese sausage, splayed on the diagonal into bite-sized sections, pan-fried to an oily sheen.

-Tom Nuong (charbroiled shrimp)–Grilled shrimp skewered on a stick, basted with a sweet barbecue glaze.

-Tau Hu Ky (bean curd skin w/ shrimp)–A golden brick of shrimp minced to a paste, wrapped with a thin sheet of bean curd skin, and deep fried to a crisp.

-Suon (charbroiled pork chop)–A grilled, marinated pork chop, cut to the shape of a baseball mitt.

Less ambitious diners might want to get #22 instead, with the classic trio of baked egg, shredded pork and thit, grilled pork that’s actually preferable to the suon (grilled pork chop). The pieces are as tender as they are flavorful.

The rice bits themselves are steamed, and have a texture kind of like couscous. They absorb the juices from the toppings that seep into them.

Nuoc cham, a pungent sauce with vinegary, sweet, and fishy overtones, is meant to be drizzled over everything you eat–especially com tam, says elmomonster, adding that “com tam without it is pancakes without syrup; cereal without milk; sushi without wasabi…you get the picture.”

You can also amp up the flavor with some chile garlic paste, and by eating some of the whole bird chiles on the table. They’re super-hot–the key is to take a bite while your mouth is full of rice and toppings. The carrot-daikon pickles, also on the table, will neutralize the spiciness, and the scallion-and-fried-shallot-speckled broth that comes with the com tam will wash away the rest. Cleanse your palate with a bite of cucumber.

House special com tam is about $8, while the three-ingredient #22 is $5.

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [Little Saigon]
14282 Brookhurst St., #2, Garden Grove

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [San Gabriel Valley]
120 E. Valley Blvd. # I, Del Mar, San Gabriel

Board Links
Com Tam Thuan Kieu–Garden Grove–Review with Photos

Go Green the Thai Way

Green curry is a staple dish in Thai restaurants, but it’s often overpowered by one ingredient: sugar! At Thai Kitchen, they go easy on the sweet tooth and the result is great, says Steve Doggie-Dogg. Green curry is on the Saturday lunch all-you-can-eat buffet, a deal for $7. There’s a lot of other stuff, too, including larb gai, beef salad, pad thai, and another kind of curry that’s finely ground and served over rice noodles.

Talesai makes a very savory green curry that’s not too sweet either, says Bon Vivant, but it’s pretty pricey for a Thai place.

Saladang (Song) in Pasadena has a delicious green curry with creamy Thai eggplant that’s less spicy than most. Saladang and neighboring Saladang Song have the same kitchen staff, but AquaW detects a slight difference in the flavor of the original Saladang.

Nearby Chandra has an excellent green curry with catfish, says revets 2.

And Dommy says the best green curry she’s had (the Thai eggplant is essential) was at Thai Nakorn. That Thai eggplant is essential to this dish. The Garden Grove outpost of Thai Nakorn is the only good one left.

Thai Kitchen [East San Fernando Valley]
2730 W Burbank Blvd, Florence, Burbank

Talesai [East San Fernando Valley]
11744 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Saladang Song [Pasadena-ish]
383 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Saladang [Pasadena-ish]
363 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Chandra Thai Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
400 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena

Thai Nakorn Restaurant [Little Saigon]
12532 Garden Grove Blvd., at Palm, Garden Grove

Board Links
ISO: Good Thai green curry

Chicken and Pumpkin Sausage

Dibrova Sausage Company makes a really good chicken and pumpkin sausage, says RestR Manager. It’s a seasonal treat, best seared and served on a bun by itself. Dibrova excels at making rich-tasting sausages like this one that actually don’t end up having that much fat, says Gary Soup.

A bottle of Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale on the side makes you feel extra seasonal.

Dibrova sells at the Campbell, Oakland Jack London Square, and Danville farmers’ markets.

Dibrova Foods [San Joaquin County]
15153 N. Jack Tone Road, Lodi

Campbell Farmers Market [South Bay]
Campbell Ave. between Central and Second Sts., Campbell

Oakland Farmers Market [Jack London Square]
Broadway & Embarcadero Street, Oakland

Danville Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Railroad and Prospect Sts., Danville

Board Links
must try sausage

Fresh, Cheap, and Lovely

It doesn’t look like much–just a couple of rickety tables and an ancient scale–but the little farm stand at Valley End Farm (supplier to Planet Organics) sells great produce cheap and amazingly fresh. Crane melons and heirloom tomatoes are incredibly fragrant, and when all the zucchini or summer squash has been sold, they go out back and pick a few more to replenish the supply. Everything is $1 a pound–including Brandywine tomatoes. The juicy, fresh elephant garlic is 50 cents a head and it caramelizes beautifully, probably from the higher-than-usual sugar content. Everything is fresh, tasty, and easy on the budget.

Valley End Farm [Sonoma County]
6300 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa

Board Links
Valley End Farm Stand in Santa Rosa (Rohnert Park border)