Answering All of Your Food (and other) Questions…

What salt should I buy?

I use Diamond Krystal Kosher Salt in all of my cooking. Some people use gray salt, pink salt, etc. When cooking, what is of greater importance is that you remain consistent with your type of salt unless your recipe requires specific reasons to deviate. Different brands of salt have different weights per grain and thus vary in the saltiness they impart on a recipe. If you are baking, try to get in the habit of weighing the dry ingredients so that your recipes come out precise each time. Learning to salt your food is one of the best ways to “learn” to season and flavor. Add a pinch of salt, taste. Could it use a little more? Add another small pinch and taste again. Salting your food as you prepare it is how to build flavor. Salting your food at the end tastes exactly like it is – bland food with salt on top.


Photo Credit: Food52


Can we go to the beach together?

Absolutely. Pick a date; we can get a test, quarantine until the results arrive, and go!


Perfect roast chicken – can’t get it right. Any tips?

I plan to do an entire article on this next week as it is the question I receive the most and want to give it the time and input it deserves. A perfectly roasted chicken is in the running for last meal material. In the meantime, have you perfected chicken thighs yet? I would start there as a jumping-off point.


The hardest part of the daily restaurant grind?

It is a beast that is never sated. It is always demanding of time. Regardless if you are tired, understaffed, sick, equipment is down, have missed deliveries, or are in the middle of a pandemic. The show must go on as if everything is perfect – the magic of hospitality.


What’s your go-to quick and easy dinner when you don’t feel like cooking (no salads!)?

You will laugh, but I like to make breakfast tacos for dinner. Eggs, black beans, avocado, salsa (make it or buy it), and any extra veggies or toppings I want to use up in the fridge. If you don’t have tortillas, breakfast nachos work. No chips? Use crunchy veggies. It’s the best.

I eat and cook a lot of eggs. I would argue they are a damn near perfect food. Want to start to understand the versatility of an egg? Make lemon curd or fresh Cesar dressing. Understanding eggs will change your cooking for the better.


Photo Credit: Food & Wine


How does a chef entertain at home when you have to cook all the time at work?

I approach all cooking and entertaining, either at home or at the restaurants, the same. The more work you do in advance, the better and easier it is when the big day comes around. Enter eye roll here. If I haven’t done a great job planning, which happens more often than not, I am an advocate of sourcing the best ingredients I can afford and then doing as little to them as possible.

For example, this time of year, I like to buy fresh tomatoes and peaches and slice them all in the same shape. Top with high quality, pungent cheese, and something crunchy (I like sunflower seeds). Top with salt, olive oil, and seasonal herbs or microgreens (which are so fun and worth the extra money if you have it). They pack so much flavor, are nutritionally dense, and create a very composed dish. Pair with whatever protein you have perfected (roast chicken)? and a loaf of crusty, high-quality bread with European Cultured Butter (yes, really, just do it). Fast, easy, and impressive.


What is the easiest appetizer to take to a party that looks like you know how to cook?

This is a fun time to bring out “exotic” ingredients that you don’t have to do very much with, but that will have a big impact. For example, if they are in season, I like to slice fresh figs, drizzle them with honey, add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and crumbled crispy bacon. Easy, beautiful, and delicious.


 Photo Credit: Bon Appetit


Another fun example is to serve something like “Crab Remoulade,” which is a really impressive way to say “crab dip.” And it is so simple. Just mix up the following ingredients.

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I’m partial to Duke’s)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, packed in water, not salt and chop finely
  • 8 ounces fresh crabmeat, picked over (shrimp works well too)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery – include the smallest stalks from the center and the leaves. They are less bitter.
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives plus additional for garnish. You can substitute green onion or even yellow onion if you want it punchy.
  • The juice and zest of one entire lemon
  • You could dust the top with the lightest sprinkle of Old Bay, if you are serving this to anyone from Maryland, or knows anyone from Maryland.
  • Serve with crackers, veggies, or pita chips.


How to pick out a melon…

Please see the below photo.



  • The latest from Nicole
Head Janitor, Chef, and Proprietor | Stomping Ground
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate. Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families. As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients. Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.

If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.

2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301


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