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Free Range on Food: Food Gifts for the Holidays, CSA Pros and Cons, Chocolate Ice Cream, Using Extra Milk, Kale Ideas and more

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, December 3, 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.

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A transcript follows.

Transcripts of past chats

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, nation. Welcome to Free Range, the chat that satisfies your hunger like no other chat can. (Does Weingarten give you workable recipes? I didn't think so.)

What's on your mind today? How did your Thanksgiving go? Curious about blogger Carol Blymire's Alinea quest? She's one of our guests today, so you can put any question right to her. Considering buying a foodie video game? I'm your guy. Want to make a bread or soup mix to give as a gift? Nancy Baggett is in the (virtual) house. CSA or other seasonally appropriate question? Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's on it. And Bonnie and Jane can, of course, handle anything, although I think we'll have Jane only for the first part of the chat.

We do have some appropriate giveaways today. For those wanting a little extra help getting through this high-calorie season, we have "The Diabetic Chef's Year-Round Cookbook" by Chris Smith, source of Bonnie's DinMin recipe today. We also have "The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition" by Diane Morgan; and for the gamer, we have two games for the DS: "Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine" and "Cake Mania 2."

Let's chat!

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Washington, D.C.: I usually send a tin of cookies to a relative in Seattle for the holidays. I thought I might try making a batch of marshmallows. Do they last (say a week)? Can they be frozen then defrosted without losing too much of their marshmallowiness?

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

They will keep a week, but be sure to dust them well with powdered sugar, and pack absolutely airtight. They can be frozen as a slab -- before they are cut and dusted. Once they are covered with the xxx sugar, I wouldn't freeze -- they get too sticky. Oh yes, and it's best if they don't become overheated.

Good luck.

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Portland, Ore.: I read the article about dried soup and bread mixes for gifts. It states that the mix should be used within a month (or two if refrigerated). Is there any way to make it last longer? I'd like to make several containers full but don't want to have soup every night for a month.

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

These mixes can be frozen and will then keep much longer -- I'd say 3-4 months, maybe even more. The problem is that the nuts and seeds will start to taste stale and rancid if left at room temp more than a month or so.

Good luck.

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Takoma Park, Md.: A pig's head in Takoma Park? I thought we banned that sort of thing. Surely you have not attempted to smuggle in foie gras or non-free range hormone free chickens to our fair city?

Carol Blymire: The pig's head caused quite the commotion that day at the Takoma Farmers' Market, but no one threw tofu on me in protest, so I think we've made some progress. And, to clarify, this lovely town of mine has only banned the *production* of foie, not the consumption. Whew. Torchons for everyone!

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Silver Spring: Kale me.

Courtesy of my boy's mom's CSA, I have a huge bag of the stuff in my fridge and it needs to be used. But what on earth do I do with kale? My only experience is using it as a garnish for displays at the fish market I worked at through college!

Jane Black: I heart kale. Blanch it in salted water. Then sautee it with your favorite sausage. Toss with pasta, olive oil and a little grated parmesan. Delicious.

Bonnie Benwick: There's a good tart recipe from Stephanie in the section today; for Thanksgiving, we ran this gratin that was a big hit, and for something different, you could try Robyn Webb's Asian-Style Kale

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Arlington, Va.: We're hosting a holiday party and it'll be all about tapas. I have a great tapas cookbook that was given to me, but lack a sangria recipe. I love red wine sangria (hello, Jaleo!). Any ideas? Thank you very much!

Jane Black: From the New Spanish Table:

1 bottle inexpensive dry Spanish wine

1/2 cup triple sec

1/4 cup brandy

1-1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup simple syrup (If you don't know how to make this, google it!)

1-1/2 cup diced fruit (peeled apples, unpeeled citrus etc)

ice cubes

chilled club soda

Mix together the wine, triple sec, brandy, orange juice, syrup and fruit in a medium size pitcher. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours to macerate the fruit in the wine. When ready to serve, add ice and club soda to taste. Add more syrup as necessary.

Joe Yonan: To make it even better, sub Spanish cava for the club soda; I much prefer sangria that's not diluted with water.

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Dupont Circle: Happy Wednesday, Free Rangers. Can you help a girl out? My mom and I recently dined at Dino in Cleveland Park, and she absolutely fell in love with the mushrooms over polenta dish. I mean, LOVE love. I owe my mom a big favor, and as a thank you was hoping to re-create the dish. Any chance you all can get the recipe? I know the owner is a great guy, and I'm hoping he won't mind sharing.

Jane Black: No problem! Dean Gold doesn't have a written recipe but here are his instructions.

Use white polenta from Friuli -- that's important because the white polenta has a soft texture and it gives it a real butteriness to the dish, without adding too much fat. (You can find it at Whole Foods, Vace and Dean & DeLuca) They use one package (500 grams) with 2 liters milk, not water. Then slowly add 1 oz each of grated fontina, grana padano, gorgonzola dolce and butter. Add it a little at a time. Dean says you need to stir regularly, but not constantly.

For the mushrooms, spread 1/2 pound of sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms on a baking sheet with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, pepper, a tsp of commercial balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of minced rosemary. Toss and roast until the mushrooms are al dente. Serve hot.

(Note. This is a LOT of polenta and mushrooms. Consider scaling down the recipe or cooking leftover polenta into cakes for other uses the next day.)

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Washington, D.C.: I'd like to buy cured Spanish chorizo. Do you have suggestions for types/brands to look for, and where I might buy them, preferably in D.C. or Arlington?

Joe Yonan: I've had and loved this Palacios chorizo from La Tienda, which is an excellent source for all things from Spain. Not exactly in D.C. or Arlington, but not too too far for a periodic pilgrimage, and they of course ship.

Bonnie Benwick: Canales Quality Meats in Eastern Market has good cured chorizo (and andouille) sausages.

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D.C.: I had a hankering for fennel, but now that I have bought it I'm not sure how to prepare it -- braise, grill? If grilled, just olive oil, salt and pepper? Something interesting would be good, I am serving it with pork. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: This salad couldn't be easier, and this casserole would go nicely with pork. Of course, if you were roasting the pork, you could just shave some fennel and put it under the meat, where it would soak up juices and flavor.

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Baltimore: Posting early... I LOVED the holiday pie contest published in the Post Magazine on Thanksgiving. (I've already made the apple caramel pie, which is to-die for fabulous.) However, it seemed a strange time to run the contest. A lot of people are away then and miss the paper... I would have liked to see the article in time to make some of the pies for Thanksgiving. Maybe next year you can run it in time for the holiday?

washingtonpost.com: Slices of Life (Washington Post Magazine Holiday Issue, Nov. 27)

Bonnie Benwick: Everybody loves pie. Balto, I passed your comment on to Sydney Trent, deputy editor for The Post Sunday Magazine (where the recipes ran; they're now available online through www.washingtonpost.com/recipes, too). She said the magazine's holiday issue always runs on Thanksgiving Day; the eds think folks will have lots of time to make recipes for the other winter holidays in close proximity.

That said, if they do pies again they may push up their deadlines!

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Maryland - Salt and Pepper: On cooking shows and at cooking schools I see the salt (and sometimes pepper) in small bowls that allow you to pinch what you need to season a dish. I understand portion control, but this seems really unsanitary and wasteful. Is it really the best way?

Bonnie Benwick: The seasoning is in bowls for easy access, not for show. I don't think it's unsanitary or wasteful. Remember, salt is a preservative/bacteria killer, right? Plus, you dip in, take what you need. Would you rather have bits of food from cooks' hands clinging to the outside of peppermills and salt shakers?

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Downtown D.C.: It looks like I'm going to be cooking a Christmas dinner for one this year, which I'm actually okay -- or better than okay -- with. The question is, what to have. I'm willing to splurge a bit because I won't have buy large amounts of anything, and I'm willing to stretch my horizons a bit since I won't have to please anybody but myself. At the same time, I lean towards the traditional for holiday foods. Christmas menus from my past were in the rib-roast-and-Yorkshire-pudding direction, which I like. Venison sounds like an appealing variation, but 1) I don't know if I can even get venison in DC, 2) I've only cooked it once, adapting a large recipe for roast venison loin with port wine sauce down so that it would serve two people, and it didn't work out that well. (Though the sauce was wonderful later over mashed potatoes.) Any suggestions on where to start?

Joe Yonan: I'd steer away from venison and back to the steer, if you will. To get that rib roast feel, how about a bone-in ribeye? It would be much more luxe in feel than the venison.

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Arlington, Va.: This question is for Carol... how many days do you anticipate some of the more complex recipes in Alinea's cookbook to take? Because 27 parts to a recipe seems kind of overwhelming! Keep up the good work!

Carol Blymire: Some of these dishes ARE going to take days, aren't they? Yeah, I'm kind of in denial about that. Some of the elements can be prepped simultaneously, though. Lots of powders and reductions... I estimate that Bean (p. 340-345) and Wild Bass (p. 150-155) might take two days each. Maybe three. But it's all really fun, so I don't mind. As long as my iPod keeps working, I'm good to go.

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Chex mix: Any idea how to make DIY Chex mix? What goes in there? I taste worcestershire sauce, but not sure about the rest.

Joe Yonan: Here you go. Party-mix on.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Post-Turkey Questions:

Is there any way that you can make a turkey make more drippings so you can make more gravy without diluting the flavor?

Any comments on freezing cooked turkey or casseroles made with cooked turkey that freeze well? (Don't worry; I'm not talking about last week's turkey!)

Is there any reason I can't find cranberries in the produce section of my store? Are they all gone already?

Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: 1. David Hagedorn suggests buying turkey wings, necks, etc., and roasting them separately with onions/carrot/celery. Or along with your turkey, for that matter.

2. Pieces or slices of cooked turkey can be frozen for 4 to 6 months; same for casseroles with turkey in them.

3. Because I bought all the cranberries? (I've gone through more than my fair share this season.) I believe stores are restocking this week for the rest of December holidays. Take heart; the cranberries are not gone yet. But because they freeze well, perhaps you'll want to nab an extra bag or two of the fresh ones and store till next year in the deep freeze.

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decorating cookies: I've bought some icing squeeze bottles from Michael's to help toddler decorate cookies. What I'm wondering is how to make icing thin so that it can be squeezed out of the bottles by little hands. Thank you!!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Just add a little more of whatever liquid you used to make the icing. If you're using prepared icing, add water. Happy decorating!

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Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for the Fab Foods piece. I know we're supposed to be spending to boost the economy but our family, like others, is experiencing a significant loss of income these next few months so I have to be more prudent in my gift choices. Plus, all of my family's birthdays occur in the months of Oct, Nov, Dec. Also, for a while now, I've been leaning towards buying consumable gifts for friends and family. Anyway, I will use these recipes as well as homemade baked goods to give the gift of full bellies and titillated palates.

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

Glad you liked the idea -- I'll be using it myself! Remember that it's most economical to by the supplies in bulk. Locally, (MD) Ann's House of Nuts and spiceplace.com are good for the food items.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Rangers, I was just telling my boss about the Iron Chef game and he is so disappointed because he is looking for a Wii system and everywhere he looks they are sold out. I want to thank you guys because at some point there was talk of kitchen thermometers and the Thermapen was mentioned and I went out and bought one. Well, for the first time my Thanksgiving pork loin was cooked perfectly instead of overdone (trying to guess if it was done by looking at it) and with the fruit stuffing and port wine sauce it was a very big hit - I just love you guys and all the tips, recipes, etc. I get from you and the other posters. Wednesday is really my favorite day of the week.

Joe Yonan: How did I live before Google? This immediately came up.

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Twelfth Night: I've been asked to bring a really rich chocolate ice cream of high quality to go with a raspberry mousse cake. Any suggestions of what brand to look for?

Carol Blymire: If you're up to making your own, I'd suggest checking out David Lebovitz's web site, davidlebovitz.com, or buying his book "The Perfect Scoop" and using his chocolate ice cream recipe. It will forever change the way you look at ice cream. As for commercial brands, hopefully someone else can chime in.

Joe Yonan: I agree with Carol. I'd add, too, that for me, when I want a frozen dessert that's really chocolatey, I make a chocolate sorbet instead, because the chocolate flavor really comes through with all its depth and complexity when there's no cream.

Bonnie Benwick: Where do you live, Twelfth Night? A good gelato place or local ice cream shop might have just what you're looking for. I love the chocolate ice cream at Max's in Glover Park.

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Bethesda, Md.: No question - I just want to tell Carol that I love your blogs (FL and Alinea). You do such a wonderful job of illustrating and describing all of the recipes - it's (almost) like being there to taste them. Thanks again for the entertainment - I'm looking forward to your journey through Alinea.

Carol Blymire: Aw, thanks so much. I loved doing French Laundry at Home (I actually kind of miss it), and I'm excited about trying some new techniques and ingredients in the Alinea cookbook. Thanks for reading -- I really appreciate it.

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Love those Cranberries: You mentioned freezing cranberries for use during the year. I got a little overexcited this time last year and still have two bags left in my freezer. Are they still good for sauces and such?

Bonnie Benwick: They should be fine. Toss any shriveled or particularly darkened ones.

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Milk milk milk...: Hi - I found a great price on milk last week, and was a little over-ambitious in the amount I bought for my family. So I have an entire gallon that I need to use by Saturday. Any interesting ideas or recipes to use it up? Thanks!!

Bonnie Benwick: You could braise in it: Try this slow cooker pork recipe.

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Alexandria, Va.: I ordered some dried green chiles from N.M. for a green chili stew recipe that I like. The recipe calls for fresh chiles, and this is probably a dumb question, but - if I plan to first soak the dried chiles to reconstitute them, is the weight ratio the same for the recipe (i.e. 1 lb. reconstituted dried chiles = 1 lb fresh chiles)?

Joe Yonan: I doubt it would be exactly the same. It's really hard to account for how the weight would change in the dehydrating and then again in the rehydrating. Then again, it's probably not too too far off, and if you've made the recipe before, you should be able to tell if you're in the ballpark, right?

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Upstate N.Y.: Just wanted to thank Stephanie Witt Sedgwick for her CSA column today. I, too, have decided not to sign up again next year. While I enjoyed getting the vegetables at first, we quickly became tired of all the beets and mesclun salad mix. I like them, but the rest of the family doesn't, and I can only eat so much. Also, I really felt like I was neglecting our local farmers market. There were so many vegetables that the CSA didn't give us, but I couldn't go to the farmers market to buy them because I had so many other CSA vegetables to use up. If I did go to the farmers market, it was to buy MORE of the same CSA vegetables because I didn't get enough to do anything with. Or I got them in odd combinations that weren't useable together. I had been feeling very guilty about my choice to go back to the farmers market, but now, after reading the column, I'm feeling OK. So... thank you!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Just call me Mother Christmas! I'm absolving all CSA-defectors of guilt.

I had the same issue with the markets. I wanted to go, but I already had full vegetable bins. I think I'll be a fixture at the year-round market. I've felt deprived....

Joe Yonan: One of the vendors at the 14th/U Market (I believe it was Mountain View Farm) is trying an experiment next year: They're selling discounts to people who prepay a certain amount. So you give them $200 or some such in advance, and then you get, say, $220 or something like that in credit. Unfortunately, they're all sold out, because they're starting small the first go-round, but I thought that was an interesting hybrid between the market and the CSA. They get the upfront investment, and you get more flexibility.

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washingtonpost.com: For kale -- I also suggest mixing chopped sauted kale with mashed potatoes. I add a little garlic to the kale when sauteing. It's sort of colcannonish, but the garlic makes it not too bland. -- Elizabeth

Joe Yonan: Nice! Thanks, producer!

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Germantown: I've been enjoying Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's series on her CSA membership. She says that next year she'll be opting next year for food local farmers markets and stands -- access to good farms and produce has been what has stopped me as well. Would the mystery bag really push me to try new things? Do my farmers really need the capital infusion early to make things work?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: The mystery bag does get you to cook with new things. Some weeks most of it's new. You experiment out of necessity.

There are farmers who depend entirely on CSA memberships to survive, but there are many more who are using farm markets as their main source of income.

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Silver Spring: Where can I buy fresh goose or two in D.C. or Md.? Or even frozen if that's what I have to settle for? Doing an English-themed feast on Tuesday night for nine.

Bonnie Benwick: Back to Eastern Market we go... Market Poultry has fresh goose for $5.19 per pound.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I've never been a fan of greens (kale, etc.) but would like to be. Any ideas for recipes that can convert me into a greens lover?

Carol Blymire: One of the ways I keep a steady rotation of kale and chard in my diet is to include them in soups. For instance, buy a pound or two of beef short ribs, brown them, then cover them with water and/or beef or veal stock that comes up an inch above the ribs, and start throwing in any kind of vegetable or legume you want to. I usually rough-chop kale or chard and toss it in along with some beans, and whatever else is fresh and in season at the time. Simmer over low-medium heat for 3 hours. Keeps great in the freezer.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, I'm attending a retro-chic "cookie exchange" party this weekend and would appreciate your suggestions on what to bring -- favorite cookies that are tasty, fun and festive. thanks!

Nancy Baggett:

Hi,

Good, classic shortbread slice and bake cookies are nice, and they are quick and easy. Or cut-out shortbreads are a fine (and fancier looking) choice, too -- almost everybody likes and can eat them since they often don't have nuts or chocolate.

I'm not sure about the "retro" thing -- maybe gingerbread people, or as they used to be called before we worried about gender bias, gingerbread men.

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Sheet cake question: Earlier this year, there was a thread in this chat about sheet cakes not from Costco. I now need to get a sheet cake for my son's Eagle Scout Court of Honor. Could you point me to that thread? (We've been told Sam's Club does nice ones...)

washingtonpost.com: Sheet cakes came up in the June 4 and June 11 chats.

Joe Yonan: I love the Internets.

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Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed Nancy Baggett's article in today's Food section about fab food gifts, especially the soup fixins'. It's inspired me to think about pulling out the stock pot and trying my hand at making demi glace to give to my foodie friends. Most recipes I've found call for assorted vegetables (onions, carrots, leeks, sometimes celery) and a healthy 5-10 lbs. of veal bones. I can get the vegetables at my local market, but where the heck can I look for those veal bones? Can you or the Ranger crew recommend somewhere (Arlington convenient, preferred) I can look for dem bones? Thanks!

Carol Blymire: When I cooked my way through The French Laundry Cookbook, I made gallons of veal stock. I found veal bones locally through Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm. I believe they are still going to the Arlington Farmers Market, so check in with him there, or call the farm directly. The number is on their web site, smithmeadows.com.

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re: Twelfth Night: I'm pregnant and have a toddler at home, so I won't be making ice cream. But I do live in the District. You think local mom and pop shop is better than a grocery brand?

Bonnie Benwick: There's a very good chance it would be.

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St. Louis, Mo.: Please help! For NYE, my husband and I have decided to host some friends for a bacon-centric dinner party. We already have the appetizers and the main course identified, but we're stuck on dessert. Online searches have revealed recipes for bacon ice cream and candied bacon, but do you all have any other ideas? Your search engine turned up only savory recipes, whereas we're looking for sweet. Thanks for any advice!

Jane Black: There's a recipe floating around out there for ginger snaps made with bacon fat. You could use them to make ice cream sandwiches.

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Springfield, Mass.: Sometimes I get a little backed up in my reading, so I just recently got to the chat of October 15. Onion soup? There's only one for me: Julia Child's onion soup gratinee. It's a good bit of work with an absolutely fabulous outcome. That, and her potage bonne femme, are the only soups where I follow a recipe. It's the perfect soup season, so either of these would be exceptional.

Jane Black: Note to readers. Nobody beats Julia Child.

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Alexandria, Va.: When my father was visiting last week he mentioned that he would like to learn how to make mozzarella and possibly some other cheeses. Do you have any good references for cookbooks or supplies? (Mail order is OK.) Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Get thee to Ricki "The Cheese Queen" Carroll's web site. All will be available to you there. Go in peace.

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Washington, D.C.: I loved, loved loved the fish recipe from the Barefoot Contessa last week. But creme fraiche is so high in calories. Someone last week suggested substituting Fage yogurt -- will that really work?

Bonnie Benwick: Jane Touzalin used the sauce on chicken paillards last week, and I've made the recipe again. We were thinking it'd be good on veal scaloppine, too (or even a shoe). Subbing greek-style yogurt might make it a little thicker, but that's nothing a little added water couldn't fix. Go for it!

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Germantown Needs Maple Alternatives: Ever since an unfortunate childhood run-in with Fake-o May-Po cereal, I don't care for the taste of maple (real or otherwise). I see a lot of nice recipes that use maple as a sweetener, and I'm looking for substitutions. Honey is what I usually use, but I'm wondering if there might be alternatives that are more complex? I was wondering about half honey/half molasses. Am I missing some really interesting substitutions?

Joe Yonan: I know I've mentioned this before, but I'd try Lyle's Golden Syrup from the UK. I just love it for its caramel-like complexity. Also, pastry chef David Guas recently sang the praises of Steen's Cane Syrup from Louisiana, and said the same thing about it. I think either would be a much more interesting maple substitute than just honey, and there'd be no half-and-half mixing required.

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Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions for kitchen/cooking gadgets to give as gifts this year (in the $15 range)? I am personally addicted to the silicone spoonula, but have given that 1,000 times already!

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

I often give a microplane grater -- does a great job and is quite reasonably priced. The rubber spatulas that have a high heat tolerance are also really handy. For a pricey gift, a good paring or chef's knife is a wonderful gift. For a novice I'd say stay away from the ceramic or carbon steel, as they are a bit trickier to maintain.

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kale: Kim O'Donnel suggests roasting it and/or making it with cannellini or other beans. Both delish - put some the other night in black eyed peas - yum yum! It's robust so stands up well to stewing while imparting flavor.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I've found that kale (and most of the other greens) make a great addition to soups. You just add the chopped kale and let it cook away with the broth and the other vegetables. It's a pretty painless way to get a lot of good greens into your cooking.

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The Wii Person: Thanks for the link for my boss for the Wii but he says a sane price is about $250 and he is not willing to go over that - oh well.

Joe Yonan: I hear you. I'm not advocating that particular site, but obviously some people are paying the higher price just so they can get it now.

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Request for Nancy: Loved Nancy Baggett's food gift ideas. Could she provide a gift-mix for cookies?

Bonnie Benwick: Nancy did these in 2005:

Spiced Cranberry

Biscotti-in-Jars Mix

Makes 1 quart of mix (enough for about 2 dozen biscotti)

Most bars-in-jars recipes are on the homey side, but this festive and slightly spicy holiday biscotti mix is designed to appeal to more sophisticated tastes. The nuts are delicious, but if you wish to avoid them, use 3/4 cup of white chocolate chips or chunks instead. Note that the white chocolate will yield much sweeter biscotti. For a gourmet look, use a stylish 1-liter European glass jar.

11/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger (about 2.5 ounces)

11/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Generous 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup dried sweetened cranberries, such as Craisins

3/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios, preferably unsalted, or pecans (or a combination)

Have ready an attractive 1-quart or 1-liter lidded jar.

On a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using the foil as a funnel, pour into the jar. Shake, then rap jar on the counter to even the layer. On the same sheet of foil, thoroughly combine the sugar, crystallized ginger, ground ginger and allspice. Add the mixture to the jar; shake and rap it to even the layer. Wipe down the jar sides, if necessary. Flip over the foil and use it to add the berries to the jar. Press down to compact the mixture. Add nut layer the same way and press down to even the top. Secure the lid firmly.

Attach a tag or card with the mixing and baking instructions. The mix will keep up to 1 month unrefrigerated, 2 months refrigerated.

Spiced Cranberry Biscotti

Makes about 2 dozen slices

2 eggs

1/3 cup corn oil or vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart Spiced Cranberry Biscotti-in-Jars Mix (recipe above)

Set an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8-by-41/2-inch loaf pans with foil and then lightly coat with nonstick spray oil.

In a large bowl using a fork, combine the eggs, oil and lemon or vanilla extract. Gradually add the jar ingredients and mix until blended. Divide the dough in half and smooth evenly into each loaf pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and just firm when pressed in the center of the top.

When the loaves are just cool enough to handle, lift them from pans (using the foil liners) and transfer to a cutting board. Discard the foil. Using a large serrated knife or chef's knife, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the slices, cut side up, and bake until toasted and golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn over and bake an additional 7 to 12 minutes or until browned. Let sit for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in airtight container for up to 3 weeks or freeze for 2 months.

Per serving: 109 calories, 2 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 70 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipes tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

I love the gift mix idea, so I've done several cookie mixes over the years besides the ones for the Post. Two of my books, The All-American Cookie Book and All-American Dessert Book, have some nice ones. I think one is also in my website archives. (kitchenlane.com)

Bonnie Benwick: Those are such good books. I usually pull out a recipe or two from them each year.

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Spud Sprouts!: I was planning to make roasted potatoes tonight, but many of the potatoes have sprouted roots and eyes. Is the unsprouted part of the potato usable or do I need to compost the whole thing?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: It takes energy to grow. Sprouts are a sign the potato is using its energy (sugar/starch) to grow. The potatoes are in a state of decline. I'd compost.

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re: too much milk: We make our own yogurt. It's too easy. Fill a large saucepan up to one inch at the top (milk rises as it comes to boil). Be aware that milk rises and spills over when it boils!! I usually look for steam and then air bubbles (like on pancakes) and then shut off stove. I don't bring it to proper boil. Let milk cool down 30 minutes or until lukewarm. Add a tablespoon of plain yogurt. If milk is too hot it will kill off cultures and you won't have yogurt. Mix milk and yogurt, or what we do is pour milk mixture into another pot and back again about 8x. Then cover metal container with silver foil and place in warmed oven. You can turn on oven for 10 minutes and then shut off again, before placing yogurt in oven. Let sit for 6-8 hours. If milk didn't solidify into yogurt, it means the oven wasn't warm enough. Turn oven on warmer and shut off again and replace yogurt in oven for another few hours. Stick in fridge to harden completely and cool down. Be sure to cover.

Joe Yonan: Yes!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Trying to use up the last of my Thanksgiving ingredient leftovers. Any suggestions for multiple cups of half-and-half, other than making ice cream or doing homemade hot chocolate, both of which will be terrible for my waistline? Baked goods I can take to the office would be perfect.

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

Some caramel cookie-type bars call for making the caramel part, and half-and-half would work. Yes, not buying and melting those little squares would be more trouble, but the taste of the real thing is sooo much better.

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Rich Chocolate Ice Cream: MOORENKO, MOORENKO, MOORENKO - I just love it but if I keep eating it I won't be able to get through the door. Best I have ever had. Sold at Whole Foods and their store on Georgia Avenue.

Joe Yonan: I'm sorry: I didn't hear you!

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Pine Plains, N.Y.: When I send cookie presents, I always pack them in a real tin rather than plastic "tins". Cookies seem to keep better in a tin. Does that agree with your observations? If so, why is it?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I'm with you. I find plastic containers retain too much of the moisture and my cookies get soft and deteriorate much faster then in the old-fashioned tins.

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Arlington, Va. S: A pig's head? Did I miss something? I though I read all of the Food section today. For the record, I'm a vegetarian and probably would not be offended by a display. It's probably because I spent significant time growing up in Italy and am used to recognizing that meat on the plate comes from animals.

I have two additional 1+1 drinks to add to the list in the Post. Maybe they're not so interesting, but what the heck. Both involve beer. One, is the Radler (I think I spelled that right). I think it is a German lager and lemonade. It's considered a girly drink in some parts of Germany. The other is the way I ever had my first beer as a youth in Italy. Ginger ale and beer (probably Peroni or the regular Moretti). They both might be nice as a pre-dinner drink.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

The pig's head showed up in the last few paragraphs of Jane's story about Carol. Don't worry, no pic! If we did that, we'd expect a visit from ....

(((((veggie police siren)))))

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi there - Do you or the chatters know of a place to get cracked Dungeness crabs in the D.C. area? I'd like to have a crabfest for New Year's Eve. Thanks!

Carol Blymire: Call Scott Weinstein, the fishmonger, at Black Salt (202.342.9101) and tell him I need some, too. If anyone in D.C. can get good quality, fresh Dungeness crabs, it's Scott.

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Falls Church: They have Wiis at Target at Skyline. Unfortunately, they do not have Wii Fits....

Joe Yonan: Great. Thanks!

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Cleveland Park, D.C.: What's a typical cost for doing a CSA? Are there many options for this in D.C.?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: The cost of CSA membership starts around $200 and goes up from there. It all depends on what size share you get and for how long (summer or summer/fall). My regular share (enough to meet the needs of two adults) was $656 for the full growing season, June to mid-November.

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Wii availability: Look at the Video Games chat going on now. They list some Wii sources locally that have them in stock. EB games, for one.

washingtonpost.com: Live Discussion: Holiday Tech Guide (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 3)

Joe Yonan: Excellent. Thanks.

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Christmas is coming: I have a bread maker on my wish list because several people I know swear by them. Of course, they all have different ones. Do you have a favorite? Do you even use bread machines? I've often heard they're good for making the dough, but they prefer to use their own pans for baking to get the shape they like.

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

I don't use a bread machine, because I've started baking yeast breads that don't need any kneading. The seeded bread mix in the Post today is a good example. There's very effort or muss or fuss -- time does almost all the work. And the flavor is just excellent. I also did some recipes for the Post food section on Nov. 28, 07 -- you could check those out.

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Baconville: For the bacon dinner: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/03/candied_bacon_i_1.html

I haven't made that particular recipe, but we did make his maple ice cream and then added some normally cooked crisp bacon to it. It's strangely good.

Joe Yonan: I've made a candied bacon recipe many times from "The Gift of Southern Cooking," and it's always a huge hit. Great on deviled eggs.

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To Twelfth Night: Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream cookbook has an insanely good chocolate ice cream recipe.

Interesting discovery we picked up over Turkeyday: my electric ice cream maker has nothing on my merchant marine friend (think muscles) with a manual ice cream maker. I have never gotten anything half as creamy as he did with my electric one. If you're going to make, go manual/Manuel.

Joe Yonan: Thanks! Was it a White Mountain machine, using rock salt and ice? Those are the best, result in the best texture I've ever had in a homemade ice cream. I love the electric version, too, though.

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Pumpkin Bread: I made the pumpkin bread recipe by Ev which didn't turn out well. I don't think it baked right, although I baked for the recommended time and it is thick and not bread-like. Any idea what I did wrong? Thanks.

Nancy Baggett:

Hi,

Not seeing the recipe or knowing it, it would be hard to say. Assuming that it has baking powder, I wonder if it was old and had lost its puffing power. Sometimes measuring the oil or other fat wrong, or even sugar or flour, causes problems. And if the oven is really on a lower temp than what you set... As I say, I really can't be sure.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: My favorite mistake is forgetting to add the eggs. That can often be the reason for a leaden cake.

Joe Yonan: I looked at it to check on the baking powder thing, too, because that's so often the problem. (A good friend learned this firsthand recently when he unveiled the cake for his boyfriend and it was... leaden.)

But the recipe, which is here, uses baking soda but not powder. Nancy, I'm surprised in re-reading it that it doesn't have an acid to help activate the baking soda.

Nancy Baggett: Okay, I think that might be it, then. Baking soda needs acid from somewhere -- unalkalized cocoa and honey have some, but buttermilk, lemon juice, sour cream are what you'd expect. Maybe baking powder should have been called for....

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12th Night chocolate: Not sure if they still have it, but when I was little my grandmother used to send me to Thomas Sweet to buy chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. It was her favorite. She lived near Tudor Place and I felt like such a grownup when she gave me the $10 and I got to walk by myself the whole 3 blocks to go get it.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, there you go. I just called; they have plain chocolate, chocolate with chocolate-covered almonds and mocha chip.

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Wii Like to Play?: Joe, do you own a Wii or DS? Did you have to borrow one? Did you get to play the games on both platforms? Ok, I'm a dork since I have both systems but no children. (Hubby has 360 and PS3 so we're even.) I was wondering if you found the games easier on the Wii or DS if you played on both. I have Hello Kitty Throws a Party for DS and it is pretty fun, for the record.

Joe Yonan: I've got both, and played on both. I would say I probably liked Iron Chef and Cooking Mama better on the Wii because of the remote-as-knife action, but thought Hell's Kitchen was just as good on the DS because you were just pointing and clicking. Although, as you know, that small screen can be tough to look at for too long, and I did feel my neck aching after hunching over.

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CSA : I also am not participating in the CSA share next year. I agree with your article about the weird quantities that I got -- 1 fig, 1 spring of rosemary or cilantro, 2 ears of corn, 2-3 potatoes was certainly not enough for a recipe for even 2 people. The pears and apples were tiny and unusable. I kind of wondered whether the CSA participants were given the leftovers after the farmer took the good stuff to the farmer's markets!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Not at my CSA. We always got the pick of the crop. The owner told me she set up the CSA bags first and then the remainder went to market or the stand. I could see myself that it was true. I picked up my share at their farm stand and often went over to buy a few things that weren't in my basket that week.

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Arlington, Va.: Until recently, my husband and I ate dinner out a lot (maybe 4 or 5 nights a week). The rest of the nights we just threw together a sandwich, heated up some soup, or something similar. About six weeks ago we decided to cut back on eating out, to plan meals, and to actually cook at home. Which has worked out relatively well. However, we are in a rut. Neither of us have a lot of cooking experience, so we only know how to make a few quick meals (tacos, baked chicken breasts, hamburgers, etc). We've tried a few new recipes, but I find myself surprised by how long a new recipe takes on a weeknight. Rachael Ray might be able to do it in 30 minutes, but it will take me an hour to do the same thing. Do you have any advice on easy quick meals for a novice?

Bonnie Benwick: Good for you, Arl. Do you guys have time on the weekends? That's when quick weeknight meals can begin. Make stocks for soups, roast a hunk of meat or a bunch of vegetables. Make a sauce or two (like that one we were discussing from Ina Garten's Mustard-Roasted Fish, or even just prep onions, etc. Those elements can greatly expand your choices for quick meals during the week. Stir-fry dishes are also easy; find some new greens at an Asian supermarket and incorporate them with flavors you like.

And, of course, plug in FAST and ENTREE in our Recipe Finder (www.washingtonpost.com/recipes); I bet you'll find lots of options that are easy to do.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: "Do my farmers really need the capital infusion early to make things work?" Ask your farmers! Really. They want to grow food that will mean they can stay in business - so they need to sell it, but they also need (and want!) happy customers. The farmers in my extended family are all often busy, but also are happy to talk about what's on offer and what people want more or less of. My relatives offer a CSA, but they go into it with several other farms, which among them are able to come up with a pretty diverse offering. (In their case, none depends on the CSA, but they like the chance to offer fresh organics to people who can't make it to farmers' markets or co-ops for whatever reason.)

Also, many CSAs offer smaller boxes - if you're in a large family but miss farmers' markets, one possibility would be to order one of the smaller boxes and plan to supplement it with the market. Or order a larger box but go into doing that with other families in your neighborhood, and then use the markets to pick up whatever else you want.

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the thoughts.

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Milk Braised Pork Recipe: Would the recipe suffer if I were to use lactose free milk?

Bonnie Benwick: Nope. You can use the lactose-free kind, too.

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Apple cider brined pork loin: I **heart** you all. Update from last week: I brined my pork loin and it was a HUGE hit! I'm a vegetarian so could not/would not actually taste the darn thing, but the poor thing did not stand a chance amongst the carnivores at my table (well, also we ate much later than planned, but that is all part of the holiday dinner experience, yes?)

Bonnie Benwick: Excellent. We'll chalk that one up to the sagacity of John Martin Taylor.

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cookie exchange: I need to make 6 dozen cookies for a cookie exchange. Phew! Any idea how many cookies a shortbread recipe can make? Any recipes to share?

Bonnie Benwick: We'll give you 25 of them come Dec. 10. Can you wait?

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Washington, D.C.: What are the best pie weights? I've been using dried beans, but since I'm baking more often I'm wondering if I should invest in metal or ceramic weights. Thank you.

Joe Yonan: When the eminent Rose Beranbaum gave a pie tutorial for this Chef on Call column, she extolled the virtues of using rice as pie weights. The oven toasts the kernels a little, and then she uses the rice in risottos and soups. I haven't tried it, but I will.

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Food gifts under $15: The Betty Crocker site has a set of 6 spice measuring spoons that I have on my list -- long thin bowls that fit into spice jars.

Joe Yonan: Nice. My sister has a set with long rectangular shapes, and I do love them for that reason when I visit.

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No-Mapleville: Lehman's has hickory and tulip poplar syrups: http://www.lehmans.com/jump.jsp?itemType=PRODUCT&itemID=5851

Joe Yonan: Interesting.

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Falls Church: Another good recipe with kale is one from Everyday Foods show/website. It was pasta with kale and had bacon. Very delicious.

Also, Lyle's Golden Syrup is a very dangerous thing to have in the cupboard. Utterly wonderful.

Another helpful gadget is an instant read thermometer - the alternate CI-recommended one cost me about $10. Silicone pinch bowls are fun -- I bought some as a gift for someone because I thought they were so colorful.

Joe Yonan: CI, for you newbies, is Cook's Illustrated.

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food gifts: Thanks for the gift mixes! I plan on making gift baskets for family this year. In addition to the mixes in your story, do you have other ideas for homemade goodies to put in the basket? I'm currently thinking: spiced nuts, sweet/candied nuts, dry spiced chai mix, clementine-cranberry marmalade.

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

Yes, I've thought of doing canister sets, with soup in one, bread in another, homemade peppermint bark in another and spiced nuts in the last jar. A homemade chai tea would also be good for some folks: I suggest drying your own orange peel and using freshly crushed cardamom for a really nice aroma. For non-tea folks, a chai cocoa mix would work, too.

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more liquid in the turkey: Before I stick my bird into the oven, I heat a cup of apple juice and about 2 T of butter, then pour the combo over the bird. This adds a fair amount of liquid for gravy making and adds just a touch of apple flavor to the bird.

Joe Yonan: Thanks. This year, I did Andreas Viestad's suggestion of pouring some water into the roasting pan at the start, and roasting at lower heat to steam a little, and that, too, resulted in plenty of gravy-making liquid by the end.

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Too much milk: Make paneer!

Boil milk, add some lemon/lime juice (or other acid such as white vinegar). The milk will curdle. Separate the curds and whey. Wrap the curds in cheesecloth, put into a colander and weigh down with something heavy to drain out all the liquid.

The whey can be used in place of water to make dough for rotis, or to cook rice.

Bonnie Benwick: More for the milk overstock.

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For the Jaleo sangria lover: Jaleo's used to have their sangria recipe on their website. It makes a lot, but we cut it down and make a batch using 2 bottles of wine (about 1/5 of the recipe), and it's fantastic.

Jaleo Sangria

9 ltr red wine 24 oz orange juice 32 oz 7-Up 8 oz Rose's Lime Juice 24 oz sugar 8 oz vodka 8 oz brandy 2 cinnamon sticks Diced pears and granny smith apples

Mix all items together except fruit. The sangria can be stored up to two weeks in a cooler. Add fruit approximately one hour prior to service.

Yield: 5 gallons

Joe Yonan: Thanks.

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Non food-based?: I know this is blasphemy for this crowd, but does Nancy have suggestions for non food-based homemade presents? I'm a little too old to be cross-stitching potholders but so many people in my family have differing issues with food, it's difficult to make something that won't set off an allergic reaction.

I'm thinking something functional and appealing. Soap? Candles?

Bah humbug, from the former (and broke) Capitalist

Joe Yonan: Wrong chat, indeed.

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Portugal, near the source...: Does anyone have an easy way to peel kiwifruit? Most of the time I just go ahead and eat it with the peel, but lately the skin's been bothering me texture-wise, so I'm hoping someone has a tried-and-true trick to remove it? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: My preferred method is to cut the kiwi in half, and then just scoop out the insides with a spoon.

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Bethesda, Md.: I have a question about making fresh pasta... assuming that time isn't an issue, is it best to prepare fresh pasta the same day you wish to serve it? Or is the quality pretty much the same if you make it the day before, air dry it, and then refrigerate? If it's okay to prep in advance, what's the best way to store it?

Bonnie Benwick: I've only made the fresh kind 3 times, but it seemed as though the fresh stuff was almost too delicate to use right away. Maybe because it was ravioli-thin. I tossed another batch in some coarse semolina and put it in a plastic (food-safe) bag overnight in the fridge; that worked well. Kept the strands of linguine from sticking. Gnocchi's good to make and use immediately, though. Really good.

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To the Fennel Hankerer: Try caramelizing it with onions. Yummy and a great topping for pork. WaPo Food Section had the ultimate directions for caramelizing onions earlier this year.

Bonnie Benwick: Those were good.

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Alexandria, Va.: I make tins of cookies for friends and coworkers every year and want to add some new items this year. I always go with mint brownies, hazelnut toffee and butterscotch haystacks... But this year I am wide open to anything else. Any suggestions? How about a good fudge recipe? No more nut recipes though, please. Thanks!

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

If you want failproof fudge there are several ways to go: I did a "faux fudge" for the Post several years back, so you might check the archives. The recipes on the marshmallow fluff containers also work well. They are reliable but too sweet, so I always substitute some or even all unsweetened chocolate in the recipes.

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Silver Spring: Magic based on kale:

Buy a smoked turkey leg or something else smoked. Sweat a sliced onion and the chopped smoked whatever together for a while in a large cooking pot.

meanwhile clean and chop the kale, including stems.

Once the onions are nicely soft and the smoked whatever has released some of its goodness, fill the pot with a mixture of water and chicken stock. Add some vinegar, a teaspoon of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of soy sauce or fish sauce. Total liquid depends on how much pot you have and how much kale. Start with about six cups and up from there.

drop in the kale and bring to a boil. Then simmer for at least 45 minutes.

Bliss.

Joe Yonan: Indeed.

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peppermint bark: Do you have a recipe?? It's so expensive to buy.

Nancy Baggett: Yes, I make homemade peppermint bark every year. If you use compound chocolate or white chocolate (both are "fake" chocolate with no cocoa butter), you don't need to temper it. Real chocolate, which tastes better has to be tempered. A bark and tempering instructions are in my All-American Dessert Book.

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hot chocolate: I have a tub of Hershey's cocoa powder, but not sure how to turn it into hot chocolate. Do you have a recipe?

Bonnie Benwick: I bet there's a recipe on the box. Wiki says: 1/4 cup of the powder, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 cups milk, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. (I'm assuming this is for 4 servings.)

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Quick Weeknight Meals Definitely it will take some time/practice to cook meals in the time that the recipe says it will take. However, you might be misled by the "30 minute" advertised time. If you read the recipe and it calls for "1/2 C diced onion" then it means the time that you take to peel and dice the onion is not counted in the overall recipe prep time. If the recipe calls for "1 med onion" and then tells you to dice it, then the recipe time might be more accurate. Good luck - it will get easier and faster!

Bonnie Benwick: For our Dinner in Minutes recipe, we never do the "1/2 C diced onion" thing. It's all written in real time.

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Washington, D.C.: Can I buy sourdough starter somewhere, or do I have to make it?

Nancy Baggett: Hi,

Yes, you can buy it. I purchased some from King Arthur and it came with good instructions and works very well. I've since tried making my own starter -- which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. You can either order from KA on-line or by phone; I found their service prompt. If you feel you must have San Francisco sourdough starter, there are on-line places that sell it -- I've never tried them though.

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CSAs: I personally love our CSA. It works out to be much more expensive because we would not buy as much vegetables by choice. Not a bad thing for us to eat more veggies instead of processed foods. My only complaint is the bug factor. I washed some lettuces four times and on the fifth soak, a worm floated up in the water. I screamed and was in near tears. Good thing I went for the fifth wash!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I've been there. We were advised to wash everything as soon as we got it home and that was pretty good advice!

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've packed our headroom with crumpled wax paper, and closed the jar tightly, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions, and thanks to special guests Nancy Baggett, Carol Blymire and Stephanie Sedgwick. And now for our giveaways: The chatter who asked about the different formats for the foodie video games will get ... the foodie video games, of course, for DS (Iron Chef and Cake Mania). The chatter who's making gift baskets for family this year (including clementine-cranberry marmalade -- yum!) will get "The Christmas Table." And the chatter who first asked what to do with kale will get "The Diabetic Chef's Year-Round Cookbook." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time -- it'll be cookie time! -- happy cooking, eating and reading.

(Oh, I almost forgot; if you're a Facebook member, look us up and join The Washington Post Food Section group!)

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