Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Trade Secrets

Tips on dining in and dining out

We tried it

Without planning to, I recently tried two kinds of chocolate chip cookies while eating out. They could not have been more different.

The first was from Le Cezanne (Wyoming and Hyde Park). I'd never thought to try anything as mundane and American as a chocolate chipper when there are fancier French pastries in the case, but the sheer size hooked me.

They must be 6 inches across, and hard, like shortbread. They taste like shortbread - made with lots of brown sugar and studded with small chocolate chips. Nothing like Toll House, but good, especially with tea or coffee to dip them in. ($1.50)

Then I impulsively grabbed another giant cookie at Habanero, the burrito place on Ludlow in Clifton. It was entirely different - soft, almost floppy, and very chewy, full of butter and dotted with chocolate chunks. Not dunkers, though the salsa's so good at Habanero I'd be tempted to dunk them in that. ($1.50)

Neither one beats the chocolate chip cookies baked to order at the Bistro at Harper's in Symmes Township, though. Order them ahead of time so they're warm from the oven when served for dessert inside a napkin-lined basket accompanied by a miniature glass bottle of milk. Warm and melting, they're heaven. ($5.95)

Required reading

"Convenience foods" may have a bad name, suggesting casseroles made with canned soup, freeze-dried potatoes and artificial ingredients. But every grocery store is filled with new kinds of convenience foods that are high quality and flavorful.

Almost From Scratch (Simon and Schuster; $25) by Andrew Schloss shows how these products can be used to make easy meals without sacrificing taste. In his recipes, prepared bruschetta topping turns into vinaigrette for fresh mozzarella, a package of pulled pork with barbecue sauce becomes red curried pork soup; jarred mole, mango salsa and olive salad go into deep dark pot roast, and a package of brownie mix is combined with dried cherries, cherry preserves and chocolate chips to make a cherry chocolate pate.

From the book

Tubes of polenta are a nice convenience food, making it possible to easily serve grilled or sauteed polenta without having to cook and stir. But you can also use them if you want soft, creamy polenta. Here's a recipe from our featured book, Almost From Scratch.

Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta

1 package (about 16 ounces) prepared polenta, chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic, jarred or fresh

2 ounces (1/2 cup) fresh goat cheese

Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine the polenta and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and microwave at full power for 4 to 5 minutes, until steamy. Carefully remove the cover and stir in the goat cheese, salt and pepper until smooth and creamy. Makes 4 servings.

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