Mar 02, 2011

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.

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that lets the good times roll -- and roll right into the shape of a king cake! Hope you enjoyed our team effort: Tim's reporting, Bonnie's recipe-reinvention project supervision, Marie Elizabeth Oliver's taste-test direction. Do you buy king cakes for Mardi Gras? Ever made one?

Bonnie also wrote, deliciously, about the fabulous Najmieh Batmanglij and the new edition of her gorgeous Persian cookbook "Food of Life." I've tasted her food, and hooboy is it luscious. Naj is joining us today, so any and all questions about Persian food will be in expert hands.

We'll also have David Hagedorn in the house to talk about his last Real Entertaining column. We've so enjoyed having it in the section -- David's the source of so many fantastic dinner-party tips, not to mention glorious recipes -- but he was ready to switch things up a bit. So starting next month, look out for Sourced, his new column featuring the products of local farmers and other producers, along with recipes that will use the ingredients.

Today, we'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters, naturally: a SIGNED copy of Naj's "Food of Life," and the source of today's DinMin recipe: Steve Raichlen's "Bold & Healthy Flavors."

Let's do this thing!

So, I roasted a whole chicken on Monday, ate some Tuesday and worked too late last night to eat any. Is the rest still good? It's on the bone still and has been in the fridge the whole time.

Of course it is still good. You might want to debone it, chop it up, and add: fresh lime juice, chopped celery, spring onion, and some mayonnaise or fresh olive oil -- cooked eggs also add a nice touch.

I'm going out of town this weekend for an early St. Patrick's Day celebration. I want to bring something that can travel well. I'd like to bring something I can reheat for breakfast if possible, since we'll be up early to get ready and go to the bars on Saturday. Any ideas?

Kuku is a great option -- my recipe for kuku is available on the washington post site.

My husband and I are moving to North Carolina, but he'll be staying behind for a few months to finish a project at work. I definitely enjoy being in the kitchen more than he does, so before I move I wanted to surprise him with a couple of dishes he can have on hand for when he doesn't feel like cooking (lasagna and maybe some sort of tex-mex casserole). I realized I've never frozen a complete meal before and was hoping you might be able to help. Should I cook them first? Do they need to be defrosted before going in the oven? And is it ok to freeze in pyrex dishes, or should I use aluminum pans? I know you've probably answered these questions 100 times before... if you do it once more I'll write down the answers so I don't have to ask again :-)

You can freeze lasagna or a casserole (in anti-freeze dishes -- you can use pyrex). Cook, cover, and freeze. Before you reheat it, make sure you defrost it -- don't put the dish from the freezer in the oven.

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on Persian food today! It is one of my favorite cuisines, and I see the similarities and influences of Persian food on that of my native country, India. One of my favorite Persian dishes is borani....the cold yoghurt salad that is so perfect in every way. When I eat this dish at Persian restaurants or friends' homes, it is fantastic, but I can never recreate the dish at home. Do you have a secret recipe??

Fry plenty of onions and garlic; steam your spinach; and then combine together with salt and pepper -- allow to cool. And then add drained yogurt (and that's the secret). My cookbook, Food of Life, has a great recipe for Yogurt and Spinach Dip.

I read the recipe for Kuku, then looked at the nutritional values per serving. I am so confused, it has eggs, canola oil, walnuts and optional yogurt. Yet it has 30 grams of fat per serving, 46% of the daily amount? How can this be right?

It's the amount of oil, and the fat in eggs and nuts. Don't let it keep you from making this dish -- just serve smaller portions!

I've read a lot of books by people who work in food, like Bill Buford's "Heat", Ruth Reichl's "Garlic and Sapphires", and the Bourdain memoir trilogy. How does Gabrielle Hamilton's book "Blood, Bones, and Butter" compare to those and are there other books in the same genre that you recommend?

I like all the books you mention, but honestly, Hamilton (below) is truly in another league, as I wrote in my review. Her writing is as lyrical and evocative as that of MFK Fisher.

I have heretofore considered you the arbiters of all that is good and tasty, however the omission of Haydel's (and their cream cheese filling) from the article this morning has me doubting your omniscience. Did I mention that the cream cheese filling can be plain or chocolate? Excuse me for a few moments, I must get online and order another overnight delivery.

Marie Elizabeth Oliver, our resident expert (and taste-test leader), says this:

I love Haydel's, too! We tried to sample a variety of different kinds of king cakes for the taste test, but by no means meant for it to be an exclusive list. It would be fabulous if people could leave their favorites in the comments section of the story. The more king cakes, the merrier.

Have you selected the reader panelists for Beer Madness yet? I sent in an application and want to know if my not hearing back from you means I shouldn't worry about arranging for a babysitter...

Indeed, we have! Sorry that you didn't make the cut -- we had hundreds of applicants, as usual. And we had round one of the tastings on Monday night. Wowee.

Joe, all -- Don't want to derail food time today, so maybe this can go on the back burner (ahem) until after the chat. There is NO link to Free Range in the weekly "discussions" list, as of 11:59 a.m. ET. This is an ongoing problem. And, as of 5:15 p.m. ET yesterday, the Free Range link on the Food page connected to last week's chat -- so no chance to post q's or comments in advance. I recognize the amount of work it takes for the WaPo to host so many chats every week, in an era of dwindling resources. I think it would be helpful to all your readers, and those who follow other chats, to be able to connect to the chats in advance -- and to know when "in advance" will be. Incidentally, I tried to link to the Home chat yesterday to post a question (it's in the weekly list, even though you're not and you're a day earlier) but I got a page not found error - with the invitation to let the WaPo know about the problem. But the contact page was a confusion of options and I gave up. I appreciate the effort all of you put into these chats, and offer this feedback in order to help it be more successful for all of us. Thanks for your consideration.

No worries, I can handle both! Actually, I just noticed this again this morning and sent off a flurry of emails to try to improve the situation. So keep watching, and keep giving feedback, and we'll improve this.

My son is studying the Great Depression in history class, and has been given a neat assignment. He needs to shop/cook/serve/clean up dinner for our family of 4 for $3.50. Total, not per person. No coupons, no processed foods (canned fruit and veggies are fine, for example, but canned soup is out). I'm going to assume that spices, oil, other pantry staples are not included in the total. I immediately thought of breakfast for dinner (oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, and whatever fruit is on sale), but that's too easy. Now I'm thinking of Spam Musubi sushi, or fried rice, or taco rice-something more dinner-like, that has a small amount of meat, some veggies, as well as a good portion of rice to keep us full. Seasonal fruit for dessert. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

You can make a spring onion omelete, very flavorful. All you need is eggs and spring onion. In total, that should be around $3.50. Add salt and pepper for taste. I love to eat it with fresh bread.

Do you have any suggestions for a beginner's cookbook on how to cook fish? I am a good cook generally, but I grew up in the midwest and have no idea how to cook the stuff. Basically, I'm looking for a book that details basic techniques and what techniques are best for different types of fish.

I like Mark Bittman's book, "Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking," which offers advice on how to buy fish, store fish and substitute one fish for another when you can't find what you're looking for. It also has numerous recipes for the various types of fish. It's a good place to start.

Hello! This weekend I want to try to roast a whole chicken for the first time but I'm nervous!! I have a few how-to recipes saved from cooking light and my trusty Joy of Cooking as a reference but any words of wisdom or advice? And the real question - do I roast some potatoes and brussels in the bottom of the roaster too or do I just focus on the chicken since this is my first go?

[Imagine Darth Vaderesque voice-over] WELCOME. You are about to embark on what will produce the most gracious smell to usher forth from a home kitchen. Serve a well-roasted chicken, and people fall in love with you. [Important voice ends.]

Chances are you'll make it again and again, incorporating small techniques or variations  you find in different recipes (flavoring under the skin, potatoes or vegetables under the bird, 40 cloves of garlic, etc. This Gastronomer chix/potatoes recipe is fab.)

But to start, here's the basic way I do it: 

Buy organic. Keep the chicken at 4 pounds or under. Remove the packet of gizzards or anything else stuffed into the cavities. Remember to pat it dry with paper towels. Season it inside and out with salt and pepper, then rub olive oil or softened butter on the skin. Insert a lemon in the main cavity; you don't even need to cut the fruit in half. Roast in a pan with a rack that lifts the chicken off the floor of the pan (fold wing tips under the bird or trim them off), at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and roast for about 1 1/4 hours, or until the juices run clear when you insert a knife at the thigh joint.  (If  you have an instant-read thermometer, the temp should be 175 in the dark meat.) Let the bird rest for 10 minutes before carving. Save those pan juices for passing at the table or drizzling on mashed spuds.

I'm moving, and have about a week left to use up the rest of the stuff in my freezer. I have a bag of frozen peas from when I used a handful for a hot pasta dish, and a handful for a cold one. Any other uses for them, or should I just toss them? I also have some frozen potato hamburger and hotdog buns. Any chance these would make good croutons?

You can make an omelet with the peas -- add salt, pepper, and garlic for taste. Then toast the buns with a little butter and make a delicious sandwich.

Cold: You can blanch the peas quickly in hot water, drain and rinse till cool, then puree in a food processor with a little parmesan cheese and your favorite herbs, some scallions and garlic. Makes a great spread for crackers.

If you can find a copy of it, I would read the book "How to Cook a Wolf" by MFK Fisher. She wrote it with the Depression in mind.

I'm the chatter looking to spike iced tea for our wedding welcome dinner (I was taking the Bar last week, so I couldn't attend the chat!). To Jason - if we had money to hand out flasks as gifts, we probably wouldn't be planning a BBQ in the park! To the person who recommended spiced rum - sounds pretty yum to me! Thanks for the suggestion! To the person who was really hostile - the Park District will let us have alcohol...for the shakedown price of $1500. So, it isn't so much that alcohol is never there, more like they want to more than double the price of our event. So we'll take our chances. :)

If the youngster is studying the Depression, why not look at some Depression-era magazines (microfiche, Google, whatever) for meals people actually ate at the time? Spam sushi is creative -- but I am not entirely sure that Americans in the 30s had any idea what "sushi" was. (Assuming you are studying from an American perspective). I think lots of "filler," not so much protien was probably the order of the day, but I can't be sure. Just think it makes more sense to the study to connect to what people actually would have eaten, not what we might do today. Although the latter certainly would be a good lesson in understanding how far food stamps (do not) go these days.

Try to find James Beard's "How to Eat Better for Less Money," which we wrote about a couple of years ago.

My friend's mom used to make us Persian food when we'd visit her. It was always so good! My favorites were always the rice that she would unstick from the bottom of a pan that was crispy but SO flavorful, and a tomato-type base that they mixed with lamb or chicken. Any chance you have any recipes or ideas on these? I'd love to make the rice at home but I'm afraid of either killing my pan or burning down my apartment!

The rice you're talking about is called "golden crust," tah-dig. I have many great tah-dig recipes in my cookbooks. To make the crust, put half cup oil and half cup water on the bottom of a non-stick pan. Parboil your rice for six minutes, drain, and pile on top of oil and water -- cover and cook for ten minutes on high, and then 60 over low. Food of Life has many wonderful tah-dig recipes.

this is my new favorite ingredient! i usually buy the bottle from an arabic market, but does anyone have a recipe to make pomegrante molasses or syrup at home? i think it would be a great project, and possibly a nice gift to give at the holidays?!?

It is reduced fresh pomegranate juice. You need about two gallons of juice -- cook over medium heat, uncovered all day.

One onion, diced and sauteed. Add in one can of tomatoes, cook for a few minutes. Stir in two cans (or one large one) of white beans, cook a few minutes. Top with fried or poached egg. That should work for $3.50!

Hi Foodies, I'm a recent vegetarian and am loving trying new recipes, and veggie up traditional ones. My biggest problem so far is bacon. I actually have never been a big bacon fan as part of a meal, but I am really missing the flavorings in soups and sauces. Is there anything I can substitute to get that smokey flavor? Thanks!

Tough. For me, there's no substitute. Try smoked salts (this one from Virginia Willis is really, really good) or smoked Spanish paprika or a touch of chipotle powder.

I was at a South Indian vegetarian restaurant over the weekend and they had a dish called chaat, with was pretty much chickpeas, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Do you know how I could replicate it?

Cook the chickpeas first and then drain. Fry onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cumin, tumeric, and ginger, and then add the tomatoes and chickpeas -- sautee all together, and adjust seasoning.

Also, there are many varieties of chaat -- check out our recent story and recipes for more ideas.

 

Hubby and I were arguing the other day about whether or not to remove tomato pulp in sandwiches. I thought it would remove the wetness factor, and he feared I was removing all the nutrition. I told him he didn't need a tomato bush growing in his stomach. What do the seeds provide?

If you're talking about the seeds, it depends merely on taste. I definitely remove the skin.

Tomato aficionados say that seed/gel is where the true flavor lies -- but of course they're referring to the innards of a real, ripe tomato in season. I'd have to agree. Why have a tomato skeleton in your sangwich?

Does anyone know if there are any local bakeries that make/sell paczkis? You can get them everywhere on Fat Tuesday in Detroit, but I haven't been able to find any in the DC area.

This was in Tasting Table today:

 

Before the gluttony of next week's Fat Tuesday, the Polish get a head start with Fat Thursday tomorrow.

This day of indulgence centers around paczki, Poland's seasonal answer to the doughnut.

Each year, in the celebratory days leading up to Lent, people sneak in one last sugar break with these light jelly- or custard-filled pastries.

Rockville's Kielbasa Factory is one of the few places in this area serving the delicacy. Each year, the market fills its pastries ($1.25 each) with tart plum jam that bursts out of its puffy glazed shell with each bite.

Like all jelly doughnuts, paczki are excellent for breakfast. For added sweetness, they're even better when paired with fortified wines, like the market's Polish honey wine ($20).

The shop will also sell boxes of the slightly less indulgent chrusciki, or angel wings ($6), which are crispy, ribbonlike curls of fried pastry dough topped with powdered sugar.

Because supplies are limited, the shop recommends that customers order their pastries today to guarantee availability.

But if you miss your chance, don't fret: The shop is offering both paczki and chrusciki again next Tuesday in honor of the American day of excess, Mardi Gras.

The Kielbasa Factory, 1073 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 240-453-9090 or kielbasafactory.com

My boyfriend and I have been trying to experiment with cooking different types of cuisine - we are trying recipes from an Indian cookbook and are signed up for a Somali cooking class! Are there any recipes in particular in your book that are good for beginners? We want to make our food taste authentic!

To make your stock, use chicken or beef bones, a lot of water, salt, pepper, onions, and a little celery. Cook it for a couple of hours, and then drain. We mostly use stocks for soups or some khoreshes. You can also add peppercorn or lime zest. Bay leaves are also a nice touch.

Sometimes I will make a dish then get tired of the leftovers. How long can the food hang around in the fridge and still be safe to freeze for later consumption?

Generally, you've got 3 days in the fridge for cooked foods (broths can be re-boiled in some cases).  Best to freeze a portion straight away, especially if you  think it's something you won't fee like eating on consecutive days afterward.

I've arrived late today and find that the welcome and intro are missing. The first question I see is identified by "another chicken safety question". Is the chat showing up online missing something? Or did you folks just cut to the chase and get into questions immediately? I'd like to read the whole chat, if I can. Thanks!

Nope, just a technical problem, which is fixed now! Thanks for pointing it out.

My half-persian boyfriend introduced me to this cuisine, and it has become a favorite that I crave regularly. My attempts to recreate dishes at home, however, have been dismal failures. I'd seriously recommend going to a Persian restaurant and tasting the pros' food first in order to discover how unique and amazing it is. Savory and flavorful but not spicy. Then, if you feel like amassing the expensive/unusual ingredients, go for it. But in my case, I'm better off letting others do the hard work in the kitchen and limiting my role to that of eater. Thank you for bringing more attention to Persian cuisine!

Thank you for your kind words. You can be a great cook -- it is a matter of practice. My new cookbook, Food of Life, is full of tips and guidance and recipes that can be cooked by all.

I've seen lots of fun things lately that one can do with the NO-cartridge powered cream whippers. Since I already have a soda siphon that uses CO2 cartridges (and looks very similar), do you think I'm risking a kitchen disaster if I just buy an NO cartridge for the siphon and do some flavored creams that way? Also, loved the king cake recipes, thanks!

From our testers' recent experiences, I'd have to say that soda siphons -- and even some models of cream whippers! -- can't handle substances they weren't designed for. Best to borrow someone's whipper and experiment.

Do any area butcher shops or stores sell the top grade of prime beef? USDA has 9 grades of prime beef. And no I am not interested in Americanized wagyu. Do any area restaurants serve the top grade of prime? Thanks?

The only butcher I know who may meet your standard is Pam at Wagshal's, who sells prime beef that she dry ages for at least four weeks. I've bought it a number of times -- when I feel flush.

I am sitting here eating a pulled pork sandwich from PORC that you reviewed in today's food section. WOW! IT is so good. And the hot sauce actually has some heat to it. I will be visiting this food truck again soon.

I couldn't agree more. When it comes to barbecue, I'm a rather serious, insufferable snob. And yet these two Michigan transplants are doing very good things under very trying circumstances. Here's my short report from today's section.

there is a line called "Bacon salt" which is vegetarian. can't even tell you how yummy it is.

So I see. This wouldn't have been a product placement query, would it?

I have two weeks remaining to figure out how to make a mango cheesecake for my husband. Do you have a really detailed recipe, by chance?

There are so many simple cheesecake recipes online. If you're using mango, peel and puree it and add it to your cheese.

You could also make David H's Lemony Cheesecake and use a mango puree on top instead of the marmalade or lemon curd.

I've had to read a few weeks' of Free Range later, so here's a follow-up. I cleaned some peppers that weren't supposed to be hot and didn't taste hot raw, but boy-oh-boy, were they ever so hot! My hands were screaming and the on-line suggestions were horrid (such a scrub your hads with bleach). Then I remembered the bottle of stuff used to wash off poison ivy's oil and I tried and it worked. The brand I used is Tec-nu. Everyone who handles chilis should keep a bottle of this handy.

Nice! Thanks.

Nigella's "How to Eat" p 301 has a garlic crostini recipe that is simply addictive. She processes cooked peas, roasted garlic, a dash of Parmesan, a tiny bit of butter and mint in FP, gets lovely bright green concoction and serves on toasted baguette slices. Pure heaven. I first made it for a cocktail party, and it instantly became a keeper.

Hi Rangers! I'm looking for ideas to spice up the flair for sandwich dressings. There's got to be something other than plain old mayo, mustard and ranch dressing I can use! (For example, Subway has their chipotle dressing, think something along those lines, but not limited to southwestern flair only.) Thanks!

Roasted red pepper spreads and olive tapenade and hummus variations are good ways to go. And since you mentioned zing, think about pickled things -- onions, peppers, watermelon rind, vegetables, preserved lemon.

David H and I share a love for Peppadews, and they're great on sandwiches. I like to puree them to make a spread.

Do you really steam mussels for 10-12 minutes (see Jerk Mussels today)? I steamed 3 pounds last night and they were done in less than 5 minutes.

I started with a cold pan and cold beer. Also depends on the size of the mussels.  Maybe we could give a wider time range here.

So mom what about Keith Richards, Chalrie Sheen and Anthony Bourdain? Huh? I listened to you and am no hosting a food chat for the WP! I could ahve been a star. thanks mom and Dad Joe

I think I'd have to be on drugs to understand this one.

I watched part of the Oscars the other night and had several glasses of sparkling wine (Gruet, from my beloved New Mexico). But now I have about half a bottle left over. Any thoughts about what to do with it?

I'd use it for cooking anywhere you would use white wine.  Also, poach fish in it.

I had a lovely orange salad at a B&B in Atlanta recently: Just orange slices (I'd use a mix of naval, Cara Cara and blood for color), champagne, a little powdered sugar to taste, and shredded coconut.

I have a whole leg of lamb residing in my freezer. It wants out. Is smoking it an option, and what preparation would you suggest?

Slow-roasting for a few hours is your best option. I use salt, pepper, tumeric, garlic, onion, and pomegranate molasses. Food of Life has a great recipe for lamb -- pg. 195 (Pomegranate-Infused Leg of Lamb).

I keep frozen peas in the freezer specifically for salads. I make my salads for lunch the night before, and throw the frozen peas on top. The peas will thaw in the fridge overnight. This also works with frozen black beans, frozen corn, etc...

My wife worries that I don't get enough protein during Lent. Any basic recipe suggestions to help allay her fears?

Beans, tofu, quinoa, nuts, tempeh, and lots of veggies have protein. See this chart for more info.

I attempted to make meringue cookies over the weekend and while they tasted delicioso, I was unable to pipe them into pretty shapes. I beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to stiff peaks and then added my sugar beating for nearly 10 minutes, but I just could not get stiff peaks. I used my electric hand mixer all the while.

Hard to troubleshoot without seeing the recipe or your setup, but I think longer beating won't necessarily make the peaks happen. Sometimes a little residual grease/coating in the bowl or beaters or even a bit of yolk is enough to keep the egg whites from doing what you want them to.

Not to make this into a big thing, but I took the assignment to be that you need to feed your family--a modern family--for the price. So I don't know if it's really necessary to avoid modern stuff like sushi. But it's certainly not a bad idea to do some historical research. And for a dish, I'd focus on something with dried beans as a base. Can't get much cheaper than that.

I agree on the beans -- love them, and super cheap.

As a transplant in New Orleans, I just don't get the king cake phenomenon. They're basically glorified cinnamon rolls that go overboard on sweetness. If I'm gonna use calories on dessert, I can think of tons of things I'd rather have (bread pudding with bourbon sauce, for example).

I understand the role that king cakes play in Carnival. They're fun to split with colleagues and see who gets the plastic baby tucked inside. There are a number of funny anecdotes in Sara Roahen's book, "Gumbo Tales," in which she relates the extent to which eaters will deny they got the plastic infant, just to avoid buying the next king cake. 

But from a pure culinary standpoint, I would eat a vast number of treats before I'd eat a king cake. Harsh, but true.

I've seen pans called roasters (vertical nonstick roaster), which look a bit like bundt pan really. Is the idea to stick the chicken atop and just let the juice collect at the bottom? Would this not dry out the bird?

Yep, that's the idea -- it's basically doing the job a beer can does in the famous grilling recipe for Beer Can (or Beer Butt) Chicken. Nope, doesn't dry out the chicken.

Joe - I just want to thank you for turning me on to Gabrielle Hamilton's book. I bought it yesterday and absolutely cannot put it down! She is a gifted writer as well as a fine chef. It's even better that I know so many of the places in Buck's County that she mentions. Awesome book.

I'm so glad! I couldn't put it down, either. Devoured it. Read some sections more than once just to marvel at the beauty of the writing. I read some criticisms about the ending, but I found it sublime.

Take a leek or onion, finely chop. Sautee in olive oil. Thrown in two heads of butter lettuce, cored, two bags frozen peas. Cook until lettuce is wilted, then add about 4 cups of good quality veg broth and one large bunch mint. Cook until peas hot, mint wilted. Puree in blender. Add more broth to thin to soup, keep thick to serve as a sauce upon which to serve fish or chicken. One of the best spring soups ever (and yes, serve it hot). You can also do this using asparagus and tarragon instead.

I've been asked to provide the king cake for a Mardi Gras party this coming Saturday. I'd prefer to make one than buy one from the grocery store. Where can I buy locally a plastic baby to tuck into the cake? Thanks.

I would try one of the party supply stores in the area. Your best bet may be Monarch Carnival Supply Co. on 14th St. in D.C.  I tried calling them but they didn't pick up. You may have better luck: (202) 462-5533. It's located at 1331 14th St NW.

Try Tiger sauce or adding horseradish to your spreads. When I make tuna I add a couple shots of Tabsco sauce and a little horseradish to my freshly prepared mayo. Just a hint to perk it up. Not too much and it overpowers it.

Yep, absolutely. I also am a Sriracha addict, as so many others are. Mix it with cream cheese for an easy, different spread for bagels at a brunch, and put it in mayo on sammies.

Fried rice: 2 cups rice, cook, freeze (removes some of the moisture) and thaw. 1 can Spam, diced and pan fried in a little oil, add chopped onion, add chopped scallions, add 2 scrambled and fried eggs, add rice, dash of soy sauce, dash of sesame oil (both to taste), add thawed rice, stir until cooked. Easy to make and inexpensive. A variation...skillet meal. 2 large or 3 medium potatoes, shred on a box grater, pan fry in a skillet, then add fried eggs (your choice scrambled or whole), a little shredded cheese, shredded, and lightly fried onions and diced pan-fried Spam. Usually served right in the skillet. Marinara sauce and pasta can be easily made for under $3.50.

I like roasted red pepper hummus on my sandwiches. Great with roast beef or turkey and a mild cheese, like muenster or provolone.

Take a can of Pam kitchen spray and give your hands a light spray before handling chilis...the oil keeps the oils from the chili from getting to your hands. When done, just give your hands a quick rinse and you should be okay.

Interesting! Thanks.

there's a reason people ate a lot of beans and cornbread/ Cornmeal and dried beans/peas are cheap. Make polenta instead of cornbread to cut costs and use lentils instead of beans. Garlic and an onion, lentils, toss in some rice, and you have a filling meal.

Jason, Your column on ouzo reminded me of my love of tsikoudia, a Cretan liqueur that is actually more like grappa. On Crete, it's often called raki, which makes it confusing in that it has no anise flavor at all. Did you encounter tsikoudia in your tastings?

Jason says:

I actually have had Cretan "raki". I teach at a university that runs a study abroad progran to Crete and two of my students have actually brought back bottles for me. The ones I tasted were real firewater!

I have some fig jam left over from a party (fig jam, goat cheese, cracker, yum!) and I want to know what to do with it! Figs sound vaguely Persian to me (hope I'm not way off there...) so maybe you can help? I'm up for pretty much anything...! Thanks!

I'd heat it in a saucepan with some fruity vinegar or a little sherry (or broth) and spoon the sauce over ANYTHING.

If you're making a king cake, you can put in a bean instead of a baby; that's what a lot of folks do anyway.

Yep, although did you see how amazing our photo looked with the little baby's legs sticking out, "Wizard of Oz"-style?

I love today's Nourish recipe! I make this all the time except I use oyster sauce or curry powder instead of black beans. Will have to try the beans next time. To help crisp up the tofu, place the uncut block on a clean kitchen towel (or a few paper towels), top with another towel, top that with a flat surface (small cutting board works great), and top THAT with a heavy weight like a cast iron pan. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to drain excess water. Also, I like to add more veg (which means you can also use less meat) such as diced carrots, frozen peas, whatever I have around. It's an amazingly versatile and delicious recipe!

Thanks! Have you read about how freezing tofu actually helps it absorbe marinades? I've been meaning to try this. Saw it in Kim O 'Donnel's "The Meat-Lover's Meatless Cookbook."

I would like to make a potato gratin for a baby shower. Would it make sense to bake it through for the hour before I leave and then stick it under the broiler when I arrive? My only concern is that it won't be reheated throughout.

If you are baking it just before you go, proper wrapping and storage will keep the thing fairly warm throughout, so that you could just do a brief hit under the broiler (and maybe you wouldn't need to even do that). Do you have a small cooler or thermal bag? The cooler can keep stuff warm as well. Wrap your casserole in foil, then use layers of newspaper sections (SAY-- THE WASHINGTON POST IS VERY GOOD FOR THIS!) to insulate the casserole. Place in the cooler or thermal bag.

I almost had a panic attack this morning when I read those ominous sounding words: "This will be David Hagedorn's last Real Entertaining column." I though he was leaving WaPo. OUCH! I was t relieved when I read the next sentence, but I am disappointed that we won't be reading about feasts he creates using imagination and left over stuff in his fridge. Our generation needs to be encouraged to cook and entertain at home and serve other things then carry out or that awful-bad-for-yo- in-every-way-Pizza. Since you are the food guys and gals, the ball is in your court, keep encouraging and inspiring America to cook.

Thanks for those nice words. There are so many terrific artisans and farmers out there that I really wanted to have an opportunity to highlight what they are producing. There will be plenty of recipes to incorporate into repertoires for home entertaining.

And I'll still pitch stories from time to time that pertain directly to entertaining.

My favorite panini, from a George Foreman grill cookbook: spread fig jam on one side of the bread (I like Trader Joes Tuscan pane) and goat cheese on the other. add a slice of prosciutto, butter the outsides, and grill in a panini press or equivalent. YUM!

Fig jam and prosciutto = good combo. So is fig jam, walnuts and thin slices of pear or apple.

So is fig jam and a spoon going directly into my mouth from the jar. ;-)

i love you people.

Aw, shucks. Actually, that combination, which I had at a friend's, is partly what inspired my recent Kimchi Dip.

I brought back some honey flavored raki from Crete a couple of years ago. Let me tell you, that stuff was smooth. Yummmm.

I've used cheap vodka to rinse my hands if I've run into chiles that are hotter than I expected.

Wow -- such great ideas!

Just a quick note to let you know that my cookbook arrived in good time and I'm having a ball! Thanks for taking my question, and for the lagniappe.

Great!

I'll update in a few weeks when my son has completed the assignment.

My mother, who was a young wife during the depression, had a job (nurse) but it paid very little and my father couldn't find a job. She was reduced to tears when the only thing she had to make dinner from after a hard day's work was some cornmeal. Corn meal mush. She would never have understood today's elevation of polenta.

Do you have any suggestions for some good food blogs to read?

Here's a brief smorgasbord; you can find more links we like at our daily blog, All We Can Eat:

David Lebovitz

Orangette

101 Cookbooks

HomesickTexan

InJenniesKitchen

TheYummyMummy

The Slow Cook

There are so many good blogs out there, whether hyper-local ones like Capital Spice and Metrocurean, to national blogs like Serious Eats, Eater and SlashFood. Then there are hundreds of blogs dedicated to particular issues and subjects, like Gluten-Free Girl or Alinea at Home.  The list is almost endless. It requires a good amount of time and patience to comb through the many food blogs out there.

I noticed on frozen dinners that they now say to check that it reaches a certain temperature. I thought these dinners were cooked and basically being heated in the microwave. It this a CYA or is there a danger from frozen foods?

Hard to say...what brand? Is the food cooked, in fact? Maybe it's to keep the consumer from over-nuking the food.

There have been safety issues because people weren't microwaving the frozen meals thoroughly. The problem is that we assume the food is fully cooked, but it's not always so.

I've seen them every year at this time at my local Giant in Falls Church.

I would love a few ideas for leftover goat cheese (vegetarian preferably).

Have you ever made a mixture of goat cheese with vegetables and used it as a filling for grilled cheese sandwiches? That's a preview of what we're DinnerinMinutes-ing next week....

I wanted to point out this YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/DepressionCooking. The woman featured in the videos actually lived through the Great Depression and shares her memories of cooking during that time. It could provide recipe ideas for your son, as well as some historical background.

This is a couple years old, but it turned me on to some great blogs (including the D.C.-local Bitten Word, which I l-o-v-e.) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/real_food/article5561425.ece

Loved, loved, loved the article and recipes for Persian cooking. Question: is there anywhere in Montgomery County where I can buy the ingredients such as rosewater and barberries? Also, is saffron better to get at an ethnic market--it's hard to find at many grocery stores. Thanks!

Thanks, it was great to cook with Naj. (She's been having computer probs for the last half of this chat, so sorry if she wasn't able to respond to other questions.) Shiraz and Yekta in Rockville are good Med. markets, and they have both those items. Saffron, too -- sometimes grocery stores keep the saffron in the office because of its tender price. Ask the store manager.

Well, you've piped lemon icing over us, then sprinkled us with colored sugars and candied cherries, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- and to the fantastic Najmieh Batmanglij and David Hagedorn for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about making borani will get NAj's "Food of Live." (Enjoy!) And the one who first asked about the Depression cooking project will get "Bold & Healthy Flavors." 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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