washingtonpost.com
Free Range on Food
Soul Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, October 10, 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.

____________________

Joe: Greetings, everyone, and welcome to today's chat! We hope we got your mouths watering over mac and cheese, banana pudding, collard greens and the like today, in our soul-food-themed issue. We hope Deneen Brown's lovely essay about her own journey away from -- and back to -- the cooking of her mother and grandmother captivated you, and that you found Bonnie's profile of Levita Mondie-Sapp and her vegan-soul revolution inspiring, too.

Levita joins us today, so she can help field any and all soul-food questions.

And we stand (okay, sit) at the ready to tackle any other questions you might throw our way.

For our favorite post, we have a giveaway book -- and I'm sorry that it can't be one of the ones we scoured for our new-wave soul-food recipes, but frankly, we're keeping those in our files or returning them to the owners who loaned them to us... We do have the book that Bonnie got today's Dinner in Minutes recipe from, though: "300 Best Stir-Fry Recipes" by Nancie McDermott.

Let the chatting begin...

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon Levita,

It was such a surprise to see a familiar face on the front page of the post.com, for cooking no less. You taught me African American lit at UMD sometime between 1999 and 2001 (can't remember which semester it was, but I do remember you!). I just wanted to congratulate you on your success and wish you all the best for the future. We definitely need to hear the message that you are sending with your delicious sounding food. God bless.

-Jason Ray

Levita Mondie-Sapp: Hello Jason,

I do remember you fondly. Thank you for checking out the article and affirming healthy eating! God Bless.

_______________________

Annandale, Va.: Hi!

Your story on Levita Mondie-Sapp inspired me to make the three-bean chipotle chili recipe in the article about vegan soul food, but have never heard of liquid amino acids as an ingredient.

Can you tell me what part they play in the recipe (flavor, nutrition, texture), and where I would find them?

Thanks.

Jane Touzalin: Liquid amino acids is a protein concentrate made from soybeans. It's a twofer: a flavoring agent and a source of amino acids your body can put to good use. Because of its soy origins, it smells and tastes a little like soy sauce or tamari, but it's not as salty. You can find it at Whole Foods for sure, and probably also at large organic markets, such as MOM.

_______________________

Falls Church, Va.: Do you all have a good buttercream frosting recipe? I normally make chocolate buttercream, but thought I'd switch things up for a cake I'm making this weekend and do chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. (I had cupcakes from Best Buns recently that were outstanding, and I'm attempting to recreate the goodness in a cake.) The one time I made it years ago, the recipe called for Crisco, and that's all I could taste in it. I'd like to avoid the Crisco entirely and use butter. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Joe: At the National Book Festival recently, the super-talented pastry chef Ann Amernick gave a buttercream recipe off the top of her head, in response to a question much like yours. The exchange went something like this:

Audience member at microphone: How can I make a better buttercream? Mine doesn't work well.

Ann: Can I ask what you put in it?

Audience member: Well, I start with Crisco --

Ann: Let me stop you right there.

Then she reeled off the following two-ingredient, one-step recipe, and you could practically feel the rush of air as the audience reached for pens to scribble it down -- until many of them realized (as did I) that we could remember it!

She said, "Take a pound of butter, a pound of confectioner's sugar, and beat the hell out of it."

It's not the classic method, and it's not in her new book, "The Art of the Dessert." But it's what I'll make the next time I want a simple buttercream.

_______________________

Vienna, Va.: Thanks so much for taking my questions - I have a couple of them. I recently bought some soppressata without knowing what exactly to do with it - what do you recommend? I also bought some chestnuts at Whole Foods a few days ago, and I presume they are to be roasted - is there a particular method to roasting them? Thank you!

Joe: Make a panini with that soppressata: Stack bread (ciabatta would be great) with mozarella or maybe pecorino and a little arugula, and pan-fry it in a cast-iron skillet, pressing as you go to flatten.

And chestnuts, as everyone knows, should be roasted on an open fire as Jack Frost nips at your nose. But since Jack looks like he's running late this year, maybe you should skip the open fire and use your oven instead. Set to 425, then make an X-cut across the rounded side. (This keeps them from exploding in the oven, which would certainly put a damper on things.) Roast on a baking sheet until the skins recede and the insides are tender, about 20 minutes.

While they're still hot, wrap them in a dish towel and squeeze to crack them, which will make them easier to peel once they're cool.

There's also a special chestnut-roasting pan you can use over the stove, but I've never tried that.

If you're feeling dessert-minded (and who isn't, really?), check out this recipe for Marrons Glaces (candied chestnuts), which starts out by boiling, not roasting, them.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: I am so excited about your corn pudding recipe. However - I would prefer to use a real egg instead of the one-cup egg substitute. How many eggs does that equal?

Thank you!

Bonnie: Gulp -- 4 eggs, I think. Remember that those nutritional numbers in the paper today won't apply...

_______________________

Vegetarian Soul Food!: I loved the food section today. I especially related to the story of the vegan cook and I cannot wait to try some of her recipes. Especially the chili! I have so many stories of relatives assuring me I can eat something, only to find turkey floating in the vegetables. Explanations like, "that's not meat, its turkey!" "oh, you can eat the greens, the meats just flavoring!" and on and on. I found the best way to explain is usually to bring some dish myself, which once everyone tastes it and sees how delicious food can be, even without the "meat flavoring," folks start to get it.

Oh, and that picture with the banana mousse cake and the glass of port looked delicious. Anybody want to take a crack at a recipe for one of those cakes? Or should I just be sure to plan a dinner at Zola one day soon?

Thanks! (And the chat is not showing up in the discussions list around the website)

Levita Mondie-Sapp: I too have found that ultimately people respond to good food. So I make a point of using fresh herbs and spices, including garlic, ginger, onion, etc. to "add" flavor to food. Liquid Aminos is a staple in my household that I use in dishes that I want to have a "meat" flavoring and salt. Keep preparing those good dishes made without meat and people will see that meat is not a requisite for delicious food.

_______________________

brazen about beets: I've always steered clear of beets, thinking they were scary tasting things. But I had my first taste of beets this weekend, and I thought they were pretty good, and good for you, so I hear. So how can I make these iron clad gems for myself?

Bonnie: An easy, foolproof way is to wrap them in foil and roast them (maybe 350 degrees for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on their size). When they can be easily pierced with a fork and have cooled down a bit, put on disposable gloves -- these guys can stain -- peel, and that's about it.

Now that you're an official Beet Person, check out these recipes (and more) on Recipe Finder -- glazed with balsamic vinegar, in salad with citrus components, in cocktails and even cake.
Red Beet Mojito
Wheat Berries With Roasted Beets and Ginger-Curry Vinaigrette

Chocolate Beet Cake

Bonnie: Balsamic-Glazed Baby Beets

_______________________

Butter Cream Follow up: If you want a great cream cheese icing - take the same recipe (1 lb. butter, 1 lb. confectioners suger), add 8 oz. of cream cheese, a touch of vanilla and done! So good!

Joe: Most things are indeed improved by the addition of cream cheese...

_______________________

Richmond, Va. --re: buttercream: make it with Nutella for a hazelnut flavor!

Joe: ... or Nutella.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to store regular all-purpose flour?

Jane Touzalin: I'm a recent convert to the school of thought that flour is best stored in the freezer. After years of battling the weevils that got into my pantry via different kinds of products from the store (and then made a beeline for all my flour bags) I started chucking the bags directly into the freezer (or, if it was too full, the refrigerator). I haven't had any flour ruined since. When using flour in most recipes, I measure out what I need and let it come to room temperature -- not a long wait. When I'm making pie dough with it, I use it cold, and it helps keep the butter from getting too soft.

Anyone out there have their own pet methods?

_______________________

Undisclosed Location: Hi, Food Folk,

I have a killer cranberry sauce recipe--it is dirt-simple to make and there is no refined sugar amoung the ingredients. Everyone who has tasted it raves about it. I'm thinking Ocean Spray would love to have this recipe. It is possible to "sell" one's secret recipe to a company? How would you go about it without first giving up the secret? Or should I just enter a recipe contest?

Thanks for you help!

Bonnie: Secret Agent Cook! Save it for next year...Ocean Spray runs a recipe contest that runs from July to August. You'll be able to check this year's competition in November at www.oceanspray.com.

_______________________

Washington, D.C: HI Levita,

I would love some new ideas for bringing great flavor to spinach without covering it in butter and oil. Any thoughts?

Levita Mondie-Sapp: One of my favorite ways to prepare spinach is to coat a pan with olive oil, gently heat the oil, add 2 chopped garlic cloves, 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, and a dash of cayenne. Allow this to blend for a moment. Then, add your spinach. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Turn off the heat and allow the spinach to just wilt.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Small pet peeve of mine as a fluent italian speaker - you described how to make an italian sandwich above... but you used the term panini, which is plural. One sandwich is a panino. You cannot imagine how peeved I get when I go to a sandwich shop and see the word "panini's".

Same goes for the word for cookie/cookies: biscotto/biscotti.

Thanks for the vent! Plus, I really enjoyed the beer column... hope to be able to track down some of those wet hop beers. And also the vegan soul food recipes - keep up the good work!

Joe: Actually, it was the "a" that was a mistake -- I was advocating many, many, many panini!

OK, you caught me.

_______________________

Kensington, Md.: Always eager to get new recipes that include watercress in light of the many reported health benefits. So thanks for the recipe today. I used to be able to find bagged washed watercress (with tough stems already removed) at local stores but can't seem to find it anymore. Any thoughts about what is going on? It has been almost a year since I've been able to find it.

Bonnie: I haven't seen that. Watercress is pretty delicate to be packaged that way. (I like to be able to do a 360-inspection of bunches, anyway.) My pal Eric in the Harris Teeter produce department says their stores carry only watercress with stems, although the organic 'cress is in a plastic sleeve...seems like you'd want those stems/roots so you could stand them in water in the fridge for several days.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Have you heard of a one-bowl quiche, where the flour falls to the bottom of the pan to make a crust?

Bonnie: Sounds Bisquick-y.

_______________________

20010: Just wanted to thank Levita for the recipes. And although its a risky venture, I would certainly patronize a restaurant if she opened one up. DC needs more veg/vegan restaurants, and all her recipes and food sound amazing.

Levita Mondie-Sapp: Thank you for your affirmation of the vegan restaurant idea. I'd love to hear more from you at vitas_eatery@yahoo.com .

_______________________

Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi, a basic question: if you make a dish that uses vegetables or fresh herbs that are on their last legs before going bad, what's to prevent them from going bad in the dish you're making? I understand if it's cooked, but what if I make tuna salad with fresh tarragon? Will the tarragon continue to wilt in my salad? Or tomatoes in tabbouleh? Thanks!

Leigh: What you put in is what you get out. So, yes, any vegetables or herbs you use that are on their last legs will continue to go down hill even when added to a dish. If there is an acid in your dressing this can help retard the decomposition.

Joe: Here's another solution for you, particularly when it comes to herbs: We called it Save-the-Herbs Pesto.

_______________________

Cornbread and biscuits: Hi!

I LOVE soul food! I think I've gotten my cornbread down (after multiple disasters....Like the time I put in twice as much baking soda instead of baking soda/baking powder. Eek. The batch that had to be scoured off, forcing me to re-season my cast iron skillet. EEK.) The best tip from a friend that got me to cornbread nirvana- putting the batter in a pre-heated cast-iron skillet before finishing in a moderate oven. Gives the crispy crust a head start, but allows the interior to remain tender and moist.

So I'm set with cornbread, but I still need help with my biscuits! (the fluffy kind, not the flaky kind). Mine keep turning out more leaden than light. Any great recipes- or at least techniques- to help me in my quest? I don't eat pork products, so hopefully lard or bacon drippings aren't the magic bullet. Bonus points if it doesn't require shortening, which I typically don't keep around the house.

Thanks! Keep up the good work!

Joe: How patient are you? We have a couple of biscuit articles coming down the pike: Jane Black is writing about two very different biscuit-making lessons she received in Charleston, and I'm writing about my fabulous sister Teri's fluffy biscuit technique (which involves much butter -- and shortening, I must admit, a cast iron skillet, and a blazing-hot oven).

In the meantime, there's this recipe for Angel Biscuits, which uses no shortening at all. Bonus points, please.

_______________________

Just back from Barcelona: And I hope you guys can help. As you likely know, serrano ham is everywhere in Spain. Is there anywhere here where I can buy it? Thanks!!!

Bonnie: Balducci's, for one, at $23.09 per pound.

_______________________

Fort Washington, Md.: A chef in Ireland gave me his recipe for tomato soup which says to sweat the onions and garlic in olive oil for one hour. What does this mean? Thank you

Bonnie: To "sweat" them in kitchenspeak just means to cook them in a little oil over low heat, usually covered pretty tightly so that the vegetables would soften without browning. For an hour, the onions and garlic would be positively schvitzing. Be sure to check them often.

_______________________

Over Here: Time to clean up my diet. What are some good ways to cut out the white sugar while satisfying the sweet tooth? I won't do fake sugar, I need to reduce the "sugar" taste and replace it with others kinds of sweet that don't take the same kind of toll on me.

Got any great ideas for me?

Thanks for your help.

Leigh: It's fall. A good time to clean out and start fresh habits. If you like the taste of honey and maple syrup they are good alternatives to white sugar. They are both sweeter and so a little goes a long way. If you are baking you can use raw sugar, just a less refined version with a little more flavor to it. In a very short time your sweet tooth will likely adapt and fruits, etc. will taste more intense to you.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: (Don't know if you can answer this on-line, but) how does someone contact Ms. Mondie-Sapp for private cooking lessons. Thanks!

Levita Mondie-Sapp: For cooking lessons, you can contact me at vitas_eatery@yahoo.com . I'll attach a packet about my cooking services, and we can go from there. The lesson can be one-on-one, or for a group of up to five people if it'll be at my house, and for as many people that an alternative kitchen will hold, i.e. I'm a travelling cooking instructor.

_______________________

Ashburn, Va.: Any ideas on where I can find morcilla in the Herndon/Reston/Ashburn/Leesburg area? It's getting to be fabada time and I would love to include these for my half-Spanish husband.

I know tienda.com has them, just wondering if you knew of anything more local.

What would be a good substitute?

Bonnie: You may have to hop on I-66...we've found some at Americana Grocery in Falls Church, 703-671-9625. About $4 per pound.

_______________________

Re: Serrano Ham: You can also get serrano ham (and soppresatta, and pancetta, and prosciutto, etc) at Cheestique in Del Ray.

YUM.

Joe: Yum indeed.

_______________________

serrano ham : at Wegman's too. Last time I got some it was $18 - 19/lb.

Joe: And yummer.

_______________________

Richmond, Va.: oh wow, can I open that can of worms even further? I have a great chicken recipe, what's the best (most $) recipe contest for chicken?

Bonnie: Well, that might be the National Chicken Cooking Contest, where top prize nets $100,000. A firsthand competitor's account ran in Food in May:

washingtonpost.com: Poultry in Motion, Perhaps, But I Didn't Win Best Bird

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: Nancie McDermott is one of my favorite authors, but why on earth do publishers insist on giving books dumb names like the 300 best of anything. How do they know, and what makes the 300th-best enough better than the 301st-best that it makes the list.

Research must show that consumers like numbers and boasts in book names.

Still, I'll bet its a marvelous book given how good she is.

Bonnie: Fishing, Silver Spring?

Joe: 101 Ways to Get a Giveaway Book.

_______________________

Soul food Thanksgiving: Levita, You are just the person I need to talk with. I need to come up with some ideas for a super flavorful Thanksgiving, that does not involve a Turkey, and that is not surrounded by all the sides that should be around a Turkey because it makes one feel that something is missing (the Turkey). Please help me develop a veggie Thanksgiving (we're not vegan) that won't have anyone missing anything.

Levita Mondie-Sapp: Don't feel pressure to have meat at Thanksgiving if your heart feels like doing something else. Greens, mac and cheese, made with rice cheese/rice milk or soy cheese/soy milk, a pot of beans, brown rice, orange-glazed sweet potatoes, blackened tofu, and my vegan cornbread are just some of the many wonderful dishes that you can prepare for thanksgiving. If you're interested, we can do a one-on-one or small group lesson that focuses on Vegetarian/Vegan Thanksgiving. Do not hesitate to contact me at vitas_eatery@yahoo.com .

_______________________

Washington, D.C: While camping this weekend, someone had a box that you could put cream and sugar in the center of, and ice and rock salt in the outside container and shake until you had ice cream in the middle. What's a good way to make ice cream at home without an ice cream maker?

Joe: I haven't tried that one -- but other makers that use no electricity have, in my tests, resulted in a less-than-ideal texture. So I suggest making another frozen concoction that isn't exactly ice cream but good nonetheless. How about this kulfi, the Indian style of ice cream, whose creamy outside and slightly crystallized inside is part of the appeal? Or an Italian-style granita? You can also follow a sorbet recipe, but instead of using an ice cream maker, you can freeze it in ice cube trays and then blend it up in a blender to smooth everything out.

_______________________

Herndon, Va.: I store my flour in a ziploc back in the fridge. The ziploc to protect the flour in case of spills or drips.

Bonnie: I'd put that inside a Lexan (hard clear plastic) container with a tight-fitting lid. Some resealable bags let in more air/moisture than you think. Cook's Illustrated rated them on a show recently.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Hi Post foodies: I dunno if this is a Free Range question, but I hope you will tackle it. Do you have any idea what all these high-end (and not-so-high end) grocery stores do with their leftover food? For example, if you go to Whole Foods on a Tuesday night, right before closing, they still have TONS of prepared foods in the salad bar/deli cases. TONS. What do they do with it? Throw it out? Donate it? Serve it again the next day? Same applies to Wegman's, Safeway, etc. Do you guys have any idea whether all that un-purchased food goes to waste?

Jane Touzalin: Turns out every store is different, and even stores in the same chain have different practices, so there's no one answer to your question. One constant, though, is that all prepared and deli foods have a sell-by date -- just like meats, dairy products, etc. -- and if those haven't moved when the date arrives, they are thrown out. At Wegmans, any already-sliced meat or cheese is likely to go to the kitchen the next day to be used in a salad or other prepared food. They don't do donations there because of problems in the past. At the Whole Foods Market on P Street NW, I'm told, unsold baked goods are donated. And the Whole Foods chain is adopting a new approach to unsold food: Beginning this month, it will all be composted.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Last week there was a question about adding roasted garlic flavor to hummus and the chatter was told not to fix great hummus. So how can one add roasted garlic or roasted red pepper to hummus so that the flavor does stand out?

Joe: Well, no offense, but I think your memory is a tad faulty. The chatter said, basically, I made fantastic hummus but I couldn't exactly taste my roasted garlic, and Stephanie said, in a nutshell, why worry about the garlic if it's so fantastic?

The answer to adding roasted garlic flavor to hummus in such a way that it stands out is to add a lot. Roasting does mellow out the flavor of garlic, of course. So start by roasting, say, two heads for a batch of hummus that calls for 2 cans of chickpeas. I'd start by putting the peeled cloves from one whole head in, along with a couple cloves of raw garlic. After blending it up and tasting, if you want more roasted garlic flavor, you've got the cloves from another head you can add one at a time until you like it.

The worst that can happen is you have some leftover roasted garlic -- and that's never a problem, right?

_______________________

California: Hi menu magicians, and thanks for these awesome chats! I want to make some killer beef enchiladas, with shredded beef vs. the ground stuff. If I slow-cook some chuck roast, will that work, or is there a better cut or a different cooking method I should try?

You rock.

Joe: Chuck is perfect.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I finished making hummus and I have some leftover tahina paste. Is there a salad dressing I can try that uses tahina (sesame seed paste)?

Jane Touzalin: Try this. It's a recipe from long, long ago that was served at a great D.C. place called the Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery. Yup, you're right, it was the 70s.

GOLDEN TEMPLE LEMON-TAHINI DRESSING (Makes 3 cups)

1 cup olive oil

1 cup sesame or safflower oil

6 to 7 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup or less tamari or soy sauce

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 green pepper, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1/4 onion, chopped

Dash of pepper

Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth. Serve over green salads or as a dip for raw vegetables.

_______________________

Soul Food: I think soul food is more than an African-American thing. Soul food(IMHO)can be any cultures food that been passed down. 100+ years ago, Italians/Greeks/Jews(any culture)make due off what they had and what the land/sea yielded. Many of the recipies didnt consist part many considered "high on the hog", but what was available. Making something taste good than takes hours of love and caring out of nothing might be a better definition and more fitting description.

Every culture has there soul food.

Bonnie: We second that emotion.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: This may be a tricky question, but here goes. My husband is Indian and his idea of bread pudding is more of a goopey consistency, like American pudding, than a cake. So how do I make an Indian version of bread pudding? And can I add bananas, which he loves in desserts?

Bonnie: Try this one: INDIAN PUDDING

6 servings

When made with skim milk, this dessert by cookbook author Diana Shaw will be low in fat.

4 cups milk (all or part nonfat, if you'd like)

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Generous pinch nutmeg or mace

Generous pinch cinnamon

1/2 cup molasses

1 cup evaporated skim milk

FOR MAPLE-APPLE SAUCE:

4 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and chopped1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Pinch mace

Pinch cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons apple juice

Raisins (optional)

Vanilla frozen yogurt (I like Yoplait Fat Free brand)

In a mixing bowl, stir together 1 cup of the fresh milk and the cornmeal. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the rest of the fresh milk until it just starts to simmer. Pour in the cornmeal mixture, and stir constantly with a whisk until it thickens, about 6 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, molasses and evaporated milk. Stir well to blend.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart baking dish and bake in a 275-degree oven for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

For the sauce, toss apple slices with lemon juice in a heavy nonreactive saucepan. Add maple syrup, mace, cinnamon, vanilla extract and apple juice. Over medium-low heat, bring mixture to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook, stirring often, until apples soften and break down into a chunky sauce, about 30 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in raisins; let cool to room temperature before serving. Serve pudding hot or cold, topped with sauce and vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Indian Pudding per serving: 367 calories, 9 gm protein, 70 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 167 mg sodium

Maple-Apple Sauce per serving: 69 calories, 0 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 0 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 mg sodium

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Is there a version of twice baked stuffed potatoes that doesn't involve so much prep work?

Joe: Once-baked, not-stuffed potatoes?

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Any tips, thoughts, or suggestions and recipe for drop biscuits?

Joe: You must wait. See previous post. Fluffy drop biscuit recipe coming soon.

_______________________

Vegan greens?: Hope I'm not too late! Would love to have a great vegan collard greens recipe. Do you have a favorite recipe you can share, please? I'm planning for a veggie Thanksgiving and need a good greens recipe.

Joe: We didn't bill it as such, but Deneen Brown's Collards With a Dash of Soul are i
n
d
e
ed vegan.

_______________________

Anonymous: We made the apple pancakes from last week over the weekend. The were good and very moist, but they didn't taste like apple at all. Should they have? The recipe didn't specify what type of apple to use, what would you recommend?

Thanks for your help. We made them for my in-laws and I promised I would write in and find out for them today so we can try again.

Bonnie: Tester Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says they weren't real apple-y, although you could boost that flavor by substituting the maple syrup with a reduction of apple cider. She can't remember what kind of apples she used, because she had so many from her trip to the orchard.

_______________________

Annandale, Va.: I can relate to the vegetarian poster whose relatives always advised him/her to eat around the meat.

Years ago, my mother-in-law (whom I love dearly, and I believe feels the same way about me) went to the trouble to make a separate vegetable soup for me, since she always felt bad that I, as a vegetarian, couldn't eat the beef-barley soup she traditionally made for family gatherings.

As I lifted my first spoonful from the bowl, there in the center was a big hunk of steak. I looked incredulously at my husband, who promptly shrieked "MOM!" She looked up, and said, completely innocently, "well, I had to put some meat in for flavor!"

Joe: Now, that's a good story.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: I'm trying to better learn how to cook with beer - there are some decent resources here and there (the Beer Advocate magazine and web site, Garrett Olivers book the Brewmasters table), but I'm not that good at formulating my own recipes yet.

Do you think that the wet hop beers would work well in cooking? I'm concerned that much cooking would drive away the delicate oils and resins described in the article.

Jane Touzalin: Here's a theory from our expert Greg Kitsock. The resins and other flavorful components in those hops have already survived the high-heat brewing process, so chances are they will survive the cooking process as well. BUT: He warns that when cooking with any highly hopped beer (pale ales and India pale ales, typically) you should be aware that if the liquid is concentrated during cooking, you might end up with a very bitter end product. What starts out as a lightly bitter or spicy tang in cold ale could end up as a nasty, strong taste in your stew. So just keep that in mind.

_______________________

Gaithersburg, Md.: re: Indian pudding. I think the poster was asking about pudding from India (vs what looks like the recipe for Indian pudding made in New England)

Bonnie: Oh dear, I bet you're right. Hope they come back next week.

_______________________

re: golden temple lemon-tahnini dressing: Can that be right, 1 cup of sesame oil? It is such a strong flavored oil and usually only a teaspoon or two is needed at the end of stir-frys.

Jane Touzalin: Yes, that's a heckuva lot of sesame oil. But that's the recipe as we ran it, twentysomething years ago. If you want to make the dressing, you can always start with less just to see what it's like.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Do strawberries prefer to be stored in the fridge or on the counter? What if they're no perfectly ripe in the stores when purchased?

Leigh: I'm not a strawberry, so I can't speak first hand, but I do know that they don't ripen after picking. What you see is what you get. Refrigerate them, but don't wash them until ready to use/eat.

Joe: And yep, refrigerate them.

_______________________

Joe: We're fresh out of time, everyone, but thanks as usual for a lively chat today. Hope we gave you some useful tips, or at least
entertained!

And now, for the giveaway book: It has to go to the chatter whose mother-in-law seasoned her vegetarian soup with beef. Send us your mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your book! (Btw, there's a whole chapter entitled Meatless Mains -- no beef seasonin
g included.)

Until next week, happy cooking, eating, and reading. I won't be back chatting for a couple of weeks because I'm off to Japan, but you'll be in capable hands with the rest of the Free Range crew.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive