Free Range on Food: Grilling season, punch, Stroopwafels, grilling corn, summer soups, fish spatulas, halloumi cheese, milk, more

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, May 12, 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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Bonnie Benwick: Well, this is some grilling weather we're having! We're optimistic about warm weekends ahead so you can take today's recipes for a test drive. By the looks of early chat questions so far, you're keen to avoid chicken abuse a la David Hagedorn's Real Entertaining column today and you want to know more about alfresco sipping from Jason Wilson. We've got Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, Jason and David in the house, and we'll be giving away several of the grilling cookbooks reviewed today. We'll pick a few winning chat questions and let you know at the end of the session. The ignition switch is on....


Washington, DC: Terrific (and timely!) articles on grilling. Last weekend, we grilled asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes, and brussel sprouts.

I microwaved the potatoes and brussel sprouts before getting them to the grill to make sure they'd be cooked through. Next time we'll try the grill-saute method.

Bonnie Benwick: Excellent. I am now a grill-saute believer.


Punch!: Loved the punch article! I look forward to trying those recipes, but am really looking for a punch that has a basil or mint component. Any recommendations?

Jason Wilson: Demanding, aren't we? (kidding) The Hans Punch Up (from Adam Bernbach Proof) which I mentioned does call for a mint sprig in each glass, but I'm guessing you're looking for something even more minty and/or basil-y. The thing is when you're using something like mint or basil, you want to muddle the fresh leaves as you build the drink and consume immediately -- so punches are tough.

Maybe you could make a big batch of this

Ginger Peach Julep

I ran last year?

As for basil, I don't have any punches, but this

Sweet Basil

cocktail (from Todd Thrasher at PX) features the herb quite prominently.


Milk question: Hi, after your recent "milk" column, I'm hoping you can help me with a dilemna.

I grew up on a dairy farm...we drank barely (or not at all, my dad now tells me) pasteurized milk for those years. Our cows were pasture raised before that became the "in" thing! So you can see how I believe in drinking organic milk.

Right now, I buy that organic milk from Wegman's (I don't live in MD anymore, so can't get Trickling Springs milk, darn). Wegman's O milk is not local and is ultra-paseurized. BUT, there is a local dairy where I live...family farm for generations...milk is not ultra-pasteurized (they have their own processing facility), is Rgbh(?)-free, but is not organic. You can see the cows out in the pasture. (Plus, being local, it's much less inexpensive.) Any thoughts?

Jane Black: Here's the answer you are not looking for: it depends. A lot of small independent dairies don't get organic certification because, they say, it's too expensive and requires reams of paperwork. But they also say they are all-but meeting the standards. So in the case of your dairy, it requires that you do a little research. What do they feed the cows? Are they using antibiotics regularly or only for therapeutic use?

Wegman's milk is what foodies like to call "big organic." Which means the milk has no antibiotics or hormones but that the cows are probably not on pasture all the time and are fed organic feed, not necessarily grass.

For me, getting milk that is not ultrapasteurized far outweighs the benefit of buying that kind of organic milk. But it's worth you looking into the price and whether the farmer is feeding the cows a good diet and not spraying pesticides all over his place.

Good luck.


SS, md: need a recipe for a work potluck. Something that will ride on the Metro and sit through the morning in a fridge at work. I was thinking of a potato or pasta salad but maybe you have some more adventurous ideas that aren't a ton of work?

David Hagedorn: Hey, SSMD: I'd stay away from salads that have mayonnaise in them, especially considering your timing and transportation issues. Here is a recipe for an Asian slaw that has crunchy bits of uncooked ramen noodles in it. You could put the dry ingredients together, make the dressing separately and then put it all together closer to the time of the event. This salad is always a crowd-pleaser.


PA: Hi there, I made your pot roast recipe (with wine and thyme, hey, that rhymes! :-) this weekend and it was -great-! Even my 4 yr old who doesn't like a lot of beef liked it. But now, what do I do with leftovers? Can they be frozen?

I would love to see more recipes using more inexpensive cuts of meat, like chuck roast, if possible...I try to buy organic meat, and usually chuck roast is the one "on special" at Wegman's as it doesn't move as quickly as some of the other cuts. Getting it makes it more affordable for me to buy organic. Keep the ideas coming! Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Hearty Beef Pot Roast With Red Wine and Thyme

Jane Black: Yep, stick it in the freezer. (You might want to do this in individual or family size portions.) You just reheat on the stove when you are ready.


Centreville, VA: A suggestion for last week's poster who had made salsa that was too hot to eat, add a little sugar and lime juice and/or tequila. Depending on the size of your batch as little as a teaspoon of each will significantly cut the heat without changing the flavor significantly.

Jane Black: Thanks for the tip.


Bushmill's Island: I hope Jason is online today!

I want to get my husband a really nice bottle of scotch for a graduation present. Apart from mixing a killer Rob Roy, I know nothing about scotch.

He usually drinks Bushmill's, so I want to get him something that tastes kind of like that, but is nicer. Maybe in the $75-100 range? Do you have any suggestions?

Jason Wilson: Ok, so if he usually drinks Bushmills, he's drinking Irish whiskey and not scotch. There are different price points and quality levels for Irish whiskey, too, so maybe you might consider one of the special, aged, single-malt Bushmills? The Bushmills 16 year is excellent and will cost around $65-70. There's also a Bushmills 21 year that runs around $100. Both of these are wonderful whiskeys. Here's my column on Irish whiskey from March for more info.


HoCo MD: I'm planning a grilled pizza dinner for 5 on Saturday, including one pescetarian and one on a heart-healthy diabetic diet. So far the menu consists of crudites with Trader Joe's guacamole-hummus; Chocolate and Zucchini's green pea spread; a green salad; and the pizza. I'm planning on providing pesto, tomato sauce, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, basil, sauteed onions, sauteed mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, chevre, fat free mozzarella, and fat free ricotta. No one will miss meat, so I'm not worried about that, but can you think of anything else I'm missing? Any ideas for a diabetic (and easy!) dessert?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: The pizzas are going to star at your dinner, so I won't worry too much about dessert. I'd serve platters of fresh fruit with small cookies. The diabetic can stick to the fruit as their diet plan allows, others can take the cookies. I'd go with European packaged cookies which tend to have less sugar in case my friend wanted one.


Washington, DC: Last night I put a couple of tablespoons of chopped Vidalia onion on a plate and put in the microwave for one minute. It didn't make it to one minute because the darned thing started to spark! I heard a buzzing noise and noticed some sparks coming from the onion. I quickly removed the plate and saw burnt corners on some onion pieces. Was this caused by sulpher in the onion? If not, then what was it?

I have never seen anything spark in a microwave before in my 25 years of cooking.

Bonnie Benwick: Shocking! In 2000, our old pal and former Food 101 columnist Robert Wolke wrote about something similar that happens with carrots, and host Andrea says it's happened to her with sweet potatoes (which I'm assuming went into the microwave raw).

It seems that sharp edges or points of food can act just like the tip of a lightning rod, attracting electrical energy and thereby preventing it from striking anywhere else. So fields of current may have built up at the corners of your nicely diced onions and created those arcs 'n sparks. You can add a little water to cook the onions, or use a dull knife.:)


Luau Recipe Ideas: My friends and I are planning a luau for this weekend and I'm in charge of the main meats. So far I'm making teriyaki chicken and pineapple skewers. I'd like to do a shrimp skewer as well but am at a loss on what kind of marinade to make. I don't want two teriyaki-flavored proteins. Thanks!

Jane Black: How about coconut and lime?


grilling indoors: The recipes look yummy. Will they work on my Foreman grill?


Jason Wilson: Those punch recipes will absolutely work alongside a Foreman grill.

Bonnie Benwick: It's the constant drink recipe testing that gives Jason his edge. You could do the Balsamic-Glazed Fish Fillets and maybe the Grilled Italian BLTs.


Rockville, MD: Farmers Markets

Why do you keep running the list of local farmers markets a month before most open? Local produce is just now starting to come in. I don't want a list of markets if the produce is from out of the DC area--Maryland and Virginia. The same problem exists for articles about seasonal fruit and vegetables. The food section should be about local food that is currently available.

Jane Black: We put it out early so you are prepared. And a lot of markets do open in April so we want to be sure they get listed at the start of their season.

Moreover, most markets -- the good ones -- don't bring in produce from out of the area. That's the whole point of a farmers market. So earlier in the season, they just have less stuff, not stuff from other parts of the country.


Washington, DC: After reading about the seafood industry in light of the oil spill, I seemed to recall reading about someone locally starting a shrimp farm. From what I recall, the owner was using ecologically sound principles for his farm raised shrimp. Is his shrimp commercially for sale in the area?

washingtonpost.com: That article stuck with me too. Here it is: As Fresh as They Get: Three Young Guys Hope to Feed an Appetite for Fresh, Sustainable Farmed Shrimp

And here's their website: Marvesta Shrimp Farms

Bonnie Benwick: Our helpful host. Thanks, Andrea.


Cooking Chicken at home: DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! DAVID HAGERDORN! WOW! No, I am not your mother, although I would have been proud to be. Your sentence: "It is not a good plan to slather raw pieces with bottled sauce,..." made my heart beat faster. You are so right. When expecting guests people go through a lot of prep: clean the house, mow the lawn, clean bathrooms over and over, make sure kids have just had haircuts, etc., then they slather the meat with BOTTLED sauce or dress organic salad which they bought that morning at the Farmer's Market with BOTTLED salad dressing. Most people genuinely don't know that homemade sauces, dressings, marinades not only cost a lot less and are healthier because they have no "preservatives," but, most importantly, they TASTE so much better. Simple homemade anything can elevate everyday food to incredible heights that are never achievable with the store bought stuff. (Not all sauces should be made at home, Soy Sauce and Ketchup being two of them, but no readymade Mayo or Salad Dressing is worth its price; even simple oil & lemon or vinegar with a bit of fresh herbs beats the store sold junk every time.)

Brining chicken and sometimes pork does improve their taste, but this morning you've earned extra " WOW DAVID HAGERDORN!"s from me for bringing up handling of raw chickens. Most people are not aware that in US every chicken may have been inadvertently contaminated with Salmonella. If you ever shop at Costco this time of the year, you will see lots of shopping carts in which raspberries, strawberries or blueberries, that will be eaten raw, resting directly on top of the packages of fresh or frozen raw chicken. Costco and many other stores provide empty bags at the meat and poultry counters, unfortunately, judging by other people's carts, they are rarely used.

You are young and agile and move faster in the kitchen than us older folks, unlike you I can't wipe my counters and water faucets every time I touch them with my possibly contaminated hands. I compensate by having a dedicated half sheet and cutting board that I use exclusively for poultry. I use lots of disposable food safe gloves: some for my hands, others to put on top the doorknobs, water faucet knobs, and so on, and I tape a paper towel to the lower half of my refrigerator door. As soon as I am done with the raw chicken extra plastic gloves are disposed off and everything including the sink is carefully wiped with a water/Clorox solution, while tongs, the cutting board and half sheet are first soaked in water/clorox solution and then placed in the in the dishwasher set to "sanitize."

David Hagedorn: OK, let's see. Um, first of all, wow, this is quite a flattering missive and thank-you very much for that. Lots of good information here, too.

I know you're not my mother because, despite her propensity for doing things that readily annoy me, she knows not to put an "R" in the middle of my last name. HAGEDORN, no R in the middle. So now eveyone knows for sure you're not a ringer, unless they're now thinking that you did that just to make it seem that way. Come to think of it, no one really cares, right? Moving on...

The bottle sauce thing---yes!! The biggest culprit there is the added SUGAR (especially high fructose corn syrup)in the bottled sauces. Second biggest: added sodium. Not just salt.

The cross-contamination thing: You bring up a great point about the packaged poultry in stores. Who knows what is on the outside of those packages? The meat handlers are wearing gloves, but that doesn't prevent the outside of the packages from being covered in chicken juices. We pick that up, then use those fingers to pick up food samples, etc. Awful.

I love the idea of the dedicated cutting board for the poultry. Also taping the paper towel to the fridge. Great idea. You could also loop a kitchen towel on the handle and use it just for the chicken hadnling part of the prep day.

I also love that you think I'm young and agile. You made my day.


Washington, DC: This isn't a cooking question, but a packaged food question. Does anyone know where locally to find Stroopwafels? Someone brought me a tin of them from the Netherlands recently and they were SO good! They are a two thin wafer cookies with a layer of caramel in the middle. I have found them online but was wondering if anyone has seen them in local stores. Thanks!

Jane Black: I'm a big fan too. I'm sure I've bought them here in America, at Whole Foods and I'm pretty sure I've seen them at Trader Joe's too. (I was addicted to them when I lived in England.) You might also try Dean and Deluca.


DC: Where can I buy Nopales (known as the "prickly pear" cactus) that is used in Mexican recipes? Stores in either Upper NW or Silver Spring would be most convenient.

Bonnie Benwick: They're at the renovated Safeway on Wisconsin Ave. in upper Georgetown and you could also find them at Panam Grocery on 14th St. NW (202-545-0290).


Falls Church, VA: I made some french bread with regular white flour for the first time this weekend, and it came out great - I am so excited for my next loaves. I want to try making whole wheat loaves this time - does that flour rise any differently? Thanks!!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Mix the whole wheat with an equal amount of white flour and you should be fine. Loaves will be a little denser but should rise well.


Boston, MA: I made the jump from CSAs to CSFs this year, and I opted for the whole fish version. This being New England, that means a lot of cod. Other than making fish stock, what else can I do with all of the heads and tails and other bits that are accumulating? Thanks!

Jane Black: Well, you can pull out the cod cheeks and braise them. It's oh-so fashionable. But other than that, the heads and tails aren't good for much besides stock. Compost?


Grilling: In Tom's chat, someone asked a question that I have always wondered, what is the best way to grill corn? Do you leave the husk on? How do you get the silk off if you leave the husk on? How do you keep it from burning yet cooking completely if it is naked on the grill?

Also, sometimes I feel like cooking for two prevents me from grilling because I am "wasting" the fire, can you suggest things that I can grill and then serve the next night, i.e. reheat well?

Bonnie Benwick: It's good husk on or off, just depends on your preference for grill marks, I guess. You've given me a chance to hawk our favorite grilled corn recipe from Steven Raichlen, which calls for basting the naked ears with a mixture of coconut milk and palm sugar. As for not wasting the fire, I think any of Tony Rosenfeld's grill-saute vegetable recipes would be good things to do: grill the vegetables and refrigerate for a day or two before you saute to finish them off.


Milk again: I have asked the clerks re. food/antibiotics, but no one seems to know (they just sell the milk, ice cream, eggs, cream...all that stuff this dairy makes--a yum yum place that's incredibly popular here!). There is a sign about the rGbh(?). At any rate, guess I'll have to try to find out from the owners...thanks for your thoughts!

Jane Black: It's a little bit of a bad sign that their own sales people don't know. If you do get in touch with the owner, you should mention that.


Burke, VA: Often I see people in the produce section, shucking corn. My mother taught me that husks are nature's Saran Wrap and husking any time other than right before cooking makes the corn lose flavor. Who's right--the other shoppers or Mom?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I'm with mom here, but I sympathize with all those supermarket shuckers. It's much easier to shuck in the produce section and let the store worry about the mess. Still, I can't bring myself to do it. I shuck at home right before cooking. I also try to buy my corn at the farmers market where I know it's been harvested recently. That really makes a difference.

Bonnie Benwick: If the store hasn't provided a big bin for husk refuse, please wait till you get home! Mess is right.


Flat cookies?: Help! I made two batches of cookies on Mothers Day, and both were flat as pancakes! I made choc chip and oatmeal scotchies, and used the same leavening (flour and baking soda) for both types. Does baking soda lose its potency? Or could there be another problem... like did I beat both batches too much? I prefer a chunky, fluffy cookie, but I can't reliably produce them!

Jane Black: Sounds like you need new baking soda/powder.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Sounds like the fat may have gotten too warm. Luckily, there's an easy fix for butter- or shortening-based cookies. Make the cookie dough and refrigerate until firm. Shape the cookies quickly while the dough is still cool and firm. Bake immediately. You should get a thicker cookie.


Washington DC: Just wanted to share my favorite grilled side dish for grilling: green beans! Get a big bag of fresh beans, snap off the tops and toss in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. Place in a grill basket (which you can generally find for $10-$20 at stores like Marshall's or TJ Maxx) and stir until the beans are slightly charred. They have a great taste and never get mushy or overcooked as green beans can get via other methods of cooking. Yum!

David Hagedorn: I'm with you on the grilled green beans. I love them almost burnt. I also like to throw in some sliced onions or shallots, maybe even some red pepper flakes. I bought some broccolini the other day, peeled the stems, and grilled them in the same manner as you did the beans, adding a few grates of garlic and a spritz of lemon at the end. Delightful.


Coffee-land: Thanks so much for the coffee BBQ recipe -- I was just wondering this morning about other uses for coffee ... I remember instant coffee crystals were included among the "condiments" to sprinkle on a curried dish at an elegant restaurant in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and -- to my surprise -- added a nice note. Please consider sharing more such coffee recipes in a future edition! Thanks again!

washingtonpost.com: Leftover Coffee Barbecue Sauce

Bonnie Benwick: Will do.


Fish spatula: I make fish about once a week and only last weekend bought a fish spatula. The purchase has been made and I've yet to try it out, but what are the bonuses/perks of this? Any tips for how to use it most effectively? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Mazel tov. A good fish spatula (like the LamsonSharp I mentioned in today's Dinner in Minutes) is very thin and flexible and slotted, which makes it so much easier to get under delicate pieces of fish. It also has rounded edges that won't tear the fish.


Seattle, WA: What are some good starter ideas for summer-ish soups that are not gazpacho?

Jane Black: Corn soups are lovely. As are pea soups. For ideas, check out Domenica Marchetti's great article on 36 quick soups. Not all are summery but there's plenty to inspire you.


Arlington, Virginia: Can you please advise me where I might be able to locate Halloumi cheese in northern Virginia? I haven't had success finding it at the wonderful Cowgirl Creamery, but wasn't sure if this product is something that Whole Foods might carry. Can you also point me in a direction to find fresh baby octopus? I know that Blacksalt is one resource, but wasn't sure if you knew of other options. Thank you!

Jane Black: I buy halloumi at Middle Eastern groceries. (I go to Yekta in Rockville but there are lots out in Northern Virginia.) I believe that Whole Foods carries it too but it varies from store to store.

As for baby octopus, try Slavin & Sons right in your neck of the woods. They say they carry it regularly. 2710 South Glebe Road, Arlington, (703) 486-0400


Bushmill's Island again: Wow, see, I don't even know scotch from Irish whisky. Thanks for the help!

Jason Wilson: No worries! It can be totally confusing!


Picnic Ideas: We are celebrating our son's birthday at a park. Ordering pizza's for the kids, but wanted to have a potato dish and pasta salad for the grown-ups. Any ideas for food that can be made in advance and kept at room temperature? And, we are vegetarian. Thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Sweet potatoes are a favorite of my father's, so I've been baking them for a long time.( I'm taking the fifth on how exactly how many years I've been at it.)

I scrub them well, poke a few holes with a skewer or a fork with sharp tines, place (unwrapped), in a hot oven (anything 375 degress and up will do) on a piece of aluminum foil.

The size, age and variety of sweet potatoes are so varied that it's hard to give an excat cooking time. I usually figure 45 to 75 minutes. You can tell they're done when juice starts bubbling up out of the holes, the skin gets crinkled and the potatoes feel soft to the touch.


milk, milk, milk: Hi All, I have recently been experimenting with soy milk and almond milk. I am curious about which milk is "best" nutritionally (regular cow's milk, soy, almond). What is added to vanilla flavored soy/almond milk? Any recommendations on which brands of soy or almond milk to try? Thanks!

Jane Black: You are right to put "best" in quotes because it depends what nutrients you are looking for. In short, this question is a minefield. My personal opinion is that cow's milk is best. Soy milk is hyper processed and there have been lots of studies that show that, consumed in large quantities, it can be harmful to health. (Traditionally, soy products are eaten after they are fermented.) As for almond milk, I'm not the expert. But I would look very carefully at soy and almond milks to see what sugars and other additives are included.


Bonnie Benwick: Grillheads, Tim Artz is in the house, ready to answer your serious, beefy questions.


Crockpot Chick Peas: Hi, I soaked some Chick Peas Monday night, but didn't cook them last night. Is this okay? Can you suggest a way to do this in the crock pot? Once cooked, I plan to then freeze individual portions.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I've let soaked beans go as long as 48 hours. Any longer and they may start to ferment.

I like to cook mine in a pressure cooker, but I open the floor to those more experienced with the crock pot. Suggestions?


Washington, DC: I just got a food mill as a gift and I'm excited to try it out. Other than tomato soup and mashed potatoes, what are some other things I can do with this?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Applesauce and egg salad are two classics from my mom's kitchen. The egg salad has a completely different character than that made from chopped eggs. The applesauce is perfect-seed and peel free-and wonderfully smooth.


Halloumi: I've seen it at the Wegmans in Fairfax (and am totally buying some once my grill is fixed!). It's in the refrigerated case near the cheese section, directly across from the chicken case.

Jane Black: Thanks.


first grill: This summer I am in my first house and I've just bought my first Weber grill. My family is vegetarian so I'm trying to figure out how to make full vegetarian meal using the bbq. I would love some dinner ideas.

Tim Artz: Corn on the cob, squash, eggplant, onions....all grill nicely and can make a meal in the right combo.


Stroopwafels: We've found them at World Market, too.

Jane Black: Oh yeah. Totally seen them there.

For the uninitiated, the idea of stroopwafels is that you put them over your cup of tea. The steam from the tea melts the caramel and you get this warm, gooey cookie. Or if that's not the official idea, it should be. I'm just saying.


fresh fish: I love fresh fish and seafood but the prices at Whole Foods are getting to be too much. Any other places you would recommend for good fresh fish and seafood? (bonus if they are in Maryland)

Bonnie Benwick: Can't say good enough things about Vernon's Seafood (202-538-1454). He's at the Bethesda Central Farm Market on Sundays and at the Kensington Farmers Market on Saturdays.


love that corn!: No complete husking in the store, but you have to peel the husk a bit to see if the inside is rotted...

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You know, I'm little peeved at all that opening of the husks. Truth is you can just carefully feel the husk. I can usually tell if the kernels inside are good.

Tim Artz: Do not peel corn in the store or farmers market!!! You can tell if an ear is filled out by giving it a gentle squeeze.


Washington, DC: Regarding grilling, I experimented lately with a can of artichoke hearts. I dried them thoroughly and then threw them on the grill, turning a few times. It was revolutionary. Really made canned artichokes taste so much better than they normally do, and gave them a great texture.

David Hagedorn: That's a great idea. You could also grill canned artichoke bottoms the same way, right? Then halve or quarter them and add them to the hearts. That would add a texture contrast. Maybe a finishing sprinkle of pecorino at the end, too?

Tim Artz: Frozen artichokes work well for this, too. You can stuff them in a veal chop and grill that, too.


Bushmill's: Bushmill's also produces a "top rail" version called Black Bush that is wonderful. I'm predominantly a single malt Scotch drinker, but this is a fantastic Irish whiskey. I'm pretty sure that you can get this at Corridor Liquors in Laurel or Total Beverage in Landmark/Arlington.

Jason Wilson: Yep, that's a very good one, too, and a good value for a quality spirit - usually under $30.


Chicago: Just wanted to say a big thank you to Jason for his story on the Brazilian liquor! My husband is Brazilian but was adopted by Americans when he was young, so he missed out on a lot of Brazilian food. We always like sampling Brazilian things when we find, them, though, so we bought a bottle and made a caiprihina (sorry, not sure on spelling). Other than that, we've been clueless on what to do with the stuff. Any other ideas for some simple drinks to make on a week night?

washingtonpost.com: Spirits: Party drinks as pretty as a pitcher

Jason Wilson: You're welcome! I've always loved caipirinhas, and I too have always been looking for new ways to use cachaca. Besides the new ones I noted in the column, why not experiment with cachaca in anything that calls for white rum and see what happens. In Brazil, they also make something called a batida, which is similar to a caipirinha, but the cachaca shaken with fresh tropical fruit juices (or with coconut milk) instead of citrus.


Taste of "Bonnie tested recipe" @ the National Press Club: Bonnie, you did not tell us that the Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic is an excellent party/buffet dish.

On Friday I had lunch at the Press Club with two friends, in the dining room that serves buffet at lunch, and was surprised to see the familiar WP Food section clipping posted on the wall and nearby a stack of xeroxed copies of the recipe available to all. Of course we had to taste it.

The meat was not sliced as I normally would slice it for a stir-fry, it was kind of cubed on the diagonal, like identical little diamonds, which gave it a very elegant appearance and melted in my mouth without being overcooked or mushy. The dish as a whole was light, surprisingly mellow (in a good sense) and quite elegant, if I may use the word again. Until now I have never associated "elegant" with stir-fries.

By the time we went for seconds the cucumber was not as crispy as it was at the first bite, but the "melted" cucumber juice made the sauce memorable, again in a good way. One of my friends insisted that it tasted as if white wine were added to it. In other words "serve immediately" is not exactly essential for this dish. It is forgiving in that respect. When I will make this dish for my family I will add a bit more garlic and ginger because I know we would prefer it that way, but I will also make it for a crowd following the recipe proportions of garlic and ginger and NO ONE will know that I did not slave over the stove for hours and hours. I asked chef Delbert about her choice of the recipe and she said that she has been using WP (or more rarely NYT) Food section recipies every week. I guess I will have to eat there more often

Bonnie Benwick: Awesome. That's a Grace Young recipe from her new book, "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge."


Petworth: Stroopwafels can be found at Rodman's too.

Summer soups - that question reminded me of one I've been meaning to ask. W Domku (in Petworth)does a delicious summer soup called (think I am spelling this wrong) choldnik. Beets, carrots, cucumbers, buttermilk, and I am not sure what else. It's cold, and it's delicious. I'd like to see a recipe for this, and variations on this. Any thought?

Bonnie Benwick: That sounds delightful. Speaking of beet soups, we recently ran this one.


Milk: I was advised to stop drinking soy milk as well. I use so coconut creamer in my coffee or tea - I love it. Tastes better than the rice or almond version, IMHO.

Jane Black: Thanks for the tip.


Boston, MA: I just finished my second year of law school and now have a week and a half to relax before starting my summer job. I love cooking and make dinner for myself and my husband almost every night, though I usually make pretty easy/simple meals. But now that I have some free time I'd like to try out some more time intensive dishes. Any ideas for some fun meals that don't require fancy equipment or super expensive ingredients and are fairly healthy? Thanks!

Jane Black: It's hard to know where to start. So I'm going to kick this open to chatters. Anyone got some labor-intensive recipes that are worth learning for your repertoire?

Bonnie Benwick: Braising pork shoulder takes time and yields so many nice meals, including filings for tacos and such. Maybe you should peruse our recipe database for dishes that need marinating.


Memorial Day picnic coming up: So, I have a friend who is hosting her annual Memorial Day picnic where she supplies the burgers and hotdogs and everyone else supplies the sides. I usually bring a Chinese cucumber salad (my mother's recipe) but am looking for something different. I've found a good recipe for an Asian Cole Slaw (yes, I'm Chinese), but also looking for other ideas and thought this would be a great place to ask. Any thoughts? Caveats...my wife is not a fan of legumes so let's skip those.

Bonnie Benwick: How about Yunnan-Style Cold Rice Noodles? Stephanie's got a good noodle dish coming up May 26, for her Nourish column.


New York, NY: I like make-ahead main dishes for dinner parties, which is easy in the winter, because there are countless braising possibilities. But now that we're heading into warm weather, I'm not sure what to make. Sometimes I'll do something with a really short cooking time, like scallops, and just step away from the table for a few minutes, but I'd like a make-ahead option. Any ideas for me? Besides a main-dish salad, which I'm considering?

Jane Black: I hear you. Why not start with a cold soup? (I'm loving creamy cucumber and white gazpacho at the moment.) For a main, what about looking to a dish that's served room temperature? You could grill (or broil) marinated steak and serve it "tagliata," the Italian word for sliced with salad and potatoes or salad and polenta cakes?

Chatters? Other ideas?


Largo, MD: Help! I love to cook and I consider myself a very good cook except when it comes to frying chicken. I either overcook it or undercook it. What is the correct way to fry chicken? And how do you know when it's done?

Bonnie Benwick: Starting with room-temperature chicken helps. Keeping a close watch (read: thermometer) on the temperature of the oil works. Check out Gillian's Fried Chicken recipe and you can't go wrong.


Upperville, VA: Best wood chips to add when grilling scallops and shrimp that have just been tossed in butter and had pepper and salt shaken over them?

Apple maybe cherry?

Tim Artz: Apple is nice for seafood. Pear is even better, but not sure if you can buy the chips. I save the branches from when I prune my pear trees. Alder is also good for seafood.

Cherry might be too intense.


Leesburg, Va.: I hope you can help me where Google has not! I am traveling to Florence this summer and am interested in taking a one-day cooking class. There are obviously zillions of options out there, but it's hard to know which ones are really great! I'm an advanced home cook, so something ambitious would be great. Any help would be much appreciated!

Jane Black: Faith Heller Willinger is the queen of Italian cooking in Florence. She leads wonderful classes and market tours. You can make special arrangements for groups but generally she runs classes on Wednesdays.


mint pot: I have some mint growing in a container that I would like to dry to use for tea. Do I take the leaves off and leave them to dry at room temperature or do I take the stem too and hang it upside down? How does this work?

Bonnie Benwick: For small amounts, herb expert Susan Bellinger recommends stripping the leaves from the stems and drying them on a screen in a shady warm dry spot. If you want to dry a lot, you can hang the stems upside down.


Burned Non-Stick Pans: So I accidentally burned some gunk onto some non-stick pans. Is there a way to get it off without ruining the pan with a scouring pad?

Bonnie Benwick: Think a paste of baking soda and water will do the trick. Let it sit for a bit then gently scrub.


Potomac Falls, VA: Ack! Thermometer help please. I'm looking for a hot water thermometer (for testing water for yeast etc). I've seen meat thermometers, oil/candy thermometers - will any of these work or do I need a different one? Who knew it would be this much work? Thanks in advance for your help. I (heart) you guys!

Jane Black: Well for water, you're only going up to just over 110 degrees so I think any thermometer will do for that. You need special thermometers for candy because they call for sugars to go up to temperatures not necessary on meat thermometers.


Shakopee, MN: A few weeks ago I wrote in about making homemade BBQ sauce and what would be a good substitute for the artificial smoke flavoring and MSG that are sometimes found in bottled sauce. I was advised that maybe smoky paprika can be used as a substitute (but advised not to substitute, I was left a little confused). I cannot consume smoke flavoring or MSG (anaphylaxis issues)...so since Mr. Hagedorn is in the house..does he have a good homemade BBQ sauce that tastes reminiscent of the bottled stuff but better in taste and for me?

Tim Artz: You can use a stovetop smoker to smoke some of the key ingredients. You can get good control of nice smoke flavors that way, and avoid some of the chemical-type taste of liquid smoke.

David Hagedorn: Hi, Shakopee:

My recipe for

Leftover Coffee Barbecue Sauce

in today's Post is has a pretty smoky flavor, thanks to the ancho and chipotle peppers. Smoked paprika certainly adds a smoky element and there's no reason you coudn't add some of that to the sauce.

Another great way to add real smoke flavor to sauce is to make sauce from dripping pan liquids that have been used while smoking something. You could smoke a chicken, or whatever, and use coffee in the drip pan, then use the smoked coffee in the BBQ sauce. I always save whatever liquid I use in the drip pan, especially if smoking has been going on, and then use it as a base for the dripping pan when the next grilling project comes up. The flavor just keeps getting better and better. By the way, that liquid is also great to use as a mopping liquid for ribs or chicken.


Arlington, Va S: I picked up a couple of green tomatoes at the Courthouse farmers market this weekend. I'm planning on making some fried green tomatoes with them tonight. I've done this before, but not often. Do you have a good recipe that you can recommend? Any other suggestions about what to do with green tomatoes?

I might use them in sandwiches tomorrow with some fresh mozzarella. Do you think they'll get soggy overnight?


Jane Black: Here's a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes with Avocado and Sour Cream. I would not fry tomatoes and leave them overnight. They will definitely get soggy.

Besides frying, you can pickle them or make them into chutney. But they're generally too sour to eat fresh.


more than smores: I have two bags of large marshmallows leftover from the Winter survival without electricity experience. Aside from Smores, are there other desserts that I could make with my marshmallows?

Bonnie Benwick: Lurv these, which really not too sweet: Chocolate Rice Crispies.


pizza dough: Hi. Thanks for all of your excellent advice. It's my understanding that pizza dough has to rise. I am wondering if you can freeze pizza dough and if so, how it goes about rising if it frozen, and how long it can be frozen for before using. I would like to start making my own pizza dough but can't quite figure out the logistics. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Hi, PD. You can freeze it. Here's a good recipe: No-Knead Pizza Dough.


Fireball Chicken: I need help with grilling a whole chicken. We tried it recently and the whole thing caught on fire. Once the flames were out we did continue to slow roast it and the inside was a bit tasty. But I would prefer to not create a fireball next time.

(We think the drippings helped the thing catch on fire, and I will buy the grill safe cooking spray)

washingtonpost.com: The Grilling Issue: Treat chicken right

Bonnie Benwick: Can you provide a little more info about how/when it caught on fire?


Falls Church, VA: Congrats on James Beard award! Well deserved!

Want to make some polenta this summer, let cool and solidify, cut and grill. It seems expensive to buy corn meal marked "polenta" at specialty stores. So, can I buy just plain corn meal instead? And if so, what type (grind)? Stone ground? Coarse? Fine? Any brands you prefer? I'm assuming it should be yellow corn meal, right, not white?


Tim Artz: You can use yellow or white. I prefer coarse ground for the use you describe. You can add in some mushrooms, cheese, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, etc. to jazz it up.


Asheville NC: Help! Every time I make a two layer cake, one of the layers ALWAYS ends up larger in diameter than the other. Both pans are 9 inches and are the same brand, color, material, etc. I always try to put the same amount of batter in both pans. What could be causing this???

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe it has to do with uneven heat in your oven. Do you rotate the pans at all?


Alexandria, VA: For people looking for good quality milk, I get mine from South Mountain Creamery in glass bottles. They are not organic, but they have the freshest tasting milk around (beats Trickling Springs for me because their distributors don't always store their milk correctly). From their website, this is their response about not being organic: No, we follow traditional farming methods which are often similar practices that organic farmers use. For example, we do not give our animals growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. We do not use pesticides on our fields. We give our cows free choice feeding. This means they have a feed bunk in the barn that has a mixture of corn, hays, soybeans, and minerals that they can eat from. They also have access to pastures where they can graze at will. What the cows are fed here, was grown here! We also work closely with local soil conversation groups to preserve the soil and prevent soil erosion. We have many projects that we are working on regarding green energy such as a methane digester (converting cow manure to electricity) and bio-diesel (converting soybeans to fuel)!

Jane Black: Yes, we wrote about them recently in an article about small milk producers making it work. We also focused on Snowville, which is in most area Whole Foods markets.


Clifton, VA : More complicated recipes try a Ragu bolgnese(sic). Get some meatloaf ie pork, beef and veal. Find your favorite recipe from Batali or hazan and try it.

Jane Black: Maybe a bit heavy for summer. But well worth adding to your repretoire, I totally agree.


Summer Soups: Don't forget French-style lettuce soup. Yum!

Jane Black: Yum.


Chicken Stock Overflowing!: Food experts, I appeal to you for advice. One of the things I do with leftover roast chicken (and the bones) is make chicken stock. I made a huge batch of stock yesterday, but with it getting much warmer, it then occured to me that I have no idea what to do with it. During fall and winter, I make soup, but now it just seems too warm for soup. Do you have any suggestions and/or recipes for what to do with homemade chicken stock?

Bonnie Benwick: One thing you could do is reduce, reduce, reduce that stock until it's concentrated enough to use as demi-glace (always expensive to buy). See this recipe for details and adapt.


Washington, D.C.: Help! I need a good non-chocolate, baked, portable, finger-food-type dessert for a birthday this weekend. Preferably something on the lighter side, w fruit?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Those are such wide parameters! Bar cookies, sugar cookies, sliced cakes...there are many great choices.


Dry Curd Cottage Cheese: Any ideas where I can find dry curd cottage cheese in the DC area? The closest I've been able to get so far has been farmer's cheese.

Tim Artz: You can drain wet cottage cheese in a fine mesh colander or muslin bag. If you mix a little fine salt with the cheese (assuming you are making a savory dish), it will give up more moisture.


Virginia: For the grillmaster - I thow a handfull of soaked wood chips (usually oak)on the charcoal before grilling steaks. Is the 10 minutes or so that the steaks are on the grill long enough to get good smoke flavor in to the meat? Thanks.

Tim Artz: Absolutely! You would not want too much smoke on them.

David Hagedorn: It doesn't seem like you're going to impart a tremendous amount of flavor if you are grilling steaks directly on an open grill for only 10 minutes. But here's an idea. Instead of buying 2 separate steaks for 2 people, I buy 1 very thick steak and cook it over indirect heat, covered, for upwards of 20 minutes to rare. Then I finish the steak over direct heat to get a good char on both sides. If you make the steak this way, adding wood chips could be very effective because the grill is closed and you're getting a good 20 minutes of smoke time. Give it a shot.


Sterling, VA: Love to try new things on the grill. Any special tips for okra or brussels sprouts? Done the corn and asperagus thing (loved both) and want to try other veg options). Suggestions for seasoning or marinade? Love the chat-keep up the good work!

Tim Artz: Hmmm. Brussels sprouts would be good. I would blanch them for 2 min in boiling water, cut them in half. Toss with olive oil. Thread them on skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill to finish.

Or, you could put the Brussels sprouts in a foil pan under a roast chicken or other meat, being grilled indirectly. The meat juices will drip on the veg.

Okra would work, but nothing immediately comes to mind for me.


Ballston, VA: Joe, Lidia and Mario just left One Liberty Center. They have been here since 1000am when I saw them entering building.

One Liberty center is located on Wilson Blvd between Quincy and Randolph.

Bonnie Benwick: Are you all a-Twitter?


Chick peas: After reading the article on using the crockpot for cooking beans -- Joe's, I think, from not too long ago--I tried it out with a mixture of chickpeas and navy beans (I wanted to make ham and bean soup)...soaked the beans, then put them in the crockpot with the ham mock, covered them with water, added a bay leaf, and let it go all day. It was wonderful! This was using a larger crockpot, if that helps...

washingtonpost.com: Here's Joe's story: Cooking for One: Discovering slow cookers

And here's one from Candy Sagon: Slow and I, Now We're Fast Friends

Bonnie Benwick: Two snaps up.


sad little grill: I have a wee little Weber charcoal grill and no immediate ability to get a better one.

Should I bother doing anything other than burgers and dogs?

Tim Artz: I have one of those Smoky Joe grills and have used it for all kinds of things (in small qty's). I find they work well to grill on the beach, too. They have nice controls to work in a windy area.


Bonnie Benwick: Well, a particularly hot session comes to a sizzling close. Thanks to Tim Artz, Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, Jason Wilson and David Hagedorn for chiming in.

Today's winning chatters: Cooking With Chicken's mega-commentary gets the mega-stuffed "Planet Barbecue"; Washington DC's green-bean grilling tip is awarded with "The Art of Wood-Fired Cooking," and Centreville earns "BBQ 25." Send your mailing addresses to food@washpost.com so we can get you those books soon as possible. In two weeks, we'll have brisket. Stock up on charcoal! See you next Wednesday.


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