Free Range on Food: Staffers Solve Your Cooking Conundrums

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, June 17, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post 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.

A transcript follows.

Archive of past discussions


Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you answers with recipes, and recipes with answers. What's on your mind today? Want a good cup of coffee? A scoop of gelato? Planning on taking your next dinner party outside (once it stops raining, I hope)?

Throw your questions our way and we'll bat them back. Pardon me if I'm a little slow on the uptake today, 'cause I'm still a little jet-lagged, but will try to snap to. In the meantime, Amanda Abrams, who wrote today's Counter Culture coffee story, should be coming into the room to help answer java-related questions. David Hagedorn is traveling so won't be joining us, but the rest of us will take up whatever grilling queries we can handle.

Now for giveaway books for our favorite posts: We'll have "Coffee Love: 50 Ways to Drink Your Java" by Daniel Young, and "Almost Meatless" by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond.

Let's do this thing.


Baltimore, baby!: Well, well! I'm glad to see that the good folks to the south are now able to enjoy the beauty that is Pitango. And that my beloved WaPo is giving credit where credit is due. My husband and I are huge fans of Pitango and have been for years. My only beef with them is that the Dark Chocolate (with coco nibs!) is no longer available in lieu of the Chocolate Noir. But apparently, I'm the only one that feels this way. Oh well. Can't beat the mojito. Now if they'll just expand to Rehoboth...

Jane Black: I hear you. I'm pushing for a raspberry gelato, not sorbet. That way I can pair it better with the hazelnut.


Grilling without a grill: I live in an apartment without access to an outdoor grill. I got one of those cast-iron grills so you can 'grill' indoors (it has a grill on one side and griddle on the other). I used it two times to cook turkey burgers and each time it got so smoky in my apartment, and it was hard to flip the burgers. In fact they broke apart even though I had greased the grill side just like the instructions said.

Last week's chat said we could use this to grill indoors, but I'm wondering what I did wrong. Am I supposed to use something besides olive oil, like the instructions directed, so I can easily flip burgers and other food items? Also, since it's cast-iron and gets hot quickly, is there a way to figure out when to turn down the heat so it doesn't get as smoky but will still cook? Any suggestions you can provide would be great because I'd love to use my grill, but right now its just taking up space.

Bonnie Benwick: I have one just like that. Here a few things that might help: Olive oil has a fairly low smoke point, so I'd try using canola or peanut oil to brush the grill pan instead. You want the grill pan to be very, very hot; it will release the food easier if it is. Turkey burgers can be tough no matter what, as they tend to be so much leaner than regular ground beef. You can brush the surface of the turkey burgers with oil as well as the grill, and don't try to flip or move them until you've got a good crust going on the bottom side.


Gelato in D.C.: Are there are stores that sell gelato? When we lived in Baltimore, we went to Vicaro's in Little Italy for great gelato, but the Vicaro's at Union Station and Foggy Bottom only sell cookies.

Jane Black: Do you mean take-home pints? Some gelaterias do sell retail, but it's hard to do since keeping gelato at the right temperature is so important. You can certainly get gelato to go at Pitango, Dolcezza and Boccato.


Washington, D.C.: Congrats on your new location in Logan. I've tried the pistachio and it's out of this world. As a business person I'm curious how are you doing so far at your D.C. store, and do you have any plans to open more stores?

Jane Black: Noah Dan isn't joining us for the chat, but he told me that right now they are working on getting these two up and running. But they will be looking for new locations.


Washington, D.C.: Any good ideas for empanada fillings? I am a Julia's addict and want to attempt making them at home. Also, have you seen pre-made empanada dough anywhere/have an easy idea for making my own (I fear dough)?

Jane Black: I was just at El Patio (12303 Twinbrook Parkway), an Argentine restaurant/takeout in Rockville. They sell wonderful (and very cheap) empanadas but they also sell pre-made dough. The brand is La Saltena, which I believe is owned by General Mills so perhaps it's available more widely.

As for fillings, it just so happens that a new Argentine cookbook is out. It's called Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. They have a recipe for a filling of beef and potatoes called, like the dough, saltenas. I haven't tested it but here it is:

Empanadas Saltenas

Makes enough for 24 empanadas

2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 pound well-marbled stewing beef such as sirloin tip

coarse salt and fresly ground black pepper

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup high quality lard, melted, or extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, quartered and very thinly sliced

8 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts, kept separate

1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped

Put potato cubes in a sauce pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 7 minutes, until tender. Drain, wrap in a wet towel so they don't dry out, and set aside.

Trim and discard any gristle from the meat but leave the fat. With a sharp knife, chop the meat into 1/8 inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of lard/oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir well, then add the white part of the scallions and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of lard/oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sear the chopped meat in batches and spread it out on a tray when it is done so that it does not steam. When all the meat is browned, combine in a bowl with the onions and the green part of the scallions. Stir in the red pepper flakes and cumin. Add the potatoes, the remaining 5 tablespoons of fat and the chopped eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm. Filling can be made up to 1 day ahead but in that case don't add the eggs until ready to assemble the empanadas.


Dry chicken breast: I generally buy boneless, skinless chicken breast. I find when I cook it in a pan with olive oil, let it brown, then cover it, it's still dry, and all the juices are at the bottom of the pan, not in the chicken. Please help.

Bonnie Benwick: DCB syndrome can be overcome! Start with boneless skinless chicken breasts that are the same thickness (pound as needed to even things out). Preheat the oven to 350. Brown the breasts on both sides for a total of no more than 6 minutes in an ovenproof skillet, and don't cover the chicken; at this point, if you press the breasts with your finger they should still feel pretty spongy inside.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and finish cooking the chicken (still uncovered) there (depending on the thickness, 10 to 12 minutes should do it if you're cooking 4 of them at the same time). Your chicken should be cooked through yet moist inside, and there should be some juices in the skillet you can use or add to any saucy situation you've got going.


Arlington, Va.: Last week someone wrote "I read the All we can Eat blog on pressure cooking beans." I have been trying to find that blog but can't. Where can I find it? I received a pressure cooker for my birthday several months ago. I love kitchen items but did not expect a pressure cooker. My partner is now wanting ham and beans made the "old fashion way" in the pressure cooker. I don't know where to start. I am hoping this blog or maybe one of you can give me so help. I am kind of running out of excuses for why I haven't used it yet. (I have all the ingredients)

Bonnie Benwick: Here you go. If you can find your way to our main Food and Dining page, all you have to do is click our blog button at the top left. Once you're in, you can click on the link to archives listed by week. (Do I wish there were an easier way to get there? Yes.)

Joe Yonan: There is an easier way -- sign up for the RSS feed. Scroll all the way to the bottom of any page on the blog and look under the blog roll for the little orange symbol and the words RSS FEED. Click on that, and choose how you want to subscribe -- using a blog reader if you want (or you can actually put it on your toolbar).


Alexandria, Va.: I used to linger over the Food section on Wednesdays (linger = 5 minutes early and a later day revisit). Now I breeze through it in 30-45 seconds, rarely ever seeing anything worth spending time with. Have you compared the sorts of articles included 12 months or more ago to the sorts of articles included now? There seems to be a lack of substance and an overly fervent chasing of the new and trendy. New and trendy is fine for restaurants, but substantive, repeatable and solid are what matters in cooking. Am I that far off in my belief that your content has changed quite a lot, or have I just gotten older (58) and the section is simply no longer aimed at my demographic?

Joe Yonan: Hi, Alexandria -- Thanks for your note, but I'm honestly not sure what you mean here, since we haven't changed our focus at all. We like to give a range of things in the section every week, and don't think that "new" is in conflict with substantive. But even so, are soft-shell crabs and bouillabaisse and grill-roasted pork trendy? Hmm.


Jane Black: We answer your questions. Now will you answer one for me? I'm embarking on some crab cake research. (I know. Tough job but someone's got to do it.) Anyone got a favorite crab cake at restaurant in the city or the burbs? If so, where and why? All suggestions welcome.


Best Coffee in D.C.: I will admit I am a snob about coffee and am disappointed that D.C. doesn't have more places that make a good cappuccino, so I was pleased to read that Counter Culture is trying to not only change the way coffee tastes in this city, but how it's made. The article listed a few top notch places in the city that make a good coffee drink, Big Bear, Peregrine (I do not agree with Tryst, but that might just be me). Where else in the city proper do you folks think makes an excellent cup of coffee?

Jane Black: I'm all about Pitango today, I guess. But they make excellent coffee. The beans are from Zeke's in Baltimore, a special roast just for them that gives the espresso a good crema. Here's a recent post about Zeke's from our blog.

Now if we could only persuade them to open early enough to get one on the way to work.

Joe Yonan: Some more: Grape + Bean, Sip of Seattle, Sidamo, Sova.

Amanda Abrams: I don't have too much to add to that list. Dean and Deluca isn't local, but they do make a mean cappuccino. Busboys and Poets is erratic with their espresso drinks, but I like their drip coffee.


Gelato: Loved the great story about ice cream's Italian cousin. Once you have experienced good gelato, there's really no turning back. As a result of my love of gelato I bought a Musso Lussino ice cream maker, my life will never be the same. After making gelato alla fragola(strawberry gelato) with local fruit, summer can't last long enough.

Jane Black: Interesting. How is this Musso Lussino different than your run-of-the-mill ice cream maker (i.e. the kind that I have)? What makes it special and how much does it cost?


Chicago, Ill.: So last week you guys suggested a simple way of cooking cabbage with bacon that sounded so yummy -- except for the cabbage! I've never liked cabbage, and I've tried it in various ways, so I planned on asking if there was something I could substitute the cabbage with.

But then I started thinking -- I'm not entirely sure if I've ever had cooked cabbage. Well, I've had it in store bought frozen egg rolls, but I'm woman enough to admit that might not be the best example of cooked cabbage. So now I come to you, oh great foodies, to help me branch out in my culinary palate. What the heck does cooked cabbage taste like? Is it similar to raw cabbage (because I have to admit, I definitely do not like raw cabbage!) If it's more subtle in flavor, though, I think I'd be willing to give it a shot. Do I have a new favorite vegetable in my future?

Of course, if cooked cabbage is too similar to raw cabbage, I'm going ahead and asking for that substitute. Thanks for all your help!

Joe Yonan: I think you owe it to yourself to try it. Indeed, it tastes different from raw, and subtler. Maybe this ode to cabbage by Stephanie Sedgwick will inspire you. Look at the attached recipes on the article page -- I'm a big fan of that warm cabble, apple and ginger slaw.


Restaurant crab cakes: I love the Crab Bomb at Jerry's. Located in Bowie and Seabrook. It seems like a big ball of crab -- must have filler or something that holds it together but it's hard to detect. Yummy -- all crab and nothing but crab and huge.

Jane Black: No wonder. It's *home* of the crab bomb! But is it really a restaurant, right? On the web it looks like they only offer private parties and takeout. Did you eat there?


Pine Plains: What a great section today! I especially loved Dave Hagedorn's feast. The strawberry-lime granita reminds me of a deconstructed frozen key lime pie with strawberry without the worries (raw eggs). If I made this in a ice cream machine and added a little bit of cream, would that make it a sherbet?

Joe Yonan: The definitions of sherbet, sorbet, ice cream and gelato are, believe it or not, pretty fluid. I was talking to David Lebovitz about this when I visited him in Paris for an upcoming profile. Sherbet does typically include some dairy, although both he and I have seen many sorbet recipes that do, too! Definitions aside, you should go to town with your idea.


Arlington Scooper: I am shocked that gelato article did not mention the original gelateria in Georgetown, Mio Gelato! This delicious gelato was served from a counter in what is now Urban Outfitters, and I remember that was my first true experience with real gelato in the area in the early 80s. Give credit where credit is due! Mio Gelato, you will not be forgotten!

Jane Black: I dont' get to say this very often but some of us are not old enough to remember that far back...And in fairness, this was about gelato that you can get in Washington now.


Annapolis: I'm intrigued by the pork roast recipe in today's food section, but something serving 8-10 is isn't practical for my two-person household, and I don't have any dinner parties planned for the foreseeable future. Can I use a piece of pork that's half or a third the size, something that would give us 2+ meals? How would I adjust the timing?

Bonnie Benwick: I'm channeling David -- You could ask for a 3- or 4-rib roast; anything smaller won't stand up. Start looking at the thermometer after 30 minutes and see how close to 135 degrees you're getting. The good thing about a remote thermometer is that it will tell you when the roast is at the right temperature, and time is not so much of an issue.


Cast Iron SKillet: My grandmother used to make tremendous steaks in her cast iron skillet. Can this memory be correct? Can you give me tips for this because I'd like to give it a try, and I never paid attention to how she did it.

Bonnie Benwick: Sounds right to me. The sear created by the well-seasoned, poker-hot surface of a cast-iron skillet can do right by a steak, no question. Keep things simple by lightly coating the steak on both sides with canola oil, then seasoning with salt and pepper (and if you're feeling experimental, try a little sprinkling of sugar, which can make a caramelized crust). You can sear it then transfer to a 350-degree oven to finish cooking to the desired degree of doneness. But maybe your grandma didn't do that....


Summer trifle: I wanted to make a trifle using the bounty of summer's fruits. I have seen Italian lady fingers used on the outside, but wasn't sure how to make a custard, or if anything else was needed between the layers aside from a custard and fruit. Thank you.

Jane Black: Trifle is a concoction of pound cake or ladyfingers, jam, custard and fruit. So add jam to your list of ingredients. To make a custard, you whisk eggs, sugar, and milk then heat it over a low flame until it thickens.

I couldn't find a recipe in our database for a trifle with ladyfingers but I did find several that use pound cake. The first one calls for a store-bought cake. The second asks you to make it yourself (but of course you could always use a storebought cake for that recipe too.)


From "San Francisco A La Carte,"

(8 servings)

12-14 ounce pound cake

Raspberry jam

1/2 cup medium-dry sherry

1/4 cup brandy

5 egg yolks

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Pinch of salt

2 cups milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 pint fresh raspberries

2 fresh peaches, peeled and thinly sliced 1 1/2 cups whipping cream 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Trim pound cake and cut into 1-inch slices. Completely coat one side of each slice with raspberry jam and line the bottom of a crystal serving bowl with slices. Cut remaining slices into 1-inch cubes and place one layer only on top of slices in the bowl.

Pour sherry and brandy over, cover lightly, and let stand at room temperature for one hour. With a wire whisk, mix yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Heat milk, stirring, until almost boiling. Very slowly, pour milk into egg mixture. Transfer to a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until custard coats spoon. Be careful not to bring near a boil or it will curdle.

Remove from heat, stir, and add vanilla. Blend well and let cool. Reserving 10-to-12 firm raspberries, arrange berries and peach slices on cake. Pour cooled custard over. Whip the cream until thick and gradually whip in the confectioners' sugar; whip until firm.

Reserve 1/2-cup of the whipped cream for garnish and spread remainder on top of custard. Decorate with reserved berries and rosettes of whipped cream.

Or try this trifle recipe which uses Greek yogurt so you you don't have to make custard at all!


NW, D.C.: I have a stove-top Bialetti cappuccino maker which I love. However, since running out of the beans my brother-in-law sent me, I'm at a loss as to who to turn to for more. I'm not a fan of the Starbucks espresso and am looking to branch out. Any suggestions I can try out at home?

Amanda Abrams: Unfortunately Counter Coffee only sells wholesale and isn't available at most of the grocery stores in the area, but you might check if the Rockville Whole Foods or My Organic Market in Alexandria carries it. Their espresso blends vary depending on the season, but they have a few Italian espresso blends (northern, central, and southern, I believe) that you might experiment with.

Joe Yonan: Some of the cafes, such as Peregrine, do sell CC beans, too -- and you can buy them mail order on their Web site. Check out this sidebar to Michaele Weissman's 2008 coffee-roasting story for some other bean sources/ideas.


Gelati flavor: Hey Rangers, question about the flavors at Pitango. When I spent a summer in Italy they had a flavor called Riso (translates to Rice) that was amazing, like a rice pudding ice cream. Do you know if Pitango has riso gelato? Anywhere else nearby? I've never been able to find this flavor since 2003 in Italy and I'm dying to taste it again. Thanks so much, team.

Jane Black: I remember that flavor too. It's amazing. Pitango doesn't offer it, according to their Web site. But it seems like a flavor that would be right up Noah Dan's alley. I suggest you send in a request via the site or pop into one of the stores and make a personal plea.


Zeke's Coffee: Zeke's coffee can be found in whole bean at the Greenbelt Co-op market in Old Greenbelt. Zeke's sells at the Greenbelt Farmer's Market and the co-op has added some of Zeke's blends to their other coffee offerings so you can pretty much pick up a pound anytime.

Joe Yonan: Zeke's is great -- thanks!


Starving for Starbucks: I have a 3 year old and a new born 1 month old baby, and I have been making walks to Starbucks as my reason to get out of our one bedroom apartment. However, my husband is cutting me off from Starbucks as $4 a pop does add up. Please help me to create a home version of the iced mocha latte. We don't have a cappuccino maker, so I'll have to deal with an iced coffee, which we use the one cup filter cone to make. The obvious problem is that hot coffee becomes weak when poured over ice, and coffee that sits out to cool down, tastes more acidic after awhile. Any suggestions? Could it be made the previous night and sit in the fridge or would that also make it taste bitter? Please help me get through the summer with two kids.

Joe Yonan: If I were you, I'd try the Toddy cold-press method. It makes a very smooth, low-acid concentrate that's perfect for iced drinks. They even include some recipes for such. I can vouch; I have one and use it from time to time. (Maybe I'll join you in iced coffee strategies this summer!)


Cleaning the grill and gelato in DC: Thanks for answering my question about the grill. I'll try that and see if it works. Since it gets so smoky I guess I try to flip it so it doesn't burn. Any recommendations on cleaning it? I got a brush but don't feel it really cleans it.

As for gelato in D.C., the Italian store Vace in Cleveland Park sells gelato in pint-form. I'm not connected to them besides being a customer that was pleasantly surprised to see it in the freezer shelves.

Bonnie Benwick: I let mine cool down and then use coarse kosher salt to scrub off the first layers of gunk. Works just fine.


Boulder, but Maryland native: Empanada dough -- I have found pre-made empanada dough at Shopper's Food Warehouse. Wish I could find it out here!

Crab cakes -- Jane, you're going to have to head to Bawlamer, hon, to get good crabcakes. Try G&M in Linthicum (near BWI)or Faidley's at Lexington Market.

Jane Black: 2nd vote for G&M. Might have to head out there asap.


Crab cakes for Jane: I work in Baltimore and live in D.C., and the only place I'll eat a crab cake is at G&M, right near BWI. Delicious. But honestly, almost everywhere in Baltimore has good crab cakes. It's just what they do there.

Jane Black: So never a great one in the city limits? There must be one...


Dry chicken breast and hot grill spray: I brine any and all chicken -- wings, bone in breasts, boneless breasts and whole chicken. Even 30 minutes makes a huge difference in moistness. Just a tsp or so of sea salt in enough water to cover the meat is all you need.

Weber makes a spray specifically made for a hot grill. It is a lifesaver. You can heat the grill, scrape it then spray without fear of flareups. I use it almost every day now. I bet it would work inside too (for the person with the smoky kitchen).

Bonnie Benwick: Brining, sure! I would not recommend spraying anything on an already-hot indoor grill pan.


Philadelphia, Penn.: I've got an onion on my counter with some massive green shoots coming out the top. Can I turn this onion into baby onions by planting it or something? How, exactly, does one propagate an onion?

Joe Yonan: Gardening guru Adrian Higgins says, "Some onions grow tiny bulbets on the tips of their stem, which can be planted. Others flower, and you wait for the seeds to ripen (black). You can sow those."


In re: DCB: I've been poaching my chicken in 1/2 water, 1/2 white wine plus garlic and pepper -- never a dry result.

Bonnie Benwick: Poaching's another way to go, but I've found that you can overcook a BCSB that way, too.

Joe Yonan: Absolutely agree with Bonnie here. I use the Jacques Pepin method of bringing stock to boil, slipping chicken in, then turning off heat and covering, letting chicken sit in water to poach. Keeps it velvety this way.


Rockville, Md.: I'm having knee surgery Friday. Any suggestions about food that can be prepared without having to stand up too much?

I have some salad fixings at home, and I'll cube and saute some chicken to have to put on top, but the I'd rather not die of boredom while waiting to be mobile again. And I'd like to avoid delivery if I can.


Joe Yonan: Really, you're just looking for something fast, then? That is, you can stand for a bit but not for long? Or will you be on crutches and also not wanting to, say, carry a pot of pasta water over to the sink to drain? If it's the former, Bonnie's weekly Dinner in XX Minutes recipes on page 2 are always a good idea. I'd say you should browse through the Recipe Finder by checking the "Fast" button and whatever course/cuisine draws you and going from there. A couple to whet your appetite: Seared Chicken Tossed With Grapefruit and Mint, or Spice Seared Tuna With Avocado, Mango and Pea Shoot Salad.


AWCE Blog: Easy way to get to the blog-- there's a drop down menu labeled "Editorials, Opinions, Columns, and Blogs" on the front page under the opinion section that leads to the blogs. Scroll all the way down to Blog Directory. That page has a direct link to the All We can Eat blog.

Joe Yonan: Yes, it does! But the RSS feed is best.


Washington, D.C.: Excellent crab cakes can be found at Bobby's Crabcakes in Rockville. I grew up near there (long before they built up that area), and wish it had been there when I was. Very fresh, sweet crabmeat, and not too much else! Johnny's Half Shell had pretty good crabcakes, although I haven't tried the new location.

Jane Black: Aha! Inside the beltway responses are now coming in. Thanks!


Iced Mocha Idea: I freeze coffee in an ice cube tray. That way as it melts, it doesn't dilute the coffee. Voila!

Joe Yonan: Yes, this is a time-honored method. Thanks for the reminder!


Boston, Mass. RE:Crabcakes!: I lived in D.C. for years, and the best crabcakes I found were at a place in Linthicum, Md.(near BWI). I think it was called L&M's. They're huge, crispy on the outside, and made with very little "filler." I think that they ship...

Jane Black: Wow. Some food reporter I am. I cannot believe I haven't been to this place. (G&M's for anyone who wants to beat me there.) Baltimore Magazine has crowned it the best for five year's running.

But I'm still not hearing any raves for D.C. That is sort of depressing. Is it possible that you canonly get a good one in Baltimore? So many places serve them here.


Spray indoor grill pan: Why would you not do it? This stuff is specifically made not to flare up. Is it fumes you are concerned about?

Bonnie Benwick: Spray the grill pan before it goes on the heat. I wouldn't want to spray into my gas burners, no matter what the product label says.


Jerry's is really a restaurant: Definitely a restaurant where you can sit for a nice dinner. I've never been to the Seabrook location, but the Bowie one is very nice.

Jane Black: OK, cool. Thanks.


Stuffed green peppers: I would like to make stuffed green peppers but without meat. I was wondering what could I mix in with the rice instead?

Jane Black: Any veggies and spices you like: Feta, tomatoes, oregano and a little lemon zest. (I might also throw some pinenuts in there for texture.) Corn, cilantro, red peppers, cumin. This is a great dish to help clean out the fridge so be creative and use what you have on hand.

Joe Yonan: Check out these Stuffed Peppers from Domenica Marchetti. She calls for yellow and red, but if you prefer green you could certainly do that instead.


Washington, D.C.: Hosting a party in June...What are some easy but impressive cocktails and appetizers to make?

Jane Black: That's a pretty broad question. I'd direct you to our recipe finder that is full of all kinds of canapes and Jason Wilson's swell summer cocktails.


Washington, D.C.: Hello everyone, I made some quinoa for the first time and I liked it. I added yellow and orange peppers, onions, jalapeno pepper, chopped shrimp, chives and mushrooms. It made quite a lot and now I am wondering if I can freeze it in single serve portions. I also had lots of mushrooms and peppers left which I have frozen in plastic bags. Can these veggies be used in another dish? Also, does red quinoa taste differently than the plain quinoa? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Good choice! Whole grains guru Lorna Sass told me that she thinks red quinoa is not as flavorful as the beige/tan kind (and since I brought up grains, I should say that quinoa is technically a seed).

Single-serve portions sounds like a fine idea -- except for maybe the shrimp might be chewy after reheating. Are your leftover vegetables cooked or raw? The peppers can be frozen uncooked with no problem, but mushrooms might get spongy.


Charm City: I'm a new mom to a super busy 8 month old. And while I cooked in some former lifetime, I find that I don't cook anymore and I've forgotten a lot of the basics. Do you have any recommendations for a cookbook that will teach me the fundamentals that I need as well as providing me with easy, quick, nutritious recipes for the family? Someone had recommended The Naked Chef and another recommended any of the Bittman cookbooks. Would you recommend those? Thanks!

Jane Black: Bonnie is our cookbook guru but if you're looking for fundamentals and easy recipes, Bittman is a good place to start. (For the nutritious angle, you could look at his new book, Food Matters, which helps create healthful meals that are also good for the planet.) On the other hand, I do like Jamie Oliver too. He makes really stylish food simple: "Take a handful of this and handful of that and mix it up." It somehow makes cooking seem like less of a chore.


Philadelphia, Penn.: Given the choice between a pressure cooker and a crock pot, which would you choose? My kitchen is tiny, so unfortunately I can't have one of each. I'm a grad student, am home at erratic hours, and just want something that makes it more likely for me to eat at home rather than grabbing crummy Chinese food when I get home late (if that makes any difference in your recommendation). Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Well, the pressure cooker makes food fast. Get the hang of it and there's much you can do -- beans, rices, quick meat braises. And it gives you a big pot do cook things in at other times. Lorna Sass (again!) has done a good pressure cooker cookbook.

You'd have to invest in a slow cooker with a timer that can turn off the heat; seems like the really good recipes involve some stovetop prep beforehand, and then there's the what-size-is-best issue. Chatters, care to pick a side?


Fairfax, Va.: Love these chats! I'm having a picnic this weekend for Father's Day, and with the weather forecast to be hot, I'd like to make a potato salad which doesn't have mayo and would go well with ribs and barbecued chicken. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Bonnie Benwick: Mentioned this one last week. I hate to sound so one-note, but it's always good!


CSA Blog?: Are you planning to run a CSA blog like you had last year? It would be interesting if you ran one where you had 4 or 5 contributors who had different CSAs to see what different kinds of things people get and what they do with them. I would volunteer!

Joe Yonan: In fact, we've been doing just that on All We Can Eat. There's this recurring feature called CSA Scout in which we're collecting the experiences of several subscribers, who are sending in pix and reports that I'm summarizing. If you want to be part of it, send me email to, and I'll send you the drill.


re: DCB syndrome: Is there a difference in results between pounding chicken breast and cutting it into a few thinner pieces?

Bonnie Benwick: Pounding's certainly easier. And when you're done you look like you've got a bigger serving.


Seasonal Trifle: As peaches are coming into season, my favorite trifle is a peach blueberry triffle...I cheat and use vanilla pudding from the store instead of a traditional custard. Cut lady fingers (I use sponge cake generally, but lady fingers work too) horizontally and spread a thin layer of fruit preserves in between the sides of the cookie. Cut the lady finger sandwich into cubes. Cut up approximately 10 peaches (I like to use a mix) and combine in a mixing bowl with a pint of blueberries. Add a Tablespoon of superfine sugar and a 1/4 cup sweet sherry. Stir. In your trifle bowl, add half of the lady finger cubes. Top with half your fruit mixture. Then add half of your container of pudding. Repeat. I like to top my trifle with some fresh whipped cream (makes me feel better about using store bought pudding) and garnish it with some additional berries and peach slices. Enjoy!

Jane Black: Thanks for sharing.


Alexandria: Hello! Since you are doing a story on crab cakes, does this mean that a story has already been done on where the best place is to order crabs? If so, what was the result? Thanks!

Jane Black: Nope. That has not yet been done. Are crab cakes an obvious follow to hard-shell crabs?

I was looking at crab cakes because crabs are one of the real mid-Atlantic foods. And though I do think of crabs and Baltimore, there are a hell of a lot of crab cakes here in the city and I wondered who was doing them well.


Crabby: The premade ones you cook at home from Whole Foods are actually very good. I know that is not a restaurant, but just wanted to share. We also had some at Restaurant Eve recently that were swoon-worthy.

Jane Black: Yes, steering clear of retail. (I like the ones at the Dupont Farmers Market too.) But Eve. Interesting.


Awesome Coffee Beans: We are addicted to Hondo coffee which is available at many local farmer's markets. The owner grows the beans on a family farm in Honduras, then roasts them in Manassas and brings them to the markets. I think you can also order through their website.

Joe Yonan: Thanks! Here's a link to their site.


No egg brunch: I'm hosting Father's Day brunch at my house this weekend and I'd like to get something prepared the night before, but my sister-in-law doesn't care for eggs, and I'm having problems finding good casserole recipes that aren't egg-based. Any suggestions (aside from just making waffles)? Thanks!

Jane Black: No eggs? That's usually what holds casseroles together. There are some that are less eggy than others, like, say a strata (bread, vegetables, eggs, cheese all mixed up and baked) or baked french toast. Are those ruled out? Otherwise, I'm thinking bagels and lox.


Grad Student Kitchen Utensils: To pick a side in the crock pot/pressure cooker debate, my crock pot saved me in grad school! Granted, I didn't do anything fancy (just dumped ingredients, turned it on and went), but there are programmable ones now that would help with classes.

Trust me, having real food ready when you stagger in after a long day of classes makes a huge difference.

Bonnie Benwick: One vote for the slow cooker.


Cupcakes: I'm making cupcakes for my daughter's first birthday. Decided to go with vanilla cupcakes and pink buttercream frosting. To make the frosting pink, will it work to beat in some strawberries to add the color and also give it some flavor? I'd like a very light pink color. I've never made frosting before so I don't even know if using fruit in it is okay. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Strangely enough, adding natural strawberry -- a good thing to do -- might make the color look more like raspberry, but very, very faint; more of a grayed pink than true pink. Do the strawberry thing, and maybe add a tiny bit beet juice.


Speaking of David Leibovitz: We just picked up his ice cream book from the library to give it a test run before purchasing it. His bio said he gives culinary tours of Paris -- did you do this, Joe? My beau may be going to London for an extended amount of time for work. I plan on visiting a few times and thought a trip over to Paris to take one of his tours would be tres amusant!

Joe Yonan: He does indeed. I didn't take one, partly because timing wasn't right but also because I wanted him all to myself, and doing what he normally does (shop at market, cook, test recipes), but I hear good things.


Fairfax , Va.: For the person looking for iced coffee help, I have been using the method recommended in one of Kim O'Donnell's blogs last year. I put 8 oz of Yuban Coffee in a big bowl, then add 5 cups of water, let it sit on the counter overnight and then use my "gold" coffee filter to strain the grounds out. It makes a wonderful, rich extract of coffee. I use about a quarter cup of the extract and add milk to taste and ice. I store the extract in the refrigerator.

Joe Yonan: Yep, that's basically how cold-press works using the Toddy system I mentioned earlier. The advantage to Toddy, though, is that the equipment (which is cheap) makes it a little easier/cleaner.


Chatters, care to pick a side? : I have been very disappointed with most of the slow-cooker recipes I've used. I thought it was going to be so easy, but nothing turns out very good unless you brown it first. Which kind of defeats the purpose of why I got the slow-cooker in the first place. I thought I'd be able to just throw everything in and voila! Not so...

Bonnie Benwick: I'm with you! But I'm not reading this as a true endorsement for the pressure cooker...


Westover, Arlington, Va.: I wanted to comment on the local ice cream scene here in Northern VA. At one point we had a decent selection of local ice cream shops, but now a lot of them have disappeared. Moorenko's closed down their shop in McLean. Lazy Sundae was a big loss in Clarendon, too. Although they reopened, it's far inferior and really not a nice place to eat ice cream. The scoopers have real attitude problems, too. But alas, Northern Virgininians, I have found a great little place: a local, traditional, family owned ice cream shop in Arlington called Scoop Beauregard's. Right now they serve Great Falls Ice Cream, but I read that the new owner used to be an ice cream maker there, and pretty soon he'll be making ice cream on the premises of the shop. After the closing of Moorenko's and Lazy Sundae, this place is the best place for homemade, superpremium ice cream in Northern Virginia.

Jane Black: Thanks for the tip. Would be great to see more ice cream shops with stuff made on the premises.


Crockpot!: I loved my crockpot in grad school because it took very little thought and planning. You can throw almost anything in a crockpot and it'll be fine. There's a little more of a learning curve with the pressure cooker. Plus, crockpots are usually cheaper, which can be important in grad school.

Bonnie Benwick: Another for the slow cooker. They can be cheaper, but maybe not the one this chatter needs (programmable, etc).


New York, N.Y.: I enjoyed the article on coffee culture, and the nod to Stumptown... the coffee shop I frequent in Brooklyn only uses Stumptown and several of the baristas were trained there in Oregon.

One of them once told me that every barista's favorite drink was an Americano, because it was the best way to accurately assess a cup of coffee. Is this true, and if so, why would that be?

Amanda Abrams: I haven't heard that about Americanos and it surprises me. My impression is that the best way to really test (and taste) a coffee's quality is simply to make an espresso. It's hard to imagine that an Americano would convey the flavors--and the visual aspects, like the crema on top--in the same way.


Boulder, Colo.: For David...the BBQ pork recipe and sides sound terrific. I have a boneless pork roast in the freezer -- would that work?

Bonnie Benwick: Bones = flavor, especially on the grill.


Bethesda, Md.: I planted 6 seedlings of what I thought was broccoli. (That's how they were labeled.) Surprise! The ugly broccoli grew up to be kale or collards or some sort of greens.

I'm not really up on my green leafies outside of spinach. Any suggestions on what to do with the bounty?


Jane Black: I'm going to be boring here but my advice: keep it simple. Wash. Chop. Saute with garlic and olive oil and serve them just as you would spinach. With beef. With polenta. With anything.

If it is kale or some other thick-leafed green, you might consider blanching the greens first. Just drop them in boiling, salted water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes to soften them. Drain and then saute. But you can also just saute them. It will just take longer.


Cupcake lady: Has Joe come back? I am still hoping to hear from him about the Georgetown Cupcake Chocolate Ganache cupcake I wrote in about a couple of weeks ago, and why they might have fallen and shrunk after baking.


Joe Yonan: Sorry to drop the ball (er, the cupcake) here; I'm putting the question to the Georgetown ladies and will be in touch by email.


Java Java: Hi Crew, I'm trying to ween the hubby off the non-dairy creamers that he likes with his java and was wondering if there are ways to inject some flavor while keeping the richness of the beans. Maybe with the addition of extracts? Thanks!

Amanda Abrams: And dairy creamers are out as well?

I can't speak about extracts, etc. But if you're making drip coffee and he's open to switching over, really well-made espresso can be naturally sweet and lacking the bitterness of drip coffee, so it might be enjoyable without any additions.


Arlington, Va.: I love the entertaining recipes this week, but how important is the smoked turkey wing in the pinto bean recipe? Could I replace it with a bit of liquid smoke?

Joe Yonan: If you want to keep these vegetarian, yes, you could, by all means.


Joe Yonan: Well, you've transferred us to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes, so you know what that means -- done!

Thanks for the great questions as usual, and thanks to Amanda for helping us field some of the coffee queries.

Now, for the book winners: "Starving for Starbucks," who asked about iced techniques, will get, naturally, "Coffee Love." And the Charm City mom who asked about basic cookbooks will get "Almost Meatless." Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company