Free Range on Food: Bryan Voltaggio, vegan blogs and more

Jul 24, 2013

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat!

We have a VIP in the room today: chef Bryan Voltaggio, subject of Tim's profile in this week's section, owner of Volt, Range, Family Meal and Lunchbox, new dad (congrats, chef!) and featured player on the new season of "Top Chef Masters." Ask Bryan anything, about his restaurants, his cooking style/recipes, his time on TC and TCM. And ask the rest of us whatever's on your mind!

We'll have cookbook prizes to award the sources of our favorite questions or comments: "The Washington Post Cookbook" (SIGNED, of course) and Amy Riolo's "Nile Style," source of today's DinMin recipe.

Let's do this!

 

Every time I roast a chicken, and the skin comes out crispy, it ends up getting ruined (soggy) when I 'tent' the chicken while it rests. Should I skip the foil tent?

Maybe chef Bryan wants to weigh in on this. I'll start:

 

Is your main reason for the tent to finish/promote carryover cooking? If you have an instant-read thermometer, you can keep track of what the interior temp of the meat should be.  

 

If you want/need to tent the bird, make sure it's open at either end, which will help disperse the steam issues that are soggy-ing up that crisped skin. 

 

Bottom line: I'd skip the tent, maybe increase the resting time if need be.  BTW, ever tried Gastronomer Roast Chicken and Potatoes? (I miss our former columnist Andreas Viestad!) Seriously decadent, and a lovely way to roast a small bird.

When trying to get something crispy, you never cover. When removing the chicken from the oven it will naturally carry over. Using the themometer as Bonnie points out is your best instrument for internal temperature. Take that at the thigh to get an acurate read. Next leave the bird out uncovered so that moisture from the top of the skin can escape. Water is being evaporated from the skin during cooking and fat is rendering, creating the cripy skin. If you cover it, you're trapping the moisture creating the soggy texture

Hey there! The last couple weeks I've gotten SO MANY cucumbers in my CSA share. And while I was puzzling through what to do with them, a neighbor dropped by with an armful of enormous cucumbers he'd grown in our community garden. I only took one, but I still feel like I'm overrun. Any ideas on what to make? I've got a huge jar of quick pickles done already, and a recipe for a cucumber gin fizz bookmarked, but I need some more ideas. Thanks so much for helping me with this admittedly awesome problem!

Very yay about that. If there are any chatters left that haven't discovered Olives for Dinner, Vegan Richa, Fragrant Vanilla Cake, Vegan She Knows, Fork and Beans, Vegan Dad, Namely Marly, The Vee Word or Chocolate Covered Katie, then get on the google. On last week's enameled cast iron front, was thinking: rather than bleach or Oxy Clean, how about instead using something _designed_ for use around edibles and consumption, like Puro Caff or denture cleaner? Seems smarter/safer.

Thanks for all the referrals! On the cleaning-enameled-cast-iron front, though, I don't think bleach would be a problem at all. It gets rinsed off, of course. You wouldn't consume it!

I'm posting early because I'll be out and about during the chat today. How would the roasted chickpea and broccoli combination be cold. It sounds like it could be great on a salad for a picnic or even a great snack for my preschooler but there wouldn't be an opportunity to heat it up.

I think it would be fine at room temp. You could always pack it in a short, wide-mouth thermos, right?

for the Asian recipes! The tofu recipe made me remember something my mom used to make for me: nuke tofu in the microwave for a min, pour out the water that comes out, and then top the tofu with a drizzle of sesame oil and kimchi. Now I know what to do for dinner tonight!

Glad you like my Chilled Tofu idea. I have to say, you gotta try it with fresh corn.

What ingredient or spice do you use that you feel can really transform the flavors of a meal?

Acid is my tool when accenting a dish or lightening a sauce. Using citrus juices, vinegars, and even citric acid as a powder can really help round out flavors and create great balance.  Simply spritzing lemon or lime on grilled and roasted meats completely changes the dynamic of the smoke and roasted proteins. Salt is always what people reach for to accent flavor, but we have other tools as well.

When I go to the grocery store, it is usually my last stop before going home. That means any food that needs to be put in the fridge or freezer is home and put away fairly quickly. But farmers markets are usually not as close to home and often not my last stop of a trip. I guess that fresh foods are used to being outside on a hot day, but not quite as hot as a parked car. Can I leave the fresh vegetables and other items in the car for a while or should I bring a cooler?

This question reminds me of the old Simpsons' episode in which Marge and the family go to Wellness Foods (clearly a Whole Foods stand-in) and the organic vegetables wilt before they are even bagged from the conveyor belt.

 

A cooler is never a bad idea (unless you have a Mini like I do, in which a cooler fits as well as a square peg in a round hole). Some delicate fruits (particularly strawberries, which start to decline the moment they're picked) can benefit from more delicate transportation.

This came up last week in regard to a question about removing stains from enamel. It's terrific for cleaning vases, thermoses and other vessels with an opening too small to fit a hand into.

Great tip -- thanks!

This is a follow-up from my question last week about the chick-pea sized eggplant from the farmers' market. I started what you suggested: cap them, salt, pepper and oil, and roast them. I got a few capped, and on a whim tasted one. It was horrendously bitter -- spit-it-out-and-grab-a-drink bitter. I pushed the lot back into the bowl and left it on the counter. Since then, they've turned red and orange, as if they've ripened. Does that give you any clues as to what we're dealing with?

Fascinating! Some eggplant is indeed bitter -- this is why people salt them first -- but the little ones are typically not nearly as bitter as the larger ones. But the color changing has me stumped; I haven't seen that with eggplant. I think you should go to the source and talk to the farmer about this, and report back!

Bryan, When I say that you were going to be on Top Chef Masters I couldn't imagine how you actually found the time to do it while running four restaurants plus your family. Secrets to juggling all that? Was it filmed in DC?

TCM was filmed in LA, it does take some time to get it done. One of the reasons I was open to the idea was that I could communicate back to my family and restaurants, unlike my first run on season 6. I can't really discuss how long... you will have to wait and see

Hey Joe - this is a little off topic, but important to my food preparation. We are redoing our kitchen - complete renovation. We have had at least 12 free designs done by different cabinet sellers over the past 8 years. You might say I am indecisive, but what I really need is a good kitchen designer - I find that these designers simply work with dimensions and charts to fit in the cabinetry but with no real creative design. We are willing to pay a designer, but what we need is someone who is skilled at design and moving things around without changing walls, even if they work for a cabinet company! Any ideas.

Two thoughts:

1. Come to our colleague Jura Koncius's chat about home design tomorrow (or submit the question there now). Here's the link.

2. Check out this piece on kitchen design trends she wrote recently; you might look up the expert designers she quoted and see if any seem up your alley.

Raita--done the simple way: peel and grate the cucumbers, Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, add plain yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, black pepper and salt to taste. I'm the soy yogurt OP from a few chats ago, and this is the recipe I miss the most. I could make it in Europe with Sojasun plain. Wholesoy (why was it on hiatus?) just doesn't do it.

How is your new baby daughter doing?

Thank you for asking, baby Ever Maeve is doing stellar due to the hard work and dedication from her NICU nurses and doctors at Frederick Memorial. And the love of her family.

Bryan, we'll be rooting for you on the show! Have you had fun teasing Michael about your being on TCM?

Um... YES but he as well could've very well competed. It will be fun to watch and I think he's rooting for me?

If he were competing, then I could resurrect my old nicknames:

BroVo (for the two of them, natch)

BroVo Fire (Michael)

BroVo Ice (Bryan)

 

Just moved into a new house and am planning a big housewarming party. I'm thinking of doing a whole pig (I have access to a pretty good sized cooker) but was wondering if there were other things I should consider - lamb or goat, maybe? Flavor's more important than presentation, and I don't mind a challenge, but I want it to be worth the effort!

As far as the animal, they all taste good... taking the time to get the right smoke and heat ratio is important. Remember the larger the animal the bigger the commitment of time. I have used barrel smokers and they are very efficient, but for a 180-200 pound hog that takes some time. Lamb is great for these types of events and if there are other things on the table, you can get away with a 30-45# hanging weight lamb for 35-50 people 

Any intersting ideas out there for this, prefer to grill it.

 

Depending on the sausage, of course, I find that turkey links can be dry, especially when cooked over the high heat of a grill. The aromatics and spices stuffed into them tend to dominate the flavor. As such I like to add turkey sausage into a dish that already has strong flavors and/or fat. Try these, for example:

 

* Sausage and Caramelized Onion Flatbread WIth Kale and Parmesan.

 

*Turkey Andouille Gumbo

 

Or for something really heavy and tasty...

 

* Chicken-Fried Steak With Sausage Gravy.

 

Sub for celery! Seed them well so that things don't get all wet, but cucumber adds that same crunch, with a sweeter note, to shrimp rolls, chicken salad, etc. I'm not a fan of the flavor of celery, but miss the crunchiness when it's left out, and this process works well for me

My husband accidentally bought dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. I know that the difference comes from the amount of molasses, but I have two questions: 1) Can I substitute dark brown sugar for light in a recipe that calls for light? 2) If I wanted to make it light, how much white sugar should I add?

In recipes that call for light brown sugar, use half dark brown sugar and half granulated sugar.

I was watching chopped last night and I saw a contestant make a sweet corn ice cream as well. I was going to ask you about such a recipe when I saw you had included it in the paper today! Thanks for answering my question before I even asked it. I was curious about the yield. The recipe said it yielded 3 and 1/2 cups of ice cream, yet there are 4 cups of liquid. I thought the over run would expand the volume by about 100%. Shouldn't the yield be higher?

That's the yield our tester got....could the 9 egg yolks have something to do with, I wonder? It's quite creamy and luscious. 

How often do you get to go out and interact with the local agricultural community near Frederick? How do you choose which products to source organically and which to source conventional?

We work with several farms in Frederick County over different parts of the year depending on product available and menu. The place we look to source is our backyard, so seaonally our ratio of conventional buying vs farm-to-kitchen door changes.

So...how'd you do?

Ha, nice try...

My husband likes all things bitter, so of course he fell for the Negronis we had at a wedding last weekend. I like improvising drinks at home, but since I'm just dipping my toes into the world of these types of spirits, are there any basic guidelines? I know Campari is more alcoholic than Aperol, but are there other flavor differences? Other similar liquors I should look out for?

I find Aperol a bit more orangey than Campari, and somewhat sweeter. Depending on exactly how much of a bitter man your husband is, you should start exploring more of the Italian amaros -- they range widely in flavors and degree of bitterness. Fernet Branca is probably the most famous (notorious? :) ) and it is not to be toyed with, but if your husband likes that, then he's a bitter man indeed. You can soften Fernet with Coke -- a trend right now -- and you might also want to check out Branca Menta, which is a minty, sweeter version that I really like.

Any suggestions on what to do with a really fruity, fresh-from-the-farm blueberry vinegar? I've been substituting for regular in vinaigrettes, but could use some imaginative alternatives. Thank you!

I think I just drooled a little bit. You could use it in marinades for, say, lamb; cook it down a bit with a nice honey and use the mixture to glaze nuts or drizzle over fresh or grilled fruit; combine with balsamic vinegar and cook the mixture down to a syrup that you pour over thin wedges of  really, really good Parmigiano-Reggiano (for an appetizer/hors d'oeuvres). Chatters, chime in! 

I just made my first batch of homemade ice cream and am SO excited. My inaugural ice cream flavor is peanut butter oreo, but I am going in circles about where to go next. There are just so many resources and websites, which is a good thing to complain about. I will be checking out your recipe archive, but do you have any recommendations on where to start for books/blogs/how tos?

That's a great feeling, isn't it? Check out our aweseome ice cream graphic from a few weeks ago. As far as books, we recommend "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer and David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop." David also has a nice little recipe archive on his blog.

Hi free rangers, do you ever find yourself not in the mood to cook over an extended period of time? How do you get yourself out of it? I've been turning to fast food more and more lately and while I don't like that, it's not enough to get back in the kitchen. I suppose I'm wondering what kinds of meals inspire you when you've been away from the kitchen for a while. Thanks!

Good question. I know some would suggest you jump back into the kitchen with something simple, which won't seem intimidating. But personally, I like to do just the opposite. I like preparing something that takes time and attention and removes me fully from the work day. Like making pasta, for example. It's so tactile...and so tasty to make your own.

 

It also has a meditative quality, which is part of the reason I love being in the kitchen in the first place. It's the quiet working of the hands, the touching of something organic (and not electronic). You might try you hand at one of the gnocchi recipes that Bonnie wrote about last week. Bonnie interviewed a lot of chefs who provided great tips.

With the Buy Local Challenge in mind, I'd love to hear Bryan Voltaggio's opinion on the local ingredients he's most excited about working with now or what he'd encourage us to try.

Right now we are starting to see some early corn come in, which is always a summer treat. As well, tomatoes are starting to make their way into the kitchen. However, to many people's surprise we have a great crop of peaches that start this week every year in the Catoctin Mountains of Frederick County. Check out Pryor's Orchard.

We are currently letting our excess cucumbers ferment in the basement to make kosher dill pickles. It is so very easy to do and tastes great as well.

Yum. Kosher dill pickles done the old-fashioned way.

 

You, of course, are not alone in the D.C. area. Picklers are everywhere.

I like to buy fresh mozzarella and feta, but can't use them right away. Often when I open the package after a few days it smells bad, but the cheese seems to be okay. Do I need to change the liquid? Especially with feta I would have thought that the brine would last.

Dingdingding; changing the liquid's the way to go. 

The reason I asked about the yield is that I have a smaller ice cream maker. Most recipes have less than 4 cups of liquid and fewer than 9 egg yolks. Yet, 3 and 1/2 cups is well within its capacity.

It'd be fine to divide the base in half and process in 2 batches. 

I am really regretting the lunch meeting I have to go to. I can't believe you have Bryan V. in the room! That is so exciting! I remember getting reservations at Volt three months ahead of time when it first opened and getting very star struck when I saw Bryan talking to a table of customers the night I went. The food was outstanding and the overall experience just great. I've made the trek to Frederick many times just to have some cocktails and apps at the bar. Question for Bryan - how in the world do you keep yourself organized, with all of these restaurants and the pressure to "keep up" and generate new ideas for menus, etc.?

Having 4 restaurants now has changed life and kitchen life dramatically. Deciding how to spend time between them proves difficult. However I target a dish, or menu change and see it through. Ingredients and season drive us, and so that helps the organization. But remember my most important asset is my team. I can't do all of this alone and I have some really talented people.

We just leave a cooler in our car so that we will have it when we go to the grocery store. It is easy to do and helps ensure foods last longer and are less likely to make people sick.

Hey Joe - Thank you for the VERY hellpful answer to my kitchen redo. I am already busy following your advice. Caroline

Could the OP have purchased pea eggplants? I was just doing a Google image search to see if I could figure it out and they seem to fit the description in terms of size, color and bitterness. Try searching around for recipes that include pea eggplants and see if it gets you anywhere.

I'm very excited to see Chef Bryan Voltaggio compete on Top Chef Masters. I love Top Chef, but haven't ever gotten into Masters before--this is the perfect excuse to do so. At the risk of going all fanboy, I just want to say that my lunch at Volt and my first dinner at Range are among the most memorable meals I've never had at restaurants--delicious and inspiring (I've tried my hand at making a roasted beet salad with coffee soil--that was such a beautiful presentation). Best of luck to you chef!

Thank you for the support, gonna need it. A lot of talent you will see tonight.

Hi Free Range! I am having my boyfriend over this Saturday and I really want to make it a special evening. We have been together for a couple of months, and this will be the first time I cook for him. I need some good suggestions for a romantic dinner though. In the past with other guys, I've always done filet mignon or the like, but obviously that is out for this guy. I'll admit to being somewhat at a loss for knowing how to do "romantic vegetarian". Thanks.

This shouldn't be tough! A "romantic meal," IMO, means that you make him something you both like -- and that it's not too heavy. Now, I'm not your BF, obviously, but here's an idea for a menu that I would be very pleased to be served by a paramour.

App: Carrot Hummus

Soup: Fire and Smoke Gazpacho

Main Course: Mushroom Risoniotto or Five-Grain Risotto With Broccolini and Brussels Sprouts

Dessert: Perfect Peach Pie

I ate a Range shortly after it opened thelast time I was in DC. Any chance of getting your recipe for the bacon jam? I'm salivating again thinking of it, and since I live in Boston, can't get there often to get my fix!

I will share soon.

I use them interchangeably. It only affects the flavor a little bit, and the texture not at all, IME.

I concur.

When this happens to me, I usually ask a friend or family member what food they have really been craving. Sometimes they suggest something I haven't made in a long time, if at all. At any rate, usually I get more excited knowing that 1) I am making somebody else happy and 2) it gives me a jumping off point. Usually I get in a rut because I just feel uninspired. Getting concrete direction helps.

I love that. For me, the joy of cooking is, in part, the joy of cooking for another. (No dis on the boss, with that comment. It's not an either/or situation. I feel happy cooking for myself too.)

Last night I made a Japanese cucumber salad called sunomono (I think that''s spelled right) with shrimp. I also love a white gazpacho recipe I adapted from Vegetarian Times:

2 peeled, seeded cukes

1 cup seedless green grapes

toasted almonds (I've also used pine nuts)

a few sprigs of mint

1/2 clove garlic

a little chopped onion if you want

S&P

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

Liquefy in a blender. Add a tbsp or so of water to loosen if you need to.

Love me a white gazpacho. I often make the traditional Spanish one, which uses bread and almonds, sherry vinegar, garlic -- and love to garnish with grapes and edible flowers, like purple chive blossoms. Gorgeous and delicious.

Hi, Bryan, When it's too hot to cook, like it has been lately, what are your favorite recipes to make at home? Thanks for sharing!

Grilled and roasted fish with simple garnishes of seaonal greens and fruits. You see I am on a health challenge with a bunch of other um... not-so-in-shape Chefs from our city. So trying to eat a bit better. But as a Maryland boy, ther's nothing better then cold beverages, friends, and a crate of MD blue crabs, no matter how hot, they always taste good!

I have had great results from "The Perfect Scoop." My results from "Jeni's Splendid" have been more mixed. The molasses ice cream was great, but the roasted strawberry-buttermilk was powdery! In "The Perfect Scoop," you MUST make the dark chocolate raspberry ice cream It's just amazing. And it's even better if you use black raspberries.

Where were you when I had those amazing black raspberries from Westmoreland Berry Farm the other month?

Is there a grill that can be used indoors without setting off the smoke alarm AND that does a reasonable job of preparing foods that would best be prepared outdoors? Like many others, I live in a high-rise with no outdoor space. You print so many drool-inducing recipes for outdoor grilling, I hope you'll have a suggestion for making them almost as good indoors. Or maybe I should move!

You should move. 

But until you do, my recommendation would be a Cameron's stovetop smoker for smoking and the Minden Anytime Grill. You can also infuse smoke into your foods with a device called a Smoking Gun. 

None of these options, though, are equal to an outdoor grill. Start looking for a new place before the interest rates go up. E

I'd like to buy some match to use to make drinks. Do you have any suggestions for good brands, either ordering online or in a store? Is there a difference in what you should buy for making drinks versus baked goods?

I haven't played much with matcha in drinks, but I would imagine one of the issues there might be texture. I've had some drinks that incorporated one powdery element or another, and you have to be a little careful with them depending on the consistency of the powder; you may end up wanting to try infusing the matcha into a spirit in advance and then straining it through something quite fine like a jelly bag. If you go the infusion route, check it frequently -- whereas some infusions take days, teas infuse into spirits fairly quickly and are easy to overdo, resulting in some bitterness that you may not want. 

Hey, isn't it about time for the weekly garlic scape pesto post? I never get tired of people talking about garlic scape pesto. Every week. It just never gets old. Garlic scape pesto.

 

Do I detect a hint of scarcasm?

 

If not, here's a fine recipe for said garlic scape pesto by Kim O'Donnel.

LOL

Pimm's, ginger ale, splash of lime juice, and ALL THE CUCUMBERS. Yum. I don't know if this is actually a Pimm's Cup, but it is delicious and refreshing over the summer.

Pimm's, lemonade, cucumber juice and the fruit -- definite winner.  (The version suggested is not QUITE a Pimm's Cup, but it's pretty close!) Definitely keep the cucumber itself in the drink -- after soaking in it for a while, you'll find you've never had a cucumber salad quite so ... intoxicating.

If some are smallish, they make great pickles. Sometimes Food contributor Cathy "Mrs. Wheelbarrow" Barrow has a really simple recipe for making your own (which I just tried and they are fabulously delicious).

Though I was going to suggest tzatziki! Cucumber salad! Cucumbers lightly pickled in German potato salad! Cucumbers on sandwiches! Cucumbers everywhere!

Even though my mom always planted a few fewer cucumber plants each year because we had too many the year before, we ended up with too many. We kids loved it because it meant she'd make a cucumber salsa that you could try. Very simple, esp. if you have kids or equipment to do the chopping. Cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, those canned green chilis, salt and pepper. A green pepper or two if you're feeling ambitious. Dice everything to the same size, mix together in whatever proportions you want, and...that's it. Very simple and delicious, and if you take it to a party you'll have the smug satisfaction of giving every single person there a case of heartburn.

You can also help reduce the weeping by salting them, letting them sit and weep and then rinsing off the salt (then pat dry and/or strain again). This seems to help keep them crispier and pulls out some of the water.

The fresh cantaloupes are perfumy right now. I have made several batches of Helen Witty's Gingered Melon Marmalade (Fancy Pantry) using lime instead of lemon. It is the vision of summer sunshine in a jar but tastes of sun and the vine on the tongue!

OK, for the poster who leaves the cooler in the car - how do you keep it cool?

They probably buy ice for it...

What would you want for your last meal and who would be cooking it? Why?

I would cook my last meal for my wife, her choice.

What is your favorite Gluten Free flour?

A couple of really good friends on mine have a blog called Ideas in Food.

They have a couple of recipes they have worked on for making your own gluten free flour. As well a new book out soon that will have those recipes.

Sometimes its more fun to make it yourself

Just an FYI - my husband and I got married in Frederick - so that we could go to Volt for dinner....

Congratulations! Looking forward to having you in.

I used to have a favorite recipe for chard but have lost it and cannot re-create it. When I tried to sautee/braise rainbow chard recently it was very bitter. Do you have any ideas? Thanks.

Did you buy it or grow it? I've read that keeping the chard well chilled will cut down on the bitterness -- but the rainbow kind is supposedly less prone to bitterness than Swiss chard.  Also try to cook it uncovered, because the vegetables' oxalic acids will be able to escape with any steam.  (Failing that -- a pinch of sugar or drips of honey in your saute/braise? Or toss a little dried fruit in there?)

I threw half a sweet onion, two cloves of garlic, a handful of cucumber into a blender and topped the container off with grape tomatoes--it looked as if I had about three times as much tomato as the the rest. Did I end up with pink gazpacho because I didn't have enough tomato?

I think it's probably also because you used grape tomatoes, and the juice-to-flesh/skin ratio on these is lower, partly because of their size. Try with bigger, meatier tomatoes -- and throw in a sundried tomato or two for a little extra color. (Or a small roasted beet!)

Farm-fresh corn -- It's here and it's WONDERFUL! A few odd questions: Is it only me, or has anyone else noticed that removing corn silk isn't as much as a problem as it used to be? I always used to end up with some stuck in my teeth and that doesn't happen any more because it's so easy to remove from the cob before cooking. Is corn silk good for anything? Are fresh corn husks good for making tamales and maybe other dishes, or should I buy the dried ones some stores sell? Is yellow corn always sweeter than white corn? Thanks, Rangers!

I haven't noticed that corn silk has become extra silky and removeable lately. Chatters?

 

As for which kind is sweeter, some have argued that it makes no difference, white or yellow are equally sweet. But for what to do with husks, corn cobs, etc., I would follow the lead of this man. You may know him as the Post's Food editor.

How many days does cucumber water remain fresh in the refrigerator? I'm wondering if I can make a large amount to drink over time or if it's better to prepare a smaller amount every morning that hopefully will be ready around midday. Thank you.

It should last a couple of days, but the freshness of the ingredients matter most. As well it's always better and more delicious to juice them per serving rather then hold for a couple of days.

I am looking for some New Orleans-inspired sides to go with offerings of jambalya and boiled shrimp -- anything come to mind?

Dirty rice is a classic, and a good corn bread will never go to waste.

I recently made some peanut butter oatmeal breakfast bars with "natural" peanut butter to tweak a recipe I'd previously made with regular peanut butter and found too sweet for my tastes and remembered too late that "natural" peanut butter has less oil than "regular", resulting in some sad, dry, crumbly breakfasts for this week. Can you all recommend a "regular" style peanut butter that has less sugar (or preferably none at all!) for my baking? And any recommendations for baking with other kinds of nut butters? (Before this crumbly mess, I entertained notions of almond butter in my oatmeal bars, but I'm afraid of the same result.)

I haven't found natural peanut butters lower in oil -- but they tend to separate, so I wonder if you just didn't spoon out enough of the oil. One thing I do with tahini that I'm tempted now to try with peanut butter: I use an immersion blender to whir it together when I first open it, then I put it in the fridge. With tahini, it stays emulsified, no separating. Perhaps it would work with nut butter.

Your food section is a highlight of my week. I've been looking forward to the piece in which the nutritionist answers a question. Did I miss it?

Ditto for us. But you might be confusing us with nutrition info and articles and recipes in Thursday's Local Living section and Lean&Fit newsletter? It's been many years since Food carried a nutritionist column. 

I bought some purslane at the farmers market and took off the leaves to mix in my salad. I then pureed the stems and it looks like avocado to me and has that bland taste. Would it be good if I added garlic, oil, lemon to make it like a spread?

If you tasted the stems and gave them a thumbs up, your plan sounds solid. 

My husband's grandma gave me a couple of jars of homemade pickles. They taste great, but are really soft. Anyway to bring back the crunch, or am I doomed to munch on delicious pickles with an....unappetizing texture?

Once the crispness is gone, it's gone. Next time, convince grandma to use calcium chloride or that pickle crisp stuff in the pickling liquid to get a better texture. Also again the freshness and ripeness of the cucumbers matter most when starting the pickling process. If they are old pickles, harvested long ago, they will soften. You cannot regain the crispness in an old cucumber.

When I lived in DC, on my Tuesdays off from Politics and Prose, I'd sometimes go to 2Amys and get takeout that I'd munch on in the gardens of the national cathedral. I always got the same thing: bruschetta with tomato fondutta. That grilled bread, that tomato/garlic-basil mix is one that I can't stop thinking about now that I'm nearly nine months pregnant and no longer living in DC. Is there any way you can get me the recipe? I've tried replicating it on my own to no avail (it tastes watery and just subpar). Thanks in advance, I know you're capable of recipe miracles where mere mortals like me fall short.

We'll do what we can -- and PDQ! Send your email to food@washpost.com. 

I have one, and can't help myself. Other than your own books, which cookbooks are your favorite?

Ah, this is like asking to pick a favorite child! I find myself constantly returning to "Gourmet Today," which has such an amazing array of dishes. I can't imagine living without "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home." And my husband and I treasure "Curry Cuisine," a little gem I picked up a few years ago on the discount rack at Barnes & Noble.

As a Chef I have almost every professional or restaurant related book that comes out. It's an obsession and "research" is how I explain to my wife... Right now reading Edward Lee's Smoke and Pickles. That will change this week

In the world of addiction, you're suffering from one that has more benefits than drawbacks. Here are some of mine:

All About Braising by Molly Stevens

Julia Child & Co. (the orange paperback; it was a companion to a PBS series that Sara Moulton worked on)

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Essential Pepin by Jacques P.

ChocolateChocolate by Lisa Yockelson

Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij

Starting With Ingredients by Aliza Green

The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Cooking with Fire and Smoke by Phillip Stephen Schulz. The first serious grilling/smoking book I ever bought, and I still use it for recipes and advice.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. When the world gets complicated and all I want is beautiful, simple, spot-on Italian, this is the book I turn to. 

A Taste of Lebanon by Mary Salloum. I have several Lebanese cookbooks, but I always compare a recipe against hers.

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. I've long since moved on to different Cajun/Creole books, but I have a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Sure, this is like saying you like the Beatles. But I like the Beatles.

So many choices! It changes all the time, but to many of the above, I'll add:

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Marcella Says by Marcella Hazan

Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard

The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

The Flavor Bible by Dornenburg/Page

The Art of Fermentation by Sandoor Katz

 

Like chef Voltaggio, I have been paging through Edward Lee's cookbook lately. (Though as a dedicated $20 Diner, I don't cook as much these days.)

 

My favorites cookbooks include Simon Hopkinson's "Roast Chicken and Other Stories."

 

Nigel Slater's "Tender"

 

Mario Batali's "Molto Italiano."

 

And recently, I've been fairly obsessed with Sandoor Katz's "The Art of Fermentation."

Sorry, we fight that stuff in our yard all the time. Come on over and we'll give it away! (totally organic, no pesticides)

Don't fight it! Turn your neighbors onto it. 

Hope I'm not too late, but wanted to relay my recent experience making ice cream for my office's weekly Dessert Day. Using David Leibovitz's book and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams ebook, I made six different "bases" and then mixed in extras for some variety. I made Vanilla (and Peach Jam Swirl), Dark Chocolate (pureed real Maraschino cherries), Peanut Butter (grape jelly), Mixed Berry Sorbet (berry crisp), Lime Sorbet (graham crackers), and Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream (bittersweet choc chips). It took some planning but was delicious. I'd never heard of Jeni's method before the WaPo's article and chat featuring her a while ago. Thanks!

Those all sound great. You have an enterprising spirit.

I'm trying to eat healthier at breakfast, but I can't really stomach another smoothie, steel-cut oats, or yogurt (my previous go-to meals). I have more of a salty tooth than a sweet one, and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for breakfasts that are on the savory side, but also quick and healthy? Thanks from Vermont!

Frittatas can work for you -- load them up with healthful crunchy textures; they are easy to reheat in wedges for a few days. (And if you are worried about cholesterol, use an egg white product you like). 

Bread machines plugged in outside (watch for rain) are perfect for hot weather sandwiches, like BLT with ripe tomato.

?

More info, pls!

Sounds like Turkish eggplant. Among others, see here.

That could be it! Although OP said size of CHICKPEAS! Maybe just itsy bitsy Turkish eggplants.

Well, you've skewered us, rilled us (turning as needed), until we are charred on the edges, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Bryan Voltaggio, Carrie Allan and Jim Shahin for helping us handle them.

Now for the giveaway books:

The chatter who asked about what to do with the bounty of cucumbers will get "Nile Style." The one who asked about our favorite cookbooks will get "The Washington Post Cookbook," of course. Send your mailing info to Becky at becky.krystal@washpost.com, and we'll get them out to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading. (Oh, and TV watching -- and Bryan-cheering!)

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: chef Bryan Voltaggio.
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