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September 29, 2010

12:01
P.M.

Free Range on Food

Total Responses: 72

About the hosts

About the host

Free Rangers

The Washington Post Food section is your source for cooking and food stories and hundreds of recipes.

All We Can Eat Blog
Food Q&A archive

About the topic

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.

In life there are margarine people and there are butter people. Which one are you?
Q.

Joe Yonan :

Greetings, all, and welcome to the Range, where we're going to head out onto the streets (at least in our minds) and eat some food-truck chow. David Hagedorn, who gave three days' worth of sweat equity to three of the vendors, will be in the room to tell us what all that was about. And of course I'm happy to dish on all the things I ate for my roundup of 13 trucks or to talk about my blog post today in support of a food-truck "ghetto."  If you haven't already, head to our poll to weigh in on your own favorites.

Now for our giveaway books: We have a SIGNED copy of the fab Kim O'Donnel's "Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook," which Bonnie wrote about today; plus "Cook & Freeze: 150 Delicious Dishes to Serve Now And Later" by Dana Jacobi, source of the latest installment of our Make It, Freeze It, Take It series.

Let's get this rolling!

Q.

Solar Crepes

Fascinating article on food carts. I'm curious about the business model. You said Solar Crepes could gross $125,000 annually at the rate of business you observed. What is the net amount? Is the food cart profitable, or a cool labor of love?
A.
David Hagedorn :

And there's the rub, right? When I asked the question about costs, the women explained that they just opened in July and had not really determined yet what their costs were exactly. One thing for sure was that they weren't in the black, yet. "We're not buying stuff at Costco," they explained. They are committed to buying organic wherever they can and their ingredients are top-notch, so costs are high. They reduced the menu and streamlined it more, meaning that products were being cross-utilized. They started serving breakfast a couple of week ago. They are making an effort to reduce waste, to figure out and project what their sales will be. "Unlike in a restaurant, the idea is really to run out of things every day, ideally," said co-owner Danna Andrews. In other words, it's a way to go before profits come into the picture. Their long range goal is to open more carts, at which time economies of scale would work to their advantage.

– September 29, 2010 12:02 PM
Q.

welcome home meals

i'm about to go out of town for two & a half weeks (yay!). I'll return on a Saturday night and then back to work that Monday (boo!). I'm thinking it might be a good idea to have some things in the freezer so I don't have to scramble to have lunches, etc., for that first week. Any suggestions? Note, it's just me, but I don't mind eating the same thing every day 'til it's gone. Maybe a turkey meatloaf, but would I freeze it uncooked? or a lasagne? is there a rule of thumb for that?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

How 'bout that  Lemon Chicken and  Rice Casserole in today's paper (shown in pre- and post-baked fashion)? For meatloaf, cook, cool and freeze (it's easier to reheat). For lasagna you can go either way.

– September 29, 2010 12:02 PM
Q.

Out west

What a fun section today! The make and freeze excerpts are especially timely for me as a friend is due with twins any day now. The lemon chicken and rice sounds good, but, uh, I'm confused by the picture -- is that before and after cooking? Any other free range favorites (is there a good search term for the online recipes?) to take to new parents? I'm hoping to be organized enough to take dinner once a week, but I'm trying to avoid baked pasta dishes since those can be pretty common.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Yes, it's before and after. Guess we should have labeled them as such. Yep, you can find other MFT recipes in our  database by doing an Advanced Search on Make It Freeze It Take It.  (I like the Mango-Cranberry Chicken  in that bunch.) But you should also search on soups and sauces, as they freeze flat, freeze well and can be defrosted easily.

– September 29, 2010 12:04 PM
Q.

Best Buns Vanilla Cupcakes again

I wrote in last week and you guys suggested using Lemon Oil in place of vanilla to make these lemon flavored. I'd love to try it, but do you know of any stores where I could physically go and pick it up? I know you gave me a link for Boyajian last week, but I'd love to go buy it in a store. Thanks!
A.
Joe Yonan :

I've seen it at Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.  Not sure which of those is nearest you, so let your fingers do the walking!

– September 29, 2010 12:05 PM
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I'm pretty sure La Cuisine has it in Alexandria, as well as any cake supply shop you're near (Little Bitts in Wheaton or Fran's in Fairfax).

– September 29, 2010 12:05 PM
Q.

Avocados

Are there any secrets to saving an avocado for multi-day use? I started to use avocado as a spread instead of other condiments but not sure how to make it last through the week.
A.
Jane Black :

One hint is to leave the pit inside the half you are not using. If you cover it tightly with plastic wrap, that keeps it from going brown. If you make a spread with it, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface. This will keep some of the air out and the color.

– September 29, 2010 12:06 PM
A.
Joe Yonan :

You can also rub the exposed flesh with a little oil before wrapping; I find that helps, too.

– September 29, 2010 12:06 PM
Q.

baking frozen pies

I made a savory pie (stuffed w/kale, capers, garlic and some other things) for a picnic that got rained out, so I froze it, unbaked. I'd like to serve it tonight, but I don't know if I should thaw it out or bake it frozen. If the latter, should I set the oven at the temperature specified in the recipe, or something higher/lower? (If it make any difference, the crust isn't a regular pie crust - it's made with all purpose flour, semolina and olive oil. It's in a standard metal pie pan.)
A.
David Hagedorn :

Bake from frozen at the same temperature and add about 15-20 minutes to the time. Cover loosely with aluminum foil when the crust starts to get too brown. Insert a knife into the center to test it; the knife should be hot enough to be on the verge of thinking about burning you.

– September 29, 2010 12:06 PM
Q.

Margarine!

Thanks so much for the margarine article! It never occurred to me to make it at home, but as someone who keeps a kosher kitchen, the idea of making my own flavored margarines is incredibly appealing! Extremely cool...
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

It's liberating to think of it as something other than Anti-Butter, as the Gastronomer suggests.

– September 29, 2010 12:07 PM
Q.

Benihana's Clear Soup

You know that delicious soup they serve at the beginning of most Japanese Steakhouses? Is there a recipe for that? How do I make it? It's delicious!!!!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

It's been a good while since I supped at a Benihana's. Is this the soup  you're talking about? It's from a copycat recipe site.

– September 29, 2010 12:10 PM
Q.

Hummus

I FINALLY found a jar a tahini paste in Loudoun,VA. Do you have any good hummus recipes? What else can it be used for?
A.
Joe Yonan :

Ms. Benwick is our resident hummus expert, so I probably should leave this to her, but I can't help it: When she put this recipe from Reem Azoury of Figs restaurant in the section a couple of years ago, I stopped looking, because it's perfect. I adapt it by adding other flavors sometimes, but the basic proportions result in such a great texture.

– September 29, 2010 12:11 PM
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Gratifying, Editor Joe. Ice cubes are the secret ingredient.

– September 29, 2010 12:11 PM
Q.

White Miso Paste

I bought some white miso paste to make a miso cod, but now I have a ton of it left. What else is it good for? I'm really excited to try it out.
A.
David Hagedorn :

This exact issue arose for me, too. I need miso paste for a recipe I was testing and then got to stare at the near-full container every time I opened the refrigerator. Here's what I resolved: to use the paste where I would use stock or salt. So I got rid of a good portion of it to make a big batch of soup using miso paste and water instead of my good stocks from the freezer. Also, when salting vegetables, etc., I am using some miso paste instead, until it is all gone.

– September 29, 2010 12:11 PM
A.
Joe Yonan :

We have a dozen recipes that call for miso -- not always white miso, but you can usually substitute for a slightly different result. I'm a fan of the Carrot Miso Soup and, of course, Miso Pork on a Sweet Potato.

– September 29, 2010 12:11 PM
Q.

Hatch Chilli Peppers

I love Hatch chilli peppers and would like to enjoy them throughout the winter. Is it possible to freeze them or will be be a mushy mess upon thawing? Thanks!
A.
Jim Shahin :

After grilling them, I freeze bags of them to use for salsas, enchiladas, and stews throughout the winter. Their texture becomes a tad mushy, but stays pretty firm. The flavor remains great, too. 

– September 29, 2010 12:11 PM
Q.

Pancakes

I seem to be unable to make a tasty fluffy pancake. I've tried various recipes. Substituting buttermilk for milk (I use 1 percent) helps but still the pancakes come out pretty tasteless. Suggestions?
A.
Jane Black :

When it comes to standards like these, I always go straight to the ever-reliable Cooks Illustrated. Here's their light and fluffy buttermilk recipe.

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk (plus an extra tablespoon or so if batter is too thick)
1 large egg , separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
vegetable oil (for brushing griddle)

Instructions
1. Mix dry ingredients in medium bowl. Pour buttermilk and milk into 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Whisk in egg white; mix yolk with melted butter, then stir into milk mixture. Dump wet ingredients into dry ingredients all at once; whisk until just mixed.

2. Meanwhile, heat griddle or large skillet over strong medium-high heat. Brush griddle generously with oil. When water splashed on surface confidently sizzles, pour batter, about 1/4 cup at a time, onto griddle, making sure not to overcrowd. When pancake bottoms are brown and top surface starts to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes, flip cakes and cook until remaining side has browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Re-oil the skillet and repeat for the next batch of pancakes.

– September 29, 2010 12:12 PM
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I kinda love these:

 

– September 29, 2010 12:12 PM
Q.

Kale pie

That sounds good! Fellow poster, can you share details?
Q.

Question on beans

At the farmers' market this weekend, I found both red kidney beans and dragon tongue beans in their pods. I shelled them but now I'm not really sure what to do with them. Do I treat them like dried beans?
A.
Joe Yonan :

Flavorwise, yes, but cooking-time-wise, no. Since they're fresh they'll cook in a flash -- I'd guess probably 20-30 minutes. You don't need to use as much liquid, either. I like to quickly braise fresh beans: First saute aromatics such as garlic, onion/shallot, maybe some bacon, any other seasonings, then add the beans and  1/2 inch or so of liquid in the pan, turn down the heat, cover, and cook until they're tender. Take off the cover, add a little butter, and turn up the heat, letting the liquid reduce to a glaze.

– September 29, 2010 12:14 PM
Q.

Thanks for Balt/DC food advice

Thanks for your advice on Balt/DC. Couldn't try Birch & Bailey -- didn't realize they were only open for dinner, but want to try it the next time. The Baltimore farmers market on Sunday was rather cool, and there would be no way to know unless you knew in advance. Best meal was a soft shell crab sandwich at Martin's in Georgetown. Worst meal was a $9 salad at the U.S. Capitol, but then again, people don't go there to eat.
Q.

tube cake pan

When testing a cake in a tube cake pan with a toothpick to be sure it's done, the toothpick comes out clean, and the top of the cake is nicely browned and the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. However, sometimes the bottom 1/2-3/4 of an inch isn't cooked through. It isn't obvious until the cake is cut, and then it's too late to bake it longer. Do you have any suggestions on how to solve this problem?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

What kind of recipe is it -- perhaps something with fruit or extra moisture that might sink to the bottom? I admit I haven't experienced your particular problem. I guess I'd suggest 2 things: Bake on the bottom-third rack, closer to the heating element, and/or place the tube pan on baking sheets stacked on top of each other, to promote even heat on the bottom.

Chatter/bakers, whaddya think?

– September 29, 2010 12:16 PM
Q.

Butter vs. Margarine

I notice when I am watching some of my favorite shows, especially Diners, Driv-Ins and Dives, that the cooks use margarine instead of butter. Why is this, since margarine seems nasty to me??
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Well, I happen to have the spiky-haired Guy right here and...Shirley, I jest.  Maybe marg doesn't melt under the lights, or is more widely used for dietary reasons. I can bet you haven't seen Paula Deen use it! And as the Gastronomer has proven today, margarine does not need to be nasty -- if you make it yourself.  What makes it nasty  to you?

– September 29, 2010 12:20 PM
Q.

Backwards and Inside Out

Hello, My daughter will be turning 11 and is going to have a Backwards/Inside Out party. We have lots of games planned, but are still working on food ideas. We're thinking about cupcakes with frosting inside or dessert pizza (served first of course) followed by an inside out pizza -- pizza sauce and toppings served in a dinner roll. Do you have any great ideas that I might have overlooked? Thank you!
A.
Joe Yonan :

You're actually going outside-in rather than inside-out on those ideas, you realize? You could do inside-out tacos, stuffing tortillas (or chips) plus salsa, etc., inside chicken breasts, or maybe inside-out dumplings, in which you pack shrimp paste around fried wonton strips.

Oh, my, those both sound terrible, don't they? Hmm.

– September 29, 2010 12:20 PM
Q.

Meatloaf

For the person freezing a meatloaf, you may also want to slice it and wrap the slices before freezing. That way you can take them out and thaw them as needed, in case you're sick of meatloaf after a while, or so you don't have a whole one sitting in your fridge all week and can't finish it.
A.
Jane Black :

Great tip. Portioning stuff before you freeze it is rule number one. (Not that I always follow it.)

– September 29, 2010 12:21 PM
Q.

Meatless in Boulder

I miss Kim! <sigh> Thanks to encouragement from former WaPoers Kim and Sally we try to do a meatless dinner at least once a week. I sometimes find it tough to be creative and not just have a basic pasta meal, so a cookbook sure would help! ;)
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

She's book touring on the East Coast; in Philly today, I think. I bet this book does very well.  The time is right/ripe!

– September 29, 2010 12:21 PM
Q.

Pancakes

I adore Cooks Illustrated, but on this one I have to question the amount of baking powder. The secret to the recipe I use is two tablespoons of baking powder, no baking soda. Putting yogurt in for some of the liquid provides excellent taste.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Don't mess with Chris Kimball.

– September 29, 2010 12:21 PM
Q.

Seasoned sea salt

I was given a jar of seasoned sea salt that I'd like to replicate. I can play with the mixture of dried herbs but what do I do about ingredients listed such as rosemary oil and dried lemon? Should I just include rosemary? Is it possible to buy the little bits of dried lemon peel? Thanks!

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

You can infuse your own oil with rosemary (discard the fresh herb after infusion). And yes, you can buy spice jars of dried lemon peel, in the grocery store.

– September 29, 2010 12:21 PM
Q.

broccoli rabe

Last week, for the first time, I tried broccoli rabe. I sauteed it with olive oil and sea salt until tender. Sat down to eat it with my roasted chicken and....blech! It was so bitter! Is broccoli rabe supposed to be bitter or did I pick a bad bunch? Any cooking suggestions you can offer would be great as I really want to try broccoli rabe again!
A.
Joe Yonan :

Yep, it's bitter. That's what a lot of people like about it, but for some it can be an acquired taste. The best way to tame it is to blanch it for just a minute or so in salted boiling water, then immediate transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and then saute to your heart's content. That will remove the bite.

– September 29, 2010 12:22 PM
Q.

Nice Article on NY Wines

However, NY wines can't compare to VA wines and NC wines are getting close to NY. We hit the Finger Lakes a few times a year when we are racing at the Glen and have tried most of the wines from that region. Overall VA is better. Even the more local VA wineries are better than thr NY wineries overall.

A.
Joe Yonan :

Dave McIntyre says:

This is precisely why we should all be excited about the growth of "regional wine," as my DrinkLocalWine.com colleague Jeff Siegel has dubbed it. There is so much to explore, and if we dismiss these fascinating wines simply because they are "local," we only cheat ourselves.
 
I would agree with you that Virginia is clearly New York's rival -- Virginia would win hands down in a comparison of Viogniers, for instance, as well as some grapes New York doesn't really try, such as Petit Manseng. I'd call it a draw in Cab Franc, though I might give VA an edge in Bordeaux blends. NY has the lead with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay? Hmmm, another draw. New York beats the pants of any US wine region except possibly Columbia Valley in Riesling. I'd also give NY the edge in sparkling wine, though VA is coming on strong there with Thibaut-Janisson and Kluge.
 

North Carolina has a few interesting wines, but it is nowhere near Virginia or New York in quality.

– September 29, 2010 12:23 PM
Q.

Health effects of stainless steel food storage

I only buy BPA-free water bottles because I've heard so much about the potential health problems associated with microwaving and cleaning plastics and reusing soda bottles and aluminum cans. Are there any health concerns with using stainless steel containers (including water bottles) that we know of? How do the food staffers store/heat up leftovers, and do these health effects concern you at all?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I'll go first.  I either zap a small slice of something on a ceramic plate, or heat up larger amounts of squishy things in a saucepan. I store lots of stuff in freezer-worthy resealable plastic food storage bags. I don't know of any big health probs from storing food in stainless steel containers, but they're not good for acidic foods (tomatoes, etc).

– September 29, 2010 12:25 PM
A.
Joe Yonan :

That's pretty close to what I do, too. I store some things in plastic or glass containers in the freezer and refrigerator. Ziploc brand bags are BPA-free, as are Saran wrap and Glad plastic storage containers. Also Pyrex (glass) uses BPA-free plastic lids, and I use those.

– September 29, 2010 12:25 PM
Q.

Margarine

The margarine story was quite interesting. I have one friend who is vegan and another who is lactose intolerant that are coming for Thanksgiving. Would homemade margarine be an adequate butter substitute for certain TG dishes, including pie crust? If I was going to do so, could I make it with just the coconut milk but omit the other spices so it had a simpler flavor?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I havent tried it but would be interested to hear your results. I have a feeling that solid margarine wouldn't provide the structure that cold butter does, when crumbing it into flour. Maybe start with a blend of your homemade marg and veg shortening? Chatter/bakers, have you had success with all-marg crusts?

– September 29, 2010 12:26 PM
Q.

Squash season

Got two lovely butternuts from the CSA this week, and wondering what to make that's not soup and not overly complicated? I've had it in ravioli filling but that's too much work for a weekday dinner. I like savory more than I like sweet so I need a good way to tone down the sweetness of the squash as well. Thanks and happy fall, finally!
A.
Jane Black :

I am super lazy when it comes to butternut squash. I just roast it (usually at 350 for 50 minutes but that depends on the size). Then I scoop out the flesh and throw it in the food processor with butter and maple syrup and serve it with chicken or pork. But to tone down sweetness, you might consider adding a little white pepper, ginger, cardamom and chopped rosemary. You can also make a soup instead of a puree by sauteeing a little onion with the spices, then adding the roasted puree and some stock.

– September 29, 2010 12:27 PM
Q.

your menu plan

Food writers. What is your menu plan for the week (or last week if you don't plan ahead). What do you really eat in a given week?
A.
Jane Black :

I eat so much less well than you would think. I tend to splurge on good restaurants and big parties (that I throw or go to) and then eat a lot of yogurt and fruit for breakfast and lunch (and even sometimes for dinner). This week, I have planned a bit better. I am having chicken sausages with roasted butternut squash puree and broccoli raab, pasta with (the rest of the) broccoli raab and sausage and pecorino romano. For lunch, butternut squash soup, salads and the pretzel rolls from Wh0le Foods that I am kind of obsessed with.

– September 29, 2010 12:28 PM
Q.

might be a good idea to have some things in the freezer so I don't have to scramble to have lunches

Lentil stew freezes well. Chili, spaghetti sauce. All of which you can cook in your slow cooker.
Q.

leave the pit inside the half you are not using. If you cover it tightly with plastic wrap, that keeps it from going brown.

And the store in the fridge or out?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

In the fridge.

– September 29, 2010 12:28 PM
Q.

Vegan pie crust

I just use vegetable shortening, and the crust turns out nice and flaky.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Of course. A time-honored American recipe. One of my favorite pie crust recipes is about 2/3 shortening, 1/3 butter. You get the tenderness from the shortening but a hit of flavor from the butter.

– September 29, 2010 12:29 PM
Q.

Outside in or Inside out

How about inside out sandwiches? Get breadsticks (you can buy rolls of them in the refridgerator section of the supermarket) and then wrap with your favorite lunchmeats. If you want them hot, you can put a toothpick through them to hold them together and then pan grill them. Inside out ravioli...make a meatball recipe with panade, then make little potato gnocchi and wrap the meatball around the dumpling and then bake. Put your favorite sauce over them. Just a few thoughts...
Q.

Canned Pumpkin

Wegman's has their store brand canned pumpkin on sale for 99 cents a can.
Q.

bottom shelf/top shelf

When a recipe calls for placing something on the bottom shelf or top shelf of an oven, does it matter whether it is a gas or electric oven? (e.g., from which direction the heat emanates?) Especially since heat rises? Thanks.

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Is this in relation to the previous q/a exchange about the tube pan? No matter where the heating element is for that baker, I'd surmise that if the top of the cake was getting enough heat, moving it closer to the bottom would be a possible solution -- even if the heating element was at the top, the bottom floor of the oven retains a lot of heat.

– September 29, 2010 12:31 PM
Q.

Concord Grapes and Hatch Chiles

Found all over now. Probably for a few weeks, though I've been traveling and hadn't a chance to pop over to the markets. Once again saw people looking at them and not buying last night. Also - thanks for the blog post on more options to cooking the Hatch chiles. The ones I picked up here are much better than the ones in New England. Any suggestions for electric stoves and drying them? Mostly I'm asking b/c of tip to remove the skins that was mentioned and no access to a grill currently.
A.
Jim Shahin :

You don't want to dry them, just char them to remove the skin. For doing that in using an electric oven, I'd suggest broiling the peppers. Watch them carefully. As the skin bubbles and blackens, turn them to make sure the entire pepper is charred. Remove them from the oven, and cover them with a damp cloth to steam for about 15 minutes. Leave the charred skins on and freeze. 

– September 29, 2010 12:31 PM
Q.

pie crust option

For 30+ years my mother has used this pie crust recipe from the American Heart Association, using vegetable oil instead of a solid fat. It is a pretty flaky crust, FWIW.

Q.

Kim O'Donnel

Yay for her book giveaway, I didn't realize she had come out with this book! I miss her chats, and I loved that she always had good options for both me and my meat-eating husband!
Q.

butternut squash

I cube it and toss into spicy chili (whic I know is close to soup but totally different). Yum.
A.
Jane Black :

Bean chili? Or with meat?

– September 29, 2010 12:33 PM
Q.

re: avocado

After much experimentation, I find the best way to keep avocado fresh is to put it in a plastic storage tub, either one bought for storage or one that used to hold butter or margarine or sour cream, and keep it with the lid on, in the 'fridge. I also leave the pit in, but that's from laziness so I don't know if it makes a diff.
Q.

Squash season

I like roasting squash and then filling with some sort of chili. The spicy and sweet goes very nice. I have even used something like AMY's canned chili and it is very good.
A.
Jane Black :

Thanks for the suggestion.

– September 29, 2010 12:34 PM
Q.

Birthday breakfast

This Saturday is my boyfriend's birthday -- I've got the dinner menu picked out, the cake that I'm making planned and all that jazz but I'm a bit stumped when it comes to breakfast. Normally he's the breakfast maker in the house but I'd like to surprise him on Saturday AM with something delicious, make ahead-able, and worthy of an indulgence. He has a thing for old fashioned dishes so I was thinking of a breakfast casserole I could build on Friday then pop into the oven whie the coffee brews. Any suggestions of how to best achieve this? Is there any way I could make double and freeze one and if so, baked or unbaked? Thanks!!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Nice. This strata is wicked good. It can be assembled and refrigerated overnight. I'd suggest dividing it between 2 disposable aluminum pans so you can bake both, freeze one. This baked french toast recipe can be assembled overnight as well.

– September 29, 2010 12:36 PM
Q.

safety

Much of the concern about plastic food storage is when it is heated up in the microwave. Using it for storage is safe. Just don't use it in the microwave. Since you can't cut metal in the microwave, it's not an issue. I don't store in stainless because of the acidic reaction. I store and nuke in glass. It's safe and I can see what's in each container, and it goes in the fridge and microwave and oven.
A.
Jane Black :

Good policy. (Now I wish I hadn't just microwaved my pasta that I brought for lunch.)

– September 29, 2010 12:36 PM
Q.

Butternut Squash

I really like to cube my butternut squash and roast (maybe with some other root veggies). However, I really hate the feeling of whatever the squash exudes and leaves on my hands when I peel and cut it. I can't seem to get it off for the rest of the evening. Any suggestions??
A.
Jane Black :

You've got me. Is it a dryness? Anyone out there have a similar problem?

– September 29, 2010 12:37 PM
Q.

Shredded Chicken

I poached a whole chicken, shred it, and now have it in the fridge. I don't think I'm going to be able to use it up anytime soon, can shredded chicken be frozen? How long is it safe in the fridge? I have it stored in plastic bags right now.
A.
David Hagedorn :

Time is running out for your chicken. Once you shred it, you create a  more surfaces that are being exposed to air, thereby decreasing the amount of time the chicken will be good. It starts tasting not-so-fresh by the second day in my opinion. But, it freezes well, provided you put it in a freezer bag and get as much air out of the bag as possible. I like to roll the bag up while it is open, then seal it once I've gotten the air out. I then wrap the package in foil. Bonnie is the freezer expert, but I think it's fine for at least a month, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't use things like this up to a year later, with no noticeable detriment, especially if it's used in a casserole or a hearty soup. Not recommending you wait a year, though.

– September 29, 2010 12:37 PM
Q.

Cooking for a mom-to-be

A good friend of mine is expecting her first baby at the end of October and I want to make her a dish or two that will feed her and her husband for a few days after the baby comes. She is a vegetarian and a healthy eater who prefers organic foods and does not eat soy. The biggest catch is that I have to be able to freeze the dish(es) and overnight them to her home in Colorado. Any recommendations? Thanks!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Individual containers of black bean soup (skip the salsa option) with a scoop of cooked rice would be nice. I bet you could make these  Spinach-Chickpea Burgers and  Corn, Black Bean and Red Onion quesadillas and freeze them.

– September 29, 2010 12:43 PM
Q.

DC

Is there a complete list of all cooking classes, or do you only have it divided up by style? (I don't really care, for instance, whether I'm going to take a Latin or Asian or Indian cooking class; I care about the location and price.)
A.
Jane Black :

I hear you but most people do care so we set it up divided by style. I'm afraid you'll have to just go through them. Maybe start with your favorite things and then compare location and price? Good luck!

For other chatters, check out the listings here.

– September 29, 2010 12:43 PM
Q.

plantains

I bought some plantains for the first time and just ate one. I then read that they shouldn't be eaten raw. Is that true or just someone's opinion stated as a fact on the internet? It didn't taste as good as they do when they are cooked but it was still pretty decent. Also, any good recipe suggestions since I plan on cooking the rest of them somehow? Thanks!
A.
Joe Yonan :

It depends on the plantain: Basically, like any fruit, they're not good to eat raw when they're green and unripe, but they're fine when ripe and soft. The unripe ones are known in Spanish as platanos, and the fully ripe ones are maduros. As for using them, you can certainly just fry them up, or  you could try something like these great Coconut Chicken and Plantains en Papillote.

– September 29, 2010 12:44 PM
Q.

what's the point of soaking beans?

We've been trying to switch from canned beans to dry beans. Obviously, this requires more planning ahead for meals. Why does everyone extoll soaking beans for hours? It lowers cooking time, sure. But if you are just trying to minimize total time used, boiling the whole time, rather than soaking and then boiling is quicker. Is there some other benefit?
A.
Jane Black :

You could certainly get away with not soaking some beans like lentils or split peas but bigger beans need to rehydrate so they cook well. A long boil I think would really kill the texture. (Fresh, dried beans need less soaking time than the ones you might find on a supermarket shelf.)

There are other reasons, however. One -- and I've never known if this is more than just a legend -- is that soaking removes something that causes gasiness. It also is said to help retain all the nutrients that make beans healthy. I think that's because you don't have to cook them as long, which would drain them out of the beans and into the water.

– September 29, 2010 12:44 PM
Q.

Squash

101 cookbooks has a bunch of squash recipes here.

A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks! And we have our bunch here.

– September 29, 2010 12:46 PM
Q.

Washington, DC

I was so happy to see Kim's recipe today. I am a big fan of hers and still follow her cooking chats. I am right now in the process of not eating red meat and slowly trying to give up chicken. I am having a problem with vegetarian and vegan food being so high in salt and Kim's recipe today was extremely high. I also stay away from soy when I can which leaves out tofu, faux meats, edamame, etc. and wonder what I can have in place of that. I am a lover of yogurt and wonder if anyone out there has tried rice yogurt.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

The tempeh's actually very low in sodium -- what bumped up that number today was the marinade.  I bet you could cut back on the amount of soy sauce used or go with other flavorings and you'd be fine.

Rice yogurt, er, not I.

– September 29, 2010 12:46 PM
Q.

Butternut squash

I sometimes make a bruschetta bar. I serve crustini (usually olive oil and basil) and then have various toppings that people can add themselves. Roasted tomato and red pepper with onion and basil is good. So is butternut squash with curry and ginger. And eggplant with garlic. I roast the veggies then toss in a blender with the flavorings and blend until a chunky texture. Then serve with the crustini. Popular and people can eat or avoid the flavors they like. A good way to use some of that squash.
A.
Jane Black :

Nice. Butternut squash with sage or gorgonzola would be lovely on a crostine.

– September 29, 2010 12:48 PM
Q.

Butternut Squash

I had some fun with butternut squash last week. While my diced squash was roasting, I sauteed sliced onions and mushrooms, seasoning them with salt, pepper and fresh sage. When they were done, and the squash was done, I stirred it all together, topped it with crumbled gorgonzola, and returned to the oven to melt. Then I drizzled with balsamic reduction. It was awesome.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Love that.

– September 29, 2010 12:48 PM
A.
Jane Black :

Sounds awesome.

– September 29, 2010 12:48 PM
Q.

breakfast casserole

if you google, you can find a recipe for a breakfast strata you put in the slow cooker when you go to bed and it's ready when you wake up.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Oh dear. What does the top of it turn out like?

– September 29, 2010 12:48 PM
Q.

Veal Parmesan

I had veal parm a few weeks ago at a restaurant. The cheese on top was squarish shape and came off the veal as whole melted slice. The veal was rubbery and difficult to cut. When I asked the waiter to take it back, the manager came out and said confusedly, "Well, we made sure to pound the veal very thin." It was thin, so what else could have been the problem? And what is the correct way to top it with cheese?
A.
David Hagedorn :

Well, pounding the veal does not necessarily make it tender if it was not cut correctly in the first place. Veal scallops are usually cut from the leg, but if the slices are not cut wide on the bias, say like you would carve a flank steak, the connective tissue will be less likely to break down during the pounding process.

Also, the garbage in/garbage out concept applies here. If you start of with a crappy product, you wind up with one no matter how much you assault it before cooking it. It seems to me that a place that serves cheese you can peel off in a sheet might likely be using a not-so-great veal product.

I made pork Parmigiana for dinner last night. I peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes and cooked them down with garlic and s/p until the water was gone. Topped my cooked cutlets with this, then added chopped fresh basil, then topped with provolone I cut into little pieces (that helps it fuse together when it melts) and some grated Parm. Popped them under the broiler for a few minutes---delish.

– September 29, 2010 12:49 PM
Q.

margarine

Didn't margarine come under fire in the past decade as supposedly more unhealthy than butter?
A.
Joe Yonan :

Yep, because of the trans fats, although a lot of manufacturers have reformulated to get rid of them. And, of course, when you make your own there's no issue about that -- unless you've figured out a way to partially hydrogenate some oil in your home kitchen.

– September 29, 2010 12:50 PM
Q.

butternut squash

One of my favorite ways to eat butternut squash--I make butternut squash ravioli, with a sage cream sauce. YUM! :)
Q.

Thanks!!

Free Rangers: I won the cookbook "Time For Dinner" from the chat a few weeks ago. I LOVE the recipes...haven't gone wrong yet. The palate at our house is older, teens...the book is geared for a younger palate--very little spices. But the recipes can be easily spiced up. Recommend that cookbook to any and all. Thank you again!! Love, Minneapolis, MN Reader!
Q.

I have to be able to freeze the dish(es) and overnight them to her home in Colorado.

it is a great thought, but maybe a gift card to their local gourment grocery would be safer? I am not down with overnighting frozen food, particularly if she's breastfeeding.

Q.

i don't know about squash but this works for cleaning anything else off my hands

Shake some baking powder on your hands and make a paste with some water. Scrub! Be sure to moisturize afterwards.
Q.

Margarine pie crusts

I used to make pie crusts with all margarine (because I live overseas and can't get shortening and didn't want to use butter). The result was usually kind of rustic. I never managed to be able to roll the pastry out as well as with shortening. HOWEVER - I now make oil pastry for cardio-reasons and that's much harder to handle. The result is something like what you get mixing sand and water at the beach.
Q.

squash in chili

Usually my chili has beans, meat (stew or ground), some sort of green-- this time it was chard, cut very small.
Q.

Freezing food

I'm definitely going to have to look for the frozen meals cookbook. I like casseroles and hearty dishes in the fall and winter, but I'm sort of tired of my standby baked ziti and soups! Thanks for the recommendation. On another note: I saw last week's advice to look for lemon oil. Is there such a thing as lime oil, or even lime extract? I adapted a Post lemon cookie recipe to use limes, and although the flavor from the lime juice and zest was good, it wasn't as strong as I'd have liked. Any idea where I can get lime extract or oil?
A.
Joe Yonan :

There is such a thing. See previous post/answer on where to get lemon oil; same sources will apply.

– September 29, 2010 12:52 PM
Q.

Infusing Oils

How do you make rosemary oil?
A.
Jane Black :

Get a sprig or two of (preferably organic) rosemary. Put good olive oil in a large, deep saucepan with the rosemary and gently heat. You want to do it just until it starts to smell really good. Pour the oil into a clean jar and add the rosemary. Store for about a week in a cool, dark place.

I know people leave the rosemary in there, but I always worry it will get moldy or ugly or that the oil will get medicinal so I scoop it out. Also, courtesy of Giada de Laurentis, one of my new favorite things to do is to use rosemary oil on popcorn.

– September 29, 2010 12:52 PM
Q.

Chocolate help for a future bride

Hi Rangers, I'm hoping to make homemade favors for my upcoming wedding, but I'm having chocolate problems. I tried making cake pops, which call for a dip in candy melts. I tried the things and was really turned off by the mockolate flavor. So I made half a batch with 1/2 candy melts 1/2 good semisweet chocolate, taking care to temper the chocolate. The flavor was much better, but the chocolate never hardened completely without the help of the fridge and after a few days on the counter, the chocolate lost its texture and became a bit grainy and soft. In a perfect world, I'd love to ditch the melts altogether and just use chocolate, but from this experience and others, I worry about getting a proper texture. Any ideas on what I can do? Thanks!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Baking expert Nancy Baggett says:

It's clear that even though an effort was made to temper, the chocolate wasn't actually tempered. The description given definitely indicates that this was the problem. Tempering is not always as easy as it seems, especially for someone who doesn't do it regularly. Additionally, it's very difficult to do when the weather is hot and humid -- which it often is here this time of year. I absolutely agree that the flavor of real tempered chocolate is much better, but it does require tempering -- even if real chocolate is only added with the faux melts. All I can suggest is to find a source for more detailed tempering instructions AND to work on a cool day (or in a heavily air-conditioned environment). Good luck!

– September 29, 2010 12:53 PM
Q.

Birthday Breakfast

My birthday was just this past weekend, so I mixed up a batch of Belgian Waffle batter, let it rise, then hubby cooked them for me. Made enough batter for extras, which reheated well in the toast-oven the next couple mornings, too!
A.
Jane Black :

Nice. Happy birthday!

– September 29, 2010 12:53 PM
Q.

vegetarian mom-to-be

Eggplant and zucchini lasagne works well. I get smaller foil pans like loaf pans and make 2-4 portion lasagnes and some of the small loaf pans for individual portions. My large lasagne recipe can probably make about 4 small and 2-3 medium lasagnes. I then cover with double layer of foil, then freeze. After they are frozen solid, I write the baking instructions on the top foil with a Sharpee. It worked well when a friend recently lost her husband and I made these for her. She said that they lasted her about a month and was helpful when she just didn't feel like much. You can also pre-bake one or two of them and then have those marked for refrigerator and fast use vs freeze and delayed use. Talk to the mom-to-be and find out what her needs are.

A.
Joe Yonan :

Very wise, you are.

– September 29, 2010 12:54 PM
Q.

DC

Looking for a mid-range tapas/small plates restaurant for a group of about 8 girls on a Friday night. Ideally U St/Logan corridor. Any suggestions?
A.
Joe Yonan :

Estadio or Masa 14, depending on whether you want Spanish or Asian-Latin fusion. Good stuff at both.

– September 29, 2010 12:54 PM
Q.

but there are no ice cubes...

.... in the hummus recipe you linked to. I'm confused, is there a special trick I'm missing?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Instead of adding water, I remember Reem tossed in an ice cube or two. Can't believe I didn't include that in the recipe! I will fix it today!

– September 29, 2010 12:55 PM
Q.

Lemon chicken

Is it okay to use almond milk or soy milk instead of the cow's milk? How about vegan sour cream? Thanks.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Either almond or soy, although I dont know what the almond/elemon combo will taste like. Does vegan sour cream get melty? If so, go for it.

– September 29, 2010 1:00 PM
Q.

Dupont Bachelor

Hi, We're in a studio with a small kitchen, very minimal counter space and an old (but working and rarely used) gas stove. In our 30's and big on protein (from meat or non-meat sources) but not much cooking experienced. With our small space, any suggestions for dinners and lunches we could either make ahead of time probably on weekends or meals easily assembled that we could feast on for multiple days. I'm adventurous but he's a picky eater who stays close to meat and potatoes american type food. Thanks.
A.
Jane Black :

We're basically out of time so my immediate and super fast answer is chili. Not too adventurous. Lasts all week -- and in the freezer. And you can really play around with what's in the mix. Here's a fun recipe for Adobo Beef and White Bean Chili that you can start with or search our recipe database for lots more options.

– September 29, 2010 1:00 PM
Q.

Indian Food

I have a deep love for Indian food & sauces & a fear of trying to make it myself. But since moving to an area with a single Indian restaurant, I've decided it's time to learn how to cook it myself. Do you have any suggestions on books to read or tips that you may know from cooking Indian food yourself? Thank you!
A.
Jane Black :

Two words: Madhur Jaffrey. I feel the same way, slightly intimidated. And I think if you are going to take the time to do it yourself, you should do it right -- not use some watered down recipe from a food magazine. She has a quick and easy book that might be a good place to start. Or you can dive into any of her books and learn a lot.

One other tip, get one of those little spice boxes -- called masala dabbas -- that all Indian cooks have. It includes all the main spices you need and then you have them to hand for almost anything you are making.

– September 29, 2010 1:00 PM
Q.

iqf quiche

OK, so I know that I can't actually replicate IQF at home, but can you point me to reliable guidance on making small breakfast quiches (e.g., in a muffin tin) that I can freeze for a fast breakfast for my husband? Interested in something that has a standard crust OR potato crust, some egg, some simple veg that he can deal with in the morning, maybe cheese or sausage. Reasonably healthy but not so obviously healthy that he'll balk :) Thanks.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Ah, but you can. Let the individual ones cool, then freeze them on a baking sheet. Once frozen, you can store in a resealable plastic food storage bag or wrap them individually. How about indiv servings of this eggy casserole?

– September 29, 2010 1:01 PM
Q.

Joe Yonan :

Well, you've made and refrigerated us up to five days in advance, then frozen us for up to six weeks, then unwrapped us, dropped us back into our original casserole dish, covered with plastic wrap, defrosted, then replaced the plastic with foil and baked us for 30 minutes, then uncovered and baked for 15 minutes more to brown the topping (whew!), so you know what that means -- we're done!

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

Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who wrote about getting "two lovely butternuts from the CSA," thereby setting off a lot of great suggestions from the crowd, will get Kim O'Donnel's "Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook." The chatter with the great suggestions for making and freezing smaller lasagnes will get "Cook & Freeze." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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