Free Range on Food

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Washington Post Food Section staff is a forum for discussion of all things culinary: food trends, recipes, ingredients, menus, gadgets and more. You can share your thoughts on the latest Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the live discussion.

Transcripts of past chats

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Joe Yonan: A short and sweet welcome today, folks: Welcome! What's on your mind?
We might have guest chatter Juliet Mackay-Smith (of the Locke Modern Country Store) with us today -- and we definitely have Mr. Gastronomer, Andreas Viestad; and Mr. Chef on Call, David Hagedorn.
And we'll have some mystery giveaway books. But first, your questions...

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caramelizing onions: What is the proper way to caramelize onions? I've been told to add salt or sugar, low heat, lid on, add water. Mine never quite brown. Can you share your technique please?

Andreas Viestad: Hold the water! It is true that you want to prevent burning, but adding water will give you boiled not caramelized onions.
I wrote an article about it this spring where I go into the science of it at length. See here
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2008/04/25/LI2008042501852.html
or here
http://www.andreasviestad.com/thegastronomer.html
for more information.

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Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to say thanks for finally looking at Georgetown Cupcake and Hello Cupcake for Cupcake Wars! I've been wondering to friends and coworkers when you would be putting those two head to head! We've been eagerly following and trying each place.

Joe Yonan: Our (delicious) pleasure.

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Washington, DC: I'm busy salivating over the goat cheese, pear and leek tart. Unfortunately, my fiance refuses to eat anything savory combined with a fruit. Any recommendations on a vegetable that might pair well?

Jane Black: Artichokes?

Juliet Mackay-Smith: You could saute up a fennel bulb to substitute for the pear or perhaps a little roasted tomato on top of the tart.

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Onions: Not a question, just a comment or two. Good article on trying to prevent tears when cutting an onion today. The worst time for me to cut an onion is probably this time of year when my eyes are already irritated by ragweed. Hoo boy! It is actually painful!

Anyway, I have noticed that I react less if I am wearing contacts than if I'm not. Not sure why that is, maybe less of the surface of my eye is exposed to the irritating compounds?

I'm almost tempted to try safety glasses like Norm Abram is always touting. If he can precisely cut panels for a cabinet with them on, it might work for cutting onions... what do you think?

Andreas Viestad: Yes, tears do tend to flow! I know many people who claim that contact lenses work. And compared to glasses, they are much better, as glasses tend to collect oils on the inside.
As mentioned in the article, goggles or safety glasses can constitute a problem, as they impair eyesight. But if you can find a pair that don't you should be home free. They should cover your nose, too.

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Alfredo sauce: I would love some suggestions on how to use up a jar of store-bought Alfredo sauce. Do you think I could pour it over some broccoli and bake?

David Hagedorn: Ciao, Alfredo: I just had a flashback to the day after Thanksgiving one day in the 70s. Leftover turkey, thawed broccoli spears and white sauce with Parmesan cheese...that was Turkey Divan. So, I say, go ahead and bake broccoli with Alfredo sauce, but I'd cook the broccoli first.

Bonnie Benwick: eh, I vote ix-nay on baking with it. Store-bought stuff is usually pretty salty, and it may promote an off-flavor.
I scanned and found a longish thread on Food Network's site; Sandra the semi-homemade queen has a recipe for fondue that uses the stuff. Be sure to make it through all the reader comments...

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Rockville, MD: I would appreciate your answering the following canning questions:

1. My Ball canning book says to get the air bubbles out of the jar before sealing. Is this so you can pack more food in the jar or are there food safety reasons?

2. In giving directions for canning tomatoes, the book says to use bottled lemon juice. I don't like the chemical taste of bottled lemon juice. Can I use fresh lemon juice instead? If not, how about vinegar?

thank you

Joe Yonan: Our favorite canner, Heather Shorter, says this:
"It's important to get the bubbles out of the jars because extra air in the jar causes more head space, which can affect the seal on the jars, and the freshness of what you're trying to preserve.
"I always use fresh lemon juice. I am not sure why Ball calls for bottle lemon juice, but it could be a question of acidity. You could use vinegar, but would need to make sure that it has the same acidity as the bottled lemon - for instance, I would not substitute something like Balsamic vinegar for lemon juice."

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Too many peas: Unfortunately, they're not fresh...but frozen. I have a bunch of them sitting in my freezer, but have no clue what I can make with them. I'm tired of just throwing them into random things, like rice. I'm not really a fan of pea soup - do you have any other suggestions? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Nigella Lawson has a nifty spread she makes, using frozen peas that are just blanched, with lots of grated Parmesan cheese. I'll look up the exact recipe and post in a bit...No one ever can tell what it's made of, and it tastes delicious. Could make a light meal with good crostini.

Andreas Viestad: Peas straight out of the pod is wonderful. But they don't keep well - the sugars that make them so wonderful are transformed into starch - so a very close second is frozen peas. I use peas in a lot of dishes, from pasta to stews. I also make a simple green pea soup - just boil the peas for 5 minutes in stock with as much cream as you feel like and puree the peas in a blender. It is super easy and very good.

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Arlington, VA: I bought a package of quince paste which I enjoyed this weekend with a baguette and manchego cheese. But I have a lot left so I wanted to see if you had any ideas on other ways to use it - any thoughts?

Jane Black: Good question. You usually only see it with manchego. But I think you could do a lot with it. Add it to a sandwich like steak and blue cheese. Use it for baking. A google search came up with an interesting recipe for a sort of quince paste napoleon: Phyllo layered with quince paste and orange segments and served with Greek yogurt with a dash of orange zest.

Andreas Viestad: I grow quinces and whenever I make quince paste I have far too much, so I use it with duck and pork. It was a pragmatic choice but now I actually prefer it.

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Cumberland, Md.: Can homemade applesauce be successfully frozen for later consumption?

David Hagedorn: Yes.

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Colorado Springs: Chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings are on the menu this week, but all my recipes (Cook's Illustrated) call for thyme, which to me always overpowers the dish and I just don't care for it. I could have a thyme-less existence and be happy. What's a good alternative spice? Should I just break out the generic poultry seasoning?

David Hagedorn: Hey, Colorado. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and no thyme? Tarragon is a classic match with poultry, too.

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hot Italian: I love eating Italian subs from the deli, but as I'm pregnant, I'm supposed to heat up any deli meats before eating. So I was wondering how would I assemble a hot Italian? I know there is salami and ham and Italian dressing. What else goes in? I wasn't sure how I would put it together as I wouldn't want cooked lettuce and tomato. Any thoughts?

Jane Black: It's usually a mix of meats -- salami, ham, mortadella and cheese such as provolone. I'm not sure about Italian dressing. I've always seen it with mayonnaise, optional hot peppers, then a drizzle of olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. I'd add the oil and vinegar post-toasting.

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Raleigh NC: We're starting to get some beautiful fall greens at our local farmer's markets, and I scored some great baby bok choi. Now, I'm at a loss as to what to do with them. I was planning on making meatloaf for supper (using some great Farmers Market Italian sausage and eggs and sauteed red and yellow peppers). Is there something I can do with the bok choi to go with that? Or should I use the sausage for something else that I could pair the bok choi with? Thanks!

Jane Black: I'm not sure I understand the question. You want to abandon the meatloaf for one dish with sausage and bok choi? I can't think -- chatters, correct me if I'm wrong -- of a dish that would work with those ingredients. Beef and bok choi, yes. Shrimp and bok choi, definitely. Even just stir fried bok choi with garlic is great...And, I think, that would go fine with your meatloaf as long as you steer clear of Asian flavors.

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Autumn Soups: Hi, guys! I'm getting much more creative/adventurous with my cooking lately! I made a smooth carrot soup (delicious--a Cooking Light recipe with yummy spices) this week. I'm thinking of making a pumpkin-butternut squash-split pea soup later this week. What kind of spices should I add to this? I'm torn between keeping spice to a minimum to highlight the yummy natural tastes, or to create a curry-ish undertone.

Juliet Mackay-Smith: Hi Autumn Soups! Here at Locke Store we make a wonderful Butternut Squash Soup that has an undertone of curry which enhances the natural flavor of the squash. The recipe calls for curry powder and a little cayenne while sauteing the onion and is finished by blending with a little fresh rosemary and sage. You will be surprised by how well these flavors come together. Good Luck!

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Arlington, VA: According to Washingtonian, Hummingbird to Mars, the speakeasy discussed in Jason Wilson's article, has decided to shut down as a direct result of the article. Does Mr. Wilson have a response to this? It would seem that someone who purports to love the art of cocktails and strives to support the cocktail culture in DC might regret causing the disappearance of the source of some of the best cocktails in the city.

washingtonpost.com: Saying Goodbye to Hummingbird to Mars With a Recipe (Washingtonian.com)

Joe Yonan: Don't believe everything you read. I have it on good authority that that is NOT why H2M is taking a break. And here's what Jason says:
"First, are we sure that Hummingbird to Mars is closing its secret doors? Are we sure that I am the one who caused its disappearance? And if so, why? They have a guest list. You can't get in without a reservation. Is an angry mob going to storm the doors to get in so they can pay $12 for a cocktail? So if they take their ball and go home, I'm not certain why my column -- which did in fact compliment the drink-making -- would have caused that.
"Regardless, these are all unanswered questions, since none of the three owners has publicly stated they are indeed closing at all, let alone because of my column. In fact, one of the owners posted this on DCist:
'My apologies to any and all conspiracy theorists, as the General Manager of Bourbon and one of the guys behind Hummingbird I would love to let you in on a little secret. The reason we are shutting down for awhile is because I am also a second year law student and I have to study for my midterms. Sorry it's not an exciting reason I know but it's all I've got.'
"I realize some of the so-called journalists in the blogosphere love to play journalism professor, but have any of them nailed down the basic facts on why they've closed?
"Second, I think I should point out something about the Spirits column. This is not a nightlife column, where I guess a certain kind of civic boosterism is expected. My column runs in the Food section and is focused, more than anything else, on introducing people to interesting spirits, stories and ideas behind them, and how people can make good cocktails at home.
"Finally, I more than 'purport' to love cocktails. I do love them. And even the Cool Kids who run the secret speakeasy know that I've done as much as anyone in DC to support better cocktails and better drinking in this city by writing about good ingredients, good spirits, and good bartending. I didn't, for instance, hear anyone complaining when I wrote lovingly about their lime rickey contest this past summer. I revealed my visit to Hummingbird to Mars as part of a discussion about the ongoing appeal of pre-Prohibition cocktails, and also to point out my feelings about the trend of exclusivity in cocktails, which I do not like. I write for hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom will never be able to get a reservation at Hummingbird to Mars. That doesn't mean they wouldn't be interested in reading about it, and it doesn't mean they're not interested in good cocktails.
"Some people seem to be mostly angry at my critique of the speakeasy's exclusivity. Some people seem to be under the impression that the only way you can get a good drink is to keep out the so-called 'riff-raff.' I don't agree. Why not just try asking your local bartender if he/she will make you a special drink? Maybe -- call me crazy -- you can even ask, firmly but politely, that they make a drink the way you want it. I think it might surprise some of people to learn that there are many ways to find excellent cocktails in DC."

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butternut squash: I peel and cut up butternut squash and put in on an oiled pan for 450 for about an hour. I try to make it like baked French fries, but I find the outer layer is a bit rubbery, and the inside savory and mushy. Is there a way to make the outer layer crisp, but not rubbery?

Bonnie Benwick: What's your oven temp? Are you coating and seasoning the squash as well? Take a look at this, Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's CSA (that's community-supported agriculture) recipe today.

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fall veggie pie: Do you have a recipe for a vegetable (no meat) shepherd's pie or cottage pie? I don't know what the vegetable only version might be called, but this is a great time to use those Fall veggies.

Bonnie Benwick: If you have a good ratatouille recipe you like, that can be the base for a vegetarian shepherd's pie. I'd mash a mix of sweet potatoes or celeriac with a few Yukon gold potatoes, some Earth Balance (or butter and milk, if you can go there), season them with salt and pepper and build a layer on top of the ratatouille in a gratin dish. Top with something that will help brown the potato layer and that's it.

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Washington, DC: Hi Free Range,

I just wanted to let you know that we will be having a free raffle for a cooking class at the soon-to-open CulinAerie cooking school at the 14th and U Farmers Market this Saturday.

Co-owner Susan Holt will give a chef demo at 11:30 and pick the winning ticket afterward. All shoppers at the market can get a free ticket for the raffle.

Robin

Joe Yonan: Sounds good, Robin -- Thanks for letting us know!

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Bonnie Benwick: Anybody still up in the air about where to eat before Kol Nidre services tonight (the sundown start to Yom Kippur)? Josh Novikoff has penned this guide for observant Jews who will be working downtown till the last minute...Where to Feast Before the Fast

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Boulder, CO: Hello all. I have an issue with reducing sauces and hope you can give me some tips. They don't reduce! Example: last week I made the mahogany short ribs and the recipe said to sauce would reduce in about 5 mins. After about 20 mins it was the same runny consistency. What temp should I try to do this (boiling?) and is one type of pan better than another? thanks!

Joe Yonan: Hmm... I've made these, and can't recall if the timing was spot-on, but the sauce definitely got syrupy. It's not thick, just a little stickier. Indeed, to speed up, turn up the heat to high, and use the biggest-circumference pan you have. The more any sauce is spread out, the faster it'll reduce.

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tea time: I love drinking mint tea in the winter, and know that my garden is producing large quantities of the stuff, I thought maybe I could dry it and use it as the weather cools. I have some spearmint hanging upside in the kitchen right now. After two days, it looks dry and shriveled to me. Do you think it should hang longer? Would I just take off the leaves and keep them in a plastic bag? Would a spoonful of leaves do to make one cup of tea?

Bonnie Benwick: We asked herb expert Susan Belsinger, who directed us to this info from her 2007 book, "Creative Herbal Home" (co-authored with Tina Marie Wilcox). Almost a mini-course here:
"When I brew an herbal infusion (also known as a tisane), I usually put a generous tablespoon of herb in for each cup of tea and add an extra one for the teapot. if steeping in a cup, use a heaping tablespoon, cover and let sit for about 5 minutes.
"You can dry herbs by hanging them in bunches, laying them on screens, or in shallow baskets. To dry herbs by hanging, tie the stalks into small bundles with string or twine. Hang them in a dry, well-ventilated place out of the
sun. A shed or an attic is usually a good place. If you are drying herbs on screens or in baskets, remove the large leaves from their stems and spread them on the screens or baskets. Small leaves like thyme or savory, or needle-like ones like rosemary, should be left on their stems and laid on the screens.
"It may take from a few days to two weeks for the herbs to dry, depending on the climate and humidity. Check the herbs everyday; if they are left for too long, especially in humid weather, they will lose their green color and turn
brown. When rubbed between your fingers, a dried herb should crackle and crumble. If it bends and is not crisp, it means there is still moisture in the leaf. To remove the last bit of excess moisture, preheat the oven to its
lowest temperature, not over 200 degrees and then turn it off. Spread the herbs on baking sheets and place them in the warm oven for about five minutes.
Repeat if necessary.
When the herbs are dried, carefully strip the whole leaves from their stems and pack them in clean jars, preferably dark glass, with tight-fitting lids. Do not crumble the leaves because this releases their essential oils. Pack
them whole to retain the finest flavor. If the herbs are not completely dried when you pack them in jars they will mold and spoil. Label the jars and store them away from heat and light. Home-dried herbs can be stored in jars or tins about a year, when next season's crop will take their place.

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Silver Spring, MD: For the person with too many frozen peas, make this fabulous Pea Guacamole. Tasty and much lower in fat than regular guac.

1 bag of frozen peas, thawed 1/4 bunch of cilantro 1 hot pepper or some Tabasco or something 1 TB olive oil 1/2 a red onion, diced salt and pepper

Put everything into a blender except a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of chopped red onion.

Blend, taste, adjust the seasoning and chill.

People love it. It disappears at parties.

Jane Black: Sounds great.

Bonnie Benwick: Along the same lines as that Nigella recipe. I'm looking....

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Washington, DC: I have a question regarding the article last week on Lin-Liu. She said and I quote:

"And, like a good instructor, Lin-Liu knew how to listen and inquire: "Do you use a vegetable wash in America? We do, or at least the foreigners do. We're pretty afraid of the pesticides.""

Does this mean that pesticides can be washed off fruits and vegetables? I thought not and that is why we are encouraged to buy organic.

Thank you

Bonnie Benwick: Well, I think the USDA, EPA and FDA recommend washing fruit and vegetables with plain water, but Jen was commenting on practices in China. Such wash products usually claim they can remove pesticide/fungicide residues and wax that may be on the food or on the packaging products around it.

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Sangria: My dad is searching for a simple to make sangria that uses the basics, red wine and fruit. He doesn't want to have to purchase a fancy liqueur that he probably won't use again. Do you have any suggestions for simple ingredient sangria?

Jane Black: Good sangria usually calls for some liqueur, usually orange. This Sangria punch requires apple and orange liqueur, both of which you can buy in small bottles.
Otherwise, you can make it with a mix of red wine, fruit juices, soda water and fruit. Here's a very basic recipe from the always-reliable Mr. Boston.
Sangria
10 servings
1/4 cup superfine sugar (or simple syrup)
1 cup water
1 thinly sliced orange
1 thinly sliced lime
1 bottle red or rose wine
6 oz sparkling water
Assorted seasonal fruits
Dissolve sugar in water in a large pitcher. Add fruit and wine and 12 or more ice cubes. Stir until cold. Add sparkling water. Serve in red wine glasses, putting some fruit in each glass.

Joe Yonan: One of my favorite sangria recipes (I don't have it written down, unfortunately) uses brandy instead of a fancier liqueur, so that strategy (using Mr. Boston's recipe) could be what your dad is looking for. And I like champagne instead of soda water...

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D.C.: We're hosting Thanksgiving for the first time -- and we are advanced planners. Where to get a fresh turkey -- I have heard about farmer's markets, but how about grocery stores? Maybe Wegman's or Whole Foods? And how big of a bird for 5 people?

Juliet Mackay-Smith: Smithfield Farm in Berryville, VA has GREAT turkeys raised naturally.

Juliet Mackay-Smith: here is the link http://www.smithmeadows.com/

Joe Yonan: When we taste-tested turkeys, our favorite was a natural one by Maple Lawn Farms, available at My Organic Market in Alexandria, Rockville, College Park and Frederick; David's Natural Market in Columbia, Bel Air and Gambrills, Md.; and Healthway Natural Foods, 11 locations in Md. and VA.

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Philadelphia, PA: Any great ideas for ground turkey? I have some I want to use up tonight. Something without a lot of bread, so no turkey burgers on buns, though I suppose I could do them just as patties. Any unusual flavor ideas? I do actually have bacon and blue cheese...

Jane Black: Use it to stuff peppers or zucchini. I'd use a little mint (dried is fine), salt and pepper to season it.
Or you could make a pastitsio, a Greek layered pasta dish with meat, rigatoni or penne and a bechemel custard on top. We, sadly, don't have a recipe in our database so I can't vouch for any particular recipe. But it would be easy to find one that suits your needs.

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Washington, D.C.: So I tried my hand with a little gardening this year. My herb garden did very well - the basil grew exponentially, and my freezer is full of pesto for the coming cold pasta months. I also planted some thyme and rosemary, in part to see how well they wintered and how well they would rebound next year. Well, the thyme plant is enormous, and the rosemary plant did well too. Any thoughts on (vegetarian) ways to use large quantities of either of these herbs? Or instructions on drying them?

Juliet Mackay-Smith: Dear Herb Gardener. Have you thought about harvesting and freezing these herbs in portions for use in soups, stocks and stews? AS far as drying goes I have had success in spreading on a wire rack and leaving in a low oven (or warming drawer) for four to five hours. Good Luck!

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Arlington, VA: I'm looking at different ways to boost my healthy veggie servings. I've been looking to incorporate nut butters into my food prep. I found several yummy recipes, including a Walnut Hummus and a Hazelnut Romesco Sauce for chicken or roasted asparagus that I'm looking forward to try. I've found a couple places online that stock nut butters, but am suspicious about the turnover and freshness. Can you and your Rangers recommend places in the area (Arlington, ideally) that sell fresh tasty almond, hazelnut, or walnut nut butters?

Joe Yonan: Whole Foods and Trader Joe's both carry good selections of high-quality nut butters, and they have seemed fresh to me every time I've looked. You have a WFM in Arlington plus one of each in nearby Alexandria. I'm a fan of them myself, as evidenced by the recent Spicy Soba Almond Noodles With Edamame that I wrote about, and last year's Cashew Butter Cookies for our cookie issue. (Oh, and then there's the Vita-Mix idea, if you want to grind your own.)

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banana oatmeal muffins: Does anyone (Rangers or chatters) have a recipe for banana oatmeal muffins or bread? My family loves banana bread, but I'm not sure where to add the oatmeal and if I should omit some flour to not make it too heavy.

Bonnie Benwick: I see recipes for BOMs on the Web that call 1 cup flour and 1 cup old fashioned oats. While chatters weigh in, I can offer cookies:
BANANA OATMEAL COOKIES
Makes 30 cookies
Flesh of 3 ripe bananas
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups quick-cooking oats (uncooked)
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl. Add the oil, oats, dates, walnuts, vanilla extract and salt, stirring until well incorporated. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. Let sit on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

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Update on cooking alone: Hey guys, A couple of weeks ago I solicited your advice on cooking for one, and you gave me some excellent pointers. I've done well making much more simple versions of food I used to make--a Mexican roasted tomato sauce using pre-roasted tomatoes instead of buying a pound of ripe tomatoes and roasting them myself. I make salads using Annie's dressing instead of making my own. It's not the absolute ideal, but it makes it so much easier to make good meals and more of them without having to do as much planning or labor, or creating as many dishes. I've also started inviting friends over so that when I get a yen for making more complicated gourmet dishes I can still do it.

Joe Yonan: Whatever works, absolutely. Sounds like you've got the makings of a system...

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Silver Spring: Snider's Market in Silver Spring on Seminary Road has fresh local turkeys available for Thanksgiving every year.

Joe Yonan: Yes, there are many markets that do. We're going to revive our list from a couple years ago and update it.

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Bonnie Benwick: How could I have forgotten the mint! The recipe doubles easily.
Pea and Garlic Puree (for Crostini, from "How to Eat" 2002)
Makes enough for 4 servings
1 head garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
8 ounces frozen peas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped mint
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lop off the top of the garlic to expose the tops of the cloves. Drizzle with the oil then wrap like a baggy, with the closure at the top, in aluminum foil. Roast for 50 minutes or so, until softened.
Blanch the peas in a pot of salted boiling water, just for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and place in the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze in the softened cloves of garlic (discard the skin), then add the butter and cheese. Process to a nubby puree; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a small bowl and sprinkle on the mint, or sprinkle it on each slathered crostini just before serving.

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Philadelphia, PA: I made a peach brown betty (mostly just peaches with brown sugar, butter, and breadcrumbs) this weekend and ended up not needing it for the potluck I'd intended it for. Do you think I could freeze it? Whole or in portions?

Bonnie Benwick: Betty says yes! She prefers to be frozen in portions.

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Fairfax, VA: I'm getting ready to make some beef chili to welcome in the cold weather. I've got one onion, one green pepper, diced tomatoes, minced garlic and tomato paste. I and my kids like it mild spicy and my hubby likes it really spicy. What should I add to give it a kick without burn? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: You could throw in a couple of milder fresh chili peppers, such as poblanos, at the very beginning. Just stem, cut in half, remove seeds, and chop up to go in with the green pepper.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: I promised my 3 year old we would make some Halloween cookies, and was wondering whether you had a good sugar cookie recipe to share. I wanted to make the kind that are thick and chewy. Also, is there an easy and not-too-sweet icing recipe you could suggest? Thank you!

Bonnie Benwick: This 1999 Lisa Yockelson recipe should do the trick. As for icing, try mixing confectioners' sugar, milk and a little vanilla extract until you find the right sweetness level:
Sugar Cookies
About 6 dozen cookies, using a 3-inch cookie cutter
This big-batch recipe will provide you with plenty of tender, buttery rolled cookies for cutting into fanciful shapes to bake and decorate.
6 cups bleached flour, plus additional for rolling the dough
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar, plus additional for the surface
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup light (table) cream
Nonstick spray oil
4 large egg whites, lightly beaten, for brushing on the unbaked cookies, or substitute about 1/3 cup light (table) cream,
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add the 2 eggs and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Blend in the cream. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until the flour is completely incorporated after each addition. The dough will be soft.
Divide the dough evenly into 5 portions. Place each portion between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Stack the sheets of dough on a large baking sheet, making sure that the sheets don't wrinkle. Refrigerate the dough on the sheet overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
Carefully remove the top sheet of wax paper from 1 sheet of rolled-out dough on a lightly floured surface. Carefully flip it over so that the exposed dough is on the floured surface. Remove the top sheet of wax paper. Using cookie cutters lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray, cut out as many cookies as possible. Lightly press together the scraps, reroll and chill again. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough. (If the dough softens at any time, freeze the dough on a baking sheet for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the dough firms up.) Place the cookies 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white or cream. If you are not planning on decorating the cookies, sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 11 to 12 minutes, or until set and golden. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Store the cookies in airtight tins.
Per cookie: 122 calories, 2 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 52 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

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Anonymous: Hi, from your most loyal fan in Idaho. Any suggestions on what I could make for lunch next week for a fellow employee? He doesn't like "anything green" and probably not anything too fancy. We have a full office kitchen, so reheating isn't an issue. Something simple would be good, as I will cook Friday night after work. --Baffled in Boise

Joe Yonan: How bout this Green Chili Stew?

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Arlington, VA: Question for Kitsock: where are the happening Oktoberfests in the DC area? I know Rustico is holding one on Saturday the 18th in Alexandria...

Joe Yonan: Here's a list of upcoming ones.
When Greg wrote about them generally in this column recently, he included one that's happening this next weekend: the Brewers Association of Maryland Oktoberfest.

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Herb gardener here again...: I would love to freeze the herbs for use in the winter, but was not sure how to go about doing that. Just strip the leaves/needles and freeze in a bag? Freeze the whole branches? Freeze in ice cubes with water? Please tell me more...

Juliet Mackay-Smith: This method works well for the woody herbs. Freeze them on the stem, the color will get darker after freezing.

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re: jar of Alfredo: Could the chatter use Alfredo sauce in place of bechamel in a lasagna or add it to a mac and cheese bake?

Joe Yonan: Maybe. Like Bonnie, I'd be worried about baking with this, but it might be worth a try.

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CSA Corn: A friend of mine has been overloaded with fresh corn from her CSA, and so she gave me a big bag of it yesterday. Other than eating a few ears on the cob, what is something easy I can do with the kernels? I'm thinking of using them in a soup, but how? (I'd rather not add bacon or bacon fat to what I make--vegetarian friendly, please! Oh, and on that note, how do I get a smoky taste without using bacon for my split pea, non-ham soup?)

Jane Black: If you're making corn on the cob, try this Cambodian corn. It is my favorite recipe we've run all year.
Corn soup is also a good idea and it definitely doesn't require bacon. Try this subtly spiced sweet corn soup.
You could also cut the kernels off the cob and make a corn salsa (add a little chili, basil, lime, salt) to go with chicken or fish.

Bonnie Benwick: This corn pudding is pretty fab and vegetarian (not vegan).
For vegetarian smoky flavor, you could try using liquid amino acids, which I just saw at my refurbished Giant the other day (in the organic section).

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Sunny Arizona: For the chatter with too many peas: How about a peas and potato curry? With onions and tomatoes and garlic. Buy some naan bread or pita bread to go with it.

I like peas in cole slaw too.

Jane Black: Great idea. If you're looking for naan, I (belatedly?) just discovered the frozen naan at Trader Joe's. Love it.

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Albuquerque, NM: Hi, I think Boulder, Co should consider the altitude difference when boiling to achieve a reduction. I'm in a rush and can't look anything up, but I believe at high altitudes it takes longer for things to cook at a boil because the boiling temperature is lower. Therefore, sauces would take longer to reduce. Many American recipes don't address altitude concerns so cooks need to think about it when they're in the kitchen.

Joe Yonan: You are so right -- I skipped right over the location of the chatter, but I'll bet that the altitude is indeed the culprit here.

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Silver Spring: For the mild chili maker: try a teaspoon to a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. Deepens the flavor nicely.

Bonnie Benwick: love that.

Joe Yonan: Sure -- doesn't address the kick she wants, but indeed, chocolate and chilis go well together. (Witness: mole.)

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Arlington, VA: Andreas Viestad's article brought up a curious question I've often contemplated when fixing dinner. I usually peel my onions, leaving the root end on, cut them in half, then wash them, then go to work slicing or dicing. When is the best time to wash one's onion to preserve as much of the natural sugars, etc. and yet not get dirt in your dinner?

Andreas Viestad: If your main concern is flavor the best is to wash the onion before you start cutting it.

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Rockville: Growing up my oven had a setting for "warm." I love this setting, but haven't seen it since being on my own. My past two ovens have all been digital and the lowest they go is 170 degrees. Would this be equivalent to warm?

Joe Yonan: Yes, that would do the trick. Warm settings I think are usually a smidge lower, like 150, but 170 would be fine. (You're lucky to have an oven that can go that low -- many can't seem to get under 200!)

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Chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings: replace the unwanted Thyme with Marjoram or Bay leaves

Joe Yonan: Sure!

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Peas, VA: here is a great recipe that uses frozen peas. Easy to prepare, good hot or cold. When cold, it is more like a pea hummus.

Pea Pesto 4 cloves garlic - do not peel 1 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds 1 10 oz package baby peas - thawed 7 TBs EVOO 1/2 c. grated parmesan Salt and Pepper 1 lb pasta - penne, shells, something that will catch the sauce 1. Toast the garlic in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the nuts and continue to toast, stirring occasionally for another 4 minutes. The garlic will be softened and spotty brown. Set aside to cool 2. When cool, remove the garlic and discard the skins. 3. In a food processor, process the garlic, nuts, peas, and oil until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan; season to taste with salt and pepper. The peas are sweet, so be generous with the S&P. 4. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and return the pasta to the stockpot. Stir 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water into the pesto and then stir the pesto into the pasta. Toss, adding more pasta cooking water as needed. Serve immediately.

This was so good. I added more nuts to the hot pasta mixture. And I left out the cheese altogether for lower fat. It was much sweeter than I anticipated, so I added some hot pepper. I also ate some cold, like a hummus, on whole wheat tortilla. Try it!

Joe Yonan: How do I get to Peas, VA? Sounds like a place I'd like to visit... ;-)

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Silver Spring: My son was just recently diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies, so we have banned all nuts from the house per doctor's orders. Pesto, once a staple food for the kids, is now a banned food item. I'd like to make my own pesto, but am at a loss for what to use as a substitute for the usual pine nuts that go into pesto? Again, no nuts of any kind, including walnuts and cashews, which typically go into pestos. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: And pine nuts are definitely on the no-no list? I ask because they are botanically seeds, not nuts, and just want to make sure. If so, I would look at maybe pepitas (pumpkin seeds) -- if he's not allergic to those.

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Arnold , MD: Hey David and gang! Its Susan Noble, Chef on Call last summer (Grilling w/ Barry from Mendocino Grill) My off-kilter grill died and I don't know what to replace it with. Afraid of charcoal; too time-consuming and too much work. Need some advice! I grill all the time -I feel like I lost a limb!Thanks!

David Hagedorn: Now Susan, you know Joe and I both are going to insist you get a Weber Performer charcoal grill. It has a small propane tank that makes lighting the charcoal a cinch and there is an easy-to-remove-and-clean basket underneath that catches the ashes. (Here's where I always swear that I'm not on Weber's payroll.)The twenty minutes it takes for the coals to die down you use for prep. Plus, the Performer is great for smoking. I'll have to defer to someone else to suggest a gas grill!

Joe Yonan: Of course, I concur. Susan, you have to try it. It makes charcoal so much easier.

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Squash soup: I did a quick search on the recipe finder and see that most recipes call for you to cut up the squash first but one lets you roast it first, then cut it up. Since you could lose a finger cutting up butternut squash, any reason you couldn't make any of the soups using the latter method?

Bonnie Benwick: You could. But there's no need to lose a finger! Lop of the top and bottom. Stand the squash vertically. Make vertical cuts from top to bottom to get rid of the peel. Cut in half top to bottom to seed it. Nothing's quite so tough after that point.

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Boulder, CO: Thanks Joe & Albuquerque regarding reducing at a higher altitude. I, too, wondered if that could be a factor (I live at about 5400'). I will also try a larger saucepan next time. Love these chats - you all are so helpful!

Joe Yonan: You're so welcome!

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re; ground turkey: Make a turkey chili, would be a great idea this time of year.

Jane Black: Another excellent idea for ground turkey.

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Susan in Arnold Again: Ok, ok, you sold me. But will I run into the problem my Dad always had - running out of propane just before company shows up?? Thanks guys!

David Hagedorn: the quart bottles it takes are available at the drug store. buy two!

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re: crying over onions: I peel my onion and stick it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Makes a huge difference. If I plan ahead I might stick the whole onion in the fridge and peel it when I'm ready.

Joe Yonan: Yep, refrigerating and freezing are another route. Andreas hinted at this by referencing Harold McGee's suggestion to soak in cold water.

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Bethesda, MD: With fresh cider in now, don't forget you can brine things in cider and salt, herbs, etc.

Did pork chops the other night after brining in cider and kosher salt. Added a Calvados cream sauce. First-rate.

Jane Black: Sounds great.

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Butternut squash at 450: Presumably that's 450 degrees. Way too high.

Knock it back to 350. Slow roast is better for butternut squash. We did this last night for supper along with some fish and it was tasty.

Bonnie Benwick: For the chatter's needs, sounds like a plan.

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Del Ray, VA: I know this is a little late in the chat, but I just came up with this question. I bought a can of chipotles in adobo for a recipe that calls for only 1 chipotle. How can I store the rest of them? I doubt I will be able to use all of the can in the next week or so.

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: They freeze well. It's best to portion them singly with some of the sauce...I often wrap in plastic wrap and then put them in a freezer-safe Zip-loc bag so the group stays together.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've pureed us until smooth, so you know what that means -- we're done!
Thanks for all the great questions, as usual, and thanks to guests David, Juliet and Andreas for helping us handle the load!
Now, for the giveaway books. To Susan, from Noble, you're in luck because when cleaning out our back storage/cookbook room we realized we had multiple copies of one of my favorite BBQ books of all time: "Peace, Love and Barbecue." I want you to have it to inspire you to overcome your fear of charcoal. And the Silver Spring chatter who suggested cocoa for the chili-maker will get "Coffee Drinks" by Michael Turback. Send your info to food@washpost.com, and we'll mail you your books.
Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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