Dawn Viola is a food writer and award-winning cook on a mission to teach others how to cook with creativity and purpose using sustainable, local and organic ingredients whenever possible, with an improvisational approach to cooking.

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  • Location: Orlando, Florida
  • Last bite on earth: Pizza strips and spinach pies from Federal Hill in Rhode Island, and then clam cakes and chowder on the jetty by Block Island Sound.

Daily Slice: Tomato Pie from Conshohocken Bakery

Looks just like the pizza strips from the Italian bakeries in Rhode Island.

How about a Serious Eats Convention?

Love the idea, but please come to Florida. It's sunny, warm and no one ever holds a food event here, could be the first! hint, hint.

Any Holiday Cooking Questions? Ask Harold McGee and The Food Lab

Hi Kenji and Harold - I have two questions:

#1 - I'd love to know exactly how much acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) is needed to to break gluten strands in a standard pate brisee -- is there a ratio that has been recorded?

#2 - can I heat cream to infuse with an herb, then cool it and whip it into stiff peaks? Or is it better just to do a cold infusion for 24 hrs.?


autolyze or not to autalyze

There is a substantial difference in the final flavor. The autolysed dough is more complex -- waiting to add the salt gives the yeast a fighting chance to do their magic.

Make two batches, one using autolyse, one without and compare :-)

Making Ketchup

When I'm in a hurry, I make homemade with San Marzano tomato paste. But you can reduce your fresh tomatoes (blanched and peeled) to the same consistency -- it will take a few hours, but well worth it :-)

...and speaking of ketchup

I make my own, which always has to stay in the fridge.

The Food Lab: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Plus More!) About Boiling Water

I know know, Kenji, I saw you at ATK a couple of weeks ago and you looked pretty good to me!

Do touristy places ever have good food?

I live in Orlando. I wish it weren't true, but no. No way, no how.

Smoked sugar?

Originally thinking about making a caramel with the smoked sugar for a topping on frozen Greek yogurt, with spiced pumpkin seeds. But, it would be great in other desserts, and savory dishes that could use a little sweet/smoky flavor.

Good side dishes for Spanish tortilla?

A simple green salad would be lovely. Or, roasted red peppers and zucchini.

Movie theater food: what's your favorite and are you a smuggler?

I'm definitely a smuggler! I can't eat a lot of the movie treats because of food allergies, so I always bring my own popcorn in. Oh, just try and stop me Mr. Theater Usher!

rescuing a failed pie?

Cornstarch is always hit or miss -- it needs to be fresh and it can't be heated or chilled too much or too long or it breaks down. If it comes in contact with frozen fruit, forget it.

Arrowroot is a better choice. Or, a roux with flour and butter will work too. Both are much more stable.

any tips for new england clam chower

I love the idea of smoking the salt pork. Here's a breakdown of the classic chowders - broth, red, and white:

What's Your Favorite Way to Cook Potatoes?

We made flat French fries a few weeks ago, following the technique used for fried plantains. Instead of the plantain gizmo, I used the bottom of a sauce pan to flatten the tiny potatoes. It's our new family favorite!

Boston and Rhode Island food/market recommendations

Thanks @Leah!! I'll definitely check that site :-)

Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Academy

Weekend Cook and Tell: Foodtography

Despite three years of photography in art college, my food photography was less than yummy. I think I finally got the hang of it though:


Boston and Rhode Island food/market recommendations

@swampyankee Thanks so much!

Cakes Dropping in the Middle

Cakes, high or low altitude, fall in the middle because the cell structure didn't set up properly. Adjusting the formula will definitely help, but look at your oven temp closely, too.

cast iron and tomatoes?

You'll release a bit of iron into your food, which is one of the benefits of using cast iron. But I don't imagine the flavor will be very inviting. Avoid aluminum foil since it can release aluminum into your tomato. Studies are conflicted on how much will harm you (big surprise), but why take the chance. Be careful with non stick, too - if heated too high, it will release chemicals into your food.

Anybody using The Flavor Bible?

I love this book. The Flavor Bible is like a Pantone swatch book for a cook. It's a great resource for flavor profiles when you're kind of stuck in a rut.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled crab eggs are a favorite,

Cut the eggs across the middle, instead of length-wise, and you'll have a deeper well to stuff more stuff into the egg :-)


Cooking & Preparation Methods

Breaking some of the terms down into basic moist and dry cooking methods helps it feel less daunting.

Moist = braising, boiling, simmering, steaming
Dry = baking, roasting, broiling, grilling, deep frying, pan frying

The neat thing about basic cooking methods is that once you learn them, you can apply them to absolutely anything. So, if you master the technique of braising, for example, you can braise any meat, fish or vegetable -- it's all essentially done the same way.

Might be fun to research one item on the list above per month, and give it a try. :-)

What Are Your Favorite Matzo Recipes for Passover?

Half moon matzo sweet potato soup:

@cybercita I love your story about eating matzo sideways :-)

Debunking the MSG myth

As mentioned earlier, my allergy isn't to MSG, it's to soy. And, if you read labels carefully, you'll see hydrolyzed soy protein listed, which is a free glutamic acid (MSG). But, because food companies don't want to list "MSG" on labels, they disguise it by listing it as hydrolyzed soy protein.

Food Party on IFC

Has anyone caught this show on IFC? It's everything you love about B movies, but worse. Can't help watching, LOL!

Roasting debate: Do you salt before or after roasting your veg?

Driving home this weekend, from Boston to Orlando, left me with lots of time to listen to the radio. Molly Katzen was being interviewed on one of the channels and gave a convincing speech about when to salt roasted vegetables.

Her POV was that salting before sucked too much moisture out of the vegetables and caused them to steam in the oven, rather than roast. It sounded well and good, but I didn't agree. My experience with salt never produced so much moisture that it would steam anything in the oven. A frying pan? Sure. But not in the oven.

I tried both ways this weekend and am still sticking with my initial opinion. The vegetables I salted before roasting did indeed give off a bit of moisture -- a few beads of dew, if that -- which created a nice caramelized crust on the vegetables.

The unsalted veggies charred more in the oven and became very dry, almost dehydrated, even with a coating of oil.

I used a roasting pan for both experiements, with a single layer of vegetables. I also did a batch using a sheet pan. The only way I can see Molly's theory coming true is if the pan was overcrowded with vegetables, keeping them from being surrounded by hot air at all times.

Have you tried the salt/no salt roasting? What is your preference?


Smoked sugar?

Has anyone ever made smoked sugar? I'm thinking of trying it for caramel and wondering if I should just place a few smoky pieces of wood in the bin and infuse like I would with vanilla bean, or actually expose the sugar to cold smoke. Any advice?

Crisco National Pie Championships

Hi Everyone - the pie championships and pie festival are happening this weekend in Celebration, FL. If you're in the Orlando area, come on out to cheer the food bloggers on - many of us are competing in both amateur and professional divisions. Judging is Saturday (amateur) and Sunday (professional) afternoon. Event is free :-)


Boston and Rhode Island food/market recommendations

Hi Everyone,

I'll be in Rhode Island and Boston Ma. for the summer and can't wait to visit all of the farmers markets.

Any suggestions on must-see places? No restaurants, please - I have tons of food allergies and can't eat at most places. But any farmers markets or farm recommendations are great!


Martha Stewart Radio

Ahhh, so excited! I'll be on Martha Stewart Radio next week, 3/18 at 3 p.m. Please call in with your baking questions so I don't sound like a dork w/out questions to answer on air (((cricket chirp))), LOL!

Thanks to everyone at SE who encouraged me to go for it! You guys are a great support system :-)


Help, need specific brand of maple syrup

I can't remember the name of the maple syrup referred to in the culinary industry as the "best of the best," deemed the most expensive and referred to "as good as gold." I believe it either has to be, or can be ordered by mail. I also vaguely remember Ina Garten referring to it as her go-to syrup when she says "use a good maple syrup."

The name is right on the tip of my tongue, it's killing me - I can see the logo in my head. Any ideas what this brand is? I need to get me some for a recipe I'm developing!


How to clean a pizza stone?

I used our pizza stone for the first time today and a bit of drippy cheese got onto it. What's the best way to clean it? Do I just scrape and consider it to be "seasoned" like a cast iron pan, or is it OK to scrub it with some sudsy water?


Produce coupons

Does anyone know if produce coupons exist, and if yes, is there a central web site or is it through the individual farmer/producer/company?

I don't need a buy-one-get-one-free Eggo Waffles or Sugar-Crack cereal. I need lettuce, onions, tomatoes and carrots, please!

Alt. for gelatin in marshmallows

Hi Everyone,

I'll be making homemade marshmallows on the news in a couple of weeks and one of the anchors is vegetarian. Do you have any recommendations on a recipe or substitution for gelatin in a typical marshmallow recipe?


Small appliances, big money

Why are small kitchen appliances so bleeping$%!@&& expensive??

Seriously. A food processor is going to cost me the same as one of my monthly car payments. Ridiculous.

Are these appliances really worth that much money, or are the manufacturers/retailers making a huge profit?

How to store cooked pumpkin long-term?

I have about 20 pounds of sugar pumpkins I'm going to cook this week. I'll use some for the Thanksgiving pie, but want to store the rest of it.

Do you recommend freezing or canning? I want to keep the texture/flavor as true as possible. I won't be using it again until April.

I *heart* America's Test Kitchen on PBS

Yes, I know. Many of you have mixed feelings about Christopher Kimball, especially after his Groumet Magazine funeral reading.

But, I LOVE watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS and wish there were more shows like it. Hint, hint, Food Network. Take us into your test kitchen!

Kitchen Aid Pasta Attachments?

Last night, we attempted to make fresh pasta using a hand crank machine -- $50+ purchase from Williams Sonoma.

It looked so easy in culinary school, but boy, did we have a heck of a time wrestling with the machine. It took three of us -- me, husband and daughter -- to crank out a fist full of fettucini noodles. (yes, I blogged about the whole I Love Lucy incident)

Have you used the Kitchen Aid pasta attachments? If yes, did you like them, did they work well? Should I invest?


Cook I, II, III - difference?

Hi Everyone,

I'm thinking about working part time as a cook to gain some experience while I'm in culinary school. I've seen cook I, cook II, and cook III positions listed. Which one is the highest level on the line, 1 or 3?


Crisco National Pie Championships on Food Network this weekend!

Yea, finally! Food Network will air the Crisco National Pie Championships this weekend as part of the Food Network Challenge series, Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. East.

Watch, cheer for me (apple pie) - I made a few funny blunders that I hope made it into the final cut. Should be a good show - the four chefs they followed are all very different, but interesting and lots of fun.

Great experience overall - can't wait to enter again next year!

torta de aceite question

Yeast or no yeast? I want to make these at home, but can't find any consistency in online recipes. Are they traditionally made like a cracker, without yeast, or more like a naan bread, with yeast?


French culinary terms?

Is there a book of French culinary terms and their proper pronunciations? I'm going into my 2nd semester of culinary school in just a few weeks and wanted to get a jump on things, but my books isn't very helpful with how to pronounce.


Hilton Head/Savannah that cater to food allergies?

We'll be taking a vacation on Hilton Head for the first time in a few weeks at Disney Vacation Club. I just discovered they don't offer a sit-down restaurant, which is terrible because Disney is one of the only places I really trust with my food allergies when dining out.

Does anyone know of any NON-CHAIN restaurants in the Hilton Head/Savannah area that either cater to people with food allergies, or cook with local, organic or whole foods rather than frozen, prepackaged burgers, or pre-marinated meats, etc.?

We plan on going grocery shopping on the island at Fresh Market (and any veggie stands we find) and can cook most meals in our room, which has a kitchen. But for days when we're sight seeing, would like to bring a list of safe places to eat.

My allergies are legume/soy/nuts, so Asian is out (don't want to take chances with that one) - but seafood, steak, Italian, etc. is great. Thanks in advance!!


Food Inc., so what are we supposed to do now?

I support Food Inc. and the entire movement. But, I'm one of those unfortunate people who lives in an area where local foods are hard to come by unless (1) I want to add an extra $150 onto my weekly grocery bill to shop at Whole Foods or (2) drive hours away to find local meats (3) pay additional money to join the food co-op, which actually equals to be the same amount as shopping at Whole Foods and only supplies vegetables, fruits and some dairy.

I want to buy responsibly. I want to buy local, and do try whenever I can. But, it's really hard to stay on budget when my only option for trackable, responsible food is at Whole Foods in my area.

What's a girl to do?

I won!

Whoohoo, I won the Apple category, professional division in the 2009 Crisco National Pie Championships this past weekend. Food Network was filming, and I think it airs in September.

Just wanted to send a great big THANK YOU to the Serious Eats community for your support - we certainly talked a lot of pie!

Wicked Good Dinner

Passover pasta rules?

I'm confused. Help! I'm trying to wrap my arms around Passover meal do's and don'ts. I read that pasta is considered a non-Kosher food during Passover because it contains flour/wheat.

Could you skirt around that by making pasta out of Matzoh? Or, using the same Matzoh ingredients and turning them into pasta before it's baked off? So, instead of making crackers, you would boil the dough for lasagna noodles or similar?

Thanks for any info you can share!