Free Range on Food: Last-minute tips for Christmas dinner

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, December 23, 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.

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

Check out the 2009 Holiday Cookie Guide for recipes for 25 tasty treats!

Check out the archive of past discussions. Read the Food section blog All We Can Eat. Follow the Food section on Twitter at @WaPoFood.


Bonnie Benwick: Who's up for making a 25-layer cake or Indian-inspired cassoulet or rolling your way to lumpia stardom? Welcome to the Free Range chat, where we'll try, as always, to answer all food-related q's. Call me crazy, but I think Christmas dinner and other festive meals are at the forefront of your concerns today. We've got Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn in the house, but Editor Joe's on holiday. We'll have two cookbooks to give away to lucky chatters....stay tuned for info at the end of the chat and remember you'll need to send us your mailing info. Here we go....


Washington DC: I'm ready to try the lentil cassoulet -- but first, what neighborhood grocery stores carry those Canadian duck legs?

David Hagedorn: Don't go to the Giant on Wisconsin Ave. I just bought all of them.

I've bought them at the Park Road Giant, so the short answer is that Giant seems to carry this product.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hello and Merry Christmas!

I'm behind in my preparations for Christmas dinner (the snow on Saturday didn't help). Here is my menu for 7 thus far:

Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Gratin potatoes, Mixed greens, pears, and toasted pecans with warm cider dressing

I'm looking for an easy vegetable dish and an easy dessert. I'm a pretty good cook and I have a well equipped kitchen. But I do have two young children, so what I don't have is a lot of time! Can you help?


Jane Black: Roasted brussels sprouts would be a natural with this (lovely) Christmas dinner. Carrots, like these Moroccan spiced version, would add some color too.

As for dessert, this may be too easy but one of the recipes in our collection that never ceases to amaze me is this

pear tart

from Jacques Pepin. It uses tortillas as a crust. (Tortillas!) And it's pretty darn good. I heart Jacques Pepin. I'm just sayin'...


Bethesda Mom: Joe, I love your idea of making a soup base and freezing it in portions to be turned into different soups later. What if I'm not 'cooking for one' but for 3 or 4? Should I double the ingredients of the bases to use them more than once? Double or quadruple the specific ingredients for the different soups? Or just buy Lidia's book?

A wonderful holiday to all the Free Rangers with thanks for all your great advice & recipes throughout the year!! Cooking for One: Soups to start now, finesse later.

Bonnie Benwick: Editor Joe's in Big Sky Country this week. But I can say that the base recipes are good "as is" if you're cooking for 3 or 4. But sure, buy her book!


Westerly RI: Hi. If I buy arugula and endive today, will they be ok for my Christmas dinner salad? Thanks.

Jane Black: The answer is basically yes. But it kind of depends where you buy it. When I buy really fresh arugula and other lettuces in summer at the market, they last more than a week. I've had grocery stuff wilt in a 3 days. But you should be OK if you buy today.

Good luck.


Washington, DC: I have two lovely looking heritage pork loins on the bone that I thought would be perfect for Christmas Eve. Total weight a bit over 6#, so each is roughly 3#. They are in the fridge slathered with a paste of garlic, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper. Now what? Cookbooks differ on time and temp. Should I start around 450 for a bit to develop browning and then turn the temperature down or stick with a moderate 350? And how long? 16 min a pound seems awfully short. And should I baste? Thanks.

David Hagedorn: Hello, DC:

That bone-in loin will take between 2 and 3 hours to roast, so no need to start with a higher temperature for browning. (You can always finish under the broiler if you want it browner.) Roast it at 350, but make sure it starts off at room temp. (Take it out of the fridge 2 hours before you cook it.)

To keep from having to guess when it's done, buy a remote thermometer and set it at 145 degrees for 2 hours. After 2 hours, you will have a good idea of where the roast is. Let the roast rest for 15 minutes before you slice it. (Some people like to cook pork a little more. For me, this is the perfect temp., with some very slight rosiness in the center.)


Rockville, Md.: The mouth-watering recipe for Lumpa is definitely something I would try, labor intensive as it is, but not this busy month! In the meantime, is there a Phillipino grocery that sells these morsels, ready made, or ready to fry??

Bonnie Benwick: Good question, Rockville. Although if you've got extra manpower home for the holidays, now would be the perfect time to make them -- assembly-line style.

Danny's Tindahan (202-244-7221) at 4115 Wisconsin Ave. NW sells lumpia made for the shop by a caterer. They come in different size packages; 50 pieces cost $15, for example.


Richmond, Va.: We've made the wild rice - turkey - dried cranberry salad several times since you published the recipe shortly after Thanksgiving. Any suggestions for something we could substitute for the turkey to make it a heartier main dish for vegetarians? We're thinking of trying garbanzos, but hoped you might have an idea for a cheese that would work well. Wild Rice and Turkey Salad With Dried Cranberries

Bonnie Benwick: I think chickpeas would be nice. Or a combination of black beans and cubes of fontina cheese. Or sauteed cubes of extra-firm tofu, maybe seasoned with a little cumin?


Washington, D.C.: My Christmas dinner menu (for 4) is boneless leg of lamb, mashed sweet potatoes (by request), a salad (perhaps pear, dried cranberries, walnuts, greens), green beans, and rolls, with pumpkin pie for dessert. Two questions: should I add another side dish? Second, I'm planning on a herb rub/roasted lamb; how long do I cook a 7 lb boneless leg of lamb? Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

David Hagedorn: It suppose it couldn't hurt to have another green vegetable, like brussels sprouts (with bacon!), but it seems to me there is already plenty of food.

I'm starting to sound insistent, but to make sure your roast is perfect, use a remote thermometer and set it at 140 degrees, which I find to be a good temp. for med. rare lamb. The roast will take between 2 and 3 hours to cook. Remember to start off with a room temp. roast and to let the cooked roast rest for at at least 10 minutes before slicing.


NoVa, Va.: Merry xmas eve eve. I am still trying to figure out what to serve for xmas dinner. I have a family with lots of dietary limits - one vegetarian who eats seafood, one doesn't eat pork, one only eats poultry and shrimp, yikes. What's a girl to do? I am thinking shrimp scampi with artichoke hearts (a la Paula Deen). I am also willing to do something that includes meat as an offering but allows people to assemble their own, but I don't know what that would be. Any creative ideas?

Jane Black: Tacos would be an easy answer to that. You could do rice, beans, cheese, grilled shrimp, bowls of guac and fresh cilantro. Is that not Christmassy enough? Chatters? Other ideas. This is a tough (dietary) crowd.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hello,

I want to make the Upper Crust Potatoes from, but I must use my convection oven. Are there any adjustments I should make to the cooking time/temperature? Thanks! Upper Crust Potatoes

Bonnie Benwick: Your choice: Bake them at the same temperature (375) but start checking for doneness about 20 minutes sooner than advertised, or reduce the temperature to 350 or so and follow directions, otherwise, as written. It's pretty easy to tell when this recipe's done...a knife will easily pierce the potatoes and the mixture will be bubbling and browned on top.


Arlington, Va.: Hi! I was able to find Flavor oils (for candy making) online (ebay, Amazon) but wondering if they can be found locally in stores.

Bonnie Benwick: I've seen them in Michael's craft stores and at Little Bitts cake supply shop in Wheaton. Chatters, other locations?


Fairfax, Va.: Growing up, we didn't really celebrate Christmas. My husband did, but made it clear that it was usually far less than Thanksgiving, with mostly ham, biscuits, and some appetizer-type options (shrimp cocktail!, spinach dip, etc). My in-laws are coming for Christmas and we have the ham set. But other than that, do you have suggestions for appetizer options I can make for Christmas that don't sound too funky and don't take too much time to prepare?

Jane Black: Well, aren't I clever? I pulled together our appetizer recipes earlier this week on our blog. Check them out. Something is bound to suit.


Annandale, Va.: Any good recipes for Israeli couscous? Ideally, I'd like something with fruit that could be served warm or cold. Could I generally just sub it in for other grains in salads, like rice or quinoa?

Bonnie Benwick: Yes! This is a quick and easy favorite: Ginger Shrimp With Carrot Couscous. We even demo'ed it at the food and wine show last February in the Ronald Reagan building downtown; what a hoot that was. Both Editor Joe and I make it all the time.


Turkey Woes: Hi Foodies,

I am having a reallly hard time finding a turkey that isn't "enhanced" with at least a 3% solution of salt, broth, etc. Yes, there are organics, but my supermarket was charging over $50 for them.

I am making a molasses brined turkey (from Bon Appetit), but am worried about brining with the enhanced solution. Can it still work?

I purchased the bird with the smallest percentage of solution (it says up to 3%, the butterballs were up to 10%). But I'm panicking!

Bonnie Benwick: Don't panic. What does the label say is in the solution? I think you can go ahead and brine, but maybe don't do it for quite as long as the recipe calls for. Next time, try perusing our list of where to buy fresh local turkeys. With a fresh bird, there's no guesswork about brining issues. A Butterball bird is often "self-basting," which accounts for the 10-percent solution.


Pot Roast Help: What's a Jew to do at Christmas? My idea was to make my mother's famous pot roast for my husband and in-laws Christmas dinner. Here is my problem, I asked my mother to email me her recipe- Her response? Get a brisket (a big one) rub with spices and brown on all sides. cut up an onion and put in a big pot along with the brisket and a bottle of ketchup. Cook until done!?! About an hour before it is done slice up the brisket and then put it back in the pot along with potatoes and carrots. She was unable to give any other information. I was unable to find a brisket that wasn't "corned" and now I have a 4 pound rump roast and a bottle of ketchup. So how do I cook this thing? I have a dutch oven and a slow cooker. She cooked it on the burners but online I keep reading to cook it in an oven at 350 degrees. Any ideas on how long to cook for. I remember my mom's pot roast was so tender you could cut it with the side of a fork. Also, any ideas for spices other than ketchup and a bay leaf?

Jane Black: I gotta say, I kind of love your mom's idea of a recipe. Sink or swim, baby. But for a holiday dinner, you need a little more direction. Our two favorite brisket recipes are: Nina's, a classic with brown sugar, ketchup and beef broth. (It also won a temple recipe contest.) and">Abigail's Top Secret Brisket is good too with pears and honey to sweeten it up.

Jane Black: Oh! And here's one more good one: Slow-Roasted Beef. It's not pot roast per se but it's fabulous.


Maryland: Sorry for the basic question, but I find myself stumped for creative uses of all that leftover ham. Any staff favorites?

Jane Black: Cubans!

Here's an old recipe from Sheila Lukins.

1 teaspoon fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 sourdough baguette, cut into an 8-inch lengths, then lengthwise in half, insides scooped out a bit

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

3 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese

Thin slices of sweet gherkins to cover length of sandwich

2 thin slices baked Virginia ham

2 to 3 very thin slices roasted pork

First, combine the orange juice, vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the oil. Use the mixture to lightly brush the insides of the bread halves.

Spread the mustard over the bottom halves of the bread. Cover with the cheese, pickles, ham and the pork; then cover with the top bread halves.

Heat the remaining teaspoon oil in a nonstick skillet. Place the sandwich in the skillet, bottom-side down. Weight the sandwich with a heavy pot lid and brown over medium heat until the cheese starts to melt, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. To serve, cut in half diagonally, from corner to corner.

Jane Black: The recipe is adapted from her All Around The World cookbook.

Bonnie Benwick: And this one's a keeper: Rosa's Mexican Club Sandwich.


Washington DC: David, Is there a good place in the DC area you would suggest for finding something similar to "Aunt Patty's" sausage?

David Hagedorn: To be honest, I haven't found anything that terrific, but Red Apron Butcher makes a very good garlic sausage. I got it too late to mention it in today's piece. Jamie Stachowski's sausage and Simply Sausage are both good, too, but nothing beats Aunt Patty's! BTW...Red Apron, as I've mentioned to the owner, needs to put its products on their website. (In case they are reading this.)


Arlington, Va.: I have tried a recipe book, Cook'n software, a binder with plastic sleeves for recipes, but I cannot stay organized. How do keep your recipes organized?

Leigh Lambert: I'm in your second attempt category. I keep a binder with plastic sleeves. I find most formats from magazines and cut-outs fit into it and they are removable and waterproof for easy transfer to the kitchen counter. I keep two other folders, one for recipes yet-to-be-tried, and one for successful recipes I need to file.


Cooking in advance: My contribution to xmas dinner is roasted sweet potatoes with a chili-lime dressing. I was thinking of roasting half the potatoes tonight, and the other half tomorrow morning. Then adding the dressing to the entire batch (allowing a day for the flavors to meld). Do you think anything will be lost by not pouring the dressing on the first batch of potatoes while they're warm?

Bonnie Benwick: Not so much. And you can always zap that first batch in the microwave (to heat through) and then apply some dressing.


20004 : I wanted to let you all know how much I enjoyed the article on Holiday Cocktails at home last week. I think it was one of the best features in a long while. Also do you think you could have Thrasher back on to do another chat just about cocktails and wine? I did not even see that he was doing the chat. Bartender Todd Thrasher of PX and Majestic explains how to make homemade mixers (Post, Dec. 16)

Bonnie Benwick: Spirits columnist Jason Wilson and Todd Thrasher both did a great job pulling all that together. I loved that cranberry juice! We'll ask them both for a return engagement at the next holiday-centric opportunity.


Arlington, Va.: I'd like to make a delicious seafood (or other non-meat) dish on Christmas day, but I feel like we're in a rut. We've done salmon to death this year it seems, shrimp is close behind, and looking for something else besides lobster or crab cakes. Any suggestions for a sure-fire homerun (such as the chile shrimp recipe Kim O'Donnel posted awhile back) that we might not have tried yet? I'm open to savory/hearty vegetarian suggestions too, but my wife makes some pretty mean eggplant/lasagna so if it's Italian it needs to be something other than the usual suspects. Thanks for any ideas and happy holidays!

Bonnie Benwick: This bouillabaisse and rouille from Gastronomoer Andreas Viestad was killer good. Sounds perfect for the occasion. And then again, this Overnight Marinated Swordfish Stew gets raves from everyone who makes it. You'd have to start that one today....there's 2 soupy choices. Happy holidays back atcha. Love our chatters.


Reston, Va.: I have a relative who's sick and being cared for at a facility far from me and the rest of the family. Family members are taking turns spending a week in an area apartment to be near her and help with her care. I'd like to mail out a care package to the apartment for the caretakers, but I don't know what to put in it. I'll probably bake up some treats, but easy, tasty, healthy alternatives should make up the bulk of it. And of course it has to survive mailing. Any ideas?

Jane Black: Granola would be a good addition. (This is one of Kim O'Donell's recipes for the stuff.) Dried fruit and nuts -- good ones, not the ones with too much sugar and salt -- would also be nice. Or popcorn?


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm a breadbaker, and always bring bread to the Christmas Eve dinner we have each year with friends.

This year they have requested gluten-free bread. Any ideas for something good and crusty and gluten-free?

Thanks in advance

Leigh Lambert: This Olive-Rosemary Bread is great for gifts because it is a quick bread, in technique as well as name. It does not have a crusty exterior, but travels well and is very tasty with all sorts of additions.


Palisades: While David is giving us roast cooking guidance, I'll add mine to the pile. I have a boneless Rib Roast, about 4lbs. Suggestions for seasonings, internal temp and estimate of cooking time would be wonderful. I did get one of those remote thermometers yesterday! I also picked up some haricot verts, any suggestions other than a little olive oil and grated parm?

Happy Holidays to you all!

David Hagedorn: Seasoning for a roast beef: kosher salt and cracked black pepper. The end. (anything else, aside for being superfluous, will burn.)

I would sear this roast in a cast-iron skillet on top of the stove, using a little veg. oil, then roast it at 350 and set the thermometer at 125 or 130 for medium rare. (125 is the rare side of medium rare.)Start keeping an eye on the roast after and hour. It should not take more than an hour-and-a-half. Start with a room temp. roast; let the finished roast rest...)

The beans? I dump them in a ziploc bag, zest a lemon and squeeze the juice, salt, and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil and microwave them for about 3 minutes. Easy breezy. Oh, and crushed garlic doesn't hurt. Neither does the Parm.)


Emergency Assistance! : As I type, I'm making the salt-encrusted turkey from the database for our family celebration, which will happen tomorrow. When I took it out of the oven to check the temperature (only 128 on its way to 160) part of the case opened up and some of the juices came out. I've patched the gouge with the remaining dough and stuck it back in the oven, but is this a fatal flaw? Will it affect cooking temp or the reheat time tomorrow? Help! Salt-Encrusted Turkey Breast

Bonnie Benwick: Non-fatal. Thumb's up on the patchwork. What is your reheating plan? That has danger written all over it....


Hong Kong: Submitting early because of the 13-hour time difference. I'm working Christmas day, and my colleagues and I decided that pizza wasn't going to cut it, so we're pulling together a potluck at the last minute. I'm in charge of dessert, and I'm stuck.

Got good things that feed a crowd of 20? I'm thinking along the lines of pies/tarts/smallish cakes -- I have a countertop convection oven, so I can only bake 5-6 cookies at a time.

Jane Black: I guess getting those yummy Hong Kong custard pies is out of the question, right?

If you must bake, Bonnie's cookie issue had

25 terrific recipes

in it. My personal favorite were the

molasses cookies

with crystallized ginger. Soft and perfect for the holidays.

Bonnie Benwick: The cookie issue came from ALL of us (although I am the fielding complaints).

This is the time of year to make

Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts

. They are special, easy, terrific.


Alexandria, Va.: Gingered carrots? I've just gone through 10 years of yellowing Wash Post holiday food sections -- but I can't find a recipe for pureed gingered carrots -- it was great. I thinks it's too old to be online. Does anyone have this?

Jane Black: Just 10 years? Clearly not enough (though glad you save them!) The only recipe I could find that seems like what you are looking for is from 1985! It's one variation of several kinds of carrots but they're not pureed. Take a look.

CAROTTES VICHY (6 servings)

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick circles

1/2 teaspoon salt

Water to just cover

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Place carrots in saucepan, add salt and enough water to just cover the top layer. Bring carrots to a boil and immediately reduce to medium. Boil (not simmer) until almost all the water is gone. Stir the top layer down after 10 minutes so it will be as cooked as the bottom layer. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until all the water is gone. At this point, you hear a slight sizzling. Remove and serve, topped with the chopped parsley. It takes about 30 minutes to evaporate the water; the carrots will be cooked by then.

Some variations are:

Curried Carrots: Dice a medium-sized onion and saute' gently in 2 tablespoons of butter. When limp and translucent, add a tablespoon of curry powder. Cook another 2 minutes, then add the carrots and proceed as for Carottes Vichy. The parsley is optional.

Carrots With Coriander: Proceed as for curried carrots, but replace the tablespoon of curry powder with 1/2 teaspoon coriander.

Carrots with Cumin: Proceed as for curried carrots, but replace the curry powder with 1 teaspoon of cumin and 1 teaspoon of chili powder. A little ham bone or some diced ham would add flavor.

Carrots with Sesame: Proceed as for curried carrots, but saute' half a green pepper, diced, with the onions. Just before serving, add 2 drops of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds (heated in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until light brown).

Carrots with Walnuts and Leeks: Proceed as for curried carrots, but saute' the white of 1 leek (cut in thin circles and rinsed briefly in a colander under running water) in a tablespoon of walnut oil. When cooked, mix with 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves or pieces.

Ginger Carrots: Proceed as for curried carrots, but replace butter with peanut oil and leave out the salt. When carrots are cooked, season with a tablespoon of minced, fresh ginger, a teaspoon (or to taste) of soy sauce or tamari sauce and a few shakes of red pepper flakes. Mix with 1/2 cup of sliced water chestnuts.

David Hagedorn: Carrots Vichy? How imaginotive.


Mixer, Christmas: I don't know how I've survived without a good mixer but now I'm ready to buy one. I'm seeing some kitchenaid mixers for about $70 that look pretty solid. What I want to avoid are the cheap mixers that will conk out on cookie dough. What is high powered and affordable? Any recommendations for a last minute Christmas gift to self would be appreciated! Happy holidays

Jane Black: Bonnie and Joe are our gadget gurus. But I'm going to pipe up anyway and welcome others. I think if you want a good mixer, you should invest in a Kitchen-Aid. Buy one, it basically lasts forever. I've seen them for around $200. But a quick Google search showed that they do go on sale from time to time for as little as $125. If you are a Costco member, they have them there too, though I didn't check the price.

Other thoughts?


Serious home cook with educated palate: David Hagedorn! David Hagedorn! David Hagedorn! David Hagedorn! David Hagedorn! David Hagedorn! BRAVO!

My family loves food based on your recipes. You always have interesting ideas. Wish your byline appeared more often.

And a question: How long duck legs confit will keep in the fridge totally immersed in duck fat and tightly covered? Old cookbooks say a few months, most new cookbooks say a week or two...what to do?

David Hagedorn: This question is suspect, but my mother IS in town...(Although she would be writing in to say her duck recipe is better.) If M wrote this, I told you only 3 David Hagedorn!s. Six is too obvious.

Well, if the fat is congealed, the idea is that air should not be able to get in to spoil the duck. I'd say a couple of weeks would be fine. If I were going to wait a month, I'd hedge my bet and freeze the lot.


Turkey part 2: I think it's enhanced with broth, salt and water, again at less than 3%. (I'm at work, can't check) I was thinking of cutting back on the salt in the brine, since the molasses is the star anyway. But cutting back on time is great idea too. That will actually relax me about getting home early enough tomorrow! I won't have to rush.

Thanks and happy holidays!

Bonnie Benwick: Report back. We can file the info for next year's holiday sessions.


Erie, Pa.: I bought peach bitters because I thought they would be a fun, different gift for relatives who drink a little, but also cook. But now I can't find food recipes that use the stuff. Is it really for drinks only? If I were to buy some alcohol to go with the gift, what would be the best bet? I don't drink, but still try to buy people alcohol related stuff they'd like, but maybe I'm a little out of my depth here! Thanks for any ideas.

Jane Black: Yeah, I don't know many foods that call for bitters. A bottle of gin might be nice with the peach bitters. The Fee Brothers site (I'm guessing that's the brand you found) suggests making a Derby Cocktail, which is 2 oz gin, 1 tsp peach bitters. Stir together in a cordial glass. Add an olive and a mint leaf, and serve.


Link does not work - Olive Rosemary Bread: Would love to try it but there is an error message from the Post when I click the link. Sadness... Don't be sad! Try this one.

Bonnie Benwick: Links, the bane of our existence today!


Filipina and milk: Hey Rangers! Thanks for the feature on Filipino food! My mom always makes her pancit with chinese sausage in it to add a little salty kick, though I prefer chicken or shrimp. Also, another variation on the lumpia is a dessert! Instead of meat/veg inside, you can slice a plaintain in half, add brown sugar or even a piece of jack fruit, wrap in the spring roll shell, sprinkle brown sugar or honey and fry! We call those "turon" or banana fritters and they're oh-so-good!

My question on milk is, if someone is lactose intolerant, does that mean they can drink goat's milk (or is there lactose in that) and if can drink goat's milk, can they eat mozzarella made with goat's milk? Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: You're welcome. I saw recipes for turon and plan to try them! And yes, the Food section now has some of Feli's lumpia in our freezer.

Milk = lactose. But it's said that goat's milk is easier to digest than cow's milk. I guess you'd have to find out if it's a true cow's-milk allergy or a general lactose thing. There are lactose-free milks out there: rice milk, etc.


NoLo, DC: For the person asking about organizing recipes...any time I find an interesting recipe online I e-mail it to myself and stick it in a folder. These are then easily searchable, whether via webmail access, my desktop, or on my iPhone. I don't bother printing any recipe until I plan to make it. If it's worth keeping, then the print out goes into a 3 ring binder divided into categories (breakfast, breads, desserts, soup, veggie main courses, meat main courses, etc.)

I really got a kick out of the earlier pot roast question, which reminded me of the way my mom made brisket and taught it to me. I was 12 when she passed away and my dad then made me transcribe some of those recipes for him!

Leigh Lambert: I admire those who are one with their technology. Me, I'm more old school and enjoy the tactile possession of a piece of paper to remind me to make the dish.


Washington, DC: Although not quite the right season, I am serving crabcakes to my visiting relatives one night this week. I'm stuck on what else to serve since cole slaw and fries don't seem quite right with a pile of snow on the ground. Any suggestions?

Jane Black: OK. Gotta plug my Asian Tri-Cabbage slaw on this one. It's cabbage with onions, ginger, lemongrass. It's great fresh, better after days in the fridge and will make crab cakes seem like an elegant winter option.

Alternatively, you could add a little Asian flavor to the crab cakes and pair it with a smooth potato puree, maybe spiked with a little wasabi?


Pine Plains, NY: Just wanted to say that if anyone's still wondering what to make for Christmas dessert, make the crepe cake! I made one once from a Jacques Torres cookbook and it was the best cake I've ever made. Oh, the eggy goodness! And David's take on it sounds delicious. One would pay a fortune for one of these from a good bakery.

Jane Black: That's it. David, let's go into the crepe cake business. People will pay a FORTUNE for them.

Seriously, I have to vouch for this cake. It's amazing. So subtle, rich. A real treat.

Bonnie Benwick: Pine Plains! Happy holidays. We got your e-mail.


Del Ray, Va.: Hi there, I need a fairly easy dessert recipe for xmas dinner (ham, sweet potatoes, and green beans). The catch is my mother-in-law is gluten intolerant and doesn't eat dairy. Any ideas?

Jane Black: Pears poached in red wine are always an answer to these kind of questions. Easy. Seasonal. And without gluten. This recipe for Pears in Asian Syrup suggests stuffing them with mascarpone. You can do that for everyone but your MIL or leave it out entirely.

Bonnie Benwick: Or even Baked Seasonal Fruit.


Washington, DC: In planning out the schedule & the oven temperature for Christmas, I realized that your sweet potato & grits spoonbread recipe that I will be making for the first time is the only recipe to need an oven temperature other than 350. Can I cook it at 350 or will this wreak havoc on it?


Jane Black: Ah sure. You'll be fine. Just will need to cook longer.


Xmas dinner idea: For the person making Xmas dinner for in-laws, I nominate the slow-cooker beef stew that the Post ran several months ago. I served that for a family dinner post-T'giv with garlic bread, big Caesar salad, green beans and sauteed mushrooms and a big chocolate cake for dessert. Everyone loved it!

Bonnie Benwick: Was it this one?


Maryland: I'm serving beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. I purchased the grass-fed beef yesterday. The butcher wrapped it in butcher paper and then put it in a plastic sleeve. I've heard that beef benefits from some air drying, so should it come out of the sleeve while it sits in the fridge? Out of the paper? I was going to do an herb rub -- should that go on now or just prior to cooking?

David Hagedorn: Hi, Maryland:

Put the beef on a rack placed on a sheet pan and refrigerate it uncovered for a few days. Refrigerators are dry environments (though most people think the opposite is true)and this will help dry the roast and give a good crust. Don't rub until you're ready to cook.

Dry-aging for real involves rotting, which is why it's best left to real butchers.


Cookie baking: Let me try that again: does substituting whole wheat flour really make a difference in vitamins/minerals?

Jane Black: Whole wheat flour has more fiber than white flour. And it looks like it might have a little more iron too. (But I must say I always worry about about people looking for nutrients in cookies.)


Nutmeg: For first time in life have used whole nutmeg. I grated over a gratin. Lovely. Now I have a nutmeg that is partially grated. How long and how do I keep a partially used nutmeg?

Leigh Lambert: You can store whole (partially used) nutmeg practically indefinitely, provided it is well-sealed and away from sunlight and heat. The cupboard is fine. I know someone who keeps it in the freezer.


Hershey?: Maybe it's because I just ate my 5th piece of chocolate here at the office... but I feel a song coming on...

It's the most chocolatey time of the year...

Between work and the neighbors

And sweet party favors, it's up to your ears

It's the most chocolatey time of the year

It's the buzz-buzziest season of all

With those holiday cheatings and gay happy feedings

You'll bounce off the walls

It's the buzz-buzziest season of all

There'll be parties with chocolate

Marshmallows with chocolate

And hot chocolate out in the snow

There'll be scary fudge stories

And tales of the Oreo binges from long long ago...

It's the most chocolatey time of the year

There'll be much overblowing

And heartburn aglowing

Till this time next year

It's the most chocolatey time of the year......

Bonnie Benwick: Really? that's yours, done on the spot?


Anonymous: Not your mother, but will be happy to adopt you. Please elaborate on your mom's duck recipe. Why is it better than yours?

David Hagedorn: She makes duck a l'orange! (Both our recipes are special in their very own way.)


Washington DC: I can't help myself. But I saw a post from Erie, PA in the chat. Did you know Aunt Patty (the sausage referenced in today's article) is from Erie, PA?

Jane Black: Why is Aunt Patty buying peach bitters!?


Clifton, Va.: I would cook the pork loins until the temp reaches about 138 degrees and pull it out and tent it. By the time you carve after letting it set for about 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute temp should be about 145 maybe 150 at most. Even heritage pork shouldn't be cooked until well done. There hasn't been a case of trichinosis since the mid 60's in this country and that was from road kill.

Merry Christmas and I am still waiting for your test taste of the top vintage champagnes.

In our informal taste testing last Friday Pol Roger Winnie beat out Tattinger Comte d Comete, Cristal, Dom and a couple of others.

Merry Christmas to you all and may Santa leave herding dog pups under all your trees.

Bonnie Benwick: And a Happy New Year to you, Clifton. Chat producer Andrea would like a pup.


Laurel, Md.: Once a year, I mash potatoes. What's the secret to non-lumpiness?

Bonnie Benwick: Use a potato ricer, which creates lovely fluffy bits of potato. Let the potatoes drain a bit after they're cooked, but run them through the ricer while they are still quite warm. This banishes lumpiness, I promise.


Baking cookies!: Does submitting whole wheat flour in cookies make them healthier?

Jane Black: It gives them more whole grains but it doesn't really make them healthier. They still have butter, sugar etc.


Washington, DC: Hello Fooders,

I missed Tom's chat earlier this morning, but hopefully you can help me out. Thanks to the ice/snow storm currently pounding the midwest I might still be in DC on Christmas day. Do you or any of the chatters have a list of restaurants that will be open on Friday?

(I checked the GoG section online, but all I could find was a list of bars. Good to know, but a guy needs to eat, too!)

Jane Black: Checked in with our GOG folks. Apparently it's slim pickings on Christmas. Best bets are the hotels. If you're looking to splurge, you could try Adour at the St. Regis...


Washington, DC : Any suggestions for side dishes to go with ham at Christmas dinner? Thanks for taking my question.

Jane Black: All the classics are going to go well with ham. Mashed potatoes or roasted root vegetables, brussels sprouts (I do mine in a big cast iron pan with butter, then finish with a touch of vinegar and some caramelized pecans.) A salad with some bitterness in it -- endive, radicchio etc -- will be a nice contrast too. Add some pears or apples for sweetness.


NoVA: Happy holidays! I have been intrigued by the crepe cake idea and would like to use boxed artisan chocolate mix to make the crepes (yes, I love shortcuts!). Should I use the icing in today's recipe? How can I modify it to work better with the chocolate crepes? I don't want the cake to turn out overly sweet.

David Hagedorn: Chocolate crepes would go well with pastry cream in between the layers and a glaze or ganache on top. Then it would be like a Boston Cream Crepe Cake.

Or Nutella in between?


Arlington, Va. S: For some of the people looking for something unusual as a side or main course, may I suggest varying one of the recipes in today's food section?

The sweet crepe cake that you made is similar to something that I occasionally make. It's a savory crepe cake. I got it from an Italian cookbook, and if memory serves me right, it goes like this: crepe, layer of mushroom duxelle, crepe, layer of bechamel (with cheese), crepe, layer of tomato sauce (this is the part I don't remember... maybe it was cheese instead?). Repeat 3 times, cover with bechamel and parmegian, and cook until done and browned a bit - I dunno, 30-40 minutes in a 350-400 degree oven.

Jane Black: Sounds like "crepe lasagna." Must be some sort of northern Italian idea. Must have been great.


Pregnant in Centreville: Great cocktails feature with Todd Thrasher. I would have loved to see one of his fabulous non-alcoholic recipes included as well for those who can't (or simply don't) imbibe.

Jane Black: We're out of time but we hear you. Google Todd Thrasher and non-alcoholic drinks and you'll find stuff very easily. Happy holidays!


Irish cream?: Would Jason kindly comment on non-Bailey's Irish creams? We love Bailey's but the price is a bit steep for us this year. Thanks.

Jason Wilson: I don't know if I have any other Irish creams to recommend. But Amarula, a South African cream liqueur is an interesting and slightly cheaper substitute. It's made from ripe marula fruit, with notes of butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. On the African savanna, marula fruit is famously coveted by elephants, which sometimes even get a little tipsy eating the fruit that's been sitting (and fermenting) in the sun.


Reusing a chocolate cake: I am making a chocolate sheet cake with white icing for my niece's Christmas Eve birthday. Is there any way to reuse the leftover cake somehow as a dessert after Christmas dinner? I know the cake will only be about half gone the first time around.

David Hagedorn: Trifle! Scrape off icing, layer the cake in a bowl with pudding ot pastry cream, some whipped cream on top, maybe crumble cookies in it...


Bonnie Benwick: Boy, that hour flew by. Today's chat winners: Pot Roast Help gets Lorna Sass's 20th Anniversary Edition of "Cooking Under Pressure," and zip code 20004 gets either "The Silver Spoon for Children" or "Eating Well's 500 Calorie Dinners." Remember to send your mailing info to

Thanks for a great year of chatting -- one more to go in 2009! Next week's issue will be a boon for last-minute revelers: Twelve quick appetizer recipes that build on ingredients purchased at Costco and/or Trader Joe's. Do drop by! See ya on Dec. 30.


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