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

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.

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

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"Farro makes a lovely crust for quiche and 'nest' for small plated egg dishes. The last quiche I put together, I parboiled the farro, allowed it to cool, added fresh thyme and nutmeg to the farro, and pressed the entire mixture on the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Poured in my quiche batter and baked. Light crust, unique." – HillJ

"I've cooked a lot of fiddleheads in my life. I've messed with lots of different recipes—but finally settled on one method of preparing them to avoid any bitterness or that almost acidic flavor they can sometimes have." – Nyleve

"Nuke it in the microwave in five-second blasts on high just till it's not quite brittle but not till it's soft or melted at all. Then, use a big, sharp chef's knife to cut them first in one direction into strips, then the other into cubes. Voilà: perfect little chunks, no chocolate dust." – Raspberries, on chopping large chocolate bars into chunks for cookies

The Problem(s) with Slow Food

Hey, sustainable/local/organic food proponents: Stuff it, because poor people are starving in Africa and Asia, and your hoity-toity philosophy ain't helping anything. That's the really, really crude distillation of a thought-provoking story in Foreign Policy on fighting hunger in the developing world. The thesis of Robert Paarlberg's article: "Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that 'sustainable food' in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work."


Trip Report from Dark Lord Day

Last weekend, beer geeks from around the country converged on Munster, Indiana, for the yearly release of a limited edition beer called Dark Lord. Made by Three Floyds Brewing Company, the "demonic Russian Style Imperial Stout, brewed with Intelligentsia coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar" (per the company’s description) can only be obtained in person on one special day. And besides just being a seriously good rare beer, it's used as currency when people are trading for other seriously good rare beers. We spoke to our New York City beer geek friend, Aaron, who wished his last name to remain off the record (because he’d been playing hooky from work) about what his first experience at Dark Lord Day was like. READ MORE

How to Brew Small-Batch Beer in Your Kitchen

How to Brew Small-Batch Beer in Your Kitchen

All you need is simple equipment and enthusiasm. READ MORE

The Way of Matcha

The standard equipment for brewing matcha—Japanese powdered green tea—is not a teapot and a cup, but instead a bowl and a whisk or brush. The short version of how to use them, says maria lorraine, is to "heat water to the proper temperature (below boiling) and add water to the matcha. Stir and/or froth with the wooden brush." But tea ceremonies can be very elaborate. Matcha is special tea, says Caroline1, "the heart of chanoyu," the traditional Zen Japanese tea ceremony. "Matcha isn't for lemon or milk with sugar," she says. "It's a different kind of tea, and in this stressful world we live in, the meditative ceremony that traditionally goes with it ain't all that bad either!"

limster notes that one of the unique qualities of matcha is that it's prepared as an emulsion rather than as an infusion. And while you wouldn't add sugar to it, "it's traditional to have something sweet with matcha," says limster. "Mochi are quite typical, but a cookie or some chocolate would not be bad." And a final idea for enjoying matcha: "One of my pals who's a hardcore Japanese tea ceremony guy also suggests making matcha in warm sake instead of water."

Discuss: Matcha tea bowl and "brush"?

Testing the Boundaries of Ice Cream

Forget chocolate and strawberry. How about Parmesan cheese ice cream? Shops specializing in strange, unexpected flavors of ice cream are gaining popularity.

Mestralle's local shop in Michigan serves flavors like mincemeat, chai latte, and carrot cake. gordeaux finds flavors like Parmesan cheese, corn bread, jalapeño, avocado, and tequila at Paleteria Flamingos in Berwyn, Illinois.

"At Baskin-Robbins, they make different flavors to market to the various nationalities in Dubai," says luckyfatima. "They have baqlawa ice cream. They also have scone ice cream. We have some in-house gelato places that do good stuff like Ferrero Rochet, Nutella, and so forth."

JungMann's favorite weird flavor is "avocado, purple yam, mutant coconut, and cheese ice cream, which is sometimes eaten in bread instead of a cone. Lately I have been particularly fond of sesame and taro," he says. pinstripeprincess tried snake and beef tongue ice cream in Japan. And Scoops in Los Angeles serves flavors like bacon caramel, goat cheese and purple basil, and salty chocolate, says mollyomormon.

FishTales was in Martha's Vineyard in the early 1980s, at a small ice cream shop near the ferry dock. "Their 'flavor of the day' once was vanilla with clams," says FishTales.

Discuss: Most (Or Oddest) Ice Cream Flavours?