The Washington Post

Fourth of July recipes, choosing kitchen knives, springform pan bottoms, simple syrup, boating snacks, summer cocktails and more in Free Range on Food

Jun 30, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Well, hello there, and welcome to Free Range. How free are you feeling today? We have a lovely break in the heat spell, so today's ideas for July 4 recipes to make-and-take seem particularly appealing, don't they? Andreas "The Gastronomer" Viestad brings some nice salad thoughts to the table, too, while Bonnie's profile of Rossanna Aspite Grimm comes with some bee-you-ti-ful recipes. And Jane's tagalong piece in Spain with the Proof boys makes me super hungry for everything Estadio might serve up when it opens on 14th Street. I do love me some Spanish food.

What's on your mind, though? We have a couple of giveaway books to motivate you: "101 Blender Drinks" by Kim Haasarud and "Donatella Cooks" by Donatella Arpaia. Ask away...

First of all, thank you to Rossana Aspite Grimm! All her recipes sound delicious, but I will definitely be trying her passion fruit flan this weekend. Great way to use up that frozen passion fruit pulp that has been hanging out in the freezer. One question, is the flan really sweet? I've tried other flan recipes that use condensed milk and there was way too much sugar. Or does it just balance out the sourness of the passion fruit?

It's not too sweet at all.  I'm crazy for this recipe --  it's simple, easy, kinda foolproof as long as you can handle the caramelized sugar part. Even for a first-timer in that  area, it's good. If you're going to use pulp, you might want to strain it. That way you'll retain this dessert's very creamy texture.

I have been in the kitchen a lot lately and would really love to get/really need to get a set of really good kitchen knives. When I really didn't cook, my knife set was perfect since I essentially only used the steak knives. But now that I'm chopping, slicing, mincing, etc. I know I have to upgrade my set. Could you provide any recommendations on good knife sets? I don't want to spend much more than $300, but I do want something that is of great quality. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Thanks!

Unless you're POSITIVE you need every one of those knives in a set, I'd encourage you to avoid going that way. Most sets come with knives you'll rarely, if ever, use, such as a filleting knife, a long slicer, etc. This is a very personal decision, and I know people love some of their individual knives, and I'm sure I'll hear about it from chatters, but you can do 99% of your kitchen work with two knives: a cook's knife (or chef's knife) and a paring knife. Now, a bread knife is nice to have around if you often have whole crusty loaves around, and a utility knife can be cool for things like cutting tomatoes. But make sure you'll use everything before you buy a set. Otherwise, just look for a good chef's/cook's knife and a good paring knife to start, and go from there. What to buy? Go to a good store that will let you handle the knives and ask lots of questions. We have a profile coming next week of Nancy Polllard, founder of La Cuisine, and her store's a great place to check out knives. Personally, I've moved from liking a heavy, large, German knife (Wusthof) to preferring a lighter, smaller Japanese knife, such as the one I bought in Kyoto.

Here's a pic of the cook's knives owned by the Food section staff, just for grins:

I missed the chat last week but was delighted to see Edwards bacon mentioned. Down here in Charlottesville we love their "Surryano" ham too -- a little bite of salty, porky heaven ...

Absolutely. Have you tried the peanut-fed ham?

I like to take desserts to parties, but am tired of losing the bottom inserts of the pans. Can I bake using a foil-wrapped cake round instead? Or would lining the metal bottom with parchment paper do the trick? Thank you.

I would not recommend baking a foil-wrapped cake round, but if you have cake rounds on hand, transferring your cake to such a round just before you hit the party circuit would eliminate your problem. Parchment paper hasn't quite worked for me. How about  you, chatters?

Some friends came over last night and I made peach bellinis for them. But now I have a boatload of simple syrup left over (I made far too much for the recipe). How long will it keep? Is there anything else I can make with it? Thanks much.

It will keep in the fridge indefinitely. Just check the lid every week or so to make sure there is a tight seal.  You can use it for dozens of cocktails, for making lemonade, sweetened iced teas, punches, sorbets and granitas, for adding moisture to firm cakes and more.  It's easy to infuse some of the leftover syrup you have for further recipes, too. Easy to make, always good to have on hand. Search our Recipe Finder database with the phrase "simple syrup" to get a quick scan on possibilities.

Yes, there are so many uses for simple syrup. Lately, I'm surprised when I see a cocktail recipe that doesn't call for simple syrup. Just go back through my archive and you'll see that at least a third of the recipes prob call for it!

Our family takes frequent boat trips on the Chesapeake. Any ideas for good snacks to take? I'm looking for finger food that doesn't make too much of a mess. So far I've thought of cookies, fruit, carrots, and cheese cubes. I'd like something a little more gourmet that I could prepare at home and stick in the cooler.

Sure thing. For some reason I immediately thought of the Black-Eyed Pea Hummus that's one of the two dozen picnic-friendly recipes featured in today's Make It, Take It presentation.  I bet you'd find a half-dozen other good things in that list as well.  Dips like that aren't messy, are they?

Who cuts 12 servings from a 9-inch round? Those pieces in the photo accompanying the recipe aren't 1/12 of the cake. Please give more realistic nutrition information.

The slices are just like objects in your rear-view mirror -- slightly larger than they appear. :) We cut them larger so you could see the berries, etc. The nutrition information is realistic. This is a rich and moist cake, so we suggest 12 servings.

The recipe on the back page of the food section, calls for a pork shoulder. I submit that you could also use a boston butt as well. I also feel that if one has a slow cooker, (crockpot) handy, you will save energy and not heat up the house in summer...

Same thing, isn't it? Maybe just a difference in regional terminology.

Anything interesting I can do with bulgur? I bought it instead of barley by mistake, made tabouleh, fine, but what next? I'd like to use it up...

This one's different and quick to boot. See?

So last week I bought apricots for the first time at the Waverly Farmer's Market in B'more (along with blueberries, raspberries and cherries). Aside from cutting them up into a delicious fruit salad, how else would you suggest I enjoy them? I am not big on cooking fruit, but will entertain all suggestions. Thanks.

If you prefer raw, leave it raw. Do you like fruit in salads? Maybe a fresh goat cheese, toasted almonds, chunks of apricots and mache or other sweet lettuce? A simple vinaigrette with some tarragon would be nice on that.

Or for very lightly cooked fruit, you can grill it. Brush it with olive oil, lightly grill and sprinkle with salt. Serve with chicken or pork.

I have some Danish blue cheese that I would love to use in a salad. Could you tell me how to make a blue cheese dressing or vinagrette please?

A real blue cheese dressing has mayo and buttermilk or   cream. Combine about 4 ounces of cheese with 1 cup of mayo, 1 cup of buttermilk/cream, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor and whiz it. For a vinaigrette, just make a simple one: 3 parts oil to one part vinegar and toss in some blue cheese. You can also add a little minced garlic if you like it.

For the chatter last week with an overabundance of basil: I put the leaves in green salad as they are. Also: I was once served a basil caipirinha. Not being a cocktail drinker, I can't tell you what else was in it. A Google-search turned up a number of different recipes. Of course, if you're making appreciable inroads into a bumper crop of basil by drinking caipirinhas, you may have another problem ...

Good idea on the basil caipirinha. The recipe is easy: cut one lime into wedges and muddle in a rocks glass along with a tsp of sugar and basil leaves. Add 1.5 ounces of cachaça, pack with crushed ice and stir.

Hi, I need help with finding quick and easy meals to cook my family in the evening. I get home about 7 and my kids are starving, I'm starving, so alot of times I just stop at a fast food place and get something quick. I just recently went to the doctor and my blood pressure was through the roof, I'm not over weight and I'm under 35, so it's definitely from all the eating out I do. If I could maybe get some good suggestions websites to go on to find quick, healthy meals that would be great. Thanks!

For immediate munching, you could always have a batch of spiced nuts ready to go, or cut-up vegetables or grape tomatoes. Use the Advanced Search function in our Recipe Finder for "fast" "healthy" and "main course" and you'll get 186 options. And that's just a start.

I loved your food travel piece. I hope you feature more! Very excited to try Estadio, even though I've yet to make it to Proof, although I hear Proof has the best charcuterie program in the metro area - I LOVE CHARCUTERIE! Which leads me to: can you guys do an issue dedicated to homemade charcuterie? If I ask nicely?

Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. I am very excited about the opening too. Proof has lovely charcuterie but you should also check out Red Apron's stuff, which is available retail and at all the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's places such as Birch and Barley and Rustico.

I believe in last week's discussion buttermilk rolls were mentioned. I have been trying to make my grandmother's buttermilk dinners rolls to no avail. I've had her teach me but the "recipe" was full of pinches of this and pinches of that. I think I can pull it off if I had another recipe to structure her directions off of. Do you guys or any of the chatters happen to have a good generic buttermilk recipe I could use as a template? I don't think there is anything different or weird about her rolls I just can't seem to locate a general run of the mill recipe for them. Thanks!

As if the picture isn't enough to tempt you, let me just say: Those are some mighty fine rolls. Courtesy of baking maven Lisa Yockelson.

Anyone know where I can purchase these South African sausages? I'm craving me some grilled boerewors. thanks

Do you have a way to grill your own? Canales Deli in Eastern Market sells it, $12.99 per pound.

Our 3 adult, one toddler household is 2 weeks into a 16 week total kitchen renovation. We set up a temporary kitchen in a bedroom where we're keeping a microwave, toaster oven and rice cooker. We're trying to borrow an electric skillet. We have the use of our laundry room sink that is across the hall but have very limited prep space. The refrigerator is on a separate floor adjacent to the big renovation. We have a grill outside but haven't wanted to use it during the recent heat wave. Would love some suggestions of some simple food to eat so we don't eat cereal or takeout all summer long.

You can do a lot, actually! Toaster oven is fine for broiling simple chicken, pork or veal cutlets (rub with spices first) and veggies (I love broiler-charred asparagus), any of which can be served with rice, of course. You could certainly make the Sugar Snap Pea and Barley Salad (below) from today's section by making the barley in the microwave, and everything else goes in raw. I'm working on a Cooking-for-One column on cooking at work, using microwave, tea kettle, etc., and so far I've been playing with couscous salad w/beans & canned sardines, and angel-hair pasta nests with microwaved sausage and kale (but you could do the sausage in the toaster oven). Recipes TK.

My garden is finally starting to produce something other than lettuce and basil: I picked my first bell pepper and eggplant yesterday and today I'll pick the first summer squash! To celebrate I was thinking of incorporating all of these into tonight's dinner. I was thinking either some kind of ratatouille (with maybe some sausage) or just grilling all of it and making a veggie pizza. But I keep thinking I could do better. Any suggestions?

What about going in a Thai direction? Would you enjoy a green curry, perhaps? Some of those curry pastes are terrific. You could just stir fry the vegetables with ginger and garlic, add curry paste and simmer. Top with your basil or cilantro. 

We are about to experience garden cucumber onslaught. Any suggestions for salads to eat them up? My husband isn't a big fan of raw tomatoes, but pretty much anything else is fine.

How about this Cucumber Avocado Soup?

Hi, I received a bunch of garlic scapes in my CSA share and don't have that many ideas of what to do with them. I made a garlic scape pesto but it was really strong. Wondering is there are some ways I can add it to other meals for a milder accent. Thanks!!

I like using them in fried rice, as the base with onion in peanut oil before the other stuff goes in...

I made some whipped cream last night and had way too much leftover. says it's only good in the fridge for 1 day after so I froze it. The site claims it'll be fine for 1-2 months but have I completely ruined the texture? Should I just eat it like ice cream now?

The key issue is: Did you whip it with some sort of sweetening agent? That will make all the difference. If the answer's yes, and you defrost and rewhip it (important step, with a whisk, nothing major), I think you're okay.

If you're a foodie visiting DC for 24 hours, what shops and dining spots are on your must-see list? Where would you stay - is there any one particular neighborhood that is more food-friendly than another? (I assume there isn't a Top Chef DC tour bus...)

Penn Quarter is a good place to stay if you want lots of restaurants. (It's also close to the National Mall if you decide to walk off some of your food.) In Penn Quarter, I like Proof (modern American), Oyamel (Mexican), Rasika (Indian) and nearby, The Source (Asian). There's also a Cowgirl Creamery with great cheese, meats and condiments nearby there too.

That said, to eat the best in DC you have to zigzag around: Palena, in Cleveland Park, Ray's Hellburger, in Arlington, CityZen, downtown, Eamon's  (fish and chips) in Alexandria.


Clearly you have to stay for longer. If I were you, I'd consider staying in Logan Circle or even near the convention center, cause you'd have easy access to Penn Quarter for Jane's suggestions, all of which I second, but also to 14th Street for Cork and Masa 14 and to such gems as Corduroy and the Passenger (bar). If you go to Alexandria for fish/chips, btw, you have to go to PX for cocktails, too. And then to completely throw a wrench into things, i fyou want a Top Chef DC tour, you'd not only hit Zaytinya for Mike Isabella, but you'd HAVE to get out to Frederick to take in Bryan Voltaggio's Volt.

You need four days, minimum.

I went looking for wax paper at Target they other day and was astounded that they didn't have it. I also have trouble finding it at some grocery stores. Has wax paper fallen out of favor with the abundance of Ziploc bags and Glad containers and Saran wrap? Say it ain't so!

Not to worry; grocery stores still carry it. Maybe Target's saving shelf space.

Ooh, if the poster who made the peach bellinis (or anyone else, really), would like to share the recipe, I'd love to make it! I've been in the mood for one but don't know the best way to make one. I'd like to use fresh, real peaches (no peach syruppy stuff, thank you!)

The biggest thing to remember with Bellinis is to always use white peaches, not yellow. Use about 4.5 ounces of prosecco (always prosecco, not champagne or cava) and 1.5 ounces of white peach puree.


The best recipe I have for white peach puree comes from Scott Beattie's "Artisanal Cocktails": 5 white peaches, 1 oz. lemon juice, 1/2 oz. simple syrup, 4-5 dashes of peach bitters (which are optional). Run all of that thru a food processor on medium until smooth.

Melt 2 parts butter to 1 part brown sugar, then brush onto halved apricots (or other stone fruits). Grill until the fruit just starts to soften and has lovely grill marks. Serve with ice cream or sorbet.

Can you bring some of that over to us? :)

Like, now?

Thank you! They look exactly like hers! Everything looks the same. Instead of butter she uses Crisco but I'm sure I can make this work!

Joe is right, don't buy a knife set. Buying knives is like buying shoes: the fit has to be perfect or you won't use them, once you buy them - you have to take care of them. As your knife skills improve you will buy more knives for different tasks, and like shoes, you will never have enough. Having right knife at the right time is a real joy.

I get sad when I even look at that picture of my knife. It vanished soon after the photo shoot. No idea how. It definitely made it back to my house. I think -- though I can't imagine how this could have happened -- that maybe it got swept into the trash? Dunno. In any case I highly recommend my old eight-inch Sabatier knife. It's good for almost everything.

If you go to your local Williams Sonoma, I've found the staff there to be startlingly knowledgeable and helpful about knives.

I'm not sure I want to be startled when dealing with knives, but good to know. ;-) Seriously, I agree -- the W-S people are good. I'm not sure if La Cuisine has a setup whereby they let you actually cut on some veggies in the store, but a store I loved in Boston did that, and I supported it wholeheartedly (but not startlingly).

I feel the need to respond to last week's snarky question/comment: " I really don't get the cake in a box thing. I mean, if you have 10 minutes, I understand why some would use it. But if you're going to be adding things anyway, it literally takes an extra 5 minutes to mix the flour, baking powder, chocolate, etc.... " I was not the original poster, usually bake from scratch, and have never "cake doctored" anything, but here are just 2 reasons: 1. If you only bake once or twice a year, it just makes more sense to spend $1-$2 on a box than $10-$15 on ingredients that will probably go bad before you use them again. 2. If you have never baked from scratch, and your mother never baked from scratch, it can be intimidating. With a box, you are pretty much assured a consistent, decent result. Do we need to be so judgmental?

As judgments go, I don't think this chatter was being out of line -- maybe just coming from a baker's perspective. Baking powder's got a good shelf life and flour's freezable. Both are good things for even a non-baker to have around as pantry staples. Maybe he or she wouldn't agree with your assessment of "decent result." So, now we're holding hands and singing. All buddies. 

OK, who is the proud owner of that humongous wooden handled knife???

That would be Leigh Lambert, aka Flour Girl, who's out on maternity leave... Don't mess with a new mother!

Hi all, For those of you who are looking for dinners that don't require turning on your stove I know that gaspacho is an easy answer but someone recently recommended to me stirring in cooked shrimp after you blend the veggies as a twist and I tried it last week to delicious results. Thought I'd pass on the tip!


I seem to be having trouble deciphering the start of the next round for the Pillsbury Bake Off. I suppose that I'm asking you to google this for me, but honestly I am confused by the info on the official site. I can't tell if the 44th Bake Off is still open, or when the deadlines for that are if it is. I guess I'm hoping that the Free Range or the chatters have some familiarity with this and can point me to info that will clear it up for me. Please?

The 44th? Oh, yeah -- winner decided long ago. The Web site here has in big letters: "$1 Million Winner Announced."

How about wax paper under the cake - it should slide off easily. I usually line my cake pans with it.

Was the chatter discussing paper as a seal in a pan with a removable bottom? That's where I was headed. Wax paper works in regular cake pans as long as it's completely covered by the batter/cake.

Yes dips can be difficult on a boat. Motor boats can be too bumpy and sail boats heel over too much. For me it must be eaten in the hand with minimum mess. Some things I love on boats Wraps of any type. Even fresh asian summer rolls , tortilla wraps, lettuce wraps ect. This is much less messy and much more easy to eat one handed. Nuts- spiced or salted is great mini cupcake pans lined with either pastry dough or fillo to creat mini quiche mini pies, mini turnovers these can be sweet or savory

I love the idea of summer rolls.  You can also do anything on a toothpick. Sausage, maybe? Or I made these fun little skewers for a party recently: grilled shrimp, feta, cherry tomato and a mint leaf. Pretty.

A salsa-type dip could spill, but hummus? Not so much.

After losing many springform pan bottoms, we started making our own. We trace the original pan bottom onto cardboard, cut out the circle and cover in tin foil. Then put the new, disposable bottom into the springform and bake as usual.

Super smart!

I have learned a thing or three today.

Funny you should have a book about blender drinks. I drink red wine most of the winter and was just thinking I need something different for the summer. Any favorites that aren't too heavy (read calorie laden) and are refreshing on a 100 degree day?

How about a real piña colada? I know, I know, it sounds "calorie laden" right? Well, here's a piña colada recipe that doesn't use that heavy Coco Lopez nonsense, but calls for coconut water instead -- and coconut water is like downright healthy! This recipe also calls for juicing real pineapple. And the spirit is white rhum agricole from Martinique, which is amazing, but you can try other rums, too.

I got my mother-in-law's market basket this week since she's out of town and my FIL prefers pizza when the Cat is away. Apart from soups (no storage space), what on earth do I do with the green onions (stalk & bulb)? Can I make pesto with purple basil? And I know I am supposed to saute bok choy (right?) but with what? Oil? Soy sauce? Please help make healthy more interesting!

Oh my goodness! The panic!

Use the onion bulbs for anything you'd use an onion for. Or since it's fresh, show it off in a simple onion and herb omelet. You can definitely use the purple basil for pesto, though, as I understand it, it won't stay purple. Bok choy is great steamed with a little ginger or sauteed. Trust your instincts. You clearly know what you are doing.

One of my favorites this summer has been from orzo with grilled shrimp, summer vegetables, and pesto vinaigrette. Soo yummy, substantial enough to be a main, but still light enough to be a side or light meal.

Sounds good, but we tried to stay away from seafood and other ingredients that would need refrigeration.

Target does try to save shelf space for more convenient foods-- mine also doesn't sell baking powder or vinegar.

Wouldn't hurt to ask the store manager to carry those things.

I think there was an article recently about using whole fruit (strawberries?) in drinks-- might be alterable for your fruit. Or grilling them in foil and serving over ice cream... yum.

Yes! There was indeed a recent column about using berries in cocktails, right here. In fact, I can't think of a better strawberry drink than the light Chambery Fraise.

In yesterday's "Chatological Humor" with Gene Weingarten, a reader asked if "it [is] true that the new chat format does not provide the anonymity that your chatters have come to expect" based on a June 16 chat in "Free Range on Food" in which a Food staffer responded, "Nice try, but we know you ARE the original poster. Think we can't see your IP address? Well, we can." (An IP address being a code that identifies a particular computer on the Internet.) While Gene's chatter approached the matter rather tongue-in-cheek, it has made me wonder based on the original response if, indeed, this chat format does allow less privacy for chatters. I enjoy reading this weekly chat very much and have submitted several questions before, but always under the assumption that participation was usually anonymous, except for what information a chatter chooses to provide. What personal information does the Washington Post and its staffers have access to in this (and other) online chats?

This is from Live Q&A editor Paul Williams:

Sure – we know everything about you and we sell all of your info to Facebook.

Kidding! We can see the IP address of the network the question came from. It's not very specific information -- we don't currently do anything with it; the idea is that eventually we'll be able to block spammers and trolls.

When the new platform launched, if you were logged in to it reported your user ID with your question. That hasn't been the case since about Feb. though.

Eventually some shows will require registration – if we want to offer prizes during a show, for instance. And we will be transparent about the fact that you have to sign in and we will see your ID.

But as far as I'm concerned anonymity is a huge part of the popularity of shows like Gene's, Hax's and Prudence's, and I've argued against efforts to require registration for all shows.

I'd be interested to know how many people are bothered by the IP address issue; if it's significant I will add info about it to the editor's note that appears with the Submit Question box and investigate making it optional or disabling it.

I recently found a recipe for paneer (Indian cheese), which I didn't even realize you could make at home! (Boil milk, add an acid, drain, and press - voila!) The one thing I can't figure out is how much it matters what type of milk I use. Does the volume of cheese (i.e., curds) depend on how much fat is in the milk I use? Or are those two separate things? I did my trial run with a quart of 1% milk, and was surprised at how little cheese it yielded - but I don't know if a quart of whole milk would've yielded more, or if it would've been the same amount, just fattier!

We don't know here. But I have an email out to an Indian food expert. In the meantime, in case she is not immediately available, I'm going to throw this out to chatters. Anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a question about marinating a grass-fed beef fillet . Thanks, Bonnie, for recommending a simple marinade that didn't overwhelm the steak. I ended up using canola oil, lime juice and pepper. I left it on for about an hour. I had read that these steaks need about 20% less time to cook, and it worked out that way - a quick sear on the grill, cooked about four minutes each side, and I had perfect medium rare. The flavor of the beef came through, and it wasn't dry at all. Thanks so much!

It's Bonnie to the rescue. Again.

After visiting France a few years ago, I was able to experience the wonder of a French baguette. Obviously, they are infinitely better than anything you can even think of buying state side. After looking up many recipes and trying to find the differences between glorious French baguettes and the terrible ones here, I finally came across a recipe that called for no bran flour. Okay, so no stores sell that. Where can I find it and buy it in the DC area (preferably Northern VA)? Thanks a ton :)

Because we seem to have bakers in the house today, weigh in here:  Doesn't "no bran flour" just mean regular white, wheat flour?

Agree generally that two knives are really all you need -- but, we use a small serrated tomato knife from Hofritz so often for fresh tomatoes in the summer that it is really essential. We have not found another that really slices a fresh garden tomato thinly. Plus, it does a good job on bread.

Hello - I'm planning to try out the recipe for Callie's biscuits. I'll be baking for myself, and was wondering if the biscuit mix can be frozen?

You can certainly roll them out, cut them and then freeze them. (They go straight into the oven from frozen.) But do not just freeze a bowl of the batter.

Can't bring you any now because, alas, my grill is broken! I love this way of grilling fruit so much--and make it so often, when the grill's working--that I skip chocolate all summer long in favor of it. I can't really give it a more ringing endorsement than that! :-)

Dilute it to 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and use it in your hummingbird feeder.

why can i not love thee? i've tried and tested numerous times, and i can NOT get excited about the margarita. am i just not having the RIGHT margarita? i love tequila, i love citrus, heck, i even love ice, but all together, it doesn't do it for me. any tips on creating (and enjoying) a proper margarita! i can't imagine the fishbowl size concoctions at bars and restaurants are even close to what the originally intended cocktail was!

The basic margarita recipe is simple -- tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur -- but there are so many variables. What sort of orange liqueur do you use? I would use Cointreau, a name brand rather than a generic triple sec. What sort of tequila do you use? Make sure it's NOT a "mixto" like Cuervo Gold, but rather a 100% agave tequila. And will you use a blanco or a reposado (which rests is oak for several months)? And then there's the lime juice -- make sure you're squeezing your, and not using a day-glo mix.

But maybe after all that, you just don't like margaritas? Ok. So why not try substituting grapefruit juice in for the lime juice. I think grapefruit actually mixes better in some cases with the tequila. There's a popular drink in Mexican called a Paloma that calls for tequila and grapefruit soda (like Squirt), but here's a version that calls for real grapefruit juice and is more like a margarita. Good luck!

Having a meeting in our home, at an after-dinner time, but I'd like to have refreshments. I know the group will enjoy a glass of wine, so I am thinking about Ina Garten's chocolate cupcakes (sorry Tom S.) as an option for the red drinkers (merlot). For the white drinkers, I am thinking about a Riesling with blueberry buckle... or a berry/fruit salad. We won't be at a table, so I am trying to make things as easy to juggle as possible (which makes fruit salad less appealing, although I like it better as a healthier, non-baked option). Can you give me some better ideas? Thanks!

Cookies and crackers (both sweet and savory) are nice things to have with wine. Less fuss than unwrapping a cupcake or watching it fall, frosting-first, on the floor. You could try nice peppery Viennese chocolate cookies and Savory Pecan, Parmesan and Thyme Shortbread. If you  had leftovers (doubtful), both of these could be frozen.

I am not an avid espresso drinker but would like to make some for my guests from time to time. I have one of those stove top stainless steel espresso makers. However, the base of the espresso maker is only 3.5" in diameter. If I was cooking with gas that would not be a problem. However, we do not have gas, unfortunately, where I live. I cook on a ceramic glass top stove and the smallest burner is 6" in diameter. The instruction book for the stove specifically warns against using a cooking utensil smaller than the element.. Is it really critical to obey that prohibition ? What is a good solution to the size mismatch? I tried to search for a portable electric cooktop with a small element but they all seem to have much larger heated surfaces.

OK, I've resisted weighing in, because I don't want to come across as a snarky naysayer, but ... I don't think it's worth trying to adapt your stove for this occasional "espresso," especially because, well, there are so many better ways to make coffee, IMHO. Now I know I'll probably prompt an outcry from people who swear swear swear that the stuff that comes from these moka pots is just as good as any espresso you can get anywhere, but, well, I sort of hate it. If you love it, you could instead invest in one of the ones Bialetti makes that plug in rather than use the burner. But I'd highly recommend that instead, you invest in a simple single-cup dripper mechanism that works beautifully well with a tea kettle. Especially since you're not doing this very often. It won't be espresso, but the coffee will taste much better, believe me.

Any suggestions for a really good frozen margarita (that I could also do on the rocks for me)? My mother-in-law is coming to visit soon, and she normally just gets one of those awful bucket mixes, so I'd really like to impress her with something fantastic!

The Tex-Mex standard recipe for frozen margaritas is this: Open one large can Minute Maid frozen limeade, and dump in the blender. Fill the can halfway with good tequila (I like Sauza Hornitos Reposada), and dump that in, along with, say, a quarter-can of Cointreau and the juice of 3 or 4 fresh limes. Fill the blender with ice, and blend until smooth. Garnish with a lime slice, of course. You can't then do this on the rocks for yourself, I'm afraid, but you've got all the makings right there -- and can follow Jason's classic recipe already posted.

If anyone on the boat will be fishing, be careful -- anglers have funny food superstitions! Bananas especially are a no-no. (My brother, a prolific fisher, also eschews peanuts on board, though that might be particular to him.)

Huh. Funny. I wonder why that is bad luck to him. Find out and report back.

hello foodies! i love reading about cooks who grew up having lavish weekly meals chock full of homemade recipes passed down for generations. while my mom and grandma were amazing cooks, we never had those types of long, drawn out meals where people lingered for hours nibbling and sipping away. i would LOVE to create that for my children.......though i don't have that large of a family, i bet i could persuade some neighbors and friends to join in and re-discover the importance and fun of a large gathering of people sitting and breaking bread together. any ideas on how to pull this together so that it is not so much of a stressful dinner party, but of a relaxed, rustic, family type meal? what do you think the trick might be to convince people that this will be a wonderful weekly ritual so we can all step back from our busy lives and reconnect?

What  lovely idea! I think the keys are either to have a very good cook at the helm (who doesn't get stressed) or to make it more of a potluck so it's not a lot of work for anyone. My friends and I had a good Sunday dinner thing going last summer. Sometimes one person cooked but mostly the host announced what he/she was making for the main course and then assigned others to bring nice apps/sides/desserts that worked. Start early. End late.

I hope this isn't a dumb question, but re: the bellini advice -- what exactly is the difference between prosecco, cava and champagne?

Ah, not a dumb question at all! All three are sparkling wines, but they all come from different regions, are made with different grapes, and with different methods. Champagne of course can only be made in the Champagne region of France, prosecco in a small area of Italy (there's a DOCG called Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to look for on the label) and cava from the region near Barcelona in Catalonia. In the case of the Bellini, prosecco has more pronounced orchard aromatics of apples, pears, peaches, etc. that will work better in the drink.

How long can flan be kept before tossing out of the fridge? I have a ramekin of flan that I baked last Tuesday, but haven't been able to get to that due to the sudden appearances of other junk food/sweets.

I'm kind of a 3-days and it's out person -- in theory. (My fridge right now is a scary, scary place. But I intend to clean it out, not eat through it.)

Another way to avoid losing springform pan bottoms...put the bottom on a sheet of aluminum foil, take scissors and cut the aluminum foil so that there is only about 1-1.5" extra around. Cover the bottom from the top and fold the edges underneath. Insert into the springform. When done and cooled, pop the springform off, unfold the edges of the foil, and use the foil as a "sling" to transfer your dessert to a sturdy plate (prefereably one that is the same size as the springform and has a slight lip to hold your dessert in. Then you take the plate and leave the springform at home. If the dessert is not that firm and needs the support of the springform frame, put the springform frame back around the dessert on the plate. You can get plastic plates from the dollar store that are about the right size and then you never have to worry about losing the springform bottom, only a dollar store plate (which you can just leave when you leave the party).

That sounds Cook's Illustrated-worthy.

Just wanted to comment on the addition of photos to the chat: It's wonderful!

Thanks! We're trying to use it more. Things move quickly backstage!

Non-alcohol...traditional southern sweet tea.

Another great source for easy weeknight recipes is NPR's "Splendid Table" -- you can sign up for a weekly e-mail newsletter with recipes that are (usually) quick and easy to make after work, and they're presented seasonally, so you can take advantage of fresh, better-for-you ingredients, too.

After two decades of hating the stuff, I finally found a BBQ sauce I like! Actually, scratch that, love. The problem is that because I never liked BBQ sauces before, I never used any BBQ recipes. So now I'm at a loss on what to do with the one I love. Slop it on some meats and then grill them? I don't have a grill yet (waiting until August), so can I just broil them until then? Would shrimp and fish work? The sauce is heavy on the tang and very light on the sweet (which is why I love it.) What foods and techniques would work best? Thanks for all the help!

I think it depends what's in it. If it's a heavy tangy tomato one, it might overwhelm a lot of kinds of fish and be better for heavier meats. I tend to like citrus and herbs on delicate meats.

Also, the general rule is to grill/broil THEN slather with barbecue sauce, to avoid burning it. But if yours isn't too sweet you might be safe...

This idea works for both the boater looking for hand snacks and the CSA person who doesn't know what to do with scallions. Take croissants (Pillsbury refrigerator ones work well). Unroll the whole sheet. Rub thin layer of softened butter or Crisco onto the croissant with waxed paper. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Spring diced scallions/green onions and diced ham. Roll the croissants up making sure to tuck in any filling squeezing out. Cook as per package directions (you might need to cook a little longer to ensure good browning). I prefer Country ham which you can get in the supermarket meat department. A single ham steak or more than enough for about 2-3 rolls of croissants. Best served hot, but quite good served cold for on the boat. If storing in an airtight container for boating, make sure they are cooled all the way before boxing them or they'll get moist and mushy. Yum! My mother has been making these for us for over 30 years.

Dips might not work as well, but spreads could if you pre-spreaded thicker dips like hummus or cream cheese based ones on crackers or pita chips. Or small pieces of bread for tea-type sandwiches. Sounds a little labor intensive but delicious and possibly the more gourmet you're talking.

Ah, thanks for the memories! It's a big blue watery roooaaad.

we have always made our paneer with whole milk because it gives a richer taste (i'm indian btw). i have tried it with 2% with good results, i wouldn't normally go lower than that though. you do get surprisingly less solids to the amount of milk you start out with, but that might be the case with alot of cheese making. i love fresh paneer, make sure you try it with spinach (saag paneer), it's my all time favorite! it's also great grilled on the grill on skewers with chunks of onion and red and green bell peppers!

Uh-oh, I didn't know it was supposed to be refrigerated. How long do you think it's good when stored outside the refrigerator? Thanks.

If you've left it out more than a week or so, I'd maybe make a new batch.

I think that you can now see the IP address is a great improvement. Besides trolls like the guy that always posts about his herding dogs, you can also see, for example, if there are a bunch of comments railing against a particular restaurant if they really are from a bunch of different people, or if there is just one person out there that really has it out for a place and wants to make it seem like there are lots of people complaining. If you're saying something so sensitive you woudln't want people to know who said it, you probably shouldn't be saying it in a public forum anyway.

Yes, this has enabled us to identify sock puppeters for sure, which makes the chats more reflective of how the entire audience feels, not just one chatter posing as many.

Instead of Rose's use fresh lime juice and simple syrup to make a true gimlet -- perfect in this hot weather.

Kudos, for the adding of the pictures in the live chat! The pictures are worth a thousand words!!!!

Heading to Barcelona in a few weeks -- a group of 6 adults. Did the restauranteur and chef from Proof make it to Catalonia? Any recommendations?

Oh my goodness. LUCKY you. I love Barcelona. My top recommendation is El Suqet dell'Almirall. It's down by the port. Just the kind of place you'd walk by without glancing at. (The menu is in English outside, usually a no-no for me.) But it's incredible. The chef, Quim, has Thomas Keller-level technique -- and believe me, we know; yesterday he personally informed us that our zesting technique needed some improvement -- to simple Spanish food. He does an incredible black rice. And wonderful seafood.

I also recommend a place called El Quim (different guy) at the Boqueria.

Eric Ripert has a whole section on his website called "Toasted" - everything made is in a toaster oven.

Yep, I had the privilege of talking to him about it. Love it. And him.

Hello! Any suggestions for a Fourth of July cocktail? It's gotta be red, white, and blue obviously and not too complex :) Thanks and happy Wednesday!

Blue? I'd stay away from blue cocktails, unless maybe you want to muddle, red raspberries and blueberries into the caipirinha (white spirit) recipe I suggested earlier, instead of the basil...

Should I be brave enough to try making paella at home? We were at a party where a professional cehf was cooking it up and now my kids want me to make it. Not even sure where to buy saffron. Thanks.

Yes! Saffron's sold at most grocery stores. Sometimes it's kept at the front office because the per-pound cost is steep. Paella works best when you have a real paella pan, of course, wide and thin and low, but get the right kind of  rice and try a basic recipe on the box. You'll be hooked. There are so many variations. And if you're near A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market  in Bethesda, you can get everything you need in 1 stop, including the pan.

I have lots of apple cider vinegar and no white wine vinegar. Rather than buy white wine vinegar, I'm wondering if I can substitute what I do have, and if some recipe modification is needed? Thank you!

For the most part yes. But just think about what you're making. Unless it's a very very strong apple vinegar and you are making a very delicate recipe, it should be just fine.

I used the garlic scapes from my CSA in a stir-fry (4-5 of them) and my husband grilled another bunch of them to serve with steak. I've also made pesto and have used it in a cream sauce over pasta and to flavor oil to brush over chicken, veggies, salmon.

For the after dinner dessert, I've always loved Cinnamon buns as a dessert. You can make fresh or use the refrigerator ones from the supermarket (which are quite good). They'll go with the white wine well.

what do chefs' kids eat? would love to know what you feed your babies & children....when i little (i'm 30, not ancient), i ate whatever my parents ate, just mashed up or in small pieces. now everyone buys baby food jars and special kids' food...

Word. I always get a little annoyed when people say I need kid-friendly food. It supposes that kids are only capable of eating burgers and chicken nuggets.

I love a black bean and corn salad. I make mine with red peppers, jalopenos, red onions mixed with black beans and corn, olive oil, red wine vinegar, cumin, salt, pepper, a taste of sugar. Lasts quite a while in the fridge and is great with chicken or pork.

At a cooking demonstration I attended someone mentioned pureeing a bunch of garlic scapes and using them in recipes where chopped garlic is called for - no more mincing and this keeps in the freezer.

As the person who submitted the guide for wrapping the springform pan, I'm flattered to be called "Cooks Illustrated-worthy". CI and ATK are probably my favorite resources. But I came up with this all on my own. That made my day!

For the red white and blue drink Serve a strawberry margaritta with white salt on the rim and a stir stick of blueberries.

Well, you've placed a large serving plate over us, creating a tight seal to catch our snarky sauciness, then you've carefully inverted us onto the plate, removing the pan, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- hope you liked our a's!

Now for the giveaway books: "Donatella Cooks" goes to the chatter who suggested the aluminum-foil sling solution for a springform pan. And "101 Blender Drinks" goes to the chatter who asked about making one of my favorite drinks, frozen margaritas. Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy eating, drinking, cooking, drinking and reading.

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