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Free Range on Food: Chorizo, winter farmers markets, roasting chickens, garlic presses, vanilla extracts, brining, bean soup

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; 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.

Do you love the Food chat? Tell your friends about it!

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

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! I'm not going to waste much time on the windup here: Just suffice to say that we've got Patricia Jinich (she of the fab chorizo story) in the house to help answer questions today, as well as Jason Wilson, Spirits guru. All the rest of us -- Jane, Bonnie, Leigh and I -- were part of the farmers market package that ran today, so we can answer any of those queries, too.

And for giveaway books, I have two things for our favorite posts: "The Harvest Eating Cookbook" by Keith Snow, and "America's Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2010," source of today's DinMin recipe.

Let's do it!

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Falls Church, Va.: Loved the chorizo article today. I'm interested to know if the author knows of any source for the type of chorizo I grew up with (and that we've always had to import from El Paso). It's very red and soft, and has no casing (it has a plastic casing that is removed before cooking). The brand we get in Texas is Payton's, but I'd settle for something similar. The best preparation is simple - huevos con chorizo, just cook the sausage and mash it up, then add eggs and scramble together. With flour tortillas, it's a perfect breakfast.

Patricia Jinich: Hi there! Yes, I think you are referring to the Mexican chorizo, it sometimes comes in animal casings and sometimes in plastic casings. There are plenty of brands around here: Logan's, Que Rico, Cabal, even Whole Foods makes their own. It works perfectly as you say for scrambled eggs!

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Winter markets: I just wanted to put a note out there thanking the vendors and staff of winter farmers markets. They spend hours and hours in lately very cold conditions- even with the diminished crowds. Thank you for helping us try to be good locavores all year long.

washingtonpost.com: Bundle up, buy local (Post, Jan. 13)

Jane Black: I am sure they appreciate it. This winter has been brutal for sellers.

If you are inclined to shop locally, I recommend you get out there. I went to four markets on Saturday and actually had a blast.

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Arlington, Va. S: That green salsa in the picture with the Crispy Tacos looks good. Tomatillo salsa? Is there a recipe for it online (I didn't see one in the paper edition).

Also, I'm a vegetarian (no complaints about the WP food section!) and I like to make Mexican food sometimes. I use a 50/50 blend of unrefined peanut oil and olive oil in place of lard when it's called for and also toss in a chipotle when bacon is called for. I like the "meaty" taste of the unrefined peanut oil. I'm curious what you or the chatters use when substituting for bacon/lard in Mexican cuisine?

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Potato, Scallion and Chorizo Crispy Tacos

Bonnie Benwick: This afternoon, that cooked tomatillo salsa recipe from the fabulous Pati Jinich will be available online and through our All We Can Eat blog.

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13th St. S.E.: Speaking of garlic presses (from last week), are you supposed to peel the garlic before using the press? My wife and I are in disagreement so we'll let you settle it. Thanks.

Jane Black: Well, technically no. But I highly recommend it. It will come through much more easily.

Joe Yonan: I disagree about the "technically" part -- plenty of presses even advertise that you can press without peeling.

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Washington, DC: That Latin pasta dish with chorizo sounds fabulous. I hope to make it soon. With regard to chorizo, the article mentioned that there are different types from different countries (my coworker who lived in Portugal mentioned that they have their own variety there too). When I go to the market, I typically see only "chorizo" that doesn't specify a specific country's style. So what type is generally sold in the US?

washingtonpost.com: Mexican-Style Pasta With Tomato Sauce and Chorizo

Patricia Jinich: Typically if it says chorizo and it is raw, it is the Mexican kind. But there is an increasing number of varieties, when its not Mexican it will say what kind, i.e. Salvadoran, Colombian... For that pasta recipe you can use any of the raw chorizos. While I prefer the Mexican one because it is rich and spicy you can go for any other kinds. If you don't find chorizo, you can substitute for raw italian sausage and decide if you want it spicy or not...

Joe Yonan: I have to personally vouch for this recipe -- I tested it. My only complaint is that it was all I could do to not eat the whole 4-serving batch when I made it for myself last week. I saved some for the next day, and those 3 servings somehow got eaten in two sittings rather than three. Oopsie!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Help! Do you know where I can buy rye grits? Moms, Whole Foods, and the Takoma Park and Bethesda co-ops don't have them. I can't even find them online.

Several intriguing recipes in the Scandinavian baking book I got for a recent birthday need them.

Can I buy rye berries and grind them coarsely for the same result?

Jane Black: I *think* this may be what you are looking for. Harvest Grain sells two-pound bags of what it calls rye grains. But the cooking directions say to bring to a boil and simmer until soft, which, sounds like what you'd do with grits.

Check out this link and call the company with questions about how else you might use it.

Out of curiosity, what are you planning to make? I love Scandinavian baked goods.

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Ballston, Va.: Roasting chicken question. We normally roast chicken that is elevated in a pan above all sorts of taters, veg, and fruit.

Our current recipe calls for a hotter oven for a longer time and the stuff below gets burnt.

We tried removing the stuff below but the drippings burn when they land on the bare roasting pan.

Suggestions?

Use different roasting pan? Put roasting stuff in later -- though the drippings will burn until then?

Bonnie Benwick: Coupla things; you could parcook the vegetables etc. and add them later on, or you could add some broth to the bottom of the pan and turn the vegetables, etc., occasionally to keep them moist.

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Fairfax, Va.: My daughter wants to her birthday party festivities to include making the cake the girls will eat. She doesn't necessarily need a traditional sheet cake, but I am looking for a recipe that 5 or 6 eleven-year-old girls can make that will be ready for consumption at the end of the party (perhaps three hours long total). Any ideas?

Leigh Lambert: I think this Texas Sheet Cake would be straight forward enough for smaller folks to bake. And it serves a crowd (of course).

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Arlington, Va.: Have you ever used Costco's Kirkland vanilla extract? Am baking a lot, and curious if the quality is equivalent to grocery brands like McCormick. Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: I have not, so I'm hoping chatters will weigh in. Vanilla extract's one of those ingredients I like to splurge on.

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Eating vegetables in the winter: Hi all,

I noticed that in the winter, I cook fewer vegetables because of lack of availability in markets or unwillingness to drag myself to the grocery store in freezing temperatures.

I would really like to get more vegetables in my diet during the winter. Could you please recommend vegetables with long refrigerator life or that are great frozen or canned? I know that many vegetables are available frozen, but I think there's a world of difference between fresh and frozen spinach.

Thank you! I love your chat.

Joe Yonan: For long shelf life, look to winter squashes, cabbage and root vegetables. (My favorite, as I've very well documented, as well as Obama's, is the sweet potato.) As for frozen or canned veggies that are better than others, I'd vote for peas in the frozen category (as I know Stephanie Sedgwick would, too), and beans (particularly no-salt-added) in the canned category (actually, in the shelf-stable category, too, of course). But it also depends on what you're going to do with the veggies. Individually quick-frozen stuff can be fine if you're going to mash, puree or turn into soup. Just don't expect that same texture as fresh!

Jane Black: I want to second the cabbage suggestion. It lasts and is so versatile: braised (sweet, savory or sweet and sour), shredded for salads or pickled. (More about a particular kind of pickled cabbage coming next week!)

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Annapolis: I enjoyed the article on chorizo in today's food section, but it was missing an important component - what stores stock what types? My local Whole Foods sells its own mixture (which I don't like very much), and I'd like to try something different.

Patricia Jinich: Hi! Whole Foods only sells their take on Mexican chorizo. You can look for Logan's or Cabal's chorizos in many stores in the MD/VA/DC area. They have them in Panam, Americana, Safeway and many, many others. Just check with your other local grocery stores or you can directly call Logan's or Cabal (they have websites) as they have wide distribution in the area.. Then you can try so many kinds!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Very interesting article about chorizo sausages!

I live in an inner Silver Spring area and have often bought chorizio at Giant Food. Years ago when my Bethesda mother-in-law came to visit she always included a stop at our Giant to pick some up. It seems to me that over the years it's spread to most Giant stores in the area.

I didn't realize there were so many varieties. What type is the Giant store-brand?

washingtonpost.com: More chorizo to love (Post, Jan. 13)

Patricia Jinich: Hi there! If it is a raw chorizo, and it doesn't say what kind, it is typically the Mexican kind...

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Chicken Brine: Hey Rangers! Wanted to make roast chicken tonight, but wanted to do a quick brine, is that possible? Brine for maybe 1-2 hrs at most? I understand it wont be as moist but is it even worth the extra step? If not, I'll just slather it up with herbed butter, been wanting to try Andreas version, but I've got a big bird this time :) Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I'm a brining fan. (It's not a kosher bird, is it? No brining needed for that.) Typically, you'd need a minimum of 3 hours to brine a whole chicken. If you've only got 1-2 hours and you want to brine, maybe you could cut up the chicken this time and bake/roast it in pieces? Andreas' version is sooo good. Hope you try it sometime.

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Ricotta: That shells with ricotta and peas recipe sounds wonderful. Another idea for ricotta: spread some part-skim ricotta on cinnamon raisin bread for breakfast. It is wonderful and filling. And if you're looking for something sweet, you can top with some apricot (or other) preserves. Delicious and healthy.

washingtonpost.com: Shells With Peas, Ricotta and Basil

Bonnie Benwick: You betcha.

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Palisades: This weekend I made steak Fajitas for the first time. Actually, this was my first attempt at anything resembling Mexican cooking. The marinade recipe for the flank steak called for 3 chipotle in adobo sauce. Since I had absolutely no experience with this ingredient, I tasted the sauce before adding to the marinade (WHOA) and quickly scaled back to just one pepper. Our aging taste buds cannot handle that much heat. The one pepper added just enough of the flavor and heat to be wonderful and the steak was perfect for us.

My problem, now I have the whole small can of peppers left. How long can they be stored in the fridge? Can they be frozen? My idea is to put the peppers individually on a tray in the freezer and then put in a plastic bag until needed. I don't want to just throw away the rest of the can. I plan to make fajitas again, but not soon. And one-by-one, it would take a while to use them up.

I think I'm going to expand my international horizons based on this success! Thanks for your help.

Bonnie Benwick: You can freeze the peppers, and you don't really need to go to the extra step of freezing them separately. They'll last for months in the freezer, probably 2 weeks in the fridge (transferred to an airtight container; don't refrigerate in the can). Lately I've seen more small cans of the chipotle en adobo in the markets, which is helpful.

Three chipotles for 1 fajita recipe is pretty darn hot! You did the right thing.

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Mini Page: Hi you all, Do you guys at the Food Section write the Rookie Cookie recipes on the Sunday Mini Page? I was wondering because they seem to emphasize packaged and processed foods, which is a bit different from the Food section in general.

Bonnie Benwick: They come in a package from a news syndicate. We don't archive them or test them or get to find out what's running!

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NY, NY: I love to cook, try new things, etc. With a long weekend coming up, and access to an amazing farmer's market, I'm looking for a recipe to try my hand at. I'm looking for something that takes a bit of effort and thought, and is relatively healthy and seasonal. Any suggestions? I've been browsing tastespotting.com for inspiration, but nothing has caught my eye. (Looking for savory....I'm just one person, so something with leftovers that tastes better the next day, or week, is preferable). Thanks!

Jane Black: My first thought was soup or some kind of stew. This apple rutabaga soup from our database is a keeper. It does call for cream but you can reduce it or substitute fat-free half and half. (Or if that doesn't appeal, check out our full list of soups; you can sort by season in the Advanced Search.)

Or just last night I was leafing through one of my all-time favorite cookbooks: Molly Steven's "It's All About Braising." Tons of wintery, inventive, time consuming but not difficult recipes for the season. I highly recommend checking it out.

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Mashed cauliflower?: In an effort to stop making such boring vegetables, I recently had success roasting brussel sprouts that I covered w/a sauce of dijon, red wine vinegar, minced shallots & garlic, capers and olive oil. It was delicious.

Friend now has me interested in mashed cauliflower - any good, healthy recipes?

thanks!

Patricia Jinich: You can make a cauliflower puree in the likes of a potato puree! Just boil the cauliflower in salted water, when it is soft and cooked through place it in a food processor or blender with a little bit of milk, bring it back to the pan and add a bit of butter, salt and pepper. You can also broil it with a bit of oilive oil, salt and pepper and drizzle it with a chunky marinara tomato sauce right when it comes out!

Bonnie Benwick: Well heck, that sounds pretty good. I was going to also suggest this healthful dish, which calls for Romanesco cauliflower but you could use the kind you have. This Cauliflower, Potatoes and Caramelized Onions has a fairly good nutritional profile, too.

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WDC: Hi -

I am bringing dinner to friends who have a family member in the hospital. I'm looking for something that doesn't need to heated and is relatively healthy. Thanks

Patricia Jinich: I would suggest any kind of salad that can be eaten cold or lukewarm, for example:

Tuna salad: Tuna drained from the can, chopped celery and red bell pepper, a bit of chopped onion, parsley, a bit of mayo, lime juice, salt and pepper.

Egg salad: chopped hard boiled eggs, parsley, celery, a bit of mayo or cream, salt and pepper, chives

Chicken salad: how about with some onion, parsley, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, a bit of mustard and mayo, salt and pepper..

All of those don't need to be heated, are tasty, hearty and healthy!

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Clifton, Va.: I use my garlic press for chile, stews and other dishes where pressed garlic works better. For Italian dishes I still use my knife skills and chop my garlic. I can give Mario, Jacque, and Giada a run for their money in garlic chopping and other knife skills but I will resort to my the press. It doesn't bother my ego and my collies are only impressed with my knife skills when I flip a piece of chicken, beef, veggie or fish in the air for them to catch in mid air and woof down.

Joe Yonan: Giada has knife skills?

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Chicago: Hey guys, I got a food steamer for Christmas. It wasn't something I had asked for, which I point out as a way of saying I have no idea what to do with it. I cooked some broccoli in it the other day, which came out great. Other than steaming veggies, though, I'm not really sure what to do with this bad boy. Any recipe suggestions? I know the instruction book says you can cook meat in it, but are there recipes I can look at? Seems like such a great way to get more healthy meals into my tummy, but I'm clueless! Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Can you send us a link to what kind it is?

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Andouille: OK, I know it's not chorizo, but what else besides gumbo or jambalaya can I do with andouille?

Patricia Jinich: You can also make a tasty pasta dish, some saffron seasoned rice, you can also use it in a version of the sweet potato recipe included in today's section, or in a warm potato salad... (!)

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Chorizo casing: Probably a dumb question, but which versions of chorizo come with plastic casings that you need to peel and which versions come with natural casing you can crisp and eat?

Or does it just depend on the brand?

Patricia Jinich: Most times chorizos come with natural casings. It pretty much depends on the brand but it will typically say what kind of casing it is on the label. In any case, for most Latin style chorizos, except for the Argentinean one, it is better to remove the casing, chop the chorizo and then it crisps beautifully!

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Kirkland Vanilla: It's yummy. It's a Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.

Bonnie Benwick: Good to know.

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You say chorizo, I say chourico: How different are Spanish chorizo and Portuguese chourico (with a cedilla under the 2nd "c")? Where can one obtain chourico in the DC area?

Patricia Jinich: Spanish Chorizos and Portuguese chorizos are more similar to each other than they are to Latin style chorizos. Both the Spanish and the Portuguese tend to be either smoke or air cured and ready to slice and eat. There are many places where you can get Spanish and Portuguese chorizos! Whole Foods has some, then there are smaller stores like Vace and A & H that also have some varieties...

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Kirkland vanilla: No complaints here, other than you'd better get baking if you think you need a bottle that size. Mine is several years old and is just getting close to finishing, and I like to think that I bake a lot. It's the cheapest pure vanilla extract I've seen out there.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks for the input! Free Range chatters rock. Hope you've been storing it in a cool dry place. I think the clock ticks 4 or 5 years max on vanilla extract.

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for Annapolis: Shoppers Food Warehouse sells the Logan's brand, often several varieties.

Bonnie Benwick: Right you are. We should have mentioned them, thanks.

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Washington, DC: For Falls Church, Rodman's carries a Mexican style chorizo that I love. It's less greasy than the Whole Foods options, with a very fine ground, and is wonderfully flavored. I buy large amounts, cut it up in the plastic, and freeze the pieces for use like crazy. One of my favorite things is to brown it with onions, garlic and diced red pepper, throw in two cans of diced tomato, cook like crazy, and mix in chickpeas at the end. Great for dinner or brunch topped with a poached egg.

Patricia Jinich: Your recipe sounds YUM!

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Landover, Md.: We are having a chili cookoff and a Biggest Loser contest at the same time at work. How should I look for a recipe that will be tasty enough to win and be healthy enough for losing weight? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Oh, man. To me, any winning chili recipe would certainly be a nightmare for B.L. efforts. Can you not decouple these contests? On the other hand, you can lose weight when eating anything as long as you control your portions and make tradeoffs. So how bout just a TABLESPOON of my Texas chili accompanied by a big green salad and then a 2-hour run? Sigh.

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vanilla extract: Cooks Illustrated did a taste test.

washingtonpost.com: In the battle of pure versus imitation extracts, could we declare a winner? (Cook's Illustrated, March 1, 2009)

Bonnie Benwick: Love the Internets.

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DC: I used to shy away from sausage thinking it was too fatty/caloric and suspect in origin. However, have discovered just how flavorful, versatile and satisfying it can be. And a little goes a long way. Quick question: do you have a recipe for a Portuguese soup that uses sausage and kale? There's a name for it but I can't think of it right now.

Bonnie Benwick: Caldo Verde.

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DC: I was very interested to read about all the different types of Latin American chorizos, but I still love the Spanish variety. Does anyone have a local source for it?

Patricia Jinich: Whole Foods has some, but smaller stores like Vace or A & H have pretty tasty versions too (!)

Joe Yonan: And there's La Tienda, which sells online at tienda.com and has a new retail store in Williamsburg. Anyone up for a road trip?

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Chesterfield. Va.: I just realized I love Beets! So far, I've just had the pickled ones in jars. How can I cook them for dinner? And can I eat them raw, juice them?

Leigh Lambert: I love beets too. One of the easiest ways to prepare them is baked. You can follow this recipe or you can simply scrub them and wrap them individually in foil and bake at 350 for an hour. They're great tossed with a little butter and fresh herbs, but equally good the day after served cold, sliced in a salad or sandwich. And, yes, they make spectacular juice and a great addition to smoothies (in moderation).

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Pie crust: Does the new America's test kitchen cookbook have a lighter pie crust recipe than in their family (3-ring binder) cookbook? The recipe is great and gets a lot of compliments, but for a 2-crust pie, it calls for 8T shortening and 1.5 sticks of butter.

Joe Yonan: Nope, no pies in here. Cakes, cheesecake, cookies/bars, baked apples, roasted fruit, peach shortcakes...

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Falls Church, Va. (again): The Logans Mexican chorizo is not at all the same texture, or even color of Peyton's. Peyton's starts out and cooks up much softer, and is much more red in color.

Patricia Jinich: You are right, different brands have different recipes and spice mixes. What I suggest you do is try a couple batches from different brands: Cabal and Que Rico are some local companies that make their fresh chorizo. Another thing you may want to explore, which is not so complicated if you can buy the ground meat is make your own chorizo (!) There are wonderful recipes for home cooks.

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New Calphalon pots in NJ?: Hi Food Section gurus, thanks for taking this unusual question ---

I want to ask you about the pros and cons of Calphalon cookware. I'm getting married in the spring and have registered for Calphalon pots; I've used my Revereware stainless for a decade and it's fine. My fiancé and I love cooking and are quite competent with recipes and are starting to get more adventurous and want to take our kitchen skills up a notch and it seems Calphalon can go in the oven up to 500 degrees, and my Revereware handles cannot. I've never been able to make a recipe that goes from stove to oven, because of that.

Anyway, now I'm not sure that's the best. A friend of mine who cooks a -lot- and also does some catering said that his Calphalon non-stick cookware flaked after several years. I also read that the Calphalon non-stick pots can make a sauce taste "metallic." He suggested All-Clad but that's too much pot for me -- that's for professionals I think, and I'm never going to cook as much as my friend does.

So, I'm coming to the experts for advice. I like Calphalon because it has glass lids, and because the handles felt comfortable in my grip. What do you use? Have you had that experience with Calphalon, if that's what you use? I'm hoping that whatever pots I register for will last 20 years -- is that unrealistic?

Thank you!

Joe Yonan: I'd urge you to resist the idea of registering for an entire set of cookware, and instead look at individual pieces that will meet different needs. I find too many of the sets (as with knife sets) come with pieces that you just don't use much if at all. So break out of the all-has-to-be-one-brand mentality. Look for a good nonstick pan, sure (I like Swiss Diamond brand), a stock pot, sauté pan. Read up on the reviews of individual types of pans in Cook's Illustrated (subscribe to the online site for access to all their many years of reviews). I do love my All-Clad for some things, my Swiss Diamond for some, a Joyce Chen carbon steel wok for others, Le Creuset for still others, Spanish cazuelas, a paella pan. And on and on. I do have some Calphalon, too, and like it fine, but not as much as my All-Clad.

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Don't Want to Poison My Guests, DC: Help, please! I bought some shrimp (raw) at Whole Foods for a dinner that I was supposed to make Sunday. I realized that was not going to work and threw the newly-purchased shrimp for my jambalaya into the freezer for use tonight. When I took the shrimp out to defrost this morning, I saw that they had been previously frozen. Can I use or do I need to call this a loss? Your food safety expertise is always appreciated!

Bonnie Benwick: I don't think you're going to hurt anyone. The problem is the shrimp's texture will be affected, and not in a positive way (mushy, etc). Maybe it's back to the shrimp shop for you....

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COME CLEAN, MR. YONAN: I am told there have been sighting of you on a local network. Which one? What show? When? Why? Are you giving up print for TV? How long is your contract for? I religiously read the Food section & WP's All We Can Eat blog, however, I saw no references to your recent TV appearances. Cat is out of the bag now, please elaborate: Inquiring minds want to know where they can catch your spots and how long they will be appearing.

Joe Yonan: Too funny. It's just a short (2-minute) segment on NBC News4 at 5, every Wednesday, connected to a topic in that day's Food section. Don't worry -- I think you'll see after you catch one of them that I don't need to quit my day job! (The Food Network has NOT called...) They just started last week, and there's no contract or length or anything; this is much more informal than all that, just us working with the great producer and anchors at NBC to try to do something fun around food every week.

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Silver Spring Rye: Sorry, Joe, that's whole grain rye, which lots of places stock. I need rye grits or rye meal, which is more elusive.

I'm planning on a couple of different crispbreads from the book.

Joe Yonan: Is it this, available from Bob's Red Mill?

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: After watching the Princess and the Frog, I developed a strong craving for gumbo. Now I don't know about what "real" gumbo is, but I've had gumbo with seafood in it and liked it before at restaurants that are now closed. So I've been searching online for recipes and all of them look extraordinarily long and complex and long and long... Is there no such thing as a short-cut gumbo?

Bonnie Benwick: Well, I'm not sure they have to be complex. But length of cooking is what gives the gumbo a deep flavor, more like the real deal. The file gently thickens the mixture, and the seasoning does its thing, and any gumbo that has andouille or tasso in it gets a big hit of flavor when those ingredients are long simmered. That said, here's an Okra Gumbo that looks like it clocks in at about 2 hours. Will that do?

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Boring bean soup: I've been making lots of legume soups during the cold spell. I used Trader Joe's 17 beans for the last batch, and altered the recipe by leaving out the tomatoes (which I do NOT like). It's dull, needs another flavor note. I used onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, thyme, and black pepper. It's currently vegan, but doesn't need to be for my tastes (my current favorite is split pea with sausage...).

Leigh Lambert: If you're looking for a way to oomph up your current batch, try a squeeze of lemon. Sometimes the flatness of beans needs an acid to "spark" it. Of course, in future batches a ham bone from Honey Baked (they sell them without buying the attached meat) makes a great flavor addition from the beginning.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you have any suggestions on immersion blenders? I like to make creamy soups and am tired of pouring hot liquid into the blender, which leaks. Should I get one with different attachments, or is a simple one better. I'd like to not spend more than $30-$40 on this.

Joe Yonan: When Bonnie and I tested a bunch for this article, one of the ones we liked was quite affordable: Hamilton-Beach Hand Blender 59780, 200 watts for $20.

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Washington, DC: Patricia- Your article today is great. Could you please suggest some stores in D.C. and Alexandria where I can find the Mexican chorizo? Thanks, Windy

Patricia Jinich: Thanks! Absolutely. You can get Mexican chorizo at stores like Panam, Los Primos, El Chaparral, Giant, Whole Foods, Americana Grocery...

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Taos,NM: brining: why do some note that non-iodized salt be used...flavor, speed of brine or ??

Jane Black: Some people believe that iodized salt can create an "off" taste when you use it for brining or pickling. Cooks Illustrated did tests on this and found that there wasn't a taste difference when it was dissolved in water. But I'd say if you have kosher salt, use it.

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Portuguese Kale Soup: I know this chat is more about cooking but Au Bon Pain occasionally has a Portuguese Kale Soup which is quite good.

Bonnie Benwick: Good to know! We are equal opportunity eaters, whether we make the stuff or buy it.

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Farmers Markets: Thanks for the article about year round farmers markets. I don't know what I would do without Randy from Star Hallow Farms who serves Adams Morgan year round. I just placed my online order this morning. He is so committed to serving us that he came into town before the big snowstorm, stayed overnight with a friend, and brought us our precious (and delicious) veggies. I proudly call him "my farmer."

Jane Black: What a nice story. I'm sure you did but make sure to tell him that too.

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NoVa: I wrote in last week (never answered) with a question about what to do with too many grapefruit. Still have them.......am hoping the spirits guru can help? Is the juice good in any kind of cocktail? (What could I mix it with?)

Thanks! You guys are the best!

Jason Wilson: Ah, grapefruit is one of my favorite cocktail mixers. I mentioned the Antibes this week. And if you like tequila and margarita, you will love the Paloma (you can use white or pink grapefruit in that). Of course, the Salty Dog, with gin, grapefruit juice and a salted rim, is a classic. And here is a variation on that, using Punt e Mes and grapefruit juice, called an Italian Greyhound

Jason Wilson: Paloma recipe

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Kirklands : I love it. But I'm a huge vanilla fan and use too much to buy the expensive type all the time. Their pure almond extract is also fabulous.

Bonnie Benwick: Kirkland props in the house today.

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YUM: THANK YOU for the savory sweet potato recipe. I'm tired of sweet recipes for them, especially since we're still finishing ours up from our CSA.

washingtonpost.com: Warm Sweet Potato Salad With Chorizo

Patricia Jinich: Great! Hope you like it!

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Oxford, UK: I made gnocchi last night and while I think the texture was good, they were a bit sweet. Does this mean just add more salt, or should I add something else? I did add the amount recommended in the recipe.

Bonnie Benwick: Ingreds?

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Arlington: So I have a friend who pronounces chorizio like "core-it-zo" whereas I thought it was "chore-eezo"--please tell me I haven't been mispronouncing it all these years...?

Patricia Jinich: Hahahaha!!! Tell your friend you have it right!! It is "chore-eezo"...

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Fort Collins, Colo.: I know that Costco puts a lot of effort and research into their Kirkland Products - including their vanilla. It has one of the highest levels of vanillin on the market. Vanilla has over 300 flavor components and vanillin is one of the only ones you can really measure. Kirkland's Vanilla is some of the best out there. However, being that I'm not a Costco Member, I use Rodelle Gourmet Vanilla. It is the BEST vanilla I have used - and they use real cane sugar - not high fructose corn syrup which is important.

Jane Black: Wow. This guy knows his vanilla. Thanks!

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Ohio: I'm going to be getting Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes) in my upcoming winter CSA delivery. Any recipe ideas? Preferably simple/straightforward; last time I got them I made a delicious, but kind of long and complicated, roast chicken dish. We're more of a stovetop, dinner in 20-40 minutes household. (Due to time constraints, not for lack of cooking skill!)

Also, do I have to peel them? Especially if they are small?

Leigh Lambert: This recipe for Braised Salsify and Jerusalem Artichokes is quick and simple. It does call for scrubbing and peeling them before cooking.

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Shelf life of vanilla: Cooks Illustrated recently published an article on the shelf life of real vanilla extract. They found some samples from their staff that were several years old (one as old as ten years, if I recall). They were all still good.

The bottom line? Real vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life. They posited that the high alcohol content was the key.

The lid had to be intact, but it was ok if there was, um, stuff around the edges of the lid.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, I know how THIS chat will be labeled for the archives. Vanillarama.

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Brooklyn, NY: Satsumas are in season now and they're unbelievable. I've been eating these by the bag full. But I wish I could eat these year round. Is there any place that grows these during our summer?

Jane Black: They may in temperate climates but I haven't seen them imported up here out of the winter season. Maybe grow your own? The plants aren't big and only need to be brought inside when the temperature gets below 26 degrees.(Which, technically is all winter but...) Here's some information.

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Anonymous: I checked on the link to the Organic Rye. Does it strike anyone as odd that the nutrition label says it has 25 grams of protein per cup? Also, why is there 4 grams of fat in that?

Joe Yonan: No, it doesn't strike me as odd. Lots of grains have protein and fat, both.

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bean soup additions: I never make a bean soup without at least three cloves of garlic. Also try adding 1/4 cup of sherry.

Bonnie Benwick: Sherry's a great idea.

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Middlesex, Vt.: Hi guys: Love these chat and now I have a question that I hope you can help me with. It's the new year, and like a lot of folks I'm trying to get my husband and I on a diet. I've been trying to eliminate starches and red meat and go with more vegetarian, or fish and chicken with veggie dishes. While I love them, My husband gets truly grumpy and refuses to stay away from the starch. He'll try adding potatoes or gorge on slices of bread. Any suggestions for foods that will satisfy his starch cravings?

Patricia Jinich: I hear you!!! My husband is the same!! You know what works really well? Sweet potatoes, just oven baked in foil until they are soft and caramelized, or sweet potato puree. Also beans (!). Beans are very filling and wholesome. You can make cooked beans or you can make different kinds of bean salads... What also is very filling are frittata style dishes, as you can fill them with veggies too...

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andouille pasta dish: tell me more!!

Patricia Jinich: Hahaha!!! How about a lentil dish, with sautéed onions and carrots a bit of tomatoes and your andouille sausage. Or a homemade pizza, just buy some pizza dough at a store like Vace, cover it with marinara, some Romano cheese, slices of artichoke hearts and your andouille sausage??

Patricia Jinich: For a pasta here are a couple takes:

For white pasta, sauté some garlic and onion in butter, add some herbs that you like, parsley, rosemary, add some chopped andouille and mix with your al dente pasta.

For a red spicy take: cook some onion and garlic, add some chunky diced tomatoes, add red pepper flakes or chile de arbol, oregano, marjoram, basil, your sausage and YUM!

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Please HELP!: Husband was diagnosed with blood clots, treated in hospital, and is now home on Coumadin (blood-thinning med), with dietary restrictions that include limiting Vitamin K intake (it's the clotting vitamin, and fat soluble, so stays in the system for several days). He's doing much better, thank goodness, but is required to have the same (preferably) low intake of K each day, so that his Coumadin levels stay even. Unfortunately, some of our favorite foods are high in K, especially dark leafy greens.

Can you please link to some websites that list the Vitamin K content of lots of different foods, as it would help us adjust to his new dietary requirements? Thanks.

Jane Black: This site looks like it answers answers most of the questions you have with links to USDA charts of how much vitamin K are in various foods. That's all I can really do. Sounds like this is better discussed with a doctor.

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Silver Spring rye meal: That's close enough, Joe. I'll go special order it at Mom's, and let you know how the recipes come out.

-One Happy Baker

Joe Yonan: Great!

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New Years Eve : Thanks for the poached fish in wine suggestion for new years eve just for me. It was very tasty.

Joe Yonan: Glad that worked out! (Have you gone online to rate the recipe? We're trying to get more ratings!) Here's that link again for those who missed it: Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir.

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Meyer lemons: On a whim, I bought a big old container of Meyer lemons at Costco last weekend. Can I use them in place of regular lemons (have a hankering for lemon squares) or should I seek out specially created recipes for Meyer lemons? Any you can recommend?

Also, they are not organic so I wonder if it's okay to use the rinds, which appear to be potentially treated with some kind of fungicide according to the label. At least I assume it's a fungicide they are talking about. Scary chemical names in any event.

They are really gorgeous in a bowl on the dining room table, by the way. But I do want to use them!

Bonnie Benwick: Love, love, love Meyer lemons. Oh man, which Costco did you find them at? We received an email from a local reader who wanted to buy them in bulk (cheap). Meyer lemons are not as sharp/acidic as regular lemons. The peel is usually quite thin. Were you thinking of using the zest? For what it's worth, the risk of pesticides isn't so great for lemons. They didn't even make the Environmental Working Group's list of fruits and vegetables. As for recipes, the delicate flavor lends itself to special recipes. Check out the ones in our Recipe Finder database, for now.

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DC: I'm always looking for new healthy recipes and I really like this pasta recipe but I'm thinking of some changes to make it easier - I'm thinking of roasting the squash whole and then cutting up the scooped out flesh (peeling a squash is a hassle). And do you think I could use onions instead of shallots? Cutting up that many shallots takes a lot of time.

Jane Black: It will work. But note that onions do lack the delicacy of shallots. As for the squash, I understand not wanting to peel squash but if you roast it first, make sure not to roast it too long so it gets mushy. Sounds like you want squash that keeps its shape.

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Brining - tips needed: We've tried brining a couple times. It seems fine for the first meal, but reheated it's always, ALWAYS, too salty. So salty that I can't really stand to eat it. What needs to happen to avoid that result? We've already tried reducing the salt in the brine recipe, we've tried recipes that include sugar in the brine (that wasn't my idea - why the heck add sugar?), and have the same result.

We like the moist result, and the first meal is fine, so we'd like to be able to use this method in ways that provide good additional meals.

What do you recommend?

Bonnie Benwick: Do you reheat it plain, or use it in other recipes or with other foods that are also salted? I'm trying to think back on the many turkeys and chickens I've brined...leftovers....don't remember oversalted as an issue. Chatters?

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new pots: Fo what it's worth, the All-Clad non-stick pans are great. (Although I agree about loving glass lids. I wonder why there aren't more available?)

Joe Yonan: Glad to hear you like them. (Although I've not been that charmed by glass lids -- they're fine and all, but because of the steam I can't usually see through mine that well, anyway, so I have to lift it off just like any other lid!)

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Arlington, VA: We are halfway through a bottle of Kirkland vanilla extract; it's good! And for the chatter who likes beets, Trader Joe's sells them in the veggie section, presteamed and ready to go into salads, etc. They are yummy and so easy.

My question has to do with yogurt and baking quick breads, scones, etc. I'm pregnant and mostly vegetarian so dairy products are an important source of protein for me. I love Greek yogurt which is REALLY high in protein but wonder if I can use it in baking like regular yogurt or will the high protein be a problem? And what about subbing it for other dairy products like sour cream in a baked recipe? And (finally) what if I thinned it with milk and used it in place of buttermilk? Bad idea? It seems like that would give you both liquid and tanginess.

Leigh Lambert: Actually, all good ideas. I have baked with Greek yogurt interchangeably when ordinary yogurt is called for and not had any problem. I think it's likely comparable to subbing 1/2 and 1/2 when a recipe calls for whole milk. You can thin it slightly with milk, as you suggest, and use it in place of buttermilk. As far as personal experience goes, I haven't tried this with Greek yogurt, but I have thinned regular yogurt and used it this way.

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Washington, DC: The other night I saw the Iron Chef White House episode. I would like to try a couple of the recipes I saw on the show (stuffed turkey breast, cauliflower with cheese instead of mac and cheese). I have not been able to find these recipes online. Can you guide? Thanks

Joe Yonan: Chris Comerford included a couple of recipes from the challenge on the White House blog, but not those.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hope I'm not too late for the baker needing a lot of vanilla - Make your own! Won't help you now because it needs several months to "cure" but much cheaper. You can look up tutorials on the web. Basically its whole vanilla beans, split in alcohol (vodka) place in airtight dark glass container in a cool dark place and let it sit for 4-5 months, shake every week or so.

Leigh Lambert: A fantastic suggestion. I keep used beans (ones I've steeped in milk for custards or scraped clean for other recipes)in a small amount of vodka and then forget about them. Sort of as a back-up pantry item.

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Petworth: There's a newish vendor at the Dupont farm market who has flour. Maybe the rye seeker should go talk to him?

Joe Yonan: You're talking about Moutoux Orchard, but unfortunately they're not at Dupont until the spring. Their last market was end of December. (I know because we were hoping to include them in our winter roundup but couldn't!) But they do still have grains available for sale at the farm, and you could certainly contact them.

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veggies: I am really trying to get us to heal healthier by using more veggies in our meals. Soups and stews are easy, and my favorite side dish is broccoli roasted with cumin and coriander seed and spritzed with a little lemon. But my husband gets tired of it. Neither of us is crazy about cauliflower but I'm willing to learn to love it -- what would you suggest?

Bonnie Benwick: Check out the recipe link I included earlier. You could roast the cauliflower almost the same way, you know? Or you could start by using it in blended soups. We've got a Cabbage, Cauliflower and Potato Chowder recipe coming up soon that the tester really liked.

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Potomac Falls, VA: Sea Salt- why is it great? Can I use it in place of regular salt in everything like baking/sauteing etc?

Thanks!

Jane Black: You could but it's expensive! I tend to use kosher salt as my go-to.

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Manassas: Although I like most Costco products, I didn't like the Costco vanilla (tasted like chemicals). Before you buy, ask if you can return it if you don't like it.

Joe Yonan: A contrary opinion in a sea of Kirkland love.

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Washington, DC: The Post had a wonderful article in yesterday's Health section entitled Plenty of Goals for the New Year. My question, one of the web sites listed that I checked recipes for had no salt values listed for any of the recipes (wholeliving.com). Salt is a huge problem in this country and I am wondering why such an oversight? On the other hand, I made some wonderful spicy salmon cakes and I wonder what kind of sauce I could put on them - low in sodium and nothing with cream or dairy. Any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: Plenty of goals for the new year (Post, Jan. 12)

Jane Black: Couldn't really say why Whole Living doesn't list salt. That's for them to answer. But I do agree salt is a big problem. It's something that I've been starting to look into. Certainly, you can make salty food at home but I think the source of much of the sodium in people's diets comes from processed food: chips, snacks, fast food etc.

As for your salmon cakes, how about a gremolata: It's a mix of garlic, lemon peel, chopped parsley. Delicious on just about anything.

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Arlington, Va.: Just bought my first Le Crueset piece - a 5 1/2 qt dutch oven. Do I really need to replace the black plastic lid handle with ceramic?

Jane Black: I believe you do if you want to put it in hot oven. From what I remember -- and chatters, feel free to check me here -- it can go in with the plastic handle to about 300 degrees.

If you want to cook in a hotter oven but only plan to do it occasionally, you could always just cover it with foil in the oven or top it with a baking sheet. It won't, obviously, be as tight a seal.

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Springfield, Va.: Not a question, just a comment, but thank you for bringing to light the fact that farmer's markets are available to people at a time when you aren't normally thinking about fresh produce. I grew up in Alexandria (hardly rural) and my aunt and uncle had a huge garden that my uncle tended well into the winter. There are many types of garden produce still available when it's not summertime and we learned to just go with the seasons. It's a completely normal way of living for me now. What they call "fresh produce" in the stores amazes me sometimes, but then I realize, people just don't know. Thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention.

Jane Black: You are welcome. Thanks for writing in!

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Landover, MD again: Thanks for the recipe for chili. I am going to use the spices and meat from your recipe and the veggies and bean mixture from your competition (Weekend Chili). This should get the calorie count down and goodness up. I know - Texans don't like beans in their bowl of red, but I do.

Joe Yonan: Good luck!

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DC: I've heard that with decreasing a bread recipe, that it isn't just a matter of cutting all ingredients in half. I LOVE this challah recipe but my stand mixer can't handle this two loaves recipe, so I'd like to cut it in half to make one loaf. Any suggestions?

Thank you!

Leigh Lambert: I would start by cutting the recipe in half as far as liquids go and then adding enough flour to be a nice sticky consistency. Usually this is a frustrating instruction, but since you have experience making it, you'll know what you're shooting for.

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Choreezo!: Thanks for the clarification, now I am mortified for her instead of myself! Separate question--I really want to join a CSA this spring, and there seem like a lot of options. Can anyone recommend a particular farm/service that has a drop off in the Falls Church/Mclean area? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Funny you should ask. Sure, it's cold out, but it IS time to start thinking about a more abundant growing season. We'll be posting a list of CSAs on-line week after next, Jan. 27. Hopefully, you'll find something that's a fit for location, price and produce.

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Bonnie Benwick: A note to MoCo from last week -- I've managed to let another Free Range hour slip away without answering your question about ways you can prep, plan and cook with your 11- and 8-year-olds. I promise, it'll be right up top on Jan. 20.

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Bringing Tip Requester follow up: Bonnie,

We usually reheat the meat itself, and serve with sides, so there isn't any additional salt in the preparation of the second meal. We usually reheat on the stove top or in the oven, not the microwave in case the reheating method is relevant to this one.

Does that help you help us?

Bonnie Benwick: Since we have a minute to go, will you let me do some research on this and get back to you? Feel free to send your email to food@washpost.com so I can contact you directly.

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Reply to Meyer lemons: We used to get them by the bag from our aunt's tree in California. My dad would juice them, freeze the juice in ice cube trays, then store the cubes in "zipper" freezer bags to use as needed (including in small quantities, especially after he was widowed).

You can also grate the zest, then freeze in "zipper" bags. To use, just whack the bag gently on the counter to loosen the block-o'-zest a bit, then measure out as needed.

My favorite Meyer Lemon recipe is for a so-called cake-pie, where the filling is poured into a pie crust, then separates into custard and cake layers as it bakes. Unfortunately I'm not at home, so don't have the recipe with me, but it's quite easy. I like to top it with a dusting of powdered sugar, since it the top sometimes doesn't come out looking too esthetic.

Bonnie Benwick: They work just like regular lemons.

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Washington DC: Today's article on farmer's markets mentions heirloom beans, but not a vendor or particular market where they can be found. I love Rancho Gordo, but not the sending away. Can you point me in the right direction to find some here? Thanks!!!

Bonnie Benwick: Sorry. The ones I found are at the Bethesda Central Farm Market on Sundays, from Nicole Olson at Two Acre Farm. She has borlotti, Christmas, white, black, adzuki...really good ones.

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sticky date pudding vs. toffee pudding: Is there a difference? I had sticky date pudding in New Zealand and would like to replicate it. When I search online for date pudding recipes, what generally comes back is toffee pudding, with claims to its Irish origins.

Jane Black: There is a difference. One has dates. I lived in England for about five years and we used to get both sticky toffee and date (or sometimes called sticky date) puddings.

As for the origin, it's definitely an invention of the British Isles that was taken to the new world.

I don't have a recipe to hand to recommend personally. But if I were looking for one, I'd go to Nigella Lawson or Delia Smith. They'll have the traditional and the dressed up trendy versions.

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DC - cutting challah recipe: What about the yeast? Use half a package?

Leigh Lambert: Yes, use half the yeast.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've cooked us for 8 to 10 minutes, until we're moist but not soupy, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's as usual, and thanks to Pati and Jason for helping us answer them.

Now for the winners: The eating-veggies-in-winter (which are better frozen, etc.?) chatter will get "The Harvest Eating Cookbook." And the Landover chatter who asked about chili and the Biggest Loser will get "Light & Healthy 2010." Send your mail info to food@washpost.com and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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