Free Range on Food: Matzoh balls, Passover coke, latte art, beer madness, keeping chickens, leftover wine, medium rare steak, pancake additions, more

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; 1:00 PM

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

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

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

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

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings lightness to your matzoh balls, art to your lattes, and new approaches to your school food. Oh, wait a minute: that was today's Food section. Anyway, you know what I mean. The point is, we're here to help you with your cooking and eating questions. The fabulous and talented Bonnie Benwick and Jane Black are both out of the office today, but we have the fabulous and talented Stephanie Sedgwick (author of our weekly Nourish recipe) and Dean Gold (of Dino restaurant) in the house to help out. Dean is a matzoh master, so any and all q's in that arena are all his.

And we'll also have giveaway books: "Stonewall Kitchen Breakfast" by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst and "The Best Simple Recipes" from the America's Test Kitchen crew.

Fire away.

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Washington, DC: I've been using a lot of canned beans lately. I've always thought that if you rinse the beans before using them, you would reduce some of the more, er, unpleasant side effects of eating beans. And certainly when I rinse them, there appears to be a lot of gas let out (by the beans). But I heard recently that there's no point to rinsing them. What do you say? Also, I've been trying many different types of beans. Do you have any non-traditional favorites to suggest?

Joe Yonan: Yes, I've heard that idea, too, but Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, who knows more about beans than anyone I can think of, says it's bunk -- at least when it comes to dried beans. (The idea there is that you drain the soaking water and add fresh water when you cook the beans.) Steve says the only thing that really helps cut down on flatulence is to eat more beans and get used to them, but he's in the business of selling beans, so ...

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Also, canned beans don't need to be soaked at all. They're already cooked. However, you should rinse them to remove the excess salt.

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Alexandria, VA: Love the Orzo, Shrimp and Pineapple recipe! My husband is allergic to pineapple and nuts though... could I do the recipe with the same ingredients but with a honey mustard vinaigrette or something similar?

washingtonpost.com: Orzo With Shrimp, Spinach and Pineapple

Joe Yonan: Bonnie is out of the office today (how will we manage?), but I'd suggest that you sub mango for the pineapple. I think that'd be nice. (And, of course, leave out the peanuts.)

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Washington, DC: Hi. This may be a silly question, but... How should I adjust the cooking time and/or temperature if I want to assemble and refrigerate a lasagna before cooking, then put it directly in the oven? How about for cookie dough? Thanks!

Dean Gold: Under cook the pasta so it is a bit chewy but not crunchy. Chill it in an ice bath filmed with olive oil to get it to stop cooking. Pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel. Make sure your sauce is not runny or too moist. I would take the lasagna out of the fridge an hour before cooking it or lower the temp maybe 25 degrees and cooking it for a few extra minutes.

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Beer Madness Suggestion, VA: A lot of the critics of Beer Madness have some valid points. How do you come up with 32....and your tasting from the Brickskeller?!!!

Next year you should select beers from the different breweries nearest the cities from the 62 teams that make it into the tourney.

washingtonpost.com: Beer Madness 2010

Dean Gold: I think the selection tends a bit towards the large guys. There is no representation from North coast, Rogue or Clipper City all of which are pretty easy to get here. Clipper City (Loose Cannon for the hop heads! YUM!) is local, and the other two are some of the oldest names in American craft beer.

Joe Yonan: Here's the thing with Beer Madness. Right or wrong, we decided that the only American entries would be the four finalists from last year: That's a nod to the way the contest has run from the beginning. The Final 4 are in the following year's bracket, which is otherwise completely new. Beer columnist Greg Kitsock suggested the imports theme this year, inspired by the Olympics, which I liked, but it also makes the availability a little more complicated. Here's what Greg wrote about choosing the lineup on our blog. Having said that, I think next year might be the time when we throw the rulebook out and do an all-craft-beer Madness...

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Snowy Denver: Hi, gotta say I love the chat. I need help with a hummus gone horribly awry. My salt grinder broke open over it and I made the really awesome decision not to throw it out (grad student) but to add other things to it--white beans, roasted red peppers, more chickpeas, more olive oil, lemon, etc. But it's still too salty! And now I've committed too many ingredients to pitch it. Any surefire ways to cut the salt without doubling the size of the hummus?

Leigh Lambert: Oil and lemon juice could go a long way to cut the saltiness, but your best bet would be bulk. Maybe mashed potatoes could be a cheaper starch option than beans?

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Dino: Do you know why Dean won't take those damn raisins out of his wild boar ragu?????

Dean Gold: Our lamb pasta is raisin free (and made from yummy Elysian Fields PA lamb}! The boar pasta is a Medici inspired recipe and they used raisins!

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Washington, DC: Herbs: I love cooking with fresh herbs but there must be some tricks to preparing them. It takes SO LONG to wash, dry, de-stem and chop them that sometimes it doesn't seem worth the trouble. What do professional chefs do? Use the stems too instead of painstakingly tearing off leaf by leaf? Use underlings? There's got to be an easier way.

Dean Gold: Hold the stem of the herb at the top and pull with your thumb and forefinger towards the bottom of the stem. Then go through the pieces and repeat on larger ones and do some picking with the smaller ones. The stems, if green, can just be chopped. The leftover stems are great to flavor soups and stocks.

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Tilapia: I have some tilapia filets in the fridge and drawing a blank as to how to prepare them tonight. Would love some suggestions and a side to go along with it. Thank you!

Joe Yonan: How bout Stephanie's Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia with Cilantro Pesto?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: As for the sides, I'd go for a green vegetable that has a bit of crunch, like asparagus or broccoli.

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Passover: Not a question, just wanted to tell you how much I look forward to the Food section before Passover. I always hold off on final menu planning until I see what's new in the Post! And after nearly 6,000 years, it must be hard to come up with new things. ;-) Many recipes you've run in years past are in my permanent collection. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Glad to hear it. Did you get matzoh ball ideas today?

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Fluffy Matzoh Balls: I have my mom's recipe right here -- "Goodman's mix, refrigerate dough overnight." Hers were always fluffy, and following her recipe, so are mine. But pyramid shaped -- that's a challenge I'll have to try this year!

Dean Gold: I always use seltzer water, adding more as I form the balls to keep the mix moist and only slightly stiff. Make sure the water is boiling gently and well salted too. I use Streits.

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Chevy Chase, MD: Hey there. My wife and I aren't big wine drinkers, but I often will open a bottle to cook with. However, I usually don't end up using very much of it. How long will an open bottle of wine last for cooking? Will it be safe and still taste right after 1-2 weeks? Thanks!

Dean Gold: Air is the main culprit in causing wine to go bad. Buy some bottles of various sizes. When you cook with wine, pour off what you don't need into a smaller bottle and recork it. You want the wine to come all the way up to the bottom of the cork. Do this slowly to minimize the air introduced to the wine. Then refrigerate it. Even if the taste degrades, it will still be safe. You can even freeze wine, but as it expands as it freezes, do not fill the bottles to the top. The glass can shatter or crack.

Joe Yonan: For more ideas, see Dave McIntyre's column from last year on devices that purport to help keep wine from going bad. And see my take on what to do with that leftover wine... (Hello, mulled red wine syrup!)

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Oops: Hi! I accidentally bought unsweetened cranberry juice, which was an awesome surprise when I took my first big gulp. Do you have any suggestions for how to use it? I can't seem to add enough sugar to make it palatable. I'd be open to any cocktail suggestions, too.

Leigh Lambert: You can use unsweetened cranberry juice in place of the acid for a marinade. Also, try agave nectar, honey or maple syrup as sweetener instead of sugar. They are sweeter per ounce than white sugar.

Joe Yonan: As for a cocktail, I immediately thought of Jason Wilson's holiday piece on Todd Thrasher's most recent make-your-own-everything experiments, which included homemade cranberry juice. Now, this is sweetened a little, but not nearly as much as the store-bought stuff, so I think the Provincial cocktail that Todd makes with the homemade juice would be a natural place for you to start. You'll probably want to add a little sugar to it. Look at the cranberry juice recipe, too, for ideas about how much sugar for how much juice.

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Arlington, VA: I want to sing the praises of the oft-neglected carbon steel frypans. I have a couple, and they far outperform stainless steel or cast iron. You see them in French restaurants, and I think they are made in France. The ones I have (8" & 12") have sloping sides and angled handles. They conduct and hold heat extraordinarily well, and, like cast iron, they get seasoned and blackened over time to the point they become stick-free. Frying eggs, pan frying a steak, they do it all. Couldn't live without 'em.

Joe Yonan: Yep, I've got one of these, too -- mine's the size of a crepe pan -- maybe 8 inches like your smaller one, and I love it.

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Easy Medium Rare: What are your tips for cooking a piece of boneless steak to medium rare? I salt and pepper it, place in a high temperature cast iron with olive oil. After about 10 minutes the outside is done but there is a layer of blue meat on the inside. What am I doing wrong?

Dean Gold: Make sure the meat has time to come to room temperature before cooking, an hour or so. Then let it rest so the color and juices have a chance to equilibrate. Use an instant read thermometer and find out your desired temp. Remember to stop cooking the meat 10 degrees early as the temp will continue to rise as the meat sits. I think 125 for a 135 final temp makes a good medium rare for me.

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Richmond, VA: Thank you for that mouth-watering article on matzoh balls. I am born and raised Catholic so presume I have a (lame) out but as Passover rolls around, I always get the meanest hankering for matzoh ball soup - the Jewish dietary PR is phenomenal! I've seen Joan Nathan make them on PBS. I've bought her book and several others but success has not been mine. I usually end up with low-floating dough balls of unpleasant texture though the broth is always excellent. Even having never tasted a proper matzoh ball, I know I am far off the mark. Your article offers courage and useful information (and a little humor). Thanks!

Dean Gold: Let the mix rest before trying to roll it. Wet your hands and do so between each ball. Never press down on the balls. Use seltzer. If you are using schmalz or fat of any kind, use less.

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SATX: Good morning -- last night I made a first-time recipe with a whole cut-up chicken, onions, garlic, figs, some spices, and 1-1/2 C stock (recipe called for port, but I didn't have any). This baked for about an hour, with the chicken placed meat side down, and then turned after 30 minutes (350, covered). All the chicken was great except the breasts -- they were done, not dry, but a little on the rubbery/chewy side. Should I have gone ahead and removed the other pieces, then left the breasts in 5-10 minutes longer, or would they have gotten more rubbery? Many thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: My best guess is that the chicken got boiled (or worse yet-oversteamed) in the liquid. I'd skip the meat side-down step and cook all the pieces meat side up. Cover the pan with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes. Remove and continue coooking the chicken for 15 minutes; then start checking for doneness.

I used to take out the breast pieces first but the chicken breasts we get now are usually so big in relation to the legs and thighs that I find they need the same cooking time as the dark parts. Good luck!

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Washington, DC: My partner has been craving pancakes for weeks, so I promised to make some this weekend. I'll probably do buttermilk for sure, but if I can find good blueberries, I know he'd love that. He also likes them with chocolate chips, although the batter, when mixed with the chips, was a pain (they kept sticking to the bowl). Do you have a favorite pancake recipe?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Any basic recipe will do. It's the buttermilk that makes the difference. If you can buy some from a local dairy, all the better!

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Damn Raisins!: The raisins are there to add sweetness and depth of flavor. You could leave them out, or, you could loosely wrap them in a cheesecloth bag and fish it out at the end.

Dean Gold: There are two recipes I cannot really fiddle with: the Lasagnette and the Cinghiale. The lamb pasta is the way I would like to do the boar but I'd get run out of my own restaurant!

This July for our 5th anniversary, I will have a non raisin style boar pasta (with cocoa & pine nuts) on our tasting menu.

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Culinary Physics at Harvard: Culinary physics at Harvard

Why Joe? For years and years we have been "encouraged" to buy organic, throw away our can openers, eat simply prepared unprocessed fresh foods that still retain nutrients and so on. On this trek towards the "healthy & natural food" out of the blue emerges sous vide that uses chemicals, more chemicals and very expensive equipment. I embrace most new trends in food prep, but not in this case: I was always told that food safety requires that raw meats have to be brought through "the danger zone" as quickly as possible, yet practitioners of the latest food trend take hours & hours to cook meat enclosed in plastic pouches at slow temperatures.

A while back, in response to a question during your discussion at the Smithsonian, Jaques Pepin compared molecular gastronomy to designer dress fashion shows in Paris and Milan. He said that those extreme haute couture dresses are not meant to be worn by women, but, he said, some trends trickle down and become fashionable for a season or two. He suggested that eventually some of the sous vide trends might be adapted by home cooks. That made sense to me.

Last year the four Top Master Chef contest finalists had to incorporate "future food trends" into the finale. To my surprise not one of them used foam or nitrogen or anything even remotely connected to molecular gastronomy.

Ferran Adria has been hailed as Picasso of today's culinary world, but food is not a painting or a sculpture that can be enjoyed by visual observation. Don't laugh, I know it sounds silly, but me fears that Adria trained Harvard engineers will start working for Kraft or Perdue and in a few years we will be "encouraged" to eat commercially prepared canned or pouched sous vide TV dinners.

I guess, what I still don't know is: How healthy is molecular gastronomy?

Joe Yonan: Molecular gastronomy is just about techniques, don't forget, and they can be applied like any other cooking techniques in many varieties of ways. So it's how they're used that's important. Can't generalize that it's healthful or not, any more than you can say that, say, braising is healthful or not.

A few clarifications on sous vide -- it doesn't need to use chemicals at all. At its simplest, it's vacuum-packed food cooked in a carefully controlled water bath. Inside that vacuum pack can be the same kinds of things that you would throw into a pot: just meat and seasonings. As for the food-safety aspects, don't forget that that danger zone is 40 to 140, and food can be in it for hours before there's a problem. Much sous vide is done just over that temperature. There are also other standards that chefs have followed to keep things safe. And the machines are now under $400.

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buttermilk: Also a reminder not to use fat free buttermilk. Harder to find buttermilk that has fat in it, but it makes a big difference, especially in baked goods. People try to use 1% or skim milk in cakes and then wonder why the end product is tough. You need the fat!

Leigh Lambert: Fat is a wonderful thing.

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I want to sing the praises of the oft-neglected carbon steel frypans. I have a couple, and they far outperform stainless steel or cast iron. : Are they lighter? Weight is the reason I gave up my cast iron.

Dean Gold: Lighter and also very quick to heat up or cool off. They rust at the sight of water so you have to clean them immediately and then dry them on the stove top or in an oven. They are wicked expensive these days.

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Reston, VA: Where in the Reston or Sterling area can I get Passover Coke that's made with sugar, rather than corn syrup? I'd rather not buy Mexican Coke, as it's seems pretty pricey when imported to this area.

Dean Gold: I get Mexican coke at Restaurant Depot, but you have to be a member. Its $18 for 24 bottles. I would try Grand Mart, which has good prices and a large Latino products section.

As far as Passover coke, I know that Shalom Market has a great selection of passover items, but it's in Wheaton! Apparently Giant has passover superstores. I could not find a link on their website, but you can check their ad circular. McLean is supposed to carry it, as well as Shopper's Food in 7 Corners.

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"Nourish" Tag?: Just curious, when I look at the Food section "blog" ("When we eat"??), it has links to columns on the left. Is there any way to put Stephanie's "Nourish" tag there, to make it easier to find her columns? Thanks! Love all the work you do!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Thanks for the plug!

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For Chevy Chase with the leftover wine: When you have a bit of leftover wine the best option is to drink it. However, if you do not you can freeze it in ice cube trays. A single cube of wine is perfect for deglazing a pan. If you also have extra herbs from whatever yummy dish put the chopped herbs into the ice cube tray and then cover with the wine. When frozen take out of trays and put into labeled ziploc bags. It is easy. Also the 100% wine cubes are great if you to chill down without diluting a glass of wine you forgot to chill.

Dean Gold: If your left over wine is a good Barolo or Brunello, I will be happy to take care of any left overs!

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Keeping chickens in Arlington: I have more cookbooks than I have space for or time to cook from, even though I cook all the time. It is very hard for me, but I try to buy as few new cookbooks as possible. Well, Bonnie, you twisted my arm so strongly I had no choice, but to buy both John Torode's "Chicken & Other Fowl" and Darina Allen's "Forgotten Skills of Cooking."

Here is my book report: Chicken & Other Fowl - not only interesting collection of mostly inspiring "today" recipes, but John Torode gives weights both in grams and ounces. I LOVE it. I HATE it when a recipe calls for: "one yellow onion," "one whole bunch of parsley," "juice of one lemon" or what is much worse: "juice of one lime." I hope US publishers of cookbooks, first and foremost, publishers of pastry/baking books follow in Torode's footsteps.

"Forgotten Skills" book - I wish I've never gotten it. It is quite heavy, but I have a hard time putting it down. Darina Allen wrote this book for me. I am one of those people who has always cooked everything from scratch - started because it saved tons of money and continue because food tastes so much better. I have always had herb garden and tomatoes bushes in the summer. I am planting more veggies this spring, but after reading the chapter on Keeping Hens I LOST MY PEACE. I am now convinced that freshly laid eggs is the way to go and I have to get some chickens in my backyard ASAP. I know that Barbara Kingsolver's elementary school age daughter raised chicks, but at the time they lived on a farm in West Virginia. Does anybody in Northern Virginia have chickens in their backyard? Is it allowed? Where can I get accurate information? I googled, of course, but got mostly "Sorry, page not available" message.

washingtonpost.com: We wrote about the laws on keeping chickens in the D.C. area last year.

Jane Touzalin: Bonnie isn't here today, so I'll answer on her behalf. First, I'm SO with you on the idea of providing weights for recipe ingredients. My particular peeve is "a bunch of" something. Different stores and market vendors sell differently sized bunches, and if you're picking the ingredient from your home garden, you're completely lost.

As to chickens, as an Arlington resident I can tell you that people do keep them -- but unless you have a really big yard, it's illegal. Follow the link to read our story on this very subject.

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Passover again: The leek version sounded interesting, but my Mom makes the matzah balls, so it's not up to me! And hers are light already. She uses the recipe off the Maneschewitz box, but with much more chicken soup in them than called for and she lets the batter sit a long time. I'm tempted to make the leek version this week, but then the family will overdose on matzah before Passover even starts! :-D

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I think you'd only overdose if you ate both types on the SAME night....

Go ahead and give the leek recipe a try.

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Mac and cheese: Hello,

I'm hoping for some guidance on making a gruyere mac and cheese, similar to what they have at Cafe Deluxe, if you've tried that. I tried Ina Garten's recipe, which includes sharp cheddar (most recipes I've found include a cheddar for better melting), and a one-year gruyere from Whole Foods. To make this more difficult, I don't care for strong aged gruyeres - something more mellow. Mine came out on the strong side, probably from the cheddar and aged cheese, not a clear gruyere flavor. Maybe I should try adding with a regular swiss cheese? Any experience or advice? Thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Try mixing the Gruyere with Emmentaler. The Emmentaler is much milder and it melts better. I think it will do the trick.

Dean Gold: I would go further to a 4 cheese blend: grana and fontal {not real fontal but the semi soft stuff} for melt, Ementaler and Guyere for flavor.

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Beer inspired by the Olympics: That reminds me of how my european friends would watch the Euro Vision song contest. They would get a beer from every country and drink that beer while that country's contestant was performing.

No articles on the Beard nominations this year? Predictions?

washingtonpost.com: Beard nominations: They're not just for chefs (All We Can Eat, March 22)

Joe Yonan: We had something on our blog, linked to above, and the Going Out Gurus did as well. That way we got them up immediately, rather than making you wait for the print section two days later. As for predictions, hmm... I'm like Sophie -- don't make me choose between my children!

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San Francisco: Hi there. I recently saw an episode of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives on the Food Network (it takes a lot to admit this, so go easy) that featured chicken a la king. I really want to make this, including biscuits, but the only recipe in your database is a fancied-up version. I want to use cream of mushroom soup. Can you suggest a source? Or provide quickie instructions? thanks

Jane Touzalin: Cream of mushroom soup? No.

The recipe in our database is pretty basic, except maybe for the dried mushrooms. Use our recipe. Skip the dried porcinis; buy a prepared rotisserie chicken and use the cooked breasts from that; buy pre-sliced mushrooms. (With those three steps I've already saved you a lot of time!) Substitute broth for the mushroom soaking liquid. If you think shallots are too fancy, use onions. Serve the final product over your favorite biscuits. It REALLY is not that difficult, and I promise it'll taste better than if you made it with canned soup.

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Understanding Passover: Thank you for the piece on matzoh balls and other Passover dishes. Mine is not a strictly food question, but it emerges from food curiosity: are there any good "secular" sources of information about Passover traditions and celebrations? I am not Jewish but know the basics (I am Christian and have read the Passover scriptures many times). In recent years, I've had increasing interest in understanding Passover, Seder and the celebrations from a cultural as well as a faith perspective. Any reading recommendations? Thank you and happy Passover (I know there is a way to say that in Hebrew or Yiddish, but have not a clue what it is, so I don't want to seem disrespectful by bungling it.)

washingtonpost.com: The art and architecture of matzoh balls

Dean Gold: I love About.com's website for basic research. Here is their link to the Passover Page. Lots of great stuff to be found from recipes to some background info.

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Madison WI: Thanks for taking my question.

I have been wanting to try recipes, but I am very confused about the terms relating to yeast. There is rapid rise, instant, etc. What are the differences, and/or are they exchangeable? Also, when trying to bake using an old recipe, where can one get cake yeast, or if not, how much "dry" yeast does one use for a cake of yeast.

Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Instant and rapid rise yeasts can be used interchangeably. Cake yeast refers to the form of the yeast rather than the application. You can still find it in some health food stores refrigerated section. Otherwise you can try to go by a weight substitution when cake yeast is called for. Be careful of volume exchange, as cake yeast is obviously more compact.

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Cake vs. Pie: Just saw this cake vs. pie bracket over in Hesse's chat. Would love to know what the food sections thinks will win!

Joe Yonan: Well, if I were choosing, it would come down to coconut cake versus rhubarb pie, and the pie would win. But I see that blueberry has already knocked rhubarb out (the horrors!). At this point coconut still has a shot, and on the pie side I'd go for my second-favorite, cherry. (Although I would specify sour cherry...)

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BLT Cooking Class: I just read about the pork cooking class at BLT and was interested in their next class on grilling but couldn't find any information. Where can I find the info and sign my husband up? I know he would've loved the pork class but grilling is good too!

washingtonpost.com: Pig class goes whole hog at BLT Steak (All We Can Eat)

Joe Yonan: Call em! 202-689-8999.

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pancakes: In addition to the buttermilk, try adding a little carbonated something to the batter, like 7-up, Sprite, or tonic water. 'A little" = one to two tablespoons for a generous, family-sized batch.

Your pancakes will come out floatingly light.

Leigh Lambert: My husband did this the past weekend to regular old pancake mix and it does make a big difference.

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Clifton, VA: Reston,

Try Wegman's I know the Fairfax store has Passover coke. I am not sure about their Sterling store.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Fairfax: Love the Penne with Zucchini and Sweet Onion. Lots of substitutions can be made. When I made something similar this week, I subbed pepperoni for the pancetta. This is also good with asparagus in place of the zucchini. It would be fun to make a chart of substitutions! A little Italian tip, I reserve a bit of the cooking water, so that after draining, I can use it if needed to loosen the pasta/sauce. Also a good drizzle of a "good" extra virgin olive oil is the best.

washingtonpost.com: Penne With Zucchini and Sweet Onion

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Thanks, and yes many substitutions can be made. As for the drizzle of olive oil, I agree but watch the amount. Even good-for-you-fats have calories that sneak up on you....

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: So I know this is silly to obsess over but I have no idea what to use to hold my sourdough starter. Any thoughts?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Old-fashioned glazed pottery works well.

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sous vide : Remember, DC native Carla lost Top Chef when she used sous vide!

Joe Yonan: That was more about the fact that she wasn't comfortable with it. (And think about it: One could make the argument that, in fact, Carla won that season. Does anybody remember the winner? Oh, yeah, Hosea. Yawn.) My problem with sous vide, honestly, is when they don't do anything ELSE to the meat. I like texture, and too often when meat is cooked sous vide but not then seared in some way to get a crust, it seems too soft/gummy/one-dimensional to me.

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med rare steak: in addition to bringing the steak to room temp, preheat your oven to 425-450, sear the outsides of the steak, and then pop the steak still in the pan into the oven for a few minutes - but you need to experiment and learn how to gauge how done the steak is from touching it.

I buy my strip steaks on the thick side, sear all sides at top heat, and then into the oven for about 8 minutes, out and a few minutes to rest and my steaks always turn out perfectly medium rare.

Joe Yonan: What time is dinner again?

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Arlington, VA: For the chocolate chip pancakes: Don't add the chips (or the blueberries) to the batter. Add the chips/blueberries to the pancakes once they start to set. This way you can make many different types from the same batter.

Jane Touzalin: That's how I like to do it. The berries or chips don't seem to stick to the pan/skillet that way, and you have complete control over how many of them end up in each pancake. Otherwise, it can be feast or famine.

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To the pancake partner: Whatever you are adding to your pancakes, don't add to the mix directly. Instead, as you ladle the batter onto the griddle, sprinkle the chips, berries, etc. The first side will have a chance to brown before the additions sink. By the time you flip, the additions will have sunk enough to not fall out/off. Works for chocolate chips, berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, etc.

Leigh Lambert: Many chatters shared this same idea. It also has the advantage of customizing pancakes to individual tastes.

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Arlington: I'm hoping you can help! I'm hosting friends for Passover and wanted to do matzah ball soup...BUT I have vegetarians in the crowd. Can I do the soup with vegetable broth, and how should I doctor it up to make it taste more like what Mom would have made?

Dean Gold: Use lots of roasted onions (skins and all), carrots and celery when you make the veggie broth. Roast the veggies and then put on a little tomato paste over the softened veggies and let brown well. Mushroom stems are very good too. Use black and white peppercorns in the stock, along with bay leaf, thyme, parsley and ginger (just a few coins). Cook the stock overnight. The next day, strain the stock and reduce it so it has density.

Then a couple of hours before you want to serve, cook fresh carrots, celery and onions till soft to add another layer of flavor. Use lots of parsley and dill, adding them when you start cooking the carrots etc in the broth, and again just before serving. A little Sriracha sauce perks things up, and if you use a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon to a gallon of veggie stock, it does not really add heat.

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Mixed Holiday Household: In my household we celebrate Easter and Passover - do you have any joint recipes to get us through the week, and more important Good Friday & Easter Sunday? I suggested Matzo Pizza for Good Friday dinner... other than eggs..?

Dean Gold: Matzoh Brei with lamb hash for brunch. Asparagus, which just might be available from Virginia by Easter -- at least according to one of my farmer suppliers. I would tell you who, but.....

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Fairfax, VA: Random question: I've been wanting to make pumpkin bread, but I've been to four or five stores and can't seem to find canned pumpkin. Can you tell me where to find it, or is it just not available this time of year? Thanks.

Leigh Lambert: There was a shortage of pumpkin, thus canned pumpkin, this year. You can substitute canned sweet potato for most recipes.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Wegmans has plenty of pumpkin. This time of year look for it in the baking aisle next to the canned pie fillings.

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dc matzoh ball: Just want to register that matzoh balls made from matzoh are the best. It's a southern Germany/Alsatian method and much better than the box or even matzoh meals dumplings. They really don't get the attention they deserve.

Dean Gold: I have never heard of this, but I wold imagine that it has a different texture. There is a Venetian saying that 6 Jews means 7 temples! I would never argue anyone else's Matzoh Ball tradition!

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Washington, DC: Where can a person not interested in all of the non-fat/fat-free Greek yogurt options, find regular full fat Greek yogurt - or is there no such thing? It seems ridiculously difficult to find non-dietary dairy products in this day and age. (Preferrably in the confines of the District and Metro accessible).

THANKS!

Joe Yonan: I see full-fat Greek yogurt at Whole Foods on P Street. The Fage brand.

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Coffee Roasting and Caffeine Levels: Thanks for today's article on lattes, and for all your recent coffee coverage.

I enjoyed the article on home roasting of coffee beans. I've done some home roasting recently, and have a question. When I grind my home-roasted beans and enjoy a cup of the stuff, I don't get quite the caffeine kick that I get from store-bought brands.

The quantity of beans per cup remains constant, so I'm left to wonder if my home-roasting process weakens the caffeine levels of the bean. Does the caffeine level decrease the darker the bean is roasted? Do additional cracks of the beans mean that more caffeine is escaping? I don't think that's the case, but it's the best theory I could come up with.

washingtonpost.com: Baristas mix it up at D.C. latte art Throwdowns

Joe Yonan: Glad you're liking Joe's joe. ;-) Now, for your caffeine question: There's not really anything about roasting that changes the caffeine level, at least to my knowledge (coffee geeks, correct me if I'm wrong), but there are different caffeine amounts in different beans from different places, so I think that's the answer here. (The other thing that affects caffeine content of coffee, of course, is brewing, but you say that's staying the same.)

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sous vide : leave it to wonderful Jaques Pepin to make sense of that!

Joe Yonan: The thing is, Jacques is just the type of chef who I bet could do amazing things with sous vide. Because he wouldn't be necessarily entranced by the technology -- he would use it for what it's best at, and adjust as he goes. I love JP.

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Washington, DC: What's special about "passover" coke, versus other types (presumably made with HFCS), and why is the difference important for the holiday?

Dean Gold: Passover coke and Mexican coke are made from real sugar and have a different sweetness profile from "Classic" coke. I think Mexican coke is more citrusy or punchy than Passover coke, but I have never done a side-by-side comparison. In fact, I do all my Mexican coke drinking at Tacqueria las Placitas in Bladensberg whilst eating very unkosher "piggy parts" tacos!

Also, for Passover Coke, the sugar has to be Kosher for Passover as some sugar products contain cornstarch (this is especially true of powdered sugar!).

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Some Yogurt Questions: Hey gang--thank you for the always informative answers and for being such a great resource. I recently delved into the world of at-home yogurt making and found my results to be mixed. My yogurt had what seemed like TONS of whey--maybe almost a cup of whey out of 1 quart of milk. I know I can just strain it to make the yogurt thicker (and that's what I ended up doing) but I'm wondering if there's something in the technique I can do to make it thicker naturally? I used 1% milk, would that affect it? Also, I've heard that the whey has tons of nutrients but I can NOT bring myself to drink it or do anything more than mix a little back into the yogurt. By not eating the whey am I missing the whole point of healthful yogurt? Thank you!

Dean Gold: 1% milk has more solids and more moisture than full fat milk. So it will affect the resultant product.

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Matzah balls: Am I the only one who likes them chewy and hard as golf balls?

Seriously...

Dean Gold: Our Rabbi forbade playing golf during Passover....

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Leftover wine: Although generally not a problem at our house (blush), I use the rubber stoppers with the handheld air pump when we do have some leftover wine, and it's worked really well. In fact, I've left wine like that up to a week and it's still pretty decent (not peak, but not ruined). For a day or two, it's perfect.

Joe Yonan: Yep, I'm with you. Same drill.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: My Passover plans involve cooking for one pretty much all week. I eat fish and dairy, but no red meat or poultry, and I go back and forth between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tradition -- any ideas for easy-to-prepare pesadik meals with protein and fiber if I avoid kitniyot?

Dean Gold: Matzoh farfel with mushrooms and a sprinkle of grated cheese, tsimmes with dried fruit,

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RE: Coffee roasting and caffeine: Actually, during a tour of a coffee plantation in Costa Rica recently, the guide did in fact mention that roasting coffee reduces the caffeine content of the beans -- so darker roasts have less caffeine than lighter roasts. Perhaps for this person, there is something about using a conventional oven rather than industrial roasting methods that eliminates more caffeine.

Joe Yonan: I think what your guide was referring to is the fact that coffee loses weight as it roasts, so the amount of caffeine by volume (if you're using a scoop to measure) will be slightly less for a darker roast, simply because there's actually less coffee there. The amount of caffeine isn't changing in the bean, it's just that you're using less of it if you measure this way. That's how I understand it, anyway.

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Joe Yonan: Well,l you've shaped us into 8 balls of equal size (without compressing), then dropped us into water, reduced the heat, covered and cooked us for about 20 minutes. So you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks much to Stephanie Sedgwick and Dean Gold for the help turning them into a's. Now for the giveaway winners: The DC chatter whose partner is craving pancakes will get, natch, "Stonewall Kitchen Breakfast." And the chatter who asked about the Harvard culinary physics course, and got us started on sous vide will get, of course, "The Best Simple Recipes." No molecular gastronomy here, I promise!

Send your mailing info to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll get them to you.

In the meantime, until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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