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

Downtown Food at South Shore Prices

Although it's been holding down a spot on Hancock Street in Quincy since 2002, Alba Restaurant gets little buzz says CocoDan. Too bad, because it's got good classic Italian-American food, great drinks, and an extensive wine list. "Downtown food without the downtown prices," says CocoDan.

SeaSide Tomato had a great meal there recently: a fried calamari appetizer came garnished with jalapeños that gave it a "good spicy kick," and a duck dish was done "perfectly medium-rare" and served with foie gras bread pudding. "!!!!!" says SeaSide Tomato, wordlessly. Prosciutto-wrapped cod was "perfectly executed," with roasted potatoes that were "out of this world."

SeaSide also kvelled over the wine list, which is vast and well thought out. The bartender also told her a lot of bottles are being sold at cost. CocoDan adds that the owner, Leo, doesn't mind customers taking home the leftovers and is happy to help with selections.

Alba Restaurant [South Shore]
1486 Hancock Street, Quincy
617-376-2522

Discuss: South Shore Updates?

The Best Cheddar Cheese Spread

Traditional, handmade Somerset cheddar has its pleasures. But cheese spread that comes in a plastic tub from the grocery store has fans too. "I'm addicted to good sharp cheddar cheese spread—give me a tub of cheese, some water crackers, a glass of wine, and a Macintosh apple and I'm a happy woman," says girlwonder88. "However, a lot of spreads I've found are pretty disappointing, and I feel like I'm still on the hunt for the perfect combination of taste and texture."

cinnamon girl likes MacLaren's Imperial Sharp Cold Pack Cheddar, which comes in a red container. "It's got that sharp aged taste and crumbly texture," she says. MacLaren's is very good, agrees DockPotato, but he'd recommend Pine River Sharp Spreddar if you can find it. And "if Merkts cheeses are available in your area, you might give their sharp cheddar spread a try," suggests Fydeaux.

Discuss: Help me find the world's best cheddar cheese spread!

Looks Like ALF Was Onto Something

Apparently it's a bad idea to talk up how delicious cats are in Italy, notes the Daily Beast, particularly if you're on television. The article is brief, but raises the haunting possibility that cats are, in fact, delicious (a theory aggressively championed by 1980s television star ALF).

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Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"It ended up tasting very gamy and the fatty texture was a turn off. A shame since everything else I have cooked from the book tasted delicious." - TommyJay, on pig's head torchon from the Momofuku cookbook

"Teaberry is first choice, and thankfully it's usually in stock at the local grocery. After that it's Adams Clove Chewing Gum, found at the gas station. I fondly remember Fruit Stripe gum and recently bought a pack. Beware! It's not the same as when we were kids, neither is Juicy Fruit. JF used to be gray, remember, but now it's a sickly yellowish-green and the flavor lasts about as long as it takes to throw the wrapper away. Ugh." - cuccubear, on preferred flavors of gum

"A lot of canned food labels say there are 2 servings—tuna, soup, etc. I think it's just a ploy to make things look like they have fewer calories than they do. Same goes with indie bottles of juice etc." - tatamagouche

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Pack Food

Minnesota has one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the nation (sorry Tennessee, you're actually 38th), a fact that helps the following story make a bit more sense. The St. Cloud Times reports on a six-person church group getting together after the Haiti earthquake and deciding to do something. The result: they raised $64,000 to buy food, then organized 3,000 volunteers to pack an astounding 800,000 meals for Haitians in need. It's a heck of a tale.

Pictured: U.S. Army soldiers bundle ready-to-eat meals for distribution in Haiti.

Image source: Flickr member The U.S. Army under Creative Commons

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"If it's tough old stringy bird you crave, I'd suggest the sopa de gallina served on Sundays at Pupuseria Mama Blanca in Eastie. Not sure if that's an old rooster; the name suggests it might mean 'old hen,' but I'm not certain of its connotation in Salvadoran Spanish. Regardless, mighty tasty!" - MC Slim JB, in a discussion on coq au vin

"I like the pop tarts—honestly tender and flaky, with acidic/sweet fruit inside. The pastry has a nice amount of salt." - enhF94 on the housemade fruit pastries at Flour

"Penang in Chinatown is offering Yee Sang for the very first time. It's a Malaysian/Singaporean new year salad with around 20 ingredients (including raw fish) best shared with a group of people." - nasilemak on a Chinese New Year special dish

A Rum Speakeasy in Hollywood

La Descarga is Los Angeles's first true rum specialist. The name means "the discharge," and La Descarga "oozes the jazz of the cabarets, bars, and clubs in La Habana, both past and present," says streetgourmetla. It's a dance club, too, but "La Descarga is first and foremost a rum bar, and if you aren't diving into the hand selected rums ... then you are missing something unique," explains streetgourmetla.

It's also a speakeasy, with a reservation system and high-class service and style. There's a beauty in a vintage dress to usher you through the secret door into a nicely crowded room. "This is a place to drink but don't forget to buy a round for the welcoming eyes across the bar, celebrate with your set, or strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger," says streetgourmetla. "Dolled up beauties in vintage clothing reach in their purses for a cigarette, a guy in a bow tie knocks back a drink, and the adult amusement park that is La Descarga stirs in the rhythms and spirit of Cuba and rum."

But most of all, there is rum. There are rums for the novice, and rums for the fanatic. Ron Zacapa and Ron Zaya, both from Guatemala, will please everybody with their sweet, pretty charms. There's La Favorite, a Martinique rhum agricole, made with sugarcane instead of molasses, with "wonderful earthern flavors and that delicate sweetness," says streetgourmetla.

Should you care to delve deeper, there's also a cigar bar, with quality hand-rolled Dominican leaf cigars and neat spirits only. This is where you get the more bold rum adventures, like Scarlet Ibis, strong and spicy, and the fruit and orange peel flavors of Barbados's Cockburn 12-year.

Reservations can be made on La Descarga's website.

La Descarga [Koreatown]
1159 Western Avenue, Hollywood
323-466-1324

Discuss: La Descarga: The Hottest Spot West of La Habana, LA's First Rum Bar Shakes and Swizzles.

Soy Sauce and Butter Spaghetti?

"There are some ingredients that just work naturally together. Olive oil and balsamic. Milk and eggs. Peanut butter and jelly," says elmomonster. "But soy sauce and butter? On pasta? Believe it or not, it's a pairing short of heaven sent."

You'll have to thank the insane imagination of the Japanese for this combination. You can get it at Japonaise Bakery & Cafe, which has recently been transformed into a donburi, pasta, and curry joint.

Japanese experimentation has brought us such standard classics as uni spaghetti. But this is the first time elmomonster has ever heard soy sauce and butter uttered in the same breath. "Together they amount to a pasta sauce that has a surplus of umami… The butter rounds out the soy sauce's saltiness; and the soy keeps the butter from becoming too rich. And then there are the sautéed mushrooms, which soak up and marry the two flavors in an even more concentrated form inside themselves."

Japonaise Bakery & Cafe [Orange County]
600 El Camino Real, Tustin
714-665-8239

Discuss: Soy Sauce & Butter Spaghetti at Japonaise Bakery in Tustin with PHOTOS

Russian Food, and Sticks to Beat Comrades With

Russian Gourmet just opened up about a week ago, and it's well worth a visit, says mikester. There are all sorts of Russian items: juices, sodas, truly delicious chocolates, teas, and butters. There's also a range of frozen dumplings, including pelmeni, and Russian cheese and charcuterie.

There's a cold case, too, with a wide variety of very reasonably priced caviar. Some of it's only $6 for a good-sized tin. There are even bags of branches, for beating your fellow comrades with at the sauna, says mikester. Elena, the lady in charge, is very welcoming and gracious, happy to answer questions.

There's a small lunch menu, and a few tables and chairs. No Chowhounds have yet tried it though. So go! Try!

Russian Gourmet [Orange County]
22722 Lambert Street, 
Suite 1701, Lake Forest
949-278-0235

Discuss: Russian Gourmet, Lake Forest

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"By that time, all of the other vendors had huge lines and at this point we didn't see the situation improving at all, especially when we could see 1000+ people in the GA line still waiting to get in." - mke2lax, on the insane crowds at the first annual LA Street Food Festival

"Croissants are flaky and have the real butter flavor... it's not margarine."
- lil mikey, on his new favorite bakery, Hygge

"Lent is upon us and many Church Ladies across the southland are preforming a service for the Flock who must abstain from meat, among other things, for the Lenten season."
- Mattapoisett in LA, on the start of Friday Fish Fry season in LA's churches