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Free Range on Food: Culinary Odd Couples, Valentine's Day Menus, Random Vegetable Ideas, Pavlovas and more

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; 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.

This Story

A transcript follows.

Transcripts of past chats

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, nation, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that has what it takes to feed you, or at least help you feed yourself.

What's on your agenda today? Are you just not that into his or her hamachi, or vice-versa? Ready for some Real Entertaining? Got brownies on the brain? Wine, spirits, the new ag secretary? Hand us your empty plate of questions, and we'll do our best to quickly fill it up with something tasty.

Jane Black's on vacation this week in Peru, but we have David Hagedorn in the house to take your questions about his new column, Lorna Sass will join us later to talk about her great contributions to quick whole-grain goodness in Bonnie's DinMin series, and I do believe I saw that snarky Jason Wilson hanging out in the room, so all spirits questions welcome. (Dave McIntyre is only an email away, so don't hold back the wine questions, either.)

We've got some super-sweet giveaway books today in honor of the upcoming you-know-what. So keep the posts entertaining if you want to win one.

While I have your attention, are you coming to the ne expo this weekend? Bonnie and I will be conducting a demonstration on the Post stage at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday. Dave McIntyre, with Joe Ward of Conde Nast, will lead a wine tasting at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday. Andreas "The Gastronomer" Viestad will have the stage at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2:15 on Sunday.

Speaking of wine, have you joined TastePost yet? There will be a booth at the expo with more information.

And have you looked for the Washington Post Food Section group on Facebook? There are more and more ways to interact with us, and I hope you take part.

Enough of the promos. Let's do this thing.

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We *can* all get along!: I enjoyed the story "Conflicted Cravings." My partner is an unabashed carnivore/omnivore, and I'm vegan. I make many parallel meals for us. With salad, she tosses on turkey, I toss on beans. I cook peppers and onions Italian-style, separate it out into two pans, she gets chicken in hers and I put vegan sausage in mine. She won't eat tofu straight up, but she enjoys silken tofu chocolate pudding. She'll ask me to make stir-fry with tempeh. I make split-pea soup and put liquid smoke in, and she doesn't miss the ham (but she could certainly toss in some if she wanted). I'll cook her a steak or pork chop without a problem, and she'll make vegetarian chili for me sometimes. The biggest problem we've encountered? Her family's ignorance and lack of manners around me being vegan. I've gone to many dinners where they actually make fun of my food. I finally put my foot down and said the comments had to stop. I have no issues with anyone's food whatsoever. It all boils down to mutual respect, and that's what my partner and I have for each other that allows us to eat together as polar opposites creating common ground.

Joe Yonan: It sounds like you're both rarities: confirmed in your own food tastes but very flexible and indeed tolerant of your SO's. (I have to say, I haven't heard of many vegans who will cook steak or pork chops with no problem.) So good for you -- happy getting along...

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Washington, D.C.: My first husband was an adventurous foodie, like me -- we ate incredible meals all the time, and amazing food all over the world. Our biggest marital difference came with the definition of the word "monogamous" (nuf said...). I then fell in love with (and have been happily married to for seven years) a meat and potatoes guy from the midwest who hates to travel, won't eat fish, onions, most veggies or anything he doesn't recognize or isn't cooked to the consistency of shoe leather. I go to sushi restaurants with girlfriends, and try to find compromise restaurants around town. THEN -- throw into the mix a newly-vegan teenage daughter and a teenage son whose eating habits are even more restrictive than his fathers -- OY VAY! I've really had to take my cooking skills up a notch. However, as long as we're all sittng at the table at the same time, I'm happy. It can happen!!!

Joe Yonan: Wow -- are you doing all the cooking yourself? It would seem to indeed require chef-level organizational abilities.

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U street, D.C.: Your story about couples comprised of foodies/non-foodies is my relationship right now. Our first date, I took him to an Ethiopian restaurant, not knowing of his picky eating past, but he actually liked it. Once I realized he was a self-described picky eater, I didn't think it would last with me, the adventurous food lover. But, he's broadened his tastes and now has a real appreciation for food. So I guess a love of food can be taught. There are some things he still won't eat, even with my proding: sushi, most seafood, a lot of vegetables, but nearly every restaurant I want to go to he can find something to eat. And, when I'm not around, his preferred meal is a hamburger from Wendy's. So thanks for the story, it's good to know there are others out there like us.

Joe Yonan: Yes, absolutely it can be taught -- sometimes. My best friends in the world started from very different places: one ate mostly Italian food, pretty conservative tastes, didn't like martinis. The other is from Cajun country, an amazing cook, stirs up a mean martini (among many other libations). Now they're right on par, but it's because the one with more limited tastes was really ready for more. And certainly got it!

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Single woman turned off by picky men: I wouldn't say it's a dealbreaker, but it's a huge turnoff to see a guy pick through food because he doesn't eat certain things (celery, red peppers, onions, etc). It's an immature palate and it's just not manly. I think manliness is: you eat what's in front of you. Period.

Joe Yonan: Hear hear.

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A veggie who hearts a meatie, Va.: Interesting food differences article. I am a vegetarian, my husband eats meat, and I do most of the cooking. But he eats very heathily, and that to me is the nub.

I could not be with the people in that article who ate no vegetables or fruits because they are, quite simply, putting their health at massive risk. Meat, white flour carbs, cheese, and potatoes are a good path to heart disease, diabetes, strokes, obesity, you name it....

A very varied diet, loaded with fruit, veggies, whole grains, and using meat (and we only do organic and/or cruelty free meats) sparingly, works just fine for my husband because I cook really delicious meals, often with no meat, so he is not left unsatisfied.

It is far more important to me that he takes care of his body with healthy food and exercise than that he is not a vegetarian. Also, being militant is a sure way to drive someone away. I have shown my husband that meals with no meat can be wonderful, and my stepsons now are on board, as well, eating meals with no meat and incorporating soy, Quorn, tempeh, etc into their meals.

In any event, respect for one's own health, and thus for one's partner, is what matters most to me. (and we are in our tenth, wonderful year of marriage)

Joe Yonan: Respect is it, and I love that you're trying to keep healthy.

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Arlington: Can I buy the Clear Creek and St. George's eaux de vie in Arlington or D.C.?

Jason Wilson: I know for certain they are both at Ace Beverage, acebevdc.com. Which means they have distribution in DC, so you can always ask your local liquor store to special order. Also, I've been ordering some bottles lately from www.drinkupny.com The owner in Brooklyn tells me they ship to DC -- so you can always try them for anything you can't easily find?

Also--remember that St. George's eaux de vie are called Aqua Perfecta.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi, I have a brining question and a booze question:

1. Cooks Illustrated says that brining is not necessary for beef since it is cooked to a lower temperature and should remain juicy. I'm wondering if it would make sense for me to brine a brisket if I intend to barbeque it for 10+ hrs. Any thoughts?

2. Jason, thanks for your eau de vie article. I was @ Calvert-Woodley the other day and saw a Trimbach pear eau de view and a Clear Creek apple eau de vie. Would you recommend them? Re: the apple eau de vie: How would that differ from a Calvados?

thanks

Joe Yonan: I'll take the brining question. Absolutely, for barbecue brisket, no brining required.

Jason Wilson: Oh, good, I'm glad to hear Calvert-Woodley has Clear Creek. The apple eau de vie is apple brandy and so it is similar to Calvados. The key difference of course is that real Calvados can only be made in a certain AOC in Normandy.

Jason Wilson: oh, and the Trimbach pear eau de vie is a fine one, too.

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Fairfax, Va.: My husband and I are doomed to a revolving dinner menu of 5 or 6 boring meals because of our dietary differences.

I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian. He eats meat and absolutely loathes eggs, cream and cheese. UNLESS! Unless the eggs are baked into some kind of cake or cookie, unless the cream is ICEcream, unless the cheese is on a pizza. And, no, I'm not kidding. He absolutely will NOT eat cheese unless it's on a pepperoni pizza. (I think all that grease transmogrifies it into something else... some kind of "not- cheese".)

Consequently, dinners at home are: spaghetti with marinara sauce, something I call "not-meat-loaf" that's made with Morningstar Farms recipe crumbles, a vegetarian stir-fry with rice, or dal (the Indian lentil dish). Alternatively, he might cook a burger outside on the grill (we don't cook meat in the house) or we might order pizza for delivery. That's pretty much it. Other, more interesting meals -- even ones that don't contain the dreaded cheese, cream or eggs -- are routinely rejected.

Dining out is equally unimaginative. We've been going to the same Italian restaurant every week for about 10 years and my husband ALWAYS orders exactly the same thing: spaghetti and meatballs, no cheese. The waiters don't even bother to ask him what he wants anymore.

What makes all this even more of a tragedy is that I really like to cook -- and I'm good at it!

So, how do I manage?

I'm fortunate to be at home by myself during the day and I make myself AMAZING breakfasts and lunches.

Joe Yonan: I love it -- get your food needs met before he gets home. Very smart.

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Foggy Bottom: I have a can of tuna packed in water. I can't add any fat to it so no mayo to make a salad. I need to keep it as healthy as possible. What can I do to it to make a tasty lunch?

Joe Yonan: Ooh, no olive oil, even? That's tough, and I'm watching my fat intake as much as anybody these days -- but don't forget, you need some fat in your diet, it just needs to be kept in control and should preferably be the right (monounsaturated) kind. Having said that, I'd be tempted to perhaps toss it with some of your favorite (fat-free) store-bought salsa, or a combination of red wine vinegar, red onion, capers, and black olives. Chatters, any other thoughts here?

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Desperate for dessert: Hi Food Section, Just wanted to thank you for such a great section today. The udon soup looks amazing, the kind of thing I could eat every night for a week, and I also love David's first column about entertaining. Now, on to my question - We're doing low-key dinner in on Friday evening with some basic steak and green salad. I'll be working from home during the day and was planning to make dessert, but something that will be good on Friday evening and also last long enough for me to take a batch to my grandpa on Sunday. Any recommendations? Thanks so much!

David Hagedorn: Well, Desperate, since this is pav day, I'd suggest making two meringue Pavlovas and storing the second one for use on Sunday. (The meringue can be baked Friday morning instead of the night before, if you can't do it on Thursday.)

Or this: a nice accompaniment for a steak dinner is a chocolate cake. May as well go the All-American route whole hog, no? Instead of making one layer cake, though, bake the batter in a sheet pan, trim the sides and cut the cake into six even squares. (Use a ruler.) Then, double a favorite chocolate frosting recipe.That way you're sure to be able to be lavish with it and you can always freeze whatever is left over. Make two small, three-layer chocolate cakes. The second one will last until Sunday in the fridge, but it also freezes well. This is a good idea even when you don't need the second cake right away. You've made just enough for one party while taking away the temptation to overindulge and leaving behind a dessert in the freezer that will come in handy for a last minute event. And you even have extra frosting in the freezer for decorating.

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Richmond, Va.: I was at the store and saw that some nice rib eye steaks were on sale, so I decided to get those for Valentine's dinner. What would be good sides other than the usual baked potato? I also have a loaf of multigrain bread I bought for something else and didn't use.

David Hagedorn: Well, Richmond, you have to eat your spinach! How about a baked sweet potato instead of a regular potato and then a side of wilted spinach and shiitake mushrooms? Here's what I like to do with spinach. I saute chopped onion and mushrooms in olive oil until they are very brown, then pile up fresh spinach and a crushed garlic clove while the pan is still on high heat and then drizzle on it some heavy cream or some very good, reduced chicken stock. Of course, season well with sea salt and cracked pepper, and turn the spinach with tongs until just wilted. If there is too much liquid, remove the spinach, reduce the liquid and then add the spinach back. Curry powder would make a tasty variation.

Also, for those steaks. Toast a couple of slices of that multi-grain bread and when the steaks are done, place them atop the toasted bread to rest. The bread will soak up the juices and be absolutely delicious, especially if the steak had an herb/garlic composed butter on top.

This is a quick way to make a creamed spinach without using a white sauce. It requires very little cream.

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Yay! Food Day!: First, I enjoyed the article about the two-taste relationship. My husband is half Spanish and his comfort food is fabada, I'm half Indian and mine is rice and yogurt (with lots of salt!). I make fabada for him and I'll eat it, but I can't have it every day (he can). On the other hand, he can't understand rice and dairy as a savory dish. Fortunately, he will eat whatever I put down in front of him, with the occasional request for something "normal".

Second, the Udon Soup with Meatballs... must... make... tonight! Sounds so yummy! If I can't find baby bok at my normal supermarket, what substitutes can I make?

Third, I was planning on making Joe's Chile Con Carne recipe this week. Can that be made in the slow cooker or is it best to stick to simmering on the stovetop?

Thanks for another great Food section today! Keep it up!

p.s. Love the new "old-school" Washington Post logo on the website!

Joe Yonan: Thanks! Well, I think you could try some chard, or perhaps a combination of cabbage and a little baby spinach instead of the bok choy. You need a little crunch, I'd say. And certainly, you can make the chile in the slow cooker, but you might need to reduce it down at the end if it is too watery, which can sometimes happen in the slow cooker if the liquid isn't reduced.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi All -

I have a request for your Spirits column -- especially as warm weather is on the way. Would it be possible to write a article on drink 'mixes'. I love a good margarita, Tom Collins, even a whisky sour -- but not with those horrible store mixes. I'd love a set of recipes for those traditional mixes -- and non traditional variations (pisco sour, etc.). Bonus points if it's something you can make a lot of for a summer cocktail party -- then just add the booze according to taste.

Thank you!

Jason Wilson: I understand what you're looking for here, but I'm afraid the whole idea of a "mix" for a margarita, Collins, or sour is kind of a fallacy. For instance, a margarita is only fresh lime juice, triple sec (preferably Cointreau), and tequila -- all shaken together with ice in proportions to fit individual taste. How would you prepare a mix ahead of time? You could, of course, be sure to squeeze your limes ahead of time, and then have ice and the booze ready to shake. The same with sours and Collins -- you're really talking about fresh lemon juice, a little sugar or simple syrup, and the whiskey or the gin (and a little soda water for the Collins.) Again, no real mix. With the pisco sour, same thing but shaken with a little egg white and a dash of bitters.

The only pre-made "mixers" I recommend would be certain sodas that you would combine with a particular booze into a highball glass. Those would be easy and nice on a summer day. Here is a link to my column on E-Z Bartending.

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Newton, Mass.: David- Great article and advice. I am making a birthday dinner party where the main course is a goose -- long story as to why. My usual menu with it would be potatoes mashed with onions cooked in some of the rendered fat,and sauerkraut with juniper berries. The goose can't be done ahead but I would really like suggestions for other sides and a starter which could. I am sort of at a loss for dessert. 1 guest cannot eat gluten and another is a chocolate fiend. Many thanks

David Hagedorn: Hey, Newton:

I think that since goose is such a rich entree, I'd keep things simple for the sides. One nice dish would be to simply cube sweet potatoes and parsnips, saute them in some olive oil to get them nice and crusty brown on all sides, then blot them on paper towels. Now they are ready for a final roasting, sprinkled with sea salt, cracked pepper and thyme. 15 minutes at 350 should do it. For a green vegetable, blanch some broccolini (or microwave for two minutes), and then saute it in hot olive oil with red pepper flakes, garlic and grated lemon zest. This can be eaten at room temp. or reheated very easily. These dishes would be colorful, too. Of course, use rendered goose fat in them if you want, but the olive oil is a lighter way to go.

For dessert, I'm pushing the pavs today. Why not a chocolate pavlova? Here's a link to Nigella Lawson's chocolate pav recipe. Or serve a regular pavlova with chocolate sauce. No gluten in meringue!

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Wine Lover in Fairfax: I'll be stocking up on wine this weekend, buying a case.

I'd like to focus on Old World wines, specifically Italy, but someone at a wine shop told me his recent tasting of Italian wines had been a bust. That's very selective, of course. I'm sure there are plenty of vintages out there that are drinkable now (I don't have a cellar) and affordable (under $15 a bottle). I just need direction.

Also, how are Rioja wines and others from Spain these days? A couple of years ago, I couldn't get enough of the stuff, but I confess that I don't usually note the vintage -- which comes back to haunt me.

Then there's Malbec. I finally had some that I enjoyed this year. Again, didn't note the vintage.

Are you sensing a trend? I know when I like a wine, I know the varietal, often the region, but I forget to note vintage. Which means, when I buy some more and am underwhelmed, it's probably because I bought from an off year. I know it's possible that I purchased a lesser wine from another bottler of the same vintage, but really, there are just too many variables to keep track of.

I need specific recommendations. Don't let me down! Thanks for understanding.

Joe Yonan: The fabulous Dave McIntyre says ...

"There's plenty of good stuff from Italy. The trick is to find some good importers. Specialists in Italian wines include Michael Downey Selections, Vias Imports, and Winebow (Leonardo Loscascio Selections). Downey and Vias at least should have some good distribution in Northern Virginia. I believe I recommended one or two of Vias Imports wines (distributed by Country Vintner) in my bargain wines column in December.

"For Spain, Rioja can be hit or miss, not only because of vintage variation but also because of a mix or new style or old style, and of course the quality of the individual wineries. To keep it in your budget range, look for some good Garnacha (the Spanish name for Grenache). Borsao makes some nice ones; Tres Ojos and Red Guitar are other good labels. Again, look to the importers - good ones for Spanish wine include Jorge Ordonez, Kysela, and Aurelio Cabestrero/Grapes of Spain.

"It's difficult to go wrong with Malbec these days. Maipe is a good bargain, and I just had a beautiful new one last night from Robert Kacher Selections called Incayama. You can't go wrong in the budget realm with Alamos or Zuccardi (Santa Julia), but there are many good ones. Look also for Bonarda, an obscure Italian grape that does well in Argentina. Titarelli does a nice one, as does Susana Balbo Crios.

"Happy hunting, and let us know what you find! And where - I'd like to hear from readers where they like to buy their wine. Half the fun of wine is the shopping, after all."

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Single Girl in Dupont: Okay so I don't have a couple-related Valentine's Day question, but I do have a single person's dilemma -- a random assortment of vegetables that I am trying to turn into a meal. I have one sweet potato, yellow squash, green bell pepper, beet, rutabaga and potato. I was hoping to make some kind of roasted vegetarian dish or stew. Something that can be served with polenta or couscous. Maybe even something that freezes well. But I am not really sure how to combine all of those things or even if I should.

Lorna Sass: Try a quick stir-fry and serve the veggies over wholewheat couscous. Toss the couscous in a tiny bit of olive oil before adding the water and a touch of soy sauce to add flavor. The olive oil makes it nice and fluffy with individual grains. I like the San-J. peanut sauce for a quick flavor-enhancer. For more ideas on cooking with whole grains, check out my web site: www.lornasass.com or keep current by signing up for my blog: www.lornasassatlarge.wordpress.com

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Colesville, Md.: The bulgur recipe sounds great. Part of the reason I am so interested is because I am trying to work beets into my diet. The problem I have is, not only are they difficult and messy to cook with, they are often too sweet. Do you have any ideas for other savory recipes for beets? Today I had cubed beets with grated fresh parmesan and black pepper.

Lorna Sass: Just toss beets with a little olive oil and cider vinegar or lemon juice and some fresh parsley. Add toasted pine nuts whenever you can. They are divine with beets. If you have a pressure cooker, cooking the beets from scratch goes very quickly. Take a look at my cookbook Pressure Perfect for details.

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Washington, D.C.: Help -- I am desperately in need of an easy, inexpensive, Indian appetizer or hors d'ourve recipe. I was thinking about samosas, but they seem complicated, and ideally I'd like something that can be made ahead and served at room temp. Any ideas?

David Hagedorn: How about this: Take some cauliflower florets, toss them in a bit of olive oil, ghee, or clarified butter and roast them for about 15 minutes in a hot oven,say, 400, and maybe with some black mustard seeds, and serve them with a cool curry-flavored yogurt dip? I'm thinking a sprinkling of green peas and black sesame seeds on that dip would make it pop.

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Washington D.C.: Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited about the concept of a dinner party planning column, and am certainly excited about more David Hagedorn articles -- but is it really the end of "Chef on Call"? Those were always interesting reads, with salacious views into other readers' kitchens and local chefs' personalities (and tricks). It seemed to be a unique idea, though probably a monumental pain to arrange.

Joe Yonan: Yes, it's the end. We want to keep things fresh around here! We had lots of fun with it, but it ran its course, and we're excited about David's new focus. But don't worry, we're mulling ideas for getting readers and chefs in the section regularly.

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Columbus, Ohio: Hi, Before I poison my whole family, how long can egg whites last in the freezer?

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: A year, can you believe it? That incredible, edible... this info's from the Egg Nutrition Center of the American Egg Board.

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Bosque Farms, NM: I used red curry paste for the first time this week in a Thai curry. I'm glad to find another use for the paste in David Hagedorn's red snapper recipe. After opening the curry paste, I put it in the refrigerator. Is this the best place for storage?

Thanks for your continued cooking help!

Bonnie Benwick: That's the best place. Check around the lid to make sure it's tightly closed, and periodically for any signs of mold, etc. It should last 6 months.

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Slow Cooker Food Safety Question: Is it safe to brown meat/chicken and toss it in the crockpot with all the other ingredients and then put it into the 'fridge overnight for cooking the next day? I wasn't sure if it's o.k. to put partially cooked meat back in the 'fridge. Thanks! I really appreciate the chats!

Joe Yonan: Yep, totally safe.

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random assortment of vegetables that I am trying to turn into a meal: My favorite thing for this is make a sauce, like an herb sauce or an aioli or something, cook each veg plain and eat everything with the sauce. It sounds boring, but it's beautiful on the plate and delicious.

Joe Yonan: What you do actually has a name and a history: It's called a grand aioli.

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Arlington, Va.: My boyfriend and I enjoy an occasional cocktail hour, especially on Sunday nights before dinner. But I feel like I never have the right ingredients on hand or the creativity to come up with something in a pinch that all of Washington's wonderful craft bartenders do. For example, this weekend I ended up making a concoction with fresh grapefruit, gin, and some simple syrup. It was ok but not special. Jason, do you have a short list of ingredients that you recommend keeping on hand for whipping up an impromptu cocktail hour?

Jason Wilson: I always keep fresh limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit, club soda, tonic water, a jar of simple syrup, and usually some Italian sodas and ginger beer. And then I always have the main base spirits: gin, tequila, vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum etc.

It seems, though, like you had citrus and a base spirit. But I think the real trick for really interesting cocktails is keeping all the fresh ingredients but also having a few versatile secondary spirits like Cointreau, maraschino liqueur, Campari, Aperol, or Punt e Mes, and of course the three types of vermouth. And you should also have both Angostura bitters and orange bitters on hand. It seems like maybe these ingredients are what you're missing.

For instance, you had grapefruit juice. And you had gin. If you had added a dash of maraschino liqueur that would have been a very delicious interesting cocktail (called a Grapefruit Cocktail, uninterestingly). Or if you had tequila and Cointreau with the grapefruit juice you could have made a variation on a Paloma (or sort of like a grapefruit margarita). Or if you had Campari, it would also mix well with grapefruit.

Hope that helps.

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Washington, D.C.: Here's a question for Dave - I'm going to Napa this weekend and am overwhelmed by the sheer number of wineries. Do you have any recommendations for small, wine novice-friendly wineries that don't distribute in this area? Thank you!!

Joe Yonan: And Dave says...

"I'll confess it's been waay too long since I've been to Napa, and I'm not up on the latest. I'll focus on 'novice-friendly' rather than the distribution question, because most of the wineries that are educational will have at least some distribution in this area. I suggest St Supery for its 'flavor' exhibit to learn about the various flavor components of different grape varieties. If you'd like to learn about sparkling wine production, try to visit either Domaine Chandon or Domaine Carneros. You might also try the Napa Wine Co., which is a custom-crush facility for several different labels - that will give you the chance to taste different wines, some of which are small production and limited distribution.

"I'd also suggest going into a store such as the Oakville Grocery and asking the wine person to recommend some place that's new and unheralded.

"Have fun - and please report back on your trip!"

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Bread Pudding: Hi Crew, My valentine has requested bread pudding for dessert this weekend, but I have never made it before. Do you have a simple recipe for me? Bonus if it has dark chocolate in it. Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: My $0.02 -- I like to use a basic bread pudding recipe (I use the one in the Gourmet Cookbook) and add in chunks of chocolate from a chopped-up good-quality dark chocolate bar (you could use choc chips if time is an issue). Serve with whipped cream. Chocolate chip bread pudding, the best. -- Elizabeth

Joe Yonan: Here's a good one for you, from the unbeatable Dorie Greenspan. What do I win for my bonus?

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Washington, D.C.: Wow, I really liked David's new entertaining column, but after reading the relationship and food article, that sounded like it was really crying out for a Chef on Call intervention. Is CoC gone for good?

Joe Yonan: Maybe we should have a wake. People need to process their feelings.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Just wanted to tell you guys how much I love this chat! I especially love that it's useful for people at all levels of cooking, from just starting out to fairly advanced. I asked a question last week about making oranges in cardamom syrup and Joe (I think it was Joe) suggested using the juice from the cut oranges instead of water to make the syrup, and it was incredibly successful.

The night before the dinner, I combined 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup of juice (with a splash of water to make up the difference), nine cardamom pods, and two coin-sized pieces of ginger, simmered for 3 minutes. Poured this over the segmented oranges and chilled overnight in the fridge. Tasted it in the morning to see if there was enough flavor, and there was, so I took out the pods and ginger then. Served that night over Greek yogurt in martini glasses with a scattering of toasted almonds over the top. (Would have used pistachios if I had them.)

I used a combination of blood oranges, cara cara oranges, and clementines, but that's just my usual overachieving nature. It'd be fine with any kind of orange. About two per person, though you might as well make extra -- everyone at our table had seconds.

Might be a nice Valentine's Day dessert for those looking to finish out the meal with something light and easily done ahead.

Joe Yonan: Thanks, Philly -- appreciate it. Glad my tip worked out for you. I think one thing you'll find from a lot of experienced cooks is that they're always looking for ways to use the most flavorful parts of their ingredients wherever they can, which is why you'll see suggestions for saving shrimp shells for stock and the like. So glad this worked. I'm working on my next Cooking for One column, this one on desserts, and am planning to talk about my parfait ideas, which are very similar to this one. Last summer I did something similar to what you describe with a rhubarb-ginger combo, and layered it with strawberries and Greek yogurt and almonds.

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Washington, D.C.: Wow, I wasn't expecting the article about couples' eating habits to be like it was -- it's so different from my experience. I'm vegetarian and my boyfriend is not. But he was such a limited eater before, that he eats much more variety now than he did before. I don't care particularly if he eats meat, but when we eat out together, he often picks things that I will eat as well, because it's much more fun eating out if you can pick off each other's plates. He doesn't cook much, but he's a pretty good baker -- and has a family secret chocolate frosting recipe to die for. He eats a much more varied (vegetarian) diet with me than he ever did on his own.

Joe Yonan: Sounds like you're made for each other! Your post does bring up, though, a pet peeve that a colleague shared with me today after reading and liking Jane's story. That is, the plate-passing and -sharing thing at restaurants. He hates it. As did Julia Child, btw.

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Desperate for dessert, again: Wow, thanks for the great suggestion about the chocolate cake! That's the perfect solution. My mom is gluten free so my family always complains when she makes gf desserts, which is why I was hesitant about the meringues. Chocolate cake, however, is the most wonderful thing in the world. Thank you!

Joe Yonan: We aim to please.

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Pavlova: I'm very interested in making your pavlova recipe, but most of the pavlova recipes I've seen call for a much higher oven temp--300 or 350. This will be my first pavlova, so...are you sure about that 250?

David Hagedorn: Yes, I'm sure about 250. At a higher temp, the meringue will cook too fast and be too dark on the outside.

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Lorna Sass admirer: Oh! Lorna Sass has changed my LIFE! I was a vegetarian but hated to cook with salty canned beans OR wait hours for my beans to cook. Enter Ms Sass' pressure cookbooks and I'm happy.

Her Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure has been used several times a week for my family, and I'm sure has cut our utilities bill to boot.

No question here, but just a thank you to Ms Sass and to the Post team for having her in!

Joe Yonan: Lorna has just left the building (OK, it's just a virtual building), because she could only be with us for half the hour, but I'll make sure she sees this -- she'll be thrilled!

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random vegetables: For the random veggie girl, if it's a red beet it will color everything else it touches so if that matters to you, cook it separately. They can be delicious roasted in their skins inside foil, then cooled and peeled and sliced into a salad.

Sweet potato, rutabaga, potato are good candidates for oven-roasting. Yellow squash and green bell pepper will be better cubed up and sauteed on top of the stove -- they will both give off some water while cooking.

All will lose some of their delicious veggie qualities when frozen and reheated, but I might layer slices of the peeled beet, potato, rutabaga, and sweet potato in a baking dish, pour broth and dairy (cream, milk, whatever you've got) and bake for a while. Then cut into squares, and you can serve some and freeze some.

Joe Yonan: Word.

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Mmm, Pavlova: The pavlova recipe looks good, but I have a question - is this really doable with just 2 egg whites? The pavlovas in New Zealand are amazingly lofty, like 6" or so, with a somewhat creamy center. Could you do a smaller but taller meringue circle, or better yet, double the number of egg whites and keep the 5" circle?

David Hagedorn: A pavlova recipe typically calls for 4 egg whites, but it translated well into a 2-white version. I used the 6-inch circle as a template to make my pav a little flatter, but I could just as easily have piled it higher within a 5-inch circle for the loftier look you speak of. If you do the four white version, use a 7-inch template, pile the meringue in the center of the circle and gently push it out from the center, maintaining the thickness you desire. The charm of this dessert is the imprecision of its form.

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Curious: If "Yay! Food Day!" is still around, I'd like to know about her rice and yogurt comfort food--any specific instructions?

Joe Yonan: YFD, you there?

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Sacramento, Ca.: Hi, I am posting early because of the time difference. I am looking for a vegetable cookbook. I often pick up new veggies at the farmers market that I am unfamiliar with and not sure the best way to prepare. I'd like a thorough cookbook that is an A to Z compendium, of sorts. Can you or any of your posters recommend one?

Thanks in advance and I love reading the transcripts and the online food section. Keep up the good work.

Joe Yonan: Two suggestions come to mind: Elizabeth Schneider's "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" and Aliza Green's "Starting With Ingredients."

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Chicago, Ill.: My food problem with my sweetie is not what he eats, but how he eats... fast. Very, very fast.

Sharing a tray of sushi with him is a disaster, as he eats everything before I even get started (our first date at a sushi joint left me starving but not wanting to ask him to shell out more money for more rolls!). The long leisurely home-cooked meals I desire are finished in 6 minutes flat. His plate has been taken by eager busboys before I'm halfway done.

I think he was raised by wolves, but I love him. So I try to slow him down and avoid speeding up myself. Some day, we will linger!

Joe Yonan: I have this issue myself -- I inhale food, and it's awkward for anybody I'm dining with who is slower. It's one of the reasons I hate the plate-snatching of which you speak.

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Vienna, Va.: I really liked the article on couples with different tastes. I was surprised to see that couples with different views on healthy eating weren't really mentioned.

It's been tough to get my husband to eat better. He loves diner food and elaborate sandwiches. He also loves to cook, so rather than just putting a bowl of quinoa in front of him, we're both happier if he makes diner versions of healthy foods (his current project is perfecting turkey meatloaf with whole grains). That way, it becomes less about perceived deprivation and more about a fun challenge.

Joe Yonan: Actually, they were mentioned -- in the lead anecdote, no less! It sounds like you've reached a delicious compromise.

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Entertaining making it easy!!: I have found out that the keeping my menu simple makes entertaining easier. I try to keep hot foods to a minimum. And I find simple receipes that taste great. I bought pretty but cheap china and use pretty but cheap wine glasses and teacups. I go on the prettier the table the simpler the food can taste.

Who knew that deviled eggs is everyone's secret favorite finger food?

Bonnie Benwick: We did. When we run deviled egg recipes, readers let us know how happy they are.

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Washington D.C.: Help! I'd like to make some buffalo steaks this weekend, but can't find any store selling buffalo. The Tenleytown Whole Foods told me they haven't had any buffalo in weeks and that other WF were in similar situations. And my farmers' market is closed for the season. Any tips? thanks!

Joe Yonan: There's buffalo at the Dupont farmers market, open all year. Not sure if it's convenient, but some things are worth driving for.

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Food and Spirits: My husband isn't a terribly picky eater. Due to allergies he cannot eat nuts or seafood. I don't have a problem separating our foods when I want a bit of seafood or when I want brownies with walnuts. I would just like to know how he manages to eat around all the vegetables I put in a potpie or spaghetti.

I bought a bottle of St. Germain recently and wanted to know what cocktails I could prepare with it. I bought it because the bottle was cute.

Jason Wilson: Yes, that elderflower liqueur is so very very cute. Did you know that little men in berets on bicycles handpick the elderflowers...

ANYWAY, I especially like St Germain with champagne in a sort of spritz (3 oz. champagne, 1 1/2 oz. St Germain, splash of club soda). I also like a drink with 2 oz. Plymouth gin, 1/2 oz. of St Germain, and a dash orange bitters, served on the rocks.)

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Re: Napa: If you want a more intimate winery experience, I would recommend heading over to Sonoma County. The Russian River valley is full of smaller vineyards. During the off-season the winemakers are often around and love to talk about their wine!

Joe Yonan: Good tip -- I had a great trip to Sonoma a few years ago.

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Va.: When we met, my husband was the typical hamburger guy. His immediate family still considers anything but iceberg lettuce 'dandelions' and 'seafood' means fish sticks or Red Lobster. In the years we've been together, I've introduced him to sushi, spicy foods, everything else that isn't dull or bland. Now, he's more adventurous than me. My Chinese parents love their White-guy eating buddy who is willing to try everything once (duck feet, tripe, kim chi, thousand year eggs--his favorite--ew). He is their pride and joy. They love to brag about him to restaurant staffs. Me, I've gotten 'pickier' over the years and became vegetarian.

Joe Yonan: This is like the culinary equivalent of "A Star is Born."

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Philadelphia: (not the same one as posted earlier) - I just want to note that a vegetarian diet is not, de facto, more healthy than a non-vegetarian diet, as some of the comments are starting to suggest. Variety and moderation are important. Just as a non-vegetarian can be unhealthy by eating nothing by meat and animal fats, someone can be vegetarian and eat nothing but junk, after all.

Joe Yonan: Absolutely. Thanks for pointing that out.

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Freezing cheese?: I'd love some advice on what types of cheese freezes well. (The concept of which is still a bit odd to me!) I've successfully frozen hard cheese like parmesan. What about types like gouda, parrano, and ricotta salata?

Bonnie Benwick: Aged hard cheeses freeze the best -- not so for the ones you've mentioned.

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To Chicago, Ill. Wife of Wolf: I understand -- my rule is 2 full sentences between bites. It helps let a conversation get started and sometimes he'll forget to inhale (food, not air) for a whole thought! Most of the time I just let him scarf it down though, because he doesn't eat & run. And it's a nice joking way to remind him I put effort into this thing he's destroying.

Joe Yonan: Yes, I sometimes try to remember for myself to put the fork down between bites and to take a drink of water. But I love this two-sentence rule!

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Grapefruit Cocktail: That drink you mentioned earlier sounded interesting. Can we get more specifics? Would you recommend .5 oz marascino liqueur to 1.5 of gin? Pink or white grapefruit juice?

Jason Wilson: You would do equal parts gin and grapefruit juice (maybe an 1.5 oz. each) and really a small dash of maraschino. Maybe even measure out one teaspoon -- maraschino can take over. I'd go with pink grapefrtui. For the tequila drink I mentioned I'd go with white.

Another cool grapefruit and gin drink is called the Antibes, which a favorite of many of my friends. 1.5 oz. of gin; 1/2 oz. Benedictine; 2 oz. pink grapefruit, shake it and serve on the rocks.

Joe Yonan: I LOVE the Antibes.

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Name that cake!: If I describe the cake, can you tell us what it's called???

Angelfood (or white) cake, layered and topped with strawberries, iced with a whipped cream cheese frosting.

Joe Yonan: Easy. Strawberry cream cake.

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Berry pavlova: Is there any way chocolate could be incorporated into this? I'm a huge chocolate fan and thing it's so good with meringue...

David Hagedorn: There is always a way to incorporate chocolate into anything. We gave the link to Nigella Lawson's chocolate pav in another answer, but how about this to gild the lily? Either make a chocolate meringue or a white one and then put a layer of ganache on top of it, then chocolate chunks, then cocoa whipped cream, then berries and chocolate shavings. (For ganache: boil 4 ounces of heavy cream and whisk it into 4 ounces of chocolate bits until smooth; let it cool until it is thickened but still spreadable.) The meringue may smoosh a bit under the weight, but would you really care all that much? Oh, don't forget the chocolate sauce on the side.

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Washington, D.C.: Dupont single girl: roast all your vegetables with herbs, chop finely, and use them with some cheese to fill crepes.

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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Alexandria, Va.: Jason, any suggestions on where I can track down a bottle of Lillet Blanc? I've asked in 3 different ABC stores and always get a blank look, followed by 'never heard of it'. Then the salesperson tries looking it up in their computer, but can't find it.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised - the state of liquor sales in Va. is a shambles (after having lived in NY for years).

Jason Wilson: That's pretty incredible -- I would have believed that like 3 years ago, but not now. That's really poor buying and stocking at the ABC. I don't know what to tell you. I'd try to order something through www.drinkupny.com or winechateau.com or one of the mail order sites. I do quite a bit.

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to veggie with husband who will not eat eggs or cheese: Pulses/legumes. You're on your way with dal -- but there are great Mexican and Italian dishes based on beans. Go to em. You can mix em in with pasta, you can make side dishes.

use your crockpot too - this really melds flavours.

You might also get some tips from vegan recipes/blogs.

Explore! There's a world of exciting non-dairy out there. You can make exciting meals -- you good cook you!

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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New England: Any low-fat/lower-fat chocolate desserts off the top of your head to make for Saturday? I made chocolate sorbet once and it was pretty good, but I miss the richness of tortes, fallen cakes, fudgy brownies... oh my!

Bonnie Benwick: These chocolate meringues aren't so bad for you.

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Arlington, Va.: Need to take a bottle of wine to a party and "medium red" has been requested. So... which reds are medium?

Joe Yonan: Dave sez:

"Your host probably means not a heavy red like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, nor a lighter one such as a Beaujolais.

"There's plenty of room in between - Pinot Noir from Oregon, France or Italy; Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or Virginia; Sangiovese or Barbera from Italy; Malbec from Argentina even (though some can be heavy). For a particular suggestion - look for the Le Paradou Cotes du Luberon I recommended in my Rhone article last month, or the Monte Degli Angeli Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) from Italy from my bargains column in December.

"Watch out for the alcohol levels, especially in wines from the US or Australia -- anything over 14 will stray toward the heavier side."

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Going bananas: I bought bananas, uh, awhile ago and forgot about them. I seem to do this often. Before my husband sees the brown bananas on the counter and tosses them--again, and complains to me--again, do you have an amazing banana bread recipe? Then I can claim that I TOTALLY MEANT to leave them alone for a week or two. . . .

washingtonpost.com: I can vouch for the recipe recently offered by Mighty Appetite blogger Kim O'Donnel... -- Elizabeth

Joe Yonan: And here's a snack cake that would do the trick, too.

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Thanks for the Wine Recommendations!: I appreciate you fielding my earlier question about wine.

You asked where we buy wine. I'm budget-consicious and live in Fairfax City, which makes -- ominous pause -- Total Wine a good bet.

But years ago, when I was single, lived in Vienna, Va., and could afford only one bottle every now and then, I would buy from The Vienna Vintner. The shop changed its outdoor sign several years ago to "The Vienna Wine Shop" because, if I recall correctly, people weren't sure what "vintner" meant. Ahh, Americans. Anyway, I'm not too far from Vienna and have gone back to the Vienna Vintner a couple of times since moving. Frankly, I'd rather support the "little guy," and although not every one of their recommendations has been a winner, I'm forever grateful to the store owner for steering me toward German Riesling.

So, I plan to return to the Vienna Vintner for my weekend wine shopping. Like Total Wine, they give discounts on bulk purchases, and although my local Total Wine can be helpful, it can't beat the guys at Vienna Vintner for one-on-one help.

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the ideas.

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Lillet Blanc: Schneider's Capitol Hill has it.

Joe Yonan: Of course they do. I believe I bought some at the fabulous Ace Beverage as well.

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ABC... DEF...: For us out-of-towners: what's an "ABC store"? I'd guess it is a liquor store, but is that name supposed to be like a sobriety test (although then I guess it would be backward...) or just really unimaginitive branding on the part of some local chain?

Joe Yonan: Alcoholic Beverage Commission. I.e., a state-run liquor store.

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buffalo at the Dupont farmers market: I just want to echo support for this stand. They are fantastic. Just this past Sunday I bought a package of bison half smokes and one of hot dogs. They're both gone. No way they stay around in my house, just too darn good.

Joe Yonan: The jerky is unbeatable, too.

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Alexandria, Va.: Buffalo steaks can be found usually at Meat on the Avenue in Del Ray, or sometimes at Wegmans. Good to call ahead and verify, though.

Joe Yonan: Thanks.

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There is always a way to incorporate chocolate into anything: Wow. Thank you. Wow. Not sure what else to say, except that you've made my weekend.

Joe Yonan: That's our job.

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Petworth: Many years ago, I met a boy who thought that "ethnic food" meant Italian, and that Chinese was really really exotic.

Eating with him made me nuts. While I have my food hangups (no seafood thanks), he wanted nothing but meatloaf, burgers, mac and cheese - you know the list.

Boy, was I glad when he decided that he should try some weird food. And I was even happier when he enjoyed it, and when he slowly became a serious food-person who now cooks and thinks the coolest thing to do in a new country is visit the grocery stores and the farm markets, well that just put me over the moon.

Reading today's article just made me so sad. I understand the meat/veggie couples. I don't understand the wide-ranging/limited palate couples. Much like people who like to go places and socialize but then marry the homebody and so never go about again, (and how did they meet the homebody anyhow?), I just feel so sorry for those people who can't share this with their partner. I don't understand how these relationships work.

Joe Yonan: I think they work because the members of the couple get their foodie needs met in other places, by friends, family -- or themselves. As much as I love food and have a difficult time imagining ending up with somebody who doesn't (or who doesn't in the same way), I've been there, and I have to say that the most important things in a relationship to me are honesty, communication, sense of humor, respect -- not lust for foie gras.

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Nowhere, USA: I know a man who eats pizza like this: cheese first, then licking up the sauce, then finally biting into the bare crust. He is adult. Thoughts?

Bonnie Benwick: He's not a multi-tasker?

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Italian bread and blueberries: This weekend is the double whammy -- b'day and Valentine's day for my sweetest. Request was for spaghetti for the b'day meal.

I'm looking for (1) a basic Italian bread recipe. I have one that calls for cake yeast, which is difficult to find here except around Christmas. I already have granulated yeast available. Just need a recipe for one loaf as a spag accompaniment.

(2) Looking for something fun to do with blueberries as a dessert, and relatively light. My dear loves blueberry pie, and Kim O'Donnel's blueberry buckle. But always open to new ideas, and I like to try different things. We're both trying to work off some winter weight, so light and delish is ideal.

Many, many thanks and happy hearts to all of you.

Bonnie Benwick: We're running outta time, but here's half of what you seek. Speaking of lightness and meringues...Lemon Meringues With Blueberries and Creme Fraiche.

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For single girl: I'd put all of those things except the beets in a nice vegetable Indian curry. Do you have broth, curry powder, yogurt, etc? Ginger would tie it all together. Then, boil the beets, slice them, cool them, toss with sour cream, splash of vinegar, nuts and chiffonaded basil for a lovely salad.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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carmamelized onions: please tell me if I'm doing this correctly. I saute my onions with a bit of salt on med/high until translucent, then add some water, cover, and turn down to low for 15-20 minutes. Does that sound right?

Bonnie Benwick: The water's optional, I think, and usually my caramelized onions need to cook for more like 40 minutes or so, to get really caramel-colored and soft and sweet.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Wine question: I'm not a big wine drinker, and I like it sweet. I like white zinfandel, but a friend teased me about ordering it, like it's not a "real" wine. What's wrong with white zin? Is there a more "real" wine I can order that is similar in sweetness? Thanks!

Jason Wilson: If you really love white zin, you should drink white zin. Don't let people bully you about what you like to drink. But if want to try something different, you could try something like a semi-sweet Kabinett Riesling or if you really love pink you can try French rose wine, which may have more credibility with your friend.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm in the mood for some really good roast beef--juicy and tender. I haven't ever actually made roast beef before. Any suggestions for what cut to use and method? Slow cooking vs. oven?

Joe Yonan: How bout slow cooking IN the oven? Here's the recipe.

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Ranson, W.V.: I really enjoyed the article "He's just not that into your Hamachi" particularly as my husband of 3 years is a very boring eater. He emailed me the article! We were both raised to try new things, though I'd guess that my parents were a bit more adventerous in their selections than his parents were. My family is far from being connoiseurs of fine dining, but whether it was pate, calamari, curry or sushi the idea was to at least try it. I love a large variety of foods and love trying new things--I find it a wonderful adventure, though I'll admit living where I do I don't get a lot of exposure to a variety of ethnic foods. I always joke, but it's true, Italian is about as ethnic as my husband will go, and then he will only order chicken parmesan or some variation of spaghetti with meat sauce or fettucine with white sauce. Not an adventurer, he. On our first date he apologized for hating vegetables and only eating a small number of foods, he assured me his mother fed him vegetables and his eating habbits were not her fault! I've adapted in that when I go out with friends or family who are a bit more adventurous I'll deliberately choose places I know my husband would be rather miserable at (he'll go but he usually won't eat much, he'll grab some fast food before or after we go to a Mexican or Japanese place... so generally I won't take him). Our compromise is that when going out we often go to chain restauraunts where he knows he can order a burger or pasta and I might be lucky enough to find something more enticing. I'm not much of a cook, but I do occasionally like to try and mix it up in the kitchen. If I'm cooking for both of us I often make a bland dish and then spice it up for the both of us. I've grown to accept that he doesn't do vegetables, potatoes, brown rice.... He apparently survived for years before we met on McDonald's (his favorite restaurant) and plain bagels and white American cheese and potato chips. I worry about his nutrition, but his compromise is that he always takes vitamins and will drink fruit drinks with some veggies snuck in to the mix. Overall I'm at a place of acceptance. My family is even adjusting. I've learned to stop embaressing him by announcing what he won't eat, and he for his part will quietly eat a dozen bread rolls and hit the drive through when we leave a dinner party where nothing was generic enough for him. It should be a whole new adventure someday when we have kids old enough to ask why they have to eat their veggies when daddy never does...but I may have to pull out the "till you're 18 in my house you will..." and "Daddy's not as strong as he could be... don't you want to be strong?" I pray that the kids have my palate and not his so that I'm not constantly battling with them! If there are others out there like me... I look for your suggestions in how you cope, particularly when children come into the mix!

Joe Yonan: The only thing I'll add is that IMHO, his reliance on vitamins is misguided. Plenty of studies have shown that they pale in comparison to getting nutrients from actual food.

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Providence, R.I.: I'd love a super-sweet giveaway books today, but I don't know what upcoming you-know-what is being honored!

LIncoln's 200th? V-day? My dad's 65th birthday, for which we're still seeking bagpipers? (We wanted them last year to do "When I'm 64" but thought of it too late.)

Joe Yonan: Let's see: Super-sweet? Indeed, I was referring to V.D.

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tuna suggestion: There are fat-free soy mayonnaises available. I use one of them with some dijon to make a lowfat tuna salad. Amen to the capers, and sometimes some red peppers or sweet pickle. Maybe green onion or celery depending on my mood.

Joe Yonan: Oh, fat-free soy mayo makes me sad, but whatever works for you, right?

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chocolate cake: Who would be your favorite chocolate cake "go to" author? Marcel Desaulniers, Rose Levy Bernbaum, Nigella Lawson, or someone else?

David Hagedorn: My favorite chocolate cake "go to" author is David Hagedorn, via the back of the Hershey's cocoa can. Check out this recipe for chocolate cake.

Joe Yonan: Wow.

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Arlington, Va. S: I'm curious, what is your take on lifestyle diets like vegetarian? Do you consider this to be a picky diet?

I ask because I get that impression from some of the chatters. However, depending on why you're a vegetarian (I am one, and also consider myself an adventurous eater), I don't think it's the case. You could claim picky about people following religious dietary restrictions or other.

Joe Yonan: No, I don't count vegetarian as the same thing as "picky," not at all. Vegetarian is a perfectly reasonable and honorable choice. Picky, to me, is indeed often a synonym for immature.

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caramelized onions: Last time I made them, I used 1 TBSP butter and sauteed them on med-low/med heat with maybe a teaspoon of sugar for a whole onion. Yes, it took like 45 minutes, but they were divine.

Bonnie Benwick: It's in the perfect-food category.

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Joe Yonan: You've spread us with caramel sauce, let it drip down our sides, spooned pecans over our tops and drizzled more caramel sauce over the nuts, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Jason, David and Lorna for helping us handle them.

Now for the giveaway books: "Desperate for dessert" will get "Deep Dark Chocolate: Decadent Recipes for the Serious Chocolate Lover." The chatter who asked about bread pudding will get "Chocolate for Breakfast." Just send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy eating, drinking, cooking and reading!

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