Free Range on Food: Staffers Solve Your Cooking Conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, August 5, 2009; 1:00 PM

The Food section staff hosted a star-studded discussion at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Aug. 5. David Lebovitz and Patricia Jinich joined in the Free Range food discussion.

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you recipes (think salsas and ice creams today, although not together -- I think) and tips galore in response to your questions.

Today we have two VSGs (very special guests): the American blogger in Paris himself, David Lebovitz, master of all things sweet of course (get your ice cream machines ready); and Patricia Jinich, that concocter of Mexican deliciousness who wrote our salsa story today. (Watch for Patricia on "Paula's Best Dishes" on Aug. 15.)

As always, we have giveaway prizes for our favorite posts: One lucky (or smart, or funny, or both) chatter will get David's entertaining new memoir, "The Sweet Life in Paris," in which he proves that the pesky blog is no fluke and he can turn a phrase or two. (It also proves that he is a good source for savory recipes, too.) We'll also have "Eating Well in Season: The Farmers Market Cookbook."

Send your questions our way, and we'll get right on 'em.

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Washington, D.C.: Ice cream related question for the ice cream king.

Sometimes when I make ice cream, I end up with little lumps of frozen butter in the ice cream. Any tips for avoiding that? I don't recall seeing it mentioned in The Perfect Scoop -- which is awesome, by the way.

David Lebovitz: Hi there, often that's the result of the ice cream being overwhipped (ie; churned butter). Many machines stop automatically but not all. So that might be the culprit.

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Madison, Wis.: Yay, David Lebovitz! I love you! I have a question for you, too. It's high season for sour cherries here in Wisconsin, and I've already done the pie, the cobbler, the crumbcake, and I made the sour cherry frozen yogurt from your book (mmm). I want to make your sour cherries in syrup, but your recipe calls for starting with jarred cherries in a light syrup. How do you suggest I modify this for starting with fresh sour cherries? Thanks so much, and I love your blog and books!

David Lebovitz: J'adore sour cherries. Send them to me! To make ice cream, just cook some until very soft, and then puree them, or mush them up. Measure 'em out, and add 25% sugar to the warm cherries. (Like if you have 1 cup cherries, that's 1/4 cup sugar to add. And a bit of kirsch, if you have it. )

Then add that to a vanilla ice cream base, and freeze.

Joe Yonan: Holy moly. Send David the cherries, and David, send me the ice cream.

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Arlington, Va.: David, My wife is six months pregnant, and her food craving of the moment is Haagen Daaz's Fleur de Sel Caramel ice cream. I'd love to surprise her by producing a homemade version. Should I use a recipe for caramel ice cream and add fleur de sel at the end, or should I add fleur de sel to the custard base? Better yet, do you have any recipes for salted caramel ice cream? Thanks for the help. I'll let you know when we really go off the deep end and start putting pickles in the ice cream maker...

David Lebovitz: You can make it yourself. I have a recipe for Salted Butter Caramel ice cream on my site. Note for all the "too hard" (oops! Can I say that here?) ice-cream folks who've asked, that recipe stays scoopably soft in the freezer.

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Near Chicago: Hey Patricia -- I was so glad to see the article on salsa. That's my husband's favorite, and we are always looking for good recipes. I am wondering if you can share a recipe for truly hot/spicy salsa. My husband has little sense of smell, and an usually high tolerance for spicy, and between the two, it's hard to find a spicy salsa that puts a smile on his face. Thanks for your help!

Patricia Jinich: That is too funny! Let's help your husband out. Salsas that use chile de arbol or chipotles are good candidates because those are spicy chilies that also have nice flavor.

For a basic chile de arbol salsa:

Toast about 10 chiles de arbol in a hot pan, just until their color changes to a bit opaque, 1 or 2 minutes.

Stick them in the blender with 1 pound tomatoes (for more flavor broil them for 6 minutes in broiler), incorporate 2 tbsp chopped white onion a couple garlic cloves, some salt and pure until smooth. If your husband can take more heat, just double up the amount of chiles de arbol!

As for the chipotle salsa, try the raw tomatillo salsa from today's article and instead of adding just the chipotle in adobo sauce, drop about 3 to 4 whole chiles. That will make him happy!

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King of Prussia, Penn.: Whenever I make ice cream, it's a solid chunk the next day. I usually leave it on the counter for 10 minutes to soften, which inevitably means that a little melts, and the texture is a little off. Is this supposed to happen, and is there anything I can do to make the ice cream more scoopable the next day?

David Lebovitz: Second question on too-hard ice cream! I posted a link to the previous inquiry with some tips. Check those out.. Happy scooping!

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Calgary, Canada: I need some ideas/a menu/recipes for a picnic for two this Friday. Romantic. Doesn't take a lot of time to prepare. Help?

Jane Black: Bonnie did a great story last year about where to pick up picnic supplies for different prices. So if you're really pressed for time, that will be a huge help.

If you want to cook yourself, you might consider just grilling two chicken breasts and making one of Patricia's great salsas that we wrote about this week. Throw in some rice and black beans. Then pick up dessert.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, so I've had two very elaborate dishes very much blown at the last minute by adding ingredients. The first was a foie gras sauce that called for an immersion blender, but seeing as how I don't have one, I thought we could just whisk it in....ending in chunks of foie gras and a watery sauce. The second was carnard sauvage, which did not call for an immersion blender, but called for the pureeing of a duck liver, which I did in a food processor. It pureed into a sort of paste, but not "liquified" as the recipe called for. When added to a delicious-looking braising liquid I had worked four hours on, again, chunks of liver, totally ruined the texture of the sauce, etc. I followed the recipe to the letter, but I feel like there's some sort of technique or step that I'm not getting that being left out. So how do you incorporate things like that into a pan sauce or braising liquid at the last minute? What am I missing here?

Bonnie Benwick: Boo. I know how that can go. Without seeing the recipes, I can think of a couple of things. If you've got the pureed duck liver that's closer to paste than the liquefied state, I'd suggest a kind of tempering technique. Add some of the braising liquid to lighten/loosen the puree, then whisk that mixture back into the sauce gradually until you achieve a consistency you're happy with. For the foie gras, maybe getting both it and the sauce it's going into at the same temperature might help. Also, I guess without an immersion blender, try breaking down the foie gras in your food processor first; again, maybe with a little of the liquid that will be used to make the sauce.

Joe Yonan: Great ideas from Ms. B. I would just add that if you find yourself with clumps/chunks, you should try pressing the thing through a fine-mesh strainer...

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Columbia, Md.: This might be kind of a dumb, basic question, but one that seems appropriate given the season and article on salsas published today. What is the difference between, say, a salsa, a chutney, or a salad?

It seems like there is a lot of crossover (and I'm sure even more when you further expand the type of cuisine). It seems like the mango salsa could have just as easily been served as mango salad. Is there a difference? A distinguishing feature that separates salsas from other similar condiment-type-dishes-that-could-be-much-more-substantial-as-well?

Patricia Jinich: It is not dumb at all; in fact, I think practically there is not much difference between all the concepts you are saying...

Salsa relates to almost anything that can be used to flavor a meal or a dish that includes a chile in it. It can be pureed and smooth, chunky or chopped up like the mango in the article. However, there is a point where size does matter. You won't find a salsa that has chunks bigger than say a dice.

Salsas are typically condiments that are served on a separate bowl on the table for people to add as much as they want, and are rarely eaten on their own (expects maniacs like my husband and me... I guess and plenty others...)

As for chutneys, they just come from a different part of the world and use related ingredients to that area!

In Mexico, the main difference between a salsa and a salad then, would be size, and also as we covered above, fact that a salsa is not typically eaten on its own, whereas salads do.

Joe Yonan: I'll add just that with a chutney, there's always a significant sweet/sour aspect that you don't necessarily find in salsa or salad.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, David!

As an ice cream expert, I was wondering if you could provide some insight on an idea I have.

I love wine, and I love to make ice cream and sorbet. I've been wanting to do a "flight" of different wine-based sorbets/ice creams, i.e. going from rich and oak-y and to light and acidic. I also know that alcohol prevents the sorbet/ice cream from freezing properly. I've made sake sorbet in the past and had trouble with the consistency, even when burning off the alcohol before churning.

So, two questions: 1) Is there a minimum alcohol content/age in wine for you to "burn" it off on the stove before churning? 2) Do you know if there's a threshold for how much alcohol is in the dessert before it freeze properly? What kinds of stabilizers might help combat the problem?

Thanks so much!

David Lebovitz: In general one quart of ice cream can handle up to 4 tablespoons 80 proof alcohol. You might want to try a granita, where it's mostly water and you can add as much liquor as you want. (Well, within reason!)

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Jessup, Md.: I bought some queso fresco mixed with crushed hot chili peppers. Besides making breakfast burritos, what else can I use it in?

Patricia Jinich: So many things! You can make a baguette, panini and fill it with that queso and avocado. Can also use it as filling for quesadillas (corn or wheat tortillas heated up). You can also make a salad with lettuces of your choice, some corn, tomato. avocado and shred that cheese on top..

It can just help you top anything that may be looking for some flavor, a bit of saltiness texture and a nice kick!

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Cake help: I am not a baker. I seem to lack the poise and calm needed. That said, I am determined to make my son's first birthday cake. I have a cake pan that creates a cool rubber ducky that you then can sit atop a sheet cake. I want the ducky to be a coconut cake because I think dried coconut will make cool feathers. So can you help me with a recipe? Also, the pan says I need 5.5 cups of batter. How can I figure the amount of batter that a recipe will make? For the sheet cake I will probably use a box mix, unless you have an easy chocolate cake idea. Thanks so much.

Leigh Lambert: Okay, deep breath, you can do this. I think you are wise to keep your focus on the top cake rather than making the base cake from scratch as well.

Lisa Yockelson has a lovely coconut cupcake recipe we ran last year that you could convert to your "ducky" cake.

In terms of how much of the batter to pour in to the pan, I would leave about a finger-digit's worth of space for the cake to grow. Just for insurance you can place the pan on a cookie sheet incase there's overflow while it bakes. Check for doneness after about 35 minutes. The cake should be slightly golden brown on top and spring back slightly to the touch.

And here's the good news: even if it's not the cake of your dreams, you can still cover it with dried coconut, and it will be adorable. Good luck!

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Molcajete, D.C.: Hello, I just brought back my first molcajete from El Salvador. We seasoned it with tomatoes and ground rice, but it still leaves stone pieces in my salsa. Any tips on how to get it in working order so I can try out these salsa recipes? Thanks!

Patricia Jinich: Hummm... Try soaking it with water for a couple of hours, then rinse it thoroughly and wash it with warm water and soup and a soft pad. Did they tell you what material the molcajete was made out of?

In Mexico, best molcajetes are made with volcanic rock, they are very heavy, but it is very resistance.

In any case, soaking it, rinsing it and scrubbing and rinsing it again should do it. You may want to season it again with just rice and some garlic. I find that garlic does wonders ( if you like flavor)!

Joe Yonan: When I brought back my fabulous molcajete from Mexico City a couple of years ago, I tried to carry it on because it would turn any piece of checked baggage into the over-50-pound limit, but when I got to the gate, they made me check it because they said it could be used as a weapon on board...

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Kolkata, India: Hello, David, I tried out your almond tart recipe a few weeks ago, following the directions to tap surface of tart with heatproof rubber spatula after to prevent corn flaky look. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The surface crust took ages to form, and at no time during the baking did my tapping do more than make the gooey filling stick to the spatula. Please advise. The tart tasted awesome otherwise!

David Lebovitz: That is a tricky tart, which is why I included step by step photos. Sometimes it'll just turn out that way. Even at Chez Panisse that happened to the best of us. (Even me!) It does still taste the same, though..

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Arlington, Va.: Heading out of town this weekend to a condo in the mountains, we'll have a small kitchen and are bringing groceries with us for the trip. After five hours in the car, what's your favorite (easy) thing to make for that first vacation night dinner?

Jane Black: This may not count as dinner for some, but I like to have a big plate of grilled (or broiled) vegetables, some cheese, crusty bread, charcuterie and a bottle of wine. There's almost no cooking, so no waiting around or hard work when you get out of the car. All that can make it in the cooler in the back of the car. Some fresh berries with or without poundcake for dessert is nice, too.

Chatters? Other suggestions?

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Burke, Va.: I'm disappointed in the quantity of food I'm receiving from my CSA, and would like some basis of comparison. Last week's share was one yellow squash, two ears of corn, a large bag of green beans, a cabbage, and about 10 peaches. I pay approximately $27 a week for this. Is this an average quantity/cost for a CSA?

Joe Yonan: Are you getting a half-share, or a full share? Can you tell me what farm it's from? Your quantity doesn't sound unreasonable for the price, at least not from comparing it to the things I've heard from other CSA subscribers. To compare for yourself week to week, you should start following the CSA Scout feature I'm writing every week on our blog. In it, I have reports from a half-dozen subscribers to different farms, listing the quantities they got that week and the price and length and size of their share.

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Herndon, Va.: For David Lebovitz: Is Berthillion truly the best ice cream in Paris? I'll be there in October -- where should two ice cream enthusiasts go in Paris?

David Lebovitz: I love me some glace Berthillon (the chocolate sorbet and caramel ice cream combo rocks), but try to hit Pozzetto and GROM. Both are authentic Italian gelatos, and the creme di Grom (with bits of polenta cookies) and the coffee gelato are insane.

I did a write up of Paris ice cream shops.

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Chicago: I've recently become obsessed with banana peppers. The tang is as addictive as salt and vinegar chips. Right now I'm just eating them on my sandwiches, but I would love to snack on them. However, I'd prefer to not just eat them plain by themselves -- that's too much, even for me. What's a good way to mix them up with something for a snack?

Leigh Lambert: Yum, how about a cream cheese spread concoction? The creaminess would tame the heat. Either run it through a blender or food processor or just mash it together with a fork. Maybe add some scallions and/or fresh tomato?

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Carefree, Ariz.: How do you feel about foie gras ice cream? I've seen it showing up on some avant garde restaurant menus lately.

David Lebovitz: Um, foie gras ice cream does not sound good to me. But I did a write-up of a chocolate foie gras macaron on my site once that I couldn't bring myself to try, and I got some not very nice messages about that. So I'd better keep my mouth shut!

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Mountain View, Calif.: Any ideas for a fish dish for a crowd that can be prepared ahead of time and served either cold or at room temperature? No shellfish, please.

Bonnie Benwick: Tina Wasserman's Salmon With Pink Peppercorn Sauce is a winner. You can make it ahead, serve it warm, cold or room temp. Delightful flavor and very pretty to boot.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi, David. I Love reading your blog, and was so excited you showed up in my newspaper!

Can you give me some tips on baking a Genoise (sponge) cake? Every attempt I have made has turned out in a dense/fallen cake. Could I be heating the butter/sugar for too long? Or not whipping the butter and sugar for long enough?

Thanks!

David Lebovitz: Genoise is super-tricky. Make sure the butter is lukewarm, and fold some batter into it before folding it in to the larger amt of batter. Don't overbeat and don't underbake.

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Seasonal Eatin's: When's the next CSA Scout entry?

That's all I got in a bid to win the seasonal eating cookbook. Love you guys!

Joe Yonan: Ha! Well, it JUST might be enough. I missed last week because I was on vacation, but there will be another this week -- most likely Friday.

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Rhubarb: What's your favorite thing to do with rhubarb right now?

David Lebovitz: I just made Rhubarb-Berry Jam. Some like it with strawberries, but actually, raspberries are more intense and interesting with rhubarb. The jam recipe is here.

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Somerville, Mass.: I'm dying to know how to make Halvah ice cream, which I loved eating daily in Tel Aviv. Is it possible to use tahini in a vanilla-style base?

David Lebovitz: Absolutely. Try adding that to the base, along with perhaps a hint or orange zest (or even orange flower water, even though I don't think that's traditional.) Sounds yummy!

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"Faire" offer?: I'll come to Paris and make cherry ice cream for everyone in exchange for a few sweet treats cooking lessons from David! I'll even send you some, Joe, if you can convince him...

David Lebovitz: If I give you my wish list from Target, you're on!

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Madison, Wis.: My mom wants to make a lasagna, but she's been banned from tomatoes or tomato sauce for health reasons. Can you suggest an alternative way to do a sauce that's also not too high in fat like alfredo? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Hi Madison. Poor mom. This butternut squash lasagna's my favorite non-tomato sauce kind. You could leave off the cream topping at the end, to help control calories. And she could replace the squash with sautéed mushrooms or slices of sautéed eggplant and zucchini, too. But this is certainly delightful as is.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH LASAGNE

6 main dish or 12 side-dish servings

You can make the squash/sauce up to 3 days ahead, then assemble and bake.

3 pounds butternut squash (about 9 1/2 cups flesh), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Coarse kosher salt

4 cups low-fat milk

2 large sprigs fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

9 no-boil lasagne sheets (7 by 3 1/2 inches each; use fresh ones if you can find them)

1 1/3 cups (about 5 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, toss the diced squash with the oil until well coated. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheets. Roast for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with salt to taste. Stir the squash and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender and beginning to turn golden brown.

While the squash is roasting, heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher or measuring cup.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the garlic over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the warm milk mixture in a steady stream, stirring until smooth. Return the pan to medium-low or low heat and cook about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add the squash, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. (At this point, the mixture can be refrigerated in a bowl with plastic wrap directly on the surface.)

When ready to bake, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Pour 1 cup of the squash-sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish (it will not cover completely). Cover with 3 lasagne sheets, making sure they are not touching each other. Spread half of the remaining sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Repeat with another layer of pasta, then the remaining sauce, then another 1/2 cup of Parmesan, and finally a layer of pasta on top.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream and salt until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly over the top pasta layer, making sure to cover the pasta completely. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Cover tightly with easy-release/no stick aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake 10 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden. Let the lasagne stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Washington, D.C.: Love your blog, books and twitter updates! Also loved seeing a photo of your kitchen in the Wash Post article. Exactly how you described it in "The Sweet Life..." I'm headed to Paris in October, and I'm wondering if you can suggest any food/chocolate walking tours? Just looking for something for a few hours...Thanks so much!

David Lebovitz: I know Context Travel does some culinary walking tours of Paris, as does Rosa Jackson. You can find them by Googling. My week-long October tour is full...sorry!

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Washington, D.C.: I live in an apartment but will have access to a grill when I'm on vacation in Colorado later this month. I want to try making pizza on the grill, any recipe suggestions/tips?

Any other recommendations for things I should play with during my grilling window of opportunity?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Why, sure. I love grilled pizza. And we ran a primer on it a couple summers ago from the smart/talented Tony Rosenfeld. Wait -- now that I look at it, it was only LAST summer. Time flies when you're grilling pizza, obviously. Anyway, the pointers/technique can be boiled down to these: 1. build a two-zone fire; 2. have your (minimal) toppings prepped and ready in advance; 3. sear the dough on the hot side of the grill; 3. flip it, move it to the cooler zone and then add the toppings; 4. cover and cook a little more.

Here's Tony's story with links to the recipes and a great photo gallery.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello, Food Folks,

I have a storage question. Does rice wine need to be used within one or two days once opened, like regular wine? Or can it be stored in a cupboard or in a refrigerator, maybe indefinitely? I bought a 10-oz bottle but only used a few tablespoons for a recipe. Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: It needs to be refrigerated after it's opened, but you can keep it for weeks. What's helpful is if you can taste it (plain) now, and then you'll be able to tell down the road whether it's gone off.

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Washington, D.C.: Dave, love the blog and all your recipes and stories! You make food come alive. My question is how do you think of all those wacky food combinations to experiment with? And, bouncing off of that, what have your most and least successful combinations been?

David Lebovitz: Hmm, I never think of what I do as wacky (although a few others might not agree), but I try to think of how flavors tastes together. I like plain, so when I add something unusual, it has to diverge it into another direction. Like adding salt and olive oil to creamy ice cream, or something like that. Or gin to blueberries...which is really good!

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Bethesda, Md.: David -- love your blog and tweets! Do you think the caramelized white chocolate would work swirled into your brownies in place of the dulce de leche?

David Lebovitz: I think it would get too hard. You might need to add something to it to keep it soft, like cream or the much-dreaded corn syrup. Or try bashing it up and folding big chunks in , like big chips. (I usually just eat it from the jar...I can't help it!)

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Fairfax, Va.: David, I made your Guinness Chocolate ice cream and it was without a doubt the BEST chocolate ice cream I've ever eaten. For ice cream lovers, I highly recommend The Perfect Scoop! Thank you!

David Lebovitz: You are so welcome. And oddly, I'm in the apartment of my friend Heather (the knockout who I gave the ice cream to; it got her a date with her handsome French neighbor). So glad it worked out for you.

By the way; Just a shout-out: her Paris-based site is http://www.secretsofparis.com.

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Help Help Help: I'm looking to buy Baker's/Baking Ammonia but cannot find a local source. I called Sur La Table because they sometimes carry stuff like that, but that was a no go. They did suggest King Arthur, but I would really like to use it this weekend without having to pay for overnight shipping.

David Lebovitz: I don't know where you live, but there might be a confectionary store (one that sells candy making supplies) that might have it.

Bonnie Benwick: La Cuisine in Alexandria has it in stock (703-836-4435), as well as Little Bitts Shop in Wheaton (301-933-2733).

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Takoma Park, Md.: What are your favorite savory ice cream flavors or flavor combinations? Does it vary by season?

David Lebovitz: I actually like Roquefort in ice cream; that salty creaminess goes really well with poached pears, and candied walnuts. There's a pear-pecorino ice cream in The Perfect Scoop (there's that salt again!) that I like a lot, too.

I LOVE verveine ice cream, which I think is called lemon verbena in English. A lot.

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Washington, D.C.: I am going to Komi for my anniversary. I want the goat. He wants the suckling pig. Which is more delicious?

Joe Yonan: Ooh, that's a tough one. I just conferred with Tom S., and we agree: Go for the goat because you don't get the opportunity to eat it that often, and theirs is amazing. But you know what? The pig is fantastic. So you won't go wrong. I hope I didn't add to your dilemma, but ...

Jane Black: I vote goat too. And you can split the difference by going to Obelisk for their the suckling pig another time. It is so so so so good.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: David, you like fabulous.

Whenever I make homemade ice cream and put it in the freezer, it becomes hard as a block of ice. I've even resorted to microwaving it. Is it my freezer or my technique? I haven't tried a proper custard, which I suspect will ease the scoopability of the ice cream, but maybe I just need a better ice cream maker?

David Lebovitz: A lot of people have the same issue, because homemade ice cream has less air. I did a write-up of things you to do to circumvent that. Happy churning!

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Potomac, Md.: I'm trying to eat healthier and cook fish at home for my family. My qestion is how do I buy fish at the store? For example, tilapia costs $11.99/lb at local fish market and is supposedly "fresh." It is $4.99 at Giant. What is the difference in the fish? If I am just making tilapia tacos, it becomes a very expensive dinner to buy from the local market. Also, how about the frozen fish at Trader Joe's? Is it better to buy that than to buy the thawed fish at Giant or Harris Teeter? What about Costco's fish? I'm trying to become a better shopper and eater, but am very confused by all of the options. Please help! Thanks! Love the articles and the chats!

Patricia Jinich: Hey there!

Typically the cheaper tilapia means it has been frozen before, which is fine for tilapia since it holds its shape during the freezing and thawing process.

The key thing when buying fish is how long it has been sitting there at the shop. You can ask fishmonger if they thawed fish recently or when; if it has been there for 1 or 2 days it's okay. Fish just shouldn't smell fishy, it should have a light saltwater smell and shouldn't be puffy or have strange looking shadowed areas.

If you buy your frozen fish just be careful how you thaw it. Do it under running cold water in its container, but don't microwave or run under hot or warm water.

I prefer to get fish fresh, and these days you can find some at great prices and example is what you say: Costco. I am a big fan of their fish, they have such reasonable prices and sell so much that it is always fresh. If you buy more than you need for that dinner, you can always bake rest and make a nice salad with red onion, capers, jalapenos (am thinking salmon here... ) .

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Washington, D.C.: Date night dinner-- I've volunteered to cook for my new boyfriend. The pressure is on -- first time I'm cooking, first time he's going to be at my apartment... I am quite nervous!

I'm thinking a pasta dish with no meat will be the hardest thing to screw up. I have to prepare everything right after work. My best meals are usually assembled -- pasta, some kind of cheese, tomatoes/asparagus/spinach/veggie... I made a wine-soaked pasta that would've been awesome with a few tweaks.

Any suggestions for a pasta dish that requires mostly assembly, maybe just cooking the pasta and veggies?

Thanks!

Jane Black: I agree. Pasta is a cinch and will keep it very low-stress for you. The absolute easiest pasta, but still an elegant and seasonal one, is a raw tomato sauce. Simple chop up really fresh, ripe tomatoes in a bowl. Add minced garlic (not too much, if it's a date) and pour some olive oil on top. Let it sit while you prepare the pasta. When the pasta is ready. Add the sauce, a lot of chopped basil, some crushed red pepper. (To make it "fancier," you can also add some chopped olives and capers.) Before serving, add fresh grated parmesan. It's summer in a bowl.

Joe Yonan: For more pasta inspiration, look at this great pasta-pairings chart we ran with Domenica Marchetti's help earlier this year.

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Potomac, Md.: Etiquette question for shopping at the market: are we "allowed" to pick the fruit/veggies that we want, or is it proper for us to point to what we want, hoping that the vendor will give us the good stuff?

David Lebovitz: Are you talking about Paris? If so, it depends if they know you. Most won't let you touch things (for hygiene, they say..) but if unsure, I point at each piece of fruit I want. But in Paris, it's essential to go to the same vendors over and over and over. Even if you're just here for a week. The second time, they will be your pal. Well, most of the time..

Joe Yonan: And if you're not talking about Paris, if you mean D.C. area, you can indeed pick your own...

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Detroit: When I bake cakes, the end result often comes out quite dense and heavy, even thought that's not the goal! I try to follow the recipes verbatim and am very careful with my measurements. Any thoughts or tips on creating that perfect cake? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Can I focus in on your measuring technique for a minute? How do you measure your flour? If it's not specified in a recipe, I sift the flour into a bowl and gently scoop and sweep from there, or if I'm in a hurry I'll whisk up the flour to aerate it in its canister before scooping. That makes a big difference.

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Framingham, Mass.: Do you have a recipe for a moist marble bundt cake that is coffee flavored and has chocolate swirled through it? Thank you.

Leigh Lambert: I can't vouch for this recipe first hand, but I think it sounds promising. For some added dimension, I would fold in mini-chocolate chips into the batter. Let us know how it turns out (and if I need to try it)!

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McLean, Va.: Why is it so difficult find American wine in Paris? It is almost impossible in restaurants to order American wine.

Jane Black: I know I should let David but...my thought is that the French just prefer their wines. And American wines are not good enough for the premium the French would have to pay to to drink them. And when in Paris...

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Kingston, Ontario: What perfect timing for your live chat...I was just trying to figure out how I could possibly make licorice ice cream at home (my husband's favourite). I know this is a bit unusual...but any ideas? Thanks!

David Lebovitz: There are two things I don't eat. If you read my Paris book, you know one of them (hint: It has tentacles and is evil, evil, evil) and the other is liquorice. Sorry!

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Washington, D.C.: Where can I buy labneh in the D.C./Baltimore area? I know it's possible to make at home, but I would like to avoid that!

Jane Black: Try Yekta Grocery in Rockville, 1488 Rockville Pike # A, Rockville, (301) 984-1190. The price is $2.99.

Bonnie Benwick: I'm pretty sure Whole Foods carries some brand, as do Trader Joe's (called Mediterranean cheese-style yogurt) and the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington (703-276-8681).

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Mountain View, Calif.: What culinary suggestions would you have for someone moving to Paris? What kitchen items to take, leave behind, and what could you absolutely not live without?

David Lebovitz: Well, definitely bring measuring cups and spoons, OXO tools (which you can get here, but are much cheaper in the states) and ditto with things like muffin tins, and the like.

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I made frozen yogurt recently : and it was "too yogurty" for a few of the people eating it. I started with very high quality yogurt from the farmer's market, which tastes stronger than anything I get at the grocery store, so could that be part of the problem. Any way to balance out the flavors (I mixed it with peaches I had cooked in a simple syrup and a splash of vanilla)?

David Lebovitz: Hmm, never had frozen yogurt be too yogurty for anyone. You could cut the base with half-and-half or cream before churning?

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U Street, Washington, D.C.: I have been trying in vain to find good Chinese take out in D.C. What are the best places to order from that deliver?

Joe Yonan: Get thee to a phone, and dial up Great Wall Szechuan House. I swear, they come so quickly to me that I think they must be be psychic and start on the order before I even know I want it.

Jane Black: I don't pretend to be an expert but my go-to is Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th Street. Most of the menu is pretty standard. But the Ma-La dishes, made with the tingling Szechuan peppercorns, are terrific. I usually get the ma-po tofu and an order of the sparklingly fresh baby bok choy with garlic. If you are feeling decadent, try the twice-cooked pork. Besides the good food, the delivery service is unbelievable. They normally get to my house within 15 minutes of me setting down the phone.

Jane Black: Great minds think alike, I guess.

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Bethesda, Md.: Now that we're seeing awesome tomatoes in the farmer's market, any good tips for gazpacho recipes?

Jane Black: I'm a sucker for Jose Andres's gazpacho. Here it is.

Gazpacho Andaluz (6 servings)

This version of the Spanish classic from the city of Algeciras, which is on the Strait of Gibraltar in Andalusia in southern Spain, is from Jaleo. Andres garnishes the gazpacho traditionally with a small dice of tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, a bread crouton and a drizzle of olive oil.

1 pound very ripe tomatoes, cut into medium dice, plus additional for garnish

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped

5 ounces cucumber, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cup)

3 ounces green bell pepper, seeded and diced (1/2 large pepper)

3 ounces bread, torn into small pieces (1 cup)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 cup water, plus additional as necessary.

Salt to taste

Transfer half of each ingredient to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining ingredients. You may need to add additional water since the water content of the ingredients varies. Taste and season with salt. Strain the mixture, discarding the solids. Cover and refrigerate until chilled through.

Per serving: 181 calories, 2 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 130 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

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Princeton, N.J.: Hi David! So a friend and I recently tried making the ever- so-devious macarons. Out of 3 batches we had not a single completely perfect one and they were all messed up in different ways. After some misery and tears we compiled a list of notes for our next batch. Anyway, my question is what can we do to try to get a little consistency between our batches so we can correct one problem instead of say, five?

Unrelated other question: Any suggestion for where to get good comté cheese on the east coast? French food blogs make me crave it ceaselessly.

David Lebovitz: Oh no! Macaron questions! Those pesky little devils. There's so many tricks that I gathered them all here.

(Geez, I feel like everything is on that darn site!)

I just had a chat with the Comté people this week and asked them why it's hard to get good Comté in the states. They said it's up to the cheese buyer to pick a good one, so go to a reputable cheese shop. Try to get one aged 18 months. SO GOOD! (Sorry for the all caps..I couldn't help it..)

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Short Hills, N.J.: David, I love your Chocolate Book, fabulous, yummy recipes. Each a gem. My question, though, is about an ice cream maker. We want to buy one -- a really good machine. Do you have a couple you could recommend? I need to experiment. Fruit time is upon us in the Garden State.

Merci beaucoup!

David Lebovitz: I fell in love with my Cuisinart ICE50 which has a freezer in it, so I don't need to pre-freeze that stupid canister...which never fits in my freezer, either. It ain't' super cheap, but I sleep with it. (Yes, really. It's in my bedroom.)

The pre-freeze models do work well, though, and are a lot less money. Check out the post I did on picking out an ice cream machine.

Happy churning!

Joe Yonan: We're seeing some cheaper versions of those built-in-freezer ice cream makers, and hope to test one and tell y'all about it soon.

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Alexandria, Va.: How are calories and nutrients calculated in any given recipe?

Leigh Lambert: We have computer software where we enter the ingredients and it figures out the nutritional make-up. Except for food products, which are required to do rigorous lab analysis, most nutritional information for publication purposes use some variation of the software we have.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm a 30-something bachelor who will occasionally venture into the kitchen. What is the one cook book I should own? I've heard of the Julia Child book, but that might be beyond my skills.

Jane Black: At the risk of repeating myself, I like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Recipes for, well, everything and most of them are very easy and straightforward. Good luck!

Bonnie Benwick: Why just one book, Arl -- lack of storage space? I'd suggest three, all of which will teach you things along with providing recipes you'll make multiple times. None of them are doorstoppers: All About Braising, by Molly Stevens, Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, by Linda Carucci, and just about any cookbook by Deborah Madison or Lorna Sass, who will guide you through vegetables and grains.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Pati, the salsas look delicious and easy to make, I'll try the mango tomorrow. How do you choose the right jalapeño pepper, and is it too hot?

Patricia Jinich: Hi! Yes, that mango salad takes no more than minutes to make, and you can make it ahead of time, too.

Make sure your mangoes are ripe, you can tell if when you hold them they give in a little, like with an avocado. If they feel smooshy, leave them at the store. If they are still very hard just leave in a warm place and they will ripen up in a couple days.

As for jalapeños, some say that the bigger they are the less spicy they are... but I have been surprised, with chiles there is a lot of variation. But generally, jalapeños are not that spicy. To choose a jalapeño, they have to be shinny and a bit firm. They shouldn't be wrinkled, have block or brown spots on their skin. Check the stem area, it doesn't matter if stem looks old, but connection to the chile itself should be nice, firm and clean. If you don't find jalapeños, serranos can be used as well, but they tend to be spicier.

Here is what I would do, get a couple chiles and add a bit at a time. Take their seeds off and just add until you get it where you want it to be! Just remember, once you mix chiles in, they may render a bit more heat in the next 10 minutes or so.

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D.C. Metro Area: I saw mache in the store the other day. First, how do I pronounce "mache," so I don't sound silly? Second, should I cook it? Or is it more like salad?

David Lebovitz: Mache should always be used uncooked in a salad. A simple dressing with lemon, and perhaps garlic, is nice.

David Lebovitz: Oh, and it's pronounced 'mosh' like 'mosh pit'. If it's big mache, you can call is Monster Mache!

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Toronto: I am making a peach cobbler for dessert tomorrow night. Is there a way to bake it partially tonight and bake the rest tomorrow evening while we are having dinner? Should I just bake it completely tonight and reheat in the oven tomorrow? If so, for how long and what temperature? I'm trying to get as much as I can done tonight, so I'm not in a rush when I get home from work tomorrow.

David Lebovitz: Sure! You can bake the fruit part tonight, then add the biscuits and finish it tomorrow. Just don't eat the fruit for breakfast in the morning!

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Arlington, Va.: Any chance you have nutrition info for the butternut squash lasagna?

Bonnie Benwick: We can run it. Send your email info to food@washpost.com.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have a couple recipes that call for Serrano ham. Can you tell me what it is and where I could buy it? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: It's like the best prosciutto you've had, but slightly saltier and firmer. Called a "country ham." Pricey. A good deli or large, good grocery store such as Wegmans or Balducci's will have it. Or you could order it here, where they ship whole hams from Spain and slice it in a Virginia smokehouse.

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Philadelphia: As a reminder for Burke -- with most CSAs, what you get also depends on how well the farm's/farms' crops are doing. If it's a bumper year, you'll get more than you can imagine using. If there are problems that year, you'll get less. Also, some weeks will also have less or more, depending on when the crops are ready to be harvested.

Joe Yonan: Exactly. That's part of the bargain with CSA life.

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Washington, D.C.: Oh no! You've given away my secret. Every summer, when the local peaches are available (like they are now...yummmm), I make peach salsa, much like the mango salsa described in today's issue. I don't add olive oil, and I often don't have fresh jalapenos on hand, so I just add some cayenne to the mix. It's really delicious with crab cakes...I always get kudos for coming up with the salsa, and it's really easy and started as a way to use up peaches that were a bit past their prime...

Patricia Jinich: Hey! I once tried a peach pico de gallo, have you tried that spin?

Chop your beautiful peaches and add some finely chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt... you are right oil can be optional. Your salsa sounds delicious!

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Mountain View, Calif.: Hi, David -- I've made your lemon glazed madeleine recipe several times and even improvised once by adding lavender. What other flavorings do you think would work? I was thinking maybe jasmine or green tea, perhaps dip them in chocolate?

David Lebovitz: I would try some candied ginger.

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Kolkata, India: Hi, David,

Back again. My homemade ice creams melt much faster than store-bought ones (and no, this isn't a factor of my living and cooking in sultry Calcutta). Do store-bought ice creams have some special "slow-melt" ingredient?

I'm totally in love with your blog. It never fails to brighten my day.

David Lebovitz: Hmm, don't know. But since you live in India, they might add more milk solids (or something else) to keep the ice cream firmer.

Am thinking of going to India this fall. I'm excited!

Joe Yonan: I think those stabilizers in many store-bought ice creams indeed keep the ice creams from melting. But I think this is one of the joys of homemade ice cream. Not only do you get that immediate combination of softer and firmer textures, but you have to eat it quickly!

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Washington, D.C.: What is TK? As in, 1 small onion, cut into small dice (yield in cups TK)

Thank you for clarifying.

Joe Yonan: Oh, no -- where did you see that? TK is journalistic shorthand for "to come," as in, "I'm planning to fill this in later." We do it in all caps like that for the purpose of making it stand out so we don't let it get into print -- but looks like we did, if you saw it. So PLEASE tell us where so we can fix!

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Patricia, great recipes! I love your website, too. Is there an original Mexican version of guacamole? Is the one served in US Tex-Mex restaurant similar to the real one?

Patricia Jinich: Hi, many thanks!

There are many versions of guacamole in Mexico. They all use fresh and ripe avocados. My favorite one just adds chopped onion, cilantro and Serrano or jalapeño and salt. Others add chopped tomatoes, too. Measurements vary, but they should be according to your preference. Then some garnish with fresh cheese on top, too.

Typically guacamoles don't have any dry spices.

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Columbus, Ohio: Hi David! I have not had the chance to read The Perfect Scoop (its in the mail from Amazon), so sorry if you have addressed this question in there... I'm interested in making a peanut butter ice cream. Do you recommended using regular or unsweetened peanut butter? And since peanut butter has lots of fat, do I need to cut back on any of the other "fatty" ingredients so the balance of fat and water is okay? Thanks! Can't wait to read the book!

David Lebovitz: You'll have to wait for the book for the Peanut Butter Chocolate Ice Cream, but in general I use regular peanut butter since that's what most people have access to. And yes, cut back on the cream and swap out milk for some of it.

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Banana Pepper Fritters: I couldn't resist chiming in with a banana pepper idea. My mom up in India and used to eat banana pepper fritters as street food. She takes the whole peppers and dips them in a spiced chickpea flour batter. It's chickpea flour, rice flour, salt, red chili powder, tumeric, asofeatida and cumin and water. Then she deep fries them in oil. As the final step she cuts a slit into the hot peppers and puts in a mixture of finely diced red onion, and serrano pepper and lime juice.

Sorry I don't have an exact recipe, but these are incredible.

Patricia Jinich: WOW! Everyone, you have to check out this banana pepper fritter street food here!

This just sounds delicious!

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Kolkata, India: Also, David, to hell with what Romain and his brother think. Saw your photograph in the Post today (with the article) You are NOT fat!

David Lebovitz: Thanks, but Joe Yonan said I'm balding. So we need to start a petition for the Washington Post to buy me a life-long supply of Propecia.

Joe Yonan: I am NEVER going to hear the end of this, obviously. I would run a correction, except I wasn't wrong...

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Arlington, Va.: I've got "The Whole Scoop" at home. I started making the recipes a couple of years ago, first only doing the sorbet, then last year I tried the sherbet recipes, now I've just started the ice creams (only the chocolate one with the three egg yolks (a gelato I think), to great success and rave reviews). I haven't tried the others since I haven't felt like using so many egg yolks yet (either out of them or just hesitant). That being said, I would love to find more recipes like the chocolate and other ice cream recipes.

If I can be specific, do you know how to make the Italian "Fior di latte"? Is this just a plain milk ice cream or something else?

Thank you much!

David Lebovitz: It's funny, because some people have said I should add more egg yolks to my ice cream. Mostly I kept them to a minimum because I don't like yolky ice cream (Oops, the grammar police are pounding at the door about 'yolky').

In The Perfect Scoop, there is a Fleur de Lait, which is the same translation, but in French. Use good dairy and swap out some cream for the milk called for if you want it richer.

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Burke, Va.: Me again, with the CSA question. I get a half share. I think that my disappointment stems from the fact that for $27, I can get a lot more produce from the farmer's market AND I get to choose what I get (sometimes the quality isn't up to snuff, either).

Joe Yonan: Yes, I know what you mean. I'm doing a half-share this year, and while the quality has been good, I'm not so sure about the economics -- and I also like the choice idea. But I do like supporting farms with the subscription; it helps give them better cash flow up front when they really need it. You might be interested in a farm I wrote about at the beginning of the CSA season that offers more flexibility.

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Goes with pizza...: Hello, Rangers! I'm going over to a friends' place on Saturday, and she will be making homemade pizza. I am tasked with bringing an appetizer and a cocktail. Any ideas on a fun appetizer? I was thinking the pesto bombe from last week's chat....do you think that will be too rich with the pizza?

Also, any recipes on a vodka-based cocktail that would be fun? I'm game for anything, although I do need to transport the ingredients, so hopefully it's not too complicated!

Thanks, and love the chats!

Jane Black: Okay. Nothing like NOT answering a question, which is what I'm about to do. I don't remember the pesto bombe from last week, but I will suggest Jose's classic tomato-watermelon hors d'oeurves. Nice, simple and summery.

Six 1-inch cubes seedless watermelon

3 cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

6 small leaves fresh mint

6 toothpicks

Arrange the watermelon on a plate.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half crosswise and place a halved tomato on top of each watermelon cube, seed-side up. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and oil. Drizzle the vinaigrette spilling some onto the plate. Season the top of each halved tomato with salt to taste and place a mint leaf on top.

Poke a toothpick through each stack. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 37 calories, trace protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 48 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

As for a cocktail, this one from our own Jason Wilson doesn't have vodka as requested, but it's simple, refreshing and would go fabulously with pizza.

Campari Aranciata Cocktail

Ingredients:

ice

2 ounces Campari

3 ounces Pellegrino Aranciata (the Pellegrino conveniently comes in bottles that are slightly over 6 ounces, so one bottle should be good for 2 cocktails)

Method:

Fill highball glass 3/4 full with ice (preferably large cubes). Add Campari and Aranciata and stir gently. Garnish with orange slice.

Any chatters want to answer the actual question?

Joe Yonan: The pesto bombe was from Domenica Marchetti (who's writing about cheese on our blog), and I think it, too, would be a great appetizer for pizza.

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Pine Plains: Still very few tomatoes here. Our favorite farmer, the one we buy tomatoes for canning from (87 years old and still farming), lost her entire crop to late blight, as have many others. We could have a summer, and a winter, without tomatoes.

But the garlic has been awesome. Please cheer me up with something that lets garlic shine.

Bonnie Benwick: Lucky you. Here are a few of my favorites: Almond and Garlic Gazpacho, Eggplant Chips, Green Beans With Roasted Garlic, Garlic Shrimp, Zucchini and Corn Sauté and Garlic Seafood Soup.

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Arlington, VA: Re CSA Disappointment: That share sounds about right. Remember buying a CSA share is all about supporting local agriculture. If you are more concerned about value, you will do better buying at the super market, even at Whole Foods. Supermarket prices will be cheaper.

Jane Black: I have to agree, especially when you consider the waste (from the weekend you went away or the week you just didn't feel like eating any beets).

I've been begging a few farmers I know to set up something where I pay up front but am allowed to come to the farmers market and pick what I want, when I want it, in the quantities I want it. So I can get a lot when I want it and none when I'm headed to the beach. I'm still working on it. But if you like the idea, ask your farmer or farmers market to see if it can be set up.

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Annapolis, Md.: I'm fortunate to have an abundant and ongoing supply of delicious fresh chèvre. Any suggestions for a salsa-like dish and/or an ice cream or gelato based on goat cheese?

David Lebovitz: There's a goat cheese ice cream in The Perfect Scoop that tastes just like cheesecake. (Really!) You can also try my Goat Cheese Custards with Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup.

You can also make a great sandwich spread by mashing chevre with chopped olives, capers, thyme, chives, or sun-dried tomatoes, too. Or use it to make a tart. I just did a recipe for my site, which I'm going to post in the next few weeks.

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Paris: Hey David, it's Adrian (yes, that one...). What's your best Absinthe or Parmesan ice cream recipe?

David Lebovitz: Get over to the guys at Vert d'Absinthe and pick up a bottle and make this one.

(For folks who don't have absinthe, you can use Pernod.)

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Washington, D.C.: David,

I really enjoyed the article about you in today's Food section. We have been living in Paris at least half of the year since 2000, and I have only found the Provencal olives that I love in the Place Maubert market on Saturday. Which market near the Bastille do you go to, and what days?

David Lebovitz: Jacques is on Thursdays only (he's on vacation), but I think he's also at the same market you go to. Sur les Quais in the covered marche d'Aligre is a great place for some olives and tapenad, but it's an AMAZING store -- I love it.

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CSA: I thought my CSA was expensive (comparable for 18 weeks), but I get a lot more than that poor poster! Try not to focus on quantity -- think of how yummy your freshly picked produce is compared to grocery stores. If nothing else, at least you know the origin of your food. Those peaches did not come from Chile, Mexico or even South Carolina. It was grown locally.

Jane Black: Another POV on CSAs.

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Phyllo Inspiration: I'd like to use up my box of phyllo dough and need some ideas. I have a bounty of garden tomatoes and was thinking of making something along the lines of a tomato/cheese pie, but am afraid I will end up with a soggy mess. Any guidance or alternate tomato ideas will be appreciated.

Bonnie Benwick: The tomato pie recipes that work best for me call for some kind of barrier between the tomatoes and the crust...try brushing a thin schmear of Dijon mustard on the bottom before adding the toms, or even a thin layer of shredded cheese.

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Low cal fruit desserts?: My favorite summer desserts have been fresh fruits/berries and ice cream or good yogurt. I'm supposed to cut out dairy products and lose a little weight. I'm trying to feed people something they think is a treat rather than "just" fruit, while taking advantage of the wonderful fruit in season. So what do you recommend instead?

Thanks.

David Lebovitz: Have you tried Summer Pudding? It may be the best dessert ever invented. Here's my recipe.

Joe Yonan: I love modesty.

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Ode to Paneer: I eat paneer all year.

My husband makes it with cheer.

I love his cooking, the Dear.

It makes my insides happy and queer.

Please don't laugh or jeer.

It's a warm and cozy food to be near.

I recommend you all try it without fear.

Jane Black: Mine is more simple.

I heart paneer.

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Boulder: David, I'd like to thank you, "the Perfect Scoop" and Kitchen-Aid (makers of my ice cream attachment) for the extra pounds I've put on this summer! Your book has been a fun summer project for my beau and me! I've also been into jamming this summer and made your no-recipe cherry jam to wide acclaim, especially the batch with some amaretto added at the end.

Peach season has just begun in Colorado. We truly have the best peaches I've ever tasted (no offense to Georgia or Alabama). Do you have any favorite peach dessert or jam recipes? I'd like to try a peach/champagne jam if you have any insight.

David Lebovitz: Since peaches are so juicy I make a cobbler with them. Just toss about 8 cups of slices with around 1/3 cup of sugar, or to taste, then a tablespoon of flour and 1 t vanilla extract. bake for 30 minutes, stirring once. Then top with biscuits and bake until browned.

You can add blueberries or another berry to them as well. Oh, and ice cream.

As for jam, adding champagne sounds terrific. I would likely use something like cava rather than a $45 bottle of the good stuff, though.

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New York: Re: the tomato-free lasagna: That butternut squash lasagna sounds delicious!

Maybe you could also try a lasagna with a pesto sauce instead of a tomato sauce. (There was even the recipe last week for pesto.) And, it's a way to use up a lot of basil!

Also, it might be cool to do some sort of Indian-style lasagna, using a spinach puree as a sauce. I'm thinking about Indian pizza that replaces saag for tomato sauce...If you wanted it to taste more "Italian," though, the spices in a spinach sauce could be altered (garlic, oregano, basil, etc. instead of coriander, chili, ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, etc.)

Related to that-- I love the recipe for the Indian style zucchini and am thinking of trying it with some grilled naan!

Bonnie Benwick: Well, you have good taste, obviously, NY. Spinach puree sounds like a great idea. Sometimes pesto in the oven can be tricky...depends on how it's made. The naan idea, also a good plan. You're on it.

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi Patricia, Do you have knowledge of, or a recipe for, a salsa that includes chiles, tomatillos and toasted and crushed pumpkin seeds? I enjoyed such a salsa in Oaxaca. I recall part of the dish was roasted, but ultimately everything was served cold. The pumpkin seeds dominated. It was unforgettably good. A molcajete was involved.

Patricia Jinich: Absolutely! Here you go:

Take about 3/4 pumpkin seeds. Toast them in a dry skillet or comal heated over medium heat just for a couple of minutes.

Broil 1 pound of tomatillos and if you want, add a red tomato in there, too (under broiler for 6 to 7 minutes flip once in between).

Broil 1 thick slice of white onion (will be about 3 tbsp chopped) and 1 garlic clove (onion and garlic take 2 to 3 minutes under broiler).

Now, it's your choice if you want to work at it in the molcajete or throw it in the blender! If you go with molcajete, crush the pumpkin seeds first, then add onion and garlic and last tomatoes (if you added) and tomatillos. Add some salt to taste... It is yummy!

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Pittsburgh: Years ago we stopped at a bakery in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (just across the border from Calais, Maine), where we bought still-warm soft lemony sugar cookies, the best we've ever had! I've never been able to find a recipe for soft yet tender sugar cookies -- everyone else but us seems to think that thin and crispy is better -- so was hoping you or the chatters could provide me a recipe. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: We admire your persistence, Pittsburgh. Soft sugar cookies are on Flour Girl's list. Honest.

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Boulder: Just returned from Ireland and am already missing the brown bread. Any good recipes to share? Thanks!

Jane Black: Oh. My. God. I used to commute between London and Dublin and my first stop from the airport was this little bakery to pick up a loaf of brown bread (and some smoked salmon) for the weekend. So I feel your pain. Our own Cathal Armstrong makes a fabulous brown bread, which he serves with dinner and grates atop one of my favorite salads ever: endives with pear, blue cheese and brown bread. He published the recipe in Food and Wine.

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CSA Scout contributor: Just to provide another point of view, for my CSA, I think we get a lot. We're paying under $20/week for what we get, and it's a great deal. We also get to pick whatever we want out of what's provided. Keep looking for another CSA if you're not satisfied!

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the reminder that there are many satisfied CSA customers out there! Can I ask what farm you joined?

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Arlington, Va.: You don't have to post this, but thanks for the cookbook ideas. Yes, I have room for more than one! So I will check out all four suggestions. I appreciate you guys for helping out an amateur.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, we appreciate good manners. Check back and let us know how you're doing.

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Madison, Wis.: Thanks, David, for the sour cherry ice cream tip, I will definitely try that (oh yeah, I've also made several batches of your no-recipe cherry jam -- fantastic!). But what I'd really like to make is your Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry ice cream. That calls for making candied cherries out of jarred cherries, but I want to make them out of fresh cherries. Do I just use more sugar? Thank you!

David Lebovitz: Sorry, I'm not at home and don't have the book with me. (Blame my French internet provider for forcing me out of the house!) So I can't help so well. But if it's just for the cherries you fold in, cook the cherries until the liquid becomes syrupy (very) then drain well, and fold 'em in.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'm new to the farmers market scene. I recently read Michael Pollan's book (In Defense of Food) and have become inspired to start shopping more at the markets and maybe join a CSA. Is there information about local CSAs at the market itself? Is the CSA produce delivered (for those of us that are car-less)? And where do you shop for produce in the winter when the markets are closed? Sorry for all the questions, but thanks in advance!

Joe Yonan: Welcome to local eating! Some of the farmers that run CSAs also come to farmers markets, and they have details about their CSAs there -- they usually sign up in the late winter or early spring because a limited number of shares goes very quickly. And some of them do deliver (such as mine, Karl's Farm). We run a list of CSAs every year. Finally, DC is lucky enough to have several year-round farmers markets, such as Dupont Circle, Alexandria, Arlington, Takoma Park, Falls Church and more. Here's our list of markets, searchable by day and location.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your take on pastry school? I dream of switching careers to one in pastry and chocolate making but wonder if I should go to culinary school or just get a job in a kitchen...

David Lebovitz: I think you should go work in a restaurant or for a caterer before investing all that money in cooking school. It's hard work, although a lot of fun. Most pastry departments and bakeries are always looking for folks to pitch in, and you can tell in a day or so whether the work is cut out for you, or vice versa.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Thanks for the softened ice cream tips. How can I get ribbons (chocolate, caramel, etc.) in my ice cream?

David Lebovitz: There's a whole chapter about that in my ice cream book, how to swoop and swirl. Most important: Don't be an overswirler. You want big ribbons, people have a tendency to over do it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hola, Patricia,

A few quick questions:

For "macerating" the chilis, do you mean to leave them soaking in water on the countertop, or refrigerator or stove? Is there a way to make the process quicker than what's listed?

Also, I used to be able to buy powdered chili ancho and chili chipotle, but can't find it anymore at my local markets in Mt. Pleasant. Have you seen it around, or -- alternately -- do you think I could just run some dried chilis through a spice grinder? I love using the powder as a salt substitute ...

¡Muchas gracias!

Patricia Jinich: Hi!

For macerating, I mean just let them sit in and with the rest of the ingredients (vinegar, oil etc..). Don't soak them in water, you just need to rinse them lightly in water to get rid of the seeds and to make it easier to cut with scissors.

It is super quick! All you have to do is place the ingredients in the container, and I can tell you this: the more it sits in your refrigerator, the tastier it gets! If you make a nice amount, you just have it there sitting, waiting for you in your refrigerator! Try it I promise you will love it.

About powdered chili ancho and chipotle, I think best source may be online. But you can also buy the dried chiles (now available in so many stores) and just grind in your food processor or blender and store in a jar.

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Washington, D.C. : Hi David,

I love your blog and look forward to reading your book. I am searching for a recipe for a chai-flavored ice cream. I had success with a peppery instant chai mix I bought once in Nairobi, but my attempts to recreate it have been gross. I've tried using the liquid available in US grocery stores and creating my own spice mix, but can't figure it out. Any suggestions?

Thank you!

David Lebovitz: I've not made chai ice cream so can't really advise. Sorry!

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Hey David, I was wondering what your favorite ice cream in the Perfect Scoop is? Your chocolate is the best I've ever had.

David Lebovitz: Chocolate Malt ice cream is the best!

And I love Ithaca...enjoy the summer, and the falls.

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Pizza cocktails: Jane's response with a tomato-watermelon salsa made me think of this -- I'd bet that the summery taste of a watermelon cooler would go well with a splash of vodka, and would be refreshing without competing with the pizza.

Put some ice into your blender/food processor, and do the first round of breaking it down. Chunk watermelon and add it to the ice. You want it to be down to about pea-sized (watermelon and ice both). They'll both "melt" as you drink them, so don't go for liquid. Garnish with mint.

Hope you like it!

Jane Black: Yum. Thanks.

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Logan Circle: Last night, I rendered lard for the first time and made salsa (a Rick Bayless recipe, though I'll have to try the ones in today's section). So now I have chicharrones/cracklings and fresh salsa. What to do?

Patricia Jinich: Oh dear! You have an absolute feast in your kitchen! Just heat up some corn tortillas, crumble the chicharrones and drizzle some salsa on top. Hey, I want some of those tacos!

Okay. You can also make some salsa verde, or basic green salsa (you can check my website; I have a great one there or they sell a good one at Trader Joe's) heat it up and add the chicharrones. Just let them heat and soften in the sauce for a couple minutes and eat with a side of rice, beans or just inside of tortillas too...

You can also crumble the chicharrones, mix them with a bit of onion, cilantro and lime juice and stuff some avocado halves with that mix...

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Speaking of "Goes with Pizza": What's a good dessert to serve with a pizza dinner? (Besides ice cream/sorbet/etc.) Presumably not a pastry, as that would seem redundant after eating pizza crust, right? Just fresh fruit?

Bonnie Benwick: I'd vote for brownies or ice cream.

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re: Cake Help: Did anybody tell Cake Help not to worry about how much batter a recipe makes? She can always use the leftover batter for cupcakes (or tasting to make sure it's okay).

Leigh Lambert: That's a good point. I was more focused on letting her know how much to use in her birthday cake.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have the clafouti recipe? I didn't see it on your site. I've seen various recipes with various amounts of eggs/milk etc.

David Lebovitz: It should be on the Washington Post site, the recipe from The Sweet Life in Paris. Check it out.

(Interesting--lots of baking questions, and ice cream, but not a lot of Paris chat....I guess it's all in the book.)

Joe Yonan: Here it is!

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TK follow-up: Uh-oh, it was in one of your recipes, linked to in last week's chat! I'll submit it to the email address 'cause by the time I look it up now, you'll have signed off.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Joe Yonan: Well, at some points we looked lumpy and chalky, but you kept stirring and we smoothed out and caramelized. So you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions, folks, and thanks so much to our two pros, David Lebovitz and Patricia Jinich, for helping us so ably today. If only we had them every week! (Hint, hint.)

Now for the giveaways. The Burke chatter who first wrote in about CSA disappointment will get "Eating Well in Season" (hopefully some inspiration). And the DC chatter who lives half the time in DC and half the time in Paris is of course a natural to receive David's "The Sweet Life in Paris." Send your mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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