Free Range on Food: Beer madness, Top Chef comes to DC, best bakeries, macarons, shirataki noodles, reheatable kosher meals, beet stains, dishes for vegetarians and carnivores, more

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, March 17, 2010; 1:00 PM

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

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

Do you love the Food chat? Tell your friends about it!

Check out the archive of past discussions. Read the Food section blog All We Can Eat. Follow the Food section on Twitter at @WaPoFood.

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. What's on your mind, on your plate, in the back of your fridge, in your cooler, on the center rack of your oven? We'll help you figure out what to do with it -- or at least entertain you while we try. We have two special guests today: beer columnist Greg Kitsock, here to talk Beer Madness; and baking maven Elinor Klivans, who has macarons on the brain, I'm sure.

As always, we'll have giveaway books to entice you to post smart, useful, funny things: We'll have Melissa Gray's "All Cakes Considered" and John Torode's "Chicken & Other Fowl," the latter the source of Bonnie's

book report

today.

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St. Paul, MN: Note sure if there is another chat that addresses this more directly, so I am hoping you all can help:

A search for "Beer Madness" on the Washington Post website brings up the the final writeup, brackets, and so on for the 2009 Beer Madness. The search result for the 2010 event is the "calling all potential beer judges" announcement -- no results for the first rounds and not even a list of contenders.

Would you mind sharing a link to the 2010 bracket, so that we can follow along at home?

Many thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Here is the bracket and here is Greg Kitsock's explanation of how we chose the contenders. I pulled both of these up with our search, so seems to be working OK now.

Joe Yonan: Vote!

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Schuyler, VA: Why all the agita about beet stains? I almost always peel my beets before cooking, and if I wash my hands and board immediately, there's no staining. Maybe there's something to do with skin varieties; but I'm a very fair Celtic type, so would have expected most people to be even less susceptible.

Also the answer about the pink sugar was very mean, and very very funny.

Joe Yonan: I think the key difference here is that you peel before cooking, rather than after. It's much easier to peel after cooking -- the skins slip right off -- but that's when all that bleeding juice is more apt to stain.

Glad you found the pink-sugar comment funny last week; I didn't mean to be mean, but sometimes I just can't resist...

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Arlington, VA: In response to this chatter from 3/10---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?

I have a similar situation with my husband. Three cookbooks I rely on are: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Molly Katzen's Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbooks. They are vegetarian cookbooks so you can just add meat to his or on the side. The recipes are relatively simple and you can easily substitute ingredients he doesn't like. You can go to your local library, check them out, and test drive some recipes to see if they are helpful before buying them. Two websites I use frequently for online recipe searches are Tastespotting.com and Recipes for Health in the health section of that northern competitor. Actually, I like their health section recipes far better than their food section!

Jane Black: Just in case the cook who offered us a vegetarian challenge last week is here, here's another suggestion for books to cook from when you are feeding one vegetarian and one carnivore.

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Pizza Question: I tried cooking pizza at home based on your recommendations - pre-heating the oven at 500 degrees for an hour, using a pizza stone and broiler on high for 5 minutes.

The bottom part of the crust came out great. Biting into the pizza showed that the middle portion of the crust was a little uncooked. I had rolled out the crust quite thin, it bunched up some while I was topping it. Any suggestions to have the crust cook evenly?

Joe Yonan: What crust recipe are you using? How far from the broiler was your pizza? How done were the toppings? Did you get blackened spots?

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Washington, D.C.: Joe: Thank you for breaking the story about Top Chef coming to DC!! Any more details on when/who/where/etc? How were you able to finally confirm this?

washingtonpost.com: This just in: "Top Chef" is coming to D.C. (Reliable Source, March 12)

Joe Yonan: You're welcome. We had this from one source a couple months ago, but it wasn't until Amanda McClements mentioned a tip again that I regrouped and trying to get someone to corroborate it. I could tell you who my sources were, but then I'd have to kill you. ;-) Unfortunately, I don't have any updates to share just yet, but hopefully soon.

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For Last Week's Arlington Chatter: I'm just reading the transcript now, but last week's chatter from Arlington who is mainly vegetarian but has a boyfriend who only eats meat might like "The Flexetarian Table" by Peter Berley. He has many recipes with both meat and vegetarian variations.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Arlington, VA: Friends of mine are having a baby soon. When the baby arrives, I want to make them something that they can reheat and eat.

Here's my problem: my friends are Jewish and keep kosher, and each idea that I have would run afoul of the rules. Do you have any ideas for casseroles or dishes that wouldn't combine meat and milk products?

Bonnie Benwick: I think you'd be safe with vegetarian soups, pureed and otherwise, and a vegetarian pasta sauce or two, in individually sized containers. You can do an Advanced Search on those features (soup, vegetarian) in our Recipe Finder database.

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North Carolina: Looking for a nice wine to thank a friend for taking our kids for a couple of hours when our nanny was sick. Around the $20 mark. Availability at Harris Teeter would be a plus. Any recs?

Joe Yonan: Dave McIntyre says this: "How about a lovely Italian white to celebrate the arrival of Spring? The Orsolani Erbaluce, an unusual white grape from northern Italy, is exotic and thrilling - and it retails for about $20, maybe a little less. I don't know if Harris Teeter carries it, but several fine wine stores in the District and Northern Virginia should have it. It is imported and distributed by Michael Downey Selections, an Italian specialist based locally."

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Chana Masala recipe: I tried chana masala (indian dish made with chickpeas) at the Whole Foods Hot Bar and am looking for a recipe for this dish. The ones I've found require a pressure cooker. Does anyone have a good recipe for chana masala that is cooked in a pot/dutch oven? Thank you.

Joe Yonan: We sure do. We have this recipe for Mom's Chickpea Curry, which Monica Bhide adapted from, obviously, her mother. Her mom used a pressure cooker, but Monica's take doesn't.

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Washington DC: D.C. seems to be a wasteland for really good Italian or French bread. Any thoughts where I can pick up a good loaf? Thanks!

Jane Black: How far are you willing to go? I love the bread from St. Michel Bakery -- perfect baguettes and croissants. They're based in Rockville but sell at the Bethesda Farmers Market on Wisconsin on Saturdays. I also recently discovered Breadsmith in Potomac, which is terrific. I stock up if I'm out near there and freeze it.

Anyone else got faves?

Joe Yonan: I've liked with Panorama has done with their French bread since Tim Carman's panel at WCP evaluated... They sell at 14th/U market once it opens for season. Not sure where else.

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SS, MD: Why so negative about spinach in the pizza recipe?

"The texture of spinach leaves, dry and dusty when raw, mushy when cooked, discourages many people from including it in their meals."

I love spinach, raw or cooked. I think you can introduce a new use for spinach without being so negative.

washingtonpost.com: Spinach, Fennel and Roasted Pepper Pizza

Bonnie Benwick: That's the voice of Cindy Brown, ace gardener at Green Springs Garden in Alexandria. She speaks from experience, I'd say. But maybe from that of a gardener who always looks to give spinach away.

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Chinatown: How does one remove baking spray residue from baking pans, pots, etc.?

Elinor Klivans: I use SOS soap pads and scrub really hard. If you don't spray where there are no baked goods I have discovered that I don't get residue.

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Washington, DC: Good afternoon. Got a food safety question. I bought some ground meat (beef/pork/veal) on Saturday and didn't notice the use by date of 3/15/10 (Monday). Yesterday, I saw that it looked kind of grey, noticed the date, and stuck it in the freezer. I had intended to use it tonight to make pasta sauce. Is the off-color a sign that I should toss it and pick up something fresh on the way home?

Bonnie Benwick: The off-color's not as much of a sign as the aroma. If it smells bad, don't use it. See if you can break it apart -- you'll probably find pinkness inside.

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Anonymous: I think I will have macarons and beer for dinner tonight. (kidding!)

I'm excited for "beer season" now with some more beers to try. And as I'm elbow deep in wedding planning-- macarons are one of the new big things, it was also a good read. Great features, both!

washingtonpost.com: The French cookie trend du jour comes out of the oven with elan

Joe Yonan: Hmm: A stout macaron!

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For the veggie-loving woman with the carnivore boyfriend from last week: I'm in the same situation and here are some of the ways I make both of us happy without cooking two separate meals: lots of stir-fries and when portioning, serve yourself mostly veggies with a little meat and serve him the opposite, make a nice veggie-laden pasta and add sauteed crumbled sausage or bacon to his, tacos with chicken/beef for him and beans for you. Also, I've noticed that my husband misses meat less when there's cheese. An added bonus to these strategies is that they have gotten him to actually eat a lot more vegetables.

Jane Black: Yeah, even a little bacon will satisfy a carnivore. Good suggestions.

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New Orleans, LA: As a college student, I'm often up late at night and there are very few healthy options for hot midnight snacks. My favorite food that I can make in my dorm room is cream of wheat (obviously I did not grow up in the South) and I'm trying to figure out what I could easily add to it to make it savory as opposed to sweet. I don't eat cheese (too easy) but I do eat everything else. Thanks!

Jane Black: Do you only have a microwave? What appliances do we have to work with?

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Chevy Chase: I can't wait to try your new potato and pea recipe, but it says to keep the spuds at a constant boil. I have always heard that potatoes should merely simmer so they don't fall apart. Can I stop paying such close attention?

washingtonpost.com: New Potato and Pea Salad

Bonnie Benwick: This recipe calls for small whole new-crop potatoes, and they cook pretty fast so that's why they are kept at a boil. (BTW, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says they're sold at Costco, Wegmans. You may need to check signage closely.)

A potato that's 8 ounces or larger should be cut up and may not be good for a steady boil. Keep paying attention to every recipe!

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spatchcock tool: Regular 8-inch office scissors work just fine to spatchcock whole chickens for roasting, let alone delicate little quail. Poultry shears give you better control when you need to be precise, but cutting along the edge of the backbone isn't really high precision work.

Bonnie Benwick: This is true. But I tend to gunk up regular scissor with such chores, so sticking with my poultry shears is just a habit.

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Madison, WI: I consider myself a pretty fearless cook - yeast doughs, towering layer cakes, 4-hour braises, no prob. But macarons, they scare me. I would love to tackle this phobia once and for all with your recipes, but I have a couple of issues with them. Is it possible to provide measurements by weight for the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and by volume or weight for the eggs? It just seems to me that there could be a lot of variation there, depending on how you scoop and sift, and I get my eggs from a local farmer, so the sizes tend to vary quite a bit. With a recipe that requires a very precise ratio of dry to wet ingredients, it seems like weight measurements would make more sense here. Thanks!

Elinor Klivans: I too buy my eggs from a farmer so they are different sizes. I have looked at the large size eggs in the supermarket (that is what most recipes call for) and made a mental note of the size. Then I pick out the large ones when recipes call for them. Large eggs have a specified weight which you can look up and them weigh for eggs. A little variation in size will not make a difference.

On weights---most American cooks are more comfortable with cups, but you can measure and weight dry ingredients make a note and then weigh your future ingredients.

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Joe Yonan: Beer lovers, Greg Kitsock just came in the chat room, so ask away about Beer Madness and anything else that's brewing...

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Chicago, IL: So I'm doing my first Eating Down the Fridge week - OK, OK, really I was too lazy to go grocery shopping and was kind of forced to do it through my laziness. It has been fun, though.

But now I need help for my next dinner. I've got chicken breast, tons of pasta and rice, tomato paste, canned whole tomatoes, potatoes, roasted red peppers, your basic condiments, some capers, pepper jack cheese, canned jalapeno peppers, panko crumbs and some other basic stuff. Oh, and onions and garlic. And frozen peas and corn. No milk, alas, allow I do have some half and half.

Anyhoo, I was thinking something with the chicken, red peppers and pepper jack cheese would be fun, but I would want a sauce to go along with it (I'm not a huge fan of chicken breast because it's usually too dry.) Any ideas?

It's either that or thawing out some hamburger patties for boring ol' burgers (unless of course I could spice them up with the red peppers and pepperjack cheese. Hmm, that could actually be good....)

Jane Black: You could stuff the chicken with cheese and peppers, then bread it with the panko and saute it/bake it. That would certainly help keep in the moistness.

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Kale chips: I noticed y'all talked about kale chips last week. I admit I'm obsessed. But it occurred to me, last time I made them, that perhaps making them saps all the good nutrition out of the kale? Since you roast it until it is so light and crispy, it feels like there's almost no substance there at all, plus you're adding oil. Please reassure me that I'm not making kale into something totally unhealthy. It's the only way I can get my husband to eat leafy greens!

Joe Yonan: You're not -- these are good and good for ya.

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DC: I love chicken livers in all preparations, but they tend to come frozen in one-lb. quantities. Since I can't defrost only a portion, I usually don't buy them, as I am cooking for one. Do you have a source of fresh? (Giblets no longer come with whole chickens, it seems.)

Bonnie Benwick: At this time of year, Giant stores and Wegmans carry fresh chicken livers, back in the poultry department. A butcher shop will have them, too. (I've been buying quite a bit lately, testing Passover recipes.) Giblets still come with some whole birds...where are you buying yours?

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Cooking Rice: Sorry this is so late, but a few weeks ago someone wrote in who was having a problem cooking rice. 2 thoughts: 1) Could be the pot. I have 2 diff 3 qt pots I use for rice. One is stainless steel w/lid of same. The other is non-stick w/glass lid. The rice doesn't burn in the non-stick, but always gets a bit crispy on the bottom (which I prefer, actually, like the nutiness - of the rice, not me). Rice comes out perfect in the stainless steel. I think it is a matter of how well the lid fits (or doesn't).

2) Sara Moulton & America's Test Kitchen have discussed method for cooking rice like pasta - a lot of water, then drain. I haven't tried it, so can't endorse, but worth a shot.

Jane Black: Belated answers to rice questions.

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Shirataki Noodles?: I've heard that shirataki noodles are a great low-car substitute for pasta, but I don't know what local grocery stores carry them. Could you please ask your readers?

Joe Yonan: We've found them at most Asian markets and in the dairy section of Whole Foods Markets.

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Rockville: My son is turning two on Sunday and we're having a "meat, cheese, cracker" party, since those are his favorite foods. Is it generally cheaper to buy a pre-made meat tray or should I just make it myself? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: It would be cheaper to make yourself -- and you'd have more control.

Bonnie Benwick: You'd have some fun if you went to a good deli or cheese store and tasted a selection that goes nicely together. If you feel like taking a little field trip, go to Cheesetique in Alexandria. It'll be one-stop, educational shopping.

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Del Ray, VA: I have an excess of red, orange, and yellow peppers leftover from a party. Any ideas on any freezer dishes? We're a little peppered out right now.

Bonnie Benwick: It will be a gift that keeps on giving. I'd roast them, puree them and freeze for future sauces, soups, dips, etc.

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Silver Spring, MD: I hope you can help. During a move the top of one of my soup tureens broke. It is a very clean crack in half so I am hoping to glue it. Is that possible? What can I use that will be around food and heat. Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Hmm... This is a question for Heloise! Look for a food-safe glue, like Gorilla Glue.

Elinor Klivans: I just asked my local handyman and he suggested lock tight super glue that is used for wine glasses.

Bonnie Benwick: In Martha Stewart's "Homekeeping Handbook," the technique for repairing china is given step by step. It calls for a fast-drying water-resistant epoxy glue.

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Rockville: Hi. For two separate events this weekend (one Saturday and one Sunday), I need to bake about three dozen cupcakes, total. How early can I make the batter and they'll turn out okay? Or would it be better to make the entire cupcakes early, and if so, how early is okay?

Bonnie Benwick: I'd go ahead and bake. You can freeze them unfrosted. Or figure they're good for at least 3 days at room temp, frosted.

Elinor Klivans: I agree with baking the cupcakes ahead. If you let the batter sit, the leavenings will not work. If you freeze the cupcakes be sure to wrap them well to avoid freezer taste and let them defrost with the wrapping on so condensation does not form on the cupcakes.

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Arlington: I'm looking for a good, healthy (but no completely) cookbook. I love to cook and would love to expand my capabilities, but there are SO many cookbooks out there that I don't know where to start. I'd classify myself more than a beginner, but not yet intermediate, if that helps with recommendations. Thanks!

Jane Black: OK. I haven't cooked from it but for newbies I always include Cooks Illustrated books. The recipes are timeless and you will learn techniques along the way if you read closely (which will prepare you to cook more off the cuff). Cooks has Light and Healthy Recipes of 2010 so that might be a good place to start.

Other ideas?

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Baltimore MD: French bread: If the DC poster ever goes north, he/she should check out Bonaparte Breads in Savage Mill in Laurel. The company also has a store in Fells Point and the breads are distributed at various retailers. (Fortunately, that includes the wine and liquor store two blocks from my house.)

Jane Black: Bonaparte also sells at various farmers markets, including the Dupont Market on Sundays. I, myself, have always preferred Atwater to Bonaparte.

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Washington DC: I'm waiting on pins and needles for info about how to make my now necessary to life slow roasted tomatoes safe. The current container (packed in olive oil) in my fridge has been around a long time.

Joe Yonan: What? You don't read our daily blog? I'm saddened by that. I wrote about my tomato experiments right here. I'd give you the upshot, but then you wouldn't go read it, would you?

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Arlington, VA: I wrote in a few weeks ago about making macarons for my wedding, thanks so much for this morning's article! They all look wonderful. I still am wondering about how well they might freeze. Some relatives have offered to bake the macarons for me and bring them out from the West Coast one or two days before the wedding. I assume they can bake them in advance and freeze them, and they will defrost on their trip out. But should they be frozen filled or unfilled? Thanks again!

Elinor Klivans: I have some in my freezer right now. I wrapped them (several together) and froze them in containers. Just be sure to leave them wrapped for defrosting ---on the trip. I think the filled ones would be fine if it is frosting. Lemon curd might be better to fill after they defrost---if you are using that. Some recipes even suggest storing macarons in the refrigerator and serving them cold. They are pretty sturdy little cookies.

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McLean, VA: For Arlington bread lovers--the Heidelberg Bakery on Culpeper St. Lee Highway area.

Jane Black: Another bread rec.

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So what I really want to know is: How do I get tickets to restaurant wars when Top Chef does them?

Joe Yonan: Yeah, we all want to know that...

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Dopey Question: This is a serious, if dopey, question: I love the recipe for curried chicken meatballs and would love to make it, but I have never been successful in browning meatballs. They always turn out squarish and overly browned on at least one side, even if they start off as perfectly round and I turn them frequently. Can they be baked in order to retain their shape, or is there something I should be doing to them while in the saute pan?

Bonnie Benwick: These don't have to get very browned, just lightly so. Keep turning them, using the tines of a fork. This recipe's so homey (and delicious) that a misshapen meatball or two's not going to be a problem.

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Silver Spring: The sun is out. I don't have a window at work so I am crabby. I need a good pick-me up for dinner after I work out. I have some boneless chicken breasts and no inspiration.....help!

Jane Black: I'm intrigued by this recipe for Chicken with Ginger Juice. It calls for skin-on chicken breasts but I think it will work. Hope this is a pick-me-up you need.

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Computer thing: I love the food section and I just tried to vote on your beer bracket, but it wouldn't let me because I didn't vote in every matchup. Because I don't know every beer. A bug to fix for next year...

washingtonpost.com: Beer Madness bracket

Greg Kitsock: I'm sorry your vote didn't get through! There are so many beers on the market nowadays, what with seasonals and one-off batches, that it's impossible to keep up with every new brand. There were a few beers in Beer Madness that I had never tasted before the comeptition.

Joe Yonan: We've think about this for next time, but we wanted to build in something that would keep people from accidentally hitting submit before they finished voting!

Why not just guess at the ones you don't know? It's not like your identity is public, so no embarrassment risked!

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To the person asking about Kosher: Make sure they know it was cooked in your kitchen. If you don't keep a Kosher kitchen, some people who eat Kosher cannot eat from a pot or pan that might have touched meat or dairy at completely different times and have been well washed since.

Jane Black: A very good point. Thanks.

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Post class meals: I work full time, but recently started a class that takes up eight hours a week! Normally I love to cook, especially after a long day at work. But now I get home at around 830pm a few nights a week and have usually been putting together really simple things like sandwiches, reheated soups, omelettes or just frozen food or leftovers. I'd love some vegetarian dinner ideas on things I can put together quickly and are relatively healthy. I can do some prep work on the weekends, but I am running out of good ideas!

Bonnie Benwick: Are you a fan of stir-fries or fried rice? If you prep vegetables on the weekends you should be set. See whether any of these sound appealing: Almond and Curry Broccoli Stir-Fry, Watercress, Snow Pea and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry, Thai Fried Rice With Soft-Yolk Egg.

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Bracket: Why no German lagers? And I say that as a real Kostritzer fan.

Greg Kitsock: Kostritzer is a German lager, albeit a Schwarzbier or black beer. Do you mean, perhaps, that there were no German pale lagers?

The problem is, I wanted to have as many countries as possible represented, and for many nations, the only beers they export here are of the golden lager type. And I only had eight slots for golden lagers.

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Falls Church: Elinor, what do you do with all the left-over egg yolks after making the macarons? I would hate to waste them.

Elinor Klivans: yes, and you need to use egg yolks promptly. I suggest making pastry cream (vanilla custard) or making it with chocolate or other flavors and having great homemade pudding for dessert. It can keep for 3 days in the refrigerator. Or, creme brulee.

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Shirataki Noodles: I've found them at Giant and Safeway. They're usually in the produce section, in the area where they have the tofu.

They're more like rice or soba noodles than regular pasta, and umm, have quite an odor when you open the package. However I think they're really tasty.

Bonnie Benwick: I think that aroma's from the solution they're in. Rinse before using. I find them a little slimy.

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Alexandria, VA: I used to love drinking Old Dominion beers. Good brews and I liked the fact that I was supporting a local business. Now that the brewery is no longer in VA (Delaware) can you recommend a Virginia brew? (Preferably something readily available in most stores)

Greg Kitsock: Yes, there are still Virginia brews in area stores! Have you ever tried anything from Legend Brewing Co. down in Richmond? Their beers are available here in six-packs and 22-oz bottles. They do a nice, quaffable brown ale, and some more extreme beers on a seasonal basis, including a Belgian-style tripel, an imperial stout and a chocolate porter.

Also, try the beers from Williamsburg AleWerks. I believe they put out a coffee stout recently.

By the way, two alumni of Old Dominion have purchased some of the equipment and intend to open a brewery called 28 North Brewing in Ashburn in the near future. And there are plans to open a new microbrewery in Alexandria called Port City Brewing Co., by the end of this year.

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Springfield, VA: Piggybacking on cooking for meals for a vegetarian/carnivore couple, are there any books out there on altering recipes for the younger set? For example, I like to make spicy tacos for me and my husband but my 4 yo would not go for it so I take tortilla chips and top them with the meat mixture before I add the hot sauces/spices and top with the cheese and then she'll eat the avocado plain on the side.

Jane Black: Doesn't sound like you need a cookbook. You've got it down. I'm curious about your four-year-old though, will he/she eat mostly eat what you eat, just not spicy things? I've always wondered how much you need/should alter recipes for kids.

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Manassas, Va.: Cookbook: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Joe Yonan: I don't know this one. Who's he? ;-)

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Boston: I've posted this before without a clear answer. I cook with beans, and prefer to soak and cook dried beans over using canned. (To avoid salt, have less to carry home from the market, and save money.) But many recipes call for a can of beans...and I can't always figure out what volume of dried beans will equal a volume of a 15/15.5 oz can.

Can you help? I think a 15 oz can give about 2 cups of cooked beans. So if I want to use dried beans, how much will will result in 2 cups cooked?

Thank you.

Joe Yonan: The rule of thumb is that dried beans roughly triple in size/volume when you cook them. So if you want 2 cups cooked, you should start with 2/3 cup of dried beans. (But really, you should make a pot with a pound of beans, I say, and refrigerate or freeze what you don't use immediately.)

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my friends are Jewish and keep kosher: Your heart's in the right place, but if your own kitchen isn't Kosher and your friends are observant Orthodox Jews (as opposed to just Kosher-style), then they still wouldn't be able to eat any of your home cooking.

Leigh Lambert: Max's Kosher cafe in Wheaton has a freezer case stocked with entrees and soups that are prepared under kosher supervision and requirements.

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Manassas, Va.: St Pat's day without meat. OK, I have finally given up eating meat. I bought carrots, cabbage and onions for dinner but no corned beef. What should to do with my veggies besides boiling in salt/herbed water?

Bonnie Benwick: How wedded are you to doing something European with those ingredients? You could caramelize the onions and cabbage, with some ginger (fresh or ground), and a little brown sugar or honey, then toss in the carrots. Or there's always Haluski. Otherwise, try this Indian-inspired Everyday Stir-Fry (Sabji), with your carrots tossed in as matchsticks.

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Washington, DC: OK, guys, I've got a pan that I think I've ruined and I wanted to see if you had any advice for cleaning it before I toss it. I was making individual meatloaves in a muffin tin. After I cooked one batch, I had enough meat to fill just one more slot in the tin, so I returned it to the oven without cleaning it first. What resulted was a burned-on mess that won't come off no matter how long I soak it. Any tips that might save my pan? Many thanks in advance!

Joe Yonan: What's it made of? If it's not nonstick, you would be fine using something like Bar Keeper's Friend to get it off. If it's nonstick, this is dicier. But no matter what, I can't imagine that you've actually ruined the pan. It's only blackened spots that are left after soaking/scrubbing, right? It might not be pretty, but I'll bet it still works.

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good bread: Bon Fresco in Columbia, which I believe was written up here recently...?

washingtonpost.com: Good to Go takeout: Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia

Joe Yonan: Right you are.

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beet stains: I throw them unpeeled in boiling water, then slip the peels off in the sink under running water. It's quick, easy, and my fingers aren't pink at the end.

Joe Yonan: Indeed, water helps.

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Chevy Chase: If I can make macarons at home instead of paying $18 a dozen from the baker, I'm all for it. One question, why do I have to grind up the nuts in the sugar -- why can't I just buy almond flour already ground up, which is bound to have a more uniform texture, I would think.

Elinor Klivans: You can buy and use the almond flour, but not everyone has access to this (like me), so I tested my macarons by grinding the nuts with the confectioners' sugar which keeps the nuts from becoming a paste. If you use the almond flour, you will have to look up recipe measurements that use it to account for the difference.

Joe Yonan: Since you gave the almond amount by weight (4 ounces), the same weight of almond flour would work, then, Elinor?

Elinor Klivans: Probably, but I haven't tested it and almond flour is a bit drier and finer than grinding the nuts with the confectioners' sugar. Many recipes call for almond flour and I would look at them to compare with mine.

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Shepherd Park, DC: Any advice on freezing bread dough? It's easier to make dough for a few loaves at a time, but baking them all at once I end up with a stale loaf later. I've tried freezing the baked loaves, but they are still dry. I've also tried freezing the raw dough, but can't get it to really perform well. Any suggestions? I'm making sour dough, if that matters.

Elinor Klivans: I prefer to not freeze bread dough because it is such a long defrosting and rising time. I freeze freeze baked bread by first wrapping in plastic wrap and then in a heavy plastic bag. The plastic wrap keeps out the air from damaging the baked bread. Defrost with wrapping on. I often warm the bread in a low oven and it taste terrific.

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Beer query: My son turns 21: I have no illusions that my under-age son has not imbibed beer, etc., and likely the cheap stuff. As he is turning 21 pretty soon, I'd like to share with him some selection of "good" tasting brew. What would you recommend for an uninformed palate? Where do we start?

Greg Kitsock: Congratulations on your son turning 21! If you're afraid of shocking his palate, start him off on a nice amber ale like Starr Hill Jomo Lager from Virginia or Sam Adams Boston Lager (which, despite its ubiquity, is a pretty nice beer).

Or begin with a pale ale like Dominion Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada, or Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale. Most of the local brewpubs have an example of this style. Capitol City offers a nice Kolsch, a crisp, slightly fruity German-style ale.

Brewpubs will often offer you a sampler tray, so you can try a few ounces of several types of beer. Beer bars RFD and the Brickskeller also offer short pours of draft beers at reduced prices, so you can try a couple different kinds until you find that perfect brew.

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Farmer's Markets: When will you be publishing your guide to farmer's markets? I'm soooo ready for fresh. And do you have a reference to a site that tells me what's best locally month-by-month? Is there anything particular about this year's local planting and harvest I should know?

Leigh Lambert: It will be nice to have some fresh ingredients after this long, cold and snowy winter. We are planning to publish our on-line listings for area farmers markets April 14. For a list of what you can expect to find in the market you can use this guide from Field to Plate. It lists states, so look for yours (or closest).

Joe Yonan: FreshFarm Markets also has this downloadable, printable PDF guide to what's in season around here when.

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link isn't working: Cooks has Light and Healthy Recipes of 2010

washingtonpost.com: Sorry about that, here's the correct link.

Joe Yonan: There you have it!

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DC expat (now in Chicago): I'm hosting a dinner party for 12 this weekend. I want to test my cooking abilities and show off a little and am looking for ideas for a main course. I was thinking a rib roast or fancy beef dish (Wellington, maybe). I don't mind an involved dish, but I'd rather choose something that isn't too fussy at the end so I can enjoy my guests when they arrive. I'd also like something that isn't going to completely blow my budget (less than $70 for the protein, if possible - probably from Whole Foods). Any ideas are appreciated!

Jane Black: OK. I'm not 100 percent sure this qualifies as no-fuss at the end but I'm entranced by this Veal Chops with Honey recipe we have in the database. They're super thick and the sauce has cloves, sage, honey, green grapes and, wait for it, anchovies. Wow!

You do have to make the sauce at the last minute but it's basically just stirring it all together and reducing. Could be done while you plate the food.

If it doesn't count for this dinner, definitely sounds worth trying another time. I am putting it on my list of must-tries right now. Also, if you are queasy about veal, there is humanely raised stuff from Strauss available at your local Whole Foods.

Jane Black: Whoops. Here's the story I wrote about veal: The Kinder Side of Veal

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Falls Church: When you say the egg yolks have to be used promptly, do you really mean immediately? They can't hang out in the fridge for a day or two if they are under plastic wrap?

Elinor Klivans: I find that they form a crust. If you beat them,rather than leaving them as whole yolks, they would probably be fine for overnight in the refrigerator. Always keep them cold. Egg yolk spoil easily.

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Washington, DC: Top of the Day, I would like to know what part of the turkey do I buy if I want to grind my own to make turkey burgers, turkey meatballs, etc. I only like the white meat of the turkey. Thank you

Joe Yonan: If you only like white meat, then use white meat! That would be the breast.

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Macaron City: I love baking macarons and just want to say that although they are tough to get right, don't be scared and give them a try! Even the best macaron bakers learned by a couple of failure batches. Some more tips that I've found useful: the hardest part about macarons is not over or undermixing the macaronage (the batter). Most bakers on the internets agree that the macaronage should look like "flowing magma" and shouldn't take more than 50 strokes of your spatula to get to that point. Best way to tell that you've over or under-mixed are the "feet," the little ruffle at the bottom of the cookie. Huge foot = undermixed; no foot = overmixed. When piping, you'll sometimes get a little peak on top of the macaron. To smooth them out, wet a finger, wipe your finger on a paper towel so it's not too wet, and gently smooth the peak down. Finally make sure you rest your macarons somewhere dry. If there's a lot of moisture in the air, you won't get the nice skin that becomes the hard outer shell of the cookie when it's baked. In the summer, I rest them near the air conditioner. You can tell when they're ready to go in the oven when you (very lightly) tap one with your finger, and no batter sticks because of the skin that has formed. Oh, and fill them with loads of interesting things--I like lemon curd, chestnut puree, and swiss buttercream. Good luck bakers! DC needs more macarons!

Elinor Klivans: I agree, and following the worst that can happen rule---is that you have big feet, little feet, no feet or flat. They still taste good.

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Excess red, orange, and yellow peppers :: My husband dices them and freezes them in water in those pyrex glass "fruit-cup-size" dishes. Once they are frozen, pop them out and put them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer until you are ready to add them to a skillet dinner or pasta sauce.

You can thaw them in the microwave to release them from the water if you don't want that extra liquid.

Bonnie Benwick: Good tip.

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Freezing beans: Can you really freeze them? I have frozen lots of chili and when I thaw it out the beans seems much mushier than before.

Joe Yonan: Yes, you can. I've had fine results freezing them in their cooking liquid.

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matzah madness: With Pesach around the corner I am armed with my 5lb box of matzah. Once this holiday is over, I end up feeding the birds the remainder of my matzah because I'm sick of it. Do you have suggested for what to do with a few extra boxes of matzah? Chocolate covered? Could I dip it in marsala and make a tiramisu? Maybe turn it into a biscuit for Mark Bittman's chicken and vegetable cobbler? I don't mind waiting until after Pesach to give me more options for recipes. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Turn it into matzoh meal in your food processor! I use that stuff all year long, in lots of recipes where plain bread crumbs are called for (including meatloaf). And in our database, check out the recipes for Passover Granola, Macaroon Brownies and Mock Chestnut Torte With Matzoh Praline. (In that last one, the matzoh praline alone will take care of any leftover issues you have. The stuff is addictive.)

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Manassas, Va.: Cream of wheat person should try quick cooking dry polenta then add romano chese and oilve oil they are spectacular!

Joe Yonan: Cream of wheat person is not a cheese person, alas. But I support the polenta idea generally -- how bout w/shrooms and tomatoes?

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Kosher kitchen: Am not Jewish so don't really understand all things Kosher. I'm invited to a wedding and as gift would like to buy my traditional gift of Creuset wear for the couple. Is this okay? I don't want to offend. Are there guidelines for gifting to Kosher friends?

Bonnie Benwick: I appreciate your concern. If you give them a new Le Creuset pot, all will be fine. (The kosher guidelines the chatters have been mentioning have to do with what foods are cooked in the pots, and where.)

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rotisserie chicken: I would love to make chicken burritos using leftover rotisserie chicken. The last time I threw in beans and rice and some cheese and salsa and it didn't taste like much. What do the burrito joints add to their beans to make them zap?

Joe Yonan: Cumin, garlic, chili peppers, salt.

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Washington, DC: Question and a suggestion:

Can I use chapati flour to make bread? The only whole wheat flour I can find at Costco is chapati flour.

And large eggs are 2 oz. each. Extra large are 2 1/4 oz, medium are 1 3/4 oz, and so on. So 3 large eggs are 6 oz (including the shells): mix and match the odd sizes to get the right amount.

Elinor Klivans: Whole Foods has whole wheat flour.

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fresh bread: I've been finding that the freshly baked bread from Whole Foods or even the bakery at Giant or Safeway goes stale by the second day. I've tried ciabbata rolls, french bread, and even whole wheat boule. I guess there is nothing to be done with stale bread is there except put it in soup?

Jane Black: Nothing to be done with stale bread! Cuisines of the world have encountered this problem and solved in all kinds of good dishes. Besides the breadcrumbs -- always good to have on hand -- french toast and bread pudding, there's panzanella, Tuscan bread salad; Romesco sauce, made with bread and almonds and perfect on any kind of meat; and Strata, a kind of savory french toast.

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silicone baking sheets: I'm wondering if you think these are 100 percent safe, or if maybe some silicone gets into the food? Of course I'm thinking of problems when silicone was used for bodily implants. Thank you.

Elinor Klivans: If they are not scratched they are supposed to be safe. I do not use any nonstick or silicone pans that have a damaged coating. I line my baking sheets with parchment paper. It also makes for easy cleanup.

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Olney, MD: Submitting my question super early because I just finished my breakfast with a question about my cereal. I just discovered Trader Joe's Honey, Almond and Flax 9 Whole Grain Crunch Cereal, which I love, by the way. I see that it has 8 grams of fiber, 5 of them soluble, and 3 of them insoluble. What is the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber? Are they both good?

Bonnie Benwick: Depends whether you want the fiber to hang around for a bit. Insoluble just means it doesn't dissolve/mix with liquid or water, so it'll go right through the parts of you that digest food. Soluble fiber is more beneficial -- found in lots of natural foods such as beans and apples.

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Scissors for poultry: You should leave your office scissors in the office and use special kitchen scissors to cut up your chicken, unless you thrive on salmonella.

The reason they make poultry scissors is because they come apart so they can be cleaned and sanitized. Like a cutting board for meats and poultry, poultry scissors should not be used for anything else, especially herbs. Be safe and keep your family and friends healthy

Joe Yonan: Boy, if we ever evolve to the point where we thrive on salmonella, so many problems will be solved, won't they? We can chug raw eggs, make cookie dough ice cream like it's going out of style, roll up some chicken sushi...

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've slid a thin metal spatula under our bottoms to loosen us, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Greg K and Elinor K for the help with the a's. Now for the book giveaways: The DC chatter who asked about chicken livers will get, duh, "Chicken & Other Fowl." The Chevy Chase chatter who asked about using almond flour in macaron recipes will get "All Cakes Considered." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get your books to you.

Until next time, happy beer-drinking, macaron-baking and otherwise cooking, eating and reading.

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