washingtonpost.com
Free Range on Food: Spice up your oatmeal, Tim Artz the do-it-all home cook, combating gassy foods, rotten basil, storing maple syrup, anchovies and sardines, more

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, April 14, 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.

____________________

Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that keeps you cooking. What's on your list of questions today? Obviously, we gave you a lot to chew on in Bonnie's great profile of extreme DIY-er Tim Artz. Candy Sagon ate her weight in oatmeal. We updated our annual farmers market list (and interactive map). And of course we had great takes on beer (down to the final two in Beer Madness), spirits and wine this week, among other things.

To help us answer what you throw our way, we have Tim Artz himself joining us today, and we have Candy S. to handle any and all oatmeal questions (and anything else she wants, naturally). So fire away.

Oh, and we'll have giveaways: Aviva Goldfarb's "SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue," PLUS a special non-book giveaway of some of Tim Artz's own homemade bottled hot sauces.

So fire away!

_______________________

Oatmeal!: Loved the article on oatmeal this morning, and the comparison graphic on local restaurant breakfast-oatmeal options. Trouble is, Starbucks and McDonalds are the only places with locations near me, and they placed low on the scale. Caribou did better, but there's not a location near my home or work. It's good to know that certain standalone restaurants do a nice job with their oatmeal, but those aren't realistic options for me.

So I think about oatmeal at home, and come looking for recommendations. I've always heard steel-cut oats are the healthiest, but my wife tells me those are not available at our local grocery store. She buys Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats instead. Those are a big step up from the instant oatmeal I grew up eating, but I doubt the nutritional benefits of Old-Fashioned Oats approach that of steel-cut oats.

If you can say a word or two about the nutrition content of the various types of oatmeal available for purchase at the grocery story or warehouse-food seller, I'd love to hear it. For the record, I add a packet of splenda to my oatmeal, and nothing else. Sometimes I get a crazy hybrid thing called Craisins in my oatmeal, but those are mainly for the kids. I often think I should pluck them out of my bowl, but I usually eat them if offered. Oh, and I put a decent-sized pat of butter in the bowl, for texture and taste.

washingtonpost.com: Here's the taste test graphic.

Candy Sagon: Glad you're an oatmeal lover. Here's the scoop on the different kinds of oats. Steel-cut are the least processed, so they have more fiber and people like their texture. But they take a loooong time to cook. Old-fashioned are rolled oats, which have slightly less fiber than steel-cut, but because they're thinner (that's what you get from the rolling) they cook faster. I wouldn't sweat it too much. Oatmeal is really good for you, even if you're nuking the instant. Instead of the fatty pat of butter, maybe you could up the flavor with some cinnamon, low-fat milk, cut-up fresh fruit, raisins, a few almonds. You could even make it with half water, half 2% milk for a richer flavor without a lot more fat.

_______________________

Rockville: Hey. I loved the article on oatmeal, but wish you included ideas for us chefs at home. I frequently cook it for my husband and toddler, but would love more insights into ways to enliven it. My stand-by (brown sugar) is yummy, but getting old. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: For starters, you could make Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal. Chatters, I'm betting you have ways with oatmeal that you're willing to share.

Jane Black: I'm a big fan of a little bit of (good) maple syrup and toasted walnuts and banana. Also good with strawberries.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: What great timing on your mac & cheese recipe! Last night my husband brought home a box of the Kraft stuff, intending to use it as lunch for our toddler. I'd much rather make it from scratch. Here's my question: would it be OK to make a big batch like your recipe, then portion it out & freeze in individual servings? Thanks as always for your great guidance!

washingtonpost.com: Tim's Macaroni and Cheese

Tim Artz: Sure, you could do a large batch and freeze portions. It is pretty quick to make a new batch though. I think that mac and cheese may suffer if it is made too far in advance because is will not be as "fluffy" but may collapse and be more dense.

_______________________

Anchovie help: I have recently begun using anchovies in cooking but not in great quantities. How can I store anchovies after I open the tin and how long will they last? Or just use the few that I need and toss?

Jane Black: Anchovies are easy to store. A tightly sealed can or jar can be stored in the refrigerator for at least two months.

_______________________

Oatmeal lover: Thanks, food section, for the oatmeal-to-go story today. I had tried Starbucks, but hadn't known about the other places. My question: What are steel-cut oats and are they better for you?

Candy Sagon: Steel-cut oats are the whole oat kernel, cut by steel disks, and they have the most nutrients and fiber. However, they take longer to cook, which is why we all love our microwaveable oatmeal. If you use old-fashioned or rolled or even quick, you're losing some nutrients over steel-cut but not a huge amount. Bottom line: Oatmeal's good for you in almost any form (but maybe chocolate-covered).

_______________________

Chicago, IL: Hey guys, a comment and a question.

First of all, I have to admit I was gobsmacked reading about Tim Artz. I like to think I'm a bit of a DIY, but wowzers! How do you have time to do all that on top of a job? If you ever want to invite me over for dinner, though, sign me up!

Now for my question. We just signed a contract to buy our first home (yay! And thank you Mr. President and members of the U.S. Congress for that delightful tax credit!) Anyways, we'll close on the property by the end of May, meaning just in time for grilling season. Alas, we do not own a grill - yet. Our budget will be limited (dang those new houses for draining your pocket books), so what kind of grill will give us the best bang for our bucks? I've always heard a coal grill is best, but I don't think we'll be doing anything too crazy with it. Would gas work? Can we get anything decent for less than $150?

Loved the section today - it's making me hungry!

washingtonpost.com: A man and his fire

Tim Artz: I still spend a lot of hours on my job and other things. The culinary hobbies are part of my leisure time.

Joe Yonan: For $150, I would buy the biggest Weber kettle charcoal grill you can find. If you don't mind spending $150 more, the $300 Weber Performer is, in my mind, one of the most brilliantly designed charcoal grills out there. Not fancy/crazy, just well thought-out.

_______________________

Maryland: I want to be Tim Artz when I grow up. That is all.

Tim Artz: Maybe the trick is to not grow up.

_______________________

Washington, DC: My husband truly loves my vegetarian chili but his digestive system doesn't. In addition to its base of red beans he piles on chopped avocado, tomato, onion, and cheddar cheese and a little sour cream and eats it with nacho chips. He practically begs me to make it but I can't stand being around him for the next couple of days. What's a cook to do ingredient-wise to lessen the repercussions of this popular meal?

Bonnie Benwick: How delicately put. Do you or he start with canned beans or dried? Soaking your own dried beans in several changes of water overnight -- preferably the fresher/younger beans the better -- is thought to help break down the sugars that can produce gas. I think adding the spice asafoetida (available in Indian markets) as the beans cook helps break down the sugars as well.

_______________________

D.C.: What is a good non-alcoholic drink to serve at a party this time of the year. I wanted to make Watermelon Agua Fresca, but watermelons are not really in season right now, except for pre-cut and expensive type.

Jane Black: Yeah, it's a tough time for fruity drinks right now. You could do a fresh lemonade or this Rosemary Lemonade. This Cucumber Agua Fresca from Epicurious would be nice too.

_______________________

Rotten Basil-ville: I am sure that this has been asked and answered a million times, but...how do you keep fresh basil fresh? I buy the little plastic packages of basil and they seem to rot instantaneously. I have tried cutting and then putting the stems in water, leaving them on the table, on the counter, in the crisper drawer...I am out of ideas. I would just like to get 2 days out of the package so I can buy it one day and not use it until the following evening. Oh, and I can't have a basil plant because my cat ate the last one. Thanks!!

Bonnie Benwick: Couple of thoughts: Buy some cat mint and it will never bother the basil again. Check the temperature in your fridge; herbs are delicate harbingers of too-cold temps. If you do the stems in water method, change the water daily and figure they won't last longer than 2 or 3 days tops. And try wrapping leafy basil stems in damp paper towels, placing them in a warm part of your fridge.

Jane Black: This is all right on. But one other suggestion. Buy really fresh basil. When I buy basil at a regular supermarket or even Whole Foods, it's like a ticking time bomb. When I've bought it from the farmers market (Truck Patch Farms at 14th and U is my go-to), it can last a whole week. Other herbs last even longer.

_______________________

Savory oatmeal: I might be strange, but I can't stand sweet in the morning. So, I mix in savory items into my oatmeal. I love it asian style (a la Mark Bittman) with scallions, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Or like an indian "upma" with toasted cumin and mustard seeds, curry leaves, and chili pepper. I also love it with a sprinkling of toasted nuts (almonds or hazelnuts) and a bit of sea salt.

But, I might be in the minority here!

Jane Black: Those sound terrific. Thanks.

_______________________

Beano: really helps with bean aftereffects, for most people. Get it at health food stores, which are full of people eating too much fiber for their digestive systems to handle.

Bonnie Benwick: A testimonial.

_______________________

Silver Spring: For the anchovy user, either use 'em faster, or buy the kind that comes in a jar. The jarred kind keeps a long time in the refrigerator.

To use faster, put in spaghetti sauce to deepen the flavor. A little bit goes a long way.

Tim Artz: I thought the reason they were in those small tins was because it was a single serving. :-)

Pennsylvania Macaroni (mail order) sells large tins of Sicilian salt packed anchovies. They keep for a very long time, but you need to clean them before eating.

_______________________

Cookware Question: Heavy-duty Dutch Oven. I enjoy soups and am trying to do more braising techniques/recepies. Is an expensive Dutch Oven for my electric stove/oven worth it?

Bonnie Benwick: Yep. Maybe even more imp. for an electric stovetop, because enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens disburse heat so evenly.

_______________________

Oatmeal: The instant stuff can have a looot of sugar in them (unless they're original flavor). I make the steel cut stuff because I like the consistency better, and add all sorts of things-- peaches, apple butter, almonds, cinnamon, cranberries...

Candy Sagon: Agreed. The flavored instant stuff can taste artificial. Maybe because it is! However, your idea to add apple butter to the real stuff -- genius!

_______________________

Impromptu dinner party!: HELP!!!! My lovely husband just informed me that a few of his clients are coming home for dinner tonight!!! I can make a stop at the grocery store on my way home from work, but I need help planning a tasty, impressive, FAST dinner for 8 for this evening! I also have a 5 year old and 1 year old who will be underfoot, so the faster the prep, the less insane I will be!

Jane Black: Wow. That's rough. (Bad husband!) Does everyone eat meat? The first thing that popped into my head is this fabulous Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Thyme and Orange that I've been making for a few years. You cut slits in the lamb and rub in the herbs and zest and throw on the grill (or under the broiler.) Prep is 15 minutes; cooking about the same and it's wonderful. Serve it with roasted potatoes or rice if it's easier and a salad with feta and cucumber. Done. Tell someone else to bring dessert!

_______________________

favorite oatmeal: My recipe for not-slimy-sloppy, not-dried-out, just right fruit oatmeal:

1 Part Water, 1 Part Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats, 1 Part Milk, 1 Part Frozen Berries (don't have to defrost)

Boil the water. Stir in the oats, turn the heat to medium and let cook until most of the water is gone. Then finally stir in the milk and let it cook until it is oatmeal (about 3-5 more minutes). Turn the heat way down to the lowest setting and drop in the frozen berries. Push them into the oatmeal so they are submerged. Put a lid on the pot and leave for 5 more minutes. There, perfect fruit oatmeal.

Candy Sagon: Yum. Almost sounds like oatmeal risotto (don't laugh, there is such a thing on one of the New York hotel restaurant b'fast menus.)

_______________________

Re: Vegetarian Chili problem: I have the same problem as the poster's husband, only mine is caused by garlic, the fresher the more potent. Any recommendations for me, aside from not eating any more garlic?

Tim Artz: Maybe you have not eaten enough garlic.

Joe Yonan: You also might try roasting it first, to soften the edges. Another thought: Are you pulling out the little center rib that will sometimes eventually sprout? People say that can be hard to digest.

_______________________

Detroit, Mich.: I LOVED the article about Mr. Artz and can't wait to try the southwest sriracha recipe. My question is about bbq - sauce vs. dry rub. what are your favorites? i'm not a fan of the heavy and sweet bbq sauces, are there any that are a little more delicate....I'm looking for tang and heat more than sweetness. perhaps something that incorporates tamarind?

thanks!

Tim Artz: I like dry rubs for cooking, but serve sauces on the side. If you use really good meat, then you don't need much spice rub or sauce.

The smoked turkey had a sauce in it based on tamarind. It's a pain to clean the sticky seeds, but worth it over the dried paste. The sauce recipe is not posted, but it was made to approximate Pickapeppa sauce. Tamarind, habaneros, ketchup, sherry, rum, etc.

Joe Yonan: Dry rubs, sauce on the side, emphasis on good meat and smoke: Tim, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were a Texan.

Tim Artz: We did a whole summer of rib experimentation. Dry rub on brined spare ribs with chine bone removed, sauce on the side won the battle. There were a lot of runners up.

_______________________

Palisades DC: With all the national focus on obesity, it seems bizarre that you folks are running big spreads on absolutely gross-out meals like the one featured in this morning's Food section.

Joe Yonan: Does it? It doesn't to us, but then again, we don't think of any of this as "absolutely gross-out." Our recipes run the gamut. Bonnie's DinMin today clocks in at a whopping 290 calories, and Stephanie's Nourish recipe is a mere 50 for a side dish. (Last week, Stephanie's main-course salad was only 180 cals.) And I guess you missed this week's feature story on ... oatmeal? Is that an "absolutely gross-out" food? Anyway, obviously we like to reflect a variety of approaches, and will continue to do that every week.

Tim Artz: No one says you need to stuff yourself. Eat a taste of what you want in moderation. Then go spend 10 hours digging a garden.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Where is spring?!? My trip to the Dupont farmers' market was much less promising than the experience Jane described at Foggy Bottom. I was ready to buy anything reminiscent of spring, but upon entering the market I was immediately greeted by a table of sweet potatoes, kale and apples. The rest of the market wasn't much better. I ended up leaving with some cheese and a bunch of asparagus, later revealed to be mostly flavorless. I'm not expecting corn or strawberries yet, but where were the peas, artichokes, radishes, leeks, etc.? One table had ramps, but they were sold out when I got there. All in all, it was pretty disappointing. Do I just have to wait until June or move to California?

Joe Yonan: I know, I know, but hold on just a little longer and you'll be rewarded, I promise. I missed both the ramps and the asparagus at Dupont on Sunday (serves me right for sleeping late!), but things will start coming in more and more each week. I put your query to Ann Yonkers, co-founder of FreshFarm Markets, and here's what she said:

"Please tell the reader that this is the Mid Atlantic, not California and April is spring time in this region. At Silver Spring we had salad greens and morels, a true delight only available in spring. At Dupont there were lots of tulips and lilacs. Ramps come at the same time as morels. Spring Valley from West Virginia had those and they, like the morels, have to be foraged. Foggy Bottom is open today from 3 to 7 p.m., and tomorrow Penn Quarter will also be open. It's worth going to find out what is new.

"Asparagus should be in full force this Sunday at Dupont. And we have lots of recipes at FRESHFARM Market for soup, grilled in omelets, etc. Peas are later, strawberries in mid to late May. We have a (PDF) seasonal chart on line where you can check what's available. The greens, salad and cooking varieties are sweetest now before it gets too hot.

"Also, remember the snow. It was record snow and record cold weather. Sometime waiting makes me hungrier and more appreciative when the first of anything happens."

_______________________

Virginia is for Lovers: What to cook/grill for 5 couples this weekend - -little kids invited too. And please don't say burgers or short ribs. Oh, and make it simple. Pretty please?

Joe Yonan: I have a 57-ingredient, three-day short-rib burger recipe that you MUST Try. Just kidding. How about David Hagedorn's assorted grilled kebabs? Perfect for a party, great for kids.

Bonnie Benwick: There's also pizza on the grill. Kids + dough = rec time for grownups.

_______________________

Gas vs. charcoal: I know this is not the purist's opinion, but when we bought our first house we picked up a realtively cheap $90 or so gas grill. It lasted and served us well. Charcoal may be the way most grilling purists go but I have to say the ease of gas means we use it all year round quite easily and happily.

I'd say go with whichever you think you personally will get the most use out of!

Joe Yonan: Of course!

_______________________

Oatmeal: I like to add granny smith apples, cinnamon, and a little honey to my oatmeal. I add the apples cut in really small pieces and at the same time as I add the oats, which gives them a chance to cook and soften a bit.

Bonnie Benwick: My new fave oatmeal add-ins are Mediterranean: silan, or date syrup (found at Middle Eastern markets), shards of halvah and really good tahini. Not necessarily all together....

_______________________

Steelcut Oatmeal: I have found steelcut oats at Trader Joe's, and at my local market with the Hodgson Mills products. Both were much less expensive than I've found in other supermarkets, including Wegman's.

As for ways to cook them, if you pre-soak the grains in water overnight they will cook much more quickly. Just measure out the water and cover the oats, put them in the fridge overnight. Then cook according to the package directions.

You can also cook the grains overnight in a slow cooker. I add dried fruits like apricots, cherries, raisins, apples, set on low for 8 hours. The whole house smells fantastic! (And a 1 tsp pat of butter is not going to break your diet!)

Candy Sagon: Slow cooker -- another good idea for oatmeal ready and waiting for you in the a.m.

_______________________

Raleigh NC: For the first poster: Craisins aren't actually "hybrid things." They're just dried cranberries. Like raisins are just dried grapes.

Joe Yonan: Right: It's the name that's hybridized, not the fruit.

Jane Black: Yep, that's right. Curious why the company thought that would sell more of them than just "dried cranberries."

Joe Yonan: I know -- prunes, you realize, have gone in the opposite direction, marketing-wise. For years, there's been an effort to rebrand them "dried plums."

_______________________

SS, MD: I plan to make rhubarb-ginger jam as soon as the rhubarb is available. Would this jam freeze well? the only ingredients are ginger, rhubarb and sugar.

Jane Black: Just one question, why would you freeze it? That's the thing about jam, it's preserved. I would just put it in jars (sterilized, first) and keep it as long as you need.

Joe Yonan: You make freezer jam if you feel like not going through the sterilizing/canning process. It's a good option; jams freeze really well, particularly if you're able to get as much air out of the plastic baggie as possible. (A Foodsaver vacuum system is stellar for these purposes.)

_______________________

Steel cut oats: My office-mate prefers the steel-cut oats, and she actually cooks them in the microwave for breakfast at work. She soaks them in hot water for ten minutes or so in a microwave-safe bowl, and then nukes them for a few minutes.

I eat the regular (old-fashioned) oats, which you can also microwave if you use a big enough bowl (otherwise it will overflow). I found that I prefer the organic rolled oats I buy at Bethesda Co-Op's bulk section to Quaker or store brands -- seems less gummy and farther from the instant or quick-cook variety.

I add a high fiber cereal to my oatmeal (either TJ's high fiber cereal, All Bran, or Fiber One). Aside from the additional fiber, I like the crunch it adds. And a little bit of honey.

Candy Sagon: See, this is why food section readers rock. Who knew steel-cut oats and the microwave could be compatible. Not me, obviously. Personally, though, I like some milk in the liquid for cooking oats to enrich the flavor.

_______________________

Arlington, VA S: So many good articles today... the DIY article (I'm a mostly scratch cook who comes nowhere near where Tim Artz has with his craft), the beer mix article, and the natural wine article.

As I am both a beer and wine fan, but knowing better how beer is made, I have frequently asked wine aficionados about aspects of wine that are commonly discussed in the beer geek world (where does your yeast come from? is it wild or cultivate? what's your process? etc) and gotten blank stares. Most often, the stares are when I ask about yeast. Simply put, I've encountered many wine fans who think that wine doesn't involve yeast (wild or cultured). And I've encountered people at tasting rooms who simply don't want to talk about the yeast. I've never understood this as many in the beer industry revere their yeast and love to talk about it. This seems to be changing with the natural wine movement. Can you concur? Is so, can you explain why the topic tends to be avoided when I expect the yeast is a large part of the flavor. (I suspect that yeast plays a large role in the terroir of natural wines).

I'd also be interested in information on biodynamic wines. Organic I understand and appreciate, but from the few things I've read, biodynamic incorporates some things that appear to be superstitions (tying production cycles to moon phases, etc) to me and I would like to get complete information on the techniques and what they are based on.

I'd ask more questions about Tim Artz and beer, but I've written a book already. Thank you!

Tim Artz: Regarding yeast, you can buy very good beer and wine yeast cultures from local hobby retailers or on line. Two good suppliers for beer yeast are White Labs and Wyeast. Pick a specific culture to match the beverage you ant to make.

Joe Yonan: Dave McIntyre weighs in with this:

"You are right - yeast is essential to winemaking, and it plays the same role it does with beer - i.e., it ferments sugar into alcohol. I suspect winery employees in tasting rooms give blank stares to your questions because most people don't ask about yeast, and they aren't prepared to answer.

"Using indigenous yeast - what comes from the vineyard on the grapes or exists in the winery - is the most crucial part of the natural wine movement. and indeed, the argument is that only these yeasts can best express the true terroir of the vineyard. Cultured or cultivated yeasts (note I'm not using "natural yeast" here; some people argue that even cultured yeasts are natural) can be chosen to give certain flavors. These may be cultivated from some vineyard with great terroir for that particular grape, propagated in a lab, and then sold to wineries. Ever wonder why so many California sauvignon blancs started tasting like mango and passion fruit? I think in Europe part of the natural wine movement's preference for indigenous yeast is also opposition to genetically modified organisms - there is considerable research on genetically modified yeasts for winemaking.

"I wrote column last April on biodynamic viticulturea - that's a fascinating subject, too.

"Next issue to watch for: Pesticides in wine. This will give an additional boost to organic/biodynamic/natural wines."

_______________________

cooked beans: I cooked up a pound of dried Rancho Gordo cannellini beans. Made a sage-garlic-lemon bean puree with some of them, but the rest are in a container in the fridge. Do I freeze them? Make up more puree and freeze it that way? I'm not sure one person can eat all of them before they go off. Thanks!

Jane Black: You can absolutely freeze beans. You can freeze them in the pot liquor in individual portions or you can "dry them" and spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze. Then put them in bags so you can just reach in and grab a handful.

_______________________

Silver Spring - oatmeal: It can be cooked overnight in a rice cooker - works well with the steel cut oats. Ready for you in the morning.

AND mixing it with kefir or yogurt tastes great if you like savory food rather than sweet food.

Candy Sagon: Great idea. The Sweetflow Mobile crew uses a rice cooker as well.

_______________________

Breakfast to go: Your oatmeal story today got my office mate and me arguing about why people would want to buy oatmeal when they could just bring a packet of instant to work and nuke it. I pointed to the photo of the woman blow-torching the sugar. She had no answer. Kudos to you guys!

washingtonpost.com: Formerly frumpy, now it's oat couture

Candy Sagon: Thanks! That bruleed top is really awesome. And here's the good part. It took about a tablespoon or so of raw (or brown) sugar, plus the little blow-torch thingie, to get this wonderfully satisfying sweetness without adding a whole lot of calories

_______________________

U Street: So this may be a bit odd (and has gotten me more than enough weird looks around the office) but when it comes to oatmeal and pretty much everything else, I've never had much of a sweet tooth and I gravitate towards savory flavors. My plain standby involves a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of good olive oil (or a little unsalted butter if I'm being bad). Sometimes I'll liven things up with herbal mixins like lemon pepper and rosemary or whatever else strikes my fancy and lives in my fridge. I don't know but for some reason, I just can't wrap my head around eating a hunk of brown sugar so early in the day!

Again, it may sound weird but especially if you skip the sugar in your morning coffee I'd say don't knock it until you try it!

Candy Sagon: I just read about Mark Bittman's oatmeal with celery, so you're not that odd. And Americans always seem to skew toward the sweet in just about everything, while other countries have a much more savory attitude about b'fast food. So tell those office doubters that you're just a more evolved, Mediterranean diet kind of breakfast person.

_______________________

Anchovies: Instead of the containers, you can buy tubes of anchovy paste. You can measure out the amount you need, with no chopping and no cleanup. It is the same shape as the tubes of tomato paste.

Bonnie Benwick: Chopping? Cleanup? It's ANCHOVIES. Buy the good kind in small glass jars; they are worth it.

_______________________

Anonymous: My oatmeal is always made with skim milk instead of water and MUST have cinnamon in it. I also add fruit - any fruit, i.e., ripe mango, banana, apple, craisins, raisins apricots; whatever is available.

Candy Sagon: I'm with you -- I think even half milk, half water is a big plus.

_______________________

Milk substitutes?: Denial has not improved things; I am going to have to give up milk. Neither cow nor goat milk is working well for me. Soy doesn't agree with me either. (Thank goodness for coconut milk "ice cream"!)

What are some guidelines on choosing substitutes? I'll want something for my oatmeal, and for cooking what works best in stove top cooking and what works best for baking? Are there guidelines for making these choices?

Joe Yonan: Have you tried almond milk? I love it: use it on my cereal in the a.m. (but haven't used it in oatmeal, though I think it'd be swell). As for resources on substitutions, I'd suggest that you get some of the vegan cookbooks out there, such as "Veganomicon," which help with that.

_______________________

Tim Artz: I just love the article about you. I bow to your grill mastery (and cheese making, brewing, etc). Oh, by the way, do you have a single brother?

Tim Artz: Ha! Negative. Sorry.

_______________________

Oxford, UK: I am hoping that today's story on oatmeal will prompt people to send in all sorts of exciting suggestions for jazzing up my oatmeal. I eat it almost every am and would love some ideas for mixing in other nutritious grains and toppings as the oatmeal van is probably not coming down my street any time soon.

Also, can't you make some sort of cold cereal type dish by soaking oats overnight in milk? I remember seeing this on a cooking show once but have not explored it further. It may get warm one day here in England and I might want a cold breakfast. (ha)

Joe Yonan: Yes, you can do this. I've done it with Bob's Red Mill muesli, which has oats in it, and the oats (and other ingredients) swell and soften. It also works to soak it in yogurt.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Hello -- I am trying to make egg filled ravioli for a dinner party -- you know, where the yolk oozes out and everybody is impressed. However, my practice round was a mess. The oozing out came when I sealed the dough and pressed the edges. Do you think I could freeze the yolks, maybe in an ice tray, and then use the frozen yolks to fill the ravioli?

Bonnie Benwick: Yolks don't freeze well on their own. This Delicious Days blog looks like it has a fab recipe and step-by-step pix of how to build successful egg-filled ravioli. The yolks are cradled in a little shelf of a ricotta-Parm mixture that's inside a rather thin-looking dough. I may have to give this a try.

_______________________

Boston, MA: If I have veggie soups (without dairy products) in tupperware, how long can I keep them in the refrigerator?

Bonnie Benwick: Three days. Maybe five if it's terribly simple. Better to portion the just-made soup into serving sizes you need and freeze flat, in heavy-duty resealable food-safe plastic bags.

_______________________

sardines: I keep reading that sardines are a good source of Omega3 but how do I prepare them? I had a roomate that used to eat them right from the can but I would like to try them another way.

Jane Black: Sardines are very healthy and they're also heartily approved by sustainable seafood groups. If you're not already a sardine lover, I might try fresh sardines first. (They're available at local fish markets; call in advance.) This is a great recipe that Bonnie tested last year for Stuffed Sardines. If you want to use canned ones, try this Widowed Potatoes casserole that uses sardines to give the whole dish some oomph.

_______________________

Steel Cut Oats: I make mine in a crockpot. 1 cup steel cut oats, 4 cups water, 1/2 cup milk, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 individual container unsweetened applesauce. Cook on low for about 8 hours (overnight). If I'm feeling fancy, I'll add a cut up apple, dried fruit, craisins, or pitted prunes to the crockpot.

I get a week's worth of breakfast out of one batch. It reheats great in the microwave with a little more milk to thin things back out.

Joe Yonan: Absolutely -- I've been meaning to do this, having just joined the slow-cooker crowd.

_______________________

Non-alcoholic drinks: not sure what this chatters requirements were but I am pregnant right now and besides previous suggestions, I like drinking limeade (can even buy fresh pre-made that is good, like Newman's Own) or ginger beer at parties/get-to-gethers.

Jane Black: Good idea. Spicy ginger beer is so different than the regular ginger ale. (Have you seen those adds where they have to tell you that there is real ginger in ginger ale? I love that Americans now assume that what's in food is fake so if there's real stuff in it they have to trumpet it!)

_______________________

cream of wheat: Funny you should be discussing oatmeal today when I was thinking about asking you for ideas for a tub of cream of wheat that has been staring at me for months now. With the warm weather, I'm wondering if the creepy crawlies won't beat me to it. My question is, can I use the same ideas for oatmeal with the cream of wheat, or would the texture be all wrong?

Candy Sagon: Cream of Wheat is much more processed than steel-cut oats, so it doesn't need as long a cooking time. But you could use the ideas for cooking it with some milk, as well as the ideas for toppings.

_______________________

Falls Church, VA: I had an AMAZING braised baby goat pasta (papardelle?) in a light coconut milk sauce at Eventide last night. Do you guys have anything up your sleeves that might be similar? Bonus points if it uses a more accessible meat than goat!

Bonnie Benwick: This calls for onsite research. Give us a few weeks and check back.

_______________________

For the impromptu dinner party:: Yikes! Another possibility would be Kim O'Donnel's Viet Chicken: Chicken thighs, marinate with sugar, lime, oil, and fish sauce. Toss on grill ten minutes and you're all set. This has been my go-to in these situations. Good luck!

Jane Black: Freerangers coming to the rescue with fast dinner ideas.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: On keeping basil (the herb, not Fawlty): I get long-stemmed basil from a farmer's market or Whole Foods or Wegmans. I trim off the bottom, just as you do with cut flowers. Insert the basil into a tall iced tea glass filled with water. Then -- and this is important -- spray the inside of a plastic bag with water and cover the plant. Refrigerate. Works just the same as a gadget called the Herb Keeper, I think it is. Basil (the herb) will last for days like this. Basil (the Falwty) I cannot vouch for.

Jane Black: Good tip. Thanks.

_______________________

Silver Spring: For the fast dinner wanter - crab cakes are impressive and can be very simple. And a big salad from the grocery store salad bar.

If you don't have time, impress with ingredients.

Jane Black: What a great idea. And you can buy good crab cakes, which means all you have to do is make the salad.

_______________________

Re: Vegetarian Chili Affected Husband.: Beano. Thought it was too good to be true but people in my house needed something. Anything. And it really works.

Bonnie Benwick: The second response we've gotten that endorses this product.

_______________________

Quantity for Steel-Cut Oats: Is it possible to make small batches of steel-cut oats? Especially if you are talking about the slow cooker, that is a lot of oatmeal. I am the only one in my house who eats it (although I have a daughter who might be ready for it soon, she's 8 months old). Does oatmeal refrigerate or freeze well?

Candy Sagon: One of our readers just said an office mate soaks steel-cut oats in hot water for 10 min. or so, then nukes them. (Look back thru the chat for the original post for the details.) You might try that as a way to make a single serving. Or soak a single serving's worth overnight in cold water in the fridge, then microwave or cook the next morning. I don't think oatmeal freezes or refrigerates well (kinda like refrigerated grits, which then can be used to patch holes in your driveway.)

_______________________

Fairfax Station, Va.: For steel-cut oats, you can't beat a slow cooker on low all night -- you wake up to an amazing smell! I've used water, skim milk, even apple juice as a cooking medium, and dried fruit stewed in with it also is nice.

Candy Sagon: Apple juice -- now that's an interesting idea.

_______________________

Newton, MA: I want to second the steelcut oatmeal with tahini - I use on tsp for one serving put in while cooking. I also add a bit of orange rind, taken off the orange with a carrot peeler. It is somewhere btw sweet and savory. It really does not take long. put it together up when you get up, turn on coffee maker, shower, dress eat breakfast. I have also made it the night before and reheated- not as great but still very good!

Bonnie Benwick: Zest. Nice.

_______________________

Beans, beans good for your heart...: Try Eden Organic beans. They add kombu (seaweekd) which helps minimize the aftermath. As a bonus, their cans are BPA-free.

Joe Yonan: Yes, their bean cans are, but just FYI, their tomato cans aren't. Nobody's are.

_______________________

DC: What is Aviva Goldfarb's web site? She sounds like my new best friend.

Also, your grilled asparagus can be simplified by doing the whole thing in one step in a 425 oven.

washingtonpost.com: Shop for this week's Dinner in Minutes (All We Can Eat, April 13)

The Six O'Clock Scramble

Joe Yonan: The oven kinda defeats the purpose of the grill, doesn't it?

_______________________

Richmond, VA: If you had no electricity and only the ability to boil water, what coffee pot would you not be able to live without? The other morning, I found myself without electricity (electric coffee pot) and boiling water. I tried pouring the boiling water over grounds in a filter - not so good. I tried steeping the grounds and then filtering - better (though bitter) but also not so good. I'd like to do a preemptive purchase and would gladly turn in the electric pot to avoid the looks I got at WaWa when I showed up there somewhat disheveled and irritated. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Joe Yonan: You should buy the Clever Coffee Dripper from Sweet Maria's. I've blabbed about it here on the blog; I'm addicted to mine. And I'm not the only one -- lots of coffee shops doing this, too.
But before you get it, let me make some other adjustments to your technique: Your water shouldn't be boiling when it goes over the coffee. Rather, it should be 195-205 degrees. So after boiling let it sit for, I dunno, maybe 30 seconds or so before pouring it on. Also, if you're steeping (as you do with the CCD), you should be grinding the coffee at a coarse setting. Do you have a burr grinder? That's best for consistency and control.

_______________________

Rockville, Md: Steel cut oats: a great way to do these is in a "fuzzy logic" rice cooker on the "porridge" or "very low" setting. You can set it up the night before with a timer, and the amazing thing is that even just cooking the oats in water, it comes out as if you've cooked them in cream, but still with the great texture. (Those cookers are not inexpensive, so I know everyone cannot use them. But I use mine every day, so it feels like a good investment for my needs.)

Candy Sagon: Ya know, with all you slow-cooker oatmeal fans, it's hard to believe that Starbucks, et al has sold any oatmeal to go at all!

_______________________

Fairfax ,VA: A Question to Tom - looking back at your progress which was really a foundation for making the transition to this level? Was it setting aside the workspace? Getting another refirgerator/freezer? Mastering the "Save A Meal"? Or the Porkulator? Also - when curing bacon are you using the cold smoke technique (i.e. Alton Brown Food Network) or another (add to that where are you getting your pork belly)?

Tim Artz: My mother said my first word was "pie" so maybe that is the foundation. Even in a small apartment, there were some fun food projects.

I made bacon before food network. I started with a Brinkman smoker, wrapped with a moving blanket. A few coals in a cast iron frying pan and a covering of soaked chips. The Porkulator makes it easier, but similar technique.

Bellies can be purchased from Super H Mart, but I have been getting very nice ones from Newman Farms Berkshire Pork.

_______________________

Oatmeal's good for you in almost any form (but maybe chocolate-covered): I got this Chocolate Oatmeal cookie recipe off the back of a Quaker Oats box about 40 years ago. They're simple, and folks always love them!

INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup (= 1 stick) butter or shortening 1 cup brown sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 3/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/3 cup ground almonds 1/4 cup unsweetened dry cocoa (powder) 1 1/2 cup quick oats 36 whole almonds (optional)

DIRECTIONS: Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add flour, soda, almonds and cocoa to batter; stir in oats. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. (Optional: press a whole almond into the top of each cookie). Bake 15 minutes @ 350 F--don't let them start to burn, because that will make them taste slightly bitter. Remove cookies from baking sheet with spatula onto wire cooling racks.

Joe Yonan: You know what? Seriously, I think this might just be the cookie that my mother used to make me as a kid that I have always wanted to find again. Oh, man. I'm not kidding. She made these chocolate oatmeal cookies, and I was obsessed with them, and haven't seen the recipe until now. I'll try and if they're the ones I owe you big-time.

_______________________

Re: Garlic Problem: So, after peeling garlic cloves, but before cutting them up to sautee or sweat, I should roast them or otherwise cut out a small little portion from the middle of the clove? Sounds like a lot more work.

Joe Yonan: Are you the one that had a hard time digesting them? If you're not, then you're fine. Obviously.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Perfect timing! My husband would like a smoker/grill this spring. He has a well-loved Weber (18") but would like to upgrade to a barrel-style with the smoker on the side. Saw a Brinkmann at Home Depot (50" barrel) for $199 this weekend but it seems a little flimsy. Any tips on where to find good quality smoker/grills? I'd like to keep it under $400 if possible (unless they'll barter for wood from an old oak tree that needs to come down!) Thanks!!

Tim Artz: The Weber is great for most things.

Unfortunately, the Porkulator has more than $400 of paint on it.

_______________________

Oatmeal ideas: There was a prior chat, not too long ago, where tons of ideas were posted for jazzing up someone's oatmeal. Maybe you could link to help those asking for ideas?

washingtonpost.com: I believe it was this one.

Joe Yonan: As if we needed MORE ideas! ;-)

_______________________

Canned tomatoes: Based on Joe's recommendations from a few weeks ago, I went looking for the Muir Glen and Pomi canned/boxed tomatoes. I haven't come across Muir Glen yet, but the Pomi (at least at the Italian Store in Arlington) were just as expensive as the San Marzano - I guess that is what you get for imported goods.

I tried the Trader Joe canned tomatoes (the can says it is from California) and the tomatoes are noticeably brighter, redder, and more tomato-y than what I got from Hunts. I suppose I'll have to do a taste test to see if they're as good as Pomi or Muir Glen, but definitely an improvement over the normal canned tomatoes.

Joe Yonan: Yes, TJ's has a lot of good canned products.

_______________________

State College, PA: I'm thawing some boneless, skinless chicken thighs for tonight. What should I do with them? I've got a pretty well-stocked pantry, so am open to most things. Tired of my same-old, same-old recipes...

Many thanks, love the chats!

Jane Black: Another reader suggested Kim O'Donnel's Viet Grilled Chicken for our reader in search of ideas for an ultra-fast dinner party. Sounds like it might work for you too.

_______________________

Rockville: Hi. My family and I enjoy eating baked ziti. When I told my mom about it, she nearly had a heart attack because the ground turkey goes in raw. It then bakes for 30 minutes at 350. Is she right to be scared? She thinks that's barely enough time to reheat already-cooked meat, and certainly not enough to cook it from raw. What do you think?

Bonnie Benwick: Well, I admit I haven't come across too many recipes for ziti or lasagna where the ground turkey goes in raw. Since your family's still upright, I guess the turkey is getting cooked. I assume you're starting from a not-totally refrigerated state....Cooking it first certainly eliminates any doubt, but mostly it allows you to flavor it with spices and sauteed onion and whatever else. Is this a concoction of your own? Does the turkey look cooked through in your ziti?

_______________________

By-product of chili: My brother swears by adding a bit of vinegar to the water when he soaks his beans.

Bonnie Benwick: That's a new one, so we're passing it along, as it were.

Joe Yonan: Ouch.

_______________________

from one richmonder to another: Get a french press: they're easy and beautiful. Can also use it for tea and draining.

Joe Yonan: French presses are great. My Clever Coffee Dripper is something of a cross between a French press and a filter cone. I prefer it because I don't want the sludge that comes with a French press. But I do own a FP for traveling!

_______________________

Petworth: Huh - the blog about storing maple syrup really surprised me. See, we never even put it in the fridge. Does it really need refrigeration, or is that just being extra-safe?

Tim Artz: It needs to be refrigerated after opening or it will get moldy

Bonnie Benwick: Correct.

_______________________

Washington, DC: When baking recipes call for room temperature butter, how do you know that your butter is ready? Can I use an instant read thermometer to aim for a certain temp? My kitchen is cold and drafty.

Jane Black: I think using a thermometer to make sure butter is room temperature is a little extreme. You just don't want it to be ice cold or melting. If it's any where in that range, you're fine. If your kitchen is as cold as your refrigerator, pop the butter in the microwave on defrost for 5 seconds and you'll be fine.

_______________________

I might be strange, but I can't stand sweet in the morning.: Me too! I add peanut butter, or butter and Crystal hot sauce (hi Tim!). Would love more savory ideas (and tell people at work to stop laughing at me for saying 'savory'.)

Candy Sagon: crumbled bacon? salsa? feta or some other cheese?

_______________________

sardines: Try them with broccoli in a dressing made with soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil (see a NY Times recipe and Jane Brody for more details). Eat on its own or serve over pasta.

Also, in a pasta sauce, chop sardines, add black olives, parsley, a pinch of pepper flakes, and olive oil, and save some of the pasta water to add to the sauce. Top with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

(These are canned sardines. Also, a good spread is made by mixing them with cream cheese.)

Jane Black: Thanks. Great ideas!

_______________________

Washington, DC: I got an ice cream maker for my recent birthday and am looking forward to trying it out. I figure it would be best to start with something simple--vanilla bean ice cream. All the recipes I've seen so far call for eggs, although the vanilla bean ice cream I buy at the store doesn't have them, so I'd like to make it without them. Can I just omit them? Do you have a recommended recipe?

Joe Yonan: The ice cream you're talking about at the store doesn't include them because it's probably full of stabilizers and the like. Unless you're allergic or vegan, I suggest that you go the traditional way of freezing an eggy vanilla-flecked custard base. We don't have any straight vanilla recipes in our database, but we ran this recipe way back in 96 that looks fantastic. (The original gave instructions for hand-cranking and the like, but I skipped those for your purposes.)

While I've got you, I have to give a plug to my favorite ice-cream book of all time: "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz. If you're serious about this, get it. And while you're at it, try the Caramelized White Chocolate Ice Cream recipe he developed just for us. It's luscious.

Now, here's that vanilla i.c. recipe. Note the variations at the end.

LORENE BURRUS SMITH'S HOMEMADE VANILLA ICE CREAM

4 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
4 cups whole or skim milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups heavy (whipping) cream, or part cream and part milk

At least a few hours before making the ice cream, or as early as the day before, combine egg yolks, sugar, salt and flour in a heavy saucepan. Stir in a little milk, enough to make a paste. Continuing to stir and, keeping the mixture smooth, stir in remaining milk. Place pan over medium to medium-high heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens, as for pudding.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Place in 1-gallon nonreactive (glass or enamel) container and place a layer of waxed paper or plastic wrap over the surface of the custard so a skin does not form. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled: preferably at least one day.

Add chilled cream or cream and milk to the custard. Transfer to the pre-frozen canister of your ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's instructions. (Note: This makes about 1 gallon of ice cream; if your maker is smaller, you may need to reduce quantity or make it in separate batches.)

For chocolate ice cream: To the dry ingredients in the saucepan, add 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa and an additional 1/4 cup sugar.

For Rocky Road: To the dry ingredients stir in handfuls of nuts, some chunked chocolate and 1 cup miniature marshmallows. Decrease cream added at the end so mixture in canister does not come more than 3 or 4 inches from the top.

For pistachio, black walnut or other nut ice cream: Add 1 to 2 cups ground nuts; you will need to decrease the amount of cream to make room for the nuts. Remember that ice cream expands as you freeze it.

For double vanilla: Cook a scraped vanilla bean in the custard. Remove it before adding cream and freezing ice cream.

For coffee ice cream: Substitute 1 cup espresso or double-strength coffee for 1 cup of cream in custard base and use only 3 cups milk. Decrease cream added just before freezing by 1/4 cup and substitute 1/4 cup coffee liqueur.

_______________________

Silver Spring: What's up with the garlic these days? Over the past couple of weeks I've noticed something weird with whole garlic heads that I find in local grocery stores: the heads of garlic are kind of damp and soft on the outside, and the garlic cloves are difficult to peel because they are also soft and damp. I've only noticed this lately, in the last month or so, and it's happened with garlic I've purchased at almost a dozen different stores in Montgomery and Prince George's County. Have you noticed anything funky like this?

Jane Black: I haven't but it's interesting. Anyone?

Tim Artz: It could be because it is fairly fresh and not fully cured. Cloves are plump and damp when garlic is freshly dug.

It also could be the variety of garlic. Different varieties vary in how easy they are to peel.

Joe Yonan: I'm almost out of the gorgeous braid of garlic my Maine sister gave me last fall. She and her husband are very careful to let the garlic fully dry before they tie it into these fantastic braids. When I couldn't buy garlic at the farmers market, I've used hers, and it's lasted me all winter. Just as good now as it was six months ago.

_______________________

Bethesda, MD: Not really a question, but a story for the oatmeal-lovers out there. My grandfather was a huge fan of oatmeal, ate it most mornings while my grandmother was still asleep. One year for Christmas, we made him an "oatmeal gift basket" of sorts, with a large box of oatmeal (he was an old-fashioned oats person) and assorted toppings (dates, raisins, brown sugar). He really seemed tickled by it, and I have no doubt the gift went to good use. He passed away almost ten years ago, but I still think of him whenever I eat my oatmeal.

Candy Sagon: Thanks. Like the idea of an oatmeal gift basket.

_______________________

Pine Plains: Jacques Papin has a leek oatmeal soup in his first Today's Gourmet cookbook: a small leek, cleaned and minced, 1 cup of oatmeal, 3 1/2 cups of milk, salt and pepper. Mix all together and boil till oatmeal is done. Thin with milk and water if needed. If I can ever get beyond oatmeal with maple syrup, I'll try it!

Jane Black: I made this last year after I (finally) read his memoir. It was good but not as much of a revelation as I had hoped. I think we added crumbled bacon on top and a little half and half at the end. That made it good.

Bonnie Benwick: EBWB (everything's better with bacon)

_______________________

Food dehydrator: Hi Tim and food rangers

Do you recommend a particular brand of dehydrator? Funny that it was mentioned today, I'd been thinking about them!

Thanks

Tim Artz: I had one of the round American Harvest ones for years. It served us very well. It started to fall apart, so I upgraded to a 10-tray model from the Sausage Maker.

_______________________

Land of savory oatmeal: YAY to my brother/sister in savory oatmeal-land. Low fat or nonfat feta, crumbled in, is the best.

And get thee to China, where soupy congee is the breakfast of choice, with lots of savory pickled bits.

Candy Sagon: Thailand, too! Loved my breakfast soup.

_______________________

Good stuff!: No question, just a couple of thanks yous:

First, what a great article on Tim this morning. I sent it to my brother, who recently attended a bee keeping seminar in Detroit. And it has me longing for the day (hopefully soon!) when I'm reunited with my grill, currently in storage in CA.

Also, a while ago, Joe, you did an article on Judith Jones. I bought both her cooking-for-one book and her memoir, and she has become my food mentor. She has such a wonderful sense about her, and with her suggestions for using and re-using ingredients, she has me both experimenting more in the kitchen AND saving money.

Loving the food section these days!

washingtonpost.com: What an expert eye, and a game plan, can do for the single shopper (Post, Nov. 11, 2009)

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

_______________________

New Mexico: What is your advice about storing dates? I've checked online and find it difficult to come up with information. Most of the time when you type the words storage and date, google comes up with info about general storage time, not something specific about dates. I've left dates on the shelf and they eventually get a kind of powdery substance, which I think might be crystallization but I'm not sure. I'd appreciate any illumination you have. Thanks to you all in WaPo Food Section!

Bonnie Benwick: Hi New Mex. I've started keeping my dates in the fridge (in orig carton that's cocooned in a resealable plastic food storage bag), mostly because my pantry's prone to fluctuations in temperature (annexed part of my garage, but that's for another chat). If the dates look shiny and not so wrinkled to begin with, you could store them in a cool dry place for up to 6 months. In the fridge, I've kept them for close to a year.

The powdery stuff might be mold or it might be crystallized sugar -- can you tell?

_______________________

Blackening chicken and fish: I know you need a cast iron skillet (at least I think you do) to blacken chicken and fish in the house but do you do it the same way on the grill or can you do it on the grate?

Bonnie Benwick: You can certainly do them on the grill. You'll need the right paste/rub and some melted butter to coat the fish or chicken with so the spice mixture adheres. It'll be smoky and fast.

_______________________

Re: Upgrading the Weber: In fact there are only so many racks of ribs he can smoke on it, even with a rib rack, and it's not tall enough for an upright chicken, and he's limited in size in size of other cuts as well. Hence the barrel - the egg-shaped ceramic smokers are too pricey. (Perhaps I need to help him stop watching Steven Raichlen's tv show on PBS!)

Tim Artz: For a Weber, you can get the rotisserie ring to make it higher for a chicken or turkey.

_______________________

Clifton, VA: I make my oatmeal with Guiness Stout or if I want something a little lighter Budweiser.

You all should try it. Or if you make with water or dairy dry a shot of good aged dark rum as a sweetner.

Candy Sagon: You're kidding. Right? Right? If not, please don't drive after breakfast, Clifton. I do need to tell you, though, that I did read about a British chef who did a whiskey pairing with oatmeal.

Joe Yonan: I make mine with moonshine.

_______________________

Steel cut oatmeal -- frozen and good: I love the frozen packs of steel cut oatmeal at trader joe's. You get two packages per box, they heat up easily in a microwave (I do it at work when I arrive) and are so good and creamy as it is, no need to add toppings or anything. One package is also only 2 points for those doing weight watchers. Love them! Only problem is they sell out fast at TJs.

Joe Yonan: You know, TJ's really has some things figured out. I love their shelf-stable, already-cooked brown rice.

_______________________

Oakland, CA: I don't have a thermometer to measur temp. of corn oil for deep frying maple bar batter. How can I figure 375-? Shimmer stage? Smoking stage? or the old stand-by, dipping a bamboo skewer and watch the bubbles?

Jane Black: Best way to know is to test it. Throw a tiny bit of batter in and if it floats to the top and bubble form around it, you're there. Smoking will be too hot.

_______________________

Oatmeal Idea: Make your Oatmeal (or Cream of Wheat) with a little Mexican-style Hot Chocolate. The timing is something I'm still working on, eating Cream of Wheat about once a week on weekends, but the tastes go well. But a weekend type treat only.

Candy Sagon: That would be cocoa mixed with cinnamon? Sounds good.

_______________________

Baltimore: Here's the guideline I use for putting things in oatmeal-- if it's good in a granola bar, it'll be good in oatmeal! It gave me a springboard for trying different oatmeal toppings.

Candy Sagon: Ah, but the savory fans out there might disagree. At Pret A Manger, their oatmeal comes with chunks of granola-like cereal on top that gets mixed in with the hot water/hot milk to make the oatmeal. Caloric, but good.

_______________________

Single Serving Steel Cut Oatmeal: A great quick way for steel-cut oats is the overnight thermos method: the night before, preheat your thermos w/boiling water for ten minutes. Pour out, add 1/4 cup steel oats and 1 to 1 1/2 cups boiling water and let stand up overnight - perfect oats! Some people like to bring it to a boil before adding it to the thermos for softer oats. Add-ins as you please. Incidentally, the thermos is also great for overnight yogurt and muesli or steel oats.

Candy Sagon: Hope the person wanting single serving advice is still reading. Thanks for the tip. And then you can take the Thermos to work with you for homade to go!

_______________________

Re: Impromptu Dinner Party: Quick and easy dinner: Get some pasta and some pesto. Boil the pasta, and toss with the pesto. You might want to add a little extra cheese and you will probably need some more olive oil. For a little more flavor, add some sun-dried tomatoes (I like the ones in oil) or some artichoke hearts. Some chicken breast, grilled, tossed with a bit of pesto and then thrown in will blend perfectly.

My wife and I do this every couple of weeks when neither of us really feel like cooking.

Tim Artz: I make pesto in the summer and freeze it in ice cube trays. Vacuum seal 203 cubes in a small bag. Perfect for a pound of pasta. Pasta and pesto is a great easy meal.

_______________________

Beans: I've seen claims in a number of cookbooks that if you eat beans more regularly, you are less likely to have those pesky digestive issues. So maybe you need to make your husband chili more often!

Joe Yonan: Yes, this is what Steve Sando says... The man eats a lot of beans, so I think he might be onto something.

_______________________

Ruckersville, VA: Would Tim kindly reveal his recipe for walnut liqueur? Thanks, Klaus Alt

Tim Artz: Off the top of my head....Pick 24 nuts on the 24th of June. Place in a jar with 1 liter of pure alcohol, one finger of cinnamon and 2 cloves. Leave in the sun for 40 days. After 40 days, make syrup of 1 liter water and 800g of sugar. Mix with the alcohol mixture. Leave until Christmas, filter and bottle. Age 8 months.

Bonnie Benwick: Really, this is about the sum of what he showed me in his recipe folder. It's from a business associate in Milan, right, Tim?

_______________________

Joe Yonan: Well, you've transferred us to 1 or 2 large rectangular disposable aluminum pans (with deep sides), drizzled bacon drippings on top of us, then baked us for 2 hours, until bubbling and slightly crusted on top, so you know what that means: We're done!

Thanks for the great q's today; hope you found our a's useful and even entertaining at times. And many thanks to guests Candy Sagon and Tim Artz for helping us handle the deluge...

Now for the giveaways: The chatter who asked about the emergency dinner party will get Aviva Goldfarb's "SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue." The Maryland chatter who wrote "I want to be Tim Artz when I grow up" will get, naturally, Tim's hot sauces.... A party must ensue. Just send your mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your stuff.

And until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

_______________________

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.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company