Free Range on Food: Nachos smackdown, more kimchi, recipes for a snowy weekend, quinoa, tips for keeping ginger

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, February 3, 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, chatters, and welcome to Free Range! What's on your mind? What did you think of Jane's great profile of the feisty Michael Landrum?

Before you answer that, we have several giveaways for you today: Kate Heyhoe's "Macho Nachos," in celebration of our SB recipe smackdown (I would crow about being in the lead here, but I know from past experiences that it's anybody's game at this point), "The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook" by Jaden Hair, source of one of my CF1 condiments today; and five tickets to the Virginia Wine Showcase (Feb. 6-7).

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Bethesda, Md.: Good afternoon knowledgeable food section staffers, My question is about refrigeration. I love to bake and often wonder, am I storing my creations safely? Do I need to refrigerate anything with butter in it? I would refrigerate cakes and muffins, but I've never stuck a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the cooler. Enriched rolls with a lot of dairy? Caramels made on the stove? Please help me, I don't want to give anyone food poisoning.

What are some guidelines to follow?

Thank you!

Leigh Lambert: It does vary from item to item, but for the most part the combination of high sugar with the brevity most baked goods last before eaten (2 to 3 days) lower your risk of poisoning someone to very low. Most frosted cakes (especially cream cheese) benefit from refrigeration. Just bring them to room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. This is more for maintaining consistency than it is for fear of bacterial growth.

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Rockville, Md.: I loved a previous week's column on kimchee, something I've always wanted to try. I'm hesitant to invest the time and money in creating my own, big batch, however, without being sure about the taste. Can you recommend a jarred brand found in a local market that I could purchase to get some idea of what I'm getting into? Thanks!

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

Jane Black: We did a taste test along with that story just for people like you. Check it out.

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Kimchi FAIL: Please help! I made the kimchi recipe that you published a couple of weeks ago. I followed it exactly, but I couldn't get my 1/2 cup of kosher salt to dissolve in only 1 cup of warm water. I stirred and stirred and stirred, and warmed it a bit more, and stirred some more, and no, it wasn't going to dissolve. So I shrugged and carried on. BIG MISTAKE. I think because the salt didn't dissolve in the water, when I drained and squeezed the cabbage and radishes, most of the salt was still in there. Now it is unbearably salty. It's currently a week and a half old, and it's not getting any better. And believe me, I love salty food, but this is like eating a giant spoonful of salt, I just can't do it. Otherwise, the flavor is great and I want to try again, but I'm worried. I've googled other kimchi recipes and found that most recipes either call for sprinkling 1-2 tablespoons of salt (no water) on the cabbage, or dissolving 1/2 cup or so of salt in water, but a LOT more water than your recipe called for - like a half gallon at least. What should I do: dilute the salt with more water, or use less salt? Were you -really- able to dissolve 1/2 cup of kosher salt in only 1 cup of warm water? Thank you!!

washingtonpost.com: Napa Cabbage Kimchi

Jane Black: Someone else emailed me with this same question. I think the key is dissolving it in luke-warm water. When I test the recipe, I had to stir it for a few minutes but it did dissolve. I've heard from others who tried it that it turned out terrific. So maybe try again? If you still have trouble dissolving the salt, you could rinse it after the salting and then squeeze out the water. Good luck!

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Washington, DC: I would love to try a vegetarian version of the Baked Stuffed Onions. Substituting the beef broth is easy because I can just use a fake version bouillon that I have. Sauteed mushrooms seem an obvious switch for the sausage, but I'm wondering if you have any other suggestions?

Leigh Lambert: Mushrooms are great in everything (according to me). You might also look for a meatless sausage, such as Morning Star, in the freezer section for a similar flavor profile.

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Shepherd Park, DC: Last night I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes from the people at Food and Wine (Tasting and Testing). I followed the directions except omitted the water ('I wonder why the batter looks like cookie dough?!?' -- that was me at 10pm). I also used girlpower and a wooden spoon instead of a hand-mixer. I think one or both of these changes caused my problem. Instead of Snowpeaks, they were valleys. Nothing vanilla buttercream, coconut and sno-caps couldn't fix- but what sciencey thing happened? Were they too heavy? Beat too long? None the less they are definitely the best of two worlds- top like a crunchy, chewy brownie and the bottom like a light, cakey cupcake. The wife (who's bday it is today) was not disappointed, but I'm interested in knowing what happened. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Ah, chemistry. That water is probably what sunk you, quite literally. Like our own bodies, baking requires water to "lube" and connect everything. It is what makes the difference in texture between cracker and bread. What I love is that it didn't deter you in the least. This is how discoveries are made. Name it something else and serve with authority. You're a genius.

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Washington, D.C.: Not much of a cook, but love your chats. I'm writing for some ideas, please! With a lot of snow predicted for this weekend, I'd like to spend it cooking. I spent the last Saturday of the snow storm making chilli all day and it was perfect! Any ideas about what to make this time around? Thanks.

Jane Black: Hmmm. Would it just be boring to mention the mMahogany Shortribs AGAIN?

OK, maybe. So how about something vegetarian? I've been making a lot of beans this winter, which you then can turn into soups and side dishes. How about this Bean Stew with Pesto inspired by Dan Barber at the Stone Barns?

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Washington, DC: I loved the nachos recipes today. As a child, one of my favorite snacks was a can of frito-lay bean dip mixed with cubes of cheddar cheese microwaved until the cheese melted and served with fritos. Not surprisingly, this no longer appeals to my adult palate (Waaayyy too salty), but it would be fun to have a more sophisticated take on a bean and cheese style nacho dish. Any thoughts?

Joe Yonan: Well, you could certainly take the basic tostada technique described in the recipe I adapted from Rick Bayless and instead smear the tostadas with a spicy bean puree and then sprinkle with a queso fresco or, for something melty, a decent Jack. Just don't overdo it on the cheese. Oh, and a drizzle of this blackened salsa might be nice.

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yay nachos: Love the idea of potato crisps instead of tortilla chips, but this time-crunched mom wants to know if some of thick homestyle potato chips could be used instead?

Bonnie Benwick: Absolutely. Did you vote in our poll? I know Editor Joe would want me to ask that. I tested it using the lightly salted kettle chips that come in a brown and beige bag (blanking on the name right now). At some point, the homemade potato slices or chips will soften, and that's when it's time to bring out yer forks. If you do use store-bought chips, do the platter in 2 layers of all the ingredients.

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Cambridge, MA: I have a deep, abiding love for jalapeno poppers, so I'm thinking of making some for a Superbowl party. Can I do it without deep-frying? I think deep-frying would make a huge mess and/or start a fire in my tiny kitchen...

Bonnie Benwick: You can pan-fry them if the batter's not too goopy, or don'tr put too many in the pan. Try an inch of oil in a deep cast-iron skillet.

Deep-frying gets a bit of a bad rap, messwise. It's a containable way to cook.

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Quinoa: I love to cook with quinoa and always use broth or stock to make it. I am interested in some more 'adventurous' recipes. I am interested in cooking with wheat berries: where do I find them, how do I cook them and are they similar in benefit to quinoa?

Leigh Lambert: I love wheat berries. They have a nutty flavor and chewy texture. I usually get them from the bulk aisle, they are labeled either "wheat berries" or "winter wheat." Just make sure it is the whole grain. Ask if in doubt.

Soak them overnight and then cover with an inch of water and cook, covered, at medium heat for about an hour. You can use stock for the water to boost flavor. They are great in casseroles and cold salads.

In terms of nutrition, I'm not sure it's a matter of better and worse, just different. Quinoa is high in protein and wheat berries are loaded with fiber. They both have an impressive profile of attributes, so you can't go wrong. Variety is the key to keep things interesting.

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Silver Spring: Hey Joe! I wrote in a few weeks ago looking for rye grits or rye meal.

Well, I finally found a mail order source for rye grits that doesn't charge preposterous shipping fees. They also have some other interesting stuff:

Peters Gourmet Outlet

I'll be making Danish rye real soon now, and Swedish rye rolls. And when the rye meal from Bob's Red Mill arrives, I'll be making a few other things from the Swedish Baking cookbook.

Joe Yonan: Great!

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Mushrooms: Food Gurus: Home on a snow day, I'm making mushroom barley soup (modifying a recipe from Joan Nathan's Jewish Food in America cook book) and have a question about preparing mushrooms: I've read you shouldn't wash them, as they absorb water. Do you have to painstakingly peel them? I tried a mushroom brush, but it left unsightly ridges on the caps. Should you just try to wipe off the obvious dirt? If it makes a difference, I'm using baby bellas.

Bonnie Benwick: i use a damp paper towel most often. Peeling's something chefs like to do. Since you're using them in a soup, though, I don't think their absorbing moisture would cause a problem, so you could swish them briefly and let the dirt fall where it may.

Joe Yonan: When it comes to the absorbing-water thing, if you rinse them right before using, you're fine. It's just that you don't want them to be soaking in water for any period.

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Phila, PA: What is the best software for analyzing your recipes?

Leigh Lambert: We use a system called NutriBase. It is customized for professional use and links with the USDA for current food nutritionals. It includes foods in various states of preparation (i.e. peeled, cooked, etc.)as well as differing weights vs. volume vs. unit.

We try to be as accurate as possible, but as is the case with most nutritional systems that don't actually analyze food in a lab, the software gives averages.

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20777: What are some of your favorite or must-read cooking blogs? I currently read Bakerella, Closet Cooking, Noble Pig, Smitten Kitchen, and the Pioneer Woman, but I'm wondering if I'm missing out on anything great. Thanks!

Jane Black: I also like 101 Cookbooks. And Chocolate and Zucchini. Oh, and of course, David Lebovitz, who Joe profiled recently. (He's also hilarious on Twitter.)

Chatters? Other ideas?

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St Paul, MN: Hi, I was hoping you could help me with a recipe. I've been using my bread machine on the dough cycle so I can get bread that isn't square. This recipe was on my bread flour bag. I like it because it's easy and I have all the ingredients. It has a great texture and crust....but it's a little bland. My first instinct is to add more salt, but I don't want to screw with the chemistry. Is there an easy fix for this recipe? Thanks!

1 cup water, heated to 120 degrees to 130 degrees F. 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 cups bread flour 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 (1/4 oz.) package active dry yeast

Leigh Lambert: Assuming you're not thinking of adding a half-cup of salt you probably won't throw off any chemical balance. Double it to 1 teaspoon of salt and make it sea salt for starters and see what you think. And then there is the whole world of herbs and spices to be explored. Mix-ins like rosemary and chopped Kalamata olives would give a nice accent, or cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg for a morning toast loaf. Chunkier additions can be kneaded in by hand at the end of the first rise. Spices can be added with the flour.

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Bowie, Md: I received several parsnips in my CSA box yesterday. Certainly, I can find many recipes for it, but any recommendations for something -really- good? I saw a recipe for muffins/bread - I guess along the lines of zucchini bread. I don't think I've ever eaten a parsnip!

Jane Black: I really like them pureed with a little potato. One-ups the classic mashed potatoes. You could also use them to make potato-parsnip pancakes or just parsnip pancakes. Chatters? Other ideas?

Joe Yonan: I like them simply roasted, or glazed as in this nice Stephanie Sedgwick recipe for mirin-glazed parsnips with ginger.

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Fredericksburg: I was snowed in this Saturday so I decided to make a chocolate cake. Although it tasted good, the texture was the opposite of what I was looking for -- the cake was fluffy and frosting was thick like fudge. Can you recommend a recipe for a dense cake with a light and fluffy chocolate frosting?

Leigh Lambert: This Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake fits the bill, but you'll need to invite over some friends. It feeds a crowd.
For a more basic layer cake try this Chocolate Cake.

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Washington, DC: So, I just got this Graviti pepper mill as a gift (one of the kinds that start grinding when you tip it over) and I think I really like it. I feel guilty for liking it, though, because I consider it to be one of those "how lazy can we get?" types of gadgets. It's not like the motion of twisting my old grinder was that difficult!

Joe Yonan: At least you got it as a gift!

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Richmond, VA: I have found the best meat for nachos while cleaning out the freezer. Smoked pork butt. Last Fall, we went on a smoking bender and now are using up all of the meats (gotta love the vacuum sealer). I do my nachos family-style using a pizza pan (each reach for the table) and thick corn tortilla chips (Nona's?). I use a salsa verde, Monterey Jack and smoked jalapenos (not chipotles)and sprinkle chopped green onions and tomatoes after they come out of the oven. Finally, there is sour cream for the tamer tongues. Even our four- and five-year-olds love it (minus the jalepenos). I am looking forward to seeing how yours compare. Thanks for the recipes!

Bonnie Benwick: Yum. Try to track down some dry Jack instead of the Monterey Jack, if you can. I'm into it now. It's aged and kinda nutty. Melts in a less-gooey way than Monterey Jack. All good.

Tomatoes in winter?

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Thing to do with Quinoa: Bert Greene's Greene on Grains has a terrific quinoa and chicken recipe (assuming the quinoa person is not a vegetarian). Works nicely, looks good.

Greene is yet another forgotten cook whose books were great.

Leigh Lambert: To be sure, there are lots of imaginative quinoa recipes to be found. Many of them vegetarian, if need be.

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Dallas, Texas: As a Valentines present, I would like to get my guy a cookbook. He's a new cook, so he's just getting a hand at it. What cook books would you recommend?

Bonnie Benwick: What kind of food does he like to eat? For healthful, try Dave Lieberman's new cookbook, "The 10 Things You Need to Eat," which I'm reviewing in next week's section. The recipes are simple and good. And I always like to recommend Molly Stevens' "All About Braising," which has foolproof delicious dishes. You'll notice neither one of those is the encyclopedic kind of book...I think newbies need photos and a lighter approach.

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super bowl nachos: We did Greek-style nachos one year, using pita chips, shredded baby spinach, combo of feta and mozzarella cheese, but I love the ideas in today's section. Definitely gonna try them.

Bonnie Benwick: That sounds good! Did the pita chips stay crisp (made from flour, they might be more absorbent).

Joe Yonan: Some peperoncini might be good to take those Greek-style nachos to the next level. But the most important question might be: What would be a fun name for them? Nacholonniki? Nacholomeno? Nezze? Nacholopoulus? (My sincerest apologies to all my Greek friends out there.)

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Springfield: Is there a point when you can cook an egg casserole too long? Once again, today's baked egg casserole took way longer than the time called for by the recipe, and even when I finally pulled it out, it was still "weepy." I wonder if I cooked it too long and separated the eggs or something.

Disclaimer: I took some liberties with the exactness of the ingredients, and I fear that I put it in a dish deeper than called for, but not by more than a half inch to an inch.

Also, I tried to use a meat thermometer to see if it was 160 degrees, but it never got above 140 even after 55 minutes in a 350 degree oven. It was in a 1 quart baking dish, approximately 2 inches deep. Made of eggs, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, milk, and pre-cooked sausage.

If a meat thermometer won't work, is there a "pudding/egg" thermometer instead? Thanks for the help. This happens nearly every time I make this dish, and I'd love to have a fool-proof recipe.

Please feel free to edit if this is too long. I am submitting early and didn't want to leave out any information!

Joe Yonan: Can you send us the recipe, or the link? If too long to include in chat, email to food@washpost.com.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Recently I've decided to eat healthier and have some bread recipes that call for whole soya powder. I have been searching around at health food stores, regular grocers, and other specialty shops for the soya powder without any luck. I'm thinking to try using soya flour a product that i have found. Yes I've googled it with no real, good answer.

Do any of you have an answer to this question? Basically it's a way to make bread less in total carbohydrates and much higher in protein. That's the reason I'm planning on baking these new bread recipes. Thank you.

Leigh Lambert: You can find it at the Takoma Park Co-op: 201 Ethan Allen Avenue,(301) 891-2667. It's $4.59 in the baking aisle.

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Silver Spring: Another quinoa suggestion: there's a recipe for a veggie soup of quinoa, feta, spinach, and sweet potatoes that's really good. Googling should find several variations on this theme.

It's really good and filling. Sub butternut squash for half the potato and it's even better.

Leigh Lambert: We could probably devote a whole chat to quinoa.

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Eastern Market: Hi Foodsters!

Question for Jason: I'm throwing a party this weekend, and would love to include some winter cocktails. My husband and I enjoyed some delicious wintery drinks (most scotch/whiskey-based, not too sweet, but mellow enough for non-whiskey regulars) and would love to do something similar. Catch is I have a very minimal bar, so something simple would be ideal (I'm happy to go buy 2 or 3 liquors, but would rather not go all out).

Tall order, I know. Any ideas?

Joe Yonan: Jason says this:

"Scotch cocktails are difficult, but one I like very much, and one that appeals to various palates, is the Plaid Matador, a tall drink calling for scotch and a citrus-vanila liqueur like Tuaca or Licor 43.

"As for other whiskeys, I've been enjoying a variation on an Old Fashioned called an Elderfashioned, which calls for 2 oz of bourbon, a half ounce of St Germain, an elderflower liqueur, and a couple dashes of angostura bitters.

"Finally, why not a variation on a Manhattan. One I like is called a Red Hook, which calls for 2 oz rye whiskey, a half ounce of Punt e Mes (a mix of vermouth and bitters) and a dash of maraschino liqueur (NOT to be confused with the juice from maraschino cherries; best brand is Luxardo).

"Hope this helps."

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Washington, DC: Where in DC can I get fresh andouille sausage?

Jane Black: Whole Foods has it: chicken, turkey and pork.

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Everlasting Ginger: Great tip about the ginger! I'm definitely going to try it. Clarification question: where do you slice off pieces to cook with? From the part that's submerged in the water sprouting roots or the part that's above the water sprouting greenery?

washingtonpost.com: Chat Leftovers: Ginger whenever you want it (All We Can Eat)

Jane Touzalin: Slice off the parts that are above water. (You'll see; the submerged ginger will be covered with roots, so it won't look very appetizing.) Good luck! Not that you need any; it's foolproof.

Bonnie Benwick: That Jane Touzalin. She's a kitchen whiz.

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San Francisco: Can you elaborate a bit on your blog post about growing roots from a piece of ginger suspended in a glass of water? I'm not quite getting how you "grow" usable pieces of ginger without whittling away too much. And how long can you keep it in the glass of water -- indefinitely? I really want to try this.

Jane Touzalin: You eventually will have to whittle a lot of it away. This tip isn't for someone who uses a lot of ginger; it's for cooks who need it only occasionally and find their refrigerated ginger going bad in between uses.
After a while, the knob, in addition to sprouting the stems and roots, will produce little bumps of tender, yellowish new ginger, which will be somewhat milder but also very good.

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United Flight: So there I was flying west on a United Airlines flight, and whose byline should appear in the Hemispheres mag but Jane Black's, on a quite interesting piece about a San Fran chocolatier. Way to go Jane!

washingtonpost.com: Raising the Bar (Hemispheres Inflight Magazine)

Jane Black: Thanks! Amazing how many people read the in-flight magazines!

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Boulder, CO: For the person looking to make jalapeno poppers for the Super Bowl, we grill our poppers! I discovered this recipe/method from a former co-worker who was a Texas native: - Slice jalapenos in half length-wise and de-seed - Stuff with cream cheese - Lay a slice of pepper jack cheese on top - Wrap with bacon and secure with a toothpick - Grill til done

Delicious!

Bonnie Benwick: Does that still qualify as a popper? Magic words -- "wrap with bacon."

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Bean soup: Jane, that recipe has pancetta, chicken broth, and anchovies. Could you link to an actual vegetarian soup? Thanks.

Jane Black: Ah, my bad; shouldn't have said it was vegetarian. (Not least because they didn't ask for vegetarian!)

But yes, non-meat eaters can still spend the day cooking. How about this Black Bean Soup with Avocado Salsa?

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Snowstorm central: I'm baking this weekend - with the weather most stuff is canceled so I can try some of the fancy bread recipes that require lenthy pre-ferments.

I'll sit down with the latest artisan bread books (I buy them all, being a sucker, er, hobbyist) and pick out the lengthiest, fussiest, most complicated bread recipe I can find.

Maybe Julia Child's baguettes, maybe one of the cool things from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking across America, who knows?

Leigh Lambert: Nothing beats the smell of freshly baking bread and I love an involved project that keeps you by the hearth on a snowy winter day.

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Greek nachos are called...: Grachos!

Joe Yonan: That still sounds Mexican, though, doesn't it, or maybe like a Marx brother!

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Voter sabotage: Bonnie posted a link to voting on nachos, but I think someone (not her competitor, of course) sabotaged it because it says "page not found."

washingtonpost.com: Sorry, an errant quote at the end of the URL did that. Here's the right link. The poll is in the sidebar on the right a little ways down. Looks like the Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese are beating the Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef 4 to 1!

Bonnie Benwick: I'm chatting from the Land of Distraction today.

Joe Yonan: I would never sabotage!

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Joe Yonan, Condiment King (:: Love your article on condiments, although, after reading your first paragraph I almost spilled my latte all over the Food section. We prefer not to eat at the chain restaurants or fancy chef name restaurants in which pricey food is not cooked by the absent celebrity chef. Last spring we drove to Key West from Williamsburg, VA. We decided to eat at places recommended in the Stern's ROADFOOD. It was by far the worst food we have ever eaten, It was either bland or oversalted, but mostly greasy, unimaginative and so unappetizing, so very unlike the food presented by WaPo's FOOD. We gave up by the time we reached St. Augustine.

I wish there were more "door opening" articles like yours about new foods available at the ethnic markets that can give new twists to old and becoming boring favorites. Thanks for the recipes.

In our household Bonnie walks on water, but Nachos article did not make the cut. Sooooooory.

washingtonpost.com: Cooking for One: A craving for condiments (Post, Feb. 3)

Bonnie Benwick: Oh dear. Prose or recipes?

Joe Yonan: The Sterns are one of a kind. Wait -- that's two of a kind, isn't it? This is interesting to hear, but you have to keep in mind that what they're largely after is character and uniqueness, personality. Here's the piece I wrote about them for the Boston Globe, maybe it will illuminate a little. I loved hanging out with them and seeing their process, and it was really fun to learn about a piece of food history I didn't know -- the "steamed cheeseburgers" of Connecticut -- but am I going to rush back to those places. No.

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Midwest: Lately my cookies (chocolate chip, back-of-the bag recipe) have been coming out crunchy instead of chewy. Still good, but they're crunchier than normal. What's that about? My ingredients are all new -- could it be baking soda? That's the only exception I can think of. Do I need to replace it? Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Being someone who uses way old baking soda myself, I doubt it's that, but worth replacing if in question. It is more likely the temperature of your butter, eggs and ultimately your dough. Ideally, you want all your ingredients at room temperature before mixing, but you can give a little lift to your cookies by chilling the dough for 10 to 15 minutes before baking.

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Greek nacho name: Nachokopita!

Joe Yonan: You're good, but not quick enough!

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Parsnips: A coworker made a parsnip cake for our holiday party dessert contest. The flavor was similar to that of carrot cake. It was divine and won the contest, so I highly recommend that as a good use for parsnips.

Bonnie Benwick: Love that.

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Greek Nachos: Why not call them "nachokopitas"?

Joe Yonan: Not bad. How bout natchiki?

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Silver spring: Avocado alternatives?

I like the sound of today's crabmeat citrus salad, but can't eat avocado (and prefer to avoid the calorie bomb even if I could eat the stuff).

Any alternatives to using it in that salad?

washingtonpost.com: Crab and Citrus Salad With Fruity Vinaigrette

Bonnie Benwick: Boy, they are a nice creamy component in the mix. Calories not so bad, are they? Good-for-you kinda fat. Maybe I'd use some cubes of ripe mango instead.

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Snow Day Baking: I'm thinking this weekend's snow will lead to a lot of baking. My boyfriend and I are roadtripping for Valentine's Day and I'd love to bake some snacks this weekend that will still be good a week later or that I can freeze and bake closer to our trip. Any ideas?

Leigh Lambert: I hate to toot my own horn, but the combination of Valentine's Day, road trip and baking call for the Man-Catcher Brownies I published a few years ago. They will stand up will for a week if individually wrapped. They have been successfully shipped to grateful troops in Iraq, so I know they can go the distance. Not to mention the aphrodisiac affect for an amorous weekend getaway. Have fun.

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Bellevue, DC: I would like to buy a whole beef tenderloin for a dinner party. My regular places seem cost prohibiitive at upwards of $25/lb. Any suggestions? It doesn't have to be organic, but definitely good quality.

Bonnie Benwick: Costco.

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wdc: I tried making a blueberry coffee cake and it was a disaster. The batter turned purple and all the berries sank to the bottom (I used frozen berries and tossed them with flour b/f adding to the batter), and the streusel topping must have had too much butter b/c the crumb texture disappeared. I made the topping the night before and chilled it. What should I do next time to avoid these problems? And can you suggest perhaps another recipe I could try? Thank you.

Leigh Lambert: Technically speaking, you did everything right. No matter what they say I feel that frozen berries just can't replace fresh. Something about how the water freezes and then weeps when cooked makes things soggier and the berries often sink, as you've described. While we still have snow on the ground I would suggest keeping to a Sour cream Coffee Cake, no fruit. And then just hope for an early Spring.

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MoCo: I was intrigued with the smoked jalapenoes one poster mentioned as an ingredient with her nachoes. Where do you find them around here? Are they dried in a package or are they canned? Any other uses for them -- can I substitute where I would otherwise use chipotle?

Joe Yonan: Chatter, are you still there?

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Petworth: You can also get very good andouille at Eastern Market.

Joe Yonan: Natch.

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Chicago, IL: Hey guys, so I've been broadening my cooking styles this past week and made two new-to-me-dishes: gumbo and risotto. Neither one tasted bad (I actually really liked the gumbo; it was the first time I ever had it), but I definitely need some tips with both.

First, the risotto. The recipe I used called for a pound of risotta and 46 ounces of chicken stock. I cooked it on a low temp, about medium I believe, as the recipe called for. When I got to the about the last cup of stock, I added my shrimp and then tasted it - to find out the rice wasn't close to being done. I ended up cooking it longer with even more stock, but I didn't want to leave the shrimp in for too much longer, so basically what I ended up with is risotto that was undercooked (the middle was still white and tasted floury) and overcooked shrimp. Was the stock not enough? Something else I did wrong perhaps?

On the gumbo, I totally didn't get the roux right. It wasn't bad, but it never got that dark color it's supposed to. I think I got confused on the heating temps from the recipe - it was a recent one from Mark Bittman. I thought I was supposed to cook it on med-low, but then when I watched his video on it, it looked like he was using med-high. I cooked mine for 20 minutes, by the way. It got thicker and had a nice smell, but the darkest it ever got was a dark blonde, I'd say.

I really liked both dishes, though, and would love to try them again - just need some guidance. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I've never made that much risotto at once and I'm not in a place to check the proportions against other recipes. But it seems like you'd need a lot more liquid for that much rice. (Risotta? new one to me.)

As for the roux, I've gone as long as 40 minutes over low heat to achieve beautiful browness. You can crank it up as long as you're willing to whisk constantly and watch it closely. Alton Brown does his in a 350-degree oven for 90 minutes, with only a few stirs. I've gotta give that a try.

Joe Yonan: On the shrimp risotto, I'd just add that since shrimp cooks so quickly, you should absolutely not put it in until you know for sure the rice is almost done. You can even cook it separately and then just stir it in at the end.

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Man-Catcher Brownies: Leigh,

I am such a fan of your Man-Catcher Brownies. I'd like to report on the results of my experiments over the weekend. I made the recipe three times. (It was such a burden to my family and friends!) My goal was to see if I could substitute some of the butter to make them good/passable and slightly lower calorie.

I made one recipe as written, as a control. All measurements were identical, and the baking times were the same. For the two experimental batches, I substituted 75 percent of the butter with fruit puree.

The batch with applesauce were good. They were about 30 percent taller than the original recipe. They were moist and cake-like. However, none of us liked them as well as the original recipe.

The batch with prune puree came out very dense and fudgy. One tester said they tasted of fish. Another said they were strongly molasses flavored. Another said they were 'fine'. All I can taste is a strong raisin flavor. I suppose the best word for this batch would be 'interesting'.

The clear winner is your original recipe.

By the way, they worked.

Leigh Lambert: Gee, chucks.
Fish? Ew, not a flavor I want in baked goods. But I applaud your exploration to make them healthier. I guess they are a treat to be had on special occasions.

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Annapolis: On keeping ginger - I peel a few pieces, put them into a jar, cover with dry sherry and refrigerate. When you need fresh ginger, just take out as much as you want. Keeps a really long time (at least a year) and the sherry is a good addition to stir-fries as well.

Jane Touzalin: Sounds like a good idea, and you don't have to water it like you would a living plant. On the other hand, zero decorative value in the kitchen!

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Colorado Springs: Didn't you all have an article in the past year about making baby food? With my first I made and he liked all his food-- kid number 2 is rejecting all her brother's favorites and I need more ideas.

washingtonpost.com: Baby, That's Good: Homemade Food Has Practical Appeal (Post, April 15, 2009)

Joe Yonan: There you have it.

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Valentine food questions next week?: So far, no "food for love' questions or ideas. Is that next week's topic?

Joe Yonan: It could be if you want it to be!

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Alex, VA: The chili-lemon pickle recipe sounds great - I'll definitely make a batch once I pick up the curry leaves. Other than eating the lemons straight out of the jar, how else can I use them?

washingtonpost.com: Chili-Lemon Pickle

Joe Yonan: Stir it into fried rice, shop it up and add to grilled or roasted meats, or do what chef KN Vinod does, and stir some into cream cheese and eat it on a bagel. I think it'd also make a great addition to mayo or cream cheese for little canape sandwiches.

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Ottawa, Canada: What can I substitute for tomato pulp? I'll eat tomato paste, tomato soup and tomato juice without pulp but I detest the pulp so I won't eat raw tomatoes, stewed tomatoes or juice with pulp. So many recipes call for one of the latter items that I find it difficult to cook. As well, I don't like a number of other things so eating gets difficult, but I could probably live well if not for the tomato pulp hatred.

Thanks.

Joe Yonan: This is a new one on me! You don't mind the paste, which is based on the pulp? I guess it's really about the raw tomato taste/texture, sounds like, so the substitution is really dependent on the recipe. For many things, I think you'd be fine with the paste, thinned out of course. For others, roasted red peppers, pureed or not, might do the trick.

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Oatmeal: Does prepared oatmeal freeze or refrigerate well? Like, if I want to make a big batch on Sunday and eat it all week for breakfast?

Jane Black: I assume this is because you're making "real" or steel-cut oatmeal that takes a while to cook? (If it's quick oats, it only takes a few minutes to cook from scratch.)

It's fine. You may need to add a little more water or milk when you reheat it. You can do it in the microwave or on the stovetop.

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Dupont Circle: Dear Bonnie and Joe,

Kudos on the nachos article. I saw the photo on the front page of the website and I made a loud "oooooohhhhhhhhh" noise at work.

I was going to make gumbo on Sunday, but you might have changed my mind.

washingtonpost.com: Super Bowl smackdown: Nachos vs. nachos

Joe Yonan: Great!

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Washington, DC: I have a food safety question. Monday evening I cooked up a batch of navy beans with a smoked turkey drumstick for flavor. Since it was rather late when they were finally done, I stuck the pot outside to cool down. Well, I keep forgetting to bring the darn pot inside. Do you think the beans are still safe to eat? It has been rather chilly before today.

Bonnie Benwick: How's that turkey drumstick smelling now?

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more greek nachos: Zorbachos! My Big Fat Greek Nachos!

Joe Yonan: Love it.

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Frozen blueberries: I've found the solution to that one! Sometimes you've just gotta use the frozen berries. When you make cakes or muffins with frozen berries, first put a layer of the batter WITHOUT berries down in the pan/muffin tin - doesn't have to be thick at all, maybe a quarter of an inch. Then mix the berries in with the rest. For the purple, don't thaw them; just add extra cooking time - about 7 minutes. Hope this helps.

Leigh Lambert: I like the layering. I had assumed the berries were used directly from the freezer, but this is a good point too.

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Shakopee, MN: Hi, need some help...I ate last year at a wonderful Greek restaurant in Chicago, not in Greektown, where they served a lemon chicken egg soup (avgolemono). I have searched for recipes and I get so confused; is the traditional lemon chicken soup contain rice or orzo, egg whites or not? I have found recipes for both. Do you have a recipe for a traditional avgolemono soup? That soup is the best I have ever had and would love to make it at home. Thanks so much!!!

Jane Black: It is delicious. My understanding is that avgolemono simply means "egg-lemon" and that combination could be used in a traditional chicken soup (what you had) or as a sauce with anything else.

I spent a few days with the great Greek-American chef Michael Psilakis last year to talk about his new cookbook. In it, he has a recipe for a Whole Chicken Soup with Avgolemono and Orzo. I haven't made it (yet) but I have made a number of other dishes from the book and all are terrific. This looks like it requires a little work but I trust it will be worth it in the end:

Whole Chicken Soup with Avgolemono and Orzo
From How to Roast A Lamb (Little Brown, 2009)
Serves 4 to 6

2 (3 1/2 lb chickens)
kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tbsp bleneded oil (90% canola; 10 percent extra virgin olive oil)
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 1/2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 3 dried ones
3 sprigs thyme
1 cup white wine
water as needed
1 cup orzo

For the Avgolemono
3 large eggs at room temp and separated
4 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup small sprigs dill
kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. REmove the breasts from both chickens and double wrap in plastic wrap. Place in a zipper-lock bag, label and freeze for another use. Remove the leg-thigh joints from the chicken, pull off the skin and discard. Set aside.

Place the chickens in a large roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and roast 1 hour until golden.

In a large, heavy pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables and cook until softened but not browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and thyme, then deglaze the pot with white wine and cook until it completely evaporates. Add the roasted chicken carcasses. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Add 4 leg-thigh pieces and continue to simmer for another 40 to 45 minutes until the chicken is tender.

Skim off the scum that rises at the beginning. Lift out the leg-thigh joints and when cool enough to handle, pull off and reserve the meat. Discard the carcasses and any stray bones, and skim a little fat from the soup if you like. Bring soup to a boil, add the orzo and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes.

While the orzo is cooking, make the avgolemono. Get everything together first so you can work quickly. Draw off 2 cups of the chicken broth without any of the vegetables or orzo and return the picked meat to the soup. Slowly drizzle the warm chicken broth into the egg yolks, whisking all the time.

Place the egg whites in a food processor and turn it on. When the whites begin to froth, after about 30 seconds, add the lemon juice, keeping the motor running all the time. When the whites are very frothy and thick, another 45 to 60 seconds, add the dill, and process for 10 to 15 seconds more. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Pour the egg yolk mixture and immediatly turn the machine off. Pour the avgolemono over the soup and serve at once as it will quickly start to deflate.

Note: If you will not be serving the soup right away, cook the orzo separately, cool down and then add and warm through just before topping with teh avgolemono.

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Shortening v. Butter v. Oil: I have a question about fats for baking: I have never used shortening in my life (my mother regarded it with suspicion). If a recipe calls for greasing a pan with shortening, would butter or canola oil be an appropriate substitute? What about in baking, while I appreciate that certain recipes like coffee cakes call for the taste of butter, could one substitute an equal amount of canola oil in a banana muffin recipe that calls for melted butter?

Thanks for your advice as always!

Leigh Lambert: I know how your mom felt about shortening, until I tasted the best pie crust of my life and found out it was all shortening!

You can use what ever fat you like for greasing the pan, as it is only acting as a lubricant. However, there are specific qualities to each that make them non-interchangeable. Even melted vs. solid butter will act very differently. So, stick to the fat called for in a recipe.

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Teriyaki sauce for mahogany ribs: Do you have a good standby teriyaki sauce recipe I can use to make the Mahogany ribs? I think I have all the basic ingredients (soy sauce, mirin, sugar, granulated dashi?) so I'd rather not buy it.

Last time I accidentally used 1 cup of soy sauce instead of teriyaki sauce - so salty! I just added with more prune juice and some veggies to compensate, but I'd prefer to do it correctly this time.

Joe Yonan: Intriguing. A little Googling turns up lots of variations here, but I'd be tempted to do something very basic, like 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup mirin, and 2-3 tablespoons of superfine sugar.

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Richmond, VA: Smoked jalepenos - We smoke them ourselves when we smoke meat. In the alternative, you could char them over a flame or under the broiler, peel and seed. Not quite smoked but pretty darn good.

Bonnie Benwick: Why, you'd be on your way to chipotleville.

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Virginia wines: My husband loves Virginia viogniers after we went to a few wineries and had a few tastes. But we can never seem to find them in wine stores on the MD side. More typically, we do see MD winery wines. Are there any go-to shops for local wines in MD?

Joe Yonan: I can't seem to get Dave McIntyre on the line at the moment, but I have a thought: If you and your husband and a few friends went to the Virginia Wine Showcase (hint hint), you could ask the winemakers whose stuff you like where to find them in MD, couldn't you?

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snowbound : A couple of the imibing pursuasion looking to try something different for this upcoming snowbound weekend. We enjoy beer, wine, spirits-- whatever. Anything a little complicated for the adventurous home bartender that's good for a snowy day? Something hot, maybe?

Jane Black: I always think of hot buttered rum as more of a dessert but, as requested, it does have alcohol! This recipe takes a little work but the good news is you can freeze what you don't drink and use it another (snowy) day.

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Alexandria, VA: A hint that I learned in a cooking class is that you can freeze fresh ginger. When you thaw it, you can squeeze the juice right out of it (like a lime) and use that instead of cutting it up, which for all intents and purposes gets you the same flavor for many recipes.

Jane Black: What a neat trick. Thanks.

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Looking for Andouille sausage:: For the poster looking for andouille sausage, there is a great sausage guy coming to the Palisades farmers market on Sunday mornings (hopefully the snow this weekend won't cancel it). Ridiculously good sausage (and I hardly even eat the stuff, but he was handing out free samples and wow!)

stachowskibrand.com

Jane Black: Good suggestion. Jamie's charcuterie and sausages are terrific. So if the original poster lives nearby, that's a great idea.

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Arlington, VA: Something I'd like to see: Having the food section staff put together a dish where each staff member adds an ingredient/ingredients. Someone might start with nacho chips, someone else would add, cilantro, etc. etc.

washingtonpost.com: Wasn't this a Top Chef challenge?

Joe Yonan: Yes, it was: One person started prepping for something and then passed it off to the next, who hadn't seen anything that had been done before and couldn't ask questions. Was a fun one. Hmm...

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Arlington: Hi All. I'm up for an amazing citrus-flavored cheesecake. Do you have any recommendations for a recipe? If it is lower-fat, that would be awesome.

Leigh Lambert: While this Lemony Cheesecake is definitely not low-cal, it is zippy and bright.

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Food blog I like: A Taste of Savoie (formerly Le Moulin) by a Scottish lawyer ("Baby Chou") who met an English engineer ("BB") while skiing in the French Alps. They're married now, living in Savoie, rehabbing an old mill. She's starting cooking classes in March at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, so I hope her blog will keep us followers apprised of her adventures there!

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Alexandria, Va.: I tried the "Sea Scallops with Carrot-Chipotle Syrup" from your recipe database last weekend with mixed results.

The recipe said to reduce 32-oz of carrot juice over medium low heat until mostly solids - about 45 minutes. I did this, but I would say it took almost double that time (that's a lot of juice!).

At that point, I had a thick, sticky, carrot paste. However, when I added it to the blender to puree with the oil, I added it slowly as the recipe suggests, but in the end, the oil would quickly separate when taken out of the blender. What I ended up with was a container with thick carrot paste at the bottom and a layer of oil sitting on top.

Any ideas what went wrong? Did I reduce the carrot juice too much? And what exactly does "slowly" mean when adding the oil in the blender?

It still tasted good overall...

washingtonpost.com: Sea Scallops With Carrot-Chipotle Syrup

Bonnie Benwick: Boy, that recipe did not ring a bell. I think if you achieved paste, you may have taken it too far past syrup. It would be easy to reheat and add liquid back. For slowly, pour a steady thin stream as the motor is running. If the stuff was separating, I think adding a little water or vinegar still ought to bring it back. Be sure to blend to the emulsion stage (thoroughly combined and smooth -- just like Editor Joe.)

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nacho competition: Ok, let's defend the bonnie nachos. The idea of potato chips and chipotle beef is great -- genius, even --it's just that they're a lot more work than the tostada kind. What can I say, we're a big, fat, lazy country of cooks. So here's my husband's idea (because he liked her recipe): the kettle chips and some smoked bbq brisket (takeout) topped with jalapenos or other peppers and crumbled dry jack.

Bonnie Benwick: It's hard not to be bitter. But I thank you for your support and I endorse your husband's approach -- maybe he'd want to just make that tinga base and add his brisket to it. It adds great depth of flavor, as the recipe wags like to say.

Joe Yonan: Bonnie's nachos are great! I couldn't stop eating them. Those pickled peppers have been added to my repertoire, pronto.

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Washington, DC: I'd love to make a really good chocolate mousse cake. Do you have a recipe for that?

Leigh Lambert: Here's a recipe for a Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake.

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reheating oatmeal: I make a batch of steel cut oats, Scottish or Irish oats, or Bob's Red Mill 7-grain every week. Store it in the fridge, reheat in the microwave with a bit of applesauce, which adds both flavor and fruit.

There also are recipes on the great WWW about using your slowcooker to make oatmeal overnight, if that has an appeal to anyone for time savings.

Jane Black: Very good tip.

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Shakopee, MN: RE: Greek Lemon Egg Soup

THANK YOU Jane Black!! The restaurant in question is on Belmont called Central Gyro, had to email BIL for the name. This is the recipe, going to make a big batch this weekend. The tip about adding the orzo later does help...I hate mushy noodles when I make homemade chicken corn noodle soup.

Jane Black: You are welcome. It is a long recipe. But as I say I don't think you'll be sorry. Report back, OK?

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Midwest: Any suggestions for ways of saucing leftover pork to go over noodles? Not ruling out tomato-based sauce, but looking for new ideas.

At Christmas, we slow-roasted a large pork shoulder. Brined it first with herbs, then let it go for several hours in a low oven. It was FABULOUS.

We froze the leftovers in large "hunks," tightly wrapped. I used one a few weeks ago with some homemade barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches.

Now, I'd like to do something over pasta, but am not sure how to sauce it.

Many thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Roasted fruit would be good. you could mash apples or rehydrate dried apricots, then cook with broth. Also, cranberry juice cooked down till syrup is lovely with pork.

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Chicago, IL: I have become one of the recently vastly underemployed (got laid off). The good news is that I'm cooking more again.

I have a couple of containers of chicken stock that I bought for some now-forgotten recipe.

Is there a standard for when/how to use up the chicken stock. I'm not coming up with ideas.

Jane Black: Well soup would be the obvious one. But you can use chicken stock for lots of things. For example, after sauteeing chicken or pork, remove the meat and deglaze the pan with whatever wine might left in a bottle and a little stock. Then season with salt, pepper and herbs and you have a quick pan sauce.

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bourbon: Hello there. A few weeks ago I believe you all gave a recommendation for a really good bourbon. My husband's bday is in 2 weeks and I"d like to buy him a bottle. What are your recommendations? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Jason suggests the Four Roses Small Batch or the Pappy Van Winkle 15 year.

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Washington, DC: Another question for Jason...We have a lot of gin in our house at the moment, and I'd love some ideas for gin cocktails besides martinis and G&Ts--something a little more interesting.

Joe Yonan: Jason says, "Why not buy some grapefruits and either make Salty Dogs or the Antibes (look in Recipe Finder for it) or if you want more of a straight cocktail, do a Negroni with equal parts, gin Campari and sweet vermouth?"

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've brushed us with rendered chorizo fat, sprinkled us with cooked chorizo and returned us to the broiler for a minute or two. A drizzle with guacamole and sprinkling of cheese, and we're done.

Thanks for the great questions as usual today! Now, since we're about out of time, the giveaway winners: The MD chatter who asked about Virginia wines, as hinted, will get the tix to the Virginia Wine Showcase. The chatter who wrote about Greek nachos (and sparked my ridiculous name game) will get "Macho Nachos." And the chatter who mentioned freezing ginger will get "The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your stuff.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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