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July 27, 2011

12:01
P.M.

Free Range on Food

Total Responses: 66

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

Today's topics: The pros and cons of tasting menus, grilling fish with Smoke Signal's Jim Shahin, Indian cooking with dancer Daniel Phoenix Singh and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats
Q.

Joe Yonan :

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you spicy Indian buffets, grilled seafood, cocktails at noon, tasting menus, and more more more.

Today, we have a special guest: Daniel Phoenix Singh, of Dakshina dance group and the subject of Bonnie's Washington Cooks column today. He can handle many cooking questions, but specializes in Indian -- and Italian, from what I hear (or read).

And we'll have Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin (who writes about grilled seafood with Barton Seaver today) and Jason "Boozehound" Wilson in the house, along with myself and Mr. Carman, who had today's take on the tasting-menu trend. (Bonnie is luxuriating in the cool weather of Seattle this week and will be back next.)

So let's get this going!

Oh, before we do, of course we'll have giveaway books: "Salad Days" by Pam Powell, source of today's DinMin recipe; and "Lobsters Scream When  You Boil Them: And 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking" by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

NOW we can start...

Q.

Michigan's apricot crop is about 10% of its usual output

so my plan to make a batch of apricot jam came to a halt when I found that my California apricots are bland and mealy rather than juicy. I'm sure that sugar and lemon juice will improve them somewhat, but will the quality equal that of jam made with luscious and juicy local fruit? I'm short of the full amount needed for a batch of jam, but don't want to invest the time and effort if the results are no better than off-brand jam. Alternately, do you have any ideas for using up the four cups I have, such as spicy sauces or chutneys where the taste of apricot isn't the foremost flavor?
A.
Joe Yonan :

You've discovered a good lesson: Make jam with local, in-season fruit! (I'm assuming you're in Michigan, right?) There's no need to preserve stuff that has been bred/picked primarily for its ability to travel long distances, rather than flavor. And in this case, the answer about whether the jam will be as good as it would with luscious/juicy local fruit, the answer is absolutely no.

If I were you, I'd freeze those puppies (after pitting, individually on sheet trays, then transfer to baggies) and use them in smoothies.

And then look for another local crop to make into jam. Save the apricot plan for when Michigan's crop rebounds.

– July 27, 2011 12:01 PM
Q.

question about indian meatballs recipe from today

The picture with the recipe shows him pouring frozen peas over top of the meatballs (not sure at which step of the process) but there's no mention of peas in the ingredients or instructions. The spicy meatball/peas combination was what interested me about the recipe so I was hoping you could clarify when they were used and how much was needed. Thanks!
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

   The peas can be added when the meatballs are about half way done so they are not over cooked.  Soybeans work too!

– July 27, 2011 12:03 PM
A.
Joe Yonan :

Sorry, we accidentally dropped the peas from the recipe! We're fixing it, but thankfully Daniel says the recipe is good with or without them, so no tragedy...

– July 27, 2011 12:03 PM
Q.

Entertaining Cheese-free Vegetarian

Hi! I have a dinner guest coming on Thursday night who is mostly vegetarian (will eat fish, but not shellfish) and is allergic to vinegar and cheese. I am flummoxed. Any ideas? I can prep Wednesday night and some on Thursday morning, but it needs to be mostly ready to go by the time the family and guest all arrive at home Thursday night. Any ideas are most appreciated!
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

   Check out some of the Indian recipes posted today.  They're easy to make and very vegetarian friendly.  You can substitute boiled eggs for the meatballs recipe (slit the boiled eggs vertically so they can soak in the flavors) and it should work just fine. Or if you are adventurous, you can make fish balls with half portions of Catfish and Tuna fish, or just use all Salmon.  To use fish, cook the fish with salt and chilli powder first, then proceed with recipe by mixing in the other fresh herbs etc.  For another easy vegetarian dish, Saute some 3-4 cloves of freshly crushed garlic in olive oil and add in cut portobello mushrooms (2 inch pieces), salt and black pepper to taste and its a great addition. 

– July 27, 2011 12:06 PM
Q.

Too much baking powder in the cake - worried about bday cake

I'm posting early because I have a busy day ahead of me, but hopefully you will get to this and I can check the transcript this evening. I made and froze the cake for my sons' first birthday, and I realized as I stuck the second batch in the freezer (9 inch for head, 6 inch for ears) that I had quadrupled the baking powder the 2nd go round. I ended up making mini cupcakes out of that batch and they taste fine - the cake itself took much longer to cook than they first cake and had a slightly sunken center, although the skewer was free in batter. The recipe was a take on the chocolate cake with boiling water from Cook's Illustrated. Should I just make a second small cake or will it be ok. Also, I'm making raspberry curd for the filling, will it keep for next weekend if I make it this weekend?
A.
Joe Yonan :

I'm trying to follow you here, and struggling! You say you froze 9-inch and 6-inch out of the second batch, but then say you made them into mini-cupcakes? If they tasted fine, then you're probably OK -- I'm not surprised the center was sunken, as that's one thing that can happen when the baking powder causes the batter to poof, poof, poof -- and then poof! I'd think you might end up with a dense result, too.

On the raspberry curd, you should either make it just the day before, or if you want/need to make it this weekend, you should freeze it, and then just transfer to the fridge the night before you want to use it.

– July 27, 2011 12:09 PM
Q.

Lobster rolls

I was excited to see your lobster roll headline: Less is More. I thought you had embraced the TRUE lobster roll, to be found at such fine establishments as Abbott's in Noank, CT and a one particular dockside shack in Portland, ME: Lobster chunks. Butter-brushed, toasted bun. Side of melted butter. Celery counts as less is more? Blasphemy!

A.
Joe Yonan :

You sound like me talking about Texas chili.

– July 27, 2011 12:11 PM
A.
Tim Carman :

I'm with you on the anti-celery boat.  It adds a nice texture in lobster rolls but I prefer a lobster roll without those little bits of bitterness.

– July 27, 2011 12:11 PM
Q.

Eating in Spain

First, thank you, thank you, thank you Joe for your recommendations for restaurants in Barcelona. We did not make it all of them, but we didn't have one bad meal while were there. In fact, we ate very well in Toledo, Barcelona, and Madrid. In Barcelona, we loved Pla de la Garsa (Assaondors 13) for traditional Catalan and a wonderful cheese plate, Restaurant Cal Pep (Plaza de les Olles, 8) for refined Catalan pinxtos (tapas), and if you cannot get a spot at the bar at Cal Pep, walk across the plaza to Celler de la Ribera (Plaza de les Olles, 6) for very good Spanish tapas. In Madrid we had a great time at Casa Lucas (Cava Baja, 30) eating Spanish raciones with a delicious twist. I loved Spanish food so much. In fact, this morning for breakfast I whipped up a breakfast of pan con tomate (pan de tomate in Catalan). So easy, grated tomato mixed with olive oil on toasted bread with salt. Delicious!

A.
Joe Yonan :

So glad you had a good time! I (heart) Spain.

– July 27, 2011 12:12 PM
Q.

Lobster roll roll:

True Mainers expect a top-split hot dog bun, a white one: none of that fancy bread and you can keep your whole grains, too! I'm just tickled by the fact that McDonald's in Maine sells lobster rolls in season. (And Burger King in New Mexico will put green chile on anything for you.)
Q.

Carrot Halwa

Please clarify, how do you make ghee?
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

Most Whole Food stores carry ghee.  If you want to attempt making your own, you start with unsalted butter, melt it in a pot with a heavy bottom.  After the butter has melted completely it starts to foam, continue cooking till the foam renders into brownish milk solids completely.  Then use a cheese cloth to strain out the milk solids.  Voila, the ghee is ready.

– July 27, 2011 12:17 PM
Q.

So easy, grated tomato mixed with olive oil on toasted bread with salt

How does one GRATE a tomato? (Yes, yes, I know, very carefully). Seriously, though, wouldn't it just totally disintegrate?
A.
Joe Yonan :

You want it to disintegrate. You run it over a coarse grater.

But actually, the traditional way to make pan con tomate is to use the crusty/charred bread for this purpose. You broil or grill the bread until it's REAL dark, then rub a cut garlic clove on it and then rub a tomato half on it, pressing so that the flesh and juice of the tomato just soaks into the bread. Drizzle with the best olive oil you can find, sprinkle with sea salt, and you're done.

Or you could also top with boquerones (white anchovies) or serrano ham. Natch.

– July 27, 2011 12:20 PM
Q.

Cleaning enameled cast iron

Hi! Maybe it's that I went with Martha Stewart instead of Le Creuset, but after using my enameled cast iron to cook black beans with the no-soak-oven method, I cannot clean the interior! I've soaked it, added boiling water and soap, put it on a burner with soap and water, scrubbed scrubbed scrubbed. I could accept it as just stained BUT when I scrape it with a fingernail ( a wet flexible fingernail from all the scrubbing!) it comes off easily an reveals the mess to be just a film. I don't want to use steel wool or anything else that will erode the enamel. And the film is just from black beans and water and herbs, 325 for 90 minutes. What's wrong???
A.
Joe Yonan :

Sounds to me like you should just be using your fingernail! Next up: Have you tried Bar Keeper's Friend? You make a paste out of it, let it sit on the stain, and then try again. It's slightly abrasive, but it also has a chemical in it that loosens stains, so you shouldn't have to scrub too hard.

– July 27, 2011 12:20 PM
Q.

Peaches

I'm in love with peaches but have a hard time figuring out how to pick the best ones. A friend gave me the tip of touching the top of them by the stem - she said you want a little give but not too much. However, most of the ones I've been seeing have all been pretty firm. Does that sound about right and the peaches I'm seeing are all just not ripe yet or is there a better way of choosing? Thanks!
A.
Tim Carman :

Here's what the Field Guide to Produce suggests for picking peaches and nectarines: 

"Don't be put off by fuzz. The stem end of the peach should be yellow or cream-colored. Look for a well-defined crease. The peach should have a pleasingly sweet fragrance and should be soft to the touch, not mushy.

For both peaches and nectarines, crimson blush indicates variety, not maturity. For nectarines, look for smooth, unblemished skin, creamy yellow background color, plumpness, and slight softening along the seam. Ripe nectarines give to gentle pressure but will not be as soft as a ripe peach."

– July 27, 2011 12:21 PM
A.
Joe Yonan :

I'll add that most farmers sell peaches on the underripe side at market. They can bruise so easily if they try to transport them when they're very ripe. I try to pick out a variety of ripenesses, though, so that I can eat a peach a day at its peak for several days. ...

– July 27, 2011 12:21 PM
Q.

Clever pun

Kudos to the person who (probably unintentionally) made a great pun using the word "clarify" when asking about ghee.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Tee-hee.

– July 27, 2011 12:22 PM
Q.

Daniel Singh

Do you still make those delicious lamb chops although you are now a vegetarian? If so could you share the recipe. Thanks
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

I make them occassionally for Thanksgiving dinners, but not for myself. 

Here's a quick one

2lbs of lamb chops

5-6 cloves garlic,

 1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. marjoram, thyme, tarragon, rosemary
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Salt to taste

toss the oil, herbs and spices in a food processor and pulse a few times till you have a chunky mixture.  Coat lamb chops with mixture, marinate for 3-4 hours in refrigerator and either cook for about 3-4 minutes on stove top, or roast at 325 for about 30 mins.

 

You can subsitute a curry marinade by using coarsely chopped ginger, garlic, serano peppers, red onions, curry powder and salt.

– July 27, 2011 12:22 PM
Q.

Please clarify, how do you make ghee?

That was actually an attempt at food humor--I suppose a not very good one. Although I do appreciate the explanation and might try the cheesecloth method. I'd read one that invovled skimming, but that seemed quite wasteful.
Q.

Grilling Seafood

Hi Jim, Saw that the topic today was about grilling fish. Wanted to know if you had any recommendations for grilling shellfish of any sort. Oysters, shrimp, and scallops are a few of my favorites, but any assistance would be great. Thanks!
A.
Jim Shahin :

First, try the fabulous Barton Seaver recipe for grilled oysters in today's story; he uses a smoked paprika-peach-butter sauce that goes phenomenally well with the oysters.

As for shrimp and scallops, a couple of ways to try: for the former, pull off the shell, devein, brush with olive oil and, if you like, a few seasonings, skewer them, and place directly over a medium fire for about 2 minutes per side. Add a sauce of your liking when they come off or simply squirt withlemon.

Scallops: Start an indirect fire. Lightly oil, season with a rub you like, then place on the grill over medium-high heat for about a minute, then turn over for another minute. Move to the cool side of the grill for about 2-3 minutes. 

For scallops in the shell: Drizzle a favorite dressing on them, such as ginger, vinegar, salt, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and grill, shell side down, for about 3 minutes or until you see the scallop stiffen. 

 

– July 27, 2011 12:23 PM
Q.

Grocery store meats

Hi there! Are there any resources that you know of to help consumers choose meats more wisely in the grocery store? I simply cannot afford farmer's market meat prices -- as much as I'd like to -- and so I try to be very judicious at the store (I try to buy most of my veggies at the markets, though). Safeway and Giant have both introduced brands that appeal to conscious shoppers (like Safeway's Open Nature brand), as has Perdue. The labels SAY things like all natural, organic, antibiotic free, cage free, etc., but I'm just not sure what to believe. Haven't found anything trustworthy on the internet. Do you all have any recommendations or resources to share? Thanks!
A.
Tim Carman :

This is tough. I've purchased some decent meats at Safeway and I've purchased some off-putting, nose-rattling meats from chain grocery stores.

By and large, I'd ignore most of those labels. Trying to decipher what they actually mean is next to impossible. I look for freshness dates for the most part. I also tend to avoid pre-packaged products, like those nasty spare ribs that practically smell like anomonia when you open them.

Mostly, I'd say develop a relationship with the butcher at the store. He or she will steer you to the best meats they have available. Nothing beats the butcher, who knows everything that goes on behind the scenes.

 

– July 27, 2011 12:24 PM
Q.

Indian comfort food

What's your favorite recipe your mother gave you, Dan?
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

Since I've become a vegetarian, my favorite is the Rajma curry (a red bean curry) or Chickpea curry.  :)  And Carrot Halwa is one of my favorite desserts. 

– July 27, 2011 12:25 PM
Q.

Lobster rolls again: ARGH!

It made me giggle that along with my rant about the awfulness of celery (and other such additions other than butter) you posted a GINORMOUS picture of celery and mayo-laden lobster rolls. That's all!
A.
Joe Yonan :

We do it because we can! I wanted people to see the lobster roll you were complaining about... ;-)

– July 27, 2011 12:26 PM
Q.

Memphis Q in NYC?

Jim- Heard about the Memphis BBQ institution Neely's is opening (has opened?) a place up in New York City. Do you know anything about this? Also, NYC seems to be diversifying its BBQ world (Hill Country Texas style, Neely's Memphis style) and I was wondering to what degree it could become an important BBQ city, even if it is somewhat of a "transplanted" identity. Would love to hear your thoughts, Jim. Thanks a lot!
A.
Jim Shahin :

NYC is an important bbq city in the way it is an important everything city. It takes the influences that come to it and both recreates and re-imagines them.

While you won't find generations of pitmasters in NYC, you will find surprisingly good barbecue. In Brooklyn, Fette Sau is doing amazing stuff with locally-sourced meats and Fatty 'Cue is blazing new trails with Asian-'cue fusion. Those are just 2 of lots of places in NYC, from Blue Smoke to Dinosaur to RUB to Daisy Mae's to Hill Country to the newly opened Mable's, to others, including Neely's. I have eaten at all those mentioned, except for Mable's. I have also not eaten at Neely's, but I find it interesting that they are using Texas postoak for the brisket, just as it is done in central Texas and at another NYC bbq restaurant, the Texas-themed Hill Country.

I'm looking forward to checking it out. Rangers, if any of you have, please let us know what you think.

– July 27, 2011 12:26 PM
Q.

Siphon question from last week

Rangers: I'm a little behind in my Food section reading, but was very excited to see the article on using a soda siphon to create your own drinks. I have an ISI siphon (silver body/black screw-on top type) but I swear when we bought it a few years ago I thought I remembered the packaging saying that you should not put anything except water in the container. I was thinking this was because you could not clean it completely of any non-water substance. Am I mis-remembering this? Thanks!
A.
Joe Yonan :

I've got an email out to "Homemade Sodas" author Andy Schloss, but all his recipes that use a soda siphon such as iSi call for putting the flavored base right in there. He does write about the importance of always cleaning the parts, but if it were a problem to put flavored base into one of these, I can't imagine he'd base so many recipes on this idea...

– July 27, 2011 12:28 PM
Q.

Grilled polenta cakes

I love grilled polenta cakes, and tried making them at home last night. However, the polenta kept sticking to the grill so that I'd have a toasty cake minus the good crispy parts. I sprayed the grill in between batches, so I'm not sure what I did wrong.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Did you cook the polenta until VERY thick, then chill it until it was nice and firm? Those are important steps. I also think you should be oiling the cakes, not just the grill. (And rather than spraying the grill, I'd scrub those grates real clean (while the grill is hot), then oil it with a paper towel dipped in oil and held with tongs.

– July 27, 2011 12:28 PM
Q.

Have to ask...

Have you tried Redhook Lobster Truck? Thoughts? I love the article on keeping them simple!
A.
Tim Carman :

If you haven't read Domenica Marchetti's fun blog post on lobster rolls, here it is. (Shameless plug: We update the All We Can Eat blog several times a day; please check us out.)

I've eaten the Red Hook lobster roll many times, and I think it's terrific. I tend to go with the Maine-style roll, lightly dressed and served in a warm, browned J.J. Nissen split bun. Best yet, the truck typically (at least the ones I have eaten) don't use celery in the binder, but chopped scallions, which adds a nice note of sharpness.

– July 27, 2011 12:33 PM
Q.

NYC BBQ

Just wanted to add onto Jim's answer to the NYC question by saying that I hit up Mable's on a July 4th weekend trip for my brother's birthday.... get thee to a train/bus/plane headed for NY immediately. I'm not even kidding when I say it's just that good. I split one of the massive platters with a friend and my only regret is that I didn't come hungrier so I could focus on all the delicious meats. Oh and don't expend too much effort on the sides -- they range from eh to ok. The meat is the star.
Q.

bacon on a Weber

Hi Jim! I'm a 13 year old boy who loves bacon!!! I was wondering if you could cook bacon on a Weber grill? My parents just bought one and they've been cooking all sorts of things, but they don't know the answer about bacon. Thanks for your help.
A.
Jim Shahin :

     I share your love for bacon, buddy! It's easy on a grill. Just put it in a pan, preferably cast-iron, and cook over a direct fire, just as you would on the stovetop. 

    You can also cook them directly on the grill, but it is a little more tricky. You'll need long-handled tongs. Start a fire on one side of the grill. Put a drip pan beneath the cooking grate on the other side of the grill. When the fire is medium-hot, place the bacon on the grates on the "cool side" (the side over the drip pan). Close the lid. Cook for about 2 minutes and check them. If they seem to be about the crispness you like, turn them over and do the same thing. If they are not quite the crispness you like, let them go another minute or two. 

   I don't know your experience with the grill. I don't mean to be too much a parent, but you might want to have your dad or mom around to help you.

– July 27, 2011 12:33 PM
Q.

milkshakes!

What's the secret to making milkshakes at home? When I combine ice cream, whole milk, and vanilla in a blender, I always get a pretty thin mixture -- more like flavored milk, no matter how little milk I use. Is there any way to make a thick shake at home?
A.
Tim Carman :

You could follow McDonald's lead, I guess, and add thickeners like guar gum. :)

You might try a few things, some of which will alter the flavor. You could add some slices of banana to the mixture. You could also add egg whites (or the powdered version).

But before those options, you might just try (if you haven't already) going very slowly with your blending. Just pulse the ingredients until they combine. Keep it on a low setting and pulse until the ingredients combine to your satisfaction.

– July 27, 2011 12:34 PM
Q.

Tuna steaks

I marinated some tuna steaks in a teryaki sauce last week and then put them on my cast iron griddle. While they tasted good and were super moist, they were almost too moist. The fish was still flaky, but just tasted like it'd almost gotten mushy. Do you think I marinated it too long? They were also frozen steaks that I thawed, so maybe that has something to do with it.
A.
Jim Shahin :

    I don't think it was a matter of them being frozen, but I do think you probably marinated them too long. Unlike meat, fish does not care for long marinades. 

    I'd either brine the tuna in a simple water, sugar, salt solution and add the marinade toward the end of cooking or marinade for only about 20 minutes to a half-hour, or so.

– July 27, 2011 12:34 PM
Q.

Buttercream frosting question

I'm making dark chocolate, ganache-filled cupcakes. I think a buttercream frosting would offset the chocolate cake nicely. But I'm seeing recipes all over the map for buttercream frosting - some w/yolks, egg whites, no eggs, cream, milk, etc. Which type of buttercream would you recommend for a dark chocolate cupcake? Incidentally, I'm thinking of flavoring the frosting with Bailey's Irish cream.
A.
Joe Yonan :

I'd make my favorite chocolate frosting, the one that goes on my favorite cake, the Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba) cake from Julia Child, a fantastic chocolate/almond confection I've made dozens and dozens of times. Here's a link to a recipe -- scroll down to "Soft Chocolate Frosting." Note that she calls for a little rum; that's where I think your Bailey's could come in, if you really want it.

 

– July 27, 2011 12:34 PM
Q.

Homemade dressings

Do you have any good standby recipes for interesting salad dresses? Work lunches are getting boring. I've nailed down the basic vinegar recipes, but I have problems when it comes to adding extras other than spices or a little mustard. For example, I tried to make a healthier Caesar and it came out blah.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Too bad David Hagedorn isn't in the house today, cause he's our favorite vinaigrette expert! He's done some nice ones for us over the years, such as:

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Must-Go Vinaigrette

Summer Salad With Golden Beet Vinaigrette

– July 27, 2011 12:38 PM
Q.

Another ghee question

Thank you for your ghee recipe. But I would appreciate it very much if you tell me do I melt butter and "cook-off" the foam on high, medium or low heat. Also, I know it would not be worth the time and effort making ghee using one butter stick. What would be the most workable amount to make for a home cook? Thank you for your response.
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

I would start with at least 4 sticks of butter.  Cook on medium or medium-high.  You want the milk solids to render, but not burn so definitely not high.  Ghee is wonderful drizzled over rize or pasta as well.  :)  Enjoy

– July 27, 2011 12:38 PM
Q.

Joe, you became my culinary hero in last week's chat

I, too, believe that the only place for green peppers is with equal parts onion and celery in Jambalaya. But so gosh darn many recipes, especially "healthy" ones call for green or red peppers. I don't want to substitute the flavor, but do you have any suggestions for a substitute that would give me the same texture or nutrition as the dreaded reds and greens? Thanks
A.
Joe Yonan :

You misunderstood me! I assented to a complaint about GREEN peppers, but there's a huge difference between them and the red ones, which I love. Basically, the difference is in ... ripeness. One turns into the other. The green ones I find bitter and grassy, but the red ones are vibrant and a little sweet. Do you feel the same about both of them, truly? If so, in many cases, depending on the recipe, I think you could just leave them out. Nothing comes to mind that really replicates them.

– July 27, 2011 12:38 PM
Q.

Lentil recipe

what kind of lentils for the Lentils and Spinach recipe. Some you don't have to soak over night or cook that long. Black lentils? Red? French? Green? Some specificity would be good. Also, the chilis listed in the recipe, are they all hot? It seems like a heck of a lot of hot spice. My husband is not a hot spice person (a bit warm, but not more). How would I modify to fit? Thanks much

A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

I typically use green lentils and soak them over night if I'm cooking in the morning or the morning of, if I'm making it for dinner.  I've also used Red, and French but haven't tried black lentils. 

The recipe is for 20, 1/2 cup portions I believe.  Feel free to start with fewer peppers as your husband can tolerate.  The good thing about Indian food is that you can doctor the spice up as you like if it is not spicy enough for you.  If you find that you've made it too spicy, add some more spinach to tone it down.

– July 27, 2011 12:40 PM
Q.

beets

What are some good recommendations for beets? I've got a bunch from the garden and would like some suggestions. I've already roasted, grilled, boiled etc.
A.
Tim Carman :

Lucky you, we have tons of beet recipes in our database. Check 'em out here and decide what looks best for you.

– July 27, 2011 12:40 PM
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

I also love using beets or butternut squash to make spicy curries.  Ginger & cardamom go really well with the sweetness in beets or butternut squash.  Brown some cardamom in olive oil, then spice it up with some ginger, garlic, peppers, onions, salt and  curry powder (adjusting spice levels per your tolerance).  Mix in the beets and cook till they are done. 

– July 27, 2011 12:40 PM
Q.

BLUEBERRIES

I've been eating them by the pint all summer, but my last pint was terrible. Is this the beginning of the end for blueberry season? The only thing I dislike about the end of summer is the end of all the great fruit.
A.
Tim Carman :

We're still in peak blueberry season and you should find good blueberries until September, I think.

Remember, though, that the weather has been brutal lately. High heat and little water doesn't make for happy produce -- or happy eaters.

– July 27, 2011 12:40 PM
Q.

Indian Food

What would you recommend a new cook start off with?
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

Don't be afraid to experiment.  The Spinach and Lentils dish is an easy one to figure out and tweak along the way.  Another simple but tasty treat for me is curried Shiitake mushrooms.  Simply toss 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp curry powder, salt to taste in a non-stick pan and then mix in the mushrooms.  Cook for about 10 minutes and they should be done.   Indian food, especially the curries are very flexible to doctoring along the way.  If it is not spicy enough, add more.   If it is too spicy add some of the vegetables to tone it down.

– July 27, 2011 12:41 PM
Q.

Smoke signals

If you're going to continue to print articles like this, you're going to have to start delivering some of the food described. Wow, my mouth was watering. You're lucky I have a yummy lunch to eat while I read the food section...
A.
Joe Yonan :

We will take that as the best compliment of all.

– July 27, 2011 12:41 PM
Q.

cobbler

I committed myself to blueberry cobbler before I realized I had no sugar. I substituted confectioners sugar for 'regular' (using a ratio found online), but the cooked batter was gummy. Is that because CS has baking powder in it? Should I have cut back on the BP the recipe called for? (or, I know, never run out of basic staples again)
A.
Joe Yonan :

Confectioner's sugar doesn't have baking powder in it, and baking powder doesn't lead to gummy cake -- it may lead to fallen or dense cakes because it causes overrising (and then deflating). But confectioner's sugar, since the crystals are so much smaller than granulated sugar, will definitely affect the texture of a cobbler topping (I'm assuming it's of the cakier type because of your question about baking powder). With granulated sugar, you'll get more air into the batter when you cream the butter and sugar together. (Did the recipe call for this step?)

– July 27, 2011 12:45 PM
Q.

Beets

A nice cool summer salad is simply roasted or boiled beets, sliced and mixed with Greek yogurt, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and fresh basil.
Q.

Shudder over green peppers

I am 100% with you, Joe, on the green peppers. Please, world, hear this plea: do not make your vegetarian option grilled green peppers, squash/zucchini, and eggplant. It is disgusting in flavor, always slimy and overcooked, and boring. There are a billion options for us, and that is not one. Even the beaten-to-death portabello is better. (This rant is inspired by the "vegetarian sandwich" I just had at a lunch business meeting we had catered. It was grilled green peppers, white onions, eggplant, squash, lettuce. On a roll. Everything was slimy and limp. Unreal. How hard is it to make hummus? Even black bean hummus? Even Cosi can do it!)
A.
Joe Yonan :

I'm shuddering, too!

– July 27, 2011 12:45 PM
Q.

Low Sodium

Help! I need to start eating low sodium. When I am out, what sorts of cuisines tend to be prepared low salt (so without telling the restaurant that is what I need,special)? Also, sushi comes to mind as one alternative, but how much salt is in rice?
A.
Tim Carman :

I feel your pain. I conducted a week-long experience in low-sodium eating, and it almost killed me.

What I learned is that you have to be your own best advocate. Chefs love salt (for good reason!) and as such, they are often oblivious to how much sodium is actually in their dishes. (And don't forget that some ingredients like beef, come to the kitchen with sodium already in the muscle.)

In other words, you have to ask a lot of questions and you have to do your research on which dishes/ingredients are loaded with sodium. The USDA nutritional database has the sodium count for hundreds and hundreds of foods.

– July 27, 2011 12:46 PM
Q.

Re: grocery store meats

Whole Foods recently introduced an animal welfare rating system. All of their meats have a sticker with a number on them now. I don't know the details off-hand, but I would think that animal welfare correlates to taste pretty directly.
Q.

Red vs. Green

YELLOW!
Q.

Best fish for grilling

What are the best types of fish for grilling? And should all fish be grilled in a holder?
A.
Jim Shahin :

    I don't know about the best, but the easiest fish for grilling are firm, meaty steaks and filets, such as swordfish, tuna, halibut, mahi mahi, salmon, grouper, and wahoo. Shellfish also take well to the grill. They have a natural "holder."

    As to that holder, you can use one if you want but I don't see a need for one. Thick filets and steaks will stay on the cooking grate just fine. Next time you grill fish, try one without the holder, one with. My guess is that once you get comfortable with the idea of the fish being directly on the grate (and one successful outing will make you comfortable), you'll do it every time. 

– July 27, 2011 12:48 PM
Q.

Tuna

Don't marinate. Make it a glaze instead. Take the unmarinated tuna steak and brush some glaze on one side, put this side down on the cast iron griddle. The glaze should help keep the fish from sticking to the pan. While the first side is down and cooking, brush the second side with glaze. Flip and brush again. Cook on each side twice. Will turn out much better than marinating.
Q.

Re: Cobbler

Also, confectioners sugar has corn starch in it so it doesn't stick to itself. That will definitely lead to some gumminess in cooking.
Q.

Lentil recipe typo?

The Post recipe says the nutritional info is for a 1-cup serving and Mr. Singh said 1/2. Pretty big difference on the numbers....
A.
Daniel Phoenix Singh :

Yikes, Bonnie's measurements are right.  I was going off my faulty memory. Bonnie is the Goddess of recipes and was beating me down to get measurements.   When in doubt, go with Bonnie.

– July 27, 2011 12:49 PM
Q.

Beets

After cooking, peeling and chilling, just slice or sliver some (as you prefer) on top of a mixed green salad, then top with blue cheese dressing!
A.
Tim Carman :

I'm with you on the pleasures of simple beet eating. I like mine in salads, too, with nuts, orange zest, bleu cheese and a light, light citrusy dressing.

– July 27, 2011 12:49 PM
Q.

sorry, more on the lentils portions

When I hit "print", that format said 1/2 cup servings!
A.
Joe Yonan :

No, it said "Makes 20 1/2 cups." Meaning, it makes 20.5 cups. Total. That's about 20 servings of 1 cup each.

 

– July 27, 2011 12:50 PM
Q.

Re: thicker milkshakes

Try skipping the blender! Use ice cream that softened only a little bit, crush any mix-ins (like oreos) separately, and mix with a spoon. More time consuming and muscle building, but definitely worth it. I also love drizzing in caramel that way so that it's not caramel overload.
Q.

animal welfare correlates to taste pretty directly

Please support that theory with any legitimate arguements. (Guess you're no fan of pate de foie gras!, lol!)

Q.

Cake questioner here (I made it)

Sorry for the confusion Batch 1 - 9 inch cake, true to recipe Batch 2 - 6 inch cake and mini cupcakes (2 T of baking powder as opposed to 1/5 t because I was reading the line above that called for + 2T of flour) I won't have time to make the curd before hand so I'll make it this weekend and freeze.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Gotcha. Have fun!

– July 27, 2011 12:52 PM
Q.

Substitute for green peppers

I agree with you about bell peppers. Love red ones. Green ones are kind of a waste for me (like iceberg lettuce...give me a green in my salads that tastes like something). I sometimes substitute poblano chiles for green peppers. The poblanos actually have flavor (although mild).
Q.

"I would think that animal welfare correlates to taste pretty directly."

Are you kidding me?!?! Stupid statements likes this are why I'm so wary of the organic movement. If there's any taste difference for you, it's probably a placebo effect because you just love feeling so wholesome and good. Look, I'm not try to denigrate the whole idea of organic and treating animals correctly. I just wish we could keep it in context and not speak in hyperboles. It's fine to be kind to animals for the sake of being kind to animals, but don't try to convince me my meat is going to taste better just because an animal was happy. Let's stick in the world of reality.
Q.

Grilled seafood

I'm always looking for ways to expand the amount of seafood I eat and grilling always intimidated me - so thanks for the very informative article! I have a question on scallops. Do you think skewers are the best way to cook them on the grill or a basket?
A.
Jim Shahin :

     Neither. I like to put 'em directly on the grate. I use long-handled tongs to turn them. But, then, I'm all about the directness of cooking with fire.

     Lots of people like to immerse a wood skewer in water for awhile, then skewer scallops. That's fine, too. 

     Baskets are a good way to protect your scallops, or anything, from falling through the grates. But they won't allow for the uniform heat that I like for grill marks and/or crusting. 

    So, try going just with the grate. Oh, and have a spatula handy too. Sometimes you need one to help nudge the scallop off the grate.

     We're talking here about sea scallops. Bay scallops are too small to put directly on the grate. 

– July 27, 2011 12:53 PM
Q.

Low Sodium

Tim, thanks for answering my question about sodium. Much appreciated! Of course, there are no easy answers, I am discovering ...
Q.

Thick Milkshakes

Also, you could try taking a page from smoothies and blend some crushed ice in, to add some "heft" without the calorie hit.
Q.

CT lobster rolls rule

A second on CT lobster rolls -- can't stomach the mayo-choked versions since I tried the classic CT. FYI, lobster rolls are on the menu in our local hospital cafeteria! That goes for RI vs. other clam chowders. Small NE states know their seafood, too!
Q.

kindness=better taste

to the person asking, there have been numerous studies showing how stress hormones toughen the flesh of the animals we eat. Animals are stressed when kept in small, confined spaces, overcrowded, slaughtered en masse where other animals can hear them. It is also just a basic question: are you really OK with essentially abusing a creature that can feel pain and, yes, experience emotion?
Q.

Lobster Rolls some more

I had my first Connecticut style roll a few weeks ago. Did not like. It was cold and bouncy and tasted fishy. The best part was the buttered roll. Our family is strictly Maine-style, although I don't remember there being any celery in there. One of my favorite memories of visiting relatives is random stops for a quick lobster roll snack. (I have a feeling they were a lot cheaper up there.) I don't make them at home as I can't bring myself to cook the lobster. I think it may be time for a vacation up north.
Q.

Well? Do they?

Do lobsters scream when you boil them? Gussing not, since you called it a myth, but I never heard that claim before. I'm giggling remembering the scene from the Little Mermaid in which Scuttle the crab tries to evade the French chef ("sacre blue! I have mizzed one!")
A.
Tim Carman :

There has been a lot of discussion on food circles about the pain lobsters may or may not feel. You can read about it here.

– July 27, 2011 12:57 PM
Q.

Basic pork chop

I'd like to make a basic chop for a quick evening meal, mine are always tough. Maybe I'm overcooking? Quick brown on both sides then simmer (in a broth) how long?
A.
Jim Shahin :

     I don't know how comfortable you are with grilling, but, gotta tell ya, one of my favorite pork chop cooking methods to is to buy a really thick bone-in one, season it lightly with nothing more than some salt, coarse-ground pepper, a touch of cayenne, and set it directly over a medium-hot charcoal and/or wood fire for about 2 minutes, turn it over for another 2, then move it to the cool side of the grill, put the top down and let smoke for about 4-6 minutes.

     Comes out juicy, and med-rare. Let sit about five minutes before slicing into it. 

– July 27, 2011 12:58 PM
Q.

Re: Veg, no cheese friend dinner

I'm in the same boat as the friend, and my favorite meal is grilled fish (usually salmon) and asparagus on the side. You can fancy up the asparagus with a sauce, or create a great topping for the fish. Another favorite is fish tacos. So much fun to prepare and no need for cheese!
Q.

Veg no cheese guest

You can find many wonderful recipes on vegetariantimes.com 's recipe finder. Just put in "vegan" for a search term, or even if you don't put that in, you will find a million recipes without cheese. Vegetarians don't eat cheese in every dish (I rarely do).
Q.

Animal welfare-taste

""I would think that animal welfare correlates to taste pretty directly." Are you kidding me?!?! Stupid statements likes this are why I'm so wary of the organic movement. If there's any taste difference for you, it's probably a placebo effect because you just love feeling so wholesome and good. " Animals that feed on pasture DO taste different than those that were force-fed corn. Try it.
Q.

Cracking tomatoes

This might be more of a gardening chat question, but maybe one of you all can help me? I picked a few of my tomatoes yesterday because they are starting to show cracks along the tops and sides. Some are almost ripe, but a couple are still green. Are they OK to eat? Some of the cracks are very slight, just along the outer skin, but the ones along the top (going in towards the stem) are pretty deep and look kind of brownish inside. Can I just cut around the cracks? Or is there something wrong with them?
A.
Tim Carman :

My understanding is these tomatoes are still perfectly fine to eat. In fact, they better be. Otherwise, all those ugly beauties at the farmers market will be unsellable.

– July 27, 2011 12:59 PM
Q.

Is there any way to make a thick shake at home?

I mix chocolate syrup with milk in the bottom of the container, then add ice cream and hand-stir hard with a large strong spoon -- no blender!
Q.

Chipotles in adobo

I seem to have a lot of recipes that call for somewhere between 1 and 3 chipotles canned in adobo sauce. After I use the ones for the recipe, what is the best way to store the remaining ones. Can they be frozen, or should you just transfer them to something resealable and keep them in the fridge? And if so, for how long can they safely be kept?
A.
Jim Shahin :

   I put them in the fridge and they last, literally, for months. 

– July 27, 2011 1:00 PM
Q.

Joe Yonan :

Well, you've used tongs or a spatula to turn us over onto a platter, so our grill marks are visible, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Daniel Phoenix Singh and Jim Shahin for helping us answer them today.

Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who asked about supermarket meats will get "Lobster Scream When You boil Them." The chatter who asked about ideas for cooking beets will get "Salad Days." Send your mailing info to Tim Smith at smitht@washpost.com, and he'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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