Free Range on Food: Staffers solve your cooking conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, June 2, 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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Joe Yonan: Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! I'm back after my month away (not really away, just writing and cooking), so here we go. We've got some fun stuff for you today, and the experts are in the house. We have Tamar Haspel, who wrote the fabulous egg-tasting piece today; and we have Matt Coates, author of the pumpkin shortage article. And of course Jane Black is here to talk about her favorite salad and anything else. So fire away any and all questions on those subjects and more, and we'll do our best to help.

We also of course have two giveaway books for our favorite posts: We have "Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods," by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, which Bonnie blogged about today; and "The Big Summer Cookbook" by Jeff Cox.

Let's do this thing.

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Washington, D.C.: Pumpkin shortage! Who knew? Apparently not me, as I had no idea that the one can I have of Libby's 100 percent pumpkin leftover from last year's Thanksgiving was so valuable. Should I sell it or make something and tempt people?

Matt Coates: I had heard of some shortages but didn't know it was real until I started noticing gaps in the bakery aisle. Only Magruders posted anything about it!

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Washington, D.C.: I try to prepare a lot of our meals for the week on Sunday. But since I started doing this, we've almost eliminated fish from our diet because I feel like it doesn't hold up to freezing or re-heating. I really miss it, not only for the variety, but for the nutritional benefits. I know it's fast enough to whip up the night-of, but I feel like it should be cooked the day it is bought, or the next day. We've never had good luck with packaged frozen fish (like Trader Joe's). Any thoughts on this? Thanks!

Jane Black: Would frozen shrimp do the trick? I always keep a bag in the freezer. Great for kebabs, salads or just sauteed.

Bonnie Benwick: You know, there's a lot to be said for good-quality canned tuna (packed in olive oil, Italian) and canned salmon.

Joe Yonan: And sardines. And anchovies.

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East Egg: (That address is a Great Gatsby reference...)

Thanks for the egg-tasting article; I'd wondered about farm vs supermarket since a friend with a farm told me supermarket eggs can be months old (maybe an ex-egg-eration).

Now I wonder: Does size matter?

The tastiest eggs I've eaten were in Mexico City, where I once lived. The yolks were more ... intense, even when cooked sunny-side up or soft-boiled without benefit of any sauce. Eggs throughout Mexico had this richer taste, as best I remember.

Eggs in Mexico also were small.

Does the size of the egg maybe concentrate flavor? Or do you suppose I imagined the eggs in Mexico were tastier?

(I don't know what the Mexican chickens were fed, but I'm guessing the farmers there weren't "shelling" out extra money for enriched feed.)

Thanks!

Jane Black: I bet that the chickens in Mexico were fed whatever they could scrounge up, which is what chickens are supposed to eat. They say that the varied diet is what gives the color and flavor rather than cheap or even enriched "feed."

Tamar Haspel: Smaller eggs come from smaller chickens. Any flavor differences come from feed. But being in Mexico, under a lovely sun, enjoying your vacation, can make eggs taste very good indeed.

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Post Hunt Picnic: I have promised my Post Hunt team that I will bring snacks. Any idea for snacks that are particularly in keeping with the absurdity of the Post Hunt?

Joe Yonan: How about these Oat, Nut, Fruit, and Seed Bars from Lisa Yockelson? I think of them because they're so addictive, indulgent and delicious it's ... absurd.

Another possibility if it's not too hot (you don't want em to melt) would be the forever amazing, and playfully-absurd-in-their-own-unique-way Chocolate Grapes from Michel Richard, DC's resident absurdist chef.

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Jacques's cakes: I recall Jacques Pepin having a cake using sweetened chestnut puree. I have such an item but not sure how to make a dessert out of it. Any recipes would be great!

Joe Yonan: I've made it after seeing Jacques whip it up on "Fast Food My Way": It's super easy, and great. It's just the puree, rum, butter and melted chocolate that you whisk together, then pour into a terrine and chill until firm, then slice and dollop with cream. Here's the recipe.

We also have this chestnut-maple cheesecake from colleague Frances Sellers that you might try.

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D.C.: Hi Jane, that salad in today's issue looks incredible, and I can't wait to try it. I've been looking for celeriac for a few weeks for another recipe, but haven't been able to find any (haunting the Dupont farmer's market, P street Whole Foods, and various Safeways around town). Just wondered if anyone has found ceraliac in DC lately so I can eat this salad! Thanks!

Jane Black: You know, it's funny. We had a hard time finding it when we tested the recipe. Apparently, it was a tad early to find it. But it should be there regularly now. Giant and Balducci's have it. Whole Foods should too, soon. I don't think you'll find it at farmers markets for a month or so.

Definitely give it a go. I love it.

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Eggs and Nutritional Content: I liked the article on eggs in today's Food section, but sensed that something was missing. The article was all about taste, and how our senses affect our impression of quality. But there are other considerations.

What about nutritional content? Do backyard eggs have more Omega 3s, and if so, do they have enough to make a measurable difference in terms of human intake of Omega 3s? I don't know the answer to this, but think I may have heard this distinction made in the past.

There's also the humane issue of chicks raised in decent conditions, rather than in those hideous chickenhouses featured in the movie "Food Inc." Those scenes were nightmarish.

So, taste being equal, I'd go with the more humanely hatched egg. I realize that wasn't the focus of the article, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

washingtonpost.com: Backyard eggs vs. store-bought: They taste the same (Post, June 2)

Tamar Haspel: You're right that those issues are both worth mentioning (and I already put my two cents in on nutrition). I think it's really important to treat animals well (I even wrote a WaPo op-ed on that a couple years back), but we were really focusing on the taste issue here.

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Chicago, Ill.: Hey guys, loved the article on the egg test! I'm all for promoting healthy eating and what not, but I find that some people caught up in certain movements can be... overly excited, let's say, about their cause. I have no problem with them getting into things like raising their own animals, eating only organic food, etc. However, I find a lot of times that SOME (not all, just some!) of their claims have nothing to back them up. That just makes me less inclined to follow them. Please people, it's perfectly fine if your preferred form of food has only one or two benefits instead of 10 over your competition. If that's what you're interested in, then great. But don't tell me how it tastes better or is healthier for me when it really isn't.

As far as the eggs themselves, I love that you guys included a deviled egg recipe. However, I have to admit, I would love a recipe that's different from your normal deviled egg. Any suggestions on how to spice it up a bit?

Tamar Haspel: Food's complicated, and simplification doesn't always work. I agree with you that there are lots of health/humane claims that are hard to back up, but it's important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I try to buy animal products from people who treat their animals well, but that's as ideological as I get.

Joe Yonan: I'll take the deviled-egg-with-a-difference question, cause I just tested for the cookbook I'm working on a deviled-egg approach using the Chili-Lemon Pickle that Chef KN Vinod helped me with when I wrote about condiments. Don't think it's going in the book cause it's not exactly well-suited for solo cooking/eating, which means I should put it in the paper, don't you think? You just chop up some of the pickle with a little mayo and the egg yolk and mix it up. Tangy, spicy, fantastic. Of course, we've also had cool recipes for other interesting deviled eggs, such as Guacamole Eggs and Obelisk Deviled Eggs.

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Garlic Scape: I just got back from the farm market with a couple of garlic scapes. They looked really cool and curly which is why I picked them up but I've never used them before. Any suggestions?

Bonnie Benwick: You can saute them, throw them on the grill or make pesto out of 'em, for starters.

Joe Yonan: I've made Kim O'Donnel's garlic scape pesto recipe with excellent results...

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Annapolis, Md.: Hello Food Section! I joined a meat CSA (along with my veggie one) and I'm a bit stumped by one of the cuts in last week's share: beef top round roast. I read in Molly Stevens's All About Braising that she doesn't like this cut in a pot roast-type braise, but uses it for roulade-type dishes. I'd love any ideas you might have (especially ones that wouldn't involve hours of running my oven in this heat!). I was thinking if it's too lean for a braise, maybe it would work for beef jerky?

Bonnie Benwick: It would work for jerky, you betcha. Beef top round takes kindly to marinating and slicing thin for sandwiches. Also, you could pound/tenderize it, at which point you could make Joe's chicken-fried steak with gravy. Now them's good eats. Love that Molly Stevens book, don't you?

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Success story: Hi foodies! Just wanted to share a success tale with you. I planned to make last week's baked French Toast with rhubarb over the weekend, but my usual folks at the farmer's market told me they were done with rhubarb for the season -- and I couldn't find any at the grocery store, either. Back at home, I found a holiday leftover bag of cranberries in my freezer, and decided to try subbing them for the rhubarb. It worked beautifully and was really tasty! I still consider myself kind of a novice cook, but reading this chat every week helps open my mind to the possibility of experimenting and trying new things, so I considered it a double success thanks to y'all.

Jane Black: Great. Glad it worked out. Necessity is the mother of invention!

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Arlington, Va. S: "We also fish and hung, shellfish and lobster," was a sentence early in the egg article. The phrasing sounds odd and interesting to my ear. So let me ask, does this mean hunting for shellfish and lobster (I suspect not), or hunting, and gathering/harvesting shellfish and lobster?

I've never noticed "shellfish" and "lobster" used as a verb. Is that a dialect of Cape Cod?

Tamar Haspel: Fish. Hunt. Shellfish. Lobster. Four separate things. We find any way we can to procure our own food -- which has even meant that I've learned to use a shotgun, in the hopes of getting a freezer full of venison when deer season starts in the fall. And, yes, shellfish and lobster are verbs out here. Honest.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Is there any difference between salted and unsalted butter, besides the salt? I see recipes that call for unsalted butter, but then add salt. For such recipes, can I just use salted butter and reduce or eliminate the added salt?

Matt Coates: No difference in the butter but it can be a big difference in the recipe because the amount of salt in salted butter is inconsistent and may not have good results. I always use unsalted and add salt.

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Fish lover: I have found that fish that is vacuum sealed in individual steaks/portions hold up to freezing well. I get salmon steaks and tilapia filets from Sam's club that are vacuum-sealed and frozen and they work fine for regular weekly meals. They steam well and work fine with a sauce like a teriyaki or buerre-blanc (or any other sauce). They may not work as well as fresh for some delicate work, but they should be good for adding fish back into a weekend chef's repertoire.

Jane Black: Thanks for the suggestion!

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Albemarle, Va.: I read the article on canned pumpkin with great interest, because I recently unearthed a couple of cans of Libby's. The problem is that I'm not sure how old they are -- somewhere between 2 and 5 years ... How long is canned pumpkin still good?

Matt Coates: I have no idea about the shelf life of canned pumpkin. But I don't think I'd take chances. Look for any swelling in the can.

Bonnie Benwick: Generally, two to three years. For Libby's pure pumpkin, it's 30 months. Your cans ought to have a code stamp on the bottom. If they don't, they're pretty old.

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Arlington, Va. S: Interesting article on eggs. I spent some years in northern Italy and we had a chicken coop when I was a very young child, and enjoyed the eggs, learning at a young age how to make myself a zabaglione as a treat.

I would love to try the blind test myself, and see if I could detect any differences. In the meantime, are you aware of any nutritional differences based on the feed? I seem to recall that Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver made a claim about nutritional differences based on the feed (ie, more grass, insects, etc, in the diet produces a healthier egg).

On a related note, the Courthouse farmers market used to have a vendor that sold eggs other than from chickens, but I haven't seen them in years. I recall liking the duck eggs a lot. Wish I could find alternative eggs easily.

Tamar Haspel: There are some nutritional differences -- you'll get some beta-carotene and even some omega-3 fats in eggs from chickens that eat bugs and grass. But I figure if you're worried about getting nutritional value from eggs, you're eating way too many of them. Get your beta-carotene from orange vegetables, and your omega-3s from fish.

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MR. YONAN, THE TRUTH, PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!: You said you were away because you were writing a book.... HMMM!!!!! Didn't you participate in Top Chef filming in D.C. instead?

Joe Yonan: The purpose of my leave, honest to God, was to finish up my cookbook. The good news: I'm almost done. The bad news: I'm not quite done, book is due in 2 weeks, and my leave is over! Yikes!

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Cooking on a budget: I just bought a house that has a to die for kitchen. It was gutted and rebuilt including all new appliances, granite and wine coolers built in...

Now I'm going to be house poor for the next 30 years. Any GOOD recipes for cooking on a budget? I hate to eat Ramon noodles for the next several years :)

Matt Coates: Congratulations on the house. Sounds great. As for cheap food, I like Hawaiian bread with melted Cheddar and a side of clam chowder, but I think you're thinking more upscale. :)

Joe Yonan: I want to try these Ramon noodles. They sound spicy.

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Jane Black: A propos of nothing, folks, I just want to share that I am eating a salad right now with spinach and two kinds of lettuce from Joe and my community garden. So so good! Feta, cucumbers, carrots and for those of you who read last week's section, strawberry vinegar.

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And, yes, shellfish and lobster are verbs out here. Honest. : Yep, we used to always go crabbing.

Tamar Haspel: I always wondered why it's only sea creatures that are verbs. You don't "deer" or "duck" (well, you do duck, but that's not what I'm talking about) when you're hunting those things. You hunt. Makes me appreciate how difficult it must be to learn English.

Joe Yonan: Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck ... goose! Sorry.

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Another twist on deviled eggs: I typically make my deviled eggs with curry. I use about half-half mayonnaise and spicy brown mustard, then add curry, extra cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. I fill half of the shells and top with dried parsley. Then I add hot sauce, cayenne and spicy paprika and fill the other half. I top with a light dusting of paprika. Although now, most everyone knows green is mild and red is spicy, I still put a sign by the egg plate to warn them. They are always a hit.

Tamar Haspel: I think curry makes a fine deviled egg -- yours sound delicious. I just happen to be a purist, and I thought even using rice wine vinegar was going way out on a limb.

Joe Yonan: Sometimes I like to just hard-cook them, although stopping short so they're still a little creamy in the very center of the yolk, then top with homemade mayo and candied bacon. Oh, no! Now I have to find that candied bacon recipe...

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Tomato sauce: I've run out of my jars of store-bought tomato sauce. But on one of my one-year olds' attempts to empty the cupboards, we discovered a 28 oz can of peeled tomatoes. I'm sure all I have to do is add olive oil and spices to make tomato sauce, but how do I get rid of that super rich/acidic tomato taste that only canned tomatoes give? How can I turn a can of peeled tomatoes into tomato sauce?

Jane Black: Best you learn this lesson now. Homemade sauce is not that much harder than opening a jar and it's cheaper and has far less sugar in it than a store-bought variety. Here's a recipe for Basic Canned Tomato Sauce. (It says to use canned whole and stewed, by which I think they mean chopped, but you're fine with your one can of whole, peeled tomatoes.

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I would love a recipe that's different from your normal deviled egg.: Soak the cooked egg white halves in red! pickled beet jucie for a few hours before stuffing them.

Tamar Haspel: Just make sure you don't confuse the children! My father was twelve before he realized horseradish wasn't beet red.

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Bowie, Md.: I have a recipe for BBQ brisket sandwiches and I was wondering about the beef brisket that it calls for. All I saw in the store was corned beef brisket. Is that the only "version" or is brisket also sold without "corning"? (Is that the correct term?)

Joe Yonan: I'm glad you asked, because you would NOT have been happy with any brisket you made with corned beef. Just plain brisket, not cured in a salt brine like corned beef, is what you want. Check out Jim Shahin's great smoked brisket recipe from last week for more good info.

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Bean bags: I have half a bag each of navy beans and canellini beans just staring at me from the cupboard. I'm not going to make a soup until the temperature drops below 80 again. What else can I do with these beans?

Jane Black: Salads! Cannellini beans are classically paired with tuna, then add arugula and a dressing of lemon, olive oil and salt. You might also make this nice White Bean Salad with Tarragon. You can substitute navy beans in this recipe too.

Joe Yonan: And if you want to know the best way to cook the beans from dried, check out this master recipe by bean guru Steve Sando.

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Bowie, Md.: I purchased the tomato paste in the tube and am storing the opened tube in the fridge. How long till I should throw it out if I haven't used it up yet?

Bonnie Benwick: Months.

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Boulder, Colo.: For the chatter who doesn't know what to do with top round, we have made Steve Raichlen's Baltimore Pit Beef with great success. How to Say Barbecue in Baltimore (The New York Times, June 28, 2000)

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Springfield, Va. -- personal celebration of local foods: This past Saturday was the first I had free without a Tee Ball game with my son. FINALLY got to the farmer's market (Burke). Fresh greens, radishes, red onions, bok choy, gazpacho, buffalo meat, and my favorite -- squash blossoms. I stuffed them with ricotta and basil that afternoon and lightly fried them up in flour. My 6 year old thought it was cool to eat flowers. I thought it was cool he would! The Local Foods cookbook sounds great!

Joe Yonan: Shameless, you are. Shameless. So shameless it just might work. ;-)

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Chocolate-Oatmeal cookie recipe?: Welcome back, Joe! Will you now have a chance to try the Chocolate-Oatmeal cookie recipe I sent in earlier this spring, that you said sounded like the one your mom used to make? If so, I'd enjoy your feedback.

Joe Yonan: Hi! The funny thing is, I did finally take a look at that recipe with a clearer head, and I quickly knew it wasn't the one my mom always made, cause that was no-bake. (Yes, I should've realized this earlier, I know...) She made those classic ones with cocoa, melted butter, sugar (lots), peanut butter, and quick-cooking oats that you just stir together and then let firm up. I'm making them over for my cookbook...

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Canning, Prince George's County: Hi all. I'm from rural Virginia and grew up with a mother than canned all summer long. After picking way more strawberries than I could eat and deciding to make jam, I learned the hard way that my inner-beltway PG County grocery stores carried no canning supplies.

After driving my husband nuts looking for canning supplies, I made frezer jam. But I'm really just looking for somewhere that will sell rings and lids for when my tomato crop comes in full (fingers crossed). Mom's given me access to her set of mason jars. Any ideas that don't involve having to drive all over the place? I'll order online, but I'm rarely good about planning ahead and hate to rush order lids once everything starts coming ripe.

Matt Coates: Strosniders hardware is a good source. In Silver Spring and Bethesda. Also Harris Teeter stores have a decent selection. Look for stores that are either old-fashioned (Strosniders)or cater to Southern tastes (HT)

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Washington, D.C.: I have a random question. The mint I planted in my herb garden is finally ready for use! I plan to make mojitos this weekend, but do you have any main dish ideas for me that will compliment the drinks? Thanks in advance!

Bonnie Benwick: This Thai Crab and Papaya Salad is quite refreshing; adding mint to a gremolata is the secret to this grilled lamb chop dish. You could throw mint on top of cubed watermelon or make this salad. Or chop mint and add to a yogurt sauce.

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Candling eggs: Hi, Tamar,

Do you candle eggs or know if anyone still does? It's something I learned about in Home Ec class many, many years ago.

I think we were told that the nearer to the edge of the shell or the more off-center the yolk was, the lower the quality of the egg. And then it might not get a top rating like, if I remember correctly, Grade A. Or maybe AA.

But I've no idea what difference it makes if the yolk is off-center. Do you still eat eggs with less-than-perfect symmetry? If not, why not?

Should I candle my eggs before using them?

Thanks so much.

Tamar Haspel: The main reason for candling, as I understand it, is to see if an egg is fertile. I'm assuming, since your question is about eating them, and not hatching them, that that's not your key concern.

As an egg loses carbon dioxide, its white becomes less viscous, which allows the yolk to move around more. An egg with a movable yolk is probably older than one with a yolk that stays put. But there's nothing wrong with an egg that's lost CO2. Older eggs are just fine. The shell and membrane are some of the best packaging nature has to offer.

Don't bother with candling, unless you're starting a flock of your own.

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Greensboro, N.C.: Fun question (I hope): I'm a curator at a museum, and I'm working on an exhibition of paintings from the nineteenth century that feature scenes of every day life (people at home, at a dance, playing cards, going to the market, etc.). For the opening in September, I have an idea to feature foods we see in the paintings, but with kind of a new American twist. So, the painting of the man returning with fish from a lake in New Hampshire might inspire smoked trout mousse on toasted baguette. Any ideas for some other "new American" dishes with American heritage-type ingredients? Hors-d'oeuvres, not mains. Think corn, chicken, pork, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, eggs, maple syrup (for something sweet). Let me know what you think!

Jane Black: On the desserts, we've already mentioned the Chestnut Maple Cheesecake. (You could serve it in slices or make mini-versions.) Or you could do Maple Sweet Potato Spice Bread. For the ultimate American dish, make a Succotash, which uses the three sisters, corn, beans and squash. The native Americans traditionally planted these three crops together because each sustains the other.

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The BOOK: Can't wait for your book to come out. It will be more fun doubling a recipe for the 2 of us than trying to cut them in half.

You were missed, but your crew did a great job while you were out. I'm not surprised that Stephanie's recipes were 3 of 5. They are always awesome! Thanks to you all.

Joe Yonan: Thanks! And I know: I have very talented and hardworking colleagues here. Bonnie and Jane (and their counterparts in Travel) are really the only reason I was able to take the time off.

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Help with feeding guests: Boy howdy, do I have a pickle for you. I feel like I have to host Jack Sprat and his wife. A bunch of friends are coming to stay this weekend. We've got folks who hate vegetables but will eat everything else, and others who love vegetables but can't eat meat (other than fish), and others who can't eat gluten. We wanted to grill out at least once, and I think I can come up with something for that, but any suggestions for the other meals? I'd rather not eat out for every meal. I feel like there's a simple solution in here somewhere, I just can't put my finger on it...

Matt Coates: My wife makes a great rice dish with a variety of veggies and "fake meat"such as ground boca. Vegetarians and meat eaters can both enjoy. Rice is great for all and can be mixed with anything.

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Keep it separated: I can't seem to cut the grease from the pour spout of my fat separater. Any ideas for a cleaner spout? I feel like there is lots of grease residue stuck in there that a hot, soapy bath doesn't clean.

Joe Yonan: Google "cleaning brush."

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Beer Lover: So last week, you stated, "Next week, we'll have two tix to the upcoming SAVOR event in June to give away, so alert your fellow beer lovers." Are you still doing this? I would LOVE to have these tickets, I am a huge beer fan (mmm, just thinking about Moose Drool makes me drool) and wasn't able to get tickets. And Alaskan Amber is my husband's FAVORITE (we've been trying to order it online to no avail) and I know they will have it there. Please please please can I have the tickets?

Joe Yonan: Yes, we will! Sorry, I forgot to mention it in the intro. (Blame it on my reentering the working world fog...)

OK, other chatters, anybody else going to make a bid for these tickets? Make me laugh, and they could be yours.

Joe Yonan: Remember, it's sold out, so this is your last chance...

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Alexandria, Va.: With the hot weather here and my attempt to eat more vegetables and grains I thought about eating more cold salads(non-meat based) for dinner, but need some inspiration. I have tried to wing it a few times and it comes up short, especially the dressings. Any ideas or recipes that you could recommend?

Jane Black: I love this salad with seasonal asparagus, mushrooms and goat cheese. The parmesan dressing is amazing and the recipe makes more than you'll need. So keep it in the fridge to use on other salads. It would work well with on a nicoise salad (with tuna, green beans, potatos and olives).

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Downtown D.C.: When we had chickens on a small farm when I was a kid, they were free-range, and their range included the compost heap. I think cantelope rinds and seeds were their favorite, but they also got the tough outer leaves of greens and every other scrap of produce they could get, not just the bugs and grasses that "free-range" usually means. I wonder if that's why their eggs had such an intense flavor? And their shells were harder. I learned to cook with them, and when I moved on my own and was buying store-bought eggs, I made quite a few messes by hitting the shells on the side of the bowl in the same way I had learned when young

But I do have a question! I can't find tamarind paste to save my soul. I made a great pad thai recently, using leftover paste from my brother's refrigerator in Alexandria, though I expect he brought the paste back from one of his trips abroad. Where do I find it here? I've been able to get the fish sauce and the rice vinegar the recipe calls for at Harris Teeter and the larger Safeways, but I can't find the tamarind in even the best-stocked Asian food aisles.

Tamar Haspel: My chickens also have a range that includes the compost heap, and we couldn't tell the difference between their eggs and other eggs. But if your chickens had access to lots of strong flavors -- onion, garlic, citrus -- your eggs may indeed have had a characteristic flavor.

If tamarind paste is truly what's required to save one's soul, I wish someone had told me earlier.

Joe Yonan: You should hit a big Asian supermarket, like the Super H. Or a Latin store such as Panamerican in Columbia Heights.

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Rockville, Md.: What are good sources for gluten-free recipes?

Matt Coates: There is a magazine aimed at people with food allergies and sensitivities called Living Without that has some appealing recipes. I've seen it on sale at Whole Foods and bookstores. Website is:

http://www.livingwithout.com

Joe Yonan: Also, you should follow Gluten-Free Girl.

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Maybe Not Exactly Your Question, But. . .: I love Kelsey Nixon and think she, not Big Daddy Aaron McCargo nor Adam Gerstler nor Lisa whose last name I forget, should have been the Next Food Network Star in 2008. She won the popular vote, which brought her a new kitchen. I realize she's a star on Food2, but, now that there's the Cooking Channel as well as the Food Network, why doesn't she have her own show? It was good to see her on Chefs vs. City, but she deserves more. She's beautiful, energetic, and a very good cook. What do you think?

Bonnie Benwick: Depends on what holds your interest in a cooking show. I didn't get a strong sense of what her food was going to be like from that competition, and I haven't seen her on tv since.

Joe Yonan: I have to say, I haven't been that blown away by too many of the NFNS contestants generally...

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Anonymous: We are having a bake sale to raise money for a local charity. Any suggestions on what to offer up besides the classics (brownies, rice crispy treats, etc) that will last outside?

Matt Coates: How about some slightly more exotic cookies such as macaroons or sheet cookies (which you cut apart after cooking)? I especially like sheet cookies made with GOOD jelly-like candy such as orange slices. Check out old cookbooks. They have the best cookie. Avoid chocolatey things outside in the heat, of course.

Bonnie Benwick: Think outside the box and make the intl sign of NO CUPCAKES. This coca-cola cake from Lisa Yockelson is a winner, hands-down. Make it in a sheet cake and cut into squares. Frosting, or no, people can't resist it. Also, I have to make something for my friend's school bake sale every year and this spring I poached some pears in a ginger syrup, and packaged each one on a plate with a small container of caramel syrup. Also snapped up.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi foodies! I would like to make the Fruit, nut bar recipe from a week or so ago, but it calls for a cup and a half of coconut. I truly do not like coconut. If I was to leave it out would it affect the consistency of the bars much? Is there something else I could/should add in its place (maybe increase other items a wee bit?) Just wondering before I try making them without the coconut..

Matt Coates: Womans Day magazine suggests replacing coconut it with an equal amount of the flour used in the recipe; unprocessed bran; oats; ground nuts or even chopped dried fruit. Sounds good to me,

Bonnie Benwick: Recipe author Lisa Yockelson says -- The coconut provides moisture, balances the oat and fruit, and a identifies its textural "chew." Replacing it would skew the results, and not guarantee the tested and preferred end-result.

With these caveats in mind, you could try increasing the chewier dried fruit, such as dried cherries and apricots (by processing medium-fine) and using a little extra flaxseed meal, to reach the amount of the coconut.

Substitutions such as this are not guaranteed to yield the perfectly configured bars developed! The ingredients and their amounts -- in baking -- are generally pivotal to the finished success of the recipe.

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Missing Portland, Maine: It's been two years since I visited Portland, Maine, and I still crave the molasses cookies from the Standard Baking Company. I once called the bakery to see if they would consider shipping me the cookies to my address in Virginia.

If you know of these molasses cookies, can you recommend any bakeries here in the D.C. metro area that is comparable? Or even better, do you have any recipes that can compare?

Jane Black: We have a few recipes for molasses cookies in the database. It seems like the decision you have to make is do you want chewy or not chewy? Decide and then check out the options.

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Cookie info for Joe Y: I think he is referring to Raggedy Robins. We learned to make them in Girl Scouts. Yum so good!

Joe Yonan: Oh, I didn't know that was their name. Thanks! I tarted mine up, of course, going for a little more adult appeal...

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Clifton, Va. : Forgot to mention temp makes a big difference in peeling the perfect egg for deviled eggs. Egg has to be warm almost to warm to handle not cold to make the shell come off clean and easy. Cold egg impossible to get a perfect peeled egg.

Joe Yonan: Actually, the big breakthrough (literally) for me was adding a little baking soda to the ice water. So when the egg comes out of the boiling water, you transfer it to the ice bath with the baking soda in it, immediately crack all around, then peel a little off from the rounded end (the end that you pricked with an egg pricker, of course!), and put it back in the water. The baking soda changes the pH and makes the egg super, super easy to peel.

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for the fish during the week person: I make a bunch of salmon cakes (made with canned wild caught salmon and Trader Joe's even has the wild caught canned salmon with no salt added) with chili pepper, pickle relish, mustard, corn, celery, etc. and freeze them. They reheat wonderfully.

Bonnie Benwick: Yess.

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Rockville, Md.: What's the shelf life of port (opened and unopened)? Can I make use of it in sangria if I'm out of brandy? Thanks!

Jason Wilson: The shelf life of unopened port is very long, especially vintage port, which is almost indefinite -- 50, 60, 70 years. Opened port is a different story. Port is a wine, and so it spoils quickly, and is really meant to be opened and consumed. Vintage port might only last a day or two. Tawny or Late Bottle Vintage port might last a month or so. Be aware of this when you see an opened port at a bar and a restaurant.

As for the sangria, you wouldn't probably replace the brandy with the port, since it's a wine. But here are some ideas in this article and this recipe that involve port and don't call for brandy. Here, also, is a nice pitcher drink, called Thieves' Punch, which calls for port.

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for Bean bags: This is when a slow cooker comes in handy. Plug it in outside in the summertime to avoid heating up the house.

Tamar Haspel: Just make sure not to cook kidney beans in a slow cooker. They have a toxin that isn't neutralized until over about 180 degrees, and some slow cookers don't get hotter than that. Always boil your kidneys. Beans, that is, beans.

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Mint: Last weekend when we went to my friend's house, he had made mint vanilla ice cream. He added a LOT of mint to the creme anglaise (and a lot vanilla bean) cooked it down, strained out the mint and then made the ice cream. I don't normally like mint ice cream, but this was fabulous. And a great way to use up a very abundant crop of mint from the garden.

Joe Yonan: Nice! I've had lots of fresh mint in sorbet, but not ice cream. Will have to try it!

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Canning supplies: Just seconding the suggestion of hardware stores -- I found mine jam jars and pectin at Ace Tenleytown.

I grew up in the midwest where all the grocery stores carry canning supplies and couldn't believe how hard it was to track them down here.

They also had supplies in the store of the farm where we went strawberry picking, but they were a little more expensive.

Joe Yonan: They're getting easier to find, with the increase in popularity of canning.

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Washington, D.C.: For the Post Hunt snackers, David Lebovitz's friendship bars (he also calls them fruitcake bars, but don't let that scare you) are incredible and very flexible. You use whatever fruit and nut combinations you want and they always turn out beautifully.

Jane Black: I heart David Lebovitz. His recipes rock.

Joe Yonan: I second that.

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Sangria : I'm making sangria this weekend and recipe calls for orange liqueur. Does it matter if it's triple sec, cointreau, other? What's the difference, anyway?

Jason Wilson: Well, if you already have triple sec, it's fine, but I would always steer you toward Cointreau (or Combier). For one, Cointreau is higher proof than most basic (read: cheap) triple secs, and that higher proof is going work better, bring more flavor, especially in a punch or Sangria. It's just going to make the drink better. I did a taste testing a couple years back you can read here. Would love to hear the sangria recipe you're making, btw.

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Wheaton, Md.: I'm trying to get cardamom pods for Indian dishes. Some questions I hope you can answer. Green or black cardamom? What's a good price per pound? And where can I find some in Montgomery Co.? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Patel Bros. in Rockville has them, and I'm pretty sure Balducci's in N. Bethesda does, too. I come across recipes that call for green cardamom pods more often than black.

Pricewise, the green ones may cost a tad more: at Patel, it's green at 3.5 ounces $4.99 vs. black (3.5 ounces) at $2.49.

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Joe's Mom's cookies: I have that recipe, too. My oldest sister made them in high school home ec class and we've had the recipe for 30+ years - for whatever reason they're called "Raggedy Robbins"

Joe Yonan: So great. Now maybe I know why I liked them so much. I don't think there are any pix of this left anymore, so I'm safe, but I once went as Raggedy Andy to my sister Julie's Raggedy Anne for Halloween.

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Washington, D.C. : Is it possible to buy locally-grown pumpkins?

And thanks for the article -- it was great.

Thanks

Matt Coates: You shouldn't have any trouble finding local pumpkins if you are willing to hit the farmers markets and roadside stands in the fall. Better: travel out to pumpkin patches that have something other than jack-o-lanters. Pumpkins start arriving in early September usually. Cooking varieties are often called "sugar pumpkins" and "field pumpkins: Dickenson is the Libby's pumpkin.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you know where I might be able to find fresh figs? I've tried Whole Foods and Harris Teeter with no luck. Thanks!

Jane Black: It's not fig season yet. I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for August or even September. Then you'll find them.

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Freshly Ground Pepper: Most of the chefs/cooks on Food Network used freshly ground pepper. Giada and Ina, however, do not. Is there a big difference? What do you use? Are there times when one is better than the other?

Jane Black: I only use freshly ground pepper. All spices start to lose their flavor when they are ground so, in my mind, it only makes sense to grind it fresh to order.

Joe Yonan: Yep, me, too.

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Deviled Eggs: My favorite devilled eggs are also the easiest: mash the yolks with sweet pickle relish and Durkee's Sauce. If you want to get fancy, sprinkle a little paprika on top.(Durkee's is a sandwich spread/condiment that tastes more-or-less like a combination of mayonaisse and mustard, only...better. It's got more of a tang than mustard and mayonaisse, but it's hard to put your finger on. Maybe a little more vinegar? Maybe something else? We actually had it in our house more in the fall than any other time, because it makes the perfect leftover-cold-turkey sandwich; in fact, that's the only way my father would eat cold turkey. See here: Durkee Famous Sauce

Tamar Haspel: There are as many deviled egg recipes as there are cooks, I think. I've never seen one that didn't sound good.

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Clifton, Va. : Joe

How many eggs are you peeling? 3? I am talking doing 24 dozen for restaurant catering. No time to prick it or anything else.

Joe Yonan: I'm peeling 200,000 dozen, Clifton, why?

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New Mexico: for Canning: I am ashamed to admit it, but I've seen canning supplies in more than one Walmart, although I live in N.M., not the Mid-Atlantic. It might be worth a phone call to ask.

Joe Yonan: Don't be ashamed!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi there, Two questions for you folks...

1. Can you suggest a good Web site for tasty diabetic-friendly recipes? I'm hosting my folks next weekend and I want to cook up some yummy dishes that my mom will be able to enjoy worry-free.

2. I have a salad recipe I want to maek for a shower I'm hosting that calls for cooked chicken. What exactly does that mean? Do I boil a breast? If so, in what? Water? Broth? Do I flavor it with certain spices? I'm at a total loss!

Thanks!

Matt Coates: I think cut-up roasted chicken breasts would work best. Boiled can be soggy, especially in a salad. I wouldn't season beyond a little pepper ...especially if there is dressing involved. You can buy pre-cut parts, even pre-cooked, if time and work is an issue.

Joe Yonan: My favorite way to make chicken for chicken salad, actually, is to poach. Boneless, skinless chicken breast goes in water and/or stock, preferably seasoned, bring it up to boil, turn off, cover, and let sit for about 20 minutes. The breast is velvety this way.

On the first one, check out diabeticcooking.com.

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Cape Cod oysters: Hello, Tamar,

I love Cape Cod and at the same time am amazed to learn that you moved there to live a farm life. I tend to assume the whole Cape has gone the way of hip-quaint P'Town, or Wellfleet in August, full of shrinks lying on the beach reading books. Anyway, even though it's off-topic, I'd love to know how you chose that area for your home.

Back to food matters, please share a recipe for Cape Cod fried oyster sandwiches -- and if you or another Food chatter can, please compare them to oyster Po'Boys.

Thank you!

Tamar Haspel: I can assure you that I am neither hip nor quaint -- defying stereotypes wherever I go! Although I'd love to spend more time lying on the beach reading books.

I've been coming here all my life, but my husband and I landed here permanently almost by accident -- we bought the house as a second home, and then decided to stay.

As for fried oysters -- shuck them, drain them, dredge them in flour, egg, and panko (in that order). Deep fry. Mayo with a shot of Tabasco. You're done.

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State College, Pa.: Hi -- I submitted a question last week about raw eggs in a salmon sandwich filler. I'd prefer to skip the raw eggs, if possible. Bonnie (I think) answered that I could use something else for the binding agent, but that it was hard to comment without seeing the recipe. So here's the recipe; any help is appreciated:

Salmon Rillettes

from BISTRO by Gerald Hirogoyen (Sunset Books)

13 oz fresh slamon fillet, skin removed Salt and pepper

1/2 cup plus 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, very soft 2 eggs 1 tsp. lemon juice 1 Tbs. fresh chives 7 oz smoked salmon (the lox type) cut into small pieces

Buttered, toasted baguette slices

Salt and pepper the salmon fillet and steam until just opaque throughout. Let cool and shred with a fork.

Whisk the butter and eggs together. (It may look a little curdled.) Stir in lemon juice, chives and both salmons. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the mixture into a terrine or individual ramekins and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bonnie Benwick: Welcome back, State. You have a couple of ways to go: Use powdered egg whites and a little more butter and lemon juice, or 5-6 tablespoons of mayonnaise, or fresh bread crumbs (I'd also up the butter/lemon juice, if using the crumbs).

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Bowie, Md.: I use a standard deviled egg recipe, but after putting the yolk mixture back into the whites, I always top them with a sprinkle of Old Bay. They are the best! Old Bay is good on everything!

Tamar Haspel: I rest my case on that whole as-many-deviled-egg-recipes-as-cooks thing.

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Novice: Hi, foodies -- I have -no idea- how to cook. I'm capable of only the simplest things. Part of the problem is that I typically cook for one, and I find it to be such a hassle -- spending 30 or 40 minutes making a meal that takes me 10 or 15 minutes to eat. Are there any cookbooks or website you can recommend that have super simple recipes for small portions?

Jane Black: Joe should really answer this. He's the expert at cooking for one. But I'm going to be annoying and answer your question sideways. It's probably less the amount you are cooking than the fact that you are a novice cook. To cook faster, you have to practice. Then that ratio will come back to a place where you are more comfortable. The extra chopping for larger portions is pretty incremental. And if you're going to do the work, it might be worth the extra few minutes for some leftovers!

Joe Yonan: Yes, I think the key is getting to the point where you actually enjoy it, and then spending 30 minutes to make something seems perfectly reasonable, even relaxing. The great thing about cooking just for yourself is that, well, you have only yourself to please, so you can let your cravings take you anywhere you want to go. I suggest you take a knife skills class at L'Academie or Culinaerie, and look at books such as "What We Eat When We Eat Alone" by Deborah Madison, "The Pleasures of Cooking for One" by Judith Jones, and of course my monthly column.

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Beer! Beer! Beer!: After nearly eight years away from D.C., my family is moving back thanks to a husband who has worked hard for all these years with a smile on his face and good humor (most of the time). I would love to present that patient, loving human with a couple of tickets to a beer event (any beer event would be great!) in D.C. and suggest we "see what our new old home town has to offer."

Greg Kitsock: June is the big month for beer events. Go to the website : www.craftbeer.com/pages/news-and-events/calendar (search under June) for a list of events happening this week, leading up to the SAVOR festival on Saturday. I listed a few of them in my latest beer blog at washingtonpost.com/allwecaneat.

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Fairfax, Va.: Regarding difficulty of reheating fish -- Don't. Prepare recipes that can be eaten later cold. We are enjoying 90 degree days and there is really no reason to fire up the stove or nuke anything.

Regarding old cans of pumpkin, or cans of anything of uncertain age -- call the company. Nearly every label has an 800 number and they'll tell you when the stuff was canned and if it should be okay.

Jane Black: Good advice.

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Quick avocado question : To sprout an avocado pit, which end goes in water -- the narrow one or the wide one? And do I need to do anything else?

Thank you!

Bonnie Benwick: Bottom/wide/rounded side down. Suspend the pit over a container of water; toothpicks stuck into either side works well.

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Arlington, Va. S: Figs!

Many (all?) fig trees produce two crops of figs. In Italy the first crop is know as "primi" and is usually available around the end of spring. The second crop does come in late summer/early fall, as you said.

I have a fig tree in my front yard, and it does produce two crops. Regrettably, there are much fewer of the primi and the birds get almost all of them. In the fall I manage to get collect many more as the birds seem to get their fill.

Jane Black: Well, what do you know. Thanks! But as for in stores, I don't usually see them until they are in season. In California, it's a different story...

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Washington, D.C.: On a whim, I bought a bag of goat bones from our local Farmers Market (Silver Spring). I decided I would make broth. Now I am wondering, how do I make the broth and what do I use goat broth for?

Tamar Haspel: Roast your bones, spread in a pan, at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, until they start to brown. Then add carrots, onions, celery (if you want), and cover with water. Simmer for a couple of hours, and strain.

Use it like beef stock, or like chicken stock in anything that isn't too delicate.

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Mixed diet friends: When I have mixed diet friends like that, I often like to have a "make your own" type dinner. You can make fajitas where you have grilled veggies, grilled meats, grilled portabellos (for the vegetarians) and you can have both flour and corn tortillas (no gluten). You can also have a make-your-own pizza bar. You have pizza doughs, sauce and toppings...for the gluten free, there are several recipes on the web for gluten free pizza doughs. Be creative, but there are many mix-and-match, make-your-own dinner concepts that aren't too much work.

Matt Coates: Great idea. It reminded me that tacos (hard or soft) are a great build-it-yourself opportunity especially since you can use both real/fake meat and fish/seafood.

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Arlington, Va.: With summer upon us, I am considering purchasing an ice cream machine which has its own compressor. I was wondering if anyone on the Washington Post Food community has had any experieence with these types of ice cream machines and could offer a reccomendation.

Jane Black: I have the relatively inexpensive Cuisinart ice cream maker. I like it but I only make ice cream a few times a year. The trick is keeping the cylinder in the freezer at least overnight before using. It says it only needs to chill for a few hours but I find the ice cream doesn't come together unless it is really cold.

Joe Yonan: I've used the ones that have a built-in motor, and they're amazing.

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Dried limes: Hi, Foodists,

I've seen dried limes for sale in Middle Eastern markets and found a few recipes on-line.

I'm wondering if you know if it's okay to use the dried-up limes in my refrigerator in the recipes, or if the dried limes in stores are dried (and maybe grown) in some special way?

Thank you.

Bonnie Benwick: Not the same thing. Dried limes are dehydrated in a way that does not promote mold. Can you say the same thing about the ones in your fridge?

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Sterling, Va.: Tamarind -- if you aren't next to Grand or H mart you might try Shopper's They have a lot of really interesting items catering to ethnic communities. I have seen tamarind paste there in the past, but I couldn't say if they have it now.

And for eggs-goose and turkey eggs are also very good- you could call up farmers from those local farm lists - I'm sure you can get them if you make arrangements ahead of time. Goose eggs have a more transparent white (when cooked) than do chicken eggs, and both turkey and goose eggs have a brighter more luminous yolk color.

Joe Yonan: Yep on both. Thanks. I like duck eggs, myself. Get them from Pecan Meadow Farm at 14th/U market.

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Cookie for Joe: I just made a batch of the no-bake chocolate, oatmeal, peanut butter ones. I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa which made them very intensely chocolate. Almost like eating fudge. Fabulous.

Joe Yonan: Great!

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Washington, D.C.: Savor tickets! I've got a great tip for making frozen drinks for summer--use frozen fruit (berries, peaches, etc.) instead of regular fruit with ice. The frozen fruit really makes the drink delicious and flavor concentrated.

Greg Kitsock: If you like fruit beers, there are some interesting ones that should be available at SAVOR, including Pub Dog Very Cherry Ale from DOG BRewing Co., a microbrewery in Westminster, Md.

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Anonymous: Your article mentions "exotic pumpkins." Could these types of pumpkins be used for cooking -- just like regular ones?

And thanks for the article in the paper -- I didn't know there was so much to know about pumpkins!

Matt Coates: You've only scratched the surface on pumpkins, I have learned. And yes, these exotic pumpkins (any pumpkins or squash really) can be eaten and are eaten all over the world. Heirloom varieties are great, too and may have taste and consistency that is more familiar. Check out Mac Condill's website -- http://the200acres.com/

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SAVOR!: Getting SAVOR tickets would win me not only the best wife ever award (which I'm already in the running for due to buying my husband 750 mls for his birthday), but also the best sister-in-law ever. Pretty please?

re:Cooking on a Budget, I sympathize. I try to shop the sales, but have trouble coming up with a menu from those. Tips please?

Greg Kitsock: For some reason, the breweries tend to package their biggest, highest-alcohol in the largest size bottles, the 750-ml ones you mention. Somehow, I wonder if 7 oz. "nip" bottles might be more appropriate.

Anyway, that's why I like festivals like SAVOR - you can get a 3 or 4-oz. taste of these big beers.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've peeled us under a stream of water, patted us dry, cut us in half lengthwise, and deviled us, so you know what that means: We're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Tamar and Matt for helping us answer them.

Now for the winners: The Savor tickets will go to the chatter who drools at Moose Drool. The "Edible" book will go to the chatter who wrote about ideas for using up mint. And "The Big Summer Cookbook" will go to the chatter who asked about making cold (non-meat-based) salads. Email your mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your stuff.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, drinking and reading.

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