Free Range on Food: Virginia wines, carrot top uses, why food is cheap, fro-yo and frittatas

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, August 19, 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 of this week's chat follows

Archive of past discussions

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that gives you sips of great Virginia wine while you read. OK, we don't really do that, but it's fun to imagine, isn't it? No, all we have to offer today are answers to your questions. Hopefully you have lots of wine on the brain, because in addition to our regular crew, we have help today from wine columnist Dave McIntyre and from Barboursville winemaker Luca Paschina, whose Octagon showed well in our twist on the Judgment of Paris.

We'll also have Jason Wilson in the house soon enough to help with spirits/cocktail questions. Bonnie's on vacation today, although I heard word that she, in her inimitable way, might sneak into the chat room anyway. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you're thinking, what about the prizes? It's true, we have 'em. This week I have two copies of Marnie Old's "Wine Secrets: Advice from Winemakers, Sommeliers and Connoisseurs," ready to give to the two askers of our favorite questions today.

Time to pour.

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Clifton, Va.: Ok, Mr. McIntyre, I won't bust your chops too much this week since I enjoyed your column comparing local wines to French and Cali wines. Now how's about convincing your editors to do a once-a-month column devoted to local and regional wines? Even east of the Mighty Mississippi would be acceptable, except for LI and upper New York state.

You could pair local wines with local ingredients for recipes!

washingtonpost.com: Dave McIntyre: The Judgment of Washington: In Our Wine Tasting, Virginia Shows It Can Compete With France and Napa Valley (Washington Post, Aug. 19)

Dave McIntyre: Hello, Clifton - welcome back. Glad you liked today's feature. I may not have succeeded w/once a month, but I do try to feature the local wine scene regularly in my columns. This may not just be local wines and wineries, though I have written more about them than most people realize, but also local retail and restaurants. This week, I hit the trifecta and got all three!

Dave McIntyre: I should add - check out my blog post from Monday on the DrinkLocalWine.com conference held last weekend in Dallas. This stemmed from the effort I helped create last year to get bloggers and wine columnists to write about wines "from around here - wherever here happens to be" for one week in October. And look again for Regional Wine Week this October on DrinkLocalWine.com.

Okay, shameless self promotion done for now.

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Pregnant avocados: Since I've been pregnant, I crave avocados and guacamole (never enjoyed either before). What is the best way to store it? I might use a quarter of an avocado on a sandwich, but have to throw the rest away because it gets brown and tangy (I've been putting them in a zipper bag).

Same with guac. The guac I buy at the store is in packages of 4+ servings, but with no good way to close the package after opening. It be nice if it was in a resealable tub.

I feel really wasteful (husband isn't a fan, so it's just me eating it), but I can't control the cravings.

Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: You can portion out your store-bought guac into zip-lock bags, squeeze out the air and store flat in the freezer. When you're ready to eat it, either defrost it in the fridge overnight or place it in a bowl of warm water. For fresh avocados, remove the pit and place plastic wrap directly on the surface. This should keep them from oxidizing and turning brown. Even if this happens, it should be fine to eat as long as it isn't slimy or smell off.

Jane Black: Leaving the pit in the other half and covering also helps. Or is that an old wives tale? Seems to work for me.

Joe Yonan: It's an old wives' tale. Indeed, the key is pressing the wrap directly on the surface. Lime also helps.

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Washington, D.C.: Submitting early...bought a lovely bunch of basil to use in making caprese salad. Made the salad and it was delicious, but now I still have a lot of basil I'd like to use up and am stumped for recipes besides pesto (which I'm not really feeling). What are y'all's favorite summer basil recipes? Thanks so much!

Jane Black: We are in the process of putting together the answer to just that question as part of our Bumper Crop series, which looks at how to use huge quantities of summer produce. (See the first post on peaches here.)

I don't want to scoop that but here's one I like for basil chicken

Chatters? Other early ideas?

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Arlington, Va.: Last night I tried to pan fry a piece of fish. I was hoping for a golden brown crust, but the fish stuck to the pan and all the golden brown was left in the pan. I had a fair amount of olive oil in the pan, but I think I had the temperature off. Should it have been hotter? colder? Help!

Thanks!

David Hagedorn: Hi, Arlington.

It sounds to me like your pan is not hot enough. Also, you should pat the fish dry before seasoning it and putting it into the pan. Here's why. When the fish hits the pan, the water in it will cook the flesh and make it stick. The idea is for the pan to be so hot that the water evaporates immediately, the fish protein denatures, and its natural sugars caramelize. That's called the Maillard effect and that's where the brown comes from.

Heat the pan to smoking, then add a touch of olive oil. Place the fish in the pan and don't touch it; when it is ready to release, it will let you know. When you give it a slight nudge with a spatula, it will move easily when it has caramelized enough.

To hedge your bet, do what many chefs do: coat the fish lightly with Wondra (extra fine) flour.

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Bethesda, Md.: Any idea where to get really good buffalo mozzarella in Maryland? Nothing I have tried is worthy of the tomatoes I've been eating! Thanks!

PS - Please don't say Whole Foods. Their cheese is as bad as all of the other grocery stores.

Joe Yonan: I will most CERTAINLY not say Whole Foods, then. I don't have experience with buying cheese in Maryland; some of the most dependable cheese shops in the area are in the District (Cowgirl Creamery) and the cheese shop at Calvert Woodley) and Virginia (Cheesetique). Our "Say Cheese" blogger, Domenica Marchetti, suggests that for buffalo mozzarella, you try the Italian Store in Arlington. That's not Maryland, I realize. My only other thought is Wegmans -- have you checked with them? Chatters, help me out here!

Jane Black: Um, I will say Whole Foods. Here in the District, at least, they sell Blue Ridge mozzarella -- the same stuff they sell at the local markets. I just bought some and I think it's quite good.

Jane Black: Whoops. Blue Ridge is not buffalo mozzarella; it's made with Jersey milk. Still worthy of summer tomatoes though.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Question for Jason - when in Spain, I had a number of good green apple liqueurs (no green food coloring, strong sour apple taste). Here in VA I can pretty much only find the Pucker that you denigrate in today's column. Are there others that are available in the DC area?

Jason Wilson: I, too, been looking for a good green apple liqueur, but really haven't had any luck. Maybe someone out there has a suggestion? Do you remember the names of any that you had in Spain?

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Hong Kong: Submitting early because of the time difference. I'm trying to clean out my pantry, and I'm stuck with about half a pound of quinoa flour. (I originally got it to make Heidi Swanson's corn-and-quinoa crepes -- they're fantastic). I know it's used a lot in gluten-free baking. Can I use it to replace some AP flour, as you can with Whole-wheat?

Leigh Lambert: You can replace it for whole wheat flour in recipes, but remember that it has no gluten, so you won't want to exchange it for all of the all-purpose flour called for. You can usually get away with about 1/4 of any "alternative" flour without adversely affecting your baking results.

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: I started making a banana cake, and the directions said: 1. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. 2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. The next steps are to mix in the eggs, vanilla, and bananas with the butter/sugar and then add the dry mixture. I mistakenly mixed the sugar in with the dry ingredients instead of saving it for the butter. Do you think I can continue from here or should I cut my losses and start with new dry ingredients and not risk messing up the whole cake? Thank you!

Leigh Lambert: I love your question, mostly because if there's a wrong way to add ingredients, I've done it. When you cream your sugar in with your butter you add volume to your batter, but I wouldn't start over. I would plunge ahead. A banana cake should have a certain density and shouldn't suffer from this "learning curve".

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Freshness of foods: I don't have a question but I wanted to recommend this website: http://stilltasty.com/

It's great for people like me who "forget" about foods they have in the fridge or pantry or freezer.

Hope this helps some readers!

Joe Yonan: Interesting -- thanks.

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Washington, DC: I really enjoyed your article on the "Judgment of Washington." I recently saw the film Bottle Shock, depicting the '70s Paris event, which was a great film about wine and Napa (beautiful scenery).

I have to wonder though about the wine tasters saying that cabernet tastes like chocolate. How do they come up with these substitute flavors for wine and to what extent is that accurate? It seems like hocus pocus to me.

washingtonpost.com: Bottle Shock (2008) (imdb.com)

washingtonpost.com: Dave McIntyre: The Judgment of Washington: In Our Wine Tasting, Virginia Shows It Can Compete With France and Napa Valley (Washington Post, Aug. 19)

Dave McIntyre: I would like to hear Luca's answer to this, but I'll give my 2-cents worth. There are people who analyze wine chemically and can identify compounds that produce various flavors. For me, it's more an association, a Proustian memory, if you will. Or its the toast on the barrels used for aging the wine.

Luca Paschina: as a winemaker and consumer I can tell you that the world of flavors it is indeed one of the most fascinating because of it's complexity and stir of emotions...going to the chocolate, we must use for reference the bitter chocolate flavor and taste characteristic in order to be used in describing wine, most frequently is coming from the light toasting of the barrels then when associated to the fruitness i.e. ripe red berries it gets even more pleasing.

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Carrot tops: : Are there culinary uses for carrot tops (greens)? We have a superfluity of them from our garden's abundant crop of sweet baby carrots.

David Hagedorn: Carrot tops are delicious greens. If you are into vegetable juices, just put them through the juicer with the carrots. Otherwise, I use them as I do any green. You could add them to a dish such as the succotash in today's Post or use them in any recipe for greens.

I had the same issue when developing this recipe for

carrot sou, so I used the greens to make an herb puree (The puree can be frozen in ice cube trays and used at will throughout the year as flavor boosts to soups, sauces, etc.)

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Question for Dave: Really interesting story on Virginia wines. My question is, how do you think it would have affected results if your panelists had known there were some Virginia wines thrown in? Do you think it would have made them less willing to participate? Or more harsh in their judging or...? Was the trickery necessary because they already have a less than stellar opinion of Va. wines?

Dave McIntyre: Excellent question! One of the factors in the 1976 Paris tasting (which is one part the Bottle Shock movie actually got right) was that the judges assumed any perceived fault indicated a California wine. I did not want my judges picking apart the wines looking for the Virginia ones on the assumption they would not match up.

That said, one of the judges did sniff about a chardonnay he didn't like, "This could be Virginia." It was French.

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Arlington, Va.: RE: Buffalo Mozzarella - for what it's worth, I remember watching a "Kitchen Nightmares" episode where he showed a restaurant how to make their own fresh mozzarella in-house, and it didn't seem all that hard. Then again, maybe that's because he's Gordon Ramsay.

Joe Yonan: It's not all that hard -- but for buffalo mozzarella (as opposed to cow's milk), you have to have access to the main ingredient: buffalo milk.

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Maryland wines: Loved the article on VA wines. I actually saw Bottle Shock a few weeks ago and loved it.

I also want to plug Maryland wines. I went to Wine in the Woods in Columbia for the first time this year, a festival that showcases MD wines with free tastings. I was already a fan of Boordy wines, the big MD wine player, but was astounded at all the Maryland wines. What a variety! Some were hit or miss, but so many were fantastic! Highly recommend it for anyone (and if you volunteer for a 4 hour shift, you can get in free!)

washingtonpost.com: Glass Acts (Post, Aug. 19)

Dave McIntyre: We hear you! Maryland is behind Virginia in terms of the growth of its wine industry (about 40 wineries now, I think, though the number might be higher, compared to 12 at the turn of the century, while Virginia tops 140). Maryland also is behind Virginia in quality. However, that is changing dramatically with the arrival of new wineries such as Black Ankle, whose Crumbling Rock red was in our lineup. Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards is another very promising winery. I think the arrival of these two is sparking an improvement in older, more established wineries as well.

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Local wine recommendations: Mr. McIntyre,

While I certainly agree that it is important to stay on top of local wines - like with other local foods - I also don't want to see recommendations made solely based on location. I think that when your job is to make thoughtful and interesting recommendations for us, that will be compromised if you are forcing in local options that aren't necessarily the best recommendation. So, keep doing what you're doing.

Dave McIntyre: Thanks, I think. I certainly don't want readers to think I'm "forcing" in these wines. In fact, in past columns I have included Virginia wines without making a big deal of their provenance, but because they are quality products that fit the topic I was writing about.

That said, there still is a market perception that local wines are expensive novelties, and I believe that the quality of the top wines is at a point where it is worthwhile for someone in my position to draw attention to them.

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Cedar Rapids, Iowa: I'm going to a family reunion at the end of the month. Each smaller family (about 7 of us) is responsible for cooking dinner one night for the whole group (about 35, ranging from toddlers to 60s). I'm looking for something that's easy, since we don't want to spend all day in the kitchen, and not too expensive to cook for a group. Do you have any ideas about what we could make?

Jane Black: How about tacos? Tortillas. Grilled chicken or pork (well, you are in Iowa). Chopped onions, tomatoes. A bowl of guacamole and a few store-bought salsas. If you're feeling adventurous, add some grilled corn, which is a popular street food in Mexico. Here's a recipe from Epicurious. This stuff is out of sight.

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Boston: I liked Ezra Klein's piece in today's food section on understanding why food is cheap. But he is not fully informed about the impact of lobster prices. Yes, lobster is currently affordable, but that's not a 'happy' fact as described in the article.

I'm just back from a trip to Maine...despite the abundance of lobsters, the low price makes it very hard for the lobstermen to make a living. The industry is suffering terribly, they have to work much harder to make a living at a time when it's increasingly difficult to switch to other fishing.

That's nothing to celebrate.

washingtonpost.com: Sure, It's Cheaper. But Why? (Post, Aug. 19)

Joe Yonan: Good point.

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Bowie, Md.: Any advice on how to revive a delicious, but dried-out, artisan bread? I didn't notice that the plastic bag it was in had those teeny holes in it. It is not completely dried but about the outside 1/2 inch (all around) is pretty hard.

Jane Touzalin: I'm not sure how easy it would be to revive your bread in whole-loaf form, but here's what I do with individual slices: I dampen a paper towel slightly, wrap it around the bread and microwave on HIGH -- usually just a few seconds will do the trick. As an experiment, you might as well try it with the entire loaf and see what happens.

If that doesn't work, you won't throw out the bread, right? It'll be great for French toast, bread pudding, stratas, bread crumbs, croutons....the list goes on and on.

Maybe someone else out there has a no-fail bread rehydration method we could all use.

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Arlington, Va.: I am so not a morning a person, which means I'm a grab-and-go type of breakfast eater. What can I make ahead of time that will provide me with a quick and easy breakfast?

Leigh Lambert: We're moving into fall (if you can think past this heat), so I'll tell you about a neat trick with steel-cut oats. Normally these get overlooked because they take about 45 minutes to cook. Not convenient. But if you bring your oats and water to a boil the night before (refer to package for water to grain ratio), remove from heat and let them sit covered over night at room temperature, it will only take 7 to 10 minutes the next morning to have a steaming hot bowl of filling goodness.

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Desperate, please help!!: Am making the Potatoes Romano from last week's edition. But I am halving the recipe (in an 8x8 dish). How long should I cook it for?

Jane Black: Oh my god! What should you do? Take a deep breath first of all. Halving a recipe isn't going to make potatoes cook any faster so it's probably going to take about the same amount of time. But my best advice for situations like this is to use a little common sense. Set the timer for 40 minutes and check on it. When it looks done, it's done.

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Alexandria, Va.: Today's wine tasting article was an interesting exercise and I plan to seek out the VA wines you listed. But I wish you would have described the methodology you used to choose the wines tasted. I have no idea where the VA wines in your sample rank in the entire VA wine marketplace. However, the Bordeaux you chose are solid, but generally middle of the road wines. Anyone who read the article thinking that you were comparing the top wines of one region against the top wines of another region was sorely misled. Putting a 1st growth in your sample would have served no purpose (except to benefit the tasters...), but describing the methodology might have helped convince those who know something about France and Napa that you weren't putting forth a subtly disguised advertisement for VA wine. While price certainly is an important consideration for purchasing wine, I don't think it should be a dominant consideration when comparing wine-producing regions.

Dave McIntyre: Check out my post today on the All We Can Eat blog, which explains how I came up with the selection.

Joe Yonan: That blog post is here.

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Arlington, Va.: I've had an opened can of Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder for years. I use some occasionally, and it still tastes good. Does this stuff have an unlimited shelf life, or has it degraded?

Leigh Lambert: As long as you aren't storing it above your stove (too hot) or on a window sill (too light), it should be shelf-stable indefinitely. Keep it in a cool, dry, dark place (as you should all your baking goodies and herbs).

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Frittata: I am trying to eat more protein, so I am going to try to make mini frittatas (using a muffin pan). If I make a batch on Sunday, can I keep them in the fridge for the rest of the week? Also, if I make a large batch, will they freeze well? I am trying to make it easier to be healthy, but also make sure it doesn't mean more time in the morning than my usual cold cereal and milk. Thanks!

David Hagedorn: I do not recommend keeping egg dishes around for a week in the fridge. Wrap them individually in film wrap, then in foil (making sure to keep as much air out as possible), and freeze them. Then you remove the foil and reheat in a microwave. With some trial and error, you'll figure out just how long to reheat them so that they are just barely warmed through and haven't yet crossed over to the rubber stage.

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Arlington, Va.: A cake question: I'm making an "Indiana Jones" temple birthday cake for my son's b-day. I need a recipe for a basic chocolate or lemon cake that will do well with layers. The easier the better. I love to bake, but I'll have a lot going on so I'm not even opposed to "doctoring" a cake mix. Also, I'm planning to make the layers and freeze them ahead of time. Any suggestions? Thanks!

P.S. today's entertaining recipes sound terrific - want to try the beet salad tonight!

Leigh Lambert: I'm with you. I love to bake as well, but there is a time and a place (and an audience) for it. When many small mouths are involved I say go with the box. You know they're going to be more into the theme than the cake. I'm not too proud to say I own ALL of the Cake Mix Doctor's books and even made my grandfather his 91st birthday cake from it - chocolate praline!

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Wine tour: Today's story motivated me to finally get myself to visit the Virginia wineries. I've lived in D.C. three years but have never been out there. I used to live in San Francisco and go to Napa or Sonoma on day trips all the time.

Now that I have the motivation, I was wondering how to plan the trip? I'd probably just get a Zipcar in town with friends and drive out during the day. I'm hoping a pregnant friend will drive. Any advice on planning?

Dave McIntyre: Check out some of the local winery Web sites. For a day trip around DC, I'd suggest starting with Loudon County, which has more than 2 dozen wineries and is now billing itself as "DC's Wine Country." Find a few wineries that are close together and plan accordingly. Don't try to hit too many in one visit, however!

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Buffalo mozzarella: I bought some at Arrowine in Arlington last weekend, and ate it with my homegrown heirloom tomatoes. It was wonderful.

Jane Black: More mozzarella ideas.

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Use for basil: I love making fresh summer rolls with lots of basil, cilantro, and mint. (And whatever else you like.) Easy and no cook.

Jane Black: I love summer rolls. Good idea.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For buffalo mozzarella in Md., try Da Marco in downtown Silver Spring. And is the Vace outlet in Bethesda still there?

Jane Black: And another one. And yep, there's a Vace in Bethesda last I checked. 4705 Miller Ave., 301-654-6367.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C..: I visit Va. wineries a few times a year, but still am generally unimpressed. Yes, there are some surprising wines out there -- Linden is one of my favorites -- but there are way too many Cab Francs being bottled in Va. and most are not very good. Also, the stuff that is good is generally $20+ a bottle and are on par with some of the Calif. mass market stuff.

Luca Paschina: I have been making wine in Virginia for 20 years and I have to admit that we had and still have a bit too many amateur winemakers involved in the trade. I also can assure you that we have a growing number of great wines and talented winemaker/grower. it is important that there are consumers like you, able to discern the good from the mediocre and please the best thing you can do is to speak out especially with the producers. making a great wine is a matter of planting in the right location and using the varietals that best fit it. some producers simply plan what people want to drink lately...... silly, it also happens in California. please keep trying because there are many great wines in Virginia including cabernet francs.

Dave McIntyre: And Luca's is one of the best!

OK, gratuitous sucking up done for now.

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Leftover basil: I too have faced this issue, but with the abundance of amazing amazing amazing tomatoes available and farmers markets right now, that basil goes really well in simple tomato pasta sauce of just tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, S&P, and basil. I also love to make the Post's heirloom tomato panzanella, which also has basil.

washingtonpost.com: Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad Recipe Details (Washington Post)

Jane Black: Yep, that's a keeper.

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Green apple: Unfortunately, I don't recall the names. It was several years ago. But even the lowliest was better than Pucker.

Jason Wilson: I'm not surprised. I am surprised, however, seeing the popularity of the appletini, that no company has launched a more upscale, craft-distilled sour apple liqueur.

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Columbia, Md.: Okay, so everyone knows that white wine should be chilled and red should be served at room temp.

I like my red wines a little chillier than room temp, and get made fun of all the time. But, I've also heard that room temp in France is cooler than room temp in Maryland (especially August Maryland), so really, a little chillier than room temp is ideal for red wine.

Similar to the reasoning that butter can apparently be stored at room temperature, but that idea comes from England or something, where room temperature is a little cooler.

Is this true? I'm willing to say I have crappy taste in red wine if chilly red wine masks flavors or something. I'd just like to know the answer if there is one :)

Dave McIntyre: Here is my definitive answer: YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!!

Red wines are frequently served too warm! "Room temperature" dulls the wine, masks its fruit, and accentuates the alcohol (which is already too prevalent in today's reds most of the time, but don't get me started on that today).

When I'm presented a bottle of red at a restaurant, the first thing I do is grab the bottle. If it feels anywhere near body temp (i.e.., even slightly warm) I ask for an ice bucket. I used to get funny looks, but today most restaurants are used to it. Or I go to better restaurants.

In a pinch, and here I'll get excommunicated from Wine Geeks 'R' Us, I'll even plunk an ice cube in the glass for a few seconds to cool off a warm red. California winemakers are adding water all the time to lower alcohol levels, so why not?

Don't let people laugh at you. Just tell them they drink their whites too cold.

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Arlington, Va.: A few comments:

I made the corn and mozzarella omelet from last week and loved it. I've already made it again. I'm not an eggs person but had some leftover, and you might have turned me into an eggs person!

I love local wines and appreciate the attention you're bringing to them. What can we do to get more local wines on area restaurant menus?

washingtonpost.com: Omelet With Corn and Smoked Mozzarella Recipe Details (Washington Post)

Jane Black: In answer to the second question: Ask.

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Arlington, Va.: I have a nice, fresh eggplant that I need to use quickly. I'm not in the mood for anything along the lines of ratatouille. Any other ideas for what I can do with it? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Our Gastronomer, Andreas Viestad, recently wrote this ode to eggplants -- and an explanation of the best ways to cook them -- that came with some fantastic recipes.

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Washington, D.C.: I made pesto the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle. It tasted fine, but pounding the basil made it really dark - like overcooked spinach dark. What's the secret to preserving the bright green color?

Joe Yonan: I think what's happening is this, but it's just a hunch: Since the mortar/pestle approach is slower, you're giving the basil more time to oxidize and turn darker. If you used a food processor, this wouldn't be as dramatic, I think, although there is still some oxidation. Some techniques: You can briefly blanch the basil to set its color. I've also seen recipes, like this one from Michael Chiarello, that call for a pinch of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to prevent the oxidation that results in the color-turning.

Some people mix in a small quantity of parsley to add some green. And after you make it, to prevent more browning during refrigeration, press the pesto into a container and try to get rid of the air bubbles, then cover it with oil.

Jane Black: That pinch of ascorbic acid also works well to keep rhubarb pink. (That's what I struggle with.) Just FYI.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it just me, or has the water content in mayonnaise increased? Last week I fixed tuna sandwiches for the family, and yuck...

In terms of preparation: I always let the tuna sit in lemon juice for a while, then dry with paper towels before adding the mayo. But with this batch, the tuna spread (after resting) was watery.

David Hagedorn: What's with the soaking the tuna in lemon juice thing? Please tell me we don't need to add another step to the process of making a tuna sandwich. I open the can, pour out the liquid, and then use the lid to smash more liquid out of the tuna. By then it's pretty dry.

Did you put onions or anything else in the salad that would add water? I always refrigerate the prepped tuna so it tightens up and the flavors blend. I make it a little dry, and then mayo the bread.

BTW, tuna salad eaters: to mayo the bread, or not to mayo the bread?

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Knox, Tenn: A friend gave me beautiful bell peppers from her garden. I would appreciate a recipe for stuffed bell peppers, as well as any other ideas for making the most of these peppers. Thanks so much.

Jane Touzalin: These stuffed peppers not only were delicious but looked amazing. It's a recipe from local cookbook author Domenica Marchetti, and it'll use up four of your peppers.

If you'd rather keep some of them uncooked, red bell peppers make great additions to all sorts of fresh salsas, salads and slaws.

My top use for red peppers, summer or winter, is in soup. Here's a recipe from our archives from 2000. It sounds elegant, and as we know from today's

Gut Check

column, lobster isn't as pricey as it used to be. But in a pinch, you could use shrimp.

CHILLED RED PEPPER BISQUE WITH MAINE LOBSTER

Frederic Lange

Lafayette Restaurant, Hay Adams Hotel

(4 to 6 servings)

When the summer heats up, Frederic Lange likes to put this cooling pseudo-bisque on the menu. Since a red pepper puree (rather than cream) gives the soup its consistency, it's lighter than a traditional bisque. The onion and leeks provide sweetness, the lemon restores the piquancy of the peppers, and the lobster adds a substantial upscale garnish.

Home chefs take note: If you're tempted to finish the soup by adding the vegetable stock to the blender, and giving it a final go-round, don't. "You'll lose the wonderful color that way," warns Lange.

6 large red bell peppers

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound leeks (white and light green parts), well cleaned and thinly sliced

1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup water

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups vegetable stock or broth

Juice from 1 lemon

6 teaspoons creme fraiche or sour cream

6 ounces cooked lobster meat, diced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the bell peppers in a baking dish and roast, turning frequently, until the skin wrinkles and darkens on all sides, about 40 minutes total.

Carefully transfer the peppers to a large bowl, cover tightly and set aside to steam for about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem, seeds, ribs and skin from each; roughly chop the remaining flesh. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the leeks and red onion, cover and cook just until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel, pepper flakes, water, roasted bell peppers and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Carefully pour the vegetables and their cooking liquid into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. (You may need to process in batches.) Transfer the vegetable puree into a large bowl, add the vegetable stock or broth and stir to combine. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. About 30 minutes prior to serving, remove the bowl from the refrigerator to return almost to room temperature. Adjust the seasoning to taste and add a few drops of lemon juice.

To serve, ladle the soup into chilled dishes, place a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream on each and, if desired, swirl it into the soup. Divide the lobster evenly among the dishes, placing it in the center of the soup.

Per serving (based on 6): 157 calories, 9 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 487 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

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Arlington: I look at many newspaper websites daily, but especially on Wednesday to read their food sections. Yours is by far the best. You list recipes, you include nutritional information and you include a wide variety of recipes. New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune are very poor in comparison.

Please don't publish this. I just wanted to thank you for a job well done.

Joe Yonan: Now, why on earth would I not publish this? You're anonymous, after all! Thanks very much.

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Burke, Va.: Okay, you've convinced me that it would be in my best interest not to buy the cheap, frozen shrimp from the store that comes from who knows where and may contain all sorts of chemicals/pesticide residue.

So where should I go for shrimp, like the Texas browns in today's Dinner in 25 Minutes?

Jane Black: Bonnie got it at Lingonfelter Seafood at the Bethesda Central Farm Market on Sunday. Everything they've got, she says, is top notch. It's a hike from Burke so you could try M. Slavin and Sons in Virginia too.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi everyone! Bonnie here in Bethesda. Figured I'd look at life from the chatters' side today. My fellow Bethesdan looking for buffalo mozzarella should go to Cornucopia on Norfolk Ave. (301-652-1625). They sell the real thing for $12.99 per pound.

Joe Yonan: Bonnie! I knew we'd see you in some form or another. Thanks much. Now back to vacation.

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Washington, D.C.: I received lima beans in my CSA bag this week. I've never made them before and was hoping you might have some interesting ideas for how I could use them.

Jane Black: Funny. I just got an email from someone who said that they couldn't find lima beans to save their soul. We thought maybe they were totally out of fashion! Which farm?

Oh and here's a recipe for lima bean and quinoa salad

. It calls for Christmas lima beans, an heirloom variety, but you can use regular ones.

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RE: apple liqueur: I apologize in advance if I'm totally off on this one, but would something like Calvados be suitable to substitute for green apple liqueur? I know it's a brandy but the flavor is certainly there.

I lived in France for some time which included a stay with a wonderful older Parisian couple. The food was delightful, the wine was always flowing and my host was friends with an executive for the Calvados brand so every meal ended with it. Yum!

I guess the real question is just where to find it in D.C. ...

Jason Wilson: Calvados is an apple brandy produced in Normandy and is very very different than sour apple liqueur. Calvados is one of the finest spirits, loveliest in the world. You can find a number of brands around the region -- Dupont, Coeur de Lion, Busnel, etc. You can mix with Calvados or other domestic apple brandies like Laird's, but not in your typical appletini...

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Fro-yo fan: Thanks for the frozen yogurt roundup, although I would have loved to see more of a taste-test thing (did you like one more than the other?) or at least how they stacked up calorie-wise. How many calories are there in a 3-ounce serving of, say, Tangysweet?

Jane Black: I can't answer this specifically but I asked Julia Beizer who ate a lot of yogurt for that story. Here's her reply:

For my money, YogenFruz beats all! It's creamy and is a lot cheaper than the others I tried. My husband leans more toward Caliyogurt. We definitely wanted to do a taste test -- as I recall -- but practically, it was kind of tough as the yogurt would melt during the trip from shop to office.

Also, it's worth noting that finding flavor distinctions between all the types isn't easy. They are very similar.

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Annapolis, Md.: on using up Basil - there's a great recipe in "Under the Tuscan Sun" for chicken baked with basil, scallions and lemon juice. I don't have the recipe handy, but I think you just chop up about a half to a cup of scallions, and mix with the same amount of chopped (or torn) basil.(amounts depend on how much chicken you're baking, but err on the generous side) squeeze about 1/2 a lemon over it, add salt/pepper and maybe a little bit of olive oil.

Mix up the chicken pieces with it and put in a baking dish. Bake until chicken's done. I bake it at about 350 and sometimes I add pieces of fennel, or some cherry or grape tomatoes as well.

Jane Black: Sounds good. Is this chicken breasts? Boneless?

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For excess basil: How about Margarita Pizza? If you haven't tried making a pizza on your grill it would be a great time to start! Yum!

Joe Yonan: Is this pizza that's made with lime, simple syrup and a salt rim? Haven't had that one. I have had a pizza margherita, though.

OK, forgive me for that. Really. The copy editor in me (shrinking but still there) made me do it.

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Peppers and Onions, Va.: Occasionally I buy a new fruit or veggie to try and see if I like it. Sometimes it works (parsnips). Other times, maybe not so much. For some reason, I keep buying leeks. I don't know why. Aside from leek soup, what can I do with them? They're so big!

I also came into a handful+ of serrano peppers - suggestions?

Joe Yonan: How bout a Goat Cheese, Pear and Leek Tart?

Or, to showcase them more, and use up more of them, you could try this simple Greek-style side dish

Or, if you want a healthful main course, you can simply braise them and pair with seared scallops

As for your serranos, I use them in my favorite guacamole

There's also this intriguing Blueberry Salsa

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Atlanta: I have a broccoli/rice casserole recipe which calls for "7 oz. white rice." I usually use cooked rice and just put in as much as I think the other ingredients can handle. Why does this recipe have ounces, and why can't they specify cooked or uncooked? I am finding quite a few recipes lately skip certain directions (I guess the authors think I'm smarter than I am -- silly them) or are not as precise/accurate as they should be. Ingredients for one recipe called for three tablespoons olive oil; the directions said to cook in chicken in canola oil. Thanks for your help.

Jane Black: Ohhhhhhhh. So you're just copping on to how badly written some recipes are. You have no idea how bad they get. (And chefs, who so many magazines want recipes from these days, are the worst!)

Two things: First think about where the recipe comes from. Is it someone who does this for a living? (Like the lovely Bonnie Benwick.) Or is it a company trying to push their product? Is it a blogger who is still developing a consistent style?

Second, different people like/want different levels of specificity. One of my favorite cookbooks, for example, is from the 18th century and it has instructions like "cook the meat until it is done." But then, that's just me. Some like super specific instructions and in that case go to sources that provide them.

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Herndon, Va.: From Tom's dining chat: "The Post pays for all food, drink and services."

Does the Post also pay for all food, spices, herbs, and cooking supplies for recipes you are testing before printing them in the food section? Does the Post pay for the wines, beers and liquor tested for your excellent reviews?

I'm hoping that the combination of news media financial challenges and the recession are not allowing markets and wholesalers to "push" items into the Post Food section.

Joe Yonan: We spend a ton of money on recipe testing and indeed buy all our ingredients. We get some unsolicited products sent to us, and if they're not perishable we give them to charity.

Post policy lets Jason and Dave accept a sample bottle from a producer, but not more than that, and many many things go unreviewed because they're just not worth writing about. This is the case at many publications when it comes to wine and spirits. We can't take more than that. And we don't get hosted on free trips on the dime of winemakers or breweries or distilleries.

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Washington, D.C.: To the family reunion chatter - we just had the same scenario a few weeks ago. We divided the nights into themes - cookout with brats, potato salad, and salad; Mexican night with fajitas (grilled chicken, beef, and veggies); Italian night (antipasto, lasagna, salad, and garlic bread); etc. It worked pretty well.

My family did lasagna night. I prepared the lasagna earlier that day during some post-breakfast downtime, put it in the fridge, and popped it into the oven around 70 minutes before serving. While the lasagna cooked, set out the antipasto and made the salad. We pulled out the lasagna around 10 min. before serving so it wasn't scalding hot, tossed the garlic bread into the oven. It worked really well. I doubled Barefoot Contessa's recipe, but we had around 16 adults.

washingtonpost.com: Turkey Lasagna Recipe (Food Network)

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Cool treats, WW friendly, please: Just rejoined Weight Watchers and am doing well so far. I'd like to find a little icy treat for the end of my daily walks. I don't like artificial sweeteners. Is there a way I can make a bar or slush or something that would be tasty by zero-to-one "point"?

I've not experimented with freezing juices or fruits into my own pops, so I need some guidance here.

Thanks!

Jane Black: I don't have a clue what counts as one point on Weight Watchers. But I do love popsicles. Here is a little thing that I did a few years ago about very grown-up pops including raspberry lime and buttermilk blueberry. Hopefully one of these will do the trick.

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"Twenty-minute rule" for wines: I use a 20-minute rule for serving my wines: I'll take a bottle of white wine out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving it, to give it a chance to warm up a bit, and put a bottle of red wine into the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving it, to cool it down a little.

Dave McIntyre: Excellent advice!

Sometimes I can't wait that long, though ...

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Alexandria, Va. - preserving color: Crimson-red rhubarb is so beautiful to behold, but when cooked, the greenness takes over, and it no longer resembles the raw product.

What I do for rhubarb sauces, soups, fillings etc. is add a couple drops of red food dye to make it look enticing to the eye.

Joe Yonan: Some people add a touch of beet juice.

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Madera, Calif.: When making a homemade cake, can I mix all of the ingredients, place the batter in prepared pans, and bake it a day later? I'm hoping yes, but thinking no. It's because of the baking powder or baking soda not retaining it's rising powers, right? It would be nice if I could mix up my pound cake recipe the night before and bake it in the morning. Can I do this with successful results? Or maybe I should just mix up everything except the baking powder/soda until the morning? Would this same principle work with other baked goods (cookies, etc.)? Thanks!

Jane Black: No. You cannot mix it and leave it to bake later. You can mix dry and wet ingredient separately. Then combine and bake. Ideally, you get a pan of cake batter straight into the oven. (That's why you preheat! So the oven is ready to go.)

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Farmer's market dinners: $90 dollars for that was a lot of money. The recession articles on the front page of the Washington Post website (selling cemetery plots, etc) in juxtaposition with this one is interesting.

While I get the idea of the article, and we do that all the time (didn't realize it was a trend), articles like that just reinforce the ideas that farmer's markets are for foofy foodie snobs.

David Hagedorn: Trendy people never think they are trendy, do they?

I only meant to suggest that the waste and lack of flavor in store-bought levels the field more than people might think at first glance.

The cemetery plot thickens. Signed: Foofy

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San Francisco: Re the mini frittatas --

I do this sometimes, and instead of heating them in the microwave, I toss them in my toaster oven (straight from the freezer) to reheat for about 5-10 minutes, and it's perfect.

I have a spirits question: I've recently been enjoying bourbon a lot, which reasonably priced ones should I buy to keep around the house for drinks?

Jason Wilson: I did a feature about bourbon back in April, and I recommended a number of them. Here's the list. Off hand, I'd say a $20 bottle of Buffalo Trace is an excellent value.

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Washington, D.C.: Your article about Va. and Md. wines has certainly piqued my interest in re-evaluating them. I prefer bolder wines -- cabernet and chardonnay, so I've steered clear of Virginia, since my impression was that they tended to be sweeter and softer. Also, I once had a glass of Maryland cab at a wine bar and didn't care for it. It was really smokey.

Dave McIntyre: Give them another try, though it sounds like you might generally prefer California style wines. Virginia wines are not always "sweeter" but "softer" might be appropriate, depending on what you mean by that. Virginia winemakers like to say they make "European-styled" wines, which is one reason Luca and a bunch of his colleagues were at the London International Wine Fair earlier this year.

Some VA wines are getting "bolder" - try the Michael Shaps Cab Franc 2007(though he probably wouldn't like his wines to be called 'Californian' in style). 2007 was a dry hot year, so VA winemakers so inclined could make bolder reds.

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Va. wine tours: In my wine touring experience, I find that doing three in a day is about right: you'll see a variety of wines and wineries without running afoul of those pesky DUI laws.

For my palate, the Charlottesville area has the best concentration of good wines. A couple of three-winery day trips around Charlottesville would be Jefferson-Burnley-Barboursville and King Family-Veritas-Cardinal Point.

In Northern Virginia, I'd suggest Chrysalis-Hillsborough-Breaus or Naked Mountain-Linden-Rappahannock.

Enjoy the day trip!

Jane Black: I heart the Charlottesville area. If you go, check out my story on where to eat in town.

Jane Touzalin: There are lots of Virginia tours detailed at www.virginiawine.org. Click on the tab for "Regions."

Luca Paschina: I like your planning around areas and limiting to 3 stops, that way you really have a chance to do it at a slow pace, beside there other great places to visit in between those wineries i.e. historic landmarks and great antique shops.

Dave McIntyre: Good advice and winery suggestions. In C-ville area, don't forget Horton (Luca's neighbor), White Hall, or the new Pollak. An interesting place, a bit out of the way, is Shaps' new Virginia Wineworks, which is a custom crush facility housing several startups.

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Leeks: Wash well, cut in half length-wise, brush with oil, season with salt and pepper, and just grill them. Gorgeous.

Jane Black: Yup.

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Tuna/Mayo: No do not mayo the bread... You're already adding mayo to the tuna salad so why add more fat?

I make my tuna with mayo, celery. Otherwise I'll do tuna, mustard and a little relish for more of a zip!

David Hagedorn: But the mayo in the tuna doesn't leap out and dance with the bread. I use the same amount of mayo; I just distribute differently. We all have our quirks.

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"Kitchen sink" sangria: I decided to make white sangria the other day to use up some partial bottles of wine--mostly sauvignon blanc, but I added a partial bottle of scuppernong wine (a grape I grew up eating on my trips to N.C.). I added farm-stand peaches, some apples, and the standard fresh orange, lime, and lemons. Some Cointreau and simple syrup. Apparently you can't screw up sangria -- it's delicious and the scuppernong wine adds a very interesting note.

Dave McIntyre: This actually sounds good.

I tried Scuppernong during my heyday at William & Mary. It almost made me a teetotaler.

Jason Wilson: One can definitely screw up a sangria. My father had some Florida wines this summer that were pretty bad, for instance, and they ended making a pretty bad sangria. Don't forget the brandy in a sangria. For a white sangria, a good option is apple brandy or applejack.

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Quick & Easy Breakfast: Trader Joe's makes frozen steel-cut oats that cook in four minutes in the microwave. Great stuff.

I slice and freeze several ripe bananas at the start of the week. Then, in the morning, I take about 1 banana's worth of frozen slices and stick them in the blender with some milk. Sometimes I add a little cocoa powder, sometimes a dab of creamy PB. It makes a thick shake that's surprisingly filling.

Leigh Lambert: Great additional idea. I forgot about smoothies, the ultimate quick breakfast. I just had a mango-cherry one this morning!

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Steel cut oats: Leigh,

Love the idea, but please don't leave me hanging as to the next-morning steps(or am I just a dope?)Do I return the pan to a simmer as-is? Reheat in the microwave? Help!

Also, if I want to add dried fruit, can I do that in the evening pre-boil?

Many thanks. I love steel cut oats and have them far to infrequently. Hoping this will change that fact.

Leigh Lambert: Sorry! You reheat the mixture for 7 to 10 minutes the next morning, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Dried fruit would best be added the next morning.

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Arlington, VA: See, that's the thing for me... I believe there is some skill in tasting wine, but a lot of it is just "hocus pocus" (i.e. creative license). This is proven over and over when expert tasters do a blind test and completely get it wrong (like on a Gordon Ramsay's F-word episode where a respected sommelier did a blind taste and guessed that a $1,000+ bottle of 1992 Petrus was a less than $50 wine that was slightly corked).

Sensitivity to different tastes can vary widely from person to person - that's why some people find mild hot peppers to be scorchingly hot, others find mildly sweet things to be sickeningly sweet, some people love cilantro while some detest the flavor...

Given that, it doesn't matter what a wine critic thinks unless you know you have a comparative palate. When it comes down to it, you either like the wine or you don't regardless of it's price. I know people that detest Virginia wine yet a $10 bottle of Horton's Cabernet Franc is one of my guilty pleasures.

Jane Black: I wrote a story about just this. (I'm on a roll today.) It was about Tim Hanni in California who was trying to develop reviews that took into consideration how sensitive your palate is. I'm not sure how far they've got on the project but it was fascinating.

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Wine & avocados (but not together): After years thinking I didn't like wine, I've come to enjoy a few whites - moscatos, rieslings, some pinot grigios, etc. I still haven't had much luck with reds, though I want to like them! Part of the problem is that I'm never sure what I should try. Most descriptions (on the bottle or at the store) talk about fruity overtones, or aromas of coffee, chocolate, or smoke. Beautiful, and I can sometimes even taste it in the wine - but usually, the overwhelming flavor I get is sour. Not rancid, but very astringent and unpleasant. I'm not looking for something syrupy-sweet, but beyond that, I don't know where to start. I thought of going to a wine tasting, but I feel weird doing that because I don't like most wines I've tried. But how can I find the ones I do like?

About keeping avocado: I have an inexpensive vacuum seal (Seal-a-Meal, I think). I've found it's wonderful with sliced avocado and guacamole. They get a tiny bit brown, but mostly stay green and gorgeous.

Dave McIntyre: You prefer some residual sugar in your wines - nothing wrong with that. Try Australian Shiraz, such as The Puppeteer ($10) - they tend to be a bit ripe and sweet. You could also try matching the reds with food to cut that astringency, which is most likely tannins, the substance that helps the wine age. Remember FAT CUTS TANNIN - or big red meat with big red wine (steak and cab, for example)

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Milwaukee: Thrilled to see the Virginia wine reviews, as we are fans of wines from places we've visited (and are huge fans of the Monticello area).

We have wanted to try the Barboursville wines for a while, especially now that Oakencroft has closed (pout). However, the Barboursville Web site indicates they cannot ship bottles to Wisconsin. Do you know why that is? And what we can do about it? Thanks!

Luca Paschina: best you can do is write and e mail your congressman (email cheaper) about your disgust as a consumer for not being able to receive what is after all a farm product from Virginia, fortunately we can ship to about 14 states so far. grazie fro your lovely comments on Virginia wine.

Dave McIntyre: Luca's right, though it might be more a state issue. The 21st Amendment (repeal of Prohibition) left alcohol distribution regulation to the states. So if Wisconsin isn't on the list, it's because Wisconsin doesn't want to be.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dave McIntyre: Check out my post today on the All We Can Eat blog, which explains how I came up with the selection.

-----

Thanks, that's useful. It's too bad though that there wasn't space in the print edition for a summary paragraph.

Joe Yonan: Everyone thinks that what goes in the blog represents a lack of space in the print edition. It reminds me of a question I once heard someone ask a newspaper executive -- actually, I heard it more than once. "How is it that every day all the news exactly fits in the space that you have?"

If we thought your question was crucial for Dave's story, we would've included it in the main package. We're treating the blog as a great place to add value and content to what we're doing in print, and to have separate dialogues.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: for David Hagedorn -

Where in Alabama did you grow up? I grew up in Tuscaloosa. For a dinner party last Saturday night, I made your peach cobbler that I'd saved from a few years ago (with crystallized ginger & dried apricots). It was very well received.

David Hagedorn: Roll Tide!

I'm from Gadsden. I hope by "very well received" you mean that there was none left.

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BB in B: And as for the bread rehydrating, my first job was in a bakery and we used to either sprinkle or dunk the top of loaf with water, then place the bread in a paper bag and heat in a 300-degree oven for 5 minutes or so, until you could squeeze the bread and feel some give. We did not try to pass it off as anything other than day-old, by the way. (But those danish with lots of icing on them? That's another story...)

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: I don't know why the early chatter disliked "upper N.Y." wines (upstate New York? I'm guessing the finger lakes). Maybe they don't like the styles that the soil and climate favor, which tend to be German.

Which brings me to a question. It seems that almost everywhere in the world, wine regions tend to try and make the same wines based on the same grapes. Why is this? If Virginia is suitable for Cabernet Franc, then so be it. Isn't it better to work with the grapes (via soil/climate) then against them?

Luca Paschina: Thank you for the comments. Indeed one of the best rieslings I have ever tasted came from the finger lakes where I actually worked in 1985 where I witnessed the failure of growers planting francs and cabernets thinking that they are the macho grapes, too bad! As well, you can sip from Finger Lakes a riesling from Konstantin Frank (russian grape) which is extremely suitable and good for the summer. We could not grow it as good here since our climate is too warm for it....and we do not.

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Joe Yonan: You've swirled us, sipped us, spat us out and scored us, so you know what that means: We're done.

Thanks for the great questions, and thanks to guests Luca Paschina, Dave McIntyre, David Hagedorn and Jason Wilson for helping us handle all the queries.

And now, the winners of "Wine Secrets" are: The Columbia chatter who asked about wine temperatures, and the DC chatter who asked advice on planning a Virginia wine trip. Send your mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next week, happy eating, drinking and cooking.

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