Free Range on Food: Fresh herbs, iced coffee, chicken ideas, football menu, peanut allergies, school lunches

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, August 26, 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 will be online Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 1 p.m. ET.

Archive of past discussions

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that chills you down on a hot day, serves you up some nice iced coffee, and brightens your other dishes with herbs. Oh, and we answer questions, too.

We have a special guest today: cookbook author Nancy Baggett, who waxes poetic in today's section on the power and glory of fresh herbs in her cooking. Great recipes with this: chilled carrot soup, chocolate-tarragon sorbet, rosemary-orange shortbread. Wow. Send all your herbiest questions her way.

We'll of course have giveaway books for our favorite posts: Since I reviewed it recently and scored an extra copy in the process, I'll give away just one of my copies of Frank Bruni's "Born Round." And we'll also have "Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers."

Now, let's chat!

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Lothian, Md.: Herbs -- one of my favorite things of summer! Rosemary in garlic roasted potatoes is so easy and so good! Also, some chopped rosemary on a grilled cheese -- use really good cheddar and good bread and WOW!

Fortunately with rosemary, I have it all year (unless there is a hard freeze). Sadly, with other herbs, it is a seasonal thing in this area, although my pesto does get me through the other seasons ...

Nancy Baggett: Excellent suggestions. I have not tried rosemary on grilled cheese. Rosemary with tomato and olives on crostini is good, too. Also right about the hard freeze--sometimes the rosemary lives in my yard, sometimes not.

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Falls Church, Va.: You've probably been asked this before so forgive me, but can I substitute dried oregano for the fresh stuff in various tomato sauce and soup recipes?

I have a ton of dried oregano that I harvested earlier this year and now that my tomatoes are finally producing, I don't have enough fresh oregano to keep up.

Thanks!

Nancy Baggett: Yes, actually dried oregano retains its flavor a lot better than many dried herbs. If the recipe calls for fresh try using half as much dried BTW, if you haven't tried oregano (fresh or dried) in a vinaigrette over fresh tomatoes do so--just lovely.

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Iced Coffee for Everyone!: Loved the feature this morning, and I encourage anyone who hasn't tried cold brewing to do so pronto! You'll be amazed. I've got no affiliation with the Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker people, and their product is basically nothing but a plastic pail, a "scrubbie"-like filter, a plug, and a carafe, but it makes cold brewing a snap and produces the most delicous iced coffee I've ever had. The Starbucks iced I had the other day was undrinkable in comparison: thin, sour, yeeech.

washingtonpost.com: Toddy Coffee Maker, Cold Brew Coffee Maker: Low Acid Coffee

Joe Yonan: I have a Toddy myself, and I like it, especially for making a large quantity of the concentrate that you can keep in the fridge for a week. Testing Andreas's recipes caused me for the first time to try it the even lower-tech way, just soaking the grounds in a glass jar in the fridge and then pouring through a filter. That worked beautifully, too.

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Coffee!: Thanks for the great article on coffee this morning, which answered a lot of questions I had about coffee that I had never really bothered to ask. The quality of the ingredient is the most important thing, which leads me to ask - what coffee do you buy? I cannot find a brand that I think tastes good without having to add a ton of milk (now I know why). Starbucks tastes burned, and the brands at Whole Foods that I've tried taste bitter.

washingtonpost.com: The Gastronomer: Brewing Iced Coffee (Washington Post, Aug. 26)

Joe Yonan: I like Counter Culture's roasts, which are available at lots of its cafes locally, such as Tryst, Peregrine, Mid City; and also at Whole Foods, disguised in a light-green package labeled shade-grown coffee. I also love Terroir coffee from New England; Intelligentsia, Stump Town, etc. Many of them roast less than Starbucks, which I appreciate, too. (My guideline: If the beans are oily, they're overroasted.)

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Surfeit of Rosemary: It's the one herb that I can grow with any luck. But now I have ... a lot of it. I dried some, but it's so strong that I don't use a lot of it fresh at a time. Beyond the usual suspects of roasted potatoes and lamb, what are some great uses for it?

Nancy Baggett: Rosemary has more uses than you might expect. In baked goods for example. I've added rosemary and raisins to muffins with great results. The recipe for cookies today on line is also good. Rosemary and good Greek or French olives are excellent in rustic yeasted boules and focaccias. Roasted potatoes are also great with olive oil and chopped rosemary. This should get you going.

Jane Touzalin: Do you grill? That's a perfect way to get rid of some of your crop. Place rosemary branches on top of the lit charcoal when you're grilling rosemary-friendly foods (chicken, salmon, veggies), keep the lid closed at least for a while, and the smoke creates wonderful flavor. Or place soaked rosemary branches right on the grill grate and place the food on top of the rosemary -- another way to get great flavor.

Joe Yonan: And if you have some really strong branches, you can even use them to skewer meats and shrimp.

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New York, N.Y.: For the person looking for good beans: If everything you're trying is too bitter, you may be grinding it at the wrong setting. Cold-brewed coffee needs a pretty coarse grind. Too fine a grind will make it taste bitter.

(I agree that Starbucks does not do it for me though ... In New York, I buy my beans from a place called Porto Rico; they have a fantastic selection and are very affordable.)

Joe Yonan: Yes, what you say is true. There are many elements to making good coffee: You also need the right ratio of beans to water (about 2 TB for 6 ounces of water) and the right water temperature (195-205).

Speaking of grinding...

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Love the cold coffee article: My first introduction to coffee was in college and in the form of iced coffee. Now it's become a low calorie treat for me. I have a coffee maker that grind the beans, and also a seperate coffee grinder. When I'm grinding the beans for the ice coffee, how long do you grind for a coarse grind? I feel like I never can get it right.

Joe Yonan: It's not something you can time, because grinders are so different. You have to go by the look of it, and the best way to get a handle on it is to go to a coffeeshop that you like and trust, and ask them to grind some beans for you for the use that you want it for (cold brew, I think?) and then look at it to imitate what you'd do at home.

This is a good time to put a plug in for a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder. Not only do they have better settings, the grind is more even (a blade grinder gets some of the coffee way too fine while some of it is still coarse) and it doesn't heat up the coffee beans while grinding. I have one by Capresso that I love.

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Washington, D.C.: The cold-brewed coffee sounds interesting, but why is it preferable that it be made in a ceramic or glass container?

Jane Touzalin: You just don't want to make it in metal or plastic, which might react with some of the acidic or other elements in the coffee and affect the flavor.

Joe Yonan: I didn't catch it that Andreas called for this, but I'm not really sure it matters, especially since the Toddy system uses a plastic canister for the "brewing" but glass for the refrigerating.

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Alexandria, Va.: I've been using a Filtron at work to make cold coffee and have been pleased.

washingtonpost.com: Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer (Amazon.com)

Joe Yonan: Good to know. Looks similar in concept to the Toddy. Thanks!

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Fresh Herbs: Good topic. I always try to grow my own, but end up killing my fresh herb plants. But I haven't given up. I've been successful with cilantro and peppermint. I love the smell. I put it in green tea, but I have a lot of it. What else can I do with all this peppermint?

Nancy Baggett: This recipe takes a lot of peppermint: Find a chocolate sorbet recipe. If you are good at adapting just use my recipe that is on-line in the Post today. You would just omit the grapefuit and tarragon completely and replace the juice with water. Throw in a huge handful of mint. Cook and infuse as the recipe directs. Strain out the herbs as directed. Very refreshing! (If your mint is very mild, you could add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract--don't add more than that though.

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Baltimore, Md.: I just bought myself a food processor and made some pesto this weekend. Now I'm left with a lot of fresh basil that I don't know how to use except in pasta. And I'd rather not overload on carbs. I'm cooking for one, so any ideas so this doesn't go to waste?

I also have a bunch of fresh parsley, if you have ideas for that, though most recipes I see don't use large quantities of parsley.

Nancy Baggett: Leftover pesto has to be used fairly promptly. Here are several possibilities that are easy on the carbs: Swirl the pesto into a tomato soup (it would make a bought one better). Pesto is also excellent with sauteed spinach--add the pesto as soon as the spinach is tender. You could add a little pesto to an oil-vinegar dressing too--very nice.

Nancy Baggett: Oh yes, and the parsley. Parsley is just fantastic in a creamy soup: Chop and simmer a goodly amount in chicken broth till tender (along with a diced potato). Puree in a blender or processor; season with salt. Add cream if desired. Serve room temp or warm, as desired.

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College Park, Md.: My family has just started eating healthier, and we bought one of those metal steam baskets. This is a silly question, but what's the easiest way to get the veggies out when they're done? If I pull the basket out of the pan it opens flat and food spills everywhere. Should I just get a spoon or tongs and scoop the veggies out?

Nancy Baggett: You ask a good question--unfortunately I don't have the answer! I have had exactly the same problem. Often I just take the pot to the sink and dump the veggies into a colander. The basket falls, but does no harm. Not elegant but....

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Penn Quarter, Washington, D.C.: I'm planning a casual going away happy hour and need to buy some inexpensive platters to serve food. Specifically, something plain and white. Is Ikea a good place for something like this? I didn't see anything appropriate in their catalog.

I love the simplicity of Crate and Barrel but don't want to spend that much. Thanks!

Jane Black: I think Ikea is a great idea. They have white plates of all sizes there (though I think some come in sets so be careful.) Another idea might be World Market. Their stuff is really reasonably priced.

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I need a meat: Food gurus! I need menu help. Cooking for my boyfriend tomorrow night, who has been working like a madman recently. He has requested "Meat. Delicious meat." We've done grilled ribeyes to death, and I recently made grilled pork chops. I need something meat-y and delicious that will go well with the cheese garlic grits (or polenta, depending on where you're from...) that I'm craving. No slow-cooker, but full access to oven, grill or stovetop. Thank you!

Jane Black: How about meat slathered in easy homemade barbeque sauce. This recipe from David Hagedorn lets you pick spare ribs, chicken wings or thighs. So go for the ribs. Perfect with your grits and some greens. Have fun.

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Potomac, Md.: Submitting early because I won't be able to catch chat live.

I'm having a party this weekend for about 20 adults. It will be a buffet with lots of dips, pasta salad, etc. I'm doing mini beef tenderloin sandwiches but also want something with chicken that I can make ahead and serve cold or room temp. I'm thinking of the Chinese Chicken Salad from Ina Garten's new book, but was wondering if you have other ideas since I have to use a peanut butter substitute due to allergies of some guests. Also, her recipe is for 12. Should I double or assume that not everyone will eat it?

Thanks so much in advance for your help!

washingtonpost.com: Chinese Chicken Salad Recipe (Food Network)

Nancy Baggett: I'm not sure that salad will have enough flavor if you skip the peanut butter. Another choice might be better; look for an Asian chicken salad that doesn't have peanut butter--they are around. How much you'll need depends on how many dishes you offer. If there are a number of dishes folks will try them and not eat so much of each one.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there a website that will help you locate where to buy local/grass-fed/no antibiotics meat/chicken? I know you can find it at some farmers markets, and there are distribution groups for certain farms with pickup locations. But I was hoping to find something that would let me know what all my options are for the area. '

Jane Black: Local Harvest is a good place to start. They send you information about events and sellers in areas by zipcode. But I'm not sure there is a definitive resource for every local option. That's the thing about local food. It's small guys doing their thing.

Any one else got an idea?

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Chicken ideas : Wondering if you had any new chicken ideas? I have a whole chicken I plan on cooking tonight.

In the past I have cooked 40 cloves, in a carbon steel pan with the back cut out, in the oven with the potatoes under the bird, whole stuffed with lemons, beer can on the grill and back cut out cooked on cool side of grill. Any thoughts of other ideas that would be great? Thanks!

Nancy Baggett: I just made a great summer dish with chicken. Gently poached split chicken breasts in chicken broth and some fresh chives and thyme. Then cooked the chicken and made a chicken salad with a light (reduced-fat) Mayo, chopped Golden Delis apples and curry powder. You could add nuts, maybe cashews....

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Denver: On a whim, we planted some artichokes in our garden, and miraculously, some artichokes have actually grown.

They are pretty small but otherwise look like artichokes. Dumb question, perhaps: How do I know when they are ripe?

Jane Touzalin: Good work, Denver. Sounds like you have a winner.

I asked gardening guy Adrian Higgins your question, and he says you can harvest the artichokes when the bud scales are still tight but the lowest ones are just beginning to break. Hope that helps.

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Tomato harvest help?: I have a single Mr. Stripey plant in a pot on my back deck. It hasn't been doing well all summer, but it's managed to eke out five tomatoes. They don't seem to be growing much bigger anymore (are a little on the small side), and they are still entirely green. The problem is, the plant is starting to brown and bend under their weight. I'm afraid the plant might be dying, though the tomatoes look absolutely fine.

If I pick them now, will they eventually ripen? If not, can I somehow use them green? Or do I just need to hang on and hope the plant doesn't collapse before they ripen? These five will be my only backyard tomatoes this year and I would hate to lose them ...

Joe Yonan: We asked garden man Adrian Higgins to weigh in. He says:

"If they are just beginning to show color, they will ripen off the vine. We still have a few weeks of tomato season. I would remove the brown leaves and let it do its thing, though you should make sure it is evenly watered and fed since it is in a pot. It also needs a lot of afternoon sun, so you may want to move it to a brighter place."

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L'enfant Terrible: Vietnamese Iced Coffee: pour about 1/4 can of sweetened condensed milk into a 12-oz glass. Using Cafe Du Monde's coffee/chicory grind (in the orange can), fill a small metal coffee filter almost to the top of the post; set on top of the glass. Pour enough very hot water to fill the filter (add more once it's drained for a stronger cup). Once the coffee's drained, stir the coffee and milk together to dissolve the milk. Fill glass with ice (and water if desired) and stir.

As with your column today about coffee and temperature, this concoction's use of a chicory blend wouldn't possibly be accecptable to me in a regular cup of coffee. But I've tried it with "real" coffee, and it's just not as good.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Chinese chicken salad: Can the allergic guest eat tahini to replace the peanut butter? Extra sesame oil to make up for the loss of peanut butter flavor.

Joe Yonan: Tahini struck me too. Thanks.

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Midwest: This is an incredibly basic question, so forgive me. I wanted to make a double batch of lasagne and freeze a few smaller ones. What is the best way to seal them so they don't get snowy in the freezer? How far before cooking do I take them out of the freezer, and for how much longer do I cook them? Thanks in advance for the help!

Jane Touzalin: I do that a lot, and there are several techniques, but I'll tell you the one I use. I bake the lasagna first (I underbake a little), cool it, then cut into portions. I wrap each portion first in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. If I have large resealable food storage bags lying around, I'll then put the wrapped lasagna in one of those, too. Yes, I probably overdo it! But I'm very sensitive to any degree of freezer burn. To reheat, ideally I thaw overnight in the fridge. But I'm just as likely to put the lasagna into the microwave on DEFROST for a while, then reheat until warmed through.

You can also freeze the lasagna unbaked, and many people prefer that (they say it tastes fresher). But that way, you can't just stick it in the oven or microwave for a few minutes, reheat and grab a fast meal. So that's why I do it the other way.

I bet other chatters have other tips can help you.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: With lots of recipes abound for herbal lemonades and alcoholic drinks, can you recommend ways to infuse water with unique flavor that is relatively calorie-conscious? Have already tried cucumber water (not terribly unique, but yum!)and muddled mint and lemons together before adding cold water (not as successful- tasted kind of bitter). Thanks for any ideas you have!

Jane Black: I am so in love with cucumber water. It's my favorite. You could change it up a bit by adding some mint to that. The lemon water will work; just take out the lemons after a few hours. The peel make it bitter. Lemon or orange and ginger would also be good.

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Reston, Va.: So, I'm thinking of making Chiarello's short ribs dish that he made on the last ep of Top Chef Masters, and I think I can easily find everything but the cavalo nero (black cabbage). I have three questions:

1) any idea where I could find black cabbage?

2) Would red cabbage be an ok substitute?

3) Um, a case? I realize this stuff will be cooked down over the course of a few hours, but does this amount seem excessive? How many heads per case, generally?

washingtonpost.com: Brined Short Ribs with 5 Onion Cavalo Nero Served and Essence of Smoldering Vines (Bravo TV)

Joe Yonan: Cavalo nero is black kale, aka Tuscan kale, aka Lacinato kale, aka dinosaur kale, which should make it easier to find. (I see it at the Dupont farmers market regularly). Don't sub red cabbage, but you could use any curly kale.

But I have to say, regarding your question about a case of the kale called for: This is an example of the worst kind of chef recipe. It's just shameful how unhelpful it is, really.

To wit: You have to ask your butcher to cold-smoke the short ribs. You have to find a case of cavalo nero. You have to figure out how many carrots, onions, celery, etc. it takes to make something like "1 cup celery, coarsely chopped," which is a terrible way to call for an ingredient. (You measure a cup of celery and then chop it coarsely? I don't think so.)

And that's before you even start cooking. These are the kinds of recipes that, when we get them from chefs, we completely rewrite and test in the hopes that we can make them easier to follow.

That's a long answer to your question about the quantity of kale Chiarello is calling for. It's another way of saying: I have no idea. Only a chef buys kale by the case -- let alone calls for that amount in a recipe.

OK. Rant over.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I bought a lot of short ribs from my farmer this week. Is there any way to prepare these without a dutch oven? Braising seems to be the only way, but I'm worried I don't have the cookware for it. I do want one but I'm not ready to buy quite yet. Or, if braising is my only choice, are the lower end models of dutch oven as good as the high end? Why did I buy short ribs in the middle of summer!?!?

Joe Yonan: You aren't making that Chiarello recipe, too, are you? ;-)

You certainly don't need a Dutch oven, although I do suggest that if you like to make stews and braises you think about getting one. Do you have a relatively deep cast-iron skillet? That would work. Instead of a lid, use a double layer of aluminum foil, and make sure it's tightly sealed.

You can also make them on a charcoal smoker, as BBQ guru Steve Raichlen did for us with this fab

five-spice short ribs

recipe. (I had these when he made them; they're fantastic.)

As for the brands of Dutch ovens, I have Le Creuset, which you can often find cheaper at discount stores and the LC outlets, but some of the cheaper brands -- Lodge and Tramontina -- have also gotten good reviews. So don't feel like you have to spend hundreds on a pot.

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Meat suggestion: For the person looking for a meat dish, how about the short rib recipe the Post published a couple of years ago (you boil it in prune juice). I used it many times, it's very good and easy.

washingtonpost.com: Mahogany Short Ribs Recipe Details (Washington Post)

Joe Yonan: How could we forget? This is an old standby of mine as well. So dependable and easy. In fact, would be another good option for the Dupont chatter with too many short ribs in hand...

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Searching for soy sauce: Is dark soy sauce the same as what I would normally pick up at the grocery store? I noticed light soy sauce is much saltier than dark, but are there other differences? Why do some recipes call for a bit of both?

Jane Touzalin: Besides being deeper in color, dark soy sauce is thicker and, as you noticed, less salty. The flavor is richer, too. They're really two different ingredients, which is why some recipes call for both.

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For College Park: For the poster who asked about veggie steamer baskets, I have had good luck putting the tyne of a fork through the metal ring on the top, and then lifting slowly to let the water drain as it rises, then setting the basket on the counter right next to the pot. Give it a moment to cool slightly, then lift from the bottom with clean hands.

If the basket is very full, you can use tongs to remove the top layer of contents to put less pressure on the walls before attempting the above.

Alternatively, get two sets of tongs and grasp the walls on opposite sides at the same time, lift, and voila.

Joe Yonan: Excellent. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: How long can your leave the cold-brewed coffee in the fridge before using? I only have one glass/day.

Joe Yonan: I've kept mine for a week with no problems.

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Leftover solutions: I just wanted to share that with a leftover mashed potato and green bean dish, I sauteed some onions and threw it all into tortillas with some cheddar cheese to make some tasty quesadillas.

Leigh Lambert: That's an excellent veg. dinner (provided you have the leftovers).

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Boston: I really love using fresh herbs, but as a single cook, buying them all of the time gets expensive and I end up wasting a lot of them. I've tried growing some on my own in pots, but they always seem to die very quickly other than my basil, which thrives.

Any tips on good herbs to try growing? Any tips on making fresh ones last longer? They come in those plastic boxes but I never know what to do with them. Herbs are such an easy way to get flavor into a dish so I'm up for any suggestions. Thanks!

Nancy Baggett: A good way to use of ones that you are really needing to dispense with is to throw them in a broth and infuse it by simmering a while. The broth can be added to improve any homemade or bought soup or stew--chicken broth is more versatile, but if you cook with beef a lot, the broth is good in stew. Also, parsley, dill, thyme, basil and chives are all good added to creamy soups--individually, although chives will work with all of the others. If you throw in a potato or carrot, or both, and puree, you'll have a very savory, simple bisque.

As for growing, I find most herbs do better in the ground than in pots. If they must be in pots, go for large ones.

Joe Yonan: I'll take the making freshly cut herbs last longer. My best results for basil and mint come from treating them like cut flowers: cutting them anew, stripping lower leaves from the stems and putting them in clean water, then recutting and changing the water every few days if they start to wilt. With other parsley and cilantro, I seem to get better results by wrapping them in barely damp paper towel, then sticking that in a plastic bag and refrigerating. The downside: You can't see them.

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Switch chinese chicken salad...?: How about having chicken satays, with the requisite peanut dipping sauce and an alternative dipping sauce (e.g. a coconut curry sauce)? Ina Garten actually has a good satay recipe as well

washingtonpost.com: Ina Garten: Grilled Lemon Chicken Skewers with Satay Dip Recipe (Food Network)

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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joe yonan v. michael chiarello: round one. fight!

Jane Black: I'm putting my money on Joe. (And not only because he signs our paychecks.)

Joe Yonan: And don't even get me started on that silly way that he squeezes lemons. Did you see him pull that old chestnut out for Top Chef Masters? He bends over and bites the lemon half! Yuck.

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Re: cold brewing: When you soaked the grounds in water and left it in the refrigerator, how long did you soak them for before filtering?

Jane Touzalin: Andreas Viestad recommends 8 to 12 hours.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For those of you lucky enough to have extra rosemary - how about putting it under the skin of a chicken and roasting it? I have also used it in bread mixes (sourdough, white, even english muffins or biscuits) for something different.

Nancy Baggett: You are right--slipping rosemary until the skin of a roast chicken is a great idea. And yes, it is in good in all kinds of sweet and savory baked goods--I mentioned this in my story today. I've never tried rosemary in homemade English muffins though--will try that.

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Planning ahead ...: Any advice as to what types of dishes to make now and freeze for later this fall/winter? I'm pregnant with my first child, and I expect that some extra cooking now will serve me well in the months to come. I'm trying to stock up with hearty casseroles and soups but don't want to end up with a freezer full of lasagna and tuna noodle casserole. Any ideas/inspiration would be appreciated!

Nancy Baggett: I made a lot of hearty soups for my daughter-in-law to use after my grandkids were born. Soups tend to freeze well, and with a bread and/or salad can make an easy meal.

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Boulder, Colo.: Hi folks. Thanks for the iced coffee article - there's nothing more refreshing on a hot summer's day. We just purchased our own coffee roaster and have been having fun roasting our own beans. I've become so spoiled this past week trying different beans!

Joe Yonan: Good for you -- I've been meaning to try these home roasters out. What did you buy?

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Arlington, VA: I am getting swiss chard in my CSA box again this week. Can you give me a quick easy recipe? My husband is getting sick of it sauteed with garlic.

Thanks

Joe Yonan: Your Swiss chard recipes are served: How about:

Quick braised, with white beans and chorizo

Baked Spanish-style with potatoes

Tossed with pasta, currants and Medeira

Stewed with lentils

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Reston Va.: Chiarello rib recipe asker, again.

Thanks for setting me straight on the kale vs. cabbage issue. While there are some elements of the recipe as written that are completely unhelpful (cold smoking the ribs, case of kale), I think a mildly experienced home cook can cut through the junk of most recipes. I gave up long ago on getting 2 cups of onions/carrots/shallots into a recipe when it calls for measurements. The pot or skillet will get what comes close to that amount in units of small or large onion/carrot/shallots.

It's not like Chiarello will be standing over my shoulder while I'm making this dish ...

Joe Yonan: Oh, absolutely, you don't care what MC thinks -- I just find it obnoxious that these recipes get out there in this shape. It's really the fault of Bravo, not Chiarello, though. (I don't want to just become known as the Chiarello basher! I'm so much more than that ...)

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Anonymous: I have tried the Starbuck Oatmeal cookie twice with the same result. The cookie is flat and some of the oatmeal is still dry. I also only got about 16 cookies. Has anyone else had a problem?

Leigh Lambert: We haven't been getting any negative feedback for the cookies. What type of oatmeal are you using? Make sure you don't use instant which will respond differently in baking.

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For rosemary....: ...would have never thought about using it in a spritzer, but this looks interesting!

Also, a tiny bit of tender rosemary chopped fine and sizzled in olive oil is a lovely base for a mushroom omelet.

When making polenta, try infusing the liquid you use with rosemary.

Also, I love to add rosemary to white beans- soups, cold bean salad, pureed as a side....

Enjoy your bounty!

washingtonpost.com: Summer Sips: Peach and Rosemary Spritzers (The SoHo)

Nancy Baggett: Yes, rosemary is excellent in all sorts of white bean dishes. The Northern Italians go this route often. Try combining rosemary with orange or lemon zest in baked goods--also lovely.

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Baked Doughnuts: My husband saw the doughnut feature in Veg Times and insisted we buy a doughnut pan. It's on the way, but now we need recipes. He is convinced the vegan ones in the magazine won't be as tasty as a conventional recipe. Can you lead me in the right direction?

Jane, congratulations on the excellent article in Body+Soul!

Leigh Lambert: I would sheepishly suggest you start with the Vegetarian Times recipes, just to see if you can fool him. He may be surprised. Heidi Swanson has a recipe for scrumptious looking cinnamon doughnuts you can try also.

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Don't laugh: I got a ton of very usable platters (plain white china ovals and red metal circles), napkins, and champagne glasses for a big party at a Dollar Store in Alexandria (not an actual Dollar Store but one of those non-branded ones. There are two I know of--one near the Giant on Van Dorn near Pickett and Edsall and one around the corner in the Home Depot shopping center on Pickett). They are not the best quality or heirlooms, but they work wonderfully for big parties. I think I spent under $20 for 10 platters and a dozen glasses and napkins.

Jane Black: Great tip. Thanks.

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Tomato world, Washington, D.C.: Ahhh, just wanted to say that I finally read the tomato issue and really, I think all of that cooking of the tomatoes is just gilding that lily. Our "Tomato Supper"

-Cutting boards full of all kinds of sliced tomatoes from the Farmer's Market (Waterpenny is my favorite)

-Bread board with sliced farmer's market bread (I like something Olive-y)

-Basil, red onion, fresh cheese, whatever looks amazing straight from the market

-Jars of butter, mayo, salt and pepper

-Amazing, fruity olive oil and balsamic

-Forks, napkins, plates. On the deck. All beautiful

-Maybe a sparkling rose

Perfection. I look forward to this all year.

Nancy Baggett: Sounds good to me! A "plain" tomato sandwich is no such thing.

Joe Yonan: Yes, many would agree, although lots of us also like to make dishes with our tomatoes. Last year, I believe, one of the submissions to the recipe contest read something like: 1. Take tomato to sink. 2. Take bite out of it. 3. Sprinkle salt on the bitten part. 4. Eat the rest.

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Cupcakes: If I take a cake recipe, how should I lower the temp/time of the oven to make cupcakes? Basically, I'm switching from a nine-inch pan to a muffin tin.

Leigh Lambert: Don't change your oven temperature. Do change your baking time. Check muffins/cupcakes at about 20 minutes. They will looked slightly domed and be springy to the touch (unless it is an ultra-dense chocolate recipe - you can judge that accordingly).

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And don't even get me started on that silly way that he squeezes lemons. He bends over and bites the lemon half! Yuck. : Yeah, that creeped me out. Hello germs! At the beginning I thought he was humble and nice, but when he started expecting the newbies to treat him like king ("what's my name?") I realized he was very arrogant even relatively within the world of celebrity chefs.

Joe Yonan: My favorite part was when he said, "I'm glad Rick won," while barely able to force his grimace into an imitation of a smile. I actually thought his cooking was really good, but yes, that attitude... Oy.

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Lucky Silver Spring: I had the great fortune to be in CA last week. I picked up some citrus infused olive oil and some champagne vinegar from two vineyards we visited. Other than salads, what do you recommend I do with them?

Jane Black: Out of curiosity, was it Pasolivo oil? I got their tangerine and lemon when I was in Paso Robles in May.

I confess, I've been hording. But it's great drizzled atop goat cheese bruschetta or brushed on fish. (We used it on some lovely black grouper this weekend.) The owner of Pasolivo also swears fruit infused olive oils are great when making a batch of brownies.

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I just find it obnoxious that these recipes get out there in this shape.: He doesn't want you to make it. He wants you to crave it, be intimidated, and go to his restaurant.

Joe Yonan: But why does Bravo play along with that? Oh, I know: They don't want to have to test these recipes.

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Football Menu Help: We are hosting about 12 friends for a college football getogether in Sept. I am thinking pulled pork sandwiches (grilled country-style ribs finished in a crock pot), and a friend is bringing ribs. I may make some chicken satay.

I am hitting a wall when it comes to apps and sides -- I'm so tired of the usual potato/fruit/pasta salad dishes. I do have some nice Rancho Gardo beans, but not sure what to do with them. Any help is appreciated! Also, while we are discussing herbs, my tabby is obsessed with thyme (but no other herbs). I always give him a sprig to toss around, and it makes his day! Odd, but cute!

Jane Black: I love Rancho Gordo beans. Depending on what kind they are, I'd just cook them up with some garlic and herbs and serve them on the side. Here are Steve's tips for how to make a pot of beans linked to article I wrote about him last year.

As for other sides, how about a

twist on coleslaw

This is my recipe for an Asian version with ginger and lemongrass. Delicious. Add some cornbread and you're done.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person looking for sources for grassfed/pastured meats, try Eat Wild

washingtonpost.com: Eat Wild

Jane Black: Oh so right. How silly of me to forget them. The woman who runs that site, Jo Robinson, is terrific.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi! Thanks for the iced coffee recipes today. I don't really like coffee but love things like a frapuccino, because they are more sweet than bitter. For days I feel I need a caffeine break, is there one recipe in the group you would recommend for people with my taste buds? Or is there a way I can tweak the recipes to fit my needs? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Well, all the recipes speak to the idea that iced coffee needs a little sweet and dairy to overcome any of the bitterness of the coffee. But if you like a frappuccino, then I'd suggest you start with the iced mocha, which is the most like a shake. I tested the frappe and the cold-brewed cappuccino, which are both great, too.

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For the peanut allergy: Peanuts are legumes and not tree nuts. The majority of people who have peanut allergies are not allergic to tree nuts. You can substitute cashew butter or almond butter or even sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) in the recipe which will maintain the flavor and consistency. It just changes the flavor. You should be able to find these products at Whole Foods, TJ's, MOM's, and local health food stores.

Nancy Baggett: You are absolutely right--peanuts are not nuts, so nuts and nut butters can often be substituted. However, nothing else really tastes like peanuts--the nut butters are nice, but generally much, much milder.

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School lunch help!: School starts next week and I bought a bento box for my first grader who doesn't like sandwiches. Any suggestions of what I can fill it with that looks and tastes good?

Jane Black: Here's a post our nutrition writer Jennifer La Rue Huget did on just this topic. Has lots of good links and ideas.

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New York, N.Y.: I loved the article about iced coffee. I can't wait to try the Shakerato and the Taxi-Driver. I am a big fan of the cold- brew method; the coffee is much less bitter and it's so easy. I don't need any sugar at all; I drink it black or with a little soy/rice milk.

Can I successfully substitute my cold brew for the espresso in these drinks? I brew it for 36-48 hours, so it's very concentrated.

One last thing: the recipe for Cold Brewed Cappuccino says to cover and refrigerate the coffee for at least 8 hours. I was taught that it should actually be brewed at room temperature, and once the brew is made and filtered, it can be chilled. Or the room temp coffee can simply be poured over ice. I know there's some debate about this ... Is there any discernible difference?

Joe Yonan: I think your cold brew is worth trying in the espresso drinks, sure. I'm asking Andreas about that refrigeration issue, because you're right, that's how Toddy suggests it. I'll report back next week if I don't hear back in the next few mins.

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Bosque Farms, N.M.: Another suggestion for Baltimore with the extra pesto -- use it on pizza rather than pizza sauce -- top with sliced cherry tomatoes and a little more cheese. Another topping is cooked potatoes -- it may sound strange, but I love the combination.

Jane Black: Oh I love that too. Pesto and potato pizza is a Ligurian classic.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Save your rosemary and use it to top foccacia, or even put it in the dough. Aromatic while baking. King Arthur website has a fab rosemary and grape foccacia that is relatively simple but wows guests every time.

Nancy Baggett: A "plain" rustic boule with chopped rosemary and good black olives will wow 'em too. And if the bread is "kneadless" it will also be dead easy.

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Summer bounty -- zucchini and herbs edition: In the latest Vegetarian Times there is an incredible zucchini, spinach, lemon and white bean soup that uses a lot of mint. (I changed it by using kidney beans I had on hand and pureeing it instead of serving as a broth, and using basil instead of mint, so, OK, not the same recipe, but it is still great). It cost me very litte, and I used all local produce I got at MOMs. The VT site (do a recipe search for zucchini soup) has another incredible one that uses zucchini, ricotta and a ton of basil.

I pretty much figure, though, winter or summer, if you sautee or roast (in winter) a whole bunch of fresh, seasonal vegetables and then puree with a handful of fresh herbs, you have a soup that cannot go wrong.

Nancy Baggett: I absolutely agree. Even a purchased broth will deliver the goods if it is infused with a handful of fresh herbs.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm taking pulled pork with me to the beach next weekend (North Carolina grandmother's recipe) and want to bring some sides to go with it. I'm thinking coleslaw, but I want everything to be made ahead and it gets so mushy. I would like to avoid anything mayo based.

Jane Touzalin: Coleslaw is not an option -- you HAVE to have it with pulled pork! Make the dressing ahead but take it along separately to avoid mushiness. As another side, maybe a crock of homemade baked beans? Okay, not imaginative, but still good.

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Freezing and reheating lasagna: I do this every time I make lasagna as it is a bit of work to make one lasagna but no additional work to make two once you are already making one.

After assembling, you can freeze the unbaked lasagna. To avoid or minimize freezer burn, wrap carefully and tightly once cool. I use plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil then seal in a large plastic bag. You can also try two techniques I use for freezing other things but haven't found particularly helpful for lasagna - either press the plastic wrap down into the surface of the food or cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Either way a covered surface can't get frosty but I find these work best with foods that are "smoother" on top.

Then, I bake the completely frozen lasagna covered for 45 minutes and uncovered another 35-45 more. (for the unfrozen the baking is similar - 45 min covered but only 15-20 uncovered)

Jane Touzalin: Another good method. Thanks for weighing in.

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Bethesda, Md.: Re: fried corn (last week): I'd suggest not cooking the bacon crisp, just render diced bacon and add back with corn, and don't use the drippings for this as the flavor can overpower sweet corn (reserve drippings for home fries!) Use butter instead and add a little sweet bell pepper to the shallots, use cream instead of water and, with about 10 minutes left, sprinkle top with a couple to tablespoons of shredded pepper jack/cheddar cheese mix.

Have made fried corn this way many times and it is great!!

Jane Black: Sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing.

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Burke, Va.: Last week, hubby came home from Costco with cilantro lime shrimp and whole wheat pitas. Here's what I came up with to use them: I skewered the shrimp and quickly seared them (less than 1 min per side since they were already cooked), toasted the pita in a panini pan, then put the shrimp in pita halves with lettuce, tomato, sauteed scallions and a sweet yogurt cole slaw sauce.

It tasted great, particularly for something I invented my very own self!

Leigh Lambert: Those can be the most satisfying meals of all. Sounds delicious!

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Eggplant: So I bought some long (10-12 inch), thin (1.5 inch diameter) eggplants at a farmer's market. But I am now entirely at a loss on how to cook it. Suggestions?

Nancy Baggett: I bought some, too! I tried using them unpeeled but the skins were tough. Then I came up with this: Peel, cut crosswise into slices, put on a microwave-safe plate, sprinkle with water. Nuke a couple minutes--this just ensures that they won't suck up too much oil. Then pat the rounds dry. Saute with olive oil, salt, pepper until nicely browned. Sprinkle over a little chili powder, stirring to coat the slices, then serve. Easy, and good.

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Arlington, Va.: for the person with a lot of fresh basil - try making panzanella. that still has carbs in it but you could up the tomato & cucumber & lower the bread chunks.

Anything with tomatoes tastes better with basil. cook meat with it.

There's not such thing as too much fresh basil.

Nancy Baggett: Try tossing pesto into a sauteed spinach-white bean combo--a fine vegetarian entree.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd love a good suggestion for a Mad Men-era cocktail I can make tonight (we're watching this week's episode). I've already done old fashioneds and gimlets.

Jane Black: Jason isn't here today but I've searched through his archive and here are a few good suggstions.

The

Aviation

is a great classic cocktail and perfect for summer. The herbal gin and lemon are very refreshing. The

Jack Rose

is also a classic with apple jack, lime and grenadine. And, OK, this isn't classic but it should be in my humble opinion: the

Italian Greyhound

is a mix of punt e mes (strong vermouth) and grapefruit juice with a salt rim. (A little bourbon doesn't hurt either.)

Or, you could just make a really good martini. Very Mad Men.

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Olive Oil: I bought it at a small vineyard in the Russian River area - Harvest Moon. They make their own and we had an olive oil tasting in addition to the wine. The champagne vinegar came from Point Reyes vineyard. Their champagne is awesome too, by the way.

Nancy Baggett: Point Reyes is stunning; sorry I didn't try the champagne vinegar. With all that great scenery it would have been great, I'm sure.

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But why does Bravo play along with that? : Bravo sells ad time and sells packages to cable companies. They don't really profit from the recipes.

Joe Yonan: But clearly they think having the recipes helps them get hits on the Web site, or they wouldn't be putting them there at all...

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Clifton, Va.: Boyfirend who wants meat

Go to the Organic Butcher and get some lamb chops or a leg of lamb. Even a lamb roast and grill it. Serve with polenta, grilled veggies etc. A little garlic, freshly ground coarse sea salt and pepper, and olive oil on the lamb. And the Va. red wine that was highly reviewed from last week. Yuuuuuummmmmm!

Make sure you get American East Coast lamb organic!

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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re: pesto: Freeze the pesto in ice cube trays! You'll be happy to have it in January.

Joe Yonan: Natch.

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For Basil person: If it's basil you have extra of, add some to tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and mozzarella. Yum!

If it's pesto, slather it on a skinless chicken breast before you bake it. Again ... Yum!

Joe Yonan: Thank you for not saying Yumo.

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For Stocking Up: 101cookbooks has a great Butternut squash and Adziki bean soup that freezes well. It's flavorful, fairly easy, and really hearty because of the squash and beans.

Joe Yonan: I love her stuff.

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Salt Lake City: White dinnerware -- check target! I've got some great serving dishes there, and they are inexpensive, and have been very durable.

Joe Yonan: Word.

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Washington, D.C.: Extra rosemary: Make a spice smelling potpourri -- any combination of cloves, star anise, cinnamon, citrus peels -dried], dried roses. Proportions according to what scents you prefer and what dried spices you have on hand.

Alternatively, after the rosemary is dried, crush onto your carpets, and vacuum.

Joe Yonan: Thanks, Heloise!

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've ground us coarsely and let us sit in water for at least6 8 hours before pouring us through a filter, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today. And thanks to Nancy Baggett for helping us help you with your herb love, and confusion.

Now for the giveaways: The Reston chatter that got me riled up about Michael Chiarello's recipe will get "Born Round." The chatter who first asked about freezing lasagna will get "Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next week, happy cooking, brewing, sipping, growing and eating.

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