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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 5: Flat Tires and Freon Lines

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri learn why a Freon line is a scary thing to mess with and why thieves will target their ice cream truck.

We bought the truck in Las Vegas and we had to get it home. We weren't about to drive it. The truck gets seven miles to the gallon. There's no passenger's seat. And it was having mechanical problems, so there was no way we were going to risk driving it through the fricking desert. The guy we bought the truck from hooked us up with another guy who was willing to drive it out to San Francisco on a flatbed truck for $700. He left on a Tuesday and he was supposed to be here on a Friday. But it turned out our truck was too heavy for his flatbed. He'd blown out three tires in the middle of the desert in Nevada and had to unhook the trailer and go all the way back to Vegas to get new tires.
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Hot, Fudgy Deliciousness

The newly renovated Bi-Rite Creamery (now with seats, but the lines are as long as ever) may mark a high point for the new-school ice cream sundae. "The best sundae I have ever tasted," artemis declares. david kaplan recommends a combo of salted caramel ice cream, fudge, and salted Marcona almonds, and possibly a house-made brownie or cookie.

"The best of the best for me is a hot fudge sundae at Mitchell's" made with toasted almond ice cream, says sfkusinera. There's no seating at Mitchell's (unless you count one tiny bench outside), but the St. Francis ice cream parlor, always a good place for a sundae, has Mitchell's these days.

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One Syrup, Hold the Sugar

One Syrup, Hold the Sugar

This week's mission: Can "breakfast syrup" minus the sugar still dress up a pancake? READ MORE

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"My favorite turned out to be the whitefish. Surprised me; the combo of lemony ricotta and tang of pickled red onions really made the smoked fish pop." – Melanie Wong, on the sliders at Pal's Take Away

"Reports of excellent carnitas were not exaggerated and, along with a duo of sopes, made for an excellent final lunch." – grayelf on Chilango

"It's a bit pricey, but [patrons have] the unique advantage of being able to take beer from the pub into the park for a baseball game." – chuckl, on the new Public House at AT&T Park

Beer Nerds Cry, Christopher Kimball Throws Down, McToys Taken Away

Toys That Lead to Ruin: In an attempt to stop bribing kids to eat fast food, Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area has decided to ban the promotional toys that come with McDonald's Happy Meal and other chains' kid meals that don't meet certain nutritional standards. via the New York Times

I Feel Better, Starbucks: Food prices apparently went way the hell up in March, rising 2.4 percent (the most since January 1984). But that didn't scare off Frappuccino fans, who helped Starbucks post massive second quarter earnings, quite possibly signaling the end of the recession. via the Huffington Post and the Big Money

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Bunnies for Breakfast

Bunnies for Breakfast

This week's mission: Organic and natural crosses into Lucky Charms territory. READ MORE

Taking Hydroponics Beyond Closet Pot Growing

Lee Mandell is farming inside his loft in Brooklyn. The founder of two-year old Boswyck Farms currently grows tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, four kinds of lettuces, and herbs hydroponically in about 150 square feet. He considers Boswyck Farms to be a testing ground for his expanding business in hydroponic food farming: designing and installing hydroponic systems, as well as teaching workshops. He's also developing a science curriculum for K–12 grades based around hydroponic farming. CHOW spoke with Mandell about this techie approach to farming.
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The Perfect Risotto Technique

Achieving risotto that is creamy and just tender to the bite takes a bit of practice, but the right techniques make all the difference.

First, keep your stock at a simmer, so it's hot enough to cook the rice. As you add stock gradually and stir, don't let it all be absorbed before adding more. "I add more stock when I pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan and the bottom isn't immediately covered up by stock," says Whats_For_Dinner. "I find that a foolproof indicator."

Also ensure that not all the liquid is absorbed when the rice is al dente, as it will continue to absorb more liquid (you can add a bit at the end, if necessary). Take the pan off the heat, cover it, and let it rest for a minute before adding cheese, recommends cheesemonger.

Or you can forget all that and use an unlikely tool: your microwave. "Someone gave me Barbara Kafka's recipe for microwave risotto and it worked beautifully," says MakingSense. "Yes, I had initial reservations about throwing centuries of tradition out the window, but why not go with a winner? I've been making it this way ever since."

For a blueprint recipe, try Basic Risotto.

Discuss: Why can't I make Risotto?

Brie, Melty and Amazing

What's more delectable than a glass of wine, some grapes, and a piece of Brie? Adding heat, say hounds. Brie melts beautifully: Witness the fireside ease of CHOW's Boozy Campfire Cheese, or try it in "the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches," raves tzurriz. "I like Brie baked until nicely melted with a topping of mango chutney and broken walnut pieces," says bushwickgirl. "Serve with a good baguette."

Brie is excellent in pasta, says amokscience: "Add a little pasta water to help it melt into more of a thin sauce. The rind is perfectly edible, of course, but you can remove it for a really smooth texture." yummyinmytummy cuts the rind off Brie and combines the cheese with butter and roasted garlic in a food processor. Use this as a dip, in sandwiches or quesadillas, on a baked potato, or mixed into mashed potatoes.

You can bake up goodies with Brie, too. truman likes this bread stuffed with apples and Brie. LindaR cuts Brie in bite-sized pieces, rolls them in honey and chopped nuts, and wraps them in puff pastry, sealing it with an egg wash. Freeze them on a baking sheet, then store in a freezer bag, and you've got a delicious appetizer at the ready.

Discuss: I have a lot of brie wedges

Maximizing Flavor with Shrimp Stock

Savvy hounds never toss out shrimp shells after peeling the shrimp for cooking. Instead, freeze the shells (and any heads) until you have enough to make shrimp stock.

Shrimp stock turns up the flavor in shrimpy New Orleans–style dishes such as gumbo, shrimp Creole, and shrimp étouffée. BigSal is a fan of Paul Prudhomme's Seafood Dirty Rice, which is made with shrimp stock.

Shrimp stock is a great base for seafood soups. Add diced canned tomatoes, onion, celery, carrot, potato, seasonings, and fresh or canned clams, says greygarious, and "Voilà! Manhattan clam chowder." janetms383 uses shrimp stock to make tom yum, Thai coconut curry soup, and ozinboz recommends Penang hokkien mee, a slightly spicy Malaysian noodle soup.

Use shrimp stock to cook grain dishes, such as pilaf or risotto, when you want deep seafood flavor. scubadoo97 cooks grits in it when he makes shrimp and grits.

Discuss: What to do with shrimp stock