Free Range on Food: Eggs galore, 'brinner,' Halloween punch, where to buy demi-glace

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, October 21, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

Archive of past discussions

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that attempts to serve up breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner -- or strategies for the making thereof -- along with our answers. We packed the section with recipes we hope you find appealing, from David Guas's fantastic Sweet Potato Tart Tatin to David Hagedorn's glorious Eggs en Cocotte and perfect Hash Browns and more. In fact, we have both Davids here with us today to help answer your queries, so fire away with any and all thoughts.

Naturally, we'll have giveaway books to whet your appetite for competition: A signed copy of David's new "DamGoodSweet," and David Sax's (another David already!) "Save the Deli."

Let's do this.

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Coddled Eggs: I have tried making coddled eggs both in the oven and on top of the stove and always seem to get tough, rubbery eggs. When I check for doneness, exactly what should I be looking for?

David Hagedorn: Testing for doneness is tricky with coddled eggs because they may seem liquidy when you insert the paring knife to test, but actually be set. Clearly, it seems you should cook them less than you have been. Use the point of the knife to push back slightly and see if you get some resistance, which you should. You can always take a small spoon, like an espresso spoon, and insert it as if you are going to take a spoonful out. You'll see right way if the egg white is set. If it is, when you remove the spoon, you won't even notice where you tested it. (But still, I'd give that portion to myself, not a guest.)

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Eggs - it's what's for dinner: I'm posting earlier because of a meeting, but I was so excited to see the article about eggs today. Not only do I incorporated egg dishes into my normal meal plans, they are great go to dishes. When all else fails, scrambled eggs with herbs, spinach, and goat cheese is a perfect dinner.

I also love adding baked eggs for an easy and cheap dinner.

David Hagedorn: I'm with you on the scrambled eggs. I made some on Sunday using Whitmore eggs and I marveled at them while I ate them. They were bright yellow, as if I had infused them with saffron. I'm picking some up today, planning to use them to make David Guas's Doberge Cake, filled with lemon curd.

That cake better turn out, Guas!

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Alexandria, Va.: I have come across several recipes calling for unsweetened dried cranberries, including your recipe for Mango- Cranberry Chicken (10/14/09). I have looked at my Whole Foods, Mom's Organic Market, and Balducci's. I have been unable to find them. Where do you get unsweetened dried cranberries? Thank you!

Bonnie Benwick: Hi Alex. I found them at a Whole Foods Market in Glover Park (NW DC). They were in a clamshell pack, packaged by the store, I think -- not a brand. The label said unsulphured unsweetened cranberries. Chatters, where else have you found them?

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Petworth: Hey food folks - maybe you can help out, although this kinda seems to cross between you all and Tom Sietsema.

Last weekend we had a fabulous birthday dinner for a friend at the Majestic Cafe. She had a most delicious duck. (I had the corn ravioli and that was quite good. Our third had the hanger steak, which was also quite tasty.) But the big star of the meal was the side dish with the duck - a wild rice pilaf thing. We asked about the ingredients, or a recipe, and the server went to the kitchen, asked, and came back to tell us about the ingredients in the duck sauce. We said, "that's what's in the rice?" and she said, "Yes, and I was surprised too!"

We gave up at that point, and attempted to analyze it ourselves, but did not succeed. Man, was it delicious.

So, have you all had this? How can I find a recipe, or at least find out what (besides wild rice) was in the dish?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Am I missing something here, or did you not tell us what the server told you the ingredients are? What did she say was in it?

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Washington, DC: Help! The other night I tried to make Martha Stewart's Spicy Asian Brittle, which involved boiling sugar and water to the hard crack stage. This was my first time working with a candy thermometer. I thought everything was going well and was excited to see the thermometer inching closer to 300 degrees. I was just getting ready to take the pot off the heat when the ingredients turned from bubbling syrup to a pot of solid white crystals. What happened? Was my thermometer off? I really want to try this recipe. Did I buy a cheap thermometer?

David Guas: The issue was not your thermometer, but just a result of crystalizing (which happens to everyone-been there done that!). When you attempt the recipe again, place a lid on top of your pot and slide it a bit off center to allow some steam to escape. This will allow the boiling sugar to sweat the sides of the pot and prevent your soon to be brittle from crystallizing again. I use this method instead of brushing the sides of the pot with water (same principle). good luck!!

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi folks,

I'm looking for a really good meatloaf recipe; my efforts always come out too dense or bland. Do you know of one that doesn't require exotic ingredients?

Thanks.

Joe Yonan: I have two ideas for you: Gillian Clark's Stomach Bliss Meatloaf, which uses prunes as a secret (but not exotic); Bob Sloan's Chicken Meatloaf, which uses (more secrets!) sweet potatoes; and my own Spicy Mini Meatloaf, if you're looking for something with more punch and in a smaller serving size.

Bonnie Benwick: Editor Joe, that would be three ideas. Our chief weapons are fear and surprise, as the Pythoners say....

Joe Yonan: So it is! I added Bob's at the last minute, but forgot to change my "two" to "three"!

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Brinner: Thanks for focusing on breakfast foods the last few weeks. Breakfast is my favorite meal and I find it such a treat for dinner (or Brinner as we call it). I'm definitely going to try today's eggs en cocotte.

When serving eggs as a main course, but not necessarily wanting a full breakfast menu, are there any sides you could recommend?

David Hagedorn: Wouldn't it be great to revive the notion of eggs as a main course? Much lighter, good source of protein. The French often have eggs for dinner and I fell into that habit when living there. Most often, they served an omelette aux fines herbes with a simple green salad with a basic vinaigrette. I still think that is the best side dish for a lunch or dinner, especially when you're using super-good eggs. Then a little Camembert or a fromage blanc afterwards.

Otherwise, I like asparagus as a side, either cold en vinaigrette or hot with some lemon zest and olive oil.

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Sugarland, USA: I tried submitting this last week without luck so I am crossing my fingers and submitting again. I have this one recipe that I watched on a cooking show and have tried several times but can't seem to get the step to caramelize the sugar right. The recipe says to cook the sugar until a candy thermometer reads 365 degrees, but anything above 320 gives me a burnt, acrid taste. I feel like a get the right color at around 310-320, but am not sure about the consistency as I always seem to have too much syrup for the recipe even though I use the right amount of ingredients (1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup of water). I did some reading on the internet and there seems to be a schism as to cooking sugar. Some sources say anything above 340 or so and you have burnt your sugar and it is unusable, but there are several recipes and people who have used those recipes that say you can cook caramelize your sugar up to 360 - 365 and that the other people aren't doing it right. Help, please?

David Guas: I think that cooking your sugar past 350ish is bound to be burnt. Make sure your sugar is evenly cooking(often the sugar will start to burn in the corners). Just swirl the sugar around gently and re-gauge your temp. But I agree with you about once past a point the sugar will be bitter and not pleasant at all. Quick question: what is it you are attempting to make?? Is it a caramel sauce or a brittle, what?

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Washington, DC: Loved the article about David Guas. I know this is asking a lot but is there any chance you could share his recipe for bread pudding? That's a typical holiday dessert in my family. We're always looking for new variations to try and his sounds really yummy.

David Guas: Buy the book!!!! Just kidding, no but seriously buy the book. It will be out before Thanksgiving, so plenty of time to pratice.

Joe Yonan: I agree -- we gave you 3 recipes gratis already from the delectable selection in David's book, so now it's time for you to pony up...

By the way, I have to share a quick story about the book. I was reading it on the plane back from, wouldn't you know, New Orleans, had my iPod on with my new noise-blocking earbuds, and the flight attendant started jabbing me in the shoulder to get my attention. Apparently she had been trying to talk to me but I didn't hear. I took out the earbuds, and she had a very excited, sorta dreamy look on her face. She pointed at the photo of the

Sweet Potato Tart Tatin

in the cookbook and said, "That looks incredible."

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Warrenton, Va.: After seeing the Oct. 14 recipes, I've been searching online for the first edition of Make It, Freeze It, Take It and I can't find it!! Can you post a link to the 1st set of recipes???

washingtonpost.com: Here is a PDF of the first edition of Make It.

Bonnie Benwick: We are working on finding a permanent spot on the Food homepage so you can all have access to the feature as we add on. Look for it in a few weeks.

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Curry leaves, redux: I wrote in two weeks ago seeking help finding curry leaves. Wanted to say thanks and offer this PSA: Despite what you find listed online, there is no Indian supermarket on Classical Lane in Silver Spring. That's a residential area. The market is actually on Fenton, a couple blocks south of downtown Silver Spring. (look for the shopping center with the 7-11 and the pizza place.)

Bonnie Benwick: Okay, we'll make a note of it. You'll want to check into our blog on Friday, because I Spice columnist Monica Bhide's topic is curry leaves!

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Halloween punch: A chat or two ago, someone asked for a recipe for a punch for Halloween. This one from a long-ago Gourmet is great - slightly spicy from the ginger and not overly sweet: Witches Brew (Gourmet Oct. 1995)

Freeze ice "hands" with rubber gloves filled with water. It makes a great Halloween brew. R.I.P. Gourmet.

Joe Yonan: Nice -- thanks! Looks good, although perhaps a teensy bit light on the rum for my taste. ;-)

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi everyone- My question is for David the DamGoodSweet author. I love making red velvet cakes (just so festive!) but I hate using so much artificial dye. Have you been able to find either natural substitutes, or the correct buttermilk/cocoa ingredients that they turn red naturally?

I also wanted to add my enthusiasm for farm fresh eggs. I buy mine at various farmers markets- and it makes such a tremendous difference in my cooking I could never go back. Even when people ask me if my lemon bars are radioactive from the bright orangey/yellow yolks.

Thanks- Love your chats!

David Guas: RV- one of my favorites as well!! There are some other options out there, beat sugar and there is a line of natural food colorings, give it a google. You may also try: rubberchef.com (I think that is the site). Good luck.

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DC: Regarding the recipe database, it would be really nice if the recipe could include a link back to the original article/blog posting. The original source can include a lot of info/background that may not be in the recipe itself.

Bonnie Benwick: That is a capital idea. We'll get tech folks looking into it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi there - while cleaning out my late father-in-law's house recently, my husband came across a bottle of 1975 Dom that he had given to his dad about 12 years ago. The bottle has been stored for those 12 years in a refrigerator door, standing up. A few questions: I know that the way he stored it was not ideal, so is it likely that the bottle is still even any good? If it is still good, should we drink it soon, or will it benefit from more aging? If we should hang on to it, how should it be stored? And last, we might consider selling it - what's the best way to go about this?

Thanks for any advice you can give!!

Bonnie Benwick: Wine columnist Dave McIntyre says: "You're right about the storage. The refrigerator is colder than a wine cellar, and the vibration of the fridge and the constant shaking as the door was opened and closed over 12 years is not ideal for the condition of the wine. That would also affect any resale value if you were to try that route. (If you do, I'd consult a retailer who deals with collectibles, such as Elliott Staren at Wide World of Wines on Wisconsin Ave NW.)"

My advice, though, would be to drink it and toast your father-in-law's memory. The worst that can happen is that the wine is flat and dull (so you might want to have a bottle of something else handy just in case). But it might be wonderful. After all, he kept putting off opening it until it was too late. Sometimes those special bottles are worth creating, rather than waiting for, the right moment to enjoy them.

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Unsweetened Cranberries...: Bought them (accidentally) at Trader Joe's.

Bonnie Benwick: Excellent.

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NYC: Hey guys, had a quick question on the spicy speared shrimp recipe that ran back in 2007. The directions call for you to heat some oil in a skillet on high until it smokes and then add the shrimp and marinade and cook for five to eight minutes. It didn't say anything about turning down the temp, though, so I threw everything in and it was all overcooked after just two minutes! I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess I should have turned the heat down, but to what? Medium? Low? Those shrimp were turning pink almost immediately!

Other than the overcooking, I loved the recipe! Quick, simple and the marinade was delicious. So good I'm eager to try it as it's supposed to be - with the shrimp juicy and succulent, not tough and chewy.

Bonnie Benwick: Hi NYC. You mean Spicy Seared Shrimp, right? What a difference a few years makes....I'm going to update that recipe later today. Heat the oil till it shimmers, not smokes. If you added the shrimp AND the marinade to the pan, the shrimp should take about 5 minutes. Keep moving them around the whole time. If you'd rather, please start on medium-high, not high heat. And reduce the heat as you need to. Overcooked shrimp is a shame. I do think the shrimp need longer than 2 minutes, even at high heat -- they'd look done on the outside (pink/opaque) but perhaps not cooked through all the way.

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Philadephia: I wrote in a couple of months back asking if I should include recipes in my food-centered novel, either between chapters or in the back. The bad news is, I don't have an answer to that question yet -- the good news is, now I have an editor to help me decide! SIMMER is coming out from Simon & Schuster in spring 2011.

(For what it's worth, I'm leaning toward recipes in the back. One of which is from the Post, if I can get the clearance to reprint...)

Bonnie Benwick: Really? Which recipe? Shouldn't Simmer come out in Summer?

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Arlington, Va S: I enjoyed the article on eggs this morning. I will have to try it soon, but have had a worry about baking eggs.

A few years ago my Italian Aunt made me a dish that was essentially polenta, cooked on the stove, which was then placed in a bowl, made into a nest, and had an egg cracked into the nest. It was then baked. When I had it I thought that it was great, the yolk and the polenta worked well together.

When I got back to the US I tried this and flopped. I didn't know how long to leave the dish in the oven for, so I left it in too long and had an egg that was rock hard. It hadn't changed color at all once the whites had turned, well, white.

So... can you provide any guidelines on the length of time to bake eggs? Does covering them with cream or cooking them in a water bath as described in your article reduce the chance of this happening?

Many thanks!

David Hagedorn: I'm not sure I understand the question entirely, Arlington, (What hadn't changed color?) but that never stops me from answering, does it?

Anyway, water-baths are often used for egg-based dishes, like custards, because they add moisture to the air in the oven and help make the oven's direct heat less harsh right next to food that is being cooked. In this polenta dish, the polenta is essentially acting as the water-bath, protecting the egg from the oven's direct heat.

Covering the white with cream protects the white against the direct heat and helps keep it from forming a hard skin or big, plasticine bubbles. (If you were baking eggs with tomato sauce, you could use olive oil on the whites instead of cream.)

I'd say you should start out with the polenta being hot, crack the egg in it and bake it for 10-12 minutes. The egg should surely be cooked. Even if it is slightly undercooked, when you spoon into the polenta to serve it, the steam trapped in the polenta will finish cooking the egg.

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Washington, DC: I find that almost anything tastes better if it sits oversight, particularly where dry and wet ingredients are mixed. Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Cereal and milk?

Salad and vinaigrette?

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Bluemont, Va.: Any suggestions on where to purchase demi-glace? It is nice to make at home but the time it takes is hard to come by.

Bonnie Benwick: If I didn't know better, I'd say this was a setup. It just so happens we have a great demi-glace recipe from Gastronomer Andreas Viestad in the Oct. 28 edition. I just tasted a sample this morning, in fact. Really good.

Joe Yonan: But is it quick enough to satisfy someone who wants to buy it at the store?

Bonnie Benwick: Not quick, but definitely easy. Roast bones for 30 minutes, add liquid, let it go in the oven overnight at 200 degrees. (There's more to it than that; c'mon back next week, Bluemont.)

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onions and potatoes: How far separated do onions and potatoes have to be for proper storage? (You would be surprised how difficult it is to find a straight answer to that question. The info we have found says that each vegetable emits a gas that causes the other to decay but says nothing about relative distances for storage.)

We have sturdy plastic storage bins in our under-stairs basement pantry (Wisconsin-- so it is cool, but it won't freeze over the winter). Our marvelous farmer's market has great deals on potatoes and onions right now (ironically, displayed side by side). We'd love to stock up for the winter, and think both the onions and potatoes will last several months in storage... but we cannot find good information about how far apart they have to be from one another. Are vertically stacked bins that separate them by about 3 feet OK, or should they be even further apart from each other?

Hats off to you if you can find an answer for this. Many thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Okay, think we've got you covered. Ace produce guy Robert Schueller of Melissa's Produce says distance apart is not the chief concern. First, the plastic bins are not your best storage containment option. You need something that will allow gases to escape, such as a wicker basket or burlap sack or those plasticky mesh bags (made of Vexar, actually).

Next, the low emittance of ethylene from the potatoes and greater incidence of pyruvic acid (which acts like a gas) from the onions can combine and cause both vegetables to ripen too fast. For long-term storage, it's important NOT to stack them in bins directly on top of each other, because the gases rise. So if your storage containers allow for some circulation of air and are even next to each other on the same shelf but not atop each other, you'll have better long-term storage.

So, no irony in the market keeping onions and potatoes side by side!

If you do have to stack them in bins that are vertically aligned, store the onions in the top bin, he says.

Now, where's that hat?

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SW DC: Three questions:

In today's oeuf en cocotte recipe, what's the timing for a non-runny yolk?

This time of year I love popovers, but I find making them with whole wheat flour can be hit or miss. Does anyone have a foolproof recipe for whole wheat popovers?

I can't find a good source of buckwheat flour locally. Can you recommend one? If anyone has a great buckwheat pancake recipe, I'd love to know it.

David Hagedorn: Hi, Southwest. I can answer the first part of your question.

You can bake the eggs a minute or two longer, but you don't want to go so far that the whites are rubbery. So you should then turn the broiler on (setting the rack on an upper level, but not very close to the flame) and let the yolks cook from the top, keeping a watchful eye on them. It should only take a minute or two.

Leigh Lambert: Some of the local health food stores and co-ops sell buckwheat in the bulk aisle. Try Yes!, MOM's, Roots or the Silver Spring and Takoma Park Co-ops.

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New York, NY: I also loved the article on eggs-- I love eggs with almost anything-- they can transform any leftovers into a delicious frittata and they are a great, relatively inexpensive form of protein. I don't eat meat, so I think it is worth the splurge to get your eggs from the Farmer's Market.

I recently had a pizza with a sunnyside up egg atop it, and I'd like to know how best to replicate it. I tried, but ended up overcooking the yolk. The oven has to be so hot that if an egg is cracked on immediately, it cooks too long, Also, any sort of water bath is impossible. Would you cook the egg separately, in a pan, or just put it on for the last few minutes of cooking?

Also, at Whole Foods, they have a whole section with eggs not from hens-- the huge ostrich eggs are the only ones I can specifically think of at the moment, but there are also tiny speckled ones, etc. I'd like to try these, but I don't know what the best way to enjoy them would be. And how different will they taste from regular eggs?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I'd either cook the egg separately, as you say, or just wait until the pizza is a few minutes away from being ready, crack the egg on, then slide the pizza back in just to finish the egg.

We had this piece a couple years back on all those eggs at Whole Foods. Maybe you'll get some ideas from it.

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Egg sources: I haven't bought a grocery store egg in years - Farmer's Market eggs are a great way to get cheap organic protein when Farmer's Market meat is too pricey.

Joe Yonan: Word.

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Chicago: I have now successfully made my second cake from scratch (it was a delightful red velvet cake)! As someone who once ruined instant oatmeal because I forgot to add water before popping it in the microwave, I'm very proud of this fact. I might be getting a little optimistic, however, because now I'm dreaming of learning to bake so well I can actually come up with my own creations. How in the world would I go about doing this? Obviously more practice is needed - but I know baking is also a science. Are there any good resources to learn more about it and why you need room-temperature butter for some things but cold butter for others?

Oh, and loved the piece on the brunch! Those eggs sound wonderful - although I heartily disagree on hashbrowns. Shredded and soft is where it's at. I prefer mine with either country gravy or the yolk from an egg-over-easy.

Bonnie Benwick: If you're into the science of it, check out Shirley O. Corriher's "Bakewise" -- here's a link to a video interview of the author. She's the bees' knees. As for your hash brown preferences, and I've said this before, aren't we lucky to live in a country where we can disagree about such things and still all sing and hold hands in peace?

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Arlington, Va.: I have a two-pronged question about cinnamon rolls (yeast variety, in case there's any other type!). The recipe I use calls for a 20-30 min rise, then bake for 15-18 min in a 400 degree oven.

If I wanted to freeze a batch, would it be best to bake, glaze, cool, and then wrap for the freezer? Or should I put them in the freezer after the 30 min rise?

Also, I want to send some to my husband who's stationed out in California. What would be the best way for me to send them? I don't mind springing for 2nd day air (don't want my love to get stale goods!) but am not sure how to best package them. Would you go with a disposable pie pan w/lid, and glaze before you send them? Or somehow par- bake and pack the glaze separately, so he can experience fresh-from-the-oven rolls?

Thanks so much! I love your chats!

David Guas: If I was to freeze for the house and not to ship, I would make the rolls, shape them and freeze immediately. Do not allow them to proof before freezing. Once you are ready to finish them, place them from the freezer to the refrigerator overnight and allow them to gently change temperature. Remove them from the refrigerator the day you want to bake and follow the normal procedures of proofing, baking, and glazing.

As for the shipping of them, with avoiding dry ice and all that mess and $$. I would cook them just until fully cooked and then keep the glaze in a ziplock and have him flash them in the oven to finish and them apply the glaze then.

I generally do not recommend freezing dough, but some have had great success.

Best of luck!

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Eggs!: So, I am a vegetarian who has never really liked eggs. It's a texture thing -- egg dishes always sound appealing but, when I take a bite, I'm never happy with the way they feel in my mouth. Gelatinous or mushy is the way I'd describe them, depending on preparation. I even have this problem with scrambled eggs!

So, I'd like to start incorporating eggs more into my diet. Is there a "starter egg" that you'd recommend? Maybe something parents use to get their kids to eat eggs? As it stands, I can only seem to handle eggs when they are fried into hockey pucks, or found in a quiche or frittata.

David Hagedorn: I have the perfect starter egg for you.

Go to Michel Richard's Citronelle and order the Begula (sic) Caviar, which is actually a tin of squid-ink dyed tapioca pearls resting upon chunks of lobster, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce. If you don't change your mind about eggs after experiencing that, give up.

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Any suggestions on where to purchase demi-glace?: Williams-Sonoma has it. Pricey, of course.

Joe Yonan: No. W-S, pricey? Say it ain't so!

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shouldn't Simmer come out in Summer?: Heh, probably. The main character of the book makes a batch of Man-Catcher Brownies because I fell in love with the name. Major props to Leigh for coming up with that one -- I made them just last week and they're still tremendous.

Leigh Lambert: As long as I get my photo in an inconspicuous, life-size fold out in the book, I'm flattered. Truly, the credit for the name goes to my friend Erica Waitman who came up with that gem.

Joe Yonan: I request that all your friends at the Food section, but particularly Leigh and her friend Erica, make it into the acknowledgements... And that the link to our recipe database get in there, too!

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Shepherd Park, DC: After a lovely, first anniversary, four star, five course tasting menu, dinner at Restaurant Eve on Monday, last night I made a matching tasting menu from our freezer with leftovers from the last month or two with some yummy fridge add-ons.

We started with a frittata amuse bouche, a gazpacho appetizer, some meyer lemon sorbet (a palate cleanser, of course!), an arugula salad from the fridge, a meat course (left over sausage and meatballs with mustard for her, and leftover coq au vin for me), a cheese course (paired with jarred jam), a pre-dessert of nuts with cocoa powder from the cabinet, and three chunks of chocolate with a marshmallow and graham crumbs (deconstructed s'mores!)... It was a fun way to poke fun at, and relive, our fabulous, yet, atypical meal, use leftovers and remember that basically, any meal, as long as we're eating it together, is special.

Just wanted to share.

Joe Yonan: That's hilarious. Cathal would be honored, I'm sure.

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Dupont: To the author of SIMMER.... First of all, congratulations on the book! That is very exciting news. However -- as much as I hate to burst your bubble -- you did get a response to your question about where/how to include recipes. If not then someone else asked an identical question that was published on the chat. I'm not quite quick enough to do a chat search now but I'm 100% sure it was briefly addressed.

Just wanted to stand up for my favorite foodies....

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the defense! But I think she just meant that she hadn't resolved the question for herself, not that nobody weighed in...

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The Answer: It has nothing to do with putting wet and dry ingredients together to sit overnight. Here are the answers to all your cooking problems:

1. it needs salt

2. it needs butter

3. if it's still not tasty, add bacon

Joe Yonan: I would add "it needs fish sauce" in there somewhere. But that's just me.

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Neon egg: Hi Foodies,

I had an odd experience this weekend making eggs for the family. As I cracked the sixth egg into the bowl, the egg white was a fluorescent yellow. Like a night reflector or highlighter yellow - not something I expected to see in nature, let alone in my kitchen. The eggs were organic, brown, free range. No one I know has ever heard of this. Have any of you?

(Between that and the rouge rotten egg I got a month ago, I'm egged out for a while).

David Hagedorn: The yellow tint in egg whites could come from riboflavin (vitamin B2), according to the American Egg Board. Riboflavin powder is deep yellow, like turmeric, and is often used as a food dye. I admit that there are sometimes things in eggs that seem dubious, but you just have to l-eggo.

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Gingerbread without molasses: Perhaps your Flour Girl can help with this one-- this is the time of year that makes me want a good gingerbread or gingersnap cookie. Something spicy and slightly soft (cookie) but NOT molasses-ed. I have tried a couple recipes in the past few years and have been disappointed by all. The sharp taste of molasses has just ruined the cookie/cake for me. Since there are just two of us, I do try to limit my experimentation somewhat just to limit waste. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Even a gingersnap (crisp) would be fine, if that is what is has to be.

Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I agree on all fronts. I end up bringing in a lot of my baking surplus to work. Great for making friends and influencing people. We ran this recipe for Super-Sized Ginger Chewies and think they fit the bill.

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Take me home country roads: Make sure that buckwheat flour is from Preston County!

If you go to western MD or WVU for a weekend check out stores there.

Leigh Lambert: With the leaves changing this time of year, it sounds worth the trip.

Bonnie Benwick: Rob Moutoux of Moutoux Orchard in Purcellville had nice-looking buckwheat flour at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market last weekend. He'll be there for a few more Sundays. Or reach him at moutouxorchard@yahoo.com.

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Tenleytown: My roommate and I are making this cupcake recipe tomorrow, but we've never made fondant before. Is this a good fondant recipe/any advice on making fondant for the first time? I know you can just buy it, but we'd rather try to make it! Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Oh dear. No fondant fans here in the Food section. David Guas, can you help out Tenleytown? Or chatters?

David Guas: I just looked at the recipe and although I have never seen this type of recipe for fondant, it seems pretty straight forward and a whole lot quicker/easier then fondant from "scratch". I say go for it. The kneading of a from scratch fondant can be quite the workout!!

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Couples' cooking: My husband and I would like to cook together, but we have very different skill levels. I'm a good cook, with a lot of experience and not much fear of experimenting. He has some basic skills, but seems to fear plunging in and seeing what happens. When we cook, it always seems to devolve into my telling him what to do, rather than collaborating and having fun. I mean, I don't mind having someone do all my prep work for me, but it isn't really cooking -together.-

So ... what to do? Should we take a class together? Should he take a class alone? Something else entirely?

Thanks for your help!

Bonnie Benwick: Hmm. Why does this sound familiar? Oh, maybe it's because if you substituted "cooking" for "ballroom dancing," you'd pretty much have the lay of the land at my house. Back to your q --- I suggest taking a class together but NOT buddying up as cooking partners. He needs to learn to sprout his own wings and fly, you know? You'd both learn how to make a few dishes at the same time, the same way. Check out the class schedule at CulinAerie, if you're based in or near D.C.

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Ashburn, Va.: I loved David's article today on kosher (style) delis! Being from Brooklyn myself it is really hard to find a GREAT corned beef or pastrami sandwich and tongue (my mom's loves it) fuggetaboutit. I'm going to try the ones Dave listed. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: So many Davids today....do you mean my blogpost about "Save the Deli" author David Sax, who's in D.C. on a book tour, or his own blog?

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Bluemont, Va.: Thanks I will come back next week. The last time I made demi-glace it took about two weekends.

Bonnie Benwick: See ya then!

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For Chicago: In addition to learning about the science, you might also want to take a look at the last couple chapters of The Improvisational Cook -- she lays out a couple of basic recipes, like Brown Sugar Lighting Cake, and then how to play with them (add nuts? swap spices? change proportions to make into bar cookies?) to create different applications. Really opens up your mind to new possibilities, and so fun to try edible experiments.

Bonnie Benwick: Good suggestion. We like Sally Schneider, too.

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re: potatoes and onions: THANK YOU! I'll put them side by side. Maybe paper sacks with holes punched in them...

But there is a phrase in your answer that confuses me... how do wicker baskets or net bags or burlap prevent gasses from escaping?

Bonnie Benwick: Sorry -- they PERMIT gases to escape, which is a good thing.

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Eggs - love 'em: A neighbor got me hooked on omelets with sliced green onions, blue cheese and topped with pan roasted pine nuts. They add a wonderfully unusual crunch and nutty flavor to the omelet.

Joe Yonan: Yum.

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Is there a "starter egg" that you'd recommend? : You really haven't lived until you've eaten a fried egg sandwich with cheese. Delicious. Fry the egg in butter. Toast the bread. Dash a little salt on the egg, put it between the bread with a slice of cheddar. Fry it up again like you would a grilled cheese. Or if you can't wait, just dig in.

Joe Yonan: Thank God, I have lived.

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Philadelphia: I have a freaking GIANT spaghetti squash to deal with. I don't know how many pounds it is, but it's about the size of my head, if slightly longer and narrower.

Any guidelines on how long to bake this monster? And is it better to scrape out the "noodles" while it's still hot, or wait til it's cool?

Leigh Lambert: I always abide by the food law, don't eat anything bigger than your head, but I can see we're past that.

Large squash can be overwhelming. I would start with cooking it for 45 minutes, check it by poking with a fork. It should enter the flesh easily. Let it cool slightly to scrape out the guts. This is for your skin's sake, not because it can't be done immediately. If you feel the need to tackle it when it comes out of the oven, be armed with rubber gloves and a dish towel to insulate yourself from the worst of the heat.

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Chantilly, Va.: Thanks SO much for the egg article! I'm in the early stages of planning my wedding and have been seriously leaning towards a Sunday Brunch, this article solidified it! I know chefs (and probably caterers hate it) but it's just so versatile. I'll probably do a baked egg dish, a sweet waffle/pancake and a pasta. Cocktail hour will be mini-bagel w/smoked salmon, mini-muffins & scones, fruit & cheese, bellinis, mimosa & a bloody mary bar. Everyone gets a fancy field greens salad and bacon served family style. Now if I could just find a location and a caterer...

Joe Yonan: Good luck, and congrats.

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Vegan NoLa!: Hi, just wanted to share a success story I had the other night. I had vegan dinner guests and so was challenged to cook something both tasty and not unfamiliar to me. For the main dish I did a stuffed eggplant I've done before, but the real show-stopper was the vegan Bananas Foster, made with coconut oil instead of butter, and served with coconut sorbet instead of ice cream. A real success and very appreciated by my guest, who hadn't had his favorite dessert in 3 years since he went vegan. Joe, I'd love to see more articles about or recipes using coconut oil -- it makes a lot of health claims I'm dubious about, but I'm enjoying experimenting with it in stir fries and more.

Leigh Lambert: You should be very proud of yourself. What a lucky guest and how satisfying to take on the unfamiliar with such success. Sounds delicious.

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Bliss Meatloaf?: The Bliss Meatloaf recipe says the more the meat is kneaded, the more tender the meatloaf will be. But that seems to contradict every other meatloaf recipe I've seen which says that the more you work it, the denser it gets. Is one more right than the other?

Bonnie Benwick: I'm thinking it's because of the prunes, which have meat-tenderizing properties.

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Starter Eggs: But the poster is a vegetarian. And the Central dish has lobster.

David Hagedorn: Well, I happen to have a contingency plan.

Go the the Inn at Little Washington and order the

Virginia farm eggs with morels, asparagus, and creme fraiche

Or, you can try to make them yourself, using the link.

Joe Yonan: God, those are good. Have made them many times (with and without all the accompaniments) to much acclaim (sometimes internal, but still).

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Centreville, Va.: Quick question to resolve a spousal difference of opinion: I left the house without moving a package of completely frozen chicken breasts out of the sink to the fridge to continue defrosting. When we got home they were room temperature. I thought they could have been cooked- sautéed or baked- but my wife said they were unsafe. What do you think?

Bonnie Benwick: I suppose because we don't know how long they were at room temperature, it's best not to use them. Did they smell? Defrosting in the fridge is the way to go.

Bonnie Benwick: And what exactly is your room temperature? Assuming you have central air....?

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Sugarland again: I am supposed to bring the sugar and water to 365 degrees or a deep amber color and then I pour it over fruit that has been laid out in a pie plate (I have used Italian Plums, apples, and pears) and then pour a cake batter over it and into the oven. It is an upside down cake tatin. I just seem to have a bit too much liquid no matter what fruit I use, though the Contessa didn't seem to have that problem and she cooked the sugar water to 365.

I want to get this straight because I would also like to make a straight caramel sauce for ice cream. Several of those recipes also call for cooking the sugar water to around 360.

David Guas: Hey SL again, This comes down to your preference, do you like light caramel (which will be sweeter finish-310*ish, do you like a richer, bolder caramel finish-340-350*ish, or in your face in the edge of bitter bold and everything in between). I generally say to trust your eyes, it this point and bring it to at least 340-350*. Again the same goes for caramel sauce, just remember with the addition of heavy cream and perhaps butter for your sauce recipe- the color or shade of the hot sugar will continue to darken a bit after adding the liquid. So, pull the cooking sugar just a hair-before you see the color you want in your final product.

You should perhaps, just cook a few different batches of sugar in multiple pots and gauge the temps and pour them out on to whatever, just for practice. Although, sugar prices are going up currently we're not talkin big $ in order to master the contessa's recipe.

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Washington, DC: Last year, I had pecan pie for dessert at a local restaurant that was different than the usual. Rather than a thick, custardy filling, it had a lighter, crumbly texture (like the nuts were coarsely chopped and combined with mostly brown sugar and butter). I'd be interesting in making a pecan pie if it came out like this, since the focus was so much more on the taste of the pecans. Have you ever come across a recipe like this?

Joe Yonan: This sounds suspiciously like the amazing Mama's Pecan Pie from Virginia Willis we ran for Thanksgiving last year. Check it out.

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one last SIMMER comment: Dupont is right, the recipe question was definitely answered at least once, and Joe is right, I just meant I haven't made up my mind. Truth be told, if my editor has a strong opinion, it'll probably be up to her anyway.

I love these chats, which is why I still participate even though I haven't lived in DC for 2+ years. Kudos to the food section, and equal kudos to the participants here -- I've learned a lot from all of you.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: We have been reading Little House in the Big Woods and now my 6-year-old daughter wants to try venison. Is this meat difficult to cook? Where can it be bought? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: We ran this list of places to buy venison a few years back. It's best to call....

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Washington, DC: Hi there! Dessert baking question for the DamGoodSweet author (LOVE that name by the way!). I love making cheesecake and once I kick my cold I'll be getting back to baking more cheesecakes and other dessert goodies.

My cheesecake issue is though that every time I whip up the mixture I get little round lumps that just don't seem to get beat out. Is it that the cream cheese is too cold? Not cold enough? It doesn't affect the taste but I want to take my cheesecake to the next level where it will taste as good as it looks! Thanks!

David Guas: Thank you. - Yes, your cc is probably too cold. Try zapping in the micro- for just 20 sec at a time (it will burn otherwise) or you could just leave it out at room temp for at least an hr or so. I would first beat the cc by itself and then and the sugar. Another very important tip is too always, stop your mixer and using a rubber spatula scrape down the sides of your bowl-do this before adding your eggs. Once your eggs are in it is extremely difficult to correct the "lumpy syndrome".

All the best!!

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Washington, DC: Thank you for the alfajores recipe - I've loved the cookie ever since a Chilean ex-boyfriend's mother made them for me once when she was visiting. Do you have a suggestion for brand of dulce de leche? Everything I've purchased seems to be closer to caramel than a true dulce. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: The last dulce de leche I bought was at Rodman'sRodmans. I don't recall the brand name, but it was definitely imported. That's a good clue. Look for Spanish on the label and you're headed in the right direction.

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Petworth: Sorry Joe, I guess I wasn't clear. The problem was that she told us what was in the duck (pecans and figs), and said that was what was in the wild rice (it obviously was not what was in the wild rice)

So we're left with not knowing what was in the rice.

Joe Yonan: Gotcha. We'll see if we can find out.

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Sweet Potato Tartin: Question regarding today's sweet potato tartin recipe. If you don't want to go the puff pastry route, any suggestions that would be equally as easy? Thanks.

David Guas: You could use a sweet dough, like a pate brisee or a pate sucre. These will work, but not delivery the "puff factor". But at the end of the day, you are using the dough or crust as a vehicle to help serve and present the dessert so give it a try with your favorite pie crust or pate brisee.

Good luck!

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Joe Yonan: Well, our whites are set but our yolks are still runny, so you know what that means -- we're done! Time to serve us immediately, with mouillettes on the side.

Thanks, all, for the great questions, and many thanks to the Davids (Guas and Hagedorn) for helping us answer them. And now, for our giveaway books: The Bethesda chatter who asked about non-artificial dye for RV cake will get a signed copy of "DamGoodSweet." And the Ashburn chatter with the cryptic message (but intriguing!) who's originally from Brooklyn will get, duh, "Save the Deli."

Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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