Free Range on Food: Bake-alongs, burrata, beginner bread recipes, tuna steaks, fig jam, end of the grilling season

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.

A transcript of this week's chat follows

Archive of past discussions

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Bonnie Benwick: Good afternoon, Free Range fans. Man, it's a great day to be outdoors in Washington -- and eating. Did you recognize any pals among the baking club bloggers in Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's article today? Do you agree with Gut Check columnist Ezra Klein that making Hamburger Helper's "a lot closer to cooking" than going to McDonald's? Editor Joe's on special top-secret assignment (read: working vacation), and we have grilled soups correspondent Tony Rosenfeld onboard, but you can throw just about any questions his way.

We've got a few cookbooks and an extra Top Tomato canvas tote bag to give away. We'll announce winners at the end of the chat. Be sure to send your contact info to food@washpost.com. Andiamo...

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Madison, Wis.: I was amused to see your article about the bake-alongs. I've been "participating" in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, although no one knows it except me and my boyfriend. I don't have a blog, flickr, twitter or any other means of broadcasting my baking successes (and they have been successes, this book is awesome) to the world, but I've been very much enjoying following other people's blogs about the project. I feel a little bit like a freeloader, taking advantage of other people's hints and learning experiences, but sharing none of my own, but I just don't have the time to devote to a blog, and am not much of a photographer. Baking bread every week is time-consuming enough as it is, and I do have other hobbies. Still, I wonder how many other pseudo-stalker-participants like me there are out there, just watching others and quietly baking along at home.

washingtonpost.com: Too Many Cooks? No Such Thing. (Post, Sept. 2)

Jane Black: I've stalked lists before, not baking blogs, and I think it's ok. What I've found is that after months or years of lurking something came up and I wanted to share it. So I did. And it was fine. No one expects you to post madly. You do what you can. That's the beauty of these things.

Anyone else have thoughts on lurking etiquette?

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Rockville, Md.: I brought back some special honey from my summer trip to Spain: thyme honey and lemon honey. I like to collect honey from places I visit and my friends know that if they bring me anything from their travels it should be local honey.

Now I need to figure out ways to enjoy the special, subtle flavor of each honey besides just eating drops of it from a teaspoon. It's pretty good with Greek yogurt, and I have a recipe for a honey-glazed cake that's not bad, but I'd like even more minimalist ideas that will really let the flavor shine. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Other than dripping it on toast or cheese, I can't think of a much more minimalist way to use it than drizzling it over Greek yogurt. That is the best way to really be able to differentiate the subtle flavors. Once it is blended in baking the nuance is a bit lost.

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Thank You!: for the burrata tip! I am drooling waiting for Friday to get some. I also had not been in the store before your blog, but decided to check it out even though I had to wait for the burrata. It is a lovely place, and any cheese lovers should check it out (plus, I do like to support local small businesses). The staff there is incredibly knowledgeable, and I ended up spending more than I needed to after being given samples.

As to the Holy Grail: do you have recipes for burrata or is it just best served as an appetizer (or dinner) with bread, olives, roasted tomatoes, etc? Is it good on things mozzarella would be (pizza)? Thanks again, and I love love love the Food Section.

Bonnie Benwick: We'll pass that onto our Domenica Marchetti, our Say Cheese correspondent. La Fromagerie in Old Town is a nice shop. I'd love to hear from others on this, but for me, good burrata's best served simply, with ripe tomatoes or a tomato concasse or an olive tapenade or maybe even a figgy or chunky peachy sauce. It's rich and lovely -- might be too oozy for a pizza.

And we love love love our readers.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I am thinking of roasting a whole fish in salt for some friends this weekend. I've never done this before (I know, I know, you are supposed to use tried and true recipes for guests, but where's the fun in that?). Do you guys have any recipes, tips, suggestions?

Jane Black: Love making this. We ran a great recipe for salt-crusted bronzino from Komi's Johnny Monis a little while back that works like a charm.

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Mickey Mouse, Va.: I'm having a "mickey mouse" party for our soon to be 3-year-old and I need a rolled chocolate chip recipe. I have a mickey shaped cookie cutter but want to do chocolate chip cookies instead of traditional rolled cookies such as sugar. Any ideas/recipes?

Leigh Lambert: How 'bout a hybrid? You can mix in mini-chocolate chips into this sugar cookie recipe. The mini chips shouldn't interrupt the cutting out too much and they will hold their shape far better than a standard chocolate chip recipe.

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Washington, D.C.: Would love some suggestions for flavorful filling to stuff chicken breast.

Jane Black: How about a garlicky zucchini? I shred zucchini and salt it to draw out the water. Then I cook it lightly with garlic before stirring in a little dijon mustard and grated parmesan. Yum.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My husband and I will celebrate our first anniversary next month. We're looking for a cooking class that we could take at a nice hotel or B and B. Can you recommend any local destinations that offer either demonstration or participation classes (MD or VA preferred, since we just have a weekend, but we could also consider WV, DE, etc) Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: Nice idea. Our pal Christina Talcott in the Travel section has provided this link, which shows one in Maryland and two in Virginia.

Jane Black: Our fabulous travel writer Andrea Sachs suggests: The Inn at Meander Plantation near Montpelier; Hamanassett Bed and Breakfast in Pennsylvania; Little Creek Inn in Dover, Del.; Mercersburg Inn in Mercersburg, Pa. Or she suggests looking through a B&B directory such as www.bbonline.com for advice.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm a young foodie hoping to take my passion and get into a food studies graduate program that focuses on food media/policy. But I want to get some hands-on experience and would like to volunteer with a farmers market, kitchen or non-profit organization with a focus in food in our community. Do any of you have any suggestions?

Leigh Lambert: Having recently completed my Masters in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide, I applaud you. For practical experience you may try getting in touch with FreshFarm Markets. They run several of the farmers markets in the area and are well connected with the local food scene. Also,DC Central Kitchen runs an inspiring program training people in the culinary arts using surplus food gathered from area outlets that in turn feeds the homeless. Good luck with your studies.

Bonnie Benwick: You go, Flour Girl.

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Arlington, Va.: Rangers, My dad wants to know what I want for my birthday and I would like to suggest some cookbooks. The problem is that I don't know how to pick out the good ones. I've bought so many crappy cookbooks over the years, but only regularly consult a handful. The ones I live by: Raichlen's BBQ Bible, all of the Rose Levy Beranbaum books, one of Rick Bayless's Mexican books, The New Spanish Table, the recent Sur La Table series, The Gourmet Cookbook, Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything for the basic stuff. I'd like to branch out into Asian cuisines (Thai and Vietnamese in particular) so any suggestions there would be helpful. I'd also be interested in an all-purpose Italian cookbook. Thanks so much for your advice!

Bonnie Benwick: I'd add Molly Stevens's "All About Braising" to your very good list.

Re Italian, "The Silver Spoon" is oh-so comprehensive, and Faith Willinger's "Red, White and Greens" is a good compendium. But you may want to put in an order for Lidia Bastianich's "Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy" coming out this fall. Chatters, which va-bene type cookbooks do you use most?

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Baking how-to: How about sharing some easy, beginner bread baking recipes for those of us who are keen but scared to try our hand at baking.

Leigh Lambert: Nancy Baggett gave us some wonderful, unintimidating recipes for beginners. Slow-Rise, No-Knead Light Wheat (or White) Bread is a basic. And if you want something for a comfort-food breakfast try toasting Slow-Rise, No-Knead Cinnamon-Raisin Bread.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon! For dinner tomorrow I have chicken breasts and mushrooms. I'm thinking of sauteeing the chicken, then the mushrooms separately and simmering them with white wine thickened with a little flour to make a sauce. Any other suggestions? Would fresh basil work in this (I have a lot on hand at he moment)?

Tony Rosenfeld: My suggestion would be to dredge the chicken breasts first in the flour before sautéing. This would offer two advantages: first, it would coat the chicken so it doesn't dry out quite as easily. Secondly, some of the flour would caramelize on the bottom of the pan providing a rich base for a nice thick sauce.

Fresh basil would work nicely as would some grated Parmigiano and halved cherry tomatoes.

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Enjoying honey: Stir the honey into some ricotta to taste. Mix in about an egg for every cup or so of ricotta. Put in ramekins and bake. It'll be lovely. I usually service with a berry sauce, but perhaps just a tiny drizzle of more honey would work - perhaps cooked with a bit of brandy?

Leigh Lambert: That sounds lovely, especially with the crisp feel of fall in the air.

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Tuna Steak help: I like tuna steaks and since they're very hearty that's a double bonus but I'm getting tired of the same old preparation. I'll either do a marinade of wasabi powder/soy sauce or I'll sauté them with veggies, capers and lemon juice (so good). What else can I do to tuna steaks? Some of the other ingredients I have on hand (but rarely use) are oyster sauce, fish sauce, mirin, different vinegars, wasabi powder (and paste), soy sauce etc. I'm running out of different flavors for my tuna.

Help!

Bonnie Benwick: Are you a tartare fan? I've had tuna versions in restaurants that featured soft chunks of ripe avocado, olive oil, chives, shallots and even a little mango. You could experiment.

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Pan-fried flounder: I made pan fried flounder Sunday night and I have to say it wasn't great. I lightly covered it in flour, then beaten egg, and then breadcrumbs. I pan fried it until the batter was brown, but I just wasn't sure if the fish was cooked all the way through. Is there a better fish or better method for doing this?

Tony Rosenfeld: Flounder is not an easy fish to fry (and I know this well because one of my first restaurant jobs was on the fry station in a seafood restaurant on Boston's waterfront). Flounder is so thin that in addition to breaking up, it can overcook before the outside gets a chance to properly crisp.

If you do want to fry flounder, you're best off "deep-frying" the fish in a couple inches of oil. You won't have as many problems with the flip or trying to get it evenly cooked.

If you do want to pan-fry flounder, you're better off just dusting it lightly with flour so it gets a thin, browned coating. Not quite crisp, but still good nonetheless.

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Making Hamburger Helper's "a lot closer to cooking" than going to McDonald's? : Or do what I do and make 'hamburger helper' from scratch--using nice pasta, salt-free spices, good meat, fresh tomatoes, extra vegetables.

Bonnie Benwick: There you go.

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Asian cooking: I have noticed over the years that there are always a few questions on Asian cooking, but not really thorough answers. Is this just because you guys don't like Asian food, don't cook it, or just don't know enough about it to give a strong answer? Could you possibly have a guest who can help us make Chinese at home or help those of us who want to learn Thai or Vietnamese?

Bonnie Benwick: I wasn't being evasive. Just dense. I must have had Italian on the brain.

Asian cookbook recommendations: "Everyday Harumi" (new, Japanese), Kylie Kwong's "Simple Chinese Cooking," Andrea Nguyen's "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen," Debra Samuel's and Taekyung Chung's "The Korean Table."

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Cherry Hill, N.J.: I'm looking for a good cookie recipe for Eid (coming up mid-September).

What special treats might staff or readers have? Preferably, it should be from the Middle East, but other parts of the Muslim world would be okay too.

Leigh Lambert: We ran a recipe for Maamoul (cookies filled with dates), which take a little pre-planning, but are worth a special occasion.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hey guys! I have the best sort of conundrum right now. I've been a bit overtaken by the canning fad that's going around right now, and I've been preserving and pickling everything in sight. Last night, for instance, I made 8 half-pints of brandied fig jam. It looks wonderful, but now that I've got all these lovely purple jars sitting in my cabinet, what should I do with them? Are there more creative uses for jams (especially fig jam) than putting them on bread or giving them as gifts?

Thanks!

Jane Black: Serve with goat cheese or a blue would work too. (You might even be able to make a fig, fig jam and blue cheese tart, if you are so inclined.) If the jam isn't too sweet, it could be a nice accompaniment to roast pork (or at the very least with leftover pork on a sandwich).

Bonnie Benwick: How about using them to make a sweet omelet? Or adding some other fruits and vegetables to make a chutney?

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Beltsville, Md.: Hi Joe, I am looking for a buttercream recipe. I've tried many. The classic butter/confectioner sugar recipes are too grainy. The Italian buttercream was too buttery. I need a nice balance between the classic butter cream and the Italian and Swiss buttercreams. Is high ratio shortening the answer?

Thanks.

Leigh Lambert: This is such a good question. I too have found the problems you mention when trying for a rich "buttercream." I put that in quotes because what you really want is a frosting. We ran a recipe for an Orange Buttercream (excuse the misnomer)that uses a bit of cream cheese. Not enough to consider it a cream cheese frosting, just enough to give it dimension. It uses orange extract, but you can vary this by substituting vanilla extract or mint, etc. I think you'll find it a versatile cake companion.

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On top of spaghetti: What's the difference between parmesan, parmesano reggiano, and pecorino romano cheeses? They all seem to be sheep's milk and taste and look alike.

Tony Rosenfeld: While all three of these are similar, if you try them side by side, it's easy to pick out their differences.

- Parmigiano Reggiano is a cow's milk cheese produced in the north of Italy (produced in the regions of Parma and Reggio Emilia among others) following a strictly traditional method. It must be up aged at least 1 year and up to 3 years. In parts, it's this aging which helps develop the cheese's deep, nutty flavor.

- Pecorino Romano is salty, intense cheese like Parmigiano, but as its name would suggest, it's generally produced in the south region of Italy around Rome using sheep's milk. Pecorino Romano only has to be aged for 8 months so it generally has a moister texture than Parmigiano. The sheep's milk gives it a tangy texture which is great in rich Roman pastas (think spaghetti carbonara).

- Parmesan is the anglicized (and French) term for Parmigiano Reggiano. Here in the States, any cheese labeled "parmesan" is generally produced domestically. Though it may be good, it generally won't have as pronounced or complex a flavor as the real thing.

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re: burrata lover : If in your travels you find yourself in NYC on a Thursday or Friday, go to Scalinatella. Its an upscale Italian restaurant on 61th st and 3rd Av (downstairs) once a week (on Thursdays it arrives). They have fresh burrata made that a.m. in Italy delivered. I have always been a huge burrata fan, but theirs is the best I have ever experienced.

Bonnie Benwick: Thank you for the exquisitely cruel tip. Did I mention how nice the weather was here today in DC?

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Washington, D.C.: What exactly is "raw" virgin olive oil and is it any healthier than a plain cold pressed extra virgin olive oil? I saw the raw olive oil in the SS Co-op and was tempted to buy it. Would it be used any differently?

Jane Black: I hadn't heard the term "raw" with olive oil either. It's usually used with cheese or honey. But Luanne Savino O'Loughlin, the manager at local online olive oil retailer Olio2go, said that the term is loosely used in to mean that it's extra-virgin and unfiltered.

As far as health benefits go, there's no guarantee that an unfiltered oil will be better; generally the fresher the oil, the healthier it is because the chemical compounds degrade over time. But a fresh, unfiltered oil will be as close to an olive as possible so it should be pretty good for you.

One more tip if you're looking for healthy oils. Luanne recommends "novello" oils. These are the first pressed of the year and usually go straight from press to bottle.

For more info on Olio2go, see my recent

blog post

here.

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Upstate NY: For the person with too much fig jam, there's a restaurant up here that serves a delicious thin crust pizza with fig jam, gorgonzola and arugula. Yum!

Bonnie Benwick: Yesss.

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Fig Jam: Is wonderful on a grilled cheese sandwich, with a little rosemary and a slice of prosciutto.

Bonnie Benwick: Or with Camembert and a slice of pear.

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RE: cooking for guests: I disagree that when you are entertaining, you should use "tried and true" recipes. I think when you have company it's a great time to experiment.

Jane Black: I totally agree. I mean, it's nerve-wracking. But when else are you going to try new, involved things if not for a special occasion? I've definitely had my share of disasters but as a friend of mine once said: It's either good -- or a good story.

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Bethesda, Md.: I believe most of you would agree that with crab cakes, less is more. If you have good crabmeat, don't cover up its delicate sweetness. Why, then does this same view not apply to mild fish such as flounder? Today's recipe obscures flounder's taste with scallions, avocado, basil, garlic, honey, cumin, saffron, corn and tomatoes! You see this on menus all the time.

To me, sole (or flounder) meuniere is about as good as it gets. Why gussy things up?

Jane Touzalin: Actually, it *doesn't* obscure the flounder's taste. The salsa is quite mild -- the dominant taste is that of fresh tomato -- and the fish comes through loud and clear, or at least as loud and clear as flounder can, given its delicate flavor.

And since the salsa is served on the side (or underneath, if you want it to look pretty), you can just eat forkfuls of the fish all by itself, unsullied by any other flavors, if you wish.

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Grilled soup?: Uh, how do you keep it from falling through the gratings? Isn't that kind of like trying to eat soup with a fork? (Yuck, yuck, yuck).

Bonnie Benwick: I'm posting this because...it's so nice outside.

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Fairfax, Va.: I just made a Vietnamese cold, noodle salad last night and it was delicious. The recipe included a bunch of green onions and directed me to slice them thinly. I've never given it much thought before but apparently I've only chopped green onions because I was at a loss on how to slice them. I wanted to mimic the general shape of the noodles, cabbage, and shredded carrots. They were too round to hold down for the julienne-treatment, and cutting in half didn't really assist me either. Any suggestions?

Bonnie Benwick: The trick is to cut them lengthwise first, at least in half or maybe into three pieces, then cut those longer pieces into shorter batons. Next, stack them or even turn them cut sides down. Then sliver away. Or you can shove them through the feed tube of a food processor with a shredding disk. You can get 1/2-inch slivers that way.

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Washington, D.C.: I accidentally knocked over our basil plant and permanently injured it, so now I need to use the leaves before they go bad in a big batch. Obvious answer is pesto, but I hate pesto. Any other ideas for using up a large amount of basil?

Jane Black: This happens to most of us in summer, even those of us who don't accidentally knock over our plants. Check out our chat from last week where we discussed this very question or check out our blog on Friday, where the brilliant Jane Touzalin will round up her favorite basil recipes.

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Minimalist honey: Try this flourless "cookie" that's about as minimalist as you can get. It is my version of a recipe that I found online when we were out of flour. Grind walnuts as finely as possible to just before they turn into paste. Empty into a bowl. Add spoonfuls of honey with a clean spoon, mixing with a different spoon, until the mixture becomes moldable. Add a tiny pinch of salt to taste. Put parchment on a cookie pan. Mold the dough into little bars and bake at low temperature (300 degrees) until done to your liking. The cookies are really good.

Jane Black: Sounds delicious. I think a sprinkle of coarse salt on top would be good too. But that's just me. Salt fiend.

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re: Asian Cooking: I wasn't referring to your cookbook selection, more how-to advice. For example, I would love to learn to make general tso chicken or a really good vegetables with brown sauce or szechuan beef.

Bonnie Benwick: None of us on staff are Asian cooking experts, but Joe added a good General Tsao's Chicken recipe to the database just recently. For a brown sauce, try the Kylie Kwong book.

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Too much Kale, PA: Hi there...any ideas on what to do with too much kale? My garden is brimming (from "volunteers" from last year, no less) and while I love it (and my 3 yr old will eat a little of it), I can give only so much of it away. I hate to waste it. Any ideas beyond sautéing in olive oil and garlic? Can I freeze it for use in winter? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: An unusual way to cook it is to toss the de-ribbed leaves with a little olive oil (1 tablespoon per 4 cups kale should be enough if you massage it into the leaves) spread it on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes turning once half-way through. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve. It gets paper thin and crisp. If you've ever eaten the flash-fried spinach at Rasika restaurant, you'll know this is completely addictive.

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Alexandria, Va.: I love the sangria at Jaleo and want to make it for a party I'm having in a few weeks. Do you have a good recipe? Any suggestions on what type of red wine to use?

Bonnie Benwick: We don't have Jaleo's but this one looks good. It calls for a Sangiovese (Tuscan) red wine; others in our database use merlot or zinfandel.

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Washington, D.C.: My sister and I have been doing a lot of baking (desserts) lately and getting a lot of positive feedback. We've been tossing around the idea of trying to make some money out of it, but were thinking before we go that far, we'd like to take some classes. Is there anything you'd recommend? We both work full time, so it would have to be after work/weekends. Thanks!

Jane Black: Do you mean to brush up on your baking skills? Or to figure out how to bake commercially? My first stop would be the Susans at Culinaerie. They are great teachers and offer a range of evening and weekend classes in northwest. If they don't have what you need, they are a good resource for where to go. They've been teaching in DC for years. (If you want to read about a whole list of new cooking schools in town -- some won't be right for you but -- read my article from last year.)

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm really excited to try the smoky gazpacho. I only made gazpacho once before, rather unsuccessfully, as it tasted like blended salad and had a yucky brownish color. Will this recipe be a redeeming victory?

washingtonpost.com: Smoky Gazpacho With Grilled Shrimp (Post, Sept. 2)

Tony Rosenfeld: So, I'm kind of biased because it's my recipe, but I think you'll really love this version. I spent a couple of years living in Spain, so I'd like to think I've had plenty of practice. I'm not going to be saying anything new here, but the key to a good gazpacho (as with most anything), is good fresh produce - in this case the tomatoes. Grilling them as well as some red pepper, gives the soup a nice smoky depth and a rich reddish hue. Try it and hopefully gazpacho will work its way into your culinary good graces...

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Washington, D.C.: With the crisp mornings comes the end of summer, and the Labor Day weekend parties to usher it out (or mourn its passing). I've been invited to one that promises to start out fine but will no doubt dissolve into a bunch a thirty-somethings proving they can still party like frat boys. It should be fun! Because I don't know many in the group, and have been on a bit of a baking kick recently, I plan to take cookies (or another dessert) to buy people's friendship. I want to stick with the tropical/margarita/alcoholic theme of the event. Right now I'm thinking glazed lime cookies (from Martha Stewart Food) but replacing the water with tequila in the glaze. My question is, is there any reason this won't work? Any other suggestions? The requirements are that it must produce a large number with minimal effort, hold up well outside all day, and contain alcohol. Thanks! I'm curious what you (and other chatters) come up with.

Leigh Lambert: Assuming there's only a minimal amount of liquid in the glaze, you can successfully substitute tequila for it. The only issue would be when you get into a higher ratio or if you are trying to freeze or bake something and chemistry and physics come into play.

You could also try

Rumnog Pecan Cookies

, with a whopping 1/4 cup of liquor!

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Béarnaise sauce: On PBS, Hubert Keller mentioned that tarragon vinegar could be used in place of fresh tarragon when making a béarnaise sauce. Could you explain how to do this please?

Bonnie Benwick: Well, a quick glance at his recipe online (deep within his very fancy Web site) shows that he calls for either 1/2 cup of tarragon or white wine vinegar in his béarnaise recipe. You'd get some tarragon flavor but not as the lovely green specks would add, suspended in that lemony yellow sauce. Looks like he builds it using a basic hollandaise.... I'm curious about your watching him on TV now. Was that due to his recent foray on "Top Chef Masters"?

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Cooking Light Magazine: This is slightly off topic but I'm curious if any of the Food staffers are subscribers? If so, what do you think of the format changes they've been making this year? I'm a long time subscriber (nearly 15 years) and have grown very unhappy with both the format and content of the magazine, beginning in January of this year. What do you all think? I will not renew my subscription but am unsure what I will replace it with. Do you have any suggestions for like minded publications? I've tried a couple of issues of Clean Eating magazine and, while I like the idea of it, I find the editing to be atrocious.

Leigh Lambert: A friend gave me a gift of Cooking Light for a year and I enjoyed it, but will admit I didn't see the development and changes over the course of 15 years as you did. You may try Eating Well as a magazine for healthful food that is still based on "real" ingredients.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Got a question about scallions. Or green onions. Or whatever they're called. I read recipes that call for 1-2 sliced scallions, white and light green parts only. This confuses me, as the scallions available near me are very skinny & don't yield very much. I usually end up using more like 4-5 scallions to suit my taste. Are there big honkin' scallions out there that have escaped my notice? Thank you!

Bonnie Benwick: Big honkin' -- now that takes me back. Sure, scallions tend vary in size, and I think that depends on where you're buying them. The grocery store versions tend to be on the puny side, with 6-7 per bunch. Ones I scored at the farmers market in June were huge. It's my experience that few recipes calling for scallions would be RUINED if you put in just as many as your big honkin' desire for them requires.

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Fish recipes: The Post's fish recipes often call for fish fillets (there's a recipe today calling for 6, 6 oz. flounder fillets.) But when I buy most fish it's not usually in individual pieces...it's usually one piece.

In some cases it's easy to cut a large piece of fish into appropriate sized pieces, and in other cases it would result in very different shapes and thicknesses, which will cook at different times.

I know I can ask the fish counter to cut the fish for me, but it still doesn't result in nice even sizes.

It would be helpful if your recipes could detail how to deal with that...how to cut your fish into fillets, and maybe even give alternate instructions for cooking the whole piece instead of individual fillets.

Bonnie Benwick: We'll keep that in mind; we do often call for center cuts of salmon or tuna, for example. Look for our notes about thicknesses of the fillets, too. For a flat fish such as flounder (and who knows whether we're getting true flounder in this part of the universe), the fillets do come separate and approximately the same shape. And fyi next week, we're running a few mackerel recipes that will call for separate fillets and a specific thickness.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi. Any suggestions for lunch-on-the-go with a toddler? He hasn't quite mastered the holding his own PB&J, so that's out. And plain bread is getting old. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Quesadillas cut into triangles? They hold firm when made with cheese. FYI, we're running lots of back to school lunch ideas on Sept. 30. Stay tuned.

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Philadelphia: Hi there, I made a very good key lime pie from scratch that had few ingredients besides eggs and sweetened condensed milk. The meringue called for a quarter-cup of confectioners sugar, as well. The whole pie, however, was extremely sweet and I'd love to make it less sweet next time. The meringue wasn't that sweet so I don't know if cutting the confectioners sugar would help, and the filling didn't call for any added sugar. So what are my options? Use unsweetened condensed milk and try to add my own determined amount of sugar?

Jane Touzalin: If the filling was too sweet for you but it contained no added sugar beyond the sweetened milk, try adding zest from the Key limes to cut the sweetness. (Of course, that won't work if you just have the juice but no limes.) You can maybe add a little more juice to the filling, but you have to be careful not to add too much. You can try cutting back slightly on the sugar in the meringue, and you can do the same with the pie crust. Maybe if you tweak all three components, each one just a little, that will help. Good luck!

Bonnie Benwick: Philly, do you mean evaporated milk when you refer to unsweetened condensed?

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Last grill out:: I have been getting buffalo burgers from the Falls Church farmers market lately. Since I think this weekend it could be our last "grill out" of the summer, what side dishes would you suggest to make the burgers just over the top?

Thanks.

Jane Black: I love those buffalo burgers. I've been on a belated corn kick -- I didn't start eating it until a few weeks ago. So I'd pair them with our amazing Cambodian corn, brushed with coconut milk and grilled. Out. Of. Sight.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon, what is the proper way to cook pepper steak? My mother cooked some yesterday and the steak was like shoe leather and the peppers were soggy and tasteless. Thanks.

Tony Rosenfeld: By the sounds of it, your mother is giving her pepper steak a good long cooking, which isn't really necessary (though, she is cooking for you, so be grateful and don't tell her I gave you any advice to the contrary!).

Try using high heat to cook the dish. This will give the steak and peppers nice caramelized flavor and keep their textures intact. I'd also suggest using a full-flavored steak like flank instead of the more traditional round, which has a tendency to dry out easily.

Get a skillet good and hot, sear the steak, and then set aside. Return the pan to the heat, sear peppers and onions, add a little beef broth and a touch of Worcestershire, and return the steak to the pan along with some fresh herbs (like thyme or parsley), and you should be good to go.

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Chocolate fix: So my kids are driving me nuts today. Two more weeks until school, but I have to survive today first. Do you have a quick fix chocolate mix it and bake it or something easy I can do while they nap? I have cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate at home. What can I make?

Leigh Lambert: How about waiting until they wake up and making Chocolate Rice Crispies with them. It does call for chocolate chips in addition to the cocoa, but if you are really in a pinch you can use a little honey or agave nectar with your unsweetened chocolate as a substitution - just a touch.

Bonnie Benwick: A great and easy recipe.

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Speaking of green onions : I just learned they will regrow if you keep them in a glass with an inch of water! I've been using the same onion for weeks! Obviously, you can only take a little each day, but ... they DO grow back for free!

Bonnie Benwick: No way!

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Uses for jam: Shortbread cookies with a jam center. YUM.

Jane Black: I missed my chance but I just wanted to second the motion for fig jam on grilled cheese. I also love mango chutney on grilled cheese. It's so so good.

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re: pan frying flounder: What's another good fish that I could try pan frying then? I'd rather stay away from deep frying.

Tony Rosenfeld: Cod might be your best bet - it's thick and meaty and should offer just the right balance of crisp fried exterior and moist interior. Hake (known as merluza in Spain) is another good option.

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Philadelphia: Your burrata person and your exotic honey person should get together. Truffle honey and a thick slice of burrata on top of crostini (not the packaged crackers, just a lightly toasted bit of baguette) makes a delicious, simple appetizer fit for company or any purpose.

Bonnie Benwick: I've never quite gotten burrata to "slice," but we're game for your combo suggestion.

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Colorado Springs: I have a wonderful whole-grain buttermilk pancake recipe that I used to make from scratch a couple of times a week. I'd like to pre-make my own mix with the dry ingredients so I can throw it together on school mornings. Would the buttermilk powder they sell at the grocery store work in place of fresh buttermilk in the recipe? I'm sure the flavor is there, but I'm wondering if it will react with the baking soda the same way.

Leigh Lambert: Using powdered buttermilk and adding the called for amount of liquid at time of cooking sounds like an excellent solution. There shouldn't be any reason the baking soda wouldn't react. I've used the powder lots of times and never had a problem. Smart thinking!

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Cambridge, Mass.: I have been trying to eat lots of fruit this summer -- a slice of melon next to the cereal, and blueberries or raspberries in the cereal, fruit with yogurt for snacks and under ice cream for dessert -- and it has been delicious! But what will I do in the fall? I love apples with cheese or peanut butter for snack, and apple pie, of course, but apple chunks just aren't that great over cheerios with milk. What's the best way to keep up my new good habit when there's less fresh fruit available?

Tony Rosenfeld: It might be slightly hypocritical of me to offer advice on breakfast nutrition as my eating habits swing all over the place in the morning. That said, I do have a couple of suggestions: first, once the weather starts to cool, it's not a bad idea to switch over to hot cereal (like oatmeal or cream of wheat). It's a lot easier to pair with what's available in the winter like dried fruits (like raisins, chopped dates or figs) or hardier fruits like apples or pears. Plus you can top it with some brown sugar or honey which always makes for a happy day.

Bonnie Benwick: What about sautéing the fruit you love and topping it with a bit of yogurt, or baking apples with a mixture of nuts and spices in the cored space? Make a few at a time and reheat in the microwave.

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Tenleytown - Washington, D.C.: Anyone have a good source for honey? I am looking for Tupelo honey in particular. Thanks.

Jane Black: I think Tupelo is a little hard to find. (I know Bee Raw used to sell it but they don't seem to have it right now; might be out of season/stock.)

Here are a few other sources for good honey. Cowgirl Creamery stocks a nice selection of local ones including: Lord Byron Apiary's raw honey, $6.25, and Toigo Orchards' apple and peach blossom raw honey, $7.

Most farmers markets usually have at least one vendor selling it. Or check out the

taste test

of local purveyors in this article I wrote a few years back.

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Reston, Va.: I know I'm supposed to soak skewers for half an hour before putting meat on them and putting them on the grill, so they don't scorch or catch fire. My question is, can I soak them and put the meat on the night before, then leave them in the fridge overnight, or will they dry out too much?

Bonnie Benwick: You could wrap the exposed ends with damp paper towels and plastic wrap, or you could wrap them in foil just before you place them on the grill. Maybe investing in some metal skewers for your make-ahead projects is the way to go?

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Richmond, Va.: For the person wanting a boozy dessert, I made some Kentucky bourbon balls once and they packed a punch. Fairly simple ingredients and not hard to make. If you Google it, I used the one by Southern Food.

Leigh Lambert: Maybe this is the one you were thinking of for Bourbon Balls.

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Alexandria, Va.: I bought some Hatch green chiles this weekend, yay! I charred them on the grill and now want to make a green chile sauce for something like chicken enchiladas, after searching online I'm confused, any suggestions for a good sauce?

Bonnie Benwick: Lucky duck. What's confusing you, though? Have you looked at the recipes here, from New Mexico? Or the ones on iFoodTV?

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Re: Cooking for guests and Cooking Light: I totally agree with the try something new for guests. It's hard to get jazzed about trying something new on a hectic week night, but I like cooking for an audience. It makes me more adventurous.

To the Cooking Light poster, I'm with you on the September changes. I'm not really sure what they hoped to get from that. I don't think I noticed the changes in January, though.

Bonnie Benwick: Have you folks responded to the changes on the CF Web site?

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Butter measurement: OK, stupid question, but I'm making the crust for a tomato tart for dinner now (in between checking the chat), and the recipe calls for "1 stick butter". I don't have any butter, but was going to substitute Earth Balance...but, I don't remember how many ounces are in a stick of butter. Common sense tells me 4 oz (1 lb/4), but this doesn't seem right. Can you help? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: You got it. 4 ounces in a stick (8 tablespoons in a stick, which always confuses me).

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Chocolate: My current go-to fix: Milkshake sweetened and thickened with frozen bananas. It is really delicious: very chocolaty, not very banana-y, surprisingly sweet. Recipe: Peel ripe bananas, slice them, spread out the slices on a plate and freeze the plate. Then later when you want a milkshake, blend together the frozen slices from 1 1/2 bananas, cold milk to just below the level of the bananas in the blender (about 1 1/4 cups), and 4 tsp plain unsweetened cocoa.

Bonnie Benwick: Very chocolaty? Really?

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Washington, D.C.: Why, oh why, do grocery stores have shelves for lettuce and spinach designed to crush it? This particularly ruins baby spinach. Can't the produce managers see -- as I can -- that their shelving ruins the product?

Bonnie Benwick: Whoa there. Which stores? Shelves, you mean for the bagged stuff?

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Honey He, LP: Would the person who gave the ricotta and honey suggestion please provide the details--what temperature and time for baking? I like that posters share their tips but am frustrated that most of them contain too little detail and therefore are useless unless you are an experienced baker/cook.

Bonnie Benwick: Might be a bit late in the chat for this, but if we get the answer in time we'll save it for next week.

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Fondant: My daughter (13) is determined to make her sister a b-day cake using fondant. She watches too many shows like Ace of Cakes. I have never worked with fondant. Can you provide fondant recipes and tips for working with it?

Thanks.

Jane Touzalin: Hmmmm, does anyone actually make their own fondant? I don't think so. Even the Ace of Cakes buys his ready-made (I remember watching one show where they were anxiously awaiting a late shipment of it). If she really wants to try this, best to buy it from a baking supply store, where folks there might be happy to give her advice on how to use it.

If it were my daughter, I'd go ahead and buy some and have her start practicing with it before putting it on a cake, just in case it proves too difficult. The steps are pretty much knead, roll out, drape, cut, smooth. I've only tried it once, years ago, and I remember it as an ordeal. So I haven't done it since.

Plus, I just don't think the stuff tastes very good.

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Honey minimalistically: ...with a spoon!

Or is that only me?

Jane Black: Nope. Someone dropped off a tiny jar of their urban honey for me to try a few weeks ago. I ate it at my desk. Perfect sugar fix.

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Margarita cookies: Lime, tequila and salt. They're wonderful.

2 sticks (8 ounces; 230 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, 2/3 cup (70 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted, 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature, Pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons tequila, Grated zest of 2 limes, Grate zest of half an orange, 2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour

Coating: Approximately 1/2 cup clear sanding or other coarse sugar, 2 teaspoons flaky Maldon sea salt-

1. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners' sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in 1 of the egg yolks, followed by the salt, tequila, grated lime and orange zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn't fully incorporated, that's ok-just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. While the oven is preheating, work on the sugar coating: Whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl until it is smooth and liquid enough to use as a glaze. Mix the coarse sugar and flaky salt well and spread the mixture out on a piece of wax paper. Remove the logs of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap them, and brush them lightly with a little egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing the sugar/salt mixture gently to get it to stick if necessary, then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/4 inch (7 mm) thick. -To get the sugar/salt mixture to stick better, I moved the log over to a piece of plastic wrap, and in the sort of technique you'd see a sushi chef use to shape a roll, use the plastic to press the sugar in by wrapping it tightly.] (You can make the cookies thicker if you'd like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. (It's fine if the yolk-brushed edges brown a smidgen.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks for sharing!

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Sterling, Va.: Apples, apples, apples. I LOVE fuji apples, but the last few seasons have been both short and somewhat disappointing. I'm really craving a fuji-esque apple, any suggestions for the same sweet but crisp flavor and texture found in fujis?

Jane Touzalin: Not quite the same, but Gala or Granny Smith (local, not from the supermarket) might work for you.

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Baking with EVOO: I've had to cut out a lot of my baking because I'm concerned about butter. But I miss it. Do you have any recipes for cakes or cookies that call for olive oil instead of butter?

Leigh Lambert: True Spice Cookies are great. If you want more ideas there's a whole book (probably more) devoted to it. Not surprisingly titled, "Olive Oil Baking"

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Pimm's: If Jason is around.... I was given a bottle of Pimm's and am not sure what to do with it. I vaguely remember my father drinking it in a glass full of cut-up fruit and mint leaves. How can I prepare this drink?

Jason Wilson: Hi, don't know the mint version. But here's a simple Pimm's Cup recipe. In an ice-filled highball or old fashioned glass, add 2 oz. of Pimm's, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and top with ginger ale or 7up. Garnish with a slice of cucumber.

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Tuna: Another good marinade for grilled tuna is cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil.

Jane Black: Agreed. I use sesame oil, soy, orange juice, orange zest, garlic and ginger. Finish with a little fresh cilantro.

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Bethesda, Md.: Tomatoes are everywhere and I'd like to make and can pasta sauce but am concerned because of things I've read online about acidity. I don't have a pressure canner so it would have to be done using the water bath method. Can I just make my fav sauce and can it? Is there a sauce you'd recommend that you know can be canned well? I thought of just freezing sauce but space is limited! Help!

Bonnie Benwick: Of course you can make sauce and can it (everything's cooked in it? you'd following regular canning protocol?). If you're worried about reduced acidity and you're canning tomatoes the regular way, add some lemon juice. I do Freezer Tomatoes, and they don't take up so much space. I fill gallon-size resealable plastic food storage bags (the freezer kind) and lay them flat.

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Bonnie Benwick: Well, you've rubbed our toasted sides with cut cloves of garlic and tomato halves, so you know what that means: That's all for today. Your questions kept us hopping! The patient chatter wanting more Asian recipes gets the new "Japanese Hot Pots" by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. The chatter who gave us the margarita cookie recipe gets the Top Tomato bag. And the poster who asked about the differences among those Italian cheeses (way to go, Tony!) gets Giuliano Hazan's "Thirty Minute Pasta."

Thanks to Tony for joining in. Next week, the annual cooking class listings will run on our Food homepage (and for many weeks afterward). Till then, eat something good.

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