Free Range on Food

Sep 07, 2011

Today's topics: Back-to-school cooking with your kids, with special guest Sally Sampson of ChopChop Magazine. Plus: food-truck legislation, DIY yogurt, and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! What's on your mind today?

We have a special guest today: Sally Sampson, publisher of ChopChop, a fab new cooking magazine for families. She wrote a great piece for us today on building a better lunch for your kids (and WITH your kids -- and that's key), along with some great tips and recipes.

Ask Sally anything that's on your mind about kids' meals. She's a real pro at it. (You may remember that she wrote this fantastic piece for us in 2009 in which she proved that it's not only healthier to make  hamburgers, pizza, etc. at home -- it's actually faster and cheaper, too.)

That's not all we had in today's section, of course. There was Tim Carman's interesting profile of a libertarian group who is leading the charge to protect food trucks; and Andreas Viestad's last Gastronomer column, on making your own yogurt and yogurt cheese.

Tim's on the road, but can handle some questions by email. And we should see Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin in the room at some point, and maybe even Jason "Boozehound" Wilson at some point.

We'll have some cool prizes today for the source of our favorite questions: "Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking" by James Peterson; and MULTIPLE subscriptions to ChopChop mag, courtesy of Sally.

So let's do this!

Hi Free Rangers - I'm an avid reader and hoping you can help with my current challenge. I love hand pies from every culture - empanadas, pieroshki, pasties - and eat them several times a week, but would love to find a healthier alternative for the dough. They all seem to involve shortening, butter or cream cheese. Can you suggest a healthier dough style? And if there's no way around the fat content, would something like Smart Balance work? I tried low-fat cream cheese with some success, but it's still quite greasy. Thanks so much, and thanks for all you do!

You could use whole-wheat flour, perhaps toss in a little flax seed or lightly coat with wheat bran. You can easily cut the butter in half by substituting the other half with small-curd low-fat cottage cheese.  It yields a dough that's tender rather than flaky, but for your purposes, that should work just fine.

I should have put that the other way around -- Farewell, Andreas Viestad, I hope you are leaving for happy reasons, and before you go, please answer some questions about the yogurt cheese -- which by the way sounds and looks amazing. (I've made yogurt since my first year of college, but never cheese.) Here goes: 8 oz of yogurt turns into roughly how many ounces of cheese, when the liquid's drained out? If you hang the yogurt-filled cheesecloth outdoors, doesn't it get covered in bugs? Can it be made this way regardless of the weather (sun, chill, cold, wet), or only on warm, sunny days? If you want a goat-cheese taste, how much goat cheese should you add, proportionately? Will I never want to eat commercial cream cheese again? Thanks so much. I will toast you when I slather my first cream cheese, and then cheesier-cheese, on crackers -- and as I experiment to find the best wine to pair with it. Say "Cheese!"

Andreas says:

Thanks!
I haven't eaten commercial cream cheese in years, so if you are like me, this will be "Goodbye Philadelphia". 
Depending on how hard you want your cream cheese to be (an whether you'll mix something moist into it), I'd say that it will be reduced by about two thirds after hanging. When adding goat cheese, the amount depends on what you want. If you are storing it for a long time and want the mold, you don't need much, but if you are intending to use it in fresh cream cheese, I recommend adding about one third goat cheese.
As for outdoors cheese-making, it is romantic, and makes for some great photos, which is why my photographer convinced me to do the shot outdoors. It is not uncommon, several types of labne are supposed to be hung outside. But being a responsible grown-up I have to recommend being indoors for the reasons you just mentioned.
Leaving for very happy reasons: Last week i opened a food culture center for kids in my native Oslo. This week we have had six graders here, learning to cook. It is amazing to see them out in the garden, picking herbs and vegetables. Today they filleted a whole fish and made fish cakes. And mayonnaise. There is, I believe,  a lot of science to be learned from everyday cooking, and kids need that knowledge, too.

Free Rangers! I made the very excellent Sweet and Savory Tomato Jam over the weekend. What flavor! So easy! Now I would like to make more before the best tomatoes disappear for the season. Do you know if the recipe can be reliably doubled, or tripled, and still be safe to can in a water bath? Thanks!

Yep, I tested this one, and loved it, too. I think you'd be fine making bigger quantities. Often with jam recipes, you're advised not to scale it up too much, and that's because it can be difficult to get it to set properly. This has the diced apple in it, with a lot of pectin, so it ends up getting nice and thick -- but it can take a long time depending on the size of the pot.

I'd advise that you go ahead and triple, but divide it among three large skillets rather than putting it in one bigger pot. That'll save you some time, as it'll thicken up more quickly.

Got back from vacation to find blueberry "raisins" in the refrigerator (didn't check that drawer before I left). I am delighted they decided to dry out instead of going moldy, but what do I do with them now? And sorry to be fussy, but I don't really like blueberry muffins. Thanks for any suggestions.

Add to plain yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, almost anything you'd add raisins to.....

Jim Shahin correctly identified flat skewers [Kalamala.com for correct types] but the "meat log" sought by OP is a KOOBIDEH. Indian variants are threaded on square skewers [Nishi Enterprises, NJ]. Ground meat for koobideh [80:20] is reground very fine in food processor with raw onion, to near paste. Rest in fridge. Take sword skewer in right hand, lump of meat in left, place ball midway. Begin squeezing in "peristaltic" waves up and down the sword, just hard enough so that finger imprints firm the meat up & secure it to sword. Do not work the meat so that you warm it up. The kabobs are placed over a mangal or over firebrick propped over a grill so that the meat does not touch any surface. They need to be rotated continuously or the meat will fall off. You may use a kabobzan, kabobzan.com, to help you form the kabobs. Serve with grilled tomato & chelo.

This falls under the, Ask-and-ye-shall-receive category. The question, as I recall, was more about a Middle Eastern version of the spiced ground meat described here. But, in response to keeping the meat firmly on the skewer (rather than sagging or falling off), the idea of the way to prepare and cook it is the same. Thanks so much!

Thanks for the school lunch upgrades article. I'm a mid-20s professional and while I don't have kids, I'm always looking for ways to liven up my "brown bag lunch." I pack a lunch at least 4 days a week and sometimes, my go-to salads, hummus wraps, soups, leftovers, are just a little boring. Thanks for some new ideas!

You're welcome. If you have any ideas to add, let us know at info@chopchopmag.org

Loved the ideas on different foods to put on sandwiches! I have to admit, though, I prefer my sandwiches to be warm and have wanted to play around with different variations of the grilled cheese sandwich. I'm noticing that some cheeses don't melt very well, however, or at least not they way I do it. Are some cheeses better at giving you that gooey awesomeness or is it more a matter of technique? I note I'm not the biggest fan of cheddar or Swiss, which I know are extremely popular.

Warm is great but not so much for a lunchbox. That said, if you're eating at home, try mixing several of the cheeses you like together, including bleu, which is a great and gooey addition. 

I love Gruyere for a grilled cheese. And you can never go wrong with good old Monterey Jack or, of course, mozzarella.

I'm posting early as our staff meeting prevents me from attending in real time. I always look forward to reading the chat transcript on Wednesday evening. I don't know how to approach any cooking task involving knives. I just hack away. I would like to take a class in knife skills. Would the fact that I do most things slowly make me a poor candidate?

Maybe we'll all weigh in here....Speed's not the key, unless you're on a TV show or working as a short-order cook. I recommend taking a class (we'll publish our annual cooking class listings later this month, so take a look), which will teach you the basics of how to get comfortable  using different types of knives. Once a pro shows you how to chop an onion and carve a chicken, you don't forget. Long ago I took instruction from Brian Patterson at L'Academie de Cuisine. If his sessions are still available, you're in luck. And, of course, the more cooking you do, the better you'll get.

Yes, the best classes will account for many different levels of skill/experience, and give you lots of personal attention. L'Academie is a good bet, as is CulinAerie downtown.

Submitting early as I have a meeting. I'm experimenting with grains, and wondering if you could help me out with Israeli couscous. I've had it out before, and love it. I'm trying to make it at home, but it comes out sticky and bland - when I have it out, its firm and the grains are perfect. I usually saute some shallots in butter, then add 1 1/3 cups of couscous to toast for 5 minutes (stirring the whole time), then slowly add 2 cups of hot chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 12 or so minutes. I then usually stir in some toasted pine nuts and cranberries. Any suggestions? Also, any recipes welcome. Thanks!!

It's okay for it to be a bit sticky but I think I might boil it instead and add the ingredients after. 

We are saying bye to the summer and are planning our last big BBQ party; we are interested in doing grill meats and want to include as many "BBQ foil recipes" as we can (seafood, veggies desserts). Are there any tested recipes out there to try or a trusted website where we can get ideas of whole menus using this technique?

Do you mean packet cooking on the grill? This link will take you to recipes for sea bass peperonata; mushroom-garlic-onion; grilled vegetables; grilled figs; and even corn! If you feel like winging it, you'll find it's almost foolproof.  Wrap up fish and boneless, skinless chicken with flavor (herbs, oils) and moisture; be sure to use heavy-duty aluminum foil.

 

 

i've made this a couple of times & the sauce always separates. I drained a good bit of it off, but I think I lose flavor from doing that. FWIW, the recipe I'm following calls for fat-free yogurt (I used Fage). Any tips?

And ... there's your culprit. The sauce needs a little fat, or it will separate when you cook it. Try it again with the 2% and report back.

Actually, I think I'd use a yogurt that wasn't Greek-style (not so thick).

But NOT fat-free.

I know this comes up every year but I just got back yesterday from my first trip to Austin, where I was seduced by the drug known as the Hatch. How can I get them? I was thinking of buying a box of fresh peppers online and freezing whatever sauce I make out of them, is this a terrible idea? (Franklin BBQ is amazing, btw)

First, yes, Franklin Barbecue IS amazing! 

Second, no, freezing Hatch chiles is not a bad idea. I do it every year. I char them, then measure them into single cup servings (generally, about 10 or so of them), and freeze them whole, stem, seeds, and all. 

As to where to get them, I was just talking with Joe about this the other evening. I get mine at my local Harris Tweeter in the District. There are other places, too. 

Rangers, where else can a Hatch addict get his fix?

Here's more info from a recent blog post on what local stores will have Hatch chiles when.

Sunday's travel section had an article in which the author reported that his wife, while in her 20s, regularly chose to eat peanut butter and powdered milk sandwiches, and raw garlic and miracle whip sandwiches. (John Feffer, "A perfect goulash, hold the backlash") Wow. Has anyone reading this discussion ever heard of those combos or tried them? Might you check with Mr. Feffer or his wife to ask how she came up with these pairings? I assume she used white bread, of the sort that can be squeezed into little balls that work as erasers, but please do ask, if you get hold of her.

John Feffer, who wrote the piece in question, says this:

1) Whole wheat bread
2) they would have eaten peanut butter sandwiches with a glass of milk, but they didn't have refrigeration while they were planting trees, so powdered milk was the preferred alternative -- the goal was to get as much protein and vitamins as possible
3) raw garlic was also chosen for its health benefits. Miracle Whip was a splurge (which is hard for me to imagine, since I detest the substance).
4) the tree planters didn't eat only such improbable combinations but I certainly did highlight the most unlikely ones for comic effect.

Hi free rangers, I do a lot of vegetarian cooking but my boyfriend is convinced that he hates tofu. Any recipe recommendations to make a convert out of him?

If he likes spicy Chinese food, this will do the trick: The Best Mapo Tofu.

Also, I'm not a fan of  food sneakery, but desserts like Mock Key Lime Pie and Pumpkin Mousse Pie are dual purpose. They're made with tofu, and consequently lower in fat. Taste pretty darn good, too. You could tell him AFTER a few bites....

The Mapo Tofu dish isn't veggie, btw. Just so you know!

I'm working on a few tofu techniques for an upcoming cooking-for-one column, so stay tuned.

I just discovered tempeh and am looking for suggestions on how to incorporate it into meals. I crumbled it up and fried it and while the texture was nice it had zero taste. Could I use it as a substitute for ground beef? It seems like it would work well in something saucy/flavorful

Tempeh takes well to marinades and (you're right) saucy stir-fries. Check out this sandwich from Kim O'Donnel and  a very flavorful stir-fry from a guy we profiled for Washington Cooks last year, Ed Cheng.

I pack a lunch both my husband and me each morning. It takes about a half hour. Each lunch generally gets two servings of raw veggies and a serving of fruit. I might add a small cup of cottage cheese (mine with sri racha), or some leftover potato salad. I often make sandwiches, but the sliced tomato and any cheese get bagged separately so nothing gets soggy. Sometimes I put leftovers in, or dessert. I've been known to make graham cracker-and-frosting sandwiches for a treat. The money we save is huge, yes. We're also not wasting food at home that might otherwise spoil. But that 30 minutes I spend in the morning is a substantial savings of time for both of us because it takes so much longer to go to a restaurant, order food, eat, and return to work (for two people!). We're both home earlier, eat healthier, and have more money just because we take our lunches to work.

Thanks for sending these great ideas!

Hi Sally, My husband and I both work full time and with our commute we generally get home around 7pm. I find it very difficult to get a balanced dinner on the table that the kids can eat in a timely manner. I generally put out crackers and cut up a red or yellow pepper for them to snack on and try to make a dinner that takes 20 minutes or less. Making a salad just seems to time consuming. Do you have any suggestions for healthy meals in a time crunch? Thanks.

Honestly I think it's all about the prep. I find that if I have a fridge filled with a variety of vegetables and a pantry with condiments, my salad making is quicker, healthier and more interesting. Other than that, I am a BIG fan of making and freezing soups and chilies for when I am out of time but want something tasty. I also think scrambling eggs is a good solution: you can add almost anything to eggs.  Hope this helps. Keep tracking our recipes on www.chopchopmag.org for more ideas. 

Have you fielded questions before about figs? Several years ago a neighbor who doesn't speak English planted a fig tree in our yard as a replacement for a large tree that had died. Just recently my wife brought some of the figs in. They're delicious! I expected them to be dark brown, like the filling of a Fig Newton. Instead, the core was bright red. The skin, which we avoided at first, turned out to be edible, and we no one had a stomach ache afterward. Is there something we can do with the figs beside eat them plain? And was eating them plain a bad idea?

They are fantastic stuffed with Goat cheese and toasted walnuts or drizzled with reduced Balsamic vinegar. 

Are your figs green or brown on the outside?  A juicy red/pink interior's a good thing! Should all be edible, as long as you're aware of what kind, if any, pesticides were used on the tree. I lovelovelove poached figs. You can cook them in a sweet wine (moscato, Beaumes de Venise) or  even pomegranate juice.

Welcome to the world of fig lovers! It's a happy place, indeed. Fresh figs are one of the most glorious fruits ever. Here are some other ideas:

Fig, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Purses.

Roasted Fig Salad with Grilled Lamb.

Ms. Muriel's Fig Tart.

Ms. Muriel's Spiced Figs.

love the yogurt article! i feel like this may be a dumb question....but what makes yogurt greek?

Well, real Greek yogurt is made ... in Greece, of course! And there the distinguishing characteristic is that it's thicker, from straining. So Greek-style yogurt is also strained.

Sally, the Parmesan yogurt dip sounds yummy. I'm going give it a try. Can you suggest any tasty and healthy substitutes for kids who like ketchup on everything?

Wow, I have to say this is a hard one. I assume you are using a traditional brand so the first thing I would do is get ketchup with less sugar. My guess is that it's the sugar that's the draw. I think that might be a good start. 

The key with tofu is to make sure you drain it well and use a lot of bold flavors. Asian flavors is a good place to start for a newbie. Make sure that when you plan to use tofu, you press it for at least a half hour. I have also found that my cooking it on moderate temp for a while before you start adding other ingredients, it further minimizes the flavor content and allows it to taste more like the sauce. You can also try marinating it for longer OR if you're boyfriend doesn't like the texture, try freezing it. When defrosted, it takes on a meatier texture he might enjoy more. Other good ways to enjoy tofu are with a spice rub or BBQ sauce and grilled, in Indian curries in the place of paneer, in soups in place of the cream, and also just fried. Trust me, everything fried is delicious! Hopefully you'll turn him into a tofu lover--that's what I did with my boyfriend. Now he craves tofu all the time!

I cook this about once per week (Streitz brand), but I only use 1 3/4 cup broth/water. Saute onions, taost couscous, add the boiling broth, put the burner on low, cover and simmer for 7 minutes (not 12), then add the other stuff. Perfect.

We always include orange juice in the empanada dough, a tradition in my family and, I believe, in several Latin countries. Not sure how much healthier that makes the dough, but presumably it adds some vitamins along with some sweetness.

Interesting.

What a wonderful thing you are doing! (" Last week i opened a food culture center for kids in my native Oslo.") Congratulations and the best of luck!

Thank you. Maybe one day ChopChop will be in Norwegian. 

Hi Guys, just a reminder - I have not yet received my cookbook "Healthy Eating for Lower Blood Pressure" by Paul Gayler that I won on August 24, 2011.

You sent your info to Tim Smith at smitht@washpost.com? Please do so again, and remind him what book you won. Thanks!

Hi there, my son just started K and has to pack his lunch each day (which is fine with me!). He has a bento-style box (from Laptop Lunches, they're great!-I don't work for them, just love 'em!). Anyways, what I am struggling with is portion sizes and how much of each "category" (i.e. vegie, fruit, protein) to include (although it sounds as if it should be simple). I think I've packed too much for him...but it's a long day, and I don't want to pack too little (they also have snack). Are there any hints -- i.e. one portion of fruit, veggie, 2 of protein, etc.? Thanks!

Have you seen the USDA's new food plate? The recommendation is that half the plate be fruits and vegetables and the other half  slightly more grain than protein. I think if you are packing healthy foods and mostly fruits and veggies, you are goinig to ok. 

I help/teach at a school in Ashburn that has a basic knife skills class, it's called COOK (cookisjoy.com)

Thanks! Hope the owners there sent stuff in for our cooking-class listing. If they didn't, tell them to email Becky Krystal at krystalr@washpost.com ASAP.

I usually strain yogurt by keeping the yogurt in a large mesh sieve, covering it with a wet cloth, over a bowl to collect the whey overnight. (Of course I usually cheat and use store bought fat free stuff...but don't tell anyone!) My favorite way to eat strained yogurt is to add a teaspoon of powdered sugar, a few pinches of saffron warmed in milk and chopped pistachios. We call it shrikand! Add mangos when in season and call it aamkand!

They make devices for straining, even. I have an old one that's basically a mesh-lined cone that sits on top of a glass or jar, and the liquid drips through. I just ordered a bigger one made by Cuisipro.

I'm looking for suggestions to meet the opposing needs of my family, and I'm hoping you have some creative thoughts on customizable basic meals. I'm eating lower calorie, high protein/veggie content, but my kids need a more calorie-dense diet since they just don't eat as much as they need. What are some high calorie add-ons, without having my kids eat butter by the spoonful?

Nut butters and avocadoes are great examples of high calorie but very healthy foods. 

I bought a bunch of bananas and set them aside for a banana bread recipe calling for "very ripe" bananas. A few days later, when they all had brown spots, it turned out one of them was almost liquid -- Is that "too ripe"? I wasn't sure whether to use it, and ended up not making the recipe. (I mashed and refrigerated the rest but it's been 6 days now so I probably need to start over with new bananas.)

You know, I almost never get the timing right when it comes to banana usage. The brown spots are proof positive that your fruit is ripening.  The one you mention may have ripened to the point of having all its starches converted; after that; it's a rather quick downhill in the life of a banana. Remember that you can freeze bananas (peeled, tightly wrapped in foil).

I have to consume a low iodine diet for the next two weeks or so due to a medical treatment I'm receiving, which rules out most proteins. I can have up to five ounces of meat or poultry a day and I would like to find a grocery store or butcher with meat/poultry that has not been injected or treated with any salt or saline solutions. Do you have any suggestions of where I can look in NoVa?

Try the  Organic Butcher in McLean (703-790-8300).

Thanks for the article on homemade yogurt today. I have been wanting to try this for a while. Is it possible to make fat-free or low-fat yogurt at home using this method? If so, would I still be able to make cheese from it?

Yep, you sure can. Both.

This one is for Jim Shahin. There are so many electric smokers on the market, even with remote controls and a "drawer" to put the wood in. Seems like a good way to smoke things, but would the product be as good in flavor? Thanks.

Short answer: no. 

Electric smokers are convenient and generally do a reasonably good job. But you don't get that bone-deep smoke flavor. 

So - I made a fab lasagna last night, but have 2 cups of ricotta left over. Besides more pasta, any good suggestions on what to do with it? Bonus points if it's sweet rather than savory.

Drain out some of the liquid, drizzle it with honey and sprinkle with toasted nuts. It certainly doesn't get more easy or delcious. 

Fig jam is extremely popular in the Middle East and is GREAT!! I'm sure you can find recipes on the internet or elsewhere, but it sure is good!!!!

Fig jam/preserves are fantastic. They're also very popular in the US South. We have this recipe from David Hagedorn that adds pears along with figs. Yum.

Big thanks to you all for profiling the Institute for Justice and their work on behalf of food truck entrepreneurs. Such smart reporting. This is why WaPo's food section is the best -- I love a little Privileges and Immunities Clause with my souffle recipes!

Ha! So glad you like it. We do like to give people a varied diet of reading. Appreciate that you've noticed.

To A.V. Can any of your recipes use the commercially prepared lactose free milk? I have one daughter that can't tolerate lactose. I can find milk and some ice cream offerings but not cheese or yogurt. Thank you.

Andreas appears to be out of reach, but I'm going to try to handle this one. I have to say I doubt that they would work, given the fact that what the bacteria is doing is converting lactose into lactic acid. The bacteria need the lactose to feast on for the process to work. Having said that, do you know that your daughter can't tolerate yogurt? Some people who have lactose problems find yogurt easier to digest, because the lactose has been converted to lactic acid.

Any ideas Ms. Sampson...on getting the high school aged kids to take a lunch to school. Our lunch offerings are great as per same kids...but my junior and senior will not be caught carrying a brown bag to school. I have one that is lactose intolerant and there is not an offering for her at school that doesn't contain dairy (they do provide her with a lactose free milk carton). Thanks.

Well I'll be honest: I have a HS senior and I have the same problem. However, last year I told him I'd make his lunches for him and that if he purchased lunch at school, it would be on his dime. It worked for a while but since he has a job, he seems not to care. Sorry I can't be more helpful. I so wish I could. 

In my experience, a lot of people don't like tofu because of the texture--try freezing it, letting it thaw, then squeezing out the remaining water. It gives the tofu an incredibly meaty texture. If you marinade for a couple of hours, you can make some great kabobs!

Yep, that's along the lines of what I'm playing with. Freezing also helps it absorb marinades more effectively.

You should check out Kathy Patalsky's recipe for tempeh bacon--with soy sauce, liquid smoke, cumin, chili powder, and other flavors. It is absolutely delicious! I also use is as a sub for ground beef in my tacos--pan fry is so that it browns (and of course, crumble it), then add soy sauce, ketchup or BBQ sauce, cumin, cayenne and let it cook. It's a great substitute and especially with all of the other toppings like salsa and guacamole, you'll never know it's not meat!

Well, the photo sure looks enticing. Here's the recipe link.

I am a mom of two kids 10 months apart, currently ages 2 and 3. I am just getting over the survival stage of motherhood :) and now have more energy to want to do the fun stuff with them that will give them their childhood memories. That includes kitchen time, helping me cook. But they are still so young, I'm not full of ideas for what we can do. I've already enlisted the 3yo with pancake batter on Sunday mornings, but that's about it. Any other suggestions?

You had to know this was coming: subscribe to ChopChop The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families www.chopchopmag.org.  We will give you tons of great ideas for foods you'll actually want to eat. 

The yogurt cheese recipe calls for whole milk yogurt - could you use reduced or fat free yogurt?

Yes.

ricotta cheese cake!

If you get smoked tempeh, you can substitute it for bacon and make BLTs. The brand I buy even calls it "Fakin"

Deborah Madison has a wonderful cookbook called "I can't believe it's Tofu" that has a variety of great tofu recipes and techniques. But make sure your boyfriend can digest the stuff. I had to give up tofu when I realized it was causing various not-for-polite-company symptoms. Alas. Even with Beano.

Yo, Jim, I heard about someone who made a smoker out of an old refrigerator. The first "element" didn't work, so he added a second element and says it works well - have you ever heard of or thought of doing such a thing? How would it work???

Yep, I know of 'em. Nope, I never thought of building one. 

As my wife can attest, I am not a big handyman. The other day I changed about five or six lightbulbs and felt like I had just rehabbed the kitchen. 

So, anyway, the fridge smoker. It's popular because it's cheap. You have a refrigerator that doesn't work? Turn it into a vertical smoker - fire at the bottom, meats on the shelves above. More or less, like a bullet smoker. 

There are instructions all over the Internet for building one. Do a Google search and you'll turn up videos, designs, the whole bit. 

I actually intentionally let at least half of the bananas I need for banana bread go completely brown and liquid-y. It keeps the banana bread seriously moist, and I like to think it makes it a bit sweeter. My personal technique is to take any banana that goes too soft too eat, and toss it into the freezer right in the peel. When I have a couple in there, I'll buy one or two new ones and make the banana bread with a mix of the new and mushy ones. That way you get the moist and sweet from the mushy, but still get those little chunks of fresher banana scattered throughout the bread as well.

Last summer I made fig ice cream from David Lebovitz' The Perfect Scoop - it was beautiful and tasted great!

I eat yogurt like it's my business. I also love the whole DIY concept. But especially with dairy and things that can easily go bad or become contaminated, I'm petrified of trying to make things on my own. How can I get over my fear of making my own cheese/yogurt??

There's really only one way: Just try it once. It's super easy, and the results are delicious. You could start by just straining store-bought yogurt to make the cheese. And then try making the yogurt. Baby steps.

Yes, have tried all kinds of yogurt and she still gets gastric upset, though not as drastic like she does drinking regular milk or eating cheese. Darn I wish the lactose free milk would have worked.

Granted, I'm not a doctor, but I always thought I was lactose intolerant because, well, milk products didn't sit well in my stomach. I started making my own ice cream and yogurt with organic dairy products and I have no digestive problems after consuming them. So for those who are lactose intolerant, maybe try your own homemade products and see if you still have an issue.

That's great! With yogurt, I get it -- it could be because the lactose has been converted to lactic acid. The ice cream is curious, though. I wonder if there's something else in commercial products that you actually weren't tolerating, and if maybe it wasn't about the lactose at all.

I'm not sure if you've covered this before, but do you have any pointers for how to cut costs when serving food at a medium sized wedding? I want the food to be good, but I'm not concerned about it being fancy.

Define medium-size? What time of year? Indoors or out?

My 13 year-old goddaughter has been seriously overweight since she was maybe 6 or 7, eating is still her greatest joy, and she's found ways to make even healthy-sounding foods unhealthy -- for instance, she orders salad with a double serving of cheese dressing, and fish that's swimming in butter sauce. At the doctor's urging, her mom is trying to get her to eat healthier, but I wonder if resistance is inevitable and how long it'll probably take to retrain the child's tastes -- if that's even possible. Also, the child uses her babysitting money to buy sugar-laden snacks -- How can this be avoided? Thanks so much.

I would try to take the most positive stand you can. Suggest walks and other physical activity. Very slowly reduce portion sizes. Don't eat out as much. Teach her to cook. Gradually move from whole milk to low fat to skim. Don't look for changes overnight but rather, look for tiny changes. One bite at a time is about as good as it gets. 

For Irene, we have had problems with food (not a problem with Isabel, when we had no power for 5 days). What should be have in ths pantry for power outages, assuming camping stoves and propane cannisters? We noticed that bread, milk, peanut butter, jam, and potato chips and salsa disappeared from the grocer's shelves (after water)...but these are not what we like. The earthquake preparedness guides for SoCal suggest enough food for your family that they like....Well, what if we like fresh vegetarian? (There's been a diet preference change in our household).

Think about stocking up on things like kale chips and dehydrated fruits and vegetables. Some come back quite nicely when rehydrated, others are just good for snacking. Freshwise, the blanched/frozen vegetables you keep in your freezer, when vacuum-packed, can survive a few days in a powerless (full freezer) and then you can transfer them to a cooler filled with ice. Perhaps a fresh vegetarian household might get into pickling; lots of possibilities for flavor and long-term storage there.

Hi guys, Love your chat- one of the highlights of my week! I was so happy to hear that we Marylanders can now order wine online and have it shipped, as per the new legislation. However, I can't find any sites that ship to MD. Any tips? Have they just not updated their sites? Was hoping to order cases before the holidays! Help! Sincerely, An MD oenophile

Dave McIntyre says:

I actually have a blog post in the All We Can Eat queue on one such "flash" site - Lot18.com, which offers time-limited sales of boutique wines. Lot18 has partnered with Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, the advocacy group that championed direct shipping reforms, to feature wineries that have signed up to ship to Maryland residents.
 

It's not ideal - when you tell the site you live in Maryland, most of the sales will show a banner proclaiming them off limits. And the Maryland law allows only wineries, not retailers or importers, to ship to us, so the selection is even narrower. But MBBWL reports that more than 300 wineries have registered with the Comptroller's office to ship to Marylanders, so the situation should continue to get better. For now, it's probably best to contact the wineries you are interested in and asking, "Do you ship to Maryland yet?" They'll get the message!

Our loss is Oslo's gain. Takk for alt.

Curious, when I find my toddler's abandoned sippy cup a day or two later and there's solid white stuff and clear liquid instead of milk, what has it turned into?

Trash.

Until you can get into a class for this you can practice on your own and get very good at it if you take your time. Just have a good, sharp knife, practice the crab hold where you keep your fingers tucked holding whatever vegetable you're cutting. The idea is to use the middle section of your fingers as a barrier, when you feel the side of the blade touching them stop, then extend the veggie out to finish cutting. Find a comfortable grip on the knife, the perfect way is three fingers around the base with the index finger curled on one side, thumb on the other side pinching the top of the blade. If you're like me and your hands don't do it perfectly then it's all the more important you find a grip you're comfortable with. Don't chop the food either, instead practice a rocking motion; point of the blade down into the veggie and sliding the knife thru it to the end, then repeat. It doesn't have to be fast, you don't want to cut your fingers off. Just take your time, watch what you're doing and you'll get better til you can take a class somewhere. And don't watch Jaques Pepin, his knife skills are out of this world.

DON'T watch Jacques? No, no, no -- watch Jacques for inspiration!

I had my 18 mo old help me make lasagna by spreading sauce and cheese. My now two year old likes to crack eggs, so I wash the eggs, give him a separate bowl, and we fish out any shell before adding the eggs to what we're making. My kids also like making smoothies in the blender, and the 5 year old has learned how to properly use a sharp knife to cut broccoli for dinner (with Dad watching, just to make sure).

I LOVE that you are letting your 18 mo old crack eggs! So many people worry about kids making a mess but really you've just got to risk it and let them get comfortable. Kudos to you!

I wonder if the chatter looking for lactose-free yogurt could obtain the starter culture from a non-dairy yogurt like soy or coconut. Those bacteria are probably converting some other sugar into an acidic product...

Hmm. I'll have to look at the labels of those sometime, but I wouldn't be surprised if they've got stabilizers/thickeners added to them in order to get the yogurt effect. And then probiotic bacteria added.

Just recently discovered I'm lactose intolerant, but take a Lactaid tablet right when I'm having any lactose product and it seems to work exceptionallyl well for me. Might be worth a try.

Could vanilla or coffee-flavored yogurt be used to make cheese, too? Wow, coffee cheese -- a sure winer!

You can strain any kind of yogurt you'd like!

I've seen 'em made from metal mailboxes.

   They're  made from everything. Cars, mailboxes, refrigerators, 55-gallon drums. You name it, someone has probably turned it into a smoker. 

Hi Do you know where I can find Damson plums in the DC/MD area? I know they're only available fo ra limited time and I don't want to miss them! Would love to make some jam and Damson gin! Thanks!

Just saw plenty of them at the JFX Farmers Market in downtown Baltimore on Sunday.

I try to cook rice, quinoa, etc. on the weekends, then freeze in dinner-size portions for use later in the week. I'll also try to roast a couple of chickens on Saturday or Sunday, use one for dinner that night, then shred the meat of the other for use later in the week (storebought rotisserie chickens work, too). Or a couple of pork roasts. Also, soups and stews can be cooked on the weekend and frozen for later consumption. For fresh dinners, there's always all kinds of pasta with fresh tomato sauce, or salads, which I will sometimes prep on the weekends, and sometimes buy the add-ons (mushrooms, shredded carrots & cabbage, etc) from the salad bar.

Wonderful (and efficient) ideas. Thank you for sharing them!

Do you know if a liquid banana is pretty much banana vinegar, which I know exists? And if so, any idea how to use it?

Boy are we out of my comfort zone today! Looks like banana vinegar has a lot more to it than that, I'm afraid. Here's a simpler version; both involve the development of a mother. As for using it, I might treat it the same way I use my fig vinegar: as a glaze, added to marinades or vinaigrettes, in a fruit compote.  I might drizzle over fried plantains (tostones).

I read your blog re 1 year anniversary, but missed last week's Q&A's. Do you have any plans for getting to the Midwest for taste tests of Midwest bbq???

   Would love to. That is a conversation for the Post accounting dept. 

I'm afraid that's a short conversation!

Was lucky enough to have a neighbor with a fruitful tree - look up quail w/ figs in "The '21' Cookbook." I sub chicken legs - roast the chicken w/ figs, reduce sauce with white wine & balsamic, serve with polenta. HEAVEN.

Interesting questions about figs, which I love. Raw, baked, grilled, jam - wonder how they would hold up to smoking? Would the smoking be too strong a flavor for figs?

  Smoked figs are terrific. You can cut them in half and smoke them over indirect heat using applewood chips for a complementary flavor. The length of time you smoke them depends on how much you like smoke. 

   I would have the fire at around 225 degrees F, and smoke the figs for about 10 minutes. Taste them. You like them at that point, then add some gorganzola on top and drizzle with a little honey or spiced fig sauce. 

    You can also quarter them, and, after they reach the desired smokiness, add them to a salad with an apple cider vinaigrette. 

    Oh, and smoked figs go incredbly well with goose and duck. 

She consumes the organic stuff, no difference just saying. We've been making our own ice cream with lactose free and non-lactose free organic milk. Not one bit of difference. We got the diagnose after a few years of going to different doctors regarding gastric upset...finally had one say go off milk products. She was like this as an infant and we attributed it originally to motion sickness. Anyhow great thoughts.

Answers to your questions: outdoors and 80-100 people.

Are you self-catering? If so, maybe think about an island grill menu, with lots of skewered marinated vegetables, fish and meat options. A buffet with complementary sides could be quite festive and appealing. Mounds of fresh slaws, rice salad, grilled whole pineapples, juices, cocktails with those island flavors. 

In an effort to be organized for this first week of school for a near veg daughter who wanted something different, I tried to make a pot of fava beans. They started out brown and dried, then soaked for more than 24 hours, peeled off the tough brown skin and then cooked the beans in simmering water for two hours. They are/were still sort of crunchy inside, but also falling apart. Where did I go wrong?

We're running out of time today, so this seems like a query to be answered on Chat Leftovers. Stay tuned for next week!

Andreas - best of luck to you. I hope you write the occasional column from your new venture in Oslo - it sounds like a fascinating idea, and I think your readers would be interested in hearing about your projects and progress.

In my house, both my kids (4 and 7) regularly help cook. My husband is a bit of a neat freak, so he doesn't like to see the mess. Everytime he complains, my kids will say "But Daddy, its not cooking if you don't make a mess!" By making messes, they have learned to make pancakes, scrambled eggs, chocolate chip cookies and lately meatballs (they think making the meatball mixture into meatballs is just like playing with play doh!)

I agree wholeheartedly with your kids!

Well, you've covered us with a clean towel and let us sit at room temperature overnight, so you know what that means -- we're yogurt! I mean, we're done.

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Sally Sampson and Jim Shahin for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books. The person who tasted the first glorious bite of figs and asked for what to do with them will get "Kitchen Simple" by James Peterson. And the chatters who submitted questions with the following headlines will will get subscriptions to ChopChop Mag: "Kids dinners"; "dips for kids"; "lunches for kids"; and "customizing family meals." Send your info to aide Tim Smith at smitht@washpost.com, and we'll get you your prizes!

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

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