Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving, Greek cuisine, simple syrups, sauerkraut, gooey salad, leftover sour cream, vegetarian entrees

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 2:00 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, people. Welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you braised goat, shrimp Creole and sauerkraut -- but hopefully not at the same meal, right? We're ready to tackle your q's and give you some a's in return. If we have lots of sauerkraut queries, we'll call in the queen of fermented cabbage, Bonnie North.

And of course, we're ready to help guide you every so slowly toward the T-giving table. Can't believe it's coming up so soon...

We have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today, as usual. There's the gorgeous "How to Roast a Lamb" by Michael Psilakis, subject of

Jane's profile today

. And there's "Simple Fresh Southern" by Matt and Ted Lee, sources of

Bonnie's DinMin recipe

. So ask your most interesting questions possible, and you may get a book...

Here's your chance.

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Kriti!: Jane - More articles and stories on Crete please! I went there last year for work (to Chania) and absolutely loved it. The farmers markets in the street, the year round fresh vegetables, the wonderful little restaurants in the tiny mountain towns, all of that blew me away.

How's the cook book? Can you make great dishes from it or is it inaccessible?

Thanks!

Jane Black: Glad you enjoyed it. We had fun and terrific weather, which is key! The cookbook is accessible. I made a halibut dish out of it this weekend. Served with spicy sausage and confit leeks and fennel. It's an extra step that really paid off and made what is a simple dish shine. You should check it out.

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DC Newcomer: Sauerkraut? Who knew!

As am relatively new to the area, are there other local/regional food faves I should know about? (I mean, other than crabcakes. Everybody tells me about crabcakes.)

Bonnie North: Well, there's soft shelled crabs of course.

Jane Black: Soft-shell crabs. Half-smokes (supposedly but I don't really get that or associate them with DC). Anyone else got ideas/favorites?

Joe Yonan: Berger cookies, which Flour Girl Leigh blogged about a few days ago...

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Washington, DC: Your cocktail recipe today includes instructions for making simple syrup that say it can be stored indefinitely. I made simple syrup a couple of weeks ago but added about a teaspoon of cinnamon to it before heating (it was for an apple pie cocktail I concocted, which was rather tasty). Will the cinnamon simple syrup also keep that long? Also, is it really necessary to boil simple syrup and cook it for 5 minutes? I generally just heat it in the microwave until all the sugar has dissolved, which is simpler and seems to work just fine.

Bonnie Benwick: The cinnamon won't affect the shelf life of your simple syrup. When you make it in the microwave, does it come to a boil? If so, then it's certainly a valid way to go.

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Green Goo Bloooooz: My greens are giving me the blues. Seems that more times than not, I buy a bag of mixed lettuces and they start to get a dark goo within a few days... leaves start to rot and smell funny. I've found this with small bags of greens and large bins alike. Also with farmer's market lettuce, but less often-- but those days are now shot, as it is November and there is not much lettuce growing in the Upper Midwest...

What can I do to (a) prevent the goo and (b) remove it to preserve the lettuce that is left? Or should I skip the baby greens and just buy big heads of leaf lettuce.

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Hate it when that happens. Just curious, what's the temp of your fridge, and do you keep those bags of prewashed greens in the (silly) crisper drawer? Too-cold temps can bring on the goo. (Also check sell-by dates on those bags in the store before you buy.) I have better luck storing greens three ways:

1. in an open plastic bag, wrapped loosely with damp paper towels

2. in a canvassy kinda greens back with a drawstring.

3. in a salad spinner, if I'm prepping the greens a few hours in advance.

Chatters, what are your best methods?

Joe Yonan: I second the salad-spinner-as-keeper idea. That's where my greens live, and last a long time...

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Van Ness: Hi! Love your chats and tips!Any suggestions for a birthday gift for a friend who likes to cook but doesn't really use (or like to use) cookbooks? Any gadgets or fun gift ideas for cooks in the $15-30 range?

Thanks!

Jane Black: I'd go for a microplane grater from a store like Sur La Table. They are a fabulous kitchen tool (last week I said I couldn't live without mine) and if she has one, she can take it back and pick out something else foodie she likes.

Bonnie Benwick: How about a splurge-priced bottle of olive oil? Dean & Deluca sure has enough of those. Sounds simplistic (and not so fun, in truth) but that single ingredient can elevate a recipe.

Or here's something more fun: Gather a few hard-to-come-by spices or condiments and put them in a basket with suggestions for their use. You'd save your friend some time searching for them down the road, and maybe you'd get to sample the results of her/his experimentation.

Joe Yonan: One of my go-to gifts in that price range is a gift basket of fantastic heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo.

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Cocktai, LS: Dear food staffers,

I'm planning my first cocktail party and am wondering about food choice. I'm planning two "table" items (one meat, one cheeses) and an array of passed apps. I'd like to go for an eclectic mix of passed apps rather than ones that are "thematic" (I.e., all Mediterranean) but am wondering if that works well in practice? For example, a mushroom tart, followed by a duck taco, followed by a veggie spring roll... Thanks!

Jane Black: Absolutely. That sounds fun. I think the key to mixing it up is to really make sure there's a wide variety. Ie, you don't want 3 Mediterranean apps and 1 taco that feels wrong. But spring rolls, tacos, bruschetta, quiche, potatoes with sour cream and "caviar" would be fun all put together.

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Brunch Question: I'm making brunch this weekend and having fresh belgian waffles as part of the menu. Since berries are out of season, what would you recommend as a fruit topping, preferably one I can make the night before? And, can you share a recipe? Thanks!

Jane Black: Stewed apples with cinnamon. Here's a rough recipe. Peel and slice apples. Place in a medium-sized pan over medium heat with a cinnamon stick, freshly ground nutmeg brown sugar to taste and a pinch of salt. (Or I sometimes use good maple syrup.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft but still hold their shape.

Joe Yonan: I was about to say much of the same thing. If you want a more specific idea, try the caramelized-winter-fruit part of this Loaf of Bread Pudding recipe. It'd be great on waffles, too. (Well, except for those raisins, in my estimation -- I'd sub dried cranberries...)

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Hamburg, NY: Some time in the last two months or so you featured a recipe for "Dill Coleslaw". Is there any way I can find that on the WP web site? If not, do you have any suggestions as to how I might "retrieve" it?

Jane Black: I just searched our entire archive for the last year and there's no recipe for dill coleslaw. There's mint coleslaw. Is that what you meant?

Serves 4

1 cup low-fat mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Juice of 1 medium lime (at least 2 teaspoons)

1 large jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (3 to 4 tablespoons)

1 bunch scallions (white and light-green parts), minced (1/2 to 3/4 cup)

1 small Napa cabbage, cut into thin slices (about 4 cups)

Leaves from 1 small bunch mint, torn into large pieces ( 3/4 cup)

1 large carrot, peeled and grated ( 3/4 to 1 cup)

Directions

For the coleslaw: Whisk together the mayonnaise, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, vinegar, lime juice, jalapeno pepper and scallions in a large mixing bowl.

Add the cabbage, mint and carrot; toss until well coated. Taste for seasonings and add more salt as desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Question for Joe: I know you really liked the Clever Coffee Dripper for single-cup brewing. But I'm concerned that the water would cool down a good bit while sitting in what looks like a simple plastic filter for the four minutes it takes to brew. (This is presumably less of a problem with a ceramic filter cone, like the Beehouse one you also liked.) Any comments? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I do like it -- and in my blog post about it, I mentioned that Sweet Maria's is planning to eventually sell a model with a lid to keep that heat trapped. In the meantime, you can just put a plate on top, and it keeps the heat nicely trapped.

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Washington: Hi Rangers,

I have some green beans and broccoli that I would like to freeze. Should I blanch them first or just stick them in the freezer? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Blanch first, definitely. Vegetables contain ripening enzymes that do not go dormant in the freezer, which means raw vegetables that get tossed in the deep freeze will deteriorate slowly but surely.

Be sure to chill the blanched vegetables before freezing them.

This is the perfect opportunity to mention our upcoming full-page takeout on Freezing Food, which is scheduled for Dec. 2. Don't miss it!

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Simple syrup follow-up: No it doesn't come to a boil--just hot enough to dissolve. Is boiling necessary?

Jane Black: Boiling is what makes it thicker. If you just dissolve the sugar, you have sugar water, not syrup.

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Electric Roaster v. Oven for Turkey: Just found out I'm hosting my second large (10 people) Thanksgiving dinner. For my first one, I roasted my turkey in the oven and it came out just fine. It did, however, hog up needed space for sides and desserts. I've seen ads recently for electric roasters. Do you have any experience with them? Does the turkey turn out the same as oven-roasted turkey? Any advantages/disadvantages? (Aside from the cost and space necessary for a single-use appliance.) Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I don't think any of us have tried the roasters, but here's a link to the comments of some folks who have. I guess you'd have to figure out whether you had enough cause to use it at other times of the year.

I'm a litle puzzled about your "hog up," though. I think timing's pretty controllable for a Thanksgiving menu. Most sides that go in the oven can be made in advance and reheated. Desserts certainly can. And then when the turkey comes out to rest before carving (this can be a full hour), things can go back in for warming or whatever.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: I love cooking with fresh onions, garlic, shallots, etc. But if I cook with these items say on Monday, then by Tuesday afternoon my trashcan smells horrendous. What do you guys do about the smell of garlic carcass and onion peels or chicken packages etc? Am I the only one who has this problem? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: My answer reminds me of that old SNL sketch featuring the late great Phil Hartman as the Anal Retentive Chef. "... And how do we throw things out?" Take a cue from him and just wrap some of that stuff in some paper towels or a plastic baggie or the like. No need to center the tape on the bag, or to get a special tape-dispenser cozy unless you're as OCD as Phil's character, but you get the idea. "Now that's some garbage you can live with!"

Or, of course, you can get a trashcan with a tight lid, right? But that's not nearly as much fun.

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Too Hot Chi, LI: Made what would have been delicious chicken chili except it's way too hot. Two jalapenos is too many for me! Is there anything I can do? The dice is small so I can't pick out all of them. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: What else is in it? You could basically double the batch, in terms of chicken, vegetables and tomatoes/sauce. I've also read that some people add unsweetened applesauce to counterbalance the heat, but I'm not sure I'd go there.

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Detroit: Hello there free rangers! I baked an amazing cheesecake last week and for some reason while I was shopping for the ingredients, I had in my mind that I would need A LOT more sour cream than I actually did. I need a fourth of a cup, I think I bought a half gallon! Regardless, I have a ton of sour cream that I need to use...any ideas of how to get rid of it in mass quantities? The only thing I can think of is sour cream coffee cake...any other ideas? Sweet or savory, doesn't matter, I just would hate to have all that sour cream go bad and have to go in the garbage! Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I love a sour cream coffeecake, but you could also think savory and add it to mashed potatoes, or scalloped potatoes. I'm also a fan of good ol' fashioned sour cream and onion dip (with chips) made with Lipton's soup mix. Anyone else have thoughts?

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I'm thrilled with the goat recipe given my fondness for spit-roasted goat (and also of Komi, which does a great version). Now, where in the heck do I find goat? Preferably from someone local who takes good care of their animals? I haven't seen goat make the rounds at the farmers market but maybe I'm not looking in the right places...I also do not have a car but some things might be worth fighting for...

Jane Black: Painted Hand Farm at the Bloomingdale Market on Sunday mornings has terrific goat. (She also raises veal, which I wrote about last week. But goat is her main product.)

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Boston Birthday dinner help!: Hi, all! I am turning 26 on November 14th, and am hosting a birthday potluck dinner at my apartment. I love hosting, and this is a great way for me to pull all my friends together.... but I didn't think the turnout would be so good! I'm expecting about 25 guests! Here's where I need help:

I'm a vegetarian, so I want all options to be veggie friendly in case there are leftovers. I'm definitely making homemade split pea soup, pumpkin muffins, french bread and/or beer bread, and a layered carrot cake for dessert. I'd like to make something else that falls along the main dish -- right now I'm debating either veggie chili to keep with the soup theme, or my mom's famous mac & cheese. Guests will be bringing appetizers, salads/veggies, and wine.

Any other vegetarian main dish ideas that are easy to make for a crowd? I don't want to break the bank making my own birthday dinner!

Jane Black: Chili and split pea soup together feel too soupy to me. I'd do one or the other. I like the mac and cheese idea. That always is a favorite. Just make sure to get some greens on the table so it's not brown soup, beige pasta, bread etc.

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Madera, Calif.: I've been having a problem when I bake my pumpkin whoopie pies. Can you assist, please?

I made up a batch of them on Saturday, and I just can't get them right. They are perfect if you eat them the first day, but they do not keep well at all. The surface of the cake gets all tacky/sticky (like the top of pumpkin bread), and makes a mess when you eat them. Like I said, they are great if you eat them the day that you make them, but I've not been able to get them to hold even for one day. It doesn't matter if I refrigerate them, or keep them on the counter - the same results for both: tacky/sticky surfaces. Even sticky, they still taste wonderful.

Here is my recipe. Maybe someone can take a look-see at it to determine what I am doing wrong. Maybe I'm using too much applesauce? The original recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I switched it out to applesauce, but both recipes ended up with the same results.

Pumpkin Gobs

2 cups pumpkin, 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup applesauce, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Mix all ingredients together. Drop onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 for 14 minutes. Cool completely before filling with cream-cheese frosting. (Cream cheese frosting: 8oz cream cheese, 1/2 stick butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice, 4 cups confectioners sugar).

Have at it. Tell me what I'm doing wrong. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I don't think it's your recipe or that you're doing anything wrong. I think it's the nature of the beast. Some foods just don't hold up even a day or two. You can try wrapping them individually in plastic wrap for storage and maybe that will smooth out the top.

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Gooey salad: After trial and error (and actual testing done by us), we have found the boxes last longer than bags or spun greens you bag yourself, and, oddly, the local brand of salad with a woman's name (I am completely blanking. Ellen's? Amy's? It has a cartoony drawing of a girl on the label) that comes from MD lasts longest. I have found it at the Alexandria WF. Also, for whatever reason, organic lasts longer than non.

Bonnie Benwick: Interesting. You're referring to the hardshell plastic boxes, I take it?

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Local Favs...: Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham!

Joe Yonan: Of course! And that reminds me: Smith Island cake!

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Northern Virginia: I'd love suggestions for recipes using goat cheese that are cooked (because of health issues that make uncooked goat cheese a no-no). Any ideas?

Joe Yonan: Interesting -- so what does the cooking do to make it more edible for you, can you say? (Curious about this!)

Anyway, you should look at

this

, the first of Domenica Marchetti's two recent "Say Cheese" blog posts in which she challenged friends to come up with great goat cheese recipes. I say the first one because that's the one that includes a couple of cooked-cheese recipes, while the other recipes leave it raw.

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Commerce Twp, MI: In your critique of the Toddy Cold Coffee Extract Maker the downside was replacing the filter every 3 months($). We just boil our in a saucepan of water and re use it. We also do two soakings of the coffee grounds, then blend them-fine for our taste if you begin with a good coffee blend.

Joe Yonan: Thanks. I've been running my Toddy filters through the dishwasher; that seems to do the trick, too. Not sure I'd follow your soak-the-coffee-twice advice, though, but glad it works for you!

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Arlington, Va.: Have you experimented with adding ingredients, such as powdered milk for added calcium and protein, to recipes for a nutritional boost? I was thinking specifically of baked goods, which I love way more than I should. Do you think I could sub dry milk for another dry ingredient (like flour?) or would that really mess up the final product in terms of texture and taste?

Leigh Lambert: Any time you add things a baking recipes you have to be careful of the chemistry. Too much (or too little) protein can mess things up. I would stick with blending it into your shakes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Having a dinner party on Friday - so excited. Dessert is already taken care of - we made a stack of sticks from backyard cleanup in a fire pit, and we'll go roast marshmallows. Also, I have a good piece of beef on order from Let's Meat in Del Ray, so that's set.

Need some ideas, however, for sides...we have a vegetarian guest, so though I'm not planning a vegetarian dinner, I'd ideally like at least one to be pretty substantial. I usually do risotto for her with seasonal veggies, but this time, I'd love something that gets me a little more out of the kitchen and mingling with my guests. Thoughts?

Jane Black: You could do a wild mushroom bread pudding. It's delicious and very substantial. Here's a recipe we ran that includes asparagus and morels. But you could easily sub in whatever fall vegetables you like instead.

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Bethesda, Md.: I fully agree with the blog post about the homemade pie crusts making a world of difference. I always thought I wasn't an apple pie person. I never thought much of mushy fruit and thought pie crusts were supposed to be like the bland dry crumbly crusts of store-bought pies. I also always felt intimidated about trying my own pie crust dough because I had heard so many horror stories.

But just yesterday was round two of my own homemade pie crust which knocks my socks off and causes me to hallucinate at night if I don't have it available to eat. I used a recipe from America's Test Kitchen which uses crisco and butter... and I haven't had a single issue with making it. By the time it's out of the oven, it's browned and beautiful and flaky and buttery.

It has revolutionized the way I think of pie.

So now that I've done the apple pies... what next? Will pumpkin pie be as revolutionary different with a homemade crust, or not as much, since it's just on the bottom?

washingtonpost.com: All We Can Eat: Gotta Love Pie

Bonnie Benwick: Way to go Bethesda! I think outstanding pie crust is even more necessary for a filling with the soggy factor of pumpkin. Let's see what Flour Girl (a.k.a. Leigh Lambert, our fab editorial assistant) has to say about pumpkin though, because she's been working with it quite a bit lately.

Leigh Lambert: I think of the crust as the all-important foundation. It's a 50-50 partner to the filling. It will change any pie you make. But since you mentioned pumpkin, I have to share my favorite filling which will bring it to a whole new level. We've been making this Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving in my family for years.

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Single Eater: Hi,

Thanks for taking my question.

Any thoughts on how to keep french bread fresh for more than the day that I purchase it? With dinner, I can't get through a whole loaf in one day but the other half is rock hard by the time the next day rolls around.

Bonnie Benwick: Editor Joe may have another idea in mind, but you could cut your fresh loaf into 2 or 3 pieces and freeze them. French bread does pretty well in a heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bag. You can reheat the bread as needed in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes or so, wrapped in foil.

Joe Yonan: You can also look for demi-baguettes. I've seen some nice ones at some of the farmers markets. Or even rolls -- they freeze and reheat well, too, and you've got single-serving portions already made for you.

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Greenville, Va.: Loved today's food section! believe it or not, I actually HAVE 25 lbs of cabbage -- and now I know what I am going to do with it.

Also, loved that you ran a goat recipe. My husband and I farm in the Shenandoah Valeey and raise grass fed goats (sustainable and humane farming methods, no antibiotics, no hormones, etc), mostly for fiber (they are cashmere goats, a spanish type of goat (as opposed to the bigger Boers raised solely for meat) favored by lots of cooks. We have anywhere from 10-30 butchered a year (again humanely at a facility owned by Food Inc. star Joel Salatin) and sell them direct to consumers in the DC area. I don't want to break any rules about free advertising, or self-promotion, but in case you get readers wondering where to get locally raised, grass fed, healthy goat, we could help.

We are Green Fence Farm and you can email us through our website www.greenfencefarm.com.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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it's ALL greek to me!!!: so excited about "How to Roast a Lamb"....what fun! So here's my question. I have recently become OBSESSED with greek salads. And I mean breakfast lunch and dinner obsessed! I can't get enough of the contrast between the crunchy lettuce, the sweet beets and the salty feta. My downfall is the dressing...I just can't get it right. I've had it in restaurants where it's so good I want to drink it from the bottle, but do you have a recommendation (perhaps from the book) for a no-fail greek dressing recipe? I would be FOREVER grateful!

Jane Black: Interesting that your greek salad is beets and feta. The classic one is cucumbers, tomatoes and feta. Yours sounds better because it's in season.

For a dressing, I'm not sure there is one Greek dressing. I use ones with lemon or dill or oregano. Here is one from the cookbook that is a good standard:

Lemon Dill Vinaigrette

Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill

1 tsp Dijon mustard

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 small shallot, sliced

1 tbsp kosher salt

generous grinding of black pepper

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except the olive oil. With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil until smooth.

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Arlington, Va.: Love the chat! I look forward to it each week. I'm a mom of two young boys and I often cook several meals on Sundays to either freeze or reheat for meals during the week. I'm getting a little tired of the usuals, baked ziti, macaroni and cheese, quiche, roast chicken...

Any suggestions for a new twist on easy freeze and reheatable meals?

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe you could explore the world o' soups, most of which can be made in advance. We have so many in Recipe Finder it's hard to know which they might like best. And did you see the last installment of our Make It, Freeze It, Take It? They were all chicken recipes. I bet your guys would love the Mango-Cranberry Chicken, for example. My not-so-little guys sure did.

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Fairfax: SOUR CREAM MMMMMM...

How about paprika chicken with pirogies or noodles? Apfel kuchen? Spinach dip? Crab dip? Beet soup with sour cream? Belgian waffles with berries and sour cream?

Obviously I love sour cream. There are plenty more-sour cream brownies etc...

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Washington, DC: Is too early to start talking about Thanksgiving? I'm already planning my menu and I'd like to invent a new dressing to go with my traditional sausage-corn bread one. I'm thinking sourdough baguette, bacon, fennel, caramelized onion, apple, toasted hazelnuts, sage and thyme, with vegetable stock and white wine. Do you think that would work well?

Jane Black: I think it sounds fabulous.

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Other places to get goat: I've seen goat on the list of meat for Smith Meadows and check out Eastern Market.

Joe Yonan: That'll get your goat.

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Green Fence Farm on Goat (again): For Dupont DC: We do drop off goat orders in the Cleveland Park area!

Jane Black: For the chatter, searching for goat...they deliver!

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stinky trash: Didn't someone here suggest that you can keep trimmings from garlic, onions, carrots, celery, etc. in a lidded container or zip-top bag in the freezer, then throw them in a pot to make veg stock? Doesn't solve the chicken wrapper problem but it is a start.

Since we cannot seem to get stores to quit giving us plastic bags (double bags) we save them for chicken wrappings, etc. -- because you can plop all the chicken/meat wrapping goop into a single bag, tie it shut and take it to the alley before dinner is even done cooking.

Just a thought.

Joe Yonan: Yes, someone did -- thanks for the reminder! And I'm with you on the reusing-a-bag idea...

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Burke, Va.: You know I normally love you guys and you usually come up with some great recipes. But when I read the titles of the recipes in today's Food section, I thought it was April Fool's Day. Octopus With Chickpea Salad? Braised Goat? Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake? What's next? Yak Parmesan? I mean, I appreciate pushing the envelope, but how about at least one recipe with appealing ingredients that are relatively easy to find.

Bonnie Benwick: Okay, I wish I'd had $$ riding on this -- I figured we'd get such a comment. We are a little off the reservation this week, recipewise. But honestly, if you substitute quick-cooking squid for the octopus in that salad, the recipe's quite doable (and still tasty). Short answer is: Easy Shrimp Creole, Brussels Sprouts With Cranberry Balsamic Dressing. And come back next week, in part, for three easy ways to treat pork tenderloin. P.S. Don't knock Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake until you've tried it!

Jane Black: I'd just like to add a comment in defense of octopus and goat. The point of the story was to try to break down the myths that goat and octopus are foreign and scary and not accessible. And if you taste the dishes and try the recipes, you'll see, like I did, that they are. So while I hear you that that's not how people cook everyday, I think it's good to encourage cooks to try new things.

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Washington, DC: Apple butter pumpkin pie sounds amazing, but the link you put up doesn't go anywhere. Would you please copy the recipe (or check the link)?

Leigh Lambert: Sorry about that: Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie

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Boulder, Colo.: For the chatter with too much sour cream, try this recipe from Tom Sietsema's mother, "Breasts for Guests". It's tasty!

Joe Yonan: Thanks -- I had almost forgotten about that nice piece by Tom.

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Fairfax, Va.: Now that the holidays are right around the corner, I am determined to get organized. I usually make several different kinds of cookies around Christmas and would like to make and freeze the dough early. My questions are: (1) how early can I start? How long can the dough be kept frozen and still come out well when I finally bake? (2) Is freezing inadvisable for certain types of cookies? I am planning to make chocolate chip, sugar , peanut butter, two kinds of oatmeal, and snickerdoodles. (3) For the drop cookies, do I bake from frozen or let the dough thaw first?

Thanks.

Leigh Lambert: Bonnie may have thoughts on freezing perimeters (how long), but I would advise you portion all your cookies from dough before you freeze them and then bring them to room temperature before baking. It's been my experience that when I try to bake frozen cookies for longer the centers under bake and the cookies don't spread as they should. There's the other option of baking them off and then freezing the final product.

Bonnie Benwick: Doughs that are rolled into logs can be frozen (optimally) for 2 to 3 months. If you're doing cutout or shaped cookies, it would be much easier if you took the recipe all the way to the just-before-baking stage. Freeze the cookies on parchment-paper-lined disposable cookie sheets, or even on sheets of parchment paper that are stacked atop each other then placed inside giant-size resealable plastic food storage bags. Those cutout kinds can go straight to the oven. For drop cookies, you may run into the same problems Leigh mentioned, in terms of underbaked centers if you bake straight from a frozen state, so I'd recommend thawing the dough in the fridge, just till it's at a pliable state.

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Boulder, Colo.: Another great sour cream recipe is Sour Cream Apple Pie from the Gold Hill Inn. It's in a tiny old mining town West of Boulder and they have fabulous food that was featured in Gourmet (RIP) a few years ago.

Joe Yonan: Ah, Gourmet...

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Hope its not too late!: I am interested in making the creole recipe but have a question. I have an extremely small kitchen which means storage space is at a dire minimum. The recipe calls for a dutch over and a fine mesh strainer. I have neither and am wondering if I can use a regular spaghetti strainer and a pot will suffice. Thanks for any guidance you can provide!

Bonnie Benwick: Yep, those will work.

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Semi-cooked Goat Cheese: I had a great salad in Belgium recently. It was greens, with some pieces of smoked salmon laying on them. In the center was a piece of very thinly slice bread, upon which was placed goat cheese and a drizzle of honey, and then the bread/cheese was placed under the broiler before being put atop the greens. Goat cheese also makes a mean pizza topping.

Jane Black: Sounds delicious. Reminds me in an admittedly tangential way of one of my favorite French spinach salads. You make a hot dressing with bacon lardons and mustard and vinegar and pour it onto the greens, which wilt slightly. Heat is your friend, even for salads.

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looking for a "smoky" chili recipe: We're having a holiday open house in a few weeks and I'm going to have three kinds of chili on the stove for people to eat as they come and go. I'm making a green chicken chili and a veggie chili, and now need to come up with something for the red meat contention and really want something that has a smoky flavor. I'm thinking maybe with chipotle peppers and smoked paprika as part of the flavor base. I'm also thinking about using buffalo instead of beef.

Joe Yonan: Yes, absolutely, go the chipotle route at the outset and then add some of the pimenton at the end if you want more smoke. I think you should start with my brother's Chili Con Carne recipe and sub in a chipotle or two for one or two of the anchos.

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22101: Can fresh pineapple be frozen? Got a great deal and want 2 save some for my watergate salad for thanksgiving. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Certainly. Peel, core and chop it and then throw it into freezer bags (squeeze the air out before sealing). I do this for my smoothies as well.

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Goopy Salad: I get the hard shell boxes of mixed organic greens from Costco. First of all, I always check the date and have been known to move around the display to get the boxes from the back.

One thing I've done to help the greens last longer is remove the greens from the box and let them air dry (or salad spin). That really helps - I also line the box with a paper towel.

Nothing worse than Goopy Greens!

Joe Yonan: Thanks.

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French bread: I've had good luck extending french bread for a couple of days by putting it in a sealed bag. The bags they sell them in are often perforated with little holes, so the baguettes dry out, even if you tape the end shut. Even wrapping it in a couple plastic grocery bags seems to keep it from getting rock hard the next day.

Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, rock-hard bread only one day later makes me think the bread wasn't at it's freshest when purchased. How about you?

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Cranberry puree: I had a Cranberry bog martini and just fell in love. I found a recipe for it and even tried to make my own cranberry puree but it was way too thick and had skins in it. Is there an easy way to make my own puree? If not, where can I buy it?

Jane Black: It won't be as thick if you don't cook it down too much. (Or you can add a little water or simple syrup.) To get rid of the skins, push the puree through a fine mesh strainer. Then you'll have a puree you can work with.

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More local favs: Oyster casserole - so simple to make and nice side for Thanksgiving.

Joe Yonan: Yum.

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For Boston Birthdayer: What about a nice butternut squash lasagna for the other main dish? It's easy to put together in advance, feels celebratory, and is loved by vegetarians and meat eaters alike. And it's super seasonal and very cozy and warming, perfect for this time of year.

Jane Black: I second this motion. We also have some great vegetarian lasagnas with wild mushrooms and other seasonal vegetables in the database.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm contemplating getting general adm. tickets to the metropolitan cooking show. Is it worth it? I missed out earlier on the groupon deal for half off tickets to Food Network chef demos...

I also have a kid, and was thinking maybe I would put her in one of the kids' cooking classes. After all, it is much cheaper than the L'Academie de Cuisine one I had her in a week ago...

But I have no idea about the level of organization of the event, and whether it would be worth it. Will they be featuring lots of useful products and tools, or is it mostly just one large 3-dimensional infomercial for things I'm better off without?

Joe Yonan: I'm embarrassed to say I have never been. Chatters, have you?

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Crystal City, Va.: Hi Food Section! Perhaps this question is better suited for Amy or Prudence, but I'd love your feedback. My partner -- a real whiz in the kitchen -- is planning to spend our Veterans Day holiday baking an apple pie for his office's Nov. 12 dessert contest. This means I won't get to eat any! Doesn't it seem cruel to force me to spend my day off smelling his famous apple pie baking in the kitchen, knowing I'll never be able to partake? What should I do?

Joe Yonan: This is an easy one. Persuade him that he needs to bake two while he's at it, so that he can choose the better one to go to work for the contest. One is going to look better than the other, obviously -- and you can eat the second-place, which will of course taste fabulous, too...

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WDC: Can you recommend a grocery brand sauerkraut? Or are they mostly the same? I'd like to try both recipes in today's paper. Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: You may get two Bonnie's worth of suggestions here. I'm the opposite of a kraut queen, but I found Bubbies brand was easy to work with and tasted snappy.

Bonnie North: Unless you have a real old-fashioned German deli nearby you can try Claussen's. It's usually available in a regular grocery chain.

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Salted butter vs. unsalted butter + salt: Is it OK to use salted butter when a cake recipe calls for unsalted butter and salt separately?

Leigh Lambert: It is OK to use salted butter in baked goods and omit the salt. You may have noticed that this shift to unsalted butter happened (consistently) in recipes fairly recently. The reason to add them separately is to give control over the amount of salt. Sometimes it won't matter as much, I.e. chocolate chip cookies. But finer cakes and baked goods may need a only a light touch.

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Query: What's a stuffed ham?

Joe Yonan: St. Mary's stuffed ham -- the stuff, so to speak, of legend. It's corned ham stuffed with greens and spices.

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Washington, DC Crumble emergency: I'd love to bring the pear-cranberry-hazelnut-crumble to a dinner we are invited to this weekend (saw your recommendation in a recent discussion, tried and loved it) - but don't know if I can pre-assemble it and just stick it in the oven at the host? Would the pears survive (not get all brown and ugly)? Thanks for any advice you could give.

Jane Black: You certainly can. First, there's a crust on top so you won't see the fruit. And it will turn color when it cooks anyway. I worry about that kind of thing if I'm serving pears or apples fresh and then I use a little lemon juice will help prevent it from turning brown. In this case, that's not necessary but a squeeze atop the fruit won't hurt it either.

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Alexandria, Va.: Doesn't always work but sometimes you can revive bread by microwaving it for 30 seconds or so to get it soft and spongy again, then toasting it in the oven or toaster to get the crusty-ness back. Results are probably better if you slice it first.

Joe Yonan: Thanks -- this is what I do, indeed.

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Bridgeport, Conn.: I purchased an "Asian Fusion" brand non-stick wok from Bed, Bath & Beyond because I wanted to make the "Cooking for One" fried rice recipe. I washed it with soap and hot water before using, but when I put it on the stove on high heat, it was as if the bottom of the wok itself started to burn through (I could see the inside of the pan turning an ugly brown). I quickly stopped cooking.

Apparently, I missed the fact that this piece had some kind of special protective glazing on it that I had to take off, either by heating up hot oil in the pan and scrubbing the hot oil, or buying some kind of commercial remover.

My question - did the protective layer cause the burning of the pan? is this normal? And can this pan be fixed (if I am able to remove the protective layer), or should I just throw it away? If so, what is a good, cheap wok I can buy?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I'd take it back to BBB, which has a "100% satisfaction guarantee," and get your $$ back. And I'd use said money to buy a carbon-steel wok (no nonstick coating) by Joyce Chen or the like. Once you properly season a steel wok, it's better than anything with a nonstick coating.

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Reston, Va.: I'm lucky enough to have a lot of venison in my freezer. It's nice to have a sustainable source of fresh meat, though I'm not always sure of what to do with it. There is no shortage of recipes for the tenderloin, but when it comes to other cuts, I've had to use my imagination.

I've made a lot of bolognese sauce and chili with ground venison, though I usually have to use half ground beef to get enough fat into the dish. I've recently tried making Indian lamb curries with venison with some success and I'm excited to try the goat recipe you published today with venison. Do you think that would work? Do you have any other suggestions for delicious ways to incorporate venison into my cooking? Is it safe to assume that recipes calling for goat would be good uses for venison as well?

Thank you, Rangers!

Jane Black: I think venison is good for most goat recipes, especially when you're talking about cuts besides the tenderloin. The braised goat recipe today would work really well with venison too. Give it a go.

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Gourmet's demise: Any word on what happens to those of us with time left on our subscriptions? We've not had any kind of notice from Conde Nast. We already get Bon Appetit, so they can't just sub that for our remaining Gourmet issues.

Joe Yonan: Hmm. Don't know for sure, but they'll probably extend your BA subscription.

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Simple Solution: The chatter with the too hot chili and the one with too much sour cream should get together. The sour cream will "tame" some of the heat.

Bonnie Benwick: Funny.

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Crystal City, Va.: Thanks Joe! Let's hope my partner reads your good advice. Two apple pies on Veterans Day -- an excellent compromise. I'll even do the dishes!

Joe Yonan: There you go. Tell him I demanded it -- and that we wouldn't mind a little slice over here on 15th Street, either...

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Silver Spring, Md.: Really like the look of the Autumn Farmers Market Salad. We were so inspired by the market bounty last weekend; we made a salad topped with roasted beets, fennel, and goat cheese, followed up with seared Coho salmon on sauteed beet greens and swiss chard. Bought a bunch of apples, too, but didn't quite get to the pie-making. Love this time of year, and just wanted to share.

Bonnie Benwick: Nice, thanks for sharing that. Cindy Brown's salad was beautiful. She's assistant director at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria and does such a nice job with recipes -- we've been happy to have them on Mondays at All We Can Eat. Here's a quick link to her others.

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Aperol: So where can I buy aperol in DC? Thanks to you, Jason Wilson, I now have bitters, calvados, and other spirits I never would have stocked in my liquor cabinet. So do tell where I can buy aperol?

Bonnie Benwick: Ditto. Shouldn't be so hard to find. Try MacArthur Beverage (202-338-1433) and Cairo Wine & Liquor (202-387-1500), for starters. Both have just confirmed bottles in stock.

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food safety help!: Help, Food sectioners! Had a power outage yesterday, from 6am to 8pm. We tried not to open the fridge much, but had to get at the stuff there about four times. Freezer wasn't opened at all. How much do we need to throw out? Eggs? Lunchmeat? Mayo? Right now I'm thinking of throwing out everything from the fridge (except soda) and keeping everything from the freezer.

Bonnie Benwick: This, too, will be covered in our special freezer food page on Dec. 2. But I won't make you wait that long. Freezer should be fine (a full one is good for up to 2 days if the door stays shut; a half-full freezer is good for 1 day).

As for the fridge, was there a way to monitor the temperature within? Eggs should be fine, lunchmeat fine (unless it turned an off-color or began to smell), mayo fine.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've shredded us, tossed us with salt, mashed us until juice oozes out, weighed us down, sealed out the air and let us ferment for a few weeks until nice and funky, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great q's today.

Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who is OBSESSED with Greek salads (you sound like Jane B!) will bet "How to Roast a Lamb," naturally. And just to show that we're not above criticism, the one who complained that our recipes this week were too esoteric will get "Simple Fresh Southern." Just email your mailing info to food@washpost.com and we'll get you the books.

Oh, and don't forget to check

our blog for leftover questions

. If you didn't see your answer here, check back next Wednesday morning, and you might see it answered there.

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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