Free Range on Food: St. Patrick's Day meals, Easter recipes, slow-cooking, BPA and food containers, sneaking in veggies

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, February 24, 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, cooks and eaters, and welcome to Free Range, the chat the tells you to cook it low and slow, to explore the nuttiness of your bellota ham, and to try some of Sanjeev Kapoor's recipes. What more can we do for you today? As away, and we'll do our best to guide you.

As always, our favorite posts will get a cookbook. So fire away.

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Greensboro, NC: Bonnie, I was fascinated by this line from your article: "Even the yolks of whole eggs slowly baked in the shell take on a supernatural quality." How would you do this? What would the result be?

washingtonpost.com: Overnight cooking: The time to pull an all-nighter (Post, Feb. 24)

Bonnie Benwick: Hi, Greensboro. At its simplest, you can do a slow version of hard-cooked eggs. Place up to 5 of them in a pot with tight-fitting lid and about 1 inch of water; they don't have to be submerged. Bake 8-10 hours at 225 degrees. (Make sure the water won't evaporate or the eggs will overcook.) The whites are firm but nowhere close to rubbery, and the yolk is creamy rather than chalky. If you Google "huevos haminados" you'll find various egg recipes with flavorings and such; some of them are stovetop versions that take less time. Or sometimes the eggs might be lodged in a dish that cooks overnight, like a vegetable cholent.

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Washington, D.C.: Gracias, gracias, gracias for the article on jamon iberico this morning. No food can immeadiately send me on a mental vacation to Spain like iberico. It is divine. I've known people who get sticker shock at the price, but I explain to them that it is the caviar of pork.

I think the coolest thing about iberico is that the pigs have a symbiotic relationship with the forest (dehesa). Much like rice farming in China, over centuries the Spanish landscape has absorbed and welcomed the free-range farming.

washingtonpost.com: The Gastronomer: For bellota ham, nuts aren't the half of it (Post, Feb. 24)

Andreas Viestad: Glad you liked it! I would travel the world for a piece of good jamon iberico, and I have, repeatedly. (Actually, I happen to think that it is cheap, relative to the pleasure it gives me.)

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Centreville VA: All Nighters: Love the article. I pulled an overnighter last week Tuesday with boneless Boston Butt Puerto Rican (Pernil)style. Set my oven timer, roasted at 225 degrees and woke up next morning to the aroma of roast pork. Needless to say, dinner that evening was delicious. My husband had sandwiches to take to work for a couple of day after.

Bonnie Benwick: Excellent. Tempt us with details -- herbs, seasoning...a family recipe or did you wing it?

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Germantown: Boo hoo! Twice you tempt us with mention of Sanjeev Kapoor's popular Shaam Savera spinach and cheese dumplings ... and no recipe! If people remember them after 17 years, I want to give them a try!

washingtonpost.com: Q & A: Sanjeev Kapoor, India's chef to millions (Post, Feb. 24)

Bonnie Benwick: Here you go, straight from the chef (by way of author Monica Bhide): Shaam Savera.

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Arlington, VA S: Given the article about BPA on the front page of the Washington Post yesterday, I wanted to ask a couple of questions.

I don't use many canned goods, but one product I do use in cans is peeled whole tomatoes. I have been unable to find the same product in packaging that doesn't have BPA. From web searches it appears that Bionaturae has jarred strained organic tomatoes and Pomi has chopped conventional tomatoes in aseptic packaging (similar to shelf stable tofu or milk). Both are said to be BPA free.

In past experiments, I've found I prefer the taste that comes from the whole peeled tomatoes, though haven't tried this recently. What do you think of using strained or chopped tomatoes instead of whole? Any thoughts on BPA? (I think that questions about BPA have been asked in this blog before).

Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: Alternatives to BPA containers not easy for U.S. foodmakers to find | How to reduce BPA exposure (Post, Feb. 23)

Joe Yonan: I like those Pomi tomatoes and think you'd be fine with that. The Bionaturae, if I remember, are very smooth, aren't they? I haven't used in awhile, but remember liking the taste but wishing they had more texture. For a long while, I've been using only plain Eden beans because of the BPA issue -- but tomatoes are more difficult. That's one of the reasons, frankly, that I make my 12-hour tomatoes every summer. I've still got a few jars left in my fridge; I think I'm going to make it to tomato season! BTW, here's what I wrote about BPA and tomatoes in response to a question about this time last year.

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Arlington, Va.: Hello Rangers - Have you all covered the issue of bulk meat/seafood ordering? We were approached by some friends to split a side of beef. In the past, I know they've also ordered a bulk order of Alaskan seafood. I find the idea intriguing, but don't know anything about it. Nor am I all that well versed on the various cuts of meat. Have you all done something on this? Do your chatters have any suggestions on what to look for?

Jane Black: It definitely is a commitment. I wrote about it in 2008: See I Can't Believe I Bought The Whole Thing If you choose right, it is high quality meat and it can be cheaper (though you may need to buy an extra freezer too). But in my opinion, it only makes sense if you eat a lot of meat. If you get, say, half a steer, you're looking at 280-plus pounds of beef and a lot of it is hamburger.

As for seafood, I've heard less about that. We've written about

seafood CSAs

, where you get boxes of fresh seafood from sustainable small producers. But that's more about supporting fisherman and getting a regular supply than buying in bulk.

Anyone else have experiences? Thoughts?

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Fairfax, VA: Having made an angel food cake, I now have 12 egg yolks individually frozen in the freezer. I have two questions for you: (1) do they actually freeze well; and (2) what do I do with them now? Thanks -- you all are great!

Andreas Viestad: It is not ideal to freeze egg yolks, but you can use them in sauces and baking. Make sure they haven't picked up flavor from the other stuff in the freezer. Eggs are particularly susceptible to other flavors, and particularly so when they are out of their shell.

Bonnie Benwick: Eggsperts recommend adding a touch of salt (1/8 teaspoon per 4 yolks) or 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (per 4 yolks) to keep the frozen yolks from getting gummy. Also recommended: Label your stash of egg yolks, as how many and date of entry.

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Austin, TX: Help! I need to convert the cooking times on a muffin recipe to minimuffin pans and I'm notoriously bad about knowing when to take things out of the oven. The recipe says: Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F, then turn the heat down to 400 degrees F and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

So for minimuffins, maybe just shave a few minutes off the back half? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Mini muffins cook pretty quickly. They have a lot of surface area in contact with heat, allowing them to be in and out of the oven in about 10 to 12 minutes start to finish. 450 degrees is a very hot oven, so you want to keep an eye on them. Trust the rise, the smell and the touch. They shouldn't appear wet on top and should spring back slightly when you press on one.

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Jane Black: Okay chatters: Easter is upon us. Well, almost. And we are, as usual, looking for creative ways to cover it. There are Italian stuffed Easter tarts. And "Columba" or Dove cakes. Anyone got some fabulous Easter recipes -- beyond the usual lamb or ham -- worth exploring?

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Bristow, Va.: Our 18 quart roaster/bake appliance has, and still is,neglected for slow cooking methods. Not a word about her in the food section today. The crock pot made mention of, not favorable in our view.

Bonnie Benwick: Do tell. How is it different from a slow cooker?

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Silver Spring, MD: We are trying to eat down our pantry and freezer over the next few weeks. I seem to recall you did a great feature on throwing a party to clear everything out. What about just simple easy dinners? We did an inventory - but I'm not a natural cook and I don't have any good ideas about how to pull together a good meal from a bunch of random cans, jars, and frozen goods. I was hoping you could provide some general concepts for how to do this myself, or a website that might be able to guide me. Thanks!!

Jane Black: Hard for us, or anyone, to answer if we don't know what you have in the pantry. Two options: Give us some clues or use this as an opportunity to embrace your inner cook and try to fly blind. Remember, it's only dinner.

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Baltimore, MD: We did the slow cooking thing during the storm, but we did it during the day. We made a rub with 1/4 C ginger, 8 garlic cloves, 1/3 C soy sauce and 1/6 C canola oil. Rubbed it all over a pork shoulder and cooked it at 230 degrees for about 7 hours.

It was fantastic to come in from shoveling and have that aroma hit your nose.

Bonnie Benwick: Now you're talking. All day is certainly a good way to go.

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B'more: I made some delicious short ribs (cooked with onion and chicken stock, plus a little mustard at the end) a couple weeks ago. I shredded the left overs (3/4 pound) and froze it, but saved a little out and had it rolled up in a tortilla with just a little cheese and cilantro. Yum!

Now I want to use the rest in soft tacos. What should I use in the tacos to make it more of a meal than a snack? I have a head of green cabbage and am thinking about something slaw-y, but not sure of the flavors. Also, once it's defrosted, should I reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop with some other spices?

Joe Yonan: You're thinking along the right lines. You need something crunchy, like the cabbage, and you could also use something pickly/sharp. So how bout pickled cabbage? Well, it's really Cabbage Escabeche, one of the many great parts of Bonnie's recent nacho smackdown recipe. I'm also addicted to the Pickled Chili Peppers that she included among the components, and I think those would be great, too.

The cabbage is only a little spicy, so you could of course also throw some salsa on there. I happen to be pretty partial to my

Blackened Salsa

. As for reheating your short ribs, the microwave would be fine -- or if you wanted to give them a little crunchy texture, you might reheat them under the broiler. I wouldn't worry about other spices going in there, just make sure it's salt-and-peppered to your taste.

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Irish: So, I've promised to make corned beef and cabbage for you-know-when. It's my first trip down this road. In addition to main course, would like to prepare an "Irish" dessert but am having a hard time finding recipes. Other than tinting the icing green or throwing Bailey's on some ice cream, any thoughts? (P.S. Am not a particularly skilled chef or baker.)

Jane Black: I lived in Ireland for a while and I can't think of any classic Irish desserts. In my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with using Baileys in dessert. (I love it!) You could do a Bailey's creme brule or cheesecake, for example. (There are plenty of recipes online including several at the Baileys Web site.) Or, depending on your sweet tooth, you might consider a more authentic plate of Irish cheeses. Serve it with brown bread and some pear. Delicious.

Joe Yonan: Isn't apple pie a classic Irish dessert? Bread pudding? Apple cake? I haven't lived there, so maybe these are just by reputation rather than reality.

Jane Black: Sure they have them. But not really classically Irish in my experience. British desserts are common over there. How about a sticky toffee pudding? Drowned in good cream.

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San Francisco: Just got a nice new set of plastic food containers (don't say anything scary about BPA!) Any tips for protecting against stains?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure. General tips: If the substance is almost guaranteed to stain (such as a curry with turmeric/curry powder or tomatoy stuff), then I'd put it in glass or resealable plastic food storage bags. To reduce stainage, spray the inside of the container with nonstick cooking oil spray before filling. To try to get rid of stains, try either a paste of baking soda/water or some diluted bleach/water solution.

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Bethesda, MD: I saw today's slow cooking article and whenever I see recipes involving leaving a low temperature oven on all night, I think of those news stories that come out on Thanksgiving about people trying to cook a turkey overnight at a low temp and getting carbon monoxide poisoning. How to avoid that?

washingtonpost.com: Overnight cooking: The time to pull an all-nighter (Post, Feb. 24)

Bonnie Benwick: Couple of things...if you're worried about such things, install a CO monitor (like a smoke detector) in the kitchen. The gas oven should have ventilation to the outside; use a kitchen exhaust fan if necessary. Inside on the bottom floor of the oven there are often some time of vent holes; make sure those are not covered by aluminum foil or some oven liner. Remember that the temp is low.

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Need Vegetables!: Entirely too much going on in my life this week (moving! grad school! LSATs!) and all this psuedo-spring has me craving vegetables and other healthy goodness in lieu of the usual comfort food. At the moment I'm jonesing for some quinoa, but I'm open to suggestions for dinner tonight. Quick, cheap, ingredients I can pick up at whole foods, vegetarian, and fresh and veggie-packed. Thoughts?

Bonnie Benwick: Hmm. I think today's Dinner in Minutes might work for you: Chickpea and Zucchini Saute With Whole-Wheat Couscous. Also, this Almond and Broccoli Stir-Fry. And here's some quick quinoa: Mediterranean Quinoa With Broccoli. Hungry yet?

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DC: I enjoy your chats very, very much...BUT...I am now on the South Beach diet and through that lens see how unhealthful the majority of the food recommendations and recipes you make are. Sorry, but it's true. Can you please be cognizant of this and when considering your recommendations include some that are nutritionally sound? I'd consider that a great service. Thank you.

Joe Yonan: We try to answer the question that's asked, so, DC, if you want something that falls into a particular nutritional profile, absolutely ask us for it and we'll try to deliver. Do you follow Stephanie Sedgwick's weekly Nourish recipe?

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Arlington, VA: So I'm planning a bit ahead but I have a friend who is having her first baby in June and I'd like to make a few meals to put in their freezer. But most of my ideas (lasagna, casseroles, etc) are pretty heavy for summer. Any ideas on good freezable meals that aren't so heavy?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure. Every now and then we run a batch o' recipes titled Make It, Freeze It, Take It. So here are a few, to be served over rice or with noodles or steamed vegetables: Mango-Cranberry Chicken (my fave), Chicken With Rosemary and Lime and Californian Chicken.

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Washington, DC: While I was growing up, my mom used to make a chocolate cherry cake (a Pillsbury Bake Off winning recipe she found in a cookbook). It is basically just a chocolate cake mix with cherry pie filling and vanilla extract mixed in. Anyway, I tried making it recently and . . . it was disappointing. Too packaged tasting, for obvious reasons. I am thinking of trying to reconfigure it with a made from scratch recipe but I'm not sure what to do about the cherries. The pie filling, while fake tasting, had the benefit of adding a significant amount of moisture to the cake. Any suggestions on where to start?

Leigh Lambert: There is a product that might please your adult palate more called Brandied Balaton Cherries from American Spoon. The one difference that might effect your outcome is that they are in a watery liquid rather than a the thicker goo found in canned cherry pie filling. In order to replicate this thicker consistency I would strain the cherries and cook the liquid with about a tablespoons of cornstarch to thicken.

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Damaged stove burner: Hi, in a recent mishap a plastic bowl was melted onto a stove burner. Most of the plastic burned off, but there is still some semi-ash residue of the plastic left on the burner. Do you know how we can clean that off without damaging the burner or having to burn it off and produce more nasty fumes? I'm worried a brillo pad wouldn't be enough and that a steel grill brush would be too hard. Thanks!

Jane Black: Is it a glass-top electric stove? Is that why you're worried about scratching?

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Rockville, MD: Can I pick your brain on a Food Network recipe? Ellie Krieger (healthy food nut) shared a rather tasty recipe alternative to the rice krispie treats: 1/2 c. honey 1/2 c. peanut butter, both melted together

Stir in 6 c. brown rice cereal and 1/3 c. chopped dried cherries.

The problem? Even pressing the mixture FIRMLY, as on leaning on it with full weight, into a 9x13 inch pan, the mixture doesn't hold together very well. Chilling helps a little, but when you hold it,it crumbles apart.. Way too soft to pack in lunch boxes.

Can you suggest something to add that would make this mixture stick together a bit more? thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Crispy Rice Treats

Bonnie Benwick: I'm sure it would defeat the low-fat charm of Ellie's recipe, but a little light corn syrup would do the trick. Or maybe try agave nectar. (You're using smooth pb, yes?)

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Glasslock?: I'd really like to move away from the cheap, plastic tupperware we've been using and I'm curious about Snapware's Glasslock containers. Any experience with these?

Jane Black: No experience here. But I know I could sure use with a tupperware upgrade. Chatters? Thoughts?

Joe Yonan: I love the look of these. I like storing things in glass.

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Easter Recipes: I love the traditional Greek recipes...rich sweet bread, traditional red eggs, honey sweets and the all important delicious spit roasted lamb. Maybe the Post could do a take on those? Plus Greek Orthodox Easter and Western Easter fall on the same date this year....

Jane Black: Good suggestion. We just did a big thing on Greek food last October. But you are right, we all think Greek at this time of year. Interesting they fall at the same time this year. Hmmmm.

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Washington, DC: I'm making pasta tonight, with a sauce that's chicken stock, a little cream, some flour to thicken it, fresh sage, and garlic. What's the best way to really bring out the garlic flavor? Saute the garlic in the butter first? Roast the garlic and then add it to the butter?

Jane Black: Roasting the garlic will make it sweeter but it's one extra step. I'd just saute it in butter over low heat. (If it browns, it will be bitter. Start again.) Then add stock, the cream and flour (or a roux) to thicken it. Sage goes in at the end.

(I'm hungry.)

Bonnie Benwick: Or, just use more than the recipe calls for/than you think is appropriate. You could use a garlic press (hey, Clifton!) and put the minced garlic plus any juices into the cream over low heat, to infuse it.

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Arlington, VA: As a single dad, I would appreciate any quick recipe suggestions to sneak vegetables into dishes for a teenaged girl who refuses to eat any vegetables. I make a fresh salad and cook vegetables every night, but that doesn't work. So, I am looking for a new plan.

Bonnie Benwick: Can't sneak anything by a teenage girl, can you, Dad? Have you asked her to explain what's objectionable about them? If it's texture, try making pureed vegetable soups, or just purees of carrot or celeriac or winter squash. We have plenty of those recipes in our database.

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Bacon: I opened a package of bacon a couple of weeks ago with March expiration date. I have maybe 4 slices left, and they look a little grey (not really grey, but definitely less red/pink like usual). Should I toss them or that natural oxidation?

Jane Black: What does it smell like? The nose knows.

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Crystal City: Hi there! Beginner cook here. I've got two small open cans of chiles en adobo and tomato paste in my fridge that I used for chili during the first snowmageddon. Can you give me some ideas of what else I can use them for (either separately or together)? Again, I'm not terribly experienced (just three years out of college), so go easy on me!

Thanks!

Jane Black: There are loads of things to do with chilies in adobo: add them to chili, black bean soup, rub on chicken. The easy possibilities are endless. Check out all our recipes that use adobo and pick one that works for you.

On tomato paste, I feel for you. It happens to me a lot. All the recipes use just a touch. You can add a dab to soup or use it as an excuse to make a big pot of bolognese sauce. Or here's an

Amped Up Red Pepper paste

with lots of garlic that you can use as a rub on chicken. And, good news, it stores in the fridge for a month.

Bonnie Benwick: Best to take the stuff OUT of the cans, though, for refrigerated storage. Transfer to a glass jar (because both those substances will stain plastic if left long enough). See earlier q!

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Low and Slow: Bonnie, your article is amazing. I think you should do a cooking camp for the "ignored crowd" -- serious cooks. You have so many things up your sleeve.

When the weather gets cold at least twice a month I make Mean Chef's Pulled Pork which I put in the oven Friday night at 225 and take out perfectly cooked in the morning( Google & recipe comes up @ recipezaar). I never get to pull the pork and stopped making the sauce because the meat is carved and eaten as is. Delicious! Now I have more overnight recipes. WHOA! Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, you've made my day, L and S. Pork seems to be the chatters' go-to overnight meat today. Do you remember Steve Katz's Slow-Roasted Beef recipe from a few years back? It's the ultimate no-fuss, foolproof, smell-good carnivorous experience. Makes great sandwiches.

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Washington D.C.: Hi, I have a question about baking and storing french macarons. I've seen a few recipes online for these very fashionable little cookies made with almond flour and egg whites. I'm getting married in May and have thought that it would be so fun to have a bundle of macarons as the wedding favor (to substitute for something like Jordan almonds.) My question is whether I could bake these in advance - let's say I baked the cookies the weekend before the wedding and froze them, then filled and wrapped them a couple of days before. Would they lose texture this way? Also, is this a terrible idea? It sounds so simple and chic but I'm also having images of being up until 3 a.m. the night before my wedding, screaming at my mother as I bake 300 tiny cookies. (By the way, it is a small wedding so I wouldn't need to make more than 60 total favors, maybe 180 cookies?)

Bonnie Benwick: Can you hang on a few weeks? You'll be rewarded with recipes and tips for successful macaroning.

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Silver Spring: I have water damage all across the front of my house due to ice dams. I had to empty my small pantry (which is now gutted). I found stuff that had probably been in there for years. Once all the restoration work is done it will seem sadly empty because I think I have to toss much of it. How long will sesame oil keep? Does balsamic vinegar go bad (what would it do, taste like wine?)? Thanks - love the chats.

Joe Yonan: Nut oils can indeed go rancid; the best way to tell, as Jane said in another answer, is to sniff it to see. Balsamic vinegar should last indefinitely, right?

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Easter: How about a feature on the food eaten in Spain for Holy Week?

Jane Black: Wow. What do they eat? (Putting on investigative hat now.)

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Re: Tomato Paste: Please tell me you know the best trick ever for preserving tomato paste! After you've used your 1 tablespoon, put the rest of the paste into a quart-sized freezer bag. Smoosh it flat in the bag so it's about 1/2" thick. Pop it in the freezer, and then when you need to use it, just break off an appropriate sized chunk. Works great, because there is never a time when you can't use frozen paste instead of fresh!

Jane Black: Embarrassingly I've heard tell of this trick but never done it. Novice cook: Listen to this wise chatter.

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Arlington, VA: I took advantage of a great sale & picked up 4 lbs of ground beef. I'd like to make a big recipe of Texas-style chili & freeze leftovers. Have any good recipes?

Joe Yonan: Well, of course I do. My favorite, Chili Con Carne, calls for stew meat or chuck cut into 1/2-inch cubes for better, more classic texture (the beef melts into the sauce) that you won't get with ground beef. But you could certainly use the flavors here -- unless you want to use that ground beef for meatloaf instead and go get or make some chunks instead!

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Washington DC: Hello! I have some Mahi Mahi defrosting in my fridge, and I have no idea what to do with it. I was wondering if you had any suggestions. I plan to pair it with a Greek orzo salad... Thank you for any help.

Jane Black: Grill or broil it. A nice lemon and herb marinade will be just the thing.

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Alexandria, VA: In the recipe for Tomato and Orange Shorba, you call for orange "segments coarsely chopped." Your note for the orange segments then says:

"NOTE: To segment an orange, slice off the bottom and the top. Stand the fruit on a cutting board with one of the cut sides down. Using a serrated knife, cut the peel and the pith away from the fruit, top to bottom. Then, holding the fruit in your hand, cut the orange segments away from the membrane. (The idea is to leave behind all of the membrane and white pith.)"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that supreming an orange, not segmenting it? I was taught that a piece of citrus prepared in that manner was a supreme, and a segment was what you got when you simply pull the segments of fruit apart, membranes attached.

Also, is there any reason I couldn't use my immersion blender for the pureeing step of this soup? I don't own a real blender- my teeny tiny kitchen doesn't have the storage space!

washingtonpost.com: Tomato and Orange Shorba

Bonnie Benwick: Guess we're asking you to go to the trouble of eliminating all pith etc from the orange before you chop it up. But feel free to freehand it. Absolutely use the immersion blender if you have one. Less cleanup. We'll amend the recipe to add that, thanks.

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Irish Dessert: I'm Irish Catholic so St Patty's day was always big, we always did an Irish Tea Cake at our church suppers. I used this recipe last year when I had my husband's family over for the traditional dinner. It turned out quite good!

Jane Black: A nice simple cake. (And perfect with tea.) I think if I were serving it for dessert, I might serve it with an apple or pear compote or some cream.

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Silver Spring: "DC: I enjoy your chats very, very much...BUT...I am now on the South Beach diet and through that lens see how unhealthful the majority of the food recommendations and recipes you make are. Sorry, but it's true. Can you please be cognizant of this and when considering your recommendations include some that are nutritionally sound? I'd consider that a great service. Thank you."

I don't see how DC can make such a blanket statement. There are many nutritionally sound recipes in the food section. And some people don't think the South Beach diet is all the sound. Just my $0.02...

Joe Yonan: You said what I was thinking but was too polite to say. Thanks!

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Downtown DC: I know Easter is a over a month away, but I need your Ranger wisdom for dinner menu planning. This is my first holiday playing host and I'll be cooking for my family as well as my fiance's family in a tiny (18 inches wide on the inside) oven. I was thinking a ham because it can be cooked and tented and stay warm for quite some time, but what kind of sides do you suggest (make ahead items would be particularly nice).

Jane Black: We were just talking about this. Nice thing about Easter dishes is you can start using spring ingredients. Problem is, this year, it's so early you won't find a lot of local asparagus or peas. (Not that you won't be able to find them in the stores but it's interesting that our go-to foods won't be around yet!)

You can

search our database for Easter side dishes

and pick out one you like. But here are some I like with ingredients you will find:

Quick Kale with Bacon

and

Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Sage

.

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Eating down pantry & Freezer: A whole bunch of people did just that: stopped food shopping except for essentials like milk, coffee, etc and fed themselves and their families from their pantries and freezers. Some people liked the experience so much they did it for more than a week.

You can read about it on eGullet -- a-week-without- shopping -- the thread was started by Fat Guy.

Jane Black: Good idea. Check it out.

Joe Yonan: Yep, and Kim O'Donnel had a series on her former blog here on that same topic.

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Easter: I know the Post has done some coverage of Greek Easter traditions, but how about checking out the Russian Orthodox communities? You might head for St. Nicholas Cathedral in NW; there are other churches, but that's one of the bigger ones.

Get someone to give you some sirnaya pascha and kulich. I'd offer you some of my mom's, but (a) she's not local, and (b) I won't want to share it!

Jane Black: Another super idea. Thanks. But really, you should share. Don't you love us anymore?

:)

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Petworth: Easter - We never really had a tradition beyond dying eggs. But so many of my friends do!

The most interesting one is from a friend of mine who is of (mostly) Czech descent. His grandmother made a special raisin bread, and for Easter Breakfast they had the bread, eggs (dyed), and kielbasa.

I looked long and hard to find that bread recipe (after she died, nobody had it any more) and have come up with what he says is a very close re-creation (a modified brioche). It would be an interesting tradition to learn more about and to get authentic recipes for.

Jane Black: Easter breakfast is a great idea. Love to see your recipe and look at other Eastern European ones. Send it along? food@washpost.com

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For St. Pat's Day dessert: What about the chocolate Guinness cake? (not to recommend a WP recipe to the WP, but it's become my go-to for the holiday)

Jane Black: Oh super smart! Suzanne Goin also has a recipe for Chocolate Guiness cake in her book that I've made a few times. I totally forgot about it!

Joe Yonan: Yeah, that's a good one -- I highly recommend the Goin version, which I've made with a Guinness ice cream.

Joe Yonan: Oh, here's that recipe for Goin's chocolate stout cake, and the one for her Guinness ice cream.

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Overnighter: This is probably a dumb question, but for the overnight meat recipes (like the lamb barbacoa), what do you do with the food when you wake up in the morning but aren't going to eat it until lunch or dinner? Seems like putting it in the fridge would ruin the loveliness of the slow cooking, but leaving it out all day would likely invite other kinds of ruin.

Bonnie Benwick: Makes a nice savory breakfast :)....Reheating the stuffed chicken or potato kugel or barbacoa doesn't ruin a thing. But if you put something in at midnight and plan to have it for lunch, you won't need the fridge.

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Gaithersburg, MD: Do you have a good Hamantaschen recipe to share? No yeast, please.

Leigh Lambert: We have run a couple, but this Hamantaschen will fit just right if you are used to buying the specialty.

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Pittsburgh, PA: For plastic on an electric burner (not glass-top) - I've had some success (because I do this not infrequently) with slowly heating up the burner on low or med-low heat and swiping at the plastic with steel wool or a non-flammable cloth as it begins to melt. This can get most of it off. If it's a really hard plastic that melted onto the burner, you might have to buy a new burner, but they are pretty easy to find online if you know the model # and maker of your stove. Make sure windows are open and your vent fan is on to avoid any noxious melting plastic fumes, just in case.

Bonnie Benwick: It's a plastic day.

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New Mexico: For Glasslock: These are great but the lid locking mechanism seems to break rather too easily leaving one with a nice, but less-useful-than-it-was glass ...something. I haven't taken time to see if the lids are replaceable--but even if they are, I wish they'd last longer in the first place.

Jane Black: Good advice. Thanks.

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Maine: I eat only beige and yellow food as it is a proven key to longevity. Consequently I find your food unappetizing and demanding (with white food I use brown sugar to alter the color). Could you please include more such food.

Joe Yonan: I think I love you.

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Dupont Farmer's Market: I have been eyeing this beet and goat cheese ravioli at the Dupont farmer's market. Next week, if it's still there, I am going to splurge and get it. Any ideas on a sauce? Should I stick to something simple like butter?

Jane Black: Is it Copper Pot's? I think simple is best on something like that. Let the pasta shine. And butter is always a good idea.

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Irish dessert: I haven't read through the whole chat yet, but just came upon that question regarding an Irish St. Patty's day dessert. During her Washington Post tenure, Kim O'Donnell used to get rave reviews for her chocolate Guinness cake and I've always been looking for an excuse to try it. I'm sure it's in the archives here somewhere.

Also, would you mind sharing your corned beef recipe? My boyfriend loves the stuff but I've never attempted to make it. Maybe now's the right time.

Bonnie Benwick: We'll try to get this into the database asap. It ran in Food in March 1983.

HOME-CORNED BEEF

4 servings

2-pound beef brisket

2/3 cup coarse salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 to 5 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or black peppercorns

1 teaspoon pickling spices

Rinse and pierce meat. Roll in salt to cover thoroughly. Line bottom of dish chosen for corning beef with salt. Place meat in it, then sprinkle more salt on top. Dissolve remaining salt and sugar in 1 quart lukewarm water. Sprinkle crushed garlic cloves, pepper, and spices over meat. Pour salt and sugar solution over meat. Add more lukewarm water if needed to immerse meat totally. Secure dish cover, being sure that meat lies well beneath surface of liquid. Place in refrigerator for 5 to 14 days (optimal length of time: 10 days). Remove meat from pickling liquid, rinse and soak in cold water 15 to 20 minutes. Place in large saucepan, cover with fresh boiling water and keep at low simmer approximately 2 hours or until meat is tender to the fork.

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Follow-up chili question: If I did use the ground beef for that recipe, should I drain the meat after browning? (It's 80%/20% fat content).

Joe Yonan: Hmm. I guess it depends on how much the fat bothers you. I think you need it in there for richness and flavor, but if you're trying to do this in a lighter way, then pour most of the fat out but leave enough in there to help you saute the garlic, etc.

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Gaithersburg, MD: I need to know what kind of chocolate to use for making sauce to pour on desserts, profiteroles to be specific. I like the sauce to be on the sweet side. I lived in Ecuador; they had excellent chocolate for this purpose, if I could find the kind they use there, I would be delighted.

Leigh Lambert: Mexican chocolate (found at Latin markets) is very sweet and usually used for making hot cocoa, but might translate well. Otherwise I'd look for a lower percentage chocolate, say 60% (referring to the ratio of chocolate to other ingredients, i.e. sugar). There really is no "right" answer. It comes down to personal taste.

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Omelet tips: I am in need of some advice regarding omelets, particularly getting the cooked eggs to easily slide out of the pan. The omelets I've been making lately have not been sliding out of the pan, would more using more fat while greasing the pan help?

Bonnie Benwick: First, speak to us about your type of pan. Sometimes omelets are meant for sliding. Other times, you fold and empty out onto the plate.

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MoCo: Thanks for the article on overnight cooking -- I'm eager to give it a try. It reminded me of a recipe I'd seen for a warm lamb salad in one of Nigella Lawson's books but haven't yet tried. I'm digging that out now and will have to head out for some lamb.

Bonnie Benwick: Boy, that looks good, and simple. Did you check out today's Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo? It's a little more involved but the flavor's incredible.

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Capitol Hill: Last night I started a beef burgundy, but I fear at one step I messed things up. After adding the browned cubes of beef to the wine/flour/yumminess gravy on the stove top, I was supposed to just let it simmer. But while frying up the bacon, the heat was higher than I realized and when I checked on it after a few minutes, the gravy was boiling. Will this make the beef super tough? If so, is there anything I can do now? This is all for a potluck on Thursday night so it is sitting in fridge right now with the plan to place it in 250 degree oven tomorrow morning to slowwwwly braise. Will that work? thanks!

Andreas Viestad: It shouldn't make any difference whatsoever.

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Chiles in Adobo: Make SO GOOD deviled eggs. Just chop one or two up realllly finely and add, along with some of the "juice," to your mayo and egg yolks. Maybe no seasonal, but awfully tasty.

Jane Black: More good adobo ideas.

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Washington, DC: I have a bottle of red wine vinegar that looks like its "separated" somehow--there's a lot of residue of something settled at the bottom. Is this a bad sign? What is that stuff?

Andreas Viestad: It isn't a problem in itself. If it tastes fine, it is fine. But sometimes you will find that a live vinegar will continue to develop and in time will lose its sourness - and thereby be rendered useless. So, just taste it.

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Retro Recipe Girl Again: Thanks for the help last week answering my question about translating cake yeast for my retro recipe quest. In response to another reader's comment about making sure I share these gems, my retro recipe adventures are being posted online.

The Cinnamon Cake, which would be a good after shoveling snack, is posted here.

I've also made Vanilla Wafers, which, although not what I expected, turned out to be the perfect base for Wannabe Whoopie Pies.

Bonnie Benwick: Way to go, RR.

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Newton, MA: re low and slow - love the idea and convenience but not the texture. Meats/poultry seem to come out stringy and falling apart when I've tried this. Any suggestions, or is that just the way it is supposed ot be with these slow braises?

Bonnie Benwick: Fall-apart, you bet. Stringy, not in my experience. You keep things well covered, yes? Try that Slow-Roasted Beef or Lamb Barbacoa I mentioned earlier and then we'll tawk.

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Fresh Kielbasa: I grew up in a Polish town in CT - my favorite was the fresh kielbasa (white instead of brown or red) the market made fresh every Easter. The line was out the door.

Jane Black: Any idea where to get it here?

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Fairfax Station, Va.: I think the South Beach dieter's criticism is unwarranted. The Food Section does a wonderful job offering substitutions depending on allergies, dislikes and whims. I've never done South Beach or Atkins, so I can't guess how cranky I'd be in Phase 1 -- lighten up, SBer.

Joe Yonan: I did Atkins once. My sister and did it together, when we lived together in Boston. We had never had a fight in 30-something years until we both were in Phase 1 of Atkins at the same time. If I recall, it had something to do with somebody's food taking up the oven when the other one needed to use it. That was the day we both decided to stop.

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favorite dessert for company?: Do any of you have favorite recipes you use when you want a fun/impressive dessert for company? Bonus points if I can transport it in the car for a short distance. thank you

Bonnie Benwick: I'll start. I'm a hazelnut hound and I crave crunchy things, so I often make these molded, tuile-like cookies in the shape of cornucopias. (I admit I bought the 4-inch megaphone-shaped forms many years back.)But you could just drape the warm cookies over small bowls and create a nice shape or even roll them around the handle of a long wooden spoon -- they would look like cannoli shells. Fill them with whipped cream, mascarpone, raspberries, cut strawberries. They are light and delicate, freeze well, take mins to make.

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Vinegar: Live Vinegar? My vinegar is alive? I had no idea.

Joe Yonan: It's alive! Bwahahahahaha!

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Side of beef: My grandmother would give us a side of beef every so often when I was a kid. It was packed in white freezer paper with inked labels. What the chatter wants to be certain about is that they like the taste of the meat (we had to get used to fresh beef--not aged--because that's the way her butcher did things.) Also, my family asked for stew meat as well as hamburger, which surprised the packer (most of his other customers just wanted hamburger made from the remainder after steaks and roasts were portioned.)

Jane Black: Yes, I think a lot of the folks who do it now will arrange for it to be aged, at least a little, at the meat cutter they send it to. But certainly worth asking before you invest.

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NoLo, DC: When I open a can of tomato paste I spoon whatever I'm not about to use in tablespoon-ish amounts onto squares of plastic wrap. Twist them up, put them in a ziplock, and they'll store for many months in the freezer. If you can't just use the blob frozen, you can always toss one in the microwave for a few seconds.

Jane Black: Right-o.

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RE: Glass containers: Pyrex makes storage containers in all sizes from very tiny to pretty large. Pyrex can be frozen and microwaved as well. So far, plastic lids have done fine in the top shelf of dishwasher (no warping, etc.).

Joe Yonan: Yep, I like these, too -- the blue lids, right?

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New Mexico: for single dad of teenaged girl: I raised 3 teenagers during the 90's low-fat craze and served steamed, boiled, boring vegetables. It wasn't until I decided that I'd rather have them eat vegetables with some fat rather than none at all that they started to eat them. Roasting vegetables of any kind or in combination is a good way to go. I also recommend ATK's Jack Bishop's "Vegetables Everyday" as a method for making vegetables a treat rather than a chore.

Jane Black: I think that is excellent advice.

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Learning to cook: Can you give me the name of a good book to help me learn how to cut beef? In talking to a friend who loves cooking, I learned that the way you cut beef can make the cheap stuff taste like filet mignon, and filet mignon taste even better. I had no idea, and now that I know I would love to learn. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I'm looking at The River Cottage Meat Book and its descriptions are fairly text-heavy, but not quite along the lines of where to put your knife. I'm thinking maybe a hands-on class might be a better bet. Do you have a local butcher you could talk into such a venture?

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Classic St. Pat's dessert: Irish Soda Bread! Ingredients: usual cake stuff, plus raisins, caraway seeds, and buttermilk. Eat it with butter. (Sorry, South Beach person.)

Jane Black: I adore Irish soda bread. I love how it's not super sweet but warning, some may not think it's sweet enough for dessert. (And thanks for more defense of our recipes!)

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Irish again: Oooh, I just checked out the chocolate Guinness cake and that looks like what I want. To the smart chatter with the good memory, thanks!

Jane Black: Yup. Our chatters are real smart. Thanks, guys.

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Palm Bay, Fl.: I'm surprised that the south beach dieter thinks that most of your recipes aren't healthy. I probably pull more than half my new recipes from you, more than Cooking Light or my diabetic magazines. And the ones that don't quite match my criteria for low carb? Well, I modify, eliminate half the grain, add more veggies, change the portion size, don't use as much butter, cream, etc.

I love your recipes.

Joe Yonan: We're feeling the love!

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Joe Yonan: For the person looking for help learning to cut meat, we did get this press release on a class that you might be interested in. It's intensive and not cheap, but you might inquire. Not sure there are still spaces left, but here are the details. I imagine if it's popular they'd do it again.

--Artisan Butchery & Salumi Class

--Feb. 27-28, 2010

--Greenbranch Farm Salisbury, Md.

--Call 202.251.8789 for reservations and details. Tuition is $625.00 per person.

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Re: sneaking in veggies: To the Arlington dad who has trouble getting veggies into his daughter's diet, I have the same problem - but with my husband!

I just make vegetables unavoidable. Chicken tortilla soup is a good way of doing it because the soup is chicken broth and tomato based, and you can include tomatoes, peas, corn, celery, etc. Gumbo is also chock full of veggies. Just make them absolutely unavoidable, and she'll have to eat it. And when she says "but I don't like celery," you can say, "but you ate it last week when we had chicken tortilla soup!" - just use logic, it works for me.

Bonnie Benwick: Practical advice.

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Glass top oven: Hi. I just moved into a new condo and we do have a flat top, glass top range. How do I clean it without hurting it? Thanks!

Jane Black: I use Bon-Ami; it's more gentle than Comet (I think) or brillo pads. Seems to take off stuck-on food and leave it pretty shiny.

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Washington, DC: My husband works odd hours and most nights doesn't get home until 8:30 or so. I typically eat with my toddler at about 7. Can you suggest some good meals that will hold over well for 1 - 2 hours between servings?

Bonnie Benwick: Stews and soups or braised meats/vegetables that can be covered and stay moist.

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Arlington, VA: Thank you for the Q & A with Sanjeev Kapoor. He is more like Emeril than Rachel Ray. With growing interest in Indian cuisine I am sure his shows on TV will be much appreciated.

Bonnie Benwick: He certainly looks more like Emeril than Rachael Ray.

Joe Yonan: Now he does. In 30 years ... ?

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Corning beef w/o sugar?: Would love to corn beef. Have an almost sugar free household for health reasons. Will your recipe work ok if we leave out the sugar? Anything else we need to do to compensate? Or should we be looking elsewhere for recipes?

Oh, and what are "pickling spices"?

Many thanks

Bonnie Benwick: You can buy a McCormick's mix of pickling spices (I know it contains celery seed, mustard seeds, maybe fennel) on the spice aisle. I think you'd need the sugar here. Check it against other Googly recipes?

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Alexandria, VA: I am planning to spend Sunday trying to make gnocchi. Any suggestions? Mark Bittman's recipe doesn' use eggs, but another one does, and yet another one just uses an egg white.

I know it will take several tries, but I am determined!

Also, I was planning to cook some, but freeze the rest uncooked (spread out on a cookie sheet and then bagged). Is that ok?

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: That is okay!

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If you can stand more: On the keeping of reusable shopping bags in the car, I also now keep a couple of fold-flat insulated lunch bags tucked away -- perfect for the cold cuts or holding the jar of tomato sauce you wouldn't want to spill onto other groceries in your larger bag. Just a thought.

washingtonpost.com: The home section just did a nice roundup of reusable bags.

Jane Black: Yep. And we covered reusable bags on our blog, All We Can Eat too.

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Irish Dessert: Hope this isn't too late! Greatest Irish dessert in the world is the "queen of puddings" -- it's basically a custard pudding, with jam on top, covered in a meringue that you then broil briefly to brown. Utterly delicious. I have a cookbook at home something like "New Irish Cooking" that I use -- but you can find other recipes for it online too.

Jane Black: If you're not set on chocolate...

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've baked us for 10 hours, until we have softened, darkened and shrunk, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's and a's today, and thanks to Andreas Viestad for helping us answer them.

And now for our book winners. The poster to whom I responded "I think I love you" (the snarkier-than-even-we-could-come-up-with response to the South Beacher) will get "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung, an approach to eating well that it ANYTHING but SB. And the chatter who called him/herself "Need Vegetables!" will get "Supermarket Vegan" by Donna Klein, source of today's DinMin recipe. Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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