Free Range on Food: Staffers solve your cooking conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, April 7, 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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Bonnie Benwick: Good afternoon, Free Range fans! Have you got a hankering for a milk moustache after reading Jane Black's article about mid-size dairies, or are you ready to follow David Hagedorn's lead and make his seasonal Sunday supper? Newbie slow-cooker fan Editor Joe's on assignment today, but we've got Real Entertaining guru Hagedorn and Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick on hand to field food queries of all kinds. They are just that good... For chat giveaways, we have Anna Getty's "Easy Green Organic" (inspiration for today's Dinner in Minutes recipe) and Cook's Country "Best Potluck Recipes." We'll announce winners at the end, and those lucky folks will have to send their mailing addresses to food@washpost.com.

Wait for it....

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any way to save leftover smoothie for the next day? I made a rather huge one and stashed half of it in the fridge, but it got super liquidy and lost that lovely smoothie texture. So I stuck it in the freezer and it froze solid. By the time it thawed out some, it was ice-slivery and didn't taste very good.

David Hagedorn: You could always mix some fresh yogurt and fruit into the leftover stuff, but I learned this as a chef: don't throw good ingredients after bad in an effort to save something. Sometimes you just need to know when to call it a day.

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Milk Pasteurization: I appreciated the milk article in today's Food section, but wondered about the minimal heat required to pasteurize the milk and retain the creamy texture cited by the owner of the dairy.

We buy raw, unpasteurized milk. Has the owner ever considered getting into the unpasteurized milk business? I noticed that the article said he'd yet to turn a profit. Selling raw milk would help him turn the corner, no?

washingtonpost.com: Mid-size dairies win consumers with less-processed milk (Post, April 7)

Jane Black: Selling raw milk isn't actually legal in most states. I'll have to check the latest but I *think* that it is not permitted in MD or VA; that's why you often have people joining a cow "share" where they own a percentage of the cow and therefore are allowed to have some of their cow's milk any way they like. There are several groups arguing for it to be permitted. But for now it's hard to come by. Where do you get yours?

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Kensington, Md.: In the very interesting milk article today, the person from South Mountain Creamery said his milk isn't organic but it is all natural, what does that mean? Does it mean no rBGH or other growth hormones? Does it mean his cows are grass fed? Clarification would be much appreciated!

I really hope this is something USDA will tackle. It gets confusing - every mass produced product these days wants to be able to use the magic buzzwords - but all I want to know is how safe it is for my family and me.

Jane Black: It certainly does get confusing! What I hear from producers is that the paperwork is too complicated and the process to expensive to be certified organic. (I do know the process is complicated and long; it takes three years to have pasture certified; as for price, I'm not so sure. One producer -- not dairy -- I talked to said it was $500, which doesn't seem like much for a business but...)

The trick is that the all-natural means different things to different people. And you do have to check with each of them. South Mountain told me their milk is as close to organic without being certified, which means no hormones, no non-therapeutic antibiotics and a diet of grass and grain (though not necessarily certified organic.)

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Can I freeze hard boiled eggs?: I spoil my nieces and as such had an egg hunt Sunday. However, two dozen pretty colored hard boiled eggs is much more then any one person trying to eat healthy should eat in a week. So can I freeze them? Will they taste good later? Will they work well in recipes defrosted? Or should I just accept it as part of the cost of the cute egg hunt?

Bonnie Benwick: The American Egg Board advises against it, as freezing adversely affects the texture of both whites and yolks. So make some fab deviled eggs and invite some friends over. Your surplus will be gone in a flash.

BTW, how long were the eggs out in the fresh air, anyway?

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Freezing Cookies: I will be visiting a family member post surgery and would like to take her favorite cookies. I'll be traveling by plane and would need to bake the cookies several days before seeing her. What is the best way to freeze and transport the cookies? Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: Well, tell us what her fave cookies are, and we'll go from there!

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Crockpots: Hi Joe! I was hoping you could give me the name of the crock pot you bought wit the multiple inserts. I'm getting married in a few months and planning to register for one, but the different sizes seem perfect for our (soon to be) growing family. Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: Joe's on assignment today, but he bought a Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 (Model 33135).

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Washington, D.C.: Does anyone have experience with or can recommend a cow share program at a dairy near D.C.? Apparently it is the only way to buy raw milk in the area and I'd like to try it.

Jane Black: Check out this list of where to find raw milk from the Weston A Price foundation. There are none listed for DC but there are some in Maryland and Virginia.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm looking for some ground turkey ideas (93 percent). I usually use it in place of ground beef in casseroles and Mexican food .. but I am looking for something different. Do you have a recipe for a meatball dish that doesn't have a tomato sauce (no allergies, just looking for a change up). Maybe something along the lines of a non-soup version of Italian wedding soup? Or mini meatloaves? I would love some suggestions and a new recipe...

Bonnie Benwick: Well, here's one dish that's definitely different and very tasty: Spaghetti With Curried Chicken Meatballs. Just substitute your ground turkey. Chatters, what's coming up in your recipe databases?

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Mary had a lot of lamb: Hi Foodies,

I grilled a leg of lamb for Easter Sunday and have a lot of leftovers. I'd like to do something other than reheating it. I wanted to write in especially after today's slow cooker meal. Is that something I can do with already cooked meat? What other ideas do you have for it?

(We were planning on having 8 people for Easter and it ended up being just 2)

David Hagedorn: You can use already cooked meats for stews and slow-cooked items. Cube the meat and add it toward the end of the cooking process.

You could also make a lamb chili. Or freeze the meat in batches. Use some for stuffed pita sandwiches or these /projects.washingtonpost.com/recipes/2006/05/17/pans-bagnats-la-grecque/pan bagnats . You could also use some for an easy, quick appetizer for a dinner party; cube the meat and make little skewers you can serve room temp or hot, with a tsatsiki or hummus sauce on the side.

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College Park, Md.: I've been using a buttermilk pancake recipe from Cooks Magazine over the last year or so, and I've been happy with the results. One thing I've noticed in shopping for buttermilk, mostly at Whole Foods and Giant, is that the available varieties all seem to be low-fat or no-fat. Any reason for this? How much does this affect the outcome? Would it be better to try to find buttermilk that is not low fat or non-fat?

And, that makes me curious about making cookies or other baked items with milk, how does using skim, 1 percent, 2 percent or whole affect the outcome? Generally I use 2 percent on my cereal and use that when baking also. Would it be better to bake with whole milk instead?

Bonnie Benwick: Commercially made buttermilk usually is made by adding bacteria to nonfat or low-fat milk, so perhaps that's why the full-fat kind is harder to find. I've tried to keep powdered buttermilk around but somehow I don't get as good results when I bake with it.

While I'm waiting for a baking expert to weigh in about the baking properties of less than full-fat milk, I'd suggest you might want to make your own full-fat buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of whole milk; let it sit for about 10 minutes.

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Washington, D.C.: Is a tube pan the same as a bundt pan or an angel food cake pan?

Bonnie Benwick: A good angel food cake pan will have a removable insert, to make cake extraction easier. Its sides will be deeper than your average bundt pan, and it'll probably be made of a lighter material. The tube part will also be narrower. I also like AFCPs that have little "feet" on the top rim, so you can invert the pan without having to balance it on a bottle neck.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon! I'm planning to make a pasta dish tomorrow night with sausage, fennel and leeks. I'm not sure what to do about the base. Cream seems to heavy and tomatoes overpowering. Any suggestions? I'm thinking maybe some kind of thickened butter/chicken stock sauce.

Jane Black: I vote for chicken stock. You don't want something too heavy. Add a little just to pull it all together. If you're chopping the sausage finely (rather than puttin in chunks), you can also add a raw egg at the end to bind the sauce. But raw eggs freak some people out so it's up to you.

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Turkey loaf with sun-dried tomatoes: This recipe from Epicurious is always a hit. Turkey Meat Loaf with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (Epicurious)

I make it a lot and highly recommend it.

Bonnie Benwick: Another use for ground turkey.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm thinking about experimenting with horseradish for a basic mashed side for rib roast. The easy route would be adding horseradish sauce to mashed potatoes, but I'm also thinking it might be interesting to work with horseradish root, which I saw at Whole Foods last weekend, and maybe parsnips instead of potatoes. Am I crazy? How strong is horseradish root? I would want a subtle horseradish flavor, not an overpowering hot wallop.

David Hagedorn: You always know that it's the Passover time of year when you see a lot of fresh horseradish in the stores. I happen to love its bite, but a little certainly does go a long way. Horseradish is very strong.

For the mashed potatoes, just make them as you usually do and add grated horseradish to taste; a couple of tablespoons will probably suffice.

I like your idea of parsnips and horseradish; their earthiness would certainly jibe. Boil parsnip pieces and (optional, but I love it) lots of garlic cloves in salted water until very soft, as you would potatoes. Puree them hot in a food processor, adding warm warm heavy cream until you achieve the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, then add the horseradish to taste.

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Ashburn, Va.: Thank you SOOO much for the Sunday April 4th (Happy Birthday To me) article on the food of Tel Aviv. Some of the best meals of my life have been in and around Tel Aviv and I cannot stress to friends and family how amazing Israel truly is. I still yearn for the mezze apps and Roquefort Shrimp dinner at one of my favorite places there. The toasted cheese sammies eaten while overlooking the Med, and the homecooking of my family. Okay, I'm going to check into flights to Israel now. Thanks again.

Bonnie Benwick: I've been seriously missing it. What's your favorite place there?

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New cabbage ideas: I am getting a bit tired of my potato and cabbage standby. I've cooked the potato several different ways before adding it to the cabbage. I would like some new ideas for meatless cabbage entrees.

Joe Yonan: I've really liked this warm ginger, apple and cabbage slaw from Stephanie Sedgwick. It's more of a side dish than a main, but I bet you could bulk it up with potato: Cut it into very small cubes and add it right after the ginger and cook for about 5 minutes before you add the apple, and I'd think you could get it tender by the time the cabbage is done.

Or you might try this Indian sabji, which combines cabbage with ginger, garam masala, tomatoes and more.

Bonnie Benwick: FYI, Joe posted this before he left.

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Washington, D.C.: Just as an FYI, cow shares to buy raw milk are illegal as well, particularly if you are crossing state lines.

Jane Black: Last I wrote, they were trying to outlaw them in Maryland. Apologies if that has passed and I didn't know. Yes, raw milk is very much a public enemy when it comes to food safety folks. So if you still want to try it, be aware of that.

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Philly, Pa.: Two milk-related comments:

Trickling Springs milk is awesome, and it's such a hot commodity here -- I'm craving it but if you don't get to the grocery store when it's first stocked, you're out of luck. It flies off the shelves! I'm hoping they can catch up to demand without compromising quality. And I especially love the glass bottles.

On almond milk (my new favorite thing), recipes for the homemade version usually call for 1 cup of almonds for a half-gallon of almond milk. The almond meal is strained out after blending, which also reduces the calories per glass (you can use the leftovers in cookies, cakes, etc). It's really easy to make at home, but isn't fortified with vitamins A and D and calcium like the store- bought versions.

Jane Black: Glad you like Trickling Springs. Good stuff. Among these kind of milk bottlers, there's some discussion about whether glass or cardboard keeps the milk better. I'm not sure who's right but I must confess I like the bottles. We used to get milk delivered when I was little and lived in England. Good memories.

Jane Touzalin: On almond milk, your homemade stuff might not be vitamin-fortified but it also has no added sweeteners and sodium like the store-bought kind does, which could be a good thing.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi there -- love the chats; you all have given me great advice --thanks!

My wife and I will be moving to Okinawa, Japan this summer and will be living there for the next 3 years. We just found out that we are not allowed to bring any of our pantry items, even dried spices. My wife and I love to cook, and I tend to use some more exotic ingredients. While the commissary (military grocery store) is good for basic items, I am not sure that there will be anything similar to a Balducci's, Wegman's, Trader Joe's or Whole Foods in Okinawa (but I'm sure that anything we can find in H-Mart will be readily available).

Do you or the other readers know of any grocery stores or good online stores that might ship overseas (to an APO/FPO)? Thanks!!

Bonnie Benwick: Bummer about the spices. Quick calls to Penzeys, Spice House, La Tienda and iGourmet find that they all ship to APO addresses. Chatters, what other online resources do you rely on?

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Want quiche: I need to bring a meal to family sitting shiva. I have a refrigerated pie dough and a carton of eggs. How do I make a non-meat quiche? Which are the best veggies to go into this type of dish? Do I cook the veggies ahead, before adding eggs?

Bonnie Benwick: Nice of you. This Basic Quiche recipe is definitely dairy and rich; it could be a good place for you to start. If you were going to add roasted red peppers you could throw them right in. Otherwise, I'd blanch spinach, sauté onions or leeks or zucchini or broccoli, if you want to go the vegetable route.

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Slow Cooker: Hi Joe -- I'm typically at work during the day for 12 hours. Most slow cookers I've encountered suggest you don't keep your food in the cooker that long because of food safety concerns and possible overcooking. What do you think? Should I take the plunge and cook my dinner for 12 hours?

Joe Yonan: Yes, I'd say you should experiment with it. When it comes to food safety, just keep in mind that if you have a slow cooker with a timer that allows you to have it switch to the "keep warm" setting, don't let the food be at that setting for more than 2 hours. As for overcooking, for the longer things you definitely will want to choose more forgiving foods: tough cuts of meat for braising, and beans, particularly chickpeas, which are better at keeping their shape when cooked for a long time. I should add, though, that other beans are fine to cook this long, too -- you just might lose some (OK, maybe a lot, depending on the bean) of the texture, but they'd be fine for pureeing into soup. I think you'd be all right going that long with either of the recipes included with my column today: lamb stew agrodolce and chickpeas with chorizo and sunchokes.

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University Park, Md.: Question about Joe's recipe for crockpot chickpeas: when do you add the chorizo/onion mixture to the pot? The recipe just left it on the plate....

Joe Yonan: Sorry about that, and thanks for alerting us -- the chorizo and onion are not just for you to enjoy looking at on that plate (sigh): I want you to put them in with the chickpeas...

Bonnie Benwick: Here's that recipe: Slow-Cooker Chickpeas With Sunchokes and Chorizo.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi gurus (and chatters)! I'm hosting my first-ever brunch and was wondering if you could share some of your favorite recipes! I want to prepare some sort of meat/egg dish, a baked good and a fruit salad, but I am open to other ideas! Bonus points if you can also recommend your favorite brunch booze drinks! Thanks so much!

David Hagedorn: I love entertaining for brunch. Here is a recent column for a Sunday brunch that features eggs en cocotte (baked in ramekins), hash browns, orange and radicchio salad, and poached pears with mascarpone.

Another smasheroo is this chicken sausage and egg casserole, which you could serve with chilled asparagus with roasted tomato vinaigrette . The orange cake from my column on Sunday supper in today's Post would make a good brunch dessert, too.

As for booze drinks, I suggest a nice rose champagne or a take on Mimosas using some Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and passion fruit juice instead of orange juice.

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Milk!: The Snowville milk is the only kind of milk my now 2-year-old niece will drink. My sister made the good choice (mistake?) of buying some when she met one of the farm reps in Ohio and there's been no turning back. Thanks for such a great option! And for WaPo for writing about them.

Jane Black: You are welcome. Glad you like it. So...she really can tell the difference? Love to hear more? Does she push conventional milk away?

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Almond milk is nothing new: When I started dabbling in historical cooking, I was surprised to learn that almond milk isn't a product of modern health-food experimentation, but instead dates back at least to medieval times. Medieval cooks often used almond milk in place of cow's or goat's milk on days the church forbade milk. Historically, almond milk was likely to be made by steeping ground almonds in water, then straining the almonds back out. (The historical cookbook Le Menagier de Paris, Le Menagier de Paris , gives some examples.)

I had to laugh at the original question on almond milk last week - the chatter almost seemed to think almond-milk makers were sneaking water into his almond milk. I read your explanation of Silk's almond milk (almond butter blended with water), and it sounds as if modern almond milk is probably LESS watery than its historical incarnations.

Leigh Lambert: Isn't it fascinating to find how very little there is that's new under the sun? Indeed, many of the foods newly packaged or marketed for health concerns have been part of our history for ages (for various reasons).

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SW: I recently attended a cooking demonstration where the cook coated pieces of chicken breast in Tapioca Starch before flash boiling them and then moving them to a bowl and cooking them through in a bamboo steamer over the boiling water they had just quickly cooked in. (It went on to be added to stir fried veggies and black bean sauce). She said (and we could tell when we tasted it) that the Tapioca starch kept the chicken very tender. Can I substitute cornstarch for the tapioca in this application -- or is tapioca the way to go? If it is, where can I get it in the area?

Thanks in advance!

Bonnie Benwick: Interesting. Either will coat, then help thicken the dish in the end. Tapioca starch will lend a slight sheen. You should be able to find it at Whole Foods Markets and MOM's and Asian markets.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm having 7 friends over on Saturday for supper and want to cook an easy seafood meal for them. (Some don't eat meat, but will eat fish.) I'm sick of salmon and I'm looking for something I could pop in the oven while I entertain. Maybe some type of seafood gratin or something? Any suggestions?

Joe Yonan: I think you should consider this salt-crusted branzino from Johnny Monis of Komi fame. I've made it many times. The recipe says to let it rest for 15 minutes before you break the salt crust, but it's very forgiving (that's the beauty of the salt, that it holds in the moisture), so it could certainly sit around a little longer while you entertain.

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Ground turkey: For the chatter looking for something different to do with ground turkey, I often make Indian-spiced burgers with ground chicken, just mixing up the meat with curry powder or (my fave) rogan josh spice blend, garlic powder, sriracha, Worcestershire or soy (for a bit of meaty flavor) and chopped scallions. Just don't cook too long or they'll get dry. You might also try using the turkey Swedish meatball style, in a white sauce with mushrooms and a little nutmeg, as a change from tomato.

Jane Black: Great idea. The key with low-fat meat is definitely spice and being sure not to overcook it.

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Arnold, Md.: I have some homemade BBQ sauce, some chicken thighs, a crockpot, plastic bags and a grill. Am I better off letting the chicken cook in the crockpot with the sauce for a couple hours before grilling, or marinating them in the sauce in a bag in the fridge for a couple hours before grilling? What's going to give me a better flavor?

David Hagedorn: The grill is definitely the way to go for better flavor in my opinion.
You can use some of the BBQ sauce as a marinade for a few hours as you suggest. Cook the thighs over indirect heat on the grill, covered. (It wouldn't hurt to throw in some woods chips and get some smoke going in there, too.)When the thighs are cooked, finish them over direct heat, basting them with the sauce and turning them over often until they are nicely browned.

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Seattle, Wash.: Thank you so much for the milk article! After doing some research, I found a dairy near us that raises and processes all of it's own (organic) milk. It is a different taste that I had to get used to, but fortunately the milk is the same price as the other organic milk. Unfortunately, it's only at a couple of stores, but I do try and buy the milk as frequently as possible.

Keeping it local, one product at a time!

Jane Black: So glad you found one. Which was it? Someone emailed me today asking for suggestions in Seattle. If it wasn't you, will you share the name so I can pass it on to other readers? Thanks!

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Growing my lunches: I'm planting a garden this year, now that the new house offers me my first ever backyard plus sunlight combination. I'm new to the area, especially where gardening is concerned, and want to know when folks here finally begin planting in the ground? I've got my window boxes started. I'll be reporting back on my lettuces and tomatoes.

Jane Black: Certainly now for lettuces before it gets too hot. Whoops. It's too hot already...but that will change soon. Gardeners out there got any advice?

Jane Touzalin: There's a lot of weather variability in our area. Ask your neighbors who plant, and they should be helpful. Garden centers usually know their stuff. In general, around here the average last-frost date is April 25 in the District and May 5 in the suburbs, something to keep in mind when you're putting tender plants in the ground.

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Alexandria, Va.: I want a cast iron pot but I have no idea what to buy or what size! The Le Creuset ones are just so colorful (I prefer enamel to the black iron), but I'm also on a really strict budget. Any advice on other brands that are reliable but aren't as expensive? The only one I've seen is Lodge, and the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's, but I'm not sure whether the quality is good.

Also, I have no idea what size to buy. It's just me and the husband, and we make just enough food for a few meals' worth of leftovers. How big of a pot should we get?

Jane Black: Do you mean pot or skillet? I like my 10-inch cast-iron skillet; it's my go-to pan for most things. For pots, I like Le Creuset too but they're not for folks on a budget. That said, I've seen them a lot at TJ Maxx so you could check there. Another alternative are the Mario Batali line of enameled cast-iron. They are made by Costco but are very pretty and get good reviews.

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Turkey meatballs: As soon as you posted the recipe, I made John Torode's meatballs using ground turkey. I followed his recipe almost exactly: I added an egg to the meat mixture and substituted Costco Panko for bread. Meatballs came out divine, however, I used and just purchased and just opened Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder and I had rather unappetizing curry smell lingering in the kitchen for at least three days. I love the taste of this particular curry, but what to do about smell?

Bonnie Benwick: Great! Hmm. Three days might be the price you have to pay. Or try a low boil of lemon grass in water on the stove.

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D.C.: Hi food team!

I'm having a friend over tonight to catch up and would rather have a homemade meal than ordering pizza. Any ideas for a no- or low-cook dinner for two? I have boiled shrimp in the freezer that I should probably use soon, but am up for anything as I have to stop at the store anyway. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: You're gonna love this easy orzo and shrimp recipe, and you'll have lunch leftovers to boot.

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Columbia Heights, D.C.: I would love to have some ideas for leftover ham that don't involve bean soup. Lots left over from Easter and looking for creative ways to use it.

David Hagedorn: Quiche, pasta salad, fusilli with cream, garlic, Parmesan, ham, and peas, deviled ham spread (freeze it in batches for a last-minute appetizer for a party, crepes filled with ham and spinach and topped with gruyere cheese and bechamel sauce, Eggs Benedict...

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Alexandria, Va.: I bought half a pound of arugula at the great greens stand at the Eastern Market on Saturday for a recipe -- but I think I was totally unaware how much arugula this is! Still have about half of it left, and it's getting a little past its prime -- are there any uses of it as a green or wilted that would work when it's a little past its fresh salad days?

Jane Black: You can wilt arugula into a simple bowl of pasta to use it up. (And it's a lot less when it's wilted!) Add a little pancetta or bacon and maybe a poached egg if you're feeling decadent and you have a terrific meal. Here's a recipe for pasta with a mix of bitter greens, which is lovely, but you can also just use your arugula. Fusilli with Bitter Greens and Pancetta

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No red wine vinegar: The recipe for the slow cooked lamb looked very good, but I saw that it has red wine vinegar. What is a good substitute for that ingredient? My boyfriend is allergic to that specific vinegar (though others are fine).

Bonnie Benwick: Is it the wine part of that equation, or would white wine vinegar do? If that's not good, try apple cider vinegar. (I think maybe using 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar would make this recipe too sweet.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi. Do you have any suggestions for good-tasting baked goods with some nutritional value? I don't mean low-fat/sugar muffins, but rather muffins with some protein, vitamins and fiber? My sweetie rarely has time to sit down, let alone eat during the day, so I'd like to make him something easy to grab and with some health benefits; calories aren't an issue. Thanks!

Jane Black: Well bran muffins are an obvious place to start. You can add dried fruit and nuts which will up the nutrient content. (Lucikly you're not worried about calories.) Hre's one to start you out: Oat-bran Muffins with Walnuts and Blueberries.

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Arlington, Va.: Cheesecake ingredients: Hi there, I am making a cheesecake that calls for 12 oz ricotta and 16 oz cream cheese. I have nearly enough ricotta and want to use the 8 oz of mascarpone I already have. Can I also use the creme fraich I have to make up where I am lacking? (I know I know, cream cheese is cheap, but why not use what I have if it will work). Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Ace baker Nancy Baggett says "probably, but there is no way to be sure until you try it. Of course, the texture will be different. The creme fraiche, which is cultured, will usually culture the whole cheesecake in time, so it will develop more of a sour cream taste than you might expect." I'd think the creme fraiche would hold more moisture, too.

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Grilled Chicken Salad without the Grill?: Stephanies's Grilled Chicken salad looks so good. Since the grilling eliminates the need for a lot of dessing, is there another way to cook the chicken with a stove-top grill pan or other seasonings?

P.S. We had the pork tenderloin with dried fruit compote foe Easter Dinner. Perfect!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Glad your holiday dinner worked out.

You can easily broil the chicken instead of grilling. Same procedure except heat is on top.

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Raw milk memories: Your study about lightly processed milk brought back memories of the best milk I've had: a rich, thick creamy experience with such deep flavor that a kindly farmer brought to deer camp one year. So, I'm excited to try some of these lightly processed varieties. I'll certainly be making some milkshakes with it, but what recipes will it shine the most in? Perhaps pastry cream-based desserts?

Jane Black: Well, anything with whipped cream is a way to really show off the flavor of the milk. But also pastry cream desserts would be a good way -- maybe a Napoleon with pastry cream and fruit? I'd be curious to know if you might taste the difference in a cake. If you try it, let us know!

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Shipping spices: Why doesn't Chevy Chase ship their current spices to themselves (or have a family member do it once they are settled in)? It is a shame to waste what they probably have invested a lot of money in.

Bonnie Benwick: I'm sure the chatters weren't going to just pitch them. But you raise a good point.

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Portland, Ore.: I am baking a cake for a baby shower this weekend... what recipe should I be using to get results that will be most like a bakery cake and less like a box cake? Don't get me wrong, I love the spongy deliciousness of a box cake, but since I'm shaping this cake, I feel like I will need something with a bit more density.

Thank you!

Leigh Lambert: This recipe for a Tender White Cake will do well with fillings, despite the delicate nature of the name.

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Leftover lamb: Coming from a Scottish background....

You could also make a shepherd's pie. Chop the meat in a mini food processor, mix in some gravy, frozen peas and carrots into the meat, and then top with mashed potatoes, and cook at 375 for 35 minutes.

I've also used it layered with eggplant and tomato sauce with bechamel on top.

David Hagedorn: Yes to shephard's pie! And moussaka--the eggplant and bechamel route.

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Milk!: Loved the article on milk today. Such a seemingly simple, banal topic well-handled. I love when my area farmer's market is open (outside the beltway where I am it is only May-October, not year-round) and I can buy milk from these smaller producers because it is soooo delicious. So, I'll ask about practical solutions for those like me who don't necessarily ahve the time/ability to access a farmer's market year-round (yes I know I could drive to Dupont or somehwere but realistically it's just not going to happen unfortunately). Peronsally I usually opt for the "Grass-fed" milk at whole foods which is delicious as well. I don't think it is certified organic but the dairy cows eat only grass and the milk is noticeably tastier/creamier. Also, a milk observation that we often notice "average" milk in foreign countries usually has this delicious taste. Is that a sign of the differences in large-scale milk production in the U.S. versus milk production in other countries?

washingtonpost.com: Mid-size dairies win consumers with less-processed milk (Post, April 7)

Jane Black: The dairy business, as I discovered last week, is really, really complicated. But it's probably safe to say, yes, the industrialized system we have here is the reason the milk tastes different here. I say this, not because I know how the dairies work in all kinds of countries overseas, but because I hear that from a lot of Europeans who come here and notice that their milk is richer and more milky.

As for practical solutions, yes, that is the key. I live right near Dupont and don't manage to get there every week so I feel your pain. Definitely check out the selection at the closest Whole Foods to you and ask your local grocery to carry something you want, whether it's Snowville or Trickling Springs. If enough people ask, they may start making it available.

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Indian limca: When I was in India, there was a great lemon soda called limca. Do you have any ideas of how to replicate it back home?

Bonnie Benwick: Are you in the D.C. area? Monica Bhide tells us it's a common item in Indian markets here. (The Wikipedia entry about it says some limca's even made in the States.) You could try adding slices of fresh ginger, lemon and lime to a good brand of lemon tonic, such as Fever Tree, and adjust the sweetness by adding your own simple syrup or even some agave nectar to taste.

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Reston, Va.: Hi all,

I've got two loaves of Russian Pascha bread left from Easter and am thinking of doing a bread pudding. The bread has orange juice in it, so I was looking for a recipe that would complement that. Any thoughts? Thanks!

David Hagedorn: This recipe for David Guas's chocolate bread pudding is excellent. I've had many emails from people raving about it. Orange and chocolate--a perfectly fine combination, right?

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re: Salt-Crushed Branzino: I often make this at home; if i could add a few pieces of advise, it will make it a little easier for a first timer. First, you really don't need a mixer. You can dump the egg whites into the kosher salt and mix with a wooden spoon in a bowl. Second, place some parchment on the sheet pan and place the fish on the parchment paper and cover with salt, no need to encrush the whole thing. It will make it easier to remove the fish from the salt. Third, you really don't need to oil the fish, just make certain the skin is nice and dry. Also, feel free to add; garlic, scallion, sliced onion, parsley or any other herb you have on hand into the cavity.

It's a great-looking and tasting dish, good luck!

Bonnie Benwick: I'm all for constructive freelancing. Thanks.

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Ground chicken: You could do a search for recipes using ground beef or pork (Epicurious, Post on line, etc.) and make any of them.

Bonnie Benwick: In honor of baseball season, give that fan a contract!

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Spicy Okinawa: You might try MySpiceSage

It is a fabulous site. They have everything you could dream of.

Bonnie Benwick: Good to know; prices look reasonable.

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Arlington, Va.: I want to buy my boyfriend a great bottle of scotch for his birthday. He's been a fan of Glenfiddich, but I think he might want to branch out. I'd be willing to spend maybe $150 or so on this. Any suggestions? Thanks very much!

Jason Wilson: Yes, Glenfiddich is an affordable starter scotch - the 15-yr Solera reserve is usually under $50. But if you're budget is $150, you'll be able to find some really nice ones. If he's a Glenfiddich drinker, he's not yet into the big peat monsters like Laphroaig or Lagavulin, so he and I are probably closer in taste. A few ideas: I like The Balvenie 17-year-old special bottlings -- they're aged in either Madeira or Port or Rum barrels. Those will run you around $120 a bottle. I also like the Bruichladdich 16-year-old, that's finished in Chateau Lafite wine barrels, which goes for around $100. I also had a Glenmorangie 18 year old last night that I really liked, which I think will go for around $100 or so. All of three are approachable, outstanding, and worth the search.

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Basic chat question!: Is the chat always one hour or is it sometimes one and a half hours?

Last week, I submitted a question only to find you had signed off while I was writing it, 'cause I thought there was another half-hour to go!

Either way, thanks so much for being here for us!

Bonnie Benwick: We're live from 1 to 2 p.m., but we start answering questions earlier in the day, as soon as they start piling up.

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Re: basic quiche: Could I just use regular milk in place of the half and half plus heavy cream? I worry that might make someone feel a bit sick.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: It's going to be watery if you do that. You can use cream and milk in a 1:1 ratio and you should be okay.

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Arnold again: A tad confused with the response: I am going to grill either way -- are you saying that the best flavor will come from grilling them naked and then applying sauce as opposed to pre-cooking for a bit in the crockpot and grilling, or marinating then grilling? Thank you!!

David Hagedorn: Oh, I wasn't getting where the crockpot entered into the mix here. Ditch the crockpot and cook the thighs, marinated or naked but seasoned, on the grill over indirect heat. Then sauce and finish them over direct heat.

This is the mistake most people make when BBQing chicken pieces on the grill. You have to cook the chicken indirectly first, then add the sauce at the end and caramelize over direct heat. This ensures that the chicken will be cooked through and crisp rather than burnt to a crisp and raw.

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Bonnie Benwick: Here's the other part of that milk-in-baking answer for the buttermilk chatter: Nancy Baggett says it is also fine to use lower fat milk in cookies for several reasons. The total proportion of milk is small. Plus, the butterfat content in most baked goods is determined by the amount of butter added. You can easily compensate for the reduced or nonfat milk in baked goods just by adding an extra 1/2 tablespoon (or so) of butter to the recipe. The protein and sugar provided by the milk will be the same regardless.

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More leftover ham: I've been fantasizing about making a ham loaf. I've found some good looking recipes, but they don't explain how to get the ground ham. I don't have a grinder. Can I just very finely mince my leftover ham?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure, you could do that. No food processor, eh?

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Richmond, Va.: I thought buttermilk WAS low-fat by it's very definition: what's lef tover after the butter has been skimmed off the top.

Jane Black: Good question. And you're right. Old-fashioned buttermilk was what was left over when you churn butter. The difference between butter then and now is that it was churned from slightly soured milk, not sweet cream. So what was leftover was naturally cultured -- or soured -- by lactic bateria on the cows.

Today, what we buy at the store is regular milk that has been specially cultured in order to make "soured" milk.

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Old-timer: When I was a young'un back in the late '40s, grocery stores (not supermarkets!) used to sell not only regular homogenized whole milk, but also Jersey cow milk, Guernsey cow milk and un-homogenized milk (for those who wanted the cream on top). I don't even recall seeing lower fat milks till the early '60s. And my mother would serve half-and-half on my Cream of Wheat each morning to help me gain weight, because I was such a skinny kid!

Jane Black: Ah those were the good old days! I remember getting cream-line milk in bottles. I'd wait by the door and scoop out the cream on top before everyone woke up!

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Seattle, again: Fresh Breeze Organic is the dairy. I've found the milk products (milk, cream, half and half) so far at Central Market (only place to get gallons), TOP and Olssen's Food Emporium.

Jane Black: For any Seattle-ites out there, here's a recommended source of good milk.

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Cinnamon Rave: Costco! I was super surprised, but I really like Costco's cinnamon. It is full of flavor, unlike what I was buying at the grocery store. Fortunately, I bake enough to go through the 10 oz container while it's still good.

Bonnie Benwick: Does the container say where the cinnamon is from?

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Re: growing my lunches: I'm an apartment-dweller and wonder what you think might be grown successfully indoors? All the potted herbs I've tried died within a few weeks, and my (ex-)tomato plant succeeded but also drew hundreds of flying bugs I'd never seen before, or since. Still, with herbs now selling for $3 and more a bunch (!!), I'd like to give it another try. Sun is no problem except that it gets really strong. Thank you.

Jane Black: I have herb plants in an west-facing window that do ok. But the key is they must be watered every day -- especially basil, which I water twice a day when I remember. I've never tried tomoates indoors so can't speak to that. Chatters?

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New gardener: Seed packets from Botanical Interests give tons of info. Plant lettuce immediately. Radishes too -- they are easy for new gardeners. Buy tomato transplants from a farmers' market -- they don't get planted until May. (I have experience and still don't grow tomatoes from seed). Plant cukes from seed, but wait a couple weeks to make sure we don't get a cold snap. Good Luck!

Jane Black: Good gardening advice.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I bought some fresh marjoram and discovered that it smells, to me, like cheap air freshener and doesn't taste much better. Would cooking or drying it transform it in some way, or are there any dishes in which it's not so... pine-y? Thanks.

David Hagedorn: I love fresh marjoram and often use it instead of oregano, especially in a lamb ragu for pasta. (Another good way to use leftover lamb.) I saute garlic, onions, carrots, celery, marjoram and thyme, deglaze with red wine, add stock and tomato paste and let everything meld for a half-hour or longer.

I like the faint pine taste. I'm curious why you are determined to use something that you find off-putting. The flavor will mellow when it's cooked. Drying the herb will only intensify the flavor you seem to dislike.

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Re perils of raw milk: Please, please, please, people, don't be conned into using un-pasteurized milk. The health benefits of pasteurization outweigh any flavor difference. It's just not worth it. Ditto for cheese made from raw milk (I got terribly ill after eating some, so know whereof I speak).

Jane Black: Another important point of view.

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Alexandria, Va.: For the ground turkey person: I make "southwest" turkey sliders, using ground turkey, some grated onion, cilantro, cumin, lime juice, and hot sauce. I then top them with guacamole and eat them bunless.

Jane Black: Is anyone else getting hungry? Super idea.

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Re: Cast Iron Pot: Sorry, I meant pot. I have a 10-inch cast iron skillet already, and I love it. But I want a cast iron pot (like a Dutch or French oven) and if I buy one online, I can't just eyeball it and pick the one that's small enough. Would a 4 quart be reasonable for two people? Should I go a touch larger in case we have guests?

Jane Black: Four-quart is good for two people. It's not big enough for big pots of soups and stews that you want to make and freeze. But then again, it has the advantage of not being so heavy that you can't pick it up!

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How much is too much?: I'm a newbie entertainer, and recently hosted my first dinner party. I'm pretty sure I over-delivered, making two types of mac and cheese, soup, a salad and a mushroom galette, cheese and crakers plus crudites and an olive salsa for apps. Oh, and a cake. It took me quite a long time. Any guidelines for menu planning or fabulous make-ahead recommendations? I, and my over-worked kitchen, thank you.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: The key to a successful dinner party is a relaxed host. You made TOO much yourself. My rule is to always buy at least one course. I had a dinner party on Friday and I bought dessert, even though I love to bake, and I put out nibbly stuff like olives and cheese crackers for drinks, even though I love to make hors d'oeuvres. I was serving dinner so I that's what I concentrated my efforts on.

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Ideas for leftover ham that don't involve bean soup: How about a Portuguese caldo verde (greens soup), with kale? You can use ham in lieu of chourico or linguica.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Today's a little hot but if we get the cool down they're promising I like to make a gruyere and ham mac' and cheese.

A really nice warm weather salad is cubed gruyere, cubed ham, cubed cucumber and lots of greens with a mustardy vinaigrette.

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Bonnie Benwick: Well, as Editor Joe might say, you've clamped on the lid and plan to cook us on LOW for the next 6 to 9 hours (okay, he would have been funnier), so you know what that means. We're done. Thanks to David Hagedorn and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, two of our favorite Food people.

College Park wins "Easy Green Organic" for raising some vexing buttermilk issues, and Salt-Crushed Branzino has earned the "Potluck Recipes" book for his/her recipe suggestions. Remember to send your mailing info to food@washpost.com.

And thanks to you for joining us on a day too nice to stay indoors at lunchtime. Next week, look for 2010 farmers market listings and related new developments. Editorial assistant Leigh Lambert's off to have a baby -- wish her luck!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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