Free Range on Food: Local milk, chicken legs, substitutions, cheesecake, lima beans, pumpkin muffins, ginger scones

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, September 9, 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


Joe Yonan: Welcome, Rangers, to today's chat -- thanks for joining us. We're here, as usual, to help you cook, eat and otherwise think about cooking and/or eating. And we have one, perhaps two VSCs (that's Very Special Cooks): the lovely and talented Robin Shuster, manager of the 14th/U and Bloomingdale farmers markets, who can answer anything and everything, really, but of course specializes in fresh farm produce; and maybe, just maybe, Scott Reitz, today's jerk-chicken appreciator.

What's on your mind? Shout it out, and we'll bat it back.

As always, we'll have giveaway books for our favorite posts: There's "The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot" by Chip Brantley; and "Everyday Indian" by Bal Arneson, source of Bonnie's DinMin recipe today.


Local milk?: I'm looking for a local source of milk (ideally skim, 1%, or 2%) from a dairy that treats cows like cows. I live in Courthouse and work in McPherson Square and am willing to walk but driving is out. I've tried the milk guy at the Courthouse farmers market but I'm hoping to find a different source. Are there any other options?

Robin Shuster: We all miss Adam's extraordinary milk at Dupont but here are the current choices: Clear Spring Creamery at Dupont, J Wenn at Takoma and Riverdale and probably some other markets, South Mountain at the Baltimore Markets and Trickling Springs at FF Annapolis or Baltimore (can't remember which) and many health food stores.


Bethesda, Md.: You missed Just Jerk in Lanham, Md! They are the only place on the MD side that I ever see with smoke billowing out of the top of the building. All of the Caribbean joints that bake the jerk chicken deserve no mention at all. The baked version stands absolutely no comparison to smoked/grilled.

My first taste of the delicious, spicy bird was at the Penn Relays in college. Because a large number of the racers come from the Caribbean, there are tons of food stands selling Caribbean specialties and the jerk chicken was unbelievable. Smoky, salty, with a spicy kick, and hacked into pieces by a machete (I kid you not). When the Smithsonian Folklife Festival had a Jamaica theme, they served a pretty decent jerk chicken as well. But really, the baked stuff is such a poor copycat of the real thing that it probably shouldn't be served at all.

Bonnie Benwick: Smoke's a good sign, but I'm not so sure the author missed it -- he just didn't name all the places he's been to. He may be checking in with the chat soon.

_______________________ A Burning Desire for Jerk Chicken (Post, Sept. 9)

Joe Yonan: Here's a link to Scott's jerk story, for our chatters' ease...

_______________________ The Market Maven: Robin Shuster Runs 2 Tight Ships, With Gusto, in the City (Post, Sept. 9)

Joe Yonan: And here's Jane's spiffy profile of Robin Shuster.


Nice gams...: I have chicken legs for dinner tonight and need a new idea. Typically I put them on the grill with BBQ sauce or roast them in the oven at high heat with an Asiany sauce. It's raining, so bonus points for inside. Anyway to do a crispy sort of thing without actually frying?

Bonnie Benwick: You could slather them with the mustard glaze used in this fish recipe today, and roast them at 450, turning often until crisped. Or you could coat those gams with a mixture of ground nuts (your choice), spices (ditto) and panko crumbs, then bake at 375. Chatters? What would you do?


Washington, D.C.: I bought two nice leeks at the farmer's market last weekend, but now I'm not sure what to do with them. I'm making pasta with simple tomato sauce tomorrow. Could I put the leeks in that? Maybe sautéed first with the garlic?

Robin Shuster: You can definitely use the white parts of leeks instead of onions, chopped and sautéed gently until soft, before adding your tomatoes for the sauce. Leeks are very versatile. I sauté the whites left whole in a gratin dish with olive oil until soft in the oven and season with a vinaigrette. Or chop the greens with the chopped branches of fennel, sauté until soft, add enough just enough water to cover, add a lid, cover and cook a few minutes and then puree with a stick blender. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan or a dollop of yogurt.


Fort Washington, Md.: Thank you for taking my question!!

I have gotten hooked on the fresh basil growing in a pot. How do I keep it growing through the winter months? Can I leave it outside and how do I protect it?

Thanks so much!!

Robin Shuster: You cannot leave Basil outside all year. It dies once the night temps drop before about 50 degrees. I have frankly never had success keeping my summer basil alive through the winter. But if you buy a pot in the winter, they are greenhouse grown, and should last on a sunny window.


Substituting: Is there a website or book to go to that can tell what I can sub for what? I detest coconut. When I see a recipe that calls for it I can usually sub almonds or pecans or leave it out. But I am stumped about subbing coconut milk. There are other things I hate and I'm sure most folks do. Would love to know where I could find reference to suggestions for alternates. Please help! Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: "The Food Substitutions Bible" by David Joachim (not to be confused with the NYT writer) is my first go-to source. He recommends using regular milk or half-and-half with 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract in recipes where you want to replace coconut milk. But since you detest the TASTE of coconut, seems like you'd want to omit the extract.

Just curious -- are these Asian- or island-inspired recipes, where the coconut flavor contributes nicely?


Vegetable stock: A few weeks ago you had suggested not using a store bought chicken stock for use in risotto. I need to use a vegetable stock in mine, and I'm wondering would a store bought work for this purpose? If it is better to have it from scratch, what vegetables do I need to boil together to get that strong flavor that you had mentioned?

Bonnie Benwick: We did? It's easier to control the sodium if you make your own, of course. And some store-bought broths work better than others; we taste-tested them last November and rated Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth the highest. Often I prefer using veg stock for risotto -- more pure flavor. Leeks, carrots, celery, onion (with skins) and mushrooms should give you a nice balance. Throw in some fresh herbs, too, such as thyme or marjoram. Bring to barely a boil, then cook with some bubbles at the edges. Season to taste. Strain before using.


Monmouth Beach, N.J.: I love capers but don't often use them because I don't know how long they keep in the refrigerator and so I usually wind up throwing the leftovers away before I need them again. How long is it safe to store them and do they need to be covered by the liquid in the bottle they come in?

Bonnie Benwick: Storage worries are swirling today...As long as the capers are submerged in that salt solution and the jar lid's on tight, you can refrigerate them for many, many months. Maybe a year. Their flavor might grow sharper, but then again, you probably add them in recipes to get a salty punch, right?

Check to see how wrinkly-pruny they look. If they've turned into something other than rounded orbs, toss 'em. FYI, a bottle of unopened Italian capers on the shelf today at

Bella Italia

in Bethesda has a "best-use" date of 2012. Does your bottle have an indecipherable date code somewhere -- maybe on the lid or bottom of the bottle? You can contact the distributor-manufacturer, too.


Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon Foodies, I am proud to say that this weekend I made the brownie recipe with the secret ingredient of a can of black beans and they are a huge hit. Less calories, less sugar, less carbs and more fiber. . . .delicious!

Leigh Lambert: Don't you just love "pulling one over" on people. Awesome!


Texan in DC: My grandma in Texas made the best fried okra in the world, but I wasn't smart enough to get the recipe before she passed on. I've tried making fried okra, but haven't been able to master it. Any tips for the novice okra fryer?

Joe Yonan: As a fellow Texan in DC, I point you to an Alabaman-in-DC (David Hagedorn)'s technique. He says the tricks are: Use tender young pods, cut them into pieces small enough to crisp up well and don't fuss with them too much while they are cooking. Here's his recipe.


Bread baking: I've been wanting to get into bread baking and have thought about taking a class to learn how to knead dough. I find it too sticky a mess when I try at home. My husband suggests I buy a bread machine because his sister makes fresh bread for sandwiches about once a week in her machine. I wanted to get an idea of whether people use bread machines or if people generally prefer to knead themselves (if they know how).

Bonnie Benwick: Bread machines make things easy but they can be limiting -- that same dumb loafy shape, no hands on the dough. You could check our cooking class listings, just out today. And here's hoping you have a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. Lots of bread recipes tend to call for some processing on the hook and some by hand.


Oxford, U.K.: I hope you can help me out. I am from the DC area and studying in Oxford this year. As a student, I eat a fair amount of beans and have been trying to cook from dried. It takes a crazy amount of time to cook them over here, I cooked a batch of chickpeas last week and soaked them for over 24 hours first. I rinsed them and put them in the slow cooker on low with an onion and some garlic for the whole day, over 14 hours. They were still a little crunchy. I tried pinto beans a few days later and got the same result, too crunchy. I cooked both batches of beans in soup and they weren't really tender until the second reheating. Could this be because the water is hard over here? Everything gets limescale and that is the only thing I can think of. Will filtering my cooking water through the Brita take care of that? If I have to buy water to cook beans, it sort of negates any cost savings. Thanks for your help.

Robin Shuster: I suspect you are getting very old beans and that is why you are having trouble. I have very limey water in France and that does not seem to make the beans harder to cook. Try buying freshly dried beans at one of the excellent farmers' markets. London's Farmers' market has more than a dozen in London and there is a small one in Wolvercote in Oxford.

Joe Yonan: It's true that the beans you buy in the supermarket may be very old. Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, whom Jane Black profiled last year, says they could be up to 7 years old, and it's true that the older they are, the longer they take to cook. Besides the great farmers market beans Robin mentions (I've been buying limas and blackeyed peas from Garner at the 14th/U market), you might try Steve's by mail order. They're amazing.


Local milk: South Mountain Creamery delivers DELICIOUS milk to my front door every week. I can't say enough good things about them or their products. Once you get use to the taste of good milk in glass bottles, you can't go back to the old stuff.

Jane Black: Wow. I didn't know they delivered. That's terrific. Anyone else tried them?


Greenbelt, Md.: Robin, I love the Good Cooks series! I've been haunting thrift stores and online book swap sites for volumes. I wish they could be reprinted today, but then I wouldn't have the fun of finding them.

Robin Shuster: I think it is a unique series. A real cooking school. I still use it when I want to refresh a technique I don't know or have forgotten. I am glad you can find them. What many people do not know is that the books were originally created by the London Staff of Time Life for the European market and adapted for the US by an entire team of researchers, consultants, photographers and writers.


Cheesecake: Do you have a plain cheesecake recipe that would be worthy of a special celebration? What is the difference in method, or should I ask, how is the texture different between baking cheesecake in a bath, vs. dry baking or no-baking even?

Leigh Lambert: I blogged about the women who own Capital City Cheesecake this week. They provided a recipe for a Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake. If you left out the peppermint extract and used 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract instead and subbed out the Oreo cookies in the crust for chocolate wafer cookies, I think you'd have something worthy of celebration.

The idea of cooking a cheesecake in a water bath is to insulate it from the direct heat of the oven. However if you are baking at a low temperature this isn't always necessary. Capital City Cheesecake does not use a water bath.


Lima Beans: Help! I received a bag of lima beans fresh from my coworkers garden. But I have no idea what to do with them. Do I boil them after I take them out of the pods? I have heard something about getting some kind of poisoning if you don't prepare lima beans properly. So I appreciate any advice you have.

Robin Shuster: Are they small beans? If so, depod them and throw them into boiling UNSALTED water until tender and then drain well. Season with olive oil and salt. They taste like Edamame that way. I also like to add Parmesan to them and pretend they are young fava beans. Cooked, they can also be pureed with cumin, parsley, mint and olive oil to make a dip.


Foods of the World: Is Time Life's "Foods of the World" series still being published?

Joe Yonan: If only. I've been collecting these great volumes over the last few years, and have set the bar high: They have to be in the original boxes that hold both the bigger volume and the spiral-bound recipe book. I have about half of them. I'd love to see Robin's whole set one day!

Robin Shuster: My father "stole" all the individual volumes on American Cooking so my set is no longer complete.

Robin Shuster: Time Life thought about republishing and updating both Foods of the World and The Good Cook but decided against it --at that time in the 90s because they thought Americans were no longer willing to use such detailed recipes or spend as much time cooking as we were in the late 70s..


Buttercream: Am I correct in thinking that if I whip ganache, that becomes a chocolate frosting? I see most recipes call for Italian buttercream, although I've seen a French buttercream recipe somewhere, and Martha Stewart always talks about Swiss buttercreams. Which is a good one to learn first? How do the methods of making each differ?

Leigh Lambert: To answer your second question first, Swiss buttercreams use egg whites and French buttercreams beat in a hot sugar syrup. Now, back to your first question and inclination, you can definitely make a wonderful frosting (in my opinion better than either European buttercream) by whipping ganache. Thank you for reminding me of this simple technique. It is magical. Let your ganache cool completely, preferably chill it for a couple of hours, then using a whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whip the heck out of it. You can adjust the consistency if need be by drizzling in a little heavy cream.


Eggs divided: I needed egg yolks to make a custard and I tried to replicate what I saw Joanne Weir do on TV, but still a little yolk go into the whites bowl. This is a shame because I had to make an omelet instead of amaretti, which I had planned on saving the whites for. Is there more of a full proof method for breaking eggs and dividing their yolks and whites?

Joe Yonan: You're leaving out a crucial bit of information -- that is, the technique you saw Joanne do! Here are some of my tricks: Crack the egg on a flat surface, not an edge, to keep the shell from breaking in shards that can cut the yolk. Then use your fingers as a sieve, letting the whites slip through them into the bowl. OR you can do what I sometimes do when using larger amounts of yolks or whites: Just crack them all into a bowl and use your fingers to scoop our the yolks one at a time. Learned that from Jacques Pepin.

But I should say something else: You could've used the whites that had a little yolk in them in your amaretti, and I bet the result would've been fine. The difficulty is really only when you're needing to whip up the egg whites into a stiff meringue; having some yolk in there keeps the whites from being able to volumize. But if you're not doing that with them, as in amaretti, it shouldn't matter.


Philadelphia: For a novel that includes recipes, would you rather see the recipes right there in the text, between chapters, or all at the end? Does your answer change depending on how long the recipes are?

Since you're a food-loving bunch I'm curious to see if your answers are different from those of my book-loving but not-necessarily-food-loving friends. As the author, I'm torn.

Jane Black: At the end of chapters. Close enough to the story but not enough to interrupt the flow.


Pumpkin Muffins : Thanks so much for posting the Firehook recipe for pumpkin muffins. I have a question about technique, though -- when I make muffins, I can never get the Firehook combo of a slightly crunchy top with a rich, moist interior. Mine tend to be less crunchy on top and less moist in the inside, so there's less of that contrast. Could my oven temperature be the problem? Am I overstirring? Pumpkin Muffins recipe

Leigh Lambert: Well, you may not be over stirring, but it is a good rule of thumb with baked goods, muffins in particular, not to blend more than you need to. this means leaving a few faint streaks of flour you're dying to blend in.

To keep the muffins moist you will likely want to err on the side of less time in the oven. They will continue to bake slightly after being removed.

Lastly, be generous with your sugar topping and try getting a coarser sugar, like turbinado. This should make it good and crisp.


Shirlington, Va.: A childhood friend recently had her second child, giving her two children that are less than 18 months old. I'd like to take her at least one frozen meal this weekend but am at a loss for recipes that aren't loaded with onions, garlic, broccoli or tomato-based products (things that this nursing mother has requested not be present in the dish). Any suggestions?

Robin Shuster: Potato and Green Bean salad. I made that last night. Purple potatoes are particularly nice with yellow wax and green beans. Boil the potatoes and the beans separately in a large pot of salted water. Drain, cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths, combine with the drained beans, dress with olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly cut herbs.

While you are doing that, bake slices of eggplant that you have brushed with oil and put on cookie sheets or hotel pans in the oven. Turn them after they brown. Arrange in spirals on a plate and top with yogurt and mint or basil or oregano.


Washington, D.C.: I've decided to stop my procrastination (I'll start cooking more, and more healthily, when X or Y happens) and cook more often and more vegetarian. I'm not a good cook, so I need fairly explicit instructions to start. I'm also not the most adventurous eater, though I am willing to try most stuff a few times and love spicy and ethnic foods. Any idea of a good cookbook to get me started? I need recipes that are easy and reasonably quick to prepare. Thanks!

Jane Black: I swear I should get royalties from Mark Bittman but I always recommend his Minimalist and How To Cook Everything cookbooks. I think his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a good start.

Joe Yonan: I would add Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and Aliza Green's "Starting With Ingredients."


Alexandria, Va.: Two quick questions for Robin.

First, why are plouts so scarce in this area? Is there a good, local source? I fell in love with them in So Cal and would like to continue the affair. (Haven't yet read the new book)

Second, what is your favorite, simple way to prepare yellow squash? My CSA is speed growing them and I need fresh ideas.

Thank you!

Robin Shuster: We have had lots of Pluots at McCleaf at 14&U this year...

I don't *love* yellow squash because it tends to be watery but I do think it make a very pretty pureed Italian style Crema soup sautéed with onions or leeks until they are very soft, THEN add only enough water to make a soup. You don't want to dilute the flavor too much. Cover, cook for a few minutes on a low flame, puree. You can top it with parma cheese, olive oil, yogurt, goat cheese. Your choice. I like to cook it with a whole hot pepper which I do NOT puree, to add a hint of heat that offsets the sweetness.


Arlington, Va.: Hello!

Where can I find truffle butter? Anyone near Arlington sell the stuff?


Jane Black: The Italian Store in Arlington carries it. I just called; they don't have it today but they could have it by tomorrow. Call before you go: (703) 528-6266


Adana, Turkey: I'm looking for a spicy apple cake recipe that I got from the Post a few years ago. I believe it was printed as part of either this chat or Kim's chat. It's baked in a tube pan. I checked the database but couldn't find the recipe. Any help would be much appreciated.

Jane Black: I just spent a few minutes scouring our database with no luck either. Can you be more specific about what was in it? That might help.


Creme de marron: My mom used to make a dish that mixed a can of sweetened chestnut puree with whipped cream. The last time I made it I brought the whipped cream to stiff peaks and then added the chestnut cream. The additional whipping brought the whole thing to a milky mess. It just seemed to crash. I wasn't sure if I fold the chestnut puree in, or bring the whipped cream to soft peaks and keep mixing with the chestnut puree? Any thoughts?

Leigh Lambert: You may have pinpointed the problem. Even though most recipes call for cream to be whipped to stiff peaks before folding in, the additional folding can cause them to break. There's that sweet spot beyond soft peaks and right before they totally hold their shape that you're shooting for. A little practice.


Washington, D.C.: Hi! As we turn to fall, I'm thinking of simple slow cooker recipes. I like ones that don't involve a whole lot of preparation before adding ingredients to the pot. The catch is my crock pot doesn't have an off switch, so any recipe would need to cook for at least 10 hours on low. I'm OK with improvising, but would love some new, creative ideas. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: We've gotten about four new slow-cooker books in but I haven't had the chance to peruse them. Check back in a few weeks?


Perfect Weather!: Hi, food staff! I just wanted to say how excited I am about this weather we're having in Boston. It's perfect--I can still find summery foods at the local farmers market, but also pick-up some fresh early fall produce... I'm having a blast mixing the two. For example: a quiche with summer squash, and a side of roasted butternut squash and broccoli! Yum! Side question: I am a vegetarian and am having a hard time getting enough protein. Aside from beans, I started eating more quinoa. Any other suggestions?

Jane Black: Yes, this border season is terrific. As for protein sources, how about tofu, seitan, milk, eggs or yogurt? The Vegetarian society has a helpful list of lots of different vegetarian foods and the amount of protein they contain.


Cooking with wine: So we don't drink much at home, but I've come across a few recipes that call for 1/2 a cup of wine here and there. I bought a cheap bottle of wine to use for this purpose. My question is, how long will wine last in the fridge, or does it matter if it's only used for cooking? Like if the fizz is gone, would it matter in a risotto or tomato sauce?

Bonnie Benwick: Couple of rules of thumb:

1. Cook with wine you like to drink.

2. The wine will last several days in the fridge, but freeze it in an ice cube tray and you've got a steady supply of the good stuff when you want it.

3. Adding stale or flat wine (fizz? do you mean in a sparkling wine? or champagne?) to anything you cook is counterproductive.

4. Look for half-bottles on sale -- recently I ran across a bin at Calvert Woodley and found some great deals.


Arlington, Va.: Where can I get that brownie with black beans recipe?

Joe Yonan: Chatter, are you still there? Can you provide a link? Sally Squires wrote about these before she left the Post, and described the recipe like this:

"You'll need any commercial brownie mix and 1 can (15 ounces) of black beans. Take the undrained beans and juice and put in a food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth. Then mix with the brownie mix. Put in an oiled pan and bake as directed on box. You may want to check as these are a little moister than other brownies."

Is that the same way the original chatter baked these? Weigh in!


South Mountain Creamery: Their mocha milk is amazing. And I don't even like milk all that much. Holy cow.

Joe Yonan: Holy cow. Love it.


Clifton, Va.: Treating Cows like Cows? Okay what does this mean?

If you rough up your livestock cattle, sheep, goats, lambs etc you get less return on your investment. If you want your livestock to produce milk you have to feed and treat them well or their production drops.

Has the poster ever worked with livestock. Stock doesn't care about you or your herding dog. They will hurt you both badly if you are in their way or if they are just being ornery.

Most urban and suburban dwellers don't have a clue about those cute cows or sheep. Work with them. I have bruises on my legs and my knee still aches from this weekend's herding trial. Good stockmanship means working the stock with the least amount of stress as possible. It all comes down to money. Silly urban dwellers!

Joe Yonan: Don't get all riled up, now! I interpreted the chatter's comment to mean exactly what you say about treating them well, and assumed that he/she meant cows that weren't part of some big industrial operation.


Novel with recipes: Don't do it. Too darn cute unless you're a genius like the woman who did Like Water for Chocolate.

Or if the recipes are a kind of fiction themselves. I love fiction and I love cookbooks. I simply do not need to mix them. I don't want a pound of ground round with my lightbulbs.

Jane Black: Now, now. Novel With Recipes, you are a genius, right?


New York: I love this week's dinner in minutes: Indian stir fry- yum! And the story behind the recipe's author was really touching/inspiring.

My question: I have a friend who is diabetic; she tries to maintain a sugar-free, gluten-free diet (although she can tolerate small amounts of gluten). I've been experimenting with baking a cake that she can eat, but that everyone can enjoy.

Last week I tried making a PB&J cake for her with mixed results. (She loved it, but I didn't care for it, maybe because I know what the sugar/flour version tastes like.)

I'm using agave as a sugar substitute. That sort of works, but I think it definitely affects the baking because unlike sugar, it doesn't crystallize, and it's liquid, and it's also sweeter than regular sugar, but maybe becomes less sweet with baking? I used about 1/2 the amount of agave that I would normally use for sugar. This seems to work for preserves, but, the cake didn't seem quite sweet enough (and I don't like super sweet cake).

I used a gluten free flour mix from Whole Foods, but I thought the cake was a bit crumbly, and just tasted off- more like a muffin than a cake.

The frosting came out well though! It was a peanut- butter cream cheese frosting, and I used a bit of tapioca starch and agave in place of the confectioner's sugar I would normally use to get the right texture.

Any tips for working with agave and gluten-free flour when baking cakes? Is there a flavor that works better? Like maybe chocolate because it can handle being a little denser?

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks, NY. Bal is a lovely woman who I expect to see having some "Oprah" type moment any day now.

Your questions could take the rest of the chat! Either send an email to or give us some time to consult experts and inform you suitably.


Cornbread!: Please, please, please..I have tried so many cornbread recipes, taken a cornbread cookbook out of the library, and never can get something I really like. Do you have a cornbread recipe you can share? Thanks!!

Leigh Lambert: Well, this begs the question are you in the sweet or savory camp? I have a slightly sweet one at home I'd be happy to send your way if you write into

Joe Yonan: I can vouch for this great one we ran last year. Uses bacon and cheddar to great effect.


Silver Spring - bread machines: Yes, get a bread machine. Use it on the dough cycle to mix the dough and do the first rise, and then shape and bake the bread in the oven.

On dough cycle, a bread machine is just a smart efficient mixer. Even the King Arthur test kitchen uses bread machines to mix doughs.

THEN if you love the results, you might want a stand mixer for a few large recipes or things that need specialized treatment such as very wet doughs you mix for a long long time.

Bonnie Benwick: Another pt of view.


Mt Pleasant, DC: I recently made a big batch of pesto and I froze most of it in ice cube trays but I wanted to know how long it would keep for and how I should properly store it. Can I drop all of them into a freezer storage bag or should I individually wrap each one in plastic wrap/foil? Thanks for your advice!

Bonnie Benwick: Individual wrapping isn't necessary, but it may make it easier to dislodge the pesto cubes in future. They should be good for up to a year, with all the air pressed out of your heavy-duty, freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bag (whew, a mouthful).


Fairfax, Va.: How can I get tofu to have that great meaty texture that you find in Chinese food? Is it baked? Deep fried? Air dried?


Bonnie Benwick: Start with an extra-firm tofu and be sure to press out any excess moisture. Stir-frying's a good way to go.


Zucchini Pickles: I'd love to make the zucchini pickles from today's recipe, but how long will they last? Any other pickled vegetable recipes I can make and keep on hand for a few weeks?

Bonnie Benwick: They will last in the fridge for several weeks. In our Recipe Finder, you can take your pick o' pickled watermelon rind, baby zucchini and corn, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and more -- go have a field day!


Veggie broth: it only takes 30-40 minutes (I keep vegetable clippings in the freezer for this purpose) and tastes 100 times better than store bought, which always tastes off to me.

Robin Shuster: absolutely. And you can freshen the vegetable broth frequently with more veggies if you don't use it all. Much better than a vegetable bouillon cube. Certain veggies can strike too strong a single note -- celery but not celeriac.


Alexandria, Va.: I have a cookie recipe (Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookies) which includes an 8 oz Hersey chocolate bar grated. When I tried to grate the chocolate bar, it either melted while I was holding it or broke into chunks (not too large to eat but too big to add to the cookie batter). I baked the cookies without the grated chocolate, and they are delicious, but I'd love to learn the secret to successfully grating a chocolate bar. Can you help me?

Leigh Lambert: Were you using the chocolate bars at room temperature? If so, try freezing them first. This should keep them firm while you grate them. And hold them with a dish cloth to insulate them from the heat of your hand.


Potomac Falls, Va.: Pomegranates - how am I supposed to cut into them and use them in cooking? Are you supposed to eat the little bits of flesh and the seeds or just the flesh? Seems like it would be hard to de-seed but really necessary.

Joe Yonan: Nope, you don't want the pith, just the seeds. I think the best way to get them out is to do it under water. Slice off the crown of the pomegranate and score it lightly with a knife into quarters -- that is, slice just through the outer skin. Then submerge the pomegranate in a large bowl filled with water, and break it apart with your hands, then use your fingers to separate the seeds from the white pith membrane. The seeds will sink and the pith will float, making it easy to scoop out and discard. Then drain the seeds in a colander.


Alexandria, Va.: Canning question for ya: is it OK to save any lids that you've already heated but didn't use? Don't know if the sealing compound deteriorates once you've put it into the water bath... thanks.

Joe Yonan: Yep, you're fine to reuse them. The experts say not to boil the water that the lids are in, though.


Don't sit under the apple tree...: So we bought a house with an apple tree in the backyard, and now it is starting to rain apples and I am feeling overwhelmed. What are some good ways to preserve some of this lovely fruit? I've already started baking with them, but hubby and I would like to NOT weigh 300 pounds apiece by Christmas!

Jane Black: Well, there are apple preserves, of course. I'm a particular fan of chutneys. Check out this recipe for an apple-pear chutney. I'd also put a word in for simple baked apples. I adore them and they are a great breakfast with yogurt or light dessert so you don't weigh 300 pounds. Jacques Pepin gave us a nice recipe for them last year.

Joe Yonan: And don't forget good old applesauce. I've long made a variation on Julia Child's recipe from "The Way to Cook." The (dear departed) Seattle Post-Intelligencer a couple years ago had this nice piece on applesauce and a rendition of that very recipe, among others.


Fairfax, Va.: Help! Is there any way to tell a good avocado from a bad one before buying it? Every once in a while we get one that never ripens; it just stays hard, and if you finally open it, it often is black inside, or mealy and tasteless. What causes this, and how can I avoid these duds?

Bonnie Benwick: It's fun to go right to the source. Carol Steed, an avocado grower in San Diego, says black and mealy flesh is due to improper cold storage and/or too-long storage. The mealiness may also signal that the fruit suffered a freeze during the growing season.

If an avocado doesn't ripen, it was picked too early, she says -- you may experience that with imported ones, which have to travel far. Blackened flesh is akin to a bruise; it won't make you sick but it will affect the taste, so don't eat it. (I have to admit, when I'm deep into guacamole production, I've been known to slip in some darker flesh and haven't noticed an appreciable difference in flavor.)

Look for an avocado that has no soft spots. A good one should ripen evenly. It should be firm. For the Hass variety, a black one will ripen more quickly than one whose skin is green. Expect good avocados from California in March or April, Carol says.


Finding old recipes: For stuff that's not in the archives, check the Proquest online database of US newspapers. I've found old Post recipes there. Bonus: you see them on the original page with the good old typefaces and ancient supermarket ads.

Joe Yonan: Nice. Since we have internal access to archives and our great research library, I don't have to use such sources, so can you tell me -- how much does ProQuest cost for a civilian/individual?


Pine Plains: I'm going to make some deviled chicken drumsticks tonight so I can take the leftovers when I travel tomorrow. Epicurious has a good recipe, though I use less butter and cheese. Basically, they're slathered in mustard then rolled in panko that's been seasoned with cayenne and grated parmesan and moistened with a little melted butter and baked at 450 till done.

Bonnie Benwick: Hmmm...similar elements. Sounds good!


Cambridge, Mass.: Two questions:

1. When are Hubbard squash in season? I love them partly because they are so weird, and mostly because they are delicious, but I haven't seen any yet.

2. Can I make mushroom stock with the gills and stems leftover from making stuffed mushroom caps? Can I freeze it once it's made?

Robin Shuster: Winter squash are just beginning to appear but they dominate the market in October - Winter.

Robin Shuster: YES, you should use your leftovers for making mushroom stock.

Joe Yonan: And yes you can freeze it!


Recipe issues: Your mention of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian just reminded me of an issue I had. I got the book for Christmas, and thought it would be very helpful in my goal to find uses for the bits of food that are left over after preparing other dishes. Unfortunately, the first recipe I tried, chick pea gnocchi, failed miserably. They just dissolved when dropped into the boiling water. I think there must have been a binding ingredient, like an egg, missing from the recipe. (I'm not a great cook, but I'm pretty good at following directions, so I do think it was the recipe). Is there anyway to follow up on recipe problems? Who would you contact? The publisher? I guess I could put a comment on Mark Bittman's blog...

Bonnie Benwick: I know Jane's a fan of the book, but my experiences have been closer to yours. It's best to contact him through his Web site, -- as if the man needs any more publicity! -- where he has a direct e-mail address. I know he's responsive. Cookbook authors do appreciate the feedback.


Gaithersburg, Md.: My chocolate chip cookies stick to the pan to the point where I can't remove them in one piece. Do you recommend buttering the cookie sheet? I have never seen that in a cookie recipe. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Most cookie recipes don't call for greasing the pan because of the amount of butter in the dough preventing them from sticking. Many dings and scratches might cause sticking. Try lining your pan with parchment paper (not wax paper!). Then ask for new sheet pans for Christmas.


Pimiento: Where could I find authentic Spanish pimiento (dried red pepper) in DC?

Bonnie Benwick: I'm seeing it more all around. BlackSalt Fish Market carries it, so your local small gourmet shop might as well. It's available at Sur La Table, Whole Foods and Dean and Deluca. (I'd have thought Rodman's DC stocked it, but I just called and got a thumb's down.)


Rockville, Md.: Hi. I bought some white bread to be used for French toast, but we ended up not using it. Now I have a loaf of bread we'll never eat for sandwiches. What can I do with it? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: If you're a salad eater you could use the bread for croutons. Cube it, toss with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic salt. You could use fresh garlic, but it's harder to distribute the flavor evenly. Bake at 350 until golden brown, about 15 minutes, tossing once.


Chinatown: I love the farmers market and was just remarking to my husband that we haven't been to the grocery store since March, with the exception of milk. Now that some of the summer produce is winding down, what are some good fall vegetarian recipes I should be considering as I go to the market? I was thinking a potato and squash torte, and maybe something involving goat cheese and apples. I wish my farmers market offered recipes; I'm so not creative, but I surely would love to try!

In a similar vein to a farmers market, I started a vegetable garden this year to grow some of my own produce (and just planted some fall lettuce last weekend--yum!). The Post recently offered a suggestion for a great corn variety. Is it okay to purchase the seeds now, or does it need to be done in the spring closer to planting time (to avoid old seeds? Is that even a problem?).

Thanks!! A Cook's Garden: Sweet Corn, Any Way You Slice It (Post, Sept. 3)

Robin Shuster: Many of the farmers' markets have recipes at the market table. We have changing recipes for just about everything at the market week by week at 14&U FM and Bloomingdale FM and I know that all the Fresh Farm Markets and Smart Markets do as well.

Joe Yonan: For the second question, I asked gardening guru Adrian Higgins, and he says: "No, order seeds in the winter. Anything you get now will probably be a year old."


DC - apple cake: Kim linked to this one in a comment that I found via googling.

Joe Yonan: Thanks. Looks good, doesn't it?


Substituting again: It is in Indian recipes. I love curry. I also enjoy baking and coconut and the milk can be bothersome. Gonna check out that book. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Ah. There you go.


Mission for Leigh: Leigh, Do you think you could come up with a recipe for a Berger cookie in time for cookie exchanges this winter? They're a soft sugar cookie with a whole lot of ganache on top. But the ganache doesn't drip at room temperature and the sugar cookie is solid enough to hold a whole lot of ganache.

Leigh Lambert: Let me do a little research. I think I know the ones your talking about if they're commonly carried in bakeries. I'll try to keep them dainty and small. "Big" is an admitted baking problem I have.


Ginger scones: I am tasked with making scones for a baby shower and was eying the ginger/almond scones in your archive. The thing is that I am more of a cook than a baker. So just wondering how tough the recipe is? Looks straightforward online, but I find that baking recipes are always trickier to attempt.

Bonnie Benwick: Scones are some of the easiest things to pull off consistently well, even for non-bakers. Don't overwork the dough and I have good luck baking them on pans with silicone liners on the bottom.


Washington, D.C.: I have some egg whites that have been in the freezer for a while. Do you think they are still usable for something or should I toss them? I always think I will make a meringue but never get around to it.

Leigh Lambert: Once you freeze egg whites, your best bet is to use them for something forgiving like a frittata or scramble. When the egg white defrosts the water and the protein are not bound as tightly together. The delicate structure of meringues would do better using fresh.


Springfield, Va.: Hello. I made eggplant parmesan last night and now I have a big tray of food and just me to eat it. It's sitting in the fridge right now. Can I divide it into smaller pieces, wrap in foil and freeze? How should I go about freezing it? How do I defrost/reheat? Thanks for helping me not waste food.

Bonnie Benwick: Divide and conquer, sure! Wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap THEN foil would be even better. Remember to label....Defrost in the refrigerator (might take a half or full day), then discard plastic and foil wrap. Place in a small casserole dish and bake uncovered at 350 until heated through.


GMO vs. local and how to eat: Not sure if you've heard about the book by James McWilliams called "Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly." I read an interview with him at Forbes, and here's the first line: "With the world population headed toward 9 billion by 2050, Texas author James McWilliams wants more genetically modified organisms and more subsidies to feed people, not cattle." He speaks about how eating local is a good step, but that in order to feed the rest of the world's population who can't afford to eat local, GMO is a good way to go to get the most out of the land.

Interesting, if somewhat controversial, especially in a forum such as this. What's your take on it? Maybe Ezra Klein could take a look at it while I have the book on request at the library?

Jane Black: I haven't yet read the book but a few of my sustainable ag sources are buzzing about it. (The only thing I've seen is that he quoted a piece I wrote in Slate or should I say misquoted? He quotes me quoting the the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Wisconsin when the piece I wrote correctly puts it in Iowa State.)

As I said, I haven't got it yet but I am always interested in something that tries to challenge conventional wisdom. If anyone has read it, let us know what you think.


Pomegranates: Does this method I have seen them use on TV really work? Or is there more of a trick that they don't show us? They cut the fruit in half, invert half so the seeds face down and whack the rounded top of the fruit. The seeds appear to fall right out very easily.

Bonnie Benwick: No smoke and mirrors. It works as long as the pomegranate is in good shape, and not too long in the tooth.


Okra city: I planted okra for the first time and I think I harvested them too late-- they're mostly five inches long. Do I have to toss them or is there any recipe that can handle them? I'm a newbie to growing, cooking, and eating okra so I'm way out of my depth here.

Thanks! You all are awesome!

Robin Shuster: Are they still tender when you press them or stiff? If they are tender and you are new to okra, I suggest you bake them. Toss them in olive oil and ground cumin, spread them on a cookie sheet and bake them at 400 degrees until they are crispy on the outside. Spritz with fresh lime juice and salt. Serve. You can fry them, too, that way. If they are large, make gumbo.


Switching from the grill to the dutch oven: Typically, I stop grilling in October on a Weber charcoal grill. Since the summer was so mild I feel the itch to switch to heartier fare. But I want to still hold on to summer food.

What grilled veggies freeze well? I am thinking of doing a "go back to summer" meal the week of Thanksgiving. Do grilled squash, corn, onion, and green peppers freeze ok? Would grilled chicken freeze ok?

Or should my question be how hard is it to grill with charcoal in November in DC?

Thank you!!!

Joe Yonan: Your question should be the latter, because the answer would be: Easy. In November in DC, the average high is 57: perfect charcoal-grilling weather.


Mustard Greens: We are relatively new to mustard greens - and have discovered that we love them. First time out, I simmered them with some onion, garlic and part of a bottle of Guinness, then mixed them with some sliced spicy Hungarian sausage and bow-tie pasta (a personal interpretation of a recipe I found online, from which the Guinness was notably missing).

Now, we have another batch in hand and I'd like to try something different. Can I do something with shrimp? Bad idea? What are some other options? I have pork chops, ground beef and ground turkey in the freezer. A vegetarian or tofu option probably would not go over well with my better half. Otherwise, we're open.

Discovery: better half goes to Farmer's Market to get corn and lettuce. Correctly identifies one of the two. Thought the mustard greens were romaine. Was disappointed when I gently said that they were not likely to taste good in his sandwich the next day. Was thrilled when they turned into such a tasty meal the next night. We do love an adventure!

Jane Black: I use mustard greens just like I use chard, kale or collards. Blanch and then sauté with garlic and olive oil. They are an awesome accompaniment to pork chops. It's not as exciting as your other recipe, which sounds terrific, but it's a good standby.

For something fancier, I'd just add the blanched mustard greens and shrimp to pasta with some lemon and olive oil. You could also serve them with shrimp and grits. Yum.


Stock or Broth?: This is a basic question but I can never understand the answer - what is the point of stock? I saved some chicken bones from a recent bird and not sure once I make stock, what to do with it? How is it different from broth?

Bonnie Benwick: We tend to use "broth" instead of stock, just for consistency (can apply to vegetable- or meat-based). When stock is made with bones, especially roasted ones, it has greater flavor. Make your stock, cool it, portion it, label it, freeze it. Use it for soups, sauces, risottos, potatoes, casseroles -- hard to go wrong. Hope you saved the bones in the freezer?


Washington, D.C.: This may be too late to get in, but I'll try: I have a chickpea problem. I love them in dishes I get at restaurants but can't seem to properly use them at home. Whether cold or cooked, they end up with a mealy/mushy texture that isn't appealing. Any idea what I could be doing wrong, or a suggestion for a recipe that might work better? Thanks.

Robin Shuster: Are you using canned chickpeas or cooking dry ones? Don't add either baking powder (makes them mushy) or salt (keeps them hard) to the chickpeas when you simmer them.


re: cooking with wine: I just loved that suggestion of storing wine in ice cube trays for later use. THAT is why I tune in each week and am a frequent poster on your chats. Thank you!!

Joe Yonan: You're welcome. When I wrote about cooking with wine recently, I also mentioned that it freezes well in zip-top plastic baggies, because the alcohol content keeps it from freezing solid, meaning you can easily break pieces off.


Silver Spring, Md.: I saw some beans at the SS Farmers Market on Saturday. The pods were cream and pink and I think they were called bird egg beans. What are these and how are they cooked?

Robin Shuster: I have not cooked them personally but they are a traditional American bean and can be cooked in simmering water until soft and seasoned afterwards with salt, pepper and herbs...


Proquest cost: I don't know - I get it free from the Montgomery County Library website. If you live or work in MD or DC (and maybe VA) you can get a MoCo library card and access to unbelievable riches.

I've found stuff in Proquest that your researcher could not find internally.

Joe Yonan: Nice -- thanks! And by "your researcher," you mean us here at our computers -- we don't typically have time to send chat requests to our in-house library, but they're aces.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hey there!

Really basic question here... I just got a grill pan because I want to cook a bit healthier, but I don't know how to use it!

I think it's nonstick. Do I still need to spray it with Pam when I use it? Or brush it with some sort of oil? What if I cook something that's been marinated in oil? I thought I read that grilling on a stove has to be done on high heat only, is that so? Also, do I have to do anything special to clean it?

Sorry for all the questions, but I appreciate the tips. I can't wait to start using it!


Bonnie Benwick: Spraying with nonstick cooking oil spray's a good thing to do, because it'll make cleanup easier and add another layer of nonstickiness to your prep. Be sure to spray the pan before you put it on the heat. The pan may not yield grill marks at lower temps, but that doesn't mean it won't help cook what you've got going just fine.


Alexandria, Va.: I use my Weber year-round - if it's cold outside, just put on a coat; the charcoal doesn't care. Try grilling a turkey on it for Thanksgiving - delicious!

Joe Yonan: Exactly.


Fall squash: I love hard squash and regularly cook acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash all fall and winter, but I would love to expand my repertoire with all the beautiful items I see at the market. We're pretty much open to all flavors in our household and would love some guidance on how to pick and prepare all the other squashes out there.

Robin Shuster: Squash are good cut up, roasted and pureed. They make great soup, good risotto. I am very partial to the Italian butternut squash (Kuhn will them at U Street and other markets). Winter squash go well with lamb stews. Look at the WashPost recipe guide..


Joe Yonan: Well, you've turned us often to prevent burning, and our skin is nubbly and blackened, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great questions today, and thanks to Robin Shuster for helping us handle the answers.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about seeing pluots in DC will get, duh, "The Perfect Fruit." The chatter who asked about sources for substitutions will get "Everyday Indian." Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you the books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading...


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