Free Range on Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, April 2, 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:


Joe: Welcome to today's chat, food people. What's on your mind? Angling to get to a Nats game now that we told you which items to suss out and which to step away from? If you went to the game, what did you eat? Are you ready to rush summer with greenhouse produce, as Stephanie Sedgwick suggests? Did Nick M's baking blog piece get you hungry for brownies?

Toss your softballs our way, and we'll bat them back. (OK, my facility with sports puns just ran its entire course.)

For our favorite posts, we have giveaways, naturally: There's "Bold Italian" by Scott Conant and "Fair Shares for All," a memoir about food and family by John Haney.

No more winding up. (Hey, I had one more in me!)


Left Field Mezzanine: Well, now we know why the lines were so long -- they were clogged with Post reporters trying to sample everything!

Joe: Very funny. To paraphrase our TV-watching colleague Lisa de Moraes, "We Eat So You Don't Have To."


Fairfax, Va.: I haven't been to the park, although I am considering the Open House this weekend. I intend to buy some of the food (my wife wants Ben's), in part to try it, but in part to put my money where my mouth is. A chunk of the high prices goes to pay for the stadium, and we suburbanites have claimed loudly that will will end up paying much of the cost of the stadium through ticket and concession taxes.

It seems the city is looking to pay for the stadium with parking tickets as well. Over 750 the first day! That will fill the coffers quickly.

Joe: Good point! And good for you. Make sure to line up at Ben's as early as possible -- or if it's a half smoke "all the way" (onions, mustard and, most importantly and beautifully, chili), that you get it from Nats Dogs or even Noah's Pretzels, where the lines are much shorter.


Nationals Park: I thought I ready before opening day that somewhere in the ball park there would be sushi available. Anyone have a chance to confirm this? If so -- how was the selection and pricing?

Walter: We searched and searched for the sushi cart. No sushi was found. But Nationals spokeswoman, Chartese Burnett, says that after the Pope's visit, on April 17, carts with sushi, Asian dishes and panini sandwiches will hit the concourse in stages, week after week.


Rockville, Md.: Thanks, as always, for doing the chat! Other than Noah's Pretzels, which you mentioned in the ballpark story today, do you know of any stands in the park that would be considered "allergy-friendly?" Between the peanuts, Cracker Jack, and Boardwalk Fries, it's hard out there for those of us who are baseball fans but have to avoid peanuts!

Joe: It depends on what you're allergic to, of course, but we saw no other foods that immediately presented themselves as allergy-friendly.
What's your restricted list?


Bethesda, Md.: Agree that price is a little crazy at Nats Park. However, the best deal to be had is the $8.50 chili nachos at Hard Times, loaded with cheese, sour cream, diced jalapenos, and onions. It's enough food to last you for two days. Of course, you need to factor in the cost of Pepcid. Fortunately you can bring that into the ballpark.

Joe: We saw those -- they were indeed loaded! Actually, many of the portions were pretty (un)healthy, indeed.


Washington, D.C.: Any read on that new gelato stand that is in the stadium. Having been to Italy a few times, I have a pretty high standard for gelato if I do say so myself. It was too cold on Sunday to try some out, but I did notice they serve it in the traditional Italian style that I saw in Italy--so that at least got my hopes up for when I try it in the summer months...

Joe: Are you asking if we tried it? We did -- and we loved it.


Oak Hill: Loved the chart of baking websites. So useful! And, though I'm not a baseball fan and probably will never make it to the new stadium, I liked reading about all the different foods anyway. I just wish the Redskins' stadium was half as good.

Joe: Thanks. And thanks.


Farmers Market?: I've read (was it from last week's chat?) that some of the farmers markets are starting up real soon, maybe even this week. Do you know what I can expect to see there at this time of year? It seems a bit early in the year for a lot of things, but I'm up for checking it out.

Walter: There is no reason to wait until spring when the bulk of the farmers markets open. Markets are open all year in Dupont Circle, Takoma Park and Arlington, for example.
What will you find at this time of year? Well, last Sunday at the Dupont market I found some delicious dandelion greens as well as salad mix, apples, sweet potatoes, eggs, cheese, onions, kale, arugula and more.

Jane Black: The Penn Quarter and Foggy Bottom Markets open this week. Foggy Bottom is open today from 2:30 to 7 p.m. and Penn Quarter is tomorrow from 3 to 7 p.m.

Joe: And stay tuned for our fabulous newly formatted farmers market list, connected to a map and viewable by day: It's coming April 16.


Hyattsville, Md.: You had a question last week about tasting coffee cold. I found this on the Internet (on a coffee-service Web site):

The true test of coffee is to taste it as it cools down. A good coffee will retain its flavor as it cools down. Even when it is cold it should still be an acceptable taste. A poor quality coffee will lose flavor and become bitter or sharp as it cools down. When cold the taste is unacceptable.

Jane Black: Thanks to our reader in Hyattsville, here's a little more information on tasting coffee cold.


Washington, D.C.: Posting early, hoping you can provide some bread/bagel help.

Anytime I make bread like bagels or challah where the bread needs to be shaped, anywhere where I piece dough together, it comes apart.

When making bagels, I now make a ball and poke a hole in it instead of forming a rope, but still, I get big cracks anywhere that I had pieced together dough. Any suggestions?


Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Here's a cheater's way around the problem-Shape the dough into a flat rectangle the thickness and length you want each rope to be. Cut strips whatever width, say 3/4-inch, you want the rope to be. There's your rope-a little squared off but it bakes up fine without all the rolling and stretching that causes the dough to rip.


Burke, Va.: Dorie's fans have started a blog called "Tuesdays with Dorie". They all bake one recipe a week from her latest book and report on their results. It's really interesting.

Joe: I just looked -- cool! Fun name, too -- especially since I'm so so so much more interested in Dorie than Morrie.


20009: Hi guys, thanks for chatting - I picked up some baking chocolate this week and I've never used it before so I'm not sure of its properties. How do I know if I can use it in a recipe that doesn't specifically call for it? And are there uses for it aside from strictly baking?

Jane Black: Baking chocolate, is, as its name suggests only for baking. The reason, as I understand it, is that although it has intense flavor, it also has a lower cocoa butter content (which makes it less smooth and less palatable if you're eating it as a snack.) It is meant to be used when you are combining with other ingredients, namely fats from butter and eggs.


Arlington, Va.: Whenever I make a beef dish in the slow cooker, the recipe calls for me to brown the meat first. What's the point of this, if it's going to cook for several hours? Can I skip this step? Thanks.

Jane Black: Browning the meat gives it a nice color and, more important, flavor. If you just slow cook it, it will be cooked but without that meaty, taste you are looking for.


Steak city: Hey rangers! My husband bought those vacuum-sealed pack steaks from a friend, but didnt realize how much sodium is packed into those things! What's the reason for those anyway, besides preserving? My question is, is there a way to dilute the sodium content in the steak, by marinating in water or wine perhaps? We have sirloin, flat iron and some others, that I have no idea what to do with besides fry/broil -- any suggestions? Thanks a bunch!

Jane Black: A lot of times, they add salted water to chicken or pork in order to make it easier to cook (the salt and water make it dry out less quickly.)I am not familiar with them using it often on steak, though. I'm not aware of any way to reduce the salt once it's in there. If it's on the outside, you can rinse and pat dry. Otherwise, just limit the seasoning you put on the meat or in the sauce.


Chicago, Ill.: Love the chats and encouragement in the kitchen!! I'm looking for some springtime inspiration to kick off a meal of lamb and potatoes, accompanied by an orzo salad.

Because I've never cooked lamb before, I'm a little confused as to what flavors will work well.

Mediterranean? Middle Eastern? I'm searching for an appetizer ... any advice??

Joe: We had this great recipe for lamb with new potatoes in last year's Easter section (remember "Two Great Legs," a ham and a lamb?).

I also like the look of this more delicate lamb chop idea that also uses new potatoes. If your grill is fired up and you want the whole leg, this Mediterranean-style one would do the trick.

You're right to be thinking Med or Mid-Eastern -- I often think Greek when it comes to lamb. (Remember the great moment in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" when an aunt hears that the groom is (yikes!) a vegetarian? She says, ''What do you mean, he don't eat no meat?" (Pause for humorous timing.) "Oh, that's OK. I make lamb."

So you're right on track with the orzo salad. For an app? How bout a Greek-style salad, using mixed greens, feta, olives, red onions and this vinaigrette?

Or maybe with this Greek Goddess Dressing?


Columbia, Md.: Love your chats! I've been a long time reader, but this is my first time to send in questions.

Quite a while ago (November 3, 1999) the Post ran an article about home made pierogi with an accompanying recipe. The recipe was wonderful, but I lost it along the way. All that's left is the article sans clipped recipe. Is it possible that you have the recipe in your archives?

Thanks for your help!

Jane Black: Here you go!

Pirogi for 100

Pirogi With Potato and Cheese Filling

(Makes about 100 piroghi)

Pirogi (also spelled piroghi and several other ways) can be served as an appetizer or a side dish. If you make them a little larger, you can serve several as an entree. Pirogis also can be baked or deep-fat fried, but perhaps the most common preparation is simply tossing them in a pan of onions sauteed in butter and frying them until crisp and golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

This recipe from Tina Burpee appears in "A Faithful Feast," a community cookbook compiled by the members of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Bethesda.

For the filling:

5 pounds potatoes, peeled

1 1/2 pounds cheddar cheese, grated

2 medium onions, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the dough:

6 1/2 to 7 cups flour, plus additional for working the dough

3 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups water

For the filling:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer until tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the cheese and onions.

Drain the potatoes, add them to the bowl and, using a wooden spoon, quickly mash the potatoes into the mixture, combining them thoroughly with the cheese and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

For the dough:

Place 6 1/2 cups of the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour. Place the eggs, sour cream and salt in the well and then gradually work the flour into rest of the ingredients, adding the water a little bit at a time until a dough forms. If the dough seems too sticky, you can add up to additional 1/2 cup of flour.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough into 3-inch circles, keeping the cuts close together to utilize as much of the dough as possible. Place the circles separately on a tray or work surface; don't overlap.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

To form the pirogis: Place 1 teaspoon of the filling near the middle of each circle. Fold each pirogi in half and pinch the edges together to seal. (You may wrap the pirogis tightly and refrigerate them for up to 3 days or freeze them for as long as 2 months.)

Drop several pirogi in the boiling water at a time and simmer until they rise to the top of the water. Transfer to a colander to drain.

To finish the pirogis you can saute them in butter with onions over medium-high heat, bake them in a 350-degree oven until they puff slightly, about 5 minutes, or deep-fry them in oil.

Per pirogi: 78 calories, 3 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 87 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber


Lake Monticello, Va.: Just wanted to let you know that I tried David Hagedorn's suggestion for cooking steak . . . and it works great! My husband thought it had better flavor than the grilled steak we had previously. Thanks!!!

Joe: Excellent. He'll be thrilled to hear it.


Anonymous: Gee, will the food carts vend pasta or Brats when the Pope comes? Kraut or Calamari?

Joe: Or maybe Slice Down the Line will do a "Find the Pope in the Pizza" contest. Does that ring a bell with anyone of a certain demographic who may have watched TV in the late '70s?


Burke, Va: Always a thrill to see contributions to the Food Section from known icons such as Nick Maglieri. Thanks!

Speaking of brownies...waaay back, I think it was from someone's trial, there were a lot of reporters hanging around a hotel. The Food section ran a great article about someone baking sheets and sheets of brownies for the crowd outside. Can that brownie recipe be added to the database? I made them at the time and they were great.

Jane Touzalin: Not just any trial. During Clinton impeachment proceedings in 1999, the staff at the Mayflower Hotel would serve brownies to the throngs of reporters and photographers hanging out in front of the hotel, where depositions were being taken. One of our reporters described them as "thick, chewy, chocolaty." Here's the recipe. Yes, we can add it to the database, too:

The Mayflower Brownies
Makes 24 very large or 48 small brownies
Confectioners' sugar for dusting the pan and for topping the brownies
1 3/4 pounds semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing the pan
3 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
11 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-by-13-inch baking pans with butter and dust with confectioners' sugar.

In a saucepan or double boiler over low heat, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter together. When chocolate has melted, take off the heat, stir to combine and let the mixture cool until just warm to the touch.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the sugar, flour, salt and baking powder. Stir to mix thoroughly.
Add the eggs and vanilla to the cooled chocolate mixture, blending well. Pour this mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds just until ingredients are blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the pan, about 35 minutes. Cool and dust with confectioners' sugar before slicing.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Free Rangers,

I'm in the midst of planning my husband's 30th birthday party and am at a bit of a loss as to what food to serve. Its going to be a drinks (wine and beer) and hors d'oeuvres affair for 10-15 people. I'm looking to make three items and will round things out with a fruit platter, crudite, and hummus and pita. I've been searching for semi-healthy items that are easy to prepare, can be made in advance, and are ok to sit for a little while. So far, I've come up with mini crustless quiches. I'm thinking about doing spanikopita, but last year's experience with phyllo has left me lukewarm. Any ideas for hors d'oeuvres that will wow my crowd?


Jane Black: I haven't tried this -- yet -- but it looks fabulous: Stephanie's recipe for shrimp and cucumber canapes in today's section.

If you're interested in spanakopita, you can buy wonderful frozen ones. I want to say the brand I like is Kontos but I never know it till I see it. Anyone else have a favorite brand for this?


Washington, D.C.: Dear Foodists,

Help! I have stacks of crumbling recipes from the Food section and also entire Food sections filling up my bookcases. Please tell me -- How far back are the recipes now available on-line? How quickly are older ones being added (a year each month, for example)? I need to clean house -- but I don't want to lose access to, say, a 1988 asparagus recipe that bowled 'em over at a dinner party.

Joe: We're here to help you clean out, absolutely. But here's the thing: We initially put into the new system about 5 years worth of recipes -- quite a time-consuming job, since the database requires everything to be re-entered (no cutting and pasting!). But then we only made it through the intensive editing of about three years' worth. We're working our way back, but rather than just going back in time systematically, we decided a better use of resources was to look for things topically, such as inputting and editing a bunch of holiday recipes in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Passover, etc. So that means that we have a few that go as far back as the 80s -- but no asparagus from 1988, I'm afraid.

So I guess you need to keep your filing system going for awhile? We're editing as fast as we can!


Alexandria, Va.: You know those dry-aged steaks at Whole Foods? How do you prepare and cook them? I'm intrigued, but I don't know if they require special treatment or if they can just be slapped on the grill like other meats.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Cook them like any steak you respect!


Fava beans: When will they be available at Farmers markets? I've only cooked with them once (and didn't realize that you have to remove the husks from each seed!) so I want to give them another whirl. Do you have any ideas (or recipes) for simple ways to prepare them? Thanks!

Jane Black: Fava beans are my favorite spring food. I always joke that when I win the lottery (when, you see, it's positive thinking) I will have someone dedicated full time to shelling favas for me so I can eat them all the time.

I do very little with them: I steam them and toss them with pasta and ricotta and mint. I also once made a recipe, I think it was from Martha Stewart, where you tossed them with toasted, chopped almonds, parmesan and a simple oil and lemon vinaigrette. Delicious!


Freezing Pesto: What's the best way to freeze pesto so it doesn't get freezer burn? I tried it in a bowl, with a cover of wax paper under the lid, but it still got an icy coating. Is it best to roll it in freezer paper and then a freezer bag maybe? I've heard to pour EVOO on top, but I'm not sure what container to use.

Jane Touzalin: Here's what I do. There are probably dozens of good ideas, which I'm sure your fellow chatters will provide.
I place my pesto (minus the cheese; I add that after thawing) into a resealable freezer bag; then I lay the bag flat on the counter and carefully press out ALL of the air. (It's tricky, because one twitch and I could end up with a pesto puddle on my countertop.) I lay the sealed bag flat on a cutting board and stick both in the freezer until the pesto is solid. That way I end up with a thin, flat, very stackable pesto-cicle. And it stays a little greener if there's no air exposure, I think.


McLean, Va.: Do you know if there are street vendors outside of the Nationals ballpark this year? We went to the game on Saturday and did not see the vendors outside of the Metro station. At RFK we were able to pick up water and peanuts from the street vendors on our walk to the stadium. Please tell me the vendors will be there this year. Thanks!

Walter: The D.C. Council and the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs are currently working on regulations regarding vending outside the stadium. The 23 licensed vendors who had hot dog and souvenir carts outside RFK Stadium are waiting for the results.
The vendor On the Fly, which operates several carts around the city, planned to open a cart this week on Half St. near Nationals Park, on private property. But I cannot confirm that it has opened for daily business.

Joe: On the Fly was there on Saturday, but got kicked off the property on Sunday because of the wrong permit -- but its owner says it has worked it out.


Washington, D.C.: I work less than a block from the Nationals Stadium. My lunch hour choices are limited to Five Guys and Subway. With the stadium in operation, do you think the stadium would be open to the cubicle crowd during the work week for munching options?

Joe: You're wanting to go into the stadium when there's not a game, just to eat? Wow -- you sound like one of us! (Although I must confess that I will not be repeating that research anytime soon.) As far as we know, the only way in is with a ticket to the game. (We had media credentials; sorry...)


Cheesy question: What is it about the aging process that makes a cheese more fat and caloric? It seems aged cheddar is more fattening than just sharp cheddar. Why is that? Is that to do with the processesing?

Jane Black: I consulted the folks at Cowgril Creamery who explained that there isn't more fat in aged cheddar, there's just less water. As you age a cheese, the water content evaporates and so, proportionally, the amount of fat goes up. Make sense?


Burke, Va.: Thanks so much for the brownie recipe!! I encourage everyone to give it a try. If you don't need two pans' worth the recipe is easily cut in half, using 6 eggs per batch.

Joe: Great!


Riverdale, Md.: I am going out with family (about 10 of us) to celebrate my husband and my 31st birthdays. We would love to go to an Afghani or Persian restaurant. We all like to drink. Any suggestions in the D.C. Metro area? Preferably in D.C. or Maryland (yes, we are those types of Marylanders who avoid Virginia at all costs) but if you have a MUST TASTE in Virginia we could reconsider. Thanks!!

Joe: Is Lebanese Taverna too obvious a suggestion?


Kingstowne, Va.: Great calls on the buns needing improvement. I had a cheesesteak before the game and a chili half-smoke around the fifth inning or so, and on both of them the bun fell apart fairly quickly. When you're eating messy food, this is more than a minor annoyance (especially if you bring your camera and you don't want to gunk it up). Hopefully they can fix that one.

Joe: Agreed. Nothing like a lap full of chili to ruin a good game.


Allergy Season:: Any good recipes for soothing a sore throat? Gargling with hot salt water is not doing it for me. Thank you.

Joe: This Ginger-Scallion Tea, or a version of it, does it for me. I know it seems counterintuitive that spicy ginger would help a sore throat, but it does -- stops my cough, too, and just generally seems to be, well, a miracle. Not to hyperbolize or anything.


My lunch hour choices are limited to Five Guys and Subway. : Mmmmm, if you have Five Guys that's really all you need. I love that place. Love it!

Joe: How do you really feel, though?


Washington, D.C.: I'm looking at making a recipe with tagine spices. I've looked at Whole foods, but they don't have them. What are tagine spices and where can I buy them? Also, any suggestions for a chicken dish for a dinner party of 12 that I can make ahead.


Jane Black: I was just in Morocco and there are several kinds of "tagine spice" -- blends for chicken, blends for fish, blends for lamb. Probably what you are thinking of is ras el hanout, an easy to find spice blend of more than a dozen spices that vary depending on who is making it. (It certainly includes cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and chilies, though.) You can find Ras El Hanout at Penzeys or at Middle Eastern grocery stores.

As for a recipe, a tagine would be a perfect make-ahead meal for 12. Why don't you kill two birds with one stone and make it for your party? Otherwise, readers got any favorites for make-ahead chicken?


Too Much Prosciutto!: What can you suggest to use up a pound of prosciutto? It's only the two of us and we're not big eaters. It could be used in either a main dish or hors d'ouevre. I have plenty of feta, too, if they go well together. Suggestions? Many thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: What you need are a few good friends. Wrap the prosciutto around melon and mozzarella balls. Mix up some drinks and have a party.


Washington, D.C.: For the person wonder why she should brown meat before slow cooking: please google "Maillard Reaction" for a thorough, scientific explanation.

Alton Brown would be proud of you!

Jane Black: Yes, browning is layman's term for Maillard Reaction, which basically explains how surface protein breaks down and combines with present sugars to develop flavor. But yes, there are numerous thorough explanations online One is here.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Food Section! I'm looking for a great strawberry shortcake recipe- it's my boyfriend's dad's birthday this weekend, and I'd love to make him his favorite cake. There wasn't anything in the recipe index, so any suggestions would be wonderful. Thank you!!

Jane Black: So do you mean with biscuits? Or a cake?


Re: old Food section recipes: What do you mean "we only made it through the intensive editing of about three years' worth" -- what's getting edited or changed? Just curious. Thanks!

Joe: Since they're all being input by hand in a very difficult program, many many input mistakes are happening and we're needing to fix before making them available. Plus, many of the "headnotes," those paragraphs that explain a recipe, need to be rewritten so that they're clear out of context -- that is, without the story that originally accompanied them.


Fairfax Station, Va.: I'd like to make and ship Passover treats to relatives around the country and wanted to ask which, if any, of these is likely to hold up being shipped, especially to warmer climes: dark-chocolate-covered matzoh; basic coconut macaroons (made with flaked coconut, vanilla and egg whites); matzoh brittle (brown sugar, butter, semi-sweet chips and nuts)? If nothing sounds safe for travel, maybe Passover mandlebrot?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I'd skip anything with chooclate-Coconut macaroons seem like the winner to me. Pack 'em in a cookie tin and send them off.


Reston, Va.: For your baking website list, what about -- hosted by Marcy Goldman?

Her recipes are some of the most dependable, especially for those of us who want homey desserts, not restaurant desserts.

Joe: Good addition -- thanks!


Why didn't you tell me: Joe,

I know that you love Southwestern/Latin/Tex-Mex so I want to know why you never told us how easy it was to prepare your own tortillas at home? Or if you did, why didn't it stick with me? Fried my own the other night as I took a stab at Baja Fresh's shrimp burrito. They were so good my husband requested them again the following night. This time we sprinkled them with a chipotle chili powder, garlic and salt mixture. Hubby got a little fancy and squeezed fresh lime juice over his. Why did it take me so long? Would cinnamon and sugar be a sweet touch to freshly prepped tortillas?

Joe: Wait -- you tried your own, or you fried your own? Fried, for a burrito? What do you mean, exactly, by prepped? You made them from scratch? Flour, or corn? Consider me one confused Texan.


Silver Spring, Md.: For the bagel-shaper:

Are you covering your bagels and such while they rise? It sounds like the surface may be drying out, forcing cracks.

If not, try a bit of water to stick the edges together.

Or you dough may be too stiff -- hard to imagine with bagels, but possible.

Joe: Good questions...


Nats Stadium Food: I read the stadium food article with great interest after going to the park for the exhibition and home opening games. I'll wait for the lines to mellow out to try Ben's Chili Bowl, but in the mean time have tried a Philly Cheese Steak that was very disappointing after a long wait (there was cheese but no spice or flavor). A person in my group enjoyed the gumbo that was an "error" in the article - I wonder if it was just because of the batch or that it just warmed him up. We all decided that the corn dog, also from Cantina Marinia, was a home run. It was a good dog, slightly sweet corn-batter, and a great salt/spice rub on the outside. Yummy.

Joe: Thanks -- glad you had some good stuff...


Capitol Hill: Have you tried Giffords at the stadium? I am psyched that they are there? Is it just prepackaged items, or will they making sundaes and milkshakes?

Joe: We did -- I liked the "dinger" sandwich and loved the hot chocolate, and also liked the fro-yo. Didn't try the ice cream. I saw them scooping but not sure if they're doing sundaes and milkshakes or not, but since they did my hot chocolate with whipped cream, I imagine they are.


Riverdale, Md.: RE: the Persian/Afghani recommendation. Thanks for the suggestion of Lebanese Taverna (I love the one in Woodley Park) but was hoping for something more along the lines of Persian or Afghani food. We went to LT last year so any other suggestions would be great. Thanks!

Walter: Now, you're going to be taking a drive to Virginia. But afterwards, you and your friends are going to very happy. Bamian (5634 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church: 703-820-7880) is a fantastic Afghan restaurnant. The lamb kebabs and scallion-filled dumplings are worth every moment of Virginia confusion.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I have a truly absurd quantity of fat-free vanilla yogurt, and can't possibly eat all of it before it expires. Any ideas for using it in baking? Can I use it as the base for a frozen yogurt? Should I just write it off? It is vanilla and sweetened, so no raita or tzatziki, more's the pity.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You can add it to sweet doughs in the place of buttermilk. Try it in scones where you're getting plenty of fat from the butter in the recipe. It adds a nice tang. Just reduce the sugar a little to take into account the sugar in the yogurt.


No allergy-safe food at Nats Park??: um, your own Food Section published this:


Gluten-free pretzel $6

Noah's Pretzels

Section 105

These are named for the owner's autistic son, and a percentage of the proceeds goes to fight autism. Toward that end, gluten-free, casein-free pretzels are sold. (Gluten may increase the severity of autism.) This is the go-to food for anyone with food allergies since the pretzel is made in a facility free from wheat, dairy, fish, shellfish, egg, soy, sesame, peanuts or tree nuts. It was a bit taste-free, too, however.

Joe: Um, read that post again, buddy. The person said "Other than Noah's Pretzels," and I then said "we saw no OTHER foods..." Yeesh!


Chevy Chase, Md.: I am having an extremely difficult time finding Tulkoff extra hot red horseradish which I want to serve with gefilte fish for Passover. Have you spotted it anywhere? Most of the local chains seem to be only carrying white horseradish.

Also, will you be running any Passover recipes?

Jane Black: I called Tulkoff and they say very few stores actually stock it. Seven Mile Market in Baltimore (410-653-2000)and some Giants have it, most likely in the refrigerated section. I called Westbard and they have extra hot but not the extra hot red kind. You might want to call a few of the stores near you or make a pilgimmage up to Baltimore.

As for Passover, of course we have Passover recipes coming. Look for them April 16.


River City: Harold McGee says the opposite, that searing meat first does not seal in juices. He did studies in his lab to measure before after moisture levels with different cooking methods.

Joe: We didn't say anything about sealing in juices. We said it adds color and flavor.


Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions on meat thermometers? Mine recently broke (refuses to read the temperature); it is the kind with a probe that stays in the meat, and is threaded with a metal wire through the oven door to the timer/alarm. I liked not having to open the oven door repeatedly, but maybe the strain of the door on the wirehaving that wire get bent in the oven door led to its rather short life. Do you prefer thermometer pens that you jab in periodically, those you keep in the meat without a wire, or the kind with a wire? Thanks!

Joe: I prefer the Thermapen. Will never use anything else.


too much prosciutto?: First off, if you have leftover prosciutto, send it to me. Mmmm.

Is it already sliced or not? One way to vary things is to cube it up, but you can do the same thing with slices torn in shreds -- cook in a hot pan to render fat, then mix with cooked pasta and other tasty things like roasted cauliflower or carmelized onions. Or feta cheese, although the two together have a hefty dose of salt.

Also really nice on a white pizza, with or without arugula. Make the pizza first and drape the prosciutto on after it's done. The heat from the pizza will soften it into drapiness.

If you don't love melon (I don't) it's also good as an appetizer with dates or figs.

Big fat sandwich with fresh mozz.

There's also a great Molly Stevens recipe with braised cabbage in All About Braising.

Joe: Wait -- can I have it?


Metro Center: For the person with phyllo fears -- I get annoyed at the sheets too. An easy cheat is to buy those little frozen phyllo cups. I've made cheating baklava, cheating spanikoptia and cheating bastilla using those. Wonderful things!

Jane Black: Good trick. Thanks.


Tomatoes: Food folks,

Just curious: If you had to buy your tomatoes in a supermarket, what kind would you get? I've found the campari (in a plastic box) to be tastier than either on-the-vine or grape tomatoes, but maybe something else is even better? And has anyone successfully grown tasty tomatoes indoors?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I buy my tomatoes in a supermarket, especially during the months I can't buy from farm markets or a nick a few from my neighbor's garden.

Like everything else, it's a matter of personal taste. I prefer the vine-ripened tomatoes still on a piece of the vine (they came in clusters of 3 or 4). The flavor's there and they taste fresh.


Washington, D.C.: I must have been at the wrong stadium for the Nats opening game. Our experience with the food was a disaster, at best. First of all, the money machine we stood in line at for 10 minutes ran out of money. Okay, we should have come with money.

Then the lines for food were so long that we decided to get our seats first, then return. This was a good idea as the lines decreased, but two of the stands we went to ran out of food. At the Nats hot dog stand it took my son 30 minutes to get two hot dogs. The guy in front of him orderd coffee, only to be told 10 minutes later that they were out of coffee. When he asked for his money back, the cashier said she was not authrized to refund money. It took another 20 minutes for them to find someone with authority got get the refund. At the Steak of the Union stand, the "cheese" for the cheesesteaks was what you would put on nachos. No napkins to be found anywhere. The help at the stands seemed more annoyed than helpful. Did I miss something?

Joe: I had to ask Peggy Engel, who has been to many many baseball park openings, to weigh in on this. Here's what she said:

"I'm so sorry to hear about your troubles on Opening Night. And on Opening Nights, much more so than regular games, everyone buys their food first and on the concourse because they want to be in their seats for the opening ceremonies. So the traffic is even more congested and time-pressed. But I have to tell you, this night went so much better than dozens of others I've witnessed. In particular, Seattle, Detroit and St. Louis. There, the help didn't know how to work the cash registers, causing hour-long back-ups. Half of the stands didn't open. There were food shortages in the first inning, getting progressively worse, until you had your choice of a hot dog or a hot dog and that was IT. I was surprised to see how many staff members were on hand. Most stands were way over-staffed. Refilling napkins is a constant, total pain and maybe the excess buyers of chili dogs lessened the supply a little faster. But I was very surprised to see at least six workers going around cleaning and re-stocking the condiment stands. You NEVER see that on an Opening Day! Give the stadium time and the crowds will spread out the meal rush."


a 1988 asparagus recipe that bowled 'em over at a dinner party.: you need a seperate notebook or box for KEEPER recipies.

For "to try" recipes, I have a limit that if I haven't tried it within a year, out it goes.

Joe: You're very disciplined.


Re: baking blog: is my go-to site for baking recipes, tips, conversions, substitutes, how-tos, and baking terms found in recipes.

Joe: Thanks!


Washington, D.C. Hi there - I bought chorizo, kale, and cannellini beans thinking that it seemed like a good combo, but I don't know how to put them together. Can I just steam the kale in the chorizo drippings and throw the beans in to heat them? Anything else I should add (onions, garlic)?

Jane Black: That does sound good. When I make kale, I usually blanch it for a few minutes in boiling water first so you don't have to sautee it too long. I'd sautee a little garlic in the drippings first, then add the half-cooked cale. When it's mostly done, add the beans to heat them through and toss in the sausage. Yum. Good idea.


For sore throat relief....: Don't laugh, but hot water, honey and a little scotch (or bourbon) -- assuming you're not at work -- is great. The honey coats, the scotch anesthetizes, the heat is comforting. There's also a line of herbal teas called Throat Coat that provide temporary relief (without the scotch, unfortunately).

Joe: No need to laugh at what is basically a hot Toddy! Tried and true. My sister Teri has made me one with tea instead of water and with a little lemon, too. It puts you out!


Silver Spring, Md.: Where can I buy curry leaves for my Indian/Malaysian dishes?

Walter: You can find nice curry leaves (79 cents per bunch) at Patel Brothers, 2074 University Blvd. East in Langley Park; 301-422-1555.


Sugar in brownies: Half again as much sugar as flour in those brownies?? Is that what makes it chewy? I guess I'm wondering because desserts seem so much sweeter (cloyingly so to me) than they were when I was a kid (or when I was baking).

Jane Touzalin: In brownies, a sugar-flour ratio of 2-1 is pretty standard. And always has been, it seems: I checked, and the standard "Joy of Cooking" brownies I grew up baking also call for twice as much sugar as flour. So maybe it's not that desserts have gotten sweeter, but that your palate has grown more discriminating since you were 10 years old. You can always experiment: Cut back on the sugar a little and see how that affects the result.


Fairfax foodie: Question for Jane about the Moroccan spice she mentioned -- could it be used to make a simpler chicken dish than a tagine?

Jane Black: Absolutely! Use it as a spice rub on simple chicken breasts for a really easy meal.


Washington, D.C.: Re: the strawberry shortcake request... I love it with biscuits, but my boyfriend indicated that his dad would prefer an actual cake. Any suggestions would be great!

Jane Black: Ack. We're almost out of time. Send your email to and I'll send you a recipe. It's from Chris Kimball's Dessert Bible. If anyone knows how to make a great strawberry shortcake, it's Chris Kimball.


Joe: Our exteriors have set (they feel slightly dry to the touch) and we're ready to be stored in airtight containers -- in other words, we're done!

Thanks, everybody, for the great questions this week. Hope we gave you some direction and helped you figure out where you're next meal is coming from. (My suggestion: from you!)

Now for those giveaway books: The Alexandria chatter who's flummoxed by hubby's 30th-birthday plans will get "Bold Italian," which may hold some inspiration. And the pack rat with that 1988 asparagus recipe stuffed into a file will get "Fair Shares For All." (But keep in mind, if you don't read it within a year, you have to toss it.)

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading.


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