Free Range on Food: Spring farmer's market produce, rhubarb recipes, corn muffins, Jamie Oliver, overripe bananas, soft foods, slow cooker recipes, more

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; 1:00 PM

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

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

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


Bonnie Benwick: Rainy, a little's either a great day to play "footie," as my soccer-obsessed husband says, or to bake something. And because this is the Food section's chat, I'll endorse the latter!

Welcome to Free Range, where you can ask just about anything, although food-related questions and comments that do not include the words "bonus points" tend to play through. That phrase, by the way, really annoys Jane Black, author of today's fab article and blogpost on Jamie Oliver. We've got Lucie L. Snodgrass, author of "Dishing Up Maryland," and Beer columnist/Beer Madness czar Greg Kitsock on hand, so that broadens your query horizons. Editor Joe's hobnobbing at conference in Portland, but the rest of the gang's all here. The two best bits of chatter input get either a copy of Lucie's book or Amy Riolo's "Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook," source of today's Dinner in Minutes. Winners will be announced at the end of the chat.

Enough with all the links. Here we go....


Ann Arbor, MI: Question for the wine guy: I've just completed my Ph.D. and would like to buy my advisor a bottle of wine as a thank you gift. I'm looking to spend about $50. She likes reds or whites, is a great cook, and is a lover of all things Italian. I know this is a tough (annoying) question to answer, but I'd appreciate any recommendations or guidelines for making a good selection. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: The wine guy, a.k.a. Dave McIntyre, says -- Congratulations! For a special Italian wine, I would suggest a Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, made with the sangiovese grape, or a Barolo or Barbaresco from Piemonte, which would be a nebbiolo. For Brunellos, I especially like Romitorio and Rendola: The 2004 Riservas should be coming onto the market now, a terrific vintage. (You might even find some of the regular 2004 Brunellos discounted to make room for the new arrivals from 2005.) For Piemonte, Vietti is always a good bet.

Of course, for $50 you could also find a super small-grower champagne such as Pierre Peters, Aubry or Jose Michel. If you want Italian bubbles, look for a Franciacorta, though they can be hard to find.


SS, MD: Where is the rhubarb?! When can we expect it to start showing up at farmer's markets?

Jane Black: A few more weeks now. I'm seeing the California stuff in supermarkets. Should be in the farmers market in early or mid-May.

Lucie Snodgrass: Rhubarb is already at some farmers markets. Check around.


Bonnie Benwick: And Spirits columnist/aperitif enthusiast Jason Wilson's onboard.


Washington, DC: I notice a local bistro likes to pair the peppery taste of arugula with Meyer lemons. Wouldn't it be easier to just use lemon pepper on lettuce? Seems an odd combo.

Jane Black: Full disclosure: I'm a little skeptical of flavored peppers. But seriously, lemon on salad greens is a classic. I use a glug of olive oil, lemon juice and salt as my go-to salad dressing. The nice thing about meyer lemons is that they are a little less acidic and more fruity than conventional ones. It's a wonderful combination. Give it a try.


Arlington, VA: Please help! I bought 20 lbs. of gorgeous local Yukon-gold-style potatoes last week intending to make potato salad for a party with about 60 guests in May. I was wondering if I could peel, chop, boil and season the potatoes and freeze them in plastic bags in advance (over the next couple of weeks) so that when it's time to make the potato salad I can just defrost them and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Will this process spoil the texture of the potatoes? I can do a test run to find out but I was wondering if anyone has tried this. One thing I think is that the potatoes would have to go into the freezer pretty dry, maybe I could even spread them out on baking trays to freeze and then put them into bags. I have a lot of other prep work to do for the party so potato peeling was one thing I was hoping to get out of the way early.

Bonnie Benwick: Sure, you can freeze them. But the consensus seems to be that the potatoes will be better at the other end if you don't cook them quite all the way through so that when you defrost or reheat, they won't turn to mush. Of course, if you're using them for a potato salad maybe they wouldn't need any further cooking. Maybe it'd be better to cut them in halves or quarters, though.


Cocktail fan, DC: Two questions for Jason Wilson: Where in DC are we likely to find the aperitifs -- Bonal and Cocchi Aperitivo Americano -- when they become available in the next few weeks in the US market?

I'm looking for an apple bitters recipe. Do you have one to share?

Jason Wilson: I've been told by Ace Beverage [] that they will be stocking both -- Bonal is in right now, and Cochi Americano within a few weeks.

As for apple bitters, I will look into a recipe -- if you'd like, email this query to the address at the bottom of my column.


Fish Sauce: Thank you for the article on fish sauce. I didn't realize the complications. I love the flavor, but have never bought it because recipes call for so little. How long will it last once opened? The best of Vietnamese fish sauce comes from Phu Quoc

Bonnie Benwick: You can keep it unrefrigerated for about 2 years, as long as it's a cool place away from sunlight.


Oxford, UK: I read with interest the recipe for passion fruit pound cake and have bought some passion fruit. How do they become pulp? I was also only able to get 4 (last pack at the store). Should I soldier on or will that affect the results? Passion Fruit Pound Cake

Bonnie Benwick: Good for you! Here's how, courtesy of David Lebovitz: Cut the fruit in half. Scoop the pulp into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Use a flexible spatula to press the pulp through, leaving the seeds behind. Discard the seeds. You should have pulp/juice in the bowl.

_______________________ You can reach Jason at


Corn muffins, DC: Amazing! - I'd just stuck some corn muffins in the oven and wondered if I couldn't find a better recipe, when I looked at today's Food Section and saw the corn and basil muffins recipe. I look forward to preparing it this weekend.

Still, I do have a few questions, the largest of them being, Might you have a recipe for corn muffins (or corn bread) that does not use wheat flour? If you can adapt today's recipe, that would be splendid. I'm looking for a way to make them gluten-free ...

Is cornmeal too heavy by itself, and that's why it's almost always mixed with wheat?

I'm also wondering, what happens if I omit the basil from today's recipe -- will I get lovely corn muffins? Or might I use something other than fresh basil? Perhaps dried basil or the basil-in-a-tube concoction, both already in my kitchen? I'd like to try the recipe right away, and can't get to the market until the weekend.

Thanks much.

Lucie Snodgrass: Lots of good questions. To the first, yes, you can always adapt things, but you need to give yourself some playing room. So, you can do all corn meal, or mix it with rice flour, but the consistency will be quite different, actually lighter and crunchier. And yes, you can leave the basil out or substitute some other herb, if you prefer. You can use the basil in a tube; it will just change the moisture level slightly.
But that's why you want to experiment.


Morgantown, WV: Jamie, I grew up in Southern WV so I know the people and issues they face. I've battled a weight problem since I was a child and I do like fresh, healthy foods. But when money is tight, the $1 double cheesburger seems like a good idea. Your show was eye-opening about the economic incentives and healthy disincentives that exist in the school lunch program. I know the agricultural lobby is behind some of this but I think most parents were not aware of the global impact this has. How will Team Obama use this to make change?? I fell in love with your "Naked Chef" show years ago and I loved this series. Thank you!

Jane Black: Sadly, Jamie Oliver isn't here with us. But I'm sure we can all appreciate your struggles and situation. I think talking about it, as Oliver and the Obama administration are doing, is the first step. But I believe that both say most of the change has to come from the grass roots. I just got an e-mail from someone who is launching a 30=day food revolution on her blog, where she and others cook from scratch for 30 days. Definitely more time-consuming and expensive. But is it something you'd be willing to try?


Homepage: I had to get to the chat through the blog - its not listed on the daily list of live chats on the homepage. Sorry, this is fixed now. At least you found us by visiting the fabulous All We Can Eat blog.

Bonnie Benwick: Glad we're fixed now.


Passion fruit pound cake: Thank you for this! I have about ten passion fruit left in my fridge (don't ask) and I'm getting tired of them, so this is perfect.

Bonnie Benwick: You are welcome. Funny thing is, there's no passion fruit in the cake. But the glaze makes it all flavored perfectly.


New Belgium, CO: Question for Greg - Any word on when MD/DC/VA will get New Belgium Beer (Fat Tire, etc)? I was just out in CA and I'm in love with their Ranger IPA. I've never felt that Fat Tire lives up to the hype, but a lot of their other beers are excellent.

Greg Kitsock: Kim Jordan, owner of New Belgium, was in town Sunday for the annual wholesalers/brewers legislative conference. I asked her, and she said most likely New Belgium will enter this area in 2011 or 2012. The brewery added six states to its marketing area last year (including North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia), and they want to be sure they can supply those regularly before opening any new territory.

By the way, New Belgium's new Ranger IPA is quite good, hoppy but not over the top hoppy. I'll be looking for that one when they enter this area.


Arlington: I wanted let you know the result of a question you helped me with a couple of weeks ago about passion fruit curd. As suggested, I ended up using a lemon curd recipe (using my passion fruit juice instead) and the result was nothing short of fantastic. I used the curd as a filling in a buttermilk vanilla cake (from the Joy of Cooking) where I sliced each layer in half to end up with four layers. I frosted with a vanilla frosting made with half butter and half cream cheese, and it was fantabulous. Thanks so much for the help.

Bonnie Benwick: We heart success stories.


Rockville: I have a ton of overripe bananas. Other than banana bread (which I do frequently) how can I use them? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I'll start, hope others will add on. You can freeze them, out of the skins. You can add them to avocado and feed them to babies who eat solid food. You can make an interesting Poblano-Banana Sauce, which is great on turkey or grilled chicken. You can make this Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal, which our readers really liked.

Lucie Snodgrass: I use them for shakes, which often act as meals for me when I'm on the run. With some yogurt and milk, some honey, if need be, and some nuts if you want some protein, the shake is filling and terrific and kids love them.


Stuck in a Rut: HELP!!!! My husband is going to be having surgery next week and is on a NO FAT diet. We're used to eating somewhat healthy but this threw a wrench in things. Basically the only things he can eat are ground turkey, and chicken almost everything else is off limits (as far as meats go). Some vegetables (corn, avocado etc) are off limits, things high in fat (sour cream, cream based soups, processed foods) are also off limits.

Any new recipe suggestions that are extremely LOW in fat, healthy, and taste good? Baked chicken had gotten very old already and I refuse to serve salads for every meal.

I was going to make spaghetti but even the noodles are a no no.


Signed - I will not become a rabbit.

Jane Black: Dear non-rabbit,
Feel your pain, baby. But before we answer (or get chatters to recommend solutions), quick thing: Why are noodles a no-no? They don't have fat. Or if they do, it's a trace. Right?


Boston, MA: Hi there,

I love the slightly more healthy take on the Strawberry Rhubarb Crumbles recipe but I was wondering if I wanted to cook it in one pan what I'd do differently in terms of cooking time and proportion.

Thanks! Strawberry Rhubarb Crumbles

Bonnie Benwick: Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says -- It will work just as well in a shallow baking pan. You'll want the filling to go about 2 inches up the side of the pan. Should take a little longer to cook, 10 to 15 minutes but keep a close eye on it. The key is to see the fruit mixture bubbling and its top lightly browned.

You may need to make additional topping -- as much as 50 percent. By using a small dish you really maximize the topping. In a larger pan, you just need more.

Good luck!


Columbia, MD: Jason - what are your thoughts on Sweet Tea Vodka? My wife had it in a John Daly (cruel joke - alcoholic version of an Arnold Palmer) the other night and loved it. We bought some, but it tastes "fake" to me. Seems that I could make my own with good vodka and some good loose tea. Any thoughts?

Jason Wilson: I'm not a fan of sweet tea vodka -- though I have had the John Daly and some of my friends like it. Tea infusions are getting pretty popular among bartenders right now, so sure, why not give it a try yourself? One of the recipes last week called for infusing vermouth, so you could check out the method for that to begin your experiment (though you'll likely need more tea).

Bonnie Benwick: And it was called The Saint.


Washington, DDS: I really appreciate your suggestions on this: I'm about to have some major dental work and will be unable to chew for several weeks. Other than oatmeal and cream of wheat, which I don't care for texturally, and apple-sauce, which I'll be eating a lot of, can you recommend foods that'll fill me? Acidic foods like tomatoes are out, because they could be harsh on my healing tissues. Also, nothing like peanut butter that could stick to the dressing or bandaging, or, say, fresh basil, that could wedge itself between teeth at a time when flossing will be hard to do. I'm willing to put almost anything in a blender, but probably I shouldn't do anything too tricky, since I expect to be on various medications that may limit my agility, and I'll be alone. Also, I don't eat much meat. Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: I'll just be the first to weigh in here, but I think risottos and pureed vegetable soups would be a fine place to start.

Lucie Snodgrass: Mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes are both wonderful, either with some butter and garlic and herbs for the regular potatoes, or add some turnips. For the sweeet potatoes, you can add a little milk and vanilla extract and a smidge of maple syrup (local Maryland syrup, of course) and butter, and you'll be full and nicely sated.

Jane Black: Or smoothies. You can get quite creative with frozen fruit. Strawberry ginger with greek yogurt and apple juice. Blueberry banana with orange juice. Sky's the limit in combinations. And they are pretty satisfying.


NW DC: Hey food lovers! Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the article about Jamie Oliver and his quest to help people eat healthier. It's inspiring, and I'm wondering if any of you have handy a list of similar organizations in the DC area. I've been looking to volunteer, and I love cooking. I know of DC Central Kitchen, but do you have any ideas for other kitchens in which cooking aficiandos like myself can roll up their sleeves and actually make some food for a good cause?

Jane Black: Well, to channel Jamie, I think what he would want you to do is cook for yourself and teach friends and family to cook too. (He also would desperately want you to sign his petition to change school food.)

That said, if you'd like to volunteer in a great food organization here in DC, you could check out Miriam's Kitchen. It provides home-cooked meals for the homeless. Or there are food banks all around the area, all of whom would love to offer more fresh food. Maybe you could lend a hand helping to make that happen.


Edmonton Canada: More on oatmeal!

Here is a recipe for Overnight Uncooked Porridge that was in our paper a while ago.

I double the recipe using a quart of almond milk, leave it in a large covered bowl overnight, then store in individual portions in the morning. Also add chopped dried fruits when making it, rather than adding nuts, etc before eating.

This makes 4 servings.

2 cups freshly rolled oats, 2 cups milk (dairy, soy, rice, almond), 2 tsps orange zest, 1 tsp cinnamon.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir in fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, or raisons just before eating.

Bonnie Benwick: We can't get enough of it. What paper was that?


Alexandria, VA: Hey Foodies,

Loved the recipe for the Vietnamese Chicken Salad, but why so much salt? 1160 mg per serving? I feel the FDA breathing down my neck... Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Bonnie Benwick: Fish sauce is salty! Add less.


Lemon pepper on lettuce?: I'll take the real thing over an imitation product any day. I think that fresh lemons and freshly ground black pepper would always taste way better than the prepackaged stuff.

Jane Black: Another vote on lemon pepper.


Chesterfield, VA: The siblings and I are throwing our mother a birthday cocktail party - late afternoon to evening, tapas style foods. I am in charge of bringing the birthday cake or dessert. So far, I'm stumped. It has to travel well (2 hours), be made in advance, and not be overly chocolate. I was thinking maybe tiramisu or a lemon cheesecake but I've done them before and would really like to come up with an elegant dessert for the occasion. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Bonnie Benwick: Hmm. Trying to get my mind around "not overly chocolate." In the elegance dept., try a Chocolate Caramel Tart; if you have cranberries in the freezer, try a Chocolate-Cranberry Torte; for something a tad trendy, Espresso Macarons With a Fudge Filling; for something unexpected, Key West Rum Cake. Chatters, what else?


Potatoes: For the best roasted potatoes. The night before or morning before boil them whole 5 min for fingerlings 10min for big potatoes. Dry them off and then chill in fridge. Chop to whatever shape you like I like little cubes about 2cm on a side. Place in large gallon ziplock or large sealing tupperware. Heat a cookie sheet to 450 degree now. Grind together salt and rosemary and thyme till the salt looks nice and green. Add 1 tablespoon per 2 large potatoes of olive oil or even better melted duckfat. Seal ziplock and shake. Add herb salt seal and shake again. Pour out ziploc full of potato goodness onto cookie sheet. Bake 450 degree 10 min. Stir around flipping sides ect. Bake another 10 min. Serve. Accept compliments and rave reviews.

Bonnie Benwick: You read Jane Touzalin's Chat Leftovers post on our blog today! Thanks for sharing. Duck fat. Yum.


Fairfax, Va: I made Mark Bittman's Pad Thai recipe, which called for Tamarind Paste. I shopped at my local Super H Mart and bought a block of what was supposedly tamarind paste, however when I cut into it there were lots of pulpy solids in it which did not melt into the sauce when heated. Did I buy the wrong product? By the way, the Pad Thai was outstanding, as good as any restaurant Pad Thai that I have had, and once all the ingredients were assembled was super quick to stir fry.

Jane Black: Well, you should really ask Bittman himself but I think you needed to buy the paste, which comes in a jar. It's a concentrate. A quick search on Amazon will show you what to look for.

Jane Touzalin: Jane's right; the paste normally comes in a jar, not a block. I would bet you bought tamarind concentrate. What you have is the compressed, concentrated pulp, which can include a lot of fiber and sometimes pieces of seed. But don't throw it out; try soaking a piece of it in hot water, then straining out the solids and using the flavorful liquid.
Good for you for trying something new. As you can probably tell, the sour-sweet taste of tamarind is unique and adds a character not found in any other ingredient.


No Fat Diet: A healthful suggestion...I use plain, non-fat yogurt as a sub for sour cream and in certain instances mayo. Provides a similar taste and consistency with better health benefits.

Bonnie Benwick: Sure, that's a good one.


Sardines, not Anchovies: I picked up a can of sardines (cleaned, packed in olive oil) for some reason that I can no longer recall...I think I meant to get anchovies, but absentmindedly picked up sardines instead. What to do with them?

(Extra points if you can figure out how to incorporate them into a meal involving broccoli & pasta. I have all the pantry staples...)

Jane Black: Well, I can do pasta but no broccoli. How many points do I get for that?

Heat a little oil and saute a few cloves of chopped garlic. Before the garlic browns, add some breadcrumbs and toss until lightly browned. (You might also add in some chopped parsley here.)

Make some spaghetti or linguini. When it's almost ready, heat more olive oil in a clean pan. Add a tin of chopped sardines and toss. Add the cooked pasta to the pan, then the breadcrumb mixture. A squeeze of lemon at the end is nice.

And you could always have some broccoli on the side!


Central PA: Cinnamon!

I recently learned there are two main types of cinnamon, cassia and Ceylon (aka True cinnamon). The regular stuff, cassia, is what we usually buy, nowadays (but not labeled anything other than "cinnamon."

I've been noticing for years that my store-bought cinnamon (non Ceylon) is getting blander and blander, to be almost tasteless and that I use now double or triple measure to try to get proper taste, and even then not much better. I've tried many brands.

When I learned there was a difference, I ordered some Ceylon cinnamon on the internet, and when it arrived it indeed had a much stronger flavor, just sniffing it. What a difference! Now, my question is, in recipes now, when 1 tsp cinnamon is called for is it meant for the cassia/regular cinnamon? That is, what measure of the Ceylon should I be using?

And if so, what kind of measure should I expect to be correct for the Ceylon type ("True") cinnamon? Any help or enlightenment on any of this from you or readers would be welcome. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Here's what I found out for a 2008 article: Nearly 70 percent of Sri Lankan cinnamon is exported to South American countries such as Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and Chile, a fact worth knowing once you realize the cinnamon many cooks use in the United States is quite different.

True cinnamon implies the presence of a false one, and American consumers who buy the spice in the form of three-inch, double-curled sticks and premixed in cinnamon-sugar bears usually are getting just that: cassia, or "bastard cinnamon." According to "The Field Guide to Herbs & Spices" (Quirk, 2006), it is illegal to sell cassia as cinnamon in England and Australia. Now that's a fine example of well-placed standards.

Spice guides list cassia-type cinnamon under several names: Vietnamese, Saigon, Indonesian, Chinese, Korintje, Dutch or Indian. It fails to compare to Ceylon cinnamon in several ways: Its flavor can be bold, bordering on bitter. It is brittle, darker in color and very fragrant, especially when it is ground and volatile oils are released. A tin of powdered cassia-type cinnamon will usher forth a promising whiff each time it is opened, years after it has lost much of its flavor.

Cassia looks almost coarse when placed alongside the longer, more delicate quills of true cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon's rolled sticks have multiple concentric layers and are softer and much easier to crush by hand, with an almost-buff color and a more delicate aroma.

As for what recipes call for, you should get the good stuff (ironically, it's quite cheap at Latin markets) and grind your own.


Stafford, Va.: Any comment from the USDA about Jamie Oliver?

Jane Black: I don't know that they've made an official comment about his efforts. Jamie's work definitely supports what the USDA says it is trying to do, though he wants them to move much faster on issues like milk. (USDA policy is basically that kids MUST drink milk with their lunch; Jamie says that they can get calcium and other nutrients in other foods and drink water if necessary.)


dicing advice: Can you help me learn how to dice round objects (potatoes, e.g.) into fairly evenly-sized cubes? I always end up with a variety of sizes that therefore do not cook evenly.

Bonnie Benwick: The pros start by squaring, or in case of potatoes, rectangling, off the item on the cutting board: lop off top and sides, then it's easier to control the dicing into cubes (cut into sticks, then smaller narrow ones, then cut across into cubes.

In order not to waste anything, you have to spend a little more surgery time with the lopped-off parts. And then you don't want to worry about making those perfect, but just getting them the same in the ballpark of the same size.


slow cookers: I've seen some good-sounding recipes for slow cookers, but do not own one. To modify for stove-top or oven cooking, besides the time, would you reduce the amount of liquid? Anything else I should know? Thanks,

Jane Touzalin: I've never done that, but my guess about the liquid is that if anything you'd want to add the same amount or more, but not less. In a slow-cooker, very little of the liquid tends to evaporate because the lid is always on tightly during cooking. (Some people don't like the cookers for that reason; a sauce never really gets concentrated and flavorful without help, but you can avoid that on the stovetop or in the oven.) Maybe start out by adding the same amount the recipe calls for, but monitor it carefully in case the food starts getting too dry. Good luck!


Lexington Park, MD: For the No Fat chatter:

If you're looking for another protein source, you could try venison and/or bison (both extremely lean).

Vegetable soups can have a very satisfying creamy texture without requiring fat; butternut squash soup is very flavorful, and I am partial to cauliflower soup (boil cauliflower in just enough lightly-salted water to cover, add non-fat milk or yogurt and parsley for flavor). Asparagus soup is indecently rich-tasting when pureed, too.

Best wishes and a speedy recovery!

Bonnie Benwick: Nice chatters.


New Baby: Hi Foodies!

I have some friends who are about to welcome their first child in the next couple of weeks. I'd love to make them a good meal or two to drop off so they don't have to worry about cooking. Do you have any suggestions for meals I could make that they can freeze for later if necessary?

Thank you!

Jane Black: I swear we get this question every other week and when we get it again, I can't remember any of the answers. Lasagnas are always a good idea. I've recently been on a meatloaf kick too.

Chatters? Other ideas?


Arlington, VA: I buy lettuce in bulk from Costco. There are six in a packet. I wrap them individually in paper towels, keep them in plastic bags and store them in the refrigerator. But to my disappointment many rot and cannot be used. How should I store them? I use half a head (?) every day, so buying in bulk helps.

Thank you so much for your chats. I am hooked on these chats.

Bonnie Benwick: Paper towels should be dry, and plastic bags should let a little air in. Your addiction's music to our ears.


For NW DC- Volunteer Opportunities: For the person who asked about volunteer opportunities that involve cooking. The Hope Lodge in Baltimore is a place for cancer patients and their families to live while they are receiving treatments. I'm pretty sure any groups can volunteer to cook meals there. I did it with a group last month and it was very rewarding and they give you full access to their kitchen. The website is here.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks!


Canned Pumpkin : I have a can of pumpkin I never got around to using this fall. Now it's Spring. Wondering if you have any ideas? I am moving so waiting until next year to use it isn't an option. I was thinking a baked good, but I am trying to be healthy!


Bonnie Benwick: I have risotto on the brain today. So naturally I'd suggest adding pumpkin puree to that.

Lucie Snodgrass: Canned pumpkin is great for breakfast muffins. It also makes a terrific base for a curried pumpkin soup. Use some low fat chicken stock, add low fat yogurt, an onion and some salt and pepper, two tablespoons of curry and cook it down a bit, puree it and voila, you have a low fat, delcious soup.


What is going on in the Cookbook World, digital and print? : Bonnie,

DIGITAL: Last week I learned that Culinata put entire 1000 page "How to cook everything" by Mark Bittman on apps for iPhone. Great! (Love Bittman, don't have iPhone, have 14 months to go before my cell contract runs out) What do you think about cookbook apps? How many people who cook can use an iPhone in the kitchen considering that because of its size one has to pick it up every time one needs to glance at the recipe and the hands maybe wet or oily, etc.? If the digital book size is measured in MBs iPhones can't have as many books as, which has catalogued every single recipe in every cookbook I own. Because of the book size in MBs, is Culinata's aim to make everyone to cook from one or two books only? If I were to go digital, I would want my recipes READABLE on huge screen, that I could just glance on when I need to.

PRINT: When a friend of mine complained about various colors and fonts used in printing Lynn Rosetto Kasper's "How to Eat Supper," that she said made it difficult for her to read recipes, I ignored her, after all you can't please all people all the time, moreover, since "Splendid Table " LRK has been permanently residing on my Olympus. Now I am wondering if this is a new a number of books I have seen are not reader friendly.

I am planting a vegetable garden for the first time and I ordered several cookbooks including "Cooking from the Garden" edited by Ruth Lively and Susie Middleton's "Fast Fresh and Green". Sadly, both books are computer generated with what seems to be minimum of effort on publisher's side. (I don't expect trouble with recipes) In case of ($29.95 no pictures) "Cooking from the Garden" the fonts used are so small, I would need a magnifying glass. Both books use such pale print (I don't know the appropriateprefessional term) that I need extra light to see them. (No, it is not me, as with my brand new glasses I have 20/20)

Another disappointment is Mario Batali's "Molto Gusto." I love the pages with pictures of identifying cheeses, meat antipasti and various ready made condiments, I have not tried the recipes, as I received the book only yesterday, yet I am appalled at the book's appearance : computer generated and kind of frowsy. The first recipe I read instructed to saute in a dry pan. Have you ever heard of sauteing in a wet pan?

Bonnie Benwick: Lots of issues here and we're getting near the end of the chat. I've been testing Bittman's app and some others. Celeb chefs are really cranking on those now, to tie in/extend the life of their cookbooks in print. It's nice to have the books with you in some form so you can access as you grocery shop, tho, right?

As for the fonts, etc., I can think of many cookbooks hoisted by their own graphics designers. Sometimes color's added when there aren't photographs. But my middle-aged eyes and others don't appreciate the effort!

Just getting to Batali now; surprised by your initial findings. Must be a reason.


for new parents: I received a frozen tray of sweet potato enchiladas after my daughter was born and it was a nice change from all the lentil soup we were given (not that I wasn't grateful.)

Jane Black: Super idea. Thanks.


sardines, broccoli, pasta: steam broccoli, add chopped sardines, chopped parsley, pinch of red pepper flakes, oil, thin with some pasta water, drizzle with olive oil, maybe sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve over pasta.

Jane Black: OK. Same recipe minus breadcrumbs with broccoli. Please send points to this reader.


Alexandria, VA: I am craving real scotch eggs. My mother used to make them but can't remember how anymore and the only place I found them (Fireflies), they were only so-so. Any suggestions for a good place to pick up some or a recipe that doesn't call for too much frying? Thank you!

Bonnie Benwick: Here's a recipe, and we're checking on the whereabouts of takeout....

Jane Black: Commonwealth in Columbia Heights has them on the menu and they are available for takeout. $7 per order.


Ghee: Hi Food writers,

My brother bought a jar of ghee "clarified butter" at a market, because it looked exotic and he wanted to make Indian food, but never used it. What do you all use it for? Any quick (hour or less) dishes I could make with it?

Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: It's basically clarified butter, so it has many uses: saute, make sauces....


Apples Apples everywhere!: I recently came into a large supply of Empire apples. While they're tasty, what do you suggest I do with say 80 of them? My husband and I each eat one a day, I've added it to my oatmeal in the morning, and have never attempted to bake a pie, let alone an apple pie. I don't want them to go bad. Thanks

Lucie Snodgrass: My goodness, the list of things to do with apples is truly endless. I make applesauce and can it or freeze it, which uses up a lot of the apples, while allowing for a long shelf life. To make applesauce, peel, core and quarter 8 cups of the apples. Put them in a large pot with 1 cup of water and 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon and as much or as little sugar as you'd like. Cook it down until the apples are soft, adding more liquid if you need. If you have a food mill, run the applesauce through it, although I don't always do that, either. I like mine chunky and if you let the apples cook for 45 minutes, they'll make a nice sauce. After it cools, freeze it in plastic containers, if you like, and you'll have it for months.


Washington, DC: Oh wow guys I am so happy you have a recipe for beet soup in today's Food Section. Beets and also hibiscus tea help to lower blood pressure - beets even more so than the tea. I am fighting to lower mine and this recipe comes in handy. I will never be able to eat the chicken salad recipe with over 1000 mg. of salt. While I do not eat processed foods I love making stir fries but have let them go because of the salt content because they all have soy sauce in them. Sweet and Savory Beet Soup With Orange Juice and Yogurt

Lucie Snodgrass: I'm so glad that you liked the recipe. Use low sodium broth to keep the salt in check, but it really is quick and scrumptious.


Washington, DC: Good afternoon! Dinner tonight will be something with pasta and chicken breasts. I could go the mac n cheese route, although I was thinking maybe something with lemons would be interesting. Any ideas? By the way, your chat isn't listed on the Live Q&A schedule today (the one you can choose from the pulldown on the front webpage). We usually only list 3 or 4 chats on the discussions section front because of how the page is structured. You can always click on the "view full schedule" link.

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe there's a little lesson in this today for our homepage folks. Thanks for hanging in....


Salad Toppings: I've been eating salads for about five years. Nearly every day for lunch. Toppings have usually included olives, cheese and onions. Lettuce type varies but is usually romaine, or green- or red-leaf. Dressing is often homemade, although sometimes store bought.

I simply have no passion for salads any more. I still eat them because my body seems to tolerate them better than other lunch options. But I could use some help. I try to keep the salads low in carbs, but more importantly, all natural - no bacon bits, etc.

What key ingredients would liven up my salads? Eggs sometimes help. Sprouts never have done it for me, sorry. Tomatoes, of course, usually of the grape or cherry variety. But beyond that?

Jane Black: I'm a big fan of the shrimp/chicken plus feta, grapes and sliced almonds. I also have added roasted carrots and/or roasted peppers with goat cheese and walnuts. The key, I think, is to do something with crunch, some protein and vegetables. Actually, I did a story on good meal salads a while back. There are some great recipes there too.


Edmonton Canada: Paper name is The Edmonton Journal.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks much.


Soft food for Washington, DDS: Grits! Cook them a bit longer than the directions call for, and with a smidgen more water. Then flavor with cheese -or- cook in a beaten egg. Tasty, and very reminiscent of polenta.

Or try congee, the rice soup, with a variety of flavors. I'm sure a search will turn up some recipes.

Bonnie Benwick: Congee's a great idea.


meat: Upon removing steaks and lamb chops from their packaging, my mother always scrapes them lightly with a knife and sure enough a little gunk comes off. I asked her why she does it and she had some weird comment about it being the equivalent of washing produce. Have you ever heard of this? I find myself doing it too now in my own house, but can't quite figure out why and if it's worth it. Just wondering if you have heard that this is something I should keep doing, or if it makes no difference? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Might be a little fat congealed to the surface? Where does the meat come from?


Columbia, MD: Am I the only one that thinks that if Jamie is going to operate a Food Revolution in the US, he needs to open a restaurant here as well? DC seems like a good place for it. ;-)

PS - I came into the Food Rev loving Jamie but expecting the show to be overbearing. I thought it was pretty good overall.

Jane Black: I actually liked it too. (Not that you couldn't tell that.) I'm not much of a fan of reality TV -- too gimmicky for my taste. But I thought they did a good job making what are complicated (and often boring) situations compelling.

As for a restaurant? Wouldn't that be fun? I'm not sure he needs a restaurant but he does need to stick with us. And god knows he has his hands full over in England. His next show on British TV is slated to start in December. It's called Dream School, a show where "experts" take over different classrooms. So he'd be in home ec, some rocket scientist would teach physics, etc.


Alexandria, Va.: Because of time constraints, I tend to make those boxed pasta- or rice-based side dishes with dinner a couple times a week. They're easy and fairly tasty, but I'd like to cut back on my use of prepared and processed foods. Any suggestions for rice or pasta side-dish recipes?

Jane Black: Happy to hear you are taking some initiative. And the good news is that making rice or pasta from scratch is honestly no harder than making it from a box. What is the box adding? Spices? (It's not meat or vegetables, right?)

I think basic rice with herbs is a great side dish (2 parts water, 1 part rice, dash of salt, bring to a boil and simmer. Add herbs at the end.) But you can also toss through some ground spices to go with whatever you are serving: ginger and coriander for an Indian menu; ginger and scallions for an Asian meal. On pasta, my go-to side is orzo. It cooks quickly, then I toss it with whatever I have in the fridge. I like to add feta, tomatoes and herbs or lemon, shrimp and basil.


Boston, MA: I like asparagus, but often find the ends woody. Is there any way I can prepare those parts to make them less woody? thanks

Lucie Snodgrass: The key to non-woody asparagus lies in several factors: one, picking them when they're young, cooking them quickly after picking, and three, since most people don't get to do that, the proper storage. To keep them as tender as possible, either store your asparagus in a wet towel or stand them up in a glass of water and keep them in the fridge. You'll almost always have to snap the ends of the asparagus before you cook them, unless you get them fresh from your backyard or first thing in the morning at a farmers market.

Lucie Snodgrass: Whoops. Missed that you were trying to make the woody ends less woody. In truth, it's a bit like trying to soften bark. You can cook it and cook it, but you're not going to make it that much more palatable. Better to just dispose of the woody end.


Washington, DC: I have a comment about imported produce...lately I've been noticing that my grocery store (a Harris Teeter in Adams Morgan) is selling almost exclusively imported produce from South America: tomatoes from Mexico, asparagus from Peru, fruit from Chile, and on and on. I realize that this is probably a factor of the season, but aren't there safety concerns? I'm not sure that I trust farmers overseas (especially in developing countries) to follow pesticide regulations ...and of course there's the sustainability concern of importing produce form such a long distance.

The Peruvian asparagus was especially annoying to me - in mid-April wouldn't there be asparagus available from the Southeast US? My guess is the Peruvian product is cheaper even considering the distance traveled.

Jane Black: A lot does have to do with the time of year but, yep, you're right, it is cheaper in a lot of cases for stores to import from far away. Two pieces of advice: Shop at farmers markets or talk to the store manager about your concerns and ask if they can stock more local produce. They need to know their customers care or there's no incentive for them to bring it in.


Rhubarb: I remember my grandmother making a delicious rhubarb compote every spring in Ireland and serving it over delicious vanilla ice cream (the only flavor of ice cream to be had in the country!) - it is one of my first and favorite food memories. Oddly, I have never cooked rhubarb, but am ready to try! I would love to make some sort of compote that I could (A) make in large quantities and freeze and (B) maybe serve with my oatmeal??? (A little healthier than ice cream) Any suggestions?

Jane Black: Rhubarb compote is amazing and it is fine to make it big batches and serve with oatmeal. Just chop it up. Add sugar. And any other flavors. (I like chopped ginger too.) And cook until the the rhubarb is tender but not mushy. The one trick with rhubarb is that it loses its color and turns a kind of brownish color. Some cooks cheat and use a drop of red food coloring. But I hear from good authority, you can also use a pinch of a crushed vitamin C tablet.


White Bean Dip: I plan to make some soon using garlic, rosemary, olive oil and S&P. Most recipes I see call for some lemon juice. Do I really need it? I'm not a lemon-hater. Just wondering if it would affect the rosemary flavor. Thanks!

Jane Black: It just adds a little acidity and brightens the flavor of the dip. You see this a lot in recipes. At the end of making a pan sauce, you add a little vinegar, for example. Just helps to create balance.


Arlington, VA: For the Washington DDS. What about lentil (dal)cooked the Indian way? It is nutritious too.

Jane Black: Super idea. Other pureed soups are a good idea too. I went through a carrot with coconut milk phase last year. Yum.


Dogfish Head beer Dinner: A number of up restaurants have been doing Dogfish Head beer Dinners lately. Some of them are quite expensive, are they worth it? Please comment.

Greg Kitsock: With Dogfish Head, I would say, as a rule, they are worth it. Dogfish Head does a wide variety of uncategorical beers utilizing unusual (and sometimes expensive) ingredients. They always seem to be turning out something new and experimental.

But I do share your concern about the cost of some of these events. Some beer dinners have reached (or exceeded) the $100 mark, and I would like to see some more affordable events as well.


Bonnie Benwick: Well, we've absorbed all the broth and are tender to the bite, so you know what that means....Sorry for difficulties finding our chat link today. The Lexington Park chatter will receive Lucie Snodgrass's "Dishing Up Maryland" and the Arlington chatter who followed up this week about lemon curd wins "The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook."

Winners, remember to send your mailing info to

Next week, we've got recipe-testing smackdown and Real Entertaining on a diet for you, so stay tuned. Thanks to Lucie and Greg for joining us. Happy cooking!


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