Free Range on Food: Staffers Solve Your Cooking Conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, June 24, 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.

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, nation, and welcome to Free Range, the weekly chat that brings you so much more than mere blah-blah-blah words. This is stuff you can build a meal around. Today, that meal might be smoky, a la our Gastronomer's column today; or it might be bread-focused, given Melissa McCart's piece on all the bread-baking chefs in DC; or it might be fruit, or Top Chef-y, or it might just be grilled beef tacos, if you want your dinner in a mere half hour.

What's on your mind?

We have some extra help today: Melissa "Counter Intelligence" McCart; Pat Deiss of 2941, one of those bakers Melissa wrote about; and Andreas "Gastronomer" Viestad, clocking in from across the globe.

For our favorite posts today, we have giveaways: "Tacos" by Mark Miller; "The Vegan Table" by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau; and a non-book prize, a three-bottle barbecue kit by Stubb's, including three sauces.

Let's do this.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the article on smoking and the reminder that liquid smoke can be a workable alternative for those of us who lack facilities for actual smoking. I'd love to do something with pork chops that would be smoky (using the liquid), sweet and peppery. Any suggestions?

Andreas Viestad: Try adding a little liquid smoke and Tabasco or chile pepper to some applesauce. And perhaps a little soy sauce, too. But be careful with the liquid smoke, it can be overpowering.

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Top Chef: Hey Joe, I'm enjoying Top Chef Masters too... as a fan of the original Top Chef, I how they patterned it similarly, though the judges and the host seem a little out there. Interesting to see the professional chefs being out of their comfort zone, though! Do you know when the new season starts and where it will be?

Also, I wanted to get your and the peanut gallery's opinions. We'll be in Philadelphia over the 4th of July (1st-6th), any recommendations? I know Tom did a postcard recently, but besides that and the reading terminal, I'd love some insider tips!

Thank you so much! Love you guys!

Jane Black: On Philly: Jon's Roast Pork for, you guessed it, roast pork sandwiches. (Get the bitter greens too. And note: If I remember right, it's not open on Saturdays.) I also like Osteria, Mark Vetri's lower-priced trattoria.

Joe Yonan: I don't like it as much as the original TC, but I came around to it somewhat. I haven't seen an announcement of the timing of the new season of TC, but I'm hearing it's going to be in Vegas this time. Probably fall, I'd guess. Also, you heard that there's going to be a Top Chef Junior?

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Veggie Kabobs: I'm going to my vegetarian in-laws for 4th of July, and I've offered to bring the veggie kabobs on skewers to grill. Could you tell me please if I need to soak wood skewers, and what could I marinate the veggies in? I'm thinking zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and eggplant.

Joe Yonan: Here's David Hagedorn's great recent recipe for Assorted Grilled Kebabs: There's instruction for various kinds of meats, seafood and veggies in here, but you can just skip right to the veggie part. And he includes a Balsamic Marinade that's perfect for them.

Oh, and yes, soak the wood skewers for at least a half hour.

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Cold-brewed coffee: I tried Kim O'Donnell's method for cold brewing iced coffee, and it was delicious. The problem? It's a pain to strain. I wondered if this method could be done using cold water in a French press. Do you know?

Joe Yonan: You probably could, but it wouldn't make enough for the time to be worthwhile, in my opinion. I find the easiest way to do this is to invest a mere $37.50 in a Toddy cold brew system, which makes it all pretty mindless, and gives me enough concentrate for a week's worth of java.

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Palisades: I just got back from a quick trip to a Farmers Market with, again, way too much lovely produce. Your CSA articles are a wonderful resource for recipes and preparation, but I find that I need advice on how to store it to keep it as fresh as possible for at least the week. Lettuce, radishes, summer squash, snaps peas, green beans, berries, etc. In the crisper? High/low humidity? In plastic bags or not? Wash it first? Perhaps you could do an AWCE article one day.

Bonnie Benwick: Great idea.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the Welsh tea cakes recipe. I suppose currants are traditional, but can you suggest an alternative when cooking for a finicky child who despises raisins and raisin-like fruits? How about craisins or dried cherries? Look forward to making the recipe.

Bonnie Benwick: Either of those would be great. The cakes are perfect kid food. Not too sweet, just the right size. They're making them over at the Welsh cookery tent right now, I bet. You should head to the Mall. (But sadly, you can't eat what the dishes they are demonstrating, due to D.C. health codes.)

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Live lobster?: Where do you buy live lobster around here? Just moved to the area, and in my previous locale, pretty much any grocery store in a upper middle-class zip code had a lobster tank. I'm not seeing them here. (side question: why does MoCo not have a Wegman's?)

Jane Black: Whole Foods stopped selling live lobster because execs deemed it inhumane. (This caused a huge outcry in Boston where I was living at the time.) Others, I believe, stopped selling them because there just weren't enough sales to warrant the tanks.

Black Salt market, Maine Avenue Fish Market and River Falls Seafood carry live lobster. They always have them, but it's always a good idea to reserve them in advance.

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Bloomingdale: Hi guys, Just saw Food, Inc. and have become (even more) of a advocate of shopping at local farmers markets and going organic. While Bloomingdale has a great market where I can pick up most of my needs for the week, I haven't yet been able to figure out where I can get chicken. Do you know of any other markets that have chicken available? Secondly, since the B'dale market only goes to mid-November, do you know of any markets that go year round? After watching Food, Inc, I'm not sure I can ever go back to buying things in a grocery store.

Jane Black: You can buy chicken from Eco-Friendly Foods at Arlington market on Saturday and the Dupont market on Sunday.

The Dupont and Arlington markets are open year round, though there are fewer vendors. I might even like them better in the winter. They are far less crowded.

Bonnie Benwick: Be advised that chicken purchased at farmers markets will cost quite a bit more than what you're used to paying.

Joe Yonan: Pecan Meadow Farms, which sells at 14th/U on Saturdays, has an Italian breed of chicken that market manager Robin Schuster has been crowing about (sorry), but I haven't tried it. You have to order in advance at bluemountainbeef@juno.com.

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Joe Yonan: All you cocktail lovers out there, our resident Spirits expert has bellied up to the bar. So if you have any questions for Jason Wilson, speak now or forever hold your Negroni.

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Washington, D.C.: I love applesauce as an accompaniment for pork chops, but never thought to zest it up and put it on the chops. Thanks. Can liquid smoke be an effective way to add flavor to pork chops if used as a marinade?

Andreas Viestad: Absolutely -- but as always in moderation and together with other marinade ingredients, such as red wine, herbs and garlic.

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Northern Va.: This year we planted Swiss chard and it sure looks nice in the garden. However, I have no idea what to do with it. I'd love some suggestions, since supposedly you can harvest it through the summer. Thanks!

Patrick: Swiss chard does hold up well through the summer and is a very durable crop. The stems are nice lightly sautéed (especially if rainbow chard) for fish and salads. The greens are quite bitter and are wonderful sautéed with chile pepper and garlic or blanched in boiling water and drained and then made into creamed spinach like consistency. Great pureed into soup bases using tuscan white beans or with starchy potatoes. Can also be frozen, left whole on the stem and stacked between wax paper and frozen in large freezer bags.

Joe Yonan: Some more ideas for you here. I particularly like the Baked Polenta With Cheese and Swiss Chard recipe, but it's pretty hearty for this weather. Probably better for fall.

Jane Black: I just made Swiss chard last night with pine nuts and raisins, a classic Sicilian preparation. It's super easy. Sauté some onion until slightly soft. Throw in the chopped up stems. (I like this because you don't waste them and you get to keep some of the pretty color.) Sauté for a minute or two, then add a little water (1/2 a cup with do if you're using one large bunch). Cook three or four minutes or until softened. Add the chopped leaves. Add another 1/2 cup of water and let the whole mixture cook until the leaves are wilted and soft. Add in some raisins and heat through. Season to taste. Then top with toasted pine nuts.

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Need Brownie Recipe: I'm looking for a fudgy brownie recipe that uses oil instead of butter. Do you have one to share?

Patrick:

5 tbsp canola oil or margarine

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp instant espresso powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup walnuts or pecans (toasted)

Cook at 325 degrees and follow procedure for placing bowl over simmering water, add oil, chocolate and stir until incorporated. Whisk in sugar, and then eggs, add vanilla and espresso, then salt and flour and fold in nuts. Add to oil lined baking dish (8-9 inch square) and bake 30 minutes. Then let cool and remove from pan.

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Asian salad dressings: I've noticed that many restaurants are now serving Japanese vinaigrettes and other Asian dressings. Do you have any recipes for me to try on my romaine lettuce salads?

Jane Black: Here's a really simple sesame vinaigrette that we ran with a winter pear salad. Or here's a hoisin-ginger vinaigrette that's great for meat marinades or salads.

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Hampton Roads, Va.: Hello, food experts -- I'm hoping you can answer a peach question for me. I bought peaches earlier this week (first peaches of the year!) and cut them up for a pie. In almost all of the peaches, the pit seemed very weak, brittle and hollowed-out, and in fact cut open easily with the knife. This made cutting the peaches fairly difficult, since I couldn't cut around the pit and then twist the flesh off - instead the knife went straight through the entire peach, pit and all.

I've seen this happen before, but rarely and usually with overripe peaches. These were slightly under ripe, so I was surprised. Do you know what causes this, and maybe even how to avoid it?

Thanks!

Andreas Viestad: I am afraid this will be beyond your control. There are a few varietals who behave like that. What I suggest is that you try cutting the peach differently, not along the crack in the pit but rather across it.

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Fairfax, Va.: Regarding straining the cold coffee concentrate, I solved this problem easily by using one of those "gold" mesh filters. The grounds strain through easily compared to the mess I had using the paper coffee filters. Before you begin straining, it helps to stir the mixture, which seems to break the sold coffee grounds and allow the liquid to pour easily.

Joe Yonan: Thanks.

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D.C.: I bought some lovely strawberries at the farmer's market this weekend, but they were already breaking down 24 hours after buying them. Any tips to sustaining their shelf life, or do you just have to eat them all the day you buy them?

Patrick: They can either be placed on cookie sheet and frozen and then placed in freezer bags or cut immediately and topped with a little sugar and placed in bowl (covered) in fridge for several days.

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Arlington, Va.: I just had to say the photo of the smoked salmon pasta dish looked so awesome! Alas, I am pregnant and smoked salmon is a no-no, but I will file that recipe for next spring. Smoked salmon and bagels are my traditional post-birth breakfast, but that pasta dish may be second on the list now.

I don't suppose it would be the same with regular salmon, or maybe grilled salmon added at the end?

Andreas Viestad: I am surprised that smoked salmon is no-no. My wife is pregnant and has not seen smoked salon on the (very long) list of no-no's. I guess the recommendations vary from doctor to doctor. If you are reluctant to eat smoked salmon because it is considered "uncooked" you could add all of the smoked salmon to the sauce so that it is cooked well before serving. You could also use grilled salmon but you would miss out on the smoked flavor, which is kind of important.

Joe Yonan: And a word on that photo -- it was taken by Andreas's longtime photo partner, Mette Randem. She's amazing.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I bought grappa for a recipe and now I have a huge (and pricey) bottle of grappa sitting around my house. Any good summer-y drink ideas for this? (Or cooking, as well, if that's the preferred use for this liquor).

Jason Wilson: Funny you should ask. I just did grappa column a few weeks ago. In case you didn't see it, here's the link: There's Pleasure in the Grip of Grappa

In that column, I suggest a cocktail called Aperitivo Frutta e Grappa, which goes as follows:

2 or 3 ice cubes

3/4 ounce grappa

3/4 ounce Ramazzotti Amaro

1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, preferably from white grapefruit

1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice

Whole nutmeg, for grating

Twist of orange peel, for garnish

Place the ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass, then add the grappa, Ramazzotti Amaro and the grapefruit and orange juices. Stir well. Grate a light dusting of nutmeg on top, then garnish with the orange peel.

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Alexandria, Va.: I've recently become a fan of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. The flavor makes me think it could be prepared in a savory recipe for dinner. Is that crazy? Any ideas?

Patrick: That's a great point, you could use it to crust a piece of fish, such as skate or scallops or trout and sauté it lightly in brown butter. Also, can be cooked in the style of polenta with cheese (parmesan or fontina) and butter, left to cool on a sheet pan and then cut and grilled as a garnish for a roast meat of some kind.

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New England - Thank you for Smoking!: Based on the Gastronomer feature, I am now eager to try smoking apples! Some of the more unusual smoked foods I can think of are peanuts in the shell, onions (made into rings), lapsang souchang tea, rauchbier, salt, eggplant, and hard boiled eggs! Am I missing anything else? I don't eat red meat, which is why I think I crave smoky flavors. Liquid smoke is a great way to add a smoky flavor to things that normally call for pork -- like sauerkraut or bean soup.

Andreas Viestad: I would add scallops and oysters. I have tasted smoked beer (made with smoked hops, I think). Certainly unusual but not necessarily in a good way.

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Lincoln, Neb.: Hey food people!

We've been going through a massive kitchen renovation for the past two months and have been living off the kindness of friends and relatives, and a whole lot of fast food. I am seven months pregnant so this has interfered with both my desire to eat a healthy and balanced diet and my desire to "nest!"

The kitchen will be completed by the end of this week, and I'm trying to decide upon a great inaugural meal to cook in the new digs. We have a new gas range (after living with an elderly electric stove for ages), a convection oven and finally, a dishwasher! If you got to cook one fabulous meal in a new space, what would you choose?

Also, I will selfishly note that living sans kitchen has made me a huge grilling and barbeque aficiando, and I would adore that Stubbs BBQ kit! Thanks in advance for your ideas!

Patrick: Personally, I think the best way to break in a new kitchen in the summer is to do a Roasted Whole Chicken with Tarragon Jus, some lightly roasted fingerling potatoes, and green beans with sliced almonds. And of course some good rustic bread. That will get you using your oven, range and the whole house will smell great. Good luck!

Bonnie Benwick: Good call, Patrick.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Are there any good bread-making classes in the D.C. area?

Patrick: I personally haven't had any experience with any but believe that L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda may. Once we get Wicked Bread Co. up and running I hope to start doing some bread classes as well.

Melissa McCart: In my research, I had not come across any aside from L'Academie's either, I'm sorry to say. I had checked with restaurants, CulinAerie and Zola Kitchen and Wine.

I would check with the lovely folks from Company's Coming about custom classes. They know their stuff: They went to Cordon Bleu, have taken classes with Kamman and Julia Child, did a stint at a Sicilian cooking school as well. Here's their link.

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Meat Temperature Before Grilling: I feel like I've hearing conflicting things about what temperature the meat should be before putting it on the grill. Some have said bring it to room temperature so it cooks evenly. Others have said to keep it cold until it gets put on the grill. Does it matter based on the cut -- i.e. steak vs. hamburger? Thanks!

Andreas Viestad: I like pre-heating meats before grilling, either to room temperature, or even higher. That way the result is more evenly cooked. For food safety reasons I would not recommend doing this with burgers or other ground meat.

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Gallery Place, D.C.: I love lobster and have cooked it before (most recently a few weeks ago), but I am wondering if there is a more humane way to cook them than steaming them alive. I have heard that you can kill them just before putting them in the pot, but I can't seem to find good enough instructions to make sure I get it right. I feel like if I am willing to eat the flesh, I have to be willing to do the deed so if the only way is to steam them alive. I will, but any help you can give would be appreciated.

Jane Black: Technically, the most humane way to kill a lobster is to put a large knife through its head and slice down the body to cut it in half. (Note this is humane for the lobster but probably hard on the person doing it.) This kills the lobster instantly. You can then put it in a steamer or boiling water.

There are plenty of instructions on the Web about how to do this. My friend Trevor Corson, aka "the lobster sex guy" -- don't ask -- has step-by-step instructions here.

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Washington, D.C.: Oh boy, the sun is out and you guys are online for all my food questions -- what a day.

I bought a package of organic, boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Trader Joe's and on the package was the sodium content. The package also said nothing added as it is organic. When I look at the organic breasts in Whole Foods there is no labeling and I am told that is because it is organic and nothing is added. Please tell me, who is lying? Does chicken naturally have sodium?

Jane Black: Good question. Some producers do inject their chicken breasts with salt water to make it easier to cook. (See my recent post about this practice and how some are protesting it here.) Meat with salt added can still be called "all-natural" but I'm not sure it can be called organic. (It's possible. Salt is a natural ingredient. I'm looking into it.)

My rule is that food such as chicken breast shouldn't have ingredient labels on them. Because there shouldn't be any other ingredients. It's an easy way to make decisions without having to read the fine print on the definitions of organic, natural etc.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Jason! I have a bottle of Benedictine that I can't remember why I acquired. Any suggestions for drinks with this? By the way, I had a great cocktail at Poste over the weekend -- I love how they often use herbal infusions to make unique drinks. Any suggestions along those lines?

Jason Wilson: Three of my favorite cocktails call for Benedictine. The first is the Antibes, which is a mix of gin, grapefruit juice, and Benedictine. The second is the Monte Carlo, which is like a Manhattan that calls for Benedictine instead of sweet vermouth (and you use rye and Peychaud's bitters). And the third is a very light summer summer cocktail called the Queen Elizabeth with is 1.5 oz dry vermouth, 3/4 oz Benedictine, and 3/4 oz. lime juice.

Joe Yonan: I'm obsessed with the Antibes. I drove all over Cape Cod trying to get Benedictine to make this last summer -- probably this summer, too!

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New Cake Book: Anybody know if Rose Levy Bernbaum's new cake book, "Rose's Heavenly Cakes", has all new recipes or if it includes some of the old ones? And does it explain the process like the Cake Bible does?

Leigh Lambert: Rose's new book is all new recipes. I visited her at her NYC apartment while she was working on this stellar collection. As always it's a labor of love, methodically tested and studiously detailed. It comes out in September. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Joe Yonan: Here's what Rose says:

"Yes! Almost all new recipes (after 21 years....... ) with some of the old favorites adapted for the now more available two inch high pans. I couldn't resist adding some explanations, but the focus is more on tips for success and over 100 full-page color photos of how the cakes look. There will also be an online dvd almost an hour long to show the techniques. I've found by posting my PBS show to YouTube that the response has been amazing -- people have written that for the first time they understand how a genoise batter needs to look and how exactly to fold in the flour. I've learned that words alone, no matter how carefully crafted, just can't achieve this."

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Live Lobsters : For the chatter looking for live lobsters, if you don't mind driving to Arlington, there's McSlovin and Son's fish market which sells fresh lobsters among every other fish you can think of.

Patrick: It's off of Glebe Road, and actually its M. Slavin and Son's Seafood, 703-486-0400. They have a nice selection of fresh fish.

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East Falls Church, Va.: The grilled beef tacos recipe sounded great, but I don't eat beef! We rely on tacos as a quick dinner fairly often, especially when we have garden tomatoes and don't want to spend a lot of time cooking. I usually use veggie crumbles in the filling, maybe with a can of beans.

So the question, could I make my own carnitas? I'm 95 percent vegetarian but confess to a secret occasional indulgence in pork products -- bacon and ribs! But I'm thinking carnitas might be more healthy and my omnivorous spouse is great with the grill. He'd love it if I caved even further on the meat thing.

Bonnie Benwick: You could use carnitas, but I think that would take longer than Dinner in Minutes. To keep things quick, you might try pounding thin some boneless chops or tenderloin here...

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Cake Flour: I found a new box of cake flour in the back of the closet that I would like to use before the bugs get to it this summer. The family prefers anything chocolate, but I would like to know what cake recipes you might have that I could make. I've done a number of searches online and various food websites for cake flour recipes, but I haven't come across many. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: The back of the box is sometimes a good place to start for ideas since they are promoting their product they're likely to use more of it in ratio to the recipe.

We printed this one for chocolate cake a couple of years ago that was quite good: Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: This may seem like an odd question, but I suspect my freezer varies widely in temperature. Is there a device I can stick in there that will track the temperature changes over a given time period? (This device would also be helpful for my oven, which is electric and equally old and seemingly inconsistent as well).

Joe Yonan: Couldn't you just get a refrigerator/freezer thermometer and check it periodically and make notes? If that's not high-tech enough for you, there is such a thing as you describe, although I can't vouch for it personally. I found it here.

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Arlington, Va.: Submitting early because I'll be tied up later. Lots of good-looking recipes today, and I came online to print the honey whole wheat bread which sounds fantastic (even though I hate turning on the oven in the summer!).

But one question -- where is the rosemary in the focaccia? It's in neither the print nor online version. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Sorry Arl, it's there now. I've got egg on my face...I tested this recipe! And about turning on that oven: In a few weeks we're featuring an ode to late-night baking by Lisa Yockelson, with recipes (and all those ingredients will be included). Maybe that's the way to go.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon, My father-in-law sent us a very nice pork tenderloin for the grill. The problem is I have no idea how to prepare it. Every preparation I read about my husband complains that it sounds too sweet (many use honey or sugar). Also it sounds like cooking time is extensive. Any advice?

Bonnie Benwick: Boneless pork tenderloins cook quickly (we're talking about those 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 12-inch long pieces, right?). In fact, lots of times I start them in a sauté pan and finish them in the oven. If you want to do something that's not so sweet, try coating the meat with a mixture of coarse-grain mustard, minced garlic and a little olive oil. Make sure the grill temp is not too hot (no more than 350) so the coating won't burn.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Food Section! I have an abundance of yellow wax beans in my garden, so I was thinking about pickling them. I want the final beans to be snappy, maybe a little bit spicy, possibly for use in cocktails. Do you have a recipe for this? Also, I see recipes for dilled beans but I don't have any dill growing in my garden. I do have basil, parsley, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena and chocolate as well as pineapple mint. Would any of those work with the beans? Thank you!

Patrick: Find a basic dill bean pickling brine and use either tarragon, lemon verbena or basil and will work fine.

Melissa McCart: I wrote a pickle piece last year in which pickle lady Heather Shorter used all kinds of combinations for quick pickling. Dill wasn't a prerequisite. You could make a quick pickle with garlic and parsley, white wine vinegar, peppercorn, and chile peppers perhaps. . .

Joe Yonan: Here's that recipe for Dilled Green Beans, but as Melissa says you could use other herbs.

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Colesville, Md.: Just wanted to say thanks. After years of reading about being a bold farmers market shopper and chef I finally took the leap. Picked up an eggplant (which I know how to cook) and three new things: garlic scapes, red scallions and piedmont cheese. I remembered all your advice and grilled the eggplant with olive oil salt and pepper and sautéed the ramps and scallion with olive oil and red pepper flakes. I topped with the shaved cheese. It was so good and I felt like the brave cook I always thought I could be. Thank you.

Jane Black: Thanks for the kind words. I am, of course, accepting on behalf of Bonnie, our recipe guru.

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Do you accept constructive criticism?: (At least I think it's constructive.) I really love the idea of "Dinner in 30 Minutes." However, in practice, it seems that more and more, while the making of the dinner might take only 30 minutes, the assembling of the ingredients (trip to Latin market and then to Balducci's and then to...) take much, much longer. Why not do a couple of dinners where the ingredients are things I already have in my pantry and fridge?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure we do, and we appreciate all feedback. It's supposed to be a useful, accessible feature!

Some DIMs use more-standard pantry ingredients than others (check next week's for example; I'll give you a head start: eggs, zucchini, onion, Monterey Jack cheese, baby potatoes).

About today's DIM recipe: Dried porcinis are carried at more places than Balducci's...that just happened to be where I found them. And we offered a substitute for the dried chili peppers you would get at the Latin market.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon. I'd like to make cookies for my office, but all of my standbys remind me of the winter holidays. Do you have any suggestions for cookies that scream summer? I'm prefer something not messy (e.g. lemon bars). Thanks!

Patrick: How about lemon almond biscotti?

Leigh Lambert: This recipe for Coconut-Lime Stars screams summer flavors to me. You still have to turn on the oven, but can't help you there:Coconut Lime Stars.

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Bethesda, Md.: I have been trying to make a better pizza dough. My last two attempts have used the Neapolitan dough recipe from Peter Reinhart's American Pie which is an overnight dough.

Bu both of the doughs were "flat", kind of dense with very few air pockets. I used fresh yeast in the amount specified.

Any suggestions? Thanks.

Patrick: Try using a sourdough culture to the recipe or letting it proof for a little longer in a warmer place, at about 76-82 degrees covered until at least doubled. Also using Caputo flour, it's good stuff.

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London, UK: It's hot here! No A/C and my tiny kitchen heats up quickly. Any suggestions for a cool supper I can throw together quickly?

I like grain based salads but lack the creativity to concoct any thing on my own.

Patrick: How about some really good Ahi Tuna, cut into cubes, tossed with Avocado, shallots, chives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve it with a some good green beans and mesclun with a mustard vinaigrette. Cool, refreshing and no cooking. Stay cool!

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Falernum Girl: Hi, Jason,

It's Falernum Girl. (Made my own and wrote in a while back.) I need a good cocktail to take to the pool. (To use my falernum!) Tried the rum swizzle, but I'm not in love with pineapple juice in my cocktails. (It's okay sometimes.) Not an overly sweet concoction preferred! Thanks in advance! (P.S. I was a decent/paid bartender in my previous life -- I can handle intricate.)

Jason Wilson: Hi Falernum Girl! (I like that name, it's a nice term of endearment) I understand about pineapple being too sweet. Here's a punch I recommended a while back. It calls for tequila and white port and falernum and uses ginger beer -- it's got a nicer kick and isn't too cloying. Plus, you can make a bunch of it and carry it poolside. It's called the Santa Maria.

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Delhi, India: I'm working in India this summer and would like to give a party for my friends here, where I make some traditional American dishes for them (or at least foods traditionally eaten in my home, so enchiladas were my first thought!). The major problem is that I don't have an oven in my kitchen (nor do I have access to a grill -- I've got a small fridge and a two-burner gas stove). A minor concern is that several of these friends are vegetarian. Can the Rangers suggest any good dishes I can make with these limitations?

Thank you!

Patrick: Good soups, potato and leek or butternut squash. Also, boil up some pasta and sauté some fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.

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Another insider Philly tip: Also, the Headhouse Square Market is a wonderful farmer's market on Sundays in Old City. Go for an early lunch of the city's best tacos al pastor (you can also get them south of the Italian Market at Taqueria La Puebla but they do an outdoor stand at Headhouse.)

Jane Black: Thanks for this. Whoever was looking for recommendations, hope you are hungry.

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Vienna, Va.: Hello! A family friend moved out recently, and now we've come across two giant bags of fresh kiwi. Any idea what to do with it?

Joe Yonan: This Green-on-Green Tart that Flour Girl Leigh wrote about in our new blog would do the trick. It would use up six of them, anyway. Depending on how many kiwis you're trying to kill, you could make a couple or three tarts and give one to a friend! Or, of course, you could juice them or blend them up into smoothies. If you're desperate to use them before they go bad, I'd peel and slice them, freeze the slices in a single layer on a sheet in the freezer, then put them into Ziploc freezer bags, so that you can pull them out a few at a time for smoothies down the road.

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Vienna, Va.: Hi gang! I am preparing lemon squares from a recipe from an old neighbor. I've never made it before, and the recipe itself is 20+ years old. It calls for condensed milk, but doesn't specify sweetened or unsweetened. Any guesses? There is no sugar in the recipe, if that helps.

Joe Yonan: Two clues for you here: One, the lack of sugar in the recipe indicates that, indeed, you'd want sweetened condensed milk. Two, as far as I know, there's no such thing as unsweetened condensed milk. (Evaporated milk would be called evaporated milk.) So sweeten it up.

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Preserving veggies in the fridge: I'm a first-time CSA-er, and I've found that lettuce stays nice if you wash, pat it dry and then put paper towels in a loosely tied grocery bag so they absorb any moisture from the lettuce. And stick that in the crisper. For herbs and asparagus, get a mason jar and fill it with water, put it in the fridge.

Joe Yonan: Yes, good tips. I also will say again that my lettuce always keeps better in the salad spinner than anywhere else. I wash, drain and spin, then put that in the fridge. Seems to be just humid enough to keep it fresh.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm trying to get better at menu planning but often find it hard to keep perishables on hand for when I need them. I end up throwing away way too many foods that are expired, or worse, moldy.

Just thinking it would make life easier if I can freeze some staples that I use often (or not so often), so could be used in a pinch. For example, thinking of an enchilada casserole I make at least monthly, could I freeze... Corn tortillas? Chopped onions? Leftover chilis in adobo? Shredded cheese? Other suggestions? Would I need to thaw the ingredients for use? Thank you.

Patrick: You would want to thaw them before cooking, perhaps early in the day and buy and make your garnishes or vegetables/starches a day or so ahead and buy the proteins, fish, meat, poultry the day you need them from the store rather than throwing them away if you can't get to them in time. Then leftovers are always good for stocks, soups, sandwiches, etc.

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re: live lobster availability: The Giant in Freestate Mall in Bowie has live lobsters in a tank for sale. It's a fairly large store so maybe that's the key?

Jane Black: One more place to look.

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D.C.: Have you all heard about the BBQ event happening on Pennsylvania Ave this weekend? Only $10, but website details seem to be scarce... is it worth battling crowds and heatstroke to attend?

Joe Yonan: Yep, it's the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle. I actually haven't been before -- it always seems to fall when I'm on vacation -- but this year I'm not only going, I'll be helping judge the Sunday pork events. (There goes my post-Paris detox diet.) Chatters who have gone, what do you think? I'll be able to nosh on the competitors' food, while the public will be limited to the vendors'. Worth it?

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At my wit's end making cookies: Please help me!

I've tried to make chocolate chip cookies for the past 5 years and every time they turn out the same -- no matter what recipe I use. They are paper thin, hard and just disgusting. The first times I thought it was the oven. We lived in an apartment and have moved twice since then... it can't possibly be 4 ovens that are screwed up, so I've come to accept it's me.

I follow any recipe to a T, measuring everything using the mixer but no matter what they turn out the same. The only ones I don't screw up are the store bought dough that you plop on cookie sheets -- hardly home cooked if you ask me.

What am I doing wrong? A friend of mine made the same recipe after I did, and his turned out perfect, chewy and wonderful.

Am I destined to be a store bought cookie person?

Leigh Lambert: Never fear, soft toothsome cookies are coming your way...

I faithfully follow the recipe from Cook's Illustrated (frustratingly, you have to log on and register in order to access it). It's consistently a hit.

Bonnie uses Alton Brown's recipe "The Chewy", which is similar in a lot of ways; melted butter, higher ratio of brown sugar to white sugar and an egg yolk in place of the second egg traditionally called for.

Joe Yonan: I'll add one thing: Since so many of your recipes turn out badly, I have to wonder if any of them call for baking powder, and if perhaps yours is so old it's lost its potency. Not sure that's the problem, but worth thinking about. My baking sister Teri uses daylight savings time to remind her: Spring forward, buy new baking powder. Fall back, buy new baking powder.

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Olney, Md.: My question is about pine nuts. Why are they so darn expensive these days? I bought a wonderful bunch of basil at the farmer's market, and when I went to make pesto out of it I found I was out of pine nuts. I went to two stores (including Roots) and they were at least $6 for a tiny bag. I've given up on them and am looking for another nut to add to pesto. What do you recommend? I've seen walnuts used with arugula pesto, but do they work with basil?

Patrick: Check out this site: WWW.PinonNuts.org

And walnuts are a great substitute, just lightly toast them first to bring out the oils.

Jane Black: I buy my pine nuts at Costco. I can't remember exactly how much they are, maybe $20 for a huge bag. I keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer and pull them out when necessary. So that may be a cheaper way for the future.

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Philadelphia recommendations: DiNic's roast pork in RTM, and you might want to go to the Italian Market to put together a picnic of Sarcone's bread, Claudio's fresh mozzarella (made onsite) and DiBruno's snacks.

If you're here on a Monday-Thursday you must try the 5-course $45 tasting menu at Matyson. Their regular food is good, but their tasting menus are a major, major value.

I like Mercato better than Osteria for pasta and antipasto, and you can save a few bucks since it's BYOB.

Enjoy Philly! It's wonderful here! Oh, and the other must must must is Capogiro Gelato.

Jason Wilson: My two favorite restaurants in Philadelphia right now are: Zahav (contemporary Middle Eastern) and Tinto (Basque tapas by Jose Garces). For a beer and good bar food, go to Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. I also still like Ansill (a sort of wine bar with adventurous small plates) for a more low-key meal. For a quaint BYO, I'd go to Pumpkin or Matyson (as this reader recommends. Or Marigold in West Philly. I also second Jane's call of Jon's Roast Pork (and their cheesesteaks are pretty excellent too). Go for cocktails at Southwark.

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Low-fat tacos: The total fat and cholesterol and relative low sodium content of the Dinner in 30 Minutes tacos recipe make it a good option for an evening meal. The combination of skirt steak, porcini mushrooms and morita chili peppers sounds very tasty.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, there you go. I did some label checking and found the Whole Foods 365 brand corn taco shells had considerably less sodium than the brand the recipe author likes (Taco Bell).

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Killing a lobster: Oh my. Just a few months ago I was at the Museum of American History at Julia Child's kitchen, watching lovely clips of her shows and in one, she is chatting away and just slams a cleaver down the center of a lobster. I think I might have screamed from surprise.

Jane Black: She was something else. And, shame on me, I haven't been to see the kitchen. Will add that to my to-do list.

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Washington, D.C.: Yes, the chicken from Trader Joes's was labeled organic and not natural so I wondered why I was seeing a sodium content on the label. I appreciate your looking into it so that I can find out exactly what I am buying. I have to say the chicken from TJ's tasted clean and fresh.

Jane Black: Here's an update. Chicken does naturally contain some sodium. So if there's less than 70 mg per 4 oz on the nutrition facts label, it's not injected with salt water.

Still working on the rules about organic chicken. This stuff is complicated!

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Reston, Va.: I'm really jonesing for a great seafood chowder, but it's a little hot for such a thick, heavy soup. Is there such a thing as a creamy cioppino? Something with a lot of shellfish and a light, milk-based sauce? I'd also consider a "pink" sauce. I'd love to hear any tips or recipe-source suggestions.

Also, whoever it was who favorably reviewed Flippin' Pizza in Reston a few weeks ago was spot on. Thanks!

Patrick: Try a saffron based fish stew with mussels, scallops, shrimp, sole, with tomato base fish stock and finish with touch of cream and fresh herbs and garlic rubbed, grilled bread to soak it up. Very summer-y.

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Coconut Milk Yogurt: Hi foodies. Several months ago you were nice enough to tip us lactose-challenged readers to the new dairy-free ice cream made with coconut milk. So I'd like to return the favor -- I just found So Delicious dairy-free yogurt made with coconut milk. The mango-tangerine flavor is to die for; raspberry and blueberry are great, too. Perfect for kids with milk allergies or the rest of us with lactose problems. I found mine at a well-stocked Giant and at Harris Teeter.

Joe Yonan: Yes, we tried those. Glad you like them. (I found them kinda slimy.)


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Gallery Place, D.C.: Just a follow-up to the lobster killing question (thank you for the instructions, they look great), in the instructions, the author mentions boiling the lobsters. I have always steamed, not boiled the lobsters because I was told the meat would be better (and the shells less waterlogged). Will this killing method work with steaming the lobsters? Thank you!

Joe Yonan: Yep, it works with steaming, too.

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Cooking dried beans: Please help! I have tried soaking overnight and then cooking dried red kidney beans (from India) and black beans. I prefer the taste to canned beans for the depth in flavor. However, every time I cook the beans, their texture remains a little tough and dry. The beans are cut through easily with a fork, knife or teeth, but they are not soft and sometimes look a little frayed.

After soaking overnight, I place the beans in a pressure cooker for about 15 minutes (after there is noise coming from the whistle).

Any ideas?

Bonnie Benwick: Nourish columnist/ace bean cook Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says: I'm not familiar with beans from India, but the older the beans are the tougher they will remain. I'm guessing, but if the beans have to be transported, chances are they have been stored for some time.

"Have you tried American kidney beans? I bet you'll have a better result. Also, allow the pressure in the cooker to release naturally (take the pot off heat and let the pressure go down slowly). I'll think you'll have better results."

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Washington, D.C.: I pureed some defrosted strawberries the other day. I'm not sure what to do with the strained puree juice now! Strawberry lemonade sounds tasty given the projected temperatures for tomorrow. Can I use it in a salad dressing or marinade?

Patrick: Great used with lemonade or tossed with other fruits such as pineapple, watermelon and berries or topped on ice cream. Can definitely be used as the base (instead of water) for a vinaigrette for a salad with nuts (such as pistachios) and/or fruits.

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D.C.: Re Cake Flour: This is on my list of "to-make" and it uses cake flour. You have to be registered to see the recipe but it doesn't cost anything.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Baking classes: Sur La Table is having a bread for beginners class in August, and if you want something more complicated, a Croissant class next week.

Joe Yonan: Great -- thanks much.

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Centerville, Va. Wegman's in Fairfax has live lobsters. Montgomery County will not let a non union grocery store the size of a Wegman's in the county. It would upset the unions and their supporters.

Joe Yonan: Interesting.

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Philadelphia, Penn.: Visitors: you must have Capogiro Gelato. 13th & Sansom, and 20th & Sansom. Enjoy!

Jason Wilson: One more recommendations from me. For an excellent Indian BYO, try Bindi, which has the added attraction of being a few doors down from Capogiro, which is wonderful (though more expensive than you ever thought ice cream could be).

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Palisades Farmers Market: For the chatter looking for chicken, the Palisades farmers market (Sunday mornings) has a poultry/beef supplier. The chicken is usually frozen, but good. The eggs are amazing. The market next to the Safeway on MacArthur Blvd. has a few fruit/veggie stands, flowers, cheese, and a great bakery with French pastries. Easy parking and not a madhouse like Dupont!

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Allentown, Penn.: Please help! I'm having some friends over for lunch this weekend, and the group includes a vegan, someone who's allergic to soy, and someone who chokes on mushrooms. We normally end up doing some sort of pasta or tomato-based meal, but I'd like to move out of the rut on the main portion without going into fake animal/dairy products and without retreating into a junk-food fest. Sides are green salad and cut veggies and hummus, and dessert is fresh berries (and a surprise baked good someone else is bringing).

Are there any suggestions of places to look for inspiration, if not actual recipes? The vegan is willing to supply her own meal, but I'd really prefer not to take that route, if possible. The soy and mushrooms must be avoided, though.

Thank you!

Joe Yonan: Okay, you win. This is so compelling and difficult of a dilemma that I'm not waiting until the chat closing to announce it: "The Vegan Table" is coming your way. Hopefully that'll help. Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you this.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Experienced devoted breadbaker here -- who bakes at night when it doesn't matter so much that the oven gets heated.

For those of you who like what a baking stone does but hate the extra oven time, try La Cloche. It's expensive, but gives fabulous results and since you can put the dough and Cloche into a cold oven, you heat for much less time.

Patrick: Great suggestion bread baker, they do work nicely.

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Jane Black: On the subject of lobsters: Trevor just published an interesting piece in the Atlantic about why lobster prices are so low right now. And it's now why you think. Worth reading.

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Washington, D.C.: I'll be headed the Oregon coast for vacation soon, during which I get the opportunity to cook all our meals (including using a grill, which I love, and can't have here at home). Last year I made grilled chicken tacos, which everyone loved. I'd like to do pork tacos, but recipes I've seen are generally roasting/shredding. Is there a grilled pork tacos option?

Patrick: Do a chile rubbed and orange marinated pork loin, grill it until medium, let rest and slice thinly for your tacos. Serve with avocado and cilantro and grilled onions on lightly grilled corn or flour tortillas.

Joe Yonan: You could also make my Pastoral Tacos on the grill, very easily.

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Burke, Va.: I was going to ask this question later in the year but since a Vegan book is in the offering, I thought someone might have a suggestion for this question: I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year (my first holiday hosting ever) and my sister is a vegan. She is always big about people not really making anything special for her, that she'll just eat the side dishes, but I would love to have a main dish for her as well. She hates mushrooms and is not a big fan of pasta, but other than that is pretty open to anything else.

I'm thinking of a baked Quinoa dish, but other than that have no idea.

Patrick: Maybe an eggplant curry or vegetable stew. Or some sort of tofu dish jazzed up a bit.

Leigh Lambert: I think it's lovely of you to make an effort for your sister (and lovely of her not to fuss in general).

A friend recently had me over for dinner and served these Squash and Corn Enchiladas from our archives. They were great. In order to make the recipe vegan you can either omit the cheese or substitute a vegan cheese, depending on how she feels about "manipulated" products.

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Falernum Girl, again: That sounds delicious -- is white port easily attainable? I'll try this out on my friends and report back. Thanks again!

Jason Wilson: All port producers make a white port, but the selection in the States isn't great. Still, you can find it around, and it doesn't really matter which one you use as long as it comes from a decent port maker.

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Drink question for Jason: A friend brought me a bottle of absinthe from Europe, and I'm so intimidated! How do I drink it? What do I mix with it? Thanks!

Jason Wilson: Hope you like the combination of anise/licorice and bitter -- all rolled up in a 130 proof liquor! The way I use it is a few drops at a time in various cocktails, such as in the Fourth Degree. If you drink it by itself, pour it in a glass, and drizzle water over a sugar cube, slowly, into the absinthe. That's how Toulouse-Latrec would have sipped it.

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Vienna, Va.: Hi, I'm a novice griller. Tonight I want to grill mahi mahi on my gas grill. Any tips for getting a nice crunchy outside and perfectly cooked mahi mahi? I'm planning to brush with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. But not sure how much heat to use?

Patrick: You want to use high heat on a well oiled part of the grill to get your marks for 3 minutes per side and then move to less hot area of grill to finish cooking for another 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

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Cool summertime meals: I love making gazpacho in the summertime -- leftovers are great, too! To make more substantial, you could add some (quickly) seared shrimp or diced avocado.

Forgot how good a classic black bean salad is until I made it this weekend. Can of black beans (drained and rinsed), diced peppers, kernels from ear of leftover corn, minced garlic, diced onion, touch of cumin and lots of lime juice. Added some diced mango and tore in some basil as well for something a little less ordinary. Great on its own or as a topping for (quickly) seared fish fillet.

Two of my favorite grain salad recipes, in case you haven't totally burned out on them, are:

Cooled couscous tossed with lots of lemon juice, olive oil, diced cucumber, chopped tomatoes, lots of mint, and scallions.

Cooled couscous tossed with lemon juice, lots of chopped parsley, raisins, diced good olives (or capers), scallions and olive oil.

Stay cool!

Jane Black: Some more good ideas for hot-weather cooking.

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Washington, D.C.: For the Veggie Kabob person -- my tip: when I bring home a new package of wooden kabob sticks, I soak them all for 30 minutes and then put them into a freezer bag and put into the freezer. Then they are always ready.

Leigh Lambert: Brilliant solution to a "sticky" problem.

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Roseland, N.J.: What is the proper way to prep crabs when making a crab stock? What parts should be added, and which should be thrown away?

Bonnie Benwick: That is a great question, but we're running out of time. Check back next week and we'll have an answer for you.

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Lobster Seeker: Thanks for the many tips. For the person who wants a non-sweet way to prepare pork tenderloin on the grill, how about a Southwestern-style spice rub? Cumin, a little cayenne, chili powder. Chipotle chili powder is especially nice.

Bonnie Benwick: You are correct.

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2009: Hi Free Rangers! I bought a lot of cherries at the farmers market this weekend. On impulse last night I pitted some of them, put them in a glass jar and covered with bourbon. How long will they keep in the refrigerator? I'm going out of town for 2 weeks but am hoping to use them for ice cream toppings and cocktail garnishes when I get back.

Bonnie Benwick: Cherry Soup?

Joe Yonan: As someone who made this for a dinner party weekend, I second.

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Joe Yonan: Well, our exterior has caramelized but hasn't burned, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions today. Hope we gave you something(s) to work with. And many thanks to guests Melissa McCart, Pat Deiss, Jason Wilson, and Andreas Viestad for all your help with the answers.

Now for the (remaining) giveaway winners: The chatter who asked about grilling pork for tacos will get, naturally, "Tacos." The one who asked about adding liquid smoke to pork chops will get the Stubb's BBQ Kit, including sauces. Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your stuff.

Until next time, happy grilling, chowing and perusing.

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


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