Free Range on Food

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Food section staff is a chance for you to ask questions, offer suggestions and share information with other cooks and food lovers. It is a forum for discussion of food trends, ingredients, menus, gadgets and anything else food-related.

Each chat, we will focus on topics from the day's Food section. You can also read the transcripts of past chats. Do you have a question about a particular recipe or a food-related anecdote to share? The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Read about the staff of the Food section.

The transcript follows.

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Joe: Welcome to the chat, food fans. Thanks for joining us on a day that's finally looking like spring. What's on your mind, and what's in your pantry, fridge, freezer, shopping list?

Did today's section tempt you to try any Spanish products, make a rice pudding, or whip up a hollandaise? Throw your questions and comments our way, and we'll try to field them as quickly as line cooks during service.

And for those with our favorite posts, we have giveaway books: Roland Mesnier's "All the President's Pastries," which Linda Kulman wrote about today; and "A Year at Ballymaloe Cooker School" by Darina Allen, the same chef that provided today's Dinner in Minutes recipe for Linguine with Chili, Crab and Cilantro.

Let the questions begin!

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Adelphi, Md.: I have some wonderful memories of rice pudding. My Mom is deceased and never used an actual recipe to make her rice pudding that we so loved. Other than the wonderful taste, I remember that she would not make rice pudding unless her cooked rice was at least one day old and it had to be cold (right from the fridge) before adding the other ingredients. She used the same method as provided in "Sis's Rice Pudding," to cook it, but not all the same ingredients - no honey, or lemon zest. Maybe I'll give it a try now.

Joe: Some of the best recipes are from cooks who, indeed, never used one. Sounds like your mom was so comfortable and confident in her rice-pudding magic that she did it all by feel, which is a beautiful thing.

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Washington, D.C.: A follow-up to last week's section. What would each of you choose, the pressure cooker or slow cooker?

Joe: I'd go for the pressure cooker, every time. It's partly for the speed, natch, but also because I have such a prejudice against things that take up non-stove counter space. Why should I plug something in for heat when I have those four burners? Besides, I'm not so good at the "set it and forget it" mentality. I can't forget anything, as much as I try.

Leigh: I would choose a slow cooker, but admittedly that's because I already own one and think along those lines. I enjoy the way the smell of mellow cooking fills the house with no effort.

Bonnie: Count me among recent pressure cooker converts. I grew up having to tend to the jiggler when my mom made tongue (insert flashback to reducing pressure, then skimming gray foam), and now I use it do regular things like making chicken stock and boiling potatoes -- in much less time. And 18-minute rice pudding, speaking of the section's dessert du jour. I think Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's article/tip on how it can tenderize in a hurry would be worth the price of 1 pot, alone.

Walter: I have to admit that I've never used either device. But that said, after reading the story, I'd like to give pressure a try. Speed has an appeal.

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Richmond, Va.: I'm excited to try your Miss Essie Brazil's Three-Layer Coconut Cake, posted on 2/14/07. One point of confusion, though - the ingredient list includes "8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened." If I'm not mistaken, 1 stick of butter is 8 ounces. Should I use 1 stick or 2? Thank you!

Joe: Indeed, you're mistaken: 1 stick of butter is 4 ounces, so use 2 sticks. I have several ways of remembering this easily: 1 tablespoon of butter is 1/2 ounce, each stick has 8 tablespoons, and the whole package of 4 sticks is a pound (16 ounces). So whichever way you decide to multiply -- half of 8 (tablespoons) is 4, or 1/4 pound is 4 ounces -- you can keep it straight.

If worse comes to worse, we HOPE you can trust us to get this right! Let us know how you like the cake...

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: why would anyone make rice pudding from scratch when there is kozy shack???

Joe: Because it's better! Don't get me wrong -- I'm a Kozy Shack fan. In fact, believe it or not, I'm eating one right now, because Bonny Wolf brought me some when she visited yesterday. Not too sweet, not overly artificial tasting. But certainly not as deeply flavored as ones I've made from scratch, and gummier, too. In a pinch, though, you bet!

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Bethesda, Md.: For the person looking for Wheatena, it's sold at Balducci's in Bethesda. I just picked up a supply myself! I mix a few tablespoons in with oatmeal, microwave for a few minutes, then top with a tablespoon of pure Vermont Maple syrup and skim milk. It makes a quick and delicious breakfast.

Bonnie: Bless you.

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Frederick, Md.: If I buy a box of cake mix and use rum in lieu of the water that it calls for, will the cake still turn out ok?

Leigh: Yes, your cake would be fine, dare I say better, with rum in place of water. The nice thing about cake mixes is that in addition to all the artificial stuff they throw in acting as stabilizers, they also act as insurance when you tinker with throwing things into the mix. So have fun and keep it away from the kiddies!

Joe:... and be careful about opening your oven door too quickly, because the rushing air could cause, well, let me tell you a little story. Years ago, I was baking a chocolate cake for a friend that included coffee as an ingredient. If coffee's good, Kahlua's better, right? Was about a cup, if I remember. Well, when I opened the oven door to check on it, whoosh! The cake caught fire! I thought about renaming it "Smoky Birthday Surprise," but the alcohol burned off pretty quickly and the thing tasted great.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do any of you have any tried and true favorite recipes for pork tenderloin? I'm having friends over for dinner next week and want to do something suitable for guests, but not too time consuming on the prep end. Thanks!

Bonnie: Just tested a pork tenderloin recipe last night. At home I do a very simple Nathalie Dupree pork tenderloin that's marinated in cranberry juice. Send an email to food@washpost.com and I'll send you the recipe tomorrow.

In the meantime, this Stephanie S. recipe got good reviews:

Maple-Mustard Glazed Pork Tenderloin

4 servings

In this recipe, the maple syrup balances the cloves and mustard, rounding out the pork and its accompanying sauce.

Serve with rice and a green salad that includes cubes of avocado and apples for taste and texture.

2 pork tenderloins (1 package, a total of 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup

About 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the tenderloins from their packaging, rinse and pat dry. If desired, remove the silvery skin that covers the meat at the fat end of each tenderloin. Set aside.

Combine the cloves, salt and pepper and rub the mixture over the two tenderloins.

Mix together 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mustard with 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup. Set aside.

In a large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the tenderloins and cook until the meat is nicely browned on at least two sides, about 2 minutes each side. Add the diced onion to the pan, brush the mustard-maple mixture over the tenderloins and transfer the pan to the oven.

Roast until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the tenderloins reads 160 degrees. This should take 20 to 25 minutes, depending on their thickness.

When the tenderloins are done, remove them from the oven, transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Blot out any excess fat in the skillet and return it to the stove top. Over medium-high heat, heat the skillet and add the chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits that adhere to the bottom. Over high heat, let the broth reduce slightly while whisking in the remaining 1 teaspoon of the mustard and 1 teaspoon of the maple syrup. Add the butter cubes 1 or 2 at a time, whisking in the butter to slightly thicken the sauce; it will still be thin. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.

Slice the tenderloins and serve with the sauce drizzled over the sliced meat.

Recipe tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Per serving: 372 calories, 39 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 6 g saturated fat, 291 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

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Silver Spring, Md.: It seems that most recipes requiring brown sugar ask it to be packed. I packed my last quarter-cup of brown sugar, weighed it in grams, recorded it, and now use that measurement so I can forgo the packing every time. However, my husband is afraid that the packing "does something" and might be necessary to the outcome of the food. So, is he right? Do I have to keep packing the brown sugar? Thanks! (And yes, I do intend to try the rice pudding with the rice left over from tonight's chicken tikka!)

Leigh: You win! Packing the brown sugar is just to ensure somewhat consistent volume results, a problem you've solved by weighing it. You can even buy granulated brown sugar (an odd creature)that some people prefer because you can pour it out for measurement.

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Palo Alto, Calif.: My wife and I need help settling a baby carrot dispute. Are baby carrots - the kind we buy in bulk, pre-bagged at supermarkets - whole carrots that have been pulled from the ground early, or are large carrots harvested and then reprocessed and shaped into baby carrots? Thanks!

Joe: Since I don't know which one of you voted for which, I can't say who won, but the pre-bagged baby carrots you see in major supermarkets are indeed cut down from larger ones. It was the brainchild of a California farmer who wanted to find a way to make better use of misshapen carrots he was discarding. Some farmers certainly do sell truly immature carrots, but most of the "babies" are no such thing...

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Capitol Hill: I was very skeptical that leigh lambert's man-catcher brownies would be better than my boxed ghiradelli brownies (which have won taste tests in my house) but i went ahead and gave them a shot. Holy cow!! They are so delish!!! and easy to make, too!....Next time, I'll add nuts, just for texture, but they definitely do not need more chocolate. thanks!

Leigh: That's great to hear I won a virtual arm-wrestling with Ghiradelli. If you throw nuts in to the brownie batter, toast them first for depth of flavor.

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cake mixes: PLEASE PLEASE - try baking one yourself. The difference is unbelievable. And I can't believe the food section advocates taking the time for homemade pudding but is ok with box cake mixes. There is a REASON those things are foolproof - read the list of ingredients some time.

Joe: Calm down, and stop screaming at us! Yes, indeed, we all advocate baking cakes from scratch, but that wasn't the question. And there are some mixes out there -- like by King Arthur Flour -- that don't use any additives or artificial anything and to which you add milk, butter, eggs, etc. They just weigh everything for you. All mixes aren't created equal.

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Chesapeake, Va.: My mother used to make rice pudding when I was a child. I remember coming home from school and smelling the sweet pudding as I walked through the door. She passer her recipe down to me and I modified it to be made in a crock pot. Very little effort and just as tasty! I love to mix in dried fruit but that is optional.

This recipe makes 8 servings and is perfect to keep on hand when you have a hankering.

2 qts. (9 1/2 cups) vanilla soy milk

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup sugar

3 Tbsp. cold margarine

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries (optional)

1/4 cup chopped, dried apricots (optional)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

--Combine all the ingredients in a crock pot. Cook on high for 1 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring every hour, until the desired consistency is reached.

Joe: Not to tinker too much with Mom's recipe, but I'd be awful tempted to use good old butter sted of margarine, and milk for the soy, but that's just me!

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Baby Carrots: Real baby carrots have a different taste than the baby-cut ones. If you've never had the real ones, they're certainly worth hunting down and tasting, particularly if you're a raw carrot fan.

Joe: Absolutely.

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Spanish products: Chorizo is so versatile, i always have some on hand.

A few nights ago, i took some chorizo and removed the casings, and cut it paper thin. I than took a 4 inch cod filet and dipped one side into a egg yoke on a plate. I than took the chorizo slices, and placed them on the filet, like scalles. I took some parchment paper and pressed the flesh side down so the chorizo sticks add a little salt and pepper, than put in the fridge for 30 minutes. A little olive oil in a non stick pan over med heat, chorizo side down until brown around the edges flip over and cook another 2 or 3 minutes.

Very easy and it makes for a great presentation, my wife loved it.

Joe: Nothing beats fried meat.

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Washington, D.C.: I really enjoyed Kylie Kwong's chicken with cashews recipe from last week's food section. I am interested in trying more Chinese recipes and would like to buy a wok. I have a gas stove but had some questions--does a flat bottom wok work as well as a round one? Do you recommend carbon steel? Also, where should I go to buy one?

Bonnie: That's great to hear, DC. I plan to buy one, too. Flat-bottomed woks are designed for electric stoves. Better to stick with the rounded bottom, which is tailor-made to do the best stir-frying. Kylie suggested I get a nonstick or electric wok. You have to season the carbon-steel ones -- but the latter are cheaper than the first two. You can find woks at the big-box home goods stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond, at Asian markets, at kitchen stores. Be sure to pick up a pair of those extra long chopsticks -- they're fun to cook Chinese with. Fun, I tell you!

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for your article on mail-order Spanish ingredients. While I would consider ordering from La Tienda, I'm hoping that more supermarkets in the area will start stocking Spanish ingredients, which of course, depends on people's demand for such products. Right now, it's hard to find them.

Case in point, I recently went on a wild goose chase for real Spanish chorizo (which, I just discovered, is different from Mexican / South American versions in that it is fully cured and ready to eat) and piquillo peppers -- two ingredients that I naively thought would be easy to find. When I finally found the chorizo at Balducci's, I couldn't afford it...it was $9 for a tiny link, and I wanted a large quantity for a party. I did splurge on a tin of piquillo peppers (also $9), and I'm so glad I did. After stuffing the peppers with tuna salad seasoned with smoked paprika, they have become a frequent indulgence in my household.

Which leads me to a few questions...are there any supermarkets in the DC area(besides Balducci's and Whole Foods) that are a safe bet for finding at least a few specialty ingredients...and more specifically, where can boquerones (white vinegar-cured anchovies) be found? (Surprisingly, La Tienda doesn't sell them.)

Thanks!

Walter: Arlington, You may want to try A & H Seafood Market in Bethesda (4960 Bethesda Ave.; 301-986-9692) The Martinez family stocks many products for their customers of Portuguese and Spanish descent. And yes, they carry boquerones.

Joe: I love those triangular red, sweet piquillo peppers so much. I don't even bother making a tuna salad, though -- I just stuff them with amazing spears of Spanish tuna packed in olive oil. I buy Ortiz brand, which leads us to...

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In my pantry and on my bookshelf: In my pantry I have marcona almonds from Trader Joe's, manchego cheese, pimenton, and piquillo peppers, all in anticipation of making a few tapas from The New Spanish Table. None of these ingredients (except pimenton) is something I've ever tried before. I am interested in buying the canned tuna mentioned in the book also, but am not sure where to find it.

Walter: Another job for A & H Seafood. They carry several brands of the tuna you desire. And this shop has an amazing collection of paella pans in 15 sizes.

Joe: And if you want to mail order, then La Tienda is also a good source.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What is it about Spain? I was there twenty-one years ago...did I just say that? Yikes!

Anyway, I'm not a globe trotter by any means, but I've been to quite a few places in Europe and N. America. Spain really had the best eats on a consistent basis of any nation I visited. Seriously.

Perhaps it is because their style of cooking hasn't been as influenced by trends over the years--at least outside of Barcelona. Perhaps it is because of the blend of North African, latin and celtic cultures. Perhaps it is those accessible, easy to make and enjoy tapas. I don't know. All I know is that Spain makes my favorite cheese (Manchego), wine (Rioja) and liqueur (Jerez).

The two standard Spanish recipes in my repertoire are gazpacho and Spanish tortillas (a flipped in the pan variation on the frittata, with potatoes and onions.)

After five weeks in Spain, walking close to a mile and a half a day, I still gained ten pounds. I warn everyone when they go.

Joe: When I finally made it there a few years back, for a glorious two weeks of nonstop eating, I couldn't stop fantasizing about ways to get back ... for much longer. Would they let me edit the Post Food section from an apartment in the Born, though? Sigh.

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Pomegranate Molasses: I bought a bottle of pomegranate molasses for an eggplant and lentil stew recipe. Any ideas on what to do with it other than use it in salad dressing? The only meat I eat is seafood, so a lot of the chicken recipes I've seen don't work. I am looking for both savory and sweet suggestions. Thanks!!

Walter: Pomegranate molasses fan and cookbook author Paula Wolfert writes: "It blends well with walnuts, adds a tart and pungent flavor to beans, sharpens the taste of poultry, gives a clean, tart taste to fish, gives an astringent edge to salads and vegetables, and is a great tenderizer for lamb and pork. It can also be diluted and used for sharp drinks and tart sorbets." I might use it as a glaze for salmon or, perhaps, pour a little over vanilla ice cream or over pancakes. In the mixed drinks department the possibilities are endless.

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Dairy and Wheat free cooking: Joe: I read the crock pot rice pudding recipe to mean that either they are vegan or are dairy allergic. Wonderful to see that a dairy dense dessert like rice pudding can be made with soy (soy and cow milk are not 100% interchangeable).

Second question: Does the White House Chef's cookbook contain dairy and wheat free recipes that he created for Bill Clinton?

Joe: Yep, I hear you, which is why I said "for me" -- but if it works, by all means! As for Roland Mesnier's book, there are only a couple dozen recipes, organized by president, and, interestingly, the ones for Bill include carrot muffins made with regular flour, and cream cheese frosting!

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Chesapeake, Va.: The vanilla soy gives the pudding a creaminess that milk doesn't. Plus it is great for our lactose-intolerant friends. Rice milk can also be used but the soy seems to do the best in this application.

If you want a super creamy pudding try non-dairy creamer. I've done that on several occasions with much success. Sub 1/2 non-dairy creamer for the soy milk.

Joe: Interesting...

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Arlington, Va.: The article about hollandaise sauce and the accompanying recipes were great! I will have to try the blender version - it sounds much easier than the first and only time I've made hollandaise, which was during a cooking class where we had to whisk by hand until the sauce emulsified.

I thought the addition of blood orange sounded interesting and was wondering what other variations of hollandaise are worth trying. Also, what foods are particularly good with either the original or variations of the sauce? Thanks!

Bonnie: Arl, here's a mini-treatise from author David Hagedorn --

Hollandaise is the "mother" sauce of that classification of French sauce, meaning that using acid other than lemon juice and/or adding additional ingredients transforms it into another sauce with a different name.

* Orange juice instead of lemon makes it Sauce Maltaise.

* Tangerine juice = Mikado Sauce.

* Lime juice is a good substitute. A reduction of white wine, vinegar, shallots, and tarragon makes Bearnaise Sauce.

* Tomato paste/reduction is Choron Sauce.

* Whipped cream folded into hollandaise is sauce mousseline.

The lighter citrus versions go well with fish or steamed vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus. Adding herbs to the equation, such as chopped scallions, rosemary or tarragon, accompanies chicken nicely. The more robust additions, such as the Bearnaise or Choron (with tomato) flavorings, go well with grilled meats, especially lamb or beef. For lamb, adding harissa, a piquant North African red pepper paste, and chopped cilantro is particularly good. As Asian twist with lime juice, chopped cilantro, grated ginger, and a drop of sesame oil would hold up well against less delicate seafoods, like scallops or shrimp.

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Bethesda, Md.: With dinner and takeout leftovers, I have about 5 cups of cooked white rice on my hands. Besides rice pudding or stuffed peppers, do you have any suggestions of how I can use the rice? Thank you!

Joe: My first thought is fry, fry away. If your rice is sticky and flavorful enough -- that is, if it's leftover risotto -- you're well on your way to the fabulous Italian croquettes called arancini or suppli al telefono, but sounds like you're dealing with plain old white in this case. So take a cue from China with this fried-rice recipe we ran years ago. You could certainly substitute other sausages, or leave them out entirely and double the shrimp to make up for it.

Hangzhou (White) Fried Rice

(6 servings)

4 cups cooked rice

1/2 pound medium shrimp

2 Chinese sweet sausages

6 tablespoons peanut oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup chopped scallions, green part included

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup bean sprouts, plucked of heads and tail-like roots

Break up the rice into grains and set aside. Peel and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise and set aside. Cut the sausages on the bias into slices no more than 1/4-inch thick.

Heat a wok or skillet. When hot add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring just until they curl and turn pink. Remove with a slotted spoon. Most of the oil should be left; if not, add a teaspoon or so and turn the heat to high. After a pause add the eggs. Scramble rapidly and remove while still soft.

Wipe out the pan and heat again. Add the remaining oil. When hot, add the sausages and stir over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the scallions and stir briefly, then add the rice. Stir for 30 seconds. Add the oyster sauce, salt and pepper, and return the shrimp and eggs. Stir this rapidly for 2 minutes until well blended and piping hot. Turn off the heat, stir in the bean sprouts and serve.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Two questions for Ben Gilberti.

1. Thanks for the reminder about Rioja. We bought several bottles from the region after your earlier recommendation several months ago, and the wine was delicious. However ...

2. When we called with your specific recommendations, we were told that no place in Virginia, where we live, would carry the wines listed in your recommendation column. Something about D.C. wines not being available in Virginia. This sounded ludicrous, but when I carried the list into another Virginia wine store, the person helping me seemed to confirm this detail. Still, there were plenty of other Riojas on the shelves, several of which we bought and enjoyed. But why couldn't I buy the specific bottles mentioned in your column? Or did I misconstrue what the store employees were telling me?

2. I didn't hang on to the earlier list, and probably won't have today's list handy by the time I get back to the wine store to restock, but are there any Rioja reds that you would NOT recommend? Ones to avoid? It sounds like most of them of recent vintage are nice and drinkable, whether they be from the top rung or middle rung. Sorry, can't remember the exact designations for the differences between the two. Reserva? Was that the top rung?

Bonnie: Wine columnist Ben Giliberti says --

Most of the time the wines that are available in Virginia and Maryland are also available in D.C., and vice versa. I recommend using winesearcher.com or wineaccess.com to locate the wines. For example, by using wineaccess.com just now, I found that today's wine of the week, the Marques de Riscal Rioja, is carried by several of the Total Wine and More stores in suburban Virginia. You should call first to verify availability.

All of the wines that I list in my columns are recommended, whether at the top middle or bottom of the list. That's because I don't list the ones I do not recommend, and in the case of Rioja, that was a fair number. The ones I didn't list weren't horrible, but some of them were a little stringy and certainly nothing I would go out of my way for. In this case and in general, if your retailer vouches for a particular wine that is not in my column, I would not hesitate to try it however.

Regarding the types of Rioja, I would stick with the reservas and the crianzas, as the majority of the more expensive Gran reservas still seem to be over-oaked to me.

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I have such a prejudice against things that take up non-stove counter space. Why should I plug something in for heat when I have those four burners?: That is exactly why I don't want to get a plug-in griddle. But my husband says he'll make pancakes if I get one--...I'm ...so ...torn! We're in a galley kitchen with such limited counter and storage space. Can I convince him a stove-top skillet is just as good? What is the best surface for cooking pancakes? (cast iron is awfully heavy...)

Joe: Heavy is good! If you want to make (lots of) pancakes all the time, I'd look into one of those griddles that spans more than one burner. Either cast iron or stainless steel.

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Frederick, Md.: Good Grief! I didn't for someone to bust a vessel when I asked about the cake mix/rum question. I think we need to give that person a virtual Long Island Ice Tea.

Joe: Made from scratch, of course.

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Rockville,Md.: I love love LOVE the Food Section,but wish you'd do more for vegans/vegetarians. Are any of you staffers vegetarians?

Joe: We're omnivores, it's true. But that doesn't mean we don't want to try to get good stuff in the section that will appeal to those who aren't. We'll keep it in mind...

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Baltimore, Md.: I have some salmon roe I opened for a party Saturday. Do I need to toss it by now?

Walter: We asked James Tan, owner and chef of Uni A Sushi Place in Dupont Circle. James said that it would depend on how fresh the roe was when you bought it and how well you have stored it in the fridge. Were clean spoons used at that party? But all and all, it should last a week.

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Frederick, Md.: For the leftover rice person - head over to Giant (or other source) and get yourself a rotisserie chicken. After you eat the chicken and rice, make some chicken rice soup. It freezes nicely.

Joe: Many of the world's what-to-cook-right-now issues have been addressed by the good old rotisserie chicken, haven't they?

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Ice cream question: So I haven't used my ice cream maker yet cause I've been watching my diet. Do you think I could use skim milk, equal, and frozen berries and it would turn out okay? Any other suggestions?

Joe: Leave out the skim milk altogether, and go for a sorbet. It would be better with fresh-squeezed juice (like some good winter citrus), sweetened in your favorite manner. Or, what I think is a better strategy is to use real sweetener (unless you're diabetic) and just eat less of it, less often.

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I'm confused...: Poster for slow-cooker rice pudding said 9.5 cups of soy milk or 2 quarts. But 2 quarts is 8 cups...what to do?

Joe: Oh, no! If I had to guess, I'd go with the cup amount since it's more exact, but pudding poster, are you still with us to clarify?

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Chorizo seeker: Wegmans carries authentic Spanish chorizo, although sometimes they do run out, so I buy as much as I can!

Joe: A hoarder. I like it.

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Chorizo: Make it yourself! The sausage stuffer attachment for Kitchenaid costs less than 20 dollars. And with good smoked paprika, it's a snap to make. I make chorizo once or twice a year - had some last night in a variation on Caldo Verde.

Joe: You can even fill casings with a pastry bag...

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Washington, D.C.: I once broke up with a boyfriend for whom I made rice pudding, his favorite. He took one bite and said, "Not as good as Kozy Shack."

Joe: You made a very wise decision.

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Lothian, Md.: Regarding cooking/baking without a recipe -- I had an Aunt that made homemade (delicious!) biscuits for all 3 meals each day. One time when we were visiting (in Southern Virginia), my sister wanted to know how to make her biscuits, so as my Aunt scooped shortening and flour with her hands, my sister was scraping her hands of each ingredient into a measuring cup so she could duplicate those wonderful biscuits -- it never happened. I would give anything to be able to make those scrumptious biscuits, or even to taste them somewhere else.

Joe: So many writers who work with instinctive/non-measuring cooks on cookbook projects can identify with you and your sister. And there's nothing like a good biscuit. Email me at food@washpost.com, and I'll send you my sister Teri's fluffy Southern biscuit recipe, which I love.

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Washington, D.C.: OK, having run the church's Pancake Supper last week, I've got a jug of leftover buttermilk in my fridge. Other than cornbread, more pancakes, and biscuits, what else can I do to use up the buttermilk? Thanks.

Bonnie: Marinate chicken, make a buttermilk salad or coleslaw dressing, create a crema for your next batch o' quesadillas, use it in mashed potatoes, substitute for a few tablespoons of the mayo in tuna salad, use it instead of milk in omelets, or pretend it's already summer and make this soup, from Elinor Klivans:

Simple Celery Soup

Makes 6 cups; 6 first-course servings

This soup is in no way a gazpacho, but is similarly light and refreshing. The three versions of celery: stalks, leaves and seeds, combine to give an amazing amount of flavor.

2 medium bunches celery (about 4 1/2 pounds), trimmed (leaves reserved), peeled and cut across into 1/2-inch lengths

2 cups buttermilk

6 medium scallions, trimmed and cut in 1-inch lengths (about 3/4 cup)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup ice water

Scant 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

In a blender, puree half of the celery leaves and stalks with 1 cup of the buttermilk. Add half of the scallions, salt and pepper and puree. Scrape the celery mixture into a large metal bowl. Repeat with the remaining vegetables and buttermilk. Stir in the ice water. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until cold. Top each serving with a few celery seeds and a little pepper.

Per serving: 89 calories, 5 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 1092 mg sodium

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WineAccess: Ben,

Thank you for that tool! I've been looking for a wine I had in a restaurant for weeks and now I've found a source. Yipee!

Joe: Our pleasure. We've been running that web site's address in the section for a few months now, so if you forget, just turn to the Wine page.

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Cooking with Booze: As was pointed out, if you bake the goodie with the rum mixed in you'll get the flavor, but the alcohol will cook off. My mom uses Kahlua instead of water in her brownies, yum. When she makes rum cake (with "supermoist" mix, because sometimes you just want something reliable and don't have lots of time), she puts rum in the cake mix before baking, but then uses a mister to spray rum on after the cake comes out of the oven so that the cake will be extra good. You gotta love a cake that gives you a buzz from more than just the chocolate.

Joe: Rum = yum

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Heavy is good! : not if you have a herniated disc and overhead storage. i got rid of cast iron years ago. Sorry to offend the purists, but I have to use realistically use this stuff myself every day

Joe: My apologies; of course, if you can't physically lift it, that's another story. And there are many metals that work well, not just cast iron.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person looking for a quick & easy pork tenderloin recipe, here's my standard--beyond simple, more than the sum of its parts, and has been adopted by many of the folks for whom I've made it:

Salt and Pepper Crusted Pork

2 teaspoons pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 12-ounce (about) pork tenderloin

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine pepper, salt, rosemary and garlic in small bowl. Rub over pork. Let pork stand at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat oil in heavy medium ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer skillet with pork to oven and roast until pork is cooked through, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

2 servings; can be doubled or tripled.

(Bon Appetit, November 1990)

Joe: Nice and simple...

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Friendship Heights, D.C.: Just wanted to pass on a tip for a yummy butternut squash topping I discovered. I briefly sauteed an inch or so piece of ginger (minced), 2 cloves of garlic (pressed), and about 1/2 tablespoon of butter and put it on top of roasted butternut squash. I thought the flavors went very well together.

Joe: Sounds good!

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Arlington, Va.: With March almost here, I'm starting to think about St. Patrick's Day fare. Are you by chance going to feature any Paddy's Day recipes in the paper? In particular, I'm brainstorming ideas for an entree for a dinner party, something other than corned beef. My ideas so far include Guinness-braised short ribs and sauteed cod on braised leeks, but I'm open to other ideas on Irish-inspired dishes. Thanks!

Joe: We have a cabbage take coming up next week that I think you'll find interesting...

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Olney, Md.: I haven't read Mesnier's new book yet, but I'm looking forward to it, based on everything I've read that seems to describe it as memoir/narrative as much as cookbook. I love this kind of writing! What other books do you love as good food reading (fiction or non-fiction)?

Joe: There's so many to list, but a current (revisited) favorite is "Alice, Let's Eat," by Calvin Trillin, reissued in conjunction with his new "About Alice." It's on my nightstand even as we type.

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Pancake mix : Can I make a pot pie crust out of Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix? I have a HUGE bag of it and could use some ideas about what to make - one can only eat so many pancakes. Thanks!

Bonnie: A biscuit-y topping, at least. Visit Krusteaz.com's "Recipe Central."

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Question about jamon: I'm just perusing the web site of the man featured in your article today, and I was wondering how you store a cured ham of this variety once it's been sliced into. I love jamon serrano, but it's not something you could eat every day. Does it need to be refrigerated once opened, after the intensive curing process it goes through?

Walter: We could not get Don Harris on the phone this morning. Instead we called Calhoun Ham House in Culpeper. They tell us that a cured ham does not need to be refrigerated, rather you can keep it in a cool place, covered with a light cloth and "away from critters."

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San Francisco, Calif.: My absolute favorite pork tenderloin recipe includes a Cranberry Balsamic sauce - http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/100314

I routinely double and triple the sauce recipe - cut down a bit on the broth or thicken the sauce with a bit of cornstarch stirred into water. The sauce can be made ahead of time, making it perfect for a dinner party. My kids love the sauce over mashed potatoes.

Joe: Thanks!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you or your readers have a good source for hamburger buns? I'd like to buy some good buns to go with BBQ pork. They are for a family reunion and I'd like something a step above supermarket brands. Thanks!.

Bonnie: Not exactly handy for you, but I like the ones from Best Buns Bread Co. in Shirlington. Maybe check bakeries near you -- how about the knot rolls from Upper Crust?

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Joe: Whew! That hour flew by, didn't it? Thanks for all the great questions and comments. Sorry that we couldn't get to everything, but our fingers can move only so fast, and it's actually pretty fast, but you chatters are faster by far.

Now for our giveaway winners: Roland Mesnier's book, "All the Presidents' Pastries," goes to the chatter who asked about our favorite food memoirs. And Darina Allen's "A Year at Ballymaloe Cookery School" goes to the chatter who asked about St. Patrick's recipes -- maybe you'll get some ideas in time!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating, and reading.

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