Free Range on Food: Grilled pizza, baking and more

Jul 30, 2014

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! Hope you're enjoying this stunning weather -- but not until you stay inside long enough to shoot us a question or thoughts on some other chatter's query during this, our favorite reader-interaction time of the week!

Hope you are enjoying this week's food coverage, from Tim's eloquent call for a rethinking of the idea of "value" in dining to Jim Shahin's grilling-pizza adventures, Sarah Kaplan's take on the future of DC's food trucks, the debut of Lisa Yockelson's newest contribution to our pages, the "Treats" column -- and its first recipe for heavenly blueberry cake squares. And more!

So, what's on your mind, in your pantry, on your table, in your stove, on your grill? Throw any question that comes to mind our way, and we'll do our best to get you an answer. Joining to help us today are Carrie "Spirits" Allan, Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin, Lisa "Treats" Yockelson -- plus us staffers, of course!

To tempt you, we'll have giveaway cookbooks for the sources of our favorite posts!

Let's get started.

I can't wait to make Lisa Yockelson's Blueberry Cake Squares this weekend. I'm getting some local nectarines in my CSA box this week. Do you think I can use them instead of, or with, the blueberries?

Blueberry Cake Squares

Sliced or diced nectarines, while summery-fragrant, are mostly quite juicy. The batter I developed for the cake is rather light, but light enough to support blueberries encased in thin skins. If you use small chunks of diced nectarines and drain them well on paper towels it is POSSIBLE that the batter would support them, but this stone fruit is, honestly, not my first choice to add to the batter. I'd go with blueberries by themselves, and find another denser batter or dough for use in your lovely stone fruit.

A friend, who knows I love strong coffee, brought me a present of several bags of coffee from Turkey. In order to make the coffee I need a "cezve;" a Turkish coffee pot --which I don't have. I could buy one but wondered if you could suggest a substitute so that I can at least try the coffee before I make the investment. Thanks.

Turkish coffee is strong and sweet, and the cezve, or ibrik as it's also known, is a vessel for creating such coffee. The process is nothing fancy: take water and sugar, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then you add coffee and stir to incorporate the grounds over the heat. You wait until the froth rises to the rim, and then remove the ibrik from the heat. You repeat the heating/frothing procedure two more times to get the desired strength.

 

I think you could generally recreate such a process in a small copper pot or saucepan and see what you think. You'll have to play around with the ratios, but start with about four ounces of water to one tablespoon of coffee and your desired amount of sugar. It should make enough for one demitasse of Turkish coffee.

I finally got a powerful blender and even though I bought it to make nut butters and other stuff I would like to use it to make blended ice concoctions. The problem is, I’m diabetic and limiting my intake of fruits and sugary vegetables has greatly improved my condition, so I’m looking for other options out there. I have a couple of ingredients in mind that I could possibly use (not in combination necessarily): Tea, coffee, ginger, coconut milk, and in terms of fruits, lemons and avocado. Do you have any suggestions?

Sounds like you are a perfect candidate for our fantastic smoothie graphic from the other week. Have a look.

Could you please cook fresh food three times a day and deliver it to me, so I can ask more questions?

I'm game. Editor Joe, may I work from home and charge The Post for that delivery?

Couldn't you delivery by drone?

Can honey be used as a 1 to 1 substitute for agave syrup?

Actually, the answer would depend on what recipe either ingredient is included in--honey is denser than agave, so the latter may dilute a batter or dough a little more than needed.  I recently used agave in a middle Eastern salad dressing, and imagine that honey would be compatible. In a sweet sauce or ice cream, the substitution would not interfere as long as the amount used is low--that is, 2 tablespoons or less.

Recently I went to Osteria Morini where for dessert I had a cheese mousse that was flavored with Goat Cheese. (The dessert had fresh peaches, pistachio cake, sorbet and a lavender crunch.) I never saw a dessert before with Goat Cheese but thought I would be courageous, and it was so delicious. Are Goat Cheese desserts going on anywhere else? Have you seen it used in desserts before?

We are fans of pastry chef Alex Levin of Osteria Morini (you can try making his riff on Nutella). I am also a fan of goat cheese in desserts. Love the tangy edge it imparts. Just the other week I made a luscious goat cheese ice cream with roasted cherries. As far as other restaurants, I'm seeing a goat cheese custard at Red Light, goat cheese mousse at Cedar and honey goat cheesecake at Room 11. I'm sure there are others. Any favorites?

We have a few options in our database too.

I made the dynamite Pine Nut Shortbread With Goat Cheese Spread and Balsamic Glaze.

Pine Nut Shortbread With Goat Cheese Spread and Balsamic Glaze

We also have a recipe for Raspberry Goat Cheese Meringues.

I was delighted to see Joe's mention of a corn-soup recipe from Nina Planck's "Real Food Cookbook" in today's Food section. We've read Nina's previous books and know she's an advocate of real milk, by which she means raw milk. Indeed, it was her advocacy on the subject that convinced us to go the raw-milk route. So I was a little surprised to see Joe mention the role of milk in the corn-soup recipe but then not note any raw-milk preference from Nina's book. If she doesn't recommend raw milk in that or other recipes, does she have a standard guideline for what type of milk to use in her recipes? I'm guessing the closer to whole milk, the better?

Nina doesn't call for raw milk in the Cream of Corn Soup With Red Pepper Relish recipe, but she does briefly reference raw milk in a couple of spots in the book, including in the resources section at the back. In this recipe, she calls merely for milk, which I assumed meant whole milk, which is what I used -- but as noted, I think lower fat milk would be fine if that's what the cook prefers.

I am tasked with bringing a hand-held main dish (meaning no cutlery) for a picnic. Have plenty of salads so looking for maybe an interesting sandwich. Any ideas welcome. Oh, and no pork please.

Pans Bagnats a la Grecque can be pretty spectacular, and they can be made hours in advance to no ill effect. Check out the related recipes, too.  The Peanut Chicken Pitas we featured last week might be nice, too -- you could keep the filling in a container and put them together at the picnic, in minutes. In fact, you could set up a trio of fillings to suit all tastes and let people do the pita thing themselves. And for something kinda different, check out The Bart. I bet nobody else will bring anything like it! 

Here's another DEFINITELY different idea: Panino di Pizza With Cauliflower and Romesco. If you don't want to make the crust/bread, you can certainly do this on a big round boule instead. (In fact, the boule would probably hold up better for transport/crispness, etc.)

We have a gas grill....i know, I know. Can I use this week's pizza techniques in it, just not expecting to get the smoke taste?

     Yep, you can use a gas grill. The recipe instructions include gas grilling. If you want some smoke, simply put a wood chip filled smoke box or smoke pouch (tinfoil with wood chips in it, and poked with a few fork holes to let smoke escape) on a grate.

     Voila! Smoke.  

Hi there! Posting early because I love food and drink. I have a bit of a problem with my boyfriend. He has a wild side and kind of a trashy side which I really like,, but it can be embarrassing at times. For instance, his latest craze is Mad Dog 20/20 Habanero Lime-A-Rita. I have had a taste and yeah it's good,, but it sure is embarrassing having 10 bottles of it in our basket at the store. He always tells me "I drink for the taste", so I am hoping you can steer me in the direction of some classy drink that would have the bite of the habenero,, but also the citrusy enjoyment of the margarita taste. Thank you so mucho!

Hey! I like citrus and spice together too -- one of my faves. You might try either of these cocktails, which are tasty and classy enough that your friends won't snicker. And then if you want to get creative, I'd suggest playing around with muddling jalapeños with simple syrup and lime and tequila, which would create a fresher version of the drink he's embarrassing you with :). One other possibility -- there's a new liqueur on the market called Ancho Reyes, which is a sweet, smoky, spicy ancho chile-based beaut. It is terrific to play with, especially with tequilas and mezcals, and makes a hella good spicy Paloma. I know that Ace Beverage has it, but it's probably getting more widely available locally at this point.

Chilly Chile Paloma

Belle of Oaxaca

 

I recently tried some Honey Graham ice cream at a restaurant in Howard County and it was the best ice cream I've ever had. I was informed that the ice cream was made by Taharka Brothers. Does anyone know where I can buy this ice cream?

Google to the rescue. You can look this up on their site. Looks like pints are mostly available in the Baltimore area. Here's the list

Don't know how they compare, but I did recently test a Graham Cracker Ice Cream that was pretty darn good.

Graham Cracker Ice Cream

Thanks to all who responded last week to my cake spice question. I've been making Joe's Cardamom Brown-Sugar Snickerdoodles and I thought maybe a different spice blend for the sugar topping would be interesting to try. They're pretty fabulous anyway but I just wanted to play around with them. Thank you Joe. You've made me a rockstar in my office.

Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles

So glad you got good advice! Have you looked into advieh, which is commonly called Persian spice mix? I love it, and I used a version from Gryffon Ridge (a great spice merchant/mixer I ran into in Maine) in baked goods many times. Their version has cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and rose petals. I used another one from Oleana, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston, in the Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie I whipped up for Thanksgiving the last couple of years, too. Give one of them a try!

I sampled--and loved--the cookies at one of Joe's book-signing events--luscious!

Thanks, Lisa!

Posting early because I have a meeting over the chat today. Love this feature and you have answered many of my questions in the past, so thank you! I am bringing the food to a baby shower this weekend, set for 1 on Saturday. I would like to get as much done as possible on Thursday night. The guest of honor loves cucumber sandwiches but I am leery of doing too much beforehand because cucumbers are so wet. I already made a cream cheese/lemon spread, but I still need to purchase bread. What type of bread do you suggest? Can I slice the cucumbers on Thursday night and just assemble on Saturday morning? Should I aim to assemble them right before the start of the party? Thanks again!!

I'd slice peeled, seedless cukes and lay them on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till just before  you assemble the sandwiches. If you spread a  very thin layer of really good salted butter or cream cheese on the bread first, the sandwiches (crustless, of course) won't get so soggy. I'd use a firm sandwich white bread, like Pepperidge Farm Toasting White. I'm sure they'd be fine done an hour in advance, at least. Once you assemble them, try draping a barely damp paper towel over them, then cover with plastic wrap. 

What is a good fish for homemade fish tacos? We've been using cod and tilapia. Should we be using something different? Other toppings besides cabbage and a jalapeno mayo sauce?

 

Any sort of white fish, whether firm or flaky, should work well for fish tacos: flounder, haddock, rockfish, whiting, etc.

 

As for toppings, you could try this one out: Fish Tacos With Pico de Gallo-Black Bean Aioli. (See photo above.) It includes some raw vegetables to provide a little crunch.

How about some quick-pickled onions? A squirt of lime juice is nice too. I know there are haters, but I'll also speak up for cilantro.

For some reason (Christmas gifts? Wine clubs?) we have a whole lot of dessert wine in the basement. I sure don't mind drinking it on occasion but we are going to need a whole lot of occasions to go through the 20-plus bottles downstairs, mostly white, all sweet. Any thoughts on what else we can do with it?

You could:

-- cook some of it down to syrup consistency, then use that syrup to poach fresh fruit or glaze pork chops or chicken breasts or even drizzle it over ice cream or -- dare I say it? -- foie gras.

-- make summer slushy desserts, akin to granitas.

-- cut it with sparkling water or  prosecco to make 80s-style spritzers.

 

Chatters, I bet you can add on....

Joe, thanks to you I have been on a roasted vegetable kick. I've decided that any time the oven or grill is already on, if there is room to roast/grill any vegetables, I will. So far I have eaten a lot of cauliflower and carrots. Although it is not a vegetable, I also love grilled pineapple. I'm looking forward to the fall for beets. What are your favorites for roasting?

Glad to convert you! Really, just about any vegetable takes to grilling or roasting. Broccoli, of course. Eggplant. Bell peppers. Poblanos, other chilies. Beets, yes -- but don't wait until fall; plenty are in markets now. And, for my absolute favorite, it's cabbage! Here's a grilled cabbage recipe, but it's also great roasted at a high heat (or broiled, even).

½ cup sugar / ¼ cup flour / 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel / ¼ cup ( = ½ stick = 2 oz.) COLD butter / 1/3 cup slivered (sliced) almonds – Cut butter in ¼" bits. Mix sugar, flour, nutmeg, lemon, then cut in butter till crumbly; stir in nuts. Sprinkle over batter; bake cake as directed.

Personally, I love streusel and use it as a topping from time to time over batters that can support the topping without compromising the "crumb" and sinking the cake as it bakes. Tweet me how this works for you @sweetpinkbaker. The idea of this piece was to make a cake that's not too fussy--hence the dusting of confectioners' sugar as a finishing flourish.

The blueberry cake reminded me of a similar cake we were served everywhere in the Czech several years ago. It had cherries or blueberries, as those were in season at the time. It was called "bubliana," which was translated for us as "bubbly stuff."

Love the name of the cake!

For the chatter who likes spicy cocktails, I'd also recommend habanero shrub, made by Bittermens, which I think is also very good mixed with tequila or mezcal and other fruity flavors.

Great rec!

I recently made gougeres for an appetizer at a party. I imagined something all herby and strong cheese flavored, so I used herbed goat cheese. While good, the flavor was not what I imagined. Do you have any suggestions for a different cheese to use? Would using fresh herbs rather than just the ones mixed in the cheese help?

Gruyere and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano seem to work really well for gougeres, both in terms of how they melt into the dough and how the flavor holds up. Fresh herbs, yes!  

Here's a great recipe for a version by Michel Richard.

I have a 2spd Waring Pro with a pause that cna make anything a Vitamix can. Also ahs a stainless steel pitcher which makes the best milk shakes

Glad to hear it! I, too, have a Waring Pro -- and, frankly, I wish it were a Vita-Mix. The thing that it CAN'T do (or at least mine can't) is use a variable speed to start something on barely-on and slowly turn it higher and higher. It really helps avoid that splattering/exploding problem that sometimes happens when you want to blend something that takes up more than half the blender.

Well, don't nearly ALL of us wish for that? LOL! Seriously, though, I've made more time by fixing easier main dishes lately (with enough leftovers to reheat for at least one other meal a couple of days later), fixing green salads and/or simply-steamed vegetables, and eating lots of fresh fruit that's in season; I purchase artisanal breads and (occasionally) desserts.

Give that fan a contract. :)

Two questions. First, you've probably had this question before but I don't remember seeing it, so a link would be great if you've already addressed. Garden is going crazy with cucumbers. Have made several batches of dill pickles and pickle relish (though they aren't specifically pickling cukes) and want to try this from your database. Any other suggestions for using large quantities? Second, an eggplant looks ready to harvest. Any ideas for using that with thin chicken breast cutlets for a main course? Spouse doesn't care for Indian spices, but is open to other ideas (did eggplant parmesan with the first harvest). Thanks very much.

For the cucumbers, you could try making Cucumber Shrub

Cucumber Shrub

Or Spinach Cucumber Dill Salad. Or gazpacho. Or some of these other dishes.

For chicken and eggplant, how about a Thai curry with coconut milk?

I just read an article in Vogue about a journalist who was "forced" to eat lobster for every meal for several days as part of her research for the article. Her description of the meals makes me want to try a recipe. However, I don't think I want to buy a live lobster. If I buy a frozen tail, what suggestions do you have for a recipe?

Here are a few ideas, but remember the key is to thaw the lobster slowly and in a cool environment. You can place the unwrapped frozen tails in a covered pan and let them thaw overnight in the fridge.

 

Some recipes:

 

Grilled Lobster Tails With Zesty Butter

 

Lobster Bisque With Langoustines

 

Lobster and Shrimp Rolls

Jim Shahin gave good advice for lobster tails last week, if you want to do them on the grill. I paraphrase: To grill them, defrost and run a skewer through so they don't curl up. Cook meat side down over a medium-hot fire for about 5 minutes. Turn the tails over and grill for about another 4 minutes, spooning some melted butter over the meat. 

 

You could do them under the broiler, too. I'd like cross-section slices draped across a nice salad of butter lettuce, avocado chunks, watercress, maybe some citrus and a creamy dressing. 

Tim, I enjoyed your article, and I know on this chat at least, it's kind of like preaching to the choir, but, sometimes there is a difference. For example, a piece of gourmet chocolate costs more than the same-size piece of Hershey's, but it's more satisfying, enjoyable, rewarding, etc. I appreciate good food, and am not a super-sizer. The problem is going out for a good dinner that when you are done with it, you still need to stop for a snack on the way home. There is a point where you have the right to expect your dinner to be sufficient for dinner.

Thank you.

I understand your point: Everyone wants enough to satisfy their appetite. Unfortunately, everyone doesn't have the same appetite. A plate of sushi may satisfy my desire for dinner, but not yours.

God help the restaurant that ever had to cater to Diamond Jim Brady's appetite.

Sangria. All summer long.

This is something I've thought a lot about, but have never seen answered, so I thought I'd try it here. When prepping raw garlic, after removing the papery skin, do you cut off the little rough part where the clove had been attached? I generally cut them off, but I've noticed that recipes never specify doing so. They generally just say "garlic cloves, peeled and minced" or something similar. Is this an unnecessary step?

It depends on what I'm making and how careful or casual I'm feeling. If I'm mincing the garlic or it's going to mostly disappear in the dish, especially if it's cooked and not raw, I usually don't. If I'm, say, frying thin slices in olive oil, then I take it out.

I just finished reading Molly Wizenberg's memoir about opening the Delancey pizza restaurant, which I won from you in a recent chat giveaway (thank you so much--it was a great read). Now I'm in the mood for wood-fired pizza similar to what they make there: great attention to detail on ingredients and technique, but not a particular style like "Neopolitan" or "New York." Any recommendations for DC-area pizza places working in a similar vein?

Get thee to Etto. Immediately.

Prepare the thin-sliced eggplant as you would for Eggplant Parmesan, fry it, then serve as a side-dish with fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese & lemon wedges to squeeze.

I'd like to make some single serving mac and cheese cups in a muffin tin. What would you recommend for cooking temperature at time? 350 for 20 mins?

If you're using a recipe in which the mac's already cooked, 350 for as long as it takes to melt the cheese or brown the buttery crumbs (hint, hint) on top seems like a plan. You don't want the mac to get dried out...

I've also seen them at different Voltaggio restaurants, where of course they are delicious.

My Italian mother says that's heresy, but then she puts milk into her ciabatta....

    I hear ya! I thought it was heresy too. Then I tried it. Next thing I knew I was a convert. 

     Can a person convert to heresy? Discuss. 

I remember going to Le Pavilion in the 70's and knowing the portions would be tiny but spectacular---and they were. I had to get a snack afterward because I was still starving. I also remember going to Jean-Louis in the same time period and the portions were larger and more satisfying and really really good.

Well, that was really dinner AND a show. 

People also complained that Jean-Louis was expensive at the time, even though Chef Palladin was serving some of the priciest ingredients in the world, including foie gras and black truffles.

Hi Jim - loved the pizza article this morning! I'm going to get right on that! My son asked me an interesting question: Can you smoke a steak? I mean, of course one CAN, but DOES one? I mumbled something like "steaks are better grilled, smoking is better for tougher cuts that need the time," but I was totally making that up. Any thoughts?

      Depends on the meaning of smoke. And steak. I have had, and made, fabulous smoked prime rib. Once sliced, you basically have rib eye steaks. For more about this, check out my recipe.

        As for steaks generally, cuts such as sirloin tend to be too lean to remain moist over a long low-and-slow cook. They need fat to keep them tender. That said, you can infuse anything with a little woodsmoke simply by adding a couple of chunks or a handful of chips of hardwood. 

       Yesterday, in fact, I filled a chimney with wood chunks (no charcoal) and created an all-wood fire in my kettle because I wanted both a hot fire and a smoke flavor. 

 

I'm not on Twitter, but I do second you notion that confectioners' (10X) sugar makes the easiest cake topping. I especially like to sift it over cooled chocolate cake (recipe of your choice, but it works on anything from a light Devil's Food to a rich Mississippi Mud Cake).

And a dusting of confectioners' sugar is a simple finish for Bundt cakes as well as single-layer cakes baked in 8 or 9-inch square or 13 by 9-inch pans--though I do melt for a creamy, old-fashioned chocolate or vanilla frosting.

You could do a falafal pita, just bring falafal balls, hummus, other toppings, and people can assemble themselves.

I really enjoyed Carrie's column today on vodka. As someone who enjoys craft cocktails (buying and making), I've definitely noticed the snub, and I'll admit to adopting it myself. But the argument that vodka can serve as a "blank canvas" really struck a chord with my experimental side. I think that totally makes sense, and I vow to no longer snub vodka. But now to my question...which vodka should I buy? If vodkas don't really have much flavor, then there isn't any reason to shell out for Absolut or Stolichnaya, right? Couldn't I just get the big cheap bottle on the bottle shelf at the liquor store?

Thanks for the kind words on the column. I'm not a huge vodka drinker, but there are definitely cocktails in which it works and does a job. So, regarding brand: There are people who have passionate opinions about this issue. Just the other night I was at a bar listening to a bunch of dudes who were VERY opinionated about their vodkas -- one making a passionate argument for Grey Goose, one for Ketel One, etc. But a) they were talking about sipping vodkas and spirits for vodka "martinis" (putting quotes around that for the gin purists out there), and b) I think a lot of vodka brand loyalties have more to do with marketing/branding than with the end product. 

I honestly think that in most cocktails, these small nuances of mouthfeel and taste (because yes, some of them DO have a taste) kind of disappear, but I'm not sure I would say that a big cheap bottle is totally fine (some vodkas I've tried do have a certain harshness that remains perceptible post-mixing). I guess I would say find one that you like the taste of neat, and go for that, and also put in a good word for both Boyd & Blair and Tito's, both of which I think are quite nice (Tito's is the more affordable of the two). 

FYI, there's a new book on vodka out that had a great quote in it I just read last night: "The famous New York Times blind taste test--in which twenty-one leading vodka brands went head to head and Smirnoff came out on top--didn't mean they were all the same but that our preferences may be less top-shelf than we think." I thought that was a great point: more expensive doesn't mean you'll like it more. You might try out several types at a friendly bar willing to pour you some small samples, and see which one you like most. 

Can't have a real grill, but really want to use something that will approximate one on the top of my four-burner gas range stovetop. I've looked at everything from aluminum to cast-iron grill pans but want something easy to deal with and clean that will approximate what a real grill can do. Ideas?

When you find one that's easy to clean, let us all know! 

I have a "double-wide" cast-iron griddle thing that's ridged on one side and smooth on the other, with a raised edge. It's large enough to fit over 2 burners so I've got room to do a flank steak plus onions, say. 

       I have a Coleman's stovetop smoker. It provides pretty decent woodsmoke flavor to food. 

        As for an indoor grill, me, I think you're better off just adding smoked ingredients to your food, such as pimenton and smoked salt and chipotle. That's because you just aren't going to get that same grilled or wood smoked flavor from an indoor grill. 

         That said, if you have your heart set on indoor grilling, you might take a look at the DeLonghi 5-in-1 Grill and Griddle. I have not tried it, but I've heard good things.

Fortunately, I love to cook so I look at price vs. budget vs. time/cost to make at home. Thank goodness for you all: clam pizza on the grill and a cold bottle of white sounds wonderful and at the right price point. Family of 4 including 2 teen boys makes Etto out of range for pizza night, no matter how magical the ingredients might be.

Cooking at home, of course, is a different experience and comes with a different cost. It's an apples and oranges comparison. But I appreciate everyone's need to stick to a budget.

I made homemade rugelach last night for the first time, and I was surprised at how easy it was, and how well they turned out. One thing I had difficulty with though was rolling out the dough to a circle shape. Is there any secret? With the first round I tried shaping it into a circle first, but that didn't help much, and then second time I tried flattening it into more of a circle with my hands first, then using the pin. Better, but not great. They taste the same, of course, but I'd like to prefect the presentation.

When you first make the dough, divide it up and light pat the cakes into a rough circle (without overworking the dough). Now here's the trick to keep it round: Place the dough on your work surface and begin rolling from the center out, moving the piece of dough about 90 degrees, and always starting at the center. Keep moving the dough clockwise until you get to the place you started rolling. This should help you to keep it round.

I opened this article eager for some news on expansion of the trucks into different cities, but it seemed to only mention Arlington. I've been begging for them to come to Silver Spring for a long time, although I'm sure there are crazy MD regulations. Did any of the food vendors happen to mention it? I know some trucks now go to Denizen's in the evening, but that doesn't help for lunch, and I'm assuming that will stop once they get their restaurant up and running.

The last time I checked into Montgomery County regulations for food trucks, they were fairly onerous. I believe (and, please, someone correct me if this is outdated information) that food trucks must align themselves with a brick-and-mortar establishment, so patrons can have use of a restroom. The costs, I remember, are also higher than in other jurisdictions.

 

That said, there are taco/pupusa trucks that hide around some gas stations on University and Piney Branch. Some of them are quite good.

I almost always take the end off; because I find if I slice the end off the papery husk is easier to remove - even if I'm using the smash method of de-peeling.

I've got a bunch of those cute little white & purple eggplants from the farmers market. I think maybe they're called graffiti eggplants. Anyhow, making babaganoush with them due to the small size seems silly when I can do that more easily with a single large one. I was just going to do a stir-fry with Thai basil, but wanted to see if there are other interesting ideas that you might have for them.

Ever since I wrote a piece for the Boston Globe on a couple of outdoor parties thrown by some of my favorite chefs, I've been making a recipe for sweet-and-sour eggplant that basically calls for you to pan-fry a couple of medium eggplants (peeled and cubed) in batches in olive oil, then to make a sauce with honey, vinegar, crushed red pepper flakes and mustard seeds, and coat the fried eggplant pieces in it, cooking until they're really soft. I bet this would work wonderfully with those tiny ones -- you could just halve and stem them without peeling or chopping! Sprinkle with basil when they're done.

You could use a relatively mild blue cheese. I've done this before and even blue cheese haters love them.

I have great faith in Lisa's recipes, and the picture looks delicious -- but would it totally screw up the results if I used Greek yogurt (which I have on hand) instead of sour cream (which I don't)?

The consistency of the yogurt you would use depends on whether or not it would work in the recipe. An extremely thick (read: dense, dense, dense) would possibly make the cake a little too heavy, with a less-ethereal texture. If the density of your yogurt approximates the general brand of sour cream available, then yes, it would likely work. Otherwise, if it is very dense, you may want to thin it out (carefully) with a little milk.

I made Jeni's recipe for sweet corn ice cream with a raspberry swirl over the weekend, and the ice cream was delicious (yum, so corn-y!) but the swirl was a fail. The directions say to bring 2 cups of berries and 1 cup of sugar to a boil and boil over med-high for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees. I was using about a 6-cup saucepan on a gas stove, and after about 20 minutes, had only hit 210 degrees. When it started to smell like burning sugar, I took it off the heat. Of course, it froze into solid, jolly-rancher-like chunks in the ice cream instead of the promised still-liqiud swirl. What do you think I did wrong? I am tempted to try it again with high heat.

Good question. I suppose it's possible that your pot or flame wasn't getting everything hot enough, so you could try experimenting with the heat a bit. I suppose the shape of the pot could affect things -- maybe if it's too tall or narrow, you won't get as much evaporation. Not sure why it froze into chunks. Did you let it cool all the way in the fridge? And I assume you gradually layered it into the ice cream as you packed it into the container?

I can't imagine the mixture getting up to that heat that quickly. Interesting. You could also try it again in a wider pot.

I just returned from Turkey, where I found the most incredible yogurt everywhere I turned. It was delicious and creamy, but with curds in it. Does such a yogurt exist in DC? If so, where can I find it? It's hard to go back to the commercial yogurt available in the states, even the delicious stuff from Blue Ridge.

Very interesting. I'm working on a story about making yogurt at home, and I've produced some very good versions (if I do say so myself!).

 

As for the added curds, I haven't encountered that version. It would imply, to me, that some of the yogurt may be pressed, like with Middle Eastern labneh, and put back into the creamy yogurt.

 

I don't know where you can get that locally, but maybe some chatters do?

I'm finding twist-off caps, specifically on vitamin water, more and more difficult to twist off. Can you recommend any gadgets to help with this?

Have you tried one of those round rubber pads used for twisting off the lids of jars?

Jim definitely gave great advice on lobster last week. I grilled it and it was heaven. My only regret was not buying more lobster to grill.

       So glad. 

       About the advice working out, not the lack of enough lobsters. Always get one (or two) "for the table."

Cut them into thin rounds and grill them, then put them on a pizza with a smoked cheese of some sort (gouda, mozz). Add some olives, maybe some shaved asparagus, and/or goat cheese. Delish.

This says to me that your conclusion about the success of marketing over actual flavor is correct.

I've raved about this recipe before but it is that good. I've made it at least once a week with every type of eggplant I've found or grown. If you like asian flavors, this is a great option.

I got this as the veggie in a Thai dish recently and wondered if you know anywhere in northern VA that sells it. Thanks!

I hear you. Had a great gai lan (Chinese broccoli) dish recently at the Source. I think H Mart would be a safe bet.

For pies, I roll out perfect circles by first lacing the pie crust dough a rimmed (1"high) round pizza pan!

I believe you mean "tracing" and yes, this works nicely! For rolled rugelach, where the dough is rolled up to a crescent shape and the end is tucked in, it's not especially crucial to have a super-neat finish.

Greetings! A few weeks back, I asked what local foods to take to upstate NY for friends with various dietary restrictions and among other things, you recommended local fruits because the ones up North weren't yet ripe. Well, I took a supply of local peaches and they were a sensation! The only problem was, they were so juicy, the ones on the bottom got squashed and bruised during the drive. So, I recommend everyone pack them single-layer. I also took some San-J sauces, which are made in Virginia and gluten-free. I've not heard back yet about those. You also recommended Virginia peanuts and I wish I'd taken them, too, as my hosts kept a huge container of honey-roasted peanuts on the counter for all-day snacking. I'm thinking of shipping them some. Do you have a recommendation for where to buy them around here? Thanks for all your help!

Hmm, I had some stellar VA peanuts that I bought from a food expo last year, and I'm struggling to remember the company! Until I do (or if I don't), chatters, please help!

My family doesn't like pizza (I know, I know) but they love flatbread. How would today's dough work grilled without toppings? Could I sub in some whole wheat flour if I adjust the liquid to account for that?

    I think it would work great. Roll it to about a quarter-inch. It will thicken when you grill it, giving it a nice puffy thickness for flatbread. 

      As for the whole wheat flour, I haven't tried, so I can't say. But I don't see it wouldn't work.

Hi, Rangers, How long does cucumber water last in the 'fridge, with and without the cucumber spears in it? I recently left some "soaking" and five days later had to throw it all out. I'm also not sure what's the minimum time for flavor extraction into the water. Thanks much!

I'm surprised it didn't last that long! I've never made it, so not sure, but according to expert sources out there (aka Martha Stewart), it gets infused in as little as an hour.

I had the exact same thing happen when I used Jeni's technique to make blackberry-vanilla ice cream for an ice cream pie: the temperature topped out at 210, never reaching the prescribed 220. Then, as the liquid started to evaporate, the temperature began to fall, so I took it off the heat, since I was concerned that continued cooking would burn it (which it sounds like happened a bit to the other chatter). I then used the sauce, and it worked great, so I think the solution is to cook it until it thickens and not worry so much about reaching an exact temperature. It's not like you're doing something that needs to kill bacteria or be sterilized.

Thanks!

I enjoyed your piece today, Carrie. The only person I know whose spirit of choice is vodka (unflavored), is someone who drinks for the buzz not for taste. I am the opposite--I drink for flavor, and not too much, lest I get too buzzed and suffer the consequences. The only vodka I buy is potato vodka, which does have some flavor, I keep it in the freezer and occasionally drink it neat or with a piece of lemon zest, to accompany smoked fish or caviar. I also use it when making pie crust. As far as most vodka goes, it is just watered down grain alcohol, so you might as well buy Everclear and add water. There. I said it.

Thank you! Glad you liked it. I do think that vodka drinkers have a reputation for wanting a buzz without any flavor challenge, and I get why that is -- I just don't think it HAS to be that way. You can have a flavorful, complex vodka cocktail -- it's just that the flavor won't come from the vodka. And yeah, some vodkas (legal definition notwithstanding) definitely do have a taste and a mouthfeel, which becomes important if you're drinking it neat. 

I found Tim's article on restaurant value very interesting too. Because value is related to price, I think different people also have a different willingness for how much they're willing to spend, even if they value better quality ingredients. We eat out regularly, and aren't adverse to the occasional dinner for two that's well above $100. But I do want to feel I'm getting my money's worth. There's a farm-to-table restaurant in DC we've visited a couple times where the dinner is very good, but not $200 good, which is what the bill always seems to come to. In contrast, there's a new restaurant in our neighborhood where we usually end up spending about $150, yet I feel we get much more value from it, as I think the cooking is much more creative, even if the ingredients are as carefully sourced as the farm-to-table place. My mother, on the other hand, would be horrified by all of these places, as she thinks $75 is about her upper limit for dinner for two out, above which she feels like she's wasting money.

I think these budget/pricing questions are important. They fit into the equation of what you value. Clearly, the one farm-to-table restaurant does not meet your criteria, because the price point does not meet your expectations for quality. Or, to say it another way, you want more from your dollar, whatever that more may be. The other place does meet your expectations.

Now, I'd be curious to know how you're defining the value of these meals. I see that cost plays into your equation, but what about the meal does or doesn't make the cut? Is it pure taste alone?

I marvel at the notion that an 8"x8"cake would yield 16 servings (each would have to be only 2"x2" in area). I'm afraid I'd be able to get no more than 9 servings out of it -- and maybe only 4.

Well, the cake is that good that you'd might WISH for 4 squares, but as far as portioning out, the treat is cut into 4 quarters, then each quarter into 4 pieces. Enjoy as many pieces as you like!

I believe the poster meant "placing" the dough "in" a rimmed pizza pan.

Really? Might that not be awkward just to get a neat edge? Let's hear from the poster!

This is easier than it sounds--stuffed Indian eggplant.

I use a nut cracker every morning to open the twist-off cap on my bottle of joint juice.

Get some fresh ripe peaches from the farmers' market, peel if desired, cut into bite size pieces and serve with a good raspberry sherbet, frozen yogurt or water ice. Très Melba!

This may be a basic question, but where can I find dates? I'm just starting to tap into my culinary side, and I saw a dish I wanted to make with dates but I realized I have never remembered seeing them while shopping (which doesn't mean they were not there). I live in Capitol Hill if that helps.

Whole Foods carries pitted dates, sometimes two kinds. They're in the nut aisle. You can always find beautiful dates and baking dates (pressed) at Middle Eastern markets. 

Tim, I'll be very interested to read your article about yogurt. I love making my own yogurt because it's so much better than store bought. No comparison, really, and it's so easy. This time of year I like to take fresh picked blackberries and eat them on yogurt. Bliss.

Thanks! It's been a fun and educating experience. It is pretty easy, and the yogurt is so much fresher and creamier than the supermarket stuff.

To the dessert wine questioner, try to use or gift that wine within a fairly short time. Dessert wines don't store long unless properly chilled, etc.

Thanks for taking my Q! I let the sauce cool but just on the counter. It was cool enough that it was difficult to layer in, though, and I wondered if I could used a greased pastry bag instead of pushing it off two spoons. Wider pot seems like a great solution!

Yeah, give it a shot. I think the fridge part is important -- you want to get it pretty cold so that it's closer to the temperature of the ice cream. That way it wont chunk-ify when it hits the ice cream. I did something similar with her roasted cherries for my aforementioned goat cheese ice cream and while it was a little syrupy, I was able to spoon it in without much difficulty.

any way to get the Recipe Finder to print out the nutrition info? I liked the older version for this

Good question. We made the decision to not add that to the printer version to save paper, but it's worth considering adding it back. We'll discuss.

Thanks, Lisa, Yes, I've tried, but the rubber pads don't seem any better than a dish towel. Somehow ironic that I have trouble accessing the vitamins in the bottle that might make me strong enough to open the bottle ...

OP here, and yes, that's what I meant. It's true that I need trim the rolled-out dough, but only slightly. Besides, I love to bake the trimmings with cinnamon sugar the way my mother did when I was little, as a hot snack!

Practice helps, but if you're hopeless at it there are round piecrust bags you can get. Put the dough into one (flattened a bit first) and roll away until it gets to the edges. Voila.

Poster just back from Turkey mentions Blue Ridge yogurt is delicious. Where is it sold? Should I try plain or a partic flavor?

Blue Ridge sells at farmers markets and is in some WF and other stores. See here for details.

There are many types of gadgets for this. Some offer more leverage than the rubber pads. Just Google.

Tim, not to get too jump the gun on your yogurt story, but what did you use for cultures? A commercial yogurt with live cultures, or something from the internet?

I used a commercial yogurt with live cultures, and two heirloom cultures.

I went online last night to get the address for the restaurant supply store on Morse Street. Couldn't get it. Tried all sorts of variations in the search box, and all I got was a 508 error message. How does this work? Are previous weeks food sections available?

If you are a subscriber, you can page through previous papers on the E Replica. Here's the story link.

Celebrated my older brothers’ birthdays this weekend with several summer salads. The Dilled Shrimp, Mango, and Cucumber salad was demolished. WINNER!! Served lemon-meringue ice cream for dessert, which has been my frozen treat of this summer. A friend has made 4 batches for her husband thus far. While walking off our indulgences, she mentioned hers always comes out in layers once it freezes, with the lemon custard separate from the whites, despite folding together. I have not had this issue. We are trying to figure this out. We’re both using a double boiler. If anything, hers is closer to the simmering water than mine. She says her eggs never quite coagulate when making the custard part, but I notice a definite change, bordering on panic that I’ll have scrambled eggs.

 

Any ideas? I suspected her highfalutin’ free-ranging eggs might have something to do with it; I use typical ‘henhouse’ eggs. The brothers are now wondering how this ‘ice cream’ would do in a pie—awesome idea, I say! Graham cracker crust? I’m guessing we’d bake the crust and cool it first?

 

 

Yes to the baking of a crust first -- might also think about a shortbread-y crust instead of graham cracker, like the one in this blueberry pie. Re the separating issue, I wouldn't be so quick to blame the eggs.

Lisa had technical problems while adding this answer, so I'm doing it for her!

Without making the recipe myself, I would think about making sure that the curd was prepared to its properly thickened state and make sure that all elements are folded together carefully (and thoroughly). The eggs themselves may not have too much to do with the finished results--it would be more important to make sure that the curd was nice and thick and that the ingredients are combined well, BUT, I must say that pasture-raised eggs seem to have richer, thicker yolks--this may have influenced your results.

I'm thinking about making some homemade granola bars or those little "energy/protein/whatever balls" that I've seen online, but I haven't found a recipe I really love. Ideally, I want one that has nuts that aren't too ground up in them, some dried fruit and not too much (or any) processed sugar. They also have to keep well in a camper. Is there any hope?

I created a lovely granola barLisa's Oat, Nut, Fruit and Seed Bars recipe for FOOD, and they travel nicely.

I love the taste of blueberry with lemon. Your cake sounds delish as it is, but I was wondering if it could be altered to be a lemon cake. And while a scoop of lemon sorbet would do the trick for flavor, it would also add too many carbs! How would you recommend adding lemon zest, or juice, for a different spin on your cake?

Yes, just add 2teaspoons lemon rind and substitute lemon extract for the vanilla extract.

Well, you've returned us to the grill, closed the lid and cooked us until our crust is golden brown and crisp, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all your great q's, and thanks to Lisa, Jim and Carrie for helping with with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about those teensy-weensy eggplants will get "The Real Food Cookbook." The one who asked about grilling pizza on a gas grill will get Ruth Gresser's "Kitchen Workshop: Pizza." Send your mailing info to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and we'll get them out to you!

Until next time, happy cooking, reading and eating!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guest: cookbook author and new Treats columnist Lisa Yockelson.
Recent Chats
  • Next: