Free Range on Food: Tasti-Lee tomatoes, high tea menu, birthday (un)cakes, whole wheat baking, smoker suggestions, clotted cream, Beard Award kudos, pear complements, more

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; 1:00 PM

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

A transcript of this week's chat follows.

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

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

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Bonnie Benwick: It's a beautiful day in our neighborhood, and I wouldn't blame you for being out and about. But then you wouldn't be able to chat with Barry Estabrook, who wrote the Tasti-Lee story today, and Sam Fromartz, ace whole-grain baker and Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, who gave us a zero-fat dessert. So come on in and ask, ask, ask. We're ready (except for Editor Joe, who's away).

The two best questions/comments will receive a copy of either Arthur Allen's "Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato" (see the Q&A online) and Grace Young's new "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge," source of today's Dinner in Minutes recipe. Winners will be announced at the end of the chat, where we will implore them to send their mailing info to food@washpost.com.

And thanks for all your kind wishes and e-mails re: our Beard win again this year for best newspaper section. Readers provide the kind of feedback each week that spurs us ever onward. If we were onstage, we'd be doing that clapping thing right back atcha. Alrighty, let's get to it....

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Tasti-Lee!: Any idea of when this tomato will be in our areas Whole Foods? If not soon, the words "weekend shopping trip" will take on a whole new meaning, probably involving a suitcase. An amazing amount of tomato info today. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: The next best thing: Does Jay Scott hold the future of decent store-bought tomatoes in his hands?

Barry Estabrook: Sorry, as it stands, Tasti-Lees are only available at 16 Whole Foods Market stores in Florida, and the company is mum on whether it will begin selling them in other locations.

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High Tea Ingredient HELP: I need a lot of clotted cream for a Mother's Day high tea this Saturday (for 50 people). The one store I knew about closed. Can you help me find a store/gift shop that sells clotted cream? I'm in the College Park area. Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: I'm pretty sure Balducci's and Whole Foods Markets carry it, but in teeny, expensive containers. Maybe you could cut it with creme fraiche, or just use that instead? It could suffice, unless you're catering at the British Embassy.

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Fort Wayne, Ind.: With beef prices escalating, what tenderizing techniques or products do you suggest to make round cuts of meat easier to chew? Do you take the eye of round and run it through a tenderizer? Thanks

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I have a sure fire method for making eye round edible. I roast it in the oven or over indirect heat on the grill. I let it cool, refrigerate it and then thinly slice the beef. It's a nice done-ahead item, perfect for hot nights and the thinly sliced meat isn't the least bit chewy.

For extra flavor, use a spice rub (your favorite or a combo of chili powder, cumin, black pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar) and grill. Adding smoke chips to the fire makes it even better.

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Brookland, DC: I'm pretty sure you printed a recipe in the past few (weeks or months) that was for potatos in a green sauce, like a vinagrette. I've searched the archives and can't find it. Any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: Was it Potatoes With Greens and Dill Cream Sauce?

Bonnie Benwick: Our host with most-est.

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DC : Interesting story about baking with whole grains! I have to admit, all my attempts at using whole wheat flour in baked goods have been met with resounding rejection. Too heavy, too wheat-y, too dry, etc. etc. But I'm willing to try again. Would white whole wheat flour work in your recipes calling for regular whole wheat?

Sam Fromartz: Good question. White whole wheat is white because it's from a different strain of wheat (typical whole wheat is from red wheat, so it has the darker tannins). Given that white whole wheat tends to be more finely milled than whole wheat flour, it might affect hydration (the amount of liquid). But I would give it a try. I've been baking with white whole wheat lately and not sure how I feel about it -- it doesn't have the flavor of whole wheat and doesn't perform exactly like white flour, so it's a half-way substitute in both cases.

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"whole" foods: In my commitment to eat less processed foods, I recently bought a bread machine. Though I consider my self a decent cook, this is a completely new adventure for me.

So far I've only made basic bread. I would like to start making healthier breads and using whole grains. Am I confusing my label reading with my baking? I know when buying bread whole wheat doesn't mean whole grain. Is that the same in buying flour? What kind of flour do I want to get something healthy and nutritious?

Thanks!

Sam Fromartz: Bread machines are a good place to start, but by all means don't end there. Bread is not hard to make with your hands. Now that I've finished that rant, let's get onto the question.

Whole grains consist of the "whole grain" -- ie, the bran, endosperm and germ. But standards differ when it comes to labeling a product as whole grain. To carry a "whole grain" claim, at least 51% of the food must be whole grain, based on FDA rules. See: http://wholegrainscouncil.com/whole-grains-101/existing-standards-for-whole-grains

But when you are buying an ingredient, like whole wheat four, you are getting the whole grain. For baking, you might start off using 25% of your flour as whole wheat, then move up. But as you do so, the more whole grain flour you use, the more water you will need, since whole grains absorb more water than white flour. I would recommend baking books by peter reinhart or king arthur's whole grain baking or look for whole grain recipes specifically for a bread machine. The whole grain council has some links here: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/breads.

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Birthday "Cake": A good friend of mine is a pescitarian ( will eat eggs sparingly as ingredients). She has also recently been told by a doctor to not eat wheat or dairy due to her medical condition. Her birthday is Saturday. I know she can not eat normal birthday cake. I was thinking of a Pavlova but that is too much egg based. I need help oh food gurus. What birthday cake like dessert can I bring her to celabrate her birthday ??

Jane Black: Flourless chocolate cake? It's got dark chocolate, a touch of flour (you could sub in rice flour) and some eggs. I assume the doctor didn't prohibit her from eggs, even though some might say that is dairy. (On an aside, I've never understood why eggs were dairy.)
Another way forward is to make an oil-based nut cakes or an olive-oil polenta cake. We found a couple recipes in a book called "The Wheat Free Cook" that look pretty good. Here's one:

Four Ingredient Chocolate Walnut Cake
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups walnuts
4 tablespoons unsweetned natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
9 tablespoons Eggbeaters or liquid egg substitute
1 cup sugar
confectioners sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with vegetable oil and line the base with a circle of parchment paper.

Combine the walnuts and cocoa powder in a food processor. Pulse on and off to form a mealy consistency, stopping when the mixture starts to climb the sides of the bowl and threatens to become a paste.

Using an electric mixer, beat the Eggbeaters for 30 seconds, then slowly add the sugar. Beatuntil the mixture triples and readies the ribbon stage, about 3 minutes. (Eggbeaters thicken more quickly than whole eggs.) Fold in the walnut mixture in three batches, spooning it around the edge of the bowl. (This helps to avoid deflating the batter.)

Transfer the batter to the pan and smooth the top. Bake until the cake resists a light finger pressure and shrinks away slightly from the sides of the pan, about 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overbake, as this will make the cake dry. Let stand for 10 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack. The cake is meant to be quite low. Peel off the paper and turn the cake right side up and let cool on the rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar if using and transfer to a flat platter.

Bonnie Benwick: Chatters, I bet you've got other suggestions....

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Del Ray, VA: Supposedly frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh veggies, people tell me. So I bought a bag of frozen green beans and steamed them similar to steaming fresh green beans. They came out limp and chewy.

Never again, but now I'm stuck with the open bag. Is there any way to make frozen green beans more crisp or palatable?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I like some frozen vegetables but green beans aren't on the list. Add them to a soup-you won't really notice the difference or at least it won't be notable. Minestrone comes to mind but any vegetable soup would be fine.

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whole wheat: I was really glad to see today's whole grain baking article give props to the earlier (and terrific) King Arthur whole grain baking book, as well as Peter Reinhart. One of the most underappreciated whole wheat bread books is by Beatrice Ojakangas - forget the title. Anyway, if you like whole grain baking, look it up - it isn't just bread.

Sam Fromartz: Thanks for the tip. I'm not familiar with it so will take a look.

Bonnie Benwick: "Great Whole Grain Breads," maybe? She did such a good cookbook on casseroles recently, too.

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Richmond, VA: It's Teacher Appreciation week and long story short it has been suggested to bring in a chocolate item on Friday. Is there something my daughter and I could make for her teacher that is individual-sized, portable, and won't perish if she doesn't eat it right away? I'll be bringing it to the school, so it doesn't have to survive a child's backpack.

Thanks for any suggestions!

Sam Fromartz: I highly recommend the whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies recipe that was published today.

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Smoker Suggestions Please: I'd like to surprise my husband with a smoker for his birthday and I'm at a loss of what brand/which kind to get. Here's my dilemma, a friend of his recommended an electric one, which seems easy enough, especially because on our balcony has an outlet, however we're "technically" forbidden from our HOA to use such things on our balcony. I wouldn't care so much except that smoked meat takes hours to cook. Other than that, he'd have to run an extension cord from the house outside. A charcoal smoker seems like the next best option, but a lot of work and eqiupment to store for our townhouse. Thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: There's no hiding a smoker. The smell will give you away. So unless you want the HOA coming after you, maybe a different gift idea would be best.

Bonnie Benwick: Charcoal smokers can be rather tall, thin cabinets, so storage needn't be a hardship. Have you tried stovetop smokers? You can do fish, vegetables and those don't take hours.

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Washington, DC: After reading about how to do it, I decided to finally give making gnocchi a try, which doesn't sound as complicated as I thought it would be. I just picked up a new potato ricer and rolling mat. Any suggestions that you think are a must for making gnocchi, including any sauce ideas?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I know it's dated, but I love the combination of gnocchi and pesto. Something about the combination of the fresh herbs and the potato.

As for making gnocchi, avoid humid days (not easy in our summer climate)or you'll end up using too much flour on the board and the gnocchi will get leaden.

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Help! : I made salsa for Cinco de Mayo last night and just my luck the jalapeno I used is super HOT is there anyway to tone it down? I want it to taste like salsa not mouth burning tomato concoction. Ingredients used in case that matters cilantro, sweet onion, 1 jalapeno, stewed tomatoes, & diced tomatoes, salt, sugar, & cumin....

Bonnie Benwick: Happy CdM. Mexican food expert Pati Jinich says make a separate batch without any jalapeno, then combine the hot salsa with the mild. She's brill. In future, you might either want to taste before you add them, or add in increments, tasting as you go.

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Arlington, VA: Why are ramps suddenly so popular? I had never heard of them until this year, and neither had my father who has been into cooking for a really long time.

Bonnie Benwick: We tend to hear about them when they're around at this time of year, which is all too brief. They are mostly grown wild. They last longer when you pickle them.

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Whole wheat bread: I enjoyed today's article on using whole grains. We only eat whole wheat products at my house, but I'd like to try making some of my own whole wheat breads, pizza doughs, and pastas. I'm having trouble searching for good whole wheat bread and pizza dough recipes, though. Most tend to do a 1/2 white and 1/2 wheat mixture, or compensate by adding mashed potato flakes or shortening. If my goal is to have a nutritious and natural food product, I really don't want to add these ingredients. Can you suggest some recipes?

Sam Fromartz: Peter Reinhart has pizza and bread recipes in his "Whole Grain Breads" -- I made his 100% whole wheat sandwich bread and it was light as a feather (due to egg, milk and a dash of vegetable oil). The King Arthur book also has dozens of recipes and may have some at its web site. Kim Boyce's book does have an oatmeal bread (though I have not tried it). Pizza is trickier but can be done -- the main issue is it can be dense due to the bran. That's why these recipes add oil: it coats the bran to prevent it from cutting the gluten strands and thus adds loft and softness to the product.

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Tasti-Lee: First off, lovely that you named the tomato for your mother-in-law!

Second, it was nice reading about there being a place for genetically modified foods. I get the local thing-- I belong to a CSA and love the farmers' markets but at the same time, there are huge hunger issues all over the world and modern science really could help make a crop that is easy and cheap to grow large quantities of. I know that wasn't the goal of this article, but it got me thinking regardless.

Barry Estabrook: Just to clarify--Tasti-Lee is NOT genetically modified. It is a hybrid created the old-fashioned way by painstaking crossbreeding.

Jay Scott, the breeder of Tasti-Lee, had a great relationship with his mother-in-law. Sadly, she did not live to see her namesake go to market. But when she was hospitalized he brought a fruit to her and said he was going to name it after her.

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(not-so) banana bread: The banana bread piece in your blog inspires me to ask: can the bananas in such recipes be replaced with something like a thick applesauce, or pureed peaches, or other fruit? I find bananas revolting... but am not sure what the 1-to-1 subs would be for texture and moisture.

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Chat Leftovers: Banana bread with appeal

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Look it isn't banana bread without the banana. There are many, many excellent recipes for applesauce loaves and though I'm intrigued by the pureed peach idea, I don't think this is the way to test it. In fact, I'm sure it doesn't have the same properties of mashed bananas.

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Bonnie Benwick: Spirits columnist Jason Wilson's in the house.

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HIGH TEA: It sounds like the poster who is having a "High Tea" party for 50 is actually having "Tea Party" of "Afternoon Tea" with elegant foods requiring clotted cream. (By the way, she/he can make clotted cream themselves)

In England High tea was a meal working class people had after a day of work and it usually consisted of stews and other heavy and rather unglamorous meat dishes.

Since it is their party they can call it anything they want, but if they are caring enough to look for clotted cream they might want to know the difference. PS: there is a British grocery store in Arlington, but I don't remember the name

Bonnie Benwick: Classic Cigars and British Goodies, in Clarendon. Yeah, we (speaking for Yanks) don't always get the High Tea references straight.

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Pear's "other half": Apples go beautifully w/cinnamon and lemon, cherries are delicious w/almonds, blueberries w/cinnamon and lime/lemon, etc.

What is the perfect compliment for pears? I'd like to make a pear tart but I find the recipes rather bland. I don't think pears & almonds = perfection. The fruits above can stand against more assertive flavors, but I'm afraid of overwhelming the delicate flavor of the pears. Am I missing something? Perhaps something outside the box like pink peppercorns or something?

Bonnie Benwick: Hazelnuts. It's magic.

Jane Black: It's funny. Before I finished reading your question, I thought: Almonds! I love almonds with pears, especially a delicate frangipane. But if almonds are out, how about ginger? You could make a ginger caramel and make a peart tatin or use crystalized ginger in a more traditional tart.

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For Jason: Now that it's sangria season, what's your best recipe, best/cheap wines to use and how long can it be stored?

Jason Wilson: This one, the Tuscan Sangria, is my absolute favorite. Also, stay tuned for some cool punches in next week's column.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Food staff,

I'm bringing cookies to a large event and could use some recipe suggestions. I've got the chocolate lovers covered, but I'm stumped for nonchocolate ideas. I have a good recipe for molasses and spice cookies, but those seem a little heavy for this summer weather.

I was thinking of something citrusy--any thoughts for something with lime? I've already got a bar cookie, so I don't want to do lemon or lime bars. I'd appreciate any recipe ideas you might have. Thanks!

Jane Black: I have to say that both of the sugar cookie recipes that Bonnie tested for my article about the Food 52-Cook's Illustrated Smackdown were very good. The Food 52 version were buttery and light; the Cook's version chewy with a hint of spice but definitely not too heavy for summer. (You can also read Bonnie's post about testing the recipes on our blog.)

If you test both, you can join in the voting starting today on Slate!

Bonnie Benwick: I voted today!

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Clotted Cream: The Joy of Baking suggests mixing marscapone cheese with whipped cream, vanilla extract and sugar as a substitute for clotted cream.

Bonnie Benwick: Interesting. I think the whipped cream would weep. Maybe use the kind with stabilizers; it's noted on the carton.

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Mother's Day chicken roast: I'm making a late lunch/early dinner for my Mother in law on Sunday. There will be 7 light-medium eaters in attendance. I'd like to roast a chicken - but I think 2 chickens will be necessary (1 may be cutting it close). I have a large All Clad roasting pan with a V rack - do you think I could fit two 5-6 pound chickens in the pan? Would it adversely affect even cooking and crisping? Do you think I need 2 chickens?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Absolutely roast two chickens. First of all, you don't want to be caught short. Second, roast chicken is the best leftover ever.

I don't know how big your pan is, but bag the rack and just put the chickens directly in the pan and you'll probably be fine. They should not be smashed together but they can sit side by side. Look for smaller chickens at the store. Four pounds is ideal. They'll not only fit but they cook evenly and fast (45 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees).

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Washington DC: Congratulations on the James Beard Award!

Random question...how would someone go about writing a cookbook? Not the actual writing or pictures persay, but getting the book to publishers, etc. Do you want to have a professional copy made? Recipes and pics ready to go? Any advice?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: First, you need a lot of luck. Cookbook publishers are swarming around known personalities. Ten years ago they were chefs; today, the hot authors are TV personalities. It's very difficult to get an agent or publisher interested in anyone else.

If you're not discouraged....the "traditional" method is to write a proposal outlining what the cookbook will be about. Detail chapter titles, include samples or even complete list of recipe titles. You'll also need a sample chapter or chapter excerpt. Next, you send this stuff to a book agent--you can find them online--who handles cookbooks or to publishers directly. You probably won't hear back.

Another method is to self-publish a simple cookbook and put it up for sale on a site such as Amazon. There are companies who print self-published books, printing copies only as they are ordered. The books are simple-looking, but it's a great way to raise your profile enough to interest a publisher.

The best way is to become a personality yourself by getting out there. Rachael Ray started by doing one segment on her local news broadcast.

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Washington, DC: Is Joe not chatting today because he is still in NYC celebrating the Food Section's win? Perhaps he is strolling in front of the NY Times building with the award.

Food Section! Food Section! Food Section!

Jane Black: Joe is actually not here because he's on book leave for the month of May. He's finishing up what will inevitably be his fabulous cookbook with cooking for one recipes. That said, he wasn't shy about his medal the other night. He wore it for most of the chef's night out after party. Well, except for the 15 minutes when he let me wear it!
:)

Bonnie Benwick: And I was here, cleaning the soot out of the fireplace.:) (Actually, judging Cochon 555.)

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Whole Grains in Bread Machine: I would recommend George Burnett's "Breadman's Healthy Bread Book." For most recipes, he provides a "transitional" recipe that is not 100% whole grain, and also a whole grain version. One caveat - it has some odd ingredients: powdered eggs (found at King Arthur), liquid lecithin (found granules at the health food store), dried whey (can't find that anywhere so used powdered milk), etc.

Having learned the hard way, I would suggest to anyone making the leap to whole grain baking, to use restraint for the more exotic flours (barley, spelt, amarinth, etc.). Buy them from bulk bins and in small quantities only. Some recipes only call for 1/4 - 1/2 cup of these flours.

Sam Fromartz: I agree except for spelt. I find it easier to work with than whole wheat flour and recommend it as a place to start baking with whole grains.

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Sterling: Non wheat birthday cake.

The cake is such an icon- but it seems the appearance is really more important than what it's made of. You can have a birthday "cake" that's made of icecream, gelato, or sherbet. Or a Korean steamed rice cake that can be really cute and decorated even in pink roses (if the celebrant is into asian stuff)or a really cute idea I saw once, wasn't cake at all, it was stacked and assembled fruit in the shape of a cake. Whatever it is you can stick some candles on it and I'm sure the recipient would be thrilled.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I'm for the sorbet cake. Buy three different flavors and be sure you're also choosing three distinct colors. Soften one of the flavors. Line a springform pan with a parchment or wax paper circle. Spread the softened sorbet out in an even layer in the pan. Freeze. Soften another flavor and spread on the original layer. Freeze. Repeat with the last layer. Freeze. when you're ready to unmold, wrap a warm wet towel around the springform pan for a minute or two. Remove the outer ring. Flip cake on to shallow round serving plate and remove the paper round. Decorate as desired with sliced fruit. Happy Birthday!

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Ojakangas: Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand. I love her take on things. She's also got a good Scandinavian baking book.

She responds to queries, too - there are a few production errors in the book, obvious to experienced bakers but less so to others.

Bonnie Benwick: Good to know. When Authors Respond...good name for a successful cookbook panel.

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Double chicken stock: My boyfriend and I made a fantastic duck ragu from a Gourmet recipe last night. The recipe called for duck breasts, but we only had legs and thighs on hand so we used those instead. We also used the double stock technique which I first heard about right here in your chat. Thanks for the wonderful tip that made for a great meal last night!

Bonnie Benwick: Duck ragu on a weeknight. Love that.

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Washington, DC: The cocktail recipe sounded great today--particularly the combination of muddled cucumber and lime, which I think would be quite refreshing. Do you think this recipe would be good with gin? Do you have any other suggestions for refreshing drinks that would use cucumber?

Jason Wilson: Yes, I think gin would be an interesting substitute for the shochu. As for other cucumber drinks, I've muddled them in a sort of cucumber margarita from time to time.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend is making us spaghetti tonight with a tomato sauce. I need a protein, and would like it to be a vegetarian one. What do we do? Our shopping options are Trader Joe┬┤s or Yes Market. Thanks.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You can keep it simple and mix canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed) in with the sauce. I'd dice some onions, get them cooking in olive oil until soft, add the chickpeas and finely chopped herbs-even parsley would do. Add the tomato sauce to the mixture. Boom-you've got protein.

Sam Fromartz: Or make the chickpeas as Stephanie directed, then add kale or spinach and put over rice or couscous. Just had this last night.

Bonnie Benwick: Or you could try this recipe: Pasta With Lentils, Sicilian Style. It's my new fave in that pasta w/hearty sauce category, of almost Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagne proportions.

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Cheese Plate: Hi Crew! I'm hosting a greek themed dinner party this weekend and wanted to do a cheese platter as a part of dessert. I'll also have cookies and fruit on the side. I don't know people's preferences so looking for cheeses that please the general population. What would you suggest I serve? Thanks for your advice!

Jane Black: The goal with a cheese plate is to offer a variety of flavors so there will be something for everyone. I think a safe plate would be a soft goat cheese (my fave is still California's Purple Haze, which you can get at Whole Foods), Manchego (a firm sheep's milk), cheddar and a light blue (even blue cheese haters seem to like Bleu d'Auvergne). But if you want to get fancier, I'd vote for you to mix in anything from Grayson Farms (also at Whole Foods), Red Hawk (stinky Cowgirl Creamery cow's milk cheese), or the unctuous goat cheese from Haystack Mountain Farms, which I've definitely seen at Cheesetique in Del Ray (Alexandria).

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Pregnantville, WA: I can't have a regular margarita this year to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but are there any good virgin margarita recipes? Preferably one I can add a shot of tequila to for my husband, but I can also make him his own. I'm trying to stay away from the mixes. Thanks!

Jason Wilson: Virgin margaritas are tough because a margarita is really only lime juice, tequila, and triple sec...so you'd only really be drinking lime juice. I did a column last year on mocktails that you might want to check out for ideas.

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Bonnie Benwick: ...And, Jason had to catch a plane, so your drink q's may be in a holding pattern till next week.

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Fairfax, VA: I want to make mini sandwiches for a tea party. Can you recommend some good recipes/combinations? I always hear about cucumber sandwiches, but what's in there besides cucumber?

Jane Black: White bread, a little cream cheese, thin slices of cucumber.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: For me, cucumber calls for mayo. Or, if you'd like, try white bread, dill butter,cucumber and a thin slice of smoked salmon. Yum!

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I'm so proud of your Beard Award. I have to say, I really think it's because you editors work so heard to make this a two-way dialogue with your readers. You solicit our feedback, keep your ears to the ground for the types of things people are cooking and interested in, show us new things. I really love you guys.

On that note, I just started a sourdough starter on Sunday, purchased the starter from the internet. I've been feeding it twice daily which is costing me more than it costs to take care of my pet. I think it's time to refrigerate so I won't go through 5lbs of flour a week. I'm unclear, though, about the steps needed for when I actually want to use it. Do I need to take it out and let it "reactivate" the day before? How often should I be feeding it while it winters in the fridge?

Sam Fromartz: Before you put it in the frig, make some bread! You've been feeding it so regularly now it will be very active and make a great loaf. You needn't have a lot around. I keep about 1/4 cup of sourdough, pour out half, then feed it with a 1/4 cup flour and about 3 tablespoons of water. Most recipes call for a huge amount of sourdough, but if you double it, then double it again, you will suddenly have that huge amount, so you need only keep a small amount on hand.

I keep mine in the frig up to a week, then feed it twice (at 8-12 hour intervals) before building a larger piece that I'm going to put into a dough. So basically you need to start feeding it a day before you mix the dough. If you're not going to bake, take it out and feed it, let it sit on the counter for 1-2 hours, then put it back in the frig. I have also left sourdough in the frig up to a month and then fed it over the course of a few days so it gets its groove back.

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Pescitarian and cakes: Hmmm...I think the earlier poster was confused. A pescitarian is a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish, not eggs. A vegetarian who occasionally has eggs is an ovo-vegetarian or if eggs and dairy then ovolacto vegetarian.

That aside, I would recommend a sweet cornbread cake for this person's birthday cake. You can get a few good recipes from allrecipes, epicurious or just through Google.

Bonnie Benwick: Labelingo. Cornmeal cake sounds good.

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Warm weather nonchocolate cookies: The fabulous sesame thins from the Post make a great contrast to chocolate and heavy cookies, and people love them.

From several Christmas cookie issues ago. I can't keep them in the house when I make them.

Jane Black: Here's that recipe.

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Arlington, Va S: Wait a minute, did I read that right? Eggs are considered dairy? I saw this mentioned in passing once in an article in the Washington Post (years ago, in an article on vegan wedding cakes?) and thought that it a mistake that had somehow slipped through. Is that a common understanding and I'm just oblivious? (that would not be that unlikely). I just always thought that dairy products had to be made with milk squeezed out of some mammal... :)

Jane Black: Well, that's the thing. It's not. But people think of dairy as milk and eggs. No idea why.

Bonnie Benwick: In our recipe database, we've categorized them as dairy because they're often in a dairy case (and otherwise we would have had to refer to them as staples, which aren't usually refrigerated).

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Boston: It was good to see an article on whole grain baking, but it didn't go into much detail. I've had good success using white whole wheat flour in place of all purpose for breads and some cookies, and I didn't see that mentioned. You may need to reduce a cup of white whole wheat by a tablespoon or 2, but it has worked so well I don't use regular whole wheat anymore. It's a King Arthur product, and I'd like to know if others have had similar experience. Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: A whole new ballgame for whole grains

Sam Fromartz: White whole wheat is a good substitute for all purpose, but I think it misses the flavor and texture of whole wheat. It is white because the plant is a different breed from red wheat, which is made into whole wheat flour. It was rolled out to make whole grains more palatable because some find whole wheat too bitter. That said, I've used it successfully for sandwich bread and will try it on muffins etc. so thanks for the tip.

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Hax-land: What thinkest the foodies re the following letter in Postie Carolyn Hax's column today?

Hi, Carolyn:

Our family is in the midst of planning our daughter's graduation party and would appreciate your advice on the menu. Our graduate is a vegetarian and she does not want to serve any meat, chicken or fish at her party. Our family supports and respects her decision to be a vegetarian. However, no one else invited is a vegetarian (except her best friend), so we wanted to offer a main dish containing chicken or meat along with vegetarian side dishes and desserts.

Is our daughter imposing her values on others and expecting too much? Or am I making a big deal over nothing and should abide by her wishes? This has become a hot topic at the dinner table . . . .

Jane Black: Wow. That's an interesting one. My feeling is that she should be tolerant of other people's habits, the same way you accept hers. But, that said, the party is in her honor. And surely everyone invited will survive one meal without meat, right? So in the final analysis, I'd vote to just skip meat.

Now. What did Carolyn say? I think Carolyn is right about just about everything...

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: As long as she's not a vegan, what's the problem? Beautiful meals can made without meat. I catered a lunch with an Italian Al Fresco theme and the only item we had let at the end was the grilled chicken. People went crazy over the vegetables, the cheeses, the beans and Parmesan toasts.

It's when you start in on the eggs and dairy that you're losing sight of all reason for feeding a large, diverse group. Okay, vegans-have at me.

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Monrovia, MD: Re: clotted cream. My mother, who made & served scones often, used the following recipe for Devonshire Cream: 1 pkg. room-temperature cream cheese 1/2 C. whipping cream (not whipped) Stir together, adding powdered sugar & vanilla to taste. Delish with scones & strawberry jam!

Bonnie Benwick: See how helpful you guys are?

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20009: Term of the day: locular jelly. Thanks for a very intriguing tomato article - keep up the good work!

Barry Estabrook: Thanks! Kinda gross sounding, isn't it?

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Mahogany Short Ribs substitution: So I am finally getting around to making your oh-so-lauded mahogany short ribs for dinner tomorrow night. Unfortunately, I do not have any teriyaki sauce. Any ideas for a substitution or should I run to the store? I do have many other asian ingredients (e.g., soy sauce, mirin, ginger). Thanks and looking forward to trying this recipe, finally.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You can make a faux teriyaki sauce by adding sugar and a little hoisin to soy sauce. You may never buy teriyaki sauce again....

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Picked a peck of pickled pepper: As most know, the seeds and ribs of the peppers are the spicy parts. Generally if you aren't sure how hot a pepper is, you should take out the seeds and ribs, make the recipe, taste, then add seeds and ribs to adjust the spice to taste. I've occasionally forgotten this, but it does help. It's easier with recipes served cold than ones which get cooked together, but you can still do this with the finished cooked product for hot dishes.

Bonnie Benwick: The voice of experience.

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Re: Whole grain breads: I found a great whole wheat bread in Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible. It's the beer bread, which is a lovely, sweet, dark brown, hearth-style bread. The recipe calls for part whole wheat and part regular flour. I find that you can use more whole wheat flour, as long as you make the sponge as directed. Also, St. Rose as we like to call her in our family, recommends an ale, but I have found that the bread is best with a more-complex porter.

Sam Fromartz: Yes, beer breads have quite a long illustrious history. I also make a nice rye bread with fermented cider, or apple cider that's gone off.

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not genetic modification: Oh, sorry. The point, I guess, of moving forward with different kinds of foods and hybridization (as opposed to heirloom tomatoes) with the goal of improving it still stands, I think.

Bonnie Benwick: Right you are.

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Labelingo: LOL! At first I thought that was a fancy word for Italian Cornbread Cake!!

Bonnie Benwick: :)

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Annapolis, MD: My dad's birthday is coming up, and being the chef in the house he has asked me to provide the cake. He has specified he wants carrot cake but he also wants some type of berry side to go with it. Any recipes for a light berry dish that will complement carrot cake?

P.S. Love the food blog! It gets me through my Wednesday.

Jane Black: Congratulations. You've stumped us. I can't think of a berry dish that goes with carrot cake. Besides, maybe some fresh strawberries and raspberries, which don't really go but won't hurt anyone either. Best fruity companion I can think of is a grilled pineapple, especially if you put some pineapple in the cake too. Chatters? What am I missing here?

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steamed artichokes: Do you have a straightforward way to steam artichokes? Maybe I'm not steaming them long enough, but I can't figure out the right way to do it.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: What's not straightforward about steaming? I've opened this question up to my cubicle mates and colleagues are yelling advice here-best I've heard is choose the baby artichokes. So much easier to trim and cook properly.

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stir-fryng veggies: I have had a wonderful caramlized shrimp dish at a Vietnamese restaurant, and I'm wondering if it's possible to do a veggie-only stirfry with a caramlized flavor? Is it the meat that makes it caramalized, or is it possible to caramalize veggies? If so, how? Do you have a step-by-step method?

Bonnie Benwick: Diana's Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp.

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re: banana bread: How could I use your banana bread recipe in the chat leftovers to make muffins or a bundt? Would that temp be the same?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Most quick bread recipes can easily be turned into muffins. Mini-muffins take 18 to 25 minutes. Regular muffins, 30 to 35. Six-cup Bundt pans, 10 to 15 minutes less then for a loaf pan.

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DC: Jason - Is honkaku shochu available at ACE beverage or should I search out the best stuff elsewhere?

Bonnie Benwick: Jason's gone, but he told me Wine Specialist downtown has the largest retail selection in DC. Maybe less so, after today....

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Arlington, VA: I wrote in earlier about the duck ragu. Cooking is the primary form of entertainment in our house, but this is starting to get a little crazy. We regularly eat at 9 or 10 at night, which is okay, except for the fact that I'm starting to get a little fat! How do those Spaniards do it?!?

Jane Black: I am not a Spaniard but I was just in Spain. No doubt they are getting fatter but I think they eat their big meal at lunch and a light dinner late at night.

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WW Plaza Farmers Market: I'm really excited for the Capital Harvest farmers market at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza starting Friday. I'm on a budget, though, and probably can't go as wild as I'd like. What should I expect to see there (mostly prepared foods or fresh veggies) and what should I go for to get the most bang for my buck?

Jane Black: The market was only open two times last year and I didn't make it so I don't know which vendors will be there (or if they will be the same as last year.) I think you are going to just have to go wing it. Undoubtedly right now you'll see asparagus, chard, lettuce, maybe some ramps. And it might just be strawberry season because of the warm weather we've had. But I can't make any promises about availability (or for that matter the prices).

I say embrace the uncertainty. That's one of the joys of farmers market shopping. Look and see what looks good.

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Silver Spring - white whole wheat: I agree about the falling-between-two-stools aspects of white whole wheat.

Best use is to sub a cup of it in my four-cup sourdough batard recipe, and add a little more water. Above 1/4 it drags the taste down.

NB: Trader Joe version seems to taste better than the KA version, but that's based on only a few tests

Sam Fromartz: I have not tried the Trader Joe white whole wheat, mostly because I don't bake with it often.

My usual bread at home has 70% white flour, 30% whole wheat, 10% rye - a typical pain de compagne sourdough loaf. I also make a 70% white 30% rye loaf that's a standard around here.

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Vegetarian Graduation Party: I suspect that this person is tired of being at parties and buffets where she is told to "pick the meat out" or "you can have a salad". Maybe she wants to be able to go through the entire food table and sample everything, just this once. And maybe she wants her family to walk a few steps in her shoes, just this once.

Bonnie Benwick: As Miranda said on SATC, you get a Day (not a week).

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Protein for pasta supper: First there is a lot more protein in the pasta than most people realize, so I take it the question is - what can I serve so my guest doesn't feel like I'm being cheap-it isn't a real meal unless there is meat or something like that- Serve sardines/clams/oysters/octopus etc as appetizers or a plate with the meal. Serve cheese with fruit for dessert. Plenty of protein (which most people eat way too much of anyway and could just shut your kidneys down...)

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Buy expensive cheese, leave in the wrap so people know how much you've spent.....

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100% Whole wheat pizza: That's all we make in our house. It's definitely a little heavier and a little chewier, but we're so used to it that we only notice on the rare days when we're eating restaurant pizza. Go for it.

Sam Fromartz: My feeling about whole grains is that once you get used to them, white flour can taste a bit bland. Though I too love a baguette once in awhile.

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beet novice: Just received some beets by accident through a grocery delivery mistake, what to do with them, I've never cooked with them before. Thanks for the suggestions!

Jane Black: My favorite way to cook beets is to roast them. Put them in foil, skins on, and add a pat of butter and a little brown sugar. Roast in the oven at 400 for about 45 minutes or until they are tender. (You could also do foil packets on the grill.) The skins are easy to slip off once they are done. (Wear gloves to avoid stained fingers.)

From there, the sky is the limit. Cut them into chunks and put them in a salad (with the inevitable goat cheese if you must). Or serve them with grilled fish or chicken.

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Quinoa: Is quinoa a whole grain? Anyway, I bought some on a lark and made one recipe, which I didn't much like (too much cumin and coriander for my taste). Can quinoa be formed into a patty with some eggs and cheese as a binder and then be baked? I'm just trying to think of some different applications for it. Thanks!

Sam Fromartz: Yes, quinoa is a whole grain and quite a healthy protein-packed one too. I usually just boil it in a pot of water for about 10 minutes until it unfurls -- that is, it starts to look like a tiny spiral. Then I drain it, cool it and mix into a salad, with a dressing. I'm sure it can be baked too, as you mentioned. Or made with a binder you mention, coated in flour or breadcrumbs and lightly fried. Mark Bittman has a recipe for this kind of vegetable fritter. See: http://content.markbittman.com/node/26

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Problem with the roast chicken: I'm so glad someone asked about roast chicken, since that's what I was going to make. I had one large bird (about six pounds), and it took about an hour and a half to cook, and the inner drumstick was still red and undercooked. What was I doing wrong? Is it that I used one larger bird instead of two smaller ones (the spice rub recipe I used clearly indicated two birds), or was it that I had the bird on a rack and not in the pan? Help!!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Really, small birds are the answer, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds is ideal. At this size, they cook evenly, quickly and predictably.

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food section fan: Congrats on your Beard award! One question -- why do you think the Beard people awarded such different cookbooks than IACP?

Jane Black: 1) Thanks.
2) Different set of judges? And perhaps a different set of entries? In short, I think what a good cookbook is is pretty subjective. Are you looking for the best recipes? A new, creative concept? The look? All, obviously. But how does an individual judge weigh those factors? With so many cookbooks out there, it's no surprise to me that the awards go to different books.

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Thank you: I am the poster asking for the birthday cake recipes. Thanks so much for helping me out with this. I tend to be a traditionalist in terms of cake and no wheat no dairy few eggs was just killing every recipe. That chocolate walnut one sounds good. Sherbert cake is going to be too hard as I need to bring it between places over a length of time and I am afraid it would melt. But I am so so thankful and thrilled!! You gurus rock!

Jane Black: You are welcome!

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Which came first, the egg or the milk?: Eggs are not dairy...I always thought the confusion came from farms that sold both eggs and dairy, but that's just my take. Here's an article from about.com:

Are Eggs Considered Dairy?

Jane Black: Thanks!

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Charlottesville, VA: Dave McIntyre's column today points out that this new bill before Congress could decimate local wineries. Whose bright idea in the House was it to kow-tow to the Wholesalers' Associations?

washingtonpost.com: Bill in Congress would undo Va. vintner's victory over wine shipping

Jane Black: Here's the answer from Dave:

Keep in mind that the House has not yet kow-towed to anyone on this issue. Rep. Delahunt of Massachusetts introduced it, and he has a few sponsors. There was a hearing on this issue in late March that was scheduled in such haste that even Rep. Mike Thompson had to scramble and get permission to testify against any new measure. The bill was apparently pushed by the beer wholesalers, who don't want large box stores such as Target, WalMart and CostCo striking deals with Anheuser Busch and other breweries.

But yes, local wineries here and elsewhere would be hurt.

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Avid baker: LOVED the story on whole grain baking, but I must know: Can I use the white whole wheat flour in place of the regular whole wheat? I like the King Arthur brand.

Sam Fromartz: Lots of questions on white whole wheat today. My advice: try it and see if it works. But you might have to adjust the hydration, either using less or more liquid than the recipe calls for. Or maybe not. But you will not get the same flavor as regular whole wheat. White whole wheat is more mild and designed to mask the whole grain flavor. My article was all about heightening that flavor.

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Awards and Kudos: Congratulations on winning the James Beard Award second year in a row. Very proud of you! Washington Post indeed does have a totally amazing Food section staff, perhaps the management will add another page to the weekly Food section, no? Start a discussion board, so people who cook could create a WP Food community, No?

Would you Mr. Yonan share with us what the JB ceremony was like? How was the food? Speeches? Jokes? Were Bonnie and Jane in attendance? In addition to the praise what does the prize actually entail ? And another question, Tom Sietsema says he is one of the 17 James Beard awards judges, does that hurt or help washingtonians?? Is this why DC chefs lost to NY chefs?

Jane Black: Thanks for this. And if you love us, we love to hear about it. But feel free to email our top brass and let them know too. :)

As for the Beards, I'm afraid I didn't stay for the chef awards. But basically, it's a long long awards ceremony. (This year, Alton Brown hosted.) And most of the press and chefs sneak out occasionally to drink and eat while it's going on. Then they go out and drink and eat more. You can imagine where it goes from there.

I am determined to go next year (maybe we'll win again!) and will report back.

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What is the perfect compliment for pears: raisins and walnuts

Jane Black: Another pear idea from a chatter.And one more from me: brandy.

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takoma park: how do you cook calamri so they are nice and tender?

Jane Black: Don't overcook them. When they cook too long they get rubbery.

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Graduation party: She's growing up, making steps further into the real world, full of different people. She should learn to be accommodating, here is her first chance. I'm a little surprised you've let her entertain the idea of being queen of the world for so long. ALTHOUGH Queen Elizabeth would be much more gracious to her guests and make sure they're all comfortable and enjoying themselves. The very theme of the party is growth, maturity--let her exhibit some of that. The diploma is worth nothing if she can't learn to be a good citizen of her community.

Jane Black: Ouch. Here's one more opinion on the graduation party question.

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creativity: A--Technique: Needs Improvement: I love making up stir-frys, especially since I can make them quickly adaptable to what is on sale and fresh at the farmers' market. My problem is: I don't know how to control the temperature/oil to keep it low fat, but not stick. Turn the heat up before or after adding oil (I use a mix of olive and cannola)? Should it be medium high? I end up needing to add more oil to keep it from sticking, but I don't want to use much. If I lower the heat, I end up braising, not flash sauteing and the texture is too mushy.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but successful stir-frying requires a great deal of oil. That's how you get the meat not to stick, to brown, etc..

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi there, Maybe you can settle a disagreement between my husband and me. Lately, he's taken on the habit of pre- heating pans when he is cooking. He turns on the stove and lets them sit over a high flame for a few minutes - empty - before using them. I think this makes sense if he was searing something for example, and wanted a super hot pan and a quick sear, or if he is using a grill pan. Otherwise, I don't get it. We often steam frozen broccoli in a pan with a lid and a bit of water - last night he insisted that the pan must be hot before the water goes in. He also told me that he fries things this way - putting oil in a hot, pre-heated pan - which sounds dangerous to me. Am I missing something? Is pre-heating pans necessary for anything other than searing or grilling on a grill pan? Thanks for helping us settle this debate!

Sam Fromartz: Well, not to get in the middle of a family argument, but Chinese cooking often calls for heating a wok before adding the oil. That said, I see no reason to heat a pan before boiling water.

Bonnie Benwick: We'll answer more fully next week. Check back, okay?

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veggie burgers: I'm having a really difficult time getting my 1 year old to eat solids. I have found he likes veggie burgers. They seem like they're rice, veggie and cheese. I would like to make my own. How do you get them to stick together in a patty?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Take it from an old hand, as soon as you sucessfully learn to make homemade veggie burgers that taste just like the packaged ones, your child will stop eating them.

If you do make an attempt, it won't taste the same anyway. Homemade stuff never does (often it tastes better). Try other kinds of veggie burgers-like falafel patties (go light on the garlic for a baby). You might have success that way.

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Bonnie Benwick: So many good q's today, we've got a lot for Chat Leftover expert Jane Touzalin to peruse for next week. Thanks to Barry Estabrook, Sam Fromartz and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick for joining us.

Today's cookbook winners: A copy of "Ripe" goes to the "locular jelly" chatter, and "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge" goes to the chatter who mentioned Beatrice Ojakangas's books. Remember to send your mailing info to food@washpost.com.

Next week, we've got grilling and alfresco dining, cover to cover. C'mon back!

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