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Free Range on Food: Baltimore Farmers Market, Semifreddo, Potluck Recipes and Guest Expert Aliza Green

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, July 30, 2008; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Food section staff is a chance for you to ask questions, offer suggestions and share information with other cooks and food lovers. It is a forum for discussion of food trends, ingredients, menus, gadgets and anything else food-related.

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Each chat, we will focus on topics from the day's Food section. You can also read the transcripts of past chats. Do you have a question about a particular recipe or a food-related anecdote to share? The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Read about the staff of the Food section.

The transcript follows.

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Bonnie: What's shakin', chatters? Welcome to Free Range, where we can speak freely about farmers markets, frozen fish, half-frozen desserts or whatever fully defrosted, food-related questions are on your mind.
Editor Joe's away, but in a little while we'll be joined by Aliza Green, fresh from Philly. She's a former restaurant chef who's responsible for a few of the helpful Quirk Book Field Guides (to Seafood, Produce) as well as her great "Starting With Ingredients" cookbook published in 2006.
And for the sources of our two favorite posts, we're giving away books: "You Won't Believe It's Gluten-Free" by Roben Ryberg and "Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden" by Lee Reich.
And away we go.

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Richmond, Va.: Good afternoon, Rangers. I would appreciate your help - I am looking for a fun main dish recipe to bring to a potluck tomorrow night for a bunch of hungry college students. The group runs the gamut from healthy vegetarian to burgers and beers. The dish will have to be prepared in advance and preferably nothing hot (no place to plug in). Thank you in advance.

P.S. Your semifreddo article was great. Food and Wine also has an excellent S'mores semifreddo recipe complete with chocolate sauce and graham crackers in their June issue... divine!

washingtonpost.com: Semifreddo S'mores (Food and Wine, June 2008)

Jane Black: I assume that means that it has to be vegetarian. This is a nice recipe from our database that makes use of all the great vegetables in season: Moroccan Ratatouille with Dates. You can bring couscous and eat both at room temperature.
Chatters, any other suggestions?

Bonnie: Maybe a fish taco assembly line? Or a variety of quesadillas? Wrapped properly, the latter can remain at edible temps for a good while.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you know of any Bennigan's in the area that are remaining open?

washingtonpost.com: Bennigan's files for bankruptcy protection (AP, July 29)

Leigh: We were unable to reach anyone at the Bennigan's corporate office (ominous sign), but if their website is accurate the Greenbelt and Rockville Bennigan's are still operating.

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Washington, D.C.: Well, the Post sports writers always get this complaint so now it's your turn. I do not live in Baltimore. I live in Washington, D.C. I do not care to read about the O's, the Ravens or Baltimore's Farmers Market. I want to read about this area's food finds - and the Redskins, Nationals, Mystics, Wizards, Caps and D.C. United. Stepping off the soap box now.

Bonnie: Bah humbug, hon.

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More peas please: I have an extra bag of peas that I can't quite fit in the freezer, now that I have stocked up on Haagen-Dazs on sale. I was hoping you could give me an idea for a side dish, dairy/egg OK, but no meat please.

Jane Black: This is a lovely Asian rice dish. It calls for snap peas but you can substitute frozen peas too.

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Dupont Circle: Thank you so much for the piece today about the Baltimore Farmer's Market! I went for the first time two weeks ago and was totally blown away. The prices are so reasonable, the people are so friendly and those donuts (oh those donuts!) are so delicious. Also, I had my first gooseberry there. (I had more later that day at Woodberry Kitchen. Yum.)

Anyway, my pseudo-question is: Why is stuff cheaper there than at the farmer's market near my place? I buy one or two token things at the Dupont market, but I could have seriously done my grocery shopping in Baltimore.

Bonnie: The little doughnuts are addictive, and positioned so strategically next to Zeke's Coffee.
I'm sure it's less expensive for some farmers at the Baltimore market to bring their goods there than it would be to haul them into the District. But basically the prices are what they are at various locations because that's what the market will bear. Some producers who sell closer to Washington told me they do charge more at our markets.

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zucchini: I have two zucchinis in the fridge that I just didn't need in my recipe last week. I really need to do something with them. Is there such a thing as an Asian stir fry or other use for that? Maybe Chinese don't use zucchini. I also have tomatoes in the fridge that started to go funny sitting on the counter. Any thoughts to do with zucchini and tomatoes instead?

Jane Black: One thing I like to do with zucchini is eat it raw. Slice the zucchini very thin, using a mandolin if you have one. Arrange the rounds on a plate and sprinkle with goat cheese. Drizzle a citrus or raspberry vinaigrette on top and a little sea salt and you have a wonderful summer salad.
To use both, you could make a classic ratatouille or a cold pasta with matchsticks of blanched zucchini roasted tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. (A little goat cheese and thyme would be nice with this too.)

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Fresh Fruit Substitute?: The apricot semifreddo recipe sounds wonderful. If I were to substitute fresh fruit for the dried apricots how should I adjust the recipe to compensate for the additional moisture? Should I reduce the amount of orange juice used to cook fruit? Also, my husband and I are huge fans of lemon flavored desserts - any suggestions for achieving a subtle lemon flavor that could be paired with fresh strawberries or blueberries as a garnish? Thanks!

Bonnie: It is! We got to taste the results. Author Domenica Marchetti says for the fresh apricot semifreddo, she would use about a dozen fresh, ripe apricots (no need to peel), and about 1/4 cup orange juice. Chop the apricots and cook them at a simmer with the orange juice for 5 to 10 minutes, until they reach a jamlike consistency. Let cool to room temperature.
For your lemon flavor, add the grated zest of a lemon to the custard for the semifreddo.

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Semifreddo for the road?: How well would semifreddo travel? We are invited to dinner next Friday. Debating whether to bring a wine for the host, or a dessert to share. If we go with a dessert, it should be relatively light and refreshing, so I am thinking cake, etc. is not it. Also has to be made in advance, maybe even a couple days in advance. I love the idea of semifreddo, but am leery of two things. One, I've never made it before and that's always a bit risky for a gathering other than family. Two, the drive to the dinner is 45 minutes or so. Is semifreddo foolproof enough that a relatively experienced cook/baker/kitchener can do it well on the first try? And could I put them into muffin cups, then decant for individual servings (barbecue-style dinner), put those in a container inside a cooler with an ice blanket to keep chilled on travel?

Thanks.

Bonnie: For a 45-minute car trip, the semifreddo would have to be adequately chilled inside a cooler. Author Domenica Marchetti says she would keep them in the muffin cups for the trip. Cover the muffin tray with foil. Layer a bed of ice at the bottom of the cooler, put the muffin trays on top, layer with more ice. Decant and plate shortly before you plan to serve them.
The recipes are fairly simple; a relatively experienced cook should have no problem with them.

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Potluck suggestion.: This Orzo Salad is always a huge hit at potlucks and lunches. Cooking the orzo in chicken broth makes a huge difference - but eliminates its vegetarian qualities - so perhaps you could try vegetable stock?

Orzo Salad -adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1/4 cup red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon honey 1/2 cup olive oil

6 cups chicken broth 1 pound orzo (rice is okay for a gluten-free substitution)

2 cups red and yellow teardrop or grape tomatoes, halved 1.5 cups crumbled feta cheese 1 cup chopped fresh basil 1 cup chopped green onions 2 cups edamame or grilled vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces

Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, and honey in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.)

Bring broth to boil in large heavy saucepan. Stir in orzo, reduce heat to medium, cover partially, and boil until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Transfer to large wide bowl, tossing frequently until cool.

Mix tomatoes, feta, basil, and green onions into orzo. Add vinaigrette; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Add edamame or grilled vegetables. Serve at room temperature.

Bonnie: A good one!

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Silver Spring: You didn't mention Ms Green's masterwork, Beans. I cook from it regularly.

And now a recipe for the main dish wanter. I bring it to lots of potlucks and people like it. Vegetarian but not punitive, and you can put in more veggies if you like, and even substitute some other greens for the arugula if you must.

Mediterranean Lentil and Couscous Salad

1 cup French green lentils, sorted and rinsed 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar 1 cup couscous 1/2 tsp salt 3 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil 1 clove garlic, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint 4 cups arugula leaves, chopped 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lentils. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in 1 Tbsp vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool, stirring occasionally.

Pour 1 1/4 cups boiling water over couscous in large bowl. Stir in salt, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork, and stir in 2 tsp oil. Cool.

Whisk together garlic paste, remaining 3 Tbsp oil, remaining 2 Tbsp vinegar and mint in a small bowl. Stir dressing and lentils into couscous.

Just before serving, add arugula, tomatoes and feta.

Bonnie: I was remiss, I agree.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Any suggestions on how to salvage some bland apricots? I bought a bag full at the grocery store, but there's not much taste to them.

Jane Black: Cooking stone fruits can bring out the flavor and sweetness. (A little sugar and spice doesn't hurt either.)
This recipe from the River Cafe cookbook for apricots baked with molasses and ginger is super easy. If you're feeling slightly more adventurous, try this apricot crostata that we wrote about last year.
Also, keep in mind apricots will continue to ripen in a bowl on the counter. If they were picked before maturity, you're out of luck. But they will soften.

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Burke, Va.: My CSA has me up to the eyeballs in Japanese shinto plums. They're tasty, but the only way to eat them is with a paper towel under your chin! How in the world do you pit the silly things? Can they be substituted for purple plums in recipes or are they too wet?

Jane Black: I just Googled shinto plums and came up empty handed. Is there another name? Personally, a plum that drips juice down your chin sounds great to me.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a comment on the Baltimore market -- folks who care about eating locally and cutting down on their green footprint should know that driving up to Baltimore from D.C. can be less carbon-friendly than walking to their local supermarket. Hitting Eastern Market, Mt. Pleasant or one of the many other farmers markets closer to home is also a great green option.

Bonnie: True enough, depending what you buy and where you live (our Howard County and Prince George's County readers are pretty close to Baltimore). We're not suggesting weekly runs up that way. Support your local markets!
But if you happen to live in D.C. and have to pick someone up at BWI on a Sunday, or have Orioles tix, or get friends together and carpool, or just want to indulge in a rewarding day trip, the Baltimore market's a good place to go.

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Earth -- because does the location of the dot really matter?: I do not live in Baltimore. I do not live in Washington, D.C. I do not live within a day's drive of either. (I will not eat green eggs and ham.) I loved the article on the Balto farmer's market. Part of the reason I read the Post's food section is that it reflects a lot of different ways of thinking about food, preparing food, understanding food -- and understanding the communities that always have been and always will be major influencers on how we understand food. Because I don't eat feed from a trough. I eat beyond basic nutrition. I eat as part of a community. Sometimes that community is just me, or just me and my husband. Sometimes it is family and friends. Sometimes it can be the entire world community. Thanks to the Food section for your good work. This section is far and away better than those in the many, many papers I check out regularly.

Jane Black: Aw shucks. Thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot.

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St. Paul, Minnesota: I love the idea of the semifreddos, especially with this week's heat wave! I have some different molds, including one with hinged sides, so it will be fun to experiment. One question though: how would you make the semifreddo with chestnut puree? (I'm thinking ahead a bit to fall.)

Bonnie: Domenica says: Make the egg custard, as for the apricot semifreddo. But instead of mixing it with apricot puree, mix it with pureed chestnuts, or chestnut jam, or a mix of both, depending on how sweet you want it to be. Let the chestnut custard chill in the fridge, then mix with whipped cream. (I have a recipe for "Big Night In" for a Chestnut-Cognac Bavarese that uses a similar technique, and it's quite delicious).

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At the Beach: So who knew that the downside to going on a vacation (finally!) would be that I miss what looks like a fantastic food issue. I almost miss my morning commute this morning, knowing that I missed reading about farmer's market, semifreddos, and vegetarian friendly market recipes.

I was going to make a berry cobbler for dessert tonight, and now instead of buying a pint of ice cream, I'm going to make the strawberry semifreddo to go with it. If people will be eating the semifreddo at different times, is it best to cut out portions that will be eaten, and leave the rest in the freezer, or de-mold the whole thing and refreeze uneaten for late wanderers?

I might even be inspired to cook the whole dinner making a light tomato/summer squash pasta sauce.

washingtonpost.com: Fortunately, the entire section is available online!

Bonnie: Love cooking at the beach. I'm envious.
Depending on how easy your mold is to slice up, it'd be better to cut just what you need and keep the rest frozen. Once the semifreddo starts melting, it's hard to put that toothpaste back in, as it were...

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Brew city: I bought "country style pork ribs" on sale... and now am curious if there is something interesting to do with them. My fall back is to slow cook them, then finish on the grill or under the broiler... but I am looking for new ideas. Thanks!

Bonnie: Here's one.
Chatters?

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Baltimore Market: I used to live a few blocks away from it and it was hands down my favorite thing about Baltimore. Now I live in Dupont Circle and noticed that things were more expensive too. One catch, though, is that the meat prices are pretty comparable

Bonnie: I think you're right about that. I saw biggest price differences in the produce, herbs and plants.

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Bethesda, Md.: I love creme brulee and I would like to make it at home. But, I don't have a torch to make that crunchy top. Any suggestions? If I do need to buy a torch, what kind should I get?

Bonnie: Kitchen stores and kitchen depts. in larger retail stores will carry a small butane kitchen torch. But you can achieve the same results with a torch bought at the hardware store or by sprinkling the brulees with sugar and popping them under the broiler for a few minutes. Just watch them closely.

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country style pork ribs: I like to do a pipian verde dish with country style pork ribs (classic Mexican dish with tomatillo and pumpkin seed), you slow cook the pork in the sauce and it gets melt in your mouth tender. Yum!

Bonnie: Ooh. Recipe? Even if you don't have time to post, send it to food@washpost.com and we'll save it for next week.

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Oak Hill, Va.: So loved Bonnie's quick stir-fry dinner recipe today, btw. Can you tell me the difference between Greek yogurt and regular American yogurt? (Other than the nasty fake stuff in some U.S. brands) Is it the texture? the taste?

Bonnie: That recipe's certainly easy. One thing: If you use the black sesame seeds, they may slightly discolor the chicken. Not a big deal and it doesn't affect the flavor. Try it with the carrots on the side!
Greek-style is certainly thicker and creamier. If you had the time to strain regular yogurt, you may come close.

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Washington, D.C.: A few coworkers and I are looking for reasonably priced cooking classes in the D.C. area that would be appropriate for beginner and only somewhat experienced cooks. Do you have any recommendations?

Leigh: We will be running our annual list of cooking schools and cooking classes in the paper the first or second week of September. If you're interested in finding something before then, I would recommend getting in touch with L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. They have a wide range of hands-on classes to choose from.

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treacle tart: I've just started reading the Harry Potter series, I know, I know, I'm a bit late. But I came across the eating of treacle fudge a few times and was interested. What is this and how is it made?

Jane Black: I love this question. And I envy that you haven't read them all out. What a summer you have ahead. I lived in England for 5 years and even went to cooking school there. I vaguely remember making treacle tarts -- treacle is Brits' version of molasses. But I never made or heard of treacle fudge.
I went into our cookbook library to investigate. A history book on British cooking says that treacle has been used since the Middle Ages. But there was no mention of treacle fudge. Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver didn't mention it (or treacle tarts for that matter) either.
Best I can do is guess it's one of those lovely JK Rowling inventions and pass on "Madam Rosmerta's recipe" from MuggleNet, www.mugglenet.com/misc/rosmertas/treaclefudge.shtml.
Full disclosure, I have no idea if it will work like magic.)
Ingredients:
½ cup light cream or evaporated milk
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup molasses
Directions:
Step 1: In a large bowl, mix cream, brown sugar and salt together.
Step 2: In a saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter together. Remove from heat and add molasses.
Step 3: Add the chocolate mixtures and cream mixtures together. Pour mixture into a pan and let cool.
Step 4: Cut into squares after cooled and serve. Enjoy!

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Puff Pastry: Do you have a recipe for puff pastry? How difficult is it for a home chef to make? Thank you!!

Bonnie: I remember editor Joe had a lot of fun testing this one: Ann Amernick's Puff Pastry. It was time-consuming but doable, with spectacular results. Hope you've got a cool kitchen.

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Save the apricots!: Use them in a fruit soup. Punch them up with some other fruit you know is good (a melon maybe) and some sugar or light honey and white wine.

Finish with a few leaves of your favorite herb.

There are lots of recipes around.

Jane Black: Fruit soups are delicious. And they can be for starters, main course (add shrimp?) or dessert depending on how you sweeten them.

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Baltimore Market: Where is it exactly? Under a bridge is not a good search term for Mapquest.

Thanks!!

Bonnie: Put in Saratoga and Gay Streets as coordinates.

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I do not live in Baltimore. I live in Washington, D.C.: Wow, get over yourself.

I live in Odenton (about the same distance to B'more, DC, and Annapolis) and I read the Post -- enjoying both Baltimore and DC items.

Variety is the spice of life!

Bonnie: No argument here! Wow, you get to eat at Grace Garden.

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Nantucket: As a lifelong recreational fisherman, I have a question about frozen fish. On a few occasions I have frozen fish, only a few hours old. It never seems to taste good after defrosting. For the record, when I do freeze it, I freeze my stripers whole with the scales and guts all intact.

Aliza Green: Fish that is frozen when it is just out of the water will be excellent as I know because I have neighbors who bring me fresh fish from the New Jersey coast, which I then freeze. It is important, however, to scale, gut, and rinse the fish before freezing as the inner organs will give the fish a bad taste.

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Israeli Red Cabbage Recipe: Someone requested a recipe two chats ago for an Israeli Red Cabbage Salad. I've been meaning to send it for a while. A friend of mine lived in Israel for 10 years, and she gave me this recipe. It's stupendous:

Yummy Purple Cabbage Slaw

1/2 head of red cabbage, cut into thin strips 1 cup of water 1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider works well) 1 t. salt 1 t. sugar

Dressing: 2-3 T olive or canola oil 1 clove garlic, crushed

Put shredded cabbage into a bowl and "knead" for two minutes. Boil water, vinegar, salt and sugar and pour onto cabbage. Cover bowl and sit five minutes. Discard half of the liquid, and put bowl in refrigerator until cold. Add dressing and mix well.

Serve.

Bonnie: Just another reason why we're so fond of Free Range chatters.

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Fairfax, Va.: Quick question, I bought some celery the other day to put in my tuna salad and also to eat with peanut butter. But I still have lots of celery left over and I don't know what to do with it. I'd normally use the leftover celery in a soup but its way to hot for that right now.

Aliza Green: Celery is such a refreshing, cleansing vegetable. I love it with blue cheese dip like the kind served with Buffalo chicken wings. It is also good used for dipping in hummus or thick yogurt mixed with mint and scallions. Or try it with pinzimonio, the Italian simple dip in good extra virgin olive oil then sprinkled with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. You might like a squeeze of lemon with that.

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Drin, KS: Do you have any suggestions for a refreshing summer cocktail for a picnic this weekend? I was planning on making it ahead and storing in a thermos. (if it calls for club soda or something, I can bring that separately and add?)

Aliza Green: How about Watermelon margaritas: cut up fresh watermelon, seeding if necessary, then blend with fresh lime juice, a splash of Cointreau or Triple Sec and white tequila?

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Reston, Va: I would like to know how often local farmers practice proper post harvest cooling of vegetables to insure true freshness? The reason I ask is because I have witnessed farmers markets where the vendors have vegetables on display for hours in humid, 90 plus degree weather and they have no refrigeration or cooling in their stalls, much less in the vehicles in which the produce was transported. Vitamins A and C are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat. While the fruits and vegetables may appear to be fresher because they are generally riper than store bought produce, it is possible that if not properly treated post harvest they can be less nutritious in regards to some vitamins.

Just to give some background, I have been gardening for over forty years and have a MS in Agronomy.

Jane Black: Yes, but how long do they need to be exposed to heat before that vitamin content diminishes? If it's only a matter of hours, I would guess it's better than being cooled at "appropriate temperatures" for days or weeks. Is that true? It's an interesting question. So many of us have a knee-jerk reaction that farmers markets are better for everything. I'd love to hear more.

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D.C.: Hi foodies. When I lived in L.A., I was such a Pinkberry addict. I saw the Biz section story on the tangy fro-yo finally making here, but wish you guys had done a taste test or something. Is Pinkberry coming here?

Jane Black: Last I heard Pinkberry is not coming here. But it's always worth checking in on the latest; how the rumors fly about frozen yogurt.
The Food Section hasn't done side by side taste tests but I have tried TangySweet which I love. Mr. Yogato tasted a bit icier to me (I tried the mango) but was still very good.
Anyone else? Favorites?

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Re: Peas: For the chatter with the frozen peas. Chilled pea-soup is a fun week nite dinner. Boil peas and puree. Add pesto and parmesan cheese to finish the dish before serving.

I can also think of pea kebabs which are popular in India. Mix boiled peas with potatoes, white flour or bread for binding and mix in your favorite herbs and bake in the over after spraying them with oil.

Bonnie: Excellent.

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Annandale, Va.: : Inspired from your farmers market article, I took some time and went to the market close to work. I got a bunch of great stuff! But I'm concerned about my beautiful basil, I want to keep it as fresh as possible. Any tips for that? should I put it on water then in the fridge?

Thanks.

Aliza Green: Basil is THE hardest herb to keep fresh. If refrigerated, it usually turns black within a day because of the cold temperatures of the fridge. I keep my basil like a bouquet of flowers with the stems in a glass full of water and leave it on the countertop, which usually lasts for 2 to 3 days.

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Arlington, Va.: Heading to the beach next week. Yay! I've never done the rental house thing before, but I wanted to hit the farmers markets here on Sat and do some shopping before we head down to N.C. Could you offer some advice/recipes that would be easy and fun to prepare ourselves -- most likely with fresh seafood? What should we bring with us?

Bonnie: Bring a large roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Slather fish with mayo and herbs of your choice, then wrap in foil and grill. Or use the same general method for sliced potatoes and vegetables, using olive oil and herbs.
Bring a small array of your own spices. Pack a cooler with a few rounds of savory pie crust dough, so you can quickly assemble a tart or tomato and cheese pie.
Recipes for grilled packets and doughs are at www.washingtonpost.com/recipes -- almost too many to list with time running out here. Have fun! Use sunscreen!

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re: Israeli red cabbage salad: Thank you so much for posting this. I was the one who wanted it. I was a bit disappointed when I was told to buy Sabra's, which I know is good, but I had wanted to make my own. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!!

Bonnie: You got it.

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Live in D.C., work in Bawlmer, Hon: So I care about food in both places and think you all are fantastic. But that's besides the point because I have a question about canned sardines... what should I do with them besides sandwiches? I'm trying to incorporate more oily fish into my diet and this darn can has been in my pantry for awhile now. Help please!

Aliza Green: I would add drained sardines to a Salade Nicoise with chilled cooked green beans, hard-cooked egg quarters, cooked beets cut into wedges, tomato wedges, boiled potatoes cut in slices and some mixed greens if you'd like. Make the dressing with lemon juice, fresh basil, minced fresh garlic, and fruity olive oil. Roasted peppers cut into strips would also taste good.

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Gadget Question: I was just in Italy and saw a great gadget that I can't find here. It was a small dish for olive oil dipping, but the bottom had raised bumps for rubbing garlic - rub the garlic, then add the oil and it was great. Any idea where I could find one in the US? Thanks.

Jane Black: I haven't seen it. But it sounds fun. Anyone else got a hint?

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Soup Question in Bethesda: I am currently reading MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating. In one of her chapters, she mentions making a soup with lettuce. What kind of lettuce would you use in soup? Thank you!

Jane Black: Most recipes use tougher, outer, imperfect leaves for soup but other than that, it's anything goes. I personally think romaine and butter lettuce would be a good bet. I've also seen recipes where you add lettuce to other light soups, such as pea and mint.

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D.C.: In the last month or so I think your section has really found its stride. I've found both excellent variety and quality work, especially Jane Black's stuff.

One complaint, though, is the wine column. It seems to me it should strive to be the written equivalent of a good wine store salesman -- or woman -- who points the consumer toward things he otherwise wouldn't consider. Instead, the current writers seem to recommend mass produced wines.

Bonnie: Thanks. We appreciate the feedback and will make sure it gets to the right places.

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Baked potatoes: Hi all! I want to "bake" potatoes in the microwave (whole baking potatoes, skin on). I am looking for basic instructions on how to do this successfully so the 'taters are tasty, not undercooked, and not exploded in my microwave. Thanks!

Bonnie: I use a skewer to poke a few holes and throw 'em in for 6 to 9 minutes, depending on the size. I wrap them in foil and let them sit on the counter till serving time.
Author James Peterson offers these steps: Zap for 5 minutes, then let them rest for 5 minutes so the heat is evenly distributed. Rotate and reposition, then repeat the 5 minutes on-off routine until the potatoes are done.

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Freshness: Hi Free Rangers! I've been trying to plan meals for my family. Current routine is that I plan and shop for the week on Sundays. So far it's working well - I usually plan for us to have seafood (shrimp, salmon) early in the week, beef mid-week and chicken towards the end of the week. My question is: am I waiting too long to use these refrigerated proteins? I use the shrimp or salmon within 1-2 days, the beef within 3 days and the chicken within 4-6 days of purchase. So far it's seemed okay, but don't want to make anyone sick - and also would strongly prefer not to have to freeze (and thus thaw) anything. Thanks for your advice!

Aliza Green: I think you are limiting yourself by not freezing. I would definitely serve the salmon and the shrimp fresh (especially because almost all supermarket shrimp has been previously frozen. However, the beef, especially if you serve ground beef at all, will start to deteriorate within a few days. I do freeze beef and chicken with little loss of quality. The key is to defrost in the refrigerator the night before. Remember when freezing, freeze as fast as possible and thaw slowly and cold.

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Arlington, Va.: This is sort of a random question, but... I planted basil in a container inside my condo's kitchen and a couple of weeks ago fruit flies (which appeared out of nowhere) began totally attacking it until it finally died completely. This was maddening and I was wondering what, if anything, I could have done to stop it without using a chemical pesticide. Have any of you experienced this? I'm starting to fear for the rosemary/chives/thyme/oregano I've planted in a container in another room of my place. Thanks for any thoughts!

Bonnie: Maryland cooperative extension service agent Chuck Schuster says those pests might have been fungus gnats, attracted to soil that's too damp (basil doesn't like to have wet feet, he says). So be careful about not overwatering with your upcoming herb plants.

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sticky toffee pudding: I have been looking for a sticky toffee pudding, and I have found a few through google, some that use AP flour, and others that use self-rising flour (which is what I have at home). What is the difference when using the various flours? Do you have a recipe you could share (preferably with the self-rising flour)?

Aliza Green: I don't have a recipe to give you right here, but I do have an excellent recipe (at least I think it is) in my book, Starting with Ingredients. If you send an email to me at www.alizagreen.com, I'll be happy to send you back the recipe.

Bonnie: There is an "Ask Aliza" tab on that site...

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D.C.: Today's Food section is _still_ not posted online. What is everyone chatting about?

washingtonpost.com: It shows up fine for me here - please e-mail me at elizabeth.terry AT wpni.com and let me know where you are looking and what happens when you try to find it!

Bonnie: How frustrating that must be...

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A couple of thoughts: For the creme brulee lover, although you can do them in the oven on broil, it is easier in a toaster over on broil. First, they are easier to watch, and you have a few more seconds to react once the sugar browns before it completely burns. I've done it that way and I find it is faster than the torch and I don't have to keep a propane device that I don't use much in the house.

For the person with leftover zucchini, the Chinese most definitely use zucchini. You can cut half-moon discs for stir-fries or if you want fancier, you can get one of those ripple edge cutters to make rippled "chips" or discs. All my life, my Chinese mother and I have used shredded zucchini in her dumpling recipe. We shred with the food processor and then put in a cloth bag (I use one that I got from jasmine rice) and squeeze the excess water out. Then dump into the recipe. We think it gives a little more body and flavor to the recipe than just Napa cabbage. And the vegetables soften the filling so you don't end up with a hard meatball inside a wrapper. Zucchini also make great "flowers" and other edible garnishes for plates.

Bonnie: Good thoughts

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Richmond, Va.: Can anyone point me in the direction of a good recipe for dog biscuits? I do not want to use any meat, this is a too- hot-to-play-outside project for my kids. I figure they can have all the fun of baking without the crazy sugar rush of eating the finished product. And it's a concession to the poor dog who usually has some peace and quiet during the day.

Leigh: The following is an excerpt from an article by Carl Jerome
published in 1985:
The recipe below is based on that of John Clarke, president of Fox Run, who, according to Fox Run sales manager Steve Rusnock, "has been making dog bones for his dogs for years." The second recipe, which appeared in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, kept two decades of her family dogs and most of her friends' dogs happily chomping, according to that book's author, Marion Cunningham.
FOX RUN DOG BISCUITS (Makes about 20 biscuits)
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons margarine or oil
1 egg
2/3 cup cold water
Combine the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon to form a stiff dough, or combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until dough forms.
Roll out to a thickness of about half an inch, cut into dog bone shapes with dog bone cutters or into sticks about three inches long and 3/4-inch wide.
Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight container and use as needed. MARION CUNNINGHAM'S DOG BONE BISCUITS (Makes about 16 biscuits) 2 eggs 2 tablespoons soy flour 2 tablespoons wheat germ 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons cold water 2 cups whole-wheat flour 2 tablespoons instant nonfat dry milk
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until combined, then add the soy flour, wheat germ, salt and water and mix well. Combine the wheat flour and milk, add to the mixture and either beat with a wooden spoon or work into a stiff dough with your hands, leaving any dry bits and crumbs in the bowl.
Pat the dough into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick, then cut into bones with cookie cutters or into sticks about 3 inches long and 3/4-inch wide with a sharp knife.
Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes on one side, then flip the bones and bake for another 25 minutes on the other side.

Bonnie: See?

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Richmond, Va.: College potluck again... sorry, I should have been more specific. It does not have to be vegetarian (though your recipe may make in on my table soon). Mine will be one of several main dishes. I would, however, like to stay toward overnight chilled. Though the quesadillas would be tasty, I don't have the time soon enough before class begins to not have to content with sogginess -- I would prefer to make something tonight. If this isn't too picky, I would love more suggestions. Thank you.

Aliza Green: One dish baked items like lasagna, moussaka, baked ziti, or baked quesadillas with tomatillo or salsa ranchero work well for parties as does stuffed eggplant and/or zucchini.

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Virginia Beach bound: What should I pack in my cooler for my day trip to the beach???!

Aliza Green: I'm crazy about gazpacho, and it's so refreshing when nice and cold. Pack diced cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, and croutons separately to sprinkle on top. Also, a big fruit salad tossed with a little lime juice mixed with honey is good. Add a little chopped fresh mint, if you'd like. Serve with cold vanilla or plain yogurt. Another idea is Pan Bagnat, a Provencal French dish. Take a French bread and scoop out some of the insides. Pack the bread with canned tuna (preferably light tuna in olive oil), roasted peppers, hard-cooked eggs, sliced ripe tomatoes, basil leaves, and thin-sliced red onions, if you like them. Drizzle with fruity olive oil and then wrap tightly in foil. Leave the bread to soak up (that's the bagnat part) a few hours or even overnight.

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Gluten-free, dairy free and feeling deprived: I have to do completely without gluten and dairy in my diet. When we go out, I also have to watch my family eat all sorts of gluten and dairy rich desserts (they love heavy cream and custard on ice cream, eclairs and cream puffs). What do I get instead? fresh fruit if I'm lucky. There is nothing wrong with fresh fruit, but it doesn't match most wheat and dairy rich desserts. Suggestions?

Aliza Green: I learned to make dairy-free ice cream substituting almond milk for the milk and using any custard-based ice cream recipe. It works really well and the mild almond flavor pairs nicely with flavors like chocolate, ginger, toasted almonds, lemon, or even fruits like peaches or strawberries. If you need a recipe, you can write to me at www.alizagreen.com under the Ask Aliza tab. It may take a little experimenting to get the proportions right, but it tastes great.

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Alexandria: Hi Rangers. Could I get some menu ideas? Cooking for a family event (30 people) in October and the panic is setting in. Main dishes are grilled lamb for the meat lovers, grilled salmon for the fish lovers, burgers for the kids (and in emergency reserve if I run out, ham). I'm stuck on side dishes, as low maintenance as possible. Will have access to oven, so doing one potato gratin. Also doing a room temp pasta salad (i.e. no mayo, but sun dried tomato, olives, etc).Any other ideas to balance out variety? Thanks

Jane Black: We're running out of time so quickly a few ideas off the top of my head. I think what you need here are some vegetables. A nice herby green salad would lighten it up (cucumbers, radishes and tarragon mustard dressing, perhaps). And I love the colors of this carrot-orange salad with mint from our database. Since it will be apple season, you might also consider this Autumn apple slaw.
Have fun.

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Arlington, Va. S.: Ok, this might seem like I'm begging for "Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden", but it's just that seeing the title got me thinking.

I have a small yard. And in that yard I have a fig tree, two young paw paw trees, a couple of juneberry bushes, and a small annual garden with tomatoes, beans, etc. I'm having a heck of a time with animals eating my food though. When the first couple of figs look ripe and get stolen by the birds I have to net the entire tree. The tomatoes are being eaten by the chipmunks I think, while green, small, and rock hard. This is the first year I've had paw paws (5 total on one tree - I'll cry if the animals get them) though I've had small ones up to an inch long disappear this year and last (assuming they weren't pollinated, but could have been animals?). The juneberries disappear as soon as they are distinguishable as fruit.

So... if I go in for a pre-emptive strike against the animals and pick small, unripe figs and tomatoes -- Good idea? Bad? Do you have a suggestion for using unripe fruit?

Aliza Green: Unripe fruit is best for pickling in spiced sweet syrup or you could try baking the fruit with sugar and/or honey. If the fruit is not too green, place it in a brown paper bag with a banana and let it ripen at room temperature. You may lose some of the fruits, if they've been bruised but hopefully you'll get a good quantity that taste good.

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Bonnie: Well, we've hit the stage where we're firm enough to take out of the freezer. Thanks so much to Aliza Green for her invaluable input (watch for her upcoming cookbook in October, it's gonna be great).
The chatter who suggested using apricots for fruit soup and the chatter who wanted info on how to travel with semifreddo are our winners today. Remember to send your mailing info to food@washpost.com.
Until next week, happy eating!

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