Free Range on Food: Calibrating your oven temperature, free-roaming bison, fresh sausage, falafel, meatloaf, cooking for a cause, building a pantry

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, February 17, 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.


Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you free-roaming bison (don't call them buffalo) to your Wednesday late-lunch hour. What's on your plate today? We've got bison on the brain, naturally, because of Martha Thomas's great story today, along with charitable concerns thanks to Candy Sagon's profile of Demetri Recachinas at Martha's Table (that makes it a two-Martha Wednesday, doesn't it?) and fireplace cooking courtesy of Bonny Wolf.

We'll have two giveaway books today: I'm keeping them a secret until the end so as not to steer (pardon the pun) the conversation too heavily.


Boston: Loved the article on bison. I buy buffalo in my local markets. I've read bison and buffalo are actually different animals but we call them the same thing in the US.

If they are different, how does buffalo meat compare to bison? Thank you. Bison is roaming back onto restaurant menus (Post, Feb. 17)

Martha Thomas: "The proper Latin name for the North American animal is Bison bison. African and Asian buffalos are similar species, and inspired the term American buffalo - which has become an acceptable synonym." (that was a sentence from a sidebar that didn't end up being published.)You are most likely buying bison at your local markets, some farmers (like Cibola) prefer to call their product Buffalo because the name is more recognizable. I've never tried Asian or African buffalo, but love buffalo mozzarella!


Joe Yonan: I forgot to say, but now it's obvious: We have special guest Martha Thomas joining us today!


Today's meat loaf recipe: Isn't three pounds of ground beef an awful lot for a recipe that serves 6-8? Martha's Table Meatloaf

Bonnie Benwick: It's more than some recipes, to be sure. The chef likes to make it large and freeform. You wouldn't want to make a meatloaf that didn't yield leftovers for sandwiches, would you?


Chef Recachinas: I very much enjoyed reading today's profile of Chef Recachinas and his work at Martha's Table. Perhaps you could invite him to join this chat one day? At Martha's Table, cooking for a cause (Post, Feb. 17)

Joe Yonan: Good idea!


Chicago, IL: Lately when I bake something (like a cake or brownies), the sides get burned while the center is not fully cooked. Any idea what the problem might be?

Bonnie Benwick: First, you must answer these questions, Chicago. What pans are you baking in? In what shape is your oven (as in, had it calibrated lately)?


Eastern Market: Question for Flour Girl (or someone else!):

I made a batch of delicious toasted coconut cookies from Gourmet Today during the snow storm. They were fabulous, but a little on the chewy/"bendy" side for my taste (I don't know if it makes a difference, but I dipped half of each cookie in dark chocolate ganache when the cookies cooled). I'd love to make similar toasted coconut cookies, but have them be a little more cake-like, more like an oatmeal raisin cookie in texture.

Sorry I don't have the recipe on-hand. Any suggestions in general on making cookies less chewy? Or if you have GT, any suggestion on these?

Thanks!! You'll make my husband a very happy person. :)

Leigh Lambert: Oooo... coconut and chocolate is a winning combination. For a cakier texture try adding an egg to the batter.


Washington, DC: My husband's 40th birthday is coming up and he requested that I make chicken wings as an appetizer for his (casual) party. I've never made them before, so I'm wondering if I can make them ahead and reheat at party time and/or serve them at room temperature. Also, do you have any tried and true wings recipes? (My husband doesn't like super-spicy stuff).

Joe Yonan: Here's the wing recipe I turned up last year when Bonnie and I had our last Super Bowl smackdown: They're called Hands-Down Best Chicken Wings, which gives you an idea of how I feel about them. They're pretty basic, which I like, and yes, you can roast them initially the day before and then reheat/crisp under the broiler when party time nears. Don't let all that hot sauce scare you: I wouldn't call these super-spicy at all. (But if you make them and your husband finds them too hot, just roll them in butter before you reheat/crisp, and they should be fine.)


Washington, D.C.: I have some leftover Canadian bacon from a brunch this past weekend -- any suggestions on what to do with it? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Send it back to Canada? Nah, that was mean. Well, I've got pizza on the brain lately because of tests for my next Cooking for One column, so the idea of that '80s pizza staple, the Hawaiian, come to mind. Get some pineapple! Of course you could also use it in eggs Benedict. But those are obvious, aren't they?

Bonnie Benwick: I've seen chefs like Sarah Moulton make individual eggy things in muffin cups with Canadian bacon. They use it as a kind of muffin-well liner then put the filling inside. Generally, I'd say cut it up and use as you would leftover cooked ham.


Capitol Hill: Joe,

I love the food team! You guys are the best food reporters/writers out there - and you make my Wednesdays!

Just a quick comment on the layout of the food section online. It's not very intuitive (I know you've heard the comment before). Two issues in particular, that I think would make it much more user-friendly: Have a "Restaurant Finder" like the recipe-finder on the front page. I'm on the food page at least 5 times a week and I still forget that I have to go over to the going out guide to find restaurants. Seems overly complicated given the fact that a good portion of the coverage is of restaurants.

Secondly, it's very difficult to find Tom's postcards. Pork Ragu for a Crowd (which is awesome, by the way) has been up for several months, but I still don't know how to get to Tom's postcards without clicking on the chat link, clicking through to one of the chats themselves, and then clicking the link for Tom's chats. I know that has come up several times in the chat - no one can find his postcards!

Anyway, just two things to increase user-ease. You guys are the best!

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the feedback; we appreciate it!

On your first point, you realize that you can click on "Reviews" right at the top of the page to be taken right to that restaurant search?

On your second point, I'll give you (and everyone) a shortcut to Tom's Postcards that should save you so much time. This works for a lot of our features, btw. Here's what you do: From absolutely ANY page on the Web site, look for that main search window that sits right under the navigational bar, near the top left. See it? Right under "News, Politics, Opinions, Business"? In that window, type "Postcard from Tom." There you go. Or, you can type "Tom Sietsema" to get a list of all his regular features as well as his most recently published work.

This also works for other regular columns: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cooking for One, Gastronomer, Real Entertaining and, soon I hope, for Washington Cooks.


Arlington, VA: We just bought a Le Creuset and are eager to break it in with a yummy braising recipe. Have any thoughts as to what we should start out with? I've been thinking about Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon or a cassoulet.

Bonnie Benwick: Cassoulet's a several-day commitment. You could go Italian with this carbonada. Or get one of my fave cookbooks, "All About Braising" by Molly Stevens. There's a braised potato recipe in there that is loverly.


Vienna, VA: Hi, I accidentally bought bread flour instead of all-purpose flour (5 lb. bag). Luckily I noticed it before I started baking with it at Christmas time. I put it in the freezer and now would like to figure out what to do with it. I was looking at recipes during my snowpocalypse days at home, but it looked like even most bread recipes call for all purpose flour, maybe with a very little bread flour mixed in. My baking usually tends more toward quick breads and desserts, so I'm pretty clueless about yeast breads. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Leigh Lambert: And whenever I'm in the mood to make bread it seems I run into the opposite problem; all the recipes I find call for bread flour and all I have is all-purpose.

Look for artisan bread recipes (possibly even one listed on the back of the bag you bought for starters). It will not do well in quick breads, as you've guessed, because it is ground from an entirely different kind of wheat with more gluten.


Clifton, VA : Nice article on bison but you should have provided a price comparison along with fat content. Boneless chicken breast $1.79 alb at Wegman's. Sirloin steak $9.99 a lb at Wegman's. Bison?

Any of the local farmers use dogs to work bison?

Martha Thomas: good question. Bison steak is pricey. on the gunpowder website, an 8-oz strip steak is about $12. I guess we are assuming lower and more selective meat consumption!


Arlington, VA: Just returned from a trip to Philly and their wonderful Italian Market with shops selling sausages of all kinds and aged cheeses. I'm slowly getting over my disappointment in not having something similar in our area, but I wondered if you might be able to recommend a good butcher that might sell products of a similar vein. I'm looking for fresh sausages and smoked meats and would love to find a place that sells game meats like wild boar, rabbit, duck, etc. Any thoughts?

Jane Black: There have been a lot of rumors that butcher shops were going to spring up here. But for now, I'd look out for Simply Sausages, which makes a broad range of sausages. (Check out the site for a list of retailers or order online.) I also am a fan of Robert Wiedmaier's Butcher Block in Alexandria.


Retro Recipe Help: I've got a stack of old (circa 1940's or 1950's) recipes that I decided to try and make. I'm having trouble interpreting references like 2 squares chocolate or 1 cake yeast. I figure that I can try using 1 ounce of chocolate per square but how do I define a cake of yeast? Should I assume 1 cake would equal one packet of modern packaged yeast?

My first retro recipe (cinnamon cake) was a huge success. I hope they are all as tasty.

Bonnie Benwick: That sounds kinda fun. If it's a 6-ounce cake, then yep, it looks like it's equal to 1 packet of active dry yeast.


slow-cooker cabbage roll recipe: -sending this via the Ranger chat window because I'm not having any luck e-mailing to the address ...]

Hi, Joe et al. --

I just read the archived Free Range chat from this week (2/10/10), and saw the question from the woman in DC looking for an old stuffed-cabbage-roll recipe for her ill friend - the slow cooker we've got is a 1978 Hamilton Beach model(according to the date in the little recipe booklet) rather than a 1977 Farberware, and the included recipe doesn't call for raisins in the stuffing mixture, but maybe there are enough other points of similarity between this one and the mystery recipe that she can make it work:

Cabbage Rolls

1 large head cabbage 2 pounds ground beef 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 1-pound 12-oz. can whole tomatoes in puree 1 cup cooked rice 1/3 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons mixed pickling spice

To soften cabbage, remove core and steam for 20 to 30 minutes; cool; separate leaves from head. Season meat with the 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup of the tomato liquid; add rice and mix well. Place tomatoes and remaining tomato liquid into removable -slow-cooker] liner; add sugar, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the pickling spices tied in a square of cheesecloth. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons meat mixture into center of each cabbage leaf; fold leaf, envelope style, over meat mixture. Place cabbage rolls in tomato sauce in liner. Place liner in base. Cover and cook on Auto -setting] 7 to 8 hours; or Low 9 to 11 hours; or High 5 to 6 hours. Yield: 6-8 servings.

- from informational booklet included with Hamilton Beach 6-quart slow cooker, copyright 1978, Scovill, Inc. (Hamilton Beach Division), Washington NC; p. 15.

Hopefully she'll have already had luck with the Google-pages recipe search, but if not, please feel free to pass this one along. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Thanks -- if she's reading, here it is!


Arlington, VA: Help Rangers! I'm stuck in a stir fry rut! My husband and I make stir fry about 3 times a week. While we both love it, it's getting old. The major appeal is that it includes meat and multiple veggies, is flavorful, and can be cooked (prep, cooking, and ready to eat) in 30 minutes. Do you all have any other ideas to get us out of our rut?

Jane Black: I feel like that about pasta. So maybe switch to pasta? You can still add meat and vegetables to the pasta and it feels different. Another way is to experiment with curries. Just as easy if you are willing to use a pre-made curry paste, many of which are very good. I like the Maya Kaimal brand.

Martha Thomas: I made pad thai the other night. Collected ingredients at a small local Asian market -- the woman suggested a pad thai sauce in a jar (we used it sparingly cause it was hot!). But really easy, it's frozen shrimp, bean sprouts and an egg, plus fish sauce, lime juice, ground up peanuts, etc etc. if you remember, get some fresh cilantro to sprinkle on top.


Philadelphia, PA : Hi Free Rangers! I plant to roast some butternut squash (in cubes, not whole) for a dinner party this weekend. I have to transport the dish to my parents' house, and it won't be eaten for several hours after I cook it. Do you have any suggestions for re- heating? Would the microwave be okay? I want to preserve the texture of it. I'm afraid of it getting mushy.

Thanks! You guys rock!

Bonnie Benwick: What else goes with the squash? Assuming your folks have an oven you can use, maybe the best thing to do is to parboil the squash until barely tender, then finish it by roasting at their house? Give us more info.


Bratislava, SK: I'm looking for a good recipe to corn beef for next month (St. Pat's) and all the recipes I am finding are fairly similar, except for one factor- the length of brining. I'm seeing 3-5 days, 5-7 days, 10-12 days, and 3 weeks (Joy of Cooking and other older recipes). Some recipes claim that longer brining makes the meat tough, and others vice-versa!

I didn't see anything in the chat or recipe archives. Do you have any experience with making corned beef that you could share? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: We have a fairly thorough recipe and description of the pickling process in our deep archives. (1983 -- time to revisit for next year, I think!) It indicates 7 to 14 days. Choose a good piece of brisket and I don't think toughness will be a problem.

Send your e-mail address to and I'll be happy to forward you the info.


Ashburn, VA: This one's for Bonnie, welcome back, how great was the food in Israel? I know most people diet before they go on a cruise so they can eat, for me it's when I go to Israel. I have never had a bad meal there whether it's at a home, restaurant or a falafel stand. I have to go to Brooklyn to get the Israeli canned olives and pickles that I love! Do you know where I can get an Israeli style falafel here (not just topped with lettuce and tomato, but the ability to top it with TONS of stuff and really good tahini).

Bonnie Benwick: Ooh-ah, Ashburn. I've already alienated my fellow Food staffers with my jabbering about the great meals I had there. Have you tried the falafel at Max's Kosher Cafe in Wheaton? I think that might be as close as we can get locally to the style you're after.


Hong Kong: I'm throwing a dinner party for a friend's birthday (my first!), and I need a bit of help with menu planning. She's vegetarian, so I'm thinking either a mushroom or tomato soup to start, followed by a goat cheese, chard and leek tart with a green salad.

So what should I do for dessert? She wants chocolate. My go-to is a dark chocolate and ginger tart, but I'm serving a pie for the main course. And there's only four of us (tiny apartment), so a full-sized layer cake seems a bit much.

Ideas? Something that can be done in advance (or thrown in the oven while we're eating the main course) is a definite plus, since I'll need the oven for the quiche.

A fun cocktail suggestion for pre-dinner drinks would also be great.

Thanks for your help!

Jane Black: Two easy, make-ahead options: chocolate pots de creme or (the inevitable) molten chocolate cake. I'm going to level with you; I'm not a huge fan of molten cakes -- except at home. There's something still kind of magic about them in your own kitchen. You make the batter ahead and bake it right from the freezer. Serve it with ginger ice cream (I like Five from Haagen Dazs) and you've got something close to your signature.

There are plenty of recipes out there for both of these. Here's our

Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle


Chocolate Espresso Pots De Creme

Joe Yonan: One make-ahead chocolate recipe that has entered my regular rotation are these chocolate budino tartlets with sea salt and olive oil from the great A16 cookbook.


Washington, D.C.: I have a question about instant-read digital thermometers. When I stick mine in, say, a pork tenderloin, it immediately registers a temperature, but in the next second the numbers start changing -- usually they go up (though sometimes down), in large increments at first and then smaller increments. I never wait long enough for it to plateau, but I expect it must eventually. So, in testing the doneness of my meat, am I supposed to go by the first number that comes up when the thermometer goes in? Or is it done if I see my target temperature go by as the numbers climb?

Joe Yonan: The thing about most instant-read thermometers is that they are anything but. Indeed, you have to wait until the number plateaus, and the thermometer registers the correct temperature. If the numbers that fly by include your target, you're not just done -- you're overdone.

Our favorite, and it's pricey, is the


, which is closer to actually instant.


Upper Midwest: Hi Food Section staff!!!

We've (hubby more than me) been making homemade bagels...they are so much better than the store bought ones. However, our directions call for the bagels after the boiling water bath to be placed on a non greased baking sheet with only a layer of cornmeal to help with the sticking of the bagels. When he goes to turn the bagels halfway through the baking time..the bagels STICK! What could we do different? Wax paper, non-stick spray, more cornmeal....HELP! Thanks the chat!

Leigh Lambert: Parchment paper would keep them from sticking, as would a silpat mat. They are expensive, but reusable so perhaps worth the investment.


Washington, DC: Hi Free Rangers! I know it was last week's story, but I'm still salivating over the Asian noodles article (I went to China Boy for lunch today and got a really fantastic roasted pork noodle soup). Do you have a recipe for pho? I don't know if it comes in different variations, but I love the beef pho I've had in the past. It's the Year of the Noodle (Post, Feb. 10)

Joe Yonan: We have exactly one pho recipe in our archives: for pho ga, or chicken pho. It's not your beef, but I bet it would satisfy...


Washington, DC: For the person with the bread flour: I am trying to teach myself how to make good bread and had amazing resuls with the rustic white bread recipe here.

Now, I used all-purpose for it, but I imagine it would be even better with bread flour. We ate the whole two loaves in three days, it was so good. Such a crispy crust!

Leigh Lambert: You make a good point that many bread recipes calling for all-purpose can have bread flour subbed in, just not the other way around.


Silver Spring, MD: I love panang curry tofu but I cannot ever make it quite like a Thai restaurant. Does anyone have a recipe that comes close?? Thanks!!!

Jane Black: If you are going to a good Thai restaurant, my bet is that the chef is making his own curry pastes or powders. That really does make all the difference. We have a bunch of cookbooks here that I'm sure have recipes but I'm going to throw it out to chatters. Anyone have a tried and true recipe for panang curry?


Great section!: Posting early, but just wanted to say -- loved the stories today. Didn't know bison was so low in fat! And the story on the Martha's Table chef was wonderful. It's so heartening to read about someone trying to make a difference in people's lives. Glad you gave him the attention he deserves.

Joe Yonan: Glad you liked it...


Oven calibration: Since you just mentioned oven calibration in a recent response, let me add to "topic." Do it! Just moved in to new apartment and it took almost two hours to bake a potato. Told my mom. She "tsked" at me (she does that, in a loving way, from time to time) and told me about oven thermometers/calibration. Who knew?

Bonnie Benwick: Love it. That's what moms are for.


Fairfax County: Any ideas about what to substitute in recipes that call for fresh cilantro (typically Mexican or Indian dishes)? Our daughter really dislikes cilantro!

Bonnie Benwick: Try fresh flat-leaf parsley mixed with a little fresh mint.


Bethesda, MD: I sometimes see TV chefs season with white pepper. Does it taste different than black, and where can I buy it?

Leigh Lambert: White pepper has a surprisingly different and distinct flavor from black. To my palate it has more in common with Szechwan peppercorn. You should be able to find it in the spice aisle of a well-stocked supermarket or any specialty cook shop.

Bonnie Benwick: To my taste, the white stuff is more astringent, maybe because white peppercorns contain more volatile oils than black peppercorns. Those chefs are probably are adding white pepper to foods in which they do not want little black flecks of pepper to appear. And I'd suggest buying the whole peppercorns, which will maintain their flavor longer. Grind as needed.


Beware of "All About Braising" suggested by Bonnie: I got Molly Stevens book when it first came out a few years ago. Every recipe I tried comes out amazing. The problem: "Mom, this is/was so good, can you, PLEASE, make it again? Bowing to constant requests I keep making the same dishes over and over and over again. I am having a very hard time exploring other recipes in the book.

If you are just starting try pork butt braised in milk, to die for...I served it to guests and they thought it was veal.

Bonnie Benwick: Ha. We should all have such problems.


Building a Pantry: I just bought my first condo (yay!) and am now trying to figure out how to stock my pantry. I spent the last 2 yrs living with my parents, so I'm moving in with no flour, no spices, nothing.

How would you start building your pantry, if you could start from scratch? I love to cook and have a fabulous collection of cooking appliances/pots/etc... Now it's time to get the staples to help me make delicious meals!

Thanks for any input.

Bonnie Benwick: Way to go. What you've asked could be answered in book form, but here's a start. My colleagues and Free Range chatters will help out, too. Ready to cut and paste?

* Whole grains in the form of quinoa, barley and bulgur.

* Reg and instant brown rice, basmati rice, arborio (risotto) rice.

* A variety of dried beans and lentils.

* A variety of dried pastas, in various shapes and thicknesses.

* Whole black peppercorns with a grinder, kosher salt, sea salt (for finishing), smoked Spanish paprika, herbs de Provence, celery seed, Chinese five-spice powder, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried ginger, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, ground cumin, saffron threads.

* Reg and raw sugars.

* Unsulfured molasses, Lyle's Golden Syrup.

* Olive oils (diff kinds with diff flavors), grapeseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil.

* Good-quality balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar.

* Good-quality canned tuna, canned sardines, canned anchovies.

* Pomi brand crushed tomatoes, canned San Marzano tomatoes, Hatch brand enchilada sauce (red and green), tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned no-salt chickpeas.

* Boxed low- or no-salt-added chicken and vegetable broths.

Joe Yonan: A few more thoughts if you're into baking:

* All-purpose flour (I like King Arthur).

* Some high-quality bittersweet chocolate for baking, such as Guittard, Scharffen Berger or Valrhona.

* Your favorite nuts, such as pecans, walnuts, almonds.

* Baking powder and baking soda.

* Two kinds of sugar: granulated and confectioner's. (And, if you wanna be really prepared, caster or superfine is good to have on hand, too.)

* Old-fashioned rolled oats.

* Peanut butter.

* Your favorite coffees and/or teas.

Leigh Lambert: Speaking from the baking bias:

baking soda

baking powder

kosher salt

brown sugar

vanilla extract

Jane Black: I am condiment girl. So...

Oils: Cooking and drizzling olive oil, truffle oil (real stuff), nut oils and plain old vegetable

Vinegars: sherry, red wine, champagne

Curry/Chili pastes (see previous chat q)

XO sauce

Chutneys: mint or cilantro (to mix with yogurt for a dip), mango (for late-night grilled cheese), cherry (for turkey or cheese sandwiches)


Alexandria, VA: I have been itching for good falafel, but would like to make it at home, do you have a recipe to recommend and what kind of vegetables would you serve with it?

Bonnie Benwick: You and me both, Alex. Truth be told, I didn't have a single bite of it on this particular trip. I'm not sure I'd be able to do a good rendition at home, although I see basic recipes on the packages of falafel mix at the grocery store. I like the falafel at Ali Baba in Bethesda, but it's not Israeli. Vegetables: crunchy fennel and kohlrabi salad with lemon and olive oil and parsley, I think.


Chatter advice: Have pretty spare kitchen as am new-ish married and just getting into cooking/baking. MIL has promised a gift of my choice. I'm looking at KitchenAid mixer or quality Cuisinart/food processor. Which to choose? Other? (Have good knives and All-clad pots/pans.)

Joe Yonan: Are you a committed baker? If so, the KitchenAid. If not, the Cuisinart.


Woodbridge, VA: The meat loaf recipe you posted calls for a lot of Worchester sauce. That ingredient makes me sneeze. Any suggestion for a substitute?

Joe Yonan: Do you know what it is in the Worcestershire sauce that you're allergic to? I'd think that a combination of soy sauce and fish sauce (or anchovies) would give you some of that same depth and oomph.


Washington DC: Were the bison farmers finishing their animals on grass or on grain? And did you notice a difference in flavor between the two?

Martha Thomas: some farmers add a little grain, or silage to the final feeding. Trey Lewis (Gunpowder) says it also helps to establish a relationship, but knowing bison, that's far-fetched. And yes, I think bison raised with a silage/grain finish may have a bit more fat. Never goes as far as marbled beef. The chef at Reserve in Baltimore said he was getting bison from Canada (imported from a big food distributor) and when he switched to the local meat, it was a completely different product, juicier.


Inspiring : Kudos to the Martha's Table chef and to you for including such an inspiring story. What a great antidote to the depressing front page stories! Another reason I love Wednesday.

Joe Yonan: Happy to inspire.


Working backwards...: I pulled a container (unlabeled) out of my freezer yesterday to bring to work for lunch. I thought it might be black bean soup -- I saw something that looked like beans -- but in fact my Mystery Freezer Soup had shredded chicken, peppers, potatoes, raisins, some pretty extreme ginger, and (I think) lentils. It was really delicious, and I have -no idea- how I made it. What are the chances that I can re-create my MFS? Do you know of any recipes (or families of recipes, or books, or chefs) that might get me started? Also, if you make up a recipe more or less on the fly, do you write down what you're doing as you go along? I make up meals pretty often, as I only cook for me and most recipes are too big, so I run into the MFS problem more often than maybe I should... Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Oh, man, this happens to me all the time. I'm working on a cookbook, and I really wish I had kept better notes of dishes I've made for myself. I don't know where to send you...


Alexandria, VA: Do you or the chatters know of a good place to get boneless turkey breast, same question about veal breast? I really would like to do a stuffed roll of one or both of these meats.

Jane Black: Any supermarket with a meat cutter can do that for you. Whole Foods, Wegmans, for sure. I don't know if Safeway and Giant have folks who can cut things to order. I've also bought boneless turkey breasts at Eastern Market and at the Organic Butcher in McLean.


Cilantro substitute: I have a cilantro-hater in my family, too. I think it has a fresh, slightly citrusy flavor so I sub with parsley (for the color) and a little lemon or lime juice.

Bonnie Benwick: That sounds good.

Jane Black: Funny how cilantro can be so divisive. (I don't know anyone who "just hates sage!" Though undoubtedly now someone will email me to tell me that.) I once dated someone who hated it. That didn't last long.


For Martha: Thanks for your bison story. Couple questions: Has ground bison had any of the same E.coli problems as ground beef? Also, is all bison grass-fed? Or just the locally raised animals they serve in the restaurants?

Martha Thomas: All bison that I know of is grass-fed. And it's unlikely they'd have the e coli problems of beef -- haven't heard of e coli problems. My immediate response would be they wouldn't be subject to it. Corn in the gut is a breeding ground, as I understand it, and bison eat almost no corn (unless its ground up in silage -- which also includes the husks, etc). But at the same time, I guess it would depend on where they are slaughtered, because if they share a facility with beef, you never know -- the beef stuff could be introduced??. It's a good question. I know Gunpowder processes at a small place in Pennsylvania.


yeast cake: You can find them at the grocery store too - at least I know they have them at the Giant in Van Ness. Kind of threw me since all I use is the packet.

Bonnie Benwick: Yep, they're often in natural foods stores as well.


Charitable restaurants: I really enjoyed the profile of the Martha's Table chef today and was very interested to read that Chipotle and Capital Grill donate food to the charity. I'd love to know what other restaurants help out that way -- I think they are deserving of our support.

Bonnie Benwick: I think it's pretty hard to run a restaurant these days and not contribute to charity in some way, from dinners for school auctions to various hosting for nonprofit-type events. If you're serious about compiling a list of go-to places that donate food specifically, contact the RAMW organization.


oven calibration: So, how does one calibrate oven, then? I have a gas oven, if that makes a difference. (not the op). Thanks!

Joe Yonan: You can check the temp yourself by buying a good oven thermometer and keeping it in the oven as you use it, checking to see if what you've set the oven to is about what the thermometer says is happening in the oven. If it's off by more than 25 or 50 degrees, you should consider getting it recalibrated. And for that, you need a professional.


Washington, DC: I enjoyed your pre-blizzard book reading on the 2009 food essays. Reading the book was a nice break from shoveling snow! I was fascinated by the one on the chef who was cooking with foie gras for the first time. Based on the less than positive review of most of the different dishes, the chef didn't seem to have a solid culinary background. And wasn't familiar with Jose Andres' preparation of foie gras and cotton candy.

All that leads to my question - what is the most unusual/unfamiliar ingredient you have cooked with?

Jane Black: What a fun question. Thank you!

I've cooked with Sechuan pepper. I used to little because I was scared and it made no difference. I've made foie gras and shaved truffles but nothing all that scary.

Also, on a slight tangent, we tasted but did not cook with Sechuan buttons. (This is yet another excuse for me to link to this fabulous

video of Post reporters trying the buzzy buds


Joe Yonan: I've often thought that some of those really exotic ingredients you hear about end up being ... kinda boring. I'm thinking fugu, the Japanese blowfish, which is chewy and ho-hum, and those immature/unborn chicken eggs, which were the basis of the least-interesting thing I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns recently, during an otherwise-fab meal. But I haven't cooked with either of those. I have cooked with lobster tomalley, which was a little tricky to be sure. And they don't seem that exotic now, but the first time I cooked with kohlrabi and sunchokes I felt like I was flying blind.


NY, NY: I'm planning on making french onion soup, and the recipe calls for Port Wine. So, what exactly is port wine? What am I looking for? And do I need to spend a lot of money, or can $10 buy me a bottle that won't ruin my soup? Thanks!

Martha Thomas: I don't know how fussy you are. I keep bits of old wine that has passed its drinkable time, and combine them for future cooking; Port tastes a lot like "cooked" wine, that has sat in the sun!


Re new condo pantry: I would not go out and buy everything on anyones list. Instead I would plan my meals and pick up the things needed for those meals. You will rather quickly come up with what your own staples are. Purchasing a ton of what other folks use will not be useful. Yes you need salt and pepper ect but plan menues and you will slowly accumulate all that you need without things you will never use.

Joe Yonan: I would buy everything on everyone in the world's list. But that's just me.


Italian markets etc.: I love farmer's markets and speciality markets of all ilk. Where are some of the best Italian, Asian, Spanish, German-centric etc. stores/markets to find those imported products or novel items one doesn't get in local grocery stores? I'm willing to drive out Rockville Pike or head into Virginia.

Jane Black: I'll *start* the answer to this. (Big question.) I like:


Italian Store


H-Mart (See Melissa McCart's great story about

shopping at the giant Asian market

. It's where I bought stuff for

my fabulous kimchi


Joe Yonan: La Tienda for Spanish.


for Japanese. (You can get Ren's Ramen while you're there!)

Panamerican Grocery

for Latin.


fresh sausage: The Kielbasa Factory in Rockville has lots of nice fresh Kielbasa. And an assortment of imported Polish stuff we don't recognize, but buy & try every time we're there! I even found something similar to Austrian wafers for Oblate Torte there, saving the day for my Mom's birthday.

Joe Yonan: Love it.


VA: I need help with a brisket problem before Passover rolls in! My mom has finally agreed to hand the cooking over to me but the one request is that I need to use her brisket "recipe". I put the word in quotes because her method consists of pouring ketchup on the meat every 30 minutes as it cooks, with some potatoes tossed in towards the end. I admit it's not bad but I would like to do something a little more, without losing the character of her flavors. Any ideas?

Bonnie Benwick: If your family's used to eating a brisket that has a tomato-y sauce, you may start a rebellion if you make Abigail's Top-Secret Brisket. But I lurv it and have served it several times at Passover myself. And your mom's right on track: Slathering ketchup is a time-honored method, along with onions and brown sugar....


falafel: I found the falafel recipe in the new Joy of Cooking was easy and good. Surprisingly easy to make from scratch, rather than a mix.

Bonnie Benwick: Good to know. Did you fry?


Jane Black: One thought from me. I've got a couple of emails about my love letter to anchovies last week. A few readers were concerned that I called them my secret ingredient or was in any way suggesting that you should keep them secret. As they rightly pointed out, many people have seafood allergies and eating anchovies could be, well, dangerous. My point was that people often think they hate something when they don't. But it is wise not to play with the lives of your dinner guests.


for Jane Black: What do you do with the XO sauce in your pantry? I have some that I bought for a recipe a while ago, but am unsure what else it can be used for.

Jane Black: Oh I loooooooooooooooove XO. Quick story. I first had it, or first had good XO, when I was in Hong Kong. I was in this big hotel restaurant and they made scallops with XO sauce. I was blown away. Complex but meaty. Hot but fresh. I persuaded someone to take me back into the kitchen to learn how it was done.

The chef was slightly annoyed but accomodating. He showed me: First, you take this dried fish, these chilies and this pork and dump it in a pot and stirfry. Easy if you HAVE those things or know what they are. (The chef didn't speak English.) He gave me two jars which I took home.

I used it for everything. Vegetable (any kind) stirfry. Meat (any kind) stir fry. Fried rice. It was magic. Add it to anything and you have dinner.

I imagine that there is a huge variety of the stuff out there and I can't recommend a commercial brand. But the short answer to that is: use it to make a quick and delicious weeknight dinner.


Panang Curry:: This is from a restaurant in Florida:

Jasmine Thai Chicken Panang Curry

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, pounded to about 1/4 inch thick, cut into 3/4-inch-wide strips 2 to 4 teaspoons Panang curry paste (Mae Sri brand recommended)- 1/2 cup ground peanuts 1/2 cup frozen green peas 1 cup fresh thin green beans or haricot vert 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips 2 cups chicken broth-- 12 kaffir lime leaves, torn into strips- 1 cup Thai basil leaves- 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (Tipparos brand recommended)- 1 cup coconut milk (Savoy brand recommended)-

Heat a wok or 14-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil. When oil is hot, add chicken and curry paste (add it to taste) and stir fry until chicken is white and opaque on the outside (it does not need to be cooked through). Add peanuts, peas, green beans and red peppers. Cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and cook 1 minute. Add lime leaves, basil, sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes, uncovered. Add coconut milk and cook about 3 minutes more, stirring, until slightly thickened. Makes 4 servings. Serve over steamed white or brown rice.

Jane Black: Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Our readers are great!


Washington DC: We have a new oven which has a convection feature. I'm having trouble with the basic oven temperature - seems the sides of the oven are so much cooler than the middle - so I started using the convection feature. It has this thing where it even lowers the temp I choose to accommodate how convection heats things faster (?). Anyway, I made a cheesecake the other day and before time was up it was quite dark! Is there some resource for understanding how to work with convection ovens? I'm a fairly experienced cook and baker and this thing has got me totally confused.

Leigh Lambert: Convection ovens confound me as well. I used them when I was cooking in commercial kitchens as well as adjusting recipes for high-altitude (baking in Colorado Springs). If your oven didn't come with a manual, you may be able to source one on-line or order one from the company. I'd love to say there is some fail-safe formula which to apply, but even within different makes and models there will be special considerations.

Joe Yonan: The rule of thumb for adjusting is to lower the oven temp by 25 degrees and of course bake for a shorter time, but Leigh's right that this takes some experimenting. Now's when you need to depend on other clues as to something's level of doneness, beyond what it says in the recipe as far as timing goes.


Like cilantro, hate white pepper: For the chatter wondering about white pepper, I really find the flavor very strong and offensive. And I agree that chefs use it to avoid the little black specks, which seems kind of silly. I'd recommend the chatter smell some before buying it to make sure she/he will like it. Otherwise, just use the freshly ground black stuff.

Jane Black: Good rule: Always taste before you buy.


oven temps: Since I realized that my oven (electric) runs about 25 degrees hot, I just set it for 25 degrees below the temperature I want. Can that be a long-term solution? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Well, sure. Whatever works!


Nigella Lawson's book: I have Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, but I keep finding that she uses self rising cake flour in so many recipes. Can this even be bought in America? I certianly can't find it at my grocery store. Is there a substitution for this?... the flour, not the book.

Joe Yonan: Sure it can. White Lily makes a self-riser, as do some other companies. It's basically flour with leavener (such as baking soda) added to it.


Upper Midwest: RE Building a Pantry: I know how this feels, went from living with parents to married with Army husband overseas without me for 15 months.

Plastic air tight containers and freezer bags/containers. The containers for storage, products can go stale by the time a single/couple gets to use the product and freezer bags/containers for quantity cooking and freezing the leftovers.

Pantry items of canned cream of mushroom, cream of chicken and tomato soups; always can add to a quick casserole dish or eat separately.

Bonnie Benwick: I am passing this along for our pantry person.


Felafel, VA: I am sure this is heresy to to Israel fan, but Whole Foods has great felafel sandwiches at their deli counter. I don't know if all do, but they regularly have them at the Old Town store.

Also, Pita House on Cameron St in Alexandria has good ones.

Bonnie Benwick: We won't knock them till we've tried them.


Julie & Julia: Did anyone watch the movie Julie and Julia who knows what Julie cooked for her husband in the pan, that she served over toast? It looked like some vegetable. Her husband seemed to think it was divine.

Bonnie Benwick: It's late, but we'll throw it out there for Free Range/Julie&Julia fans.


Petworth: The Arlington person looking for Philly Delis can get that stuff - it will require a few stops though. First, head to Eastern Market for game and smoked meats.

Then, head to Litteri for the strictly Italian stuff. Get a sub/hoagie while you're there.

Jane Black: I've always wanted to go to Litteri and it's always closed when I try. Here are their hours:

Tues. - Wed. 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Thurs. - Fri. 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Sat. 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM

Closed Sunday and Monday.


Silver Spring: Yekta Market on Rockvill Pike for Middle Eastern emphasizing Iranian.

Kosher Mart on Boiling Brook Parkway for Israeli stuff.

And La Tienda is mail order, Joe. Is there a LOCAL spanish market?

Joe Yonan: The poster said he/she would drive into Virginia for markets. La Tienda has a retail store in Williamsburg. That's about as close as I know for good Spanish products.

Bonnie Benwick: A&H Gourmet in Bethesda has a fair amount of Spanish products.

Joe Yonan: That's right -- Bonnie has mentioned this to me before, and I keep forgetting! A (shorter) road trip looms.


wdc: Is it best to store yeast in the freezer or refrigerator? How long will it last? Thank you.

Leigh Lambert: Either one. I've had a jar of yeast in my fridge for over a year and it is just fine. If you're using packaged yeast (in separate envelopes) then you can safely store it in the pantry.


Anonymous: I'm a couple weeks behind (I blame the snow...) and have a question about the Cabbage Escabeche from Feb 3rd. Could it stand alone as a cole-slaw side? Or be used other than in nachos? Cabbage Escabeche (Nacho Slaw)

Bonnie Benwick: Sure it can stand alone or be used elsewhere. Make the pickled chili peppers too. They go nicely on top.

Joe Yonan: Oh, my. Those pickled peppers are a keeper. I've been on this, in a big way.


Arlington: Hello awesome free rangers! Quick question on leftovers: I have some amazing pasta with cream sauce that I'd like to reheat for dinner tonight. I had some for lunch too (yes, two times in a day) and when I reheated in the microwave at work the sauce separated--ick. Is there a way I can reheat the pasta without having the sauce come apart? In the oven? For how long and at what temp? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Reintroduce a little liquid -- water or chicken/vegetable broth. And keep the microwaving to short, minimal bursts with stirring in-between, to keep from breaking the cream.


Sneezing and worcestershire sauce: Your response mentioned anchovies (love 'em) but anchovies are a big ingredient in worcestershire sauce (and possibly "fish sauce"). Maybe that's the sneeze-inducing ingredient?

Joe Yonan: Right. That would be why I prefaced my answer with, "Do you know what it is in the Worcestershire sauce that you're allergic to?"


Meatloaf sandwich: Most of the time my favorite sandwich is a BLT on toast (pumpernickle or marble rye) but a couple of times a year I made a meatloaf and just love a meatloaf sandwich with lettuce, tomato and a bit of may on toasted "good" bread for lunch the next day. I must say that one of my co-workers looked longingly at mine one day and I was coerced into giving him half. He made one of the worst mistakes a man can make by going home and telling his wife that I make the best meatloaf he has ever had. People joke and meatloaf gets a bad rap but it is good stuff.

Bonnie Benwick: We are cooking up a meatloaf challenge around here. Stay tuned.


MFS: I used to have that problem. How I solved it is I took a small notebook and a pencil and put them right next to my cutting boards. When cooking I write down approximatly what I put in to any random dish. Then when eating the dish I give it a A-F score. I retry the A's. This has actually made me recognize what I like and dislike and has created some of my favorite dishes. Ie roasted chicken and strawberries with lemon balm

Joe Yonan: You're an inspiration.


Cookery books: Cookery books are almost always personal but I second (and third) praise for Molly Steven's braising book. Got me through many a dinner party and the teenage years with my children. Now I'm liking Judith Jones' cooking for one book. It's a long life story, but both books are worth a look.

Jane Black: I love Molly Steven's "It's All About Braising." One of my all-time favorites.

Jane Black: I love Molly Steven's "It's All About Braising." One of my all-time favorites.

Bonnie Benwick: So nice she said it twice (actually, a glitch).


Silver Spring - for Ashburn: For the Ashburn-er, if you don't want to go to Brooklyn, come to Rockville and go to Kosher Mart on Boiling Brook parkway. They carry a lot of Israeli canned goods and dry goods.

Not as much fun as Brooklyn, but not as far away either.

Bonnie Benwick: The Seven-Mile Market in Reisterstown (outside of Baltimore) is closer than Brooklyn too. But not as fun.


sausage and camel: There's a great Italian market in Baltimore: Trinacria on Paca Street. Probably nothing compared to the offerings in Philly, but if you're jonesin' that much, it might be worth the drive to you.

To the rest of the team-- ever try camel meat? ;) I was in Iraq a few years ago and I was curious. Very good-- a little "dryer" than beef, but much better for you as well.

Bonnie Benwick: I love Trinacria, but camel meat not so much. It had an aroma I couldn't get past.


ciabatta in DC: So I baked my first bread at home over the weekend, making ciabatta. After two days of excitement over home made bread, it's now just sitting in the fridge. It's hard to make sandwhiches because the bread is a bit long and narrow. Perhaps I should turn it into bruschetta. Could you suggest another bread I could try baking at home that might appeal a bit more widely please? I am learning to overcome my fear of yeast and practice the art of kneading.

Martha Thomas: use the leftover bread for croutons and make a big caesar salad. Cut into squares, toss in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, whatever dried herbs you have around (oregano, rosemary, thyme?), spread on a cookie sheet and pop in the oven till they dry out, and toast a bit. Can be stored in a ziploc bag in fridge.

As for bread, if you don't have the King Arthur baking cookbook, use the recipe on the back of the red flour bag. (oatmeal, white flour, etc)


Specialty stores: Patel Brothers (specialty Indian) has an awesome array of fresh vegetables, frozen foods and spices in a couple of different locations in VA and MD.

Joe Yonan: Yes they do! And now I'm remembering that Monica Bhide recommends Aditi Spice Depot in Vienna (next door to Aditi Bistro).


DC: Speaking of Port wine: I have an open bottle in my cupboard that is at least several years old. Do you think it is still good to drink, or relegate to cooking, or maybe I should just toss it?

Bonnie Benwick: No longer good. Pitch it. Next bottle (assuming it's an aged tawny), refrigerate for up to 2 weeks after opening.


cakes of yeast/squares of chocolate: Yeast used to be compressed into cakes. 1 pack of the normal not rapid rise yeast is the modern equivalent if you accidentally use rapid rise bad things have happened to older recipes for me. Yes a square of chocolate is 1 oz but be very sure as old fashioned squares of chocolate were often unsweetened and regular non baking chocolate can sometimes create a too sweet recipe. p.s. share the older recipes with your family and friends as many are a wonderful bit of tradition

Leigh Lambert: Good info.


Alexandria, VA: I have some Pink Grapefruit and Bitter Orange sorbet. Could I make some kind of cocktail out of this?

Bonnie Benwick: That might be some frou-frou drink. Why not add some 7-Up and call it a punch.


middle-eastern and indian groceries: There are a whole host of middle-eastern and Indian groceries along Rockville Pike! Unfortunately, lunch hour is pretty much over. Can we return to this next week?

Jane Black: Yup. Come back and tell us your faves.


Did anyone watch the movie Julie and Julia who knows what Julie cooked for her husband in the pan, that she served over toast?: Was it Welsh rarebit? I can't remember the scene exactly... would rewatch it if I could fast forward through the Julie parts, lol.

Joe Yonan: Ditto.


falafel again: Yes, fried, but pan-fried, not deep-fried. Some breakage, but mostly good.

Bonnie Benwick: I am less convinced now.


Joe Yonan: Well, you've stirred and shaken us occasionally, until we've opened, and you've discarded those of us that did not open, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today, and thanks of course to Martha Thomas for helping us handle them. Now for the giveaway winners: The chatter who asked us about our favorite international-food markets will get "Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night" by Daisy Martinez. The one who asked us about our most exotic cooking ingredients will get "The Brazilian Kitchen" by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz. Send your mailing info to and we'll get you your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading...


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