Free Range on Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, March 19, 2008; 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 today's chat! Our ovens are preheated, our mis en place is all laid out, and we're ready to start cooking, or at least to start talking about cooking.

What's on your mind? Did David Hagedorn's Eastern recipes get you revved up for this weekend's holiday feast? Do my tacos and salsa recipe give you a hankering for al pastor? Did Bonnie tell you everything you wanted to know about ham, or are there leftover queries?

Before we get to your questions, we have giveaway books for our favorite posts: two that Bonnie wrote about in her Book Report today (Faye Levy's "Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home" and Arthur Schwartz's "Jewish Home Cooking") and one that she got today's Dinner in Minutes recipe from: Cree LeFavour's "The New Steak."

Jane Black and Walter Nicholls are out today (one on assignment and one on vacation), and Leigh's home sick, but we've got David H to help us out. So let's chat!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi!! First-time submitter here. Love the food section, Wednesday is my favorite day because I get to read all the great articles. I read the article on tacos today and can't wait to make them at home especially the Tacos de Huevos. My question is what do I do with the leftover pickled onions. They sound so tasty, but I don't know what else I'd use them for.

By the way loved the wine article, I thought I didn't like wine but found out I might like sweet white wine. Bought a bottle this weekend and turns out I do like it. Now I won't feel so left out when I go out with my wine-drinking friends.

Joe: Hey, Fairfax -- glad you like the look of the tacos. The great thing about those pickled onions is that they last for weeks in the fridge, so you can take your time using them. I eat so many tacos (as you can tell by the piece today) that I don't have an issue here, but I also throw them onto salads and when entertaining add them to relish trays and cheese platters (with Talk O' Texas pickled okra, my sister's pickled beets if I have any around, boquerones, etc.) They're also good with pates and cured meats, and on sandwiches, naturally -- anything that you think could benefit from a little tangy punch.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: That recipe for pastoral tacos sounds, well, heavenly...but my partner-in-eating loathes pineapple. Do you have any suggestions for a substitution, preferably not another tropical fruit?

Joe: That's so sad! He should stop hatin' on the pineapple, of course, but barring that, you've also preempted the first thing that came to my mind before I got to your last clause: mango. Sigh. OK, let's see: As soon as you can find some good ones, I'd go for stone fruit instead of the pineapple: plums, apricots, peaches, cherries. In the meantime, you could try dried apricots or cherries, plumped in hot water, drained and, in the case of the apricots, chopped. You might need a little extra lime juice to tart them up. But don't call em pastoral anymore, cause they're missing a key piece!

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Bethesda, Md.: Today's column talks of "glazed city hams." Huh? Who came up with that silly phrase? Give me a dry-smoked ham (not a smoked country ham) with a glaze of brown sugar, dry mustard and bourbon, with a bit of horseradish on the side, and that's it. The column doesn't even talk about these smoked non-country hams! Or could they be a form of city ham? Who knows, but you can't just invent phrases!

Bonnie: Ham with attitude! Those phrases have been used to describe hams for many years -- devised by those in the ham industry and Southern cooks (you can Google it).

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Washington, D.C.: I saw the hamantaschen recipe in today's Food Dection, but was wondering if you had another recipe, preferably one requiring lots of butter and regular flour. Nothing healthy about my baking. Thanks.

Bonnie: Sure thing. But hold onto your chat hat...this is a long file of hamantaschen recipes and fillings from Marcy Goldman that ran in Food in 1996. We'll get it into the database soon as we can.

ALMOST-LIKE-A-BAKERY TRADITIONAL HAMANTASCHEN

Makes about 4 dozen

This dough, made with shortening, yields a light cookie-like texture and is similar to commercial hamantaschen. Over the years, it has become one of my favorites. The recipe doubles well.

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup orange juice or milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

About 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Egg wash (recipe follows)

Filling (use prepared chocolate-hazelnut or poppy-seed pastes; or following recipes for prune, apricot or cherry)

Granulated or coarse sugar for topping (optional)

Cream the shortening, butter and sugar. Add eggs and blend until smooth. If mixture is hard to blend or curdles, add a bit of the flour to bind it.

Stir in orange juice or milk and vanilla. Fold in salt, baking powder and flour, and mix to make a firm but soft dough. Divide into three flattened disks and wrap them in plastic. Let the dough stand a couple of minutes to allow the flour in the dough to absorb the liquid more thoroughly. Then let it rest an additional 10 to 15 minutes or refrigerate for 10 minutes to an hour to facilitate easier rolling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing a rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured board, roll out one disk of dough at a time to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut into 3-inch rounds and brush with egg wash. Scraps can be rerolled once. Place a generous teaspoonful of desired filling in the center of each round. Grasp the edge of each round of dough and pinch to form two corners of a triangle; then pinch the third corner of the triangle, pulling the dough up so the sides meet somewhat and form a lip around the outside, but leave some filling exposed (see diagram, Page E1). Brush exposed dough with egg wash again and, if desired, sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar, and bake until golden brown, about 18 to 25 minutes.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE HAMANTASCHEN

Makes about 4 dozen

Chocolate hamantaschen may not be classic, but they are good enough to become a new tradition. Fill with a chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella-brand spread is one version), available in the baking aisle or near the peanut butter section. Cherry or apricot filling also works well.

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup unsalted butter

l cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed firm

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk or water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup cocoa powder

About 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Egg wash (recipe follows)

Filling (use chocolate-hazelnut or poppy-seed pastes; or following recipes for prune, apricot or cherry)

Granulated or coarse sugar for topping (optional)

Chocolate jimmies for topping (optional)

Cream the shortening, butter, white and brown sugar. Add eggs and blend until smooth. If mixture is hard to blend or curdles, add a bit of the flour to bind it. In a bowl, stir together milk or water, vanilla and cocoa, until the mixture becomes a paste. Stir the chocolate paste into the sugar mixture, then fold in flour, salt and baking powder and mix to make a firm but soft dough. Divide into three flattened disks and wrap in plastic. Let the dough stand a couple of minutes to allow the flour in the dough to absorb the liquid more thoroughly. Then refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing a rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured board, roll out one portion of dough at a time to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds and brush with egg wash. Scraps can be rerolled once. Place a generous teaspoonful of chocolate hazelnut paste, or another desired filling, in the center of each round. Grasp the edge of each round of dough and pinch to form two corners of a triangle; then pinch the third corner of the triangle, pulling the dough up so the sides meet somewhat and there is a small lip all around the outside, but leave some filling exposed in the center (see diagram, Page E1). Brush exposed dough with egg wash again and, if desired, sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar or chocolate jimmies and bake until golden brown, about 18 to 22 minutes.

CREAM CHEESE HAMANTASCHEN DOUGH

Makes about 16

Less traditional but certainly appropriate, this all-purpose pastry dough yields a very delicate and flaky pastry. The dough, along with the dried sour cherry filling, is worth starting a mail-order business over. The recipe doubles well.

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter or shortening

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

About 1 cup unbleached flour

Egg wash (recipe follows)

Filling (use chocolate-hazelnut or poppy-seed pastes; or following recipes for prune, apricot or cherry)

Granulated or coarse sugar for topping (optional)

Cream the sugar with the butter or shortening and cream cheese. Blend in the vanilla, salt and flour and stir to make a soft dough, adding a little flour if dough is too sticky to handle.

(Dough may also be made in a food processor. Using the steel blade, place the flour in the work bowl. Drop in the butter or shortening and cream cheese in chunks and add the vanilla and salt. Process until the dough forms a ball. Remove from processor and sprinkle on a little flour to make handling the dough easier. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 minutes or use the next day.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing a rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out on a well-floured board, being careful not to press too firmly because the dough is a little fragile. Cut into 3-inch rounds and brush with egg wash. Scraps can be rerolled once. Place a generous teaspoonful of filling in the center of each round. Grasp the edge of each round of dough and pinch to form two corners of a triangle; then pinch the third corner of the triangle, pulling the dough up so the sides meet somewhat and a lip is formed around the outside, but leave some filling exposed in the center (see diagram, Page E1). Brush the exposed dough with egg wash again and, if desired, sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 18 to 22 minutes.

PRUNE (OR LEKVAR) FILLING

Makes about 3 cups

Store-bought filling works fine, but this homemade version is much more flavorful and appealingly tart-sweet. Even people who disdain prunes seem to like this. The recipe can be doubled.

3/4 cup orange juice or water

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 pound pitted prunes

1 cup dark raisins

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, place the orange juice or water, lemon juice, prunes, raisins and sugar. Toss and stir over low heat to soften and plump prunes and raisins, about 8 to 10 minutes. Make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, lowering the heat if the mixture starts to boil. Remove from the heat and, with a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to the bowl of a food processor. Reserve the cooking liquid. Let the fruit cool about 5 minutes.

Add cinnamon and walnuts (if using). Process well, to form a thick paste-like puree, adding the cooking liquid a bit at a time to thin the puree, as needed. Taste filling, adding more sugar (a tablespoon at a time), if required. Filling should be thick and moist. Too much liquid will cause the filling to be too runny.

Chill slightly before using. Use right away or refrigerate (up to two weeks) or freeze (up to six months).

APRICOT FILLING

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

When I was small, finding apricot hamantaschen at the bakery was a rare treat -- they always sold out immediately! This is a classic version. Use California apricots for best results, but Turkish ones also work nicely. The recipe can be doubled.

3/4 cup water or orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 generous cups (about 1 pound) dried apricots (preferably Californian)

About 1/3 cup sugar

1 cup yellow raisins

1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, place orange juice or water, lemon juice, apricots, sugar and raisins. Toss and stir the fruit over low heat to soften, about 8 to 12 minutes. Add additional water if the mixture seems dry or if the water is evaporating more quickly than the fruit seems to be cooking down.

Remove the saucepan from the stove and let the mixture cool about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the walnuts (if using). Process until the fruit is a thick, paste-like puree, adding additional water or orange juice if mixture requires thinning. Taste and add more sugar (a tablespoon at a time), if required. Use right away or refrigerate (up to two weeks) or freeze (up to six months).

DRIED SOUR CHERRY FILLING

Makes 2 1/2 cups

If you want the deep, pure flavor of dried sour cherries, try this incomparable filling. Recipe can be doubled.

Zest of 1 orange

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pinch cinnamon

About 1/3 cup sugar

2 cups dried sour cherries

1 cup yellow raisins

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

In a medium-sized saucepan, place 1/4 cup water. Add the orange zest and the orange and lemon juices, almond extract, cinnamon, sugar, cherries and raisins. Stir over low heat to soften fruit, about 5 to 10 minutes. If the fruit starts sticking to the saucepan, add a bit more water. Remove from heat, cool about 5 minutes and place in a food processor. Add walnuts, if using. Process until the fruit is a thick, paste-like puree. If too thick, add more water. Use right away or refrigerate (up to two weeks) or freeze (up to six months).

GOLDEN EGG WASH

Enough for 48 hamantaschen

This all-purpose glaze brings a golden glow to most pastries and also acts as the "glue" when sealing pastries. The recipe can be doubled or tripled.

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 to 2 tablespoons milk or water

Pinch sugar

Whisk together egg, yolk, milk or water and sugar. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze on the disks of dough and, later, on the filled, unbaked hamantaschen.

EGG WHITE GLAZE

Enough for 48 hamantaschen

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk together egg whites and sugar well. Use a pastry brush to apply glaze to disks of dough and, later, to edges of filled unbaked dough.

TO MAKE POPPY-SEED FILLING (OR NOT)

Poppy-seed puree is a classic filling for hamantaschen, but no kitchen tool I own or method I've tried (like soaking them overnight, then boiling them in a honey-milk mixture) seems able to properly grind the small black seeds. That leaves you with a tasty but gritty filling that gets worse after baking.

In my secret heart of hearts, I suspect that factory-made poppy-seed filling is produced by driving maybe six World War II tanks back and forth over plastic bags filled with the seeds until they are crushed into a sticky paste. The answer, I think (and this is from a very I-prefer-it-to-be-homemade person), is to seek out bulk poppy-seed filling at an ethnic specialty store (a Hungarian place is a good bet) or pick up a tin of Solo or Haddar brand filling. Your own homemade touch -- a squirt of lemon juice, a pinch of cinnamon or some citrus zest -- adds that extra something. -- Marcy Goldman

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have a good hamantaschen recipe? I like the thin crispy cookie more than the thicker, cakier ones. Thanks!

Bonnie: Hmm. I've not had that kind. But check out the 1996 recipes from Marcy Goldman (in a related chat posting). Perhaps you could experiment with rolling the dough very, very thin.

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Washington, D.C.: I think you all need to correct both your Web site and your article: the mushroom lasagna is NOT vegetarian.

I'm sorry to tell you that Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies!

So unless you specify that it should be made with a vegetarian alternative to Worcestershire sauce, the dish is not vegetarian. I'd be quite an unhappy vegetarian guest at a friend's Easter brunch if that is what they made for me.

David Hagedorn: You are totally correct and the fault lies in myself. We are making the correction to say "vegetarian or vegan Worcestershire sauce" and I believe the online database has already been corrected. If not, the change is imminent.

The irony is that it was something I added to the recipe as an extra oomph at the last minute, so it is not vital to the recipe. As I am not a vegetarian, knowing what ingredients are verboten is not second nature to me. Still, I should have known better and I apologize to the readers.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hey, Food Sectioneers -- love the taco for one article. A lot of my leftovers end up in enchiladas, so I know where you're coming from. I'm eating one with corn, white sweet potatoes and roasted peppers right now.

Speaking of roasted peppers -- any great ideas for using them? Got a great deal on orange peppers the other day, cut them into strips and roasted with oil, then had so many I had to freeze them. Besides throwing them in with pasta sauces, any ideas?

Joe: Hey, Philly -- thanks! Glad you liked it. Let me know if/when you make the tacos -- and, of course, who you want to win "Idol." As for roasted peppers, a couple of my favorite ways to use them are to skewer on toothpicks with white anchovies and maybe olives or oil-packed tuna chunks for a tapas platter. You can also puree with smoked paprika and salt to taste and make a tasty dip out of them.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I tried making hamantashen and had a lot of trouble with the dough -- it cracked and fell apart when I tried to roll it out and form the cookies. What could have caused this -- too much flour? Overworking the batter??? Help!

Bonnie: What's in the dough, ingredient-wise? Even the healthful recipe today makes a fairly supple dough. This is a dough that doesn't need too much work...but it does need refrigeration before you roll it out.

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Albany, N.Y.: Since you were so kind to put a healthy hamentaschen recipe in the food section today, I thought I'd chime in with a great (although not quite so healthy) filling suggestion. Last year for Purim I tried putting some Nutella into my hamentaschen. They were great! I was scared they would run out, like jam does, but actually the Nutella firmed up a bit. It was a great flavor and the kids absolutely loved them. I still like apricot and prune best, and sometimes I make the raisin-nut filling in Joan Nathan's book, but those Nutella hamentaschen are a great treat.

Bonnie: Yum.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rangers - I bought some chicken chorizo on a whim at Trader Joe's. Do you have a suggestion as to what I could make with it? I've been looking through some recipes, but I'm confused about the two different types of chorizo -- the one that is more like salami and the one that is more like sausage (this is the sausage kind). Thanks!

Bonnie: There is dry-cured chorizo ready for slicing/eating, and the uncooked kind that contains chorizo spices. I haven't had the chicken version, but I'd say it'd probably be great, cooked, drained and crumbled into a frittata or breakfast strata, a queso for dipping in or even in chili.

Chatters, what do you like to do with the sausage kind of chorizo?

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Something Slinky in D.C.: Long time, no see you two! Loved meeting you at the International Wiine Fair (Chocolate Grapes, indeed!).

I love soups, but I am trying to watch my salt intake and prepared soups are a nightmare. Could you recommend a couple of good, easy soup recipes for me?

Joe: Hey, SS -- welcome. We thought (sniff) that maybe you had forgotten about us... You're in luck -- we just had a slew of soups in the section a few weeks back. Thirty-six of em, to be specific, and they each take only about 20 minutes or so. Here's the link. Soup's on, Slink!

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Easter Brunch Help: I am hosting an Easter brunch for about 15 people. I billed the brunch as a potluck as well and said people could bring food if they wish. I plan on making spiral ham, buscuits, fruit salad, quiche, cupcakes, cookies and mimosas. I feel like this isn`t enough. I don't know what others will bring but seems like I'm missing something. Thoughts?

Jane Touzalin: As your mom would probably say, don't forget your veggies. For a nice spring touch, how about a platter of beautiful green asparagus?

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Foodies. Thanks so much for the Purim recipe today. My question: Can I skip the poppyseed filling and just use jam or pie filling with that dough?

Bonnie: Absolutely. The dough has a slightly fruity flavor to it, though.

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Nashville: I'm a southern transplant going to a country-club set easter party sunday afternoon. I need to make an impressive hostess gift that she won't feel compelled to put out at her catered party, i.e., no cakes. Cookies? Quick bread? What is springy and nice? I was thinking about a lemon shortbread, or maybe a more savory, rosemary shortbread, but am not sure this is the ticket -- please advise!

Bonnie: Well, there's the lemon curd option, which makes a nice homemade gift. But is there a year-round farmers market near you? I like to pick out beautful Boston or butter lettuces, sometimes with roots attached, and give them in a short, wide glass vase. They can do double duty as a springtime centerpiece and salad for the hosts later in the week.

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Falls Church, Va.: I made the whole wheat Irish soda bread recipt that was in the Post recently. It turned out well, but I need to know how to store the leftover molasses. Also, any other ideas, besides gingerbread, what to do with it?

Bonnie: I don't use it that often and therefore store it in the refrigerator (can go for about a year) -- that goes for the small jars you can find on the baking aisle as well as my current big jar of sorghum molasses. But if you have a cool, dry pantry, the molasses can be stored there, even after the jar's been opened.

You can use molasses to make baked beans, homemade graham crackers, sauces for grilled ribs or for slow-cooked pot roasts and slow-cooker greens, for starters. This is another place where chatters can add their good ideas...

Jane Touzalin: Molasses is also good in barbecue sauce, and you'll find it as an ingredient in lots of cake and cookie recipes. When I was a kid I made tons of molasses taffy, but cleanup was beastly.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is there a dish or food that just says Easter or Passover to you? For me, it's kielbasa and horseradish (blessed on Holy Saturday, of course, along with bread, eggs, butter and salt). It's the only time of the year I eat it. Any place around here for good kielbasa that doesn't taste like a hot dog with garlic?

Joe: For me, it's lamb, all the way. For kielbasa, this is the place of your dreams.

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Fairfax, Va.: I hope you don't mind a pretty basic question: I'm planning on making a potato gratin for Easter (fairly basic: layers of potatoes, cream, herbs and cheese). Since it's Easter, I'm not going to have much time on Sunday to prepare the dish, but I know that raw cut potatoes can turn brown.Can I put together the dish on Saturday and bake it on Sunday, or, conversely, can I bake it up on Saturday and just reheat it on Sunday?

Thanks a million!

Bonnie: Sure you can do it either way -- make sure the potatoes are submerged/covered with the cream mixture for the unbaked, refrigerated version. Reheating's easy to do, especially if you let the gratin come close to room temperature before reheating. And if the gratin was baked with a nicely browned crust, maybe you'd want to reheat it covered with aluminum foil.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi there - I have a recipe that calls for 3 tablespoons of tomato puree. Can I just add almost three tablespoons of water to some amount of my handy tomato paste in a tube to substitute? Thanks.

David Hagedorn: Yes.

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Slow Cooker Substitute: I'm intrigued by the slow cooker greens and roman bean recipes - they sound great (coffee and beans? I would never have thought of that combination of flavors). Since I don't have a slow cooker, can I just use a stockpot or a dutch oven on the stovetop over low heat instead? Or should they go in the oven?

David Hagedorn: Glad you enjoyed those recipes, Slow Cooker. You can do both on the stove over low heat or in the oven. As I was making up the bean recipe, I had baked beans in mind and wanted to simulate those flavors without the bacon. And guess what? The day's leftover coffee was next to the slow cooker when I made the beans, so in it went. It made sense to me; coffee is a great way to add body to sauces, stews, etc.

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Tacos in Maryland: Well, I'm not neat enough to move from the table to the tv and have the taco survive, but I love the tacos al pastor recipe and can't wait to give it a try. I've been making tacos with shrimp, mango, red peppers and avocado recently. Any additional combos that didn't make the article?

Joe: I so love me some tacos! Well, I often make tacos with Pressure Cooker Carnitas, again spiking with the pickled onions and salsa. And lots of other combos: shrimp with black beans and corn when the latter is in season; roasted maitake mushrooms and peppers; chicken (diced thigh meat) with chickpeas. And on and on...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi - advice on desserts for Easter, please! I am a huge dessert fan, and if I had my way would skip the dinner course and start with sweets. I have sweet homemades on my counter every day of the week. My husband is much more into the Easter ham course. I will admit that I think my love for dessert is sometimes lost on dinner guests and the efforts I put into a dish is not always appreciated by them (at least not relative to the time I spend on it). We're having eight friends for Easter dinner this weekend. Are lemon desserts enjoyed by the average palatte? Lemon mousse, lemon curd pies, lemon merangue? I looooove lemon, my husband is not usually convinced. It seems so Easter. But, to put it into perspective, my husband thinks I should just make yellow cupcakes with pastel frosting (this, after we both spend eight hours in the kitchen on the rest of the meal -- seems like a weak way to end the meal). So I guess the question is, what are some Easter desserts that the average guest will enjoy and will recognize that I put some work into?

David Hagedorn: We did a piece on Sunday Brunch a while ago and there was a recipe for lemon pudding souffle. It is foolproof and always a winner. In fact, I recently served it to some very notable foodies who raved about it. They can be made individually or in one souffle dish. A compote of blueberries on the side would be great. (PS: I always add a dash of cardamom to anything with blueberries; it brings out their flavor.)

Also, and this is a BIG plus, it will look like you put a lot of work into it, but you won't need to.

washingtonpost.com: Recipe: Lemon Pudding Souffles

Joe: I've made these many times, and I often freeze the leftovers after baking -- they're great pretty straight from the freezer! (Semifreddos...)

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Chorizo: I love to use fresh chorizo as the oil for sauteeing chicken. You can take it several directions from there -- Cajun, Spanish, Mexican, etc...

Bonnie: That does provide a good flavor hit -- and some reddish-orange color.

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Albany, N.Y.: For the poster looking for a crispier hamantaschen recipe, here's my mom's recipe. It's a very light cookie. I think they're the best ever, but I'm biased. Be sure to refrigerate the dough overnight.

1/2 c butter

1 c sugar

1 egg

2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add a little bit to the butter and sugar. Add milk, then add rest of flour and vanilla. Make into 2 balls, dust with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest in refrigerator overnight. Roll and cut circles with a glass. Put in filling and shape, squeezing edges together. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes.

Joe: Thanks!

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About Marcy's recipe....: Does "shortening" mean I can use unsalted margarine? Or do I need to break out the Crisco?

Bonnie: Unsalted margarine can be the substitute, yes.

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Use for Chorizo: Rachael Ray has a quick and tasty recipe for a soup with chorizo, which includes kale, can of diced tomatoes, potatoes, garbanzo beans in a chicken broth.

Joe: Who's she?

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Durham, N.C.: Hello Food gurus! I have become enamoured of an enormous 1970s crockpot recently gifted/passed down to me by friends who no longer want it. I'm a beginner cook, and this past weekend, I tried making a simple beef stew in the crockpot -- it was pretty darn good. Now I'm on a quest to discover the best crockpot recipes out there. I'd really like to do something with chicken this weekend (perhaps a crockpot version of chicken and dumplings?) The problem is that the recipes I find on the Internet seem to require large amounts of canned broth, or even Campbell's soup as a base. I'd really like to learn some crockpot recipes that start with fresh ingredients rather than processed foods. May I ask if you have any suggestions? Thanks so much!

Jane Touzalin: Heck, when a recipe calls for canned broth, that doesn't mean you have to use it. It's ridiculously easy to make rich-tasting, preservative-free broth/stock of your own -- and you can even make it in your slow cooker! That's a twofer!

As for books, I like the slow-cooker cookbooks by Beth Hensperger. They have a more modern approach. One is "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook." Go to a bookstore, thumb through a few and see if you don't see a book you like.

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Washington, D.C.: Boy, despite what you say there are only seven Google entries for "glazed city ham," so maybe Bethesda has a point. I never heard that, either, and I grew up eating smoked hams in Pa. from our local butcher (not packed in water and plastic). Same in Ohio where we got them in a netting. In fact, have ordered one for Easter from a local farmers' market.

Bonnie: Well, perhaps that can be grist for the Easter dinner table. "city ham and country ham" = 361,000 hits.

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Taco ideas: I still love the fish tacos I had in San Diego

Joe: Of course! Fish tacos are fab.

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Roasted pepper dip follow-up: Joe -- you just puree the roasted peppers with paprika and nothing else? Sounds delicious, but I wonder if it needs something else for body -- cheese, or beans, or something?

Joe: Sometimes I do just the peppers, plus a little more oil (a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut is good) if it's too watery. Depends on how virtuous I'm feeling, if I'm trying to avoid extra fat... Sometimes I indeed add some grated Parm and/or some roasted nuts for a take on a pesto. I haven't combined em with beans, but you sure could -- I make a white bean dip pretty much the same way, but you could do half and half.

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Roasted duckling for Easter?: Hi Rangers!

How would duckling be for Easter? I have Jewish friends also coming, so ham is out. I see frozen duckling in the market, but have never had the courage to try one. What sauce would you put with it, and what's the best way to cook it (if you were going to do this, and I'm not proposing a total disaster)?

Thanks

David Hagedorn: Duck would be lovely for Easter, but I would advise against it it you have never made it before.

First of all, Whole Foods sells Bell and Evans frash ducks and they are better than the frozen variety.

But, one duck really only feeds two people. There is a tremendous amount of fat on a duck; some gets removed beforehand, some in the roasting, and the rest by rendering as it bakes. As there is so much fat to deal with in a hot oven, it can get messy and smoky.You really have to pay attention the the whole process.

In other words, experiment with this before you decide to make it for company.

I do recall a recipe of Ina Garten's that you could look up. She parboils the ducks to render a lot of the fat out, and then roasts them at a high temperature for a half hour, I believe.

Don't get me wrong; I love duck and just served it at two dinner parties. At one party I served the legs, braised. At the other party, I served the breasts, fat rendered, then seared. I cut all the skin off the ducks, rendered the fat, and made stock, but the process took many hours.

So...how is lamb sounding to you now?

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Purim tomorrow: Tomorrow is Purim, but I'll be volunteering at D.C. Jewish Commnity Center's Hunger Action program where we cook meals for the homeless. Do you have a quick recipe for hammentashes (sp?) that I can make tonight? I would really appreciate it!

Orchidgirl.

Bonnie: Hi orchardgirl! If you make the dough from today's recipe and use a jam or other store-bought filling, the prep can be very fast. Nice of you to volunteer.

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Leftover Molasses: I usually put a tablespoon or so in my homemade-shortcut barbecue sauce (ketchup, mustard, onions, molasses), but my favorite use for it is to put just a dab -- less than a tablespoon -- on my oatmeal with brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon. Makes it feel a little heartier, and it smells a tiny bit licorice-y.

Jane Touzalin: And that brings up a good point: A little molasses goes a long way!

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Fairfax, Va.: Heading to an Italian themed dinner party in several weeks and trying to come up with a chocolate dessert (that isn't biscotti). Any ideas for me?

Bonnie: This is one of Nick Malgieri's favorites: Torta Divina

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Durham, N.C., re: crockpot chicken stock: I'm a real novice...how would I do a crockpot stock? I'm assuming water, salt and some kind of chicken part...wings? thighs?

David Hagedorn: Hi, Durham. A great way to do chicken stock in the slow cooker is to use a whole fryer. The flavor of the stock is tremendous and then you have all the meat, enough for two meal's worth. Place halved onion,carrot, and celery stalk (up to you how many; 1 or two of each. Carrot makes the stock sweeter) in the cooker, then put the chicken on top and water and a bay leaf, some peppercorns, and whatever herbs you like; I always put thyme in my stock.

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Providence, R.I.: Follow-up on the gratin question (Fairfax and I are thinking alike!) -- would you recommend one advance method over the other? Seems the cheese doesn't bubble quite the same when you reheat with foil. But I too want to do what I can in advance, while my mom and I drink champagne and hide plastic eggs for my little daughter (our Easter Eve tradition).

Bonnie: If you like a freshly baked gratin, go for the unbaked method. The upside to reheating a baked gratin is that they can be easier to cut/serve.

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Alexandria, Va.: What is the best way to cook a ribeye steak?

And do you have any recipes for chimichurri? My husband discovered he really likes this sauce/condiment.

Joe: The best way to cook a ribeye (or any other thick) steak is to grill it using the two-level method (build the fire on one side so the heat is direct above it, but there's an indirect-heat area available. Clean the grill grates, oil them well, and put a room-temperature, salted and peppers steak on the direct-heat side. You should hear it sizzle. Grill for 2-3 minutes, getting it nice and browned, turn over and do the same on the other side. Then transfer it to the indirect-heat part of the grill and cook another few minutes. Test the temperature, and pull it at 120 for rare, 130 for medium-rare. Then let it rest for about 5 minutes on a warm plate loosely tented with foil.

Speaking of the grill, I've made this chimichurri recipe from Steve Raichlen and liked it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rangers!

I know the focus is on Easter, but Passover is right around the corner, and I'm having a Passover seder at my house for the first time! I have always wanted to make gefilte fish the way my grandma did, but I never had a big mixer before, and was too intimidated by all the steps to even try. So... I now have a mixer (her recipe calls for letting the stuff mix for a REALLY long time -- I think my mom burned out the motor on her mixer one year doing it!). The thing is, the kinds of fish that she used in Cleveland are different than what I see in the Washington-area fish places. So, can you please help? I really need to do this... If you can come up with an alternative recipe for gefilte fish, that would be great, too! My grandma's were light, and not fishy at all.

Bonnie: As in, you can't find carp? I've made it with salmon and it turned out nicely -- a lovely color, too. Freshwater bass or maybe bluefish would work.

Here's a recipe from Food in 1996, from the dad of Home section writer Annie Groer:

ARON GROER'S ANCESTRAL, EXTREMELY LOW-TECH, TRULY FAB GEFILTE FISH

Makes 18 patties

FOR THE STOCK:

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Fish head and bones, eyes and remaining gunk removed (from the following 8-pound carp)

FOR THE FISH:

8-pound carp, scaled, gutted and filleted, saving the head and bones for the stock (see preceding step)

6 or 7 medium yellow onions (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled and quartered, plus 3 medium yellow onions (about 3/4 pound), peeled and sliced

3 eggs, separated

1 cup matzoh meal

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon pepper

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into rounds or diagonals

1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into rounds

Parsley sprigs and red horseradish for garnish (optional)

For the stock: Combine the salt, sugar, pepper, fish head and fish bones with 8 1/2 cups of water in a large stockpot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the carcass and, when cool, pick off and reserve all the fish meat, and set aside. Strain the stock and set aside.

For the fish: Cut the fish fillets into 3-inch strips (the fillets will have bones in them; grind them along with the flesh). Using a meat grinder, grind the raw fish strips and bones, the reserved cooked fish and the quartered onions, alternating additions of fish and onions. Put mixture in a large bowl and check to make sure all the bones have been ground, removing any detectable pieces. Set aside.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy, add the yolks and beat a while longer. Add the beaten eggs to the fish mixture and blend. Add matzoh meal, salt, sugar and pepper. Mix with a big spoon until very well blended; this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside.

Put 1 cup of the reserved stock in the bottom of a very large pot; heat on low flame. From the fish-egg mixture, form patties (round or elongated, depending on personal preference). Gently place a layer of patties in the pot, taking care not to crowd them (Groer's kettle holds seven per layer). Using a cup with a spout, add a second cup of stock by slowly dribbling it down the inside of the pot to avoid damaging the patties. Make a second layer of patties, spacing them between those below. Carefully add another cup of stock, repeating the process until all patties and stock are used.

Cover the top layer with the 3 sliced onions, the carrots and the parsnip. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for 2 hours.

Carefully remove the cooked vegetables and set aside in a bowl. Remove the fish one piece at a time with a slotted spoon, placing them in a container to chill until serving. The patties may be slightly stuck together; gently separate them. Strain the stock and gently pour it over the vegetables in the bowl. Chill until ready to serve.

To serve, place a piece of fish on a small plate, garnish with a carrot slice, a parsley sprig and red horseradish on the side. Spoon on additional jellied stock containing cooked vegetables, if desired.

Per patty: 225 calories, 25 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 119 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 430 mg sodium

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Washington, D.C.: I haven't made Challah since I was a little girl at summer camp, but I've recently had a yearning to try my hand at braiding. The recipe in your database calls for food coloring. I don't want to do that just because it doesn't seem right. Is there something that has been ommitted from that recipe to not make it eggy and yellow? How can I make a good, old fashioned, traditional Challah?

Bonnie: Feel free to omit the food coloring. I've baked it that way.

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Chicken chorizo: Saute with spinach and chick peas (salt, pepper, dash or turmeric,).

Make Spanish bean soup, or sub for a meat in three-bean soup.

Cook and toss in pasta with half can of drained green peas, a little olive oil and parm.

Make with stuffing.

Cook up with eggs for breakfast.

Bonnie: Stuffing! that's a good one.

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Bethesda, Md.: I see I've touched a nerve! Hey, let's just agree city ham is simply not the same as smoked ham with no water added and let us enjoy the latter, despite today's article omitting any discussion of that wonderful product!

P.S. Try Harrington's fully smoked ham.

Bonnie: Agreed. I'm reaching for your hand to sing in peace right now...

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Oak Hill, Va.: Hi Joe,

Does the taco taste test hold true for use in enchiladas? I've had a hankerin!

Thanks

Joe: Pretty much, it does. It's a little less crucial because you can't taste the tortillas as clearly when they're under the sauce as you can with tacos, but I'd still recommend those TJ's tortillas for enchiladas. Speaking of, have you tried these?

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I'm having some people over for tapas, and one of my favorite standbys is endive leaves with goat cheese, almonds, orange segments and a drizzle of reduced balsamic. Unfortunately, it turns out one of the guests is allergic to goat cheese. (Poor thing!!) My first thought was to use ricotta instead, but I think that's a bit too mild. Mascarpone might work, but it might be a little sweet -- what do you think? I could just make them and tell her not to eat them, but I'd rather not have goat cheese in the kitchen at all since I don't know how severe the allergy is. So -- suggestions for other cheeses? Or for other cold tapas entirely? I love these because they look elegant and they're done completely ahead.

David Hagedorn: Hi, Philly.

I'm very old-fashioned about these things. I don't know how it has become okay for people to submit lists of likes/dislikes/allergies, etc. to hostesses before a party. I learned that if there is something you don't care for or cannot eat, you make it look like you did, tell the host how much you enjoyed everything, and then eat a sandwich when you get home.

Now that I got that off my chest . . . Boursin cheese?

Joe: Sheep's milk ricotta, or maybe a milder feta...

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Albany, N.Y. again: As a long-time hamantaschen maker, I have to really disagree with your recommendations to use jam or regular pie filling in hamantaschen. They have the tendency to get very liquid and will run out of your hamantaschen and all over your cookie sheet unless your dough is very thick and cakey. With my mom's recipe for dough, they are too thin and crispy to hold runny filling. Pastry filling (like the cans of Solo) is much thicker and will hold its shape much better.

Bonnie: That can happen when the hamantaschen are not closed tightly or have a large opening at the top. Pastry filling's a good idea, I agree.

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Durham, N.C., re: crockpot chicken stock: Thank you so much for your help with how to make chicken stock. I really appreciate all those details...so helpful for a novice like me.

David Hagedorn: And the house smells great while you make it!

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Chicken chourica: Chicken chorizo is Spanish in origin and it is hard, like a salami.

The chicken chourica that TJ's sells is a fat, soft sausage, Portuguese in origin, and it is a totally different sausage than chorizo.

The spelling is so similar that it is easy for folks to think they are the same but they are as different as breakfast sausage and Genoa salami.

Portuguese chourica is traditionally made with pork (similar to linguica) and seasoned with garlic, paprika and hot pepper. It is great in a kale soup (with garlic, beans and potatoes) and it absolutely transforms a frittata or omelet.

My dad liked to fry his chourica or linguica in ring slices and have it with breakfast, as if it were bacon. A traditional lunch is to scramble it with eggs and take it for lunch on a sub roll.

Try it, you'll love it!

Bonnie: Boy, thanks for clearing that up. I'm going looking for it this weekend.

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Richmond, Va.: Can you help me use the search funtion? Reading the greens recipe, I see "features: slow cooker," so I assumed I could search by that, but when I click advanced search, the only features option are: Fast, Kid-Friendly, Meatless or Healthy. A search for slow cooker in title turned up nothing. I'd love to see all your slow cooker recipes! TIA!

Bonnie: We'll look into that. It should be working. I know there are recipes marked with as "slow cooker" on our side of the database.

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Duckling, part II: Thanks so much, David, I'll stick to lamb shanks and couscous, something I've made before. My friends and family owe you a debt of gratitude, and they dont' even know it.

Thanks!

David Hagedorn: I learned that lesson the hard way; no reason why you should have to!

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Grinding poppy seeds: You need a poppyseed grinder! I have my husband's great-grandmother's, but I've seen them in catalogs and they are exactly the same.

Bonnie: Is it a multitasking tool? A food processor can do the trick.

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Seattle, Wash. (D.C. transplant): Need ideas for an Italian dessert that is fast and easy. My husband and I are throwing a big dinner party on Saturday and serving lasagne. The catch is I'm pregnant and have morning sickness, all day long. The fabulous hubby is doing everything else, but dessert is my forte.

Our next big dinner party will probably be a Sedar since none of our friends out here have ever been to one. (Hint, hint.)

Bonnie: Biscotti and vin santo? Strawberries with balsamic vinegar or mascarpone?

Passover recipes in Food on April 16.

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Washington, D.C.: I've recently discovered whipped honey, which I just adore on the spoon or in my tea. But I've run out of it. I've looked at Safeway and Trader Joe's and have only found creamed honey. Is this the same thing? If not, how are they different please?

Jane Touzalin: Looks to me like most recipes and purveyors refer to "whipped or creamed honey" as if they are interchangeable terms. Beekeepers are a little more hard-nosed about it; they say that creamed honey is just a finer type with none of the air that whipped honey has. But it looks like in common usage, the terms mean the same thing.

But -- how bad could it be? Why not buy some and check it out for yourself?

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Egged Out in Maryland: We dyed eggs with the toddler on Sunday. Now I'm stuck with a dozen hardboiled eggs that need to get eaten and neither toddler nor hubby are particularly keen on them. Aside from egg salad, which I've been eating for lunch, what are some other ways to use them up?

David Hagedorn: Hi, Egged Out: It seems to me that the eggs have already served a useful purpose, so why feel guilty about not eating them?

I was always told NOT to consume Easter eggs. Besides, today is Wednesday and you dyed them on Sunday; I'm not so sure I'd want to eat those eggs anymore.

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Dried figs . . . and icewine?: On a whim, I bought dried figs (Mission, if it matters). Now I am pondering what to do with them. Any appetizer or dessert options, preferably not involving cheese? I have a faint, vague memory of having read that figs pair well with icewine, but I don't know if that's (a) true or (b) applicable to dried figs. If it is, we'd love to try it, as we have a special bottle from a trip to Niagara Lake... and an anniversary coming up.

Thanks!

Joe: This just in, from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg:

"It depends with what they'll be eaten. They could be served as part of a salad with orange supremes, toasted walnuts, and a honey vinaigrette -- perhaps with a prosecco or off-dry sparkler.

"Or, the dried figs could be poached in Vin Santo or sweet red wine and served with a spoonful of fresh mascarpone and biscotti -- ideally with a glass of the same wine (i.e. Vin Santo or sweet red wine), but, yes, even with ice wine!"

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Arlington, Va.: Why is it so hard to find flat-leaf parsley? I can't buy it anywhere!!!

Bonnie: Curious. It has been at every Safeway, Whole Foods Market and Giant that I've shopped at in the past 2 months. It likes to hide next to the cilantro, often.

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Joe: We're golden brown and bubbling, and need to rest 10 minutes before serving -- which means we're done. Thanks for the great questions, as usual, and hope we helped...

Now for the giveaway winners: The chatter who asked about the best way to cook ribeye will get, of course, "The New Steak." The aspiring gefilte fish maker will get "Jewish Home Cooking." And the baker who had trouble with hamantaschen dough will get "Health Cooking for the Jewish Home."

Thanks to David for helping us today. See you next week. Until then, happy cooking, eating and reading.


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