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Five Secret Cooking Oils of Sub-Saharan Africa

 

Nara Seeds

Thoughts of travel in Africa may conjure images of lions and elephants, or safaris seeking photographic trophies or even hidden treasures. True, this is all on offer, but for the culinary adventurer there are different kinds of quests to be had — especially when looking for ingredients to cook with. On a recent safari in Namibia, I “discovered” a rare oil derived from the endemic !nara plant (pronounced with a click sound followed by “na-ra”), which adds a unique, fruity and nutty flavor to meats and vegetables. It’s one of several “secret” oils found all around the continent if you look hard enough.

1. !Nara oil

!Nara is a peculiar-looking spiky melon that grows nowhere in the world but in the Kuiseb Delta, where the Kuiseb River meets the Atlantic in coastal Namibia. For decades it’s been harvested by the Topnaar tribe, who boil the insides to produce a tasty pulp, and eat its oil-rich seeds as snacks. But it wasn’t until 2008 that a German-expat chef realized their potential to be cold-pressed into oil for cooking and cosmetics. Now the chef, Volker Huemmer, and his wife press the unique seeds into small batches of oil, with permission from the Topnaar chiefs and the local government. With the consistency of olive oil, its original taste teeters between sweet and nutty. To accentuate its nutty flavor, it’s infused with coffee beans in one variety; to bring out its sweetness, it’s bottled with a vanilla bean in another variety.

2. Mongongo oil

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The Highs and Lows of the Fast-Food Breakfast Sandwich

The fast food breakfast sandwich, in all its reincarnations — may it be made on bread, an English muffin, a croissant or a biscuit — has been around for decades, but in today’s world of marketing gimmicks, fast-food spots are figuring out new ways to stand out from the crowd. Sure, many chains offer eggs, cheese, bacon and/or sausages inside a breakfast burrito these days, but what can a fast food chain do to go beyond that? Plenty, as we’ve discovered.

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Fancy Super Bowl Snacks Made with Convenience Store Ingredients

So the big game is finally upon us, and you, like many other people in this country of football (the American kind, that is), are out to watch it in style — on television, in the comfort of your favorite bar or living room. And as everyone knows, it’s not just about gathering around a flat screen with a couple of brewskis to make the game more exciting, it’s also about the snacks that are served and consumed, in a great American tradition on par with Thanksgiving.

Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you’ve found yourself playing last-minute host for a Super Bowl party, and you don’t have time to do a big supermarket run. Have no fear. All you need to do is hit your closest gas station convenience store — where we bought all the ingredients for these Super Bowl snack recipes, which are as tasty as they are convenient. Just be sure to make a lot of them; they might be gone before the first commercial break.

Check out 10 Super Bowl Snacks Made with Food You Can Buy at a Gas Station

Erik Trinidad is a food and travel writer, and the author of the cookbook parody Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog.

How to Turn Thanksgiving Leftovers into Scones, Chowder, Sorbet and More

In our humble opinion, Thanksgiving is superior to any other day of the year. In an effort to make this year’s feast the best of all time (sorry, Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe), we’re bringing you the recipes, how-tos and decorating ideas to help you become a Turkey Day pro.

So it’s the day after Thanksgiving and, like many Americans, you have tons of leftovers: leftover stuffing, leftover sides and, of course, plenty of leftover turkey. Turkeys are big birds, after all, and people tend to forego poultry seconds in favor of the many sides and sweets.

Whether you hosted Thanksgiving dinner and have several containers of leftovers in your fridge, or were a guest gifted some turkey and sides by a gracious host, there’s got to be a better way to prepare the remnants of Turkey Day than popping them in the microwave.

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A Guide to Crazy Carnival Food

Calgary’s Stampede Festival, in which world-class cowboys head up north to Canada to compete for a multimillion-dollar purse, is an exciting event for anyone who follows rodeo events as a sport. Of course, you don’t have to be a die-hard rodeo fan to enjoy the festival; each July, people from around the world head to Calgary’s annual celebration of Western heritage to don cowboy hats and do a little two-steppin’ amongst friendly beer drinkin’ Canadians. The festival is also a family affair, with a huge midway of games, rides and, above all, interesting foods — some that would cause any chuck wagon cook to do a double take.

Each year, new novelty foods garner attention for their uniqueness, so much so that they are highlighted in the festival’s program. Here’s a roundup of some of the ones I tried in the midway, between watching the bull riding events and the chuck wagon races:

Bacon Caramel Apple (pictured above): Here’s something with so much promise in its name that perhaps its self-induced hype led to its actual mediocrity. A Granny Smith apple is dipped in caramel (or chocolate), then coated in bacon bits. Never mind that the bacon bits are obviously of the imitation variety; the intended saltiness is still present. However, when salty competes with sweet and double-teams sour, none of them actually win. There’s no dominant taste here, with the salty, sweet and sour sort of canceling each other out, and in the end, the flavor falls flat. My verdict: Two (out of five) stars.

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The Fanciest Prairie Oysters This Side of the Rocky Mountains (A Review)

If you’ve been to a restaurant in the Rocky Mountain region, chances are you already know what Rocky Mountain Oysters are. Also known as prairie oysters, these items that sound like mollusks don’t come from the sea at all, unless that “sea” is actually a “C” — and it stands for “castration.” Bull testicles are a bit of a novelty food for most people, the type of food you dare a newcomer to eat, but for some, they’re actually a sought-out delicacy. Consuming bull testicles is certainly not a new fad — in fact, I reviewed a beer derived from it earlier this year — and one pub in Calgary, Canada, has even held a “Testicle Festival” for two decades.

“There really is a little bit of a following,” said Andrew Seguin, the classically trained chef of Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub in downtown Calgary. “We do have people who come in and really do enjoy it.” He and Sous Chef Paul Turgeon were responsible for the menu of this year’s 20th Annual Testicle Festival, which coincides with the city’s annual Stampede rodeo festival. It’s available at the pub shortly after the annual “harvesting” season of the gonads; 99% of Alberta’s cattle are castrated at the same time each year, at a young age, when the calves are branded.

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Waiter, There’s Spit in My Soup: A Review

In some Asian cultures, bird’s nest soup is not only a delicacy but a medicinal concoction, believed to aid digestion, strengthen the immune system and — perhaps its biggest selling point — increase libido. You might think that there must be some magical dried leaves and twigs in those nests to have such a power, but think again. These nests are actually made out of bird saliva, which has dried and hardened. That’s right; when you’re eating a bowl of bird’s nest soup, you’re having a bowl of spit (and other ingredients).

It’s not as disgusting as it sounds — or perhaps it is — but either way, bird’s nest soup is not without its frowned-upon opinions. These nests of spittle are created by swiftlets — little birds indigenous to Southeast Asia that dwell in caves — and taking them out of the wild harms the species’ livelihood, much to the chagrin of conservationists. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from foraging for them. The demand for bird-nest dishes in places like Hong Kong outweighs the supply, which results in a high market price: a pound of these bird nests fetches over $4,500 (USD), depending on the nest’s quality.

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Connect Eight: Challenge of a Dutch Snack Automat

Dutch Automat Snack Challenge

With the ladies of its red-light district and its locally brewed Heineken beers — not to mention its famed “coffeehouses” providing another type of high — Amsterdam has been known by many Americans as a mecca of vices. However, when partaking in so many indulgences, an inevitable case of the munchies usually comes, and fortunately the Dutch share that guilty pleasure. Fast food in the Netherlands is a cuisine all of its own, and I’m not just talking about the herring or the frites with mayonnaise (or ketchup or onions) that are quite popular after a night out on the town. Croquettes, sausages and other fried items have often come to aid of the inebriated, or to anyone who simply craves a quick, greasy, salty treat.

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Battle of the St. Patrick’s Day Shakes: Shamrock Vs. Grasshopper

With the coming of St. Patrick’s Day 2013, it’s that time of the year again when we embrace a beverage not usually available during the other months. I’m not talking about green beer; I mean the green Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s — available for a limited time from February to March — made “classier” in recent years by being rebranded as the McCafé Shamrock Shake. However, the newer labeling and transparent cup doesn’t hide the fact that this is pretty much the same, minty green shake of yesteryear that used to come in a paper cup, brought back to appease the nostalgic masses (much like McDonald’s does with the McRib from time to time).

It was suggested to me to compare this popular shake to another kind: one made from scratch instead of being dispensed out of a dessert machine with a mechanical lever. For this comparison, I was suggested to pull from the archive of recipes here at Cooking Channel: Hedy Goldsmith’s recipe for the Grasshopper Chocolate Mint Chess Pie Milkshake.

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When Doritos Met Taco Bell… Again (Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos Reviewed)

Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco

It’s been almost a full year since the folks at Taco Bell teamed up with snackmaker Frito-Lay to bring what many hailed to be the crowning achievement in junk food: Doritos Locos Tacos, with the filling of a regular Taco Bell taco spooned inside a crunchy shell made of Nacho Cheese Doritos. Plenty of market research went into this product, and the end result, not surprisingly, was exactly as I described — all placed inside a branded, red-cardboard sleeve that ingeniously prevented the sticky flavor dust of Doritos from making your fingers all orange.

Of course, fast food aficionados rejoiced at this collaboration of two junk food giants, while those who prefer cooking with fresh ingredients winced at the state of humanity. However, the former prevailed in mainstream popularity, and in response, the two companies have teamed up again to give their fans exactly what they’ve wanted: Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos.

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