Free Range on Food: Kimchi, roasting your own coffee, Greek yogurt, quick snacks, Valentine's Day desserts, shipping wine

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, January 20, 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, People of Earth, and welcome to Free Range, DIY edition. Did you enjoy our geeked-out section today? All three stories on our section front dealt with obsessiveness in some way, didn't they? Making kimchi, roasting your coffee, taking a physicist's approach to cooking -- we hope they sent you into the kitchen, or at least entertained.

What's on your agenda today? Let us know what you're thinking, and we'll do our best to steer you in the right direction.

For our favorite posts, we'll have giveaway books: "Quick and Easy Korean" by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, and "The Elements of Life" by Su-Mei Yu, source of Bonnie's DinMin soup today.

Let's chat!

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Springfield, Va.: Terrific article on kimchi. I also can't go too long without some in the house.

I would like to add some additions to your kimchi rating list. There are several small Korean catering places (most prominently in Annandale and Centreville, VA) that make several different types of kimchi, such as Nakwon Catering or Annandale Catering. Dong-A Asian Supermarket in Fairfax also makes kimchi and several other Korean side dishes.

From what I can tell, the people at Dong-A Asian Supermarket speak the best English, but staff at all places I've been are friendly and will try to explain what is in a particular dish. Many will give you a small discount if you bring back the glass jars also.

washingtonpost.com: Taste Test: Store-bought kimchi (Post, Jan. 20)

Jane Black: Thanks for this. This is really helpful for those of us with a kimchi problem -- and for those who live in Northern Virginia.

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Kimchee!: I was really surprised to see the kimchee article today--especially since I just made some on Monday! I used Napa cabbage, although impatient me only let it sit in the brine for about 6 hours or so. I also made a paste of all the spices, ginger and garlic, and mixed it with sliced carrots, serrano peppers (I like it hot), and green onions, and let that sit for a few hours too, which softened up the carrots a lot. Mixed it all together, stuffed it in a jar, and let it sit on the counter. It'll be ready to eat tonight--can't wait!

washingtonpost.com: Kimchi is going global (Post, Jan. 20)

Jane Black: Yes, it's the kimchi zeitgeist. A friend emailed me and said he had just made his first batch too. It's ready tonight but wait a few more days or a week. It's even better.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Ok, a few chats ago there was a salmon discussion. It left me kind of confused. I know wild salmon is best but is atlantic, farm-raised salmon bad for you or just not as good? Thanks!

Jane Black: That is a super complicated question. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has farmed Atlantic on its avoid list. There are several reasons including the fact that they are farmed in open pens (aka, the ocean) so there is risk of escape and pollution. Environmentalists also worry about the fish-to-feed ratio, ie, the amount of fish that it requires to feed the salmon. (Salmon are carnivores.) That said, some farmed salmon is better than others. I hear, but have not yet researched, that there are small farms in Maine and elsewhere that are working to make salmon farms more environmentally friendly. When I spoke to chef Barton Seaver about this last week, he told me that it was two or three years away from fruition.

More info as we get it!

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Twin Cities, MN: Hi, love the column.

Saw the recipe for Fun-See Noodles, looks great and easy for the kids to make. However, have a few questions...what is a fuzzy melon? Where would you purchase them? If cannot purchase, what would be a good substitute for that ingredient? Also, due to shellfish issues, can the dried shrimp be swapped out for chicken?

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Fuzzy melon is a gourd you can find at Asian markets, in the produce section and sometimes frozen in bags. In this dish, its flavor was ever so slightly sweet.

You could try subbing zucchini but not cooking it quite as long. The dried fish really impart a lot of flavor and nice chewy bits to this dish, though. I'm worried that the chicken, unless marinated or something, wouldn't have the same effect. Best I can think of is maybe adding fish sauce. Chatters?

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Washington, DC re roast your own: Wow, Joe, who knew? I'm getting my old popcorn air- popper out of storage (and hoping I can figure out what to do)!

I'm hoping you'll tell me more about the problems you find with dark-roast beans.

In my experience, lighter-roast are better for steam- pressure coffee -- those metal Italian stovetop espresso- makers where the water travels up through the coffee and then stays in the upper chamber. And darker roasts are preferable with a French press, and for those times when I buy a cup of coffee at a carry-out.

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: DIY coffee: Roasting beans at home (Post, Jan. 20)

Joe Yonan: Glad to inspire! Make sure to read up on how to use that popper. I mentioned a couple of good sources in the piece: Sweet Maria's as well as Kenneth Davids' book "Home Coffee Roasting."

As for my problems with (very) dark roast, it's really that at a certain point, what you're tasting is the roast, not the bean. That is, any subtleties the particular coffee bean might have had are overwhelmed. Everybody's taste is different, but I find that particularly dark roasts -- the kind where the beans are very oily -- lack anything but that burned flavor. (I think the oils should stay inside the coffee, since they're the carriers of so much flavor).

Having said that, what I'm having fun playing around with at home is trying to tailor the roast to the bean. Sweet Maria's does a great job of suggesting the range of the roast they think does justice to each particular variety of green beans they sell, for instance.

I'd say you should try some medium roasts with your French press and see what you think.

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Va.: I really enjoyed your article on kimchi. Do you have any recipes that are vegetarian (no anchovies or fish sauce needed)?

Jane Black: Thanks. Glad you liked it. You can make it without the fish sauce. It will still ferment.

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Boston, winter vegetables: Last week a reader wrote in about trying to eat enough vegetables in the winter. They bemoaned the quality of frozen vegetables, pointing to spinach. I want to plug for Trader Joe's frozen veggies in general, and their spinach in particular. The spinach comes in a bag, not a frozen block. You can pour out a lot or a little, and it tastes pretty close to fresh. I'm also a fan of their frozen corn, broccoli and asparagus spears. They are cheaper than what you find in most supermarkets and better quality.

For fresh vegetables, I second Joe's endorsement of root vegetables, and winter is a great time to experiment. Celery root (celeriac) keeps well in the fridge and I've enjoyed cooking it or using in salads. I find beets without the stems will keep for over a month. Carrots, winter squash. All keep well. These aren't quick cooking foods, but they are healthy and delicious.

Jane Black: I can't speak to Trader Joe's quality. But I add my vote for frozen veggies. I usually only buy spinach and peas but many are quite good. I also vote for celery root. It's fabulous mixed in with mashed potatoes or shaved and served fresh in a salad with fennel.

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Mocha madness: I love the chocolate syrup found at favorite coffee shops. Hershey's syrup seems too grainy to add to my coffee at home. What would you suggest to replicate the chocolate flavor?

Bonnie Benwick: I think maybe it's that Torani brand of flavored syrups for drinks? You can find it at larger grocers (locally I've seen it at Giant, on the coffee aisle) and on Amazon.com.

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Brunch: I'm making a apple French Toast casserole for a brunch with a friend who does not eat meat. So I won't be making my usual sausage to go with it. Any ideas on what else to serve?

Jane Black: Fruit salad? Citrus with a little mint might round out the meal.

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe some hash browns with caramelized/smoked paprika'ed onions and bell pepper. Or sweet potato pancakes with scallions. Or mini-crab cakes or smoked salmon, assuming that person just might eat fish?

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Chicken breasts: I've just bought a value pack of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts and am wondering if I couldn't make a load of chicken strips and freeze them, just like I might find in the freezer section of my local market. However, I don't want to deep fry them. I just want a healthier version of a quick lunch (pull out of freezer and pop in microwave) during the week for my 4-year-old after preschool.

Bonnie Benwick: Sure thing. Plain ol' chicken needs a helping hand, flavorwise, so here's a recipe you might like to try, which is no-fry: Mustardy Breaded Baked Chicken Strips. And I'm sure chatters have ideas about this....

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Washington DC: What is the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt? I know that Greek yogurt is thicker and richer, and I haven't bought Greek yogurt because of the higher fat and calorie content, but I recently noticed that they started producing a fat free version. Any idea how they make it fat free but still "Greek", and if it's still better than regular non-fat yogurt?

Jane Black: Greek yogurt is drained of the extra liquid so it's thicker. (If you took your regular yogurt and strained it overnight in the fridge, you'd have a kind of Greek yogurt.) So it can be full-fat or fat-free.

Joe Yonan: Or in between! I like that 2% version that Fage makes.

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veggie dip: Quick! Please help! I have people coming over in a few hours for snacks and I don't have much more than brownies, cheese and crackers and some carrots and celery sticks. What is a quick dip that I can make for the carrots? I have cream cheese and plain yogurt at home. Could I mix something with one of those to make a dip?????

Joe Yonan: What sort of condiments do you have? An old quick Texas standby is cream cheese mixed with salsa. After having sriracha mixed with cream cheese at a friend's brunch party recently, I've been into that, too. What cheese do you have?

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Washington, DC: Last week chorizo, this week kimchi and the scientific approach to the kitchen, are you guys tapping my cell phone? Think we can see something about smoking various things for the summer? My brother-in-law is contemplating getting one, the only downfall for him is I'd be up every other weekend (they live in Central Mass.).

Bonnie Benwick: I like that idea. And I'm assuming your brother's contemplating getting a smoker.

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Love for all things kimchee: Thank you so much for your article on kimchee. My non-Korean husband is a Korean-food convert and wonders why the food isn't more popular. Korean food is so much more than bbq (bulgogi)! My recommendation for those who want to try authentic Korean food is to go with someone who either is Korean or familiar with the variety of food. But thank you for broadening the audience with your article.

Joe Yonan: Jane had to rush out to a story assignment, so I'll say: thanks, and you're welcome!

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Diet : So I am trying to lose 13lbs. I've already lost 5lbs. However, I am getting sick of breakfast burrito (breakfast), salad (lunch),yogurt (snack) and then chicken or shrimp and veggies (dinner). I also live alone and dislike leftovers yet love cooking. Any suggestions for cooking healthy low cal and tasty for one without it taking all evening (commute and gym take a long time)? Thanks

washingtonpost.com: Cooking for One

Jane Black: This is a question for Joe Yonan. But I will add in one idea: soup! Joe wrote about ingenious ways to make soup bases you can change up. But I also find if you make a big pot, freeze it in single size containers, then you can just grab one for work or take one out for dinner. Indeed, as I type I am eating the last batch of an Asian chicken soup with lemongrass, ginger and bok choy. Lots of healthful soups out there.

Joe Yonan: Soup's a natural, indeed, especially when it's filling, like the mushroom soup in the link Jane included. But for more inspiration, I'd also say you should look at these sweet potato recipes and these fried-rice recipes and adjust if you'd like to make them a little slimmer. (You could sub ground turkey or chicken for the pork in the miso sweet potato, and could use veggie broth instead of the coconut milk in the curried shrimp sweet potato; and you could leave out the eggs in the fried-rice recipes.)

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Adams Morgan: Been seeing some fish being advertised as "sashimi grade". Is that a real designation or is it a meaningless descriptor like "jumbo" shrimp.

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I think you're onto something, AM. Jumbo shrimp's closer to meaning something real.

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San Diego, Calif.: Next month is Valentines' Day! Do you have any ideas for things I can make for the 2 of us? A whole batch of brownies seems wasteful.

Leigh Lambert: Well, I do lean toward the indulgent, but perhaps you're right that a WHOLE pan of anything is a bit overkill for two people (and any more than two people on Valentine's Day is suspect).

Two thoughts: Chocolate dipped strawberries are expected, but if you can find really good berries this time of year (possible with Chilean imports)and get top-quality chocolate, this ordinary offering turns into something simply wonderful. Or you could do discs of baked meringues and serve them with ice cream or berries.

Whatever you do, I like to have it be make ahead and waiting for you rather than a time-sensitive finish, such as a souffle.

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Middlesex, Vt.: Hi guys: Love these chats 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?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure. For starters, search our Recipe Finder database for quinoa or bulgur or wheat berry recipes. Those whole grains can satisfy the starchy gene. And a corn tortilla or brown rice wouldn't be such a bad thing.

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Soup's On!: Love the soup recipe today and can't wait to try it. I'm nursing a cold and was wondering if there are any other recipes you would recommend. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Boy, this is a good, aromatic soup for a cold; it tastes bright. Soups with ginger might be good for you, like this Mushroom Noodle and this Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup With Ginger. Feel better soon.

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Alexandria, VA: Regarding the salmon in Pinot Noir recipe you referred to in the last chat - how would you suggest making it without the bacon? Could it just be left out altogether, or would it be better to substitute it with something?

I did make the Garam Masala salmon from your recipe database the other day and it was great!

washingtonpost.com: Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir

Bonnie Benwick: Leave it out, I think (a shame). Maybe a little miso added to the mushrooms as they cook, to provide that ol' umami thing?

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I'm crazy psyched for the kimchi article. I just got Momofuku as a gift so that was going to be my first project. I remember watching the Bourdain episode of Korean when they made real traditional kimchi. The workers spread the paste on every leaf. The recipes I've seen don't necessarily call for that. Necessary?

Joe Yonan: Nope.

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New Haven, Conn.: More kimchi fever--I made a batch a few weeks back with the last-season napa cabbage from my friend's farm. It was a snow day so I couldn't get to the market and mixed cayenne and smoked paprika for the chili powder. Came out smoky and great, but it did kind of ferment its way out of the jar and all over the fridge. Be warned!

Joe Yonan: It's alive!

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Washington, DC re kimchi: Hi.

First of all, thanks for the recipe, I love kimchi.

I'm wondering two things --

Although the sodium content is lower than I expected, is it possible to lower it even more by rinsing the cabbage at some point -- or would that ruin it?

Also, would it be a major no-no to use regular cabbage and regular radishes? I'm thinking everything else I could store indefinitely or buy at my local market.

washingtonpost.com: The kimchi fix (Post, Jan. 20)

Jane Black: I'm going to go for part 2 of this question. You can certainly use any kind of radish. As for the cabbage, I am guessing it would work but it may take longer to soften. The leaves on regular green or savoy cabbage are thicker and ... waxier. Napa cabbage leaves are going to become more pliable faster. Are you sure they don't have Napa cabbage at the local grocer? I feel like I've seen it around.

As for the salt, I'm going to punt. No idea if you can wash it off or if it sinks in. But be aware that you need a certain amount of salt to preserve the kimchi.

Joe Yonan: We'll try to confirm this with our kimchi sources, but I very much doubt that rinsing is a good idea... I think in this case, you'd be best to just not have too much of it. The salt's the thing, really.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'd like to make a smoked mackerel pate but am not sure where I can find whole smoked mackerel. Any suggestions on where I might buy smoked mackerel?

Bonnie Benwick: Care to hop on La Beltway? The Russian Gourmet in Rockville has whole smoked mackerel for $7.59 per pound (1 fish = about $8). Or you could try Slavin and Sons in Arlington, which sells smoked mackerel fillets for $13.95 per pound.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hold on there!! While today's mini-review on JJ's Cheesesteaks was correct to note that Amoroso's bread is commendable (perhaps the best but I don't want to start an argument), there is simply no way an Italian hoagie can contain turkey ham and American cheese!! Why can't people leave classics alone? Next, they'll serve a hoagie with mayo on it.

washingtonpost.com: Good to Go takeout: JJ's Cheesesteaks at 14th and U NW (Post, Jan. 20)

Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, yeah.

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Washington, D.C.: Of all places, the Adams Morgan Safeway carries very good kimchi (in the produce section). I can't recall the brand names but it's not local. It's deliciously potent and does not contain MSG.

I'd love to try making kimchi. I'm a non-driver, however, so it's a hassle to schlep to the 'burbs for the special Asian ingredients.

Joe Yonan: Good to know! It's closer for me than the Super H, too...

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leftovers from Christmas: I made candied tangerines at Christmas time, which I have left in the fridge. I don't know what to do with them, or how long I have to figure it out.

Leigh Lambert: If you are storing them in their own syrup, you have indefinitely to figure out how to use them (or until/unless they get fuzzy). They sound like they would be wonderful chopped up and served with Greek-style yogurt, or in place of pineapple in an upside down cake.

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Mt Pleasant: My boyfriend's mother recently brought me back a huge bag of saffron from her travels and I have already made paella and am planning arroz con pollo, but what else can I do with it creatively? It's quite a lot of saffron and I'd love to use it as much as possible!

Joe Yonan: Lucky you! We have dozens of recipes that call for saffron, but here are some that really showcase it: Saffron Buns, Saffron Cocktail Onions, Saffron Fennel, Saffron-Infused Vermouth, Sweet Saffron Honey Yogurt With Berries, Carrot-Saffron Pudding.

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Stormville, NY: I am submitting well in advance, since I will be traveling at the time when Free Range on Food will be live.

What do you think of recipes that list a whole bouquet of spices as necessary ingredients?

For example, I recently saw a recipe for Chicken Shahi Qorma. While making it is a fairly simple procedure, it listed as required spices (besides salt and black pepper) : cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper.

All spices ground.

Are all those spices really necessary? Will all of them make a difference in the dish?

Leigh Lambert: Most/many curries are built on this complex building of flavor with many spices. If you're missing one spice, I wouldn't stress over it, but together they do create a balance, sort of like each stone having a place in the wall.

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Strata or quiche?: Hi foodies. Eight women, majority vegetarian, sunday brunch. Strata or quiche? To be honest, I haven't eaten a quiche I like yet, but maybe you have a great recipe I should try...?

Bonnie Benwick: Strata all the way. Easy, do-ahead. You could sub sauteed mushrooms for the turkey in this one. Or maybe a big frittata stuffed with potatoes and other colorful vegetables? Easy to do in a big cast-iron skillet. Eggs, eggs...what about these coddled ones? So lovely.

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Kitchen Scale: Can you recommend a kitchen scale, or do you know of any published ratings/evaluations of scales? We would like a scale that can be used for food portioning both for dietary (portion control) and cost-savings/storage purposes(e.g., if we buy a large piece of fish or meat, we can use the scale to divide it reasonably accurately) and also for baking (e.g., a cup of flour is supposed to weigh 9 oz). Can one scale do all of that? What qualities should we look for in a good scale or of what should be beware?

Thanks.

Leigh Lambert: I finally bought a scale after baking without one for years and years. I mostly bought it to use European recipes, which often call for weights rather than volume measure, but I find I use it quite a bit.

I got a cheapy, which has several features I like. First and foremost the Escali scale comes in a line of fashion colors and it's hard to resist matching it to your kitchen's color scheme. It has a tare feature, meaning you can reset it to add subsequent ingredients. It calculates in either grams or ounces, has an auto shut-off and is thin enough to be stored in the bookshelf.

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re: veggie dip: I'm kinda giving away a family recipe here, but I'm sure lots of people have versions: If you have enough carrots, grate some in softened cream cheese, add some Texas Pete, half an onion and green pepper if you have it. I pretty much add as much Texas Pete and green pepper as I feel.

Joe Yonan: Gotcha. Your secret is safe with us. ;-)

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Boulder, CO: Thanks for the coffee roasting article, Joe! We have been roasting our own beans for nearly 6 months and are hooked. We have the iRoast and the boyfriend has made a contraption (like a dryer vent hose) to hook the roaster to the window for cold month roasting. Works like a charm. We've also invested in a burr grinder. We usually have two batches of roasted beans at the ready and it's such a pleasure to savor a cup of freshly roasted, ground and brewed coffee every morning. Sweet Maria's has been a wonderful resource, too, for information, beans and accessories - couldn't recommend them enough!!

Joe Yonan: Nice! Yep, I was looking at the iRoast, too. So I take it you don't otherwise have ventilation? What kind of burr grinder do you have; I think that makes a big difference. Good for you!

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DC in the soup: I'm making veggie soup for dinner and would like it if you could explain the concept of building flavors. So far I have sauteed onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Not sure where to go from here except to add water or veggie broth. I have some baby spinach to add, but would that go at the end?

Bonnie Benwick: Spinach at the end, check, which is also where some fresh cilantro or mint would go. Think about adding depth of flavor with miso paste or smoked paprika or slices of ginger -- all obviously on my brain today.

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Kimchi madness: Oi (cucumber) kimchi is DA BEST EVER! I want some now.. how dare you make this article!! I got crAvinGs now!!

Joe Yonan: Thanks. I mean, we're sorry!

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Follow-up on last week's Vitamin K question: I wrote in last week asking for sources of info on Vitamin K content of foods (husband's intake is now limited due to blood clots and medicine treating them). The 20-page online list you mentioned is fantastic. Thanks so much!

Just one thing, though: I've been abstaining from my beloved dark leafy greens this past month out of solidarity for husband's medical situation, but really miss them and can't bear the thought of hardly ever getting to eat them again, so as not to seem inconsiderate of his feelings.

Do chatters think it would be too cruel for me ever to eat my beloved dark leafy greens in front of my husband, while he loves them too but can't have any? Or should I only eat them when we're not having a meal together?

Joe Yonan: Glad you found it helpful. On the question about your husband, here's a CRAZY thought: Why don't you ask him? I think he'd find your dilemma touching...

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farmed fish: I think you missed discussing a real issue with farmed seafood and that is the fact that much of the feed they are given are pellets from places like China. Big problem not so long ago was the danger that the feed had the same contamination as the dog and cat food from China. I order my fresh salmon online from Alaska and NEVER eat farm raised fish.

Bonnie Benwick: Jane had to leave for an assignment, but I'm sure she'd be happy to know you're eating all-American.

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Waynesboro, Pa.: RE: Chicken strips: a little lowfat margarine melted, fine to medium crushed cornflakes, very little seasoning (salt/pepper) and parsley flakes for coloring. Take your strips of chicken dip in the melted margarine, roll the strips in the cornflake mixture and bake at 350F for around 20-25 minutes or until done. I make the large version with just boneless skinless whole breast meat (not strips). They freeze well, just watch the reheat in the microwave; don't leave totally covered or cornflakes tend to be soggy.

Bonnie Benwick: Everybody used to keep a box o' corn flakes in the cupboard for just such a purpose. Wonder whether that's still true? These days, panko may have taken over.

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Washington, D.C.: I've noticed the far south vegetable vendor in the hall at Eastern market selling kimchi. Does anyone know if it's any good? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: We'll put this out there for chatters....

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Asheville, NC: I have a recipe for Szechuan pork that calls for pork tenderloin. My husband doesn't care for pork tenderloin (mainly b/c he has only had it as roast). Do you think the tenderloin will taste different in my recipe or should I just use pork chops in place of the tenderloin?

Joe Yonan: I'd say try it with the tenderloin. When cut up into chunks and, I'm assuming, cooked pretty quickly, it should be nice and juicy -- if you've got a good recipe, that is!

Bonnie Benwick: I am curious! Your husband could tell the difference between chunks of pork chop and chunks of pork tenderloin?

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Los Angeles: I have a question I'm hoping the spirits gurus can answer. I'm having a buffet dinner and would like to serve beer, wine, and 1-2 specialty cocktails. The menu is asian-style (turkey, noodles, several vegetables and salads..). What specialty cocktails would you recommend? Thanks!

Jason Wilson: It depends on whether you'll serve the cocktails before dinner or try to pair them. I served the Hans Punch Up we published a few weeks ago at a party where there was Chinese food and it seemed to go over well. I think certain wine cockails might work, such as the Brasserie Lebbe which calls for champagne. Finally, if you're serving something spicy, there this Thai cocktail, called a Siam Sunray which calls for hot peppers and lemongrass that's really delicious.

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Kimchee central: I too loved reading about making kimchee, and am thinking about trying it. How is the Korean chili powder different from other products? I've seen it at Korean Korner and admired the very large bags. Any cuisine that calls chili powder in those quantities is definitely worth a second look!

Bonnie Benwick: Korean chili powder used in kimchi often is of medium or coarse grind, which helps it adhere and disperse in the condiment. The chili peppers its made from must not be the same as using dried small Thai bird ones or dried arbol chili peppers, because KCP is certainly fruitier and/or sweeter, and doesn't pack as much heat.

Joe Yonan: And it's also very different from what's often sold as just "chili powder" in the US, which can include other spices, such as cumin and garlic powder and salt, in the mix....

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Shakopee, MN: Hi again from the upper midwest. Loved the Kimchee article; brought back memories of when I visited my hubby who was stationed with the Army in South Korea. We learned how to make mandoo (spelling?) similar to eggrolls but served out of little carts in the shoppping districts. The only thing we could duplicate too well was the Kimchee, now you can find it in the grocery stores. Do you have a recipe for chaep-chay? (clear noodle dish)? I really love your column.

Joe Yonan: Glad you liked it! We don't have a recipe for chaep-chay (aka japchae) in our recipe database, but there is one in "Quick & Easy Korean." Hmm...

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Scale: I know it was just an example, but a cup of flour weighs 5 oz., not 9.

Joe Yonan: Yep, thereabouts, depending on how you measure it...

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Boston: I am contemplating buying a slow cooker and I have a few questions. What is the difference between a slow cooker and a crock pot? Are the more expensive ones really worth the money? And most importantly is it really safe to leave one on all day while you aren't home??

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: A Crock-Pot (insert trademark symbol here) is a slow cooker, but not all slow cookers are Crock-Pots. In other words, the Rival company has trademarked the name, so "Crock-Pot" tends to be used in casual, don't-get-litigious conversation, say, the way "Kleenex" and "Xerox" are.

Slow cookers are safe to leave on all day or all night, although as I write this I'm sure there's a chatter who may have a horror story. A slow cooker's supposed to have the same electrical load as a 75-watt light bulb. Cost depends on the appliance's functions, and partly on how well the heating elements are constructed. If you want to be able to lift out the inner crock or sear food in it or employ some whiz-bang timer/turn-off features, then you might pay more. Cheaper units might be plagued with hot spots. Old, well-made slow cookers last a long time.

I interviewed Beth Hensperger (author of several slow-cooker cookbooks) a few years back about all the testing she'd done of various makes and models. She said a barrel-round, 3-or-4-quart slow cooker's good for all-purpose use, and wide or oval ones with a 5-to-7-quart capacity are good for cuts of meat, whole birds, etc. I think she liked having an oval one the best. Hope this helps!

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Seattle: I received a baking stone as a wedding present and haven't figured it out yet. Two main questions: how do I get things to not stick (ie pizza) and how do I clean up the nasty mess that was left over from the sticking pizzas? Thank you!

Bonus question: I have two ovens so I can leave it in one all of the time; can I bake on the other rack if I'm too lazy to take the stone out?

Bonnie Benwick: The stone can stay in the oven all the time; today's Washington Cooks subject leaves his in there. It might help with even-heat issues.

You preheat the stone, yes? And use cornmeal?

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Silver Spring, MD: re: bottled Italian flavored syrups for coffee - you can get a bunch of flavors at World Market - I get my sugar free vanilla there - but they must have 15 flavors at least.

Bonnie Benwick: You are correct!

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Drinks: What would a nice, fun, and non-alcoholic drink be for the spring time?

Jason Wilson: When strawberries come into season, this mocktail called a Folic Fizz is a nice one.

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wdc: Tastewise, how is fleur de sel different from regular table salt? Is there anything I should look for when buying fleur de sel, or are different brands basically the same?

Bonnie Benwick: Table salt is basically ground and refined rock salt, and some folks swear they can taste the iodine that's been added. It dissolves quickly and evenly. When compared side by side with fleur de sel, the taste of table salt has been described as bitter.

Fleur de sel is a finishing salt, too pricey to pour like Morton's. It's light, fragrant (slightly floral) and keeps its crunch when sprinkled on top of baked goods and such. Salt aficionado Janet Cam and bakers' hero David Lebovitz are both fans of Fleur de sel Guerande. (Read about Lebovitz's trip to watch how it's harvested in Brittany here.) Find a pal who's going to France and ask him/her to bring some back, because it's cheaper there. You can purchase it online or you could spend about $19 for about half a pound at La Cuisine in Alexandria, which doesn't have it in stock right now, unfortunately. Store owner Nancy Pollard says it's seasonal and raked at certain tides.

The store does have in stock a smoked fleur de sel for $20. That sounds good, doesn't it?

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Arlington, Va.: Can I ship wine bottles myself via UPS or USPS, or must the winery send them? I'd like to pick up a bottle or two from a variety of wineries in California and package and ship them myself -- is this legal?

Bonnie Benwick: Wine columnist Dave McIntyre says -- Since you live in Virginia, I believe it is. The key is the destination state - UPS may refuse to ship to a MD address even if it is your own. (USPS, if I'm not mistaken, will not accept any alcoholic beverages for shipment.) You could ask at a winery you visit to recommend a shipping point that could sell you packing materials, etc., and probably handle the shipping.

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re: veggie dip: I have blue cheese, mozzarela, and sharp cheddar. I have mainly Asian sauces as condiments (including the srirachi)

Joe Yonan: Gotcha. Well, if you had some dried fruit and a few nuts, a little cognac, you'd be pretty much on your way to Domenica Marchetti's fab holiday cheese ball. Today is some kind of holiday somewhere, isn't it? (Although it needs a couple of hours to set up.)

If you think your cheeses might be good enough to serve on their own, you could just go in the cheese-platter direction, picking up a nice baguette on the way home, along with perhaps some cornichons or other pickly things and some dried fruit and/or grapes for garnish.

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re: candied tangerines: When I made the candied tangerines, I didn't make enough syrup with it, so I took each piece and rolled it in sugar. I saw Jacques Pepin do it with orange peels on PBS once.

Leigh Lambert: That sounds like another way to keep them safely. Wet or dry, basically major amounts of sugar have an anti-bacterial quality.

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Clifton, Va.: All, If you get the chance try Glenmorganie's Ashtar single malt scotch. One of the best single malt's I have had in the last 20 years. Very smooth despite being 114.3 proof

Jason Wilson: It's scotch season. Here's one reader's scotch recommendation: Glenmorangie Astar goes for around $65-80 depending. Do we have any others?

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Arlington, Va.: I took the Food Section's Christmas gift-giving advice and got my boyfriend the Atlas pasta maker for Christmas. We love making (and eating!) the pasta and are having fun experimenting with different sauces. However, we've tried a couple different ratios of eggs to flour and end up with a dough that is either too dry or too wet. We've been able to fix it each time by adding more flour or liquid, but we'd love to get it right the first time. Any fool proof recipes out there for the perfect pasta? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I'd urge you to get cookbooks by Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan. I adore Marcella's instructions on pasta-making in "Marcella Says," and Lidia has wonderful pasta recipes in such books as the new "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy" and "Lidia's Family Table."

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Baltimore, Md.: I've been trying to taste new ethnic cuisines lately, and I haven't tried Korean yet, so the article about kimchi is perfect.

I have a few questions about the kimchi recipe that was included. How critical is the salted shrimp to the taste of the dish? I'm allergic to shellfish so I would have to leave that out. The fish sauce I have no problem with. Will I mish the shrimp if I just leave them out?

Also, what exactly makes chili powder Korean, and is it chili powder as in just ground up chilis or are there other ingredients (salt, spices) as well?

Joe Yonan: Some recipes use fish sauce instead of salted shrimp, so absolutely you could try it this way. (In our recipe, I'd use 3 tablespoons of fish sauce instead of 2, to make up for the salted shrimp.)

See our previous answer on the chili powder part of your question...

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Waynesboro, PA: RE: Think Panko has taken over?

My mom, said "what's panko? Some sort of new board game?" Gotta love her, so..cornflakes is still a standard in some parts of the US. LOL!

Joe Yonan: Hilarious.

Bonnie Benwick: Panko = Japanese corn flakes.

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Petworth: Rodman's has those coffeehouse syrups too.

Joe Yonan: Good. Gotta love Rodman's!

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Need A Special Vegetable Dish: I'm going to a dinner party featuring a home-made cassoulet and need to bring a vegetable dish to go with this. I'm just stumped to think of something really worthy of this crowd of foodies, who are also great cooks. Help, please!

Bonnie Benwick: Lucky you. That rich dish needs a side with crunch and a little bitterness, so try this fennel, pear and tarragon salad or even a celery root remoulade.

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Kimchee with everything: My Korean family eats kimchee with everything non-Korean. It's a must to have a dish of kimchee at the traditional Thanksgiving table. I'll take turkey with kimchee any day over cranberry sauce. Nothing beats my mom's recipe, but I can't wait to try yours. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Kimchi stuffing for next year: We will test it.

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Philly: What are some quick, yet delicious and elegant vegetarian appetizers for a party?

Bonnie Benwick: Six little words: Herb-Mushroom Flatbread With Artichoke Spread.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've packed us into glass jars or a large food-safe plastic container, and waited 2 to 3 days, and we've gotten increasingly pungent as we sit, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today, as always, and hope we were able to help you with your cooking, eating, drinking, mixing and roasting needs.

And now for our book winners: The "Kimchi madness" chatter who proclaimed the joys of cucumber kimchi will get a chance to satisfy his/her cravings with "Quick & Easy Korean Cooking." The chatter with a cold who asked for other healing recipes will get "The Elements of Life." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you yours books.

Until next week, happy fermenting!


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