The Washington Post

Chat Leftovers: It’s your turn

Happy 2013! What better way to start off a new year than with a week’s worth of healthful dinner recipes from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. It’s an annual feature you’ll find today in Food. Also today, a treat for “Downton Abbey” fans: Becky Krystal writes about the Edwardian-era food that’s practically a cast member in the hit series on PBS.

And finally, today we welcome back Food editor Joe Yonan, who spent the past year in the wilds of Maine working on a book project. He’ll be here to honcho today’s Free Range chat, our weekly get-together to talk about all things culinary. Join us at noon, won’t you? And be sure to bring your questions. As usual, we’ll do our best to answer them.

Speaking of annual features, once a year I abrogate my leftover-question-answering responsibilities and let the chatters do all the work. That time is now! So here are bits of leftover wisdom imparted during Free Range chats over the past 12 months. Read and learn!

My brother got this idea from somewhere. You can either peel your own huge pile of garlic cloves or buy them pre-peeled. Put them all in the food processor and pulse until chopped fine. Then press into a pan with parchment paper in it, so that you have a thick sheet of chopped garlic. After it’s frozen, cut it into little cubes and keep in the freezer in a baggie or container. Pop a cube into your cooking for a clove of garlic. It’s not bad for people who are busy and have kids, who need to be able to cook quickly with less of a mess.

When steaming fish, make sure you put it on a plate first, then in the steamer. The nectar collected in the bottom of your plate will be worth its weight in gold -- the best sauce you can come up with.

For a children’s party, try baking cake batter in flat-bottomed ice cream cones. Decorate them however you please and the kids seem to love them!

When I’m faced with a glut of eggplants, I roast them in a 450-degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes, then peel and mash and freeze. Makes a very concentrated pulp I use moussaka or bharta or baba ghanouj.

For nearly any bread recipe, including challah and baguettes, you can replace ¼ of the all-purpose flour with white whole-wheat flour, adding a little bit of extra liquid.

Here’s how I get lighter mashed potatoes. I use Yukon Golds cooked with several cloves of garlic, then mash them with just a little butter, salt and pepper and -- buttermilk. Buttermilk is very low-fat and has a buttery taste and a tang similar to sour cream’s. No one ever guesses this is a lighter version; they just eat it up.

I’m trying to get away from storing foods in plastic. I freeze some foods in glass jars, without the lid on at first, and usually leaving about an inch at the top. Make sure to use the jars that are freezer-safe; according to the Ball jar Web site, not all of them are.

Self-rising flour makes amazing pancakes, in case you have leftover flour you need to use up.

My favorite side dish for a cookout is chickpea salad. No real recipe, but I combine chick peas, a little diced red onion (or a good amount of diced and browned sweet onion), a few ribs’ worth of diced celery, chopped green apple, halved red grapes and toasted nuts, then mix it all with a creamy mustard dressing (yogurt, grainy mustard, honey, lemon juice, salt, pepper and curry powder to taste). Gets rave reviews.

As the father of five who ALL love veggies and have very broad palates, here’s my two cents about dealing with picky eaters: Keep trying! Be seen to be enjoying vegetables. Have vegetables at every meal. Limit choices where the only thing to eat is vegetables. Make it a positive experience. Don’t create a dynamic where they KNOW that all they have to do is wait and the chicken nuggets will be forthcoming. Insist that they try everything, and respect their choices, but do NOT respect their refusal to try. Maybe my children just have naturally adventurous palates, but I think not: I think all kids can be taught to enjoy most any type of food!

When I have leftover eggnog, I put it in bread pudding.

Peel and slice bananas, then freeze them. Throw them in a mini chopper or blender until they reach a soft-serve consistency. Tastes like banana ice cream! You can add peanut butter, cocoa powder, etc. So easy and delicious.

I enjoy quinoa as a rice substitute when I eat Thai food. The coconut curries get soaked up into the grains. With that in mind, I tried cooking quinoa using half water and half coconut milk. It was delicious, and a great way to make it a little more filling.

For the chatter wanting to make hot Crock-Pot type party drinks: I’ve done hot chocolate before. Made it in a huge saucepan, transferred it to the crock pot to keep warm and then set up a “bar” with peppermint and butterscotch schnapps and whiskey for add-ons.

Just so you know, many public libraries offer free access to Consumer Reports online. We use it all the time.

For really quick meals, I always have pasta sauce (from the garden) in my freezer. I throw in a can of lentils and a package of frozen spinach. Serve over pasta. Has protein and vegetables all in one.

In response to the chatter who asked about alternate ways to prepare salmon so that it doesn’t cook too fast or overcook: My go-to recipe for the past few months has been slow-cooked salmon, baked at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. Just incredibly silky and tender, almost melt-in-your-mouth!

Cinnamon has an inhibiting effect on yeast. While you can barely get away with freezing some yeast doughs, you just can’t freeze doughs with yeast and cinnamon. Even refrigerating them is touchy. I’ve had slightly better luck with regular non-instant yeast when freezing dough, but only slightly.

For the person with too many coffee beans: Just put the whole beans in a bowl as an arty-looking room deodorizer. We have a bowl in the master bathroom. Alternatively, put them in the bottom of a glass hurricane and set a candle on top of them for another decorative use.

You can’t substitute half-and-half directly for heavy cream, as the fat content is so dramatically different. Half-and-half will not thicken as it boils, the way heavy cream does, but you can definitely use it as the liquid for making roux-thickened cream sauces, such as cheese sauce for mac ‘n’ cheese. You can also use it in creamy soups, or in mashed potatoes, or mix with water to make wonderfully rich hot cereal. Basically, you can use it anywhere you’d use whole milk, and if it seems too rich, just use less and add some water to make up the difference.

You can freeze whipping cream in dollops after it has been whipped. Just put a large spoonful on a flat surface, freeze, then put in a baggie. You wouldn’t want to serve it to guests, but it tastes just fine thawed. However, it’s good for just a couple weeks.

Pyrex (glass) leftover containers have become my solution to not liking the taste of any food (oatmeal or otherwise) reheated in the microwave. I also love that I can put the food in hot without worrying about it.

For the person looking for cocktail ideas: For something that’s more of a project, I’ve experimented with using cheesecloth to extract liquid from pureed cooked squash, which you can use to make a drink version of a dessert dish, like a pumpkin pie martini made with cream, spices and vodka. Or something stronger, like the drink I’m making this year with dark rum, ginger liqueur and hot sauce. (I know it sounds weird, but I actually thought it was pretty good.)

I make a creamy squash soup with light coconut milk instead of dairy. It’s healthier, it tastes better, and it can make the soup vegan.

A tip to tell when fish is done. I have no idea where I heard this, but it totally works. Take a thin metal skewer and stick it into the middle of the thickest part of the fish, then place it in that dent underneath your nose. If it’s cold, the fish is not done. If it’s warm, the fish should come out of the oven and rest for five minutes or so. If you burn your skin, you overcooked it.

My wife and I always cook from scratch each weeknight, and neither of us usually makes it home from the office until after 7. Our trick is to do all of the prep work Sunday night: chop vegetables, pre-cook proteins, etc. We then put the ingredients in storage containers. When it’s time to cook, this shaves 10-15 minutes off a recipe’s time and also reduces the headache of prepwork and some cleaning (e.g, cutting boards). Doesn’t work with all recipes, but when it does, it’s a lifesaver.

If you have veggie-phobe kids, try giving them sweet potatoes or butternut squash, mashed with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. I bet if they try it, they’ll like it. You can always bake it in little pastry shells and call it “pie.”

I’ve come up with a simple formula for lemonade that is low in sugar, but still sweet. If you use 8 ounces of lemon juice and 4 ounces of sugar and add water to fill a 96-ounce jug, it comes out to slightly more than 9 grams of sugar per 8 ounces and is delicious. Newman’s Own lemonade has 27 grams per 8 ounces.

There are only two ways to get rid of/avoid a garlic smell on your fingers after chopping garlic: 1. Wear gloves when you chop. 2. Grow older. The smell on my hands after chopping garlic or onions would bother me terribly for days, no matter how often or what I washed with, when I was in my 20s. Two decades later, all of the usual suggestions (lemon juice, stainless steel, etc.) work like magic.


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