Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving, Indian spices, last meals, dry turkey breast, cooking for one and cupcake conundrums

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 1:00 PM

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

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

Archive of past discussions


Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. Today, naturally, we've got three things on our minds: the fabulous Italian recipes made by Deborah Thawley, the first subject in Bonnie's new Washington Cooks series; fantastic cask ale at ChurchKey and elsewhere, as sampled by art critic Blake Gopnik and beer writer Greg Kitsock; and the shopping challenges of single cooks, helped out by the inimitable Judith Jones on a recent DC visit.

OK, maybe a fourth thing: the drumbeat of Thanksgiving, getting louder by the day.

We have a VSC (very special cook) with us today in the chat: It's Judith Jones herself. In that vein, her new book, "The Pleasures of Cooking for One," is one of the fabulous prizes we'll give away to the perpetrators of our favorite query/post of the hour. Please, send any and all cooking-for-one questions her way! (I'll try to help in that department, too.)

The other giveaway book: "Artisan Gluten-Free Cooking," source of today's DinMin recipe.

We are also hoping to have Greg Kitsock in the room today to handle your beer questions, and I believe I see Jason Wilson lurking over there, cocktail shaker in hand.

So we're at the ready. Fire away, and we'll get started.

Joe Yonan: To raise the stakes just a TAD here, let me add that the copy of Judith's book will be SIGNED by her...


Save my thumbs: Do you have any tips for shelling roasted chestnuts? I usually end up in tears, because (1) they're so dang hot that I get blisters, (2) the sharp edges of the shell and skin cut into my (now blistered) thumbs and under my fingernails, and (3) they cool down too quickly, and the skin fuses to the nut. I can fix (3) by sticking them back into the oven, but that brings back (1). I've tried boiling, but that's the same, and a mess to boot. I've tried using a towel and wearing gloves, but I can't get the skin off without help from my nails. (Before roasting, I score an "X" on the flat side, cutting all the way down to the nut -- I've tried scoring an equator all the way around, too, which is no better.)

Bonnie Benwick: Boy does this bring back memories of my similar attempts last year. I remember using a combo of a paring knife and dish towel. Chatters, got any bright ideas? For the next go-round, I found affordable peeled chestnuts at a Turkish shop in Rockville (Lezzet, 301-545-1688).


Asheville, N.C.: I plan on making a cranberry-orange tart for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the recipe calls for chopped walnuts and I have a relative allergic to nuts. Do you think it would be okay to omit the nuts or would it ruin the consistency of the filling?

Bonnie Benwick: What's the quantity of nuts? Let's see whether we can find a substitute.


Spices from India?: I'm headed to southern India in a couple weeks for my cousin's wedding. I can't wait!

I haven't cooked a lot of Indian food at home, but am a pretty adventurous cook, and imagine I will want to recreate some good food by the time I return home.

What spices (or other food-related items) would you suggest bringing home with me?

Judith Jones: If you can wait until next fall, Madhur Jaffrey has a beautiful book coming---all about Indian food but somewhat simplified for the home cook, titled AT HOME WITH MADHUR JAFFREY. You might find a spice box of six or eight of the main spices--turmeric, cumin, cardomom--when you're in India, and that would be good to bring home.

Joe Yonan: We've also put your question to Indian cookbook author Monica Bhide, so if we hear back from her before the appointed hour, we'll shoot you her thoughts, too.


Arlington, Va.: Any of you Rangers have experience cooking with dried chipotles? I made some soup on Sunday and took part of the batch (about 6-8 servings) and added a very small chili to the recipe. Fire! Even for me, a spice fan. I added the whole thing, seeds and all, and am wondering if I'd soaked the chili for a while, then chopped it and avoided adding the seeds, if that would've been closer to the right dosage. Any thoughts?

Judith Jones: It's the seeds that make most of the heat, so if you want it milder, yes, scrape all or some of them out.


Do-Ahead Thanksgiving: I had promised my mother that I'd help her with Thanksgiving this year - but I just got word that I'm going to be out of town on business that week (gotta love working for a non-American company). What can I do to help her prep before I leave on Tuesday. We're having 20 people.

How soon is too soon to pre-chop onions, celery, and the like? I figure the soup will be fine - what about the sweet potatoes (mashed w/seasonings and roasted apples)? If I make it Monday night, can I just stick it in the fridge, or am I better off freezing it? And what about the cranberry sauce?

Thanks- I love your chats!

Joe Yonan: Your sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce could certainly be made a few days ahead and kept, airtight, in the refrigerator. I would, however, advise against pre-chopping onions, celery and the like. Much better to chop right before you cook the dishes that are using those -- but, as you see, you can make many of those dishes a few days ahead. How about dressing?


Fairfax, Va.: The Barefoot Contessa made a delicious looking pineapple carrot cake the other day. I plan to try the recipe, but would like to lighten up the frosting, which was made with 2 sticks of butter and 12 ounces of cream cheese. Any suggestions for a lighter cream cheese frosting?

Bonnie Benwick: Depends how light you want to go. You could use neufchatel cheese instead of full-fat cream cheese. You could use a vegetable spread such as Earth Balance instead of butter, and you could certainly adapt the amounts -- 2 sticks seems like a lot. To make up for that certain something that butter provides, you could add more vanilla extract or some lemon or orange zest.

I would not advise using nonfat cream cheese, which to me has all the charms of zinc oxide.

Chatters, what do you do?


Bethesda, Md.: The weather has put me in a questioning mood. Did Greg Kitsock mean to refer to orange-flavored Bayer aspirin he took as a kid for fever, or, rather, St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children? Don't know how old he is, but orange Bayer has not been around nearly as long as St. Joe's.

Greg Kitsock: I'm 53, and you're probably right about the aspirin being the St. Joseph's brand. It's been a long time!

Bonnie Benwick: Ha! I asked Jane Touzalin, ace copy editor, that exact question.

Joe Yonan: I distinctly remember Orange Bayer as a kid, and I'm 44.


Steak and cake: Can I ask a two part question?

First, I made some steak the other night for dinner. To reheat it, I thinly sliced the steak then put it in the microwave in an attempt to keep it from over cooking (it was originally cooked at medium). Alas, it was cooked to well-done. What's the best way to reheat steak without actually cooking it?

And two, I want to make a chocolate cake for one of my thanksgiving desserts (in addition to pumpkin pie and apple/pear cobbler) -- would you recommend a regular layer cake, or a black forest type cake?

Many thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I'll take on dessert first, because as they say, life is uncertain... I would go with a straight forward chocolate cake recipe given that the meal already has so many flavors going on. I like the idea of a chocolate accent, but it may not be the time to gild the lily, so to speak.

Bonnie Benwick: Steak: Microwavery is quick but intense, so I'm thinking you've sabotaged your effort not to overcook. If you're steak's already medium, just quickly sauté in a nonstick skillet. It's easiest to monitor the temperature of the meat that way.

Cake: A flourless chocolate cake might be the way to go -- something that guests can eat just a little bit of and get the chocolate hit you're looking for. You might like this one:

Chocolate, Pistachio and Cardamom Cake.


A question for Jason: I'm looking to splurge on a bottle of bourbon, whiskey or scotch for my husband for Christmas. Last year I went with the engraved Johnie Walker Blue, which was definitely a hit, but I'm looking now to get him something new. I'm looking to spend about $150, maybe more if you recommend something really worth it. Thanks!

Jason Wilson: It's funny you should ask, since I am just returning a huge WhiskyFest in New York, and in my next column I'll be talking about some interesting finds. The Johnny Walker Blue is definitely a great blended scotch, but maybe this year you could try a single malt or a bourbon in that price range. The Balvenie each year releases a 17 year old scotch that's been aged in a special, interesting type of barrel (Last year was a rum cask, before that a port cask). This year, it's been aged in a Madeira Cask, and I thought it was excellent. I think it will run you around $120. For bourbons, you can't go wrong with a Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old (around $200) or a new offering from Heaven Hill I tasted called Parker's Heritage Golden Anniversary -- it's aged 27 years and goes for around $150.

BUT...stay tuned for next week's column and I'll offer a few more recommendations.


Madison, Wis.: I've ordered a heritage breed turkey from a local farm and am very excited. Unfortunately, we dilly-dallied so long that we are way down the list and may end up with a 20-lb turkey... for three people. It will be fresh, so I was wondering what you think of cutting it in half (cutting out the backbone and slicing straight down the breast bone) and freezing half for later and roasting half on Thanksgiving? Is it possible to roast just half a turkey and is there anything special that I need to know? Will it take more or less time than an equivalent sized whole turkey? Thank you!!

Judith Jones: Yes, cut it in half. It will certainly take less time than a whole bird, so watch it carefully. Roast it over a bed of stuffing to keep the turkey moist and flavorful.


Raleigh, N.C.: I made some mashed white potatoes the other night and on a whim (and losing touch with my common sense for a moment), added some marsala cooking wine along with my warmed milk to the bowl. I swear I thought I would end up with a hangover the next day, the alcohol taste was that strong. My question is, when you add wine to something you're making, it should be on the stove the whole time and probably afterward, just to cook off the actual alcohol, right? Thanks

Joe Yonan: Wow -- this is a first! I'm not surprised that you found it overpowering. Wine definitely needs a little cooking to take out some of that alcohol (but all of it doesn't cook off, remember); but more importantly, remember that you want decent wine to start with -- and that's even truer the less you cook it. But why do you want the taste of marsala in your mashed potatoes, anyway?


Washington DC: Turkey question:

I celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister's family, who live in a small college town 6-8 hours' drive from here. My sister loves to cook and does a splendid job .. except on the turkey, which always is very overcooked and usually has tasteless, soggy skin. The question is, Why? And also, What can I do about it?

Since she is an excellent baker, I don't think the problem is oven temperature. I suspect the over-doneness is because she buys locally-raised, free-range, organic turkeys, which seem to be more bone than meat at least on the breast -- so that when she roasts X amount of time per pound, she ends up overcooking.

And I'm guessing the "blech" skin is because she tries to tent the turkey with foil to keep it from drying out.

She'll listen to any suggestions I make but she doesn't want to cook the turkey less time per pound because she's afraid of people getting sick. She does use a meat thermometer.

Since she lives such a long drive away, I can't take a nice plump DC-area turkey to her, and anyway, she really likes to "shop local" and "support your local farmers."

I also should mention that her kids are vegetarian so Thanksgiving is pretty much the only time she cooks meat or fowl, so her chef's smarts aren't honed for turkey the way they are for everything else.

Thank you so much for your suggestions!

Joe Yonan: Well, this is the $64,000 question, isn't it? I'd say first of all that the time-per-pound thing is just a guideline, and really she needs to pay attention to that temperature more than anything else. Is she checking it correctly, do you think? (Thickest part of the thigh, pulling it at barely 165)? Even so, the breast can get dry before the legs are done, which is why people wet- and dry-brine their turkeys. I'm a longtime fan of butterflying/spatchcocking the turkey, which solves lots of problems by evening out the cooking. We featured this technique a couple of years ago; I've used it with turkeys that are on the scrawnier side that I roast at my sister's in Maine, to good effect.


Washington, DC: One of my favorite recipes for banana bread is from the Nordstrom's Friends and Family cookbook. It calls for cake flour which makes for a wonderful, light bread. Are there any general rules of thumb for subbing cake flour for all purpose flour in bread recipes or it is a per recipe type of thing? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Interesting question, since most of the subbing is in the other direction (regular flour in place of cake) since it's more likely on hand. You can probably add a couple more tablespoons of cake flour where regular flour is called for, BUT baking chemistry can be so finicky that I'd recommend sticking with the flour and levener called for per recipe. Experimenting can be exciting, but failure is discouraging.


Budapest, HU: Hi, Food section! I have a chicken question for you. I've recently moved to Hungary, and one of the great things about being here is all the wonderful food, some of it a great value. I recently found a very cheap whole chicken - about $3 total - at my local supermarket, but it turned out to be, well, worth the price: It was tough, stringy, rubbery and tasteless. But still - $3! And hormone-free! - so I want to figure out how to use these scrawny fowl in the future. Would stewing it for a long time (for, say, chicken paprikas) make it less rubbery? Or are there better tactics? Or I am just better off sticking with more expensive chickens? Thanks for any tips!

Joe Yonan: Hi, Christina! Indeed, if you're stuck with a tough old bird, you need to be stewing or braising instead of roasting... Remember, coq au vin was originally/traditionally made with coq -- cock, or rooster -- for that very reason.


Washington, DC: Submitting way early in case I forget to ask on Wednesday - looking for advice on making these pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

I don't have the King Arthur filling, so I'd be using cinnamon sugar. The King Author filling contains some fat, so shouldn't I brush the rolls with a little butter before sprinkling the sugar mixture over it?

I want to make these the night before and bake them in the morning to bring to work, should I let them start to rise before putting them in the fridge? Once baked, can I leave the rolls in the pan to transport to the office?


Leigh Lambert: Oh, my! Those look fantastic. I would mix some softened (or melted) butter into the filling, as their photo looks gooey and I don't think that could be accomplished by just brushing butter on the dough. Then, about the second rise, I would do that in the fridge overnight, as you suggest, and let the whole pan of unbaked rolls sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes before baking. Lastly, you could definitely transport them in the baking pan. Lucky co-workers!


Clinton, Mich.: Is it safe to refreeze lard? I'd like to prepare my pie shells now for Thanksgiving and need at least one unbaked one. (I have lard in the freezer.)

Bonnie Benwick: Generally, sure. (It wasn't melted, was it?)


Washington, DC: I had asked awhile ago if there were any canned tomatoes that didn't use cans that had BPA in the lining, and the answer then was "No". Is that still the case?

Joe Yonan: I haven't heard of any new products or companies offering BPA-free canned tomatoes, no.


New York, NY: Hi: I submitted a similar question a few chats ago, and was told to e-mail you guys, but I never heard anything back. But I thought I'd try again because of the gluten- free book.

I have now successfully made some gluten-free cakes-- chocolate-- using the 365 Gluten Free Baking Mix from Whole Foods in place of Cake Flour. They turned out really well-- I added more liquid to compensate for the dryness I've been experiencing, and an extra egg, and, while they were denser than the gluten-full batch I also made, they were moist and tasted great!

The next challenge is to attempt to do gluten-free AND sugar free (perhaps using agave in place of sugar), for a wheat sensitive, diabetic friend. Is this even possible?

Also, I tried making gluten free scones last weekend with rather disastrous results. Although the batter was SUPER moist and hardly dough-like at all, the scones ended up being super dry. I know scones are a bit dry by nature, but these couldn't even be picked up without crumbling. The gluten-full batch was awesome though. Do you think it might be because scones don't have any egg in them to act as a binder?


Bonnie Benwick: It's difficult to replace what sugar does for baked goods. I've seen a new wave of sugar substitutes on store shelves (the stevia-type products, I guess) but I haven't read the fine print as to their uses for baking. Chatters, any experience on this? As for the scones, we had good luck with this recipe that uses eggs, which is the way I'd go: All-Purpose Nearly Normal Gluten-Free Scones.


Washington, DC: Posting early with a desperate question: Where can I buy a birthday cake for 2? I think I've blown it for ordering by Saturday. I used to order a Swiss Pastries cake from Wagshal's, but no more. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I've seen some very sweet, petite cakes in the Whole Foods bakery that seem to be a standard offering so no need to scramble for a Saturday deadline. If you want (very small)writing on it, you could call ahead and reserve. Chatters may have more specific ideas.

Joe Yonan: Yes, for something this small I think you'll find no shortage of bakeries with offerings that could nicely fit the bill: Leopold's Kafe Konditerei in Georgetown, Praline in Bethesda. Heck, you could even do a couple of cupcakes...


Washington, DC: Suggestion: Blake and Greg should form a partnership. "Gopnik & Kitsock" is a great name for a company or singing duo!

Greg Kitsock: How would it sound for a brewery?


Back from India: You can get all the spices here. What's hard to find are some of the special cooking tools. Look for a wet/dry grinder if you like south Indian stuff. There are brands available there that aren't here (and yes, they're electrically safe). Also thali dishes are cheaper and easier to find there than here.

Bonnie Benwick: I think that sounds about right. But it'd be fun to shop and bring back and use anything you got on the trip, right?


For the dried turkey breast:: Cook's Illustrated has a think where the iced the breast for about an hour before sticking the bird into the oven so it starts at a much lower temperature than the dark meat. That's what I plan on doing.

Joe Yonan: Yep, they did.


Silver Spring, Md.: I am a new Costco member and I'm having an open house this holiday season. Do you or your readers have any favorite party foods that are a good deal at Costco? Is there anything else I should pick up while at Costco for a party? I know that they have most anything, but I'm sure you and your readers know about the gems. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: People love those humongous bags of frozen pot stickers and gigantic tubs of hummus. And the little brownie bites (they look like tiny cupcakes) go over well. It's easy to get a big salmon fillet and poach it, to serve cold with sauces on the side.

A small caveat: If you can, try to intersperse the Costco stuff with some creations of your own; otherwise, your buffet may look just like the one at the next party you attend.


Cask beer: Thanks for the article on cask beer! I won't share my places for it now that you all have written about it! No frost, no fizz. Just 'real beer' in the glass. (Post, Nov. 11)

Greg Kitsock: I'll be generous and share some more of my mine.

If you don't mind the trip to Baltimore, Max's Taphouse (737 S. Broadway) has 2-3 cask ale offerings on tap.

The Pratt Street Ale House (formerly the Wharf Rat, 206 W. Pratt) makes some excellent cask ale and I hear they're going to start sending some to DC.

Also, locally, I forgot to mention the District ChopHouse, which is operated by the same people who own the Rock Bottom brewpubs. I've really enjoyed their bourbon stout on cask.


Marsala: Jason, For what it's worth, we made a gravy last year using some marsala, because we saw it on a Rick Steves colonial Thanksgiving special-- and we are history geeks, so we wanted to give it a shot. Loved it.

I'd agree that I wouldn't put marsala into the potatoes themselves (and I wonder when the writer said "marsala COOKING wine" if that's part of the problem as well).

Joe Yonan: It was I, not Jason, who answered that q, but you're forgiven... Indeed, cooking wine was no doubt part of the problem.


Switching out cookie ingredients: We've always made these x-mas cookies that include lemon zest and cream cheese and are dipped in chocolate. I'm thinking about trying a really smooth goat cheese instead of cream cheese but can't quite decide if the flavor will work or not.

Bonnie Benwick: Moisture content is not the same, so melting points would be affected. I'd have to do a little research on this. Check back next week?


Indian shopping: Certainly fun to go shopping there, but if you find a hole when you return, Patel Brothers will most likely be able to help.

Joe Yonan: Indeed they will.


San Francisco: How deep into a head of garlic can you use the cloves? Are those weird, skinny ones toward the center okay or best discarded?

Joe Yonan: You can use 'em all...


Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls Question: King Arthur answered that question on their blog: Make the rolls, put the pan in the fridge overnight, take out and bring to room temperature in the morning.

Joe Yonan: Thanks -- and I believe that's what we answered, too. Great minds and all.


re: my sister's turkey: Thank you, Joe, for the suggestion to "spatchcock" the turkey. Even if we don't end up going that way, I now have an impressive new word to use during the post-Thanksgiving Scrabble game!

Joe Yonan: Fun to say, isn't it? Now if you want to really have some fun words, serve your spatchcocked turkey with a kumquat marmalade.


Orange Cranberry Tart Filling: Here are the ingredients listed for the filling:

1/3 cup orange juice, 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup orange marmalade, 2 tablespoons toasted chopped walnuts, 1 tablespoon grated orange rind, 1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries

Bonnie Benwick: Oh, two tablespoons isn't much. Can you do pine nuts? If they aren't a garnish or decoration, maybe you could substitute something with texture such as ground oats.


Can't wait to make that chicken!: No problems today, just wanted to let you know I can't wait to make that Cider-Bacon Chicken for dinner tonight! It looks lovely... thanks! Cider Bacon Chicken

Bonnie Benwick: It's pretty darn easy. Someone sent us an e-mail about where to find boneless skinless chicken breasts that aren't the size of Texas. For this recipe, I trimmed the breasts to decent portion sizes, and then poached the remaining tenderloins and scraps for a nice chicken salad. Almost like something you'd do, right, Judith and Joe?


Wonderful holiday sweet potatoes, VA!: I hope a day early isn't too early to submit. I wanted to share this amazing recipe from Vegetarian Times. It is a major hit and perfect for Thanksgiving:

Garlicky Mashed Sweet Potatoes Vegetarian Times Issue: November 1, 2008 p.71 -

Ingredient List Serves 8

1 large head garlic, 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 Tbs. olive oil, 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (8 cups), 2 large apples, peeled and diced (2 cups), 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut top off garlic head, exposing cloves. Place on piece of foil, and top with chopped rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap loosely with foil, and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until soft and golden.

2. Place sweet potatoes and apples in pot with enough water to cover. Add salt, cover pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 10 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft.

3. Drain, and reserve 1 cup cooking water. Transfer to serving bowl.

4. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into sweet potatoes and apples. Add balsamic vinegar, and mash, adding cooking water as necessary to adjust texture for creaminess. Season with pepper, and serve hot.

Nutritional Information

Per : Calories: 158, Protein: 2g, Total fat: 2g, Saturated fat: 0.5g, Carbs: 34g, Cholesterol: mg, Sodium: 220mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugars: 10g

Joe Yonan: Thanks!


Silver Spring, Md.: Costco favorite: rugelach. Also their other middle eastern dips (eggplant dip, etc) are good.

Bonnie Benwick: Rugelach. right.


Story idea: Things you can do with a half cup of pumpkin. Most pumpkin recipes, except pie, seem to call for 1 cup of pumpkin puree, but most cooks get their pumpkin from a can, which contains about a cup and a half. I've thrown away a lot of moldy pumpkin over the years.

Bonnie Benwick: Good one. (You know it freezes, right?) We've got blog posts coming up at All We Can Eat about pumpkin and Thanksgiving favorites, so this would fit right in.

Joe Yonan: The sweet potato rolls I'm writing about for our Nov. 18 issue can use 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree instead of the mashed sweet potato, it just so happens...


That gluten-free cookbook: I found Betty Crocker cookie, brownie, and cake mixes at my local Safeway. They taste like I remember the gluten-rich ones do!!

One of the ingredients to add is "gluten-free vanilla". It got me thinking--I buy Trader Joe's alcohol free vanilla and I think it's gluten-free. What are other unexpected sources of gluten? I know to check baking powder and cornstarch.

Does the gluten-free cookbook avoid alcohol? I avoid it to be yeast-free as well as gluten-free.

Greg Kitsock: This is not my usual area of expertise, but I can assure you that alcohol per se is not a source of gluten. I know because there are several gluten-free beers on the market, and one major hard cider company has been touting its products as gluten-free.

Many alcohol products undergo a rigorous filtration to remove all traces of yeast. (But you might want to avoid cask ale!)


Cake fast: Woodmoor Bakery at University and Colesville specializes in last-minute decorated cakes.

Leigh Lambert: Maybe they can make a wee one for two.


57 and younger for Bayer's Chewables: 1952 Children's Chewable Aspirin is introduced. -- From The History of Aspirin (who knew) at Bayer's Web site.

That said, I have oddly fond memories of seeing St. Joseph's picture on the bottle of aspirin in our home...

Greg Kitsock: Thanks for the information! The History of Aspirin? Well, why not? I have a book on the history of ketchup.


Mealy Apples: I have 4 mealy apples from a farmer's market (the samples weren't mealy! grrr.) What would you do with them?

Joe Yonan: Make applesauce, naturally. Cut this recipe from Ris Lacoste in half, and you'll be in business.


Fairfax, Va.: A question about making pies ahead of time -- last year I made an apple and pumpkin pie one day before Thanksgiving. I think we refrigerated the pumpkin and left the apple out on the counter. This year, I am adding lemon meringue. What is your advice on how far in advance to make these pies and how to store them until Thanksgiving dinner?

Leigh Lambert: I know fridge space is at a premium for Thanksgiving (as is time), but I'm kind of a snob when it comes to fresh baked goods. I wouldn't make them more than the day ahead (night ahead is even preferable). Depending on your lemon meringue recipe, you can probably make the base and finish off the topping the day of.


Solo cooking and Thanksgiving: Any suggestions? I can bake a turkey thigh and sweet potato and get some stuffing and gravy from Whole Foods, but are there any better suggestions? I do love turkey.

Bonnie Benwick: Does that mean you're a dark-meat turkey person? Go ahead and buy a small breast and a turkey leg or two. Plenty of things to do with the leftovers --- turkey tortilla soup, turkey quesadillas. Ground turkey also's a way to go. You could process some of the breast in a food processor and use it to make the Feta-Turkey Burgers coming up in Monica Bhide's I Spice blog for us on Friday. I loved them.


San Francisco: I'm allergic to jalapeno peppers and other fresh hot peppers. This is a serious allergy and not just an intolerance. I can eat black pepper and small quantities of dried red pepper flakes.

I love the taste of Mexican and Thai foods, but have avoided cooking them or taking more than a taste of a fellow diner's restaurant food.

Any suggestions for ramping up recipes that include fresh hot peppers so I can try making them at home without ending up in the emergency room?

Thank you.

Joe Yonan: Can you use dried chile peppers beyond the red pepper flakes? That is, dried anchos, chipotles or the like? Your use of the qualifier "fresh" is what makes me ask. If you can, that's the way I'd go, start with small quantities of them. Otherwise, make use of the other glorious spices known to Mexican cooking: Mexican oregano, annatto seeds, cumin, cinnamon.


Potomac Falls, Va.: My sister-in-law is in the military and away for the holidays. My 3-year-old wants to send her aunt some cookies. Any ideas how to send cookies wrapped in a way that will keep them fresh and which type of cookie mails the best? I'm trying to plan for a lengthy mailing process. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: What type of cookie you bake/send will determine how you package them for long travel. I would suggest going with some sturdy favorites like shortbread and brownies (my recipe for Man-Catcher's has been sent to Iraq several times with good results). Or you could go with a drier, more biscuit like cookie.

If you opt for a moist cookie, wrap them individually (or in pairs) first in plastic wrap and then in foil. If you've got a crisp cookie, try stack them and then roll them in waxed paper and tinfoil. You can buffer the rest of the box/tin with bags of unseasoned popcorn. It's light and will absorb excess moisture.


Baking question: I have a recurring cupcake conundrum.

For some reason, the past 5 or so times I've made cupcakes of different recipes (all of which never gave me issues before), I've had the cupcake liners peel off the cakes within minutes of coming out of the oven.

I've searched online and posted on forums and no one seems to have a definitive answer on why this happens and how it can be avoided. Common theories include humidity, improper cooling, not properly creaming butter, and faulty liners. But why does no one have a factual answer?

Please, run some scientific experiments on this for us?

Bonnie Benwick: What kind of liners are you using? And what kind of pan?


Can we get a vote?: ... from amongst you food people... in a head to head battle between Best Cranberry Side... contestants, cranberries cooked with sugar vs. cranberries raw and ground up with raw oranges and sugar... Which side dish wins the Thanksgiving pennant?

Leigh Lambert: Raw. No contest. (opinionated much?)

Joe Yonan: Can I add a glug of red wine to those cooked ones? Then, no contest. (Ahem.)

Bonnie Benwick: Oy, why is everything a competition?

Joe Yonan: This is the sound of Bonnie worrying about what we're going to do for our fourth -- FOURTH -- annual Super Bowl recipe smackdown. Chatters, any ideas? We started with chili, then we did a guac-off, and most recently wings vs. non-wings... What's next? Bonnie is balking at my idea of nachos.


Cream cheese frosting: not sure if this is lighter, per se, but this is the cream cheese frosting recipe I use for cakes, and have always loved the results:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy; gradually add sugar and vanilla, beating well.

Bonnie Benwick: Not lighter, maybe, but there's certainly less of it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Just wanted to pass on a weightwatchery hint. For less caloric mashed potatoes, steam about 1/3 the amount of cauli as potatoes.

Food process the cauli after draining, and mix into the mashed potatoes. Tastes good, doesn't hurt the texture unless you over do it, and reduces the caloric load...until you add butter and such.

Leigh Lambert: Yeah, it's sort of that last part where I get into trouble. It's a great idea, but butter is my downfall.


Cooking for one: Do you have any suggestions for desserts to make for one person? I love to make cakes but I don't want to have it sitting around my house for a few days. Is it possible to make half a cake recipe and still come out with a delicious cake?

Judith Jones: A baked apple and a poached pear are both delicious and easy (make 2 while you're at it so you can enjoy a second round later in the week). I also love summer puddings---a bread-lined small bowl filled with lightly stewed and sweetened seasonal berries, then left to chill. If you keep extra pastry dough in the freezer in small amounts, it can be rolled out in a circle and filled with slices of apples (or other fruit)and quickly baked in a hot oven. And then there are those old-fashioned winter puddings like a pear crisp and an apple maple bread pudding that I'm fond of (see my new book THE PLEASURES OF COOKING FOR ONE.

Joe Yonan: And ... check out some other ideas I had in a column on this very topic.


COSTCO Entertaining: I've thrown a number of successful parties with stuff from COSTCO--the secret is that, no matter what you buy, put it out attractively on your nicest serving plates, bowls, etc. to make a good presentation.

That having been said, you could do a seafood theme by buying a bag of large frozen, cooked shrimp and thaw them yourself (rather than the store's ready-made platters); some of their whitefish salad on crackers; and, if they have them, a hot frozen hors d'oeuvre of mini crab-cakes. Or, go mediterranean with their mini frozen spinakopitas, hummus and baba ganoj with pita breads.

There are many other options, but I suggest having an idea of how many people and different items you want before you go so you don't end up with a discordant abundance of items.

Bonnie Benwick: There you go.


Say "cheese!": Reading today's cooking for one column reminded me to ask you about this:

When a chunk of cheese develops mold on the outside, is it okay to just cut away the mold and eat the rest? Is the mold itself edible? Does it depend on what sort of cheese it is or what the mold looks like?

I keep cheese in the refrigerator if I want to store it for more than a few days, so this is whatever sorts of mold form in cool temperatures.


Joe Yonan: Just cut off the mold, indeed, and eat the rest...


Richmond, Va.: I love the idea of a gourmet cooking-for-one book, as opposed to those that tell you to throw together a few pre-mades and call it homemade. My mother is a wonderful cook - family events are an occasion for loose pants and long walks - but she lives alone and often will simply toss a salad or make a sandwich rather than go to the trouble of cooking and having to create mystery dishes from the extra groceries. I look forward to sharing your book with her.

Also, a very heartfelt thank you for your bringing us Julia Child. I grew up watching her cook on PBS.

Judith Jones: Thank you. And do encourage your mother to have more fun in the kitchen. It can make a huge difference when living alone.


Are most canned goods packed with BPA lining?: Re: the conversation about canned tomatoes all having BPA linings - what about other foods? Is the BPA a factor because of acidity, or is it considered a stabilizer and thus in most can linings? If you don't know, do you know where we should look to find out?

Given what we've been learning about BPA (viz today's article in the Post) we're trying to avoid it entirely.

Thanks! High BPA levels linked to male sexual problems (Post, Nov. 11)

Joe Yonan: The lining in the cans is designed to protect the food inside from the aluminum in the can and any leaching. The leaching is particularly a problem with acidic foods -- and that's also why among canned foods that have moved toward BPA-free lining, tomatoes are still a problem because their acid can eat through other types of can linings that with less-acidic foods are fine. The one I'm most familiar with is Eden Foods, which uses a BPA-free lining in their canned beans.

The problem is, you have to try to find out from the company; this isn't something that's labeled.


160 v 175: At what temp would you pull a fresh brined turkey from the oven (thigh temp)? Thanks

Bonnie Benwick: None of the above: The answer is 165.


Washington, DC: I used to love serving Trader Joe's mini quiches with the corny name "Prelude to a Quiche" when I had a party (along with a lot of homemade goodies). But they no longer exist, any recommendations for other brands of mini-quiches that I can get in the DC area? Or other hot appetizers? I need a few things on the menu that take no effort.

Bonnie Benwick: Costco has mini-quiches too. And I've had the ones sold in the freezer case at Whole Foods. Other hot apps -- how little effort? I bet you can find suitable recipes here. Just type your parameters into the Advanced Search function.


Washington, D.C.: The sister's soggy turkey skin made me laugh thinking of last year when my friend hosted Thanksgiving for the first time and made the most gorgeous turkey using a basic recipe from Cook's Illustrated. We honestly marveled over how well the skin turned out (just golden crisp but perfect) as it rested on the counter. We stepped away to set the table and came back in the kitchen to find her overzealous brother-in-law (who, to be fair, did have carving duties) had striped the bird of its entire skin and dumped it in the trash. My jaw hit the floor and I had a total Seinfeld - do I eat it out of the trash? - moment.

Bonnie Benwick: Oh, the horror (or, perhaps just the Cooking Light method).


Washington, D.C.: Hi Greg - I'll mix the gluten and the beer portion of the program and ask - have you tried a decent gluten free beer? I've tried Bard's Tale and Redbridge and both just taste too sweet.

Greg Kitsock: Have you tried New Grist from the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee? It's brewed from sorghum and rice, and has tarter flavor than the other beers you mentioned.

There is also a line of gluten-free beers under the Green's label from the DeProef Brewery in Belgium which are brewed from millet, sorghum, rice and buckwheat. I haven't sampled them, but they might be worth a try.


Someone sent us an e-mail about where to find boneless skinless chicken breasts that aren't the size of Texas: Any chance of sharing the secret place with us??

Bonnie Benwick: No secret! The answer is trim them yourself (after the pounding step) to the right size. Use the trimmings for other recipes.


Arlington, Va.: Thanks so much for the delicious-looking Italian recipes! I'm thinking about serving the chickpea pancake as a Thanksgiving hors d'oeuvres. And speaking of T-day, I'm hosting just one other couple, so it will be only 4 adults and 1 toddler eating the meal. Would a turkey breast be sufficient to feed us all? We're not Thanksgiving purists, and we don't need a pile of leftovers. If a breast is a good option, should I brine it? Any other suggestions on preparation?

Joe Yonan: Yep, a breast would work well, and indeed I'd brine it. Check out this great recipe for Brined Roasted Turkey Breast With White Wine Pan Sauce that we ran a couple years ago from Ethan McKee, formerly of Rock Creek at Mazza. It calls for a little more prep work, but it can be done ahead.


Washington DC: My holiday gift giving this year will consist of infused vodkas and home made flavored pastas. I was wondering if there is any particular flavor which is most likely to come out well or be very versatile for the vodka infusions.

As far as the pasta goes should I invest in a pasta maker? I've made it by hand before but thought if I plan on making a lot I should make it easier on myself. I'm currently losing in an eBay bid for an ampia pasta maker and trying to decide if I should stay in the game. Thanks!!

Jason Wilson: Vodka infusions are straightforward and fun. Fruit is always good, but I've also had some interesting vodkas infused with dill, basil, ginger, lemongrass, and chili peppers. In fact, I recently infused applejack with chili peppers and it was pretty interesting. I'll be doing some infusion recipes over the next month, including one for spiced rum.

Joe Yonan: And on the pasta maker -- yeah, I'd stay in the game. I love my pasta cutter: it's hand-cranked, not motorized, which works very well.


Washington, DC: I'm a single mom and this September I sent my last teenager off to college. Now, I'm really a single mom. I find I've let the cooking lapse -- it doesn't seem much fun with no one else to cook for or dine with. I have to get over that. I also think I have to relearn how to food shop. How do I get away from the cereal bowl/Lean Cuisine rut and make getting back to the stove-top enjoyable again?

Judith Jones: That's exactly why I wrote my new book THE PLEASURES OF COOKING FOR ONE. I want people like you to enjoy cooking again, being creative, experimenting, indulging in special treats. It's not only more economical and more healthful (because you're in charge of what you eat) but it is also good for your spirits.


Arlington, VA.: Doesn't Rustico in Alexandria also have cask ales?

Greg Kitsock: Yes, Rustico does serve cask ale! And I hope that the second location for Rustico, which I hear will open in the next year or so in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, will also offer some cask selections, because it's two Metro stops away from where I live.


spatchcocking turkey: What happens to the wishbone?

Bonnie Benwick: You can remove it (carve it out of the flesh) before you bend the bird.


Arlington, Va S: Here are the recipes that another chatter asked for a couple of weeks ago (for holiday gift ideas I think). I think they're both good, but be warned that a lot of people don't like any ketchup that doesn't come out of a bottle that says "Heinz" on it. :)

I've paraphrased and modified some of the recipes from the original source to indicate how I make them. Hope that the attribution suffices to keep me out of trouble...

Horseradish Mustard - adapted from "Hot & Spicy & Meatless" by DeWitt (Prima Publishing, 1994)

Changed the wine based ingredients to beer based. Makes 1.25 cups.

1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds; 1 cup Marzen (Oktoberfest) beer (Clipper City Balto MarzHon is good) 1/2 cup malt vinegar; 2 teaspoons grated fresh horseradish (a spice grinder works well); 1 teaspoon sugar (optional); 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder; 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place the mustard seeds, beer, and vinegar in a covered bowl. Let soak at room temp for 12+ hours. Blend the mixture in a food processor (or blender) until creamy. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well, distribute into sterilized jars, and store in the fridge (indefinitely). Fresh mustard has a very sharp taste - let rest for at least two weeks before using.

Ketchup with a Kick - adapted from "Hot & Spicy & Meatless" by DeWitt (Prima Publishing, 1994)

Changed fresh tomatoes (6 lbs) to canned. Changed peppers from habanero powder. 3 28 Oz cans crushed tomatoes; 1 small red onion, peeled/chopped; 2 teaspoons parsley; 6 chopped chipotle peppers (or 4 chopped habanero peppers) - don't seed them (see option below); 1.5 cups malt vinegar; 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar; 3/4 teaspoon salt; Pinch of white pepper; 1 halved cinnamon stick; 1/2 nutmeg (a chunk - not grated); 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds; 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Place the tomatoes, onion, parsley, and peppers in a heavy-bottomed 4 quart pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium, and cook 20-30 minutes, until the tomatoes, onion, and pepper are softened. (Optionally seed the peppers, puree them in a little water, and add them after passing the mixture through the sieve) Press the mixture through a sieve - extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids and return the liquids to the pot. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and white pepper (and pureed peppers?) to the puree. Tie the remaining ingredients cheesecloth and add to the liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat for 2-3 hours until the mixture is ketchup thick. Spoon off any froth that appears. Judge the thickness by placing a small amount on a plate that has been stored in the freezer (this will cool the ketchup quickly). When thick enough, remove the cheesecloth spices. Distribute into sterilized jars, and store in the fridge (indefinitely? A few months?).

Joe Yonan: Your generosity is inspiring.


Arlington, Va S: I'm one of the readers that joined Judith on the Washington Post outing. Just thought that I'd let Judith know that feeling inspired by her cooking for the week ideas, I made some good use of my ingredients last week.

I took a couple of farmers market potatoes and cauliflower (a nice small size!) and cooked both. I used half of each in a mash for one night and served it with good cheese. I also made a potato salad with the remaining potatoes for the next day's lunch (served with a sandwich). The next day I used half of the remaining cauliflower in a frittata for dinner with croquettes made from the leftover mash. I finished the cauliflower the next night in a pasta dish.

Thanks Judith!

Judith Jones: Sounds good!


Super bowl shop-off: You could taste-test chips that whip the dip vs. chips to skip.

Bonnie Benwick: We'd be so hip.

Joe Yonan: That's a trip.


Green rolls and ham?: While in the Azores last month, we had the lunch buffet one day at the restaurant in our hotel (Hotel VIP, in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel), and among the fresh yeast rolls they offered was one that was green. Our best guess was that it was pureed cooked spinach or kale, as it had no strong flavor, but did lend a moistness to the rolls that was missing from some of their other yeast breads.

Does anyone know of a recipe so I could try making spinach yeast rolls at home?

Bonnie Benwick: We will check on this. Could have been many things -- cilantro or parsley, for example.


San Francisco: A lot of times, a recipe would call for one or two tablespoons of tomato paste. Each time, I would have to open a can of tomato paste and throw away the rest, about which I wasn't too happy. Is there a way to save the remaining tomato paste in the can without having to worry about it going bad?

Bonnie Benwick: Yes. It freezes, but you small red packets can quickly mount up. I'd suggest buying tomato paste in tubes, which keep in the fridge for weeks.


re: baking for one: I live alone and love to bake, which means that my co-workers get the baked goods; which makes very happy co-workers.

Joe Yonan: Yes, this is a time-tested (and much appreciated) strategy.


State College, Pa.: A question for Ms. Jones. Do you have any tips for 'Wine for one'? With another person, a single bottle can be finished in a night. By myself I usually don't feel like drinking even a half a bottle. Stringing it out to 3 or more days doesn't result in the best tasting wine, and I'm often ready to try something else by the end of day two. Have you solved this particular mystery, without having to resort to very limited selections of half sized bottles?

Joe Yonan: Judith should feel free to weigh in if she has time (I think she has to run to a meeting), but did you see my column on this? I remain addicted to the red wine syrup I learned about when researching it.


San Francisco: Cupcake papers: I had the opposite problem - liners that wouldn't peel off. Switched to If You Care brand - they peel easily and sometimes fall off. They also say "No greasing needed" on the package. Supermarket brands like Reynold's don't say this, and don't come loose. You might want to check the packages of the ones you are using.

Bonnie Benwick: Today is definitely research day here at Free Range. It's going on the list.


History of ...: I'm a historian and write corporate history. We often do anniversary histories - of companies and products. Love that there's a history of aspirin.

Greg Kitsock: I know of a number of corporate histories of brewing companies, not just big firms like Anheuser-Busch and Coors and Heineken, but craft breweries like Redhook and Brooklyn Brewery.

Sam Calagione, founder of the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware, has written a very entertaining book called Brewing Up a Business.


Fairfax, Va.: This is not a holiday question but my favorite time of year starts this week with my birthday. I'm throwing myself a little party and showing two of the claymation "Wallace and Gromit" shorts. The main character loves cheese so I've asked guests to bring their favorite cheese. What would you recommend I serve besides the typical crackers, olives, salami accoutrements? Am I missing anything unusual and spectacular to pair with cheese?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure. Toasted walnut halves would be good. Fruit's a natural -- quince paste, chutneys, figs and full-flavored dark jams.


Heaven (hopefully): Tom was just talking last meals in his chat. Any favorite dishes you would request for a final meal?

Leigh Lambert: I hate to admit it, but mine would likely include Popeye's fried chicken. I love the taste, but it always makes me a bit sick afterward. Since I wouldn't have to survive the consequences, seems like a good time to indulge.

Joe Yonan: Tacos al pastor.

Bonnie Benwick: Rasika's spinach chaat. I'd like to go out on a nice note.


Bonnie Benwick: A late answer from Monica Bhide about the traveler to India:

What fun! I wish I was going with you. Now here is some advice - don't worry about individual spices. Most are available here. Instead go into the stores and look for mixes - you will find things like Gun Powder (an amazing spice mix to be sprinkled on rice) or any of the "podi's" they sell which are spice mixes. Also look for locally made chutneys (like their famous garlic coconut chutney) or pickles (prawn pickles, coriander pickles) and bring those!! Those are harder to find here and are really great condiments. Oh, one more thing - be sure to look for locally made papads (lentil wafers). They offer an amazing variety - chili pepper, cumin, etc. Wonderful simply roasted on an open flame and served with chilled beer!


This is crazy: Let's get the word out to the factory farmed chickens - putting all these growth hormones is counter productive: we -don't want- chicken breasts so large.

Bonnie Benwick: Hormones is not the culprit, necessarily.


For Judith Jones: I use your "Book of Bread" more than all my other cookbooks combined. I thought I read about a second edition but haven't been able to find it. Am I mistaken?

Judith Jones: I'm afraid it's out of print, although there are some available used on Amazon. Maybe I'll be able to get a new paperback edition out there--my next project, perhaps.


Washington, D.C.: Word is (though of course there's still some disagreement) that as long as alcohol is distilled, it's free of gluten.

Jason Wilson: From what I've read there is still some question and contradicting study. To be safe, I'd stay away from whiskey and vodka made from wheat (potato vodka should be fine).


Fairfax, Va.: Speaking of Patel Bros., I bought some chili powder there, which was very cheap. However, it seems that not all chili powder is alike, true? It's way hotter, and bitter tasting compared to McCormick (or whatever they sell at Safeway). Obviously I'm a novice cook, but wow, I didn't think there would be such a difference.

Bonnie Benwick: There is a difference. If you buy McCormick, look for ones that say "pure" on the label.


Joe Yonan: Well, you've baked us for an hour now, until we spring back lightly when touched. So you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions today -- we hope we gave you some good directions and recipe ideas.

Now for the giveaway books. The new DC single mom who needs cooking-for-one inspiration will get Judith's new book (signed just for you), and the chatter who suggested Betty Crocker gluten-free mixes and asked about hidden sources of gluten will get "Artisan Gluten-Free Cooking." Just send your mailing information to, and we'll send you your books.

Remember: If we didn't answer your question, we might get to it next week on our blog.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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