Free Range on Food: Making cocktails at home, building a bar, saving recipes, sandwiches for a crowd, pizzas for one

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday.

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

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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 helps you shake up a good cocktail (or order one from a great bartender, and pair it with food), broil up a pizza for one and press up (OK, the "up" doesn't work there does it?) the perfect sandwich for your Oscar party. Jane, author of the cocktail/food pairing piece, is out today, but we're covered here by "Mixtress" Gina Chersevani who's in the house to help with those questions. And something tells me Spirits columnist Jason Wilson may show his (virtual) face at some point, too.

As always, our favorite posts will win a free book. In the cocktail vein, we have the cool new reissue of Bernard DeVoto's classic "The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto." As pertains to pizza, we have Jim Lahey's fantastic "My Bread." And we have Rocco DiSpirito's "Now Eat This," source of today's DinMin "chicken-fried steak" recipe.

Let's chat!


Dupont Circle, D.C.: I'm ready to start making cocktails at home. I need a good source for a shaker and ideas of liquor stores that have a wide selection of gins and bitters. I don't have a car but perhaps I'd be willing to get one for the right store(s). Any opinion on types of glassware to get as well? Thanks for everything Jason!

Gina Chersevani: I think one of the best liquor stores in the city is Ace Beverage on New Mexico Avenue, NW, ask for Joe when you get there, he has amazing knowledge of all spirits and will help you stock your home bar. As for barware, that's up to you and how much you are willing to spend, for basic items, I like Home Rule on 14th street, NW, they have really handy tools for behind the bar and they are stylish too!


Maryland: Loved the articles on sandwiches (even if using "melty" is cring-worthy) and pizzas for one.

We had a housewarming party a few weeks ago and due to a very wide variety of dietary restrictions and choices, had a massive pizza-like-tapas party. Although I usually make my own dough, I couldn't do it for a party of about 25, so we cheated and bought seven of TJ's premade dough, split each bag in half, and made 14 smaller plate-sized pizzas (maybe 10"?) with a variety of different and interesting toppings and varities. It was a hit-- the only leftovers we had were gone at breakfast the following morning.

Joe Yonan: I do love a pizza party. At my sister's in Maine, we do it every summer (sometimes multiple times), and she, the bread queen that she is, makes the dough while I work on the toppings. I fry up a bunch of her and my BIL's homemade sausages, we usually get some fab local cheeses, and I caramelize onions, roast peppers, make sauce from their home-canned tomatoes, grill eggplant, and on and on. We let people stretch/toss their own dough (sometimes with a little instructional help) and put on their own toppings, and then I play pizzaiolo and ferry the pies back and forth between house and bread oven outside.


Washington, DC: Thanks to David for making my mouth water with all those amazing-looking sandwich recipes. It makes today's lunch (turkey sandwich) look pretty pathetic by comparison. I can't wait to give them a try! Real Entertaining: Sandwiches for a crowd (Post, March 3)

Joe Yonan: I agree -- They're obvious keepers, aren't they?


Petworth: OK Joe, I am quite intrigued by your 12-hour tomatoes, but I have a few questions: Do you keep them in the fridge or a cabinet? Do you can them, or just pack them in oil?

I'm hoping that there is a way to make these that will allow me to use them as gifts. I have both a water bath canner and a pressure canner.

Joe Yonan: I just pack them in oil and refrigerate them. (I do sterilize the cans, but I don't process them.) I believe that to safely process them to be shelf-stable, you'd need that pressure canner, but I'm reluctant to recommend anything specific here as I haven't had a chance to look into that. But I will seek some advice and probably write something about it on our blog, OK?

Joe Yonan: Let me clarify a little: I'm careful to not include any garlic with the tomatoes, because that can cause a botulism risk, and I also make sure the oil completely covers them, then close them up tightly. Once I open a jar, I use it within a couple of weeks.


Rockville: I'm in charge of the youth in my church. We meet weekly and do fun things. I'm planning one where I teach the girls how to cook something, but here's the catch: we can't actually cook in the building. Do you have any suggestions for meals that require no cooking? Or maybe meals that can be assembled, frozen, and then cooked but require no cooking during assembling time? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Good for you, R'ville. Food = fun. How about a salad extravaganza? We published this great guide a while back. Or you could do a session on doughs that can be frozen (breads, cookies, pizza), or sauces that can be done in the blender; a whirrled of possibilities there. Or, see if you can rent a chocolate tempering machine and make some custom candy. Hot stuff.


Washington, DC: Pizza! I love making pizza, but I too have only an electric oven that reaches about 500 F max. The pizzas I can make in it are delicious, but the crust is softer, and making a crispy crust would be great. I'm concerned about the methods written about today, though. The one that would appear to work best for me would be heating the inverted cast iron pan (which I have) or a pizza stone (which I don't), and then quickly assembling a pizza on it before broiling. I'd be afraid of a disaster though, since, if I slide the oven rack out to far, it could topple out, especially with something as heavy as a cast iron pan on it. What would you think of a two-step baking process--baking the crust first, perhaps under the broiler in a preheated oven, taking it out to add the toppings, and then putting it back under the broiler. I think this would be a lot safer and could possible achieve a similar result. What do you think?

Joe Yonan: Here's what I'd do: Rather than sliding the rack out and risk the toppling as you say, after preheating the pan on the stovetop, invert it and put it in under the broiler for another 10 minutes or so. Then when you're ready to quickly top it -- and I mean very quickly, with toppings and crust at hand -- reach in with your hand safely inside a good oven mitt and grab the skillet by the handle and quickly pull it out of the oven/broiler and back onto the stovetop. Top it there, then put the pan back under the broiler.

I think the two-step baking process you describe would result in a too-puffy crust where the toppings aren't. Anything's worth a try, though -- if I attempted this technique, I'd "dock" the crust in the center (poke holes in it with a fork to try to keep the puffing under control.


Chicago: Joe - I luv the chat and the food site. And I do understand that you have to have ads on the site. I really do. Maybe you aren't aware of this, and maybe it's my system (mac/opera). But when I try to print a recipe using the handy-dandy "print this recipe" button, I get random ads on the printed recipe. At best: this is annoying. At worst: I was trying to print the Smearcase recipe, and in print preview saw a large pic of a child w/ a cleft palate. Anything you can do to change this? thanks

Joe Yonan: Oh, boy. I've gone on record before as saying how much I hate this, but haven't made any headway in having it changed. I'm going to use your message as ammunition for another round. Wish me luck!


birthday cake: For hubby I am imagining a chocolate cake sprinkled with some brandy and jam and layered with some sort of cream or frosting. Do you have any ideas or recipes I could use to make such a cake?

Leigh Lambert: Oh, yum! I would use this straightforward Chocolate Cake so you can adulterate it with all the bells and whistles (it provides a chocolate butter cream as well, but I would just use a lightly sweetened whipped cream so it's not too rich). I'm thinking either an apricot or raspberry jam (seedless) and then have fun with the sprinkles and candles.


Washington, DC: The Chat Leftovers post reminded me of a question I forgot to ask earlier.

If I were to make Andreas Viestad's roasted chicken recipe (which I've been meaning to try and looks amazing), am I going to have a lot of junk to clean off of the oven rack after the bird is done? Or is it not really a problem/worth the elbow grease required to clean the rack after? Chat Leftovers: Roast chicken basics

Bonnie Benwick: What a good recipe. Not a lot to clean up, really. Make sure the chicken is the size called for in the recip -- the fattier the bird is, the more it will sputter in the oven.


Buttermilk Baking Question: Can I substitute buttermilk for regular milk without making any other adjustments in a muffin/quickbread or cake recipe (as in the Apple Multigrain Muffins you have on your page today)? I love the flavor it gives to baked goods, especially apple-y ones. Please advise, thanks!

Leigh Lambert: That's a very interesting question because usually people wonder about the reverse - how to get by NOT using buttermilk. I think you would be fine replacing the buttermilk where regular milk is called for in most recipes. The Applesauce Multi-grain muffins are pretty adaptable. With more delicate cakes you may find the leavening is affected because the acid in buttermilk reacts with baking soda/powder chemically.


Washington, DC: Thanks for hosting this discussion. I recently heard the author of the book "Food Nation" talk about the abuse of the chicken industry. It really disgusted me. How can I be sure that I'm not contributing to this awful condition?

Bonnie Benwick: Research the company that processes your birds, or buy direct from the farmers market.


Boulder, CO: Hello food folks. We just moved into a new house with my dream kitchen (which includes a Viking gas range and a Bosch dishwasher - yay) and I'm in heaven! But, I do have a question about the range. I don't think I've ever had a gas oven before so this is new to me. When I turn it on to preheat we can really smell the gas. Is this common or am I one match away from burning down my dream house? I don't have this issue when I turn on the stove burners.

Joe Yonan: Call the manufacturer. You shouldn't smell gas.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi all,

Thanks for taking my question. I've got a cupcake recipe that calls for self-rising flour. A little Google-fu suggests that I can make my own by adding various amounts of baking powder and salt to AP flour, but the sources vary on the amounts. Any suggestions?

Also, the recipe calls for 2 cups of self- rising flour AND a teaspoon of baking powder. If there's baking powder in the flour already, should I be adding more? Thanks very much.

Here's the full recipe, if that helps:

White Chocolate and Strawberry Cupcakes

1 c. sweet butter 1 c. superfine sugar 2 c. self-rising flour 1 t. baking powder 4 eggs 1 t. strawberry extract 1/2 c. white chocolate chips

Leigh Lambert: I love Googling for just that type of information. Of course, the caveat is that sometimes you get conflicting advice. I would split the difference, as it were. Take two or three of your results and average the ratio recommended. Regarding the additional leavening: keep it. If it is in the original recipe then the creator determined there is not enough in the self-rising flour alone to do the job.


Arlington, VA: Do you guys ever cover food events in the city either on the WaPo pages or in your blogs? (Please, don't take this as a criticism, I know you have a lot to do.)

I could not find any press or blog accounts about the last week's Les Dames biannual symposium. I would like to know whether my deliberately missing it was a mistake.

I used to attend all Les Dames events when they first started in DC area. I loved the first symposium that was held in a DC hotel: great presenters, lots of new subjects and foods I've never tasted before. It was amazing! It inspired me to learn to cook like "them."

After a few years of hiatus I attended the 2008 gathering in MD and was disappointed. With the exception of you Bonnie, Ris Lacoste and three Susans: Belsinger, Watterson and Holt most of the sessions I attended were boooooring.

Lunch was served sans wine. In comparison with the lunch Les Dames served at their very first symposium it was very uninspired. They served lovely Rose at the conclusion of the MD events, but I could not enjoy it knowing that I have a long drive home via Beltway.

There were several presenters of interest to me scheduled at Saturday's symposium, but, as if they were appearing in a Sesami Street sketch, they were alloted very little time. It seems to me that the schedule was put together not on the basis of what is interesting and new in the food world (sous vide or Bryan Voltaggio were nowhere to be found), but on the basis of not offending long time member- Dames who at this point don't seem to have much new to say.

Bonnie Benwick: Hi Arl. Did you fill out a feedback form at the end of the day? The Dames need to hear your critique most of all.

I didn't get to go to the hands-on classes, but I thought the programs on using ethnic ingredients; cooking with uncommon spices (Aliza Green and chef K.N. Vinod were most entertaining and informative); fish, and blogging 101 seemed current enough. Perhaps you would have preferred different guests on the panels. Although I have to say that our food writing panel -- David Leite, Domenica Marchetti, Joe and me -- seemed to go over well.


Good Drinks?: I love a good fruity girlie drink but am running out of things to make. What's a good springish drink that won't require me to get out my blender? I usually have a lot of different liquiors on hand but tend to like grey goose vodka and top shelf flavored liquiors best. I don't like patron or tequilla.

Gina Chersevani: If you want something that has a spring-like flavor but in the near future, that doesn't involve a lot of work, here is a recipe that I like...1 1/2 oz of Bluecoat gin or vodka (i prefer gin), 2 oz of the Pink Grapefruit juice fresh squeezed, 2 tbls of ginger syrup ( you can use Stirring's ginger or make your own), pinch of cinnamon. Combine all the ingredients into a shaker, with ice, shake until a bit foamy and strain into a rocks glass over ice and garnish with a grapefruit slice. Trust me this is awesome!

Joe Yonan: OK, yum.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Loved the pizza article! I make homemade pizza all the time. Before I bought a peel I used Lahey's suggestion of just putting the dough on the pre-heated stone, then quickly adding the toppings and putting the entire thing back in the oven. I can't stress enough what a giant PITA that was, with the weight of the stone, the need to work quickly, and worrying about burning myself. But the real reason I'm glad I stopped doing that was because it made the resulting pizza very cracker-y since the dough had long been cooked before the cheese could even melt. It's definitely fine, it works, but I've gotten much better dough results using a peel. Cooking for one: Hot on the trail of the perfect pizza (Post, March 3)

Joe Yonan: Thanks! Yes, since I finished the piece I've tried putting it right on the stone or skillet, too, and for me what I miss is the chance to continue to shape it a little bit on the peel before it starts cooking. When I put it right on the preheated stone or skillet, it's usually pretty misshapen because I'm transferring it with my hands. But I have to say -- I didn't have the problem you did, of the dough being overdone. Sounds like maybe you're not using the broiler, though? The broiler does a nice job of doing from above what the skillet or stone is doing from below...


Chicago, IL: Hey guys, a (hopefully) quick question:

How long will homemade mayo last? I want to start making my own and experimenting with adding stuff, but I have to admit - this is not something I want to be making all the time, whenever I need mayo. I'd like to make a generous batch that would last at least a few weeks. Is that doable? My Joy of Cooking said it was only good for about two days.

(And of course, if you have any awesome suggestions for things to add to mayo, other than the regular stuff like garlic and pesto, I'd be much appreciative. Thanks!)

Bonnie Benwick: If you use pasteurized eggs and some sort of acid like lemon juice or vinegar, and keep it refrigerated in an airtight container, I don't see why it wouldn't last a week or two. Smell it before using.

Introduce a little green curry paste and you've got a great dip for toasted pitas or wontons.


Silver Spring, MD: I had a small dinner party and served the Mango-Cranberry Chicken. I used the sauce with chicken and with the Quorn brand Chick'n. Both turned out well. I also served roasted broccoli. My problem is with the other side dish. Since my husband is vegetarian, I wanted to use beans so I made the Zucchini and Chickpea Saute with Couscous but the flavor didn't work with the Mango-Cranberry sauce. Any other suggestions? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Hmm. Maybe spaetzle would be nice. Or gnocchi.


Rockville, MD: I know Spring is coming as my garlic heads are growing sprouts on top of their little heads. Does this diminish the garlic's flavor in any way, and can the sprouts be cut off and put to use, i.e., tossed in a soup stock?

Joe Yonan: When garlic starts to sprout, it flavor turns bitter. Very sad.


Washington DC: Hi Foodies, Can you help me? I have a lot of fondue left over from a chocolate fondue party. Basically good quality chocolate melted togetehr with half and half and a little vanilla. It's in my freezer now. I was hoping I could use it for something else -- maybe some baked good, adding flour, etc? Any ideas? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: You could use the ganache to fill small tarts, top cupcakes, frost a pan of brownies or fold into whipped cream for a mousse. What else, Free Rangers?


DC: re Perfect Pizza, a couple of questions: the recipe for 12-hr. tomatoes says they can be stored for up to 3 weeks. How do you keep them all winter?

Does the pizza stick to the bottom of the skillet if you don't use corn meal? Does it matter if the broiler is electric and not gas (lucky you)?

Joe Yonan: We'll update that recipe to reflect this, but that 2-week reference is to just the tomatoes by themselves. Since writing it originally, I've been experimenting with packing them tightly into jars and covering them with oil, which extends their time in the refrigerator by several months. See the previous answer on this topic in this chat -- after you open one of the jars, use the tomatoes with 2 weeks.

On your other question, nope, the crust doesn't stick. That pan is too hot, so it sears it nicely. I've tried this in an electric oven, too, and it still worked -- just took a little longer, which is why we listed the time range in the recipe.


In Need of a Dip: A friend is hosting a dip party and I'm looking for suggestions for a dessert type dip. I've done fruit dips and am looking for something different. A fondue won't work that well because we are also playing game so it should be something I don't have to monitor. I'm at a loss. Any tips from you or the crowd would be great.


Bonnie Benwick: Try mascarpone with whipped cream, or tahini sweetened with a little agave nectar.


Providence, RI: Why sift? I've been skipping the sifting. Instead I'll use my whisk to mix the dry ingredients. Is this ok?

Bonnie Benwick: Depends on what you're baking -- how much the texture's a factor, and most important, whether the amount of dry ingredients is measured before or after sifting (big diff!).

Joe Yonan: I must confess: I'm a whisker. But if the recipe calls for sifting before measuring, I whisk in the flour container before I scoop.

Bonnie Benwick: Aha! But you dip and sweep to level off, right, editor Joe?

Joe Yonan: Of course! And if possible, I weigh.


Printing recipes: It adds steps, but I copy the recipe and use the "paste special" feature in Word to paste the text into a document as unformatted text and print (or just save) from there.

Joe Yonan: Yes, I do this, too. (Sad to have to have a workaround here, but glad you've figured it out...)


Stocking the Freezer: Question about freezing meals - should they be meals that have already been cooked or is it the meal all assembled (ex. casserole) and frozen raw?

Bonnie Benwick: Can be done either way. What ingreds do you have in mind?


Falls Church VA: Like Joe, I have been on a pizza-making journey over the last decade or so, and lately I have settled on the no-knead dough as my dough of choice. But one problem with that dough (or any pizza dough for that matter) is that the wetter it is, the better. Sticky doughs sometimes stick to the peel, though, even with liberal amounts of cornmeal. All it takes is one small spot with no cornmeal on it for the dough to stick and your pie to flip its toppings as you slide it onto the stone. Here's a tip I picked up a while ago that addresses that problem: use a sheet of parchment paper on your peel under the pizza, and slide that right onto the stone along with the pie. The dough will stick to the paper before baking, but when it comes out it's crisp and the paper comes right off. (Don't know if using paper if you're baking the pizza right under the broiler would be a good idea, however - it might catch fire.)

Joe Yonan: I couldn't agree with your more, FC: The sticking can be a problem. I put so much cornmeal on that I've been able to get it to slide, still -- and I jiggle it back and forth to make sure it will before I get it onto the stone or skillet. You're right about the parchment: Good for baking, bad for broiling under an open flame. (Although I've since heard from one reader who said that she cuts the parchment to EXACTLY fit her crust, so that might work under the broiler, too.) As I said in the last line of my article, the pizza experiments continue.


Slow cooked eggs: I tried an overnight egg slow cooker recipe in my crock pot, but found that even the low setting is too high. The water went above 170 in short order, and I ended up with pretty standard hard boiled eggs. I'm going to re-try with a different slow cooker that has what should be a lower setting and see if that does any better.

Bonnie Benwick: It's a little tricky. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Even the cook who does them regularly told me so.


Alexandria, VA: I received a spring form pan as a gift a few months ago and I am very excited to use it. What can I make other than cheesecake? I would love some ideas for sweet and savory things. Can I bake regular batter in one? Or just things with a crust?

Bonnie Benwick: Things with crusts, good. You can build any kind of savory pie or strata or bread pudding. Fill it with water in the sink and monitor any leakage. Even if it drips a bit, you can wrap the bottom/outside with aluminum foil. Then it'll be fine for your reg. batters and such.


Vienna, VA: Help, I'm desperate -- desperately curious, that is. Yesterday I went to four grocery stores and none of them had canned pumpkin. There was an empty space on the shelf. What's going on?

Bonnie Benwick: It's the Great Pumpkin Shortage, Charlie Brown. We were warned in November about the effects of a few years of poor pumpkin harvests. Things were supposed to get better in the last half of 2009, but I guess we all baked a lot of pies. I tend to stockpile canned pumpkin and freeze cranberries from year to year. Maybe you can use a different kind of squash?


Experimenting gluten & dairy free cake: My daughter made the Restaurant Eve cake (WP 2006) with white rice flour, soy margarine, and soy milk. This made a wonderful birthday cake and is added to our repertoire. Thought those who need such a cake would be interested. She iced it with a confectioners sugar, soy margarine, and water icing. Restaurant Eve's Cake

Leigh Lambert: I always applaud experimentation. I'm glad to hear it was a success. Thanks for sharing the results.


Pine Plains: Joe, I can't wait to try your pizza technique (but I'll have to wait 18-24 hours). The only other place I've seen this broiler technique is manjula's recipe for naan, at It worked! But I never thought to apply this to pizza. My worry - that it would heat the cheese too much. I use semolina on the peel - don't know if it would burn less than larger grained cornmeal. Anyway, thanks for the idea. I bet it would work for pita too.

Joe Yonan: Ooh, pita -- I've never made homemade pita. Now I think I must.


For Rockville youth group: Can you not cook because there is no kitchen or because of, say, a fire hazard? You could try bringing an electric griddle or something. I showed a youth group once how to make pancakes (wait for the bubbles and all that) and it worked splendidly on the electric griddle.

Bonnie Benwick: Griddles, elec skillets, single induction burners all provide cooking opportunities. Let's assume Rockville's thought of that.


Rockville: We frequently make rice in our house and have leftovers. Do you have a recipe for rice pudding made from this leftover rice? Thanks.

Leigh Lambert: I can't vouch for it personally, but here's a recipe for rice pudding using cooked rice from that sounds promising.


Washington, DC: It's cocktail hour tonight, and while I'll probably end up making gin and tonics, it would be fun to try something different. I have a wide selection of liqueurs at home--including benedictine, ginger and apple flavors. I also have limes and lemons, tonic and soda. Any suggestions?

Gina Chersevani: I do love a good gin and tonic, but simple variation on a GNT is adding bitter's, its called Pink Gin, and its great. Something a little more fun and playful would be to take 1 oz of Calvados, 1/2 tsp of powdered sugar, 1 oz of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 of gin. In a shaker combine all ingredients, fill with ice shake until cold, then strain into martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel. You could try with ginger, too!

Joe Yonan: That's 1/2 ounce of gin...


New York, NY: Hi Joe,

I LOVED the article about pizza. I've never tried making pizza with a cast iron pan, but now I want to! Last week I used my stones to make a (pizza) pie with sweet potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onion, and some sheep's milk cheese.

Here's a tip for people who do want to use pizza stones-- it definitely does make for a crispier crust if you have stones above and below. But, rather than spend 30 each on special pizza stones, just get thick unglazed tiles from someplace like Home Depot or Lowes. This is also great if you have one of the small ovens that is so common in cities, because you can find smaller stones and really customize to your oven's size. I even know of someone who had no real oven, and used tiles to bake on in her toaster oven!

Joe Yonan: Yep, those tiles have many fans...


DC: Another pizza question -- because I have an electric oven there is no pilot light, so I don't really have a warm place for the dough to rise. The kitchen is usually below 70 degrees. Will it rise anyway, but just take longer?

Joe Yonan: Right. But you can recreate the effect of a pilot light by putting boiling water in a cup, setting it in your oven (or microwave), and closing the door. I do this all the time. I only forgot it once, and turned the oven on to preheat while the dough was still in there. That was not pretty. ;-)


Merrimack Valley: First a comment: I'm calling "baloney" on Kobe beef. It's good, but it's no better than Angus, which is a helluva lot cheaper.

Now the question: I knock out homemade chili in a slow-cooker on a regular basis, but I've never had the opportunity to use venison as a base (I'm not a hunter -- no objections to it, I just don't like the out-of-doors). Any suggestions on trustworthy mail-order venison venues, or other alternatives?

Bonnie Benwick: Not sure I'd agree. D'Artagnan does venison, but it's pricey.


roast chicken: I saw the chat leftover about roast chicken. I've made many, but this time used butter with minced shallots, under the skin. WOW! Amazing difference from the salt & pepper, garlic clove inside way I've done it before. And really moist. The skin didn't crisp, but that kept me from eating it, so just as well. Would it need butter outside to crisp?

Bonnie Benwick: Not necessarily. If the bird's dry, the heat's high and the skin's well salted, crisped skin will happen.


Anonymous: I'm trying to build up a fantastic bar, but man is it slow and expensive! I keep reading that vokda is vodka is vodka. With that in mind, what liquors do you suggest splurging on and which do you suggest skimping?

Gina Chersevani: I spend too much money on my bar, way too much. But I do have some cheaper suggestion on liquors that are really good and inexpensive, Old Overholt Rye, Brugal Anejo Rum, actually Bluecoat Gin is great too and its local, as for vodka, there in nothing wrong with Absolut. Save the money for the really unique products, such as Creme de Violet, or a nice aged Scotch, like Balvenie 17.


Compiling recipes: I love reading cookbooks. I love to cook too, but I often cook the same stuff and just read my extensive collection of cookbooks. So I've resolved to start cooking my way through some of the books. As expected, some recipes are amazing and some just so-so. I right notes in the margins and opinions but the recipes are still scattered. How do you compile your favorite/go-to recipes from a large collection of cookbooks? I tend to remember a lot of the good recipes, but I'm bound to reach overload and start forgetting. I'm thinking of photocopying the recipes and compiling them scrapbook-style. I have pictures of desserts and whatnot - maybe I can even add that to the book. Does this sound like OCD or a-okay? Do you have a better suggestion?

Leigh Lambert: When it comes to organizing, OCD is a good thing. Personally, what I do is make a copy of anything from a book and keep it in a binder using protective plastic sleeves. This means they read from both sides, sometimes helpful for magazine recipes where they continue on the next page. One of the things I like about this method is that I can see the source for all the recipes and it accommodates all manner of formats/sizes. I keep one for sweets and one for savory and then have sub-categories - talk about OCD!


Dupont Circle, D.C.: re: cracker-y dough. You're right! I haven't tried the broiler method. I swear mine just can't get that hot (my oven is easily 40 years old) but it's always worth a shot.

Joe Yonan: Yes, ovens are so variable -- do you have gas? If so, I bet your 40-year-old oven does a better job that a 10-year-old one would...


Eating out the fridge/freezer/pantry: HELP!!!! I'm on a mission to clean out my pantry, freezer and fridge (except for condiments). I'm on my last pack of frozen chicken breast (thinly sliced tenderloins). I have a box of pasta left, 8 ounces cream cheese, cream of mushroom soup, chicken stock, chedder cheese, rice and spices. Any good pasta sauce I can make??? I've done searches online and everything calls for either whipping cream or heavy cream neither of which I have and I prefer not to buy it since I won't use it.

It's been great since I haven't had to go grocery shopping in 4 weeks (except for basics like milk, orange juice, bread, and yogurt) but all dinners have been from what's on hand. I'm surpised at how much money has been saved and I've had to be pretty creative but I'm stuck now.

I actually made breaded pork chops using olive oil instead of eggs (didn't have any on hand) and I was suprised at how much better the flavor was. It was also a LOT more tender and juicy.

Joe Yonan: Well, you could certainly make a creamy sauce by whisking some of that cream cheese with the chicken stock. I applaud your commitment here, but are you sure you don't want some vegetables? (The mushrooms in that soup don't count!)


Arlington, VA: I just wanted to follow-up on your discussion of last week. My family is Polish so our Easter food is very traditional. We always get food blessed the day before Easter and Sunday morning we eat ham, kielbasa, homemade farmer's cheese, homemade horseradish and bread.My mom has been making the same recipe for Babka and Sweet Egg bread for years. I wanted to pass the Babka recipe along to the commenter from last week who was trying to recreate a friend's family recipe. It sounds like they might be looking for Babka based on the description.


1 1/2 cups milk, scalded; 3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter; 2 packets of the dry yeast; 1/4 cup warm water; 3 eggs; 3 egg yolks (instead of this, I just use 4 or 5 eggs); 3/4 cup sugar; 1 tsp salt; Grated rinds of 2 oranges; Grated rind of one lemon (adjust rinds to your taste); 1 tsp vanilla; 1 tbsp Grand Marnier (or other orange flavored liqueur); 8 - 9 cups sifted unbleached flour; 1 cup dark raisins; 1 cup golden raisins

Heat the milk, stir in the butter until melted; cool to lukewarm. Proof the yeast in the warm water.

Beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until thick. Add salt, grated rinds, vanilla and liqueur. Add the milk-butter mixture to the egg mixture. Stir in the yeast.

Add the flour, a cupful at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon. The dough should not be dry but it should not be sticky.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Knead in the raisins. Butter a very large bowl and put dough in bowl. Cover and let rise until double in bulk, about an hour. Punch down and let rise a second time until almost doubled, about an hour.

Butter the pans generously. (You can sprinkle the pans with a tablespoon of sugar, if desired.) Divide the dough and place into pans. Arrange evenly in the pans and cover loosely. Let rise to the tops of pans, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cakes for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. Turn cakes onto wire racks and let cool completely.

Bonnie Benwick: Nice. I'm a chocolate babka fan myself.


Arlington, VA: I have a question about substituting for heavy cream in a recipe. We've come across a few pasta recipes that call for heavy cream, and while it is delicious, I've gotten a little freaked about the calorie content. Can half and half be substituted for the heavy cream? Also, would creme fraiche be a higher or lower calorie substitute? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: You can use half-and-half in place of heavy cream, but you'll want to add it toward the end of cooking or once the dish is removed from heat. The fat content of cream can stand up to the heat, but the protein in half-and-half may curdle (unlikely, but play it safe). Sour cream and creme fraiche have more fat than heavy cream. Think of it as a continuum from liquid to solid. Thinner has less fat, thicker has more fat.


Pine Plains: One more thought. You seemed to be using a metal peel, and others with sticking problems use metal peels. I have a wooden peel and rarely have sticking problems. Luck or is wood easier?

Joe Yonan: You readers are eagle-eyed! Indeed, wooden peels stick less, it's true. Although have you tried the no-knead dough? I think it might stick even on a wooden peel. Metal has one advantage, that it's a little easier to get the pizza out of the oven with it, cause the edge is so thin. But I think I should invest in a wooden peel.


Washington, DC : Please help me find a good tasting wine that doesn't contain added sulfites. My husband believes that he is allergic to them.

Joe Yonan: Here's what wine guru Dave McIntyre says:

"That's a tough one, because nearly every winery uses at least a small amount of sulfur at bottling as a preservative to prevent the wine from going bad. In recent years they have been adding less and less, but it is still extremely rare to find a wine with no sulfites added. (And even those might have some naturally.) You might try asking at My Organic Market or a similar store.

"Meanwhile, remember there are more sulfites in orange juice than in wine, so if your husband doesn't have a problem with OJ, or with salad bars, where sulfites are used to keep produce fresh, it's possible he is having a reaction to something else. Histamines are a potential culprit, especially in red wines. Some people order up their cabernet with a Claritin chaser."


Washington, DC: I am hosting a cocktail party for approximately 40-50 people. I would like to offer two signature cocktails. Any advice? Preferably vodka would be one of the ingredients. Thanks!

Gina Chersevani: If and when I host that many people, I make punch, or punches, they are easy and you are off the hook for making all the drinks, they are already done.

Philadephia Fish-House Punch

8 oz of Brandy Cognac

8 oz of Peach Brandy

4 oz of Appleton's Rum

12 oz of Lemon Juice

1/2 pound of Powdered sugar

40 oz of Water ( I use Sparkling water)

In a punch bowl, combine sugar and liquor, make sure all the sugar in stirred in, then add water and garninsh lemon wheels.

This is a great base punch and you can modify this recipe into another by subsituting Tea's for the water content to make another punch cocktail.


Cary, NC: I have a question about the gluten-free, dairy-free cake:

We have egg allergies, and this recipe has a lot to try to sub out. Ener-G isn't great for cakes, and four eggs is too many to simply swap in whipped tofu. I guess I could try a combo... Any ideas on that?

Also, I find that rice flour sweets often have an Asian rice ball flavor when not mixed with something else. Did the original poster notice anything like that?

Leigh Lambert: Allergy-baker's suggestions?


Annapolis: Gina,

Do you use falernum? Any idea where I can get a bottle around these parts??

Gina Chersevani: I do use it, but I don't know liquor stores in Maryland that well, I suggest a trip into NW and visit Joe at Ace Beverage, they have everything for the serious cocktailian.


Re: Compiling recipes: When I find a recipe I really like in one of my cookbooks, I write the title on one of those post-it index stickers and mark the page. I like to coordinate the type of recipe with the color of the sticker -- say, green for breads, red for soups, etc. This way it's easy to find the recipes that I already know are good.

Leigh Lambert: This saves the step of making a copy of the recipe - provided you can remember from which book it is.


NoLo, DC: The obvious way to skip the ads on printed recipe pages is to use ad-blocking software. There are a number of different add-ons available for various browsers (Safari, Firefox) and some browsers have them built in (such as Opera 9 and later's "content blocker").

What's that? I should be viewing the ads on the web pages because that's what pays for the site? Actually, I'd rather just pay for an ad-free web subscription, but the WaPo doesn't seem to want to allow that (and besides, we already have delivery at home...though I'd rather replace _that_ with an electronic subscription)

Joe Yonan: I am afraid that if I recommended this, I might see a pink slip in my future...


Old Town, VA: A week ago while getting some chicken stock simmering on the stove, Ina Garten flashed across the TV and proclaimed that you were to discard the chicken (meat) after making stock as it was flavorless.

Well, knock me over with a $5-per-lb-organic -chicken feather, but I always cook the bird in water and veggies for a half hour, take the bird out, take the meat and fat off and put the carcass back in for the remaining hours of boiling. I've been using the meat for chicken salad, etc and I wonder if I'm the only one doing this or if Ina just might need to ride the Jitney to the Hamptons more often. What do you think?

Joe Yonan: It's true that when you boil something for very long, much if not all of its flavor ends up in the water, and that's true for chicken. But it sounds like since you're cooking the bird for only a half hour before taking the meat off, you're solving the problem, or preventing it, I should say. Ina, meanwhile, leaves those chickens in the water for hours upon hours...

Another thought: You would know better than anyone how your own chicken tastes when you do it this way, right? If it tastes good to you, do it and feel good about it!


Printing Web recipes: Sometimes it works to highlight and copy all the text (and only the text, if possible) from the webpage and then paste it into a Word document if you want to print it. Eliminates any ads, too small, type, etc, depending on the features of that particular webpage. If some of the graphics get copied and pasted anyway, easy enough to delete in Word.

Joe Yonan: This discussion makes me a little sad.


re: slow cooker: I've seen lots of slow cooking discussions lately, but wonder if I can make anything in my pressure cooker besides bean dishes?

Joe Yonan: Sure you can. Any tough cut of meat (I did oxtails in mine to great effect the other day), plus grains, stocks, soups, lots of other things.


re: tomatoes: When are tomatoes in season? I am dying to make the heirloom tomato bruschetta as seen on Julie and Julia.

Joe Yonan: Around these parts, we should start seeing them in June, although I haven't checked this year to see how our cold winter might be affecting things.


Thank you!: Just wanted to thank Stephanie for the AWESOME salmon, orange, cuke, and avocado recipe in last week's food section. I made it last night and it was terrific. Even my 2 and 4 year olds loved it (who normally only want to eat pizza, pasta, etc). This is totally going to become a staple in my kitchen. Thanks again! Salmon Salad With Orange, Cucumber and Avocado

Bonnie Benwick: We will pass that along.


Birthday: I've been asked what I would like for my birthday and I am considering asking for an immersion blender. There seem to be many types avaible. Is there a brand or type superior to others? Do you guys really use yours? I'm a single cook so largely cooking for one.

Bonnie Benwick: I use it probably once a week. I have a Cuisinart model, which I admire for its easy release button (makes for easy cleaning, no electric cord in the sink). Makes pureeing soups and sauces much less of a fuss than the blender.


Washington, DC: Gina, any suggestions for good non-alcoholic drinks? Am pregnant and greatly missing my occasional cocktails. Thanks!

Gina Chersevani: I have two suggestions on easy, Cascal soda's at whole food, quick and easy.

Second, kumquat's, they are a superfruit and very good for you.

In a glass, take 5 kumquat's and 5-7 mint leaves, muddle until skin in broken on the kumquats, add 1/2 oz of Stirring's vanilla simple syrup, fill glass with ice, top with soda water, garnish with a mint sprig, it refreshing and good for you. Congrats!


refrigerating condiments: The question about mayo reminds me of my newly opened bottle of soy sauce that I got at the Asian food store and does not say whether or not it should be refrigerated. It's an enormous bottle, so I've left it out on the counter as my fridge is tiny. What say you? To refrigerate or not?

Bonnie Benwick: You dont have to. Store it in a cool place (not near the stove).


Silver Spring, MD: Was at the Takoma Park farmer's market on Sunday and saw some beautiful mushrooms. Spouse wanted to get some for pasta but I thought tomato sauce might be too heavy. I was thinking of sauteing shallots and mushrooms in butter. (Maybe some pine nuts spinach). So how to complete this sauce?

Joe Yonan: A little touch of cream immediately comes to mind. And some good Parm.


Baltimore, MD: For the poster looking for a vegetarian dish to serve with Mango-Cranberry chicken, how about Indian Style Zucchini and Red Lentils?

Joe Yonan: Absolutely.


For the springform pan: Flourless chocolate cake. I know some people don't like it (and it is rich), but it's perfect for a springform pan.

Bonnie Benwick: Of course.


recipe OCD: I think I have it, too. I used to download text versions of the Cooking Light annual index and put it in a database I created so I could search it. Their online version is ok, but mine is better--or was until I switched computers and didn't have the database program anymore. I also have binders, books with post-it notes, and folders with WaPost clippings. So you're among friends!

Leigh Lambert: You also make an interesting point about computer organizers vs. paper ones. Some folks, like you, favor a duel system.


Washington, DC: We just started making pizza in our house. We like a thin crust. We have a stone, but our problem seems to be with the dough. Have not been adventurous enough to make our own yet, but my husband bought dough from Vace pizza. The dough/crust was good, but our problem is with shaping the dough to get it thin. It just bounces back!! What are we doing wrong? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Sounds to me like it's not resting at room temperature long enough. Are you trying to use it straight from Vace's (or your) refrigerator? Most dough recipes recommend a couple of hours at room temp, which makes it easier to form/stretch.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: It's easy to get the pizza on a wooden peel: nudge the edge under the pizza, use a fork to hold the pizza against the peel and pull. Assuming you have used some sort of ball bearing like cornmeal or semolina, it'll move easily and doesn't hurt the pizza at all. No need to shove the peel all the way under the pizza at all.

Joe Yonan: I see. But I don't need that nudging/fork/etc. with my metal peel. Just slides right in there. Oh, no: Maybe I need a wooden peel to put the pizza IN the oven, and a metal one to take it out? Now you know why pizza becomes an obsession.


Re: cocktails: I love bourbon and everything bourbon related. My goal in life (ok, one goal in life) is to go on the Kentucky boubon trail tour. Anyway, my question: any suggestions for spring-y cocktails featuring . . . bourbon?

Gina Chersevani: Boy am I the right girl for this question, bourbon has my heart as well.

The Alchemist

1 1/2 oz of Maker's Mark

1 oz of St. Germain (Elderflower Liquor)

1 oz of fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz of fresh lime juice

1/2 oz of simple syrup

1 oz of egg whites

pinch of dry lavender

In a shaker combine all ingredients, with NO ice in the shaker, dry shake the ingredients until frothy, then add ice and continue to shake, strain into a martini or coup glass serve with a pinch of dry lavender on top. Enjoy!


Fairfax, Virginia: I'm hosting a casual dinner party this weekend, and I was going to roast a chicken. My standby is some butter, salt, pepper, and herbs rubbed on the chicken and inside. I'm starting to think this is just way too simple, and I'd like to really wow my guests. Have any suggestions?

Bonnie Benwick: Cook it well, and your guests will be wowed. (Or you could make a pan sauce with the drippings, a little Dijon mustard, fresh tarragon and a splash of vermouth.)


re: frosting: I need to make a professional looking chocolate buttercream, but not sure how, and don't have a stand mixer, only hand mixer. I've tried just the gananche, chocolate and heavy cream, and Rose Levy Berenbaum's basic of chocolate and butter only, but they were kind of sickening. I need something I can spread. Could you teach me please?

Leigh Lambert: I offer you the frosting part of the chocolate cake recipe I recommend the other chatter omit. The eggs and coffee give this version dimension and cut some of the butter flavor.


self-rising flour : Trust me, don't guess on the self-rising flour. I had to call the experts at King Arthur Flour for a biscuit recipe I wanted to make and their formula was 1 cup flour plus 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder (like the Rumford brand) and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, depending on your taste.

Leigh Lambert: King Arhtur would be the expert on the matter.


Alexandria, VA: Please help me. No matter what I do I can't seem to cook rice so that it is done but doesn't burn. I have followed directions on the back of the package, I have used recipes, yada, yada, yada. When I cook Rice-A-Roni type rice, I don't have a problem. I follow the directions on the back of the box, but those packages are high in salt. I don't really want to get a specialized cooker for rice so, suggestions, please?

Bonnie Benwick: If the Rice a Roni mojo works for you, then treat your plain rice the same way. Heat a little olive oil, add the rice and saute to coat it. Boil the appropriate amount of water or broth (2:1 ratio), then add the boiling water and cover. Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for about 15 minutes.

Report back!


Bar building: So, I've accumulated odd bottles of Midori, creme de cassis, peach brandy, etc. How long will these partly-used bottles last?

Gina Chersevani: Honestly...oh forever of until they evaporate, seriously though, keep them in a cool place, and out of direct sunlight and they should be good to go.

Try using the midori as ice, take the midori and pour it into ice molds, and make the sencondary ingredients, in a gin and soda. It's fun and it works!


NY, NY-- No cook cooking: Rockville could make vegetarian sushi or fresh spring rolls with the youth group.

Bonnie Benwick: That's a good one.


Annapolis: For my fellow Annapolitan, looking for falernum - I made my own via a recipe from this site and it turned out great! Waiting time aside, it's quicker than driving into D.C. from our neck of the woods!

Joe Yonan: Yep, that recipe is here: Homemade Falernum.


re: sandwiches: I was confused by the make-ahead instructions. It appears to say that you shouldn't press them more than 2 hours ahead of time but that you could also wrap and tightly and store the night before. Or is it that you can wrap and store overnight, and then press up to 2 hours before eating? I ask because I'd love to figure out a way to include pressed sandwiches in my lunch repetoire, and making them the night before would be idea. On a smaller scale, of course.

Joe Yonan: Yes, you can wrap the night before but wait to press 2 hours before eating.


For Cary NC about the gluten/dairy free cake: We don't have egg issues. I have no suggestions about substitutions.

We were very pleasantly surprised at how good this cake was--no rice ball flavor. It's better tasting than the Betty Crocker Gluten Free yellow cake mix cake. It's not even as grainy as our other rice flour cake. When we were experimenting, I made certain we used Bob's Red Mill White Rice Flour and not brown rice flour. Getting rid of the bran made a much finer grained cake.

Leigh Lambert: Good tip on the brown rice vs. white rice flour.


Banana cake: I'm planning to buy (not bake) a cake for my baby's upcoming first birthday. I was thinking banana cake, and some of the filling options are apricot puree or raspberry jam. Do you think either of those would go well with banana cake, or should I go with something more traditional, like whipped cream? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: I'm thinking whipped cream would set-off the banana flavor best, maybe a schmear of chocolate?


Reston, Va.: Re: printing recipes without ads--I know we can all come up with various work-arounds, but yes, it would be easier if we could just print the darn recipes. Mapquest has a feature that allows you to print your directions without ads--it's a checkbox menu. I'm sure someone at the Post could figure this out (or call Mapquest!). We still see the ad on the website, but don't have to see it every time we reference the printed recipe.

Joe Yonan: I agree.


Joe Yonan: Well, our fat has melted and we have blackened in spots, so you know what that means -- slide a peel under us and whisk us out of the oven, because we're done.

Thanks for the great questions today, and thanks to our Mixtress, Gina, for helping answer all the cocktail queries. Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who asked about a bourbon drink for spring will get Bernard DeVoto's "The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto." The Pine Plains chatter who asked about metal vs. wooden peels will get Jim Lahey's "My Bread." And the Arlington chatter who asked about subbing half/half in a recipe will get "Now Eat This!" Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you your books.

Until next week, happy eating, drinking, cooking and reading.


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