washingtonpost.com
Free Range on Food: Underground restaurants, the secret to chewy cookies, pickling, beets, best ginger beer, head-on shrimp, PBJ desserts...and ravioli?

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, March 10, 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.

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, food people of the world, and welcome to Free Range. Are you ready to cook, eat, drink, or all of the above? Have you been to any of the underground restaurants Jane wrote about today? Got your Irish whiskey ready for St. Paddy's Day? Planning on pirohis for Lent? We'll handle that and anything else you want to throw our way.

And we'll have giveaway books, naturally. There's "Fresh Flavors Fast" by the Everyday Food people, and "Rum Drinks" by Jessica Harris awaiting the sources of our favorite lines today.

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DC: I want to make a PB&J themed dessert for a baby shower. So far I've brainstormed PB&J stuffed French toast bites or PB&J turnovers. Do you have any more ideas? I plan to do some experimenting over the weekend. For French toast, what should I put in the batter to pull the flavors together? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: If you're going to stuff the French toast with pbj, I don't think you need to add anything to the batter. There's pbj ice cream; you could do little ice cream floats, I guess. Maybe it'd be good to have just pb in some things: You could do Peanut Noodles, served in jelly jars, for instance. I'm sure you could devise some sort of trifle with a swirl of those ingredients. The Barefoot Contessa has a recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. Perhaps one word of advice: Less is more.

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Arlington, Va S: Amusingly, my PostPoints Food Tip this morning had a recipe for "Zuppa di Pesca Alla Catanese" (peach soup), but linked to a "Zuppa di Pesce Alla Catanese" (fish soup) recipe. Whoops. :)

Moving on... I found the underground restaurants article very interesting, but disappointing for myself. I've always been an adventurous eater and am a good cook, but back in 1994 I went vegetarian. I have a hard time attending foodie events because of this and it is my only regret about being a vegetarian. Are you aware of any underground restaurants (or foodie events in general) that would be vegetarian acceptable? I'm particularly hoping for something where the vegetarian aspect wouldn't be the topic of conversation so as to have the varied discussions as mentioned in your fine article.

Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: Post Points

Bonnie Benwick: Well, you have me to thank for that amusing/confusing reference to the soup.

Jane Black: The main example in today's story is an underground restaurant that serves only vegetarian food and we definitely didn't talk about vegetarian food all night. So check out Hush!

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Washington, DC: I know pizza was last week, but I thought of something interesting I wanted to ask. I love making pizza, and I have a friend who is lactose intolerant. Were I to make pizza for him, I would have to forgo the cheese for his. Would replacing shredded mozzarella with shredded hashbrowns be a clever and acceptable substitute? With a pizza topped with sausage, sage, and carmelized onion, I think it would be tasty, and look a bit like cheese. Were I to do this, how much do you think I should cook the potatoes first?

Joe Yonan: I like potatoes on pizza, and this sounds good! There are plenty of pizza recipes that don't call for cheese: Jim Lahey has delish-looking ones in his "My Bread" that fall into this category, including one that's potatoes/onions/rosemary and one that's celery root/onions/nutmeg.

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DC underground restaurants: Great article -- What an interesting trend! Do you think foodies who are in their 50s and older would be out of place at these gatherings?

washingtonpost.com: Dinner is served, but we can't say where (Post, March 10)

Jane Black: I don't think so. The night I went to Hush, the age skewed younger. But I know Geeta tries to create a range at dinners and will make sure that you are not the only over 50s. Most dinners require you answer a survey so they are checking to make sure that there is a good mix.

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Hong Kong: I have a -lot- of leftover mushroom risotto, and I'm planning to use it for arancini. But I think there will be too many to eat in one sitting.

Do you think they would freeze well -- either cooked or formed into balls and ready to cook? I know risotto on its own doesn't.

If not, I'm willing to have an impromptu arancini party.

Bonnie Benwick: Cooked ones will freeze just fine.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: How do you make chewy cookies rather then crunchy ones. I always follow the recipes and when I take the cookies out of the oven, they are still soft. But when I leave them out to cool, they always harden. Is there a secret to making and keeping cookies chewy and soft?

Leigh Lambert: The biggest difference to keep in mind is the consistency of the fat, i.e. butter. Instead of creaming it with the sugar try melting it and working from there. This has helped the texture of my cookies.

Joe Yonan: Also, brown sugar rather than white helps keeps cookies softer/chewier...

Bonnie Benwick: and sometimes bread flour's better to use than AP flour.

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Annandale, Va.: I was confused by something in the description of Geeta's dinner in Jane's article today. If Jainism prescribes a diet that bans root vegetables, how can she serve carrot halva? What are carrots if not a root vegetable?

washingtonpost.com: Dinner is served, but we can't say where (Post, March 10)

Jane Black: Yes, there was an unintended connection between those two sentences. At most dinners at Hush, including the one I attended, the food is vegetarian, not Jain. That said, she does talk about vegetarianism and Jainism at the dinners. We've added a clarification to the story.

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Springfield, VA: Are there other churches in the area that you know of that do Lenten dinners?

I'm sure the one that was profiled today is going to get slammed. I don't think I can get there until close to 6:30/7 and by when they might be out of food!

Bonnie Benwick: I think they'll have enough pirohis! Epiphany's dinners are so well organized that I bet they can handle some extra customers this week.

There are other churches that offer Lenten meals in the area. Someone just told me about the midday meatless ones at St. Mary's Apostolic Church in Northwest DC....Carryout's available and it's buffet-style, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thurs-Sat next week. Your best bet is to try to find a newsletter put out by a catholic parish in your area. It will contain listings of dinners at nearby churches.

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Creamy Pasta Sauce fix: In response to last week's chat question about alternatives to cream in white pasta sauces, how about making a bechamel sauce? It doesn't stick to pasta quite as well, but making it with low fat milk can give you the creaminess without most of the fat. I did this for dinner using sauteed chicken, broccoli, yellow pepper strips and whole wheat pasta and it was great! To make the bechamel, melt 2 TBSP of butter add 2 TBSP of flour, then stir in 2 cups of milk and boil down until thickened. I add fresh nutmeg, cayenne or hot red pepper flakes, salt, oregano, and a few shaves or parmesan or other good melting cheese.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Herndon VA: Hello!

My husband brought me back about 20 vanilla beans from his recent trip to Madagascar (at least I think it's the bean -- he brought back the stalks about 6 inches long). I was told that if you place 15 beans/stalks in a bottle of vodka, it will turn into vanilla extract in 2 months. Is that true? Is there anything else that I should use them for besides putting them in sugar? Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: What a lovely gift! The soaking of the beans in vodka should yield a usable extract, though I can't vouch from personal experience. Vanilla beans are great in custards, ice cream and sauces.

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lingonberry drinks?: I bought a bottle of lingonberry juice concentrate from IKEA, just add water to the syrup and drink. I'm wondering if I could make a proper rum drink out of it. Any ideas?

Jason Wilson: Hmmmm. You've stumped me. I don't know about a "proper" rum cocktail, but I once saw a recipe for a blender drink that was rum, frozen strawberries, and lingonberry juice... Here's an interesting recipe that you can add, say, an ounce or so of rum to.

Another thing to try might be a sparkling wine cocktail with a little lingonberry juice? Most of the recipes I find online call for cosmopolitan variation, using lingonberry instead of cranberry juice. Good luck!

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Washington, DC: Friends are having a baby soon so I thought I would make a cottage pie for them to pull out of the freezer. Should I freeze it after assembly or bake first then freeze?

Bonnie Benwick: Do you mean a shepherd's pie? I'd assemble and let them bake it.

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Tahini substitute?: I'm just wondering ... and please forgive me if this makes you cringe ... but is it possible to substitute something else for tahini when making hummus or baba ganoush?

The store was out of tahini but I have peanut butter and almond butter in the pantry. I've used peanut butter instead of sesame paste for Asian "sesame" noodles so it occurred to me that just maybe a similar substitution would work for Middle Eastern food.

Of course the final taste would be a bit different, but would it be awful?

Thanks for your opinion.

Joe Yonan: I'm a fan of nut butters of all types, so I don't cringe as much as think that you'd need to make some adjustments and be up for trial and error before this might work. I'd be more inclined to try almond butter rather than peanut butter the first go-round, since it's usually oilier and closer to tahini in texture than most PB. And I'd make sure that whichever one you used, it's all-natural one (no PBs with added sugar, for instance). Start slowly, blending it in, and taste as you go -- and be prepared to add a little olive oil and/or water to help with the texture.

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Kale: Got any suggestions for a delicious, vegan dish that features kale? I've got a bunch in my fridge, and am looking to branch out from my usual garlic/white bean/pasta combo. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Google "kale chips" and prepare to be overwhelmed by a kajillion recipes for this trendy-for-a-reason approach to kale.

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Gallery Place Metro: I remember an article that was in the food section that talked about coddled eggs, specifically coddled eggs with spinach but can't find the recipes or the article, can you help me?

washingtonpost.com: Eggs that deserve coddling (Post, Oct. 21, 2009)

Joe Yonan: There you go.

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re: bourbon update: Hi, I was the one who wrote in last week asking for a springy bourbon cocktail. A few friends and I tried Gina Chersevani's recipe for The Alchemist over the weekend (minus the pinch of lavender). Delicious! We may have had a few too many, but what fun is the beginning of spring without a few drunken evenings? Thanks!

Jane Black: Fantastic. Glad to hear it.

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Alexandria, VA: I really like the look of the pork and leeks recipe but I have a question about the cooking timing. Browning for 3 min. on each side plus another 8 min. cooking in liquid seems like way too much time. I have seen this in other recipes (I had to explain it to my husband when he made me a pork chop dinner that was over done which he tried again when I adjusted the cooking times and it came out perfect), why insist on cooking pork chops, particularly boneless pork chops until they are tough?

washingtonpost.com: Leek-Smothered Pork Chops

Joe Yonan: We aren't insisting you cook them until they're tough, of course: We're saying that with this technique, they don't get tough. If you follow Stephanie's instructions and have a different result, feel free to let us know.

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Washington, DC: Cottage pie = ground beef. Shephards pie = ground lamb. I had to ask a British relative for the difference.

Bonnie Benwick: Ah. I'll stick with my assemble-let-them-bake answer.

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20783: Any tips on where to get the best ginger beer? I got a few cans of Idris Fiery ginger beer from Harris Teeter to make dark n stormies, but it was so so sweet. The only other alternative they had, though, was Goya, which has Capsaicin added. I'd love something that's spicy because of the GINGER in it.

Jason Wilson: Blenheim is an excellent spicy ginger ale -- I was just using it for Dark n Stormies this weekend. Barritt's is also excellent, though not as spicy.

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pickling: I have some gherkin pickle juice left in the jar and I wanted to know if I could use it for anything or if it was best to just toss it. My sister, bless her disgustingness, used to drink the pickle juice when we were young. Yuck!

Jason Wilson: As a matter of fact, you could use it as an excellent chaser for your Irish whiskeyIrish whiskey...

Bonnie Benwick: Freeze it into pops.

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Washington, DC: I'm pregnant, and craving a cocktail. I found a recipe for a virgin margarita on the rocks, but it calls for agave nectar. Any idea where I could find that around here? Thank you!

Jane Black: They have it at Whole Foods.

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Chevy Chase, MD: How do we determine if we are cool enough to get invited to an underground restaurant? I used to think I was moderately cool but my kids now disagree. It sounds like a really fun way to spend a delicious evening.

Jane Black: I hereby proclaim you cool enough! Done.

Seriously, I think if it's a club like Orange Arrow, you just need to know someone. It's a word of mouth thing where they want friends, friends of friends etc. But others like Hush and Wok +Wine are not so exclusive and are just looking for a fun mix of folks. I'd recommend those for sure.

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Beating beets: Ok, I don't actually want to beat beets, but would love suggestions on how to cook and peel them (or peel and cook them) in such a way that I minimize turning my hands red or orange (depending on the beet). I really love the taste of beets, but peeling them is a pain.

Bonnie Benwick: 1. Food-safe gloves.

2. Roast them, individually wrapped in foil. When they're done and cooled a bit, use the foil to help scrape off the skins as you unwrap.

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Reston, Va.: Just wanted to say thank you for the photo showing the proper way to serve pirohiy--with sour cream! My university dining hall used to serve them with marinara sauce and a green-pepper-and-onion mixture. Ugh.

I've attempted to make my grandmother's Pascha bread the past two years, and although the flavor is spot on, it's come out dry. I couldn't find a straight-sided (or close to it) round bread pan like she used to have, so I tried baking it in a Corningware dish and thought that might have caused the dryness. Last year I baked it in panettone liners, but it was still dry.

Maybe I'm just overbaking it--I'll try decreasing the baking time again this year--but I was hoping to find a source for a straight-sided round metal bread pan. Any ideas?

washingtonpost.com: Gallery: Washington Cooks: Pirohis draw a crowd | Article: Washington Cooks: Recipe for a Lenten meal (Post, March 10)

Bonnie Benwick: Sounds like they were confusing them with ravioli.

Daria Parrell (in the story today) says she makes great Easter bread. There's a recipe or two in the church's cookbook, which is for sale at the Lenten dinners. I think you may have good luck finding that type of pan at a large Asian market or Middle Eastern market that has household goods/pots and pans. I've seen handle-less aluminum pans with lids that would be perfect.

Chatters, any thoughts on the dryness issue?

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for Jason - Merlot rec'ds: Jason, We're looking forward to dinner with friends tonight, an early St. Pat's celebration. They asked us to bring wine to go with a lamb stew. We're considering a merlot, because we all like it and b/c we thought it's "fullness" and mellowness might work with well with the rich lamb. Do you have thoughts about Coppola merlots? Or Washington State merlots? (sentimental connections/meanings) Otherwise, we can pick a few bottles we like. Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Dave McIntyre says this: "Coppola's wines are fine, but you'd be on strong ground to go with your sentimental ties to Washington state. The Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah coming out of Washington are top notch. Look for Chateau Ste Michelle as a widely available brand. K Vintners from Walla Walla makes excellent syrahs as well."

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Alexandria, VA: I want to join a CSA, but whenever I look at the crops being offered, it seems that the list of vegetables I like is shorter than the vegetables I don't like. I'm a very varied eater, but my husband is less so. If I won't eat beets, I KNOW he won't! Is there any way to join a CSA and not get certain vegetables (like beets and eggplant)? I like the idea of joining a CSA, but not if I'm paying for veggies I don't eat. I could give them away, but I'd still be paying full price for things I don't want.

Jane Black: Not really. That's kind of the thing about CSAs: They're geared to people who want to experiment and really want to be forced to eat with the seasons. I've been trying to persuade farmers for years to come up with more flexible options (not because I don't like lots of vegetables but because I like to choose based on what I'm in the mood for.) The basic response has been: Yeah, we could. But we have enough people who are willing to pay up front for whatever we give them so why bother?

They have a point. Which is why I am not a member of a CSA. If you are picky, a farmers market may be your best option too.

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Head on, Shrimp: Hi Everyone,

I have a question about head on shrimp. Since the vein isn't cleaned out (I assume) how exactly do you go about eating them? Clean as you peel and eat?

Also, I haven't had any luck finding head on shrimp in stores in the district - I did see some at H mart in the burbs once. Any thoughts on if they are available in DC?

Thanks!

Jane Black: You squeeze the part between the head and the body between thumb and forefinger and pull the head apart with the other hand. (I think that's the best way to explain. I know I can do it...) Then you suck out the brains (sorry, it's true) and peel and eat the body. You can devein it then but lots of people don't (sorry, it's true.)

As for where to get them, H Mart is a good idea. They also stock them at Black Salt Market. 4883 MacArthur Boulevard, NW,(202) 342-9101.

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pb&j: for the pb&j chatter - how about cupcakes with peanut butter frosting filled with a jelly filling? they jelly doesn't have to be grape, use a raspberry (no seeds) or strawberry. the peanut butter isn't overly thick and overpowering and the jelly is a nice surprise inside.

Joe Yonan: Let's count the cupcake suggestions: Here's one...

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PBJ dessert: Cupcakes?

Joe Yonan: That's two ...

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PB & J: Make pb&j cupcakes!

Use a basic 1-2-3-4 recipe, with pb as the fat. Use your favorite preserves for the jelly.

1 cup of peanut 2 cups of sugar 3 cups of cake flour 1/2 tsp of salt 3 tsp baking powder 4 eggs 1 cup milk 1 tbsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Cream peanut butter and gradually add sugar (process should take 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift flour and add baking powder and salt. Add eggs one at a time to the peanut butter. Add flour mixture alternately with milk and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Fill cupcake liners halfway with cake batter. Put a spoonful of preserves in each cup. Put the second half of the batter in each liner, on top of the preserves. Bake in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes. Ice with Peanut Butter Frosting and serve.

Peanut Butter Frosting

4oz of cream cheese (1/2 package) (still cold) 3/4 cup of peanut butter 2 tbsp butter, softened 3 cups of confectioners sugar, sifted Splash of vanilla or rum Milk to thin if necessary

Beat together peanut butter, cream cheese, and butter. Slowly add the confectioners sugar. Add the vanilla or rum. Add milk one tablespoon at a time (or additional rum) to thin, as necessary. Makes about 3 cups.

Makes about 24 cupcakes

Joe Yonan: You're not the first to suggest this, but we like your answer best because you're armed with a recipe!

Joe Yonan: Three!

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cake flour: I have a box of cake flour, but can't seem to find any recipes to use it. Do you have any breads, loafs, muffins, or cake recipes that use cake flour?

Leigh Lambert: We have several recipes archived in our on-line recipe database that call for cake flour. Just type in "cake flour" for the search terms and you will get many choices. In terms of the larger world, the more refined bakers (read European-style) tend to use cake flour for lighter results. Rose Levy Beranbaum and Ann Amernick are two pastry chefs that come to mind you might find some inspiration from.

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Alexandria, VA: Hi - In using your advance search for your recipes, it is great that I can pick a course and even make it meatless, but not an option to also make it gluten-free and/or dairy-free or to exclude recipes with a particular item (like nuts). I know it is hard to include all the options, but more and more people I know need these things. I am not sure how hard it is for you to do this.

That said, can you help me with a dinner plan for someone who is vegetarian and needs a gluten-free meal as well that is not starch heavy (I have lots of potato (plain and sweet), rice, grain, egg, etc.) recipes, but would like a good main dish that isn't so heavy on starch. Thank you!

Joe Yonan: We're actually working on the g-f option -- and hope to roll it out this year. Indeed, it's not easy to do; we have to go through each of the 3,000 recipes manually and tag all those that qualify. But we know it's important, so we're working on it. We'll see how it goes and then consider dairy-free, too.

As for your request, what about this

Italian Vegetable Stew

?

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Near Chicago: So last night my husband took me the 95th Floor restaurant in the John Hancock building in Chicago. Our starter was a shrimp tempura with lemon coulis. The coulis was silky smooth, thick enough to cling to the shrimp and not drip off, not too tart, really perfect for the shrimp -- and I would love to figure out how to make a reasonable facsimile. Any coulis ideas?

Bonnie Benwick: You must have been swaying in the breeze up there. The coulis may have been thickened with egg yolk, with some added tartness from lemon zest, and certainly strained. I bet if you asked, the restaurant would at least tell you what ingredients were used.

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I Hate Vegetables: I think I'm one of those "supertasters" who find most vegetables to be bitter. I'm trying to lower my carb intake, so I wanted to find non-starchy vegetables that I can use in place of pasta, rice or potatoes. I've seen recipes that use zucchini or eggplant "pasta", cauliflower "rice" or "potatoes, etc. I'm hoping I won't be able to taste them when mixed with meat and sauce. Could you rank these 3 vegetables in order of mildest flavor, please?

Joe Yonan: Both zucchini and cauliflower are pretty mild, probably zucchini more so. Eggplant definitely has some bitterness to it, but less so if you get smaller ones.

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Petworth: Lenten dinners at churches - Nativity Catholic, on Georgia Ave NW, in Brightwood, does a Friday fish fry in Lent. Saint Augustine at 15th and V NW also does one.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks. No fish at Epiphany.

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Making crunchy cookies soft: I learned this in the 80s when I worked in a summer camp kitchen and we would make cookies by the hundreds. It works fine with a home batch too, though it can make cookies too soft if you're not careful. Just put a slice of ordinary bread into your storage container, and the moisture from the bread will enter into the cookies. The bread dries out, of course.

Jane Black: Interesting!

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Centreville: As to the vanilla bean question, slice open the beans and scrape out the seeds and put into a small sample size of vodka. You can also cut up he stems and add too.

Leigh Lambert: Yes, opening and scraping first will speed along the steeping process.

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Pennsylvania: I went into Wendy's the other day to get my favorite fast food item - broccoli and cheese baked potato - but they don't sell it anymore! I attempted to make one of my own, but it was just not the same. How do I melt the cheese? And what cheese should I use?

Leigh Lambert: I hate to say, but you probably need to start with Velveeta, not real cheese, for the meltability you're looking for.

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Arlington, Va.: Totally enjoy this discussion, and honestly wait for Wednesday 1:00pm to ask questions could not ask anyone else!!! I brine any chicken I have to roast...my question is...Can I brine chicken with skin on and then skin it just before roasting? I would like to avoid the fat as far as possible, and that is why I need to skin the chicken. However, does the chicken contain less fat when it is skinned and the remaining visible fat is trimmed after it has been roasted or baked? Thank you so much!

Bonnie Benwick: The Journal of the American Dietetic Association published some research on this a long while back (Google through some layers to get to it). Yes, you can brine with skin on and remove the skin before roasting, but you also can brine without the skin. I'd be inclined to roast the chicken skin-on and then remove the skin, but perhaps that would be too much of a temptation....

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Baltimore, MD: For the chatter interested in making vanilla extract: here is a how-to, though it is not much more complicated that pouring vodka over vanilla beans.

Also, if you put a vanilla bean into a bowl of sugar and let sit for a while, you will get vanilla sugar.

Leigh Lambert: Thanks.

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Richmond, VA: Hello all from a "really wants to be warmer" Richmond day. I got bitten by the almost here warm weather and decided to join the new Berry CSA in Richmond, Agriberry. Does anyone have any idea how much fruit I should expect on a weekly basis? I am a single girl and am thinking it might be a good idea to split this with a friend. What are your thoughts my foodie friends? Thanks for the great articles this week, love the one on lent and the recipes!

Jane Black: You need to contact them directly and ask. It really changes from one CSA to another.

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Clifton, VA : St Andrews in Clifton has soup on Fri. Most Catholic churches do in VA.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks, Clifton.

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PB & J dessert for baby shower: If this baby shower is a special occasion, not one of those can't-wait-till-it's-over quick and easy events try Roland Mersnier's Peanut butter and Jelly roulade, also check Gale Gand, Dorie Greenspan and Martha Stewart. Your guest will be amazed at how good PB&J can taste and will be grateful for your effort.

Bonnie Benwick: A roulade is a great idea.

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Eggplant caviar: This may be a stretch, but I just had the most amazing eggplant caviar this weekend at a small Israeli? place in Brooklyn. They drizzled honey on top and it was one of the first things to go on our table.

I want to try and recreate it, but none of the recipes I've come across include honey. I'm not really sure where to start. Do you have any pointers?

Joe Yonan: Use our Eggplant Caviar recipe for starters, then drizzle away!

Bonnie Benwick: The best eggplant caviar-type dishes I had in Israel seemed to start with eggplant that's roasted or grilled, then slow-roasted or baked in the oven. The silkiness is always what impressed me most.

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pickled beets: Since someone mentioned pickling, and someone else beets... how do you pickle beets?

Joe Yonan: Like this. Or this.

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pb & j theme: Is that really a good idea...? Sounds... cloying. Better have lots of milk.

Bonnie Benwick: If that's what the new mom likes....

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Burke, VA: My daughter broke a bag in the supermarket and I am now the proud owner of a bag of cowpeas that I have no idea how to use. What do I do with them? Can I substitute them for something other bean/legume?

Jane Black: Cowpeas are, as far as I can tell, another name for black-eyed peas. They came from Africa and are a staple of the South. The good news is that you can do almost anything with them. I like my beans simple. Soak them overnight in water. Chop some carrot, celery and onion and saute them in a little oil. Add the beans and the water (and a ham hock if you like meat) and cook for one to two hours until soft.

Or, for a more complete recipe, here's a list to

our recipes for black-eyed peas

including a nice bean and pineapple salad. Enjoy.

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College Park, Md.: I'm a somewhat novice baker, and Alton Brown's Chewy recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies came out great for me, and stayed chewy for a week.

If the questioner searches around youtube, they can probably find this episode online where he describes the reasoning and the alterations he made from the standard Tollhouse recipe.

Bonnie Benwick: Yep, I make those fairly often. That's what made me think of the bread flour.

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Woodbridge, VA: Wonderful, wonderful article today on the regions underground restaurants. Probably your best yet all year, although the section is always informative.

Quick question regarding the terrific jumbo shrimps cooked al ajillo style by Wok and Wine. To duplicate this at home, would you suggest that your faithful readership combine a mixture of garlic, onions, and parsley in a wok with olive oil and then quickly cook the shrimps? Would this also work on the grill as an alternative Summer meal to share with neighbors?

Jane Black: Wow. Thanks.

Here's how to do it at home. Finely chop a lot of garlic and cilantro. Heat the wok with canola or olive oil until very hot.Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or so (don't let it brown), then add the shrimp and cook until they are just pink. Add salt, hot chili flakes and toss. Finish with a big handful of cilantro.

This would definitely work on the grill. I'd just toss the shrimp in oil, garlic, salt and chili flakes before grilling. Sprinkle the cilanto on after they are finished. Enjoy!

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Arlington, VA: I love cooking and trying new recipes out. My boyfriend likes to eat out for the sake of ease. I am trying cook at home for us more but I have a problem. He really only eats meat. He only likes a few vegetables and he is so picky about his starches. I, on the other hand, eat mostly vegetables, maybe chicken 2-3 times a month (no other meat or seafood). So I am trying to come up with recipes that start with the same base but can suit us both. Basically I do not want to have to make 2 separate unrelated meals. For instance, I make stuffed peppers using rice, tomato and onion and then add spinach to mine and meat to his.(so the recipes are nearly identical down to the final ingredient). Do you have any suggestions or resources where I can find recipes that will please us both and will not require me to cook 2 separate and distinct meals?

Jane Black: The first thing that popped into my mind was soup. You could make minestrone or vegetable noodle and then add chicken, poached separately and even frozen, to his. But that's probably not what you had in mind. Honestly, I am stumped. And I definitely have never seen a cookbook like that. (Sounds like a good project for someone...Hmmm.) Chatters. Any good suggestions?

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Spinach Sauce: I have a big bag of baby spinach that I want to try and use tonight. I was thinking of making some kind of spinach sauce or pesto for pasta or gnocchi. But not sure where to start.... any ideas? Or any other vegetarian ways to use up an entire bag?

Bonnie Benwick: You could make a filling for ravioli or manicotti: your classic ricotta/chopped spinach kind of thing. And a big bag of spinach gets fairly manageable (and, in fact, tends to disappear) once you saute it with olive oil, pine nuts and raisins.

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Bethesda: For the chatter with leftover pickle juice: google "rassolnik" - it is a Russian soup with pickles. Some recipes call for adding the pickle juice to the broth, which I heartily endorse. You do it at the end of cooking. Wait, you don't have any pickles left, just the juice... Never mind. Maybe when you open your next jar.

Joe Yonan: It's a fun idea nonetheless. I also ascribe to that Southern tradition of adding a little pickle juice to potato salad.

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peeling ginger: Please remind me: In using a spoon to peel ginger, is the bowl of the spoon supposed to face the ginger, or face away? Also, does it matter what size spoon, and should I wet it or anything? I tried peeling ginger with a spoon a few days ago and found it less effective than I had hoped, no matter which way the spoon faced. But it still probably was better than using a carrot-peeler.

Joe Yonan: The bowl of the spoon should be facing the ginger, indeed -- you're scraping, really, so try it again with that motion/technique in mind and see how it works. A teaspoon has worked best for me.

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Appitizer Help: I'm hosting a dinner party this weekend and I'm stuck with the type of appetizers to serve. It's a more "formal" meal including seafood, lamb chops and a roasted tenderloin (salad, veggies, potato). There are some vegetarians in the group and I don't want the appetizer to be heavy since it's a rich meal.

What would you serve?

Bonnie Benwick: Can't go wrong with Gougeres. No one can resist them. Serve simply, or you can pop them a small portion of dressed salad greens for a first course.

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re: head on shrimp: The brain sucking doesn't bother me so much - it was mainly the vein part I was wondering about, but your answer confirms for me that mostly people probably just don't care. Thanks!

Jane Black: I care -- sometimes. Like if I'm prepping and peeling, I do it. If I cooked them in shell, I don't really bother. But that's just me.

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Cake flour: Joy of Cooking calls for cake flour in one of its pancake recipes. I have had excellent results using cake flour in buttermilk pancakes.

Leigh Lambert: A good point that cake flour isn't limited to cakes.

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Soft cookies: My gran used to put an apple wedge into the containers with her cookies. I'm sure someone knows a scientific reason why it works, but I remember the cookies being very soft and not at all apple-y.

Bonnie Benwick: That's an old method that works with brown sugar.

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icing a cake: How do I make pink icing to write "Happy Birthday" on a chocolate cake?

Joe Yonan: First you have to grow pink sugar. It's an incredibly long, drawn-out process. Sugar, for those of you who haven't grown it, doesn't turn pink until the third year. So you won't be able to get this until summer 2013 at the earliest.

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Arlington, VA: I don't know why the person from Alexandria would need to join a CSA with the large year-round Alexandria farmer's market in Old Town nearby - just go there and buy as much of whatever you want that is in-season.

Joe Yonan: Well, some people want to support a farmer at the beginning of the season (hence the name "community-supported agriculture), but I get your drift: I've subscribed a few times, but I'd rather be a marketeer, too.

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Fairlington, VA: My understanding is that Shepherd's Pie is made using lamb and Cottage Pie is made using beef.

Bonnie Benwick: Got that covered, thanks.

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Adana: Suggestion for Arlington, VA whose boyfriend only likes meat: prepare excellent veggie meal for yourself. Keep supply of steaks in freezer. Point boyfriend in direction of freezer.

Jane Black: Right-o.

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Hold the olives, Mass: I don't like olives. And so when I see an interesting dish (like say that fish soup the previous poster referred to) I usually make whatever it is and just omit the olives. But I feel like not all recipes can still work out with the right flavor ballance when I do that since olives add such strong flavor. Do you have any substitution suggestions when dealing with recipes with olives?

Jane Black: Olives add salt and they also add umami, or as I like to translate it, oomph. It's hard to think of something that really replaces them. Or if it did, it might be like them (capers) and wouldn't really solve your problem. I know this isn't terribly helpful but maybe make recipes that don't call for olives in the first place?

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Bowie, Md: Washington's Green Grocer (I think it qualifies as a CSA) allows you to reject certain items that you don't care for.

Jane Black: Shows what I know. Check this out. Thanks, Bowie.

Joe Yonan: Another one to check out is Star Hollow Farm, which I wrote about on the blog last year. They run an online farmers market that lets you pick and choose, then pick up in Adams Morgan alongside the CSA'ers.

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storing chicken: I used to immediately brine chicken when I got home from the store so it would last longer in the refrigerator. Now that I'm avoiding salt, I wonder if just putting the chicken in water without salt also would help prolong its freshness in the refrigerator at all --? Or maybe using sugar or something else instead of salt?

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: How much longer do you need it to last? Brining chicken is usually done for flavor's sake, not as a preservative. Soak it in plain water and you'll get nothing more than pumped-up chicken (and probably bad-smelling water after a day or two). Not sure I'd go the sugar route with poultry.

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Cowpeas: My family ran a pick your own field pea farm before these became popular. My father loved cowpeas. Black eyes are the most common, but there are also Texas cream, brown crowder, lady peas, purple hulls, purple hull crowders, and more I can't remember.

If these are dry peas, just do the usual bean/pea recipes with overnight soaking and long cooking. Southern recipes usually rely on bacon fat for flavoring (and hot sauce!!)

Jane Black: Yes, I saw that one kind, the brown crowder, is on the Slow Food list of foods to be preserved and saved call the Ark.

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Kale!: Vegan chili with kale, veggie minestrone soup with kale and beans (may be too similar to poster's kale/bean pasta though)

Roasting it is my favorite though. Kale chips are addictive!

Also try kale stir-fried with garlic and tofu, served with brown rice. Yum!

Jane Black: Kale chips are good. Thanks.

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pickled beets: The recipe you linked to (the one without the red wine) seems very similar to what they make in PA Dutch country: lots of sugar, and cider vinegar based. Now, once you have the brine set up, toss in some peeled hard boiled eggs into the mixture and you've got a classic. They're best after about 5 days, when the whites have completely absorbed the purple color.

Joe Yonan: Yes! A thousand times yes!

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Alexandria, VA: Another foolproof way to get soft cookies - hit them with the microwave for about 20 seconds - yum! Works great on brownies too, esp. before putting a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Bonnie Benwick: Isn't that cheating?

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PB&J Ravioli: OK, sounds weird, but it SO good and very unique!

PB&J ravioli w/cinnamon ice cream

Peanut Butter Ravioli

3 large eggs; 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter (Marissa used Peanut Butter & Co.'s Smooth Operator peanut butter); 2 tablespoons water; 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting); 20 half-teaspoons crunchy peanut butter (Marissa used Peanut Butter & Co.'s Crunch Time peanut butter); 10 half-teaspoons strawberry jelly; 10 half-teaspoons grape jelly; 1/4 cup water; 1 cup sugar; 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.

Preparation

Peanut Butter Ravioli Recipe

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs, smooth peanut butter and water until well-combined. Add the flour all at once and combine to form the dough.

Turn dough onto a clean surface or piece of parchment paper. Form into a ball and knead for 2-3 minutes (or until the dough becomes a uniform, peanut butter color). Use flour to dust your work surface if dough begins to adhere.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Place in the refrigerator and allow it to rest a minimum of 30 minutes or ideally overnight .

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a sheet tray with aluminum foil. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and rewrap one in plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll one piece of dough to 1/16-inch thick, to an approximate size of 12-inches x 18-inches. Use flour to prevent sticking as necessary. Cover the rolled dough with plastic wrap. Repeat rolling with second piece of dough.

Using a pizza cutter, cut each piece of dough in half. Cut each piece of dough in half again, creating eight strips of dough.

Cover four strips of dough with plastic wrap and set aside.

Place a 1/2 teaspoon of crunchy peanut butter every 1 1/2-inches on 4 of the strips. (Approximately 5 portions per strip.)

On 2 of the strips, place a 1/2 teaspoon of strawberry jelly on top of the peanut butter.

On the other 2 strips, use a 1/2 teaspoon of grape jelly on top of the peanut butter. (Make sure to keep the strawberry and grape jelly ravioli separate to know what's inside.)

Moisten the edges between each square of peanut butter and jelly by dipping your index finger in water and sliding over every side of the square.

Use the other four strips to cover over each of the four peanut butter and jelly strips. Adhere both the bottom and top strips together by pressing between and around each square to form a tight seal and remove any air trapped inside the ravioli.

With a serrated dough cutter or pie cutter, trim both the width and length of each dough strip. Proceed to cut between each square, creating approximately twenty ravioli, 2-inches by 2-inches.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Individually moisten both the top and bottom of each ravioli and coat with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Repeat for every ravioli and place on the prepared sheet pan.

Toast the ravioli in the oven for 4 minutes on one side. Flip the ravioli and toast for another 2-3 minutes, or until both sides are crisp.

Serve four ravioli (two strawberry jelly and two grape jelly) with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Make the scoop of ice cream the right size so you can build a ravioli "house" around it, one ravioli on each side.

Jane Black: Wow. That sounds really weird and really good. Thanks.

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Pink icing: everyone knows this is made from beet sugar

Joe Yonan: Or food coloring.

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Alexandria, VA: Pascha pans - my family uses big (metal of course) coffee cans.

Bonnie Benwick: Good tip!

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Washington DC: I'm going to a mac n' cheese party soon, and I'd love to try to make a greek-style version. I'm thinking feta, and tomatoes and olives, maybe some fresh oregano. But would that bake well? Should I try to do a cheese sauce with a meltier cheese (but still something in the greek theme). I'd love your/chatters suggestions. Or any suggestions on stellar non-traditional mac and cheese recipes! Thanks

Bonnie Benwick: I'm thinkin' I'd add a garlic-infused bechamel sauce to that feta mac and cheese. Bake it, definitely, with some buttery bread crumbs on top. Try this Lobster Mac and Four Cheeses, which can be done in 35 minutes, no less!

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Washington DC : The "Chat Leftovers" recipe for curried sweet potatoes with apples calls for "sweet curry powder." Can I add something to the Madras curry powder I already have, or is sweet curry powder a whole different mixture? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Chat Leftovers: Go-to and gluten-free (All We Can Eat)

Jane Touzalin: It's not a question of adding something; it's more a question of taking out, which of course you can't do with the powder. Sweet curry powder is made without some of the hot pepper ingredients that other powders have. You can find the sweet kind at Penzeys.

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Chewy cookies: I've found the secret is not to overbake. Take them out of the oven when the middle of the cookie still looks a bit underdone. It will finish cooking as it cools.

Jane Black: This is what I do. Seems to work on most simple cookies.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've stirred us to incorporate, then tossed us to coat evenly, then seasoned us to taste, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Jason Wilson for helping us answer them. Now for the giveaway books. The Alexandria chatter who asked about CSA's that allow produce-rejection will get "Fresh Flavors Fast." The one that reported success from Gina C's weekend cocktail (sans lavender) will get "Rum Drinks." Send your mailing info to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

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

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